The past week has been one of the hottest early-spring weeks I can remember. The highveld is so dry and dusty that there is a layer of brown muck covering everything. While those of us living in Gauteng are desperately looking towards the skies for the first rains, my baloney detector has been flooded by a huge downpour of water woo.
A few days ago I read about a water science documentary which has recently been released in South Africa. Water: The Great Mystery is brought to us by the same people who produced What the Bleep do We Know?. Water is a controversial “documentary” which addresses the theme of “water memory”, that is the theory that water somehow responds to our thoughts and through this strange telepathy can have a profound impact on our health.
I have not yet been lucky enough to watch Water but I will as soon as I get the chance. However, I did run across a review on health24.com which deals with some of the theories proposed in the film. The author of this article, Carine van Rooyen, seems at first to have taken the typically sloppy approach of presenting a platter of nonsense and then “letting you decide for yourself”. This may seem like a reasonable proposition, unfortunately however, most people are terrible at deciding for themselves and tend to accept what they are told (unless it contradicts something they already believe).
In the second section of the article Carine does present a well balanced criticism of water memory. She also invites feedback in the comments section. My feedback is a little too long for the few lines provided, so what follows is my rational response to Carine’s article. I hope that you will take this opportunity to study a different viewpoint, do a little research of your own, then you decide for yourself.
The “facts” which are supposedly established in the introduction to the movie are patently ridiculous. The assertion that Scientists (you know, those fellows in lab coats) agree that life on Earth could not survive without water may seem obvious if you do not keep up with scientific research. However in an article entitled Sharing the Secrets of Water, published in the journal Intergrative & Comparative Biology, Peter Alpert (University of Massachusetts–Amherst) describes in some detail how some forms of life can survive on earth without water.
Interestingly, Alpert notes that “a very few animals, a few plants, and an unknown proportion of microbes can be separated from water for a time. They can dry without dying, survive for hours to decades in a desiccated, ametabolic state, and then recover full function after rewetting”.
Furthermore the Tardigrade (Waterbear) has been shown to survive the vacuum of space for an entire year. These invertebrates are certainly remarkable, they can survive the harshest environment conceivable. Jonsson et al published their findings regarding this Tardigrade experiment in the journal Current Biology, 9 September 2008.
If earth-life can survive without water, surely life can evolve without water. It may not be any kind of life of which we could conceive, but that does not mean that it is impossible.
The claim that water is the only “substance” which can exist on earth in all three states really causes me some cognitive dissonance. A substance is “that which has mass and occupies space” according to the free dictionary. That is a very broad definition and the preceeding claim seems highly unlikely. In Popular Mechanics, October 2008, there is a short article about researchers at the University of Maryland who have developed a device to generate magnetic fields like that of the Earth. It is a gigantic spinning ball of, amongst other things, sodium. When this device is at rest the sodium is in a solid state. When the Maryland researchers need to fire that baby up they must first heat the sodium to 97,7 degrees celsius; melting point. Well, that is only two states, to complete the trio one need only note that sodium gas is commonly used in sodium lights.
The claim that water defies gravity in order to rise up through the trunks of mighty trees actually made me laugh out loud. Have these people not heard of osmosis? I did not study biology after selection in high school, but what I did learn is that water enters a tree through it’s roots and is transported up through the xylem and into the leaves by means of capilliary action. The water does not rise through the tree independently, it is propelled upwards by mechanical action.
As this post is getting rather long, I will write two follow up pieces. In part two I will take a closer look at the scientific claims made in Water and in part three we will explore why you should not believe everything Rustum Roy tells you.