Adventures in Quantum Concealment

By Sean Carroll | July 26, 2008 7:28 pm

I find it extremely amusing that when Radovan Karadzic, Serbian war criminal and fugitive from justice, wanted to disguise himself with an assumed identity in a suburb of Belgrade, he chose such an interesting occupation for his alter ego — purveyor of New-Age quantum nonsense.

No one knew quite how to react when it emerged that he had been selling “human quantum energy” diviners on the internet from a flat in surburban Belgrade, speaking at conferences for alternative health and maintaining an intimate friendship with a rather good-looking younger woman.

And this wasn’t just some cover story to fall back on when strangers inquired about what he did for a living; apparently, Karadzic really went all-out. (Including a website. Every international fugitive needs a website!)

He threw himself into the role. His articles in Healthy Life, a Serbian alternative medicine magazine, show a man who was fluent in new age thinking. “It is widely believed our senses and mind can recognise only 1% of whatever exists around us. Three per cent we understand with our hearts. All that remains is shrouded in secrecy, out of the reach of our five senses; however, it is within our reach in the extra-sensory manner,” he wrote in one article.

I love the quantification. Three percent we understand with our hearts! Hopefully, improved experimental precision will enable us to pin the correct figure down to the nearest tenth of a percent.

But he was devout, you have to had him that.

He was also interested in healing through the optimal use of ‘vital energy’, a quasi-mystical, non-physical dimension of the body, similar to the Chinese notion of ‘Qi’ and the Indian concept of the ‘chakra’ centres of energy in the body. “He was very religious,” said a woman who works at the magazine and knew him. “He had his hair in a plait in order to be able to receive different energies. He was a very nice man.”

At least, when he wasn’t ordering the Srebrenica massacre. That wasn’t really very nice.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science and Society, World
  • Chris W.

    I suppose his means of concealment is indicative of the kind of rationalization and the sheer shameless con-artistry that is required to maintain a belief in, and allegiance to, a violent nationalist ideology, and serve its ends by fomenting mass murder.

  • Lawrence B. Crowell

    This goes to one of my pet peeves. Religion might cloud the mind by obscuring evidence by belief, but I think that political ideology does much the same. After all Adam Smith told about an invisible hand that operated in the marketplace, which is little more than a secularized god of sorts. Similarly Karl Marx’s idea of a dialetical material dualism which results in a “new man” is really little different from the delusional ideas Saul, who got himself considered as St. Paul penned down in his epistles.

    Karadzic was a nationalist with various ideologies concerning the Serbian “volk,” which echoed ideas of Hilter. He managed to use his demogougery to convince people to engage in activities that under more sober thinking they might prefer to avoid. Then with the Dayton accord and the fall of Slobodan Miloscovic he was on the lamb. So he end up as a balkan version of Deepok Choprah.

    I would say that this involves a shift in thinking on his part, but is based upon the same mode of dissordered thinking. It really is no different from Nazi SS officials who worked with the Soviets, or for that matter Klaus Barbi who collaborated with the American OSI, later called the CIA. So what we appear to see is the shift from one form of delusional thinking to another.

    It is a regrettable aspect of history that Homo sapiens has a penchent for having these types of people run the parade. I would pose the question whether George W Bush is that much better that Karadzic. Written history will largely judge Karadzic as bad because he lost, not on the basis of any world social ethics. It appears that our history is a rather sad tale of being lead by the most psychologically disorderd members of our species. It is a history of mad kings, soiled Popes, Presidents who wage unconstitional wars, Nazis, and deluded communists.

    Lawrence B. Crowell

  • Mike Schuler

    If it wasn’t for religion and false scientific beliefs, mankind would have at least had steam engines and maybe even electricity over 2,000 years ago.

  • lisa

    if karadzic is ganna be a war criminal, why not bush ?

    to #3: i disagree, without religion human race wouldn’t survive till now

  • Teniwoha physicist

    So that’s what I should’ve done when I had dinner with a girl who’s training to be an alternative health practitioner. Spew off nonsense that sounds like quantum mechanics.

    This news was about a month too late (But really, I should’ve thought of that with no outside help)

  • Karadzic to all comments scribblers

    How on earth can people, who has nothing to do with the history of the Balkan peninsula, write comments about mass murders and etc. – for God’s sake- look at your rotten American society- a person got shot on the street, only because a guy likes his new snickers; the “funny” sweatshops all over the world you use to create your cheap commodities; the wars you started in Iraq, Vietnam, Kosovo – are they not war crimes??? A country with 200 years history should not have the right to judge processes, which began hundreds of years before its creation. Just sit on your as@# and read more about the ancient history of Europe.

