Telekinesis and Quantum Field Theory

By Sean Carroll | February 18, 2008 1:05 pm

In the aftermath of the dispiriting comments following last week’s post on the Parapsychological Association, it seems worth spelling out in detail the claim that parapsychological phenomena are inconsistent with the known laws of physics. The main point here is that, while there are certainly many things that modern science does not understand, there are also many things that it does understand, and those things simply do not allow for telekinesis, telepathy, etc. Which is not to say that we can prove those things aren’t real. We can’t, but that is a completely worthless statement, as science never proves anything; that’s simply not how science works. Rather, it accumulates empirical evidence for or against various hypotheses. If we can show that psychic phenomena are incompatible with the laws of physics we currently understand, then our task is to balance the relative plausibility of “some folks have fallen prey to sloppy research, unreliable testimony, confirmation bias, and wishful thinking” against “the laws of physics that have been tested by an enormous number of rigorous and high-precision experiments over the course of many years are plain wrong in some tangible macroscopic way, and nobody ever noticed.”

The crucial concept here is that, in the modern framework of fundamental physics, not only do we know certain things, but we have a very precise understanding of the limits of our reliable knowledge. We understand, in other words, that while surprises will undoubtedly arise (as scientists, that’s what we all hope for), there are certain classes of experiments that are guaranteed not to give exciting results — essentially because the same or equivalent experiments have already been performed.

A simple example is provided by Newton’s law of gravity, the famous inverse-square law. It’s a pretty successful law of physics, good enough to get astronauts to the Moon and back. But it’s certainly not absolutely true; in fact, we already know that it breaks down, due to corrections from general relativity. Nevertheless, there is a regime in which Newtonian gravity is an effective approximation, good at least to a well-defined accuracy. We can say with confidence that if you are interested in the force due to gravity between two objects separated by a certain distance, with certain masses, Newton’s theory gives the right answer to a certain precision. At large distances and high precisions, the domain of validity is formalized by the Parameterized Post-Newtonian formalism. There is a denumerable set of ways in which the motion of test particles can deviate from Newtonian gravity (as well as from general relativity), and we can tell you what the limits are on each of them. At small distances, the inverse-square behavior of the gravitational force law can certainly break down; but we can tell you exactly the scale above which it will not break down (about a tenth of a millimeter). We can also quantify how well this knowledge extends to different kinds of materials; we know very well that Newton’s law works for ordinary matter, but the precision for dark matter is understandably not nearly as good.

This knowledge has consequences. If we discover a new asteroid headed toward Earth, we can reliably use Newtonian gravity to predict its future orbit. From a rigorous point of view, someone could say “But how do you know that Newtonian gravity works in this particular case? It hasn’t been tested for that specific asteroid!” And that is true, because science never proves anything. But it’s not worth worrying about, and anyone making that suggestion would not be taken seriously.

As with asteroids, so with human beings. We are creatures of the universe, subject to the same laws of physics as everything else. As everyone knows, there are many things we don’t understand about biology and neuroscience, not to mention the ultimate laws of physics. But there are many things that we do understand, and only the most basic features of quantum field theory suffice to definitively rule out the idea that we can influence objects from a distance through the workings of pure thought.

The simplest example is telekinesis, the ability to remotely move an object using only psychic powers. For definitiveness, let’s consider the power of spoon-bending, claimed not only by Uri Geller but by author and climate skeptic Michael Crichton.

What do the laws of physics have to say about spoon-bending? Below the fold, we go through the logic.

  • Spoons are made of ordinary matter.

This sounds uncontroversial, but is worth explaining. Spoons are made of atoms, and we know what atoms are made of — electrons bound by photons to an atomic nucleus, which in turn consists of protons and neutrons, which in turn are made of quarks held together by gluons. Five species of particles total: up and down quarks, gluons, photons, electrons. That’s it.

There is no room for extra kinds of mysterious particles clinging, aura-like, to the matter in a spoon. That’s because we know how particles behave. If there were some other kind of particle in the spoon, it would have to interact with the ordinary matter we know is there — otherwise it wouldn’t stick, it would just zip right through, as neutrinos zip right through the Earth nearly undisturbed. And if there were a kind of particle that interacted with the ordinary particles in the spoon strongly enough to stick to the spoon, we could easily make it in experiments. The rules of quantum field theory directly relate the interaction rates of particles to the ease with which we can create them in the lab, given enough energy. And we know exactly how much energy is available in a spoon; we know the masses of the atoms, and the kinetic energy of thermal motions within the metal. Taken together, we can say without any fear of making a mistake that any new particles that might exist within a spoon would have been detected in experiments long ago.

Whoa Again: imagine you have invented a new kind of particle relevant to the dynamics of spoons. Tell me its mass, and its interactions with ordinary matter. If it’s too heavy or interacts too weakly, it can’t be created or captured. If it is sufficiently light and strongly interacting, it will have been created and captured many times over in experiments we have already done. There is no middle ground. We completely understand the regime of spoons, notwithstanding what you heard in The Matrix.

  • Matter interacts through forces.

We’ve known for a long time that the way to move matter is to exert a force on it — Newton’s Law, F=ma, is at least the second most famous equation in physics. In the context of quantum field theory, we know precisely how forces arise: through the exchange of quantum fields. We know that only two kinds of fields exist: bosons and fermions. We know that macroscopic forces only arise from the exchange of bosons, not of fermions; the exclusion principle prohibits fermions from piling up in the same state to create a coherent long-range force field. And, perhaps most importantly, we know what forces can couple to: the properties of the matter fields that constitute an object. These properties include location, mass, spin, and various “charges” such as electric charge or baryon number.

This is where the previous point comes in. Spoons are just a certain arrangement of five kinds of elementary particles — up and down quarks, gluons, electrons, and photons. So if there is going to be a force that moves around a spoon, it’s going to have to couple to those particles. Once you tell me how many electrons etc. there are in the spoon, and the arrangement of their positions and spins, we can say with confidence how any particular kind of force will influence the spoon; no further information is required.

  • There are only two long-range forces strong enough to influence macroscopic objects — electromagnetism and gravity.

Of course, we have worked hard to discover different forces in nature, and so far we have identified four: gravitation, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces. But the nuclear forces are very short-range, smaller than the diameter of an atom. Gravitation and electromagnetism are the only detectable forces that propagate over longer distances.

Could either gravitation or electromagnetism be responsible for bending spoons? No. In the case of electromagnetism, it would be laughably easy to detect the kind of fields necessary to exert enough force to influence a spoon. Not to mention that the human brain is not constructed to generate or focus such fields. But the real point is that, if it were electromagnetic fields doing the spoon-bending, it would be very very noticeable. (And the focus would be on influencing magnets and circuits, not on bending spoons.)

In the case of gravitation, the fields are just too weak. Gravity accumulates in proportion to the mass of the source, so the arrangement of particles inside your brain will have a much smaller gravitational effect than just the location of your head — and that’s far too feeble to move spoons around. A bowling ball would be more efficient, and most people would agree that moving a bowling ball past a spoon has a negligible effect.

Could there be a new force, as yet undetected by modern science? Of course! I’ve proposed them myself. Physicists are by no means closed-minded about such possibilities; they are very excited by them. But they also take seriously the experimental limits. And those limits show unambiguously that any such new force must either be very short-range (less than a millimeter), or much weaker than gravity, which is an awfully weak force.

The point is that such forces are characterized by three things: their range, their strength, and their source (what they couple to). As discussed above, we know what the possible sources are that are relevant to spoons: quarks, gluons, photons, electrons. So all we have to do is a set of experiments that look for forces between different combinations of those particles. And these experiments have been done! The answer is: any new forces that might be lurking out there are either (far) too short-range to effect everyday objects, or (far) too weak to have readily observable effects.


Here is a plot of the current limits on such forces, from the Eot-Wash group at Julianne’s home institution. This particular plot is for forces that couple to the total number of protons plus neutrons; similar plots exist for other possible sources. The horizontal axis is the range of the force; it ranges from about a millimeter to ten billion kilometers. The vertical axis is the strength of the force, and the region above the colored lines has been excluded by one or more experiments. On meter-sized scales, relevant to bending a spoon with your mind, the strongest possible allowed new force would be about one billionth the strength of gravity. And remember, gravity is far too weak to bend a spoon.

That’s it. We are done. The deep lesson is that, although science doesn’t know everything, it’s not “anything goes,” either. There are well-defined regimes of physical phenomena where we do know how things work, full stop. The place to look for new and surprising phenomena is outside those regimes. You don’t need to set up elaborate double-blind protocols to pass judgment on the abilities of purported psychics. Our knowledge of the laws of physics rules them out. Speculations to the contrary are not the provenance of bold visionaries, they are the dreams of crackpots.

A similar line of reasoning would apply to telepathy or other parapsychological phenomena. It’s a little bit less cut and dried, because in the case of telepathy the influence is supposedly traveling between two human brains, rather than between a brain and a spoon. The argument is exactly the same, but there are those who like to pretend that we don’t understand how the laws of physics work inside a human brain. It’s certainly true that there is much we don’t know about thought and consciousness and neuroscience, but the fact remains that we understand the laws of physics in the brain regime perfectly well. To believe otherwise, you would have to imagine that individual electrons obey different laws of physics because they are located in a human brain, rather than in a block of granite. But if you don’t care about violating the laws of physics in regimes where they have been extensively tested, then anything does in fact go.

Some will argue that parapsychology can be just as legitimately “scientific” as paleontology or cosmology, so long as it follows the methodology of scientific inquiry. But that’s a slightly too know-nothing attitude to quite hold up. If parapsychologists followed the methodology of scientific inquiry, they would look what we know about the laws of physics, realize that their purported subject of study had already been ruled out, and within thirty seconds would declare themselves finished. Anything else is pseudoscience, just as surely as contemporary investigation into astrology, phrenology, or Ptolemaic cosmology. Science is defined by its methods, but it also gets results; and to ignore those results is to violate those methods.

Admittedly, however, it is true that anything is possible, since science never proves anything. It’s certainly possible that the next asteroid that comes along will obey an inverse-cube law of gravity rather than an inverse-square one; we never know for sure, we can only speak in probabilities and likelihoods. Given the above, I would put the probability that some sort of parapsychological phenomenon will turn out to be real at something (substantially) less than a billion to one. We can compare this to the well-established success of particle physics and quantum field theory. The total budget for high-energy physics worldwide is probably a few billion dollars per year. So I would be very happy to support research into parapsychology at the level of a few dollars per year. Heck, I’d even be willing to go as high as twenty dollars per year, just to be safe.

Never let it be said that I am anything other than open-minded.

  • Martin

    This kind of post is the reason I read your blog… you have the ability to bring down the complex stuff to support ordinary knowledege. I admit I didn’t fully understand the graph, but I think I can believe you anyway.
    But just as your arguments are powerful, so can other arguments have the same power given a good writer and an ill-informed listener, and that happens a lot.

    Do you think blogging/teaching is the only way to help the ill-informed be more suspicious of what they believe?
    Do you think there’s a certain point in which persons are not going to understand more arguments? Is it bad to give up?

  • thomas

    It’s ok to give up on certain people, such as charlatans and preachers- to paraphrase Upton Sinclair, those whose paychecks are dependent on their lack of understanding.

    The people who have been fooled by those charlatans and preachers can and must be won over by science, unless you want to just give them up to superstition and let them come back to fight you later (most of the fighting right now is around issues of public health and education. but that bad science education mandated by creationists affects physics education too).

  • Allyson

    Sean, I’ve been working on an essay called The Atheist’s Guide to Tragedy, and about my frustration trying to explain to a friend/neighbor that the hundreds of dollars she’s spent on Astral Projection classes is a complete waste since it’s not possible.

    Since I’m not a scientist, it’s often hard for me to put into words why it’s crap, but this post has helped a lot in how I’ll explain in the future.

    And also, it gives me great happiness that I’m not so alone in not believing in magic.

  • Henrik Jonsson

    Awesome article. I’m definitely saving a link to it to refer people towards when they point out that science doesn’t know “everything” next time. The probability/cost estimate at the end is just brilliant, though I can’t help thinking that studying parapsychology to a limited extent could be useful, for the purpose of understanding why so many people believe pseudoscience (but perhaps it’s just psychology in that case?).

  • Adrian

    I’ve been working on some ideas to try to explain to some friends why Astrology is almost certainly bunk. Going through the fallacious arguments and lack of evidence is useful, but this sort of approach is much more concrete and I’d bet it will make more sense to some of them. Thanks for the ideas.

  • Chris

    Sean, posts like this are the reason I love this blog. Like others here in the comments, I am continually frustrated by those who do not understand the limits imposed by well-understood physics. However, while I personally would put the odds at telepathy working at less than a billion to one, I’m inclined to question some of your comments near the end of the article. Obviously telekinesis, astral projection, and some other forms of paranormal activity would require the existence of forces that we know don’t exist, as you say; however, it is known that brain activity created EM-waves. From what I understand, these waves are fairly weak, and difficult to detect even with our sophisticated technology, but nature has beaten us in technological advancement before. Isn’t it possible that some very special people have equally special sensors that allow them to detect and translate these electromagnetic waves into thoughts? Perhaps they would need to be in direct contact to detect them, and I think it is 100% safe to assume that they couldn’t detect them over any appreciable distance, but in this theory of telepathy, no mystical new forces of nature are needed – just the detection of weak electromagnetic waves. Again, I’m NOT saying I believe those who claim they can do this, just asking if it isn’t outside the realm of known physics? Am I wrong? I would love it if I am.

  • Sean

    Chris, you’re right, and that’s why the telepathy case is less straightforward. Brains are made of charged particles, and in principle they could create and detect electromagnetic signals — radios and walkie-talkies do it all the time!

    But that’s just the point — they are really easy to detect. Setting up a radio receiver would be a much better way to test the phenomenon than looking at abstract symbols on cards behind a screen. And when we get into the details, the brain isn’t really set up to transmit very strong waves; its functioning is more chemical than electromagnetic. There are many other sources all around us that are creating much stronger electromagnetic waves, at all sorts of frequencies.

    Still, at the level of the brain itself, there is much we don’t understand, and I would certainly support research into the role of electromagnetic fields in the brain. It would fall under “neuroscience,” of course, not “parapsychology.”

  • Jolly Bloger

    Fantastically well written. Coincidentally, your post here is somewhat related to one at Bad Astronomy today.

  • Pingback: Two excellent contributions to the “pseudoscience FAQ” | Geoff Arnold()

  • michael pierce

    Howdy CV,

    There is another approach to the question of whether or not such phenomena exist. While I appreciate (and enjoy) Sean’s argument, there is a more basic, perhaps easier to appreciate, starting point for many people. While I am very happy to start from very basic principles, it’s often easier to convince people with much simpler and more direct arguments/evidence.

    Suppose the possibility of an outside, here-to-fore unseen, unknown interaction mechanism that is responsible for telekinesis. Many people without a firm knowledge of what we already understand about nature will find this a familiar starting point. Without seeking to construct a possible method or mechanism, it is fairly simple to test for its presence in a direct fashion. This does not require the budget of the LHC or the APS or even much of any budget. Some modest money, time and effort is all that is necessary to perform such a test. And in fact, many people have done just such experiments in the past.

