For thousands of years, mankind has sought to unlock the powers of nature. In doing so, we have explored almost every avenue, from discovering the healing powers and benefits of herbs and plants to attempting to emulate the psychic and physical attributes of animals.
However, one aspect of nature has practically overshadowed all the others in its popularity within the New Age community: the use of crystals. Crystals are used to treat a variety of physical and psychic ailments, but is there any scientific proof that they actually work?
What do crystals do?
Crystals, according to psychic practitioners, are both powerful conduits for energies, as well as generating their own. Different crystals are perceived to have different properties, almost acting as a filter for the energies that pass through them and imbuing them with their own qualities. In other circles, it’s thought that the mere presence of a crystal in itself will be enough. The energies they are though to generate are thought to have a positive impact on a variety of ailments and conditions, such as alleviating stress, boosting creativity, raise you levels of consciousness and even increase your psychic powers. In addition, it’s been claimed that they can have curative effects on illnesses such as epilepsy, Alzheimer’s and even cancer. Science, however, has other ideas…
The French Connection
An experiment was conducted by a psychologist at Goldsmith’s College, London by Dr Christopher French. French decided to test the claimed properties of a number of crystals on 80 subjects. Half were given genuine crystals, while the other half were given plastic imitations. All were asked to meditate using their objects, but all were told that their crystals were authentic stones. Before they meditated, they were told to expect certain effects and asked to note anything that they felt during the meditative experience.
French’s results were fascinating. A total of 76 out of the 80 subjects reported experiencing sensations that were in keeping with what they had been told to expect. These included tingling, a feeling of inner peace, a sense of well being, relaxation of the forehead, increased temperature in the hands, increased swallowing, increased concentration and “an activation of all levels of consciousness”.
Without doubt, there are certain aspects of this experiment that could be explained away pretty quickly. The increase in concentration could have been due to the process of meditation and the raised temperature in the hand could well have been the result of holding and squeezing the crystals as they did so. However, this doesn’t account for the other sensations experienced by the 76 who reported feeling something. So was French’s experiment about to prove that crystals really do have some unusual properties?
The Plastic Placebo
It might look that way, until you take into account another factor: the difference in the sensations felt was no different between those who were holding plastic crystals and those who were holding real ones. In other words, it didn’t matter whether the subjects were holding crystals or not – it seemed that the mere suggestion that they would experience something was enough to cause those sensations to manifest.
Dr French also looked at how susceptible his subjects were to suggestion. His findings revealed that those who already believed in the power of crystals were far more likely to be influenced by suggestion than those who were sceptical. He said that: “The fact that the same effects were found with both genuine and fake crystals undermines any claims that crystals have the mysterious powers that they are claimed to have”.
In many ways, this looks like a classic placebo effect. Just as doctors have persuaded patients that the sugar pills they are taking are the genuine article and watched the patients convince themselves they are enjoying the perceived effects or benefits, French observed the power of suggestion as a powerful mechanism. However, what he did not see was the power of crystals at work, but the power of the mind.
There are a variety of terms to cover this phenomenon, such as selective thinking, wishful thinking, subjective validation and communal reinforcement. But whatever name given, what they all point to is that if the human mind is told to expect something, it will seem to synthesise that experience, whether the stimulus is genuine or not. This psychological trick has been used in a variety of guises from curing people of phobias to being used in mental torture scenarios. In essence, it’s a basic form of neurolinguistic programming.
The Bioelectric Shield
Perhaps one of the most infamous examples of this at work is the creation of the Bioelectric Shield. These were invented by a chiropractor from Montana called Charles Brown. Brown said that he heard voices in his head and experienced night-time visions telling him how best to arrange a series of crystals to provide a barrier against the harmful effects of electromagnetic energy generated by gadgets such as mobile phones, microwaves and computer monitors.
These sold across the United States for around $140 dollars, in the form of pendants. One even found its way around the neck of ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair’s wife, Cherie. However, independent testing by Doctor Susan Blakemore, found that the Bioelectric Shield was unable to live up to the claims that its creator had made. Dr Blakemore stated that “the manufacturers of an alternative health product have refused to accept the results of properly conducted scientific studies that challenge their claims”. However, the Bioelectric Shield is still on sale and still selling.
It’s possible that the idea that crystals possess certain powers is a misinterpretation of the phenomenon known as the piezoelectric effect. This shows that when compressed, certain crystals will produce an electric charge; think of quartz crystals that are used to keep time in watches.
What it is possible to conclude is that although crystals have no healing properties, the feeling of wearing or using one may be enough to convince someone that they are protected from something or are recovering from an illness. If this is the case, then perhaps more research should be given to the unlocked potential of the human brain, rather than eye-catching, glittering rocks.