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Our future, our universe, and other weighty topics

Saturday, August 8, 2020

If the Universe Was Created, Or if Everything Is Mental, Then We Do Not Know How Old the Universe Is

We have long been socially conditioned to accept as gospel truth any statements that scientists keep making again and again. We should not be following such a thought habit, because some of the assertions that scientists keep repeating over and over again are little more than speech customs of a particular belief community, rather than things that have been established by observations or experiments. 

One claim that scientists keep repeating with great confidence is a claim about the age of the universe. We are told repeatedly that the universe is 13 billion years old.  But there are reasons why such claims cannot be made with very much confidence.

Claims about the age of the universe are based on the Big Bang theory. But that theory has not been conclusively proven. One problem is that we can never observe the Big Bang, nor can we even observe the universe at any state within 300,000 years after the Big Bang. Our cosmologists tell us that for its first 300,000 years, the universe was so dense that all light photons were scattered and shuffled every minute. Only when this scattering of light photons ended, at a time called the recombination era, was it possible for light photons to start traveling without being hopelessly scattered. We are told that because of this scattering, it will always be physically impossible to observe what was happening during the first 300,000 years of the universe's history. But this means we can never have the direct observation of the Big Bang (or even very dense universe conditions) that we would need to have in order to be completely confident that the Big Bang theory is correct.

Philosophers of science refer to the underdetermination of theory by data. When data does not prove that a theory is true, and does not rule out possible rival theories that can equally well explain observations (called empirical equivalents), such a theory is said to be underdetermined. There is a serious question as to whether the Big Bang theory is doomed to be a permanently underdetermined theory, because of the impossibility of directly observing the first 300,000 years of the universe's history.

There are purely scientific reasons why we cannot be certain about scientist claims that the universe is billions of years old and claims that our planet is billions of years old.  The chains of reasoning used to reach such claims are complex, and involve some not-quite-certain assumptions. Claims that the universe is billions of years old depend on assumptions that the expansion rate of the universe has not changed very much over billions of years. Claims that the earth is billions of years old depend on claims that the decay rates of certain radioisotopes (used to date old rocks) have not changed very much over billions of years. We are not sure that such assumptions are true. 

What is very interesting is that such chains of reasoning depend crucially on a "assume that the physical rates have not changed" principle, but such a principle is not at all consistently followed by modern cosmologists, the scientists who study the universe as a whole.  Most modern cosmologists seem to believe in a cosmic inflation theory which tells us that the expansion rate of the universe has undergone the most drastic change, changing from an exponential rate at the beginning to a enormously lower linear rate after the universe's first instants.  So while the whole chain of reasoning used to establish a universe age of billions of years depends crucially on a "assume the physical rates have not changed" principle, such a principle is violated in the most spectacular manner by cosmologists, who postulate pretty much the most dramatic change imaginable in the universe's expansion rate.  If the universe's expansion rate changed so dramatically near the time of the Big Bang, why should we have any confidence that there have not been other changes in that rate, and in other physical rates such as radioactive decay rates? If either thing has occurred, we can have little confidence in current estimates of the age of the universe and the age of the Earth. 

There is another reason why we do not know for sure the age of our universe. One is that if the universe was deliberately created, then we absolutely cannot tell whether it is actually billions of years old or even older than a million years.  Our universe could have been created much more recently -- in fact, at any arbitrary point in the past. 

There is a line of reasoning that could be used to support belief in a universe 13 billion years old, regardless of whether it was divinely created. The argument would go something like this:

  1. The universe appears to be 13 billion years old, based on factors such as the Big Bang theory, the expansion rate of galaxies,  and so forth.
  2. A universe creator would not be a deceiver creating a universe younger than it appears to be.
  3. So even if the universe was created, we should still believe it is about 13 billion years old.

This argument is not particularly compelling. It seems quite possible that a universe might be created that is younger than it might appear to be under certain calculations. I can give an example helping to support this idea.

Let us imagine a very simple creation scenario. Imagine a deity creates a very simple one-planet universe. The planet has nice grass, very tall trees, mountains and oceans. There is a sun in the sky that provides light. When people on this planet look up at the sky, they see a lovely star-filled sky, with some beautiful astronomical sights. The planet has various types of stones and rocks, including lots of attractive marble rocks. The deity creates a race of people to live on the planet.

Now, most of us would agree that there would be nothing deceptive about such an act of creation. But it could be argued that creating such a planet would be a big act of deception. You could reason that the people on the newly created planet would see the tall trees, and reason that very tall trees take more than fifty years to grow, and the planet must therefore be older than fifty years. You could reason that the people on the planet would reason that marble takes thousands of years to form, and that the planet must be at least thousands of years old. You could argue that the people on the planet would reason that a newly formed planet takes ages to cool, and that a sun forming from gravitational attraction of dust and gas takes ages to develop into a bright shiny star; and that they would therefore conclude that the planet was millions of years old. You could reason that these people on the planet would reason that the distant starlight would take thousands of years to reach the planet, and that their planet must be thousands of years old. Finally you could argue that on these grounds it would be a great act of deception for a deity to create such a world, because it would wrongly give the people on the planet the idea that their planet was old, when it was instead very young.

If we followed such reasoning to its reductio ad absurdum, we might conclude that any honest deity would only create an environment in which every newly created thing looked like it was newly created – and that the entirely newly created planet would therefore be made of gleaming plastic and shiny stainless steel.

But there seems something very wrong with this whole line of reasoning. It does not actually seem to be a real moral principle that honest minds never create things that look much older than they are. For example, you might study the techniques of the French Impressionists, and create some paintings in their style. If you hung such paintings in your home, someone might think that they are very old paintings dating from the time of Renoir and Monet. But you have not done anything dishonest by creating these paintings. Or, you might have a new house built in the Colonial style popular at America's birth, but you are not some deceiver because many might think the house is older than it is.

