Showing posts with label weird science. Show all posts
Showing posts with label weird science. Show all posts

Friday, March 19, 2021

Allied Alchemists

137: Jung, Pauli, and the Pursuit of a Scientific Obsession
Arthur I. Miller
Nonfiction 363 pages

Despite the title, you’ll have to read the final chapter before you learn much about the number 137. But that doesn’t hurt this double biography. Along the way you’ll learn about the numbers three and four and what they meant to Johannes Kepler and Robert Fludd, one a pioneer of science, the other a mystic.

While three is the number of the trinity, four is that of the cardinal directions. C. G. Jung and Wolfgang Pauli both examined the symbolism of these numbers.

Their relationship began when Pauli approached Jung for therapy. Although, Jung referred him to one of his pupils, Jung took an active interest in Pauli’s analysis. As their friendship developed, Pauli found an outlet for his mystical, intuitive side. Jung hoped that Pauli could lend a more scientific foundation to Jung's brand of psychology.

Jung believed that the human psyche was populated by archetypes which supplied symbolic meaning. Certain numbers, among them three and four, could take on archetypal qualities in dreams and visions. Just as these numbers appeared in myth and alchemical texts, they also appeared in Pauli’s dreams and in his efforts to discover the structure of the atom.

Early in his career, Pauli worked with Niels Bohr whose theory of the atom hinged on three quantum numbers. But the theory wasn’t complete until Ralph Kronig proposed that electrons had a spin of one half and others provided evidence. Spin became the fourth quantum number, but its addition meant that electrons could no longer be visualized.

Pauli and Jung both believed in the paranormal, unlike Jung’s mentor Sigmund Freud. Once while arguing with Freud about parapsychology, Jung experienced a feeling like his diaphragm was turning into hot iron. Just then, a loud noise came from Freud’s bookcase and both men jumped. Jung remarked that the event was an example of “a physical effect brought about by a mental thought.” Freud was merely dismissive.

Pauli was a believer in what his colleagues named the Pauli Effect. The frequent failure of equipment in the presence of Pauli made the theoretician unwelcome in physics laboratories due to his Pauli effect. People suffered from the Effect as well. On one occasion the chairs to Pauli's right and left of Pauli simultaneously collapsed, dislodging the women seated upon them.

Jung coined the term “synchronicity” to account for a type of paranormal phenomena. Synchronicity is what Jung calls meaningful coincidences that have no apparent cause. For example, on one occasion a woman was discussing her dream of a scarab when one tapped on Jung’s office window. The coincidental appearance of a real scarab profoundly affected Jung’s patient and allowed her to benefit from her therapy. Telepathic and precognitive dreams are other examples of synchronicity.

The causal universe of Newtonian physics was displaced early in the twentieth century by the arrival of quantum physics. Events at the quantum level could no longer be said to be causal – they are probabilistic. Both Pauli and Jung were well aware of this and Pauli had no difficulty accepting the possibility of synchronicity.

The friendship between the two resulted in the 1952 publication of “The Interpretation of Nature and the Psyche,” a volume containing two essays — Jung’s “Synchronicity: an acausal connecting principal” and Pauli’s “The Influence of Archetypal Ideas on the Scientific Theories of Kepler.”

Returning to 137 — the number occurs several places in the book. Bohr’s theory was tested by examining the spectral lines created by the light emitted when an electron drops from a higher to a lower orbit. Some of these were found to consist of closely spaced individual lines known as the “fine structure.” The distance between the lines of the fine structure of a spectral line, Bohr called “the fine structure constant.” Pauli was able to determine that this constant is a pure number equal to 1/137 or 0.00729. He wondered why 137 and not some other number — a question that was to occupy much of his professional life.

In addition to being a prime number, there are several other interesting facts about this number. The values of the Hebrew letters which spell the word Kabbalah total 137. So do the Biblical phrases, “The God of Truth” and “The Surrounding Brightness,” and the Hebrew word for “crucifix.”

But perhaps the oddest coincidence was that the hospital room in which Pauli died was number 137. When Charles Enz visited Pauli, he informed Enz that the room was number 137, “I’m never getting out of here alive.”

