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Our future, our universe, and other weighty topics

Thursday, March 5, 2015

50 Things Science Cannot Explain, Part 4

In part1, part 2, and part 3 of this 4-part series of blog posts, I listed 36 things that science can't explain. In this post I'll finish up the 4-part series by listing 14 more things that science cannot explain.

37. Savants

Savants are individuals who have some mental disability but also have some extraordinary mental talents. Many people are familiar with savants from the film Rain Man starring Dustin Hoffman, based on an actual savant. An example of a savant is Daniel Tammer, who has been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome. He holds the European record for reciting Pi from memory, to 22,514 digits. Supposedly he learned the Icelandic language in only ten days.

Another example of a savant is the late Kim Peek, who supposedly could accurately recall the details of 12,000 books he had read, despite having an IQ of only 87. Like several savants, he had the ability to instantly calculate the day of the week on which any person he met was born. Still another savant is Derek Paravicini, who can play a piece of music accurately after hearing it just once. He was born very prematurely, at only 25 weeks.

While science can explain while people deprived of some sense (such as sight) may have increased abilities relating to some other sense, science suggests no explanation for why a severe deficit in one mental area might lead to a radically improved ability in some other area, an ability we would not expect any human to have.

38. The placebo effect

A placebo is typically a sugar pill that a doctor gives to a patient, merely in the hopes that the patient's belief that he is getting an effective treatment will actually do some good. The placebo effect is the astonishing degree to which placebos are actually effective in reducing symptoms. One study indicates that half of a drug's effectiveness may be due to the placebo effect. Another study indicates that when patients are given a placebo pill labeled as a drug, it does just as well in alleviating migraine headaches as when patients are given an actual drug labeled as a placebo.

Why should people so often get better or have their pain eased simply because they believe they are taking some medicine that is effective? The placebo effect suggests a “mind over body” effect which modern science is quite unable to account for.

39. The “law of the five allowed stable particles”

Most of the laws of nature have been given names by scientists. But there is one very important law that hasn't been give a name, so I sometimes give it a name by calling it “the law of the five allowed stable particles.” This is simply the law that when high-energy particles are colliding, resulting in a shower of “daughter particles,” nature always makes sure that the resulting stable particles are one of only five types: protons (with a rest mass of 1.672 X 10-27 kilogram), neutrons (with a rest mass of 1.674 X 10-27 kilogram), electrons (with a rest mass of 9.109 X 10-31 kilogram), photons (with no rest mass), or neutrinos (with almost no rest mass). 

Stable particles between these masses are never created from these high-energy collisions of particles. For example, in subatomic particle colliders such as the Large Hadron Collider, we only see the creation of stable particles that are the electron mass or about 1836 times the electron mass, and never see the creation of stable particles that are between 100 and 1000 times the electron mass. Why does nature follow this rule? We know the rule is beneficial to life, as it allows for the kind of “standardization” that facilitates life's existence. But science has no idea why nature should follow this law in such an invariable way, as if it had been programmed into nature by some cosmic programmer.

40. Verified premonitions

Verified premonitions can be defined as cases in which someone has a feeling or dream about something that is going to happen in the future, only to later find just such a thing did happen. Many fascinating cases have occurred in human history.

On May 3, 1812, John Williams had the same dream three times in a single night: a very specific dream about someone assassinating Spencer Perceval, the British Prime Minister. Eight days later Perceval was assassinated, and several of the details matched William's dream.

Two weeks before he was assassinated, Abraham Lincoln had a dream that he would be assassinated. The famous writer Mark Twain had a dream about the death of his brother that turned out to closely match what happened a few days later. Several people had premonitions that something would go wrong on the Titanic before it sunk. One person who had a ticket on the ill-fated ship had two dreams that the ship would overturn, with passengers in the water.

In 1950 a church blew up in Beatrice, Nebraska, at a time when the church normally would have had a choir practice. Amazingly, no one was hurt, because the church was empty. We can only guess at how many of these people felt a premonition of doom, and avoided their regular choir practice.