  • John Merryman

    fuzzy logic has a multitude of applications

  • http://www.pieter-kok.staff.shef.ac.uk Pieter Kok

    So he’s not only a war criminal, but also a science criminal! Does he have a blog?

  • Jason

    I think he is Dan Dennett’s evil twin.

  • littia

    Do scientists have such an elitist attitude that they think that non-scientists cannot possibly have inherent/intuitive understanding of so called scientific principles and the ability to implement them with out them being quantified and studied by scientists first?
    What about the roots of science itself?
    If the emerging modern science had refused to investigate alchemy, or herbalism, or to use the information that these pseudo-disciplines had amassed just because they appeared to be superstitious, or otherworldly or were misused by power hungry dictators, quacks, and priests – what would they have investigated?
    And where would we be today?
    Isn’t it one of the goals of science to start with all the known information, however misinterpreted or misused it may be by non-scientific people, and get to the truth at the core of common observations?
    Therefore, as long as there are unknowns isn’t it illogical not to consider what information does exist concerning these unknowns regardless of how ‘superstitious’ it might seem or how badly other people have misused this limited information?

  • Doctor Davic

    I wonder how many “quanta of human energy” do the ethnic cleansing he was in charge amount to …

  • Count Iblis

    I would pose the question whether George W Bush is that much better that Karadzic. Written history will largely judge Karadzic as bad because he lost, not on the basis of any world social ethics.

    It will be interesting to see if there is any evidence that Karadzic really ordered any crimes against humaity to be committed. If not, then he’ll be found guilty merely because of “command responsibility” and then I would agree that this is used selectively to convict the people who are not on “our side”.

  • Count Iblis
  • Pingback: Sunday Stuff 1: Cosmology meets New Age Nonesense — Karadzic edition « The Inverse Square Blog()

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B. ?

    I understand skepticism about QM and mysticism, but let’s do remember that we don’t really understand how QM “works”, and given the sensitivity of neurons to electric charges (at the triggering synapse level, not the crude maintenance of axon impulses), it makes sense to at least suspect that wave and entanglement issues make a difference or even are critical. This discussion appeared in wired magazine:
    http://www.wired.com/medtech/drugs/magazine/16-04/ff_kurzweil_sb

    PS: I note that on the discussion page for Karadzic’s blog linked above, Test Forum 1 is filled with references to porn sites!

  • TimG

    I probably shouldn’t even bother responding to littia, but what the heck. It isn’t “elitism” to recognize that some claims go beyond merely being wholly unsupported by evidence, to being downright nonsensical gibberish. The heart is an organ that pumps blood through the body. Energy is a property of matter and radiation. It makes as much sense to say “I understand the world with my heart” or “I can heal people with energy”, as to say “I understand the world with my fingernails” or “I can heal people with purple.” That is to say, it makes no sense.

    Isn’t it one of the goals of science to start with all the known information, however misinterpreted or misused it may be by non-scientific people, and get to the truth at the core of common observations?

    No, it isn’t. The goal of science is to learn how the world works by constructing theories based on experimental data, and then collecting more data to test and refine those theories. If science started from “all known information” (meaning, apparently, every claim made by anyone, no matter how incoherent) then we’d still be stuck on the question of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

  • TimG

    Neil B. wrote:

    I understand skepticism about QM and mysticism, but let’s do remember that we don’t really understand how QM “works”, and given the sensitivity of neurons to electric charges (at the triggering synapse level, not the crude maintenance of axon impulses), it makes sense to at least suspect that wave and entanglement issues make a difference or even are critical.

    Neil, I certainly hope you don’t mean this as a defense of the sort of abuse of physics language (“energy”, etc.) used by guys like Karadzik. The guy is speaking gibberish, plain and simple.

    Anyway, we understand quantum mechanics well enough to make extremely precise experimental predictions that have been tested and confirmed to ludicrous levels of precision. The things we don’t understand have more to do with the interpretation of quantum mechanics — but at this point these are more philosophical questions since the viable interpretations make the same predictions for all the experiments we’re capable of doing. We also don’t understand how to combine quantum mechanics with gravity, but they are seldom both relevant unless we’re talking about things like black holes or the early universe.