We really don't have any sound basis for concluding that a created universe would be as old as it appears to be according to certain lines of scientific reasoning. If our universe was created, it could be 13 billion years old, one billion years old, 10 million years old, or only 1,000 years old. A universe could be created in any state of complexity or any state of motion. A freshly created universe might either have some “spanking new” look, or it might appear to be something much older. The fact that we may find fossils that we can radioactively date to millions of years ago does not necessarily  mean that corresponding organisms lived millions of years ago. Such items might be kind of just part of interesting details added to a universe created much more recently.

For some reason we have the idea that if a deity were to create a universe, the universe would always be created in a simple state -- maybe something like the simplicity of the Big Bang, or the relative simplicity of a Garden of Eden. But an omnipotent deity could create a universe that started out in a state of the utmost complexity, such as a state that included minds packed with memories, books packed with words, and freeways packed with moving cars.   Let us consider the complex state of the universe at 3:00 PM EST on June 1, 1950.  Given the existence of a deity of vast power, a new universe could be divinely created in exactly such a state, so that at the moment of creation newly created cars were traveling down newly created roads at 50 miles per hour, and newly created baseballs were traveling between newly created baseball pitchers and newly created baseball catchers, and newly created libraries were packed with newly created books, and so forth.  Persons created in such a universe could be created with memories, so that they were convinced they had lived for a long time, even though they had just been created an instant ago. 

universe creation

Because of such a possibility, we cannot at all be certain of how old the human species is. Mankind could be 40,000 years old, or 10,000 years old, or 1000 years old, or only 100 years old.  For example, the universe could have started out in the state that it was in on the instant of 12:00 AM EST on January 1, 2019.  Such a creation could have included a very complex planet Earth packed with living things, buildings, technology, moving cars, flying planes and humans with minds already filled with memories. 

The possibility that the human race is much younger than we think is a very interesting possibility relevant to discussions of whether a deity might have permitted the amount of suffering that seems to have occurred on our planet.  History books tell us of enormous human suffering that occurred between 3000 B.C and 2000 AD, but philosophically we cannot be sure that all of this suffering actually did occur.  As I just mentioned, the universe could have been divinely created so that its first moment was a state of very high complexity and order, such as the state the universe was in at 3:00 PM EST on June 1, 1950. 

When we consider the philosophical possibility called idealism, we discover another reason why we cannot be sure about how old the universe is. Idealism is the possibility that nothing exists other than minds. Under this philosophical possibility, things such as stars and planets only exist to the extent that they are observed by minds. To really understand the theory, it helps to read a classic philosophical work such as George Berkeley's A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge (which you can read online here).

Critics may claim that idealism means believing that matter isn't real. But an idealist will counter that matter is real, but that it exists (really and substantially) not outside of minds, but only inside of minds.  Critics may also claim that idealism requires us to believe in some external ordering reality outside of our minds that is causing all of us to perceive the same things such as the moon and sun we see in the sky. But an idealist would encounter that such a thing is no real difficulty, and that materialism requires us to believe in something similar, since it requires us to believe in intricate fine-tuned laws of nature that make our existence possible. There are actually a great many difficulties involved with the idea that a universe that had no minds for billions of years turned into a universe containing minds. A theory of idealism (that minds are all that exist) is one way of getting around such difficulties.  It is not at all clear that a theory of idealism (that only minds exist) is less plausible or more far-fetched than conventional ideas about the relation of mind and matter. 

Under the theory of idealism, how old is the universe? Apparently only as old as the earliest age of the first minds or mind. If idealism is true, then the age of the universe is very much uncertain.  An idealist will reject the idea that he has to believe the universe has existed for 13 billion years, and will say there was never actually a time when there existed nothing but matter and no minds. The idealist will claim that all that has ever really existed is minds, and that the universe is no older than the oldest mind that existed in it. 

All of these considerations lead to the conclusion that we really don't know either how old the universe is or how old mankind is. We merely have algorithms that allow us to produce calculations about the age of the universe and the age of man, but we don't know whether those algorithms are giving us the correct answer. We can put the matter succinctly by saying that if the universe was divinely created, or if everything is mental, then "all bets are off" regarding the age of the universe and the age of mankind. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

When Distinguished Authorities Peddle Mind Poisons

Most false ideas are not harmful. For example, you will cause yourself no harm if you believe in the false idea that Friday the thirteenth is an unlucky day. But some false ideas may cause great harm. We may use the term “mind poisons” for such ideas. A poison is some substance that causes death or injury. A mind poison may be described as any idea that tends to injure the conscience or moral behavior of a person, or which tends to cause great unnecessary injury to a person's state of mind.

Below are several examples of mind poisons that have been sold by people who believed that our minds are merely the products of our brains (or some states of the brain), and that humans are the mere accidental product of blind natural forces.

Mind Poison #1: Racism

The entanglement of Darwinism and racism stretches back very far, probably to the very beginning of Darwinism. Charles Darwin's main book had the full title of On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. The phrase “favored races” has a very racist sound to it.

Darwin's other main work was The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex. That book had some shockingly racist passages in it. One of them was the passage below:

At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace throughout the world the savage races. At the same time the anthropomorphous apes, as Professor Schaaffhausen has remarked, will no doubt be exterminated. The break will then be rendered wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilised state, as we may hope, than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as at present between the negro or Australian and the gorilla.”

This utterly racist passage predicts that the “savage races” (meaning humans such as blacks and Africans) will in the future all be exterminated. It is also a passage suggesting that blacks or Australian aboriginines are closer to gorillas than Caucasians are.  Although it does not specifically advocate a program of racial extermination, such a passage can be called exterminationist-friendly. There was another European who predicted that a race would be destroyed, and his followers tried very hard to make his prediction come true.

