Tuesday, May 19, 2015
On Skepticism (Part 4, Conclusion)
As a conclusion to this discussion, I'd like to take a look at a few areas that already have solid backing but that have implications set solidly in the skeptical 'hands off' zone: mind-matter interaction, the observer effect, and information transfer at a distance.
Can the mind, consciousness, affect the material world? The skeptical answer is negative, but in reality it's already happening every day. Lift up your hand. Now, what did that? Random chemical impulses in your brain? Your consciousness sending signals to your physical body? I'm the one who wrote 'lift up your hand.' Maybe it was my consciousness influencing yours influencing your body. It seems a pretty arbitrary distinction. Next, let's look instead at the placebo effect. It's a common occurrence with a fairly strong effect. It's medically recognized and accepted…and nobody really knows why it happens. What is called the placebo effect could also be called the perceptions of the conscious mind directly influencing the behavior of the material universe. Or if you want to be more dramatic about it, psychokinesis. It's not as exciting as bending spoons or lighting fires with your mind but the effect is there, it's significant, and it has huge potential life-saving implications. So why not study it?
Is our theory of vision incomplete? The double-slit experiment in optical physics has shown that light behaves differently if it is being directly observed. (Weird? Oh yes but that doesn't make it any less real. If this is the first time you've heard of the effect, I'll wait while you go look it up. Trust me, it's worth the effort.) If we know that observing light changes its behavior why are we willfully ignoring the logical outgrowth of that fact? Is it because there is something special about our vision or is it that our consciousness is somehow extended toward the photons when we are observing, or is it something else entirely? The implications are huge. So why not study it?
Bell's Theory (of linked-spin electron pairs) tells us that information can be shared without regard for distance or time with no direct exchange of energy between the actors. To oversimplify: once connected, always connected. There's also quantum tunneling effects (a.k.a. teleportation). That's on the quantum level. Does this effect scale up? Does it even need to, since in many systems from nanotechnology to organic life the slight change even at the quantum level could produce a significant ripple effect? Did I mention irrespective of distance or time, as in faster than light and exempt from linear causality? If nothing else, somebody's going to make a really keen phone. (I think Lucent is working on that now.) Given all of this, why is the idea that a mother can sense when her child is hurt such a forbidden idea? Sure, the body replaced all the original shared atoms long ago, but the replaced material may very well have overlapped with retained material long enough to pass down the entanglement. Twins also would have significant linkage for the same reason. The existing model of physics includes a mechanism that would explain what is commonly called telepathy. So why not study it?
The answer in every case is that someone is studying it, in the private sector, with their own time and money. What you won't hear, and what skeptics will scream to drown out, is that they are doing so with rigorous experimental controls, high levels of interlaboratory reproducibility, and significant success. Reproducible experiments. That sounds like science. Unless the implications of those results threaten your worldview and undermine the philosophy you already don't have much confidence in. Then it sounds like skeptics debunking research they've never looked at and have no intention of testing themselves.
In the end, it's all about the philosophy you choose. One the one hand stands a tool that is very efficient and points the way to knowledge and wonder. On the other, a power struggle for consensus where only the elite may play, the gains are limited, and you might not even be real. I put it to you: Do you want science with its wide-open frontiers? Or do you want skepticism?