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Our future, our universe, and other weighty topics


Saturday, April 17, 2021

"Red Lights Everywhere": Why Brains Must Be Way Too Slow for Instant Recall and Fast Thinking

Claims that brains store memories and produce thinking are not well-established scientific facts, but mere speech customs of neuroscientists who belong to a belief community as dogmatic as the communities of organized religions. Such neuroscientists tend to pay shockingly little attention to the implications of the low-level findings neuroscientists have made about brains.  Replacing its proteins at a rate of about 3% every day, brains are neither stable enough nor fast enough to explain things such as the instant accurate recall of 50-year-old memories.  

People who write about the brain frequently use a trick to make you think that brains are very fast. Such people will tell you that brain signals can travel up to 100 meters per second. But this is the speed when signals pass through the fastest tiny parts of the brain. This is the speed of signals when they travel through what is called a myelinated axon. The mylein sheath around the axon (with a white color) is what makes it so fast. It is interesting that the site here says, "The axons of grey matter are not heavily myelinated, unlike white matter, which contains a high concentration of myelin." Axons without much of a myelin sheath are believed to transmit brain signals about 5 times slower.  According to the diagram here, signals travel across myelinated axons at speeds between about 20 and 120 meters per second (depending on the thickness of the axon), and signals travel between unmyelinated axons between about 5 and 25 meters per second.

But citing a speed of meters per second for the speed of a brain signal is very misleading. It is as misleading as saying that you can drive through New York City very quickly, on the grounds that you can reach a speed of 30 or 40 miles per hour.  Considering only such a maximum speed is misleading, because when you travel through  New York City, you will be slowed down by many red lights.  Similarly, while some microscopic parts of the brain allow a fast transmission of signals, there are very many microscopic parts of the brain which very much slow down brain signals.   You might figuratively put it this way: the brain has billions of red lights all over the place, and each of those spots will slow down the speed of a brain signal.  So while the maximum speed of a brain signal during any millionth of a second may be as high as meters per second, the average speed of a brain signal is much, much slower, something on the order of one centimeter per second or slower. 

The schematic diagram below illustrates the point. We see a diagram of a neuron, one of the billions of cells that make up the brain. Protruding from the main part of the neuron are dendrites. The transmission of signals through dendrites is slow, so next to the dendrites is a snail icon representing how slow such units are. According to neuroscientist Nikolaos C Aggelopoulos, there is an estimate of 0.5 meters per second for the speed of nerve transmission across dendrites (see here for a similar estimate). That is a speed 200 times slower than the nerve transmission speed commonly quoted for myelinated axons.  Such a speed bump seems more important when we consider a quote by UCLA neurophysicist Mayank Mehta: "Dendrites make up more than 90 percent of neural tissue."  Given such a percentage, and such a conduction speed across dendrites, it would seem that the average transmission speed of a brain must be only a very small fraction of the meters-per-second transmission in axons. 


speed of brain signals

In the diagram above, we see a chain-like unit in the middle. That part is a myelinated axon, which can transmit a brain signal quickly. So I have put a rabbit icon next to that part, to indicate the relatively speedy signal transmission of that part. 

The bottom right part of the diagram shows some axon terminals that have synapses at their ends. Synapses are a serious "speed bump" for signal transmission in a brain. So I have put a snail icon at the bottom right of the diagram to indicate that slowness. 

How much of a "speed bump" are synapses? There are two types of synapses: slow chemical synapses and relatively fast electrical synapses. The parts of the brain allegedly involved in thought and memory have almost entirely chemical synapses. (The sources here and here and here and here and here refer to electrical synapses as "rare."  The neurosurgeon Jeffrey Schweitzer refers here to electrical synapses as "rare."  The paper here tells us on page 401 that electrical synapses -- also called gap junctions -- have only "been described very rarely" in the neocortex of the brain. This paper says that electrical synapses are a "small minority of synapses in the brain.")

We know of a reason why transmission of a nerve signal across chemical synapses should be relatively sluggish. When a nerve signal comes to the head of a chemical synapse, it can no longer travel across the synapse electrically. It must travel by neurotransmitter molecules diffusing across the gap of the synapse. This is much, much slower than what goes on in an axon.

Diffusion across a synaptic gap

There is a scientific term used for the delay caused when a nerve signal travels across a synapse. The delay is called the synaptic delay. According to this 1965 scientific paper, most synaptic delays are about .5 milliseconds, but there are also quite a few as long as 2 to 4 milliseconds. A more recent (and probably more reliable) estimate was made in a 2000 paper studying the prefrontal monkey cortex. That paper says, "the synaptic delay, estimated from the y-axis intercepts of the linear regressions, was 2.29" milliseconds. It is very important to realize that this synaptic delay is not the total delay caused by a nerve signal as it passes across different synapses. The synaptic delay is the delay caused each and every time that the nerve signal passes across a synapse. 

Such a delay may not seem like too much of a speed bump. But consider just how many such "synaptic delays" would have to occur for a brain signal to travel from one region of the brain to another. It has been estimated that the brain contains 100 trillion synapses (a neuron may have thousands of them).  So it would seem that for a neural signal to travel from one part of the brain to another part of the brain that is a distance away only 5% or 10% of the length of the brain, that such a signal would have to endure many thousands of such "synaptic delays" resulting in a cumulative synaptic delay of quite a few seconds of time.

The problem is that we know humans can instantly recall obscure pieces of information, and instantly do complex calculations.  We see this on TV shows such as Jeopardy,  where people again and again give correct answers after a delay of only about 1 second when being presented surprise pieces of very obscure information such as "Works of this Nobel Prize winner include Song of Solomon and Beloved," and "This was the city where King Louis XIV died." It is well known that certain people (some called autistic savants) can do things like instantly tell you the day of the week for any day you select in the century. There are some math calculation prodigies who can actually calculate faster than any person using a hand calculator. It is impossible to account for such speed under the theory that your brain stores your memories and your brain produces your thoughts. 

