Telekinesis and Quantum Field Theory

In the aftermath of the dispiriting comments following last week’s post on the Parapsychological Association, it seems worth spelling out in detail the claim that parapsychological phenomena are inconsistent with the known laws of physics. The main point here is that, while there are certainly many things that modern science does not understand, there are also many things that it does understand, and those things simply do not allow for telekinesis, telepathy, etc. Which is not to say that we can prove those things aren’t real. We can’t, but that is a completely worthless statement, as science never proves anything; that’s simply not how science works. Rather, it accumulates empirical evidence for or against various hypotheses. If we can show that psychic phenomena are incompatible with the laws of physics we currently understand, then our task is to balance the relative plausibility of “some folks have fallen prey to sloppy research, unreliable testimony, confirmation bias, and wishful thinking” against “the laws of physics that have been tested by an enormous number of rigorous and high-precision experiments over the course of many years are plain wrong in some tangible macroscopic way, and nobody ever noticed.”

The crucial concept here is that, in the modern framework of fundamental physics, not only do we know certain things, but we have a very precise understanding of the limits of our reliable knowledge. We understand, in other words, that while surprises will undoubtedly arise (as scientists, that’s what we all hope for), there are certain classes of experiments that are guaranteed not to give exciting results — essentially because the same or equivalent experiments have already been performed.

A simple example is provided by Newton’s law of gravity, the famous inverse-square law. It’s a pretty successful law of physics, good enough to get astronauts to the Moon and back. But it’s certainly not absolutely true; in fact, we already know that it breaks down, due to corrections from general relativity. Nevertheless, there is a regime in which Newtonian gravity is an effective approximation, good at least to a well-defined accuracy. We can say with confidence that if you are interested in the force due to gravity between two objects separated by a certain distance, with certain masses, Newton’s theory gives the right answer to a certain precision. At large distances and high precisions, the domain of validity is formalized by the Parameterized Post-Newtonian formalism. There is a denumerable set of ways in which the motion of test particles can deviate from Newtonian gravity (as well as from general relativity), and we can tell you what the limits are on each of them. At small distances, the inverse-square behavior of the gravitational force law can certainly break down; but we can tell you exactly the scale above which it will not break down (about a tenth of a millimeter). We can also quantify how well this knowledge extends to different kinds of materials; we know very well that Newton’s law works for ordinary matter, but the precision for dark matter is understandably not nearly as good.

This knowledge has consequences. If we discover a new asteroid headed toward Earth, we can reliably use Newtonian gravity to predict its future orbit. From a rigorous point of view, someone could say “But how do you know that Newtonian gravity works in this particular case? It hasn’t been tested for that specific asteroid!” And that is true, because science never proves anything. But it’s not worth worrying about, and anyone making that suggestion would not be taken seriously.

As with asteroids, so with human beings. We are creatures of the universe, subject to the same laws of physics as everything else. As everyone knows, there are many things we don’t understand about biology and neuroscience, not to mention the ultimate laws of physics. But there are many things that we do understand, and only the most basic features of quantum field theory suffice to definitively rule out the idea that we can influence objects from a distance through the workings of pure thought.

The simplest example is telekinesis, the ability to remotely move an object using only psychic powers. For definitiveness, let’s consider the power of spoon-bending, claimed not only by Uri Geller but by author and climate skeptic Michael Crichton.

What do the laws of physics have to say about spoon-bending? Below the fold, we go through the logic.

  • Spoons are made of ordinary matter.

This sounds uncontroversial, but is worth explaining. Spoons are made of atoms, and we know what atoms are made of — electrons bound by photons to an atomic nucleus, which in turn consists of protons and neutrons, which in turn are made of quarks held together by gluons. Five species of particles total: up and down quarks, gluons, photons, electrons. That’s it.

