Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Can someone explain why this works?

  1. Dec 20, 2011 #1
    This sounds very hokey (in a metaphysical way), and I am sorry for that. It isn't, it is a very serious question....

    A number of years ago a friend gave me a "healing wand." It is nothing more than hard copper (water) pipe(maybe a foot long?), and a natural quartz crystal "point". But this thing creates heat?

    When it was given to me, the friend made me close my eyes and hold my hand out so I couldn't see what she was doing. She swirled this thing over the palm of my hand slowly, about two inches above my hand. I could actually feel this hot spot going around, and I could also feel it "drag", like the spoon indentation when you stir pudding (does that even make sense?). I have done this same trick to several complete non believers, and they were stunned at the amount of heat you can feel.

    How a short piece of copper pipe and quartz can create heat is beyond me. I have since played with many of my points in my rock collection, and have found that some naturally give off a tiny amount of heat, while others seem not to. And in the metaphysical world, the copper magnifies this "natural energy."

    I have hesitated asking this question here for the longest time because I fear being put in the box of a looney believing metaphysical crap, so please just scientific answers only? Even if it is a guesstimate of how this heat is even possible from just quartz and copper?
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 20, 2011 #2


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    Have you tested the heat of the crystal with an instant read thermometer? Why don't you do that and tell us what temperature it is and also test other objects. Do not hold the copper tube as body heat can be transfered to the pipe from your hand.
  4. Dec 20, 2011 #3
    Interesting thought, Evo. I always suspected the quartz is actually not creating measurable heat, but somehow you feel heat in the hand. I guess I should not have said it creates heat, but heat can be felt from it. I had wondered if it was caused by some process similar to magnetism, or like the oscillations created in quarts watches that could somehow be detected as heat at a small distance. I don't have an instant read thermometer, but I will get one and see if it detects any temperature difference, or if the quartz is actually warmer than the surrounding objects. I highly doubt that it will, but I will test your idea just to make sure.

    Is there any property of either quartz or copper that would create this feeling of heat?
  5. Dec 20, 2011 #4


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    My simple guess would be the following:
    Your body is at at temperature of 98.6 degrees F as measured by a thermometer placed in your mouth. Your hand, being an extremity, would be at a somewhat lower temperature perhaps 80 F or 85 F, but that figure is disputable, and it depends where your hands have been. Since all material bodies that have a temperature radiate heat, your body and your hand are also radiating heat through infrared radiation to the surroundings. Your surroundings, or your room if you like, are at a lessor temperature and not necessarily room temperature of the air; but being at a lessor temperature radiate less heat to your body than your body radiates to the surroundings.

    Put both your hands up to your face and your face will begin to feel warmer. This is due to the fact that now your face is radiating to your hands and your hands are radiating to your face. Your face is receiving radiation from a warmer object than when it is uncovered.

    For the crystal on a stick, I propose that what is happening is that the cystal is reflecting the infrared radiation from your hand back to your hand and you feel a hot spot. The radiation would be in the far infrared and the cyrstal itself would "feel" cold to the touch.

    Other PF'rs may agree or call me out on the technicalities, is but I do believe that what is happening is along this description.
  6. Dec 20, 2011 #5


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    If there is no heat to be measured, then is it really heat or just imagining heat? If you have the money, get one of those cool infrared surface thermometers that you point at the object, that way you could also point it at your hand while waving the wand over it to see if it's really causing your hand to heat up. But those start around $40-$50 for a cheap one at Walmart.

    I have a regular instant read that you need to touch the tip to the object, but it was less than $10.
  7. Dec 20, 2011 #6


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    I don't see how this would in any way explain your observation, but there are atypical things about copper and quartz.

    1) Copper is a good conductor of heat and electricity. (I assume you knew that).

    2) Quartz is piezoelectric: apply pressure, charge is generated. Apply electric field, mechanical stress is produced; apply vibration and you get varying electric field; apply varying electric field and crystal will vibrate.

    3) Quarts is triboluminescent. Hit or scraped it will produce faint flashes of light. (To see this, you need pitch darkness with full adaptation of your eye to the dark).

    But, I really don't see how any of these account for your observation.
  8. Dec 21, 2011 #7

    If the crystal were mounted such that two faces are squeezed it ought to exhibit a definite electric field with one face being positive and the other negative. Proximity to the hand would induce an equal dipole (opposite in signs) in the hand, just based on the fact that the proximity of any field to an insulator will attract charges of the opposite sign to the area of the insulator exposed to the field.

