A Matter of Balance

Richard Saunders finds some amazing inventions at Mind Body Wallet and puts them to the test.

From the pages of The Skeptic March 2010

In November 2009, a group of Australian Skeptics and friends headed for the Festival of Mind Body Spirit in Sydney. An overview of this adventure can be seen in the previous issue of The Skeptic. Over the years, I have come to expect the unexpected at these events. Although much of what is on show is old hat, sometimes something stands out for one reason or another. This time it was the stand of a company called FusionExcel http://fusionexcel.com which sells a nice looking pendant to wear around the neck. According to the company’s web site:

“Quantum Pendant is made from natural minerals that are fused and structurally bonded together at a molecular level. It produces scalar energy that helps to enhance the body’s biofield.”

More red flags than a red flag factory. Putting aside the nonsense of scalar energy and the body’s biofield, just what is FusionExcel selling? In other words, what is the hook that would convince someone to part with $266 for a black pendant about the size of a poker chip? The answer is something that has been bobbing around since the 1970s – body balance and flexibility tricks. These tricks consist of ‘testing’ one’s balance by applying a slight downward force on an extended arm. The subject, who is also standing on one foot, normally tips off balance as the force is directed slightly away from the body and hence the centre of gravity. Now the same test is done again only this time the subject is given the pendant (or, as we’ll soon see, a hologram). As if by magic, the subject not only does not tip over, it seems they are anchored with an amazing new sense of balance. No matter how hard the force is applied, the subject remains upright.

FusionExcel Pendant

How is this stunning feat achieved? As you may have guessed, it’s nothing to do with the pendant which is only a prop, it’s all to do with the how the force is applied to the extended arm and this time the force is downward and very much towards the body. However, the casual observer usually does not notice this change in the direction of the force and so the trick carries quite an impact. So subtle is the technique that even the subject of the tests is unaware of the difference and is easily convinced they have suddenly acquired a new sense of balance. Other similar tests use the same principal of directing force away from and then towards the body. To cap off the demonstrations, the subject is ask to swing their arm slowly back around the body as far as it will go. Then once the pendant is introduced, the subject finds to their amazement that their arm swings even further. Again, it’s not the pendant, it’s just the body flexing and re-flexing. But the effect can seem astonishing.

This is all very well and fine and something skeptics around the world have seen many times. What made the Quantum Pendant stand out were the supplementary claims given by the FusionExcel representatives. The pendant could also turn tap water into sun block. Yes … it might take a moment for the gravity of this claim to sink in … a plastic pendant, (made from lava?) if placed under a bottle of tap water for 15 minutes gives that water the power of a sun block if rubbed on the skin. Indeed, one of the representatives told us she used it on her grandchildren as she does not trust the chemicals in real sun block.

Needless to say I and the other skeptics were somewhat dumbstruck at this claim, but not for long. I allowed myself the luxury of lecturing these people and demanding they stop making this outrageous and totally irresponsible claim. Australian Skeptics are now considering our next step as this claim ranks among the worst we have encountered.

A search of videos on YouTube showed more of FusionExcel and the body tests. Once you know the tricks it’s relatively easy to spot what is going on. Little did I know all this extra research would come in very handy in a matter of weeks.

In early December 2009, Today Tonight on Channel 7 ran a story from Adelaide on the amazing results achieved by using the Power Balance wristband (at only $60) with embedded hologram. To quote from their web site:

PowerBalance Hologram

How does it work? Most everything has a frequency inherent to it. Some frequencies react positively with your body and others negatively. When the hologram comes into contact with your body’s energy field, it allows your body to interact with the natural, beneficial frequency stored within the hologram. This results in improved energy flow throughout your body.

What really caught my attention upon watching the story on Today Tonight was that Power Balance used exactly the same tests as FusionExcel, only this time it was the hologram in the wrist band that gave one the ‘power’. I wrote to Today Tonight offering my services in any follow up to the story but, as luck would have it, they contacted me via Skeptic Laurie Eddie in Adelaide. After a chat with reporter Frank Pangallo, it was agreed that I be flown to Adelaide to test the Power Balance on behalf of Australian Skeptics. Also flown in was Tom O’Dowd who has the Australian rights for the Power Balance bracelet.

The Adelaide tests were as simple as I could make them. We had six volunteers line up with only one, chosen by the roll of a dice, having the hologram hidden about their person. Tom was unaware as to who had the hologram (as was I) so his task was to use the body ‘tests’ to find out. If the hologram performed as claimed, this should have been a walk in the park. Unfortunately for Tom, he did not pick the right person on any of the five tests we performed. At every step (and this point cannot be overstated) Tom was asked if he was happy with the conditions. Tom reported his approval.

I found Tom O’Dowd to be friendly and very keen to show me how well Power Balance worked. I have no doubt that he really does believe the product works even though it failed a very simple test. Why? We look to water diviners for the answer.

Australian Skeptics have been testing the claims of water diviners since James Randi travelled here 30 years ago. What is well known to us is something called the ‘ideomotor action’ or effect. This simply put is the phenomenon of the body fooling the owner. When the diviners’ rods move, the diviner is unaware that they are tilting their own hands. When proponents of something like Power Balance are demonstrating the product, they too are unaware of the subtle change they apply to their subject to make them tip or not. Sound far-fetched? The ideomotor action is well-documented and very powerful.

It is also possible to misuse these body tests or tricks once you know what you are doing. On a recent trip to the USA, I was able to give amazing demonstrations to total strangers on the incredible power of a pendant I now carry. The pendant is made from ceramics and has the words Science Saves Lives’ written on it.