There is no room for extra kinds of mysterious particles clinging, aura-like, to the matter in a spoon. That’s because we know how particles behave. If there were some other kind of particle in the spoon, it would have to interact with the ordinary matter we know is there — otherwise it wouldn’t stick, it would just zip right through, as neutrinos zip right through the Earth nearly undisturbed. And if there were a kind of particle that interacted with the ordinary particles in the spoon strongly enough to stick to the spoon, we could easily make it in experiments. The rules of quantum field theory directly relate the interaction rates of particles to the ease with which we can create them in the lab, given enough energy. And we know exactly how much energy is available in a spoon; we know the masses of the atoms, and the kinetic energy of thermal motions within the metal. Taken together, we can say without any fear of making a mistake that any new particles that might exist within a spoon would have been detected in experiments long ago.

Whoa Again: imagine you have invented a new kind of particle relevant to the dynamics of spoons. Tell me its mass, and its interactions with ordinary matter. If it’s too heavy or interacts too weakly, it can’t be created or captured. If it is sufficiently light and strongly interacting, it will have been created and captured many times over in experiments we have already done. There is no middle ground. We completely understand the regime of spoons, notwithstanding what you heard in The Matrix.

  • Matter interacts through forces.

We’ve known for a long time that the way to move matter is to exert a force on it — Newton’s Law, F=ma, is at least the second most famous equation in physics. In the context of quantum field theory, we know precisely how forces arise: through the exchange of quantum fields. We know that only two kinds of fields exist: bosons and fermions. We know that macroscopic forces only arise from the exchange of bosons, not of fermions; the exclusion principle prohibits fermions from piling up in the same state to create a coherent long-range force field. And, perhaps most importantly, we know what forces can couple to: the properties of the matter fields that constitute an object. These properties include location, mass, spin, and various “charges” such as electric charge or baryon number.

This is where the previous point comes in. Spoons are just a certain arrangement of five kinds of elementary particles — up and down quarks, gluons, electrons, and photons. So if there is going to be a force that moves around a spoon, it’s going to have to couple to those particles. Once you tell me how many electrons etc. there are in the spoon, and the arrangement of their positions and spins, we can say with confidence how any particular kind of force will influence the spoon; no further information is required.

  • There are only two long-range forces strong enough to influence macroscopic objects — electromagnetism and gravity.

Of course, we have worked hard to discover different forces in nature, and so far we have identified four: gravitation, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces. But the nuclear forces are very short-range, smaller than the diameter of an atom. Gravitation and electromagnetism are the only detectable forces that propagate over longer distances.

Could either gravitation or electromagnetism be responsible for bending spoons? No. In the case of electromagnetism, it would be laughably easy to detect the kind of fields necessary to exert enough force to influence a spoon. Not to mention that the human brain is not constructed to generate or focus such fields. But the real point is that, if it were electromagnetic fields doing the spoon-bending, it would be very very noticeable. (And the focus would be on influencing magnets and circuits, not on bending spoons.)

In the case of gravitation, the fields are just too weak. Gravity accumulates in proportion to the mass of the source, so the arrangement of particles inside your brain will have a much smaller gravitational effect than just the location of your head — and that’s far too feeble to move spoons around. A bowling ball would be more efficient, and most people would agree that moving a bowling ball past a spoon has a negligible effect.

Could there be a new force, as yet undetected by modern science? Of course! I’ve proposed them myself. Physicists are by no means closed-minded about such possibilities; they are very excited by them. But they also take seriously the experimental limits. And those limits show unambiguously that any such new force must either be very short-range (less than a millimeter), or much weaker than gravity, which is an awfully weak force.

The point is that such forces are characterized by three things: their range, their strength, and their source (what they couple to). As discussed above, we know what the possible sources are that are relevant to spoons: quarks, gluons, photons, electrons. So all we have to do is a set of experiments that look for forces between different combinations of those particles. And these experiments have been done! The answer is: any new forces that might be lurking out there are either (far) too short-range to effect everyday objects, or (far) too weak to have readily observable effects.

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Here is a plot of the current limits on such forces, from the Eot-Wash group at Julianne’s home institution. This particular plot is for forces that couple to the total number of protons plus neutrons; similar plots exist for other possible sources. The horizontal axis is the range of the force; it ranges from about a millimeter to ten billion kilometers. The vertical axis is the strength of the force, and the region above the colored lines has been excluded by one or more experiments. On meter-sized scales, relevant to bending a spoon with your mind, the strongest possible allowed new force would be about one billionth the strength of gravity. And remember, gravity is far too weak to bend a spoon.