According to research published in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, dozens of people had premonitions of disaster before the Aberfan avalanche that killed 144 people. Some had dreams about such a disaster before it happened. During World War II Winston Churchill had two premonitions that may have saved his life or those of others. One premonition led him to switch sides on his staff car. A bomb then went off on the side he moved away from. Another premonition led him to tell his kitchen staff to leave the kitchen and go underground. A bomb then destroyed the kitchen.

A number of people also had premonitions of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center. In early September, Lawrence Francis Boisseau had a dream that the World Trade Center was collapsing around him. Boisseau was killed in the attack.

Science offers no explanation for such cases, other than the unconvincing explanation of mere coincidence.

41. Spiral galaxy spin non-randomness

Physicist Michael Longo and his helpers studied more than 15,000 galaxies to determine which direction they were spinning (something that seems like the most tedious assignment imaginable). The end result was very surprising. Instead of finding that spiral galaxies always spin in one direction 50% of the time and the other direction 50% of the time, Longo found that in some parts of the sky galaxies prefer to spin one way or the other significantly more frequently.

According to his research, in some directions of the sky there is an almost exact balance between galaxies that are spinning in a “left-handed” way and galaxies spinning in the opposite, “right-handed” way. But in other directions of the sky, “left-handedness” can be preferred by as much as 7% over “right-handedness.” For more information, read this blog post.

42. Crop circles

When Doug Bower and Dave Chorley in 1991 claimed to have made some 200 crop circles since the 1970's, their story was taken as fact by skeptics, despite the lack of any explanation as to why the two would have done this incredibly laborious task for more than a decade without profiting from it. This incident kind of illustrates that when a skeptic is presented with testimony that he doesn't want to believe, he will invent endless excuses for not accepting the testimony. But when testimony is presented that a skeptic wants to believe, he may accept it without proof, no matter how farfetched it may be. There is, in reality, little basis for accepting Bower and Chorley's farfetched tale, and since it was made in 1991 by men in their sixties, it cannot be used as an explanation for crop circles that have continued to appear around the world since then, often with incredibly intricate patterns that seem impossible for any small team of humans to have created overnight.

43. Kepler 78b

Kepler 78b is a planet so strange that it will be one of the topics discussed next month on an episode of NASA's Unexplained Files. For a discussion of why science is currently unable to explain this planet, see this blog post.

44. Fast moving orbs

You can do a Google image search for “moving orbs” to see an astonishing set of photos from many different web sites, sites showing unidentified circular objects or spherical objects moving at very fast speeds. Since such photos show strong motion blur and the photographic effect known as ghosting, they are indications of objects moving very rapidly, much faster than 100 miles an hours. Skeptics and scientists have no plausible explanation for these anomalies. One utterly lame explanation is to suggest that such photos are produced when someone photographs moving insects. That doesn't work, because the average speed of an insect such as a house fly is only about 3 miles an hour, and the photos of fast moving orbs show objects that seem to be moving more than 30 times faster than that. Moreover, photos of fast moving orbs (in particular, this series of 18 photos) often show the objects making sharp right-angle turns, sharp u-turns, and sharp undulations, which are types of motion that we never observe from dust, birds, or insects.

45. “Peak in Darien” experiences

See this post for a discussion of these experiences, in which people seemed to know about the deaths of people that should have been unknown to them.

46. Mars anomalies

See this set of four blog posts for a discussion of recent anomalies on Mars that scientists and skeptics are unable to account for.

47. Fermi's Paradox

Science currently has no good explanation for this long-standing mystery of why extraterrestrial life hasn't been discovered yet.

48. Fermi Bubbles

While mentioning Fermi, I should also mention Fermi bubbles. These are two gigantic bubbles of energy above and below the plane of our galaxy. Scientists have no good explanation for them.

Fermi bubbles (credit: NASA)
49. LEDA 074886

LEDA 074886 is a galaxy with a rectangular shape. Scientists have no good explanation for how this could have come about.

50. The “duality” of electrons

When certain experiments are performed, electrons seem to behave exactly as if they were particles. When certain other experiments are performed, electrons seem to behave exactly as if they were waves. Scientists have not been able to explain why this strange duality exists. It seems as strange as some animal that looks like a giraffe when you photograph it with an Olympus camera, but looks like a lion when you photograph it with a Sony camera.