    This excess of charge in the skin might have the same effect on heat-sensing nerve endings that heat does: it may trigger them to fire, sending the erroneous message of heat sensation to the brain.

    It could be strong charge of either polarity would do this, or it could be the skin has to experience a relatively fast shift from one polarity to the other.

    We know from the phenomenon of dielectric heating that materials can be physically heated just by rapidly alternating an electric field around them.

    This wouldn't be the same: there would be no objective heat produced, but the change in field might be enough to depolarize the nerve endings responsible for heat sensation.

  9. Dec 21, 2011 #8


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Interesting ideas. Maybe there is a real effect here.
  10. Dec 21, 2011 #9
    In principle there could indeed be a non-psychological, objective effect. The wiki article on thermoreceptors mentions how cold receptors can be activated chemically to perceive cold in the absence of any authentic drop in temperature:

    So, on the principle that cold receptors can be made to fire by things that aren't actually cold, so too, heat receptors might be made to fire by things that aren't authentically hot. An electric field is a perfectly good suspect for that. Someone ought to be able to measure the voltage across a squeezed crystal with a common VOM, and someone might likewise mount two metal plates on the end of a stick, charge them like a capacitor, and wave them over someone's hand to see if the same sensation of heat is created. It's all testable.
  11. Dec 21, 2011 #10


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Create a roughly identical wand made of small PVC pipe and put a chunk of granite on the end.

    If you trust your own perceptions, then have your friend randomly select from the two wands and wave them over your hand. Do your best not to cheat, and keep your eyes closed.

    If you can tell the difference between the two wands, then you can continue your investigation. If you can't, then the effect is psychosomatic (or the PVC/granite combo is equally effective).

    I propose this solution because your friend is less likely to refuse. Trust me, when you try to measure woo-woo, the practitioners hate it.
  12. Dec 21, 2011 #11
    If you wave anything at all over someone's hand when they have their eyes closed and they feel heat, that, itself, would have to be explained, since they can't see what you're doing.
  13. Dec 21, 2011 #12
    And THAT is exactly the reason why I even have this novelty item in my house. Not only could I feel the heat, but the circular motion and the speed with my eyes closed. All from about two inches away. It was so strange I had to accept the gift just to figure it out.

    Zooby, thanks for the links. I haven't had any free time today to read them, but from the short descriptions you and PAllen provided, they sound like they will provide some good meat to sink my teeth into. It sounds like I won't get my answers, I fear it will all be pure speculation. But oh well. Then I will see what I can do to prove something, at least in my own mind. I will in the very least try Evo and Flex's tests, hopefully others.

    Tomorrow will be hectic, I may not be back online until next Tuesday, but I will definitely try to read up on those 3 links, and ask questions when I come back.

    Thank you everyone so far for the ideas!
    Happy Holidays
  14. Dec 21, 2011 #13


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    Let us know what you find! Happy Holidays!!
  15. Dec 22, 2011 #14


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    If I tell you to close your eyes and explain that I'm going to bring a match as close to your hand as possible, it's likely that you'll experience the sensation of heat just at the mere sound of a match lighting regardless of whether or not I ever bring it near your hand.

    Psychosomatic effects aren't fake.
  16. Dec 23, 2011 #15
    Yes, but if I tell you to close your eyes, put out your hand, and ask you what you feel without suggesting any particular sensation, why should you feel a moving heat spot?
  17. Dec 26, 2011 #16
    Hi, I would like to attempt the pros and cons of the three links posted earlier, one by one, starting off with this link and comments on Piezoelectricity:

    And from PAllen's post:
    From what I was able to understand from the wiki article, the piezoelectricity is caused from an applied stress. As this crystal is literally just hot glued to the copper, does that make this effect not possible in this situation? I just want to make sure I am not throwing the baby out with the bathwater, just because I don't fully understand the concept.
  18. Dec 30, 2011 #17
    Yes, the crystal has to have pressure on it to produce a field. It has to be stressed. If it's not under any stress it ought to be electrically neutral.

    I was assuming it was inserted into the pipe and held in place by friction. If it is not, then it would be experiencing only a small stress from being held at some angle not perfectly along the normal of gravity, and a larger stress when being waved around, but neither of these would be anywhere near as large as that from the pipe squeezing the crystal.