    The simple fact is that, in all reliable, controlled tests, no telekinesis has been observed. In the cases where there was a “positive” the outcome was not repeatable at different times (anyone remember Carson’s excellent show where Uri Geller attempted to perform?). As such, with no repeatability, with no independent verifiable evidence, those reports of positive tests must be miscounted. It is entirely possible, even for career scientists, to either make a mistake (often through a preconception of the outcome and improper control) or to be fooled (human subjects are not entirely known to be completely honest, Uri Geller for instance). Give Martin Gardner, James Randi or Carl Sagan a good read as a starting point for such information.

    Anyhow, people have gone to look for such phenomena directly and never found any consistent, reliable, reproducible positive outcome. In a total absence of observable evidence and a long list of negatives, we are left with the conclusion that it just doesn’t exist. Further testing of the same phenomena, under the same conditions (I predict!), will produce the same results (and hence not tell us anything new, nor be worth serious effort). If there was any real evidence of “paranormal” phenomena, then of course it could be included within the rubric of science. But as it stands now (and has for some time), it just doesn’t hold water and therefore isn’t science. Even without a well phrased argument of how it doesn’t fit with our current understanding of nature, the simple repeated experimental failure should be enough to remove it from science (and hence the AAAS).

    If such tests had not been previously performed, it would be very good to consider your argument before attempting to pursue such a course of research. Especially when considering the question of spending money and effort on something completely off the envelope of current understanding. Anyhow, the simple, “people have looked for it in the past and not reliably seen it” statement, while a bit dry, may find readier acceptance by some people.

    best wishes


    (apologies if my statement is a bit scattered. I’m polishing/cleaning samples with only scattered 5 minute spots of time between cycles to write this)

  • anonymous

    I used to think that Scientists should have an open mind about testing paranormal phenomena, until I read the following passage from Steven Weinberg, and suddenly I understood why they should not:

    “When the Spanish settlers in Mexico began in the sixteenth century to push northward into the country known as Texas, they were led on by rumors of cities of gold, the seven cities of Cibola. At the time that was not so unreasonable. Few Europeans had been to Texas, and for all anyone knew it might contain any number of wonders. But suppose that someone today reported evidence that there are seven golden cities somewhere in modern Texas. Would you open-mindedly recommend mounting an expedition to search every corner of the state between the Red River and the Rio Grande to look for these cities? I think you would make the judgment that we already know so much about Texas, so much of it has been explored and settled, that it is simply not worthwhile to look for the mysterious golden cities. In the same way, our discovery of the connected and convergent pattern of scientific explanations has done the very great service of teaching us that there is no room in nature for astrology or telekinesis or creationism or other superstitions.”

    That’s from the end of the second chapter of “Dreams of a Final Theory”

  • andy.s

    Man, that’s a lot of words.

    All I’d say is “Because it’s all a bunch of crap! Because I said so!”

  • B

    Hi Sean,

    Nice post, very clearly written.

    I understand what you are saying with ‘science never proves anything’ with which you seem to refer to ‘real world objects’ (with all the clutter that comes with the word ‘reality’), but you have thereby declared you don’t consider mathematics to be a science. Which I find admittedly somewhat inappropriate. ‘Scientia’ (Lat) means simply ‘knowledge’ and is not necessarily bound to knowledge about meteorites or spoons. I would think mathematics qualifies as a science, even if you call this kind of knowledge ‘tautologies’.

    Also, I think the matrix spoon isn’t concerned with interactions at all, it rather refers to our fragile notion of reality. The human imagination can make up many scenarios that violate the laws of nature, and reality is never objective, it is just what your brain believes it to be.



  • andy.s’s alter ego

    Pay no attention to andy.s

    Moving spoons with your mind is (in principle) trivial.

    The distance between my mind and the spoon is three feet, but as is well known, the space-time interval between my mind (now) and that same spoon three nanoseconds in the future is 0.

    So in a sense, the future spoon and everything in the universe on the forward light-cone is a distance of 0 from my mind. So my mind should (in principle) be be able to wield any force imaginable on the spoon, no matter how short range such a force may be.

  • andy.s

    Pay no attention to my alter ego.
    He gets this way when I forget to take my meds.

  • Jazurel

    Just a matter of time with new tech before we see sht move with the mind. If you could would you let anyone know. Being a lab rat would really suck. We’ve all had it happen to us and laughed it off as being strange. Now think of generations of people thinking and practicing with the mind. Research the spells of the Vatican. The History channel said they have real SHT and real spells said to work, to call on angels. Micheal…
    Need moor brain power see what science says to do on!

  • Analyzer

    ‘Scientia’ (Lat) means simply ‘knowledge’ and is not necessarily bound to knowledge about meteorites or spoons. I would think mathematics qualifies as a science, even if you call this kind of knowledge ‘tautologies’.

    The etymological origin of the word “science” has nothing to do with the current meaning of the English word science; if “science” merely means “knowledge,” then every field of study imaginable is a “science.” Memorizing the capitals of the 50 US states will give you knowledge, but I don’t think anyone would call it a science.

    Anyway, I would indeed assert that mathematics is not a science. Science follows the scientific method; mathematics does not.

  • carey

    Chris (#6) – re telepathy:
    Thoughts are not some Platonic form floating in space. My thoughts consist of patterns within my brain. Those patterns exist in a unique neural net that grew in accord with DNA instructions and in response to unique personal circumstances (eg, nutrition, training, trauma, infections, etc). So there is no one-to-one mapping of my brain onto yours. The pattern in my brain for ‘rice pudding’ may be very different from your pattern for that concept. So why do some people think that we can ‘read’ the thoughts of others? Even if we knew the appropriate patterns to look for, we would need extremely fine resolution to discern events on a cellular scale. So our existing scientific knowledge seems to indicate that mind-reading is an unlikely event.
    But more to the point, no one has yet repeatably demonstrated any ‘psychic’ phenomenon. So for all the billions of words written about such abilities, they appear to be wishful thinking.

  • Freiddie

    Hey, what if the spoon just bent itself coincidentally at the time the performer says so? I mean by some weird extraordinarily unlikely case when the air molecules are all just pushing in the same direction to bend the spoon? Just a thought.

  • JimV

    Thank you! (Both literally, and in the current way that people ackowledge support of their own opinions.) And yet, Freeman Dyson, whom I otherwise respect, says this in “The Scientist As Rebel” (hope I am not violating any Fair Use laws):

    From a review of “Debunked: ESP, Telekinesis, and other Psuedoscience”, by Charpak and Broch:

    … There are strange events which appear to give evidence of supernatural influences operating in everyday life. They are not [always] the result of deliberate fraud or trickery, but only of the laws of probability. The paradoxical feature of the laws of probability is that they make unlikely events happen unexpectedly often. A simple way to state the paradox is Littlewood’s law of miracles. Littlewood … a professional mathematician … defined a miracle as an event which has a special significance when it occurs, [and which] occurs with a probability of one in a million.

    Littlewood’s law of miracles states that in the course of a normal person’s life, miracles occur at the rate of roughly one a month. The proof of the law is simple. During the time that we are awake … we hear and see things happening at the rate of about one per second. So the total number of events that happen to us is about … one million per month.

    [Discussion of attempts to detect paranormal “abilities” by the Rhine methods and others, “a sorry story”.]

    … Charpak and Broch and I agree that attempts to study ESP … have failed. Charpak and Broch say that since ESP and telepathy cannot be studied scientifically, they do not exist. Their conclusion is clear and logical but I do not accept it because I am not a reductionist. I claim that paranormal phenomena may really exist but may not be accessible to scientific investigation. This is a hypothesis. I am not saying that it is true, only that it is tenable, and to my mind plausible.

    … One fact that emerges clearly from the stories is that paranormal events occur, if they occur at all, only when people are under stress and experiencing strong emotion.

    … I should here declare my personal interest in the matter. One of my grandmothers was a notorious and successful faith healer.

    … Whether paranormal phenomena exist or not, the evidence for their existence is corrupted by a vast amount of nonsense and outright fraud.

    … A deluge of eloquent letters came in response to this review. Orthodox scientists were outraged because I considered the existence of telepathy to be possible. True believers in telepathy were outraged because I considered its existence to be unproven.

  • Jim Harrison

    It isn’t just physics that rules out parapsychology. You can also get a lot of mileage out of mere physiology. Consider telepathy. The relative size of the parts of animal brains that process the various sensory modalities are proportionate to the extent to which the organism relies on that sense. Animals that track their prey by smell, for example, have large olfactory lobes. Visual animals such as eagles and hawks have large sections of their brains dedicated to processing information from their eyes. Electric fish, which navigate muddy water by interpreting electric fields, have special sections of the their brains to deal with electrical data. Thing is, there is just no section of the human brain that is a plausible candidate for the organ of telepathy.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    20. JimV: quoting Freeman Dyson: “and to my mind plausible.”

    So much the worse for Freeman Dyson’s mind.

  • moveon

    “Thing is, there is just no section of the human brain that is a plausible candidate for the organ of telepathy.”

    One can also argue from an evolution theoretical standpoint. Would it be possible to communicate by telepathy at all, then this would have an obvious positive effect on survival, and it would have been developed by many species. That only a few people would be able to do this, and this barely, just does not make any sense.

  • Sean

    I think it’s useful to reserve the word “science” for the particular type of contingent, empirical knowledge about this actual world that we obtain through hypothesis testing, observation, and experiment. The type of logical truths revealed by mathematics (and amenable to proof) seem very different. There are obviously similarities, but the distinction is worth emphasizing — especially because too many people suffer under the misimpression that physics and biology actually do “prove” that certain things are true or false.

  • Allyson

    One can also argue from an evolution theoretical standpoint.

    No, we all would have killed each other if we knew what we were all thinking of each other.

    Plus, no poker.

  • MxPt

    One of the most stunning revelations of quantum physics is the role of consciousness, weakening forever the notion of an objective world. Consider the possibility that the very belief system many of those involved in this discussion are reinforcing actively selects the world you perceive and experience out of an infinity of potential worlds.

    I am a physicist, yet I have had indisputable premonitions. Completely unanticipated events seen in advance down to minute, arbitrary and irrelevant details. Of course, my experiences are anecdotal, and are non-repeatable. Therefore, they cannot fit within the standard scientific paradigm. Yet they are real to me, and real to many others I know who have had similar experiences.

    I used to work as a programmer, and very often in conversations with my collegues, I would answer a question of theirs before they asked it. When this happened, I was in something approaching a trance-like state, almost as if I was listening to someone else speaking. No deliberate effort was involved. My collegues at first were amazed, then began to be frightened, so I restrained myself.

    I suspect that if I had made a point of reinforcing in myself the limited scientific paradigm rather than spending years developing my consciousness through meditation, I would not have had the experiences I have. I believe that our conscious and unconscious belief systems have an enormous impact, not only our perceptions of an objective Newtonion-like world, but actually on the quasi-creation of a subjective world. Did you every wonder about how free will fits into physics?

    Science is more exciting when one continually asks the question, “What if….?” rather than if everyone agrees that the world is ordinary.

    For those of you who still have an open mind about parapsychology, I recommend that you read Broughton’s book.

  • Qubit

    Yes, but the current laws of Physics could be just, due to the fact that we are close to uniting them. The Laws are dynamic as far as I know; they know when your looking and will know already if we are going to unite them. This mean Quantum physics could simply due to our knowlege in the future.

    We also could have created these laws, to prevent us from knowing too much too soon. The laws of physics can be altered within Teddy Bears, e.g we can take a Teddy Bear and surround a section of space-time with a Teddy Bear. The bear can contain different laws within its self, while on the outside reality remains the same. There are probably natural bears, that allow for laws to be circumnavigated and prevent life from distorying the universe. Once you can live without your Teddy Bears, you can start to find out what life is really about

    People can create there own teddy bears, were the laws of physics break down, while the rest of the universe remains sane. But the universe could reverse this if there is a possiblity that it can be contained within somebodys Teddy Bear. I may not ever be able to see the future, but I can move an entire universe without breaking any laws.


  • Lord

    Yes parapsychology would fall outside the realm of known physics, but that cannot disprove it. That which is outside the realm of known physics, the unknown, is the very province of science. Assuming one knows almost everything and then rejecting something as inconsistent with that knowledge demonstrates only the limits of that knowledge. As you say, science never proves anything. There may be no evidence of it, there may be no worth pursuing it, but this can only be established by experiment. Even when experiment fails, we can only say that the experiment was unsuccessful. Now parapsychology as it exists, is sterile and not worth pursuing without some keener insight or evidence, but that doesn’t disprove it or falsify it. Someday, it may be resurrected, as continental drift was resurrected in plate tectonics, and we may find some truth which we have failed to elucidate to this point. Science is best reserved for the imaginative, and needs to as skeptical of itself as everything else in order to progress.

  • Count Iblis

    Many people would consider an ability some people have that is the subject of this article to be paranormal if they are not told that nothing paranormal is involved.

  • Carl Brannen

    Since science doesn’t have an explanation for my sense of free will, I don’t see why I should expect science to have an explanation for telekinesis (sp?). As far as science is concerned, my ability to hit the “submit” button is just as much a mystery as spoon bending.

    The really bizarre belief is that physicists would conclude, from a few tricks with very simple experiments covering only the simplest possible interactions, that they know enough about the world to know it all.

  • Dan

    So I’m a total non-believer in parapsychology and all that crap, but I don’t find this argument convincing at all.

    I mean, we know that our model of the universe is not quite accurate, right? So how is it that even though we can’t get general relativity and quantum physics to fit together, we can still say with absolute certainty that once they do fit together, it will be in a way that doesn’t allow for the existence of any other types of particles or long-range forces that we haven’t predicted yet? You say things like “we know that only two kinds of fields exist”, etc. But scientists 100 years ago knew a lot of things too, and they were wrong. And we know that we’re wrong too, we just don’t know exactly how we’re wrong.

    I mean, yes, you’d have to be completely obtuse to try to argue that “telekinesons” exist, and are plentiful on Earth, but have precisely the correct set of properties so as to not be discovered by physicists. But well, we’re talking about completely obtuse people here. Can you actually say that it is literally impossible that any future discovery in the field of physics would allow for a new type of long-range force, or are you just saying it’s incredibly implausible? Because if it’s the latter, I think the Texas and evolutionary arguments above do a much better job of pointing out the implausibility.

  • onymous

    even though we can’t get general relativity and quantum physics to fit together

    They fit together just fine, unless you try to ask questions about physics at the Planck scale (many orders of magnitude shorter in distance scales than anything we can experimentally test) or subtle questions about correlations among vast numbers of particles (as in the black hole information paradox). The “contradiction” between gravity and quantum mechanics is vastly exaggerated in the popular literature. The fact that we don’t know the right description of quantum gravity near the Planck scale is presumably less important in day-to-day life than the fact that we don’t know the right description of electroweak symmetry breaking at the TeV scale. And all of those unknown things are happening on scales where they cannot possibly influence macroscopic objects like the brain in any meaningful way.

  • FileNotFound


    How did I know this was coming? (Oh, right – behavioral analysis.)

