Joe Dispenza is not all that well known in Europe but, in the US, he is all the rage as a health guru. Despite pretending to be a top (neuro)scientist and expert of quantum physics, Dispenza has, as far as I can see, just three Medline-listed papers to his credit. Here are their abstracts:
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in significant morbidity and mortality worldwide. Management of the pandemic has relied mainly on SARS-CoV-2 vaccines, while alternative approaches such as meditation, shown to improve immunity, have been largely unexplored. Here, we probe the relationship between meditation and COVID-19 disease and directly test the impact of meditation on the induction of a blood environment that modulates viral infection. We found a significant inverse correlation between length of meditation practice and SARS-CoV-2 infection as well as accelerated resolution of symptomology of those infected. A meditation “dosing” effect was also observed. In cultured human lung cells, blood from experienced meditators induced factors that prevented entry of pseudotyped viruses for SARS-CoV-2 spike protein of both the wild-type Wuhan-1 virus and the Delta variant. We identified and validated SERPINA5, a serine protease inhibitor, as one possible protein factor in the blood of meditators that is necessary and sufficient for limiting pseudovirus entry into cells. In summary, we conclude that meditation can enhance resiliency to viral infection and may serve as a possible adjuvant therapy in the management of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The aim of the study is to evaluate the complexity matching between the HRVs of the group of Healers and the Healee during the various stages of the meditation protocol by employing a novel mathematical approach based on the H-rank algorithm. The complexity matching of heart rate variability is assessed before and during a heart-focused meditation in a close non-contact healing exercise. The experiment was conducted on a group of individuals (eight Healers and one Healee) throughout the various phases of the protocol over a ~75-minute period. The HRV signal for the cohort of individuals was recorded using high resolution HRV recorders with internal clocks for time synchronization. The Hankel transform (H-rank) approach was employed to reconstruct the real-world complex time series in order to measure the algebraic complexity of the heart rate variability and to assess the complexity matching between the reconstructed H-rank of the Healers and Healee during the different phases of the protocol. The integration of the embedding attractor technique was used to aid in the visualization of reconstructed H-rank in state space across the various phases. The findings demonstrate the changes in the degree of reconstructed H-rank (between the Healers and the Healee) during the heart-focused meditation healing phase by employing mathematically anticipated and validated algorithms. It is natural and thought-provoking to contemplate the mechanisms causing the complexity of the reconstructed H-rank to come closer; it can be explicitly stated that the purpose of the study is to communicate a clear idea that the H-rank algorithm is capable of registering subtle changes in the healing process, and that there was no intention of delving deep to uncover the mechanisms involved in the HRV matching. Therefore, the latter might be a distinct goal of future research.
This study investigated the impact of a brief meditation workshop on a sample of 223 novice meditators. Participants attended a three-day workshop comprising daily guided seated meditation sessions using music without vocals that focused on various emotional states and intentions (open focus). Based on the theory of integrative consciousness, it was hypothesized that altered states of consciousness would be experienced by participants during the meditation intervention as assessed using electroencephalogram (EEG). Brainwave power bands patterns were measured throughout the meditation training workshop, producing a total of 5616 EEG scans. Changes in conscious states were analysed using pre-meditation and post-meditation session measures of delta through to gamma oscillations. Results suggested the meditation intervention had large varying effects on EEG spectra (up to 50 % increase and 24 % decrease), and the speed of change from pre-meditation to post-meditation state of the EEG co-spectra was significant (with 0.76 probability of entering end-meditation state within the first minute). There was a main 5 % decrease in delta power (95 % HDI = [-0.07, -0.03]); a global increase in theta power of 29 % (95 % HDI = [0.27, 0.33]); a global increase of 16 % (95 % HDI = [0.13, 0.19]) in alpha power; a main effect of condition, with global beta power increasing by 17 % (95 % HDI = [0.15, 0.19]); and an 11 % increase (95 % HDI = [0.08, 0.14]) in gamma power from pre-meditation to end-meditation. Findings provided preliminary support for brief meditation in altering states of consciousness in novice meditators. Future clinical examination of meditation was recommended as an intervention for mental health conditions particularly associated with hippocampal impairments.
It seems noteworthy that none of these articles support any of the many outlandish therapeutic claims Dispenza makes. In these papers, Dispenza give his affiliation as “Encephalon, LLC, Rainier, WA”. My seraches for this institution led me to the website of Dispenza’s company that tries to sell you all sorts of strange stuff and bombards you with irritating platitudes about spirituality and related subjects. Here you will also find several of Dispenza’s books. Naturally, they were big successes. The latest volume is called ‘Becoming Supernatural‘. Its topics include:
- Demystifying the body’s seven energy centers and how you can balance them to heal
- How to free yourself from the past by reconditioning your body to a new mind
- How you can create reality in the generous present moment by changing your energy
- The difference between third-dimension creation and fifth-dimension creation
- The secret science of the pineal gland and its role in accessing mystical realms of reality
- The distinction between space-time vs. time-space realities
By now, I am beginning to suspect that “Dr. Joe”, as he likes to wrongly depict himself, is an 18 carrat bullshitter, and I feel like learning more about him and his incredible popularity.
