Header 1

Our future, our universe, and other weighty topics

Thursday, February 27, 2020

So Many Question Marks About Sex and Reproduction

Let us look at human sexual activity and human reproduction, and consider how little such things are understood by the modern biologist. The average male first becomes aware of sex when he finds rather suddenly around the age of puberty that he can get pleasure by rubbing his penis. We might think this part of sex is thoroughly understood by the modern biologist, although there are reasons for doubting that claim, since the origin of sexual organs is hard to explain (for reasons I'll discuss later in this post). But at least given the male anatomy, it is easy to understand why a male would engage in sexual self-stimulation, as such an act immediately produces pleasure. While it may seem that sexual attraction of a male to a female is also easy to understand, it is not so clear why that occurs.

Of course, if we think of a “final cause” type of reason why males should be sexually attracted to females, a reason involving end purposes, the reason is that such attraction helps to achieve reproduction which perpetuates the species. But there is no clear immediate cause for why a male should be sexually attracted so strongly to a female. From the standpoint of sheer physical pleasure, there is no obvious reason why a male should find it much more pleasurable to engage in sexual intercourse than to engage in masturbation.

There is no DNA explanation for why males should be attracted to females. Essentially DNA is an information system for storing the chemicals (amino acids) that make up proteins and similar molecules in the human body. There is no way that DNA could be expressing something like some “target of attraction” (such as a female form) that is passed on to males as a message to be attracted to some particular type of physical form. In some species the female emits a chemical or scent that causes arousal in the male, but that does not seem to occur to any major degree in humans.

There are other aspects of male sexual attraction that biologists have no good explanation for. Males are enormously interested in seeing unclothed females, but such an attraction has no obvious biological explanation. Women don't have to be naked to engage in sexual intercourse. No biological end is achieved when adult men are sexually attracted to naked female breasts. It is also puzzling that a man seems just as interested in engaging in oral sex with a female as vaginal sex. From a biological standpoint, this is hard to explain, given that oral sex achieves no reproductive end.

We can imagine a set of sexual behavior characteristics for males that would make the most sense from a biological, reproductive and evolutionary standpoint. They would be something like this:

  1. Males would be very interested in having vaginal sex with females, but not at all interested in oral sex that has no reproduction value.
  2. Males would be very interested in sex that achieves reproduction, but not interested in just looking at pictures or videos of other people having sex or looking at pictures or videos of naked women.
  3. Males would have sex with as many women as they could over a lifetime to maximize their offspring, and would not commit to marriages restricting their sexual partners.
  4. Males would be exclusively heterosexual.
  5. Males would not be interested in any type of sex that involved birth control that prevented reproduction.
  6. Males would have no interest in having sex with females older than 40 who are unlikely to become pregnant.

Actual male sexual behavior drastically departs from such a set of characteristics. In the USA a large fraction of all males spend more  time looking at pornography than they do engaging in any activity that might result in or lead to reproduction. The average single male seeks to have sex that does not result in reproduction, and is just as interested in oral sex as vaginal sex. Most men do commit to marriage that restricts their sexual partners. Very many men are sexually attracted to women over 40, and about 5% of the male population is homosexual.

It seems, then, that actual male sexual behavior is something very hard for a biologist to explain. What is particularly baffling from a biological explanation standpoint is homosexuality. Why should about five percent of the male population be not interested in having sex with females, but instead interested in having sex with males? The fact of widespread homosexuality defies the predictions of Darwinism, which predicts that organisms should have characteristics that maximize their reproduction.

The specific characteristics of human sexual behavior are hard-to-explain from a biological standpoint, and we can say the same thing about the part of human reproduction that occurs after the moment of conception. The fact is: none of us knows how babies originate. We merely know something a million times simpler: how women become pregnant. 

By saying “none of us knows how babies originate” what I mean is that no one knows how it is that a fertilized egg is able to progress to become a full-sized baby. In our society we have the speech custom of saying that when a child learns how a fertilized egg originates in a womb after sexual intercourse between a male and female, that child is said to have learned “where babies come from.” But what such a child has learned is how a female egg becomes fertilized, which is much different from how it is that a full-sized baby is able to originate in a womb.

Now, you may say, “I know where babies come from – it's more complicated than just sexual intercourse.” You may then tell me a story like the one below, which is often told in popular science literature.

