Bioelectromagnetics Part 1: A Little Physics

Working with invisible fields of energy is a tricky business: you can’t really see what you are doing unless you have a device to make it measurable. Mainly because of this, energy medicine (the methodology to do health readings and to provide health benefits using invisible fields) is still a controversial subject.

Healing with energy fields can be divided into two categories: energy healers (when a human accelerates the healing of another) and radionics (when a machine generates certain waves to help the patient heal). I will focus on the second one which is also known as electromagnetic therapy.

We are going to explore the electromagnetic fields around living beings and their interaction with other such fields. Science calls the study of these phenomena “bioelectromagnetics”.

Part 1: A Little Physics

First of all, we have to be honest about the title of the post. As Sheldon Cooper well said in the show “The Big Bang Theory”, there is no such thing as “little physics”. Physics encapsulates the entire Universe from quantum particles to supernovas, from spinning electrons to spinning galaxies.
I will focus on a few definitions which are important for us to understand the phenomena of energy detection, energy transfer and potentially energy healing.
If you feel confident about wave theory and basic electrical engineering you can skip ahead and check out Part 2. This is not a physics course by any means, I will simplify things drastically. If you have questions, you can always ask them in the comment section, or check out Khan Academy’s Physics and AC circuits sections.

Waves and fields

Energy medicine is all about waves and fields.
Electric fields surround electric charges (like the current flowing in your electronic devices), magnetic fields surround magnetic materials (like magnets).
The field is simply a name for a space where electronic and/or magnetic interaction takes place. Interestingly enough, no matter how small an electric charge is, its field expands into infinity.
The more sensitive our detection mechanism is, the further away from the charge can we detect its field.
If an electric field strength doesn’t change over time, we call it electrostatic field, if it changes it’s called electrodynamic field.

With our current technologies we can produce an electromagnetic field (a combination of electric and magnetic field) which changes over time. By changing the charge or our field source we can generate certain patterns and we call these waves. These waves, these changes in the field can be then detected at a remote location if we know what pattern we are looking for.

If we connect the transmitter and the receiver with a solid conducting material, we call it a wired communication, if we don’t then we call it wireless communication. In the wireless case we usually design antennas (specially formed conductive materials) for both the transmitter and receiver to make the communication more efficient.

The electromagnetic waves are fascinating and we could endlessly discuss their wonders, but I would like to focus on just three of their properties here: waveform, amplitude and frequency.

Waveform, amplitude, frequency

Waveform is the pattern that describes how we change the charge over time. These are usually periodic, so depending on the form of the repeated pattern we call them sine, square, triangle or sawtooth. We can always create our custom form, these are just the more commonly used ones. You can typically find the sine waveform in nature and analog devices, and the square waveform in our digital gadgets.

Sine, square, triangle and sawtooth waveforms

Every pattern has a maximum and a minimum charge value. Between that two values we can measure the charge distance, the so called peak-to-peak voltage (number 2), and its amplitude is the half of that (number 1) in the case of a sinusoidal wave.

Waveform properties

As we now know these waves change over time. How quickly they repeat their change-pattern is defined by its frequency (defined with the physical units of Hz, cycles per second).
If we repeat one pattern every second, we would say this wave is a 1 Hz wave, if it repeats that pattern 5 times per second, we would say it’s a 5 Hz wave, etc.

The Electromagnetic Spectrum

Let’s say we have a generator device that generates a bunch of sine waves at different frequencies. We have another device, the receiver, where we are trying to figure out at what frequencies the generator work with.

The receiver gets the combined signal and then it transforms that signal into a form, where the intensity of every signal component can be inspected separately. This is called the signal’s spectral density or spectrum.

There are plenty of wave generators in nature. Some use lower frequency waves, some use higher frequency waves. There is no limit how low or how high a frequency can be, so nature’s spectrum is infinite.

From the practical standpoint it was important for us humans to define certain sections of this spectrum and name them depending on the usage of those waves.

If you look at the chart below, you can see that we use these electromagnetic waves for our TV and radio broadcasting, to heat our food with microwaves, to generate thermal images or to create X-ray photos of our bones.

Interestingly our eyes are wave detectors as well: there is a tiny section of this spectrum what we can detect with our eyes, and the different frequencies are processed and represented as different colors in our brains.

Electromagnetic spectrum

What absolutely mind-boggling is that everything we know, every material interacts with this spectrum in one way or the other, all the time. You are – as a human being – swimming in these waves 24/7 and you reflect or refract these waves depending on your current state and the waves we investigating.

For example, if you are wearing a red sweater that looks red for you only because that sweater reflects red and refracts/absorbs all the other from the visible spectrum. But it’s not just you and your sweater, its everything around you!

Resonance

Resonance is the phenomena when an object oscillates at a given frequency with the highest amplitude. This is a property of the object, so every object has a resonant or natural frequency. This frequency is the product of the object physical geometry.
If two objects have the same or very similar resonant frequencies then if you stimulate one of them then all the others in close proximity will start vibrating as well.

