Can water remember?

The much-anticipated documentary Water – The Great Mystery, from the creators of What the Bleep Do We Know?, has just been released in South Africa.

The blockbuster made waves in the UK and US earlier this year, and is centred on the theme of so-called "water memory" – a controversial theory which proposes that water responds to our thoughts and, through this mechanism, has a profound effect on our health.

The launch coincided with the South African tour of Japanese researcher Dr Masaru Emoto, author of the New York Times best-seller Hidden Messages of Water, who believes water is deeply connected to our individual and collective consciousness.

Do we really know all there is to know about water? Are these theories as far-fetched as they seem to be? Take a look at some of the theories proposed in the documentary – then you decide:

Water – The Great Mystery
Scientists worldwide agree: water is unique and without it life on Earth simply wouldn't be possible.

H2O is a particularly interesting molecule in the sense that it makes up the only substance on the planet that can exist in three states – solid, liquid and gas. Water has the highest surface tension of all liquids, it's the most powerful solvent on Earth and has the remarkable ability to rise up through the trunks of massive trees, defying gravity and immense atmospheric pressure in the process.

This much is made clear in the introduction of Water – The Great Mystery.

The documentary features several scientists from around the world who've researched water. The impressive list includes, among others, Prof Kurt Wüthrich, Swiss chemist and Nobel Chemistry laureate, Prof Rustum Roy from the State University of Pennsylvania and member of the International Academy of Science, Prof Vladimir Voeikov, a biologist from the Moscow State University, Prof Konstantin Korotkov, a physicist of St. Petersburg State Technical University in Russia, and Dr Emoto, who is also President Emeritus of the International Water for Life Foundation.

Interesting theories are proposed:

1. It's noted that water receives and makes an "imprint" of any outside influence, "remembering" everything that occurs in the space that surrounds it. Research seems to indicate that any substance coming into contact with water leaves a trace behind (incidentally, this theory is also central to homeopathy).

2. It's further noted that, as water records information, it acquires new properties, yet its chemical composition remains unchanged. It seems that the structure of water – i.e. how its molecules are organised into clusters – is key to the remarkable properties that are proposed. It's hypothesised that the clusters work as "memory cells", in which water records the history of its relationship with the world.

3. Its proposed that, while water remains water, its structure reacts to "irritation". It's noted that "modern instruments have made it possible to record that within each of water's memory cells, there are 440 000 information panels, each of which is responsible for its own type of interaction with the environment."

4. Brief mention is made of the difference between free-flowing water in nature and the water that's distributed to our homes through intricate water-supply systems – i.e. the water we most often come into contact with. It's suggested that our tap water is basically "dead" in structural terms: when crystals are formed from this water, there's no beauty or symmetry. Austrian researcher Allois Gruber suggests that this water "sucks energy out of people, plants and animals".

5. Scientists quoted in the movie claim that water responds to our thoughts. As our bodies are mostly made up of water, it's said that if the water in our cells can become peaceful, so can we.

6. Mention is made of experiments on the effect that diverse factors, such as magnetic and electrical fields, various objects and human emotions, have on samples of water. According to Prof Konstantin Korotkov, there seems to be evidence that positive and negative human emotions have the strongest influence. When study participants were asked to project emotions onto flasks with water, negative emotions (e.g. fear, aggression and hatred) reduced the energy of the sample water, whereas positive emotions (e.g. love, tenderness and concern) increased the water's energy levels.

7. This theory is expanded with reference to experiments conducted by Dr Emoto. His research seems to show that water reacts positively to words such as "love" and "gratitude" by forming beautiful crystals when frozen in a cryogenic chamber. The opposite seems to be true for a phrase such as "You disgust me". Water also seems to react to prayer and music.

What's your opinion?
We're amazed. If some of these theories are even just partly true, it certainly turns our understanding of the physics of water on its head.

But although the theories are laid forward by some heavyweight scientists, there are many other experts around the world who are extremely sceptical about the concept of water memory, branding it as "pseudoscience".

For example, research done years ago by French scientist Jacques Benveniste has been widely discredited. The researcher made headlines when his work on water memory was published in the reputable journal Nature in 1988. His research seemed to show that water that had been in contact with an allergenic substance retained a memory of this substance even after it was diluted several times (so much so that nothing but pure water was left).

However, efforts to replicate his work proved futile and investigators found that the results obtained from Benveniste's laboratory were unreliable. John Maddox, editor of Nature, conducted the investigation himself and, according to the BBC, later stated that Benveniste's assistants were being subconsciously selective in the way they interpreted the data.

Regarding more recent work, only one article on Dr Emoto's controversial theory that human emotion has an effect on the structure of water has appeared in a peer-reviewed journal. This is an indication that Dr Emoto's theories at least (on which a large part of the documentary is built) can't be accepted as truth at this stage. More research simply has to be done. Dr Emoto has also been criticised for the fact that he too seems to be doing selective sampling.

It's furthermore worth noting that many opportunists have jumped on the bandwagon, and have started marketing products made from "structured" or "clustered" water as a cure for a range of ills and an antidote to ageing. To our knowledge, however, no substantial research has been done on the efficacy of these products, which means that they could very well be a waste of money.

Health24 will be following the controversy and will, in time, also conduct interviews with some of the other experts quoted in the Water documentary. In the meantime, we'd like to hear from you: post your comments below and let us know what you think!

- (Carine van Rooyen, Health24, September 2008)

Read more:
Get the lowdown on the hadoscan
Order the Hidden Messages of Water through!

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