CRYSTAL QUACKERY

Kirk Straughen

(Investigator 71, 2000 March)


Introduction

According to New Age beliefs, mineral crystals are imbued with paranormal or mystical energies and properties that enable them to be used for a variety of esoteric purposes such as healing, purification and meditation.

There is nothing new about the idea that minerals possess some magical or medicinal virtue. This belief cart be found in the works of Theophrastus (c. 372-288 BC), Dioscorides (1st century AD), Isiodore (7th century AD) and Marbode, Bishop of Rennes (12th century AD).  Indeed, such beliefs were characteristic of earlier ages:

"This preoccupation with the magical and astrological properties of natural objects was, with the search for moral symbols, the chief characteristic of the scientific outlook of Western Christendom before the 13th century. There was a wealth of magic in the works of Pliny and one of its characteristic ideas, the doctrine of signatures according to which each animal, plant or mineral had some mark indicating its hidden virtues or uses, had a profound effect on popular natural history." (A.C. Crombie: Augustine to Galileo, pages 16-17.)
Is there any truth to the claims made by these ancient scholars or their New Age counterparts?  I shall now examine this question.
 

Crystals, Energy, & Vibrations

New-agers frequently make reference to Energy and Vibrations in their literature, and claim that crystals emit them, and that these powers can be harnessed by exponents of the art:

"The elemental energies of the mineral kingdom are universal energies. And, therefore, when we contact this energy, and begin to exercise our own creativity with this energy through our own exercise of Higher Will, we are drawing on the very energies around which the physical universe is made. This is why crystals are so very powerful and also why their powers and energies must only be used through the individual user's highest consciousness."
(R.Bonewitz: Cosmic Crystals, page 113.)
Is this fact or fantasy? Before I begin to examine this claim it will prove helpful to know something of the nature of crystals, energy and vibrations. Crystals come in a variety of geometric shapes, and these forms are determined by the arrangement of atoms in their structure:
"The unit cell, the smallest subdivision of a crystal, is a regular arrangement of atoms held together by electrical forces.  In a general way it is like the integral molecule described by Hauy, a building block that is too small to be seen, but when repeated over in space builds up a crystal as bricks build up a wall. The dimensions of the unit cell vary from mineral to mineral, depending on the kinds, number, size and arrangement of the atoms in it."
(C. S. Hurlbut, Jr: Minerals & Man, pages 14-15.)
There are six basic systems that crystals can be classified under:

Isometric, Tetragonal, Ortorhombic, Monoclinic, Triclinic and  Hexagonal.  As we can see, there is nothing paranormal about crystals – they are composed of ordinary matter (for example, the chemical formula for quartz is SiO2, silicon dioxide) whose geometrical form is due to the mineral's chemistry.

New-agers like to make use of the word Energy as if the word refers to a distinct entity.  However, energy is not a thing-in-itself, it is rather:

"A measure of a system's ability to do work. Like work itself it is measured in joules. Energy is conveniently classified into two forms: potential energy is the energy stored in a body or system as a consequence of its position, shape or state (this includes gravitational energy, electrical energy, nuclear energy, and chemical energy); kinetic energy is the energy of motion and is usually defined as the work that will be done by the body possessing the energy when it is brought to rest… The internal energy of a body is the sum of the potential energy and the kinetic energy of its component atoms and molecules."
(Oxford Concise Science Dictionary, page 253.)
There is no controversy over the fact that crystals can possess energy – if a quartz crystal is dropped it will acquire kinetic energy due to its motion. However, there is nothing paranormal or mystical about the nature of the energy involved

Finally, New-agers often refer to Vibrations, and claim that crystals emit them. However, vibrations are merely the oscillatory motions of a material body that arise when it has been forced from a position or state of equilibrium. An example of this phenomena can be seen when a tuning fork is struck, or a guitar string plucked. Crystals can be made to vibrate. However, an external force must be applied in order to achieve this effect. Crystals do not vibrate of their own accord due to some internal power source.
 

Theory

As we have seen, New-agers claim that mineral crystals have an effect on the mind and body because of the alleged Energy and Vibrations they are said to emit. However, these words are rather meaningless in the ill-defined context that they are being employed by New-agers. What the New-agers probably mean is that crystals emit some kind of force akin to an electromagnetic field. This assumption appears to be based in part on the fact that some minerals such as quartz have piezoelectric properties:

