Are you afraid of the
8, 1995 20:54
19:54 Babawaki-cho 7-2, Shugakuin; Kyoto, Kansai-Japan
:: 8 JUN 95
From Lawrence M. Krauss'
book, The Fifth Essence: The Search For Dark Matter In The Universe:
The vacuum [of space defined by] modern particle theory is a
strange place indeed. From an unchanging "void" it has become
an active arena out of which particles might be created or into which
they might be destroyed. Just as light was supposed to excite waves in
the aether according to Newton, we now envisage elementary particles to
be excitations out of the vacuum state. That vacuum might even be the
"source" of all matter in the universe. We may have dispensed
with the classical aether of Aristotle and Huygens, but in the process
have come to speculate about matters which may seem even more bizarre.
Perhaps we have just come full circle. After all, how much closer can
we come to the "indefinite" of [the early Greek philosopher]
Anaximander? Recall once again his words: the "indefinite". . .
. . . is neither water nor any other of the so-called elements,
but some different, boundless nature, from which all the heavens arise
and the worlds within them; out of those things whence is the generation
for existing things, into these again does their destruction take place,
according to what must needs be.
Anaximander's words now appear prophetically familiar. Although we have come
a long way from the cosmogony of Anaximander and the earlier myths of the primeval ocean, and our explanations
have become more sophisticated and more scientific, the basic questions
driving our inquiries are the same. We are still searching for the fundamental
constituents of the matter that we can see and touch, and we still wonder
about the origin, nature, and existence of the dominant "stuff"
in the universe. As our knowledge of one realm has improved so has our
ability to speculate about and probe another. Curiously, the possibility
that we may be immersed in a background of matter, whose nature and constitution
may differ substantially from that with which we are familiar seems to
form not just a natural part of our mythological tradition, but of our
scientific one as well.
Put another way, contemporary theory may one day seem as naive and 'superstitious'
as classical theory appears to us now; we still don't know for sure the
true nature of the stuff comprising the universe.
I have recently posted, without comment, two articles on Chinese geomancy — Feng Shui. Trailing one
of these postings was a lengthy
quotation from James Redfield's The Celestine Prophecy given also without comment. The gist of these
postings suggests that there is something going on in the universe that
has slipped the detection of the scientific community. On the other hand,
these articles and books claim that evidence provided by modern particle
physics supports these more 'mystical' theories of how the universe works.
For example, Redfield claims:
Experiments have revealed that when you break apart small aspects
of this energy, what we call elementary particles, and try to observe
how they operate, the act of observation itself alters the results —
as if these elementary particles are influenced by what the experimenter
expects. . .
The Celestine Prophecy
Everything up to and including 'the act of observation itself alters
the results' is absolutely true. Redfield is undoubtedly referring here
to what is called the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.
Of course it's a little more complex — and mundane — relationship
than Redfield implies. Most simply put, the miniscule masses and energies
involved in particle physics are grossly affected by the energies and
masses inherent in the apparatus of the devices designed to measure
them. For example, the act of measuring a particle's mass necessarily
alters its velocity therefore any simultaneous measurement of both
mass and velocity will be unreliable.
So, the results of observation remain independent of the experimenter's
expectations. Redfield's conclusion that "the basic stuff of the
universe, at its core, is looking like a kind of pure energy that is malleable
to human intention and expectation" is not supported by the Uncertainty
Principle. If the conclusion is true, he'll have to look elsewhere for
Tan Wee Kiat, in his defense of Chinese geomancy I titled, "The
Feng Shui of Physics" wrote,
One aspect of the I Ching that appeals to modern physicists
is the relation between spirit and matter. The Chinese believe spirit
and matter are two aspects of the same thing. To them spirit is inherent
in matter. Albert Einstein's field
theory agrees with this.
Actually, with the equation E=mc², Einstein showed that matter and
energy are two aspects of the same thing. By energy Einstein meant
electromagnetic radiation. Chinese spirit and Einsteinian energy are not
the same thing. If they were, scientists could measure spirit with the
same devices they measure, say, the photons cast by a light bulb, or the
heat released by a splitting atom. Spirit energy, if it exists at all,
has never been successfully measured as electromagnetic radiation.
Still, as even the physicist Lawrence M. Krauss suggests, for all its progress modern physics remains
as ultimately mystified about the underlying nature of the universe as
ever. We keep finding answers to questions we hadn't intended to ask,
while the objects of our queries continue to elude—what is the fundamental
building block of matter and energy? Science has uncovered the atom (the
word means indivisible) then broke it into the sub-atomic protons, neutrons
and electrons. But even these can be further divided. Physicists are forever
postulating, then discovering, ever smaller and stranger particles.
