Steven Cartwright holds a PhD in molecular biology from Edinburgh University. He also trained in homeopathy at the College of Homeopathy in London and the School of Homeopathy in Devon and has practiced for over 20 years. Since 2009 he has carried out research on homeopathic medicines at the Cherwell Innovation Centre in Oxfordshire. Recently he discovered that Solvatochromic dyes display changes in their spectra in the presence of homeopathic potencies. His study can be viewed here: http://hpathy.com/scientific-research/solvatochromic-dyes-detect-presence-homeopathic-potencies/
AS: Homeopathy continues to be attacked as “just placebo” by much of the medical community. This occurs in spite of massive clinical successes and some very sophisticated research. Most people, including doctors are not scientists or physicists. For this reason, I’ve long thought that homeopathy needed some graphic demonstration that remedies are different from water. In your research on Solvatochromic dyes, you seem to have provided just that. Can you tell our readers what you discovered and what it may impact?
SC: I have always felt if we could understand the physico-chemical nature of homeopathic medicines then that inevitably would lead to an understanding of how homeopathy works. The two questions “What are remedies?” and “How do remedies bring about their clinical effects”? are to me much the same question. So my research into the interaction of potencies with solvatochromic dyes could, I believe, in due course not only lead to fundamental questions about homeopathy being answered, but also to significant improvements in how we practice.
There is no question in my mind that we need to move on from the defensive position of trying to prove that homeopathy works. Anyone who has had personal experience of homeopathy knows it works, and yet at the same time critics will never be satisfied with clinical evidence in the absence of a testable hypothesis. We need to move to a position in which we are striving to understand how it works. The potential benefits from such an approach would be enormous. Not only in terms of greater confidence and consistency in practice, but also in improvements in how remedies are made and stored, for instance. In short I have never sought solely to demonstrate that remedies are different from water but to find out in what way they are different!
In terms of the research itself it appears that potencies interact with a particular class of dyes called solvatochromic dyes. Without going into the chemistry involved, it seems that the fact that these dyes have an oscillating electron in their structure is what allows them to interact with potencies. The implications of this discovery are that potencies themselves may in some way be electromagnetic in nature. This is not a new suggestion of course but to have a chemical system that demonstrates this potential allows many more searching questions to be asked than I think has been possible before.
AS: So this interaction between solvatochromic dyes and potencies is a useful testing tool but it may also hold clues to the deepest questions about homeopathy. Before we move on to those questions, let’s clarify the use of the dyes as indicators. Will the dyes allow us to tell when a remedy has been neutralized and also what environmental influences affect remedies, such as heat, (what temperature?), sunlight, electromagnetic fields, volatile substances etc.? Will we learn if glass containers hold a remedy frequency after being washed? How accessible will this test be to people doing research into homeopathy. Until now, one needed expensive electronic equipment to detect potencies.
SC: I certainly hope that the current research will allow a whole host of questions to be asked about the stability of homeopathic remedies. At the present time various agents are suspected to be deleterious to potencies but most of this information is merely hearsay or supposition. We simply do not know if magnetic and electrical fields, X-rays, volatile substances and so on affect potencies and if they do, crucially to what extent.
Let me take the example of camphor for instance. If we go back and read what Hahnemann says about camphor in his Materia Medica Pura, his actual phraseology is that camphor antidotes the action of most remedies. That is quite different from saying camphor inactivates remedies themselves. The idea that volatile substances might neutralize potencies I think comes from Phyllis Speight writing some 150 years later and somehow her view has permeated into homeopathic consciousness. I personally see no reason why camphor or any other volatile should affect remedies themselves, but only a robust method of detecting potencies will enable the issue of remedy stability to be clarified.
In many ways knowing what agents neutralize potencies is essential in carrying out detailed research in homeopathy, as cross contamination is otherwise a constant concern. One needs to know that a solution is definitely a control solution or conversely, definitely a potency solution for any results to be meaningful. In addition, knowing what agents are deleterious will provide significant clues as to the identity of potencies. So I see that one of the most important aspects of this research is to establish unequivocally how remedies can be safely stored and conversely how they can be effectively neutralized.
Of course – as you point out – there is also the intriguing issue of whether potencies remain in glass containers once all solvent has evaporated. A closely related issue to this question is what kinds of agents can act as carriers for potencies. Is it just water/ethanol or can other solvents, or indeed other substances, carry potencies? These are the kinds of questions that I hope detection systems based on the use of solvatochromic dyes will be able to answer in due course.
The current research emphasis is therefore on the continuing development of solvatochromic dye systems that are robust, reliable and simple enough to be accessible to anyone carrying out fundamental work in homeopathy. This has always been my view – that in homeopathic research we need to be able to walk before we can run. Only then can we begin to ask – and answer – the really big questions.
AS: You’ve said that understanding how homeopathy works could have implications far beyond homeopathy itself. Might it solve the mystery of why a person can resonate to the frequency of a honey bee, a windflower, or the element gold, or why each of those can trigger a specific mentality? What might those phenomena suggest about the boundries between living things and between living and non living things?
SC: These are deep questions but I will try to answer them to the best of my understanding. There is a widely held belief within the homeopathic community that remedies must be some kind of frequency and that similarity means resonance. This conclusion may be true but I think it is a premature conclusion or possibly only part of the picture.
Just to go back to Hahnemann for a moment. To my mind he was a great scientist in the true meaning of the word. He was a consummate experimentalist and an acute observer. Moreover he often wrote about his observations without offering an explanation for them. Rather than speculate he was prepared to admit he didn’t know and live with uncertainty and the unknown. For me then his observations become even more valuable because he wasn’t trying to fit observations to theories, he was presenting them as pure observations. Consequently I would accept his results as reliable and whatever hypothesis we come up with today has to accommodate them. And that is difficult because his results are full of paradoxes. However I think it was Ernest Rutherford who is quoted as saying “Ah a paradox –now we are getting somewhere!” Paradoxes mean we aren’t thinking simply enough or deeply enough. We haven’t got to the root of the issue.
I have allowed a detailed reading of Hahnemann’s writings, as well as correspondences between Hahnemann and his contemporaries to inform my research at every stage. For some reason many of his observations have escaped present day writers or their full impact hasn’t been appreciated. Let me list a few.
Dose is a function of volume. (This refers to potencies in which no molecules of starting material remain). There must be contact between medicine and patient.
Remedies can be given by olfaction.
Pills (and bottles) are still medicinally active even when solvent has evaporated.
Contact between medicated and un-medicated tablets results in the latter acquiring medicinal activity.
Finally I would leave you with the entry on silica in Chronic Diseases. See if you can spot what to my mind is a quite extraordinary statement of Hahnemann’s with regard to its manufacture as a remedy.
Any hypothesis as to the action of homeopathic potencies must take account of Hahnemann’s results, as well as results from modern researchers. I don’t think we are anywhere really close yet, but I do hope that research with solvatochromic dyes will take us a little closer, along with research being done by others in the physico-chemical field.