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Sunday, December 6, 2009

FORTEAN PHYSICS

Hi, all:

Occasionally I run across interesting things while doing research for my book, and this is one of the most interesting things I've run acrose in a long time. This exerpt is fun, and the subject matter is absolutely fascinating!
The article in its entirety can be viewed here: http://www.fiu.edu/~mizrachs/paradigms.html
MANY thanks to Dr. Mizrach!


Enjoy!

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Forteanism: A Pre-Paradigmatic Science?

One of the common accusations that scientific researchers make toward a number of disciplines that they consider to be of less than scientific nature is that these fields are "preparadigmatic." In essence, this term means that the science is completely empirically driven, without any sort of unifying model to use in sorting, locating, or predicting observations. Parapsychology is considered preparadigmatic because while it collects examples of a phenomenon it identifies as "psi," it basically has no unifying model to explain what psi is or how it works. Since Fort argued that every model leads to exclusions ('damnings') of data, he never held any model as being more than provisional. Still, Forteans should accept the valid criticism from scientists that paradigms don't just merely exclude data; they provide maps where to look for it. Paradigms help generate new data and help scientists know where to look.

Naive empiricism is fine, but when it degenerates into some kind of quasi-mystical refusal to look for organizing principles for Fortean phenomena, it devolves into absurdity. Clearly, there are researchers like Michael Persinger and others who are already looking for patterns (spatial, temporal, noetic, etc.) and even if their overarching theories for these phenomena (such as Persinger's Tectonic Stress Theory or TST) don't seem to fit all the data, at least they represent good launching points. Maybe all paranormal phenomena don't occur at fault zones; but at least it's one place to start looking!

Some Forteans may feel the ultimate unifying agency behind all the different classes of Fortean phenomena is a crazed Zen-like universal cosmic trickster-mind, in which case any attempts at paradigms will fail. Personally, I see this philosophical attitude as akin to solipsism: it gets you nowhere. And it doesn't seem to fit the fact that, yes, even with the paranormal there appear to be patterns, mechanisms, and organizing principles, even if they exist at the outskirts of physics.

FIVE POTENTIAL PARADIGMS

1) "World Grid" theory to examine spatial patterns, such as the way some "window zones" or areas of "high strangeness" become Fortean magnets, and the use of "Gaian" theory (specifically, considering geomagnetic fields as part of the "pulse" of the planet) to examine "flaps" and other temporal patterns. This is sort of the 'rock bottom' to any form of knowledge, 'scientific' or not - to understand phenomena, we need to see where and when they recur in space and time, and why.
2) We cannot form paradigms without some effort of categorizing what we're collecting:
A) Apparitions -- appearances of beings of unknown nature (phantom strangers, UFOs and aliens, angels, fairies, monsters, 'farfrotskies,' 'cryptozoo' critters, and 'ghosts')
B) Phantasmagoria -- occurences that impact upon the senses but do not appear to be "things," such as spook lights, singing sands, skyquakes, mysterious noises, earthquake lights, etc.
C) Wild Talents -- human display of parapsychological or otherwise extraordinary abilities (psi, 'electric girls,' lightning calculators, idiot savants, saints' miracles, etc, etc.)
D) Disappearances -- paranormal vanishings (ghost ships, lost planes, disappearing people, vanishing hitchhikers, etc.) Interest usually focuses on areas (such as the so-called 'Bermuda Triangle') where such things occur.
E) Transformations -- natural objects that display seemingly impossible or unnatural properties, such as blood that won't coagulate, grass that won't grow back, rocks that seem to move on their own, etc.
F) Synchronicities -- otherwise 'normal' events or 'coincidences' that seem to mysteriously happen either at exactly the same time or in close sequence, such as the death of people with the same name on the same day.
G) Mass Delusions -- Spontaneous outbreaks of mass consensual hallucinations (common examples in the Middle Ages were St. Anthony's Fire, and the mass delusion that led to the Tarantelle dance in Italy; also the mass 'sightings' created by the "War of the Worlds" broadcast in 1938.) (As I've suggested elsewhere, "mass delusion" is in itself an anomaly since there's no accepted psychological theory as to how two or more persons could share the same hallucination.)
H) Other Scientific Anomalies -- The catch-all for all other astronomical, geophysical, biological, meteorological, or other anomalies that don't really seem to fit in the other eight.

