Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Thursday, September 2, 2021

My cup runneth over

As a slightly-past-sixty-year-old, it will come as no surprise to you to hear that I'm seeing some gray hair, and a few more laugh lines than I had ten years ago.  Myself, I'd always thought of this as a natural consequence of reaching this venerated age.  Imagine my surprise when I learned this morning that gray hair and wrinkles are not caused by the death of melanin-producing cells in the hair follicles, and a decrease in the elasticity of the skin, respectively; no, both of these phenomena are caused by an imbalance of energy flow through your kidneys, and can be fixed by applying suction cups to your skin.

I wish I was making this up, but sadly, I'm not.  It's called "cupping."  The idea is that whatever ails you -- and I do mean whatever, because practitioners claim that cupping can cure everything from sciatica to constipation -- it is due to a combination of improper energy flow and pooling of toxins in the tissues, and it can all be set right by allowing a glass cup attached to a suction pump to give you an enormous hickey.

At this site, we get some of our Frequently-Asked Questions answered.  Only "some," because my most frequently-asked question while I was researching all this was, "Are you fucking kidding me right now?", and they steadfastly refused to answer that one.  But we do find out, for example, that cupping is a "powerful detoxifying, pain relieving and energy building modality that people all over the world use for health maintenance" and can be used to treat "a huge number of conditions," including colds, abscesses, arthritis, insomnia, vertigo, high blood pressure, asthma, and hemorrhoids. It works because it "drains stagnation."  And also, we shouldn't be worried about any bruising that occurs, because bruising is caused by "tissue compression/injury" and "(t)here is no compression in properly applied suction cup therapy."

No, you wingnuts, of course there isn't.  Compression is the opposite of suction.  And both can cause bruising, which is localized rupture of capillaries.  But not to worry: the site linked above says that the greater the discoloration you see after the procedure, the more you needed it and the better it worked, because "the more (discoloration) is visible, the greater the level of stagnation and toxicity...  This is clearly the result of having internal unwanted toxins systematically purged."

Right.  "Clearly."

I bet you thought I was joking about the hickeys. [Image licensed under the Creative Commons The Pocket from Shanghai, Chinese cup massage, CC BY 2.0]

But wait, you might be saying; how can this be drawing out "stagnation" from your body, when there's nothing actually crossing your skin and being sucked away by the suction cup, given that when you take the cup off the "patient's" skin, it's empty?  Well, someone thought of that, too, and they developed "wet cupping," in which they do the whole cupping procedure, but they cut your skin first.

Yes, folks, the cuppers have basically rediscovered bloodletting, a practice that was generally discontinued back in the eighteenth century, when it was discovered that an unfortunate side-effect was frequently the death of the patient.  But a little historical tragedy like that isn't going to stop these folks.  No way, not when cupping can have benefits like "facilitating the movement of qi," "promoting the flow of lymphatic fluid," "breaking up and expelling congestion," and "balancing pH."

Now, of course, we've run into the phenomenon before that there's no woo-woo idea so ridiculous that someone can't improve it to make it even more ridiculous, so allow me to introduce you to the idea of "fire cupping."  In fire cupping, instead of being attached to a suction pump, the glass cup has a cotton ball saturated with rubbing alcohol placed into it and ignited, and then the hot cup is placed on the person's skin.  As the air cools, it contracts, and that creates the suction that pulls out the stagnant qi energy lymph toxins, or whatever the fuck they claim it's doing.  The problem is, hot things have an unfortunate side effect, namely burns, and there have been several cases of victims... oops, sorry, patients... having to be treated for circular burns after being "fire cupped."

Okay.  Let's just get a few things straight, here.  Disease is not caused by "energy stagnation."  If you apply a suction cup to your skin, you are accomplishing nothing but bursting a few capillaries and giving yourself a nice, symmetrical bruise.  Any "toxins" in your body are capable of being handled just fine by your kidneys and liver, which incidentally have nothing whatsoever to do with gray hair.  There is no such thing as "qi."  And if you allow anyone with a glass cup containing a flaming cotton ball anywhere near your bare skin, you deserve everything you get.

So that's today's pseudoscience -- an idea which, in every sense of the word, sucks.  Amazing how after years of writing daily on this blog, I'm still running into goofy ideas I'd never heard of before.  It's really kind of a depressing thought, isn't it?  Oh, wait -- depression is something that can be cured by cupping!  Yay!  If I show up later today with a giant circular bruise on the side of my head, don't worry -- it's just that I had all of those stagnant toxic thoughts removed by attaching a suction cup to my temple.


One of the most enduring mysteries of neuroscience is the origin of consciousness.  We are aware of a "self," but where does that awareness come from, and what does it mean?  Does it arise out of purely biological processes -- or is it an indication of the presence of a "soul" or "spirit," with all of its implications about the potential for an afterlife and the independence of the mind and body?

Neuroscientist Anil Seth has taken a crack at this question of long standing in his new book Being You: A New Science of Consciousness, in which he brings a rigorous scientific approach to how we perceive the world around us, how we reconcile our internal and external worlds, and how we understand this mysterious "sense of self."  It's a fascinating look at how our brains make us who we are.

[Note: if you purchase this book using the image/link below, part of the proceeds goes to support Skeptophilia!]

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