Here are all the time factors we would need to account for under a theory of neural memory storage:

(1) The time needed to find where a memory was in the brain.  Since the brain has no indexing system, no addressing system, no coordinate system, and no position notation system, we can only assume that this would be a very long time, like the time required to find a needle in a haystack. 

(2) The time needed for an encoded memory stored neurally to be decoded and translated into a thought ending up in your mind.  That would take quite a while. We know that it takes quite a while (many seconds) for the brain to do the only type of decoding known to occur in it, the decoding of genetic information stored in DNA (a type of decoding incomparably simpler than the fantastically complex decoding that would be needed to decode some memory encoded as neural states or synapse states). 

(3) The time needed for signals to travel around in your brain. That would take quite a few seconds, because signals would have to travel across thousands of synapses, each of which would produce a synaptic delay (and also thousands of dendrites that would slow down things). 

In short, there are multiple redundant reasons why you would never be able to recall something instantly if memories were stored in your brain.  The slowness of brain signals also means very rapid thinking cannot be a brain effect. An example of rapid thinking is that when asked in a competition what was 869,463,853 times 73, Neelakantha Bhanu Prakash correctly gave the answer of 63,470,861,269 in only 26 seconds. Similarly, Scott Flansburg added a randomly selected two-digit number (38) to itself 36 times, in only 15 seconds. Such calculations could never occur that quickly if it were performed by a brain with "red lights all over the place."

I'll give an example of a type of question no one would be able to answer in a short time if recall and thinking were the products of the brain. Consider the question: which Broadway composer may remind you of a children's TV show? Many people my age can answer such a question fairly quickly. But think of how much mental activity it involves:

(1) Scanning through your very diverse memories of the names of Broadway composers.

(2) Scanning through your very diverse memories of the names of children's TV shows.

(3) Looking for some kind of fuzzy match (not an exact match) between the two different groups of items. 

The correct answer is: Rodgers, because the great Broadway composer Richard Rodgers has a name sound-matching the name in the once-famous children's TV show "Mr. Roger's Neighborhood." It would take you hours or days to answer such a question if you had to use slow synapses and slow dendrites to solve it, searching through a brain without any indexing system or coordinate system; but many people my age could answer such a question in a few seconds. 

It would be very incorrect to suggest that when humans remember, they always only use some memory acquired at one time.  For example, ask a man to describe the difference between modern living and ancient living, and someone might quickly say something like this:

"We use cars not chariots, and fight with armored divisions not legions. We message with emails not carrier pigeons.  We read using  smartphones not scrolls, and wear trousers not togas. We pray to Jesus not Jupiter. We are paid with direct deposits, not coins."

Such a simple response could easily occur in a few seconds, but if brains store our memories, it would require finding, retrieving, understanding and intelligently using information stored in a dozen different little spots in a brain (a brain without an addressing system or indexing allowing fast retrieval). So it would take a long time, and could never occur instantly. 

A scientific paper suggests that neuroscientists are not paying proper attention to signal delays when calculating the speed of brain signals. It says, "Despite their inevitable physiological significance in living systems, propagation delays are usually overlooked in mathematical models, presumably to avoid further complexity."  That's as silly as calculating the time it would take you to drive through the middle of New York City without taking into account the time spent at traffic lights.  

Focal seizures in the brain propagate at a speed of about 1 millimeter per second. We read the following in one paper about the speed of seizures:

"The spread of activity through cortical circuits has been studied in experiments by means of electrical registrations and optical imaging [1–3], and high-density microelectrode arrays [4]. Experiments show slow propagation of an ictal wavefront and fast spread of discharges behind the front [3] [5]. The ictal wavefront progresses through the cortical area at a pace of < 1 mm/s, which is consistent with propagation speeds measured with electrodes and imaging in brain slice models [1, 2, 6–9] and in vivo (0.6 mm/s in [10] with two-photon microscope and 0.5 mm/s in [11] with widefield imaging in mouse neocortex)."

There is no particular reason for thinking that information-transmitting brain signals in the cortex would travel very many times faster than this low speed of about 1 millimeter per second.  The surface area of the brain is about 2500 square centimeters (about 2,500,000 square millimeters), about the size of a pillow case.  The brain can fit in the skull because of extensive folding, rather like a pillow case folded up to fit inside your coat pocket. If brain signals travel about as fast as seizures, it would take something like 1500 seconds (or 25 minutes) for some thought to travel from the middle of one brain half to the middle of another. 

A 2020 paper was entitled "Kilohertz two-photon fluorescence microscopy imaging of neural activity in vivo." It used some fancy new technology to clock the speed of brain signals in a living mouse, a "latest and greatest" technology that takes thousands of snapshots every second. The paper has only one exact mention of a speed: supplementary Figure 5 of the paper refers to a calcium propagating speed of about 25 microns per second, which is a very slow speed of only about 0.0025 centimeters per second (about .02 millimeters per second). If human brain signals travel at anything like such a speed, the brain must be way, way too slow to be the cause of instant recall and fast problem solving. 

We do not think at anything remotely like the speed of brains. We do not recall at anything remotely like the speed of brains. We think and recall at the speed of souls.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Updating Sagan's Analogy of the Scientist as Candle Holder

Today at one prominent site presenting itself as a science news site, we have not just one article bitterly blasting scholars expressing concern  about pesticides and herbicides, but two such articles. At  another prominent web site presenting itself as a science news site, a site boasting about being written by "the world's best scientists," we have today a strange article claiming that formaldehyde is "the carcinogen that wasn't," even though several expert health agencies have declared that formaldehyde is a carcinogen (a cancer risk).  This is a reminder that science these days is all mixed up with other things, including corporate-funded propaganda and nineteenth century belief customs, with such strange mixtures simply marketed as "science." Scientists are created in university departments that are often ideological enclaves. An ideological enclave is some environment where almost everyone believes in some particular ideology or belief system. 