That’s it. We are done. The deep lesson is that, although science doesn’t know everything, it’s not “anything goes,” either. There are well-defined regimes of physical phenomena where we do know how things work, full stop. The place to look for new and surprising phenomena is outside those regimes. You don’t need to set up elaborate double-blind protocols to pass judgment on the abilities of purported psychics. Our knowledge of the laws of physics rules them out. Speculations to the contrary are not the provenance of bold visionaries, they are the dreams of crackpots.

A similar line of reasoning would apply to telepathy or other parapsychological phenomena. It’s a little bit less cut and dried, because in the case of telepathy the influence is supposedly traveling between two human brains, rather than between a brain and a spoon. The argument is exactly the same, but there are those who like to pretend that we don’t understand how the laws of physics work inside a human brain. It’s certainly true that there is much we don’t know about thought and consciousness and neuroscience, but the fact remains that we understand the laws of physics in the brain regime perfectly well. To believe otherwise, you would have to imagine that individual electrons obey different laws of physics because they are located in a human brain, rather than in a block of granite. But if you don’t care about violating the laws of physics in regimes where they have been extensively tested, then anything does in fact go.

Some will argue that parapsychology can be just as legitimately “scientific” as paleontology or cosmology, so long as it follows the methodology of scientific inquiry. But that’s a slightly too know-nothing attitude to quite hold up. If parapsychologists followed the methodology of scientific inquiry, they would look what we know about the laws of physics, realize that their purported subject of study had already been ruled out, and within thirty seconds would declare themselves finished. Anything else is pseudoscience, just as surely as contemporary investigation into astrology, phrenology, or Ptolemaic cosmology. Science is defined by its methods, but it also gets results; and to ignore those results is to violate those methods.

Admittedly, however, it is true that anything is possible, since science never proves anything. It’s certainly possible that the next asteroid that comes along will obey an inverse-cube law of gravity rather than an inverse-square one; we never know for sure, we can only speak in probabilities and likelihoods. Given the above, I would put the probability that some sort of parapsychological phenomenon will turn out to be real at something (substantially) less than a billion to one. We can compare this to the well-established success of particle physics and quantum field theory. The total budget for high-energy physics worldwide is probably a few billion dollars per year. So I would be very happy to support research into parapsychology at the level of a few dollars per year. Heck, I’d even be willing to go as high as twenty dollars per year, just to be safe.

Never let it be said that I am anything other than open-minded.

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172 Responses to Telekinesis and Quantum Field Theory

  1. Eric says:

    Sorry, my source is Chris Oakley’s website:

    http://www.cgoakley.demon.co.uk/qft/

  2. Aaron Bergman says:

    You know, we’ve learned a bit about QFT since 1965.

  3. Eric says:

    “You know, we’ve learned a bit about QFT since 1965.”

    I agree, but my point is that none of us are omniscient.

  4. onymous says:

    Eric, what is your point? You say “it’s not clear how valid current QFT is. Yes, it may agree with extraordinarily well with experimental data”

    And… that’s really the point, isn’t it? It’s pretty much the most well-tested theory we have in all of science. So, sure, we’re not omniscient, but you really think QFT is somehow macroscopically wrong and it hasn’t shown up in any experiment but it has in psychic phenomena?

  5. Pingback: Winter’s Haven » Sean Carroll, Epistemologist

  6. BlackGriffen says:

    “The argument is exactly the same, but there are those who like to pretend that we don’t understand how the laws of physics work inside a human brain.”

    There’s the crux of the problem right there. There are a lot of people, even serious intellectuals, who have a lot invested into the whole idea that there is a duality between mind and body, essentially insisting on the old canard of spirit versus flesh in different words.

    Where does this come from? Well, I’m of a mind to agree with something that I’m pretty sure I read in Sagan’s Demon Haunted World. The basic idea is something like this: our minds possess a fantastically accurate model of an incredibly complex reality that they must deal with constantly. That model is the one that ascribes intents, motives, personas, and etc to the events around you and the reality it works so well on is the social environment and, to a somewhat lesser extent, the animal environment. We even use the model on ourselves. The flaw in the model is that it doesn’t permit for something more fundamental working underneath it, and it is incredibly deeply ingrained in each of our psyches. Thus there is a cognitive disconnect between the complicated and successful social model and the simpler but more difficult to apply mechanistic model.

