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

Afterlife in the Quantum Realm?

The enigmas of quantum physics always provide fertile ground for fascinating science stories, as well as a good springboard into ontological and epistemological speculation. In recent weeks we've had interesting news about quantum coherence in biological systems and also yesterday's headline of quantum effects being seen in a visible object for the first time (RPJ also linked to a wonderful summary of recent 'quantum science' by Alan Boyle on his Cosmic Log).

Most physicists though are very careful not to be seen departing from the strange concepts inherent in the quantum world, into the (seemingly extended) area of metaphysics. Henry Stapp though is not one of those - a physicist with a distinguished history (having studied/worked under Pauli, Heisenberg, and other luminaries), Stapp disagrees with a purely materialist view of the cosmos, instead seeing consciousness as being of extreme importance via its role in the collapse of the wave-function. And, while reading a recent interview he did with EnlightenNext Magazine (PDF download), I was very interested to see the following comments:

[R]espectable theorists hold a wide variety of views as to how to understand quantum mechanics. That theory accommodates a large variety of phenomena that are not allowed by classical mechanics. The key point here is this: If something like [William] James’ fantastic laws of clinging do exist, and they are sufficiently strong, then aspects of a personality might be able to survive bodily death and persist for a while as an enduring mental entity, existing somewhere in Descartes’ world of mental things, but capable on rare occasions of reconnecting with the physical world. I do not see any compelling theoretical reason why this idea could not be reconciled with the precepts of quantum mechanics. Such an elaboration of quantum mechanics would both allow our conscious efforts to influence our own bodily actions, and also allow certain purported phenomena such as “possession”, “mediumship”, and “reincarnation” to be reconciled with the basic precepts of contemporary physics.

These considerations are, I think, sufficient to show that any claim that postmortem personality survival is impossible that is based solely on the belief that it is incompatible with the contemporary laws of physics is not rationally supportable. Rational science-based opinion on this question must be based on the content and quality of the empirical data, not on the presumption that such a phenomenon would be strictly incompatible with our current scientific knowledge of how nature works.

You can read more about Stapp's ideas on this in his paper "Compatibility of Contemporary Physical Theory with Personality Survival" (downloadable Word document), and for a more comprehensive overview see his book Mindful Universe. For video of Henry Stapp explaining some of his ideas, make sure you head over to the 'Closer to Truth' website (one of the greatest websites I've ever had the good fortune to find) and search through the videos for his intriguing interviews with Robert Lawrence Kuhn.

Previously on TDG:

Sean Carroll: The Arrow of Time

If there is one thing that is nearly always on my mind, it is time. Trying to cram 30 hours into 24 hours each day tends to do that. But beyond constantly thinking of our own personal time issues, the actual subject of 'time' is one of the deepest and most difficult concepts to define and understand. One person trying to do that right now is physicist Sean Carroll.

A gifted communicator of difficult cosmological concepts, Carroll summarised where he's coming from in a recent article in Wired:

I’m trying to understand how time works. And that’s a huge question that has lots of different aspects to it. A lot of them go back to Einstein and spacetime and how we measure time using clocks. But the particular aspect of time that I’m interested in is the arrow of time: the fact that the past is different from the future. We remember the past but we don’t remember the future. There are irreversible processes. There are things that happen, like you turn an egg into an omelet, but you can’t turn an omelet into an egg.

And we sort of understand that halfway. The arrow of time is based on ideas that go back to Ludwig Boltzmann, an Austrian physicist in the 1870s. He figured out this thing called entropy. Entropy is just a measure of how disorderly things are. And it tends to grow. That’s the second law of thermodynamics: Entropy goes up with time, things become more disorderly.

But there’s a missing piece...which is, why was the entropy ever low to begin with? Why were the papers neatly stacked in the universe? Basically, our observable universe begins around 13.7 billion years ago in a state of exquisite order, exquisitely low entropy. It’s like the universe is a wind-up toy that has been sort of puttering along for the last 13.7 billion years and will eventually wind down to nothing. But why was it ever wound up in the first place? Why was it in such a weird low-entropy unusual state? That is what I’m trying to tackle.

Carroll goes into much more depth on the topic in his recently released book, From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time (Amazon US and UK). You'll also have your mind hurt nicely by these TED videos of Carroll discussing the arrow of time at the University of Sydney in December 2009: Part 1, and Part 2 (I originally embedded them here, but it seems they autoplay so I removed them). Not exactly light viewing, but fascinating stuff.

EdgeScience #2

Issue 2 of the free PDF magazine EdgeScience is now available from the website of the Society for Scientific Exploration. The latest edition has a special section on 'New Energy', including an article on the latest developments in cold fusion research, as well as a piece on healing through intention and a nice article from Peter Sturrock on the place of anomalies in science. Edited by our good friend Patrick Huyghe (The Anomalist), and with contributions from the likes of Steve Braude and Michael Grosso, it's the thinking man's magazine for scientific anomalies (no centerfolds!). If you enjoy the mag, don't forget to send a bit of love via the PayPal button to help ensure it's future (or pick up the paper version for $4.95).

