Friday, August 29, 2003

What is Parapsychology? ( 什麼是超心理學? )

What is Parapsychology? ( 什麼是超心理學? )
[創意組織 ]

What is Parapsychology?

CAN claims of extrasensory perception, or ESP as it is commonly called, be studied as a science? Can assertions of psychic phenomena be subject to the scientific method of experimental design, statistical significance, and independent replication? The controversial field is called parapsychology, and if you can read minds, see the future, or sense unusual things, we have some parapsychologists who would like to meet you--and test you. But critics--who call themselves skeptics--assert that the entire field is virtually all pseudoscience, without serious merit, just capitalizing on uncritical media and a gullible public. Parapsychology, according to skeptics, should be debunked. Parapsychology, according to proponents, is the scientific study of the paranormal, also known as psi phenomena. It is the careful investigation of events--like mental telepathy, clairvoyance, or other bizarre manifestations--that seemingly cannot be accounted for by natural law or knowledge. The claim that parapsychology is a real science excites some but annoys others. Is parapsychology a new science or an old fraud? Here we brought together some leading parapsychologists and skeptics. They joust and we judge.


Dr. Barry Beyerstein, a neuropsychologist at Simon Fraser University in Canada and a leading skeptic, is a regular contributor to the Skeptical Inquirer magazine. Barry requires reasonable evidence and logic to justify extraordinary claims.

Dr. Dean Radin, an experimental psychologist who has conducted ESP experiments, is the author of The Conscious Universe. Dean believes that ESP research demonstrates what he calls "the scientific truth about psychic phenomena."

Dr. Marilyn Schlitz, trained as an anthropologist, is the research director of the Institute of Noetic Sciences and a leading scientist in parapsychology. Marilyn presents careful experiments supporting the existence of psychic phenomena.

Dr. Charles Tart, a research pioneer in scientific parapsychology, is the author of over 250 articles published in professional books and journals, including Science and Nature. Charles is a spiritual seeker who believes that one of his virtues as a scientist is that he hates to be fooled.

Dr. James Trefil, a professor of physics at George Mason University, is a prolific author and commentator on science in the national media. Jim views parapsychology through the critical eyes of a mainstream scientist.

ROBERT: Dean, why do you think that the scientific method can be applied to the investigation of psychic phenomena? Skeptical critics claim that ESP is more wishful thinking or ancient superstition than serious science, with a touch of modern fraud tossed in now and then.

DEAN: Science consists of two general areas: there is the act of measurement, which is the empirical side of science, and there is the development of mechanisms, which is its theoretical side. When people ask the question, "Is parapsychology scientific?" they're almost always thinking about the theoretical side. And it's quite true that we don't have very good theories about why psychic phenomena happen.

ROBERT: Do you mean that even those scientists who are convinced of the reality of psychic phenomena cannot construct convincing fundamental mechanisms--theories--to explain its underlying cause?

DEAN: Yes. But on the measurement side, it's very clear that the scientific method can be brought to bear on these phenomena.

ROBERT: We're going to examine that assertion. Charles, you've been a parapsychologist for forty years; you're one of parapsychology's founders. Can you describe the field and give some sense of its import for human understanding?

CHARLES: Parapsychology is our modern name for what was originally called psychical research. It began as an organized field of inquiry in the nineteenth century, when there was much conflict between science and religion. Science seemed to be explaining more and more of the world, and it threatened to throw out religion totally. But a few scientists thought that religion was not all nonsense. They wondered whether it was possible to apply the methods of science, which had worked so well in the physical sciences, to examine the strange or unusual happenings associated with religion and to find out whether those phenomena are actual fact or just superstition. Parapsychology is the modern evolution of those early investigations.

ROBERT: Barry, you're a neuroscientist and a skeptic. I know what a neuroscientist does--you study the brain. What does a skeptic do?

BARRY: A skeptic is someone who demands reasonable evidence and reasonable logic to back up extraordinary claims. I wouldn't call parapsychology a pseudoscience, as long as it uses the same experimental controls, the same techniques, and the same mathematical and statistical procedures that are used within mainstream science. We can disagree about the adequacy of the evidence--that's what I'm skeptical about--but I don't claim that it's all fraud or pseudoscience. The key is the amount of evidence and the availability of that evidence for skeptics to check.

ROBERT: We're going to give you some evidence right now. Marilyn, the Institute of Noetic Sciences is a leading center of research on the mind and unusual phenomena. Could you describe your own most compelling experiments where human "senders" influenced the physiological responses of human "receivers" at a distance, without any intervening sensory communications?

MARILYN: We were interested in evaluating the extraordinary claims made by healers in different cultures. Were those healers somehow able to influence the physiology of people at a distance, under conditions where recipients didn't even know that senders were trying to affect them? Since such investigations are very difficult to conduct in a field setting, we moved into the laboratory. The experiment monitored the measurable effects of autonomic nervous activity, which is the part of our physiology that functions automatically.

ROBERT: Like heart rate, breathing, peristalsis.

MARILYN: That's right. So I would invite you into the lab and I would monitor various attributes of your physiology.

ROBERT: I'm nervous already.

MARILYN: We can calm you¡K. Then we would sCHARLES monitoring your galvanic skin response, the electrical activity of your skin, which is the same method used in lie detectors--

ROBERT: I'm not coming near you.

MARILYN: Oh, you have something to hide, do you? Here's the procedure. You, as the recipient-subject, sit in one room while we're monitoring your physiology. Then we invite a sender-healer to sit in a distant room, and there's absolutely no sensory communication between the two of you. We ask this healer, at specific random moments, to influence your physiology at a distance. So, for example, he or she might try to calm you, by employing psychical projections of serenity. We then compare your autonomic nervous system activity during the test periods, when the healer is attempting to calm you, with your autonomic nervous system during the control periods, when everything is the same except the healer is not sending. We call these experiments "intentionality at a distance."

ROBERT: As the recipient, I wouldn't know when the healer was trying to exert influence-intentionality--at a distance?

MARILYN: Exactly. You'd have no idea when these influence periods occur; they're randomly distributed throughout the session. We've now compiled about forty experiments that were set up under this kind of protocol. Overall, the results are highly compelling. There are strong statistical data to support the idea that there's some kind of exchange of information between the sender and the recipient, even though under these conditions there's no sensory contact.

ROBERT: Have you had nonbelievers--skeptics--auditing the experimental design, the data, and the statistical analysis?

MARILYN: The most recent experiments I've done were with a professor from England, Richard Wiseman, who's a card-carrying member of the skeptical community. He was very interested in doing experiments together, and the first project we did was in his lab, under his conditions. Everything was identical--same equipment, same randomization procedures, same subject population--except that I worked with half the people and he worked with half the people. The result was that we both replicated our initial findings: I got statistical significance and he didn't. This result was compelling to us, in terms of what effect the expectations of the researcher might have on the results. We then invited Richard to come over to my laboratory and set up the same experiment--and, again, we replicated the effect a second time. These experiments suggest that not only is there an effect but it can happen under conditions where skeptics and proponents work together. And they further suggest that there may be some way in which the belief systems or expectations of the researcher come into play.

ROBERT: Jim, you're a physicist. One of your many books is 101 Things You Don't Know About Science. Did you include parapsychology in your list?

JIM: No--that book was a tour of the frontiers of science at the end of the twentieth century.

ROBERT: Why didn't you include parapsychology?

JIM: One of the criteria I used for including an issue was that there had to be some reasonable expectation that the issue would be resolved in the foreseeable future. Parapsychology has been around, as has been said, for over a century. I don't see a resolution coming anytime soon, so I didn't include it.

ROBERT: Dean, take us through the categories of parapsychology. People know what mental telepathy is, but there's more.

DEAN: There are four classic categories that are studied as part of parapsychology. One is telepathy, as you said. The common understanding that telepathy means "the reading of minds" is not quite right, because that sounds as though thoughts were being perceived, and this virtually never happens. Telepathy means that there's some kind of mind-to-mind connection; it's often a feeling, the kind of emotion that seems to pass. The second category is clairvoyance, which is getting information from a distance, either in space or time. The third category is precognition, which can be considered a subset of clairvoyance, which is the acquisition of specific information through time.

ROBERT: So clairvoyance is defined as the occurrence of apprehending information directly, something that you couldn't know through the senses. Clairvoyance differs from telepathy in that clairvoyance perceives information directly from an object or about an event, whether past, present or future, without the necessity of any other mind knowing about that object or event.

DEAN: Right. For example, [the object or the event] can be hidden, as in an envelope or at a distance, so that normal senses couldn't perceive it. Or it could be displaced in time, whether precognition [knowledge of the future] or retrocognition [knowledge of the past]. The fourth category is psychokinesis, popularly known as "mind over matter."

ROBERT: What's a classic "mind over matter" experiment?

DEAN: In the old days, gamblers would claim that they could toss the dice and make a certain number come up more often than chance should allow, and that initiated about forty or fifty years of research, doing exactly that experiment.

ROBERT: Might trips to casinos alleviate some of the financial pressure of funding parapsychological research?

DEAN: There are two questions here: first, is there any effect when gamblers "will" certain numbers to come up; and second, if there's an effect, what is its magnitude? It turns out that when we do the overall assessment, we discover that there's an effect, but its magnitude is less than one percent. That's not very big.

ROBERT: One percent is well below the lowest odds advantages of the house. Do we cancel the trip to Las Vegas?

DEAN: You'll continue to lose at the casinos, though maybe a little bit slower.

ROBERT: Charles, give us some sense of the classic experiments in parapsychology, and how the field developed originally as a science.

CHARLES: In Victorian days, people played what you might call telepathic parlor games. I might ask you to go off in another room, open a book, and read a certain passage, while back here the rest of our little group would try to write down our mental impression of whatever was in that passage. Let's say that on occasion some of us would get a few words that were the same as those in the book. This kind of experiment is very hard to evaluate; there are lots of words in a book passage. There were many informal, inconclusive experiments like this.

ROBERT: How were the first reasonably scientific experiments designed?

CHARLES: A more classic telepathy experiment would work something like this. Someone goes off to a different room and shuffles a stack of cards a dozen times to make sure it's thoroughly mixed. He or she would then, at predetermined time intervals--say, every sixty seconds--look at one card at a time. Meanwhile people back in the original room would write down their impression of the order of the cards. We could then evaluate, with statistical mathematics, whether the experiment produced results that were sufficiently above chance to justify the supposition that sometimes information was being transferred. I'd estimate that there are now several hundred experiments showing that this kind of telepathy experiment can produce results greater than chance. Now, it's a small effect, as Dean [Radin] said; it differs from chance by only a few percentage points. It's very rare to get a perfect score; getting a hundred-percent-correct result in such an experiment has happened maybe two or three times in the whole history of the field.

ROBERT: Given the huge number of experiments that have been conducted, one would expect, just from normal randomized statistical distribution, that every once in a while the results would be a hundred percent perfect. I'd equally expect that every now and then the results would be a complete bust--getting nothing right, zero percent.

CHARLES: Except that we have sophisticated sets of statistical tools that can differentiate between results that reflect statistical significance and random distribution. Of course, one can make the counterargument that the published results are only those experiments that happen to come out above chance, and that if you included all the actual experiments done but unpublished, then the total results would approximate chance. To test this claim, you can figure out how many unsuccessful, unpublished psi experiments would have to have been done. It turns out that for this counterargument to be true, then every man, woman, and child on the face of the earth would have to have been doing ten failed experiments a day for the last five thousand years. This shows the strength of the data. The evidence for the existence of telepathy or clairvoyance is overwhelming.

ROBERT: We're talking about a meta-analysis of parapsychological experiments--an analysis that pulls together a large number of independent experiments.

DEAN: Meta-analysis means the analysis of analyses, so rather than doing multiple trials in a single experiment, you look at the collected results of many experiments.

ROBERT: In the last thirty or forty years of parapsychological research, what's your strongest piece of evidence?

MARILYN: I don't think we can identify one particular experiment that makes the case for the field; we have to look at the aggregate. Research has taken different directions. There's the remote viewing work, where people are attempting to describe characteristics of geographical locations at a distance. A number of experiments have now been done using this kind of procedure--and have been replicated consistently--producing sufficient data to demonstrate that there's some kind of effect happening here.

ROBERT: You've conducted some of the interesting Ganzfeld experiments; this is a procedure where you reduce sensory input for subjects and then ask them to describe, say, a remote video clip. One of the favorite techniques is to tape sliced Ping-Pong balls over their eyes and feed white noise into their ears; then they're asked to imagine what somebody else is drawing, or something like that.

MARILYN: The Ganzfeld is a procedure that was initiated at the turn of the twentieth century, when introspective psychological experiments were popular. Sensory deprivation is a technique that induces imagery; in a way, it simulates the dream experience, and people start seeing images.

ROBERT: Is it like an altered state of consciousness?

CHARLES: Yes, sensory deprivation is conducive to inducing an altered state.

ROBERT: Has it been shown that altered states have a positive correlation with evidence for telepathy and clairvoyance?