    Here’s the simple point you miss, Sean. Parapsychology doesn’t exist as a scientific discipline because somebody dreamed up the ideas of telepathy and telekinesis. Nor does it exist because one person persuasively argued that such a thing would be cool so let’s see if we can create it.

    Parapsychology exists because many people have have experiences that defy conventional explanation. The first step in parapsychology was phenomenological – classify and describe them. The next step was to try to get them to appear under controlled conditions. (This step is where we have had some trouble, unfortunately. And this is what allows people like you to squawk.) Parapsychology is scientific precisely because it started from data. I’m sorry you have never seen that data as it was being collected or had a ‘psychic’ experience yourself, but then I have never seen a sub-atomic particle and I’m willing to believe the many scientists who tell me they exist. (It’s amazing how open-minded I am.)

    The fact that you spent so much time explaining why psi ‘cannot’ exist makes me wonder what you hope to accomplish by that. People who have had these experiences will not be persuaded by your arguments and will keep looking for explanations. Bravo to you if you can convince people who have not had these experiences that they can’t exist; those people probably weren’t ‘aiding the cause’ anyway.

    You argue that gravity and EM are forces of insufficient strength to affect macroscopic objects. Okay. I argue that psi experiences are still real and therefore a theory that can explain them probably will not rely on those forces. Gravity and EM may describe observed behaviors of macroscopic objects, but when other observations exist that contradict them, they are incomplete.

    That’s what it all boils down to – observations. I’m not arguing for an ‘everything is the mind’ model of anything, but I am also not content with accepting that what works most of the time must be true all of the time. That’s inference, not science. Anything that ignores data is not science. Parapsychologists don’t ignore the laws of physics; they are simply curious about observed exceptions to those laws. That is, apparently, data that you choose to ignore.

    I’m scared to even broach the subject of the observer problem with you. Or consciousness. Or the idea that it’s perfectly valid to wonder why we can’t observe matter in its smeared state.

    Sean: “We are creatures of the universe, subject to the same laws of physics as everything else.” Heaven help me, I’m going to say it – that means that at some point we break down and start behaving according to quantum rules. Where is that point? And what does it mean that conscious experience allows us to observe only one of the possible states of a particle?

    You can’t answer that question with your ‘known laws of physics’. I can’t answer it either. But I can think about it. And I can think about what psychic experiences and parapsychological data might tell us about what the answer might be. And I can wonder about what it might be like to live in Smearland… 😉

  • onymous

    You can’t answer that question with your ‘known laws of physics’.

    We can and do. Sean did. You’re wrong.

  • Neil B.

    “The main point here is that, while there are certainly many things that modern science does not understand, there are also many things that it does understand, and those things simply do not allow for telekinesis, telepathy, etc.”

    Sorry, wrong call on the second example. There are no hard laws of physics preventing correlative phenomena involving some parallel process happening in one brain due to activities in another one. It doesn’t have to be a case of, or even work like, classic quantum entanglement. QE is an example of correlations but I don’t see what requires it to be the only one.

    I do think telekinesis is a really long shot , but not necessarily impossible. If there’s something about complex arrangements and processes of matter that cause effects not so-far predicted from simpler phenomena (i.e., emergent in some extreme sense) that it could perhaps have a chance. A small chance, but I don’t think we should rule out the idea of complicated things having more effects and quirks than expected from their building blocks.

    Also, I has little chance of happening, but just “for the logical record” of accuracy: as I explained before, intervention in causality does not have to involve violation of laws of physics (the basic ones at least). For example (and I haven’t thought of any more non-probabilistic examples yet),

    (1.) There can be a delay in particle interactions, e.g. for colliding particles to be held up for a tiny interval before taking the same paths they would normally take – ergo same energy and momentum.
    (2.) In the center-of-momentum frame, the paths particles take exiting a collision can be rotated together without any violation: e.g., rotate the vector pair by say 30 degrees etc. The energy and linear and angular momentum stay the same in that frame (and therefore will in all frames.)

  • anonymous

    Neil B. said: “I do think telekinesis is a really long shot , but not necessarily impossible.”

    See comment 11 for an illustration of why we still shouldn’t bother researching paranormal phenomena, even if what you say is correct.

  • Neil B.

    BTW, how many went to to see if they linked to reports of ESP etc. in experiments, to find articles and see if the claims were credible, instead of just repeating tropes (?) that there isn’t any evidence etc? I don’t know if there is and make no general claims, but as a framing-buster I again ask: How does a person find out that there aren’t any such successful results, in principle and in practice? Aside from burdens of proof, if you say *that there aren’t any* (not to be confused with just challenging others to provide if it is), you are making an actual claim about the state of affairs of experimentation and data, not just challenging. You are implying that you know what surveying the claims shows you (maybe not personally having checked every single report, but at least collected through “sifters and funnels” that are credible and not axe-grinders with their own credibility problems.)

    I have looked at reports of studies showing better than average clairvoyant “hits” in ganzfeld studies, etc. I was in such an experiment as a student at UVA in the 70s. I described some rough outlines of the imagery in the actual target revealed later. The guy doing the tests told me later, he got better hits than chance. Maybe, maybe not (I see no reason not to believe his data claim, whatever the explanation), but what makes it appropriate for someone to claim “no evidence” instead of “that didn’t impress me much because….” ?

  • Neil B.

    anonymous: I don’t think the cities of gold in Texas is a good enough analogy: people would have run into the cities and they would be reachable, on maps etc. They are “gross” entities that stick out like a sore thumb once we have a lead to go on. But if PK really happens but is evanescent and not easily repeatable (and what logically entails that phenomena have to be accessible, to exist?) then we could expect just what goes on: some people say it has been observed, most experimenters can’t replicate it, etc. BTW, did you know that new large animals, like types of deer, have been found in recent decades, such as in remote parts of Vietnam (!)?

  • Count Iblis

    Neil, these so called “ganzfeld” tests are not so reliable because you have a person who is interpreting the picture the “receiver” is describing and he also knows what the “sender” is trying to send.

    I’m sure that if these tests are done in a completely double blind way there will be no correlations.

  • anonymous

    Neil B. asks: “what logically entails that phenomena have to be accessible, to exist?”

    Nothing entails that existence requires accessibility. But inaccessibility entails that phenomena are outside the purview of science. If PK are not accessible, then they should be in the same category as God etc.

  • Dan


    And all of those unknown things are happening on scales where they cannot possibly influence macroscopic objects like the brain in any meaningful way.

    But that’s the logical leap I don’t get. Sure, the only known holes in our current theories occur at ridiculous scales. But how can we get from that to saying that there are no unknown holes in the system at human scale? How can we know the limits of what we don’t know?

    Newton thought his system was pretty good, but it turns out it’s just an approximation that works in certain cases. How do we know that our entire system of physics isn’t just an approximation too? One that works in more cases than Newton’s, but still breaks down when you get too close to Uri Geller? :-)

  • Neil B.

    Well Iblis you have a point, but some such experiments did involve how many you got right. The one I was in had specified points (pick five different features) and so wasn’t just a sloppy estimate. The trouble is, you say you are sure it wouldn’t but that isn’t the same as knowing what results are out there, as I said.

    PS: Would you maybe start posting to your blog again? I dig the sort of ideas you played with, like the posing of what modal realists say (one of my pet kicks):

    The Universe doesn’t ”really” exist
    Our universe only exists as an abstract mathematical entity.

    I don’t agree with that, but it is amazingly hard to refute! There is no clear, logically rigorous way to prove it wrong, incredibly, AFAIK. I have posed the refutation that true randomness (as in QM of decay) cannot be represented by a “mathematical structure”, since math is a rigorous logical system and therefore must be deterministic in principle (even if chaos, pseudorandomness etc. appear in practice.)

  • Lawrence B. Crowell


    You probably should have discussed quantum mechanics! There is a lot of quantum quackery out there. But before that your write here is a good job.

    As I say, there are two relationship systems for particles. One involves geometry, the other involves quanta. The geometry one involves first space, time and spacetime, and a system of symmetries on that spacetime. There is a theorem by Coleman and Mandula on this, which gets a bit of an upgrade to supersymmetry, which spells this out very nicely. Here the geometry is a measure system, a set of kinematics so to speak, which permits us to determine a relationship system between particles by forces and the transfer or communication of energy, information and the rest. The other relationship system is quantum. This is not a metric geometric system — two quantum states can be entangled across the whole universe as “strongly” as on an optic bench — well in principle. Quantum gravity is about merging these two relationship systems into one.

    There are many people who think that quantum mechanics is involved with nonlocally influencing things. There are a lot of theorems for why this can’t be the case. But a simple way of thinking about this is that if quantum entanglements don’t involve distance or metric geometry then the simplest and most basic equation in physics

    F = ma

    is something which does not operate according to quantum entanglements. We have that acceleration “a” and that involves space, or d^2x/dt^2 (space changes with time etc). Quantum relationships, or nonlocality and entanglements, don’t involve metric distances in geometry, and so one can’t impart a change of states remotely by quantum entanglements. Any imparted force or communication of information or energy necessitates a metric geometric description. There are no faster than light communications, no remote viewings, and of course no Uri Geller spoon bending by quantum nonlocal effects — or quantum mind nonsense ideas.

    Lawrence B. Crowell

  • Neil B.

    anonymous: I should have said, “easily accessible” instead of implying maybe not accessible at all. If the former, then phenomena could exist but easily not have been found or be “around” or readily observable despite efforts to look for or cause them. One actual (by now, agreed on AFAIK) example is ball lightning.

  • Brian Mingus

    Awesome that Boulder (my locale :) showed up in the graph.

    It seems to me that people are willing to believe in the paranormal and parapsychology because they want to believe in it. Evidence and good arguments do not factor into it because it gives meaning to their lives to think that there are profound things that are yet to be discovered and (hopefully) explained. This is something that arguments based on physics are going to have a hard time dealing with. It’s no bother to them that it would require new, undiscovered forces of nature so long as the force of subjective experience goes unexplained by physical theories. Neuroscience is a long ways from making progress in explaining phenomenal consciousness (whether it can be explained is a deeply troubling philosophical question) and I strongly doubt that Quantum Field Theory is going to help. It is most applicable in that other most important question of our time, that regarding the Big Bang, which is the reason I read this blog. In the meantime, I’m OK with parapsychologists and religion. Even though they are mistaken, it’s not all that bad in the grand scheme of things.

    IMHO, grain of salt and all that. The kind of thing I’d say over a beer, if they served them here.

  • Neil B.

    Lawrence, quantum correlations have to do with “hits” of photon states and make no interference with laws of conservation of energy and momentum etc. Those laws are are conserved just as much when photon polarizations are correlated as when they are not, f = ma is not an issue and your neoclassical framing of issues is not current theory. That leaves the door open for ESP based on correlated brain states, quantum issues in choice and free will, etc., however long a shot you think it is.

  • Eugene

    You know, I have been mangling with dimensional regularization lately, and that totally feels like pseudoscience.

    (I keed, I keed!)

  • Count Iblis

    Neil, yes, I have some new things to write on my blog. Check my blog again early next week :)

  • Allyson

    See comment 11 for an illustration of why we still shouldn’t bother researching paranormal phenomena, even if what you say is correct.

    I don’t know about that. If hundreds of people report seeing a ghost in the same place, I believe people are probably seeing something. Not a ghost, but I’d still like to know what it is.

    Thousands and thousands of people report out-of-body experiences, for example. To just say it’s all rubbish and not try to find out why people feel that sensation is sort of sad.

    So now there’s a theory, and not an irrational one, which is nice.

    Sean’s lovely wife once had a post about “ghosts” and weird sensations caused by magnets, which was fantastic. Not everyone reporting “paranormal” phenomena is a crackpot, they just don’t know where or how to find the cause of what they’ve experienced.

    “Psychic” phenomena can likely be traced to a keen observation of body language, which is incredibly useful in negotiating the social world, and having a sharp sense of it would be an incredibly useful trait passed down through our evolution. It isn’t mind-reading, but you can sort of see how it could be confused for that. It isn’t magic, but it’s a skill employed by tarot card readers and palm readers…as well as salespeople, card players, and counselors.

    It really is worth studying these things instead of dismissing outright, interesting things about human behavior/evolution/how our brains work can be found.

  • Eric

    Give me a break. I’m not an advocate of parapsychology, but it’s not clear how valid current QFT is. Yes, it may agree with extraordinarily well with experimental data but so did epicycles. At least Dirac and Feynman were willing to admit that we might have to change our views drastically:

    “[Renormalization is] just a stop-gap procedure. There must be some fundamental change in our ideas, probably a change just as fundamental as the passage from Bohr’s orbit theory to quantum mechanics. When you get a number turning out to be infinite which ought to be finite, you should admit that there is something wrong with your equations, and not hope that you can get a good theory just by doctoring up that number.”

    – Paul Dirac, Nobel laureate 1933

    “The shell game that we play … is technically called ‘renormalization’. But no matter how clever the word, it is still what I would call a dippy process! Having to resort to such hocus-pocus has prevented us from proving that the theory of quantum electrodynamics is mathematically self-consistent. It’s surprising that the theory still hasn’t been proved self-consistent one way or the other by now; I suspect that renormalization is not mathematically legitimate.”

    – Richard Feynman, Nobel laureate 1965

  • Eric

    Sorry, my source is Chris Oakley’s website:

  • Aaron Bergman

    You know, we’ve learned a bit about QFT since 1965.

  • Eric

    “You know, we’ve learned a bit about QFT since 1965.”

    I agree, but my point is that none of us are omniscient.

  • onymous

    Eric, what is your point? You say “it’s not clear how valid current QFT is. Yes, it may agree with extraordinarily well with experimental data”

    And… that’s really the point, isn’t it? It’s pretty much the most well-tested theory we have in all of science. So, sure, we’re not omniscient, but you really think QFT is somehow macroscopically wrong and it hasn’t shown up in any experiment but it has in psychic phenomena?

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  • BlackGriffen

    “The argument is exactly the same, but there are those who like to pretend that we don’t understand how the laws of physics work inside a human brain.”

    There’s the crux of the problem right there. There are a lot of people, even serious intellectuals, who have a lot invested into the whole idea that there is a duality between mind and body, essentially insisting on the old canard of spirit versus flesh in different words.

    Where does this come from? Well, I’m of a mind to agree with something that I’m pretty sure I read in Sagan’s Demon Haunted World. The basic idea is something like this: our minds possess a fantastically accurate model of an incredibly complex reality that they must deal with constantly. That model is the one that ascribes intents, motives, personas, and etc to the events around you and the reality it works so well on is the social environment and, to a somewhat lesser extent, the animal environment. We even use the model on ourselves. The flaw in the model is that it doesn’t permit for something more fundamental working underneath it, and it is incredibly deeply ingrained in each of our psyches. Thus there is a cognitive disconnect between the complicated and successful social model and the simpler but more difficult to apply mechanistic model.

  • Haelfix

    There are two types of scientists.

    One scientist says ‘I know that cause precedes effect. It is that way because the world would be inconsistent if it were not’.

    the other says
    ‘I know that cause precedes effect, b/c in every experiment ever performed this has always been the empirical finding. The probability that we detect the converse is on the order of the inverse of the total amount of experiments ever done’

  • B


    Well, arguing about the usage of words is a moot point, and not something I consider worth arguing about. In my sphere of thought, mathematics is and remains a science. Memorizing capitals isn’t knowledge, it’s data storage.


  • Count Iblis

    Eric #50, since the early 1970s we have a different perspective on renormalization mainly through the application of Field Theory in Statistical Physics. In statistical physics we do computations exactly the other way around compared to high energy physics. You start with with some well defined microscopic theory, say the Ising model, and look at the long distance behaviour of that model. That model is then well described by some renormalizable field theory.

    You can then compute critical exponents etc. of the Ising model by pretending that the field theory is valid at arbitrary small length scales. But then you have to deal with the infinities of divergent integrals in exactly the same way as is done in particle physics. This means that any microscopic model which gives rise to the same macroscopic field theory will make the same prediction of critical exponents. So, you have an explanation why different models can have the same critical behavior.

    In the case of high energy physics, one can say that the Standard Model is the low energy effective field theory which you would get if you knew the Theory of everything and “integrated out” the high energy degrees of freedom. So, it doesn’t make sense to argue that because we don’t know the Theory of everything (and thus the correct way to regularize the divergent integrals), Uri Geller could really be bending spoons using paranormal abilities.

  • Raymond

    Is it just me or are the die-hard scientists (obviously including the author of the post) here forgetting that science is comparable to religion in that it is extremely based in tradition. This makes me more than a little nervous about being a scientist (even though I still am) because tradition has always been a means of “teaching” the “truth” to the non-believers. Science is no exception. Despite all the “empirical” evidence there happens to be for describing the physical world, science is simply an interpretation of that world in an attempt to find reproducible results through pattern recognition. Of course, you have to add a slight bit of creativity for the development of a few silly names (quarks, photons, neutrinos, etc.) and a lot of effort to tie loose ends together. Nonetheless, science is but one, albeit a complex one, interpretation of what we have decided to call reality. I find it very hard not to laugh AT the post itself because the writer has tried so hard (perhaps without realizing it) to drag out all the scientific “explanations/proofs/ideas” for their occasional pony show, while neglecting that just because we have developed a given way of looking at or studying reality, this does not mean that there are not other, more efficient and perhaps accurate, ways of doing so. I’m not saying parapsychology is one of them, but I do think that a little caution needs to be had when acting as though science has all this evidence, because as Nietzsche put it, “There are no facts, only interpretations.” Not to mention, I think you clearly missed the point of the spoon-bending bit in The Matrix, but I guess that message was clearly not for a particular audience. I find it interesting though that their are scientifically documented cases where individuals are able to focus enough (consciously or subconsciously) in order to change things such as personal biochemistry. For instance, cases of multiple personality disorder are known to have personalities with completely different biochemistry than the next personality, all for the same body. Also, certain sects of monks have been known to endure hours of meditation in severely cold weather without personal injury, only possible by their ability to increase their body temperature. So, the phrase “I am that” has a whole new meaning if one actually begins to focus on that which you choose to be.

    But, I guess all the scientists will continue being happy chasing their dreams of obtaining more and more “information” and “evidence” while basking in the glory of status provided to them by our current societal hierarchy, and perhaps even in this case, gloating about the fact that they get, what was it, ah yes, billions of dollars to study things that should always be true by their standards, and thus neglecting all the current problems that would actually be better served with that funding like poverty, political corruption, cultural meltdown, etc. Keep on making those particle accelerators boys!

  • Wayne

    I doubly think Sean missed the point on the spoon-bending. But that idea wasn’t meant to be interpreted by a quantum physicist in his/her own physical terms. It is much broader than this.

    I see this all coming back to interpretation, whether you consider “bending a spoon” as a physical event requiring a force (which scientists will continue to assume would come from “brain waves” or some force over distance) or one can see it as a metaphor, that “it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.” Bending spoons at a distance is impossible, physically impossible. Those who actually believe they can do this discredit the very argument.

    It is not an argument of someone “being able to bend a spoon with brain waves,” if it were, then of course, you win. The discussion arises from a misunderstanding of a statement. The idea is that the world around us does not change it’s laws or forces, we change them. Our interpretations change, and hence, our experience of those laws and forces change. It is our interpretation of these very laws and forces, our interpretations of each other, our interpretations of ourselves, these influence the impact events have on our lives. Science has been reinterpreting its laws since its advent, so has religion, so has humanity. Reinterpretation is what allows us to thrive in a world that changes with us. The more humanity learns (astronomy, physics, astronomy, chemistry, religions, politics, government, music, art, etc.), the more dynamic the world becomes. The more the world changes in our collective eyes. The more we have to work with, the more we have to digest, understand, interpret and then reinterpret.

    There was a lack of foresight Sean’s post. Pursuing such a difficult question of mind and body by attempting complex answers that come from only one side of the argument, that only beg more questions and only leave more remainders is a trap any person can succumb to. Occam’s Razor, my friends.

    Science cannot study the “mind” that we speak of when we consider mind and body. The scientific method is not meant to study mind. You can’t physically experiment on it. That’s the point. Scientific laws are brilliantly founded and I believe they are very real. But I also know that the “fine tuning” of physical laws is just another way of saying we are reinterpreting those laws based on observation, or by having “more to work with.” We change those laws through our interpretations of observation. The universe doesn’t change them. To the universe, everything works just fine. It is we, as humans, curious as we are, that are here to try and interpret the universe in a way that includes the whole universe in our understanding. Truly, we can’t leave anything out because it will still be here in our awareness. No matter how hard we try, what arises in the human awareness will continue to arise until reconciled with. We can’t sweep thousands of years of belief, from any society or organization, under the rug of consciousness. It hasn’t worked yet, though we’ve tried. I imagine nothing is meant to be swept under the rug. Inclusion rings much finer.

    I suppose a comforting thing is to feel that the universe is working regardless of our interpretations. No spacetime rifts or tears in the fabric yet. That is, until we interpret the universe as being capable of such events. Eh?

    The very best to all of you,


  • E

    I see that most of the people that proclaim to be open to have other interpretations of reality miss the point of this post. The phenomena that are not explained by the laws of physics — in their regime of their validity — are not an open door to our yearnings of how the world should operate. They are actually mean that the human capabilities are finite and limited when it come to understand systems of a vast complexity like the human brain. The easy way to go when confronted by these formidably hard problems is to advocate for something ‘unknown’ that explain our experiences. It is part of the human condition to try our best to make sense of the world. Furthermore any additional knowledge we gain about the world around us will not overwrite what we already know. General Relativity does not invalidate Newton’s theory and Quantum Mechanics does not invalidate Classical Mechanics. They actually expand our knowledge explaining things — in their regime of their validity —.

  • Chris

    #60, please cite sources. Even the existence of Multiple Personality Disorder is highly disputed among those knowledgeable in the area. I have heard liars and charlatans like Anthony Robbins talk about people with different biochemistries in their different “personalities,” but have not found any record of these cases. Can you elaborate?

  • slide2112

    If matter came before mind then this view is correct. If mind came before matter then there is something outside the system that makes psi possible.

  • Lawrence B. Crowell

    Neil B. on Feb 18th, 2008 at 9:10 pm
    Lawrence, quantum correlations have to do with “hits” of photon states and make no interference with laws of conservation of energy and momentum etc. Those laws are are conserved just as much when photon polarizations are correlated as when they are not, f = ma is not an issue and your neoclassical framing of issues is not current theory. That leaves the door open for ESP based on correlated brain states, quantum issues in choice and free will, etc., however long a shot you think it is.


    A quantized system will of course have all the metric geometry stuff, such as if you quantize Maxwell’s equation, or the quantum mechanical motion of a charged particle in a magnetic field etc. In what I was talking about I was referring to the nonlocal aspects of the quanta, or the parts which violate Bell’s equalities.

    Conservation of energy? Sure as a local law, but cosmologically — you might want to think again. The cosmological spacetimes have time dependencies, which means that a Killing vector

    K_tcdot U^t~=~EK~=~const

    which defines an isometry for the “t” part of the four momentum does not exist. So in cosmology there is no global meaning to conservation of energy.

    Anyway, my point was that nonlocal effects can’t be used as a way to communicate information or to impart energy or a force from “here” to “there.”

    This latest blog-thread appears to be sinking into the same morass that the AAAPara-P thread did. As Sagan put it, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence to back them up. In the case of Mind-Over-Matter claims such as telekinesis this is required before the idea can be seriously entertained.

    Lawrence B. Crowell

  • John Merryman

    Jim, Moveon,

    “Thing is, there is just no section of the human brain that is a plausible candidate for the organ of telepathy.”

    One can also argue from an evolution theoretical standpoint. Would it be possible to communicate by telepathy at all, then this would have an obvious positive effect on survival, and it would have been developed by many species. That only a few people would be able to do this, and this barely, just does not make any sense.

    I remember watching a flock of geese, riding a wind current and wondering which would start to flap their wings first. With that, they all did it as one. What is an evident evolutionary advantage for people is our intellectual autonomy. The problem with telepathy is that we don’t want everyone else reading our minds, we function best asindividual operators. That doesn’t mean there isn’t some deeper level where we are all one larger beast, like individual bees function as a hive, but that it is elemental and emotional, not intellectual. It would be the raw foundation out of which we have risen, not complex awareness. The evolutionary function of the brain is navigation and survival of mobile organisms. Being able to conceal your intentions is a prized trait in a Darwinian environment. This may seem too woo woo for some here, but much or reality consists of open space between particles, of a much greater proportional distance then that between people, yet such agglomerations of energy manage to behave as one state.

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  • John Merryman

    Sean makes a logical argument for why we cannot bend spoons with our minds, minus the medium of hands, but can anyone offer a clear reason why timetravel is scientifically implausible, if not impossible?
    Given that Relativity treats it as a fundamental dimension similar to space, we are treated to any number of wormholes, branes, alternate universes, etc. explaining how it might be possible and that is all well and good, because scientific inquiry requires a consideration of all possibilities.
    I have on a number of occasion in various posts on CV offered a description of time as a emergent description of motion, similar to temperature;

    If two atoms collide, it creates an event in time. While the atoms proceed through this event and on to others, the event goes the other way. First it is in the future, then in the past. Which is the real direction? If time is a fundamental dimension, then physical reality proceeds along it, from past events to future ones. If time is a consequence of motion, then physical reality is simply energy in space and the events created go from being in the future to being in the past.

    Consider a thermal medium, say a pot of hot water, with lots of water molecules moving about. To construct a time keeping device out of this we would measure the motion of one of these points of reference against the medium it is moving through. The point is the hand and the medium is the face of the clock. Obviously all the other points are hands of their own clocks, but are medium/face for all other clocks. The motion of any point/hand is balanced by the reaction of the medium/face of the clock. At any one moment, the positions of all these points constitute an event, so while they all go from past events to future ones, the medium against which any point is being judged is the overall context, which once created, is displaced by the next, so the events go from future potential to past circumstance. There are innumerable points of reference describing their own narrative and all this activity exists in an equilibrium, so every potential clock constitutes its own measure of time. The only absolute time would be like absolute temperature; the complete absence of motion.

    Suffice to say, it’s drawn little response and less positive response, but it does effectively explain why time travel is not a physical option. Unfortunately it doesn’t fit the “equations,” so it doesn’t seem to be scientifically valid.

    In our day and age, where political and religious fanatics seem intent on leading us to Armageddon and financial charlatans are sucking the system of economic exchange dry, the Einsteins of the day are mostly intent on kicking metaphorical stray mutts and other straw men, as they savor their own registered creations. I realize this may seem shocking, but you will never find what’s outside the box, if you never come out of the box.

    (A box is a closed set and subject to entropy.)

  • NEO

    Well, I think the laws of physics are all an illusion created by the computers that use our bodies for energy. If you learn to see through the illusion and ‘believe’ then you can control the matrix and it’s virtual reality.

  • NEO

    Well, I think the laws of physics are all an illusion created by the computers that use our bodies for energy. If you learn to see through the illusion and ‘believe’ then you can control the matrix and it’s virtual reality.

    I know Kung Fu!

  • Raymond

    I was referring to the book “When Rabbit Howls,” but it is not the first time I’ve hear of the varying biochemistry situation. Also, the words “liar” and “charlatan” suggest, at least to me, that the individuals in question are saying these things with full, or at least partial knowledge, that they are in the “wrong.” Just because somebody makes a claim that you or I do not agree with, though, we really shouldn’t be making statements about whether their intentions were to deceive unless they come out an admit to doing so. To use a point from Nietzsche again, people are rarely, if ever, malicious because they are too concerned with themselves to actually worry about another person so much as to hurt them or whatever. Anyhoo, just throwing that out there because I’ve grown a little tired of random people on this page referring to the non-scientist types (parapsychologists) or those making such types of claims as being ridiculous, liars, charlatans, etc. As a friend and I have discussed about this whole discussion, it seems to be more a matter of pride than anything else.

  • Julien

    Hi Sean,

    Thanks a lot for such a wonderful article. As an (active) member in a science forum, I’ve encountered may times such charlatans and it has been proved awkard to rule them out as they do not listen to arguments.

    Actually the best thing to do is to scatter your post !

  • Chris

    Meh, I’d hardly say that an autobiographical account of MPD constitutes evidence that those afflicted have varying biochemistries.

  • Neil B.

    Haelfix at #57: You are wrong due to demonstrable historical examples fundamental to physics. Quantum mechanics and relativity (both kinds) were both absurd in terms of prevailing assumptions. Neither had clear supporting evidence until after the outset (although hints that something was wrong with previous theories was there, just not appreciated for what it was) because we weren’t’ doing experiments in the regime in which those effects would matter. (Not entirely, but there wasn’t clear evidence for GR effects for example.)

    To reiterate, the trouble with a simplistic evaluation of the chance that the odd effect being the inverse of the number of experiments is the unfounded assumption that the prior experiments represent a broad cross-section of all the possible tests that can be done. For examples involving future possibilities, the one Sean gave about gravity: the 1/r^2 law may break down at tiny distances (like microns, not even extreme stuff like 10^-33 cm etc.) because we haven’t been testing at those distances. We didn’t because it is damn hard to measure gravity forces between things weighing in the micrograms etc.

    Things didn’t work out as we expected when they were very small, going very fast, very massive – OK. Well, we shouldn’t be surprised if they don’t work out as we expect when things are very complicated – get the hint?

  • Raymond

    Apparently you have not read the book otherwise your evidence and required sources would have slapped you across the face. But hey, it’s always been my experience that the average man is not too keen on looking a few inches beyond his own nose. Not to mention, your use of the word evidence is interesting because it assumes a number of things while also misunderstanding my original statement. I never said that all ALL case of multiple personality disorder have different biochemistries, but there are documented cases in which a few individuals with said disorder have that unique quality. Also, you seem to assume that evidence must be gathered by “proper authorities” because you act as though somebody is not a confirmed scientist that reports on their own experiences (such as having tests done, looking at the results with a trained doctor, coming to a conclusion, and then relaying it to others) is not as credible as the doctor’s report itself. Anyhoo, next time, instead of just peeking your head in at a review of a given book and then making a comment about evidence, perhaps try reading that book, assessing the evidence or lack thereof, and then pull out your jumping chart to help you find a suitable conclusion.

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  • Chris

    Admittedly, I have not read the book, and based on the descriptions that I’ve read online, I have no real intention to – in my belief system, someone who claims to have supernatural powers cannot be trusted on other matters of science. However, one thing important here is your comment:

    ou act as though somebody [who] is not a confirmed scientist that reports on their own experiences (such as having tests done, looking at the results with a trained doctor, coming to a conclusion, and then relaying it to others) is not as credible as the doctor’s report itself.

    Yes, that’s exactly how I act, because it’s true. The doctor’s report would be far more direct evidence than the relaying of that doctor’s report. The relayed story is not nearly as credible, because there are many more opportunities for mistakes, misinterpretations, omissions, or direct fraud to occur.

  • Raymond

    True, eh. Again, language is everything. Perhaps a report would be more direct evidence, but only evidence of a particular kind if you really want to get into the nitty gritty of it all. I just read that it is suspected that at least 20% of all doctor’s determinations for patients are false or incorrect in regards to what they describe as being true. Now, I’m not saying a person should not trust the opinion of a person who has dedicated a large amount of time to a particular field of study, but I do think that what we, as a society, term “credible” is only based on some sort of ambiguous agreement as to what counts as proof. On top of that, even if I was citing a direct report, I’m sure questions would be flying about the validity of the study and psychological “experiments” in general. Anyhoo, claiming that one can alter there own biochemistry seems to me, as a chemist, not all that too far fetched. But yeah, truth is such an arbitrary term in matters of science that I don’t think it really helps an argument any by claiming that such and such is true.

  • Blake Stacey

    Just bend the spoon with your damn fingers and tell everybody you’re a psychic. It’s a whole lot simpler than looking for loopholes in physics. Scientists, accustomed to an adversary who is “subtle but not malicious,” all too often fail to appreciate what a canny fellow can do with a child’s book of parlor tricks.

  • FileNotFound

    Ironically enough, I had a rather lengthy discussion with someone this morning on the reality of quantum teleportation. He couldn’t fathom how it could be possible (no knowledge of quantum physics) and was fairly certain that the stories of the successful teleportation of a particle were the result of a conspiracy of scientists. (No joke; the irony almost choked me.)

    Tomorrow I will have pictures to illustrate the process for him, but I doubt it will make a difference. To much of a gap between what you ‘know’ and what you are being asked to believe leads to cognitive dissonance and the (generally) abrupt refusal to consider the conflicting idea any farther.

  • Matt

    Well, I’m jumping in late to the fray here, but as the guy who kicked off the “dispiriting comments” in the previous post, I have to say Sean’s arguments were pretty convincing for me.

    But not quite convincing enough for me to rule out my own personal “para” experiences as confirmation bias. So the most attractive option left to me is to turn to the ever-popular reality as a computer simulation framework, discussed here before. To which I think I can add some valuable contributions.

    Here’s what I’m toying with:

    We’re all Non Player Characters in a massive multiplayer computer game. At least I’m an NPC. Can’t say for sure about the rest of you – there could be some real players mixed in. Speaking for myself, I have some damn good AI, which, presumably, makes the game more fun for the real players.

    The reason that QM and GR don’t mesh is because they’re only approximations of “real physics” designed to make the in-game physics engine run more smoothly – in terms of processor cycles, it’s easier to render two separate, simplified approximations than exactly mimic whatever the real thing is.

    The player characters are most likely the world leaders, or the secret societies/skull and boneses out there – the ones driving our world to war all the time, because, let’s face it, war games sell. Imagine the ad campaign in the “real world” – “Will you join the War On Terror, will you strap on a suicide vest?Log into the multiverse now for only $20 a month!”

    Or perhaps the player characters are really aliens, and most of the action in the game is off earth. We’re like an easter egg or something, hiding as a brief distraction for those who find us – “Go ahead, abduct a few, see what makes them tick!”

    Anyway, back to us. I’m occasionally psychic because the code for this universe is all written, a priori – sometimes my server just processes it a little faster than others.

    The simplest plan in that case is to find out who the player characters are and extract the truth from them, by threatening to make the game no fun if they don’t comply. Can NPC’s be Griefers? Let’s find out.

  • Brian Mingus

    The only plausible circumstances that MPD might arise is in a callosotomy (severing the corpus callosum) at a very young age and then specifically training that person to develop redundant sets of skills such as language in each hemisphere. Kind of like siamese twins, just in one brain. There are no documented cases of such a thing – it’s science fiction. The brain just isn’t designed to support multiple personalities. There are crazy cases of dissociative fugue’s etc…, but not multiple personalities. It’s completely unsupported by evidence and flies in the face of all of cognitive science. Almost all cognitive disorders arise from the brain trying to present a single coherent picture. That the brain would suddenly try to present two of them is preposterous IMHO, which is based on the lack of verifiable cases so far.

  • anonymous

    Why don’t we just let xkcd resolve this discussion for us?

  • Sam Taylor

    I am a very old non scientist who stumbled on this site as a result of Sean’s magnificent Teaching Company course on the “Dark Side”.

    With a smile, Sean’s masterful discussion reminds me of Aristotle’s dismissal of the heliocentric description of the solar system because no one could detect stellar parallax. Certainly any claims of para normal senses/abilities should require extraordinary proof that does not now exist. However, whether this is because none are warranted or because we lack the technology to detect and analyze them is simply unknown. At the moment, the former appears more likely.

    Nevertheless, from a risk/reward perspective, should we abandon continuing exploration of para-normal phenomenon? As Sean point out in his “Dark Side” course outline, the topic “has no practical purpose in terms of technology or economic benefit.” If I hear the phrase “string Theory” again I may vomit at the very unscientific use of the term “theory”. There is more anecdotal evidence for para-normal phenomenon and more opportunity to turn parts into actual testable hypothesis than there appears to be for any string speculations that show little promise of even reaching the hypothesis stage.

    On the reward side, if we humans ever develop the technology to improve our ability to communicate or empathize, the upside seems fairly obvious. So would the ability to influence the healing and/or improved operation of our bodies and minds.

    On the other hand, one might speculate that the rest of the universe communicates in the 95% of “reality” that is in the dark spectrum so if we ever want to join the crowd we had better learn how.

    But “easy steps fpr little feet” as the first encyclopaedia I ever read said. Cosmology, string speculation, etc. are interesting, even fascinating and a important part of being human. So is our current inability to detect the equivalent of “parallax”. But in terms of reward, learning how to be a better, more effective human by using our brains/minds in ways that we might now call para-normal has rewards that seem orders of magnitude greater than making sure our research conforms with the “Standard Model” enlarged to include gravity which it doesn’t. So long as the odds are non-zero, putting some of our money on this chip does not seem crazy.


  • Lawrence B. Crowell

    John Merryman on Feb 19th, 2008 at 12:51 pm
    Sean makes a logical argument for why we cannot bend spoons with our minds, minus the medium of hands, but can anyone offer a clear reason why timetravel is scientifically implausible, if not impossible?
    Given that Relativity treats it as a fundamental dimension similar to space, we are treated to any number of wormholes, branes, alternate universes, etc. explaining how it might be possible and that is all well and good, because scientific inquiry requires a consideration of all possibilities.


    One way we can question time travel is to ponder the prospect that if you went back in time and killed your parents this leads to a logical contradiction of a causal nature. Of course spacetime solutions for closed timelike loops only permit so called time travel after the “machine” is turned on. Yet one can imagine that in a time loop event A leads to B, which leads to C, which in turn back in time leads to not-A.

    A more physics argument against time travel is that the momentum energy source term (tensor) for such a spacetime violates energy conditions established by Hawking and Penrose. The energy (time-time) part T^{tt} is less than 0 and since this is built up from a Lagrangian and a Hamiltonian this leads to negative energy states of a queer nature. Since everything is presumed to be quantum mechanical so would be the mass-energy or fields that are the source of the spacetime. They also have no minimum energy eigenvalue — such as how the hydrogen atom has the 1S state at the “bottom.” As such the particles of this strange field “unobtanium” will cascade forever into negative energy and by energy conservation spew an infinite amount of energy to the outside world. Nobody wants this in quantum field theory, so states are bounded below and this field probably does not exist.

    A time machine is also something which could exist with no cause. Suppose you got instructions on how to build a time machine, you build it and get famous. But you also remember to send the plans to yourself in the past. There is a strange quantum effect called the Wheeler Delayed Choice Experiment (WDCE). You can decide to measure or not measure whether a photon went through slit A or B after it is known to have passed that point. The quantum measurement issue still works. It turns out in a little bit I wrote some years ago that a version of the Shor factorization algorithm could be solved in a similar way. By doing a form of the WDCE quantum bits can be computed in the past and the wave function must be conformed in such as way as to give the factorization. It is a quantum time machine of sorts, for the actual algorithmic loop is never executed, just as with the time machine you don’t figure it out. Though in reality no information or causal influence in the quantum case is actually sent back in time.

    Lawrence B. Crowell

  • Mike

    Maybe spoon bending is exactly like spoon bending in The Matrix–namely our existence is really a computer simulation and the programmers are free to ‘change the rules’ at will (though it seems they rarely use this power). Unlike in The Matrix, we would have no free will and wouldn’t be able to control the simulation ourselves. But, Bostrom has argued that if some civilizations live long enough then perhaps most “observers” are actually simulations, not the real deal. To me this is worse than suggesting we’re a Boltzmann brain, but I thought I’d throw it out there for all the sci-fi fans.

  • anonymous

    “Our knowledge of the laws of physics rules them out.”

    So how do they happen?

    I am not now, nor have I ever been, a physicist, so anything you tell me about bosons and fermions I am forced to take on faith. I am reluctant to believe the ‘poor, deluded masses’ argument to explain peoples’ perceptions of psychic experiences. Is it not also likely that physicists are probably culled from people who have less tolerance for ambiguity and therefore prefer order provided by rules governing a known universe? (The bias argument works both ways.)

    I have been motivated by personal experiences to investigate the findings of parapsychology, and I believe it is at least recognized by parapsychologists that a force model is inadequate to explain these experiences. Some have looked to quantum physics for a possible explanation. I’m guessing that doesn’t sit well with you, given what I could glean from your post.

    You essentially ask us to take your word that psi is impossible because you represent an authority in physics. I cannot independently verify boson and fermions, or their effects. Nor am I familiar enough with the field of physics to know of any rules or applications that might be used to counter your argument, so, yes, you are making an appeal to authority. That I have little knowledge of physics is a shortcoming of mine, admittedly, but not one that will make me anymore inclined to trust authority over personal experience.

    It speaks ill of you that you belittle the experiences of so many people, and are so willing to summarily dismiss them out of hand because of your faith in what you know. I’d hardly call that ‘open-minded’.

  • loupgarou

    its quite certain they don’t exist (or if they do, terribly unreliable).

    eg; if I had telekinesis, I will take over the world, no one can stop me, I can stop your heart beating,squish your brain with just a sideways glance.

    if I had telepathy, I’ll be fcking rich.
    I’ll win at poker all the time, pass all my grades, win all television games, know all passwords/security/times/schedules.

    if I had precognition, I’ll win the lottery… all the time. (oh and I should be able to see the future where you key in your atm key as well)

    postcognition – well, I could see the past where you typed in your passwords too.

    instead, some has tk and chooses to bend spoons?

  • Jimbo

    Sean makes a potent argument against parapsychology, and I will not attempt to refute it.
    However, if we accept parapsychology as a subset of the study of consciousness in general, we find that not only does it remain an integral part of the big picture, but that physicists and scientists from all over the world, will converge on Tucson this spring for the 14th such conference:

    I really think that if there was a strong consensus that parapsychology was pseudo-scientific BS, it would not be on the conference agenda, alongside an internationally respected set of researchers.
    Although NOW is the golden age of cosmology, parapsychology’s heyday was 30 yrs ago, when the CIA, KGB, UC Berkely, Princeton, SRI International, to name a few, were seriously investigating the reality of parapsychology.
    Did it fall out of fashion, or did some group deliver the coup d’etat to it ? Everyone seems eager to perform the eulogy, but I don’t think the funeral has yet ocurred.

  • John Merryman


    Time travel does present any number of cyclical conundrums, but is it entirely logical to consider time as a form of dimension? We can calculate essentially the same relationship between volume and temperature, as that between space and time, where the same amount of energy results in reduced temperature, with increased volume, but no one tries to argue that temperature and volume are the same, as they do with space and time. It is in fact the intuitive description of time that is linear, ie. narrative structure, cause and effect, history, etc. where one thing leads to another, but this is a reductionist perspective, encouraged by our own linear motion through space.

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  • Damien

    What about the research done at Princeton?

  • Reginald Selkirk

    84. Sam Taylor: If I hear the phrase “String Theory” again I may vomit at the very unscientific use of the term “theory”. There is more anecdotal evidence for para-normal phenomenon and more opportunity to turn parts into actual testable hypothesis than there appears to be for any string speculations that show little promise of even reaching the hypothesis stage.

    As I mentioned just a few days ago, a comparison to string theory does not fare well for parapsychology. First, string theory has been heavily criticized for not being testable, so appealing to string theory to avoid criticism is not going to work. Second, as you acknowledge, ESP is much easier to test than string theory. Hypotheses have been formed. They have been tested. There are no reliable replicable results from that testing. Ever.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    92. Damien: What about the research done at Princeton?

    What about it?

    The end of PEAR
    by Mark C. Chu-Carroll

    Including links to discussion of:

    An attempt to create a mathematical explanation for how consciousness affects reality. This work uses some of the worst fake math that I’ve ever seen….

    Skewing statistics to show that minds can affect the REG. …

    Post-Hoc data selection to create desired results. …

  • Anon

    As a theoretical physicist, I have to admit that I do not understand how our macroscopic experience follows from the rules of a quantum world. The dirty little secret is that nobody really does, and anyone who says otherwise is either lying or keeping some unpublished knowledge to himself. There are furthermore many observed macroscopic phenomena that are only imperfectly understood, if at all, in terms of QCD. A 150 years ago the behaviour of the two-slit experiment would have been considered very much impossible on the basis of the then known laws of physics. One should therefore be a little humble and not prematurely dismiss a field that has not been sufficiently investigated using the scientific method (and no, it has not, despite statements to the contrary by those who are suddenly experts).

  • Anon

    moveon said:

    > Would it be possible to communicate by telepathy at all, then this would have an
    > obvious positive effect on survival, and it would have been developed by many
    > species.

    Would it be possible to communicate by words at all, then this would have an obvious positive effect on survival, and it would have been developed by many species. That only one species would be able to do this, and this barely, just does not make any sense.

  • John Merryman


    Would it be possible to communicate by words at all, then this would have an obvious positive effect on survival, and it would have been developed by many species. That only one species would be able to do this, and this barely, just does not make any sense.

    One of the points I make about the process of time is that while energy moves toward the future, events created fall away into the past. This corresponds to the relationship between our brain and our mind. While the physical reality of our brain moves into the future, our mind is the record of events as they fall away into the past. So while it is of long term benefit for human evolution to study this record of events for the lessons it tells us, it is a distraction from our concentration on the present and for many species, that can be dangerous.
    The extent of my experience with sensing others thought processes has been a consequence of being totally in the present and not distracted by my own stream of verbal consciousness, which I find I can sidetrack, if not totally turn off, by allowing it to lock on various verbal loops, like a song stuck in the head, then ignoring it.

  • Rob Close

    “And those limits show unambiguously that any such new force must either be very short-range (less than a millimeter), or much weaker than gravity, which is an awfully weak force.”

    How do scientists KNOW all the forces in the universe, let alone KNOW the limits of such forces? Just because a force isn’t exerting it’s influence at one moment doesn’t preclude it from acting in another.

    How many dimensions are there? How many forces exist in those dimensions? How do we access them? What do they look like?

    Since you can’t answer these questions without being a charlatan or intellectually dishonest, a scientist has to admit that there are HUGE wholes in our knowledge of the universe. This article assumed too much.

  • Lawrence B. Crowell

    Time is somewhat strange in relativity. It is a fourth dimension in that a distance in flat spacetime is


    for ds an infinitesimal unit of distance, sometimes called the proper time or the invariant interval. This distance is an invariant so a coordinate transformation to another frame will preserve this interval. For this reason spatial directions and time (coordinate time t) are interchanged. Yet in general relativity if one considers space as something “pushed forward” in time the basic equations don’t explicitly involve time! It turns out that time is something the analyst imposes on the problem —- one is free to push time forward in what ever way one wants. It is analogous to a gauge condition in electromagnetism or any Yang-Mills gauge field.

    In fact general relativity is about the relationship between particles, it is not about the relationship between points. Time, and for that matter the geometry of space as well in a momentum condition, are not determined but imposed. The Einstein field equation are then used to compute the relationships between particles, such as the geodesic deviation equation. In this way spatial variables and time are from external coordinate conditions which are conditions on external variable analogous to setting a gauge conditions on internal variables.

    In a strange sense, time does not really exist in the concrete we normally think!

    I threw out the WDCE and the “quantum time machine” as a bit of a teaser, but noone took the bait. One might argue that this should permit some form of precognition, say if the “quantum mind” can be entangled with events in the future. Yet as I stressed nonlocal entanglements don’t involve the communication of information.

    As Victor Stenger puts it with paranormalism, “In every other field that I can think of, such a sustained record of negative results over so many years would have long ago resulted in the sought after phenomenon being declared non-existent.” For similar reasons scientists don’t pursue research programs to detect the influence of angels.

    Lawrence B. Crowell

  • well

    >Would it be possible to communicate by words at all,
    >then this would have an obvious positive effect on
    >survival, and it would have been developed by many
    >species. That only one species would be able to do
    >this, and this barely, just does not make any sense.

    Cool bit of sarcasm.


    …animals DO communicate through electromagnetic means. The *extent* to which that communication became evolved is what words are all about. But telepathy does not seem to exist even in rudimentary form in the animal kingdom. There was some debate about elephants congregating as if through magic, but then it was discovered that they were communicating through infrasonic sound waves.

  • Carl Sanderson

    As Victor Stenger puts it with paranormalism, “In every other field that I can think of, such a sustained record of negative results over so many years would have long ago resulted in the sought after phenomenon being declared non-existent.” For similar reasons scientists don’t pursue research programs to detect the influence of angels.

    Anyone who assumes that this “sustained record of negative results” is a given, might read the contravening evidence in the “Out of the Gates..” book by Damien Broderick who approaches this whole question empirically and comes to a quite different conclusion.

    For follow-on reading, I also suggest revisiting “Flatland” by Abbott.

    Then I suggest we all beef up our tolerance for ambiguity which almost certainly will be stretched in many ways over the next few decades while we watch a number of “spooky” things start to seem ordinary once explained.

  • Coin

    over the next few decades while we watch a number of “spooky” things start to seem ordinary once explained.

    Huh. Just curious, what “things” did you have in mind?

  • Lawrence B. Crowell

    Spooky things = paranormalism, what else could it be?

    The problem is that the the argument is being made that to dismiss these things is “closed mindedness.” This is a tactic used by creationists, who will charge that acceptance of evolution as the scientific operative theory for interrelatedness of species is “closed minded,” for this precludes their quasi-theory summed up in the first three chapters of Genesis.

    It is not a matter of closed mindedness, it is just that certain things just don’t appear to function in the world, from UFOs, to angels, ghosts and … . If something pops up which demostrates something along these lines then I will pay attention, but I am not holding my breath.

    Other forces — Sean outlines above measurements of departures from gravity at small distances, which might show up as a departure from the Einstein equivalence principle. So far no cigar, gravity appears well behaved or there are no extra forces. Why there are the forces in the universe which exist is a deep subject. It has something to do with maximal supersymmetry, orbifold compactifications, Calabi-Yau spaces and other matters a bit beyond the scope here. I am working on these things with so called sporadic groups, which are stranger than the exceptional groups employed for some string sectors. A particularly interesting sporadic group is called the monster group (Griess-Fischer group), which has 196884 dimensions with order ~ 8.8×10^{53}! It is the root extension of the Leech lattice in 24 dimensions which nicely embeds 11 dimensional supergravity. Maybe new forces or states of mass-energy will materialize sporadically or monsterously. But I offer no hope for any paranormal “physics” based on this.

    Lawrence B. Crowell

  • John Merryman


    So would you say that time is the basis of motion, or an emergent description of it, such as is temperature?


    But telepathy does not seem to exist even in rudimentary form in the animal kingdom.

    Consciousness manifests as an emergent property of interactions of neurons. At what level does this compare to the interaction of individuals that is civilization. We are nodes in a network. Is the network an illusion, or do we lack the perspective to understand its function? Is our individuality one extreme of a larger spectrum of consciousness. As a younger child in a large family, these are not political issues for me, but personal ones.

    Spooky things = paranormalism, what else could it be?

    A credit meltdown in the derivatives market?

  • Charon


    Yes parapsychology would fall outside the realm of known physics

    Someone didn’t read the original post. Scratch that, a lot of people didn’t.


    Parapsychology is scientific precisely because it started from data.

    Yes… and the data all say there are no effects of that sort. If, you know, you use the data that was actually taken in controlled, double-blind situations. So honest parapsychologists gave up. As they say, “There’s no PEAR there.”


    Newton thought his system was pretty good, but it turns out it’s just an approximation that works in certain cases.

    Yep. All the cases he could test. In fact, all the cases anyone could test for hundreds of years. And non-Newtonian effects are not on the human scale.


    Is it just me or are the die-hard scientists (obviously including the author of the post) here forgetting that science is comparable to religion in that it is extremely based in tradition. This makes me more than a little nervous about being a scientist (even though I still am)

    No, you are not. You cannot be a scientist if you don’t have a basic understanding of empiricism.


    So how do they happen? … Is it not also likely that physicists are probably culled from people who have less tolerance for ambiguity

    First, they don’t happen. Second, are you kidding? Physicists (and scientists in general) have the highest ambiguity tolerance I know of. Most people get to believe that they know things for certain. Scientists never have that luxury (and most I know wouldn’t even want it).

    “Keeping an open mind is a virtue, but not so open that your brains fall out.”
    — James Oberg

  • Darlen J

    Your claim that “Spoons are made of ordinary matter” is very offensive, because the same arguments you make about spoons would equally apply to humans. And if humans are made of ordinary matter, without any extra magical particles, than how can we have an immortal soul?

  • Jimbo

    Everybody take note….

    PEAR did not die, but is now reincarnated as the International Consciousness Research Labs, Inc:

    And, a spin-off will sell you a REG w/ops & analysis SW for those who desire a home test of the PSI abilities !
    The only catch is the $350 samoleans they want for it:

    Have fun & try not to levitate without a helmet !

  • moveon

    @ anon #96:

    Would it be possible to communicate by words at all, then this would have an obvious positive effect on survival, and it would have been developed by many species. That only one species would be able to do this, and this barely, just does not make any sense.

    Ehh.. are you deaf? Scores of animals make use of the medium air (or water) to communicate with sound waves…. perfectly consistent with known physical laws. But damn, the range is so limited… so why didn’t they switch to telepathic communication, just why?

  • Dany

    Sean:” We can’t, but that is a completely worthless statement, as science never proves anything; that’s simply not how science works…

    I think it’s useful to reserve the word “science” for the particular type of contingent, empirical knowledge about this actual world that we obtain through hypothesis testing, observation, and experiment. The type of logical truths revealed by mathematics (and amenable to proof) seem very different. There are obviously similarities, but the distinction is worth emphasizing — especially because too many people suffer under the misimpression that physics and biology actually do “prove” that certain things are true or false.”

    I suffer under impression that you ask questions in form of mutually contradicting statements. The statement “science never proves anything” is deadly wrong. The science (physics) exists if and only if it is proved by the empirical and the mathematical evidence. It has nothing to do with the unconstrained imagination (land escape).

    First of all, the physical theory must comply with all known experimental facts during last 2500 years (geometry included) without single exception. If you don’t consider that already prove, I have no further arguments. To achieve a progress, one should find the microscopic crack in the concrete wall and to demonstrate that it is a wide door into the new universe of knowledge. Only perfect mathematical structures are capable to do that and each step should be accompanied by the perfect mathematical prove (as in your example). Who make that is not important, it happens almost randomly. That one usually doesn’t understand much more than the others and his/her original motivation even often happens to be wrong. That leads to another criterion that we call the predictive power of the theory. It is not appearance of the artifacts that require addition effort to remove. It is something completely unexpected by anyone, something that we didn’t know before and will study from new math. Finally, that prediction must be unambiguously confirmed through the empirical verification.

    What I say is supported de facto by the history of science, but I can’t “prove” that. Sorry if what I say make “cosmology” more close to parapsychology (using old fashion notion of the metric spaces) than to the physics (you may use JB addition/multiplication table for the calculations).

    Regards, Dany.

    P.S. I do not consider anything except physics to be a science… yet.

  • Lawrence B. Crowell

    Science is not about proving anything, except that a theory is false. A theory generally predicts certain things about the world and we look for those predictions in observations and measurments. This may support a theory, and a good theory ends up with lots of data behind it. Yet, no theory is ever proven, which is one reason that classical physics used the world “law,” but modern physics does not.

    What is interesting is that the Intellegent Design “theory” is a statement on the falsifiability of evolution. If something could be shown to be truly irreducibly complex then evolution is falsified and either needs modification or to be replaced or supplanted by a better theory. Of course this is not a theory, for a falsification thesis of a theory is not itself a theory.

    The only domain of human endevour which involves proofs is mathematics. In science a theory is regarded as tentatively true, or true beyond a reasonable doubt — to use a legal concept. But in the future reasonable doubts might occur as new data comes in.

    Lawrence B. Crowell

  • John Merryman


    Let me rephrase an earlier question; Could temperature be considered a dimension?
    Supposedly quantum activity can be described without time as a factor, yet wouldn’t it be impossible to describe any such activity that lacked some form of temperature?
    Obviously temperature is a description of motion, but it seems that both space and time are also methods of describing motion. We describe time as a dimension because we reductionistically describe it as linear, yet is it? It would seem the effect of the passage of time is an effect of the relative interaction of particles, ie. a consequence of the activity described by temperature.

    This raises the question of just what a dimension is. Are they fundamental, or a descriptive modeling tool based our own personal linear motion. A reductionistic description of some more pervasive sea of activity.

  • Lawrence B. Crowell

    Temperature is not a “dimension” in the sense of space that objects exist in. Temperature is a parameter in the Mawell potential equations, so in an abstract sense it is a “dimension.” Temperature in the equipartition theorem is related to energy

    E = 3/2kT

    and energy is conjugate to time in quantum mechanics. Though this conjugation of energy/time is not on the same footing as momentum/position in a classical-quantum correspondence — but that is for another time.

    Anything which can be called “space” is something which has a geometric interpretation. This may involve 11-dimensions for the space directions for gauge potentials we measure as affine connections on the base spacetime. Other parameters do not define direction in space(s) per se, though it has been said that a dog smells a thousand dimensional space. Yet I think few of us would consider odor as a property which defines a vector space direction.

    Lawrence B. Crowell

  • Neil B.

    Lawrence, your definition of space is a bit archaic. Now, whatever can be logically related in the way space is (even “pure information” that is arrayed in some form of matrix) can be considered a “space.” What makes “real space” of objects more “real” than such so-called abstractions? Nothing we know for sure, other than the relative means of access and representation. One could cogently argue that physical space is just a structure of relation that appears as “real space” to us because of how we access it (and supported by its plasticity in terms of Lorentz transformation, curved space, etc.) We access other data spaces, such as the visual representation inside our own brains, and this appears to us as a filed of view with content. Anyone not a naive realist appreciates, from e.g. focusing a telescope and finding their image of the moon going sharp and blurry (the moon isn’t doing that!) that the world is represented to us, not given or shown as such. It has even been suggested that time isn’t fundamentally real, but our experience of it is a relative product of brain configurations (in the “4-d structure” of world lines) relationship to the world lines around us.

  • Neil B.

    (PS – I know you said, “anything … which has geometric interpretation” but then you apparently wouldn’t accept space-like representational schemes, and momentum, temperature etc. “spaces” are really spaces IMHO per relational definition, they just don’t relate to us in the same way as general space.)

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  • John Merryman


    The point is whether time is a dimension, “in the sense of space that objects exist in.” Or whether it is a method of measuring the activity of those objects. I was using temperature to put the question in context. Energy is what is conserved across time, therefore it doesn’t remain in the past, or it wouldn’t be conserved. So it would seem energy is the reality and time is the measure of states this energy proceeds through.

    Several threads ago, I was in a discussion with Jason as to whether space is properly three dimensional, or whether that is the coordinate system of a specified point and that space as such, is infinitely dimensional.

    One of the problems I have with the geometric description of space is that it doesn’t seem to properly account for zero. Points, lines and planes are said to have zero dimension, yet anything by zero is zero, so it would seem what they really have is a virtual dimension. Instead of applying zero to any specific geometric reference, zero would be the potential, not the actual reference. Thus for geometry, zero would be empty space.

    Yet I think few of us would consider odor as a property which defines a vector space direction.

    Tell that to a hound.

    Would you say that dimensions are the essential nature of space, or a model of it? We model time as linear, but is that due to modal bias? Would a plant model time as linear, or as cyclical expansion/contraction of energy? Which brings us back to temperature.

  • Lawrence B. Crowell

    Space or spacetime are ultimately models. We can’t take them that seriously as something ontological. A quantity is geometric if it fits within certain mathematical models which describe a “space.” This can involve Kummer surfaces with

    (x^1~+~y^2~+~x^2~+~w^2)^2~=~lambda pqrs

    for pqrs functions of xyzw. BTW, this is an elementary form of a K3 space which are associated with Calabi-Yau spaces.

    Space and time are kinematical quanitites really, even with general relativity as the “dynamics of space.” Ultimately these are of value if they tell us something about the dynamics of particles and things that cause a detector to go “bing!”

    Lawrence B. Crowell

  • John Merryman


    So the Max Tegemark type hypothosis, that the equations and their concepts and consequences are the reality, is mistaking the map for the territory?

  • Lawrence B. Crowell

    Max Tegmark’s physics = math idea is something we can’t ever know about anyway. Mathematics is probably infinite, and we will never know it all. So the idea is a bit outside physics and more metaphysics. There is a strange relationship between physics and mathematics, but I suspect we will never understand it. I think understanding something of this sorts is outside of empiricism, and I suspect it is something we can only ponder over pitchers of beer, leading to then scotch and cigars.

    Lawrence B. Crowell

  • John Merryman


    You are far more tuned into all of this, but I don’t see the mystery in math. It’s a model. The more complex our understanding of reality, the more complex the models we use to describe it. Sometimes the mathematical relationships seem almost magical in the inter-relationships, but how is that any different from all the strange happenings in reality. If we don’t kill ourselves off, the potential for human development is only just beginning. How long before we reach the stage of conscious understanding that biological evolution reached eons ago?

    I do think that the physics establishment has developed a hard crust it is going to have to eventually shed, in order to expand to the next phase of insight. All the loose ends are not going to be tied up and never will be. The problem is that some of the knots need to be cut on occasion.

    Math as biology, rather then mechanics. It’s a really big step.

  • Lawrence B. Crowell

    At the core of this is the question, “What is mathematics?” Most mathematicians consider themselves realists, in that what they study has some aspect of reality. This might be the case, at least as some epistemological reality. Of course quantum mechanics has its epistemological interpretation of the wave function. Yet mathematicians can’t really prove somehow that mathematics is real in any sense. Proofs can be made about the relationships between mathematical “objects,” but proofs on the existential nature of these objects are not forthcoming. Godel’s theorems on the truth of unprovable propositions in mathematics touches on this in some ways, but to break out this would require a long post here.

    When it comes to the relationship between physics and mathematics, a sports analogy might come in handy. We play billiards or baseball because the number of possible games is infinite, or nearly so. We play any particular game based on the configuration of events and the situation at the moment. Using mathematics as a model system in physics might be compared to playing a particular game, say a baseball game with a score 5-3 in the 6th inning, 2 runners on base, 2 outs and … . The mathematician might be concerned with the set of possible games, say the set of possible configurations on a billiards table. Obviously the two disciplines overlap in their practice, but I think the approaches are in many ways dissimilar.

    Remember that with physics the game of using mathematics to find involutory systems as models of conservation laws and … , is a human endevour. In effect we are imposing these structures we borrow from mathematics, or maybe even research out new mathematics. But nature does not necessarily operate by physical laws. What are laws? In many ways these are model systems we employ to make some logical connections with empirical science. Yet nowhere do we ever prove that nature “obeys” any physical principle or what used to be called laws. Mathematicians are faced with a sort of converse issue or unknown. Mathematicians may never be able to prove that anything about mathematics is anything more than a formal game. I don’t tend to think that is the case, but I also doubt any proof to the converse may ever be found.

    There appear to be some metaphysical questions which we just might never know the answer to. But that doesn’t keep us from pushing on with scientific discovery.

    Lawrence B. Crowell

  • Dany

    Lawrence B. Crowell:” But nature does not necessarily operate by physical laws. What are laws? In many ways these are model systems we employ to make some logical connections with empirical science. Yet nowhere do we ever prove that nature “obeys” any physical principle or what used to be called laws.”

    I guess you are not familiar with:

    1) A.Einstein, “Zur Elektrodynamik der bewegter Körper”, Ann. Phys., 17, 891 (1905);
    2) E.Schrödinger, “The present situation in Quantum Mechanics”, Die Naturwissenschaften, 48, 807 (1935); 48,823 (1935); 48,844 (1935);
    3) E.P.Wigner, “Unitary Representations of the Inhomogeneous Lorentz Group Including Reflections” (1962).

    By the way, they are considered the greatest math-ph of the 20-th century.

    Regards, Dany.

  • John Merryman


    Nature is law. The problem is that it presents a closed set that is constantly breaking down and regenerating. The definition of set gives it shape, but also confines it. Definition is limitation and limitation is definition. So there is this constant tension between being and non being. Matter and void. Contracting mass and expanding energy, like grass pushing through the concrete. Science tries to understand, but by doing so, falls on the closed set side of the equation and constantly runs up against the conclusion of finiteness…

    The more certain we become, the harder we fall.

  • plu

    LOL. dude, you’re wasting your life… and for what?
    anyways, i’ve never red such a “seriously” funny post. ever :)

  • John Merryman


    If that’s addressed to me, I’m not wasting my life, I ride horses for a living. Most people have to pay lots of money to do that for fun. This is what I do for entertainment.

  • Lawrence B. Crowell

    To Dany,

    Of course I am aware of these. But say in the case of relativity, the results of that paper had to be generalized to include gravity, and then with black holes and big bang cosmology this classical gravitation (general relativity) is likely an approximation to a quantum gravity which may require generalizations of both gravity and quantum mechanics. Our physical theories are not something nature obeys, but rather a system of thinking about nature we employ to make sense of nature.

    Lawrence B. Crowell

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  • Dany

    Lawrence B. Crowell:” But say in the case of relativity, the results of that paper had to be generalized to include gravity”

    That is exactly what was done by A.Einstein 10 years later.

    Lawrence B. Crowell:” and then with black holes and big bang cosmology this classical gravitation (general relativity) is likely an approximation to a quantum gravity”

    No. The Quantum World is not the Classical World. Neither empirical nor theoretical (mathematical) justification of your statements is known to me. What I do know is that in the vicinity of the singularity the dynamics of the system (oscillations) is very similar to ED, namely, the classical and quantum behavior coexists peacefully with each other. Understanding of that is still open problem in the modern ED, but

    “Raffiniert ist der Herr Gott, aber boshaft ist er nicht.”

    Regards, Dany.

  • Lawrence B. Crowell

    The relationship between the quantum world and the classical world is a matter of research and debate. Yet as a boilerplate we can look at the quantity


    and see that this is zero for a number of cases. The first is hbar –>0 which recovers classical mechanics with gravity = general relativity, and for G —> we have special relativity. Another is where c –> infinity and G —> 0 which recovers quantum mechanics. And finally for all of these conditions we have classical mechanics. Finally for L_p > 0 we have quantum gravity.

    So I am invoking a rule of thumb that classical mechanics is recovered from QM when the Planck unit of action is zero, or what approximately happens for systems (most systems) with very large actions. Of course there are subtleties here with einselection of quantum states and the “origin” of the classical world. So whether classical mechanics is some categorically separate physics from the quantum world, or whether it is an approximate large scale picture of the world is an open question. It has not been proven either way, and a proof of this would or might demonstrate the truth or falsehood of P = NP for algorithms. The Claymath $1,000,000 award for such a proof is outstanding the last I heard.

    With general relativity as a black hole quantum radiates away the classical back reaction model of the BH likely ceases to function, the black hole must be treated quantum mechanically as its horizon and singularity in one way or the other become quantum amplitudes for a superposition of metric configurations.

    Lawrence B. Crowell

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  • R.S.
  • Dany

    Lawrence B. Crowell:”It has not been proven either way, and a proof of this would or might demonstrate the truth. The Claymath $1,000,000 award for such a proof is outstanding the last I heard.”

    The point of our debate is not how prove is performed (through continuous limit operation or some kind of phase transition) but whether the prove exist (by the way, what you say is the physical jargon and not a math; minimal knowledge and understanding required to distinguish between v-> c and c-> infinity for example. It is explained also by E. Schrödinger in the paper referred above). If instead solving problems you prefer semi-philosophical kishkush, I have nothing against that.

    I didn’t identify the difference in your, Sean and my position, but I am not able to understand how from it you arrived to the conclusion that “science never proves anything”. Notice, that it is quite silly to establish money award for the proof that doesn’t exist in principle. In addition, it is already proved empirically that 1M$ one may obtain along much shorter trajectory than the formulation of QG.

    Regards, Dany.

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  • Count Iblis

    Neil, yes, I have some new things to write on my blog. Check my blog again early next week :)

    I’ve just written another post :)

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  • Don Schurman

    Interestingly enough, At an unnamed Huntington AF Base, work was proceeding using a mu metal room and supercooled conductors to read minds of servicemen, about 20-25 years ago. Without fanfare, this system is being used to check security personnel and to promote research into fly-by-thought combat aircraft. I think enough has been published in open literature for this to be considered unclassified. It, at least, should give one to think about the usability of em from the brain for practical usage. Would pilots climb into a respond-to-thought aircraft and sail off into the wild blue yonder without any special training? Ridiculous! however fly-by-thought just may not be that far in the future. AeroSpace magazine is already speculating as to whether this exists in prototype

  • Don Schurman

    Nothing is proved by science – the sight of one black swan will disprove thousands of experiences of only seeing white swans. We, being human, will cling to our theories supported by many replications – even in the face of disconfirming evidence.

    However, another interesting fact. Near the end of the CIA research into the paranormal, I was involved in performing a meta-analysis of all the published, well controlled, experiments on paranormal effects. (Meta-analysis is analysis of analyses.) None of the research that we looked at came close to p.01 – we found that the positive results outweighed the negative results and the meta analysis found that the probability of finding this number of marginally positive results was p

  • Don Schurman

    Lost the less than and more than signs in the preceding post. “None of the research that we looked at came close to p less than .01. …The probability of finding this number of marginally positive results was p less than .001.

  • steven Turner

    I don’t know where to start, but I need to start somewhere, thus would you take the time to read this? My name is Steven Turner, and I am a physicist in my own right. I started writing about psychology when I was thirteen years old and continued until I was twenty-two. I had not had a teacher of this, so I did all my examinations alone. When I was about twenty-three, my mind began changing focus towards the way our universe works. Again having no teacher, I had to figure it out alone. I wanted to determine how our atom works. I began testing personal theories about simple mathematical codes that the universe could use. Instead of trying to actually see what was going on in an atom, I tried to establish the only possible code that an atom could operate with. This seemed easier for I had no access to a collider, which I had no idea even existed at the time. I spent roughly three years figuring out a code that worked easily, simply, and well. Once I got this done, I signed up for a few classes at a college in order to slightly test my theories. I took a simple algebra class and a psychology class. I tried to show the math teacher some of my work, but not only did he seem to look at me as lesser than him, but he also seemed completely uninterested with my years of work. I suppose I really cant expect more from a teacher that’s just wants to teach his class, and pass no judgment, but I attained multitudes of universal information during attendance of the class. During my psychology class, it was as if I were at home, seeing things I had never noticed before. Within a few classes I noticed that the makeup of the mind was tightly comparable to the composure of the atom. I began connecting the known knowledge of psychology, with my theories of what I now call atomics, or universal mathematics. Soon I had begun creating something I would like to introduce to the world of science, as ((Psychological Atomics)). I believe I can explain how our minds follow the exact nature of atomic signatures, signals, transfers, disturbances, equations, and much more. I may not be a professional in the eyes of acknowledged world scientists, but I do have a great deal of heart for this. I believe that the universe is so simple that it may be easy to decipher its mechanisms by comparing everything we see around us. Mathematics is universal and associates with every natural world existence. Instead of just breaking the atom down I went straight for what I like to call the ((Bottom)). After briefly reading into some reports, I found that many call the bottom, the ((God particle)). I am trying to crack the atom code in a mobile home, within a small town of Arizona. I CAN DO IT!! All I need is a little time with professionals that I don’t know how to get in touch with. I have put atomics into algebraic and geometric formats and although I don’t have this code complete, I think I am closer than I should be. I can easily explain why light travels faster than sound, and why we don’t age while traveling at the speed of light. Time measurement is easy to define and calculate with this theory. I can make it complex enough to evade many, or easy enough for a grade school student to understand. I have over five hundred pages of journalism and diagrams to share with the scientific world, and whether or not it can ever be taken seriously, I would like to share it with someone. I am also timid to share it, in possibility that it will be stolen, but we all deserve and share the same knowledge together do we not? It doesn’t matter who figures these things out, it only matters that we do. I believe that I have a good idea of what happened seven steps before the Big Bang. This is all I am comfortable sharing at this point.

    Thank you,
    Your fellow physicist

  • Tangent

    And yet we cannot explain without “mystical forces” why the universe expands faster than it should, or why there is more matter in the universe than we can see. Thus the scientific community comes up with such exotic creations as “Dark Energy” and “Dark Matter” to fill that void.

    Yet have we been able to actually detect Dark Energy directly? Or Dark Matter? What proof, outside of its “footprint” on the mundane universe, provides evidence of its existence? These exotics have been formulated to explain for discrepencies in physics to make the “laws of physics” work.

    If we do not yet have instrumentation to directly detect Dark Energy and Dark Matter, if our physics models are so inaccurate that we need to formulate exotics to explain discrepencies, then how can we so blithely dismiss the possibility of some form of energy manipulation that people might regard as parapsychology?

    There are no laws of physics that explain phenomena such as ghosts or spiritual entities. Yet there are numerous sightings… and paraprofessionals working with the available tools have captured footage that strongly suggests that there is something else out there. There are no laws of physics that allow for God or the soul. Yet human belief of these things is so powerful that for nearly as long as mankind has been sentient… we have perceived of the Divine.

    Blind devotion to science is as dangerous as blind devotion to religion. Once humanity creates a Grand Theory of Everything that actually works and is proven… and if that Grand Theory disallows for things beyond our ken such as paraphysics or the Divine… then I’ll put aside my curiosity of such things. Until then, for all my love of science I will still believe there is more out there than that we perceive.

    Rob H.

  • Andrew Tan

    “our belief that the Schroedinger equation determines all of the properties of a many-body system is just a faith” footnote 7, p 2 in Quantum Field Theory of Many-Body Systems by Xiao-Gang Wen.

  • Guy Grantham

    We do NOT ‘..know that macroscopic forces only arise from the exchange of bosons…’

    We only KNOW that macroscopic forces can be illustrated by the exchange of bosons.

    Quantum theory was a stop gap measure for the failings of GRT. The real physics has not yet been determined.

    ‘Science never proves anything’ – This is true.

  • Count Iblis

    Guy Grantham, the evidence against telekinesis as presented by Prosecutor Sean is much more solid than the evidence that is used to put people behind bars.

  • Nick

    I loved the post. I’m reading a book, “Schrodinger’s Kittens and the search for reality by John Gribbin”. My only question is regarding the effect that probability has on light, in relation to events which are rather rare. As I’m sure you already know. Feynman hinted that light doesn’t reflect at only one angle to a reflective surface, we see this when we tilt a CD against a light source ( there is a even a neat change in the spectrum the farther you tilt it!). The thought that light has such an interesting property, similar to that seen in the double-slit experiment, begs the question as to what role probability may play in determining the source of “spooky” phenomenon to that which this post is intended. Its very funny you should mention electricity and magnetism as well. I was blown away by the existence of “advanced” waves. Waves that travel back through time. The physics is hard to grasp. In fact I’m only just reading about it, I have no idea what it looks like mathematically, but it really does beg the question whether or not probabilistic approaches could approach the true source of such events.

  • johnny

    Hello peoples, theres some great reading here.

    I have a certain interest in this topic &

    im by no means a professional or get paid to research

    Of course anyone who believes this subject is fraud would have not experienced


    What about you people who DO believe it “could” be possible..

    Is this just a hunch..?


    Is it because you “KNOW”

    Hehe I like andy.s’s alter ego, is he around?

