New is scary. That is especially significant in a field like medicine that is based on proven theories of respected experts, the evidence of scientific research, and finally the knowledge of clinical practice. Scientists are only now beginning to understand the potential impact that the human biofield, extended consciousness, placebo and mind-body medicine can have upon healing and resilience.

Like all fields in their infancy, integrating new concepts of healing and resilience into mainstream medicine is slow and the fields are facing major barriers to making progress.

1. Lack of a mechanism

We may find that biofield healing processes, extended consciousness and placebo cannot be understood by conventional explanations. This creates some resistance or friction amongst scientists, researchers and practitioners looking to put a round peg in a square hole. When studying new phenomena, an investigator may see data that an effect exists, but without an accepted mechanism, it is not possible to understand WHY and HOW it is occurring.

Also, without an understood mechanism, researchers may not know how to properly measure the individual effects in studies. When the active factors aren’t known, it’s nearly impossible to control for those factors. Researchers need to learn the rules of the game before they can control for them. When the rules are unknown, it makes replicability of studies difficult.

2. New field, new lexicon, no structure

For any field to progress, a solid academic infrastructure is necessary. Being able to study and understand the mechanisms of healing and resilience will allow for the theory and practice to develop in a way that is critical but not biased. For example, biofield healing is a broad term that includes many different practices related to energy. Because we do not yet know the underlying mechanism, the varying practices and terms confuse and lead to varied interpretations. As long as universities and research infrastructures are split into factions, new ideas cannot take hold.

3. Science on the fringe

Extended consciousness reminds us of psychics and could be easily ignored. The placebo effect is minimized and pushed aside. Some of the aspects of biofield healing like the role of healing intention are connected to parapsychology, which skeptics criticize as pseudo-science. Some definitions also include practices that appear similar to prayer or “laying on of hands,” which have religious connections, making scientists hesitant to tackle these traditionally stigmatized topic areas.

However despite these barriers, frontier areas of science are important to study and cannot be ignored. Solving these challenges will require the research community to be bold and innovative.

Making the mysterious methodical

In the 17th century, scholars thought light was not physical. Instead, they believed it was of the occult and beyond the laws of nature. We now know that light is electromagnetic radiation and through careful study we learned to harness the power of light.

Likewise, if you showed a smart phone to a person 50 years ago, they would think it was magic or a trick. How do we advance the study of frontier topics? We will only be able to understand and harness the power of these topics through rigorous, systematic scientific investigation.i

How to study frontier science

  • Use sound methods and research tools. Apply rigorous scientific thinking to each step of the process. Proceed CAREFULLY and methodically. Don’t jump to conclusions. Present results in a factual way that don’t allow for misinterpretation by skeptics.
  • Harden the science and soften the scientists. Dogma is a major barrier that undermines the data. Bias and tribalism of both the skeptics and advocates are blinding investigators from the trail.
  • Approach topics from a multi-disciplinary way. Bring in other ways of thinking whether it be mathematics, informatics, research methodologists or other areas of study.

Future of health depends on exploration

We have reached the limits of modern medicine and are hitting diminishing returns. The future of health care will focus on our ability to be active participants in our health and healing. Some of this will require a change in us as patients. Some of it will require a change in the way health care is delivered. Useful medical applications of these cutting edge areas of science may help establish a path forward.

Learn more about these challenges and others in the new article, “Barriers to the Entry of Biofield Healing into “Mainstream” Healthcare.”

i Henry Samueli, PHD, Frontiers of Consciousness Workshop