CHARLES: There's a general literature to that effect, and I believe that it's probably true. If I say, use your ESP, that's a simple, rational thing to do--and it usually doesn't work. We don't know what part of the mind ESP comes from, but it doesn't seem to come from normal consciousness.

ROBERT: Barry, what does a skeptic make of all this?

BARRY: Unfortunately, the debate has gotten so technical that what we're now talking about are very, very small statistical effects. And when the effects are that small, and that difficult for skeptics like myself and my students to replicate, then we have to look to the possibility that there are interesting statistical anomalies and artifacts here, not real phenomena. A statistical effect, if you get one, means that it's unlikely for the event in question to have happened by chance alone. But even if there's something operating here, statistical significance alone can't tell you what that something is. Is it some paranormal phenomenon? Or is it sensory leakage? Is it fraud? Is it recording error? Or is it some kind of subtle artifact of the experiment that's well worth studying but is normal, in the sense that it doesn't violate our sense of the physical world. There are just so many possibilities other than paranormal explanations, and statistics alone will never tell us what's really going on. Statistics can only inform us that it's unlikely that there's nothing but chance operating there.

ROBERT: I have a sense that in recent times there's actually less research going on in parapsychology than there was a few decades ago. Innovative research interest, today, seems oriented more toward transpersonal and other kinds of holistic psychologies. Has the experimental side of parapsychology diminished in importance?

DEAN: I don't think the importance of parapsychological research has diminished at all. It may be that the total number of people actively doing experiments is probably somewhat lower.

ROBERT: Why is that?

DEAN: I think interest in parapsychology goes in cycles. There's something like a twenty-year funding cycle.

ROBERT: It has nothing to do with sunspots?

DEAN: Well, perhaps that, too--but I don't think so. It's quite interesting that fifty years ago the usual skeptical response was that parapsychological phenomena were just impossible, full stop. But something new has occurred in the last decade or so. Barry brought out that we're now dealing with technical issues of experimentation, where we're trying to figure out whether this anomaly is psi or something more commonplace. And that's a very dramatic change.

ROBERT: Are you suggesting a subtle admission by skeptics that experimental data of parapsychological phenomena are meeting the critical tests of good science, such as tightly controlled experimental design, replicability by independent scientists and labs, and statistical significance?

DEAN: It changes the playing field from "You guys are nuts, because this stuff couldn't possibly be real" to "Let's figure out whether these anomalies are what they appear to be--because, after all, they came from people's experiences, not from strange experiments in the lab--and if they're what they appear to be, we've captured psi."

ROBERT: What do your friends and colleagues in mainstream science think of your chosen profession?

DEAN: They hold a range of opinions, but in general here's what happens. Scientist friends or colleagues will come into my lab--some claiming they're skeptics, some not--and then they actually spend time running experiments and looking at the results. When they do these steps themselves, they usually change their opinion quite quickly. This opinion change is of two kinds. First, they realize that parapsychologists are as skeptical as they are. You have to be, because after years of scrutinizing these experiments, what we do now is quite good science. Second, they witness experiments that in some cases are really quite dramatic. Real anomalies emerge right before their eyes, and so my colleagues become really interested.

ROBERT: Jim, what would it take for you to move parapsychology from where you wouldn't even mention it in your books to recommending it for inclusion in mainstream scientific discussion?

JIM: In science, there's this process of first establishing that something happens--that there really is something going on that needs to be explained, and then you try to explain it; this is what you call experimental theory. My take on parapsychology is that I'm not convinced that there's something to be explained here.

ROBERT: What would convince you to change your opinion?

JIM: I could imagine carefully controlled experiments that produced anomalous data. I haven't seen Marilyn's [Schlitz] experiments; however, I've seen others that looked just as convincing initially, but then you get into these very technical discussions of the experimental design and the statistics. The issue often comes down to what sorts of things could produce these very small effects that people are measuring--things that wouldn't necessarily have anything to do with extrasensory perception but might be something in the design of the experiment or the way data was analyzed.

ROBERT: Charles, you've dealt with these issues for decades. Has the whole field of parapsychology devolved down to hypertechnicalities?

CHARLES: Meanwhile, back in the real world, real people are having real experiences that they believe are due to extrasensory perception. Surveys show that a majority of the population thinks they have had an ESP encounter personally. Of course, when you have people claiming to have had a psychic experience, you ask yourself what it means. If you ask the people themselves, you get a large range of responses. Some go off the deep end, declaring, "I'm chosen by God, because I'm so very special." Others try to make sense of what happened, but they run into skeptics who tell them that these experiences are impossible and anyone who thinks he's had such an experience is simply deluding himself. I don't think it's a particularly healthy response to invalidate people that way.

ROBERT: How would you respond to such a person describing an anomalous, seemingly psychic experience?

CHARLES: Some few of us look at the scientific literature on parapsychology and say, Well, we do have evidence for basic psi phenomena--like telepathy or precognition or something similar--so maybe this particular real-world instance was an actual occurrence. Psychic experiences are not just matters of academic interest. When people have a psychic experience, they quite often change their philosophy of life--or if they already have, say, spiritual values, these beliefs are then validated by the event. I'm not simply an experimental parapsychologist. I'm a transpersonal psychologist--which means that I'm interested in the personal, emotional applications of psychic experiences. I want us to have a good database on what happens in these experiences: What seems to be a real effect and what seems to be illusion? What kinds of people have them, and are they associated with mental illness? By the way, psi phenomena are not generally related to mental illness. Parapsychology can have practical relevance to real people's lives.

ROBERT: Charles, you wrote very personally that your initial interest in parapsychology related to an early conflict between science and religion. Do you think this tension, or longing, influenced your conclusions?

CHARLES: No. I have two guiding forces in my life. The first is that I hate to be fooled under any circumstances. And that makes me a very good scientist. I'm more critical of methodology in psi experiments than many scientists who take comparatively skeptical positions. My second guiding force is that I'd like there to be a bigger and more interesting universe, with meaning in it. So my way of dealing with my childhood conflict between science and religion was to become a scientifically rigorous researcher in parapsychology, just like the people who started the Society for Psychical Research in the nineteenth century. I applied the basic scientific method of observing data and testing theories to this area of unusual experiences, in order to see what's real and what's not--to ascertain what is, indeed, superstition and nonsense left over from earlier times.

ROBERT: How do you react to the increasing prominence and strength of the skeptical community?

CHARLES: I wish there were a genuinely skeptical community. I'm afraid that just about every skeptic I've ever met is what I call a pseudoskeptic. A real skeptic says, "I don't know about parapsychology and psi, and the explanations we have so far don't satisfy me. I want to look at the data." But the skeptics I've encountered claim to know already that there's nothing to it, and then they break all sorts of rules of scientific procedure to go about their debunking. Skepticism, as it is generally practiced, is neither legitimate science nor legitimate criticism.

ROBERT: Isn't it legitimate help when skeptics expose all the ridiculous claims that encrust serious parapsychology with absurdities?

CHARLES: That might have been true a hundred years ago, but the methodology in parapsychology has become so good, and parapsychologists are so thorough in their own criticism of one another's experiments, that the matter is pretty well handled.

ROBERT: But there are abundant common frauds, silly stories of ESP defying all credulity that circulate widely in the media. Furthermore, if the data are so robust, why do we have, right here, scientists on opposite sides? What is it about parapsychology that gives the field such weak acceptance?

MARILYN: I'm reminded of the joke that there are three stages in the skeptical acceptance of unorthodox ideas. First, the critics will say, "There's nothing in that data." Then, as you acquire more data, the second stage comes up: "Well, there might be something to it, but it's such a small effect that it's meaningless." And you acquire more data and show its relevance, and then the skeptical community says, "Of course, we knew it all along; so where have you been?"

ROBERT: Jim seems comfortably set in the first stage; Barry is, too, but he's also glancing at the second stage.

MARILYN: If we can give serious skeptics some education about the data, I think their stage could well change.

ROBERT: We'll arrange for Marilyn [Schlitz] to give Jim [Trefil] and Barry [Beyerstein] the results of her experiments. Then we'll get back together in the future--that's a promise.

MARILYN: I want to comment about the contribution of open-minded skeptics, because I feel that they can make a great contribution to parapsychology. There's a lot of nonsense that dominates our culture. People are led down blind alleys and come to believe very strange things. General skepticism, therefore, is good for all of us. I agree with Dean [Radin] that parapsychologists themselves are inherently skeptical, and I agree with Charles [Tart] that those of us collecting this data don't want to be fooled. But I've seen examples within the skeptical community where they are really helping us to refine our protocols and sharpen our critical skills.

ROBERT: That's a major contribution.

MARILYN: Yes, it is. There's a lot of room for healthy debate within the parapsychological community such that we can begin to move the field forward.

ROBERT: If there's genuine search for truth, parapsychologists and skeptical scientists make a great combination.

JIM: I've been involved in other areas of science where there's been a great deal of skepticism--for example, the skepticism greeting the theory that the dinosaurs were wiped out by the effects of an asteroid impact. I saw how the scientific community, driven by data, changed its mind and generally accepted this theory over a period of time. I just don't see that happening in parapsychology--it hasn't happened for a hundred years.

BARRY: I think Charles [Tart] is making a stereotype of what skeptics are. What he said doesn't jibe with the kind of skeptics that I know. It's not just that these supposed events are weird. We all accept quantum mechanics--which is totally counterintuitive--because it produces results. Quantum mechanics is replicable, it gives better explanations, and it makes predictions that turn out to be verified in experiments. There were many skeptical physicists; Albert Einstein himself went to his grave still figuring there was something wrong with it. But quantum mechanics is not controversial anymore, because it has delivered the goods. And this is what parapsychology has yet to do. If it turns out that ESP or psi research does come up with something that tips the scales, then I don't know very many skeptics who would be any more skeptical about it than we are about quantum mechanics.

ROBERT: Dean, let's go on to something different. What is field consciousness? Give us some examples of how it may work.

DEAN: Field consciousness is a relatively new finding about what may happen when people get together in a group--say, as a choral group or a sports team--and they feel that something "just gels." Everyone is working together perfectly and there's a sense of coherence within the group. The same technology that we use to study mind-over-matter [psychokinetic] effects in the laboratory are applied to these situations to investigate whether there's something paranormal happening here.

ROBERT: Give us an example.

DEAN: Take an electronic random-number generator, which is like a coin flipper. The traditional experiments are one-to-one, with one generator and one person who tries to change the distribution, essentially, of heads and tails. The only difference, in field consciousness studies, is that you take this random-number generator and put it in the vicinity of a group that's doing something together, where there are moments of strong coherence--for example, during group meditation. The objective is to ascertain whether the act of coherence among a group is reflected as statistical anomalies in the random-number generator. There have been now something like seventy or eighty experiments of this kind in the past two years, and the grand accumulation of data suggests that something unusual does happen.

ROBERT: You've also used events on a grander scale, where very large populations are involved--such as when much of the world was tuned into the opening of the Olympics or the verdict in the O. J. Simpson trial--and come up with what you think is compelling data.

DEAN: This is the beginning of a new experimental area, but initial experiments suggest that something like a "mass mind" effect might really exist--that when we have millions of minds thinking about the same thing, something happens.

ROBERT: Charles, give us some real-world examples of psychic phenomena.

CHARLES: During the Second World War, a friend of mine came home very tired from her defense job and fell sound asleep. Suddenly, in the middle of the night, she finds herself leaping out of bed and standing in the middle of the floor with a feeling of absolute horror. She has no idea what the absolute horror is about, and so she starts to feel silly after a while. She stands there for about thirty seconds, and then the house rumbles a little bit. She thinks maybe it's a minor earthquake, and she looks at the clock and goes back to bed. The next day she discovers that the Port Chicago Munitions Shipping Facility had blown up at the time she leaped out of bed, and the little rumble was the time it took the shock wave to go from Port Chicago to Berkeley. Was she responding to the horror of hundreds of people suddenly being killed and maimed? This is the kind of anomalous experience that happens to people in everyday life.

ROBERT: You've heard the following argument: Because every night so many people have so many nightmares about so many things, random coincidences like your friend's sudden waking timed with the munitions explosion must occur rather frequently. It's statistically mandated, though it's surely random. But when the random coincidence happens to one individual, it feels very special, even though it isn't. An analogy is winning the lottery--that's completely random, but to the winner it's very special.

CHARLES: The argument is a correct one, which is why we parapsychologists took all this psychic stuff into the laboratory almost a hundred years ago. We knew what coincidence was, and we had to rule it out conclusively.

ROBERT: Dean, do you have any amazing stories?

DEAN: Most of my amazing stories happen in the laboratory, for exactly the reason that Charles [Tart] just said. But the anecdotes are really compelling. I've had experiences like that in my life, and you're absolutely right: it could be coincidence. So as a scientist I want to know whether, in principle, these coincidences could be some form of parapsychological phenomena.

ROBERT: The challenge is to investigate spontaneous, real-world psi phenomena in a controlled, scientific manner.

