(Investigator 131, 2010
129) was concerned with the wave patterns caused by the electrical
activity of the human brain, their detection, and the use to which the
output can be put. However, the cyclic patterns which we see displayed
on an EEG are only a small part of the overall rhythmic behaviour
determinants of man and the universe; there are many more that
influence our being and daily lives.
The daily cycle of sleep
and wakefulness for example, the rise and fall of the tides determined
by the moon's phases, the 28 day menstrual cycle in females and the
annual migration of birds to mention a few. One important discovery,
attributed to the famous psychiatrist Sigmund Freud, and in particular
his associates Dr Wilhelm Fliess and pychologist Dr Hermann Swoboda,
was the science of Biorhythms.
Like biological clocks,
they reasoned, biorhythms determine from the time of birth the cyclical
ups and downs in an individual's life. There is a 23 day physical cycle
that influences strength, stamina, energy output and self-reliance. A
28 day emotional cycle indicates the extent to which one has control
over daily emotional conflicts and a 33 day intellectual cycle
important in those areas requiring mental activity. The latter was
added by a contemporary researcher, Alfred Teltcher.
Each cycle begins at the
time of birth, and rises and falls regularly throughout one's life,
repeating itself only once in 53 years. When charted, the high peaks
are considered to be the most productive, the troughs when we are at
our lowest ebb. When the cycles are changing from high to low and vice
versa they are known as 'critical days' and are indicative of unstable
times when one is prone to accident.
Supporting the theory, are
the calculations involved to determine one's biorhythmic ups and downs.
These are alleged to be
numerologically efficient and very simple to use, and a variety of
charts, literature and electronic calculating devices are available on
the market. The ability of biorhythms to predict the most propitious
days for human performance has been confirmed it is claimed by
researchers in many areas, and its potential to prevent accidents and
save lives is well documented.
validated study of biorhythms (Thommen 1973) shows that 60 per cent of
accidents are caused by human error on 'critical' days; another by the
Canadian Armed Forces came to the same conclusion in a 7,000 case
history study, and industrial firms in Japan and Sweden have testified
to a reduction of accidents when employees were made aware of pending
'critical' days ascertained from the employees' individual biocurve
Terms such as "biorhythm"
are standard in the biological literature with a substantial
experimental base, however, the aspect being dealt with here is its use
for a less defensible purpose.
The claim has been made
that the science of biorhythms was established by Sigmund Freud and his
close friend Dr Wilhelm Fliess, but while Freud's letters to Fliess are
available for perusal nothing attributable to Fliess exists. According
to Daniel Cohen in his book, Biorhythms in Your Life, Fliess'
medical and scientific colleagues not only ignored his book but
attacked his ideas and the statistics upon which they were based.
The basic premise of the
biorhythms theory is found wanting when subjected to critical
assessment. The advocates of biorhythms support their case with
selective sampling and apply after-the-fact rationalization of the data
to confirm its accuracy. Scientifically controlled tests however, paint
an entirely different picture and give absolutely no empirical support
to the theory. In 1981, one such study carried out by Dr Brian Quigley,
Senior Lecturer in the Department of Human Movement Studies at the
University of Queensland, involved the alleged relationship between
biorhythms and sport. Dr Quigley made a study of all world record
breaking male athletes in track and field events from 1913 to 1977. He
found that the evidence for biorhythms consisted of retrospective
anecdotal accounts of selected events, name dropping, a lack of
definition of terms, and inadequate details of methods, data and
statistical analysis. His findings were presented at the 26th Annual
Meeting of the American College of Sports medicine and Pan-American
Encyclopedias are available
in any large book stores which contain all the information necessary to
test the theory — the birth dates, wins and losses, of sports stars and
other well known public figures and these can be used to check out the
biorhythm theory. Those who have done so show that the figures are no
different than would be expected by chance. In addition to selectivity,
the placebo or expectancy effect widely known in medicine and
psychological therapies might also be the basis for some of the claims
made by biorhythm proponents.
If it is indeed true that
such cycles exist, and this itself is dubious, then the cycles can only
be population averages. It is therefore unlikely that any given
individual would have a cycle matching the average, yet this is
precisely what biorhythm promoters seem to do, a patently absurd
Bainbridge, William S.
1988. "Biorhythms: Evaluating a Pseudoscience." Skeptical Inquirer.
2(2): 40-56. CSICOP.
Fix, A. James. 1976.
"Biorhythms and Sports Performance." Skeptical Inquirer. 1(1):
Gardner, Martin. 1984.
"Freud and Fleiss." Skeptical Inquirer. 8:302¬304. CSICOP.
Gittleson, Bernard. 1978.
Biorhythm. Futura. London.
James, A. 1984. 'The
Validity of Biorhythmic Theory Questioned." British Journal of
Psychology. 75, 197-200.
Muallardi, V. 1978. Biorhythms
and Your Behaviour. Running Press.
Thommen, George S. 1973. Is
This Your Day? Avon. New York.
Quigley, Dr Brian. 1981.
"Biorhythms Cause Australian - N.Z. Tensions. the Skeptic,
H. A Skeptic's Guide to the New Age.