Miller’s book is an interesting mixture of biography and science and very hard to put down. For those who understand the math, Miller supplies a bit to ponder. But for the most part, the book can easily be enjoyed by non-scientists.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Of butterflies and dreaming sages


The Grand Biocentric Design : How Life Creates Reality
Robert Lanza, MD and Matej Pavšič with Bob Berman
Non-fiction, 289 pages

In this third book on biocentrism, Matej Pavšič joins the authors of the first two, but it is Lanza who speaks loudest. The book offers several new scientific findings and four additional principals of biocentrism to the original seven.

The first third of the book reiterates points made in the previous two: 1) on the atomic level everything remains in superposition until an observer collapses a wave-function and brings things into existence. More , 2) time and space are tools of the mind rather than qualities of reality.

At this point new evidence is introduced. Consider the eighth principle of biocentrism: 

“Biocentrism offers the only explanation of how the mind is unified with matter and the world by showing how modulation of ion dynamics in the brain at the quantum level allows all parts of the information system that we associate with consciousness to be simultaneously interconnected.” 

I don’t fully grasp why this is important; I hope a commentator will explain it to me.

Another piece of evidence supports the idea that reality is an invention of the mind. Speculating that it’s possible for “two observers to experience different, conflicting realities,” a group of physicists used six entangled particles to create separate realities for each observer. The study was published in Science Advances in 2019. “Realities can be made incompatible so that it is impossible to agree on objective facts about an experiment. These results suggest that objective reality does not exist.”

This begs the question, if objective reality is observer dependent, how can there be any sort of consensual reality? The authors answer:

“If you learn from somebody the outcomes of their measurements of a physical quantity, knowing those outcomes will also influence the outcomes of your own measurements, freezing the reality according to a consensus between your measurements and those of other observers. In this sense a consensus of different opinions regarding the structure of reality defines its very form.

Recall that time itself, as well as the direction of the arrow of time, becomes defined due to the process of wave function collapse (or decoherence). Once such temporal collapse happens, one can start asking questions about the dynamics of the process of decoherence for other physical quantities that we as observers can measure. These dynamics—how quickly the collapse of quantum blur toward a particular realization of measurable quantities happens, how long it stays collapsed, the detailed structure of the probability waves defining observed reality—strongly depend on how the measurements or observations by different observers are distributed within spacetime. If there are many observers and the number of observations made by them is very large, the probability waves of the measurement of a macroscopic quantity remain largely ‘localized,’ not spreading much, and reality is largely fixed, deviating slightly from the consensus only every once in a while.”

Another new idea in this book addresses an old problem. Quantum physics does a good job of explaining three of the four fundamental forces, while relativity theory does a fine job of explaining gravity. However the two theories of quantum physics and relativity can not be unified into one. The authors claim that when the role of observers is considered, gravity becomes compatible with quantum theory.

Despite new research and more in-depth explanation, this book leaves a lot out. In the second book on biocentrism, the authors wrote that death is an illusion. Here they take it further:

“In your awakened State, you experience your consensus reality. Then you go to bed, fall asleep, and start dreaming. And when you wake up, you find yourself again existing as a person in a consensus reality. Through dreams you enter alternate worlds and switch from one consensus reality to another, from experiencing the life of one organism to that of another. Once awake, you can find yourself as being any person, at any time without having memories about ever being another person or animal. You can even find yourself as a newborn, without any idea about the reality you are living. If so, gradually, piece by piece, you discover your reality, your world. By observing your world, you keep collapsing probability waves, and thus you effortlessly create an ever-more detailed world that includes comprehensive reinforcing memories. The observations also include what others tell you about the world and its history and still you build your consensus reality.”

How can this be? I didn’t wake up as someone else this morning, or did I? I remember Chuang Tzu wrote of something similar:

“Formerly, I, Kwang Kâu, dreamt that I was a butterfly, a butterfly flying about, feeling that it was enjoying itself. I did not know that it was Kâu. Suddenly I awoke, and was myself again, the veritable Kâu. I did not know whether it had formerly been Kâu dreaming that he was a butterfly, or it was now a butterfly dreaming that it was Kâu. But between Kâu and a butterfly there must be a difference.”

As Chuang Tzu said, “there must be a difference.” If there were no difference, “mind” could control any body at any time. And in that case would mind be a singular or plural entity? That question and others of similar nature are not addressed, yet require answers if biocentrism is to become a strong theory.

If mind is the thing that creates matter, what is mind?