MARILYN: One parapsychologist did a study correlating the numbers of people who rode on trains on days when there were train wrecks with the numbers of people riding trains on average, safe days. Over the course of time, it looked as though there were significantly fewer passengers riding on the days of train wrecks. He also did some interesting work with business executives, assessing the incidence of psychic phenomena among people who were at top levels. The results indicated that high-level executives scored better than the average population on ESP, which suggests that these very successful people may be using certain kinds of psychic abilities in everyday life, in ordinary practice. Maybe they aren't labeling it psychic; certainly they don't considering it weird. But these successful executives may be, in fact, harnessing and employing psychic ability every day of their lives.

ROBERT: Dean, if a person is psychic but feels funny about admitting it, he may say he has a hunch or is just intuitive. That's our social protection. What are the standards of good science here? We normally talk about the replicability of evidence.

DEAN: Right. The gold standard of empirical science is whether an effect can be independently replicated by lots of people over a long period of time, and also whether conceptual replication can be shown--because, obviously, if you do exactly the same experiment and the experiment has a flaw in it, you just repeat the flaw. So in my book I focused on meta-analysis, combining many experiments in different classes of parapsychology to see whether replication exists, and comparing the results from parapsychology with those from other areas of science. The answer, very clearly, is yes, there is replication by many different people over long periods of time, and conceptual replication, in at least a few classes of parapsychological work.

BARRY: My trouble is that for the last twenty years I've been asking my psychology students to try replicating classic parapsychological experiments, without any positive results whatsoever. Since I have a random-number generator in my lab, other people from the community would come to ask my help in conducting ESP-type experiments. I've had psychics try to beat my random-number generator.

ROBERT: How have they done?

BARRY: Zip. Nothing. I just can't get any replication in these things.

MARILYN: To that I would argue that one can make the same kind of case for musical ability. To conclude that there's some genuine anomaly present, it doesn't necessarily have to be distributed evenly among the entire population.

BARRY: But I've done that. We've had people come in who claim to have psychic ability and they fall flat on their faces, too, just like my students.

DEAN: Are you claiming that you never get significant results?

BARRY: I'm saying [I get] nothing more than chance would predict.

DEAN: OK, but you're getting a distribution of results, some of which are positive and some negative.

BARRY: Individual trials and even individual persons may produce skewed results. If you run the random-number generator a hundred times, five of them, on average, will come out above chance. So the results match our statistical predictions for random behavior.

MARILYN: My experiments with Richard Wiseman--who is a member, recall, of the skeptical community--suggest that maybe there's something inherent in the experimenter's ability to elicit these kinds of phenomena.

BARRY: I like to take students who come to me because they want to prove me wrong. I give them the equipment, send them off and say, "OK, if it's bad vibes from me, fine--I'll be gone." Some of these students have actually refused to give me their data, because they were so embarrassed when nothing nonrandom happened.

DEAN: One of the problems here is that many scientists don't understand the meaning of statistics in the behavioral sciences. They're thinking of the type of precision you get in the physical sciences--which, of course, is substantially more precise than that in the behavioral sciences. Most conditions of human behavior are so variable that you need a much higher power of statistical analysis in order to pull out the significances.

ROBERT: This means more trials in the experiments and different mathematics in the analysis.

DEAN: Yes. If the underlying effect is very small, you need the right kind of statistics to come out with a significant result.

ROBERT: It makes me nervous when such a small effect is supporting a field that's challenging basic assumptions of the physical world.

DEAN: The effect is not so small. Sometimes the effects look small, but this is because the sum totals are the combined results of positive correlations and negative correlations canceling each other out.

ROBERT: A correlation of minus-one, which means a zero-percent relationship, is just as strong as a correlation of plus-one, which means a hundred-percent relationship.

CHARLES: If something is consistently wrong, it's just as useful as if something is consistently right. You just reverse the predictions.

BARRY: It's consistency that's the problem.

ROBERT: There are two opposing points here, both rather fun. On the one hand, it's conceivable that positive and negative correlations exist often in parapsychology, each representing massively significant psi; but since the positives and negatives are so entangled and can't be teased apart, they're constantly canceling each other out, so that the combined effect always appears minuscule. On the other hand, this argument does seem the perfect rationalization for little or nothing going on.

ROBERT: Jim, why are mainstream scientists reluctant to get involved, either as skeptics or participants, in this whole field?

JIM: It's about as risky as you can get.

MARILYN: So little money is allocated to parapsychology compared to any mainstream science.

ROBERT: Since the implications of parapsychology are so potentially momentous, why is a little risk such a deterrent to adventuresome scientists?

JIM: Let's look at this from the point of view of the scientist. The one bit of capital you have as a scientist is your research time, which is always limited. In building your career, you have to decide where you're going to spend your time and what the chances are of a payoff. When I look at parapsychology, I see a long history with no payoff. I don't see any payoff upcoming. Speaking personally, I wouldn't do it. I have great admiration for people like Barry [Beyerstein] who get involved in the skeptical analyses, but frankly there's very little reward for such work in the scientific community. You don't get career-making points for skepticism.

ROBERT: Do you think that's good?

JIM: No, I don't think it's good, but it's a fact, OK? An individual scientist is much better off putting effort into normal research in a mainstream discipline than going off into a field like parapsychology, or even getting involved in opposing it, as a skeptic. There's just no payoff.

ROBERT: Charles, have you had a payoff?

CHARLES: Speaking as a parapsychologist, it's even more complicated than that. Not only don't you get any points for doing parapsychological research, you'll probably lose your university job if you do! This is especially true if you get positive results. This is historical fact; it's happened in many cases.

ROBERT: That sounds contrary to the ideals of scientific inquiry.

CHARLES: The academic world is not as open-minded as it's supposed to be, sad to say. But there's a deeper level that, as a psychologist, interests me greatly. It's only been a few hundred years since we burned people at the stake who we thought had strong psychic powers. Some of my own research shows that many people, under their conscious exteriors, harbor diffuse fears and emotional ambivalence about psychic results. Parapsychology is not a neutral topic--it affects people quite deeply.

ROBERT: Nobody will be burned at the stake today. We're going to take predictions. One hundred years from now, will parapsychology be recognized as a mainstream science?

DEAN: I think the answer is yes, but it won't be called parapsychology anymore. It'll be absorbed into mainstream science.

MARILYN: I would agree with Dean [Radin], and I think parapsychology is going to be applied to things like health care.

BARRY: I would actually like to agree, too, but I don't hold much hope that it will actually happen. If the data are there, then it's no longer "para" anything, it's part of physics or part of physiology, or both. If data come in a way that skeptics can accept, then parapsychology can fold its tent and become part of mainstream science.

ROBERT: But that's not going to happen?

BARRY: No, I'm not expecting that to happen.

JIM: I think we'll go along in the next century pretty much as we've gone along in the last century. There will be people who keep trying to establish parapsychology as a legitimate field of science, and it just won't happen.

CHARLES: I'm between the optimists and the pessimists. I think we'll have reasonable practical applications in which psychic abilities can help. Even more important, we'll be looking at the implications of psychic phenomena for our transpersonal or spiritual nature. That's what will be really important.


ABOUT one fact there is no dispute. Paranormal phenomena have persisted in virtually every culture, and the varieties of such puzzling events are endless. How to explain it all? I think there are three possibilities. One, the paranormal does not exist and all the perplexing reports can be dismissed as illusion, delusion, misguided hope, mistaken belief, laboratory error, or furtive fraud. Two, the paranormal does exist and science will ultimately solve all these puzzles, perhaps using the counterintuitive concepts of quantum theory or something similar. Three, the paranormal does exist, but science in its present form can never get at it. We will have to wait, until one of these alternatives brings us closer to truth.

Editor's Comments:

Marilyn Schlitz notes that

"One parapsychologist did a study correlating the numbers of people who rode on trains on days when there were train wrecks with the numbers of people riding trains on average, safe days. Over the course of time, it looked as though there were significantly fewer passengers riding on the days of train wrecks. He also did some interesting work with business executives, assessing the incidence of psychic phenomena among people who were at top levels. The results indicated that high-level executives scored better than the average population on ESP, which suggests that these very successful people may be using certain kinds of psychic abilities in everyday life, in ordinary practice. Maybe they aren't labeling it psychic; certainly they don't considering it weird. But these successful executives may be, in fact, harnessing and employing psychic ability every day of their lives.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn notes that

"If a person is psychic but feels funny about admitting it, he may say he has a hunch or is just intuitive. That's our social protection."

Charles Tart notes that

"It's only been a few hundred years since we burned people at the stake who we thought had strong psychic powers. Some of my own research shows that many people, under their conscious exteriors, harbor diffuse fears and emotional ambivalence about psychic results. Parapsychology is not a neutral topic--it affects people quite deeply."

Beneath our veneer of rationality, atavistic fears lurk, unacknowledged. In fact whatever PSI abilities modern humans have inherited from our ancestors and have retained into the modern era, are entirely natural and "normal." As Marilyn Schlitz notes, these abilities may even have enormous, unrecognized survival value. It is only our prejudicial "rationalist" mindset that has cast them in an undeservedly negative light.

-- Bevin Chu

Explanation: What is Parapsychology?
Illustration(s): Barry Beyerstein, Dean Radin, Marilyn Schlitz, Charles Tart, James Trefil, Robert Lawrence Kuhn
Author(s): Dr. Robert Lawrence Kuhn
Affiliation: CLOSER TO TRUTH (CTT)
Publication Date: N/A
Original Language: English
Editor: Bevin Chu, Registered Architect

Thursday, August 28, 2003

Can Science Seek the Soul? (科學能搜尋到靈魂嗎?)

Can Science Seek the Soul? (科學能搜尋到靈魂嗎?)
[創意組織 ]

Can Science Seek the Soul?

DO you have a soul? Are you a soul? What is a soul? Why do so many people in so many cultures believe in an immortal soul, while so many scientists do not? In lives often capricious and filled with despair, belief in an immortal soul offers hope for the forlorn and comfort for the bereaved. This spiritual essence, which is somehow associated with each human being, is said to transcend death, offering a promise of better tomorrows than todays. But given the remarkable advances in neuroscience--the physics, chemistry, and biology of understanding how the brain senses, thinks, feels, and behaves--most scientist are materialists, who believe that only the physical is real. Materialists reject dualism, denying that any independent, nonphysical component--call it a soul--is part of our makeup. Can science seek the soul? History records ancient and protracted conflict between science and religion, and the battles still rage. To hear from all sides, we invited five soul-savvy experts.


Dr. Warren Brown is a professor of psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, where he is director of research at the Psychophysical Laboratory. A committed Christian, Warren surprises us by denying the necessity of a traditional Christian soul.

Dr. Dean Radin, an experimental psychologist, is the former director of the Consciousness Research Laboratory at the University of Nevada. Though Dean believes that scientific research validates extrasensory perception and other psychic phenomena, he, too, doubts that good evidence supports the existence of a soul.

Dr. John Searle, the Mills Professor of philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley and the author of numerous books about the mind, takes a rigorous approach to consciousness and a dim view of a disembodied soul.

Dr. Charles Tart, a professor of psychology emeritus at the University of California, Davis, is now at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, in Palo Alto. Charles believes that we need both science and spirituality to make us human.

Fred Alan Wolf, a theoretical physicist, is an international lecturer and author of many books on physics and the mind. Fred envisions spiritual underpinnings to all existence.

ROBERT: Charles, your recent book, Body, Mind, Spirit, propounds the importance of spirituality. What's the relationship between the existence of the soul, if such a noncorporeal entity exists, and spirituality?

CHARLES: Spirituality is predicated on the idea that human life is more than just a short-term show here and now, with nothing ever to happen after we die--that there are long-term consequences. This idea can have enormous impact on how people live their lives. Personally, I don't think the deciding factor should be belief--that we should just either believe in souls or spirituality or not believe in them. I think we should look at the evidence that there is something that transcends death, that transcends the physical body. And I find there's some evidence for just such an assertion, which makes spirituality much more interesting to me than if it were just a belief.

ROBERT: And if solid evidence could demonstrate life beyond death, and/or mind beyond the body, how would that affect our lives?

CHARLES: It would affect our lives a great deal. Suppose you know you're going to die in a short while. What are you going to do with your last hours?

ROBERT: I'm going to do more shows like this. Do you think that's a good investment for the really long term?

CHARLES: I think it is.

ROBERT: Fred, your book The Spiritual Universe claims to use scientific methods to prove that the soul exists. How can you use physical methods to prove the existence of something that's not physical?

FRED: First of all, we have to define what we mean by a soul. If we can get a definition that lends itself to some scientific test of probability, then we could prove its existence. I think we already have enough groundwork to start the search: there's enough in the way the physical universe is constructed to indicate the presence of something called soul. Where I begin looking for this soul is in the nature of quantum mechanics, or quantum physics, which says that there may be spiritual underpinnings to the physical world.

ROBERT: Warren, you're a neuroscientist and a psychologist--and also a committed Christian. You've coedited a book called Whatever Happened to the Soul? So tell us, what happened?

WARREN: The position we take in the book is that the idea of the soul as a separate metaphysical entity isn't necessary to explain humankind. That doesn't mean that God doesn't exist or that there's no spiritual world. But it does mean that you don't have to add a nonphysical element to our physical nature in order to explain what it means to be human.