  7. Haelfix says:

    There are two types of scientists.

    One scientist says ‘I know that cause precedes effect. It is that way because the world would be inconsistent if it were not’.

    the other says
    ‘I know that cause precedes effect, b/c in every experiment ever performed this has always been the empirical finding. The probability that we detect the converse is on the order of the inverse of the total amount of experiments ever done’

  8. B says:

    #17,24

    Well, arguing about the usage of words is a moot point, and not something I consider worth arguing about. In my sphere of thought, mathematics is and remains a science. Memorizing capitals isn’t knowledge, it’s data storage.
    Best,

    B.

  9. Count Iblis says:

    Eric #50, since the early 1970s we have a different perspective on renormalization mainly through the application of Field Theory in Statistical Physics. In statistical physics we do computations exactly the other way around compared to high energy physics. You start with with some well defined microscopic theory, say the Ising model, and look at the long distance behaviour of that model. That model is then well described by some renormalizable field theory.

    You can then compute critical exponents etc. of the Ising model by pretending that the field theory is valid at arbitrary small length scales. But then you have to deal with the infinities of divergent integrals in exactly the same way as is done in particle physics. This means that any microscopic model which gives rise to the same macroscopic field theory will make the same prediction of critical exponents. So, you have an explanation why different models can have the same critical behavior.

    In the case of high energy physics, one can say that the Standard Model is the low energy effective field theory which you would get if you knew the Theory of everything and “integrated out” the high energy degrees of freedom. So, it doesn’t make sense to argue that because we don’t know the Theory of everything (and thus the correct way to regularize the divergent integrals), Uri Geller could really be bending spoons using paranormal abilities.

  10. Raymond says:

    Is it just me or are the die-hard scientists (obviously including the author of the post) here forgetting that science is comparable to religion in that it is extremely based in tradition. This makes me more than a little nervous about being a scientist (even though I still am) because tradition has always been a means of “teaching” the “truth” to the non-believers. Science is no exception. Despite all the “empirical” evidence there happens to be for describing the physical world, science is simply an interpretation of that world in an attempt to find reproducible results through pattern recognition. Of course, you have to add a slight bit of creativity for the development of a few silly names (quarks, photons, neutrinos, etc.) and a lot of effort to tie loose ends together. Nonetheless, science is but one, albeit a complex one, interpretation of what we have decided to call reality. I find it very hard not to laugh AT the post itself because the writer has tried so hard (perhaps without realizing it) to drag out all the scientific “explanations/proofs/ideas” for their occasional pony show, while neglecting that just because we have developed a given way of looking at or studying reality, this does not mean that there are not other, more efficient and perhaps accurate, ways of doing so. I’m not saying parapsychology is one of them, but I do think that a little caution needs to be had when acting as though science has all this evidence, because as Nietzsche put it, “There are no facts, only interpretations.” Not to mention, I think you clearly missed the point of the spoon-bending bit in The Matrix, but I guess that message was clearly not for a particular audience. I find it interesting though that their are scientifically documented cases where individuals are able to focus enough (consciously or subconsciously) in order to change things such as personal biochemistry. For instance, cases of multiple personality disorder are known to have personalities with completely different biochemistry than the next personality, all for the same body. Also, certain sects of monks have been known to endure hours of meditation in severely cold weather without personal injury, only possible by their ability to increase their body temperature. So, the phrase “I am that” has a whole new meaning if one actually begins to focus on that which you choose to be.

    But, I guess all the scientists will continue being happy chasing their dreams of obtaining more and more “information” and “evidence” while basking in the glory of status provided to them by our current societal hierarchy, and perhaps even in this case, gloating about the fact that they get, what was it, ah yes, billions of dollars to study things that should always be true by their standards, and thus neglecting all the current problems that would actually be better served with that funding like poverty, political corruption, cultural meltdown, etc. Keep on making those particle accelerators boys!

