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Our future, our universe, and other weighty topics

Friday, March 29, 2019

Why the Origin of Humans Is an Unsolved Mystery

We have good evidence from art in early human caves that the human species is older than 40,000 years. But the earliest past of humanity is very murky indeed. For decades scientists have been dogmatically speaking as if they understand the origin of the human race. We are told that this occurred when man evolved from more primitive ancestors with smaller brains, through a Darwinian process of natural selection and random mutations. But the evidence cited for such claims has always been weak.

The first widely-read sales pitch for the idea that man has evolved from lower species was presented by Charles Darwin in The Descent of Man, and Selection in Regard to Sex. In Chapter XX1 of that book, entitled “General Summary and Conclusion,” Darwin summarized his case that man had evolved from lower forms. He presented only an extremely weak set of reasons, but dogmatically declared them to be decisive evidence. He appealed mainly to embryology and structural similarities between man and animals. He stated we are “forced to admit that the close resemblance of the embryo of man to that, for instance, of a dog – the construction of his skull, limbs, and whole frame, independently of the uses to which the parts may be put, on the same plan with that of other mammals – the occasional reappearance of various structures, for instance of several distinct muscles, which man does not normally possess, but which are common to the Quadrumana ---and a crowd of analogous facts – all point in the plainest manner to the conclusion that man is the co-descendant with other mammals of a common progenitor.”

This was all an extremely weak case. It was not at all clear that we should assume humans and dogs have a common ancestor because of a similarity of embryos, nor was it clear that a rough structural similarity of anthropoid bones should cause us to think that men have evolved from an apelike ancestor (particularly given that the skulls of other species look different from human skulls). The meager items mentioned by Darwin in his summary did not by any means “point in the plainest manner to the conclusion that man is the co-descendant with other mammals of a common progenitor.”

But today's evolutionary biologist would claim that the modern case for human evolution is much better, because of fossil evidence. We are told that paleontologists have found a series of fossils belonging to creatures with brains midway between the size of a human brain and the size of a chimpanzee brain. 

But there is a reason why such fossils do not by themselves establish any claim of lineage or ancestry. The reason is that quite possibly there existed during the past 5 million years a variety of anthropoid species which were not ancestors of the human species; and in such case there would have been the same fossil record that we have discovered, even if mankind did not evolve from any of those species.

Imagine if the human race were to travel to a distant planet, and intervene in that planet's biosphere, introducing a human-like species (call it species Z) to the planet. Suppose that on the planet there existed from 3 million BC to 300,000 BC a species (call it Species X) with 50% of the human brain size, and that from 1 million BC to 100,000 BC there existed still another species (call it Species Y) with 75% of human brain size. Then 100,000 years after this human intervention, descendants of the organisms introduced by humans might be able to make a “Chart of Evolution” looking like this:

Time Species Brain Size (Compared to Us)
1,000,000 years ago Species X 50.00%
500,000 years ago Species Y 75.00%
Present Our species (Species Z) 100.00%

Such a chart could be presented as a “Chart of Evolution” suggesting a progression from Species X to Species Y, and then a progression from Species Y to Species Z. But there would not actually have been such a progression. In fact, in this case there is no ancestry at all between any of these species.

That's an example of how “Charts of Evolution” can be made by cherry-picking data, and arranging them in a linear sequence to encourage people to believe in a progression that did not actually occur. Here is another example. Imagine you go to the Columbia University library, and find some old university yearbooks. You could choose from 1970 a picture of a short, very fat student. Then from from 1980 you could choose a picture of a slightly short, slightly fat student. Then from 1990 you could choose a picture of a student of average weight and height. Then from 2000 you could choose a student of a rather tall and slightly muscular student. Then from 2015 you could choose a picture of a tall and very muscular student looking like a football tight end. You could then arrange these pictures chronologically in a series you might entitle “Evolution of the Columbia Student.” Such a series would give someone the completely erroneous idea that students at Columbia have evolved from being very fat and short to being tall and muscular. But such a chart would be very misleading.

Such examples should make us pretty suspicious of the standard “Chart of Evolution” showing some ape-like species evolving over millions of years to become man. Such charts don't show the likelihood of such a progression, but merely show the possibility of such a progression. We may become more doubtful when we consider that visual representations of past species are largely speculative. Fossils of claimed human ancestors are all fragmentary. An example is the famous Lucy skeleton, where we have but a few small pieces of a skull and some other small bone fragments. We see charts listing the brain sizes of organisms corresponding to such fossils, but the numbers in such charts are guesswork, since we don't have any fossilized brains. We may wonder whether the numbers supplied in such charts are numbers arbitrarily chosen to fit in with orthodox assumptions about evolutionary transitions. We should remember that almost every account of fossil evidence coming from orthodox biologists, paleontologists and anthropologists is likely to be biased, slanted and speculative, because such scientists (trained in ideological enclaves resembling seminaries) are tribal conformists peer-pressured into peddling a particular Darwinist belief system based on the assumption that humans descended from lower species.

But is there some evidence that might make ideas of human ancestry better founded? In theory, there could be: DNA evidence. If you were able to have complete DNA that corresponded to each of the fossils in a fossil series, you would be on much firmer ground drawing conclusions about ancestry.

But in this case our paleontologists do not have what they would like to have. This is one of the dirty little secrets of modern evolutionary biology. Our evolutionary biologists do not have the DNA evidence they need to solidify the claims they make about human origins. The problem is that regular organic material rots in less than a few thousand years, and you can't get much DNA from a very old fossil bone. The half-life of DNA is 521 years. So we don't have any adequate DNA evidence from Homo erectus or Homo habilis, which are claimed to be ancestors or evolutionary cousins of the human species. The oldest DNA from a claimed human ancestor is a scrap of DNA dating back 400,000 years. But this is only about 16,000 base pairs, and the human genome is 3.2 billion base pairs. Such a tiny scrap doesn't give you a hundredth of what you would need to genetically verify that such an organism was an ancestor of humans.

Imagine a trial in which the prosecution needed some blood photographed at a crime scene corresponding to the blood of the person being tried. But imagine the blood was washed away before its DNA was checked, so no DNA match was made. That's the kind of position our evolutionary biologist is in. He really needs some complete Homo erectus DNA or Homo habilis DNA to back up his claims that these are human ancestors. But no such DNA exists, merely a rare scrap here and there. Some scientists try to use mitochondrial DNA obtained from fossils, but no reliable conclusions can be drawn from such DNA (mitochondrial DNA has less than 1% of the genetic material found in regular DNA).

