Latest news from those kinky scientists who live out on the edge. Damn heretics.

Eclipse Anomaly

Earlier today, parts of Asia - including India and China - were treated to the longest total solar eclipse of this century. Apart from offering spectacular visuals - both in the sky, on the ground and in between - the event also offered the perfect opportunity to test a controversial theory: that gravity varies slightly during a total eclipse.

The debate over this anomaly began in 1954 when French economist and physicist Maurice Allais noticed erratic behaviour in a swinging pendulum when an eclipse passed over Paris. Allais reported that the pendulum's swing direction changed abruptly at the time of the eclipse. However, subsequent tests have seen both positive and negative results, and so it remains a debatable phenomenon. Allais probably didn't do himself any favours by reintroducing the concept of the aether to explain the anomaly, but it's good to see that many scientists remain open to testing the phenomenon further.

As mentioned in the news briefs though, the alleged anomaly came under close scrutiny today in China:

Chinese researchers have prepared eight gravimeters and two pendulums spread across six monitoring sites. The team hopes that the vast distance between the sites (roughly 3000 kilometres (1864 miles) between the most easterly and westerly stations), as well as the number and diversity of instruments used, will eliminate the chance of instrument error or local atmospheric disturbances.

"If our equipment operates correctly, I believe we have a chance to say the anomaly is true beyond all doubt," says Tang Keyun, a geophysicist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The opportunity won't come again soon. At over five minutes, the event will be the longest total solar eclipse predicted for this century. What's more, the event will occur when the sun is high in the sky; a time when, according to Tang, any potential gravitational anomaly should be greatest.

Stay tuned...

Previously on TDG:

Biocentric Musings

Taking a jump to the left from yesterday's post about quantum mysticism, let's now explore the universe in your head. Alan Boyle posted yesterday on his always-excellent Cosmic Log about the new book Biocentrism - by leading stem cell research Robert Lanza, along with Bob Berman - and linked to an exclusive online abridgement from the book. It's definitely worth checking out - not only is it a detailed and lengthy read, it touches on numerous fascinating elements of 'reality'. Integrating everything from the role of the observer in the quantum world, through to the psychological construct of time, Biocentrism suggests that we may be looking at things all wrong when trying to understand the cosmos; perhaps we should be starting with us:

[L]ike time, space is neither physical nor fundamentally real. It is a mode of interpretation and understanding — part of an animal’s mental software that molds sensations into multidimensional objects.

In modern everyday life, however, we’ve come to regard space as sort of a vast container that has no walls. In it, we cognize separate objects that were first learned and identified. These patterns are blocked out by the thinking mind within boundaries of color, shape or utility. Human language and ideation alone decide where the boundaries of one object end and another begins.

...Now, space and time illusions are certainly harmless. A problem only arises because, by treating space as something physical, existing in itself, science imparts a completely wrong starting point for investigations into the nature of reality. In reality there can be no break between the observer and the observed. If the two are split, the reality is gone. Space, like time, is not an object or a thing. Space and time are forms of our animal sense perception. We carry them around with us like turtles with shells. Thus, there is no absolute self-existing matrix in which physical events occur independent of life.

While some parts of the article didn't really ring true for me, other parts gave me that nagging feeling that Lanza and Berman's lateral view on these fundamental questions may have some real worth. I don't think I've grasped all of what they're saying yet actually, probably due to my own 'indoctrination' into the current, orthodox view of the cosmos.

Biocentrism is available from Amazon US and UK.

Earthquake ELFs

With news today of an earthquake in Mexico (because TDG admin RPJ didn't have enough to worry about already), it's worth checking out this recent news item on early earthquake detection, written by researcher Friedemann Freund. The SETI Institute researcher points out that ELF/ULF (Extremely/Ultra Low Frequency) emissions may provide the key to an early warning system which could save countless lives:

The moderate Alum Rock earthquake, magnitude 5.4, rattled the southern San Francisco Bay in late 2007. For those who experienced it at close quarters, it was a brief, hard jolt. Overall this event was unremarkable – except that one of QuakeFinder's CalMagNet stations, which are spread over California along the San Andreas Fault, was barely 2 km from the epicenter.

A new paper, just published by "Natural Hazards and Earth System Science," describes that three suspected pre-earthquake indicators were recorded by this QuakeFinder station: (i) short bursts of electromagnetic radiation, 10-30 sec long, increasing in number over the last two weeks before the quake, (ii) a 14-hours long episode of intense air ionization on the day before the earthquake, and (iii) a continuous wave of ULF magnetic pulsations, lasting for nearly 1 hour during the time of the most intense air ionization. In addition, satellites picked up enhanced infrared radiation emitted from several areas around the earthquake site. Together these observations make a strong case that they are all related to this earthquake BEFORE it struck.

