15 July 2007

There is widely-reported, meticulously-documented statistical evidence for the reality of telepathic communication.  Many scientists dismiss the evidence on the grounds that the effect is ruled out by physical theory, so it is not worthwhile to investigate each experiment in detail and determine how it might have been subtly flawed.

The scientists who are most convinced of the physical impossibility of telepathy are not physicists.  Twentieth century physics included so many strange surprises that most physicists are reluctant to say ‘impossible’.  If telepathy does turn out to be real, here is how it might be connected to quantum theory.

One way in which quantum mechanics differs from the old physics is that many measurements can only come out in discrete units.  The spin of an atom might be 0 or 1 or 2, but never 1.5 or 2/3 or 0.475940633...  An example of this that is easy to conceive is the Geiger counter, which clicks or does not click, but there is no such thing as a half click or a weak click.

Imagine placing a lump of uranium next to a Geiger counter.  Every time an atom decays somewhere within the lump, the counter goes ‘click’.  If you listen, the counter may sound like this: click...click...click-click.............click.....click-click-click..............click.....

Here is how physicists generally describe this situation:  We can predict the average rate of decay.  But the timing of the individual decay events is completely random.  Completely unpredictable.  There is nothing anyone can ever say about when a particular ‘click’ will occur.

But Einstein said this didn’t sound right.  ‘God doesn’t play dice.’  Is the random element really random?  In 1968, J.S. Bell vindicated Einstein’s intuition.  The pattern of individual clicks is indeed affected by everything that happens everywhere in the universe (and, indeed, that’s why it seems random).  If a million years from now you touch some atom that has once been in contact with one of the atoms in the lump of uranium, then that has an effect on when that atom decays today.  Bell proved that that effect exists.  It is not necessarily small.  It does not get smaller as you get further away or deeper into the future.

The catch is that the time of the atom’s decay was random to begin with, and after you touch something that once touched it, it remains random...but it’s at a different random time than it would have been otherwise.

The individual neurons in our brains are small but not that small.  They average over many electrons, so they mostly follow causal laws.  But they are small enough that occasionally a single electron’s motion is enough to cause a neuron to fire.  And a single neuron may cause a thought to appear in our heads, and the thought may lead to other thoughts and thence to actions...

It is tantalizing to think that if telepathy turns out to be real, that it could work in this way.  The timing of the firing of individual neurons in our heads is related in some way to other neurons in other heads in the past and in the future.  Could natural selection have been clever enough to evolve brains so that they take advantage of this connection in some way?

– Josh Mitteldorf
Wikipedia on Quantum Mind, with references to Roger Penrose and Henry Stapp

14 July 2007

“Will the domestication of high technology, which we have seen marching from triumph to triumph with the advent of personal computers and GPS receivers and digital cameras, soon be extended from physical technology to biotechnology? I believe that the answer to this question is yes. Here I am bold enough to make a definite prediction. I predict that the domestication of biotechnology will dominate our lives during the next fifty years at least as much as the domestication of computers has dominated our lives during the previous fifty years...

“Domesticated biotechnology, once it gets into the hands of housewives and children, will give us an explosion of diversity of new living creatures, rather than the monoculture crops that the big corporations prefer. New lineages will proliferate to replace those that monoculture farming and deforestation have destroyed. Designing genomes will be a personal thing, a new art form as creative as painting or sculpture.”