We do have the complete DNA of modern humans and modern chimpanzees, and some argue that the similarity between these two implies that both had a common evolutionary ancestor. It is claimed that the protein-coding part of the human genome is 96% similar to the protein-coding part of the chimpanzee genome. But this refers to merely the building materials of proteins (amino acids), and is not based on a comparison of the full protein, which has a 3D shape. No one knows for sure how proteins get their 3D shapes. This is the long-standing protein folding problem discussed in these three posts. When you look at the full protein including its shape, not just the amino acid building blocks specified in DNA, it turns out that chimpanzees and humans are not so similar. The scientific paper here is entitled “Eighty percent of proteins are different between humans and chimpanzees.” 

In 2017 bbc.com had a long article entitled “We have still not found the missing link between us and apes.” The article discusses the history of postulating a common ancestor linking current ape-like animals and humans. What we get is a story of a great deal of disagreement and changes in the prevailing narrative. Referring to a "last common ancestor" or LCA, we are told, “Surprisingly, the last 15 years has actually seen popular opinion begin to swing away from the idea of a chimp-like LCA, and towards a model closer to that argued by people like Strauss in the 1940s.” Of one analysis, we are told, “One of the implications of their interpretations was that all sorts of anatomical features shared by gibbons, orangutans, chimps and gorillas must have evolved independently in each of these apes.” That claim should raise suspicions, as such coincidental independent evolution is highly improbable.

The article says the following about a Last Common Ancestor:

"There has been a community shift, where people have begun to question what was an emerging consensus for a chimp-like LCA," says Young. But even that is not the end of the story. There are still "chimp-like LCA" advocates out there, and they are fighting back...Of course, only if and when fossils of the LCA itself come to light will the debate finally draw to a close..It is possible, they say, that the LCA might actually have lived 13 – not seven – million years ago....There are also a few researchers who take a completely different view. For instance, Schwartz is adamant that it is orangutans, not chimpanzees, that are our sister species."

A scientific article tells us, “Few fields of research are subject to so many competing hypotheses, as illustrated by the variable number of ancestral species assigned to the human lineage by different authors, ranging from four to a maximum of 25.” Such gaps and disagreements should not at all inspire our confidence that scientists have a firm gasp on this matter. The scientists are apparently fighting among themselves, disagreeing about the most basic things, and missing many of the fossils they need.  

Scientists cannot find fossil evidence of a last common ancestor between chimps and humans, as they indicate by their frequent claims that chimps and humans share a common ancestor without specifying what that ancestor was. The wikipedia.org article on "Chimpanzee-human last common ancestor" (CHLCA) confesses, "no fossil has yet been identified as a probable candidate for the CHLCA."  Another major missing link is a common ancestor between humans and Neanderthals. Using the term “LCA” to mean “last common ancestor,” a mainstream scientific paper states the following striking confession:

We still do not have a good fossil candidate for the phenotypic LCA of Neanderthals and modern humans. This result is striking because confidence intervals of ancestral reconstructions are very broad, which means that existing candidates are very incompatible.

If I do a Google image search for “human evolution tree,” I see various charts trying to put fossils into a tree of human evolution. But the charts are speculative. The recent book “Almost Human” by two paleontologists (Berger and Hawks) tacitly admits this, for in its chart of hominid evolution, we see four nodes that have question marks, indicating hypothetical ancestors that have not been found.  According to the "human evolution" chart in that recent book (which can be seen on this page):

(1) We have not found a common ancestor between Neanderthals and humans (that ancestor, which we can call Missing Link 1 is represented in the chart as a question mark).
(2)  We have not found a common ancestor between this Missing Link 1,  Homo erectus and Homo florensis (that ancestor, which we can call Missing Link 2, is represented in the chart as a question mark).
(3)  We have not found a common ancestor between this Missing Link 2, Homo rudolfensis, Homo habilis and Australopithecus sediba (that ancestor, which we can call Missing Link 3, is represented in the chart as a question mark).
(4)  We have not found a common ancestor between this Missing Link 3, Australopithecus africanus, and Australopithecus afarensis (that ancestor, which we can call Missing Link 4, is represented in the chart as a question mark).

Each of these four missing links, according to the paleontologist's chart in this book, are in the direct path of human ancestry, and none of them are missing links in side detours.  But is it really believable that we would be lacking in fossils for four different species that are human ancestors in the past few million years?  

There is also inconsistency in these charts. Some of these charts list Australopithicus africanus as a direct ancestor of humans, while the “Almost Human” chart does not list Australopithicus africanus as a direct ancestor of humans. Some of these charts list Homo erectus as a direct ancestor of humans, while others indicate Homo erectus was not a direct ancestor of humans.

Dogmatic theorists often try to kind of "prove things with language" by referring to species such as Homo erectus as humans.  Such language is erroneous. It is illegitimate to use the word "human" to refer to any species which did not show evidence of language or symbolic activity, and such alleged human predecessors as Homo erectus did not show such a thing.  Art and symbolic activity appeared rather suddenly about 50,000 - 70,000 years ago.  As for the habit of grouping mankind with other species in a genus called Homo, it is merely an arbitrary and dubious classification choice, particularly now that there is such a physically diverse group of species put in that genus, with brain sizes varying by 300% (for example, Homo floresiensis had a brain size only a third as big as humans).  

The most plausible fossil candidate for a human ancestor is not the Neanderthals (whose existence substantially overlapped with the existence of early humans), but a species referred to as Homo heidelbergensis.  But the wikipedia.org article on Homo heidelbergensis tells us that the case for such an ancestry is far from clear. It states the following:

"Homo sapiens has been proposed as derived from H. heidelbergensis via Homo rhodesiensis, present in East and North Africa from around 400,000 years ago. The correct assignment of many fossils to a particular chronospecies is difficult and often differences in opinion ensue among paleoanthropologists due to the absence of universally accepted dividing lines (autapomorphies) between Homo erectus, Homo heidelbergensis, Homo rhodesiensis and Neanderthals. It is uncertain whether H. heidelbergensis is ancestral to Homo sapiens, as a fossil gap in Africa between 400,000 and 260,000 years ago obscures the presumed derivation of H. sapiens from H. rhodesiensis....The delineation between early H. heidelbergensis and H. erectus is also unclear. Given the evidence, it means there is no direct evidence that suggest the Homo heidelbergensis is related to modern-day humans."

Such a statement should shock every person who believes that humans are descended from more ape-like ancestors.  The statement tells us that there is "no direct evidence" that this best candidate for a human ancestor is related to modern-day humans. 

Another line of evidence offered for human evolution is evidence of the use of stone tools, or the use of fire, or burials, dating from way before 100,000 B.C. Here is where some surprising new findings come into play to cast doubt on some of these claims. 