Looking back just a few decades reveals a particle physics reality much
removed from our present understanding. In this time we have discovered
such exotic things as anti-matter, and learned to use these discoveries
profitably. During a co-op term I wrote a program to simulate the effects
of collisions between electrons and their anti-matter counterparts, positrons.
This onetime Science Fiction concept now forms the basis of Positron Emission
Tomography, a method for taking pictures of metabolic processes occurring
in the human body. Before the turn of the century, only Jules Verne or
H.G. Wells might have suggested such a device technologically possible.
Because the 'impossible' has become technologically possible I am skeptical
when the scientific priesthood states unequivocally "that's not possible."
My skepticism is reinforced by my own experience.
As a teenager I frequently experienced prescient dreams. That is, I would
dream of a situation, a conversation or some other event, and sometime
later this event would happen. As the event unfolded I would become conscious
of its relation to some past dream, not as in Déjà vu such
that each step of the event awoke the corresponding dream-memory —
I knew in advance how the event would unfold. Rather, I could, for example,
recite several phrases of a teacher's lecture out loud to my neighbouring
classmate, a few words in advance of the teacher's own voicing. My 'pre-recollection'
always proved to be verbatim. This always freaked out my classmate.
The frequency of these dreams declined into my twenties and I went several
years without experiencing any. Recently, on this second leg of my travels,
I've had a couple more experiences.
At best, science offers no explanation. At worst, it dismisses the possibility
of such clairvoyance — any claims of clairvoyant abilities are made
by nutcases or charlatans. But I am neither. While I myself have no explanation
for the mechanism that sometimes provides me a glimpse of the future,
I cannot ignore my own experiences, or convince myself that coincidence,
or synchronicity or an over-active imagination are the root of the experience.
Science is often quick to dismiss as superstitious mumb-jumbo those practices
and alternative realities that fail to meet the 'objective' criteria of
currently accepted scientific fact. Often such a dismissal is dispatched
with little or no effort to understand. Acupuncture is just one well-documented
example of a 'superstitious' medical practice, developed on a "very shaky foundation laid in China's ancient past—an age of ignorance
as seen in the light of present scientific knowledge". It just
so happens that the Chinese ancients, without the benefit of modern scientific
methods, struck upon a medical practice that works. A medical practice
which continues to elude scientific explanation.
Now American doctors attend courses in China to learn how abdominal surgery
can be performed on a patient with no more anesthetic than several well-placed
needles. A friend involved with these courses laments that, true to form,
the doctors are interested only in the methods—where and how to
place the needles—not the 'metaphysical theory' that explains why
these methods work. Given that western medical science still hasn't fully
explained the effectiveness of acupuncture, I find such a state of preferred
ignorance remarkable. The foundation laid in China's ancient past looks
more like an age of discovery in light of present scientific ignorance.
Through the eyes of a TV documentary crew I have watched a little old
Tai Chi master hold at bay a handful of healthy young men trying to budge
him from his standing position. With ever so slight a shrug he gathered
all the energy — Chi — they threw at him and reflected it
back, sending them all sprawling. One of the sprawled commented he might
as well have been trying to topple a brick wall and that the force that
toppled him was like a shock wave.
I'm a little skeptical of video documentaries, but then Bill Moyers seems
a trustworthy sort.
I have seen also a man crouch over a crumpled ball of paper. Holding
his hands above the ball he grimaced slightly. The paper burst in flames.
When a member of the video crew expressed some doubt, the man had the
crewmember lie down. This time the hands unleashed into the other's abdomen
what the crewmember described as 'a large jolt of electricity.'
On the other hand, among my favourite quotations come from a New York
cop. It goes something like:
I've been to dozens of fortune-tellers and psychics and they
told me hundreds of amazing things but not one has ever said that I was
an undercover policewoman about to arrest them.
Last July, in Brisbane, I started an entry entitled 'I believe . . .
I wonder . . . I don't know.' The intent was to explain a little bit what
my conception of reality was and how I came to such conclusions. The motivation
for this arose when a series of arguably coincidental events unfolded
in an unsettlingly meaningful manner, as if some force were intent on
defining my life's path. The project proved larger than my patience, or,
more honestly, my understanding.
The entry rests quietly in my "In Progress" folder. From time
to time I take another shot at it but don't get much further than an unsatisfactory
rearrangement of words already set down. So there it stays, awaiting the
inspiration that will provoke its completion. I don't expect any of you
will receive it any time soon. In the meantime, I'll continue to read,
and observe, and mull over my experiences and wonder about the nature
of the universe.
-- Responses Sought --
. . .and this time it vanished quite slowly, beginning with
the end of the tail, and ending with the grin, which remained some time
after the rest of it had gone.
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland