Opinion » Antidote

Rhythm and Blues

As I absently stare at my personalized Google homepage, trying to decide how best to waste my time here at work, I notice that my embedded biorhythm Google gadget says that my physical and intellectual cycles are on downswings and my emotional biorhythm


As I absently stare at my personalized Google homepage, trying to decide how best to waste my time here at work, I notice that my embedded biorhythm Google gadget says that my physical and intellectual cycles are on downswings and my emotional biorhythm is near its peak. Ignoring the fact that I actually got it together to e-mail this question, could that be why I'm so lethargic today?

—Anthony L., West Boise

I doubt it. Your depression is more likely due to Google buying up your company and replacing you with a three-line algorithm. Next, I expect that you and the other staff members will be promptly digitized and stored in your own Gmail accounts. Buck up, though. Your family should still be able to download you for the holidays—assuming you aren't corrupted. Farfetched? Maybe, but it nonetheless remains a much more probable scenario than the idea your biorhythm is causing your sluggishness.

Those fun little biorhythm charts are based on a theory that some take quite seriously. Adherents say that our behavior, attitudes and aptitudes are directly affected by cyclic biological rhythms. Beginning at the moment of birth and continuing until our death, three main cycles are allegedly in motion: a 23-day physical (strength, endurance), 28-day emotional (mood, creativity) and a 33-day intellectual rhythm (memory, reasoning). Whether a particular cycle is rising, falling or crossing a baseline supposedly determines your capacity in that category, and knowing the relative positions is said to provide guidance for your daily challenges.

Proposed in the late 1890s by German physician Wilhelm Fleiss, the original philosophy included only the 23- and 28-day cycles, which he considered the male and female rhythms respectively. The latter, coinciding with menstruation, he misogynistically labeled the "emotional" cycle. Some 20 years later, an Austrian teacher added the 33-day intellectual cycle based on, apparently, nothing more than the variations in quality of his students' work. With even less rigor, if that's possible, newer cycles like intuition and spirituality have now been added. Seriously, if that's all it takes, I propose a 30-day financial cycle, as I've noticed my bank account going negative every month. Like clockwork.

Fleiss was an ear, nose and throat specialist, but had a strong interest in human psychology and behavior. Another of his ideas was that there is a specific spot, on a bone inside your sinuses, which can profoundly stimulate the genitals. In treating at least one case of premenstrual syndrome, he actually surgically removed this bone, resulting in severe disfigurement of his patient (who likely never again mentioned her PMS to a doctor). Strangely enough, and for quite some time, Fleiss was among the closest confidants of psychiatrist Sigmund Freud. There is evidence that part of Fleiss' biorhythm theory—that all people are affected by both male and female cycles—had a significant and lasting influence on Freud's ideas on bisexuality. At some point (I'm guessing during the erotic sinus period), Freud broke off contact with Fleiss and destroyed all correspondence he had received from him. But, as luck would have it, Freud's own letters to Fleiss were saved and ultimately published.

Despite the fact that some biological rhythms are real (such as circadian rhythms of sleep/wakefulness and animal hibernation/estivation), the biorhythm hypothesis fails nearly every scientific test—especially my logic smell-test. For example, why would these cycles begin exactly at the moment of birth? Why not at conception? How can it be explained that biorhythms remain unerringly constant—never slowing or accelerating—despite illness, geographic heritage or simple variation among individuals? Lest you think that I'm merely on an emotional swing, there's a comprehensive review article in a 1998 issue of Psychological Reports that evaluated 134 biorhythm studies, concluding that the theory is neither valid nor supported.

Truthfully, there's little harm to be found in monitoring these prophecies, even if you plan your life around them. Sure, there are those who base relationships on rhythmic compatibility, but even they can find enough contradictory opinions to allow a date with almost anyone. They just choose between the ideas that "partners who cycle together travel life's roads as one" and "partners out of sync are always there to support one another."

My only advice is to avoid placing too much faith in the predictions. Passing the bar exam simply because you're at an intellectual peak is about as likely as—you should forgive the crude Dr. Fleiss reference—picking your nose and expecting an orgasm. Regardless, don't worry about your new Google bosses noticing your biorhythm habit; they obviously believe in providence and serendipity themselves. How else can you explain the "I'm Feeling Lucky" button still on their search engine after all these years?

Dr. Ed Rabin is a chiropractor practicing at Life Chiropractic Center in Boise. Send nasal fetish videos and health-related questions to theantidote@edrabin.com (on the Web at www.edrabin.com).