Homo naledi was a species with a brain of only about 500 cubic centimeters, only about 37 percent as big as modern human's brain. The species is not believed to be a direct human ancestor. Fossils of the species have been found in a cave, and analyzed in a scientific paper by paleoanthropologist Lee Berger. The Washington Post refers to “Berger's bolder claims, including the suggestion that Naledi was burying its dead and crafting the sophisticated stone tools that characterize southern Africa's 'Middle Stone Age.' ”

But if a species with a brain only 37 percent as big as a human brain was making tools and burying its dead, a species that was not a human ancestor, that would seem to help wipe out tool evidence and burial evidence as evidence that humans evolved from apelike ancestors. Similarly, a paleoanthropologist has recently written an article entitled, “Stone 'tools' may not have been made by human ancestors, research finds.” The article tells us this: “Recent research published in Nature by a team led by Tomos Proffitt at the University of Oxford shows that capuchin monkeys regularly produce sharp-edged flakes indistinguishable from those made by early hominins.”

As for the use of fire long before about 100,000 BC, none of it is very conclusive. It's all but impossible to distinguish between fires started deliberately and fires accidentally arising from forest fires or lightning strikes. Most of the claims of fire use long before 100,000 BC seem like “face in the clouds” or “Jesus in my toast” kind of claims, in which we can wonder whether the person making a claim is simply finding something that he hoped to find. It is also possible that some species that was not a human ancestor was able to occasionally make fires. Fire-making is just an example of tool-use, and there are other species that make use of tools. Fire-making does not involve the symbolic manipulations that are a hallmark of a human mind.

A paleontologist states the following about the relevant fossils from the past million years:

They do not allow us to order human fossils in a gradually progressive and smooth transitional lineage from ape-like forms to modern humans. They also do not fall into a temporal cline from older primitive to younger derived forms. Some early australopithecines not only exhibit the expected ape-like features but also some very modern human characters, while some late representatives of Homo (e.g., Homo naledi) still have very primitive characters. Thus fossil humans do not form a transitional series like the famous horse series. 

According to Darwinist dogma, lucky random mutations occur and cause "classic sweeps" or "classic selective sweeps" in which some new trait becomes more and more common in the gene pool, eventually so common that most organisms in the population have that trait. This dogma has recently struck out at the plate, as more sensitive scans of the human genome have found little evidence of  such classic sweeps. A scientific paper was entitled "Classic Selective Sweeps Were Rare in Recent Human Evolution." By "recent human evolution" the paper meant the past 250,000 years.

Another recent scientific study in 2014 found there was virtually no sign of adaptive evolution in the human genome. The paper published in a mainstream science journal looked for traces of natural selection by looking for something called “fixed adaptive substitutions” in human DNA. The paper stated, “Our overall estimate of the fraction of fixed adaptive substitutions (α) in the human lineage is very low, approximately 0.2%, which is consistent with previous studies.”  It's hard to imagine a bigger fail or flop for Darwinian explanations. If such explanations were correct, we would have expected to find such signs of adaptive evolution in a large fraction of the human genome, not a fifth of one percent. 

In the 2018 book Who We Are and How We Got Here by David Reich, a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, the author makes this revealing confession on page 9: “The sad truth is that it is possible to count on the fingers of two hands the examples like FOXP2 of mutations that increased in frequency in human ancestors under the pressure of natural selection and whose functions we partly understand.” Judging from this statement, there are merely 10 or fewer cases where we know of some mutation that increased in the human population because of natural selection. The scientific paper “The Genomic Rate of Adaptive Evolution” tells us “there is little evidence of widespread adaptive evolution in our own species."

In the study here, an initial analysis found 154 positively selected genes in the human genome -- genes that seemed to show signs of being promoted by natural selection. But then the authors applied something they called "the Bonferroni correction" to get a more accurate number, and were left with only 2 genes in the human genome showing signs of positive selection (promotion by natural selection).  That's only 1 gene in 10,000. Call it the faintest whisper of a trace -- hardly something inspiring confidence in claims that we are mainly the product of natural selection. 

Given the failure to detect large amounts of adaptive natural selection in the human genome, we should have no strong confidence in the orthodox account that humans appeared because of Darwinian evolution from some ancestor that was the ancestor of both chimps and humans.

The number of humans that have lived has been estimated at 100 billion. But a web site discussing this issue tells us that 99% of these people have lived in the past 10,000 years. Since 8000 BC some 100 billion humans have lived, but in the period between about 400,000 BC and 8000 BC, the total number of humans or pre-humans who lived during that period was quite probably no greater than about a billion, and very probably less than 3 billion (the average population size being only about 20,000 for most of this time). But we know there has been very little useful evolution of humans since 8000 BC -- only a few minor things like better lactose digestion and better high-altitude breathing in some people.  So if you believe the conventional account, you must believe that a population of no more than 3 billion humans or pre-humans underwent enormous useful evolution (resulting in humans that had language, abstract thinking and symbolic abilities), but that in 100 billion humans living since 8000 BC there has been almost no useful human evolution.  Such an idea is not credible.  Why would there be so much useful evolution during less than 3 billion lives, and so little useful human evolution during 100 billion lives?  We would expect the opposite to be more likely. 

Just as a prosecutor needs to have explanation of a motive before offering a good case against a defendant, anyone arguing that man was descended from lower species needs to have a believable explanation as to how this occurred. The Darwinian explanation relating to human origins has always been both unproven and implausible. No one has proven or well-substantiated any claim that any impressive case of macroscopic biological complexity ever arose because of a combination of natural selection and random mutations. There is an extremely strong reason for believing that natural selection has never produced any complex macroscopic biological innovation. The reason is that any natural selection related to that particular innovation would only occur after the innovation had appeared. Natural selection simply means the improved reproduction rate that may occur after a biological innovation makes an organism more fit to survive. But such an improved reproduction cannot possibly occur because of some biological innovation until after the innovation appears. So in general, natural selection is never an explanation for a complex visible biological innovation. An explanation is something that occurs before the thing it explains, not after it.

Natural selection is a mere filter, capable of filtering out bad designs, but having no power to produce impressive new designs. A tornado will act as a “survival of the fittest” agent to get rid of bad building designs in a town, leaving only the good designs standing. But it would be ridiculous to claim that a tornado produced a useful new building design after passing through a town, using wreckage as building blocks. It seems equally implausible to attribute such creative powers to natural selection.

You do not rebut such an objection by claiming that it is the combination of random changes and survival of the fittest (natural selection) that produces wonderful new designs, because we have the same combination of random changes and survival-of-the-fittest when a tornado passes through a town. But the chance of a tornado ever producing a good new design of building is infinitely low. And if humans perished, and a billion tornadoes passed through the towns and cities we left behind, over the course of millions of years, we would still not expect one of the tornadoes to ever produce an impressive new building design. With all their intricate biochemical machinery, the complexity of mammals is billions of times greater than the complexity of buildings.