    To the degree that we don’t know if QM has anything to do with consciousness, it’s because of our lack of understanding of consciousness, not our lack of understanding of QM. Anyway, we know plenty about forces and energy, so any claim like “I can use my ‘vital energy’ to heal people” is one we can readily rule out. We don’t have to understand how consciousness works to know that there’s no way consciousness could work that would allow us to magically heal people with our minds.

    As Sean has pointed out previously, we know our bodies are made of atoms, we know the ways in which all known forces can affect atoms, and we can put limits on how much any unknown forces could affect atoms. The level of evidence one would need to convince any reasonable person that these well established facts are wrong is far beyond the evidence (in as much as there is any) that believers in such “paranormal” phenomena have ever been able to mount.

  • Haelfix

    It doesn’t surprise me actually. To order large scale massacres like he did against civilians, might imply a persona that is very detached. I suppose that quality went into his religious and spiritual views as well.

  • ST

    Dude looks like a nutcase for sure.

  • FeralPhantom

    A situation not without precedent unfortunately, though this person now tops my list of the undesirables who have sought cover in the ‘quantum’. Disgusting that there’s now a list, isn’t it? (No worries, the other offending party on said list is now in prison as well.)

  • aoeeo

    He is not a war criminal, just a European politician. His persecution is also very political — it’s a clear message to all leaders of weaker states who want to protect their own people.

  • http://lablemminglounge.blogspot.com/ Lab Lemming

    Anybody conflating the Srebrenica massacre with the American war on Terror or European business as usual needs to go back and read the link provided. The killings that were performed there were quantitatively worse than anything in Europe since World war 2, or anything in the world since 1995, with the exception of the Sudan.

  • Chris W.

    [Re: Comment 21] …it’s a clear message to all leaders of weaker states who want to protect their own people.

    I see. So leaders of weaker states who want to “protect their own people” can feel perfectly justified in taking measures such as the following:

    Some of the executions were carried out at night under arc lights, and industrial bulldozers then pushed the bodies into mass graves. According to evidence collected from Bosniaks by French policeman Jean-René Ruez, some were buried alive; he also heard testimony describing Serb forces killing and torturing refugees at will, streets littered with corpses, people committing suicide to avoid having their noses, lips and ears chopped off, and adults being forced to watch the soldiers kill their children.

    The people in authority who fomented and facilitated the Rwandan genocide rationalized it in a similar way, and employed similar techniques, including their use of the local media. I take it that we’re to suppose that they weren’t criminals, just African politicians—and that we should passively accept criminality on the part of our politicians if they claim to be “protecting” us.

  • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B. ?

    TimG, “the heart” is a metaphor for a certain mode of our experience (and operating out of the limbic system in the brain and perhaps in collaboration with the cerebellum.) Talking about “the heart” out of context as the blood pumper is just silly, it’s a literalist-naif shtick (like the stereotype alien visitor comedy) and not good skepticism. As for QM, you should read the Wired article and see the points made there. BTW pointing out that some odd physical property likely has implications doesn’t mean I support the particular claims or even in kind of a certain person or clique, it’s just that mention of say QM in reference to the mind becomes a spring-board for mention of what good may come of it.

    Yes we can make predictions with QM but we really don’t understand e.g. just what sort of “thing” goes through space say when a beta particle (electron) comes out of a nucleus: is it really an expanding shell? You can call that a “philosophical” interpretation since we only worry about what happens when the electron is caught, but really it is a physical interpretation since it asks about “what are electrons”? Ironically, you could in like vein (and this is little appreciated except by aficionados of the history of empiricism etc.) say that the “existence” of fields was just a philosophical interpretation of how particles just act in dependence on what other particles did earlier. That would not explain the energy density etc. we need for conservation, but it can be argued that only actions are actually observed and not their mediations. Also, some things formerly thought as just philosophical distinctions in QM turned out to have actual consequences (Bell theorem) and maybe that wasn’t the last example.

    “Forces” aren’t the key issue in consciousness and volition, coordination (where QM has some significance) is. If there is some sort of wholeness in the brain, through which the states of electrons can be coordinated or in effect made more “as one”, then a delicately-tuned pattern of messages would not behave the same as if each part just acted randomly on its own. There could be not only a butterfly effect in the brain, but one that acted all over. Could it be the basis of volition, the sense that an “I” picks out an action and not just how a mess of activity comes together? As I noted in a poster presentation at Tucson 2000: Toward a Science of Consciousness: Without some sort of global authority in the brain, we couldn’t so easily suddenly break off types of action we had been engaged in, if the volitional theories like “pandemonium” (look that up) were valid.