  11. Wayne says:

    I doubly think Sean missed the point on the spoon-bending. But that idea wasn’t meant to be interpreted by a quantum physicist in his/her own physical terms. It is much broader than this.

    I see this all coming back to interpretation, whether you consider “bending a spoon” as a physical event requiring a force (which scientists will continue to assume would come from “brain waves” or some force over distance) or one can see it as a metaphor, that “it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.” Bending spoons at a distance is impossible, physically impossible. Those who actually believe they can do this discredit the very argument.

    It is not an argument of someone “being able to bend a spoon with brain waves,” if it were, then of course, you win. The discussion arises from a misunderstanding of a statement. The idea is that the world around us does not change it’s laws or forces, we change them. Our interpretations change, and hence, our experience of those laws and forces change. It is our interpretation of these very laws and forces, our interpretations of each other, our interpretations of ourselves, these influence the impact events have on our lives. Science has been reinterpreting its laws since its advent, so has religion, so has humanity. Reinterpretation is what allows us to thrive in a world that changes with us. The more humanity learns (astronomy, physics, astronomy, chemistry, religions, politics, government, music, art, etc.), the more dynamic the world becomes. The more the world changes in our collective eyes. The more we have to work with, the more we have to digest, understand, interpret and then reinterpret.

    There was a lack of foresight Sean’s post. Pursuing such a difficult question of mind and body by attempting complex answers that come from only one side of the argument, that only beg more questions and only leave more remainders is a trap any person can succumb to. Occam’s Razor, my friends.

    Science cannot study the “mind” that we speak of when we consider mind and body. The scientific method is not meant to study mind. You can’t physically experiment on it. That’s the point. Scientific laws are brilliantly founded and I believe they are very real. But I also know that the “fine tuning” of physical laws is just another way of saying we are reinterpreting those laws based on observation, or by having “more to work with.” We change those laws through our interpretations of observation. The universe doesn’t change them. To the universe, everything works just fine. It is we, as humans, curious as we are, that are here to try and interpret the universe in a way that includes the whole universe in our understanding. Truly, we can’t leave anything out because it will still be here in our awareness. No matter how hard we try, what arises in the human awareness will continue to arise until reconciled with. We can’t sweep thousands of years of belief, from any society or organization, under the rug of consciousness. It hasn’t worked yet, though we’ve tried. I imagine nothing is meant to be swept under the rug. Inclusion rings much finer.

    I suppose a comforting thing is to feel that the universe is working regardless of our interpretations. No spacetime rifts or tears in the fabric yet. That is, until we interpret the universe as being capable of such events. Eh?

    The very best to all of you,

    Wayne

  12. E says:

    I see that most of the people that proclaim to be open to have other interpretations of reality miss the point of this post. The phenomena that are not explained by the laws of physics — in their regime of their validity — are not an open door to our yearnings of how the world should operate. They are actually mean that the human capabilities are finite and limited when it come to understand systems of a vast complexity like the human brain. The easy way to go when confronted by these formidably hard problems is to advocate for something ‘unknown’ that explain our experiences. It is part of the human condition to try our best to make sense of the world. Furthermore any additional knowledge we gain about the world around us will not overwrite what we already know. General Relativity does not invalidate Newton’s theory and Quantum Mechanics does not invalidate Classical Mechanics. They actually expand our knowledge explaining things — in their regime of their validity —.

  13. Chris says:

    #60, please cite sources. Even the existence of Multiple Personality Disorder is highly disputed among those knowledgeable in the area. I have heard liars and charlatans like Anthony Robbins talk about people with different biochemistries in their different “personalities,” but have not found any record of these cases. Can you elaborate?

  14. slide2112 says:

    If matter came before mind then this view is correct. If mind came before matter then there is something outside the system that makes psi possible.

  15. Lawrence B. Crowell says:

    Neil B. on Feb 18th, 2008 at 9:10 pm
    Lawrence, quantum correlations have to do with “hits” of photon states and make no interference with laws of conservation of energy and momentum etc. Those laws are are conserved just as much when photon polarizations are correlated as when they are not, f = ma is not an issue and your neoclassical framing of issues is not current theory. That leaves the door open for ESP based on correlated brain states, quantum issues in choice and free will, etc., however long a shot you think it is.