In the book Evolution and Ecology: The Pace of Life by Cambridge University biology professor K. D. Bennett, this mainstream authority comments on speciation (the origin of species). He says on page 175, "Natural selection has been shown to have occurred (for example, among populations of Darwin's finches), but there is no evidence that it accumulates over longer periods of time to produce speciation in the Darwinian sense." Similar comments were made by an MIT professor who wrote a long paper entitled "Inadequacies of Neo-Darwinian Evolution as a Scientific Theory" 

Besides the completely general inadequacy of natural selection and random mutations as an explanation for biological complexity, there are other very powerful reasons why the Darwinian explanation of natural selection and random mutations seems to be grossly inadequate to explain the specific claim that humanity evolved from lower species. The first reason is that the human mind has many unique special characteristics that do not serve any purpose of increasing human survival, and which therefore cannot be explained as being the result of natural selection or survival-of-the-fittest. Among these are spirituality, altruism, self-consciousness, introspection, insight, imagination, philosophical reasoning, language skills, mathematical skills, artistic creativity, and aesthetic appreciation. See here for why such things cannot be well explained by natural selection.

In his essay "The Limits of Natural Selection as Applied to Man," it was forcibly pointed out by the co-creator of the theory of natural selection (Alfred Russel Wallace) that natural selection cannot explain some of these higher capabilities of the human mind. In fact, in his his 1910 book The World of Life: a Manifestation of Creative Power, Directive Mind and Ultimate Purpose,  Wallace argued that natural selection and random variations were very far indeed from being sufficient to account for the wonders of biology. Darwin engaged in some quite laughable counter-reasoning in his book The Descent of Man. Very absurdly, he stated near the beginning of Chapter III of that book, “My object in this chapter is to show that there is no fundamental difference between man and the higher mammals in their mental faculties.” The long chapter that followed contained much very sophistical reasoning and misinformation, such as when Darwin claimed dogs understand many sentences,  and when he insinuated in the second-to-last paragraph of the chapter that dogs are kind of spiritual like humans. Such misstatements and bad reasoning do nothing to help with the basic problem. There is a vast gulf between the minds of humans and the minds of animals, and natural selection cannot explain it. That gulf consists of a series of human traits that do not increase survival value in the wild, so such traits cannot have arisen because of natural selection.

There are other grave difficulties in the idea that humans evolved from lower species. One is the difficulty of accounting for the origin of spoken language and the biological changes needed for language. This difficulty is so great that it is sufficient by itself to justify very strong doubt about the natural origin of humans through any process humans understand. In this essay I discuss three reasons why the origin of language is inexplicable under orthodox assumptions. 

Another difficulty is the problem of explaining the origin of bipedalism. A species like a chimpanzee uses its long front arms to help it in walking -- what is sometimes called knuckle-walking. That works well for chimpanzees, because the long arms and the hunched over skeleton of the chimpanzee supports that kind of locomotion. Humans walk erect on two legs. That works well for humans, but only because there are many bone and muscle differences between a man and a chimpanzee, which allow erect walking to occur. The problem is that in order for there to be any evolutionary progression from a species that walked like a chimpanzee to a species that walked like a human, it seems there would have needed to have existed an intermediate species that was halfway between knuckle-walking and upright human-style walking – and it seems that such a species would have been in a disadvantageous state where it was prone to fall over. But according to Darwinian theory based on survival of the fittest, you basically cannot have a progression from highly functional to poorly functional and then to highly functional – because there can be no foresight under such a theory. So accounting for the origin of bipedalism is a nightmare for the orthodox Darwinists, who give us explanations “all over the map” to try to explain this. According to one mainstream web site, “If you ask a roomful of anthropologists” about why humans walk on two feet, “you'd likely get a different answer from each person.” That's hardly reassuring for someone troubled by this problem.

human evolution

Anthropology professor Henry M. McHenry stated this on page 270 of the mainstream book Evolution: The First Four Billion Years: "The published hominin fossil record does not yet have a true intermediate stage between an apelike and a humanlike body."

The "waiting time" problem is another gigantic difficulty. To explain that problem, I must first discuss how it is believed that  that the human population was very small at a time such as 100,000 years ago or 200,000 years ago. It is believed that at such a time the human population was probably not much more than 20,000.   This paper says "we estimate that the effective population size of human ancestors living before 1.2 million years ago was 18,500, and we can reject all models where the ancient effective population size was larger than 26,000."  This scientific papers says, "Resequencing studies have estimated the ancestral effective population size at 12,800 to 14,400, with a 5- to 10-fold bottleneck beginning approximately 65,000 to 50,000" years ago. 

The problem is that the smaller the population, the less likely that it will be blessed by some fantastically lucky series of random mutations needed for a biological innovation (just as the smaller the pool of lottery ticket buyers, the lower the chance that it will win the grand jackpot). When you have a very small population, it becomes fantastically unlikely that a series of mutations needed for a biological innovation will occur. So how could there have occurred all the helpful random mutations needed for Homo sapiens to appear about 100,000 years ago? The likelihood of such a development seems microscopic.

Two scientists (one from Cornell University) published a scientific paper entitled “The Waiting Time Problem in a Model Hominin Population,” which was published in the journal Theoretical Biology and Medical Modelling. Using a computer simulation, they “simulated a classic pre-human hominin population of at least 10,000 individuals, with a generation time of 20 years, and with very strong selection (50 % selective elimination).” They were basically trying to see how long it would take before you got a favorable mutation consisting of two nucleotides (which is a fairly minor mutation, only some tiny fraction of the mutations needed for the evolution of human intelligence). This is called the “waiting time problem.” The authors summarize their results as follows:

"Biologically realistic numerical simulations revealed that a population of this type required inordinately long waiting times to establish even the shortest nucleotide strings. To establish a string of two nucleotides required on average 84 million years. To establish a string of five nucleotides required on average 2 billion years. We found that waiting times were reduced by higher mutation rates, stronger fitness benefits, and larger population sizes. However, even using the most generous feasible parameters settings, the waiting time required to establish any specific nucleotide string within this type of population was consistently prohibitive."

Their paper calculates a "waiting time" of some 2 billion years to get a crummy little five-nucleotide mutation. But the mutations needed for man would have required many times more than five nucleotides – and our Darwinists ask us to believe that they occurred not in 2 billion years but in a span of time less than a thousandth of that. The chance of that seems less than the chance of you winning a hundred million dollars from the Powerball lottery on each of three consecutive lottery drawings. 