Thankfully, there have been no parties that began a program of mass extermination against black people. But Darwin and his writings seemed to provide many a talking point for racists. Darwin's teaching of the idea of survival-of-the-fittest was evoked by many acting to oppress people of color. In the late nineteenth century the British Empire was approaching its high point, and as that empire put many in Africa and India under its oppressive control, slogans such as “survival of the fittest” were frequently evoked to help justify cruel mistreatment.

During Darwin's time, the chief advocate of Darwinism (other than Darwin himself) was Thomas Huxley, who was called "Darwin's bulldog." Huxley was openly racist. He stated, "No rational man, cognizant of the facts, believes that the average Negro is the equal, still less the superior, of the white man."  Referring to people of color, Huxley stated, "The highest places in the hierarchy of civilisation will assuredly not be within the reach of our dusky cousins.” Darwin never publicly denounced his friend Huxley for such deplorably racist statements. 

For many decades, racism was a brother-in-arms of Darwinism. A standard visual technique in textbooks and museums was to do speculative paintings or sculptures depicting alleged "more ape-like" ancestors of mankind, and to make sure the faces had the skin color and facial characteristics of modern blacks.  

An example of how closely Darwinism and racism were intertwined can be found in the 1914 Darwinist textbook A Civic Biology by George William Hunter, which for years was one of the top textbooks used to teach biology to children.  We find in the book (which can be read here) the following deplorable passage, claiming the white race is "the highest type of all":

"The Races of Man.—At the present time there exist upon the earth five races or varieties of man, each very different from the other in instincts, social customs, and, to an extent, in structure. These are the Ethiopian or negro type, originating in Africa; the Malay or brown race, from the islands of the Pacific; the American Indian; the Mongolian or yellow race, including the natives of China, Japan, and the Eskimos; and finally, the highest type of all, the Caucasians, represented by the civilized white inhabitants of Europe and America."

In the twentieth century one of the leading figures of Darwinism  was Ronald A. Fisher, author of books such as The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection. Fisher's racism is discussed in this article.  According to the article,  Fisher wanted compulsory sterilization of what he called "defectives," and claimed that 17 percent of the population was "defective." Such racist eugenic notions were also preached by another leading Darwinist of the twentieth century, the evolutionary biologist Julian Huxley, who coined the term "modern synthesis" used for twentieth century Darwinism. On page 42 of his book Man in the Modern World, he preached the following racist nonsense about sterilizing and limiting health care to certain types of people he called "the lowest strata":

"The lowest strata, allegedly less well-endowed genetically, are reproducing relatively too fast. Therefore birth-control methods must be taught them ; they must not have too easy access to relief or hospital treatment lest the removal of the last check on natural selection should make it too easy for children to be produced or to survive; long unemployment should be a ground for sterilization, or at least relief should be contingent upon no further children being brought into the world ; and so on."

Racism is bunk, and also very harmful bunk.  The human mind cannot be explained by brain effects, nor can anything in the human brain explain human memory powers such as the 60-year retention of memories, the ability to instantly form permanent memories, and the ability to instantly recall things learned long ago, given only the slightest prompt.  The idea that very slight gene differences (such as might be found between Africans and Europeans) might account for minor variations in IQ tests is also incorrect.  There are quite a few reasons (discussed here) for doubting all claims that intelligence is significantly heritable, and for thinking that IQ tests are not-terribly-reliable measures of intelligence.  Various social factors unrelated to intelligence can cause geographic variations in IQ test scores. 

The very idea of different human races is a dubious one. There are differences in skin color, but all attempts to specify different human races (on grounds other than superficial appearance) seem to lack a solid scientific basis.  Examination of human genomes from different geographical areas shows no major differences, and no clear demarcations justifying a belief in distinct human races.  And contrary to the frequent insinuations of materialists, the human genome only specifies low-level chemical information, and is very far from being any explanation of the human bodily structure, the human mind or human behavior.  After we examine the evidence that the brain cannot explain the most important human mental phenomena, and also the abundant evidence for paranormal phenomena (discussed in these 84 posts), we have many a reason to suspect that a human body is like a mere costume worn by a soul during a tiny fraction of its existence, and that the real imperishable "you" is something neither white nor black. 

Mind Poison #2: Determinism

Another form of mind poison peddled by many materialists is the doctrine of determinism. Determinism is the doctrine that human beings have no free will.  A statement of determinism can be found in the Jeremy Epstein-funded site www.edge.org, where we read this statement by evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne: 

"A concept that everyone should understand and appreciate is the idea of physical determinism: that all matter and energy in the universe, including what’s in our brain, obey the laws of physics. The most important implication is that is we have no 'free will': At a given moment, all living creatures, including ourselves, are constrained by their genes and environment to behave in only one way—and could not have behaved differently. We feel like we make choices, but we don’t. In that sense, 'dualistic' free will is an illusion. This must be true from the first principles of physics. Our brain, after all, is simply a collection of molecules that follow the laws of physics; it’s simply a computer made of meat. That in turn means that given the brain’s constitution and inputs, its output—our thoughts, behaviors and “choices”—must obey those laws."

Determinism is a type of mind poison, because it tends to weaken or destroy any sense of shame or guilt a person might have. Determinism offers an excuse (a kind of “get out of jail free” card) for any evil thing that you might do. If you believe that you have no free will, and that everything you do is completely mandated by the particles and electricity in your brain and the laws of physics, you may kill, maim or rape without feeling any sense of guilt at all. Why feel guilty about some terrible thing you did, if your neurons and brain chemicals and brain electricity made you do it? A person should only feel guilty about anything if there is free will.