    Unfortunately, you can't throw the bathwater out yet, at all. The effect I proposed is hypothetical and can't be ruled out since there are no known parameters. What would the threshold voltage be to cause a heat receptor to fire? Would too much voltage somehow obviate the effect?

    I think the first step would be to rigorously prove there is such an effect. The person should be told nothing, be well blindfolded, and be tested with several different materials: a plain wooden stick, a plastic rod, a steel rod, etc. Additionally, the person doing the waving of the object over the hand should be a volunteer naive of the sensation the other is supposed to feel, least they cue them somehow about what they're supposed to experience.

    Flexgunship is right that direct suggestion can easily produce sensation, as this Derren Brown video proves:


    As we can see at the beginning, these strippers are hypersensitive to the notion of being touched to begin with, and, it can be assumed, easily convinced they've been touched when they haven't. He directly tells them he is going to touch them, even though he never does, thus creating that expectation. (I assume they are hearing him move his arm,or, that he's moving enough air when he does it that they can feel that, and that is what's triggering the sensation they expect.)

    In testing the crystal, all such priming and suggestion, however subtle, has to be eliminated, before everyone will be convinced there is an effect to be studied.
  19. Jan 2, 2012 #18
    I have today off as holiday, so I have been doing some research online of infrared thermometers. The majority of them, whether they are meant for medical or other purpose, seem to have an accuracy rate of +/- 2%. That doesn't seem close enough? Or is it?

    I have a coupon for this puppy at 29.99 http://www.harborfreight.com/non-contact-laser-thermometer-96451.html which is tempting because I do prefer to buy things physically, as I have had too many returns from online purchases... Yet I am not sure if it would register a tenth of a degree F change? Or if it even reads in tenths. I will go look at it today.

    Here is another one from the Walgreens website: http://www.walgreens.com/store/c/al...on-contact-thermometer/ID=prod6079591-product While the Walgreens website claims "Accurate to +/-1F", Amazon website claims "Accuracy reading, +/-2.5%"

    I would think a medical infrared thermometer would provide a more accurate reading (to the tenths), but all the reviews seemed rather upset at how poorly they were on accuracy vs touch thermometers. While these sound like they would be a very fun tool to own, I am not certain it would provide the needed information. Any advice?

    I think when I start using unsuspecting victi... uhhh, I mean when I start using study participants I will not even show them the "wand" (the real one or the fake/placebo ones) before doing anything to make sure they don't somehow have any preconceived ideas of what I will do to them. I definitely had not knowingly seen or heard of anything like a "wand" when she made me close my eyes, but who knows, maybe somewhere in the back of my mind I had. I still find it highly unlikely that I would have known that she would wave this over my palm in slow circles, and that I would be able to feel the exact speed and circle size as what I saw when I opened my eyes... Heck, even Harry Potter doesn't do that.
  20. Jan 2, 2012 #19


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    Probably not. I want one anyway. :tongue:
  21. Jan 2, 2012 #20
    Good. No one had explicitly asked, but I assumed you neither saw the wand nor had heat suggested to you before she did it. I think other's assumed you both saw it and had had heat suggested, which lead them to the obvious conclusion of a psychological effect.
  22. Jan 4, 2012 #21
    I do notice that there were many people saying that they have magical powers/abilities and so on. Should i suggest that its a placebo effect from you yourself? Perhaps you should look up on in formations of those 'witch doctor' and read up on the reasons behind the mystical effect. That is myth wise. For scientific answers,what i could say is that i have no evidence for my thoughts. Electromagnetism might be one of the cause and as you felt the resistance,i am speechless. Perhaps you could ask a professional who says that he and he could do some mystical stuffs. My knowledge for this is limited,but i hope that it helps!
  23. Jan 6, 2012 #22
    I know! I can't wait to get it and play with it, the uses are endless.

    And due to Zooby and Carran's responses, I went back and read my comments and I really wasn't clear. I will re tell my story to better clarify the psychosomatic responses. I know you can never write that off completely, but it does help to understand my experience and why I minimize that as a possibility. So here goes...

    I had never seen anything like that wand before, had no knowledge of metaphysical stuff, so in my mind I went in completely blind. She told me to close my eyes and hold out my hand, never suggesting that I would feel heat, or that she would wave this over my palm. An assumption can be made that SOMETHING would be done to my hand, but I had no idea what would be done. But with my eyes closed, I felt the circle, the speed, and this "dragging" without looking. I opened my eyes when I wanted to, not on her cue. So that should practically eliminate the thought that she did something with my eyes closed, then changed what she was doing when she told me to open my eyes.