– from a New York Review article by Freeman Dyson

13 July 2007

The doctors of medicine have discovered that certain dreams of the night, for I do not grant them all, are the day’s unfulfilled desire, and that our terror of desires condemned by the conscience has distorted and disturbed our dreams. They have only studied the breaking into dream of elements that have remained unsatisfied without purifying discouragement. We can satisfy in life a few of our passions and each passion but a little, and our characters indeed but differ because no two men bargain alike. The bargain, the compromise, is always threatened, and when it is broken we become mad or hysterical or are in some way deluded; and so when a starved or banished passion shows in a dream we, before awaking, break the logic that had given it the capacity of action and throw it into chaos again.  But the passions, when we know that they cannot find fulfillment, become vision; and a vision, whether we wake or sleep, prolongs its power by rhythm and pattern, the wheel where the world is butterfly.  We need no protection, but it does, for if we become interested in ourselves, in our own lives, we pass out of the vision. Whether it is we or the vision that creates the pattern, who set the wheel turning, it is hard to say, but certainly we have a hundred ways of keeping it near us: we select our images from past times, we turn from our own age and try to feel Chaucer nearer than the daily paper.  It compels us to cover all it cannot incorporate, and would carry us when it comes in sleep to that moment when even sleep closes her eyes and dreams begin to dream; and we are taken up into a clear light and are forgetful even of our own names and actions and yet in perfect possession of ourselves, murmur like Faust, ‘Stay, moment,’ and murmur in vain. 

W. B. Yeats (fr Anima Hominis)

12 July 2007

“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to lead a life which he has imagined, he will meet with success unexpected in common hours.”

Henry David Thoreau, born this day in 1817

“We must walk consciously only part way toward our goal and then leap in the dark to our success.


11 July 2007

Faced with success after success the majority of physicists quietly decided that to give up reality in exchange for theory’s immense predictive power was not such a bad deal after all…

Will the bizarre quantum world forever exist as the private preserve of mathematicians and experimental physicists, or might ordinary people someday gain access to its fabled realms? Recent research into quantum theory’s philosophical dimensions suggests that fundamental quantum research may someday return to a human scale and allow every human being, no matter what their academic credentials, to take part in the quantum adventure, joining with physicists and mathematicians in an egalitarian adventure I call ‘holistic physics.’ Holistic physics could open up a third front of quantum research on the scale of ordinary experience with inexpensive equipment, which would complement conventional quantum research on the cosmological and elementary particle scales, a third front made possible by the very reality problem that so distressed Einstein and other early quantum physicists.

– from Nick Herbert’s  Quantum Tantra web site 

10 July 2007

On hearing these words Cottard exhibited an intense astonishment blended with entire submission, as though in the face of a scientific truth which contradicted everything that he had previously believed, but was supported by an irresistible weight of evidence…

He cried out: Heaven help me! as people, after lashing themselves into an intellectual frenzy in their endeavors to master the problem of the reality of the external world, or that of the immortality of the soul, afford relief to their weary brains by an unreasoning act of faith.

from Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust, born this day in 1871
translated by Charles Kenneth Scott-Moncrieff

9 July 2007

Microbes that thrive in extreme environments:

Archaea have been found more than four miles down, in the ancient lava flows of the Columbia River area of Washington State, by a  NASA microbiologist .  They live inside the rock itself and respire anaerobically.  The pressures at these depths are over 14 tonnes per square centimeter (approx 70 tons per square inch).    The bacteria feed off hydrogen gas which is given off when water seeping through the rock reacts with it.

The Mojave desert is one of the most inhospitable places on Earth.  Algae grow under white desert rocks, where there is some moisture.  The rocks have to be white so that enough sunlight gets through to allow the algae to photosynthesize.  

In the Arctic and Antarctic, life forms such as algae and lichens cling on to their existence for prolonged periods of time, waiting for the odd occasion when the temperature will be high enough to allow ice to turn to water.  

Amber is fossilized tree resin and it can preserve creatures trapped in it for millions of years.  Bacteria were found to inhabit the gut of a bee trapped in amber and where revived after a 25 million-year hibernation according to researcher, by microbiologist Raul Cano  and Monica Borucki of California Polytechnic State University. In 1995  the team announced they had revived bacterial spores from the bee.  This ancient bacterium, they claimed, is genetically similar to Bacillus sphaericus, which is a modern strain.    Interestingly, when subjected to adverse conditions they can go into a form of suspended animation.  They  stop moving and reproducing.  They do without air and  water. Their metabolism  virtually ceases.

...and so, goes this line of reasoning, Why not Mars?

More examples, from the London Natural History Museum
A new European research project targets life in extreme environments