With observations like these the future for earthquake early warning looks bright. Once the basic physical processes are understood, we can bring to bear many different techniques, both space-bound and on the ground, each capable of providing a different piece of the puzzle.

There's a long history of (mostly neglected) research into these ideas, particularly on the topic of 'earthquake lights' (almost considered a paranormal topic by some scientists it seems, and, ironically, sometimes used to explain paranormal phenomena).

Funnily enough, it's a research topic that has also been touched on (tangentially) in both Darklore 2 (in "The Fog", by The Emperor), and Darklore 3 ("Shaking Stars", by Geoff Falla). Luckily for the casual reader, both articles are available at the Darklore website as free sample articles (in PDF format). For those that prefer to read on paper, go pick up Darklore 2 or Darklore 3 (either the Limited Edition Hardcover or the
paperback edition.

Australia: A Real-Time Portrait of Climate Change

The Los Angeles Times published a front page headline about the consequences of dramatic climactic shifts predicted for the future -- arriving now in Australia. And if climate news from Australia is making the news in the states, perhaps it's a perfect opportunity to highlight the subject matter to raise people's awareness globally as well as locally.

A two-minute video is available here that briefly explores the droughts, heat waves, species extinction and spread of mosquito-borne illnesses currently underway in Oz.

Coming in from the Cold Fusion

As Jameske mentioned in his news briefs on Tuesday, cold fusion is back in the spotlight with the recent "significant evidence" published by a research group from the U.S. Navy's Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center (SPAWAR). The newly presented findings are actually just one paper out of thirty presented on the topic at this year's American Chemical Society National Meeting.

The SPAWAR "evidence" is based on visual identification of the presence of excited neutrons, a byproduct of the fusion reaction:

One team, led by Pamela Mosier-Boss, an analytical chemist at the U.S. Navy's Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center, has announced visual evidence of a fusion-like reaction. "If you have fusion going on, then you have to have neutrons," Mosier-Boss said in a statement. “People have always asked 'Where's the neutrons,'" she said, and in their presentation, they reported finding evidence of these neurons. By exposing a special kind of plastic to the reaction, patterns of minute dents (or "triple tracks" that show three close nearby forms) were made by excited neutrons created from a nuclear reaction, they report.

I haven't followed the cold fusion controversy very closely over the years, so can't comment too much on how this affects the field and/or its critics. I'd suggest checking the Wikipedia page for a basic summary, and threads to follow, for an introduction. Also, this 1996 JSE article by Edmund Storms (PDF) reviewing the literature might be helpful, and Nobel Laureate Brian Josephson has tracked the controversy (along with a number of other scientific heresies) on his website.

2009 Templeton Prize Winner

Each year the Templeton Prize is awarded to a living person who has "made an exceptional contribution to affirming life's spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works." This year's winner is French physicist and philosopher of science, Bernard d'Espagnat:

From the mid-1960s through the early 1980s, d’Espagnat, 87, was a philosophical visionary in the physics research community. He played a key role during this revolutionary period of exploration and development in quantum mechanics, specifically on experiments testing the “Bell’s inequalities” theorem. Definitive results published in 1981 and 1982 verified that Bell’s inequalities were violated in the way quantum mechanics predicts, leading to a clear confirmation of the phenomenon of “non-local entanglement,” which in turn was an important step in the later development of “quantum information science,” a flourishing contemporary domain of research combining physics, information science, and mathematics.

D’Espagnat, Professor Emeritus of Theoretical Physics at the University of Paris-Sud, also explored the philosophical importance of these new physics-based insights into the nature of reality. Much of his early work on the subject centers on what he calls “veiled reality,” a hidden yet unifying domain beneath what we perceive as time, space, matter, and energy – concepts challenged by quantum physics as possibly mere appearances. Since then, his writings and lectures on fundamental questions such as “What deep insights does science reveal about the nature of reality?” have provoked debate among scientists and philosophers.

At The Global Spiral, you can also find D'Espagnat's personal statement on winning this year's Templeton Prize, as well as testimonials from some of his peers, including Alain Aspect and Brian Greene.

Established in 1972 by Sir John Templeton, the Prize's monetary value is set to always to exceed the value of a Nobel Prize, due to Templeton's belief that the Nobel Prizes ignored intellectual pursuit of the 'spiritual' side of life. Richard Dawkins has been scathing in his criticism of the Prize, describing it as "a very large sum of money given...usually to a scientist who is prepared to say something nice about religion," and that the money "corrupts science".