Thankfully, there is a way to completely undermine the mind poison of determinism, to make it melt into the ground like the Wicked Witch of the West after Dorothy threw a bucket of water on her. We can make determinism melt away by simply discarding the unwarranted doctrine that the human brain generates the human mind. Take a look at Coyne's argument for determinism in the quote above. It is entirely predicated on the dogma that the mind is generated by the brain. But if our minds are not generated by our brains, there is not the slightest reason to doubt our free will. If my mind is some spiritual reality or soul reality or some mental reality that is not generated by my brain, then if I do something wrong I can't blame my neurons or some chemical reactions or electricity in my head; I can only blame my self.

There are very many good reasons for rejecting the belief that our minds are generated by our brains. They include the following:
  • the fact that there are many dramatic cases in the medical literature of people who had more or less normal minds even though large fractions of the brain (or most of their brains) were destroyed due to injury or disease, including super-dramatic cases of people with good minds but less than 15 percent of their brains;
  • the fact that there is no scientific understanding at all of how brains or neurons could be producing consciousness, thought, understanding or abstract ideas (mental things that are very hard or impossible to explain as coming from physical things);
  • the fact that there is no plausible account to be told of how brains could possibly be storing memories that last for fifty years, given the high protein turnover in synapses, where the average protein only lasts a few weeks;
  • the fact that there is no understandinof how brains could achieve the instantaneous recall of distant, obscure memories that humans routinely show, given the lack of any coordinate system or indexing in a brain that might allow some exact position of a stored memory to be very quickly found;
  • the fact that there is no understanding whatsoever of how concepts, visual information, long series of words, and episodic memories could ever be physically stored by a brain in any way that would translate all these diverse types of information into synapse states or neuron states;
  • the fact that for more than 40 years numerous people have reported vivid near-death experiences occurring after their hearts stopped and their brains were inactive, during times when they had no brain waves, and they should have had no consciousness at all, with many of the medical details they reported during such experiences being independently verified (as described here).

Determinism is bunk, because it is based on the idea that the mind is merely a product of the brain or is an aspect of the brain, an idea that is untenable for reasons such as those mentioned above. 

Mind Poison #3: Sexism

We may define sexism as the belief that men are intellectually superior to women.  Sexism is a mind poison because all of the harm it cause females who are denied opportunities and treated disrespectfullyAn opinion article in Scientific American is entitled, "Darwin was Sexist, and So Are Many Modern Scientists."  Beneath this title, we read the tagline, "For far too long, Darwinian theory has justified sexist attitudes and behavior."  The article here discusses the widespread sexism in academia, where certain branches of study have oftened seemed like a White Man's Club. 

In his book The Descent of Man, Darwin wrote, "The chief distinction in the intellectual powers of the two sexes is shewn by man’s attaining to a higher eminence, in whatever he takes up, than can woman— whether requiring deep thought, reason, or imagination, or merely the use of the senses and hands." A few sentences later he stated, "We may also infer... the average of mental power in man must be above that of woman."

But a belief in the intellectual inferiority of females is not justified by facts. Males and females do about the same on IQ tests, and in the US females tend to have slightly higher academic grades. It is thought that females may do slightly better on questions involving verbal reasoning, and males may do slightly better on questions involving spatial reasoning. Given such possible differences, any very slight differences in IQ tests between male and female may be purely an artifact of the question mix in such tests (what percentage of the questions involve verbal reasoning and what percentage involve spatial reasoning).  

So why have sexist ideas survived so long? Maybe people have reasoned that males must be smarter, because their brains are about 10% bigger. But once we abandon the unjustified belief that the human brain is the source of human intelligence,  such a materialist basis for sexism vanishes. 

Mind Poison #4: Everettism

Another form of mind poison peddled by some materialists is what is called the Everett "many worlds" theory (or what we can simply call Everettism). What is called the Everett "many worlds" theory is a theory claimed to be based on quantum mechanics (although quantum mechanics provides no actual basis for believing in such a theory). The theory holds that every instant the universe is constantly splitting up into an infinite number of copies of itself, so that every possibility (no matter how unlikely) can be realized. The theory has a name that makes it sound not so unreasonable (with all the planets being discovered, the phrase “many worlds” doesn't sound too farfetched). But the name “many worlds” doesn't describe the nutty idea behind the theory. The theory would be more accurately described as the theory of infinite duplication, because the theory maintains the universe is duplicating itself every second. Or we might also call the theory “the theory of infinite absurdities,” since it imagines that all absurd possibilities (no matter how ridiculous) are constantly being actualized.

There is no evidence whatsoever for this theory, which is endorsed by only a minority of theoretical physicists. The Everett "many worlds" theory has been firmly rejected by physicists such as Adrian Kent, T. P. Singh (who says it has been falsified), and also Casey Blood, who calls it “fatally flawed.” No one has ever observed a parallel universe. We also cannot plausibly imagine such a theory ever being verified. To verify the theory, you would need to travel to some other universe to verify its existence, which is, of course, impossible. Even if you did travel to such a universe, you could never verify the idea that every possibility is occurring in other parallel universes.

Why is the Everett “many worlds” theory a type of mind poison? It is because if a person seriously believed such a doctrine, such a belief would tend to do the greatest injury to any moral inclinations he had. I will give a concrete example. Imagine you are driving in your car at 2:00 AM on a bitterly cold snowy night, and you see a scantily clad very young child walking alone far from anyone. If you don't believe in the Everett “many worlds” theory, you may stop your car and call the police to alert them of this situation, or do something like give your warm coat to the child to keep her warm. But if you believe in the Everett “many worlds” theory, you may reason like this: regardless of what I do, there will be an infinite number of parallel universes in which the child freezes to death, and an infinite number of other parallel universes in which the child does not freeze to death; so there's really no point in doing anything. So you may then drive on without stopping or doing anything, convinced that the multiverse would still be the same no matter how you acted.