"Babies are able to originate in the womb because the DNA blueprint of a human in read. Inside each person's DNA is a blueprint of a human body, a kind of recipe for making a human. So inside the womb what's going on is that the DNA blueprint or recipe is being read, and the baby appears in a form matching that blueprint."

But the idea that DNA is a blueprint or recipe for making a human is false. There are several reasons why it cannot be true. The first is that human DNA has been thoroughly analyzed in massive multi-year scientific projects such as the Human Genome Project and the ENCODE project, and no blueprint or recipe for making a human has been found in DNA. For example, there is no known place in DNA where it specifies that human males have one head or two legs or two arms or ten fingers or one penis or two eyes. The second reason is that the inherent expressive limitations of DNA means it could not possibly be stating a human blueprint or a recipe for making a human. Just as the physical limitations of an electric  traffic light restrict it to expressing only 3 commands (stop, walk, or proceed carefully), the physical limitations of DNA means that it is limited to expressing chemical information (such as the amino acids that make up a protein), and mean that DNA is not at all suitable for expressing three-dimensional body plans or some recipe for making three-dimensional structures. The third reason is that there is nothing in a human womb that would be capable of interpreting a human body plan if it were written in DNA.

Consider a construction blueprint, a big sheet of paper stating the plan for a structure to be built. It is never true that you can go to some uninhabited construction site with lots of bricks, nails, pipes and lumber, drop a blueprint in the middle of the site, and then expect a building to be built that matches the blueprint. For something to be constructed using a blueprint, there must be an intelligent blueprint reader smart enough to understand the complex instructions, and convert them into specific actions that result in the construction of the finished product. Blueprints don't build buildings; people build buildings using blueprints. It works the same for recipes. Recipes don't make food; humans make food after reading recipes.

Imagine if it were true that DNA stored a blueprint or recipe for making a human (and I have just given two reasons why this is not true). Even in such a case, we would not at all have an explanation for how a fertilized egg progresses to become a full-sized baby. For inside the female womb there would be nothing that we know of smart enough to read incredibly complex instructions such as a blueprint or recipe for making a human. Inside the womb there's no equivalent of a construction crew or a blueprint reader. A womb doesn't have a brain inside it smart enough to read a blueprint for making a human.

Moreover, the whole idea of a blueprint or recipe for making something as internally dynamic as a human is nonsensical. A blueprint is something that specifies the layout of a static building that doesn't move. A recipe is something for making some piece of food that doesn't move. But humans are enormously dynamic in several ways, including the growth of their bodies and the immensity of constant dynamic activity inside the body.  The activity of cells and organs is as complex as the busy activity within a huge defense plant or automobile factory.  You could never specify the enormous complexities of a human's internal biochemical dynamics through a static snapshot such as a blueprint. 

We therefore have four very good reasons for thinking that the “babies arise from the blueprints in DNA” idea is bunk. The first is that there is in DNA no blueprint or recipe for making a human or any of its organs or any of its cells.  DNA does not specify a body plan, and genotypes do not specify phenotypes (they merely influence phenotypes). The second reason is that given the inherent expressive limitations of DNA (which restrict it to chemistry), there is no way that DNA could be storing a blueprint or recipe for making a human. The third reason is that even if human DNA had a blueprint or recipe for making a human (which would be fantastically complex instructions), there would be nothing in a human womb capable of understanding such fantastically complicated instructions and executing them to cause a fertilized egg to progress to become a full-sized baby. The fourth is that a blueprint or recipe could only specify the state of a human organism at one instant, not the incredibly complicated tale of a human's internal dynamics or the developmental history of a human from a speck-sized egg to a full grown adult. 

So how is it that humans are able to reproduce? Nobody understands such a thing. We merely understand how a human egg can become fertilized, which is a vastly different thing from understanding human reproduction. We cannot say we understand human reproduction until we understand how it is that a fertilized egg is able to progress to become a full-sized baby, and no one has a credible explanation for how such a miracle of organization can occur.  Scientists don't even understand any low-level factors sufficient to explain the reproduction of a single cell, so how could they possibly understand the almost infinitely more complicated problem of the reproduction of a large visible organism built from fantastically complex arrangements of two hundred different types of cells? 

mystery of reproduction

The lack of a prevailing theory of development (a theory explaining the progression from a newly fertilized egg to a full-sized baby) is confessed by the article on "Developmental biology" in the Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy.  In that article we read the following:

"It is uncommon to find presentations of developmental biology that make reference to a theory of development. Instead, we find references to families of approaches (developmental genetics, experimental embryology, cell biology, and molecular biology) or catalogues of 'key molecular components' (transcription factor families, inducing factor families, cytoskeleton or cell adhesion molecules, and extracellular matrix components). No standard theory or group of models provides theoretical scaffolding in the major textbooks (e.g., Slack 2013; Wolpert et al. 2010; Gilbert 2010). The absence of any reference to a theory of development or some set of core explanatory models is prima facie puzzling. Why is it so difficult to identify a constitutive theory for developmental biology?"