So, who is Joe Dispenza?
Dispenza trained as a chiropractor and, in 1986, he had a cycling accident that left him with six compressed vertebrae – at least that is what he likes to tell journalists. Allegedly, doctors told him he might never walk again and recommended spine surgery. But he knew better, checked himself out of the hospital, and reconstructed his vertebrae with his mind. Within 10 weeks he was walking again. “I made a deal with myself that if I was ever able to walk again I would spend the rest of my life studying the mind-body connection,” he claimed in a 2018 interview. If you don’t know about vertebral compression fractures, this sounds like an unusal recovery. If you, however, know about such injuries, the course of events is not abnormal.
Ever since, Dispenza uses his mind to heal others. His website contains ~40 testimonials of people claiming he cured their cancer or their multiple sclerosis or their infertility. Under the heading of “coherence healing,” the site boasts Dispenza and his disciples have “produced profound biological changes in multitudes of individuals around the world” and “observed hundreds of healings from a wide variety of health conditions.” In a 2020 interview Dispenza bragged about bringing children onstage at his retreats to cure them of “really serious health conditions.” He claimed to have cured a 76-year-old woman of Parkinson’s. He said his treatments cured illness faster than chemotherapy and that “profound and prestigious universities” in the United States wanted to study his methods. “[We’ve seen] tumors disappearing, people stepping out of wheelchairs, blind people seeing, deaf people hearing—crazy stuff,” he stated. “This is biblical proportions stuff.”
Dispenza likes to present himself as a scientist. “Learning” becomes “forging new synaptic connections” and changing one’s behavior becomes “reorganizing circuits.” He claims that meditating in the presence of others—combining “coherent fields,” as he calls this—opens up “interference patterns of fractal geometry that are doors to dimensions.” During performances, he occasionally brings followers on stage to share the “miracles” they experienced at the workshops that day, such as a woman who claimed she regained her depth perception after decades of encephalitis. “She got a biological upgrade … and all she did was make up her mind to do it,” he told the audience.
Back in 2012, I published a post entitled “How to become a charlatan” where I provide several practical instructions for all who intend to persue this career:
1. Find an attractive therapy and give it a fantastic name
Did I just say “straight forward”? Well, the first step isn’t that easy, after all. Most of the really loony ideas turn out to be taken: ear candles, homeopathy, aura massage, energy healing, urine-therapy, chiropractic etc. As a true charlatan, you want your very own quackery. So you will have to think of a new concept.
Something truly ‘far out’ would be ideal, like claiming the ear is a map of the human body which allows you to treat all diseases by doing something odd on specific areas of the ear – oops, this territory is already occupied by the ear acupuncture brigade. How about postulating that you have super-natural powers which enable you to send ‘healing energy’ into patients’ bodies so that they can repair themselves? No good either: Reiki-healers might accuse you of plagiarism.
But you get the gist, I am sure, and will be able to invent something. When you do, give it a memorable name, the name can make or break your new venture.
2. Invent a fascinating history
Having identified your treatment and a fantastic name for it, you now need a good story to explain how it all came about. This task is not all that tough and might even turn out to be fun; you could think of something touching like you cured your moribund little sister at the age of 6 with your intervention, or you received the inspiration in your dreams from an old aunt who had just died, or perhaps you want to create some religious connection [have you ever visited Lourdes?]. There are no limits to your imagination; just make sure the story is gripping – one day, they might make a movie of it.
3. Add a dash of pseudo-science
Like it or not, but we live in an age where we cannot entirely exclude science from our considerations. At the very minimum, I recommend a little smattering of sciency terminology. As you don’t want to be found out, select something that only few experts understand; quantum physics, entanglement, chaos-theory and Nano-technology are all excellent options.
It might also look more convincing to hint at the notion that top scientists adore your concepts, or that whole teams from universities in distant places are working on the underlying mechanisms, or that the Nobel committee has recently been alerted etc. If at all possible, add a bit of high tech to your new invention; some shiny new apparatus with flashing lights and digital displays might be just the ticket. The apparatus can be otherwise empty – as long as it looks impressive, all is fine.