Lasers are special light-wave sources that emit light waves at one particular frequency. When we use for example a 472 Ghz or 635 nm laser that will emit a particular red light beam. If I point that laser to an object and I somehow measure the amount of the reflected red light waves, then I am able to build that object’s so called frequency response at that particular 472 GHz frequency.
If I stimulated that object with many different laser beams (at their different frequencies) I would get multiple reflection values at those testing points.

To describe any system’s ability to respond on any particular multi-frequency stimulus we can define the systems frequency response.
The device which is able to cover a particular frequency range and create a target’s frequency response is called the frequency response analyzer. It would produce a chart at the end, similar to this one:

Frequency response

Don’t worry about the details of this chart yet, first we will go through some of the electronic parts of such an analyzer in order to understand how are we exactly measuring the response values.

Frequency Response Analyzer

So, first, we need a signal generator. This will generate our signal at a particular frequency by using a DAC (digital to analog converter) and direct this signal towards the DUT (device under test) probably with an antenna or electromagnet. This will generate a field at the measured frequency with a given amplitude.
Secondly we need a receiver. This is an antenna and a ADC (analog to digital converter). This ADC is able to convert the analog signals detected on the antenna into digital signals which we can use later for processing without data loss. The amplitude of this detected signal is the critical value we want to measure. We can be sure that some weakening of that signal will be present just because of the fact that it needed to travel the electromagnet – air – device – air – antenna distance while all of these components interacted with that signal.

At this point we have a analog signal strength at the output of our DAC and another analog signal strength on the input of our ADC. If we compare the two we get one frequency response value at the tested frequency.
Changing the frequency just slightly on our DAC and ADC will result a new value. If we repeat this many times at different frequencies, we will get our chart (just like above), the frequency response chart of the DUT.
By the way, this DUT could be anything, from a simple salt crystal, through a human body, to our whole planet

The chart itself shows the attenuation (y-axis) of the electromagnetic waves at certain frequencies (x-axis). Attenuation is an expression to define the ratio of the input intensity from the DAC and the output intensity to the ADC in our case.
Interestingly this ratio is measured in dB (decibel) which is a little bit difficult to wrap our minds around, because it’s a logarithmic unit. To put it simply, if you see that the attenuation is 0 dB that means that the input and the output is the same, the signal propagated perfectly. If the attenuation is -20 dB then the output signal’s amplitude is 1/10th of the input signal. If it’s -60 dB then the output is 1/100th of the input. Don’t worry, fully understanding this isn’t that critical at this point, you can get used to this unusual scale later with practice.

Electronics

Now, in order to understand how energy healing could work, we need to investigate the electronics, the devices we use today especially the ones which interact with the human body in some shape or form.

Every electronic device needs a power source to work. It can be so called direct current (DC) or alternating current (AC). Our batteries have DC, our power outlets have AC. The main difference between the two is that AC changes its voltage constantly as a given rate, just like the sinusoidal waves we mentioned above. Both DC and AC have their advantages and disadvantages.
To convert the AC of the power outlet to DC, which is typically more useful for electronic devices, you need a power adapter.

Let’s say you pick an AA battery from the supermarket. It has a plus and a minus conductive end. The potential difference between the two ends of the rod is 1.5V (Volts). If we wanted to have a very basic DC circuit, we’d connect a load (for example a light bulb) to the battery. It will emit light and the reason behind this phenomena is that the wire inside the bulb starts to heat up. Depending on the material inside the bulb, it takes a certain amount of power to move that electricity through it, and this property is called the resistance of the material. The bigger the resistance, to more work is needed to move the electrons in that material and more energy becomes (wasteful) heat through transport.

Battery and light bulb

We have a similar, but slightly more complicated situation with AC circuits. If our source is AC (like the power outlet) and we wanted to transport that energy somewhere, our transportation medium (like a wire) will have something similar to resistance, but it’s called impedance.

Resistance and impedance

Both resistance and impedance have the physical units of Ohm, but resistance is a scalar, impedance is complex number. As you probably know, complex numbers are numbers with two numerical parts: real and imaginary. Think of it as a special number that is a combination of two normal numbers.
I know it’s getting a little scary here, but bear with me, we are almost finished with the physics part!
So, since we are going to work with AC in energy medicine, it’s important to understand that the impedance of a (biological) system at a certain frequency tells us how well that system forwards a particular signal through itself (that’s the real part), and how much it changes the phase of that signal (that’s the imaginary part). The phase shift simply means how much the current change lags the voltage change.

Simply put: if we want to understand a system better, we need to measure its impedance at different frequencies, so that we can calculate its frequency-response property for both magnitude/amplitude (real part) and phase angle (imaginary part).

When we use this method on a biological system (like the human body) we call this bioelectrical impedance calculation of the system.

Building an X-ray machine

Alright, let’s put our knowledge into practice! How would we build an X-ray machine?

First of all, we would need a signal generator. This would be the source of our X-rays, which are just normal sinusoidal electromagnetic waves in the frequency domain somewhere between 30 PHz (petahertz) and 30 EHz (exohertz). If we want to make an analogy with photography which operates in the visible light frequency domain (430-750 THz, terahertz), the signal source would be our light source.

