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iridology
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• reflexology

 

Definition:
One of many pseudo-scientific alternative medical practices, iridology involves examining the iris of a person's eye in an attempt to diagnose a person's illnesses.

According to iridologists, every organ of a person's body has some corresponding location in the iris, such that problems with the organ will produce corresponding effects in the iris. Iridology was created in the 19th century by Ignatz Von Peczely, a Hungarian physician. The philisophical and logical basis behind iridology was expressed by Harri Wolf, founder of the National Iridology Research Foundation, in the book Applied Iridology:

Now wouldn't it seem logical that through some creative design, or evolutionary process (whatever the reader's preference), the human body would be equipped with a metering device functioning as a gauge in refard to the health of the individual?

Each of us is, in fact, equipped with just such a miniature recording screen - the iris. Via the direct neural connection of the nervous system, impressions from all over the body are conveyed to the iris. Thus is established the neuro-optic reflex.

Iridiology, as the study of the neuro-optic reflex is known, is the art / science of revealing pathological, structural and functional disturbances in the body.

Is it logical that the body would have such a mechanism? It would only be produced via evolution if it proved useful and produced a natural advantage in competing with other creatures. There is, however, no reason to think that this is the case. The iris is not accessible to the owner except with a mirror, and the accessibility to others is irrelevant unless they know how to "read" the signs. Aside from the fact that most creatures through history have not had the necessary cognitive skills, even humans cannot do it unless they understand the complex system described by iridologists. There is, then, no logic behind the idea that such a complex interaction between the iris and the rest of the body would have developed among diverse species on this planet.

Is it, however, a "fact" that such a connection between the iris and the rest of they body exists and has been demonstrated? Although traditional stories suggest that Von Peczely developed his system so based upon empirical evidence, no such evidence exists today. At best, supporters point to anecdotes because no controlled, scientific experiments prove their claims. It is true, of course, that the iris is connected to the rest of the nervous system - but such a physical connection does not also imply a functional connection.

Iridology is very similar to reflexology in methods and premises. In the United States, the person most responsible for the promotion of iridology is Bernard Jensen. His book The Science and Practice of Iridology has been a standard text on the subject since it was published in 1952. Jensen has also demonstrated that iridology is, quite simply not science. In 1980 he wrote:

Iridology is based on scientific observation. It is the kind of science that cannot be related through scientific tests, for it does not provide clinical information.

The above is, of course, just a non squitur. If iridology cannot be tested scientifically, then it cannot be a science. If iridology cannot provide clinical information, then it cannot provide useful health information. By Jensen's own words, then, iridology is completely useless. In 1981 he further wrote:

Iridology can only be judged by those who use it properly. Iridology has not been used properly by those who have criticized and say it fails the test.

This is a standard retort offered by those who practice various forms of pseudoscience and nonsense. According to it, only specially "sensitive" people can detect the phenomena in question and everyone else - those who don't see it and those who offer criticisms - are automatically unqualified. This is a circular argument because, by definition, it ensures that only believers will find the relevant data and nonbelievers will forever be in the dark.

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Related Resources:

What is Alternative Medicine?
There's an awful lot in the news and in society about "alternative medicines" these days. By some estimates, it's an industry doing between $15 and $20 billion annually - and growing! But what is alternative medicine - how does it differ from scientific medicine and why do people use it?

Skepticism & Critical Thinking
This is the main index for issues dealing with skepticism, critical thinking, logic and arguments. The first section is Critical Thinking itself - how to think about claims and arguments you hear, how to critique arguments, and how to formulate your own arguments such that they are more likely to be sound and valid. The second section is about Skeptical Investigations - the practical application of the critical thinking skills covered in the first section. Here you will find critiques of things like astrology, alternative medicine, parapsychology, the New Age and more.

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