4. Do not forget a dose of ancient wisdom
With all this science – sorry, pseudo-science – you must not forget to remain firmly grounded in tradition. Your treatment ought to be based on ancient wisdom which you have rediscovered, modified and perfected. I recommend mentioning that some of the oldest cultures of the planet have already been aware of the main pillars on which your invention today proudly stands. Anything that is that old has stood the test of time which is to say, your treatment is both effective and safe.
5. Claim to have a panacea
To maximise your income, you want to have as many customers as possible. It would therefore be unwise to focus your endeavours on just one or two conditions. Commercially, it is much better to affirm in no uncertain terms that your treatment is a cure for everything, a panacea. Do not worry about the implausibility of such a claim. In the realm of quackery, it is perfectly acceptable, even common behaviour to be outlandish.
6. Deal with the ‘evidence-problem’ and the nasty sceptics
It is depressing, I know, but even the most exceptionally gifted charlatan is bound to attract doubters. Sceptics will sooner or later ask you for evidence; in fact, they are obsessed by it. But do not panic – this is by no means as threatening as it appears. The obvious solution is to provide testimonial after testimonial.
You need a website where satisfied customers report impressive stories how your treatment saved their lives. In case you do not know such customers, invent them; in the realm of quackery, there is a time-honoured tradition of writing your own testimonials. Nobody will be able to tell!
7. Demonstrate that you master the fine art of cheating with statistics
Some of the sceptics might not be impressed, and when they start criticising your ‘evidence’, you might need to go the extra mile. Providing statistics is a very good way of keeping them at bay, at least for a while. The general consensus amongst charlatans is that about 70% of their patients experience remarkable benefit from whatever placebo they throw at them. So, my advice is to do a little better and cite a case series of at least 5000 patients of whom 76.5 % showed significant improvements.
What? You don’t have such case series? Don’t be daft, be inventive!
8. Score points with Big Pharma
You must be aware who your (future) customers are (will be): they are affluent, had a decent education (evidently without much success), and are middle-aged, gullible and deeply alternative. Think of Prince Charles! Once you have empathised with this mind-set, it is obvious that you can profitably plug into the persecution complex which haunts these people.
An easy way of achieving this is to claim that Big Pharma has got wind of your innovation, is positively frightened of losing millions, and is thus doing all they can to supress it. Not only will this give you street cred with the lunatic fringe of society, it also provides a perfect explanation why your ground-breaking discovery has not been published it the top journals of medicine: the editors are all in the pocket of Big Pharma, of course.
9. Ask for money, much money
I have left the most important bit for the end; remember: your aim is to get rich! So, charge high fees, even extravagantly high ones. If your treatment is a product that you can sell (e.g. via the internet, to escape the regulators), sell it dearly; if it is a hands-on therapy, charge heavy consultation fees and claim exclusivity; if it is a teachable technique, start training other therapists at high fees and ask a franchise-cut of their future earnings.
Over-charging is your best chance of getting famous – or have you ever heard of a charlatan famous for being reasonably priced? It will also get rid of the riff-raff you don’t want to see in your surgery. Poor people might be even ill! No, you don’t want them; you want the ‘worried rich and well’ who can afford to see a real doctor when things should go wrong. But most importantly, high fees will do a lot of good to your bank account.
Could it be that Joe Dispenza is the most successful pupil of my crash-course in charlatanism?
I have been asked by the NY Post to answer a few questions about Dispenza. Allow me to present them to you here:
What makes Dispenza so dangerous (his advice, obsession with manifesting, etc.)?
Dispenza is at his most dangerous firstly when he implies that he can cure serious illness. In this way, he can cause the premature death of many patients. Secondly, he systematically undermines rational thinking which inevitably will cause significant harm to the already badly damaged US society. As Voltaire once pointed out: those who make you believe in absurdities can make you commit atrocities.
Why, in your opinion, has he amassed a cult-like following?
In 2012 I published a satirical piece entitled ‘How to become a charlatan’ (How to become a charlatan (edzardernst.com)). It seems to me that Dispenza followed my instructions to the letter providing a masterclass on fooling the public. He is a textbook example of a charismatic pseudoscientist (e.g.: I am a “researcher of epigenetics, quantum physics & neuroscience“) touting pure bullshit (e.g.: “new science is emerging that empowers all human beings to create the reality they choose”). He may be a charlatan but he is very good at it, runs a highly sophisticated campaign, and is laughing all the way to the bank.
For readers who find themselves enamored by Dispenza, what advice would you give them?
My advise is to take a step back and do a reality check: ‘Dr.Joe’ is not a medical doctor or neuroscientist but a chiropractor. He does not understand quantum physics. He has not published any meaningful scientific studies. His proclamations are nothing but platitudes or empty phrases. My advice also is to ask yourself: are you sure you are not the victim of your own gullibility?