    The hard part isn’t moving matter..


    removing your ego once you become an adult..

    Ego = block

    This is why experiments fail on this subject..

    People can ONLY do it for themselves..

    When one chooses to do so..

    Not to impress others..

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  • Elvis B

    I very much like your scientific explanation on this subject matter, BUT!

    The fact is, that modern science understands only a tiny fraction of the physical reality, that again, just as well depends to the eyes of the beholder.
    Yes, it is true that we have established mathematical equations that explain how
    certain natural phenomena, like gravity, function. BUT again!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    What gravity is?
    Why it acts on matter, the way it does?
    What force is, and where it comes from?
    Well, we truly don’t know!
    Trough observation, we witness a specific observable fact, and we assign values
    to it (human based numbers, as an exmpl.), and according to that we understand
    how it works. We can use those formulas to predict, or even manipulate certain
    physical properties, while not truly knowing their origin.
    So, just because you were able to reason in a logical manner, with the help of scientific facts, doesn’t prove anything. Who is to say, that even thought we
    live in a world, that depends on laws on physics to function, those laws can’t be manipulated? Like a great hacker, who has a full understanding of how a computer program works, even if he didn’t create it, can manipulate the program to have his desired outcome. A human being might have applied the same concept to our physical reality, provided the fact that he/she had a full understanding on how it all works. We have proven so far, that yesterday’s fiction is today’s reality. So, we can predict that today’s fiction will be tomorrow’s reality.
    All those stories about “Magic”, scientist like to laugh about, make more sense in my mind, than a complete logical approach.
    Keep in mind that logic is important, but things that are not logical still are building
    blocks of our reality, and are as well important. Even more so, because until we turn those magical things into logic, Logic in general will remain illogical.

  • dentyne ice

    One question: Is consciousness a developed trait?

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  • Thorns

    I can’t believe how well this article is written. It makes a strong point and it’s funny. :)

    To be honest, the truth is brings is a little sad…
    So I hope you are wrong.

  • Sarah Covenant

    Sadly, this beautifully written article will not move those who are hell-bent on doing research on the paranormal.

    E.g. I showed this to a friend who is obsessed with people that purport to predict the future. He totally missed the point of the article and countered by saying “in another 400 years the laws of physics might be written so as to allow for the paranormal.”

    I guess it is about seeing what we want to see and believing what we want to believe. Any evidence, no matter how strong, can be refuted by “anything is possible”. E.g. With regards to this article, believers in the paranormal win their argument by stating that the author admits to a 1 out of a billion chance of Telekinesis being true.

  • Tim Chard

    I would put the probability that some sort of parapsychological phenomenon will turn out to be real at something (substantially) less than a billion to one.

    So are you saying that there are possibly 6 or 7 people out there who could actually prove parapsychological phenomenon? If thats the case let the search begin. lol

    Good Article!

  • Tim

    you sound like the people that tool columbis the world is flat

  • NameBlank

    You don’t need to search there’s one right here. There’s actually about 142 that have already posted in this thread & about 6 billion others around the world.

    How many people have figured it out for themselves?

    This is an answer i don’t have.

  • Dave

    Science is not a religion, you ignorant science fanboys. It’s ironic that those who opposed your beliefs are now considered to be the greatest minds in history. Thanks for the fish..

  • Greg

    I totally agree with Dave, Yeah, thanks for the fish…

  • ladden

    But there are many things that we do understand, and only the most basic features of quantum field theory suffice to definitively rule out the idea that we can influence objects from a distance through the workings of pure thought.

    I think tiller, tesla and feynman wouldnt say this………

  • jay wolf

    i was woundering what if there was a partical that makes up that make the atom proton, electron, neutrons are made of something smaller and those are made some something smaller than that what if telekinesis didnt make a new partical but used the ones that are already there and the everything has a magneticle pull or push on everything but things like glass that can speed up light and magnets that speed up electrons. the brain being magnetic and make electricity in the brain is send and though the body to move the body but the brain is a elecltromagnet meaning the brain changes its magneticle power. the electricle impules flow though the nervus system like wire but the nerves are up aganst the other nerves if the nerves are like wires why dont your body freck out like it should the brains magneticle power has aother effect it makes and conrtols the electricity in the body and one more thing i the electricity the body makes seems to beable to leave the body in your heat it changes as soon as the body stops focusing on it if it can focus on it i should beable to control things out side of the body if the body can control whats in side than i can control whats out side because the magneticle force effects everything and what i am trying to say is that everything uses telekinesis to move to thank and to live the electric lee can zap people just with a touch. so if you dont understand i can try to make it make were you can understand it just leasin to what i have to say you might learn something

  • jay wolf

    oh and if i was wroug i am still right because there is one thing that makes up everything so you tell me ther is no way i am wroug i can find as may ways as you can

  • jay wolf

    i am that 1

  • Guthrie Prentice

    Hey Sean, a fellow skeptic here, and love your arguments. I have two things I wanted to cover in this post.
    The first is that your previous post had one slight flaw in it. There haven’t been any well controlled experiments, done by believers or skeptics.

    Every study towards these paranormal claims has been vulnerable to an effect known as the Rosenthal Effect or Experimenter expectancy effect.

    This is an effect where an experimenter can communicate a hypothesis to a subject via body language and tone of voice without saying anything outright, and hence influence the performance of the human subjects you are trying to test. This issue is actually a problem not only with testing paranormal claims, but is in fact quite rampant in behavioural research, psychology, and certain areas of medicine. (Fortunately in medicine, they’ve managed to negate this effect fairly well.) Further information can be found on this in “Experimenter Effects in Behavioural Research” by Robert Rosenthal, published 1976.

    In the cases of parapsychology AND anomalistic psychology (the skeptical study of these supposedly paranormal phenomena) skeptics and proponents of these claims have directly interacted with the subjects. An addendum written by Julie Milton for the Milton and Wiseman 1999 meta-analysis of the Ganzfeld studies pointed out that the “Sheep-Goat” effect pointed out that skeptics might inadvertently block out data coming in from weak sensory leakage, making it harder to detect. As skepticism and belief can be communicated to the subject through body language, until the experimenter expectancy effect is controlled for,
    we can’t really tackle the lack of replication in parapsychology, and on top of that, determine, whether or not every study had some sort of flaw in it, or whether or there actually is a paranormal effect. As James Alcock said in his editorial “Give the Null Hypothesis a Chance”:

    “The problem for parapsychology, however, is that the difficulty in replication means that it may not be possible to get the same results a second time, whether the methodology is
    cleaned up or not.”

    The only effective way then to properly control for this is skeptic/proponent collaboration on experiments (already started, with the previous Schlitz/Wiseman collaborations on psychic staring, and the current French and Sheldrake collaborations on telephone telepathy) to remove every flaw possible, and use an experimental assistant who is both blind to the hypothesis and target material and neutral in their beliefs towards the existence or lack thereof of psychic abilities, so as to control for the experimenter expectancy effect and avoid influencing whether or not the subject interprets any possible data coming in, be it from a methodological flaw, or (highly unlikely) a psychic source.

    Now, that that’s dealt with, the second thing I wanted to deal with is a question pertaining to the force of gravity. Since we’re dealing with paranormal claims, rather than spending a ton of money on testing for paranormal claims, we should look at whether or not the laws of physics actually allow for these types of claims. You’ve already shown a very convincing argument that they haven’t. However, there is one question I have, and this is in relation to the force of gravity itself. I came across a paper recently by one Heinrich Pas entitled “Closed timelike curves in asymmetrically warped brane universes” ( which was referenced in New Scientist ( and was described as demonstrating that there might be certain warps of higher dimensional bulk, or solutions of M theory, in which gravitons and sterile neutrinos could exit our three dimensional physical universe, and by traveling through these shortcuts, appear to travel backwards in time or faster than light when they reentered our universe. Apparently, the MiniBoone experiment has already found some evidence for the existence of sterile neutrinos and such higher dimensional shortcuts ( My question is, would such higher dimensional shortcuts allow for causality violation, or meaningful information or gravitational fields to be sent FTL or over sufficient distances that they wouldn’t weaken as they otherwise would according to the inverse square law? If they do, then might it behoove us to put in the relevant controls necessary, and do one proper serious look at parapsychology, and then be done with it once and for all? An easy test I can think of to test for telekinesis, at least of the random number generator variety, is to run a well controlled RNG experiment, while having the subject sit on a properly calibrated scale (properly calibrated to take into account ideomotor shifts and things like that). If the subject loses mass, and a statistically significant effect is found and all other normal explanations have been removed, and the loss in mass could be correlated to the significant effect found with the RNG, an argument could be made that the subject sent gravitons, or part of their gravitational field, to where the RNG was at certain times, influencing the radioactive decay rate by time dilation, and by doing so, they would no longer be attracted to the earth as strongly, hence their drop in mass.

    Anyway, I guess the bit I was hoping for an answer back from you about Sean was the bit about the higher order dimensional models described. Are they consistent with the known laws of physics, and if so, do they allow for causality violation or meaningful information to be transmitted backwards through time or FTL? If so, it might provide a basis within the laws of physics for psi phenomena (something I hope isn’t the case) which is testable. Anyway, just my thoughts on the subject.

    In conclusion, I am currently skeptical of psychic powers and all other paranormal phenomena, because of my current understanding of the laws of physics and Occham’s Razor. Nonetheless, there hasn’t been any well controlled study into these supposed claims, and I’m curious if M theory allows for causality violations which provide a basis within the laws of physics for ESP and PK. If so, I’d like to see it tested rigorously to get the issue dealt with once and for all so we can move on to more important things.

  • Guthrie Prentice

    A slight clarification of my previous post, the addendum by Julie Milton stated that skeptics blocking out data would make an effect difficult to detect, paranormal or not.

  • Skank

    If TK, Psi, ESP, Remote Viewing and such are all just a load of bumf, then why do the military even have a budget for such things? It is well known that the Military has technology that exceeds normal consumer available technology by about 20+years. Who is to say that with the aid of technology these humans haven’t been able to enhance the psychic mind?

    Is it possible that while those physicists were working on the atomic bomb that other physicists had no clue that this existed as it was military? Maybe there IS available, justifiable and data rich information available on things like ESP but it is in the military vaults where such abilities would surely be best used and data readily available due to National and International security.

    As far as I am concerned anything is possible, the more improbable it is the more it adds fuel to the progression of Quantum Physics. To stifle Quantum Physics with data that is available and is subject to formulae is like telling an artist to paint with numbers. Open your mind further! Many serious physicists believe in a creator or composer of the universe and we are just dancing on the edge that is the true microscopic.

  • http://? Luis

    The thing is that we have been surprised by reality so many times throughout history … that now its hard to believe that something is not possible.

  • Anonymous

    Well, this is bullshit!
    And although I love universe mysteries and are very interested in anything that has to do with science, I still think science is crap. I mean, c’mon! Our brains are way to small to understand everything about the universe, and we already know scientists hide a great part of what they discovered. Perphaps they don’t want to scare people. Maybe they just don’t want to look like idiots after centuries of saying something was not possible. Or maybe they just don’t have all explanations about it yet so they try to hide it while they discovered more. I don’t know. In any case, we WERE born with something bigger than our physical brains!

  • Anonymous

    And anyway, 600 years ago we believed that the Earth was the centre of the universe, and everyone was just so SURE about that…then they said the Earth was flat! Maybe people will laugh at skeptics 200 years from now! who knows?

    p.s: no one said TK was magic…

  • Dennis

    A very interesting article, and I think it makes a very good case in the context of our current knowledge of things. And that is very useful, I suppose. What other context is truly meaningful to us, since we need to live in the here and now?

    However, as soon as one calls himself a scientist, he must realize the limits of his own usefulness to humanity. Scientists help us live in the here and now by helping the common man to live more effectively within the rules that we currently understand.

    The inevitable outcome, however, is that the laws defined by that scientist will not stand the test of time. Years from now, another scientist will prove to the world how misguided you were. And he (or she) will excuse your ignorance, saying “how could he have known any better at the time?”

    Years from that, another scientist will do the same to discredit the one who discredited you. And so the cycle will continue, until new possibilities emerge and the universe looks like a drastically different place than the one we can imagine, from our current context.

    I appreciate the opinion of any scientist who realizes that although he may feel certain of his correctness today, there will likely come a time when his life’s work will be proven irrelevant to the new context.

    Scientists who become too certain of themselves become an example of how a little bit of knowledge is dangerous. A little bit of knowledge about particles and forces (compared to what will exist in a future context) will simply be limiting to the rest of the population. Scientific opinions must always end with “but anything is possible.”

    Although the opinion of one brilliant man or woman is valuable to us, I think it is much less useful than watching a trend. It is very easy for one person to be completely wrong about something. However, if a concept such as telepathy appears in human culture, is scrutinized by generation after generation, and becomes an idea that will not go away, then I find it likely that it does exist and we simply do not understand it yet.

    If time and the application of science cannot make a concept go away, then there is something that we are missing.

  • Martien de Jong

    Let me notice that some time ago (I think a month or 2 maybe) some guys announced that they created a computer completely controlled by the brain.
    I’m not sure if I’m right, but I think that pretty much proves telekinesis is possible.

  • Pingback: What Questions Can Science Answer? | Cosmic Variance | Discover Magazine()

  • Karl

    Im not a scientist, Im an artist who is fascinated by the entire world and all of its possibilities. Instead of Breaking down the laws of physics as we understand, trying so desperately to explain to the masses that something isn’t real. consider this simple fact that space, scientifically and spiritually speaking is infinite, and based on that prospect as you said before… Anything is possible. I follow paganism because it incorporates both science and faith. and knowing that we as humans have a higher intelligence with the ability to ask questions and create the world as we want to see it, why shouldn’t we spend as much time researching about paranormal phenomena, and what we consider the impossible, as we do with science that you claim to be the logical truth?… maybe youd have a better time understanding the endless possibilities if you got laid instead of spending so much time contradicting concepts that we havent even remotely begun to start studying….

    after all, Einstein said there is no mathematical equation for love :)….loser…

  • John

    I think that Karl has a point. I myself am a Traditional Catholic who is fascinated by the possiblilities of the human brain. I believe that telekenisis (forgive any misspelling) is both a spiritual and scientific probablility. I know others may think different (and I’m open to all criticism) but the fact still remains: if love has no mathmatical equation, no scientific method of experimentation, then there is no scientific way of proving its existence, yet we acknowledge it everyday, we observe its affects on others and even ourselves… But I’m getting off topic and I apologize.

    Where love is not experimentally possible, then, maybe, neither is telekenisis, but yet there have been documented acounts of it (especially in Russia and Japan). I have had my try at it myself. The ball of energy that they all talk about feels very much like electromagnetism (I have even compared the push between two magnets and my hands). Who knows, maybe it uses electromagnetism for all we know. Even though we don’t for sure there should always be a possibility, an oprotunity, to believe in it (even if it’s in jest, or for fun). That opprotunity should always be open despite the efforts of methodical experimentation. Many things can be explained methodically, yes, but there’s yet a minority ready to be observed if one is privy to it, or interested in it.

    Besides, we only use 10% of our brains (that’s scientifically proven), but there can and there might be a way of unlock the ramaining 90%.


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Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] .


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