    ————-

    A quantized system will of course have all the metric geometry stuff, such as if you quantize Maxwell’s equation, or the quantum mechanical motion of a charged particle in a magnetic field etc. In what I was talking about I was referring to the nonlocal aspects of the quanta, or the parts which violate Bell’s equalities.

    Conservation of energy? Sure as a local law, but cosmologically — you might want to think again. The cosmological spacetimes have time dependencies, which means that a Killing vector

    K_tcdot U^t~=~EK~=~const

    which defines an isometry for the “t” part of the four momentum does not exist. So in cosmology there is no global meaning to conservation of energy.

    Anyway, my point was that nonlocal effects can’t be used as a way to communicate information or to impart energy or a force from “here” to “there.”

    This latest blog-thread appears to be sinking into the same morass that the AAAPara-P thread did. As Sagan put it, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence to back them up. In the case of Mind-Over-Matter claims such as telekinesis this is required before the idea can be seriously entertained.

    Lawrence B. Crowell

  16. John Merryman says:

    Jim, Moveon,

    “Thing is, there is just no section of the human brain that is a plausible candidate for the organ of telepathy.”

    One can also argue from an evolution theoretical standpoint. Would it be possible to communicate by telepathy at all, then this would have an obvious positive effect on survival, and it would have been developed by many species. That only a few people would be able to do this, and this barely, just does not make any sense.

    I remember watching a flock of geese, riding a wind current and wondering which would start to flap their wings first. With that, they all did it as one. What is an evident evolutionary advantage for people is our intellectual autonomy. The problem with telepathy is that we don’t want everyone else reading our minds, we function best asindividual operators. That doesn’t mean there isn’t some deeper level where we are all one larger beast, like individual bees function as a hive, but that it is elemental and emotional, not intellectual. It would be the raw foundation out of which we have risen, not complex awareness. The evolutionary function of the brain is navigation and survival of mobile organisms. Being able to conceal your intentions is a prized trait in a Darwinian environment. This may seem too woo woo for some here, but much or reality consists of open space between particles, of a much greater proportional distance then that between people, yet such agglomerations of energy manage to behave as one state.

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  18. John Merryman says:

    Sean makes a logical argument for why we cannot bend spoons with our minds, minus the medium of hands, but can anyone offer a clear reason why timetravel is scientifically implausible, if not impossible?
    Given that Relativity treats it as a fundamental dimension similar to space, we are treated to any number of wormholes, branes, alternate universes, etc. explaining how it might be possible and that is all well and good, because scientific inquiry requires a consideration of all possibilities.
    I have on a number of occasion in various posts on CV offered a description of time as a emergent description of motion, similar to temperature;

    If two atoms collide, it creates an event in time. While the atoms proceed through this event and on to others, the event goes the other way. First it is in the future, then in the past. Which is the real direction? If time is a fundamental dimension, then physical reality proceeds along it, from past events to future ones. If time is a consequence of motion, then physical reality is simply energy in space and the events created go from being in the future to being in the past.

    Consider a thermal medium, say a pot of hot water, with lots of water molecules moving about. To construct a time keeping device out of this we would measure the motion of one of these points of reference against the medium it is moving through. The point is the hand and the medium is the face of the clock. Obviously all the other points are hands of their own clocks, but are medium/face for all other clocks. The motion of any point/hand is balanced by the reaction of the medium/face of the clock. At any one moment, the positions of all these points constitute an event, so while they all go from past events to future ones, the medium against which any point is being judged is the overall context, which once created, is displaced by the next, so the events go from future potential to past circumstance. There are innumerable points of reference describing their own narrative and all this activity exists in an equilibrium, so every potential clock constitutes its own measure of time. The only absolute time would be like absolute temperature; the complete absence of motion.

    Suffice to say, it’s drawn little response and less positive response, but it does effectively explain why time travel is not a physical option. Unfortunately it doesn’t fit the “equations,” so it doesn’t seem to be scientifically valid.

