Miraculous cures and the canonization of Basquiat

From Brian Eno, 1993

In the 18th and 19th centuries people were ‘taking the waters’ for a wide variety of illnesses. By this time the scientific medical establishment was quite well developed, and careful records were made of the patients’ conditions, their treatments and their progress. This documentation was made by doctors of good character and reputation: their work in other areas substantiates this. They were interested to discover what special properties spa waters had, and why the cures were so often effective. They failed in this, and the search for the curative agents was gradually abandoned, on the assumption that whatever special balance of minerals the waters contained was too subtle for the instruments of the day to register.

Modern instruments are much more sensitive, but they reveal (again and again) that there is no consistent difference between spa water and other kinds of water. It’s just water, exhibiting the natural variability of that substance. The effect of this non-discovery (the repeated failure to identify any special properties in spa water) diminished interest in water cures, which anyway by the late 19th century were going out of fashion. But it left unanswered a question, which seemed to be this: ‘Were those doctors of the 18th and 19th century wrong in either their observation or their reporting, or was there really something in the water?’

A possible solution appeared a few years ago. It was discovered (a surprise result of space exploration) that prolonged periods of weightless-ness have the effect of precipitating out heavy metals from the body. Heavy metals are mostly toxic. Space travellers return to Earth with less of them (and therefore less toxicity) in their systems. Now think back to ‘taking the waters’. Remember that these cures were of very long duration: typically you might remain in the water several hours a day for several weeks or months. In water, of course, you approach weightlessness. Could it be that ‘taking the waters’ is a way of cleansing the body of heavy-metal toxicity? Continue reading “Miraculous cures and the canonization of Basquiat”