3) The Holographic Paradigm:

The holographic paradigm is actually a constellation of two related conceptions. The first part of the "holographic paradigm" is the idea that the brain may function holographically. The second part of the "holographic paradigm" is the idea that the universe also may be, itself, a hologram. So, if the universe is a hologram, the apparent visible and manifest aspects of it may be merely the explicate order, whereas there is an entire range of "enfolded" or implicate properties which may manifest only at certain points in time or space. If the brain is a hologram, we must also reconsider our ideas about the notion of perception: it may assemble "external reality" by a process of frequency assemblage and "interference analysis," which is what Gestalt psychologists have suggested all along... and some of the cognitive study of human perception is beginning to reinforce. The notion of "hallucination" becomes more problematic, as it appears imaginal reality is assembled out of the same components as "the real world." Talbot sees the holographic paradigm as potentially explaining all kinds of paranormal phenomena. Seemingly unrelated objects in the explicate world may have connections in the implicate order, facilitating what appears (from the explicate view) as action at a distance (thus explaining psychokinesis and, for Talbot, poltergeist phenomena.) The mind might be seen as the implicate property of the brain (rather than an epiphenomenon), and this might explain psi, nonlocality of consciousness, PK, and other parapsychological mysteries. From a holographic viewpoint, the strange interconnectedness of quantum particles makes sense.

4) Multi-Dimensional Reality

Current physics suggests that there are other dimensions of reality, but what precisely this means depends on several different theories, any of which may be correct. First, relativity physics and superstring theories suggest "higher dimensions" from a mathematical and geometrical perspective. That is to say, though we can only perceive three dimensions of space (and perhaps one of time, leading to relativity's four-dimensional spacetime), some physical theories suggest there may be other dimensions at right angles to the existing three, only we can't describe them other than mathematically. (It would be like a circular inhabitant of Flatland trying to describe a sphere, or you as a 3-dimensional being pointing your finger inside out.) In a sense, these "dimensions" would all exist in one universe, however. For various reasons, we can only perceive three of them, although there may be as many as five, eleven, or twenty-three.

One interpretation of quantum mechanics (the Many-Worlds Interpretation) also predicts the existence of parallel universes. These other universes are also sometimes called "other dimensions," but this leads to a confusion of terminology, as I've suggested above. Basically, these parallel universes are all basically almost totally alike, except that every time some quantum wave function is collapsed by an act of perception, our "world line" moves from one universe to another. This is the "Sliders" concept, made somewhat melodramatically on the TV show: maybe there are parallel universes where Lincoln didn't die in office, or you were never born. Some physicists feel these parallel universes also help resolve the mysteries of time travel, which seems to be possible (at least using black holes), yet also threatens causality. However, the theory seems to suggest that even though these parallel universes coexist with our own, by definition we can never experience them or be aware of them. Our choices have foreclosed them to us.

Lastly, one type of cosmology ('bubble universe' theory) suggests that the Big Bang did not just create our own universe, but rather several universes at once, sort of like soap bubbles out of a larger soapy film. Each might be a four or more-dimensional universe, seemingly finite and unbounded (as Einstein suggested), yet in actuality 'floating' in a higher dimensional space along with other universe. Each of these universes is distinct, but may be linked through 'wormholes' of some kind. This theory does not suggest that these other universes are necessarily parallel to our own, however. They could be completely different, and might even have different physical laws, or be made of antimatter, or something even more bizarre. This is apart from the view some physicists have that our own universe may have had one or more predecessors (a previous universe which had its own Big Stop or collapse which then led to our Big Bang.)