ROBERT: Denying the existence of an immortal soul doesn't sound like Christian orthodoxy, even to my unordained theological ears.

WARREN: Right. Most Christians would probably find the negation of immortal souls a tough road to travel, but this is what I would call nonessential theology. That belief is not a critical point for most Christian theology.

ROBERT: John, you've been a leader in the rediscovery of the mind, the title of one of your many books. But rediscovering the mind does not mean defending the existence of the soul?

JOHN: It depends on what you mean by the soul. There are different definitions of "soul," and so because of this confusion I don't find the notion of soul much use. There is Aristotle's notion of soul, which is a kind of principle of organization of the body. And I have no objection to that. And if by "soul" you just mean "mind," I'm all for it. But there's another definition of soul--which we get from Descartes, and dualists, and so on--which says that there's this thing attached to your body, and when your brain and body are destroyed this thing is going to cut loose and have a life of its own. Now, that's very comforting to believe, but I've never seen any evidence for it. All the experiences I've ever had were caused by processes in my brain. And it's kind of depressing, but it turns out, as far as I can tell, that when my brain goes, those experiences go. I'm not going to have any soul after the destruction of my brain, any more than I'm going to have any digestion after the destruction of my stomach.

ROBERT: Dean, your book The Conscious Universe claims to apply scientific methods to the investigation of the paranormal, or psi phenomena. Can the same kinds of methodologies be used to assess the soul?

DEAN: Yes, these same kinds of methodologies can be, and actually have been, applied to search for after-death phenomena. Now you might think that as a parapsychologist I would be highly sympathetic to the idea of the existence of a soul, but in fact I'm fairly doubtful that, so far, we have any good evidence for something like a soul--something that actually survives bodily death.

ROBERT: In the early days of parapsychology, research focused on after-death survival and out-of-body and near-death experiences. There were many investigations of mediums and seances, where supposed spirits of the dead would come back to communicate with the living. Such survival research is no longer the focus of parapsychology. Why?

DEAN: It's true that parapsychology began pretty much as a study of mediumistic phenomena. But within a matter of a decade or less, it had transitioned into laboratory studies of phenomena like telepathic communication between a medium and what was thought to be the departed loved one. The reason for the transition was that if telepathy proved to be a real phenomenon, it would cast enormous doubt on just what or whom a medium was actually communicating with.

ROBERT: It isn't easy--even if you believe in psi--to distinguish between a medium reading the minds of the living relatives or truly communicating with the dead. So has survival research, at least in this technical sense, become less important to this question?

DEAN: No, I think it's still very important. It just turns out to be extremely difficult to find a valid empirical way of testing for survival that excludes the possibility of telepathy.

ROBERT: Do you agree with that, Charles?

CHARLES: I want to qualify that a little bit. When you look at the old mediumistic research, of course you find a lot of nonsense there. But occasionally an ostensible communicator says very specific things about his or her past life--things that could not possibly have been known to the medium. So you've got to postulate either that there's a surviving soul of some sort that can communicate, or that the medium has great psychic abilities to pull this information out.

ROBERT: There is a lot going on here. First, you are assuming that such "very specific things" could truly not have been known by normal means, even through subconscious communication--which must be shown to be statistically significant amidst the innumerable clutter of ordinary specific things that would not be so surprising. Next, if you could jump this first hurdle, I would agree that you still have the serious logical problem of not being able to eliminate the possibility that the medium was apprehending the surprising information through strong psychic ability and not through communication with a surviving after-death spirit or soul. Such psychic knowing would include not only telepathy, where the medium would read the minds of living people, but also clairvoyance, where the medium would somehow sense the surprising information directly without any person needing to know it, and irrespective of whether it was past or present.

CHARLES: This dual track for knowing makes the question of proving survival per se very difficult. On the other hand, if some people have minds that can access any information in the cosmos, without any known bodily limits, that's the sort of mind we think might survive death, isn't it? So, survival research is not a dead issue, if I may use that word--it's just a complicated issue.

ROBERT: Warren, how have you approached the soul from a scientific point of view? You run a neurophysiological lab, and you're interested in brain damage; you confront fundamental interactions of brain and mind when working with your patients. In addition, and equally important to our discourse here, you have a strong commitment to evangelical Christianity--the received Christian tradition, the Old and New Testaments. How do these different lines of knowledge and/or belief all come together in a scientific search for the soul?

WARREN: One thing you know from neurophysiology is that brain damage or brain malfunction causes changes in states of consciousness, awareness, and even, in a number of situations, in people's understanding of their own spirituality. An easy example is temporal lobe epilepsy, where a person can, in some circumstances, have an experience that seems quite religious. But we know that these experiences are in fact embodied in their physical brains, and there's no need to postulate a soul to explain the phenomenon.

ROBERT: How do you reconcile your views on a nonessential or nonexistent soul with your Christian belief?

WARREN: For this view of a nonexistent soul to stand within Christian theology, you do have to agree, or to postulate, that God exists, that God is spiritual, that our spirituality represents our ability to be in a spiritual relationship to God. But it's not necessary to postulate that we possess a spirit, another entity that influences or determines our behavior and our experiences.

ROBERT: Charles, one of your more well-known books is Altered States of Consciousness. In temporal lobe epilepsy, Warren is talking about a particular kind of altered state, which has at times been shown to cause religious experiences.

WARREN: Associated with religious experiences, not shown to cause them.

ROBERT: I accept the careful distinction. So, Charles, bring us up to date on your use of altered states to demonstrate the existence of worlds beyond the physical, especially in this context of brain research providing us with incontrovertible evidence that there are physical causes for seemingly spiritual experiences.

CHARLES: We're mixing up several things here. My interest in altered states is to make clear that the mind can work in very different patterns. And these very different patterns--whether meditative states, drug-induced states, hypnosis, dreams, and the like--are good for some things and bad for other things. Collectively, they give us different views of the world. But in terms of proving that there's something beyond the physical, or even that these altered states are more than merely subjective phenomena or brain-based phenomena, altered states provide no such proof per se. Altered states give you a great experience, and they may give you a conviction, but that's not the same as proving that the mind is something more than the body.

ROBERT: Can you take the next step and seek proof of a new reality beyond the physical?

CHARLES: This is where you get into parapsychological research, where you set up experiments. In the materialist worldview, it's assumed that the physical senses give us all there is to know about the nature of the world, and that it's impossible for people to communicate without the senses. So you do the careful experiments to see whether you can get some nonsensory communications between people. Or whether people can learn about or affect things at a distance. Do you get a statistically significant effect in your experiments? This is your basic parapsychological approach. And we do get extraordinary data frequently enough that, as a scientist, I have no doubt that sometimes a human mind can do things that we can't attribute to anything we know about neurophysiology or conventional physics. This basic scientific finding says to me that I should consider ideas about spirituality more seriously, because there's actual evidence for it. This isn't a philosophical position, it's experimental science; the mind can do things that the brain can't do.

ROBERT: You like to think of yourself both as a tough-minded scientist and as someone seriously interested in the spiritual. How do you reconcile the two worldviews?

CHARLES: I'm a human being and I have many facets, and if I identify exclusively with any one of them I'm leaving out part of my humanity. But I don't want to be fooled, OK? I don't want to believe things just because they make me feel good. I want the best science possible to check on the possibility of certain beliefs. On the other hand, I don't want to fall into scientism--into taking the latest physical theories as if they were revealed truth and believing that since we know so much about everything, we don't have to pay attention to any contradictory evidence. I believe that we do have evidence that mind can transcend what we know about the physical body and brain. To me, that's a vital underpinning for spirituality.

JOHN: Well, some people think we have such evidence. I have serious doubts that we have any solid evidence showing that the mind can transcend the brain. What we do have, and I hope Charles would agree with this, is a long history--particularly in our civilization, but in other civilizations as well--of all kinds of strange experiences that people have. There's no question that people have mystical experiences. They have all kinds of altered states of consciousness. But so far, nothing follows. And I think Charles would agree with that. Just from having these kooky experiences, nothing whatever follows.

ROBERT: "Kooky" is a pejorative term.

JOHN: OK, sorry--these unusual experiences. Actually, I don't mind calling these experiences kooky. To me, it's not pejorative. I love kooky experiences. But some people might think it's pejorative. The interesting question is, Do we have solid evidence that some guy can sit on this side of the room and bend spoons on the other side? I would want a stricter scientific methodology employed in these cases, because the kind of cases I know where people purport to bend spoons are very unconvincing.

FRED: We're looking in the wrong direction. The assumption everybody here is making is that only the physical is real. It's now clear that what's physical can't even be contained in the physical. For example, a magnetic field exists in space and time, and there's no physicality to a magnetic field. It's not mass and it's not energy, in that sense, yet we describe it and construct metaphors for it--it's wavy, it has lines of force, and so on--because description and metaphor is what we do. So we have a metaphor for the body--that it's a massive thing--and everything else has to be contained within it. But there's clear evidence of a subjective nature, of a spiritual essence, which indicates that people have memories of things that they could not possibly remember from their life experiences. Spoon bending may or may not be phony; I don't know about that. But there's evidence for spiritual connections that transcend the individual "I".

ROBERT: Fred, you've sought the nature of soul by searching some of the Eastern traditions and religions. Why should we, as we begin the twenty-first century, look to ancient traditions to give us knowledge about what we are?

FRED: Because of what Lenin said about the Russian Revolution: "One step forward, two steps back." You need to look back in time in order to see where we've been going. It turns out that there are ancient spiritual traditions--for example, Cabala [the esoteric interpretation of the Hebrew scriptures by rabbinical mystics], or the beliefs of the ancient people of Chaldea, around the Tigris and Euphrates--that depict the nature of spirit and soul and consciousness in a way reminiscent of how quantum physics would speak of the vacuum of space. The vacuum of space as the home of the soul or the spirit. Are vibrations in the apparent nothingness of space the consciousness effervescence of which we all partake? And the memories that we all have? We think, Oh, that's only my memory. But your brain is a million years old; it has its own memories.

ROBERT: Warren, you seem a little amused by all this. How would you evaluate Fred's view of collective memories?

WARREN: Well, it's on a level that, within my area of science, is just very difficult to deal with. One can postulate ancient nonphysical entities as being a part of who I am now, in that sense. I certainly would suggest that God exists, and that there is a spiritual universe. And what we have in ancient religious traditions are some changing attempts to represent that spiritual universe. But whether those ancient traditions have anything directly to do with my self and my consciousness--that's a big leap for me.

ROBERT: Charles [Tart] and Fred [Wolf], in your writings both of you seem to dethrone, or delegitimize, science-centered materialism, based on the following argument: Science has lost its right to explain the world with any overarching authority, since science has caused more bad things than good things throughout history. The argument continues that we need to look to other systems of knowing rather than traditional science to help us comprehend reality. But doesn't your argument confuse morality with reality? My opinion--which I do give from time to time--is that it doesn't matter what science produces. Results are irrelevant; truth is amoral.

CHARLES: You're putting me in a box where I'm not going to let you put me, Robert. I have nothing against science, and I don't attribute the bad things in the world to science--I never have. What people do with the truths discovered by science is a matter of morality and intelligence. That's a different issue. What I object to is scientism.

ROBERT: Scientism being a belief system in which science and the scientific method are virtually omniscient, able to discern all truth.

CHARLES: What I object to is science always being an open-ended process--always saying, "Let's keep looking at the data," "Here's what we make of it," "This is our best guess at the time." What I object to is when these "best guesses" turn into a religion. Consider a situation where someone has a spiritual experience--and I've counseled many such people--and he or she mentions the experience in front of someone who's "scientific," and the listener says, "That's impossible! You must be crazy!" That attitude I don't like. That dismissal of people's actual experiences is not good science. It's arrogance in the guise of science. That's scientism.

FRED: My major concern, coming out of the ranks of science, has been my own arrogance. How arrogant I was, to put down other people's ideas that didn't agree with my scientific view. When I went around the world and spent time with indigenous peoples and tribes, I realized that my arrogance just didn't fit in. Like the man in the story by H. G. Wells, I thought that in the country of the scientifically blind, the one-eyed man would be king. In fact, I was the one who was blind. I was intellectually incapacitated. As long as I held on to my scientific view, I couldn't see. I thought I saw everything; I didn't see anything. So I had to give up much of what I previously held as real, in order to see what these people saw. And when I was finally able to attain this new vision, it totally changed my view of science. And I began seeing science as a tool--not the be-all and end-all of the universe, but a tool to help us begin to dig deeper into the nature of what it means to be a human being. I don't think we've arrived at that point yet. I don't think we're quite awake yet. I think we're all still asleep--dreaming, hoping, wishing--mechanically relying on our intellect to lead us out of the morass in which we constantly find ourselves. When we can use our heart and our spirit as well as our brain, that's when science will begin to adapt to a new world order.

ROBERT: Charles, how does spirituality affect people's lives? You deal with "transpersonal psychology." What does that mean?

CHARLES: Human beings have a need for meaning. They have a need for feeling that they're part of something larger than themselves. Biological gratification is not enough. Some of the kinds of meanings humanity has created have been unreasonable. We need something deeper. Our traditional religions used to provide meaning for people, telling them, "You don't just exist alone; you're part of a big picture of the world--and there are things you should do and things you shouldn't do." These traditional religions aren't working for a lot of people anymore, because they're based too much on beliefs, many of which don't fit in with what we know scientifically about the world. We need a practical spirituality that is consistent with our scientific knowledge.

ROBERT: What does "practical spirituality" mean?

CHARLES: Practical spirituality isn't just a set of ideas but also involves the heart; however, the heart must be an educated heart. For example, one of the practical spiritual ideas that has revolutionized my personal life is the understanding that emotions can be trained to be intelligent, to tell us something about the world. Emotions need to be balanced with intelligence, intuition, and the like. I agree with Fred [Wolf] here.

JOHN: I don't see this opposition that you make between biology and nature on the one hand and spirituality on the other, because this human need for meaning and transcendence is as much biologically based as any other human need. That is, it's part of our genetic structure, and part of our culture. Sure, we would like to find things that transcend the stupidity and mediocrity of most everyday existence. But I don't see a conflict between these natural longings and the rest of nature. Transcendent needs are part of nature.

FRED: The problem with that view [i.e., the desire for transcendence is entirely generated by personal biology] is that it leads to separation, to isolation, to aloneness, to feelings of not being part of something--whereas our natural inclination is to be part of a community.

JOHN: These are old categories, like science versus non-science, mind versus body. These categories are obsolete.

FRED: I agree.

JOHN: It's just knowledge. Let's find out how the world works. Sometimes, when society is satisfied enough about how some part of the world works so that you can get a grant for doing research on it, then people are willing to call it science. I don't care if they call what I do "science." It doesn't matter. As long as we get at the truth, who cares if it's science? And if we have all kinds of strange phenomena, they're worthy of study.

ROBERT: Don't you find it fascinating that biological systems, in your terms, have a need for meaning? Did that evolve?

JOHN: Absolutely fascinating. And of course it evolved. There isn't any doubt about it. There isn't any doubt that human beings, with our pathetic forty-six chromosomes and a hundred billion neurons, have evolved this tremendous intellectual capacity for transcending the stupidity and mediocrity of most of the things that fill our ordinary lives. That's what makes life interesting.

DEAN: Right. And so the key question is, "What is the nature of the scientific evidence that supports spirituality?". And by spirituality, I assume we mean something like transcending the ordinary boundaries of space and time.

ROBERT: What evidence of such spirituality can meet the traditional standards of science?

DEAN: I was struck by John's remark earlier, about spoon bending. Of course the scientific evidence for spoon bending is very, very poor. In popular culture, spoon bending is all that most people know about psychic research. But in fact there's a huge body of additional research, much of it published in mainstream journals, which says that there are anomalies out there, affirmed by strong scientific evidence, that support ideas of spirituality.

JOHN: I welcome all the facts we can lay our hands on. I certainly don't want to suggest that we shouldn't accumulate all these data, but there's a mistake that I think we want to avoid. We shouldn't assume that these data of anomalous phenomena are either fraudulent or else conclusive proof of the supernatural. There are all kinds of other possibilities. We have the "Clever Hans" history in the nineteenth century, Hans being a horse that appeared to do arithmetic, but it turned out that he was getting unconscious cues from the trainer. That was neither fraudulent nor did it demonstrate some supernatural power on the part of the horse. I take any anomalous data as just more evidence--more stuff with which we can work. If I don't take it as evidence of a supernatural realm, neither do I take it as necessarily fraudulent.

WARREN: There's a larger problem here--the nature of God's action in the universe. But I don't think it's necessary to require the action of a soul within the psychological or mental mechanisms of a human being. We can understand all that human beings think and do as an embodied physical process, the complex workings of the brain, an emergent function of the kinds of things that the brain does.

ROBERT: Are there ethical implications of despiritualizing the soul?

WARREN: My coeditors and I had to address this issue in our book, Whatever Happened to the Soul? If you make human consciousness and free will a cognitive process, you have the problem of dealing with the cognitively impaired. So we ask about the essence of soul within the Christian religion, and we say that what "soul" is meant to convey is the nature and experiences of "personal relatedness."

ROBERT: Are you saying, in your rather unconventional Christian view, that "soul" is more an adjective than a noun--a modifier of other things rather than a thing in itself?

WARREN: Yes. "Soul" is really an adjectival term; it connotes "soulish" or "soulishness."

ROBERT: Define "soulishness," with a practical example.

WARREN: Soulishness is personal relatedness. An application is when an individual who has diminished cognitive capacity is supported in a human community; here the soulishness or personal relatedness support is asymmetrical. The community can support an individual with diminished capacity, even though the handicapped person cannot reciprocate.

ROBERT: Are there ethical or spiritual implications of this asymmetric relationship?

WARREN: The ethical implication is that the community has a responsibility to maintain soulishness, a relatedness to the individual who has less capacity for reciprocating. The spiritual implications--and the ultimate example--is the concept of grace. Grace is God's relationship with us at a level at which we are not capable of symmetrically relating back. We stand in an asymmetrical relationship with God.

ROBERT: Charles, how does Warren's description of soulishness articulate with your own view of spirituality?

CHARLES: It's too abstract. I want to bring this discussion back to a more concrete level. If you're a Christian, prayer is a central aspect of your spirituality. Now, from a conventional scientific point of view, if the mind is nothing but electrochemical processes in the brain, when you pray you're talking to yourself, and that's the end of it. Maybe it makes you feel better, but then neuroscience will develop a drug that will make you feel better [quicker], too.

WARREN: This is why I say that the real problem goes back to the nature of God's action in the universe.

ROBERT: Fred, how have people reacted to your book on the spiritual universe?

FRED: I've received very good responses--particularly from scientifically inclined people who feel that they've lost a sense of the spiritual. They want spirituality in their lives, but they feel that science has pulled the rug out from under their feet. They're looking to books like mine to help reconcile their spiritual longings with their scientific understanding.

ROBERT: Charles, you have a Web site where scientists can explore their own spirituality.

CHARLES: That's right. TASTE [an acronym for The Archives of Scientists' Transcendent Experiences] is an online journal devoted to transcendent experiences that scientists have reported. On the Web site [], scientists can anonymously post their own spiritual experiences in a psychologically and professionally safe space, without fear that they'll be laughed at. Scientists have spiritual experiences, too--and, following on Fred's point, they should know that there can be a reality to such experiences. Over the years many scientists, once they've realized I'm a safe person to talk to, have told me about unusual experiences they've had--but who later said, "Strange, it was incredible, it changed my life--except I thought, This must be crazy, it just can't be so." Too often I was the first and only person they ever told about their experiences, for fear of ridicule from their colleagues and adverse effects on their career. Such fears have, unfortunately, too much of a basis in fact--it's the social conditioning of our times. I want to change that.

ROBERT: You've said that scientists today occupy a social role like that of "high priests," proclaiming what is and isn't "real," and consequently what is and isn't valuable and sane.

CHARLES: Unfortunately, the dominant materialistic and reductionistic climate of contemporary science (what sociologists long ago named scientism, an attitude different from the essential process of science), rejects and suppresses a priori both having and sharing transcendent, transpersonal and altered states (or "spiritual" and "psychic," to use common words, in spite of their too vague connotations) experiences. From my perspective as a psychologist, this rejection and suppression distorts and harms scientists' and laypersons' transcendent (and other) potentials, and also inhibits the development of a genuine scientific understanding of the full spectrum of consciousness.

ROBERT: John, how do you react to reports of transcendent experiences?

JOHN: As I was suggesting earlier, there's no question that people have all sorts of interesting, fascinating, strange experiences, and this ought to be a matter of great interest to us. But just from the existence of the experience by itself, nothing follows. It doesn't follow that these people are in communication with the navel of the universe, or that there's a separate realm that's not part of the world we live in.

ROBERT: But to comprehend fully the human condition, we have to explore these transcendent experiences.

JOHN: Absolutely. It's absolutely crucial to take all the data. And part of the data that we have about human life is that people have all sorts of experiences that transcend ordinary everyday mediocrity. This isn't something to be lamented or sneered at. It's something to be cherished and investigated.

WARREN: I'm not sure that "nothing follows" from a spiritual experience. From most of these experiences--particularly the ones related in culture and literature--a great deal follows. Changes can occur, such as in people's beliefs and belief systems, how they conduct their lives, and how they relate to other people. I totally agree that from a scientific perspective of assessing reality, nothing follows--but from a personal perspective, a great deal follows.

JOHN: Nothing follows that could help us understand existence or reality.

WARREN: Exactly. But much follows in terms of personal perspective.

JOHN: I agree with that. When I say "nothing follows," this means that if I have a mystical experience in which I sense the existence of God, for example, it does not follow that God exists in reality. My experience is just an experience.

WARREN: From a scientific point of view, I agree.

JOHN: From any point of view. I may have had the experience, and it may have been an interesting experience, but nothing follows about reality.

ROBERT: Warren, help us understand how your concept of soulishness works in real people.

WARREN: Soulishness, as I've said, is personal relatedness--deep and rich levels of personal relatedness. The interaction between a therapist and a client, for example, is really dealing with the soulishness of that client, with the interpersonal experience of relatedness. Soulishness is not something "out there"--it's relatedness to other people, relatedness to the world.

ROBERT: Charles, does Warren's [Brown] soulishness equate to your transpersonal psychology?

CHARLES: No. It's good what he has there, but transpersonal psychology is about those experiences that seem to go beyond our biological limits. And to me the question is, "Is this possible?".

ROBERT: The question is fundamental: Can the reach of the mind exceed the boundaries of the brain? Or are these mystical experiences simply triggered by random or chaotic biological processes in the brain?

CHARLES: I can program my computer to suddenly print out, "I have contacted the great Central Processing Unit in the sky, and now I know all knowledge." And we would quite rightly regard that statement as nonsense. It's just an arbitrary arrangement of electrons within the computer. If a person comes to me and says, "I've had a mystical experience. I've been in touch with a higher being, and have received certain truths--"

ROBERT: You'd get a doctor to prescribe a tranquilizer?

CHARLES: Well, if I were the doctor, would I prescribe a tranquilizer, or would I ask if there were a possibility that the mystical experience might be worth looking into? I think we have enough laboratory evidence so that I wouldn't just dismiss these experiences as brain simulations of unrealities. There could be a nonphysical being; there could be communication through some extrasensory mechanism like telepathy, or something like that.

JOHN: I would reject the idea that if you have these intense experiences, either you're in touch with the universe or you need a tranquilizer. There are all kinds of other possibilities as well.

ROBERT: I'm just worried about not giving the person that tranquilizer. Who knows what could happen?

CHARLES: Well, having such an experience could be dangerous, but remember, our baseline is that life is dangerous to begin with. We're not always safe. But if people have such mystical experiences, and I tell them that there might be some reality there, how those people handle the experiences is a totally separate question. Is the person going to deal with a transcendent happening in a sane, mature way, or is he or she going to get inflated by the experience and go crazy with it?

JOHN: The way we think of therapeutic problems is already corrupted by our philosophical, religious, and scientific tradition. For example, we think that there's a mind and a body and therefore there are diseases of the mind and diseases of the body--and that's already a massive confusion. And it does an enormous amount of harm. For example, consider the placebo effect. You give a patient a sugar tablet, and if the patient gets better then the assumption is that there was nothing wrong in the first place. It doesn't follow. You can have some very serious illnesses that are helped by placebo effects, and the assumption that therefore "there was nothing wrong with you" is based on the mind-body dualism that we should be militant against.

WARREN: I agree with that. I think the placebo effect is the best illustration of "something follows" in terms of what may result from my beliefs--where there's a real physical outcome as expressed by my bodily immune system. So even if "nothing follows" in terms of making a metaphysical statement about God, these mystical experiences can clearly cause something that follows them.

ROBERT: But those are two different categories in which something may or may not follow from mystical experiences. The first category deals with the external world, the essence of the universe, the nature of reality--here's where John [Searle] says "nothing follows." The second category is the psychophysical aspects of the mind-body and how the mind affects the body--here's where Warren says that "something follows." It's important to keep the two categories separate.

WARREN: Correct. My comments focused on the category of psychophysical interactions, where something does follow from mystical experiences. What doesn't follow are any necessary statements about the existence of God or a spirit realm.

FRED: As human beings, we seek meaning in life, and if that meaning is eroded or destroyed by any system--whether scientism, religion, or philosophy--we're in danger. We need to be open to possibilities.

DEAN: There's a third category with which we can assess whether something or nothing follows from mystical experiences. We've been talking about the metaphysical and the psychophysical aspects of strange experiences. There's also the category of just pure physics; because if somebody said that he had an amazing experience where he somehow understood things apprehended from far away without any sensory communications, I would wonder whether there was something funny about physics. I would not wonder so much about metaphysics or psychology. I would focus on what we can study in a physics laboratory--and then suddenly these strange experiences can have consequences that do follow.

FRED: There's always something funny about physics, because physics is not the end of our understanding--it's really just a beginning.

ROBERT: In summary, let's project forward a hundred years. What more has happened to the soul?

CHARLES: We'll have evidence that one mind can communicate with another, with no known channel to account for it--and this will be recognized as a mechanism for prayer.

JOHN: A hundred years from now, we'll know enough about the brain so that the anomalous stuff we're stuck with today will no longer seem so mysterious to us.

DEAN: Actually, I completely agree with John [Searle], but I also believe that our advanced knowledge will redefine what we think of the soul.

WARREN: I agree, but there will still be some mystery in the universe. We won't be able to scientifically approach the idea of God's action in the universe.

ROBERT: Are there any more mysteries that will remain?

FRED: All of the above. There will still be mystery, as we begin to realize that there's something about us that's not just brain, not just mind--and not just self, yourself, himself, herself, ourselves, but that there's a unity to us all, of which each of us is a reflection. That unity will become very real for us.


THE question of nonphysical souls, immortal or any other kind, may be more complex than commonly assumed. Scientists and theologians, it seems, are found on both sides of the Great Divide. I limit myself to a single question: Can science seek the soul? Is it within the realm of the scientific method to even address this question? My answer is yes, and no. Yes, in that the accumulating discoveries of brain function eliminate artificial mysteries, previously the province of the soul. No, in that there may remain certain kinds of knowledge that the scientific method cannot assess. Some say that we should combine science and theology harmoniously--but sometimes dichotomy, not harmony, brings us closer to truth.

Editor's Comments:

Among the Closer to Truth round table discussions I have had the opportunity to read so far, this particular one has impressed me the most deeply. I was impressed in particular with the following observations by two eloquent debunkers of reductive materialism, Charles Tart and Fred Wolf.

CHARLES: ... What I object to is scientism.

ROBERT: Scientism being a belief system in which science and the scientific method are virtually omniscient, able to discern all truth.

CHARLES: What I object to is science always being an open-ended process--always saying, "Let's keep looking at the data," "Here's what we make of it," "This is our best guess at the time." What I object to is when these "best guesses" turn into a religion. Consider a situation where someone has a spiritual experience--and I've counseled many such people--and he or she mentions the experience in front of someone who's "scientific," and the listener says, "That's impossible! You must be crazy!" That attitude I don't like. That dismissal of people's actual experiences is not good science. It's arrogance in the guise of science. That's scientism.

FRED: My major concern, coming out of the ranks of science, has been my own arrogance. How arrogant I was, to put down other people's ideas that didn't agree with my scientific view. When I went around the world and spent time with indigenous peoples and tribes, I realized that my arrogance just didn't fit in. Like the man in the story by H. G. Wells, I thought that in the country of the scientifically blind, the one-eyed man would be king. In fact, I was the one who was blind. I was intellectually incapacitated. As long as I held on to my scientific view, I couldn't see. I thought I saw everything; I didn't see anything. So I had to give up much of what I previously held as real, in order to see what these people saw. And when I was finally able to attain this new vision, it totally changed my view of science. And I began seeing science as a tool--not the be-all and end-all of the universe, but a tool to help us begin to dig deeper into the nature of what it means to be a human being. I don't think we've arrived at that point yet. I don't think we're quite awake yet. I think we're all still asleep--dreaming, hoping, wishing--mechanically relying on our intellect to lead us out of the morass in which we constantly find ourselves. When we can use our heart and our spirit as well as our brain, that's when science will begin to adapt to a new world order.

As a recovering rationalist and reductive materialist myself, I have little to add except "Amen!"

-- Bevin Chu

Explanation: Can Science Seek the Soul?
Illustration(s): Warren Brown, Dean Radin, John Searle, Charles Tart, Fred Alan Wolf, Robert Lawrence Kuhn
Author(s): Dr. Robert Lawrence Kuhn
Affiliation: CLOSER TO TRUTH (CTT)
Publication Date: N/A
Original Language: English
Editor: Bevin Chu, Registered Architect

Strange Physics of the Mind? (精神地奇妙物理現象?)

Strange Physics of the Mind? (精神地奇妙物理現象?)
[創意組織 ]

Strange Physics of the Mind?

WHY are some physicists suddenly so interested in the human mind? Is mind as real as matter? A few have even begun wondering whether mind may be the "real reality" and matter a deceptive illusion. What is it about mental activities that causes such smart people to offer such wild speculations? Part of the reason is the weird implications of two fundamental theories that have changed forever our sense of reality: quantum mechanics, which injects uncertainty into the subatomic scale, and relativity, which unifies space and time on the large-scale structure of the universe. But can theories of physics explain mechanisms of the mind? Can the behavior of atoms determine the behavior of people? Can the structure of the universe describe how we think, feel, and know? We assembled an impressive group of physics-friendly guests to guide us through some remarkable territory.


Dr. Gregory Benford is a professor of physics at the University of California at Irvine where he specializes in plasma and astrophysics. Greg is also a well-known writer of science fiction, in which he has used quantum mechanics to create a whole new universe.

Dr. David Chalmers is a professor of philosophy and co-director of the Center for Consciousness Studies at the University of Arizona. Dave believes that the mind cannot be explained by brain alone.

Dr. John Searle is a leading philosopher of mind at the University of California, Berkeley. John asserts that the mind comes only from processes in the brain and there is no special need to invoke quantum physics.

Dr. James Trefil is a professor of physics at George Mason University and a prolific science writer. Jim claims not to be bothered by the "quantum weirdness" of the subatomic world.

Dr. Fred Alan Wolf is a theoretical physicist and author of books on the relationship between quantum physics and consciousness. Fred says some extraordinary things about reality.

ROBERT: Fred, your books, such as Taking the Quantum Leap and Parallel Universes, have all discussed how quantum mechanics might radically reform our understanding of reality. Do you really believe that mind is more fundamental than matter, or are you just having fun with us?

FRED: Maybe a little bit of both. I'm interested in being a kind of gadfly to stir up materialists--those people who believe that only the physical is real--so that they begin to rethink this fundamental problem once again. But I do believe that mind plays a far more important role in the way the universe is constructed than has previously been thought in any mechanical model.

ROBERT: Jim, as a physicist, you've written many broad-based books on science, among them Science Matters: Achieving Scientific Literacy. Do you think that what Fred [Wolf] says is literate?

JIM: It's very articulate, of course; Fred is a very articulate guy. Many physicists get uncomfortable, though, when people take physical theories like quantum mechanics and then draw conclusions from them that aren't supported by the theory itself. And most physicists would say that the idea of observers affecting the universe and other such ideas having this wide a context aren't really supported by our views of quantum mechanics.

ROBERT: Greg, you're a practicing physicist and a science fiction writer, whose recent novel, Cosm, describes the accidental creation of another universe, where time is speeded up. How seriously should we take your fiction as a description of reality?

GREG: I would hope you'd take it somewhat seriously, because one writes novels in order to make points. But I always try--and I think every scientist always tries--to convey the attitude that science has toward what constitutes proof. We should be sensitive to the style with which we offer our conclusions, because there's a culture of science--

ROBERT: That process of building on past knowledge, rigorously assessing data, logically analyzing hypotheses, requiring repeatability and independent replication--

GREG: Yes. There's a culture of science and we should always keep it in mind.

ROBERT: John, as the renowned author of numerous books on the mind, such as your recent Mind, Language, and Society, are you pleased or dismayed to watch strange physics perhaps remystifying the mind?

JOHN: I don't think anybody has succeeded in remystifying the mind. Physicists are as capable of talking nonsense as anyone else. And more nonsense today is talked about quantum mechanics than almost any other subject, except maybe computers. But I'm not dismayed, no.

ROBERT: Dave, reviewers of your book The Conscious Mind claim that you see consciousness almost everywhere you look in the universe. Do you take that as a criticism or compliment?

DAVE: I don't know about panpsychism, but I think it's good to open up the idea--at least, after a few drinks late at night. The serious point here is that we don't understand the mind.

ROBERT: Panpsychism is the theory that consciousness or "psychic stuff" is to be found literally everywhere, including in the lowest forms of single-celled life and even in ordinary inanimate matter. Is this what you would advise us mortals to consider?

DAVE: I don't know whether the mind is everywhere. But here are two problems to consider. Problem one: we don't understand the mind; we don't understand the mind's place in physical reality. Problem two: we don't understand the intrinsic nature of physical reality. So there can seem to be an attractive notion--some of the time--that we might try to solve these two problems at once. Maybe there's mind right at the very basis of physical reality. I don't know whether that's the case.

ROBERT: Does this mean that you can envision mind as being more causative of physical reality than physical reality is causative of mind?

DAVE: Mind might well be more fundamental to the universe than is commonly believed. We already know from physics that the world is a weird place. We already know from philosophy that the mind is a weird place. Who knows about a world of mind?

ROBERT: Fred, you focus on dreams. Your book The Dreaming Universe takes a fresh look at envisioning reality. Though many people take dreams as an incidental part of life, not much related to anything, you imagine dreams to provide some rather original insights into the structure of reality. Tell us about your theory of dreams.

FRED: The basic idea is that in a dreaming brain there are superpositions--that is, overlapping aspects of our world picture coming together and forming new pictures or new visions. This reminds me of--or is a metaphor for--what happens in quantum physics when we look at overlapping possibilities forming new possibilities. Such superpositioning seems to be how the universe may be constructed, based on a quantum mechanics model. So it seems that dreaming could be a natural place to look at where the mind and quantum mechanics interact and affect the physical world--in terms of how we make pictures of that physical world. My model basically uses dreams as the prism to look at different kinds of pictures--what might be called archetypal pictures, which form at the deepest level of our subconsciousness, even before we become aware of them.

ROBERT: "Archetypal" meaning some fundamental, structural thought or image that pervades the mental activity of numerous people, perhaps all humanity; archetypes are usually subconscious and always transpersonal.

FRED: Yes, there are universal archetypes that seem to be present among the myths and images of virtually all peoples and cultures, according to certain models of psychology. Carl Jung is the main proponent of this point of view. These archetypes are formed in sleep, during deep sleep, during this form of sleep we call dreaming. And there seems to be clear indications that we dream in order to form structure of the world, to give form to our understanding of our surroundings. For example, it's known that the fetus, from the time when the brain begins to develop in the womb, spends something like eighteen hours a day-dreaming. This is measured by the rapid eye movement that research has shown accompanies dreaming.

ROBERT: Jim, do you think that Fred is dreaming here?

JIM: I have problems with the metaphor. The theory of dreams is as it may be. We don't know much about dreams or why they function--but the idea of two independent thing coming together to form a radically new third thing....Yes, [superposition] is part of quantum mechanics. It's also part of waves in your bathtub, and no one says that the universe is a bathtub. This way of speculating bothers me, though I know Fred is very much aware of these distinctions. But when these ways of speculative thinking get propagated, I suddenly have students telling me that quantum mechanics means the world has to be a certain way. If this were ten years ago, they'd be saying that quantum mechanics proves that we shouldn't live in a patriarchal society. I've heard the quantum mechanics/dreaming argument, among others, before. I agree with John [Searle] that you get a lot of nonsense being talked about quantum mechanics.

ROBERT: Does quantum mechanics generate consciousness? Can the way the world works at the subatomic level--uncertainty, superpositioning, duality, and the like--be directly causative of the way self-awareness works at the organism level, which to our knowledge is associated only with brains? This is the general view of, among others, Roger Penrose, the English mathematician and physicist, who speculates that quantum mechanical effects deep inside neurons (i.e., brain cells) might engender the kind of baffling first-person experience we call consciousness. But can what goes on in the microstructure of the universe be responsible for creating all the unique characteristics of human mental life?

FRED: There's a new model of quantum physics indicating that there might be a way to generate self-reference from a quantum system. The system not only has to observe something outside of itself, it also has to observe itself observing outside of itself. And that forms a quantum state in what is called the parallel-worlds model, or the many-worlds hypothesis, of quantum physics. It's a very interesting idea, because it allows one to feed back, in a linear way--which physicists never thought was possible [and most still don't].

ROBERT: There are indeed mainstream theoretical physicists--if such an animal as a mainstream theoretical physicist exists anymore--who do contemplate parallel universes, but strictly in a physical sense. The consensus view is that even if parallel worlds do exist in some way, there would still be no congress possible between them.

JIM: Quantum mechanics is the science that deals with what goes on at the level of the atom and inside it. When you look at quantum mechanics, it is, as David [Chalmers] said, weird. I mean, it's just weird.

ROBERT: Weirdness like observer-created reality, wave-particle duality [an electron or other "quantum" exhibiting the characteristics of both a wave and a particle], the uncertainty principle [the impossibility of determining the exact position and velocity of a particle simultaneously], time flowing backward as well as forward [at least as a theoretical construct], and other such counterintuitive notions.

JIM: Quantum mechanics doesn't correspond with our intuition. But our intuition is based on the macro world in which we live. And the idea that when you descend to the world of the atom, that somehow it should be the same as the world we're used to, is in itself weird. Why should the micro world work the same way as the macro world? They don't have to work the same way, any more than when you go to another country the natives all have to speak English. So when we get inside the atom and find that it doesn't behave as we might expect--and we can't describe it in terms of colliding baseballs--that doesn't mean that therefore we have to give up all our other ideas about the universe. The strangeness of the subatomic world just tells us that when we go to this other realm, the rules are different. If you want to play the quantum game, you have to play by the quantum rules.

DAVE: There are some particularly strange things about quantum mechanics. For example, quantum mechanics tells us that an electron can be in two places at once. Now, that's not a problem; that's just a little bit weird. But what happens when someone makes an observation? If an observer comes in, with a conscious mind, then that electron can only be in one place at one time. That's the thing that's hard to understand.

JIM: It's the interaction with the--

DAVE: Put it this way: if people want to find a role for mind in physical reality, if they already have a bias to do so, quantum mechanics would be exactly the place to look.

JIM: Because it's a place where our intuition breaks down.

FRED: Jim [Trefil] just made a very important point. "It's the interaction," he said. I totally disagree with that. It's not the interaction that does it, because interactions fit within the framework of quantum mechanics, and they lead to more weirdness. In order to get from that pool of weirdness to a single actual observation, something has to change radically and suddenly. It's not the interaction that does it. It's the observation that does it. And [Werner] Heisenberg made that point a long time ago when he said that it's the observation that creates the path of an arrow.

JIM: But what I'm saying is, the problems you run into are always from mixing metaphors--from imposing our classical [macroscopic] ideas on the atomic world, where they don't belong. If you look at the atomic world, it's an interactional place; that's what it is.

ROBERT: John, are physicists trying to take over what traditionally has been philosophers' sphere of influence?

JOHN: I don't think this is a case of physicists trying to take over from philosophers. Neurobiology is a focal point, and although we know a great deal about how the brain works, we're still at a stage where we welcome all speculations. But the idea that we're going to find consciousness at the level of the wave function in quantum mechanics is, so far, without any experimental support whatever. There's a real difficulty with this idea. As far as we know, consciousness exists only in human and animal brains. And they have a very specific kind of anatomy: they have neurons. The problem with quantum mechanics is that it's everywhere, absolutely everywhere. So if you're going to find consciousness in the collapse of the wave function, let's say, or in superpositioning, then you're going to have to conclude that the universe is in every place "conscious."

ROBERT: The collapse of the wave function is how we get from the micro world of all this weirdness (i.e., quantum indeterminacy) to the macro world where everything is in its place. When we measure, or observe, something, we collapse its wave function.

FRED: There's something very interesting here. The classical world is a clearly defined world, in which causality seems to be the rule. The quantum world is probabilistic in nature, and causality is not clear. The question is, "How do we get from the quantum to the classical?". If you look at the parallel-worlds model that I mentioned earlier and discussed in The Dreaming Universe, you find that in many self-referencing systems, classical physics reappears. A system can have knowledge of simultaneous things that, according to the laws of quantum mechanics, it shouldn't be able to know. It can know things in violation of the uncertainty principle, provided that it doesn't put that information out into the outside world. I take that to be a metaphor for how we make up stories about ourselves. We can know things about ourselves that we can never know about somebody else. That's trivial, but the things that we know are personal stories about how we got from A to B, whereas for somebody else the blanks have to be filled in.

ROBERT: Dave, you've postulated that information--I assume in some pure, idealistic form--may be the underlying essence of reality. Could you tell us about that?

DAVE: Let's think about the way physics really works. Basically, physics tells us about relationships between things. For example, there are two different states that an electron might have, and it might have this or that effect on another particle. Physics doesn't tell us what these electrons are in themselves; it tells us only about the relations between the differences here which make a difference elsewhere. Physics is silent about the intrinsic nature of reality. Basically, it tells us about bits. Zeros and ones, if you like--on or off, this state or that state. Whenever you have information, though, it deals with intrinsic nature--descriptions or categories. Is something red or is it blue, opaque or transparent, and so on. What we're really looking for, down deep, is the intrinsic nature of physical reality. And I might speculate that the intrinsic nature of physical reality could have something to do with the intrinsic nature of mind.

ROBERT: Greg [Benford], when you sketched first thoughts about your book Cosm and made parallel universes its core concept, what was going on in your head? Was quantum mechanics involved in your mental creativity?

GREG: Gee, I hope not. It's an interesting question, though: Where does creativity come from? I tend to believe that we are mostly builders of analogies. All the time, we ask ourselves, "Does this thing look like that thing--or does it look like that other thing?" If it looks more like that other thing, go there; follow it; build on it. Building analogies and following trails of thought are the most common form of creativity, and that's what I did in this novel. I thought about the calculations that have arisen in the last ten years about being able to create a whole universe in a laboratory, and I wondered what might happen if this could actually be true. And then I wondered, What if someone were to do it by accident? The mechanism for universe creation has been shown to be a quantum mechanical event that began as a microscopic event in the real world.

ROBERT: In the real world?

GREG: Yes, in the real world. The creative leap was to suppose that a quantum mechanical event could appear in the real world on a large scale. This isn't as farfetched as it may initially seem, since our current universe was once a quantum mechanical object. That was a long time ago, of course, and we weren't there.

ROBERT: Fred was there.

GREG: Of course, Fred [Wolf] may have been there--he looks a lot like Jehovah. If our entire universe emerged out of a quantum mechanical event far smaller than an atomic particle, why couldn't such a thing happen again? But this doesn't mean that I want to imply that quantum mechanics is often operating on the macroscopic levels of our common, classical world. Look at it this way: Cosm is a novel that uses a colossal metaphor like the creation of the cosmos and then imagines all the dust that flies: what happens to society when it turns out that ordinary untenured faculty members can actually create universes.

ROBERT: Do they get tenure for that?

GREG: It looks like she's going to get tenure; it's amazing what you have to do to get tenure these days. But there's a danger here in these quantum mechanical musings. Let's put it another way: I had a lot of fun painting a French impressionist portrait of a cow--but don't try to get milk out of it. Similarly, don't try to squeeze everything out of quantum mechanics, because quantum mechanics doesn't work well as a metaphor in the large-scale world. John [Searle] is always saying this, and I quite agree. And just in case you may not be following all that we're saying here, don't think that you alone don't understand quantum mechanics, because we physicists don't understand much of quantum mechanics either.

ROBERT: Let's take a specific, strange aspect of quantum mechanics called nonlocality. What is nonlocality in quantum mechanics, and does it help explain some of the more mystical traditions of humanity? Fred, I'm wandering into your territory.

FRED: Nonlocality means that something that happens over here occurs because something happened over there, when there is seemingly no physical means by which the something-over-there could effect the something-over-here. So, how did the something-over-here become what it is when the something-over-there did what it did, since there's no possible physical connection between the two? That's what we call nonlocality.

ROBERT: It's also called "spooky action at a distance." It might have been called pseudoscience, because it would seem to be impossible, but in quantum mechanics we learn that what seems impossible may be quite ordinary.

FRED: Nonlocality is possible because the original objects--the one over here and the one over there--interacted before they separated, and they formed what is called a single state. And even though they are now separate, they still behave as a single state.

JIM: This phenomenon is called quantum entanglement. You start with two particles that are near each other and have some interaction, and when they separate they retain--if you like to think about it in this way--a "memory" of the original interaction. This is one of the more surprising predictions of quantum mechanics, and it was verified experimentally in the 1960s. It's the only case I know of in science where you had a theory that everyone believed was true, made a prediction based on that theory, conducted the experiment, verified the prediction--and everybody was upset. Because what it confirmed was that you can never visualize what is going on in the quantum world. And we're primates; we deal in visual systems. We all think of these elementary particles as baseballs flying about or billiard balls bumping into each other--I do, I don't deny it. We think of things that way, and then we get into these paradoxes, and we find things that don't make any sense, nonlocality being one good example. Actually, nonlocality, if you describe it correctly--and it's a long argument, beyond our scope here--isn't a paradox. It's just impossible to visualize; it's something that doesn't fit the classical view.

ROBERT: Fred, help us with nonlocality. What's an example that we can relate to?

FRED: Pretend you're looking at a pair of dice, seemingly ordinary dice. But notice that you can't see any spots on them. Yet if I pick up one of them--this act is called "observation"--it can suddenly change: look, now it has white spots on it! Well, that's interesting. Observation is affecting the reality of the die. That's the metaphor here. It gets even more interesting when I take two dice, let them interact, and then pull them apart. Now, when I observe the die over here, making its spots appear, then spots also appear on the second die, over there. And if I make an observation again and the one over here changes and has black spots on it, so does the second die, over there--now it, too, has black spots. In other words, my observation of one immediately affects the other.

ROBERT: A nice illustration of non-locality, but it hardly proves that reality is a dream. So what does this tell me about the nature of things?

FRED: Nonlocality tells you that there's an order in the universe that may complement and supersede the simple mechanical order we've been conditioned to accept.

ROBERT: Can quantum mechanics be involved in any of the strange occurrences that some claim are supernatural? Consider synchronicity--coincidences; the seemingly nonrational association of events; the juxtaposition of events for no obvious physical reason--which was popularized by the mystical psychoanalyst Carl Jung. Recently, certain physicists and people involved in parapsychology have wondered whether quantum mechanics might be the underlying cause of these kinds of synchronicities....John [Searle], you're laughing at me.

JOHN: We have two mysteries for one again. The problem is that these kinds of bizarre coincidences that you get in real life are distinctly odd statistically, whereas quantum mechanics is pervasive and distinctly predictable statistically. The kind of mystical phenomenon you're talking about is, for example, a mother suddenly imagining her son in a car accident, and--my God!--she finds out an hour later that he was in fact in a car accident at that very there must be some explanation. Now, here's the explanation as to why these seemingly odd occurrences should be quite normal and expected. Given that all of us have billions of conscious states in the course of our lives, it's not at all surprising that you occasionally get these odd correlations. But the idea that these strange events are connected somehow with quantum mechanics is not correct. They aren't remotely like quantum mechanics. Quantum mechanics is absolutely a pervasive feature of the world at the most micro and fundamental level. So I don't see the connection between quantum mechanics and these occurrences; I've never seen anybody make the connection work.

FRED: I think, to be fair to John, that one does have to stretch the implications of quantum mechanics to apply it here. I agree with you all on this. Quantum mechanics is not the end of the story here, but it's important to wonder what quantum mechanics is telling us. Quantum mechanics is exhibiting some features that look a lot like synchronicity and other features that look a lot like nonlocality. Now go back to these experiences that human beings have, that seemed totally unexplainable before quantum mechanics. What I and others are saying is that maybe quantum mechanics has something to contribute. But maybe we need a new theory; maybe we need something bigger than just quantum mechanics. I think synchronicity is another ordering parameter of the universe.

ROBERT: What is your description of synchronicity?

FRED: Synchronicity is when two events take place, in which a clear meaning is associated with the juxtaposition, but it's a coincidence that cannot be explained causally--that is, by one event's effecting, or causing, the other. So synchronicity can be defined as a meaningful but noncausal relationship between two or more events.

JOHN: Do you assign this meaning after the events take place?

FRED: I presume you do.

JOHN: That's very important to me. Because how can you assign meaning to things or events if you don't know that they're going to occur. You have no way of predicting them. For example, there's a famous tale about a woman who was discussing her creativity, and was having visions of a scarab or something like a gold bug, and suddenly a similarly colored beetle flew into the screen of a window where Carl Jung was working with a patient. This is what he would call a synchronicity. When I hear psychologists tell stories, they're always filled with remarkable synchronicities.

ROBERT: I agree. The balancing question is how many of the innumerable synchronicity-type events that could have conceivably occurred did not occur? And when the ultra-rare synchronous-type events do occur, are their appearances really anything more than random coincidences amidst the overwhelming number of similar events that did not occur?

JIM: Isn't this what my old statistics instructor used to call the "golf ball on the fairway" fallacy? You hit a golf ball onto the fairway, and ask, "What's the chance that my golf ball will hit any particular blade of grass?" That chance is basically zero. But the ball must land on some blade of grass, of course. So you go over to the ball afterward and say, "Look at this! The odds that my ball would land on this specific blade of grass are astronomical!" But in fact the ball has to land somewhere.

ROBERT: Another problem is the "expectation bias": Do synchronize-type events occur more to those people who believe in them? If so, we should be suspicious, though I suppose that one could always argue that "believers" can generate or attract more synchronous-type events than can "non believers."

FRED: The universe is an interesting place; and so is the mind.

ROBERT: Jim, what evidence could convince you that Fred's worldview has legitimacy?

JIM: Let's talk some more about synchronicity. A good-sized sample of people would have to faithfully write down all the visions they have, and then independent analysts would assess how many of them were clearly and meaningfully coincident. But you have to define in advance what "clearly and meaningfully coincident" means--this is what John [Searle] was saying. Assigning meaning in advance is a very important part of this test. Only then can you determine whether the result is greater than chance. If you have a million visions and only one of them is clearly meaningful, that hardly seems more than coin-flipping chance.

ROBERT: But what if the results of your experiment, designed in your way and assuming sufficient trials and repetition, demonstrated statistically significant, nonrandom occurrences of synchronicity?