A seminary is an example of an ideological enclave. A seminary is an institution where people are trained to be ministers or priests of some particular religion. A university graduate school program (one issuing masters degrees and PhD's in some academic specialty) may also be an example of an ideological enclave. Just as a seminary trains people to think in one particular way, and to hold a particular set of unproven beliefs, many a university graduate program may train people to think in a particular way, and to hold a particular set of unproven beliefs. 

Once a person starts being trained in an ideological enclave, he will find relentless social pressure to conform to the ideology of that enclave. This pressure will continue for years. The pressure will be applied by authorities who usually passed through years of training and belief conditioning by the ideological enclave, or a similar ideological enclave elsewhere. In a seminary such authorities are ministers or priests, and in a university graduate school program such authorities are professors or instructors. Finally, after years of belief conditioning the person who signed up for the training will be anointed as a new authority himself. In the university graduate school program, this occurs when something like a master's degree or a PhD or a professorship is granted. In a seminary, this may occur when someone becomes a minister or priest.

Groupthink is a tendency for some conformist social unit to have overconfidence in its decisions or belief customs, or unshakable faith in such things. Groupthink is worsened by any situation in which only those with some type of credential (available only from some ideological enclave) are regarded as fit to offer a credible judgment on some topic. In groupthink situations, an illusion of consensus may be helped by self-censorship (in which those having opinions differing from the group ideology keep their contrary opinions to themselves, for fear of being ostracized within the group). In groupthink situations, belief conformity may also be helped by so-called mindguards, who work to prevent those in the group from becoming aware of contrarian opinions, alternate options or opposing observations. In an academic community such mindguards exist in the form of peer-reviewers and academic editors who prevent the publication of opinions and data contrary to the prevailing group ideology

For the person who completes the program of a university graduate school program, and gets his master's degree or PhD, is that the end of the conformist social influence, the end of the pressure to believe and think in a particular way? Not at all. Instead, the “follow the herd” effect and the pressure to tow the “party line” of the belief community typically continues for additional decades. The newly minted PhD rarely goes off on his own to become an independent thinker marching to his own drummer, outside of the heavy influence of the belief community. Instead, such a person usually becomes a kind of captive of a belief community. The newly minted PhD will very often get a job working for the very ideological enclave that trained him, a particular academic department of a university. Or, he may end up employed by some very similar academic department of some other university, a place that is an ideological enclave just like the one in which he was trained. Having very stringent speech  conformity requirements for promotion, such employment typically lasts for decades, during which someone may be stuck in a kind of echo chamber in which everyone parrots the same talking points. So when there is groupthink and ideological conformity in some academic specialty, peer pressure can continue to act for decades to prevent people from deviating from the prevailing conformity. 

Conformity

Scientist Carl Sagan liked to state an analogy comparing the scientist to a person holding a candle in the dark, the candle representing the techniques of science. Sagan made this analogy in the title of his book The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. This was a 438-page book on paranormal phenomena in which Sagan showed zero signs of having seriously studied the observational claims he was writing about. You can tell Sagan's dismal lack of relevant scholarship on this topic by simply examining the many books mentioned in the references at the back of the book, almost none of which is an original source material. Not one of the books mentioned is one of the 100 top books that Sagan should have read before writing about paranormal phenomena, and we see a complete or almost-complete failure to examine relevant original source materials such as the many volumes of the Journal and Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research. And so it is for the overwhelming majority of scientists who talk about paranormal phenomena, 99% of whom show zero signs of having seriously studied the evidence for such phenomena.  What we get in Sagan's book is a kind of ersatz scholarship, filled with lots of erudite digressions about extraneous matters that might fool some people into thinking the author made a serious study of the main thing he was writing about.  

After considering the groupthink and conformity factors at play in scientific academia, we can update Carl Sagan's candle-holder analogy, to take into account the theory-laden interpretations that scientists are so often socially pressured into making, because of a conformist culture they belong to.  We can imagine two men walking in the dark with the scientist holding the candle, two fellow scientists. The two scientists would constantly pressure the candle holder to think and interpret in a particular way. So the conversation between the three may go rather like this:

Candle holder: I'm going to go walking in the dark woods now, so I sure am glad I have this little candle.
Scientist Bob: Let's walk along, and Dave and I will help you interpret what you see.
Candle holder:  Why, I think I see rather dimly ahead of me something that looks designed. 
Scientist Dave: No, we are in nature, and our rule is there can be no design in nature. So what you see ahead must be merely an illusion of design. 
Candle holder: Really? 
Scientist Bob: Yes, there are millions of different species that resemble things that were designed, but these are all just millions of illusions that nature has given us.
Candle holder: Uh...okay, if you say so.  Well, as I look over there I think I see what looks like a tree. 
Scientist Dave: So you had the idea of a tree, and that idea no doubt came from your brain, so this is really further proof that your brain is what causes your ideas, not something else like a soul.
Candle holder: Uh...okay.  Now, looking over to the right, I dimly see a dark shape that looks quite spooky. 
Scientist Bob: No, you must not think that. If you start thinking that something out there is spooky, then you might believe in other spooky things: things like spirits and paranormal phenomena. Scientists like us must not believe in such things, for we fear above all the disapproval of our peers, who tell us not to believe in such things.
Candle holder: Uh...okay.  Now, looking over to the left, I think I see an animal scurrying around. 
Scientist Dave: It's locomotion from a mammal, no doubt. Such impressive functionality is further proof of the ability of random "copying error" genetic mutations to produce stunning wonders of hierarchical biological organization such as conscious moving animals. 
Candle holder: Uh...okay.  If you say so.  Now I think I would like to go off the trodden path of this dark woods, and try to discover something in that very dark area over to the left of the path. 
Scientist Bob: That sounds rather like what some might call "exploring the occult," and is greatly discouraged by your fellow scientists. Our way is to walk on the well-trodden path. We kind of figure, "It's probably the right way if so many have walked that way." 
Scientist Dave: Yes, don't "raise eyebrows" by straying from the footsteps of your colleagues. A safe career move is to do something like write paper #987 speculating about extraterrestrials, or write paper #1452 speculating about string theory, or do the 287th experiment this year electrically shocking the feet of mice. 
Candle holder: Very well, I'll stay on the well-trodden path. Now, I must confess that despite having this candle, I am really quite ignorant of what there is around me in this dark woods, particularly anything that is more than a few meters away from me.
Scientist Bob: How will people follow us authorities if we sound like we know so little? It's better that a scientist should sound like a great lord of knowledge, or students paying very high tuitions may complain about their professors knowing too little. 

And so peer pressure and groupthink and careerist conformism may cause the candle holder to often reach a dubious or wrong conclusion about what he sees in the dim light, and may prevent the kind of disruptive discoveries that would be the most valuable or illuminating.  Our scientists have lit many candles, but very many of our scientists have also tried to snuff out many important candles that were lit in the past. That occurs whenever some scientist who hasn't bothered to study the evidence for some phenomenon or effect claims that there is no evidence for such a phenomenon or effect, rather than honestly telling us that he has not properly studied the evidence for such a phenomenon or effect. Because so many of them have tried to snuff out important candles that offended them, and because so many of them they have spent so much time pushing ideas that offer very little or no real illumination, it may seem somewhat uncertain whether the  scientists of the past 100 years have increased mankind's illumination, or decreased it.  The countless scientists who got so entangled with military projects and destructive corporate projects may have looked more like bringers of darkness than bringers of light.   As for physicists like Edward Teller, they helped invent atomic bombs which were very bright when they exploded, but which led to a dark night of nuclear fear that lasted for decades (causing billions of healthy people to often wonder whether they would soon die in a fiery nuclear holocaust). 

We have in these days a thousand glittering ways to be distracted by entertaining trivialities, but there seems to have been little increase in our insight about the questions that are most important. Despite all our technical conveniences and comfort, and all our glitzy neon sparkle, it is quite possible that more enlightened humans of the future (holding bright torches of spiritual and moral insight) may look back on our current era as rather much a dark age.

Postscript: Speaking of formaldehyde (which I mentioned at the beginning of this post), I remember the insanity of forced exposure to it during a high school biology class. Students were forced to dissect cats, with such a dissection lasting for many days.  Provided with no protective gear, each student would retrieve his dead cat from a big trashcan filled with formaldehyde, a carcinogen; and the liquid splashed all over the place. Some distinguished authorities had determined that such formaldehyde exposure and prolonged dissection of dead cats was not only allowed, but actually required of all the senior high school students.  In another high school class, each student was socially pressured to stick his hand into a container filled with mercury, a very hazardous material. 

Friday, April 9, 2021

The Evidence for Out-of-Body Experiences

Very many people are familiar with how people in recent decades have reported moving out of their bodies during near-death experiences.  But many people are not aware that the evidence for such out-of-body experiences goes way back before the publication of Raymond Moody's famous 1976 book Life After Life

An early account for an out-of-body experience can be found on page 447 of the Proceedings of the American Society for Psychical Research, dating from 1889. A  Mrs. N. J. Crans wrote the following to the distinguished researcher Richard Hodgson, telling of an out-of-body experience that seemed to have details corroborated by another person:

"After lying down to rest, I remember of feeling a drifting sensation, of seeming almost as if I was going out of the body. My eyes were closed ; soon I realized that I was, or seemed to be, going fast somewhere. All seemed dark to me ; suddenly I realized that I was in a room, then I saw Charley lying in a bed asleep; then I took a look at the furniture of the room, and distinctly saw every article of furniture in the room, even to a chair at the head of the bed, which had one of the pieces broken in the back ; and Charley's clothes lay on that chair, across the bottom of chair."

The full account includes a "veridical verification" element, as Charley later writes back to Mrs. Crans to say that the room looked exactly as described, and that he also saw someone named Allie at the time Mrs. Crans reported seeing her during the out-of-body experience. 

A few years later there was published an account you can read at the link here, which takes you to page 180 of Volume 8 of the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, published in 1892. I have summarized this account of an out-of-body experience at the post here

A long account of out-of-body experiences was given in the 1929 book The Projection of the Astral Body by Sylvan J. Muldoon, which you can read here. Muldoon claims to have had many out-of-body experiences, but gives little in the way of corroborating evidence to back up his tales. 

In the 1960's and 1970's the scholar Robert Crookall PhD collected many accounts of out-of-body experiences.  His works on the topic include these:

  • The Supreme Adventure (1961), which you can read here
  • The Techniques of Astral Projection (1964), which you can read here.
  • More Astral Projections (1964), which you can read here
  • Out-of-the-Body Experiences (1970), which you can read here.

The More Astral Projections book gives about 160 cases of out-of-body experiences. Below are some examples, none of which involved people under anesthetics:

  • Case #161. A Mrs. J. Douglas Newton reported this: "My son, then 8 years of age, who had never heard of any¬ thing of this sort, had gone to bed one night and was lying reading. Suddenly he called rather urgently for me. I found him sitting up, rather scared. He said, 'Such a funny thing has happened. I was just lying reading when I felt I was rising into the air. I seemed to go up,near the ceiling. Then I looked down and could see myself lying in bed. I came slowly down.' "
  • Case #162. A B. Barrett reported this: "I was in perfect health when one night I found myself looking down at my earthly body and could not make out why it was not lying there dead as I thought."
  • Case #164. A Florence Roberts reported this: "I have had many out- of-the-body experiences when a child. ... I found myself above my physical body on the bed. "
  • Case 165. A Mrs. Lambert reported this: "Suddenly I shot out of my body. I lay about six feet up, looking down at myself."
  • Case 170. A Peter Urquhart stated this: "I went outside and found myself out of the body again. This time the sensation was like being in a balloon, attached by a cord somewhere in the region of the navel, like the umbilical cord."
  • Case 172. A Mrs. Argles reported this: "I found myself standing on the top of the steps, looking down on my body, lying on the floor. There was a cord connecting me to the body on the floor."
  • Case 173. Vera Oates stated this: "in the early hours of the morning I was suddenly wide awake, but, to my amazement, I was hovering between the railing and the bed. I looked down and saw myself on the bed."
  • Case 174. A Mrs. G. Teakel stated, "I have many times been outside my body and found it a lovely experience. It happens mostly around 3 a.m."
  • Case 175. A Mrs. Harris stated this: "I have left my body many times, walking round the room and looking at my body which is joined by a cord." Reports of such a cord connecting body to soul are not very rare.
  • Case 176. A Mr. Jebb stated, "I walked round the room twice when out of my body."
  • Case 183. A Mrs. M. F. Hemeon stated this: "Suddenly I felt myself  ‘swimming’ up out of my body...I was very startled, and by an effort of will... returned to my body."
  • Case 194. A woman states, " Suddenly I was floating with my nose almost touching the ceiling—I saw all the little imperfections in the distemper."
  • Case 201: An R. J. Carlson states, " I suddenly found myself out of and above myself—and yet I could either sense or see my body in bed."
  • Case 204: A Rebecca Schreiber stated "I suddenly felt I had left my body and was flying over the ocean until I came to the ship" (the Queen Mary) that her daughter was on. After asking her daughter what was wrong, and being told she was sea-sick, she told her daughter she would soon feel better. Her daughter later said she had an experience matching this visitation account, while on the ship, at about the same time. 
  • Case 236. Oscar Mockler stated, "The next thing I was aware of was standing on the floor of the cabin and looking down at my body lying asleep in the bunk."
  • Case 241.  Mrs. N. Matile stated this: "I found myself floating above my bed (about three feet above). I then quickly passed out of the window to the middle of the Mews where we were living. It was a starry night and it was a lovely feeling, floating in the air. "
  • Case 243. An M.E. Fearn stated this: "I felt myself arise and float off the bed and ... was at the foot of our bed, looking at myself asleep, facing my husband’s back. Then I floated towards the window."
  • Case 246.  A Mrs. Eyres stated, "I had a feeling that the real Me came out of my body through the head and I had the sensation of flying.” She claimed to have visited other countries in out-of-body experiences. 
  • Case 247. A Mrs. Watkin claimed to be visited by two figures who took on a visit to some spirit world. She states this: "I was brought back to my bedroom and there the three of us again stood looking at my lifeless-looking body. Suddenly I slipped easily and swiftly into it."   
  • Case 259. A Miss Douglas stated this: "“One night I awoke from sleep to find that I was in a horizontal position and suspended in mid-air. In this position I travelled at moderate speed through the bedroom windows out into the night. It was moonlight and I could see the houses very clearly. I felt thrilled as I travelled along ...It was so real. I drifted across the roof-tops and identified the neighbours’ gardens. ... On the return journey I seemed to be losing height but not speed. ... Finally, I arrived in the garden at home, still remaining in a horizontal position and suspended in mid-air."
  • Case 267. A Mr. Hall stated this: "Presently a most strange sensation passed through my body. Next I floated out through the winidow and across the town. I seemed to be several hundred feet above the ground."
  • Case 268. A C. H. Normanby stated, "About the age of 15 years I experienced passing out of my body on two occasions."
  • Case 269. A Mrs. Flint stated, "One afternoon, while resting on my bed, I felt myself floating, or rather suspended in the air, and I was actually looking down at my body on the bed."
  • Case 285. A Mrs. Mansergh stated this: "In February, 1939, my husband and I retired to bed as usual and I awoke to find myself standing by the side of the bed looking down on the sleeping forms of my husband and myself. I moved away from the bed to the window. As I moved, I noticed a glistening cord trailing from me." 
  • Case 309. A G. Bradley stated this: " I awoke about 7 a.m., and had the sensation of leaving the body. All I could see was the frame of myself left in the bed. I was floating around the room feeling peaceful. Suddenly I had the urge to get back into the shell of my body. What a struggle I had to do it!"
  • Case 310. A Mrs. Shakespeare stated this: "During the night I seemed to float down the ward and then returned and hovered over my bed, looking down at myself. I felt calm and peaceful.”
  • Case 313: A Mrs. Fyal stated this:  "Suddenly I felt myself leaving my body and looking around my bedroom... I saw my own body...Suddenly I found myself wandering again and floated to my body where, in the morning, I was astounded that I was in it."
  • Case 314: A Mrs. Langridge stated this: "I was outside my body, suspended in air, and looking down upon my body. Three or four people were reviving me. I was in a pleasant state of freedom and thought, ‘I wish these people would leave me alone!' "
  • Case 327. Dr G. B. Kirkland stated this: "To my surprise, I found myself looking at myself lying on the bed. The thought; just flashed through me that I didn't think much of me —in fact, I didn’t approve of me at all. Then I was hurried off at great speed. Have you ever looked through a very long tunnel and seen the tiny speck of light at the far end ? It seems an incredible distance off. Well, I found myself with others vaguely discernible hurrying along just such a tunnel or passage—smoky or cloudy, colourless, grey and very cold."
  • Case 329:  A Mrs. Florence Phillips stated this: " Suddenly I began to float away from my body and entered a grand garden. ... I seemed to float through the trees into a mist. Suddenly it seemed as if a gun went off  and I was back in bed."
  • Case 336: An F. W. Talbot stated this: "The next  moment I was suspended in mid-air, horizontal, and looking down at my body on the bed. I could see myself lying in bed quite clearly. I watched an attendant go to my body, lift my arm and plunge in a needle. This was extremely interesting; I was suspended over his head and my feeling was that of detached curiosity."
  • Case 337: A Mrs Rowbotham stated, "I remember being on the ceiling of the room looking down at the two doctors and two nurses—just floating and watching."
  • Case 339: A Kathleen Snowdon stated this: "Suddenly I realized a feeling of great excitement, wonder and delight surpassing anything I had ever experienced as I felt my body [‘double’] completely weightless and floating upwards in a golden glow towards a wonderful light around hazy welcoming figures and the whole air was filled with beautiful singing. I floated joyfully towards the light and then I heard my mother’s voice calling me. My whole being revolted against going back."
  • Case 343: An S. H. Kelly stated this: "As I lost consciousness, certain things in my life came in front of me. This was followed by a queer sound of music and the next thing I was suspended in mid-air and looking at them bringing my body out of the water and trying artificial respiration. I was very happy and free and wondered why they were doing that when I was here! At that moment I was transported to my mother’s room. I stood beside her as she was by the fire in an easy chair, trying to tell her I was all right and happy. Afterwards, I was back, looking at my body, when a brilliant light shone around me and a voice said, ‘It is not your time yet—you must go back. You have work to do!' "
  • Case 346:  A Mrs. Maries stated this: "Meanwhile I  had left my body and felt myself floating in what seemed like a dark tunnel (with a glimpse, at the end, of a lovely countryside). I had no pain, only a wonderful feeling of happiness. I felt I had somebody with me, but saw nobody. Only I heard a voice which said, ‘You must go back! That child needs you!’ I returned to my body and heard the doctor say, ‘No, by Jove, I can still feel her heart!’ "
At the end of his book More Astral Projections, Robert Crookall has some interesting summary statistics regarding how often such accounts had recurring characteristics. He used the term "the double" for a kind of spirit body that was a double of the human body. For what he called "single-type cases" the statistics included the following:
  • "The fact that the ‘double’ left the body chiefly via the head was noted in 29 natural and two enforced cases (i.e. 13.5 per cent and 5.4 per cent respectively)."
  • "The fact that, the newly-released ‘double’, often took up a horizontal position (usually not far above its physical counterpart), was noted in 50 natural and 7 enforced cases (i.e. 23.3 per cent and 18.9 per cent respectively)."
  • The percentage of people reporting a "silver cord" or "shining cord" connecting the human body and a spirit body (or something like that) was "43 (20.0 per cent) natural cases, 6 (16.2 per cent) enforced cases." 
For what Crookall called "double-type cases" the statistics included the following:
  • "People who saw the ‘dead’ (including ‘deliverers) comprised 57 natural and 6 enforced cases (26.6 per cent and 16.2 per cent respectively)."
  • "‘Level’ of consciousness: (a) ‘super-normal’ (with clairvoyance, telepathy, foreknowledge, etc.)—41 (19.0 per cent) natural cases and 2 (5.4 per cent) enforced cases; (b) normal—6 (2.8 per cent) natural cases and 1 (2.7 per cent) enforced case; (c) ‘sub-normal’—3 (1.4 per cent) natural and no enforced case." In the book people often report having a sharper or faster or clearer mind during an out-of-body experience. Such cases are consistent with the hypothesis that the brain is not the source of human thinking, but a kind of valve that restricts the human mind, allowing a mind to focus on mundane little tasks such as food gathering and wealth accumulation. 
We surely would not expect anything like such percentages if mere hallucination was involved.  In random hallucinations, you would expect matching specific details in fewer than 1 in 1000 cases, there being innumerable thousands or millions of ways in which a random hallucination might unfold. 

out of body experience

The source here discusses a variety of surveys taken to try to determine how common out-of-body experiences are.  It gives  numbers which suggest that out-of-body experiences occur to significant fractions of the human population, something like between 10% and 20%.

The 1973 book Glimpses of the Beyond: The Extraordinary Experiences of People Who Crossed the Brinks of Death and Returned by Jean-Baptiste Delacour preceded the much more famous Life After Life book by Raymond Moody. (Reading the book may require setting up a login with archive.org and doing an online "borrow" of the book.) Some of the accounts in Delacour's book sound like the well-known type of near-death experiences Moody described. For example, on page 14 Daniel Gelin (a well-known French actor) states that when being treated in a hospital "suddenly, I found myself floating through the room." On the next page, Gelin describes encountering his deceased mother and father, who led him to a "rose-colored world, a sort of fairy garden" where he encountered his deceased son. But then an "inexorable force" caused him to return to the hospital room.  

On page 20 of the same book, we hear the account of Betty Patterson, who said this:

"At first I felt as if my spirit, my self, was separating from 
the bulk of my body and floating up to the ceiling of the room.
From up there I could look down at my body on the operating table. Then this scene vanished from my field of view, and
suddenly I was surrounded by gentle light and soft music. 
I was overcome by a feeling of deep content that I had
never felt in life. This sensation overpowered me in such a 
way that I no longer felt any desire for earhly life. I tried
to move in the direction the sounds were coming from, 
but something forcibly prevented me. Apparently, the time had not come for the final separation from the body."

On page 20 of the book, we also read of a James Lorne who was clinically dead for five minutes after suffering a heart attack. Lorne states this:

"I felt myself floating in the air and could clearly see my body lying down there. I landed in a long corridor filled with soft twilight. At the end a bright light was shining.  I could also hear voices coming from there." 

Lorne describes encountering some "splendid garden" with people in it, but when he tried to move closer, the scene always receded. 

On page 37 we read of a Mrs. Francis Leslie who had her heart revived after it had stopped for quite a while, for so long that she was declared dead. She said that she found herself mysteriously "floating in a long shaft" that she also described as a "tunnel." She heard a voice calling from far away in the tunnel, which she identified as someone who had died.  She then felt herself back in the hospital. After describing her experience, she died about 12 hours later. 

On page 40 a doctor says that heart patients "again and again have the sensation of being disembodied" and that "in a sense they feel they are floating above themselves," and that they see their body "lying below them on the ground." 

What is interesting about the accounts I just gave from the 1973 Delacour book is that at the time it was published, almost no one except scholars of the paranormal had heard about out-of-body experiences or near-death experiences, so such accounts cannot be dismissed as some kind of conformity to a widely-known pattern. Several years after Delacour's book (after the publication of Moody's Life After Life) a host of people began reporting out-of-body experiences, and such reports have continued at a constant pace. 

In a book by Colin Wilson, we read the following:

"In the 1960s the psychologist Charles Tart studied a borderline schizophrenic girl whom he called Miss Z., who told him that she had been leaving her body ever since childhood. To test whether these experiences were dreams Tart told her to try an experiment: she was to write the numbers one to ten on several slips of paper, scramble them up, then choose one at random when her light was out and place it on the bedside table. If she had an out-of- the-body experience in the night she had to try to read the number (she claimed to be able to see in the dark during her OBEs). She tried this several times and found she always got the number right. So Tart decided to test her himself. The girl was wired up to machines in his laboratory and asked to try and read a five-digit number which Tart had placed on a high shelf in the room next door. Miss Z. reported correcdy that the number was 25132."

Wilson tells us the following: 

"Many thousands of examples of out-of-the-body experiences have been reported in the literature of the paranormal: one eminent researcher, Robert Crookall, devoted nine volumes to such cases. Another, the South African investigator J. C. Poynton, collected 122 cases as a result of a single questionnaire published in a newspaper. A similar appeal by the English researcher Celia Green brought 326 cases. One survey even produced the incredible statistic that one in ten persons have had an out-of-the-body experience."

Out-of-body experiences are very powerful evidence against the central dogmas of modern neuroscientists, the dogma that the brain is the cause of human mental phenomena such as consciousness, self-hood and thinking,  and the dogma that the brain is the storage place of memories.  There are a host of good reasons for rejecting such claims, such as the fact that brains are too slow and noisy to account for instant very accurate human recall, the fact that many people think very well and remember very well after half or most of their brain has been destroyed by disease or surgery (as discussed here and here), the fact that the brain has nothing like what it would need to have to instantly store and instantly retrieve memories, and the fact that the proteins that make up brains have average lifetimes of less than two weeks (1000 times shorter than the longest length of time humans can remember things).  Out-of-body experiences are just exactly what we would expect to have happening if mind and memory are not brain effects, but something like soul effects.  Nature never did anything to tell humans that brains make minds and that brains store memories. Neuroscientists merely jumped to such conclusions without any adequate warrant, ignoring many a reason for rejecting such conclusions. 

Attempts to explain away such very common out-of-body experiences as hallucinations make no sense at all. For one thing, such experiences show strongly repeating very distinctive features (as discussed above), which we would not see in hallucinations (which would merely have random content).  There are a billion-and-one things someone might hallucinate about, so given so many possibilities for hallucination content and the rarity of visual hallucinations, we would expect that only once in a blue moon would any person on Earth have a hallucination about floating above his body.  Instead, a signficant fraction of the human population seems to report out-of-body experiences (about 10% to 20% according to the surveys listed here).  There are many veridical out-of-body-experiences in which someone reports seeing something he should not have been able to see if he was hallucinating.  Such experiences powerfully refute claims that out-of-body experiences are mere hallucinations.  For example, in the case described here, #41, a person (S. H. Beard) tried to deliberately produce an out-of-body experience targeting the location of a second person unaware of such an attempt, and the second person reported seeing an apparition of that person at the same time, with a third person living with the second person also reporting the sight of such an appartion at that time. 

Monday, April 5, 2021

CGI and Give-the-Wrong-Idea Visuals Help Scientists Market Their Speculations

When you're a scientist trying to sell some idea, a good visual always helps.  Nowadays when there are so many good visuals around, it is hard for a science press release to get noticed when it has no visual. There is no credibility problem in providing a visual when something new has been well-observed.  For example, if some new type of geological structure has been discovered on Mars, and some rover spacecraft has taken photos of it, then such photos can be provided in some press release describing the discovery. 

But what about when scientists are trying to sell us on some concept or speculation that has not been directly observed? That's when scientists or those promoting their thoughts sometimes may start resorting to shady tactics when trying to whip up visuals. 

One common tactic is the artist's visualization. So if a paleontologist just has some bone fragments of some creature that lived long ago, some artist can create some artwork that imagines what the creature may have looked like.  Such artwork used to be created by painting, but now CGI computer visualizations are more common. Such artwork will be a lot more appealing than some mere photo of some bone fragments. But such visualizations are often not presented in a candid, honest manner.  Guesswork visualizations that are largely speculative are rarely described as the speculations that they are.  Similarly when paleontologists present "inheritance tree" charts of evolution, they almost always fail to identify such things as the speculations that they are.  We rarely get a visual like the one in this article, where we see side-by-side two "inheritance tree" charts of evolution that disagree with each other, letting us know how speculative such charts are. 

