The Bottom Line

There is no credible scientific evidence to support Masaru Emoto’s claims that water is able to alter its crystal structure based on human words, thoughts and music. "The proof that the little prince existed is that he was charming, that he laughed, and that he was looking for a sheep.  If anybody wants a sheep, that is a proof that he exists.  And what good would it do to tell them that?  They would shrug their shoulders, and treat you like a child.  But if you said to them: 'The planet he came from is Asteroid B-612,' then they would be convinced, and leave you in peace from their questions." (The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry)
Masaru Emoto does not actually have to publish information that is scientifically accurate or true. What is the relationship between love and gratitude?  For an answer to this question, we can use water as a model.  A water molecule consists of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom, represented by H2O.  If love and gratitude , like oxygen and hydrogen, were linked together in a ratio of 1 to 2, gratitude would be twice as large as love.” (Hidden Messages in Water by Masaru Emoto)
Masaru Emoto does not actually have to publish information that is scientifically accurate or true. There's nothing wrong with fiction.  Some of the more important, interesting and entertaining truths about the universe and our place in it have been presented by talented fiction writers like Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.  The problem with Emoto's work is that he represents his ice crystal experiments as scientific fact instead of an allegory illustrated with pleasant pictures, and in doing so diminishes both his story and his 'science'.
Masaru Emoto does not actually have to publish information that is scientifically accurate or true. There is no credible scientific evidence to support Masaru Emoto’s claims that water is able to alter its crystal structure based on human words, thoughts and music.  However, Emoto has successfully published several books, presented his work as scientific fact, been featured in a popular movie, What the Bleep!, and been invited to lecture around the world.  All of which lends credibility to his claims of scientific veracity – without the necessity of requiring any of his statements to actually be True.   It is interesting to consider why his books and ideas are popular and accepted by so many people as valid science when neither his 'evidence' (ice crystal pictures) nor most of his observations on the natural world demonstrate any actual application or understanding of science.
Masaru Emoto presents only his own evidence and ideas about water crystals. Many people do not have the training (or perhaps the motivation) to evaluate the truth of Emoto’s claims.  It is enough to accept his claims based entirely on his presentation of ‘the evidence’ and the testimony of other Believers.  Consequently, they can move beyond the scientifically improbable content of his ideas and accept the message of his story.
Masaru Emoto’s message is not really about water crystals. Emoto’s message is not ultimately about the ice crystals; he uses ice crystal shapes as a vehicle to communicate his views on human relationships, God, human origins, the environment, and other subjects important to him.

Marriam-Webster' Online Dictionary: Main Entry: al·le·go·ry  \'a-lə-,gōr-ē\
Function: noun
1 : the expression by means of symbolic fictional figures and actions of truths or generalizations about human existence; also : an instance (as in a story or painting) of such expression.

I answer another visitor question about Emoto here.

Discussion

I finally read several of Masaru Emoto’s books to try and understand the appeal of his ideas.

This effort was suggested by my wife, Carol, who pointed out that if I was going to criticize Emoto’s work which I had been doing regularly and loudly since I saw it presented in the movie, What the Bleep! (which won the coveted Pigasus award - category #3 - in 2004) it might be a good idea to actually read his books.

Every so often a best seller comes along that, as Michael Korda put it in his book ''Making the List,'' makes us ''question our sanity, or at least that of the American reading public.'' One of those head-scratchers has got to be Masaru Emoto's spectacularly eccentric book ''The Hidden Messages in Water,'' which argues that water has feelings, too -- and that the crystals that form in frozen water change shape when an onlooker shows the water words, or beams thoughts in its direction. Emoto's book is filled with photographs of the shiny, happy crystals that form when water is shown phrases like ''You're cute'' or ''Thank you,'' and also of the deformed, sorry-looking crystals that result when you show it ''You fool!'' or ''Satan.'' Emoto's book has sold some 400,000 copies internationally, and it has lingered on the upper reaches of the Times extended paperback advice list for months, rising this week to No. 13. Emoto, who has studied alternative medicine in Japan, also notes that water is picky about the music it likes. Mozart and the Beatles' song ''Yesterday'' made it perk up, while heavy metal music freaked it out, making its crystals look malignant. All of this has broad implications for personal happiness and world peace, Emoto suggests, when you consider that our bodies are 70 percent water. ''When you have become the embodiment of gratitude,'' Emoto writes, ''think about how pure the water that fills your body will be. When this happens, you yourself will be a beautiful, shining crystal of light.'' 2005 New York Times review, Dwight Garner

I am a scientist, and have little patience with ideas that are presented as Scientific Fact when they are based on principles which reside completely outside the realm of traditional scientific understanding, have no expectation of validity based on recognized scientific theories and have no independent experimental support. 

I had considered Emoto’s work complete pseudoscientific nonsense since I first heard about it, and I could not understand how anyone could take it seriously, never mind calling his ideas "groundbreaking revelations" as some reviewers have gushed.  Yet I had never actually sat down and read one of his books cover to cover.  Well, I did – I actually read two of his books, Messages from Water and The Shape of Love, cover to cover – and was more baffled than ever by the popularity of his books and ideas.  He includes numerous descriptions about how the physical universe works, including many characteristics of water, which do not coincide with how I (and other scientists) understand the natural world (the Examples: Emoto tab above will provide details). 

If my scientific training has any validity and my understanding of the concepts Emoto’s words were trying to communicate is accurate, I can come to only one conclusion: Masaru Emoto’s work is based on his personal interpretation of physical reality which is quite different from the physical realm studied and written about by mainstream scientists.  This YouTube video is enlightening.

My conclusion is echoed by other scientists including the foremost snow crystal and snow flake photographer, Kenneth G. Libbrecht, a Professor of Physics and Chairman of the Physics Department at Caltech who wrote, “If you think it defies common sense that water does this {modifies it’s physical behavior in response to thoughts, words, and music}, you are right. In fact water does not respond to thoughts and feelings - it's just water.

How then does one explain Mr. Emoto's experiments? My best guess is that Mr. Emoto grows hundreds of crystals and then selects different shapes to demonstrate whatever point he wishes to make. For example, when the water was exposed to classical music he picks out some beautiful crystals to show us. For rock-and-roll, he selects some ugly crystals and shows us those.

He then concludes that classical music makes beautiful crystals while rock-and-roll makes ugly ones. What he does not show us is that both musical treatments made the same numbers of beautiful and ugly crystals. The "treatments" actually had no effect.

Do I know Mr. Emoto does this? No, which is why I called it a guess. Mr. Emoto has never published his work in a reputable scientific forum, where it would be scrutinized. He only presents it in self-published books, where he is free to say whatever he wants.

Basic physics says the work cannot be correct, and Mr. Emoto has not convinced the scientific community that his experiments have any merit whatsoever. Have I tried to reproduce Mr. Emoto's experiments? No, and I don't intend to.

While I try to keep an open mind to new ideas, this one is just too outrageous. I only have limited time and resources, so I study ideas that I think are more likely to be fruitful.

As we liked to say back on the farm in North Dakota -- it's good to have an open mind, but not so open that your brains fall out!

Another analysis of Emoto's work

I have asked a number of people who like his books and accept his results as valid why they believe that the formation of ice crystals can be influenced by people's thoughts, words written on pieces of paper and music.  The answer is always because he has written a book that clearly shows pictures of beautiful crystals that have formed in response to positive messages and ugly, messed up crystals that formed in response to negative messages. 

When I point out that no one else in the world has duplicated his work, and his theories about water behavior seem to contradict established scientific principles they look at me as if to say, "So, what's your point.  The man is a best selling author - millions of people believe in his work - he has been featured in a popular movie, and he is highly regarded and invited to speak all over the world about his research on ice crystals.  Why shouldn't I accept his ideas as True."  A person's reputation and popularity apparently trumps the need to provide verifiable evidence when it comes to accepting scientific claims.

If the foundation of Emoto’s work lacks any scientific credibility, why then is it so popular – at least among many non-scientists?

An answer came to me while I was cleaning my office (another of Carol’s suggestions) and came across a copy of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s classic story, The Little Prince, that I had read and enjoyed many years ago (text only, pdf with pictures).  This charming story recounts the adventure of a pilot who crashed in the Sarah Desert in the early 20th century and was visited by a traveler who lived on a small asteroid, B-612 (discovered by a Turkish astronomer in 1909, according to the author)

A Visitor's question:  Hi, how are you? My name is Patrycja and I was researching health effects of water based on ideas of Masaru Emoto when I stumbled on your website. You are obviously not a fan of his work and to be frank I would like to believe it, but would really like to see results with my own eyes. I was wondering if you had ever tried to recreate his experiment? If no, why is that?   Thanks and have a great day! Patrycja       My Response
I like this story even though it is filled with pseudoscientific nonsense.  How, for example, does the Little Prince travel through the vacuum of space – he just seems to appear on the various asteroids and planets he visits?  Perhaps he takes "advantage of the migration of a flock of wild birds", as suggested by the narrator. 