Imagine any moral situation in which you should act in some moral way. In any such situation, your tendency to act morally will be dulled if you believe that there are an infinite number of copies of yourself, and that all possible outcomes will occur an infinite number of times. So the Everett “many worlds” theory is a very morally destructive doctrine, one that we may classify as a type of mind poison, because it will tend to do great injury to any moral tendencies you may have. 

No divine power would ever make a universe that had the characteristics of the Everett "many worlds," just like no software developer would ever write some program that was constantly splitting up into a billion different versions of itself.  Since no deity would ever create anything like the Everett "many worlds" situtation, the Everett "many worlds" fantasy presupposes atheism.  Everettism is atheism at its craziest.  

Because of the many types of fine-tuning in our universe, such as the very precise fine-tuning of fundamental constants, we have strong reason to believe that our universe is the product of purposeful intention.   The evidence for the sudden unexplained origin of the universe, the evidence for the fine-tuning of the universe's fundamental constants, and the evidence of accidentally unachievable fine-tuning and stratospheric levels of organization in biological organisms are all reasons for thinking we live in a purposeful universe, something that is the exact opposite of the utterly purposeless reality imagined by Everett "many worlds" fantasists.  But we really need no philosophical reasons for rejecting Everettism, just as we need no philosophical reasons for rejecting any other extravagant groundless speculation not supported by any observational evidence. 

While we are taking note of how Everett "many worlds" fantasists try to make the silliest fantasies imaginable sound like something scientific, we should also ask: in what other cases is nonsense being sold to us as something scientific? There are many other cases, often in the mainstream teachings of academia.

Friday, July 31, 2020

Cases of "Impossible" Writing or "Impossible" Speech

In the literature of the paranormal, we sometimes find cases in which we are told that someone wrote what it should have been impossible for that person to write, or when we are told that some speech occurred that seemed beyond any natural explanation. An example of the first thing can be found on page 484 of Volume II of the book Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death by Frederic Myers.  Hugh Junor Browne and Elizabeth Browne stated the following: 

"When our daughter Nelly was nearly five years old, she had not learned a single letter of her alphabet. She had certainly received no instruction whatever. One day her elder sister was writing automatically. To please the child, we put a pencil in her hand. Presently we observed that she had written some words, and on looking we saw that the words were, 'I am a mesmeric medium.' "  

On the next page A. E. Hempstead states the following about a young Etta who had never been taught any letter of the alphabet, and who was brought to school for the first time:

"The first morning of her attendance a slate and pencil were given her to keep her quiet ; she scribbled awhile, when it was noticed that she had written very distinctly the name Emma. As it was known that the child had never been inside of a school before, and that she knew no single letter of the alphabet, it was a great surprise. The slate belonged to some of the pupils, hence was not preserved by the young ladies. I regretted the loss of such a rare test of spirit control, and urged them, should such a thing ever occur again, to preserve it. The child attended the day following, and instead of slate a leaf from a tablet and lead pencil were given her. After she had amused herself awhile she returned the paper, and it was seen that a number of attempts to write the name Emma had been made. As she handed in the paper she said, 'Nozer,' and another sheet was given, with an improvement; the third was, given, when upon either side was written with bold running hand, 'your aunt Emma,' quite as large and perfect as the above." 

A Laura Hempstead testified to the same thing, and a statement from the mother testified that the child had not been taught the alphabet when this occurred. 

The author Robert Dale Owen (who was once a US congressman) wrote the long fascinating work Footfalls on the Boundary of Another World, a work on the paranormal which you can read here on archive.org.  I recently discovered another long fascinating work by Owen, a book that has the rather poor title The Debatable Land Between This World and the Next, with Illustrative Narrations.  The book gives us some fascinating accounts of "impossible writing." 

On page 434 Owen tells of a beautiful young Violet he knew, a woman who died 40 years previously.   On page 445 he discusses how (in the presence of a Mr. Foster and a Miss P.) he saw the name of this departed friend mysteriously written on a piece of paper.  He then tells us this about Mr. Foster:

"His arm seemed slightly convulsed, as by a feeble electric shock ; and he said : 'The name is on my arm ;' whereupon he bared his left arm to the elbow, and I read thereon distinctly the name Violet. I did not, however, pronounce it, but left him to spell it out, letter by letter. The letters looked as if they had been traced by a painter's brush, with pink color...Miss P had never heard Violet's name ; nor, as I have already stated, had Mr. Foster."

On page 56 of the very interesting book On the Edge of the Etheric by James Arthur Findlay, we have some descriptions of apparently paranormal speech at a seance of what is called a direct voice medium: 

"On the first occasion I experienced these voices 
I was decidedly suspicious, and yet as the seance 
went on I wondered how it would be possible for any 
man, even if he had accomplices, to carry on such an 
imposture for over three hours. Thirty separate 
voices spoke that night, of different tone and accent, 
they gave their names, their correct earth addresses 
and spoke to the right people, were recognised, and 
referred to intimate family affairs. Never once was 
a mistake made and the darkness really increased the 
evidence in favour of the genuineness of the whole 
proceedings, as, difficult as it would be to remember 
everyone’s departed friends and relations and their 
family affairs in the light, it would be doubly so in 
the dark, because fifteen people were present and the 
medium would have to remember exactly where each 
one was sitting. The voice on every occasion spoke 
in front of the person who recognised the name, the 
earth address and the details which were given. 
It was all very mystifying, and the fact that 
sometimes two or three voices spoke at once did not make it less so."

On page 57 the same author tells of a seemingly paranormal voice speaking at a seance:

"So ran my thoughts that memorable night of 
the 20th September 1918, when suddenly a voice 
spoke in front of me. I felt scared. A man sitting 
next to me said 'Someone wants to speak to you, 
friend,' so I said 'Yes, who are you?' 'Your 
father, Robert Downie Findlay,' the voice replied, 
and then went on to refer to something that only he 
and I and one other ever knew on earth, and that 
other, like my father, was some years dead. I was 
therefore the only living person with any knowledge 
of what the voice was referring to. That was extra¬ 
ordinary enough, but my surprise was heightened 
when, after my father had finished, another voice 
gave the name of the other person who on earth knew 
about the subject, and this voice continued the con¬ 
versation which my father had begun. No spy 
system, however thorough, no impersonation by the 
medium or by any accomplices, could be responsible 
for this, and moreover I was an entire stranger to 
everyone present. I did not give my name when I 
entered the room, I knew no one in that room, and no one knew me or anything about me." 

On page 64 Findlay gives this impressive summary of experiences with mysterious arises arising in seances:

"Eighty-three separate voices have spoken to me. or 
to personal friends I have brought with me ; two 
hundred and eighty-two separate communications 
have been given to me or to them ; one hundred and 
eighty of these I class  'Al,' as it was impossible 
for the medium or any other person present to have 
known about them ; one hundred I class as ' A2,' 
as by means of the newspaper or reference books the medium could have found them out."

In the chapter beginning on page 92 Findlay gives three examples of such "A1" communications, the first one involving Findlay's soldier brother speaking to a mysterious voice claiming to be a dead soldier, one who seemed to know quite a few details known only to Findlay's brother and his fellow soldiers.  

In his book The Voices (which can be read here) the writer William Usborne Moore (formerly a Vice-Admiral) discusses his experiences with the medium Etta Wriedt.  The excellent scholarly work Psychics, Sensitives and Somnambules by Rodger I. Anderson says this on page 186 about Wriedt:

"Wriedt's voices regularly carried on intelligent conversations in Arabic, Croatian, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Norwegian, Serbian, and Spanish....Wriedt's communicators were often very successful in identifying themselves to the sitters, providing correct names and personal histories, referrring to facts and circumstances that were unknown to the sitter at the time but subsequently verified as correct....Wriedt was investigated scores of times by multiple researchers, all finding in her favor." 

Moore's long 400-page book (published in 1913) gives very many accounts corroborating such claims. He describes seances  occurring mainly in 1912, in a room without any audio equipment, at a time when all voice transmission technology was bulky and primitive. The loudspeaker was not really invented until four years later, judging from this quote:  "When Bell Labs introduced the first electronic vacuum tube amplifier in 1916, the true loudspeaker became possible." (Another source dates 1915 as the date when the first "practical dynamic audio speakers" were invented.)

 For example, on page 6 we read this about a mysterious voice speaking at a seance:

"Then, to my own and my Croatian friend's astonishment, a loud voice began to talk to him in the Croatian 
language. It was an old friend, a physician by pro- 
fession, who died suddenly from heart disease. My 
friend Hinkovitch could not identify who that might 
have been, but they continued for some time the con- 
versation in their native tongue, of which, naturally, 
I heard and understood every word. Mrs. Wriedt, for 
the first time in her life, heard how the Croatian 
language sounds." 

On page 51 Moore quotes a friend of his (Colonel E. R. Johnson) describing his experiences hearing mysterious voices at a seance:

"This was the first voice heard at the daylight seance. All the others were identified with certainty. They consisted of seven relatives, some of whom spoke only once, others on three or four occasions. Several times the individual conversations must have lasted from twenty minutes to half an hour, and related to incidents and events which could not have been 
known to the medium, and in some cases to anybody 
now living except myself. References were made to 
objects that have disappeared for twenty or thirty years, 
which were accurately described, and, on the other 
hand, to conversations and events which took place 
between the seances. Besides relatives, I was spoken to by seven personal friends and acquaintances, and three of these asked me to carry messages to living people. In one case an incident was referred to which was entirely unknown to me, but which I afterwards ascertained to be quite correct."

To give another of countless examples in Moore's long book, on page 190 we read this account by Mr. Munro in 1912 hearing a mysterious "spirit voice" at a seance of Etta Wriedt:

"The first spirit to speak was my cousin's late husband, Joe Crowther ; and I must confess that I felt a little disappointed, for in no way could I recognise the voice, or any other particular char- 
acteristic. It was not long ere the voice approached, and 
held conversation with myself, which, of course, was what 
I desired. After the usual preliminaries, I asked this 
spirit if he remembered the last conversation he and I 
had had together ; to which he answered : ' Yes, per- 
fectly.' Q.: 'If you remember that, can you tell me 
what it was about ? ' A. : ' Do you mean to say you do 
not remember?' Q.: 'I remember perfectly; but it 
would convince me much more that this was indeed you, 
Joe, if you could detail it to me.' A.: ' Well, do you 
remember I was showing you some photographic mining 
prints I had. taken, and explained the various strata ? ' 
(This was exactly what took place.) Q.: 'Yes, that 
is quite correct. And now, can you tell me where we 
had that conversation, and if anyone else was present 
besides ourselves?' A.: ' It took place in this house.' 
Q.: ' Yes, but in which room?' A.: 'In the library, 
and there was no other person present.' I may say that 
nobody, to my knowledge, ever knew of that conversation besides Joe Crowther and myself."

Could this have been mind-reading and some kind of ventriloquism by Mrs. Wriedt? Apparently not, for Mr. Munro states the following on page 191:

"At the same time my friend Joe continued to speak to me quite clearly, without the trumpet. I distinctly heard his voice, the voice of the trumpet, and Mrs. Wriedt's voice (endeavouring to explain some message which the recipient could not quite grasp) ; that is to say, three distinct voices speaking at once."

