Black box (radiesthesia)

   A diagnostic device, the black box was devised early in the twenty century XX by Dr. Albert Abrams of San Francisco, one of the first theorists of radiesthesia, or dowsing, for medical purposes. Traditionally trained, Abrams was a respected neurologist when he became interested in unconventional medical alternatives. In 1910 he parted company with orthodoxy and wrote a book called Spondylotherapy, which espoused a synthesis of osteopathic and chiropractic therapeutics; his ideas were ridiculed by his medical peers but embraced by laymen, and Abrams began a national series of lectures to explain his techniques. In 1914 he published a more sophisticated and extensive work, New Concepts of Diagnosis and Treatment, which set forth his position that disease was the result of a "disharmony of electronic oscillation," a modern reiteration of the age-old life-force concept of illness. For the purpose of measuring the extent of and locating the source of this disharmony, Abrams offered the black box, also known as the E.R.A. or the oscilloclast, a sealed box containing a thin rubber sheet stretched over a metal plate, and adorned on the outside with several rheostats. A sample of the patient's blood was placed inside the box, which was attached to a metal plate affixed to the forehead of a healthy person. By tapping the abdomen of the healthy person, the diagnostician was supposedly able to identify "areas of dullness" indicative of disharmony. Although there was some evidence that Abrams occasionally succeeded in accurately diagnosing patients with his black box, the technique produced uneven results with other practitioners. Many believers in the principles of radiesthesia remained, however, and similar devices continue to be manufactured in the United States and Great Britain.