The REMS Scale: The Approach to Woo

Yesterday we looked—vaguely—at what we meant by the woo experience: that feeling that there is an “energy” other than/bigger than/inclusive of us, manifesting itself in things like chakras, crystals, auras, magick, and religion.  Today I want to look at the first of the two axes of the REMS scale, that of approach.

Approach to the woo experience: the Spiritual

By approach, I mean the individual’s inclination to grant woo an independent reality. On the far end we have those who have their horoscopes cast and consult with their psychic adviser on a regular basis. They sleep with crystals under their pillow. They post photos of a beautiful sunset on Facebook and give God the credit. They never step on a crack so as to avoid breaking their mother’s back.

These are our Spiritual members.

It is important to me to make clear that I am not denigrating those who are on the Spiritual end of the approach axis. On the contrary, their spirits are open to the unknown, to the infinite, and I do not believe that is without value. When I equate chakra balancers with the devout of any religion, it is merely to observe that both are willing to grant an external reality to their respective woos, an external reality that cannot be measured by any scientific instrument. Yes, it is faith.

Approach to the woo experience: the Existential

On the other end of the approach axis, therefore, we find the Existential members. These people do not “believe” in anything that cannot be measured. They are the coiners of the term “woo” to deride the other end of the axis. They are disinclined to grant any external reality to the woo experience: all of your woo is inside your head.  Existence precedes essence.

And let me say here, again, that this is a perfectly cromulent way to approach woo. I would caution the Existentials among us, though, that denying woo an external reality does not necessarily mean denying it an inner reality. It’s all in your head? That is a kind of reality after all, and a wise Existential learns to accommodate that idea.  (But that is more for the discussion on Response.)

The Approach Axis

So now we have one of our two axes:

Like most axes of this nature, most people would not find themselves on the absolute end of either side of the scale. If we consider it in purely religious terms, people will range from atheist through agnostic to devout.

This, by the way, provides us with the E and the S in our REMS Scale.

Next: Response to woo

The REMS Scale: The Woo Experience

At long last, the long-awaited explication of my world-changing examination of the Woo Experience, which, for lack of a catchier name, we shall call the Lyles REMS Scale.

The Woo Experience

First of all, we need to define what we mean by the Woo Experience, and for that there is no better place than the Skeptic’s Dictionary: “concerned with emotions, mysticism, or spiritualism; other than rational or scientific; mysterious; new agey.” This and other fine sites are more likely to use the term woo-woo, but for our purposes one woo is enough.

The issue arose during our recent trip to Arizona, to Sedona specifically, where we sought out the Woo Experience via visits to vortexes1, aura readings, chakra balancing, and crystals. Each of these—and there was more—involves some kind of mystical “energy” that is detectable only by those who are attuned to it. Certainly no scientific instruments have ever been able to verify its existence.

And yet…

Here’s where the interesting part lies. There are very few among us who have not felt as if there might be some kind of validity to the woo2. Call it auras, call it The Force, call it Magick, call it the Void, call it God—or the Goddess—but nearly every one of us can confess to having felt something like it at some point.

So what are we to make of this universal experience that has absolutely no scientific validation?

It began to interest me that in our small group there seemed to be different approaches and different responses to the woo, and I began to think more seriously about the proposition.

The Persons Involved

For this discussion, I choose to rename the four participants Subjects 1-4. (Full disclosure: I am Subject 3.) The entire vacation to Arizona was initiated by Subject 4’s desire to go experience the “thin places” in Sedona, i.e., the vortexes. Even as the trip expanded to include the Grand Canyon and points in between, we all came to agree that if we were going to Sedona, we would seek out and immerse ourselves in the woo. Just go with it, experience it, and withhold evaluation until we were done with it.

Because what’s the fun of having your chakras balanced if you’re not going to give it the benefit of the doubt? Let’s face it, if the whole thing was just a placebo, then you’d get no benefit if you didn’t commit to it. And if it were real, you wouldn’t want to short-circuit it by resisting it.


The wooists make all kinds of outrageous claims for their woo that bring universal scorn and condemnation upon them, and rightfully so when those claims involve medical issues and large bank transfers.

But for the true believers—and those of us just looking for fun or interest—what is the appeal? I think most if not all of it is because we humans desire order. We see patterns where there are none. We want resolution.

Are we at some level unhappy? (Spoiler alert: yes, because we are human.) Shouldn’t there be some way to fix that? (Emphasis on should.) Isn’t there something, after all, bigger than us, of which we are a part? (…)

And so we seek to identify causes outside ourselves that can help us gain peace, comfort, and unity. Woo, I believe, is one of the ways in which we do that: crystals, magick, god.

Next: The Approach to woo


1 N.B.: not vortices, so stop your kibbitzing

2 …which I will now stop capitalizing