On pages 239-240 a witness gives this account of mysterious voices at seances of Mrs. Wriedt:

"One evening a lady was present who is a professional 
musician, and, as there was some delay, she consented, 
after considerable pressing, to sing. Hardly had she 
began the 'Jewel Song' from Faust when a strong 
tenor voice came from the trumpet and sung the song 
with her, making a wonderful duet. She afterwards told 
us that it was her husband's voice, and that no one but 
herself knew that he used to sing this song with her." 

On pages 324-325 we have testimony by an Edith K. Harper who attended very many of Etta Wriedt's seances.  She states she heard messages given in French, German, Italian, Spanish, Norwegian, Dutch and Arabic, "with which the medium was quite unacquanted" and "two, three and even four spirit voices speaking simultaneously to different sitters."  She also reports the appearance of luminous "etherealized" forms, as Moore does on quite a few times. 

At the link here you can read an edition of the Annals of Psychical Science (Volume 8, Number 49). The first article is by Professor Charles Richet, and is entitled "My Experiments with Madame X."  Richet discusses experiments in Paris, France with a  woman who would write in Greek. The Greek she wrote was sometimes quotations from ancient Greek literature (for example, some of the Greek consisted of quotations from Plato's Apology).  Such writing was inexplicable, because this woman did not know any Greek. Richet witnessed the woman produce the Greek writing below. 

 Example of the Greek written by Mme. X

Richet states this on page 23:

"In the first place, Mme. X. does not know Greek. Certainly it is impossible to prove absolutely that a person does not know a language. It is easy to prove that one knows a foreign language, but it is radically impossible to prove that one is ignorant of it. However, we can establish the following facts: that Greek is a difficult language to learn, and cannot be acquired offhand: that Mme. X. has never, either in her childhood or later, studied Greek books; that she has no Greek books at her home; that neither her husband, nor her sister, nor her children, nor her friends, nor I have ever seen her studying Greek; and consequently, .even a priori, the improbability that she has studied Greek and knows Greek is very great."

Richet was the winner of a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. He is the author of the classic parapsychology work "Thirty Years of Psychical Research," which you can read online here

The word xenoglossy is used for such an ability to write and speak in a language you never learned. A much more modern case of xenoglossy is described in a publication of the Parapsychological Association (Volume 9, Issue 1).  In the article "A Case of Xenoglossy" on page 18, we read the following:

"We examine the case of a Caucasian 32-year-old female
psychiatric patient (Jacquie) living in San Diego, California, who spontaneously spoke, wrote, and translated complicated
Sanskrit-related languages about spiritual concepts from four different traditions. Eleven hours of video recordings of these phenomena were taken from June 6th – July 31st, 1983. She had no prior knowledge of these ancient languages, concepts, or traditions. Jackie heard 14 Sanskrit messages consisting of from 5 to 8 lines that she immediately wrote down phonetically in English script in various situations, including four while she was in a psychiatric hospital and under watch while heavily medicated. Additional recordings show Jackie in a trance, spontaneously speaking phrases and uttering incomplete messages in Sanskrit-related languages. A review of the patient’s life and an analysis of the complex messages she received provide compelling evidence that she could not have learned this composite of languages secretly nor constructed the text by culling the necessary materials during this pre-internet period. The patient was unable to hold a job because of frequent episodes of severe headache and seizure-like activity thought to be psychogenic in nature; periodic hospitalizations were required to protect her from suicide; and she needed federal assistance for food, money, and medical care. These medical, psychological, economic, and social problems made it further unlikely that she could travel and perform the necessary study of obscure texts to master the topic."

Monday, July 27, 2020

Mainstream Keeps Misinforming Us About Origin-of-Life Research

For 70 years the mainstream science literature has presented misleading coverage about origin-of-life research.  There has been a huge amount of bunk and baloney in the press coverage of origin-of-life research, and the statements made on this topic by scientists themselves have often been inaccurate. Many examples of such misstatements can be found here and here and here and here and here and here

A recent press article on origin-of-life research commits the same type of sins committed 100 times before by press reports of origin-of-life research. The article in Knowable Magazine is entitled "Searching high and low for the origins of life."  In its second sentence the article makes this false claim: "Yet recent studies have shown that two essential ingredients — amino acids and primitive cell membranes — can form spontaneously and reliably near the hydrothermal vents found in seafloors." 

The research discussed did not show any such thing. The amino acid research discussed did not measure any spontaneous formation of amino acids near hydothermal vents found in seafloors.  Instead, some scientists produced only one of the twenty amino acids used by living things, using  a glass vial containing ammonia and other substances.  

There are two reasons why such an experimental setup is not at all a realistic simulation of hydrothermal vents in the ocean. The first reason is that while hydothermal vents might rarely produce a little ammonia, there is no reason to believe that an undersea hydrothermal vent would ever be surrounded with a concentration of ammonia anywhere near as great as in the glass apparatus used for the experiment  (about 400 millimoles per liter, which is about 18 grams per liter).  Any ammonia produced in an undersea hydrothermal vent would be so massively diluted by the surrounding ocean water that it would never reach anything close to the concentration of ammonia used in the experiment. In their supporting information document, the scientists discuss the mixture they used, and confess that "these concentrations are higher than would have been present in the early oceans," an admission that they were not realistically simulating the early Earth's oceans. A paper analyzing the chemical composition of fluids collected near a hydrothermal vent makes no mention of ammonia, and this table listing the chemical composition of fluids from hydrothermal vents does not list ammonia as one of the ingredients. 

