What “Theories of Everything” all miss

Robust experimental results from more than a century of research in parapsychology are incompatible with the laws of physics as we understand them. This presents the greatest challenge in science today. Viewed in another way, it may be the greatest opportunity we have for addressing long-standing problems and controversies in mainstream science, including

  • The “measurement problem” of quantum mechanics
  • The origin of life
  • The efficiency of biological evolution
  • The “hard problem” of cognitive science
  • The paradox of free will
  • The anthropic coincidences

One fact

One fact

People (at least some people) have access to information that doesn’t come through the senses. If you don’t believe this, I recommend books by Elizabeth Mayer or Annie Jacobsen. The books of Dean Radin are also well-researched and fun to read. The FBI and Scotland Yard and similar agencies around the world employ psychics with enough success to make it worth their while. Oil companies have paid millions of dollars to dowsers, including Uri Geller. The US CIA conducted a remote viewing program for 17 years (officially discontinued, but probably expanded in secret after 1995), spying on the Soviet Union with some of the most consistently successful psychics in the country.

Once we accept this possibility for people with extreme “talent”, there is no longer reason to reject the evidence of our own experience, those of us who have had premonitions or precognitive dreams, or other uncanny visitations. In indigenous wisdom around the world and in ancient texts, extraordinary knowing is assumed to be part of everyone’s reality. Dogs know when their masters are coming home, and butterflies know how to return to the very tree where their great great grandparents overwintered. So it is most plausible that seers and psychics are drawing upon an ability that is a general feature of life; modern acculturation has conditioned us to tune it out.

Another, closely related

The PEAR lab at Princeton conducted three decades of experiments demonstrating that people could affect quantum-level probabilities with their minds alone.

My intention in the remainder of this essay is to assume this is true, and think about the consequences. There is a reason that most of the scientific community has either ignored or denied parapsychological truths. The impact of these findings on the foundations of our knowledge are profound. Of course, we are not required to discard everything else that scientific investigation of the world has taught us; we must find a framework within which we can keep all the successes of mainstream science, while expanding to encompass these direct connections between mind and matter.

Some day when this is accomplished, I think that we will see all of scientific knowledge in a different light.


The least radical hypothesis

The first thing a scientist should consider is the possibility that requires the least disruption to what we already know.

We know that brains operate with electric signaling, and electromagnetic signals from the brain can be detected a few cm outside the human skull. Could it be that telepathy is an electromagnetic phenomenon?

One problem is that these signals are weak even at the brain’s surface, and by a few feet away they are undetectable. Also, the brain does not have the antennas we would expect if it were designed to transmit and receive radio signals.

Could we posit a kind of (non-electromagnetic) radiation that physics has not yet discovered, but to which physical brains are sensitive? This would be an extension of known physics, something like dark matter which is not directly observable, though we deduce its existence from indirect effects.

I think that this doesn’t explain much. It might explain telepathy, as manifested for example in decades of ganzfeld experiments. We would need the radiation to be transmitted over large distances without losing intensity, as telepathy seems to depend on the closeness of emotional bonds but not on physical distance between the sender and the receiver. But the real problem with this “unknown radiation” hypothesis is that it only applies to brain-brain communication, and doesn’t address the other phenomena of precognition, psychokinesis, and remote viewing.

Quantum mechanics

In classical mechanics, there is no possible role for mind. Classical mechanics is a closed, causal system. Whatever state the world is in at present absolutely determines the future, with no wiggle room. There is no place for consciousness.

This seems to be the reason that PSI phenomena are rejected so consistently by mainstream scientists. Physicists who should know better cling to a perspective in which all that quantum mechanics adds to classical determinism is an element of pure randomness. They don’t recognize the opportunity that quantum uncertainty offers to integrate mind into foundation of physics. Philosophers and psychologists follow the lead of the physics mainstream.

From the standpoint of the history of quantum mechanics, this conservatism is hard to understand. Bohr, Heisenberg, Schrödinger, and Pauli were among the founding fathers of quantum theory who conceived their creation as a theory of mind as well as matter. Von Neumann, Bohm, and Wigner were among great quantum physicists in the next generation who affirmed this view. Today, Henry Stapp, Brian Josephson, and Stuart Kauffman all write about a place for human consciousness in quantum mechanics. They are getting old, as am I.

