The scientific method is built on two pillars: First, the assumption of a common objective reality that separate observers can agree on. Second, the understanding of complex phenomena by isolating simple subsystems for experimental study.
In a quantum world, (first) it is provably impossible to separate observer from observed. There is no such thing as objective reality. And (second) it is possible to isolate a particle and do experiments, but most of the interesting quantum effects depend on collective properties of many identical particles that we can never probe by studying one-particle-at-a-time.
Since these two pillars of the scientific method fell in the 1920s, scientists continue to think in terms of objective reality, and we continue to analyze pieces to understand the whole. It may be provably wrong, but it’s the science that we know how to do.
In the long run, it is clear that we must expand what we mean by “science”, or else admit that there are other ways of knowing things outside of science. This column of ScienceBlog will be my contribution to the former approach.
Common and uncommon science
Common science seeks answers to the questions that can be formulated within a familiar context of what we already know. Uncommon science seeks to overthrow the familiar context of what we think we know by sharpening the experimental contradictions to established theory until they become undeniable. A fertile pandemonium follows, as a flood of new theoretical paradigms is furiously debated.
“We are all agreed that your theory is crazy. The question that divides us is whether it is crazy enough to have a chance of being correct.”
— This was the response of Neils Bohr to Wolfgang Pauli, who had been off dreaming collective dreams with Carl Jung.
My lifetime (1949- ) has seen a flourishing of scientific research beyond anything that my parents’ generation could have dreamed. We forget that, before 1940, science was a realm of one-off mavericks and intellectual fanatics. For the first time, there is a scientific establishment; and a stable, comfortable “career” in science is a thing that any talented young student might realistically pursue.
This is a blessing, of course, but a mixed blessing. Common science has flourished but not so uncommon science, and I would argue that by leeching creative talent and by dominating the publication venues, common science has crowded out uncommon.
Here’s a short list of the conceptual breakthroughs that appeared in the first half of the 20th Century:
- Heavier-than-air flying machines
- Einstein’s Relativity
- The discovery and (50 years later) understanding of superconductivity
- Quantum Mechanics
- Population Genetics, or the “new synthesis” of genetics with evolutionary science
- Einstein’s Theory of Gravity
- Understanding of the chemical bond, based in quantum mechanics
- The Hubble expansion
- Nuclear fission
- Rocket propulsion
- Nuclear fusion
- The double helix
- Big Bang cosmology
- The transistor
- Quantum electrodynamics
- Electronic computers
Since 1952, there have been major technological revolutions, but no new understandings. We’ve had manned space travel and the internet and cell phones and radio astronomy and huge biological databanks, but all this new technology was based on a pre-existing scientific knowledge base.
I should acknowledge the Standard Model of Particle Physics (c 1972) as a mathematical tour de force, but I find it intellectually unsatisfying. It is a semi-empirical framework which makes good approximate predictions. I liken it to the Periodic Table of the chemical elements, which was assembled based on experimental science of the mid-19th century, 70 years before quantum mechanics gave us a science of orbitals and chemical bonds so that we could begin to understand why the Periodic Table is structured the way it is.
Scientific funding and the number of scientists and the number of published papers have all exploded over this time. Why have there been no conceptual breakthroughs in 70 years? We are tempted to think that it is because science has a sound understanding of the fundamentals. There are no scientific revolutions forthcoming because existing science is capable of explaining all the major phenomena of our world, and only details remain to be resolved. I avoid the phrase “nothing could be further from the truth”, but here it is perfectly appropriate. There are major contradictions to the paradigms that underlie all of our science, and they are hiding in plain sight. I love to enumerate them, and condemn the scientific establishment that has marginalized discussion of the most interesting topics in science. I aspire in this new Science Blog forum to do more than merely compile lists, but sharpen the discrepancies between theory and experiment that might lead to new understandings.
- There is a well-developed experimental science of the paranormal which cries out to be integrated into understandings of physics and biology. The vast mainstream of science carries on their work in denial of this impending revolution. Our notion of cause and effect (past⇒future) upon which almost all scientific thinking is based cannot survive intact—even as we know that it works so well in so many areas.
- Whatever was in the notebooks of Nicola Tesla when he died was deemed too powerful a science to be disclosed to the public, but was assessed by Donald Trump’s uncle (!) before being buried in classified DARPA research programs that have yet to see the light of day.
- There are well-documented anomalies, witnessed by too many people to be dismissed as mass delusion, attesting to the fact that what we regard as fixed laws that govern the behavior of classical, macroscopic objects must admit of exceptions. Here are three examples that you can read about some day when you want to convince yourself that the world is “queerer than we CAN suppose”:
- My all-time favorite topic is the rules of physics and the fine-tuning of the fundamental constants. The particular physics laws that we take as the foundation of all science are so improbable that they imply either that there are unthinkably vast numbers of dead universes out there in reality space, or else that living consciousness created our universe as a home for itself. I have written about this last month on ScienceBlog and elsewhere.
