Reader Ron Holmstrom in Alaska points out one of the many difficulties faced by those trying to make any sense of homeopathy. He writes:

Doctor Frank's Homeopathic Pain relief TV commercial says:

Call now and learn how to double your pain relief!

How about just add water?

chartAh, but how much? You see, in homeopathy, a prime example of quack medicine devised by Samuel Hahnemann back in 1796, a curative solution that is more dilute is described as having a higher potency, or strength. The more dilute substances are considered to be stronger and "deeper-acting." The product that is offered to patients by homeopaths is so diluted that it is indistinguishable from the diluent, which can be water, sugar or alcohol. This point - where there's a 60% chance of one atom or molecule of the original substance present, is reached at what's known as Avogadro's Limit, which is one part of medicine in 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 parts of diluent. If another one-in-ten dilution is performed, there's only one chance in ten that the atom or molecule may be present...

But the degree of dilution "60X" - equivalent to "30C", for reasons you don't want or need to know - is the dilution suggested by Sam Hahnemann himself for general purposes, well past the Avogadro point. And just how dilute is this, in terms we laymen might understand? This would require giving two billion doses per second to six billion people for four billion years to be relatively sure that a single molecule of the original material was actually delivered to any of those patients. Impressed?

Think that's ridiculous? Well, the presently used dilution of the currently most popular homeopathic flu symptom remedy - Oscillococcinum - is 400X, which makes the mind boggle dangerously, if you're not a woo-woo. And the "active" ingredient? It's an "extract of Muscovy Duck liver and heart." That's one part of extract in SEE CHART (Click on graphic for a larger view).

No, we aren't making this up, folks. That's what the homeopaths themselves claim, but they explain the apparent idiocy by telling us that they're well aware that none of the original substance is present, but they believe that the "vibrations" or "memory" of the stuff is still there, somewhere, and can cure the patient.

If you find this reasonable, I suggest you take two aspirins and call me in the morning. Just summon me by whispering my name; the vibrations, I'm sure, will reach me...

And yes, "diluent" is correct...!