Curiously, none of these physicists invoke telepathy or other forms of extraordinary knowing as motivating their ideas. My guess is that the taboo is too strong. It is too common, even today, to dismiss psychic powers as superstition, and to slander their advocates as gullible or worse.

I wish I could say that quantum mechanics is fully consonant with clairvoyance and precognition and psychokinesis. Alas, this is not so. But there is an interpretation of quantum physics in which consciousness has a role, and this provides a natural starting place for understanding a world in which the role of mind is integrated with the role of physical law.

A hypothesis about how brains work

William James conjectured that the brain is a transceiver for channeling intention from non-physical mind into a physical body and sensation from body into mind. In the language of Descartes, our minds are in a res cognitans and our bodies exist (along with non-living matter) in the physical world, or res extensa. The brain is a bridge between these two worlds. Though his hypothesis had no theoretical basis within the physics of James’s time, it finds a natural interpretation in the quantum world which came along just afterward.

QM is a probabilistic theory, and the PEAR Lab, referenced above, proved that mind has the power, without touching anything, to bias quantum probabilities.

The brain hypothesis is that traditional language about a soul inhabiting the physical body reflects a reality partly understood. Consciousness has an existence outside of space and time, but it can take up residence in a brain, which is ideally suited to the do its bidding. Brains can amplify single quantum events to create a nerve firing, triggering a muscle response, or forming within the brain the representation of an idea.

Two properties of the brain facilitate the colonization by a mind that can only move single quanta. First, like most human-designed computers, the brain is a complex network which can both process information autonomously and can also be (re)directed by an appropriate signal in a single cell (or a single computational bit). Second, unlike any human-designed computer, the brain’s “bits” can be flipped by quantum transitions. If a computer behaved this way, it would produce different, random results each time you ran the same program — disaster! But brains have neurotransmitters that are poised on a quantum knife-edge, in a superposition of open and closed molecular configurations. This was a finding of Stuart Kauffman in a research article a few years ago.

A hypothesis about evolution

This is a profoundly creative idea proposed by JohnJoe McFadden more than 20 years ago, and not yet assimilated (or refuted) by mainstream evolutionary scientists.

There is controversy whether the basic mechanism of Darwinian evolution is capable of creating in just 4 billion years’ time the radiation of complexity that we see in Earth’s biosphere. The rate at which evolution proceeds is not something that can be calculated. Religious advocates argue that many complex adaptions require multiple parts, none of which is useful until all the parts develop enough to be functional. How could this be created by selection of one mutation at a time, as standard neo-Darwinian theory requires? Most evolutionary biologists are just as “religious” on the other side, saying that blind mutation and natural selection are the only scientifically plausible mechanisms, and if we can’t calculate the time necessary for these to work, we should assume that the time scale must agree with what we observe.

The perspective that McFadden has proposed is, in my view, a plausible basis for a step beyond Darwin that is not rooted in Biblical theology. McFadden takes the fossil record and its chronology as observational grounding, just as in mainstream evolutionary science. Natural selection is also consistent with his theory. But mutations are not blind; rather they are driven by consciousness in somewhat the same way that I described above in relation to signaling in the brain.

This allows for a purposefulness and a direction in evolution which is not present in the standard theory.

One of McFadden’s most original ideas bridges the gap between mind as an agent that collapses the quantum wave function and mind as an active, directive agent. The issue is that observation can force a quantum system to choose between state A and state B, but it cannot direct the system preferentially into state A or state B. How then can “intention” as an abstract quality of mind make itself felt in the physical world?

There is a phenomenon known as the Quantum Zeno Effect by which repeated observation of a system in state A keeps it in state A. If a system initially in state A is left to evolve according to the Schrödinger equation, the wave function would gradually spread out over time, becoming a superposition of state A with other states. But if an observation is made quickly, before the wave function has time to spread out very much, the result will almost always be “still in state A”. And this observation resets the clock so that the spreading out must begin again from a pure state A. Thus, if an observation is repeated continuously at short time intervals, asking always “still in state A?”, the quantum system remains in state A, due to the observations.

(“Zeno” in the name refers to a paradox described by the Greek philosopher in the 5th century BC. Zeno “proved” that motion is impossible.)

There is a related effect, slightly more complex, by which an observer can guide a state gradually from state A to state B via closely-spaced observations that ask about intermediate states that transition gradually from state A to state B. This is the Inverse Quantum Zeno Effect.