- Biological science discarded vitalism in the 19th Century. It is widely assumed that all of biology can be explained in terms of known mechanisms of chemistry and physics. Before his death Carl Woese argued that it was time for biology to take its place as a fundamental science, not derivative of chemistry and physics. I speculate that we are returning to a vision in which biological entities (down to biomolecules) have agency. Monica Gagliano has documented behaviors of plants for which we would attribute intention if they were in animals. A trapped paramecium acts frightened, judging by its behavior. And molecules (e.g. polymerase and methyl transferase) act like they have a job to do. Quantum biology is a budding field that may try to make sense of this.
Nick Herbert’s quantum animism differs from traditional animism in that it avoids assuming a dualistic model of mind and matter. Traditional dualism assumes that some kind of spirit inhabits a body and makes it move, a ghost in the machine. Herbert’s quantum animism presents the idea that every natural system has an inner life, a conscious center, from which it directs and observes its action.
- What are UFOs and who are the visitors who abduct people and mutilate ranch animals? Are they spiritual beings or visitors from distant worlds or our own descendants time traveling back from the future? Just in the last few years, mainstream journalism has begun to leak the evidence that some of these phenomena are real, but we have not even separated the grain from the chaff, a necessary step before beginning to integrate these phenomena into our picture of the world. (If this is all new to you, Leslie Kean’s book is one good place to start.)
Politics of Science
This column will have another focus as well. All of the above failures of the science establishment to come to terms with experimental reality can be called “political” in the broad sense of politics as the sociology of control; but there are some pressures that are more directly “political” in the sense of government, commercial interests, and funding institutions. In this year of COVID, I have tried to raise questions about the corruption of science for corporate profits and political agenda. I’ll continue to do that here, and leave my Aging Matters Blog for aging matters.
- Disruptive new energy technologies have been suppressed in the research space. I know enough about cold fusion to be confident that it is possible. I don’t know if “zero point energy” systems have been developed and suppressed. Of course, the many companies whose profit model depends on fossil fuels would be highly motivated to keep energy as a scarce commodity, and to prevent abundant energy sources from being realized. Beyond this, there may be another reason for suppression: These technologies may be too easy to convert to military applications. Jason Jorjani talked about this among other visionary topics recently.
- Recently, I’ve discovered a story of sonoluminescence and cavitation. Low energy sound waves in water or ordinary turbulence can form tiny hot spots with energy in the thousands of degrees. Tiny water jets have velocities high enough to damage hardened steel.
These phenomena are well known but not well understood. I have seen reports of (suppressed) technologies that manipulate these effects to create even higher temperatures, high enough to make nuclear reactions happen. I plan to make this the subject of my first in-depth report in the next few weeks.
- My strongest research background is in evolutionary biology. I’ve argued that standard (neo-Darwinian) evolutionary thinking based on the selfish gene is only a small part of the picture. The connection to politics here is that social Darwinists have always used this model of pure competition and creative destruction to justify the worst excesses of capitalism.
- Western medicine has maintained its monopoly on funding and insurance reimbursement by suppressing traditional remedies and naturopathic medicine. The Western model is based on treating one disease with one chemical. When I state it this way, it’s obvious that that’s not the way our bodies work, and that’s no basis for maintaining optimal health.
Acupuncture works, but we have no idea how. Tradiional medicines of China, India and the Americas use combinations of herbs; when we distill these herbs to find the one chemical constituent that we hold responsible for the benefits, perhaps we are missing the point.
- I believed that vaccines are the subject of the greatest scientific censorship operation of all time. The appearance of safety is propped up because fewer than 1% of all vaccine injuries (including deaths) are reported through the HHS VAERS reporting system.
There’s one more story I’d like to tell before I close this column. Above, I mentioned two pillars of scientific thinking that were brought down with the arrival of quantum theory. Another pillar, not yet toppled but shaky, is causality. This is the principle that the future is determined by the past, but the past can’t be affected by the future. Through Einstein’s life, this was fundamental in his thinking. It was the basis of the dictum from special relativity that no message can be transmitted faster than light; and it was at the core of the argument in the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen paradox, which the authors claimed to be a fundamental flaw in quantum theory. More recently, philosophers have realized that retrocausality does not necessarily lead to paradoxes. (“What if I went back in time and shot my grandfather in his crib?”) Time travel can occur within self-consistent causal loops. The classical example is the Oedipus myth, in which the oracle foretold to King Laius on the birth of his son that the boy would grow up to murder his father and marry his mother. Laius ordered servants to kill the son, which set up a complex chain of events, eventually leading to a fulfillment of the prophesy. Thus the prophesy played a role in its own fulfillment.
In addition to the quantum paradoxes, there are psychological experiments that point to retrocausality. This was the subject of Daryl Bem’s experiments at Cornell that broke a taboo as they were published in a major psychology journal; and it has been a major focus of Julia Mossbridge’s research.
Retrocausality is not a formal contradiction to known science, but it certainly plays with our heads. Consider any experimental design that comes to mind, and ask yourself if its assumptions would remain valid if you allowed for an influence of the future on the past. Embracing retrocausality in scientific thinking will certainly shake the foundations of our paradigms, and (in the most optimistic scenarios) may help guide us to sounder concepts of physical and psychological time.
Thanks for joining me. This is an open forum, and I welcome your suggestions for topics to explore. We are in uncharted territory, and we need each other both to help open our minds and also to keep our imaginations from running away with us.