    If further clarification is needed, I will. But I don't want to get too wordy right now.


    Placebo effect is always a possibility, but I believe I had only heard of crystals being used in healing once before. My mother in law had been given a tumbled rose quartz rock and was told to keep it in her pocket for some healing purpose. I laughed at her as I had never heard of healing stones before. But still, that is always a possibility that I had read something in some book at some time. I never got into magic stories that I can remember, until I borrowed my daughter's Harry Potter books (oh, and Lord of the Rings). I really am naive and a total disbeliever about anything magic. But it is good to hear all the possible psychological possibilities and mull over them.

    But this one sentence of yours confuses me (and I don't mean the word repeat) "Perhaps you could ask a professional who says that he and he could do some mystical stuffs." Are you suggesting I find a professional that is willing to test these theories with me? (which I would love to do) Or are you suggesting that there are professionals that believe in mystical stuff that I should seek out?

    Thanks for all the suggestions from everyone so far!
  24. Jan 6, 2012 #23


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    This is very pertinent. Please don't think I'm accusing you in saying this (I in no way mean to!) but there's a chance that because she said this you expected to feel something in your hand as when people normally say "close your eyes and hold out your hand" something is put in it. Expecting this you were sensitised towards something coming towards your hand and may have detected her motion, air movements etc and consequently had some sensation. After this was revealed you and your friend would have swapped stories of what happened and both built up on the expectations of the other laying 'false' memories. I.e. you felt something, your friend admits it was in a circle motion, you say "yeah that makes sense" and a false memory is created that you felt a circle motion.
    Healing crystals and all woo like that is completely bunk (it's been tested time and time again). I would think it is unlikely that you would have associated the crystal with the phenomenon unless you knew it was a crystal before hand.
    I'm not sure but I think the suggestion is to find someone who specialises in studying mystic claims rather than someone who believes in them. Someone like Randi springs to mind who is an expert in magic, stage psychology etc.
  25. Jan 6, 2012 #24
    I don't know the answer, and have found the replies interesting. I'm wondering if the quartz crystal has anything to do with it. Copper is a good electrical conductor. Hands have magnetic properties (I'm assuming). We know that moving a conductor about a magnet, or vice verse, produces measurable effects. Is that all there is to it? I have no idea.
  26. Jan 7, 2012 #25
    The fact you saw the wand shifts the probability over into it being a psychological effect IMO. But maybe having nothing to do with associating crystals with magic energy:

    Since a quartz crystal resembles glass or ice, it would automatically carry a "cold" association. The heat one feels might be a psychological "preparatory mode": a surge of psychosomatic heat sensation in protective response to the thought you're about to be touched with something cold. The fact the people you tested all felt heat, as opposed to anything else, lends some circumstantial support to this (provided they all saw the crystal before closing their eyes). I'm not stuck to that exact idea. It's meant to represent some response to the crystal, and things suggested by it's appearance as a substance, that may actually be more common than anyone has noticed. If crystal suggests glass, then maybe the automatic response is an unconscious fear of being cut or stuck by it that causes the 'endangered' area to feel hotter. Anything along these lines that leads to the common reaction of a heat sensation as reaction to the crystal's resemblance to ice or glass fits.

    The sensation of circular motion could be explained by priming you don't remember or even recognize as priming by what must be the thousand cartoons and movies where a magic wand is moved in a circular motion. (I can't remember, does Glinda, the Witch of the North do this with her wand in Wizard of Oz at some point?) It could be that 87.34% of people are primed such that this is the gesture they'd make if you handed them anything that resembled a magic wand and told them to demonstrate how they're used. (Easy enough to test.)

    The first idea is supported any time anyone seeing the wand reports heat when they present their hand and close their eyes, as opposed to any other sensation (or lack thereof). The second could be tested by just drawing straight lines over their palms instead of circles (these subjects have seen the wand, of course). If they report the sensation of circles, it indicates they're actually just being influenced by priming concerning how magic wands are generally waved.

    I assume the people you tested this on were also naive of what they were supposed to feel? It was the same with them as it was with you? They saw the wand, and assumed something was to be done to their hand with it, but you didn't suggest heat?
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook