Sunday, June 24, 2007

Some Magic Boxes - #2 de la Warr's Radionics

The 30 Second Skinny Radionics was created in the 1950s by George Warr. It is a type of sympathetic magic where the possession of hair or similar of a person allows the practitioner to influence the subject. Warr made medical claims for the device but in court in 1960 claimed that the device was only capable of ending potential illness on a spiritual plane, not cure someone of a physical illness. Despite this admission, medical claims for radionics continue to be made to this day.

The field of Radionics became of interest to the world at large thanks to a court case in the summer of 1960. Catherine Olivia Philips had acquired a diagnostic and cure box from Delawarr Laboratories, had received instruction as to its use, but had been unable to get any kind of satisfying results from it. Following various attempts at diagnosis she drew the conclusion that the box didn’t work and, having been offered what was to her mind a less than satisfactory refund, brought matters to the Queen’s Bench on June 20th. We are fortunate that the Times covered the trial in some detail.

George de la Warr was born George Warr in 1905. He was a descendent of Henry de la Warr, a Governor of British Virginia for whom Delaware, amongst other places, was named. George was a civil engineer who, in 1953, resigned from the post he had held with the Oxford City Council for 18 years so he could further his research into a field more or less of his own discovery. His mother had been interested in homeopathy and although Warr felt that was little or no scientific grounding in it, he believed that it worked, and that if it worked, then there may exist some kind of life energy unknown to science. It was this energy force that intrigued him, and he built the Radionic box in order to investigate and make use of it. Some 20" square, the box consisted of a number of vials into which were placed the hair, blood or saliva of the patient, some wiring, an amplification board, nine knobs and a rubber pad with a copper coil sandwiched inside.

Here’s how Barry Groves, describes its use:
With all the knobs set to zero, you placed samples from your patient into the box and rubbed your fingers on the rubber pad. If your fingers stuck suddenly, you noted 0 on the first knob; if they did not, you turned that knob to 1 and tried again. You kept repeating the procedure, turning the knobs up until the fingers did stick giving you a number somewhere between 0 and 99,999,999. Then you looked up that number in de la Warr's Guide to Clinical Condition and that would tell you what was wrong with the patient.

Once a diagnosis was arrived at, a similar box was used to treat the patient. Looking up its 'Broadcast Treatment Rate', you set up dials on this box and healing rays radiating from the box would cure the patient – wherever in the world he was and whether he knew he was being treated or not. Sometimes, 'practitioners will add the appropriate homoeopathic remedy, colour, flower remedy, vitamin or mineral sample by placing it on the treatment set near the blood spot'. It seems that a yellow/orange colour, for example, is good for liver disease, hard chronic tumours, idiocy and ulceration of the lung.
What I find personally intriguing about this device is that it seems to be a pseudo-scientific reimagining of sympathetic magic, the idea that one can affect an organism by performing actions on something originating from that organism.

How genuine De la Warr's belief in his "discovery" was is hard to fathom, and became integral to the trial. In order to prove that the De la Warrs were guilty of fraud, it was necessary to prove that the De la Warrs had no belief in their box. It was certainly the case that their approach to research was not particularly scientific, and they repeatedly refused to comply with tests suggested by the scientific community. In David Karmel QC's summing up on behalf of Philips, he said that the reason "was that a test was the only effective way to disprove the fraud... The idea had been has been to keep everything intangible."

It was Philips' attempts at making the use of the device more tangible that led to her distress.
[Philips] said that during the four or five weeks between her first and second lessons she got people to give her blood and hair and practised for about two sessions a day. She found that some of her subjects, according to the results she obtained from the machine, appeared to change sex from day to day. Another time she would get no reaction from a specimen, which meant that the subject was dead, but the next day it would be all right. She continued to practice at the machine, but found out from consulting medical books that the diagnoses she was obtaining were utterly absurd.

Because she read that one could concentrate better at night, she sometimes stayed up to the early hours of the morning. But as the months passed and the weather grew colder she found she was getting far fewer "sticks" when running her finger along the rubber.
That the key to the interface was so readily affected by the weather ought to have been something that De la Warr knew about and had factored out.

The box had clearly been sold to Philips on the understanding that it would allow her to diagnose and cure physical conditions, but throughout the trial the claims put to the box by De la Warr diminished and diminshed. Here's Karmel summing up again:
The allegations of fraud were the statements made by the de la Warrs... Miss Philips was led to believe that this box would enable her to diagnose and treat people and animals on this physical plane on which we are now standing. On the eight day of this action it was made clear by Mrs De la Warr that they did not claim to cure anything physical, or to treat anything physical; the box was intended for mental treatment on a pre-physical level. It was a clear fraud to tell her that she had the ability to operate this box and the defendant had no reasonable ground on which to base this after giving her only a perfunctory test.