Non-Genetic Inheritance

I posted yesterday about Rupert Sheldrake's "heretical" idea of morphic fields contributing to behavioural changes in populations. Coincidentally, today I came across this article on the New Scientist website - "Can experiences be passed on to offspring?":

What was your mother up to before you were even a twinkle in her eye? You might not think it matters, but it seems that in mice at least, mothers that receive mental training before they become pregnant can pass on its cognitive benefits to their young.

Previous studies in both people and animals have shown that a mother's experiences while pregnant can affect her offspring's gene expression and health, even years later. However, it was not known if experiences prior to pregnancy had an effect.

...researchers suspect that the mother passes on this cognitive effect during gestation, perhaps by releasing hormones that prompt "epigenetic" chemical markers to appear on her unborn child's genes, regulating their expression after birth.

Moshe Szyf at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, calls the work "remarkable". "The mother can modulate the intellectual capacity of her young," he says. "If it happens in humans it has immense implications."

I've often wondered at the precise actions that arise out of instinctual behaviour in animals. This seems to take it a step further.

Sheldrake Indicted for 'Crimes Against Reason'

In 1981, Nature's senior editor Sir John Maddox published an editorial entitled "A book for burning?" in which he took aim at a book by biologist Rupert Sheldrake. In A New Science of Life, Sheldrake had put forward a hypothesis which stepped completely outside orthodox science: "morphic resonance".

After chemists crystallized a new chemical for the first time, it became easier and easier to crystallize in laboratories all over the world. After rats at Harvard first escaped from a new kind of water maze, successive generations learned quicker and quicker. Then rats in Melbourne, Australia learned yet faster. Rats with no trained ancestors shared in this improvement.

Rupert Sheldrake sees these processes as examples of morphic resonance. Past forms and activities of organisms, he argues, influence organisms in the present through direct connections across time and space. Individual plants and animals both draw upon and contribute to the collective memory of their species.

Sheldrake reinterprets the regularities of nature as being more like habits than immutable laws.

A third edition of A New Science of Life has just been released in the UK (see Amazon UK) - and to stir the pot during Darwin's 200th birthday week, The Guardian has run an online forum discussing Sheldrake's heretical ideas. The forum has featured contributions from the likes of Susan Blackmore, Caroline Watt and Nature's Adam Rutherford, who accused Sheldrake of "crimes against reason".

The man himself has now posted "A Response To My Critics" on the Guardian forum. As usual, Rupert is calm and collected and makes some good points:

Isaac Newton ran into the science/magic problem with gravity. The idea that the moon influenced the tides through empty space sounded like magic, and Newton was embarrassed by his failure to explain what he called the "occult" or hidden force of gravitation. His critics, mainly French, accused him of magical thinking.

...I do not claim that the evidence is conclusive, only that the question is open. Those who assert that there is no evidence, like Susan Blackmore and Adam Rutherford, are willfully ignorant. They believe they know the truth without needing to look at the facts.

The same is true of controversies about telepathy. Sceptics like Rutherford, who accused me of "crimes against reason", rely on the claims of other skeptics, like Michael Shermer, who rely on yet other skeptics such as David Marks, who ignore any evidence that goes against their beliefs.

Adam Rutherford, who works for Nature, dismisses scientific ideas presented in books, rather than in scientific journals. He would therefore rule out Charles Darwin's Origin of Species, whose 150th anniversary we celebrate this year, as well as most of the work of Richard Dawkins. My own research is published in peer-reviewed journals (including Nature) as well as in books.

...Science is our best method for exploring what we do not understand. But for some people science has become a religion. They need authority and certainty, and want to believe that the fundamental answers are already known.

Scientific fundamentalism serves deep emotional needs, but it is counter-productive for the progress of science itself. It inhibits scientific exploration, gives science a bad name and puts young people off. Science advances through questioning dogmas, by considering new possibilities, and through open-minded enquiry.

As Rupert points out in his response, many of his research papers are available on his website (along with plenty of other material, including lectures and articles).

(In passing, I couldn't help but notice that Susan Blackmore is now saying that she "spent the best part of 30 years trying to find evidence of paranormal phenomena and failed. My initial belief was wrong, I concluded, and so I changed my mind and became sceptical." Ahem.)