“Biocentrism shows that the external world is actually within the mind—not ‘within’ the brain. The brain is an actual physical object that occupies a specific location. It exists as a spatiotemporal construction. … The mind is what generates the spatiotemporal construction in the first place. Thus, the mind refers to pre-spatiotemporal and the brain to post spatiotemporal. You experience your mind’s image of your body, including your brain, just as you experience trees and galaxies. The mind is everywhere. It is everything you see, hear and sense.”

And after that explanation, I still don’t know. If biocentrism is to become a useful theory, it will need to explain what is meant by mind. Replacing one mystery with another isn’t helpful. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

How we think we're driving when we're really just along for the ride


The Hidden Brain: how our unconscious minds elect presidents, control markets, and save our lives
Shankar Vedantam
Nonfiction, 270 pages

What a concept. We think we’re reasonable. Shankar Vedantam thinks maybe we’re not. His book explores the ways in which we fool ourselves into thinking that we make rational decisions — when in fact much of the time, we follow our unconscious biases, rather than reason.

Vedantam uses the term “hidden brain” to describe mental processes which affect our behavior without our conscious awareness of their influence. These result from errors in attention and memory; mental shortcuts we form and follow; relationships and social dynamics.

In some cases, it’s possible to train ourselves to identify and become aware of these hidden influences. In other cases, the influences remain hidden. American society however operates as if human behavior is primarily based on reason.

Vedantam presents an example involving a rape conviction based on false identification.  The woman, who identified the wrong man as her rapist, became convinced of his guilt while she was praying in church. Initially uncertain, her doubts dissolved in the safety of her church.

Emotions can affect our memories and convictions — and that’s what happened in this case. After DNA evidence had proved his innocence, the woman met the man. Upon meeting him, the first thing she noticed convinced her that she’d been wrong.

Vedantam discusses how social scientists test for racial bias — and find it even among people who claim to be unprejudiced. We believe we live in a fair society, yet experimental evidence shows that people tend to recommend the harshest penalties to those whose skin is darkest.

Sexual bias is common as well. Transgender individuals report receiving greater respect and higher salaries when they change from women to men. The opposite is reported by those who change from men to women.

Recently controversy has arisen over the possibility that a mosque might be built close to “Ground Zero.” Implicit to the controversy is the association between the terrorists who brought down the World Trade Center and Islam. Former President Bush declared a war on terrorism, not a war on Islam. To some people it means the same thing. But, you don’t have to be a Muslim to be a suicide bomber.

Vedantam reports that during the closing days of World War II, Japanese kamikazes flew suicide missions for their country. Those chosen to be kamikazes felt themselves to be among a privileged elite.  Psychologist, Masami Takahashi, son of a former kamikaze, reports that most of those who volunteered for suicide missions were not religious. It was the chance to be a hero that motivated them. Interviews with present day terrorist recruits have uncovered the same motivations.  Many of these recruits aren’t particularly religious. Vedantam quotes Marc Sageman, “People want to be suicide bombers because they are the rock stars of militant Islam.” So, what’s really needed is a war on rock star wannabes and not on moderate Muslims.

Vedantam compares the viewpoint of those who join cults or elite military units to being in a tunnel. Such people narrow their mental focus, attending to the views and aims of their particular group, and not on the world at large.

A few hours before more than 900 Americans died after they drank the Kool-Aid in Jonestown, Guyana, five others died at Guyana’s Port Katuna Airstrip.  These were gunned down by Larry Layton, another People’s Temple member. Larry had volunteered for a suicide mission to bring down a plane returning to the United States. The mission went awry — Larry survived, but five of the plane’s passengers did not.

Why had Larry Layton volunteered? He was living in a tunnel: “As he sat in his prison cell in Guyana, it slowly became apparent to Layton that the world he had inhabited for so long was not the real world, that it was only a tunnel that had appeared to be the whole world.”

Today the phrase, “drink the Kool-Aid,” refers to an uncritical acceptance of what another person or group tells you. You don’t have to be a cult member to “drink the Kool-Aid” — merely an uncritical thinker, influenced by the “hidden brain” rather than its more rational side.   

The “hidden brain” is useful because it helps us make decisions quickly. However, those decisions are not always correct. By becoming more aware about how the hidden brain works, we can begin to make better decisions both as individuals and as a society. Reading this book will get you started on the road to expanded awareness.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Altered Traits


Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body
by Daniel Goleman and Richard J. Davidson 
Non-fiction, 336 pages

I read many dull research papers in school. Since then I’ve concluded that research oriented psychologists can’t write, while therapy oriented psychologists don’t understand science. I’ve changed my view. Authors, Daniel Goleman and Richard J. Davidson, are both able researchers and writers.

