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pacing the void

By John Brown
Arizona Daily Wildcat
April 18, 1997

Professors' study says more than the mind can remember

After the first successful heart and lung transplant in New England, the patient who received the organs was asked by a reporter what she was looking forward to most about her new chance at life.

"I can't wait to have a beer," said a surprised Claire Sylvia, who had spent most of her life as a dancer.

Six weeks after her transplant, while driving for the first time since the operation, she experienced an uncontrollable urge to drive to Kentucky Fried Chicken, a place she had never been to before, and order chicken nuggets.

Sylvia later discovered that the 18-year-old donor of her new organs had loved to drink beer and at the time of his death, chicken nuggets were found in the coat pocket of his leather jacket.

While some may dismiss her abrupt preference changes as an unusual coincidence or side-effect of the immunosuppressant drugs, two University of Arizona psychologists have offered a controversial hypothesis as a possible explanation to this and other phenomena found in such areas as homeopathy, aromatherapy and parapsychology.

Gary Schwartz, a professor of psychology, neurology and psychiatry and director of the Human Energy Systems Laboratory, and colleague Linda Russek, co-director of the laboratory and a research associate in the Psychology Department, suggest that memory, in the form of information and energy, was stored by the donor's organs and caused a reaction by Sylvia's body that retrieved the implicit information.

The psychologists are presenting papers on the subject today at the Alternative Therapies Symposium in Orlando, Fla.

"I think this is going to be embraced by most of the people in the alternative medicine community because it builds a bridge between the best of respectable science and contrary ancient approaches to health and healing," Schwartz said.

Their systemic memory hypothesis is also being featured in the May issue of Alternative Therapy's in Health and Medicine.

Schwartz said their hypothesis suggests that all dynamical systems, described as systems in which there is a constant interaction and exchange, store information and sustain memory.

Science has only accepted the process of memory storage in the nervous and immune systems, he said.

Previous scientific studies have concluded that brain activity operates as a continual feedback loop. Russek and Schwartz's hypothesis has taken this concept a step further and claims that recurrent feedback interactions not only occur between neurons in the body's neural networks, but also occur within all cells and molecules.

"Many scientists and physicians will be disturbed to discover that modern science actually predicts controversial phenomena claimed to occur in a number of alternative therapies," Schwartz said.

The foundation of Russek and Schwartz's thesis is based on the simple interaction that occurs between two tuning forks. If tuning fork A is struck and begins to make a sound, the vibrations from fork A will reach fork B, which will also begin to resonate. Once B vibrates, its sound waves will return to A and include a history of A's initial vibration and B's new vibration.

The process starts a relationship between the two forks. A is not simply acting on B, and B is not just acting on A. Instead, the two forks are connected through a continual cycle of vibrations and interact with each other as a dynamical energy system.

Each complete cycle includes the history of the first A-B interaction and each new A-B interaction. The history of vibrations, or memory, will continue to grow as long as the units are connected.

Schwartz said that modern quantum physics has shown that matter is never completely at rest, even at absolute zero, therefore it is logical to conclude that the two forks will retain implicit information about the interaction even after they have been separated.

"What is being stored is the relationship between the two," he said.

Schwartz said that while the stored information cannot be retrieved, like memories from childhood, the hypothesis is still valid.

Schwartz and Russek said the logic behind the tuning forks could be applied whenever two or more things interact.

Russek and Schwartz have labeled the process of systemic memory as a dynamical recurrent feedback interaction.

Russek said A and B could be a electron and a proton, a thermostat and a furnace, two strands of DNA, the heart and the brain, a mother and a fetus or even the planets and the sun.

"At whatever levels the systems are interacting, the interactive history of the energy and information should be contained in a complex way," she said.

The researchers said the hypothesis may explain the effectiveness of practices used in alternative medicine.

In the field of alternative medicine, kinesiology involves treatment of injuries and trauma with the philosophy that the muscles and organ tissues store information and energy.

Russek and Schwartz said the traditional scientific community has previously only recognized the central nervous system as storing memory, but their hypothesis offers a possible explanation for the kinesiology philosophy in alternative medicine.

The researchers said it also could explain why organ transplant patients like Sylvia could retrieve information that was related to the organ donor.

Homeopathy involves treatment using dilutions of compounds in water so weak they are almost undetectable. Russek said studies have shown significant results in patients treated with the diluted water.

The researchers' hypothesis suggests that the patients were affected because the water had retained information about substances no longer in it and may aid in reducing symptoms for certain diseases, Russek said.

Aromatherapy involves digesting "essential oils" from plants or rubbing them on the skin. The researchers said even though the same chemical properties can be duplicated synthetically, their hypothesis suggests the plant oil would retain information about the "soul" and "spirit" of the plant, which would support the claim made by doctors who practice alternative medicine that natural products are superior to man-made substances.

What may be most controversial are the implications their hypothesis provide in the field of parapsychology, Russek said.

The researchers said it is commonly claimed that people who consider themselves psychic can "read" information about someone's personal possessions, including photographs.

Schwartz said that viewing quantum physics from a dynamical energy systems perspective again provides a possible explanation.

"Pieces of jewelry accumulate information about the wearer," Russek said. "And some people may be sensitive and resonate with the systemic memory."

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