Miss Philips was given to understand that cancer, tuberculosis and thrombosis could be cured. Mr De la Warr now admitted that it would be more honest to say that this referred to some pre-physical treatment of a pre-physical condition somewhere up in the skies. The whole set up was sham, like the rate book. That book had grown out of Mr De la Warr's having a look through Gray's Anatomy.
This notion of pre-physical illness and cure was the central plank of De la Warr's defense. Another plank was that the Laboratory was one of research, not of treatment, though Karmel claims no research was actually carried out. De la Warr's counsel managed to acquire a number of academic witnesses, but most of them were retired, pursued work in similar fields, and on the whole presented the idea that whatever De la Warr was working on should be investigated further. A number of practitioners also came forward to defend De la Warr, along with a number of "cured" patients.
Mr Ogden, Mr Petti, Dr Whitehead and Mrs Dower were the patients who had given evidence. Dr Whitehead had had hay fever in the summer, and it went way in September. Mr Pettit said that he had had arthritis, and it had passed away; but everyone knows that arthritis came and passed away, and there was no cure. Where was a patient without a box who could say "I was suffering from a disease and I was cured?" Where was the evidence that this box had treated an organic disease successfully? Miss Philips had bought this box to cure the thousands of diseases mentioned in the book.
A last line of defence for De la Warr was the notion that he had lost a great deal of money in his research. Here's Christmas Humphreys QC in his closing speech:
[De la Warr] was not a man in a small way of ubsiness. He had given up an excellent job with first-rate prospects and spent 18 years on this research, apparently to be a crook. Laughing up his sleeve at the dupes who came to him, he sold each of these instruments at a loss. He had usnk £40,000 into this research; another £40,000 to £50,000 had been spent on wages. Mrs De la Warr had refused to sell instruments to people whom she thought would not benefit from them or would use them wrongly. In the field of fraud that was fantastic.
And Karmel counters in his closing speech:
Mr Humphreys had relied strongly on the financial side to negative any allegation of fraud. came to this: £40,000 had gone into the laboratories, and there were some £40,000 or £50,000 in outgoings. Out of that £50,000 how much went into the pockets of the de la Warrs in wages? It might be anything. As to the £40,000 sunk in the laboratories, the only evidence was that Mr de la Warr himself had not put a penny into it. When pressed by counsel he had finally said that he had had £5,000 or £6,000 from his father for it, over a number of years. The only other evidence was that he induced an oil company to part with £13,000, and a seed company to part with £7,000.
An unexplored avenue in the trial (or at least as it is reported in the Times) was how the box was arrived at at the first place. We are told that the box works on lines of force or energy between the blood spots and the organism that created them. Leaving aside the fact that these forces would have to have been isolated or recognised or at least shown to exist before such a diagnostic device could be created, we are later told that this isn't after all what the box is about. It is a "container for thoughts".
[Dr Titus Thomas Boswell Watson, MB, MRCS, LRCP of Woddingham, Surrey] thought that the box enabled the operator to make contact with his unconscious mind, and make it function. He must be able to keep his conscious mind in abeyance. By by-passing the conscious mind, the unconcsious mind could be used like an electronic computer. The conscious could not accept irrational things as the unconscious mind could, and the box allowed the unconscious mind to work.
De la Warr et al act as though they happened upon the box and are attempting to understand what it is for and how it can be used, but in fact de la Warr designed and built the box, and with it seemed to attain unrepeatable or unfalsifiable results on which no conclusions can be drawn. Defense witnesses speak of Einstein and Hoyle in the hopes that by invoking true scientists they can somehow lend credibility to de la Warr, who is more like a tinkering fantasist. A very significant point is made in the case wherein we learn that a "materialist" cannot operate the box, and that diagnosis can only succeed by the employ of 25 extra senses that normal folk do not possess. We have, then, pseudo-science the failure of which is blamed on the operator - an invitation to be introspective following failure rather than blame the technology itself.

The Judge, Mr Justic Davies, ultimately came down on the side of de la Warr, but was quick to point out that the judgement was only that de la Warr was not guilty of fraud.
The finding was decisive of this case, but it was right that his Lordship should emphasize that he was certainly not deciding that it had been proved that the box did in fact work, either for diagnosis or for treatment. On the evidence before his Lordship in this case, that was a very open question. ...
Though de la Warr was found not guilty, he was not awarded costs due to Philips, herself on legal aid, being in no position to pay them. It is difficult to say exactly why Justice Davies decided that de la Warr was not proved guilty, but it most likely has to do with reasonable doubt. Davies makes quite an apologist statement on behalf of de la Warr earlier in the action:
A more charitable view could be taken; that [de la Warr] is so convinced, or as some people would say, obsessed, that he loses his head when on the subject. Another view might be that he has got so immersed in the pre-physical plane that it is difficult for him to get to grips with the physical world. It is not an impossible view.
Despite the "claim shrink" that occured throughout the case which saw Radionics diminish into not very much about anything at all, it is still practiced today and de la Warr is considered one of a small number of pioneers in the field.

NB A thread of the case has deliberately been omitted and that relates to Leonardo Pierre Corte who claimed to be able to affect photographic cartridges and was embroiled in the case by offering himself up as a means of verifying the diagnoses made with the radionic box. I hope to pull his story out for a separate instalment.

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