Mystic energies, holograms and more unicorns: Part 1 (or why you shouldn’t blog when hungry)
Not so long ago, I blogged about Powerbalance bracelets- incorporating holograms treated with special frequencies to improve peoples’ energy flow, balance, athletic performance, and all-round well-being. I took a fairly scathing view, since to most scientists it’s clearly nonsense salad served with a garnish of pseudo-scientific parsley.
Parsley is not actual food, but it makes it look like you’ve made an effort. Actually it sits alongside celery in terms of gastronomic value. It’s not obvious to a lot of people that the salad isn’t a proper meal, and that we really need is some proper scientific meat.
Like veal calves, researchers have suffered in the darkness for the delicious benefit of the greater body of scientific knowledge. But for someone raised on a diet of leaves and twigs, the suffering has been in vain.
What the hell am I talking about? Ah yes… powerbalance… So, there are two opposing sides with differing philosophies. Different starting points and different ideas as to what counts as obvious or plausible or tasty.
For example, skittles and ice cream might seem like a good combination; might make sense to some. Following the “nice things” culinary rule, two nice things together make an even nicer whole. Not a bad hypothesis. However, what actually happens is the skittles freeze into a tooth grinding substance roughly as chewy as diamond. This is why the Skittle McFlurry does not exist. It’s been tested (by me), and quite possibly by the robot ant slaves* at McDonalds R+D department. Scientific experimental evidence trumps what seems plausible in this case. It’s easily verified by anyone with the mental wherewithal to operate a spoon.
Quite possibly though, an experienced chef might have predicted what would happen, perhaps by understanding what happens to different types of sugar at different temperatures, or some such thing. Certainly they would scoff at the “nice things” theory, because they have studied, theoretically and practically, the way flavours mix and enhance or clash with one another.
Another example, a bit more difficult to test objectively, is to look at tourists in Dublin. Upon arrival, they are subjected to a barrage of advertising for Guinness. It’s constant. It’s everywhere. Visit the Guinness Storehouse on St James’s Gate, and it’s concentrated into a 7-storey pint glass of not-so-subliminal stouty goodness, including museum exhibits of all the old slogans they aren’t allowed to use any more. “Guinness is Good for You”, “Guinness for Strength”, “Guinness Aids Foetal Development”**, and so on.
After a couple of hours working your way up through the museum, you reach the bar on the top floor, where you finally get to taste the silky black elixir of the gods, with a stunning view over Dublin***. Add this to the preconception that it tastes better in Dublin anyway, and you are well and truly primed to expect it to be good.
And it will be, but half of the taste is in the experience and the anticipation. It is about how you feel about Guinness at the moment you taste it. This is not a distortion of the experience, but an integral part of what you think you taste. Even if it’s actually, scientifically, chemically and physically indistinguishable from a very good pint served in London, the experience is utterly subjective and depends entirely on what you expect.
So back to Powerbalance… Our expectations and preconceptions undoubtedly affect our subjective responses to all kinds of things. It’s something we know from everyday life. For athletes, state of mind and self-belief is a massive part of performance, so if a bracelet with a hologram is sold well, just belief that it will work can itself make a difference in a competitive match.
For every Shaquille O’Neal who believes in this particular lucky charm, there will be another athlete who always puts their left shoe on first, or who has a lucky shirt number. If they don’t follow their ritual, then just the slight doubt in the back of the mind can be enough to tip the balance in their opponent’s favour. But really, it’s all just parsley.
Take a plausible sounding idea, and build up expectation… not about how it will look, taste or smell -nothing so obviously testable- but how you will feel about yourself. Everyone wants to feel good, just like everyone visiting Dublin wants the Guinness to taste better there than anywhere else.
So that’s my roundabout way of explaining why some people think it works. It’s just the starter though. Part 2 will get onto the meaty science, but I’ll do my best to tenderise it. Actually maybe it should be a fish course, to ease in the “pescetarians”. Anyway, there will be no sprouts. Nor celery.
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*Disclaimer: McDonald’s do not employ robot ant slaves at their R+D department.
**Disclaimer: Guinness never claimed to aid foetal development.
***Time this to arrive at the bar at sunset, if you’re lucky enough to have a clear day, it’s worth it!
I’m currently reading Moby Dick by Herman Melville, which is utterly brilliant, and also wierdly ties in with this video below. Maybe this whole blog post came out of some subliminal Guinness mind-programming. Ah well. Sláinte.