Previously on TDG:

Holy Grail of Resources Updated

The website of the Society for Scientific Exploration (SSE) has had a makeover, and with the new look comes something very exciting. The archives of the Journal of Scientific Exploration - which I raved about last year - now itemises the articles published in JSE so far, and offers free PDF downloads of all of them on a per article basis! No need to download the whole issue anymore...just peruse the article list (use CTRL-F in your browser to find certain keywords/author names) and pick out the articles you want to read. As I mentioned last year, those articles cover open-minded, scientific investigation of: remote viewing, earth lights, ball lightning, reincarnation, telepathy, psychokinesis, ufology, the afterlife, crop circles, fringe archaeology, biofields, 'orbs', intelligent design, precognition, poltergeists, earthquake phenomena and cryptozoology - amongst others! This is, quite literally, the Holy Grail of resources for TDG readers.

Note too that the new website also now offers an online facility for joining the Society for Scientific Exploration. Well worth considering.

Previously on TDG:

Quantum Thoughts?

Last week Discover Magazine posted a fascinating article on the developing scientific field of quantum biology, titled "Is Quantum Mechanics Controlling Your Thoughts". The article begins by looking at new evidence which suggests that quantum effects (such as entanglement and tunneling) may be the mechanism behind biological processes such as photosynthesis and the sense of smell.

One of the most significant quantum observations in the life sciences comes from Fleming and his collaborators. Their study of photosynthesis in green sulfur bacteria, published in 2007 in Nature [subscription required], tracked the detailed chemical steps that allow plants to harness sunlight and use it to convert simple raw materials into the oxygen we breathe and the carbohydrates we eat. Specifically, the team examined the protein scaffold connecting the bacteria’s external solar collectors, called the chlorosome, to reaction centers deep inside the cells. Unlike electric power lines, which lose as much as 20 percent of energy in transmission, these bacteria transmit energy at a staggering efficiency rate of 95 percent or better.

The secret, Fleming and his colleagues found, is quantum physics... Instead of haphazardly moving from one connective channel to the next, as might be seen in classical physics, energy traveled in several directions at the same time. The researchers theorized that only when the energy had reached the end of the series of connections could an efficient pathway retroactively be found. At that point, the quantum process collapsed, and the electrons’ energy followed that single, most effective path.

Electrons moving through a leaf or a green sulfur bacterial bloom are effectively performing a quantum “random walk”—a sort of primitive quantum computation—to seek out the optimum transmission route for the solar energy they carry. “We have shown that this quantum random-walk stuff really exists,” Fleming says.

These new findings are important to the controversial idea of 'quantum consciousness', as they may refute two of the main arguments against the idea: (a) That quantum effects won't occur at the macro level of biological systems, and (b) That it is too warm in the human brain for these quantum effects to occur. And at the end of the article they address this issue, talking to the pioneering researcher in the field (and an old friend of ours here at TDG) Stuart Hameroff. Although the article's author does note that quantum consciousness is still a speculative idea, the complete article does bring some context (and respectability) to the area:

It is still a long way from Hameroff’s hypo­thetical (and experimentally unproven) quantum neurons to a sentient, conscious human brain. But many human experiences, Hameroff says, from dreams to subconscious emotions to fuzzy memory, seem closer to the Alice in Wonderland rules governing the quantum world than to the cut-and-dried reality that classical physics suggests. Discovering a quantum portal within every neuron in your head might be the ultimate trip through the looking glass.

It would have been nice if the article had mentioned that Hameroff is not alone in his speculation: his 'co-speculator' is no less a personage than Sir Roger Penrose, and a separate, well-credentialed theorist on the idea (though he departs from the Hameroff-Penrose hypothesis on a number of points) is Henry Stapp. See Wikipedia's page on 'Quantum Mind' for a good starting point for further exploration. Makes you wonder whether Michael Shermer would like to retract some of his assertions in this Sci-Am column.

Now, heading off further down the rabbit hole than Discover (and certainly Michael Shermer) would like to go, 'quantum consciousness' may also provide a way of understanding near-death experiences and the possibility that consciousness lives on after physical death. When I spoke to Stuart a couple of years ago, this was his (speculative) explanation:

Under normal circumstances consciousness occurs in the fundamental level of spacetime geometry confined in the brain. But when the metabolism driving quantum coherence (in microtubules) is lost, the quantum information leaks out to the spacetime geometry in the universe at large. Being holographic and entangled it doesnt dissipate. Hence consciousness (or dream-like subconsciousness) can persist.

Parapsychology researcher Dean Radin is another who has pondered on a possible link between quantum effects and anomalous cognition - see his book Entangled Minds (Amazon US and UK) for more. Dean made a quick comment about the story on his blog last week as well.

Previously on TDG: