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It is quite possible that science does not have the tools yet to detect the cause behind an effect. But before we make that judgement, we need to show that there is an effect to look for the cause behind in the first place.


Let me give an example. I say that there is an invisible demon in my room which makes all my coin tosses give heads.

I am immediately going to add that no, it is not possible to detect the demon. Science does not have the tools yet for it because the demon remains hidden in the 26th dimension at energies ten orders of magnitude beyond reachable by the LHC.

But you know what, at this stage, science does not care about this argument at all. What science is going to demand first is evidence of my ability to channel the demon to get all heads. Can I, in a controlled experiment in a room — with a coin someone else provides to make sure that I am not cheating, say — show that all my coin tosses turn heads?

If that experiment fails, don’t blame science for not having the tools to detect the demon. Once you provide evidence that there is such an effect, then yes, science will accept that there is indeed something there beyond its current ability. And perhaps it will sharpen its tools to get to the bottom of the mystery.


But the “subtle energy”[1] folks want science to look for the demon without doing the coin-toss experiment first. It is usually brandished about as explanation for an effect that does not exist in the first place. Some confirmation bias and cherry-picking makes people claim that some effect exists. Usually, pseudomedicine proponents are the ones pushing the idea of “subtle” energy. When science refuses their claims, it is not doing so at the level of the detectability of the energy but questioning what they say are the consequences.

The other reason that scientists dislike the idea of “subtle energy” is that it is a dishonest attempt to hijack the credibility of science by appropriating its jargon. The common man thinks of words like energy and field as scientific terms, usually used by trustworthy people. The folks talking about the subtle energy field of the body without evidence are trying to fool people by dressing up their pseudoscience to look like science. It is not even metaphysics, because it is not a philosophical discussion — the subtle energy folks are providing it as a fake scientific explanation for supposedly real phenomena.

The very idea of science is to keep questioning. We would not have got from Aristotle to Newton to Einstein if science was about staying stuck at the current level of knowledge. The greatest achievement for a scientist is to overturn a theory (as far as such a term can be used) by showing a completely unknown facet of nature. If there was any real effect underlying the claims of subtle energy, the best scientists of the world would have been after it.

The day “subtle energy” stops being an excuse for something people can’t even show to exist, science will start looking for it. Until then, this is just clear pseudoscience.

Footnotes

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