McFadden proposed that mind is continually observing the quantum state of biological systems, and thus is in a position to guide their evolution with directed mutations, using the Inverse Quantum Zeno Effect.

In a radical extension of McFadden’s speculation, I propose an answer to the Schrödinger Cat paradox. Life is sustained by a mind that continually observes the state of the body, confirming that it is alive. The mind of Schrödinger’s cat is continually querying its body, asking “Still alive?” And the answer comes back “yes”, moment by moment, year after year, until one day it comes back, “no”.

Anthropic Coincidences

Physicists take numbers like the speed of light (c) and the charge on an electron (e) and the strength of gravity (G) as arbitrary numbers that just happen to be what they are. We measure them and then use them in our equations. But in 1979, an article appeared in Nature, co-authored by Britain’s most eminent astronomer, that noted a curiosity: If any of these numbers had been just a little different, then the universe would have been very different indeed. The universe would have been a dull place, for one reason or another, based on any of these hypothetical variations in the basic laws of physics. There would be no chemical elements except hydrogen, or there would be no stars, or the Big Bang would expand and contract again so quickly that there was no time for evolution, or everything would remain in thermodynamic equilibrium forever. One way or another, life would have been impossible.

Philosophers and physicists have been scratching their heads over the “anthropic coincidences” ever since. The term “anthropic” comes from a theme that threads through these narratives: The constants of physics are what they are because if the numbers had been any different, we humans would not be here to measure them.

But what kind of reasoning is this? From the sound of it, it seems explicitly teleological: The constants were given their values in order to make life possible. The culture of present day science bristles at this kind of logic. In the mainstream of physics and astronomy, the conventional explanation for the Anthropic Coincidences has been reframed: There are a large number of universes — an unimaginably large number of universes. Each universe has its own unique laws of physics and within those laws is embedded a unique set of physical constants. The vast majority of such universes are not capable of supporting life. In this “multiverse” of universes, the occurrence of laws and constants that are favorable for life is extremely rare; and yet, it is no accident that we find ourselves in one of these rare universes. All those other universes are uninhabited, so no one is there to think scientifically or to measure the constants. Because we are who we are, it is inevitable that we are sampling one of these rare universes that can support life.

To be fair to the scientists who think this way, I note that none of them likes this situation. Everyone is uncomfortable with a science that needs to posit unobservables, and the need for so many redundant universes is an embarrassment to any theory.

Three books on this subject were written by Frank TiplerMartin Rees, and Paul Davies.

This kind of thinking is rooted in the assumption that “the mind is what the brain does” — that consciousness is a product of physical processes. Alternatively, the hypothesis of this essay is that mind has an independent existence, and that mind may colonize a brain and thus have a read/write system within the physical world; but mind exists in a world of its own, whether or not it is plugged into a body.

Within this way of thinking is an alternative account for the anthropic coincidences. Mind is earlier or, at any rate, more fundamental than space, time, and matter. Mind created this universe as a home for itself.


This story has parallels to religious accounts in which “God created the world”. For some people, this correspondence smells too much like old-fashioned superstition; while others will find it reassuring. In any case, it is a bridge between science and traditional ways of thinking, and it is a seed, ripe for being nurtured into a full-fledged theory that not only welcomes parapsychology into the corpus of scientific knowledge, but also provides a framework for thinking about some of the most persistent puzzles in mainstream science.

But all I have presented here is a grand bait-and-switch. I have not proposed any theoretical framework from which to understand telepathy, precognition, or psychokinesis. You have a legitimate complaint that you have been cheated.

John Bell established that quantum entanglement connects all particles that have ever interacted with one another; however this is arranged in such a way that it is never possible to send a message using quantum entanglement. Nothing that I propose above addresses this fundamental problem if we are trying to explain telepathy with quantum mechanics.

Also missing from this essay is any account of precognition which seems to require an ontology of possible futures, together with those that are actually realized (as I wrote in March).

There is plenty of work to do to hang flesh on these theoretical bones. I awoke one morning last week with the conviction that this work is my challenge for the coming two years or more, organized around a book. I invite your thoughts and your collaboration. Along the way, I will be looking to meet others on this path, to understand their thinking and to integrate what I can.

I am convinced that mind (or soul or spirit or awareness or consciousness) must be integrated in the foundations of physical science in an even more fundamental way than quantum mechanics allows.

Leave a Comment