To make an X-ray photo, we would need a signal detector, just like a photo camera if we were taking a normal photo. In the case of digital cameras they have a small circuit called the CCD (charged coupled device). This circuit has many many small detectors of visible light. Those detectors can measure the intensity of the light at 3 particular frequencies, one for red, one for blue, and one for green. In the case of our X-ray machine, we need something similar, but specialized to detecting X-ray waves.

The name of such a detector array is called a Flat Panel Detector (FPD). The sensors are arranged on a two dimensional grid and they continuously measure how much X-ray hits them. Those values are sent to a digital processing unit to finally generate a grey-scale image. Every pixel can represent a sensor, the brighter pixels representing more absorption of the X-rays by the body. Bones are particularly good absorbents of X-rays because of their calcium content.

Now that our drastically simplified X-ray machine is done, we can imagine that the active night-vision goggles work in a similar way: they have a shortwave infrared (SWIR – 100–214 THz, terahertz) or near-infrared (NIR – 214–400 THz, terahertz) signal generator and their appropriate CCD detectors built-in into the goggles.

The composition of radar, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), CT (computed axial tomography) scan, ultrasound devices are also very similar: they are all extending our senses to detect electromagnetic waves outside of the ranges of our eyes and convert them into the visible spectrum in one way or another.

AM and FM modulation

Have you ever wondered who the classic, analog radio works? Broadly speaking its a frequency transformer.

Our ears are able to detect mechanical waves in the range of 20 Hz and 20 kHz. Mechanical waves, unlike the electromagnetic waves, more air particles back and forth and these movements are detected by a membrane in our ears. Our brains need electromagnetic signals to understand information, so our ears are converting mechanical waves into electronic signals in a narrow spectrum.

Radios are emulating this behavior with a little twist. On one end the microphone does the conversion from mechanical to electromagnetic waves and the radio transmitter changes that wave to a different one to make its transportation through air more efficient. On the other ends the radio receivers are tuned to this new frequency, make the reverse conversion to get the original signal that the microphone picked up, and the sound speakers in the radio change the waves from electrical to mechanical again to make it consumable for the listener’s ears.

The conversion that the transmitter does is called signal encoding. Signal encoding is putting a modulated information on a carrier wave. Although it’s not typically what happens in biological systems, it is still good to know how they work.

In the case of our radio transmitter the information that we are intending to encode is the audio wave signal that we received from the microphone. The signal itself is a fairly high fidelity sampling of loudness of the speaker’s voice. The louder they speak the bigger the air pressure on the microphone and the higher the amplitude of our signal at any given moment.

It would be very unpractical if we tried to transfer these now electromagnetic waves directly. That’s when modulation comes in: modulation puts our audio signal on top of a generated carrier wave, by combining the carrier signal and the message signal.
The carrier wave is a simple sinusoidal wave at an arbitrary frequency. When you look for a radio station with the dial on your analog radio, you are looking for the carrier frequency of your station.

There are two widely used (continuous wave) modulation types that define how you combine the carrier and the signal: AM – amplitude modulation and FM – frequency modulation.

AM is the simpler one: you just add the two signals to each other, so when you have a louder sound you end up with a final, modulated signal that has variable amplitude depending on the message signal at the fixed frequency of the carrier.

AM modulation

FM does this proportionate modification to the frequency instead of the amplitude, so the louder sound generates a slightly higher frequency modulated signal with a fixed amplitude as the final result.

FM modulation
Harmonics (and overtones)

Harmonics are absolutely mind-blowing. They are present in mechanical wave generators (like musical instruments) and in biological systems (like plants, animals and humans). But what are these, really?

It’s probably the easiest to understand by analyzing the sound waves that a musical instrument produces. When you play a note of A in octave 4, that will produce a 440 Hz sound wave, no matter what instrument you use. The 440 Hz is called the fundamental tone. But then how come that different instruments sounds different at all?

Curiously enough if you play the note A on any given instrument, the integer multiples of 440 Hz are also present in its sound, and the amplitude differences of these multiples are that make the distinct sound of an instrument. So, 440 Hz’s first overtone is 880 Hz, its second overtone is 1320 Hz, its third overtone is 1760 Hz, etc. The relation among these amplitude strengths are not strict, sometimes the first overtone can be stronger than the fundamental tone, but as we iterate through these overtones to infinity their strengths converge to zero.

According to my own measurements we humans are excellent antennas, our bodies pick up electromagnetic radiation from our environment. One of the most dominant artificial background radiation in our homes is the 50 or 60 Hz from the mains. These and their overtones are clearly visible in my real world measurements. Unfortunately they have a deformation effect on our water-based systems, like the bloodstream, lymphatic system and other bodily fluids.

Spectrogram of a human
Spectrogram of a human body near an electronic device operating at 50 Hz
Conclusion

You now know most of the physics that we will need to understand how the currently publicly available bioelectromagnetic devices work. Before doing that let’s read about a few people who got involved with the phenomena in a meaningful way.

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