The second reason why such an experimental setup is not at all a realistic simulation of hydrothermal vents in the ocean is that the experimental setup used a closed glass apparatus, without using any continual water flow to simulate the circulation of water that would constantly occur undersea (and would occur even more strongly around a hydrothermal vent).  A similar experimental flaw was one of several gigantic flaws of the famous Miller-Urey experiment, an experiment which tried to simulate the atmosphere using a closed glass apparatus, but failed to account for the circulation of gases in the atmosphere. There were no closed glass jars or enclosed glass units billions of years ago. 

It is rather easy to do an origin-of-life experiment taking into account either the circulation of gases in the atmosphere or the circulation of water in the ocean.  For example, an experiment can be done outdoors, allowing a natural circulation of air currents and precipitation. Or an experiment can be done indoors in an open area that receives air currents of about 5 or 10 miles per hour, as well as occasional simulated rainfall produced by sprinklers or similar devices.  An experiment simulating the ocean can have a constant circulation of water produced by some kind of faucet-like apparatus or water jet that keeps running. 

But our origin-of-life experiments keep failing to provide this most basic requirment for a realistic simulation of early Earth conditions.  Below is a photo from the hydrothermal vent simulation experiment discussed by the Knowable Magazine article (from the Supplemental Information here).  

Such a visual is laughable. The ocean is a place of constant water circulation. You do not realistically simulate the ocean with a little sealed-off glass container like this. The yellow arrow points not to a stream of water simulating circulating water in the ocean, but to a solution of ammonia and other chemical reactants "slowly injected" into the water.  

There is a reason why origin-of-life experiments typically use sealed glass devices that fail to simulate the circulation of gases or water in the early Earth. The reason is that if they were to realistically simulate the early Earth, their experiments would never produce anything very noteworthy related to the origin of life. 

What was the result of this experiment claiming to simulate ocean hydothermal vents, but failing to realistically simulate such a thing? Only one type of amino acid was produced: alanine, one of the two simplest amino acids. There are twenty types of amino acids used by living things. 

Does the article in Knowable Magazine tell us about the experiment producing only one of the twenty types of amino acids used by living things? No, instead it gives us some language that might make us think that all twenty types of amino acids were produced.  We are told "the hydrothermal vent proponents say they have all the right ingredients." 

Talking about "ingredients" is appropriate when talking about food preparation, but inapproprate when referring to the fantastically ordered complexity of even the simplest living thing.  But if you insist on referring to "ingredients of life," you would have to list 25 ingredients needed for living things: the twenty types of amino acids used by living things, and the five types of nucleotides used by DNA and RNA. Experiments attempting to simulate hydrothermal events have not produced more than one or two of these 25 ingredients.  So how on earth can the article be claiming that "the hydrothermal vent proponents say they have all the right ingredients"? One or two out of 25 is 4% or 8%. Since when does 4% or 8% equal 100%? 

Bragging about having all the right ingredients for the random appearance of life is like saying that your typing monkey can produce 300-page textbooks, because your keyboard has all the right characters of the alphabet.  And if your keyboard has only one  or two of the 26 characters of the alphabet, it would be particularly misleading to make such a statement.  It is just as misleading to brag about having "all the right ingredients" when only one or two of 25 necessary ingredients for life have been produced by experiments trying to simulate hydothermal vents. 

As for the Knowable Magazine's claim that cell membranes "can form spontaneously and reliably near the hydrothermal vents found in seafloors," it is baloney.  The article is talking about kind of fatty bubbles. Such things are incomparably simpler than the membranes of cells, which are fantastically complex things, as discussed here The paper cited does not mention any experimental technique realistically simulating hydrothermal vents or any early Earth conditions.  The experimenters simply started out with solutions very dense with fatty acids, and observed some bubbles they called "vesicles" (a term that is appropriately used only when talking about a bubble-like structure in cells).  The Knowable Magazine article incorrectly calls such a mere bubble a "protocell," using the same very inappropriate term used in the title of the scientific paper. 

How did the researchers get these bubbles? Their utterly preposterous procedure is described in the supplementary information of their paper, which you can read hereYou can get a rough idea of what was going on by imagining someone half-filling a large salad bowl with water, and dumping 14 cans of powder into the water. What the researchers did is to dump absurdly huge amounts of many types of fatty acids into a solution of water.  Table 2 shows that they put into their solution about 900 grams per liter of each of 14 different types of fatty acid.  The resulting solution had about 13,000 grams of fatty acids per liter, and was probably as thick as syrup or gravy.  This is a totally unnatural solution not corresponding to anything that would have existed in the oceans of the early Earth.  It is unlikely that any liter of water in the early Earth's ocean had even a thousandth of this amount of fatty acids.  But the Knowable Magazine article most inaccurately describes this ridiculously artificial concoction as a "laboratory replica of ancient deep-sea conditions."  

We are being misinformed here not only by the writer of the Knowable Magazine article, but also by the scientists who authored the paper, who had no business using the term "protocell" after merely producing bubbles from a solution artifically packed with such a ridiculous abundance of fatty acids.  Since no one has ever observed anything like a mere fatty bubble turning into a cell, it is extremely misleading language to be referring to such a fatty bubble as either a "protocell" or a "primitive cell membrane." 

  1. Pour 900 grams of a fatty acid into a liter of water (half the size of a 2-liter soda bottle).
  1. Repeat this step 13 times, using a different fatty acid each time.
  1. Heat or shake the resulting syrupy mixture, to produce bubbles.
  1. Triumphantly call these bubbles “protocells” or “primitive cell membranes.”
Suitable for elementary school students, but not honest ones

During the past 70 years we have been told so many false or misleading things by those reporting about origin-of-life research that you may be forgiven if you regard the literature of origin-of-life research as being not half as credible as the sales pitches of used car salesmen