Now that computers can create visualizations that look so much like photos, such visualizations may have the effect of fooling people into thinking some photograph was taken that was never taken. In the many articles written about the strange space object 'Oumuamua, we saw again and again a speculative CGI artist's visualization that looked like a photo of a cigar-shaped asteroid.  Some of the articles using this visualization included in very small print a line saying the visual was an "artist's visualization" or "artist's concept," but many did not. The result was that very many readers thought that 'Oumuamua had been photographed and determined to be cigar-shaped, even though the object had never been photographed as anything more than a speck, and its dimensions were unknown. A later analysis claimed that 'Oumuamua was pancake shaped.  We have here a case in which an extremely speculative guesswork visual was shaping the narrative in a way that should not have happened. 

I often see stories about the speculative scientific concepts of dark matter and dark energy.  Both are believed to be invisible, and neither has been detected by scientific instruments. But when I do a Google image search for "dark matter" or "dark energy," I get many image results. How can there be so many articles about dark matter or dark energy that supply a visual that should be unavailable, given the invisible nature of these alleged things? What's going on is that time and time again, such articles are supplying photos of either regular matter seen in outer space, or some result coughed up by some computer simulation. We will often see an image looking like this:


Such images should be honestly labeled, maybe like in the example below:


But instead of such honesty, you'll usually get something like the visual below, with a barely visible indication that what we're seeing is just the result of a computer simulation, and not something actually photographed by a telescope:

The casual reader will get the impression that dark matter or dark energy has been photographed, even though no one has observed any such things. 

Then in other cases that are even more prone to raise the wrong idea in the minds of readers, there won't even be such a barely visible clue that the visual isn't an actual photograph. An example was a recent story on the LiveScience.com site. The story was entitled "These weird lumps of 'inflatons' could be the very first structures in the universe."  We saw a visual of some strange structure that looked like a planetary nebula. The caption read, "Shown here, one of the dense clumps of inflatons that emerged during the inflation phase of the Big Bang, in the infant universe."  The caption led the reader to believe he was looking at some photo of something in space. 

But the photo was not a photo of anything observed in space.  It was merely a photo of some junk generated by an entirely speculative computer program. No actual "inflatons" have ever been observed, and the program was based on one of the innumerable speculative models of the unproven cosmic inflation theory.  Not only is the theory  unproven, it is also unprovable, because it speculates about things happening a fraction of a second after the universe's beginning, and scientists know of a reason why it will never be possible to get observations from before about 300,000 years after such a beginning (the density being so great that no light could transmit from before such a time).  Inflatons are as speculative as unicorns. 

When things are done in such a way, 90% of the casual readers will go away with the entirely misleading impression that dark matter or dark energy or inflatons have been photographed.  This reminds me of the deceptive visuals that are so very common in the neuroscience field. We will see some brain visual that shows certain areas of the brain in bright red, raising the impression in most readers that in some area of the brain there is a much greater brain activity during some particular cognitive task. But in truth the areas in red are only very slightly more active, almost always less than 1% more active (the kind of difference one might expect to occur by mere random variations). If the brain visual were accurately done, it would show every brain area seeming to have the same color, because humans can't even recognize color differences of less than 1%.

Do a Google image search for "string theory," and you will see many images from articles about string theory. The images mostly look a little like the one below:


In such cases we are not seeing anything photographed in nature, and not even seeing anything arising from a speculative computer simulation. We are merely seeing artwork that is designed to give the casual reader the impression that the strings of string theory have some observational basis, an impression that is entirely false, because there is zero observational evidence for any of the claims of string theory.  That's clear from a recent interview from string theorist Michio Kaku, in which he promotes his recent book on string theory, but mentions no evidence for string theory. Trying to give some reason why we might be on the verge of a new era including string theory, all Kaku has to give is the following "not really anything" answer, mentioning a never-observed (dark matter), that has little to do with string theory: 

 "I think we’re on the verge of a new era. New experiments are being done to detect deviations from the Standard Model. Plus, we have the mystery of dark matter. Any of these unexplored areas could give a clue as to the theory of everything."

Elsewhere Kaku confesses, "The most glaring problem is that, for all the press extolling the beauty and complexity of this theory, we have no solid, testable evidence." String theory has been a gigantic failure that has wasted the time of physicists for decades in groundless speculations without an observational basis, but Kaku is not humbled by such a failure, and is swaggering around with  statements like this: "The destiny of science is to become like grandmasters, to solve this puzzle that we call the universe."  Sounding rather like some exemplar of overconfident hubris, he makes a very silly boast about "an equation that's maybe one inch long" that "explains the entire universe." Kaku has written a book called The God Equation which very amusingly tries to put floundering string theory theorists on some kind of god throne, painting them as grand lords of explanation who have come up with "the crowning achievement of science."  While noting how hollow are the boasts of string theorists, we should note how misleading is their use of the term "theory of everything" to describe string theory, which is nothing remotely like an actual "theory of everything," the theory saying nothing about a hundred deep mysteries of mind and biology, and also leaving countless mysteries of physics and chemistry unsolved.    

Postscript: A recent scientific paper states the following about unreliable artist depictions of organisms known only from incomplete fossils:

"Given what Anderson (2011) has shown regarding the variability present in reconstructions of the same individual across separate museum displays, it is clear that very little effort has been made to produce reconstructions that are substantiated by strong empirical science. This is surprising given how museums boast about decades of success presenting scientific knowledge and education to the public...There are potential educational harms in presenting unscientific reconstructions of hominins under the shroud of presumed validity."