"Clear quartz is known as the energy stone because of its unique ability to absorb, store, amplify and transmit energy. From crystal radio sets to quartz watches, it is a tiny piece of quartz crystal that makes these inventions work." (W. & B. Jones: The Magic of Crystals,  pages 43-44.)
On page 114 of the same book, the authors then make the following claim regarding clear quartz crystals:
"The energy stone. Excellent for meditation. Amplifies energy and thought. Dispels negativity. Receives, stores and transmits energy. Aids communication with every dimension.”
This is an example of a faulty analogy.  Firstly, raw quartz crystals must undergo considerable processing before they can be incorporated into electronic components such as resonators and transducers:
"In commercial practice, raw quartz crystals are oriented by means of x-ray goniometers, the required angles of rotation are measured on the mounting jig, and the required blanks (unfinished slabs) cut from the mother crystal by means of diamond-faced saws. The blanks are then ground to the required frequency using lapping techniques with graduated sizes of abrasives to obtain a smooth finish. Some high-frequency crystals are given optically polished surfaces. It is common practice to etch the surface of the crystal with fluorine compounds to remove microscopic surface irregularities."
(McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science & Technology. Vol. 13, page 504.)
Raw crystals are simply lumps of rock that have no innate specialised functions, and trying to tune into another dimension by holding one stands about as much chance of success as attempting to tune into a radio station using the same technique.

Secondly, quartz crystals do not contain some mysterious force that can be converted into electricity. When Piezoelectric crystals such as quartz are subjected to mechanical pressure, the resulting stress causes the geometry of the crystal lattice to alter – ions (electrically charged atoms) are displaced and the electrons in their outermost shells give rise to an electric current.

This phenomena is known as the direct piezoelectric effect. The converse piezoelectric effect occurs when the application of an electric current to the crystal causes mechanical stress.  This stress then causes the crystal to vibrate at a given frequency.

As can be seen, energy is neither created nor destroyed, it is merely altered – kinetic energy in the form of mechanical pressure is converted to an electric current, and when an electric current is applied to the crystal it is converted to kinetic energy in the form of mechanical vibrations. This phenomena is simple physics, and there is nothing paranormal about that.

According to New-agers, crystals can be programmed for a variety of purposes, such as healing, by simply hiding them and directing one's thoughts at the crystal and ordering the Energies therein to be focused for that particular function.

However, in order for this to happen, our thoughts would need to be capable of being broadcast in a manner similar to radio waves.  Unfortunately for New Age proponents this does not occur – our brains do produce patterns of electrical activity known as brain waves, and these can be recorded by an electroencephalograph. However, this electrical activity does not radiate beyond our heads, and this is why the machine's electrodes must be attached to the scalp in order to sense these very weak currents.

Nothing could be accomplished even if the crystal was placed on the scalp in a manner identical to that of an electrode – crystals are not complex machines specifically designed for recording the brain's electrical activity.  Indeed, they lack the necessary internal organisation and complexity that would enable them to act in this manner.
 

Paranormal Forces

It is obvious from this brief examination that crystals do not possess any transcendental properties.  However, this fact has not stopped New-agers from claiming that paranormal forces exist and that crystals focus them much in the way a lens focuses light. Is there any evidence for the existence of such a force?

<>Each of the known forces that govern the behaviour of the universe has its own carrier particle. They are as follows:

Gravity (carried by gravitons), Strong Nuclear Force (carried by mesons), Weak Nuclear Force (carried by W+, W- and W0 particles), and the Electromagnetic force (carried by photons). These particles can be detected by an instrument known as a bubble chamber, and to date no carrier of the hypothetical paranormal force has been observed.

New-agers claim that this Elemental Energy is not detectable by scientific means, presumably because it obeys different laws.  However, the laws of Nature are mathematical expressions of the behaviour and properties of matter, they are not incorporeal Platonic entities that exist in a separate realm arid impose their qualities upon the material world. By this I mean that the forces of Nature stem from the very properties of matter, and that in order for paranormal forces to exist then atomic structure would have to be radically different from its known constitution.  Given that this is not the case, the possibility of an occult dimension to the universe is unlikely at best.

Believers may attempt to overcome this problem by claiming that it is the human mind that perceives and manipulates paranormal forces, and that it can do so because it is a paranormal entity.  However, the human mind is in fact the result of our brain's electrochemical activity and, as material bodies can only give rise to natural phenomena, our minds can not be paranormal entities, and are therefore incapable of interacting with other paranormal forces even if they exist.

Conclusion

There is no evidence that crystals radiate mystical or paranormal forces. Indeed, the very nature of atomic structure rules out the possibility that a material object could possess anything other than natural properties. In the final analysis, New Age beliefs relating to the alleged paranormal attributes of crystals are merely ancient magical beliefs, dressed up in pseudo-scientific terms in an attempt to make them sound credible to modern minds.
 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bonewitz, R.  Cosmic Crystals, The Aquarian  Press, Northamptonshire, 1987.
Caider, N. The Key to the Universe, British Broadcasting Corporation, London, 1977.
Crombie, A . C. Augustine to Galileo, Mercury Books, London., 1964.
Hurlbut Jr., C. S. Minerals and Man, Random House, New York, 1970.
Jones, W. & B The Magic of Crystals, Harper Collins Publishers, Australia, 1996
McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science  & Technology, McGraw-Hill Inc., New York, 1987.
Oxford Concise Science Dictionary, Oxford University Press, New York, 1996.


More investigations by Kirk Straughen on this website:

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