How could asteroid B-612 have been seen with a telescope over 100 years ago if it is as small as portrayed in the book?  How could an asteroid that small have enough atmosphere or water to support life?  Is it possible for Baobab trees to split a small planet in pieces?  Can roses really talk?  And so on ...

When I read The Little Prince I am not jolted out of the story by the scientific inconsistencies I encounter even though I am a scientist.  I assume the author wrote allegorically; I ignore the glaring errors in the author's description of how the universe works; and I enjoy the imagery, the story, and the messages of love and human foibles.  The critical, skeptical, analytical, scientific portion of my brain is switched off when I read stories like this.  Although the author does not explicitly state his book is fiction, he makes no claim that the ‘scientific’ principles and gadgets described in the story are real – they are just literary devices to move the story along and present the author’s message.  I suspect that non-scientists reading the book also do not get bogged down by scientific inconsistencies and are able to enjoy the story and messages the book has to offer.

When I read Masaru Emoto’s books or listen to him speak, on the other hand, I am constantly jarred out of the story by the scientific inconsistencies I encounter.  Emoto has promoted his work and ideas as scientific FACT – as legitimate, say, as Einstein’s theory of relativity or snowflake physics.  Consequently, I read and listen with the critical, skeptical, analytical, scientific portion of my brain switched on.  I evaluate every sentence he writes against my understanding of how the physical universe operates.  When Emoto presents statements as FACT (examples below) that flatly contradict everything I know about the physical and biological sciences, it becomes impossible to assign any credibility to any part of his message, and I quickly lose interest in the story. 

Emto himself explained in a 2005 interview (try this archive) for the Maui News that he is not particularly interested in scientific methods designed to reduce experimental bias by blinding samples.  After a preliminary blinded screening to see if new researchers can obtain crystal pictures from water known to produce crystals or not, "I do not require any blind test on any samples after that. I believe that the researcher’s aesthetic sense and character is the important aspect when taking crystal photographs. Therefore, I try to make sure that they can take photographs in a relaxed and positive atmosphere. I urge each one of them to try their best because beauty exists in everything.” And later in the article, "...I did not start out with any modern scientific background. I did not even know the limit of science to stop me from giving this research a chance.”  (emphasis mine - RJ)

My hypothesis is that scientists are trained to evaluate statements which are made about the universe we inhabit and to question anything presented as fact that that seems contrary to their understanding of the natural world.   Many non-scientists who read Emoto’s books, however, do not have the training or experience to evaluate the scientific claims he makes and test them against principles of nature that are commonly accepted as true by scientists. 

Consequently they read uncritically and are not yanked out of the story by the conflict between their knowledge and what they read.  They are also probably intrigued by the notion that their thoughts can influence the physical properties of water and how it crystallizes.  As a result, they can follow the story and the flow of ideas throughout the books and lectures and pick out useful tidbits.  Apparently, the underlying message is compelling for many people.

In Emoto's introduction to The Hidden Messages In Water he makes a revealing statement, "This book has given me a "stage" from which to speak to you about the 'fluctuation' theories that I have studied for more than a decade, and also about my own experiences, my research based on the observation of human behavior, and my own thoughts concerning the cosmos." There is a lot more than water theory that Emoto is interested in communicating, and he found the perfect medium to convey his message.

In my estimation, both Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's and Masaru Emoto's books are allegories; both authors invented a fictitious universe that behaves according to the requirements of the story they are trying to tell.  In The Little Prince a small person from asteroid B-612 tells the story, in Hidden Messages in Water and The Shape of Love ice crystals sensitive to human messages tell the story. 

Saint-Exupéry made no effort to sell his creations (a space traveler from asteroid B-612, a talking fox, planet destroying baobabs, etc.) as scientifically factual. 

The problem with Emoto' message, on the other hand, is that he attempts to pass the his literary fabrication (the physical and chemical behavior of water molecules - and other comments on nature) off as scientific fact.  When the alleged scientific facade crumbles, so does his message.

Selections from The Little Prince

As you read the 'scientific' statements made by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry - particularly if you read the statements within the context of the book - is it obvious to you that they are not supposed to be taken literally?  Does it matter to the story whether or not the statements are an accurate representation of the universe? 

Selections from The Hidden Messages in Water and The Shape of Love

Click to expand the content below

    Copyright © 2005, Randy Johnson. All rights reserved.

Top

Updated April 2015