A very important point is that we are not even sure that there ever existed any species that humans might have evolved from, and that had about 50% or 75% of the mental power of modern humans. There seems to have been a hominid species with about 50% or 75% of the human brain size, but mental power is not predictable from brain size. Some species such as crows are amazingly smart with very small brains, while the elephant is nowhere near as smart as man, although its brain is three times bigger than ours. 

I have already listed quite a few very powerful reasons for doubting that humans understand the origin of humanity, but there are two additional ones of great substance. The first is that we are not remotely close to understanding how a single human adult is even able to originate from a fertilized human egg.  The commonly expressed idea on this topic (that the womb or something in it is reading a blueprint of a human stored in DNA) is demonstrably false.  Although it lists chemical ingredients used by humans, DNA is not a specification of a human, and does not at all store either a blueprint for making a human or a recipe or program for making humans.  The internal limitations of DNA make it impossible that it could be doing such a thing, for DNA uses a genetic code limiting it to very low-level chemical information such as the amino acid contents of proteins.  We actually do not at all understand the progression from a fertilized human ovum to a newly born baby.  Not understanding such a progression, we are therefore very largely ignorant about the biology of the individual human, and have no business claiming that we understand the far larger question of how our entire species originated.  Similarly, if a child has no real understanding of how a house is built, he has no business claiming that he understands how a city originated.  Since DNA is not actually a specification of a human, and is not a blueprint or a recipe for making a human, it seems we should reject the Neo-Darwinist idea that humans have appeared merely because of changes in DNA. 

Another extremely substantial reason for rejecting the claim that we understand human origins is that we have no credible biological account of how the human body can be producing the most impressive aspects of human mentality: consciousness, thinking, imagination, self-hood and memory.  The standard claim on this topic is that all such things are produced by the human brain, but such an assertion is merely a speech custom of neuroscientists, not something they have established through observations. 

There are actually very many strong reasons for thinking that the most impressive aspects of human mentality are things that cannot be produced by the brain.  You can read all about such reasons at this site. For example, it is claimed that human memory is stored in brains and retrieved in brains (in the synapses of brains). But we know that the proteins that make up synapses are extremely short-lived, having average lifetimes of only a few weeks -- meaning that the maximum length of time a synapse would seem to be capable of storing a memory is less than a thousandth of the length of time (50 years) that humans can store memories.  To give another example, we know synapses and neurons are very noisy things, and that a synapse will transmit an electrical/chemical signal with only about 50% reliability. But a human actor (such as one playing Hamlet) can flawlessly recall 1480 lines, not at all what we would expect if noisy, low-reliable synapses were the basis of such recall.  There are very many similar reasons why we must conclude that our brains cannot account for the more impressive human mental capabilities, such as the fact that no one has any coherent explanation of how any such things as abstract ideas, imagination, self-hood or consciousness could arise from any type of matter, whether it be neurons or any other type. 

If it is true that our brains cannot account for all of human mental capabilities and mental experiences (and there are dozens of reasons for thinking that), then we have no business claiming that we understand human origins, for it would seem that there must be some mysterious factor involved to a gigantic extent in our origins that our biologists do not at all understand. 

human evolution
Click on the visual to enlarge it

There are so many very serious difficulties and unanswered questions involved in all attempts to explain human origins that we should have no great confidence in any of them. We should not regard it as well-established or fairly certain that humans are descended from any previous species (although such an idea still remains a possibility).  The most intelligent opinion about human origins is that such a question is an extremely puzzling mystery that is currently far beyond human understanding. The slang expression of today's overconfident person is: “Don't worry – I got this.” When it comes to explaining human origins, our evolutionary biologists are always telling us, in effect, “Don't worry, we got this.” The reply we should give back to them is: no, guys, you don't got this.

Contrary to the insinuations of explanatory dogmatists, we do not at all have a choice between Darwinist orthodoxy and the biblical account of creation. Those are only two of 12+ possible belief options or speculations one can have about the origin of humans,  which I discuss in this post.  

Our biologists cannot even explain some of the most important low-level mysteries of biology. Our biologists do not even know how the simplest prokaryotic cell could have originated, and they do not have a credible account of how eukaryotic cells originated (only a very unbelievable tall tale). Our biologists do not even know what causes a cell to split into two copies of itself; they do not know what causes polypeptide chains to fold into the three-dimensional shapes of proteins; they do not know what causes a fertilized ovum to progress to become a human baby; and they do not know how humans are able to remember things for 50 years (despite rapid protein turnover in synapses), and how humans can instantly remember things they learned or experienced decades ago.  But even though such basic low-level biological mysteries cannot be well-explained by our biologists, they ask us to believe that they understand something vastly more complicated: the mystery of how human organisms first originated. This is rather like a person who doesn't understand what a boat is telling you he knows how to command an aircraft carrier, or a person who doesn't understand what an atom is telling you he knows how the sun keeps shining, or a person who doesn't understand what a war is or a country is telling you he understands the history of the twentieth century.

Claims such as "we know what caused man's origin" are pushed dogmatically by conformist branches of academia that show much of the same groupthink, hubris and kneeling to authority that we see in organized religions.  When we put aside overconfidence and bluffing brags, and look objectively at the matter with a realistic humility, we should realize that our knowledge of nature is very small and fragmentary, and that the very puzzling question of human origins is one that may well take mankind a thousand years to unravel.  

Postscript: After countless years of people claiming that Australopithecus afarensis (represented by the famous Lucy fossil) was some kind of transitional species between apes and men, we finally have an April 2020 report on the Science Daily mainstream news site, one which tells us that "Contrary to previous claims, the endocranial imprints of Australopithecus afarensis reveal an ape-like brain organization, and no features derived towards humans."

On page 207 of the book Shattering the Myths of Darwinism by Richard Milton, a book which can be read online here, the author points out that a visualization of Australopithecus afarensis (in natural history museums of London and New York) made the species appear to have human-like hands and feet, even though the fossils indicated the species had long curved hands and feet, like those of a tree dweller.  We should distrust all such speculative visualizations, which often are guesses designed to suggest dubious ideas about human ancestry.  There have been many artistic visualizations depicting Neanderthal man as being brutish and anatomically more ape-like than modern humans (such as the misleading visualization here). But it has been pointed out that if you were to dress a Neanderthal man in a business suit, he would attract little attention on a New York City subway car. Not very physically different from modern men, Neanderthals were a type of human, and do nothing to prove humans are descended from apes. 