JIM: I would accept that there was something going on that had to be explained, something beyond mere chance. And then I would start looking for explanations.

ROBERT: Let's reverse the results. Would a negative outcome of your experiment constitute a logical proof that there was no strange, synchronous connection to the one "clearly meaningful, non-causal event" even though it was statistically a random occurrence.

JIM: No.

ROBERT: The principles of logic and statistics can make causal connections unlikely but not impossible.

FRED: But the question is, "What does it mean to 'explain' something like synchronicity?". The problem today, in our scientific way of thinking, is that "explanation" means a cause-and-effect relationship. If we can't fit something into a cause-and-effect relationship, we surmise that we haven't explained it. This is the notion I'm challenging. Synchronicities, I'm saying, are another form of order, which is noncausal or acausal. Synchronicities don't fit the causal model, so we're unable to explain them in the same way we're accustomed to explaining normal things.

JIM: What I'm saying is that we haven't yet established that there's something to be explained.

ROBERT: Let's change direction. In the development of consciousness as a field of scientific study, how important is quantum mechanics?

DAVE: At this moment in our investigations of consciousness, we're concentrating on neuroscience. These are the early days, when we're linking the chemical and electrical processes in the brain with the mental and psychological processes we know and love in our conscious experience. It's like the early days of physics, when scientists were concentrating on processes at the macroscopic level. Similarly, once we come to understand these neuroprocesses in the brain [at the cellular and subcellular levels], then we can go farther and develop detailed speculations--maybe even explanations--for what underlies that level. Maybe fifty or a hundred years from now, there will be working theories describing how quantum mechanics or some other part of physics contributes to the fundamental theory of mind. For now, I think it's a little early.

ROBERT: I'm always skeptical when I hear of some special new brain locus, or focal point, where mind is said to emerge from brain. We know that electrical impulses, which carry information flows in the brain, are generated at the synapses between the billions of neurons. Fred [Wolf] wonders about the role of glial cells, which are the much more numerous non-neurons in the brain, involved in supporting the biochemical environment. And others, like Roger Penrose, speak about the tiny microtubules inside neurons and speculate about how quantum effects might take place there. At our present level of understanding, I think it's dangerous to assign the mind-brain interface, as it were, to any specific physical location.

JOHN: But it's a good idea to start with what we know for a fact. We know for a fact that our brains are conscious brains. We know, as far as we know anything, that this table is not conscious. But there's just as much quantum mechanics in this table as there is in our brains. So if you're going to look for consciousness at the level of quantum mechanics, you'd better start talking about the special features of brain anatomy--because as far as we know, the brain is the only place where consciousness actually occurs in the real world. Tables are not conscious.

ROBERT: Fred, you've spent your entire career talking about the relationship between quantum mechanics and mind. Why should we care about such an abstract subject?

FRED: For a very good reason. Today we live in a culture that has a particular view of how things work. And unfortunately--or fortunately, depending on your bias--we have a highly mechanical orientation. People who are born in a certain way, or who live in certain circumstances, may think of themselves as handicapped or victimized for the rest of their lives because, mechanically, that's the way they seem to be constructed. The quantum metaphor, the quantum story, changes all that. It says that observation affects, changes, alters reality. This means that by changing the way you observe things, you can possibly change yourself. So I think that everything can benefit from a quantum metaphor--ourselves, our families, our culture, our world, and possibly even our universe.

ROBERT: Can quantum mechanics affect free will?

GREG: I really don't think so. It actually sounds more useful for a therapist than a physicist. Trying to explain free will by reference to quantum mechanics is much like playing tennis with the net down. It looks interesting at first, but after a while it loses its zip. I don't think we make progress by compounding the levels of mystification. You have to get some kind of predictive value out of a scientific idea. This [speculation] just seems to be worsening the problem, not bettering it.

ROBERT: So you want to discard all the quantum mechanics discussions of the mind?

GREG: No, but you shouldn't ask quantum mechanics to solve philosophical problems, which it cannot do. A philosopher can tell you why.

DAVE: The relationship between quantum mechanics and mind is an important issue for us, because it relates to what we are as human beings. We want to know what we are. Are we souls, which live forever, or get passed from body to body, or to other creatures, down the generations? Are we just bags of neurons that rot when we die? Or does it turn out that our consciousness is actually composed of fundamental physical entities? Or maybe we're mental entities that were around at the time of the Big Bang. I think the answer would make a huge difference to our worldview. And if a quantum physics view of mind turns out to be right, that would force us to reconstruct the entire picture of ourselves. But just because a quantum mechanism would be extremely important for understanding mind, that doesn't mean it's right.

JOHN: We should care about these issues, because we want to know how the world works. And the most fundamental theory we have about how the world works is quantum mechanics. Now we're tempted to think, Well, quantum theory is going to explain a whole lot of other things, like consciousness and free will. I'm very skeptical about such attempted explanations. I don't think any of that is going to happen. But we would like to know how the world works, and we'd like to know how we work. If knowing how the world works at the most fundamental level will help us to explain how we work--great! If not, all the same, it's something we should know about as well.

JIM: I agree that there's a fundamental desire to know who we are. If the quantum mechanics metaphor helps people in their lives, as Fred was suggesting, then by all means use the metaphor--but don't try to pretend that it has anything to do with the quantum mechanics that's part of physics.

ROBERT: In advanced discussions of consciousness, some physicists are starting to talk about the nature of time as described by relativity theory. How do you see the relationship between time and consciousness?

DAVE: I don't know. You might try to make some link. Relativity says that time can flow at different speeds. Consciousness, we all know, does flow at different speeds--in some states of consciousness time flows faster and in other states slower. Personally, though, I think that's biologically explainable. I don't see a relationship between that and the physics of relativity. Some say otherwise, and I wish them well.

ROBERT: Greg, how important is a sense of time in our sense of ourselves?

GREG: Time is adjustable, as evolution has engineered it. If you're in the middle of an auto accident, time hasn't changed, though your perceptions of time, during and after, will be different from normal experience. But the fundamental nature of time is something that physics has not truly figured out yet. It may not be comprehensible. It may be that time is one of the fundamentals of the universe, behind which there is no other actor.

ROBERT: But when time is ultimately understood, do you think it will have some close relationship to the nature of consciousness?


FRED: I think it will. I think that our sense of self, even the nature of our soul, is that we are time-based creatures. Thought itself is time, and the relationship between thought and time is far more intimate than we can presently understand.

JOHN: But that's true of anything in the universe. Everything has a temporal dimension to it. There's nothing special about consciousness in terms of time. What's special about consciousness is that sometimes psychological time doesn't match real time. This is an interesting question, but seems more likely to be solved, as Dave [Chalmers] was suggesting, by understanding how psychology and the brain works.

ROBERT: So relativity has little impact on consciousness?

JOHN: I don't think it has any special connection. Here's our problem now: We don't understand consciousness, so we're thrashing around desperately, seeing whether we can lay our hands on something that will explain it. But I would go back to the brain. There we have a mechanism that we actually know something about, and we know that it's where consciousness is taking place. And of course, like everything else, brains exist in time. So do feet exist in time, but thinking about "feet in time" doesn't much help us to understand the nature of feet--or to understand consciousness.

DAVE: When it comes to the problem of time, maybe the key lies in the order of explanation. Time may be going the other way. Here's a problem about time. Time seems to pass. Time seems to flow--"flows like a river," people sometimes say. Physics can't make sense of this concept: "time flows like a river." So we're going to have to understand how we sense time in our consciousness.

ROBERT: Is time a fundamental aspect of the universe independent of consciousness, or must time be understood through consciousness?

DAVE: Maybe it could turn out that the very sense of time flowing doesn't correspond to something that's independent of mind. Maybe that sense is just a construct in our mind.

JIM: When physicists talk about time, they don't talk about what you're talking about--the essence of time. They talk about measuring it--measuring periodic events. So we can measure intervals of time but never define time. Physicists don't define space, either. We talk about how to measure distance, but we don't say what space is.

ROBERT: But could time be, in essence, a construct of the human mind? Could space and time be dependent on consciousness?

JOHN: The way we conceptualize time may be derived from characteristics of our own consciousness, rather than our own consciousness being derived from the way we understand time.

FRED: But there's something interesting going on in terms of how the brain operates in external, or physical, time. You can actually observe and map chemical and electrical events taking place in the cerebral cortex of the brain and compare these physiological markings with events that people say are happening to them at the same moment. And what we find is that "brain time" does not correspond precisely to "external time." In fact, time reversals can occur.

JIM: That's right.

FRED: This would indicate that we don't clearly understand time and consciousness as a one-to-one mapping of one onto the other. It may be that we need two physical events in order to have a single consciousness experience.

ROBERT: Are you hinting that there may be a more fundamental relationship in the universe combining consciousness and time?

FRED: Yes, but not according to the popular view--defining the sense of time as physical events happening one after another. It may be that several events are required to cause a consciousness experience, and that this consciousness occurs somewhere in between them.

JIM: I agree that the brain is not a very good clock.

JOHN: You need to make a distinction between the perception of time and the time of the perception. And what we've found, with all kinds of interesting experiments, is that you don't get an exact match. The runner thinks he began to run when he heard the starter's gun, but we have good evidence showing that he in fact started before he could have heard the sound, before the conscious mind could have registered the sound of the gun. This is a fascinating piece of experimental data. I don't know if it's right, but it's good stuff for philosophers, psychologists, and neurobiologists to work on. But I don't see problems of time and consciousness as suitable for relativity theory.

FRED: No, not relativity theory, but perhaps a quantum model might explain it.

ROBERT: I want a prediction. One hundred years from now, what will be the accepted relationship between modern physics and the human mind?

FRED: Physics and mind will both be seen as approximations of a deeper reality. The separation between mind and matter will be seen as an artifact that came about through an accident of history, and this will reflect a deeper unity.

GREG: A hundred years from now, I suspect we'll say that although physics can explain the working of the brain, it still can't make detailed predictions about what people are going to do. Probably never.

DAVE: It's possible that in the next hundred years something really surprising will happen that will make us look at the whole mind-brain problem in a new way. More likely, we'll have a bunch of detailed, speculative theories, more detailed than we have now, but still with no consensus.

JOHN: In a hundred years, we'll have finally gotten over our traditional vocabulary that says there's the mental and the physical and they're in two different realms. This distinction is already obsolete, just as it's obsolete to think that there's a distinction between machines and other kinds of physical systems. My guess about the future is that we'll come to accept quantum mechanics in the same way we now accept relativity theory. We'll just grow out of our obsession that everything has to behave like middle-size physical objects--why should it? We now know from relativity that space and time are not the way we thought they were, so why should subatomic particles be the way we thought they were? Regarding our understanding of the mind, I think we'll have a biological account of the brain and how it produces consciousness--and it will have about the same relation to quantum mechanics as does any other part of biology, such as disease or photosynthesis.

JIM: I think John's right. We'll understand the brain, in terms of neuroscience and in terms of complexity theory. And quantum mechanics will be what it is today; it's not going to change very much, and we're still not going to like it.


SO modern physics has persuaded a few scientists that quantum mechanics engenders mind, a few others that physical systems can never fully explain mental states so that mind cannot be built by matter alone, and still others that a spirit or a soul or even a dream is needed to explain consciousness. The theories are fascinating, even if not convincing. Is consciousness a fundamental essence of the universe, the real stuff of reality? The easy answer is: Nice, but no. But could matter and mind both be derived from the same fundamental stuff, whatever that may be? I think we'll be astonished by whatever sits as the ultimate building block of reality. We should be more astonished that human beings can even conceive of it. It's dreaming like this that transports us closer to truth.

Editor's Comments:

Whether quantum physics as such ever explains mind is not the issue. Orthodox champions of modern science must wake up to the fact that mind cannot be reduced to matter, specifically brain matter. Mind is not "merely the activity of the brain." What relationship mind ultimately has to matter, we have yet to fully fathom. We may discover one day that mind and matter, like energy and matter in Einstein's famous equation, are two sides of the same coin.

The key point is that energy is real. Energy exists in its own right. Energy cannot be dismissed as merely a "side effect of matter." Similarly, mind is real. Mind exists in its own right. Mind cannot be dismissed as merely an "epiphenomenon," i.e., "side effect" of matter.

Despite ritual lip service to "open-mindedness" don't expect many reductive materialists to change their minds. Despite protestations to the contrary, reductive materialists have formed a highly emotional, quasi-religious attachment to the reductive materialist Conventional Wisdom. Thomas Kuhn's landmark book, "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" performed a valuable service. It disabused the general public of the comforting notion that modern scientists were ruthlessly objective about their own belief systems. It exposed modern scientists as every bit as partisan and irrational as the Catholic Church when confronted by Galileo's heresies.

-- Bevin Chu

Explanation: Strange Physics of the Mind?
Illustration(s): Barry Beyerstein, David Chalmers, John Searle, Marilyn Schlitz, Fred Alan Wolf, Robert Lawrence Kuhn
Author(s): Dr. Robert Lawrence Kuhn
Affiliation: CLOSER TO TRUTH (CTT)
Publication Date: N/A
Original Language: English
Editor: Bevin Chu, Registered Architect