    In our day and age, where political and religious fanatics seem intent on leading us to Armageddon and financial charlatans are sucking the system of economic exchange dry, the Einsteins of the day are mostly intent on kicking metaphorical stray mutts and other straw men, as they savor their own registered creations. I realize this may seem shocking, but you will never find what’s outside the box, if you never come out of the box.

    (A box is a closed set and subject to entropy.)

  19. NEO says:

    Well, I think the laws of physics are all an illusion created by the computers that use our bodies for energy. If you learn to see through the illusion and ‘believe’ then you can control the matrix and it’s virtual reality.

  20. NEO says:

    Well, I think the laws of physics are all an illusion created by the computers that use our bodies for energy. If you learn to see through the illusion and ‘believe’ then you can control the matrix and it’s virtual reality.

    I know Kung Fu!

  21. Raymond says:

    I was referring to the book “When Rabbit Howls,” but it is not the first time I’ve hear of the varying biochemistry situation. Also, the words “liar” and “charlatan” suggest, at least to me, that the individuals in question are saying these things with full, or at least partial knowledge, that they are in the “wrong.” Just because somebody makes a claim that you or I do not agree with, though, we really shouldn’t be making statements about whether their intentions were to deceive unless they come out an admit to doing so. To use a point from Nietzsche again, people are rarely, if ever, malicious because they are too concerned with themselves to actually worry about another person so much as to hurt them or whatever. Anyhoo, just throwing that out there because I’ve grown a little tired of random people on this page referring to the non-scientist types (parapsychologists) or those making such types of claims as being ridiculous, liars, charlatans, etc. As a friend and I have discussed about this whole discussion, it seems to be more a matter of pride than anything else.

  22. Julien says:

    Hi Sean,

    Thanks a lot for such a wonderful article. As an (active) member in a science forum, I’ve encountered may times such charlatans and it has been proved awkard to rule them out as they do not listen to arguments.

    Actually the best thing to do is to scatter your post !

  23. Chris says:

    Meh, I’d hardly say that an autobiographical account of MPD constitutes evidence that those afflicted have varying biochemistries.

  24. Neil B. says:

    Haelfix at #57: You are wrong due to demonstrable historical examples fundamental to physics. Quantum mechanics and relativity (both kinds) were both absurd in terms of prevailing assumptions. Neither had clear supporting evidence until after the outset (although hints that something was wrong with previous theories was there, just not appreciated for what it was) because we weren’t’ doing experiments in the regime in which those effects would matter. (Not entirely, but there wasn’t clear evidence for GR effects for example.)

    To reiterate, the trouble with a simplistic evaluation of the chance that the odd effect being the inverse of the number of experiments is the unfounded assumption that the prior experiments represent a broad cross-section of all the possible tests that can be done. For examples involving future possibilities, the one Sean gave about gravity: the 1/r^2 law may break down at tiny distances (like microns, not even extreme stuff like 10^-33 cm etc.) because we haven’t been testing at those distances. We didn’t because it is damn hard to measure gravity forces between things weighing in the micrograms etc.

    Things didn’t work out as we expected when they were very small, going very fast, very massive – OK. Well, we shouldn’t be surprised if they don’t work out as we expect when things are very complicated – get the hint?

  25. Raymond says:

    Apparently you have not read the book otherwise your evidence and required sources would have slapped you across the face. But hey, it’s always been my experience that the average man is not too keen on looking a few inches beyond his own nose. Not to mention, your use of the word evidence is interesting because it assumes a number of things while also misunderstanding my original statement. I never said that all ALL case of multiple personality disorder have different biochemistries, but there are documented cases in which a few individuals with said disorder have that unique quality. Also, you seem to assume that evidence must be gathered by “proper authorities” because you act as though somebody is not a confirmed scientist that reports on their own experiences (such as having tests done, looking at the results with a trained doctor, coming to a conclusion, and then relaying it to others) is not as credible as the doctor’s report itself. Anyhoo, next time, instead of just peeking your head in at a review of a given book and then making a comment about evidence, perhaps try reading that book, assessing the evidence or lack thereof, and then pull out your jumping chart to help you find a suitable conclusion.