A long September 2020 article in The Scientist has the triumphal title "Genetics Steps in to Tell the Story of Human Origins."  But the article seems like more of a tale of uncertainty and hesitation.  We are told that Homo heidelbergenis was "not our ancestor," contrary to some previous claims. We are told, "The birth of our genus is one of the most poorly understood periods in evolution."  We are told, "The story in Africa remains murky, however, as researchers have not been able to reconstruct human history in vivid detail, in part because hominin fossils informative about our species’ emergence and coexistence with other species are rare in Africa.We are told that "the oldest human DNA found on the continent is just 15,000 years old."  Since Africa is claimed to the origin place of humans, this suggests that scientists do not have the kind of DNA evidence they need to be making human origin claims with any confidence.  The article also has a rather "funny business" kind of chart using some very objectionable scale in which 100,000 years is represented by two inches on the right side of the scale, but 7 million years is represented by two inches on the left side of the chart.  The article merely claims that Homo erectus is "thought to be a human ancestor," without confidently claiming any pre-human species as a human ancestor. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

The Dismal Scenario Called Panpsychism

In academic circles it is commonly assumed that consciousness is generated by the brain. But many philosophers have been dissatisfied with this idea. Why is it that some particular arrangement of matter would cause Mind (a totally different type of thing) to emerge from the matter in a brain? To many that seems no more plausible than the idea that some particular arrangement of crystals in a rock might cause the rock to gush out blood.

One alternate idea is to assume that we have something like a soul, and that our mental experiences are produced not mainly by matter (the brain), but by something that is itself mental or spiritual. Another alternative (called idealism or immaterialism) is to believe that everything is mental, and that matter only exists as perceptions within minds.  A third alternative is the idea that the brain doesn't actually produce our minds, but somehow taps into some great external reality that is the source of our minds, perhaps in a way rather similar to how a television set receives TV signals, or how a smartphone connects with the internet. 

Yet another alternate idea is the radical notion known as panpsychism. Panpsychism has been described as the idea that consciousness is in everything.

This idea may not seem very unreasonable if we think of consciousness as some very simple thing. But the word “consciousness” describes only one aspect of human mentality, and there are many different aspects of the human mind. The visual below reminds us of the many aspects of mentality.

human mentality

I doubt whether panpsychism theorists have thought out which of these aspects of mentality they think should be attributed to “all matter.” Below are some questions I would ask a panpsychist:
  1. How could dead matter be said to have consciousness or mind, when objects such as rocks, atoms and electrons do not have sensory organs? Do you maintain that such objects have some existence like some person born blind and deaf into the world, who also had some brain defect preventing a sense of touch?
  2. How would self-hood work under a scenario in which all matter is conscious? Is the Pacific ocean a single conscious self? Or is every drop of water its own conscious self? Or is there perhaps some particular unit of matter (such as a liter) which causes some quantity of water to achieve self-hood?
  3. Does each atom on a beach have its own self-hood, or does it take a grain of sand to make a sand self? Or does perhaps the whole beach constitute a single self?
  4. Do you maintain that lifeless objects have volition, the ability to will particular actions? If so, how do you reconcile such a belief with the complete lack of any evidence that lifeless matter is engaging in volition or willing actions?
  5. Do you maintain that lifeless objects have memories or thoughts? If you think they have either, how could that be, since thoughts require language (which could not be known by minds without sensory experience), and memories require either thoughts or sensations (which would seem to be impossible for a mind without sensory experience)?
  6. Do you maintain that lifeless objects have interests, pleasures, pains, attitudes, knowledge or ideas? How could lifeless objects have such things if they never had sensory experience?

Of course, once we consider such questions we become entangled in a great ocean of difficulties. Let us consider the question of volition, which means the power to carry out some action. There are two possibilities for a panpsychist. The first (call it option A) is to maintain that lifeless objects can carry out actions by willing them. One problem with this option is that lifeless objects do not have sensory organs. So we can't really imagine any reasonable scenario by which a lifeless natural object would will something to occur. For example, if a lifeless asteroid were traveling through the solar system, we cannot imagine it willing itself to move closer to the Earth, because lacking all sensory organs, such a rock would never know what Earth (or anything else) was.

Another strong reason for rejecting option A is that there is zero evidence that lifeless objects can will things. For example, on the subatomic level, subatomic particles such as electrons and protons act with unvarying precise obedience to the laws of electromagnetism. If they did not, you would not be reading a coherent intelligible essay at this moment, but would be seeing only a jumbled scramble of pixels. To give another example, astronomers find that things such as asteroids and comets act with unvarying precise obedience to the laws of gravity, showing no signs of independence.

So it seems option A doesn't work. The alternative for a panpsychist considering this question of volition in lifeless objects is what we may call option B: the idea that lifeless objects with minds do not have any power of volition. But when we think about this possibility, it seems very depressing. Given their lack of sensory organs, lifeless objects with a mind would be like a child born deaf, blind and incapable of any tactile sensation. If we also imagine them having no power of volition, we then imagine them like a child born completely paralyzed, blind, deaf and incapable of feeling touch.

So option B seems like quite a dismal scenario. If we have a universe filled with 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 conscious objects that are like children born deaf, blind, paralyzed and without any sense of smell, taste or touch, that is a dismal and repulsive scenario. The scenario becomes even more dark and depressing when we ask ourselves: how long would these conscious but lifeless objects live? The answer would apparently be: in many cases, for billions of years. So, for example, if you were a conscious rock on the moon, you would have to hang around for billions of years in such an undesirable state: blind, deaf, and paralyzed, unable to communicate with your fellow rocks, unable to do anything. The panpsychist apparently must believe that for every conscious human such as yourself who can exercise volition and enjoy sensory experience, there are 1,000,000,000,000,000 or more conscious entities living a horrid life of blindness, deafness and paralysis.

thinking rock

You might avoid such problems by believing that consciousness is in all matter, but that such consciousness consists of a single cosmic mind self.  But that version of panpsychism would seem to do nothing to help explain how humans have minds.  If your brain is merely a millionth of a billionth or a trillionth of .000000000000000000000000000000000000001 percent of the matter that gives rise to some single cosmic mind, that would not at all seem to imply that you should have a mind because of that tiny fraction.  

A writer named Daniel Podgorski recently wrote a post entitled "A Scientific Defense of Panpsychism."  The subtitle of his post was "Understanding Panpsychism through Evolutionary Biology and an Analogy to Electricity."  He states the following:

Yet only extremely recently, in the 1800s, did the science of electromagnetism (born in that century from the distinct studies of electricity and magnetism) advance far enough to allow for the explosion of inventions whereby electricity has been harnessed to run a staggering proportion of the tools with which we live, work, and play daily. Electricity was already out there in the world, existing and happening. But only within certain arrangements of matter can electricity do things which are interesting and useful to human beings. My take on panpsychism is that consciousness is similar. It is out there in the world everywhere and it always has been, but only in certain arrangements of matter does it seem to really do anything.