Edge Science Magazine

The Society for Scientific Exploration (SSE), producers of the wonderful Journal of Scientific Exploration (articles for download here), are also now publishing a 'popular' magazine devoted to heretical/fringe science ideas: Edge Science:

Why EdgeScience? Because, contrary to public perception, scientific knowledge is still full of unknowns. What remains to be discovered—what we don't know—very likely dwarfs what we do know. And what we think we know may not be entirely correct or fully understood. Anomalies, which researchers tend to sweep under the rug, should be actively pursued as clues to potential breakthroughs and new directions in science.

You can download the first issue for free as a PDF file to get a feel for the mag, or alternately get a print version for $3.95, details at the website. The editor of the magazine is our good friend from The Anomalist, Patrick Huyghe - with Patrick and the SSE behind this, you know it's going to be quality.

Noetic Sciences to Receive the Dan Brown Bump?

From the New York Times review of Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol, by Janet Maslin:

Dr. Katherine Solomon specializes in noetic science, with its focus on mind-body connections. She admits that her field is not widely known. But when her story comes out, she suggests, noetics could get the kind of public relations bump that Mr. Brown gave to the Holy Grail.

Wow. Is Brown literally suggesting, through a character's voice, that Noetic Sciences should get the Brown 'bump'? Sometimes you wonder whether Mr B. reads TDG, don't you...?

Update: Reading the book now. Noetic Sciences is huge in it. IONS will get a serious bump from this; strap yourselves in Marilyn and Dean!

Rupert Sheldrake Videos

For those interested in learning more about Rupert Sheldrake's theories, or just listening to him wax lyrical on everything from his childhood to the state of modern science, head on over to where you'll find a bunch of videos posted which involve Rupert. Note that as well as the list of videos accessible via the scrollbar under the video at that link, there are more in the 'Related Posts' section beneath - including the excellent Glorious Accident documentary, in which Rupert goes head-to-head with the likes of Daniel Dennett and Stephen Jay Gould. That one in particular is fun - Gould and Dennett are tough on 'Sheldrake the theorist' (and his morphogenetic theory), but you can also see that they appreciate 'Sheldrake the man' (and 'thinker'). Also good is the BBC production Heretic. I just hope you have a lot of spare time on your hands...

Scientific Exploration Videos

The Society for Scientific Exploration has added a bunch of new videos taken at their 2008 meeting, covering a diverse range of 'fringe science' ideas and theories:

Thanks to Maca Paca for the heads-up.

Depth Perception

I found this YouTube video of the late Carl Sagan explaining the '4th Dimension' interesting:

Now apart from Sagan's bald plagiarism in knocking off Hugo Weaving's 'Agent Smith' from the Matrix movies (crumbly, but...good), he's also of course taking much of the narrative here from Edwin Abbott's classic 1884 novel Flatland. In its time, the book was on the cutting edge - not just for it's coverage of thinking in a higher dimension, but also for its analogies to social heirarchies and deviantism. Of course, the idea itself can be found in various forms* throughout history, such as in Plato's allegory of the cave (*pun not intended).

What I find ironic about this video though is that we have Sagan - a high-profile skeptic, who sits in the pantheon of 'skeptical deities' - discussing how anomalous (even mystical) phenomena can occur through some agency beyond our understanding, leaving the experiencer somewhat isolated due to the ineffability of the experience. Without Sagan batting an eyelid.

As Michio Kaku says, in his book Parallel Worlds: a four-dimensional world, we are the Flatlanders, oblivious of the fact that higher planes of existence might hover right above ours. We believe that our world consists of all we can see, unaware that there may be entire universes right above our noses. Although another universe might be hovering just inches above us, floating in the fourth dimension, it would appear to be invisible.

Because a hyperbeing would possess superhuman powers usually ascribed to a ghost or spirit, in another science fiction story, H.G. Wells pondered the question of whether supernatural beings might inhabit higher dimensions. He raised a key question that is today the subject of great speculation and research: could there be new laws of physics in these higher dimensions. In his 1895 novel 'The Wonderful Visit', a vicar's gun accidentally hits an angel, who happens to be passing through our dimension...The vicar questions the wounded angel. He is shocked to find that our laws of nature no longer apply in the angel's world. In his universe, for example, there are no planes, but rather cylinders, so space itself is curved.

Flatland, in my opinion, offers a very good reason why investigation of anomalies is a valid exercise. Certainly, it demands the use of rigorous and honest scientific research; but also it requires an open mind and the willingness to speculate wildly at times.


Interesting sidenote: While researching this story I had a run of fun coincidences/synchronicities which readers might enjoy. I had just finished reading an article on filmmaker David Cronenberg and his movie VideoDrome, and walked into my study to begin work on this story about multiple dimensions. As I walked into the room, my gaze landed on two books on one of my bookshelves - Michio Kaku's Hyperspace and Parallel Worlds. I sat down to see at the top of the list in Nambu (my Twitter client) an entry from Mac Tonnies: "Touch interface technology and David Cronenberg's "Videodrome":". After enjoying that little moment, I then went to Wikipedia to look up 'Hypercubes', and was pleased to find this animation of a rotating hypercube - I'd seen something similar a few years back on the web, but could never find it again. Once I finished reading, I then clicked on Mac's link, which took me to his Posthuman Blues blog. Go on, click it, and look to the right of the page...

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.