5) Nonlinear/Multi-Continual Time

Long before the advent of science, Western culture developed a basically linear theory of time. The idea of past, present, and future is so ingrained in our way of thinking that Westerners are hard-pressed to understand the often cyclical and multilinear ways of understanding time shown by non-Western peoples. In physics, there are many interesting arguments about the "arrow of time." Basically, most physical laws are time-reversible: the interactions look the same whether the "action" moves from past to future or vice versa. Yet, the linear flow of time seems to enter through causality (in our universe, causes seem to always precede effects), and through entropy (the fact that the loss of order or energy available for useful work in systems appears to be irreversible.) Still, despite the apparent linearity of time, some physicists are beginning to realize that their experiments show a different possibility.

Causality, which appears to be a cornerstone of Newtonian physics, becomes routed by relativity (which suggests causes and effects may be simultaneous in different frames of reference - time doesn't always "flow" at the same rate), quantum physics (which suggests a deep acausal nature to events at the quantum level), and chaos theory (which suggests that through feedback, causes become effects, and vice versa, making them impossible to isolate.) Tachyons are elementary particles which appear to move backward in time. As impossible as it seems, they appear to move from the future toward the past. Likewise, some see antimatter as basically time-reversed particles; the positron is an electron moving backwards in time. Though it seems shocking, some physicists are now starting to suggest that in fact there may be no "arrow of time" and that its linearity may be an illusion.

The idea of a nonlinear time might help explain phenomena such as "precognition" (multiple futures coexist with multiple pasts), "synchronicity" (simultaneity of events depends on your frame of reference), and of course time 'slippage', which then becomes not only possible but probable. It makes teleological observations (such as the Cosmological Anthropic Principle) sensible, because then the future can exert influences on the past, as well as vice versa. These phenomena are only "impossible" if we exist in linear time; and some physicists now agree we might not. Further, this view of time makes the phenomenon of time travel feasible, because in such a time/space framework, causality would not be violated by travelling back and, say, murdering one's father, because that would simply create a different continuum in which the person was never born.

Considering that time travel seems to be involved in various Fortean occurences (such as "time slips" and OOPARTs or artefacts out of place from a particular time period), it might be a relief to know that there are physicists with this viewpoint who don't view it as an impossibility.

6) Cyberverse/Infoverse

Beyond spatial and temporal patterns in Fortean phenomena, there appear to be informational or relational/analogical patterns as well. The spatial patterns ('window' or 'flap' zones, World Grid, Persinger's tectonic stress zones, etc.) and temporal patterns (paranormal 'peaks' at various times of day, days of the week, or months of the year) have been often discussed by Fortean investigators. But the informational patterns - what some Forteans call the "Name Game" or the tendency for the phenomena to associate around certain repeating names of people and places - have often been treated as simply an inexplicable curiosity, perhaps the whimsy of some Cosmic Trickster or the revival of the pagan god Pan's influence.

Why are certain "names" acting as "strange attractors" for phenomena? Basically, the argument is that the fundamental particles of the cosmos may be "digital" in nature (the "It from Bit" hypothesis), consisting of "cellular automata" or trillions of interdependent on/off vectors that determine the properties we call mass, charm, spin, etc. Among artificial life researchers, a growing perspective has emerged that life, consciousness, and energy may represent methods of conserving and transferring information between the elements of the universe. The "extropian" viewpoint is that increasing information helps combat entropy or the tendency of the universe to "wind down." If there is a "physics of information," it might help to explain the long-held belief that naming something helps attract or repel certain forces. Most physicists now realize there is a deep interrelationship between probability, entropy, information, and reflexivity (or self-organization.) Information is not a passive property, it plays an extensive role in the evolution of the universe. Communication alters the probability of events. If we can take Fredkin's viewpoint to heart about the idea of what we experience of the universe as basically being a giant cosmic computer program (although Fredkin never identifies the programmer), we might consider that in such a program, changing the name of "variables" might affect other parts of the program.

The vector for information transmission might be, as in electronic devices, electromagnetic fields. The fact that so many Fortean phenomena seem to involve electromagnetic effects or disruptions of electronic devices seems to require some more attention.

7)Percipient-based Study of the Paranormal

Many Fortean researchers have slowly come around to the realization that even if unifying laws cannot be found for the phenomena themselves, we might gain by focusing less on the phenomena and more on who experiences them and why. The general assumption is that the people who experience these phenomena seem to basically be whoever is in the right place at the right time. However, this belies some basic observations of paranormal researchers, namely, that people who experience one type of phenomenon seem likely to experience other kinds. It's often assumed that one experience (say a UFO sighting) "triggers" the other occurences (poltergeist phenomena, etc.) But it might be better to think of some people as being "prone" to having these experiences by nature. Fortean researchers would do well to develop a "paranormal proneness profile." Then we can answer "why?"

We should entertain the hypothesis that these events are not entirely independent of who's around to witness them; some even argue the phenomena are "reflexive" in responding to the expectations of percipients.

Kenneth Ring looked at a large sample of people who reported Near-Death (NDE) encounters, and discovered several interesting things. One, people who had had NDEs were likely to have had prior strange experiences (UFO sightings and ghost sightings were common). Two, after their NDE, they often had a remarkable change in their attitudes or sometimes even reported new "wild" talents such as psi. Three, all registered fairly high on the dissociative personality scale (one fact about such people is that they can more easily enter trance or be hypnotized, and that they report more often what are called 'dissociative experiences'). Fourth, almost all reported some history of some form of child abuse. It was the last fact that had the skeptics basically pouncing on this revelation. "False memory syndrome" and false allegations of child abuse or "Satanic ritual abuse" are another thing some "skeptics" often make a big deal about. So they leapt unto the idea that Ring's experiences were all simply inveterate fantasizers, or if they had in fact been abused, this "traumatization" led to a "need for attention and self-esteem" which led them to fantasize these experiences.

Ring suggested another framework for looking at these data. He pointed out that childhood dissociation might be a technique that an abused person might develop to adapt to a difficult situation. Because these people become strong dissociaters from an early age on, they find it easier to enter altered states of consciousness. Since people in such altered states might have a wider range of perception than ordinary people, Ring pointed out, this group might be more "prone" to experience paranormal events than a control group who might not be able to perceive them. While Ring's hypothesis might be wrong or right, he at least was on the right track: he was looking for common variables that might be found among experiencers of the paranormal, and he focused on how their range of perceptions might differ from ordinary people. That might be the basis of what I call a "percipient-based paradigm."


8) Abandon the "Supernatural"

These paradigms - the holographic paradigm, the multiverse paradigm, the nonlinear or multi-continuum time paradigm, the cyberverse paradigm, and the percipient paradigm - are in some ways strangely intercompatible, even if they all make predictions which seem to be at odds with what we presently know about the universe within the predominant Newtonian/mechanistic paradigm. That is, it doesn't seem to me the case that if any of these five worldviews are correct, they preclude the possibility of the others. In fact, in some ways, each of them almost seem to suggest the others. One might argue all five are part of an emerging viewpoint in physics which might be called "multiple vision," as opposed to Newtonian "single vision." Our existence might be one of multilinearity (chaos theory), multiple realities (quantum mechanics), multiply valid perspectives (relativity), multiple dimensions/universes/'planes of being,' multiple time continnua, multiple interrelated causes for each effect (multicausality.)

Ultimately, in suggesting these paradigms, I am suggesting that as Forteans we can stop calling these bizarre events we catalogue as "supernatural." They are as much a part of the natural world as anything else that scientists are interested in, it's just that coming to a theory to explain their occurence may require an extension of how we describe and understand the "laws of nature." These emerging paradigms are not agreed upon by all physicists, mainly because they consider most of them to be unproved or unprovable. However, unlike psi or UFOs, they seem to be accepted as being within the bounds of 'rational' discussion... and they are being discussed by "mainstream" scientists. While these theories cannot yet predict Fortean events, they do seem able to explain them, which puts Forteanism on par with Darwinian evolution. (No scientist can point to a species and say exactly when it's going to evolve.) And thus flies out the window the skeptics' argument that Fortean events are impossible because they "defy physical law." When skeptics say that, I always ask them, "whose physics?" Not the physics that seems to be emerging to replace the old, worn-out clockwork physics of the mechanistic, Newtonian vision.

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