This is great. I’ve read far too much well done research that doesn’t say much and far too much self-help psychology that cherry picks science.

The authors spent decades studying meditation, and are honest enough to say where their research was poorly designed or flawed. They began their research in the 1970s before tools such as fMRI and SPECT became available and learned a lot over their years.

Books about science and fiction by Steig Larrson can be repetitive. That’s necessary sometimes. While reading this book, expect repetition. It’s worth it: this is the definitive book on meditation research.

The authors discuss research into three types of meditation, “focusing on breathing; generating loving kindness; and monitoring thoughts without getting swept away by them.” Each of the three meditations can cause mental changes, some brief and some lasting. While breath or mantra meditators requires multiple sessions before change can be noticed, loving kindness meditation brings results after only a single session.

Temporary changes, while interesting, are not the same as altered traits. These require years of meditation. Yogis who’ve spent decades practicing the third type of meditation have yielded astonishing findings. “Gamma, the very fastest brain wave occurs during moments when differing brain regions fire in harmony, like moments of insight when different elements of a mental puzzle ‘click’ together.” Gamma wave activity lasts only a fifth of a second for most people, but some yogis can generate gamma waves for minutes at a time, even in their sleep. I’d love to know what’s on their minds. Guess I should meditate more.

It's like the egg laying the chicken - or mixing metaphors - Ouroboros


Beyond Biocentrism: Rethinking Time, Space, Consciousness, and the Illusion of Death

Robert Lanza and Bob Berman

Non-fiction, 224 pages


In their first book, Lanza and Berman presented Biocentrism, a view that accounts for some of the anomalies of physics. This book takes the argument further. The science is solid, but I question the validity of the authors’ conclusions.

 

The scientific argument begins with with a hard nut that physicists have tried to crack for nearly one hundred years. Things are not as they seem. The model of an atom one first encountered in elementary school is not realistic. In reality, electrons don’t cross atomic nucleuses in neat orbits. In reality, they’re everywhere at once. Electrons exist in a superposition of all possible locations until interfered with. As soon as a measurement is taken, the electron’s “wave function” collapses and it shows itself. Since observation is required to determine an electron’s position, the role of consciousness plays a key part in how the universe operates. Hence, life itself, steers the universe’s unfolding.

 

While the authors’ argument is novel, the science is not. I don’t question that the authors are on to something. I only question that something’s implications. Let’s skip over the science and go directly to conclusions:

 

“What is not in doubt even in these early research stages is that the observer is correlative with the cosmos. That time does not exist. And perhaps the most cheerful takeaway from biocentrism: Since there’s no self-existing space-time matrix in which energy can dissipate, it’s impossible for you to ‘go’ anywhere.

 

In a nutshell, death is illusory. ... Consciousness and awareness never began, and will never end.”

 

And yet, when one sleeps can one be said to be conscious? For that matter, how can there be a “when” if time is illusory?

 

Backing up a bit, the authors note that logic and science are not the only methods of gaining knowledge. Intuitions arise from neither and are generally correct. Upon seeing a corpse, intuition tells us that the body’s former occupant has departed. But where did it go? Here’s the explanation:

 

“The feeling of “me,” of consciousness itself, could be considered a 23-watt energy cloud, which is the brain’s energy consumption in producing our sense of ‘being’ and its myriad sensory manifestations. Energy, as we learned in high school physics, is never lost. It can change form but it never dissipates or disappears. So what happens when those brain cells die?”

 

The answer is that death is an illusion. One can’t die because, “neither space nor time are real in any sense except as appearances or tools of the mind.”

 

In the first appendix we learn the difference between mind and brain. “The brain is a physical object occupying a specific location. It exists as a spatio-temporal construction ... .” Other objects like tables must also be constructions, yet you can’t crowd those constructions into brains. Paradoxical. Space isn’t real, but you still have to watch where you place things. Luckily we don’t have to worry about where one places one’s mind. “But the mind has no location. It is everywhere you observe, smell, or hear anything.”

 

I can’t quite wrap my own mind around this. Maybe with more explanation. The authors are releasing another book in November. I can barely wait.