There are several reasons why this analogy is fallacious:

(1) Electricity is something required by complex electrical machines, but it does not at all by itself give rise to the useful work they do.  When electrical machines do things, it is incorrect to describe this as electricity doing things.  Volts don't take me from Queens to Manhattan; a subway does. 
(2) Electrical machines are designed products, but an evolutionary biologist does not believe that a brain is a designed product.
(3)  Electrical machines such as computers can do data processing, but they do not have consciousness or understanding, and a computer does not have self-hood. 
(4) It is fallacious to speak as if work done by an electrical machine is a case of something latent in a machine being unleashed. When my fan runs, it is not because some inherent electricity in the machine is being unleashed; it is because the machine is connecting to a very complicated external power grid. 
(5) Mechanical work (a physical moving about of things) bears no resemblance to the aspects of human mentality (which are mental, non-physical things). So if we know that some latent thing inside physical things could give rise to mechanical work, that would do nothing to make it more likely that some latent thing inside a physical thing could give rise to mental phenomena.

The author Julie J. Morley advocates panpsychism in the recent book Future Sacred: The Connected Creativity of Nature.  Morley's approach is largely to just cite philosophers who advocated for panpsychism. On page 142 she claims that "sentience exists on every scale." She doesn't seem to put up much of any real philosophical argument for panpsychism, although on page 77 she cites approvingly "nine core arguments for panpsychism" advanced by an author named David Skrbina.  The arguments are as follows (the quotes paraphrasing these arguments are from Morley's book):

(1) "Indwelling power. All objects exhibit certain powers or abilities that can be plausibly linked to noetic qualities."  This claims is invalid; for example, rocks do not exhibit any such powers or abilities. 
(2) "Continuity. A common principle or substance exists in all things." Not much of an argument, because we can believe that such a common principle or substance is not a mental principle or substance. 
(3) "First principles. Mind is posited as a fundamental and universal quality, present in all things." This isn't an argument for panpsychism, but just a statement of the idea of panpsychism.
(4) "Design. The inherent self-organizing capacity of physical processes suggests the possibility, if not the likelihood or necessity, of some purposeful intelligence (entelechy) active throughout the physical world."  There is no known inherent self-organizing capacity of physical processes. There are things (such as fine-tuned physical constants and fine-tuned biology) which may suggest the likelihood of some purposeful intelligence active throughout the physical world, but you can believe in such an intelligence without believing in panpsychism. 
(5) "Nonemergence. It is inconceivable that mind should emerge from wholly mindless matter." The implausibility of such a thing argues against materialism, but does not argue specifically for panpsychism. There are still the possibilities of dualism and idealism (immaterialism) if mind cannot emerge from matter. 
(6) "Theology. Omnipresent God, understood as universal 'mind' or 'spirit,' exists in all things."  That is an assertion, not an argument. 
(7) "Evolution....Certain objects (e.g. plants and the Earth) share a common dynamic or physiological structure with human beings, and thus possess mind."  I deny that there is any common dynamic or physiological structure shared by rocks or rocky bodies (such as the Earth and the moon) and human beings. Even plants don't really have any common physiological structure or dynamic with humans. 
(8) "Dynamic sensitivity. Living systems...respond dynamically to changes in the environment. This inherent responsiveness implies 'sensitivity' -- an ability to feel and be aware of its surroundings." This could be used to argue that all living things have some kind of consciousness, but does not support the idea that lifeless things such as rocks have consciousness.
(9) "Authority. Major intellectuals have expressed an intuitive or rational belief in some form of panpsychism." The same type of reasoning could be used for almost any belief that was ever advocated in a book. 

On page 157 of her book, Morley tells us that sentience is "inseparable from matter" and that matter and mind are "inseparably coupled." This does not match the empirical evidence. It is very common in near-death experiences for someone to report floating out of his body and observing his body from above it.  In many such cases a person who should have been unconscious will correctly report observations he should have been unable to have  observed while unconscious.  Such experiences suggest quite the opposite of a dogma that mind is inseparable from matter. Speaking of life-after-death, since a panpsychist believes that all matter is conscious, and that mind is inseparable from matter,  panpsychism would seem to imply the ghastly idea that corpses are conscious inside their coffins.  

Below are two very similar cases of reasoning, equally fallacious. One of them is panpsychism.

John: The matter in your brain creates your mind.
Bob: I don't believe it. Why would mere matter give rise to Mind, something totally different?
John: So let's just imagine that all matter is conscious. Then you should be able to believe that your brain makes your mind, or is your mind.
John: I have a rock in my backyard that can levitate.
Bob: I don't believe you. A rock could never levitate.
John: So let's just suppose that all rocks can levitate. Then you should be able to believe that the rock in my backyard can levitate.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Yet Another 25 Who Were “Ghost-Told” of a Death

Three previous posts on this blog have summarized accounts of people who saw an apparition of someone, or heard a mysterious voice from someone they knew, only to soon find that such a person had died (usually on the same day, and very often on the same hour and day as the apparition was seen).  Each of these posts described 25 different cases. The posts are below:


There are still 25 additional such cases that I will list in this post. You may ask: why am I writing more on this topic that I have already written on three times? The reason is to help show how  common it is for apparitions to appear unexpectedly to someone who later found that a person matching the apparition died on the same day. If apparitions are mere hallucinations, we should expect it to be incredibly rare that someone should see an apparition of someone he did not know was dead, and then to learn that person had died on the same day or the same hour and day. So if it can be shown that a large number of apparition sightings involve cases where someone sees an apparition of someone he did not know was dead, and then found that such a person died on the same day as the sighting, the claim that apparition sightings are mere hallucinations will be discredited. 

Let us now look at 25 more of these cases, not mentioned in my previous posts on this topic. Below are some cases from Volume 2 of the classic work on apparitions, Phantasms of the Living by Edmund Gurney, Frederick Myers, and Frank Podmore. Just click on the links below to bring up this work online, going to the exact pages of the accounts I refer to.

Page 501, Case 541: On a train George Barker heard a woman say she had seen her son drowning before her eyes, and that it was so real she could not believe she was traveling on a train. George's tutor became acquainted with the woman, and found that two weeks later word arrived that her son (in the Navy) had indeed drowned while rowing from ship to shore. Noting that he was a disbeliever in anything ghostly, Barker stated, “I have no doubt that the time was exactly the same....The time of the upsetting of the boat was, allowing for the change between the two distances, as nearly corresponding as possible.”

Page 511, Case 552: Mrs. Rooke stated that on a day in October, she saw an apparition of a friend of hers, and that the apparition vanished as she approached it. She later found out the friend had died. She said that the sighting might have occurred at the same time as the death (but sounded uncertain about the timing).

