How our sports heroes are forking out for hope
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How our sports heroes are forking out for hope

Maybe you'd be less inclined to get that energy healing if it came up on your bank statement as "implausible optimism levy"

Every sportsperson wants an edge on the competition - after all, that's the crux of the whole sportsperson thing. They train harder. They eat smarter. They want it more.

And, apparently, they also have access to mysterious magic levels of healing power which are beyond the ken of science.

Boyd Cordner (mystical energy fields not shown)

Boyd Cordner (mystical energy fields not shown)

Photo: Getty Images

That's why Boyd Cordner, captain of the Blues, has consulted an energy healer in an attempt to improve his fitness for the upcoming State of Origin deciding match. Said healery is coming from one Kevin Farrow, who claims to be an expert in maladies which "could not be effectively served by Western medicine's 'traditional' treatments". Or, to put them another way, treatments.

And he's not alone. There's never any shortage of new and mystical methods to help sportspeople better rid themselves of pesky cash - holographic balance bracelets, wee and spit analysis, befriending pretty rocks - and energy healing, as described by Cordner, at least sounds fairly relaxing.

Except science reckons it's all garbage. And it's useful every so often to remember what science is: the species-wide project to understand reality.

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So when scientists say that there's no evidence for any given treatment they're not implying that they're facing something beyond their limited understanding - they're saying that there's no sign the thing exists in the first place.

See, there's plenty of stuff that scientists don't understand. And scientists tend to get super-excited about that stuff, because it's a puzzle they're racing to solve.

If they're dismissive, it's more likely to be because they've determined there's nothing interesting there rather than because they fear the unknown. After all, exploring the unknown is the entire point of sciencing.

Cordner explained, "He's just an energy healer and he doesn't really work on you… Sometimes they touch points and other times they'll just put their hands above [the affected area]. I don't normally do it, but if anything will help why not? I've bought into it and try to get as much out of it as I can."

And Cordner is a sporting hero to thousands. He seems like a trustworthy chap. So it's really important to remember that bodies don't make mysterious energy fields. Like, at all.

Bodies are complex and messy, but they're not mysterious. We have a really good handle on how they work, what all the bits do, and what can go wrong with them. If we were really flesh vessels of healing juju that just needed some magic hand waving to get all better, surgery would be a far less traumatic business.

And evolution is all about coming up with the quickest and easiest solutions for a species' survival, even if they create wildly inefficient systems as a result (isn't that right, vagus nerve that weaves through the entire abdomen for absolutely no goddamn reason and gives us hiccups?).

So if there really was a magical healing power that made muscles and tendons heal at an accelerated rate then you'd expect every successful species on the planet to be tapping into it as a serious evolutionary advantage, rather than it being only available to the animals paying through the snout for it.

That being said, it might even help Cordner feel better because the placebo effect is real and sport is a psychological process where mental attitude influences performance. It's easier to keep playing through pain if you believe that what you're feeling is nanobots making real-time repairs to your calf muscle - but that doesn't mean that the person charging $25,000 for a bag of nanobot power was providing a legitimate service.

And look, on the one hand there's no harm in Cordner believing whatever nonsense he fancies or buying whatever mystical entertainments he chooses to.

The bigger problem is that it sends a message to desperate people that there are magic options beyond science and medicine, legitimising those poised to tell people that they possess access to mystical yet eye-wateringly expensive secrets.

This is trivial when it's a sports person trying to get an edge. It's incredibly non-trivial when it's someone with cancer or HIV or some other chronic malady being sold incredibly expensive false hope because they have a vague belief that maybe bodies are not subject to injuries and diseases which can cripple and kill us as long as we know the right spells and potions and happy thoughts to fix them.

No-one wants to think that they've explored all the options for their cancer and now that's that. Even fewer people want to believe that about their loved ones. When people are desperate - for a life-saving treatment, or victory over Queensland - then surely no cost is too great?

Except that the cost can be too great.

It can distract people from doing things that might actually help, like resting their muscles or getting chemotherapy. It can bankrupt families. Hope is a great thing, but it makes us susceptible to people who'd like to sell us nice-sounding fibs to replace our free and devastating reality.

Still, if NSW triumph then no doubt it will be attributed to supernatural energy healing - and if not, then clearly Cordner just didn't positive-think enough.

Andrew P Street is half of the Double Disillusionists - who will be recording their very special Donald Trump-themed podcast at Giant Dwarf tonight!

Andrew P Street

Andrew P Street is a columnist for Fairfax Media.

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