  • cynic

    It’s reassuring to ascribe crackpot views to those who do not share one’s politics. But what do you make of so-soggy liberal Tony Blair’s devotion to the Catholic Church (a love that, it must be said, dared not speak its name until he had given up the day job) and his wife’s ludicrous crystal swinging, re-birthing and other new age antics?

  • John Merryman

    Neil,

    The electron makes sense to me as a expanding shell, or wave. I don’t get the obsession with reducing everything to interactions of particles. Entangled particles exhibiting action at a distance would make more sense if they were two points on the same wave.

    The distinction between the head and the heart might better be understood as left and right brained thinking. One analytical, the other existential. I think the relationship between consciousness and the intellect is similar to that between analog and digital. While the intellect focuses on reductionistic distinctions, the consciousness is constantly blurring them into some larger whole. This isn’t always a positive function either, as it would be the basis for cognitive breakdowns, such as ADD, as well as the basis for herd behavior and pack mentality overcoming the individual’s reasoning capacity. So the two sides work in conjunction.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    cynic, I think it is crazy. Just as I think Barack Obama’s religious views are crazy. Your point being?

    Another crazy thing is to characterize the slaughter of thousands of people as “not sharing one’s politics.”

  • Phil

    2 is the magic number—

    that is, it only took two posts to pose the deep question: who is worse, karadjic, or bush?

    i prefer pieter kok’s “he’s not only a war criminal, but a science criminal!”

    and anyone who confuses the war crimes of the B with those of the K should probably look for new work. will you recognize science crimes when you commit them yourself?

  • cynic

    “Another crazy thing is to characterize the slaughter of thousands of people as “not sharing one’s politics.””

    About as crazy as describing the Srebrenica massacre as “n’t really very nice” and finding the antics of its alleged instigator “extremely amusing”.

    And the point is : self congratulatory sneering at the belief systems of others (a major defect here at CV) is rather out of place in an assessment of an unprincipled murdering bastard – or (c.f. Blair) Radovan Karadzic.

    Whoops – I forgot that you guys have a selective whimsy bypass.

  • TimG

    Neil B. wrote:

    TimG, “the heart” is a metaphor for a certain mode of our experience (and operating out of the limbic system in the brain and perhaps in collaboration with the cerebellum.) Talking about “the heart” out of context as the blood pumper is just silly, it’s a literalist-naif shtick (like the stereotype alien visitor comedy) and not good skepticism.

    I get that “the heart” doesn’t really mean “the heart”, just like when these New Age types talk about “energy” they don’t mean “energy” in the sense we use it in physics. But my point is that they’re using these terms in such a way that they have no well-defined meaning at all.

    It’d be one thing if they defined their terms — e.g. “Here we are using the ‘heart’ as a metaphor for mental processes involving the right hemisphere of the brain” or the frontal lobe or whatever. But they don’t. Making precise quantitative claims (e.g. “three percent of the world we understand with our hearts”) without giving equally precise definitions of the terms in those claims is one of the hallmarks of pseudo-scientific bulls***.

    BTW pointing out that some odd physical property likely has implications doesn’t mean I support the particular claims or even in kind of a certain person or clique, it’s just that mention of say QM in reference to the mind becomes a spring-board for mention of what good may come of it.

    I take this to mean you don’t agree with Karadzik’s metaphysical views, which is good because so far as I can tell they’re nothing but vacuous nonsense. I only asked because you brought up the idea of QM having to do with consciousness in a discussion of Karadzik and his views.

    For what it’s worth, I do think the question of whether QM has anything to do with consciousness is an interesting one, as is the question of whether different interpretations of QM can lead to different observable consequences.

    But what bothers me is when people say “Well, science doesn’t fully understand X” as a defense of crackpot pseudoscientific “theories”. (I’m not saying this was your intention, just that this is a very common way of defending these viewpoints.) The fact is we have a much better, more quantitatively precise and predictive understanding of the physics of atoms than we do of consciousness, or for that matter turbulent flow or high-temperature superconductors or a whole host of other phenomena.

    But even for things we really don’t understand, it doesn’t mean we should take seriously claims that are not based on evidence, or which are simply not stated precisely and coherently.

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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] cosmicvariance.com .

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