Page 513, Case 555: On September 22, a Mrs. Perryn saw an apparition of her mother, who seemed to be enveloped in a faint smoke. She later found out that her mother died on the same day at another location.

Page 514, Case 557: A Mary C. saw an apparition of an old woman she knew, an apparition that vanished suddenly as she looked at it. She later found that the woman died on the same day.

Page 516, Cases 559-560: Hickman Heather said that his father saw an apparition of his mother (Hickman's grandmother) early in the morning while walking home, and that Hickman's grandmother suddenly died on the same day. Hickman also reported that his father had seen his brother Ned (Hickman's uncle) appear at a time when it was “impossible that my Uncle Ned could be there.” In “about a couple of hours” word came that Ned had died.

Page 519, Case 562: A young boy reported seeing his father, Captain Skyring, although his father was far away on a naval expedition. Shortly thereafter the boy's mother received word Captain Skyring had been murdered "on the day in question," apparently the same day the boy saw the apparition. Earlier Captain Skyring himself reported seeing an apparition of his mother while away from England, and then found upon returning to England that his mother had died on the same day as the apparition. In both this case and the previous case we have astonishing accounts of two “veridical apparition” sightings in a single family.

Just some spooky clip art

Page 520, Case 563: Young Jane Barford was sent away two miles to an aunt while her father was ill. One day she saw her father unexpectedly at a quarter before 7, and said “I knew it could not be my living father.” She hurried home, to be told that her father had died that day, at a quarter before 7.

Page 521, Case 566: Mrs. Morris saw “little G.” carrying two lilies, and the apparition disappeared as she looked at it. She later found that the same person had died on the same day. She was told that G. had been given lilies just before he died, and was delighted with them, and had held them shortly before dying; and that they were now in the hand of G. 

Page 522, Case 567: Mrs. Amos stated that she saw an apparition of her mother while Mrs. Amos and her husband were in bed. She discussed the sight with her husband, who was unable to see the strange sight.  "After that she vanished slowly away," stated Mrs. Amos, who received a letter the next day telling her the mother had died. 

Page 522-523, Case 568: A man far away from his mother was surprised to see an apparition of his mother and his dead sister.  He tried lighting a candle, but "the apparitions had already faded away."  He soon found that his mother had died on about the same day. 

Page 526, Case 572: While at a church service, an H.C. saw an apparition of a friend's face.  H.C. later found that the friend had died on the same day. 

Page 542, Case 590: A boy at a boarding school was astonished to see on April 1 an apparition of his mother, who lived about 250 miles away.  He later found that his mother had died on April 1. 

Page 545, Case 594: A man saw his wife passing by him in a field. She must have looked spooky, for he then said to a friend, "I am sure my wife is dead."  He then found out that his wife had died at the same time the sight was seen. 

Page 550, Case 601: A Mr. Milton reported seeing his son in his cellar, at a time when the son was believed to be at sea.  A few weeks later Mr. Milton received word from the captain of the ship that Mr. Milton's son had died on the same night as the sight was seen in the cellar. 

Page 554, Case 606: In Ceylon (now called Sri Lanka), a Mr. Selby saw a strange sight that caused him to write down, "My wife died 13 minutes to 6 o'clock."  A month later he found out that his wife had died in England within a few hours of the time he wrote the note. 

Page 583, Case 636: A woman "saw her son coming through the wall, and making his exit through the opposite wall." She then found out an hour later that her son had drowned. 

Page 604, Case 651: Benjamin Coleman was surprised to see at his bedside his son, who was believed to be far away at sea.  The figure (wearing sailor clothes) vanished from Benjamin's sight. He then soon heard his servant William Ball say that William also had seen the son that day in sailor dress.  The father later found that the son "had died that very day and hour, of dysentery, on board ship." 

Page 611, Case 658: Chatting in bed, Elizabeth and Henriette both saw a strange light, which they both said was beautiful.  Elizabeth then said it was little Mary Stanger, and that she was "floating away."  It was later learned that Mary Stanger had "died at the exact time" the two girls had seen the vision. 

Page 612, Case 659: A sibling and the sibling's sister were surprised to see at the sibling's bedside the sibling's brother, who was believed to be far away doing a job for a reigning prince.  Three weeks later word came that the brother "had died the same night, and the same hour." 

Page 613, Case 660: Two brothers were in bed when they both saw the apparition of a lady to whom their father was engaged. She died suddenly that same night. 

Page 615-616, Case 662: Between 6 and 7 o'clock, a woman, her brother and her mother all saw Ellen, the woman's sister.  The woman "tried to catch hold of her, but seemed to catch nothing." The next day they found out that Ellen had drowned "a little before seven" on the same they saw the apparition.

Page 616, Case 663: A woman saw her husband's mother. When she cried out, the husband looked up, and "the apparition vanished." On the same evening, two male children of the woman saw a strange silent female figure pacing back and forth in their bedrooms. It was later found that the husband's mother had died on the same evening. 

Page 617-618, Case 665: Two brothers woke to see standing between their cots the figure of their father. When one of the brothers rose up, the figure vanished.  They later found that their father had died at the same hour. 

Page 622, Case 667: Four people were startled to see an apparition that disappeared just after a woman screamed "He's dead."  Word later arrived that a person corresponding to the apparition had been murdered far away on the same night.  The account says, "his spirit appeared to his wife, his child, an elder sister, and myself." 

The account just cited is not a rare one -- for there are quite a few cases of apparitions being seen by multiple observers at the same time.  See here and here for 34 such cases. 

See here for a very recent account of someone "ghost told" of a death, dating from May 2019.  See here for another recent account of someone "ghost told" of a death. 

Postscript:  Here is another case from Volume 2 of Phantasms of the Living, page 538:

"My aunt lived at the time in Portland Place, W., and was entertaining a large party one evening. Suddenly they remarked she seemed to be in great pain and agony, exclaiming quite aloud to her guests, ' Oh, do go home. I have seen a most fearful sight, and am compelled to break up the party.' Some of her most intimate friends asked her what she had seen. She replied that she was certain ' her husband F. had been killed in a battle, and that she most distinctly saw his body being carried to the rear by his soldiers.' She remained in great anxiety for weeks, when the sad news confirming her vision arrived from America, and that at the hour she 
made the exclamation to her guests, her husband, F., of the Dragoons (allowing for difference of longitude), was killed in an attack made on the enemy at the battle of Saratoga."

Two historical accounts of the battle were checked by the authors of Phantasms of the Living, who found that the brigadier general in question (Simon Fraser) was wounded at the battle of Saratoga, that he was removed from the battle scene, and that he died the next day.