The failure of attempts to explain morphogenesis in a bottom-up manner suggest the need for a novel top-down hypothesis about what causes a newly fertilized egg to progress to become a human -- the idea that every human being arises because of the action of some reality outside of a human being. Nature never told us that human beings arise because of "bottom-up" action of mere molecules. It was merely biologists who hastily assumed such a thing. 

There is another great mystery involving sex and reproduction: the origin of the human reproductive system. Scientists have no credible explanation for such a thing. The explanation that such a thing appeared because of natural selection (the supposed fact that fit things reproduce more) smells like circular reasoning. Since natural selection simply means the superior reproduction rate of a fitter organism, you cannot use such an idea to explain the origin of a reproduction system itself; for unless a reproduction system already exists, there can be no reproduction.

In the case of the human reproduction system, we have the “incipient stages” problem to the highest degree. The incipient stages problem is that natural selection typically cannot explain the earliest stages of a complex biological innovation, for such stages are almost always useless. What use would one tenth of a testicle be, or one tenth of a penis, or one tenth of a vaginal canal, or one tenth of a uterus? No use at all. Natural selection cannot explain the appearance of such things.

One of the gravest difficulties in explaining complex biological innovations is when you have a problem of interlocking dependencies, a kind of “which came first, the chicken or the egg” problem. We have that problem in the highest extent in trying to naturally explain the human reproduction system. For example, we may ask: which came first, the testicle or the ovary? We cannot imagine either appearing first because of natural selection, since both are useless without the other. The problem is not solved by imagining gradual changes from some earlier species with a different reproduction system, because the same type of “which came first, the chicken or the egg” problem will be found in that earlier species.

Scientists do not have a credible explanation for the origin of sexual reproduction in any organism. If a planet had only organisms engaging in asexual reproduction (like the fission reproduction that bacteria use), it would seem very probable that life on that planet would just continue to use such reproduction, without moving to sexual reproduction, which is vastly different. Asexual reproduction is actually a more efficient way for an organism to transmit its genes, so under Darwinian assumptions we would expect that a planet would just keep using asexual reproduction. 

When scientists try to offer explanations for how sexual reproduction appeared, they resort to "final cause" type explanations, that amount to kind of saying, "It happened because the end result was better." But they fail to provide a credible explanation of how nature could have moved from asexual reproduction to sexual reproduction, a transition that seems no more likely than a computer randomly switching its operating system from the Apple system to the Microsoft system.  

In imagining any such transitions, there is a gigantic general problem: what we can call the problem of nonfunctional intermediates. It is typically true that we cannot imagine a transition between two very different and highly-functional biological things without a passage through an intermediate state that is non-functional.  For example, if over very many thousands or millions of years one specialized protein molecule changed gradually to become some other specialized protein molecule, there would have been an intermediate non-functional state; but in such a state such a molecule would have tended to have fallen out of a gene pool, preventing the imagined transition. In a transition from asexual reproduction to sexual reproduction, such a problem of nonfunctional intermediates is particularly severe. For we cannot imagine any species passing through a nonfunctional intermediate state involving reproduction, one in which reproduction could not occur. As soon as such a state was reached, the species would become extinct. 

Let us consider an elementary example of nonfunctional intermediates during a transition from one functional thing to another. Suppose I have a red "stop" sign, and I wish to modify this to serve another function. I can do this in three steps:

(1) I paint over the "s" in "stop."
(2) I paint over the "p" in "stop" to make it "w."
(3) I then paint "zone" under what was originally the word "stop."

Now I have changed my functional "stop" sign to a functional sign saying "tow zone."  A transition has occurred from one functional state to another. But there was no way to do this without passing through a nonfunctional intermediate state.  The sign is functional when it says either "stop" or "tow zone." But the sign is nonfunctional as a traffic sign if it just said "top" or "tow" or "stopw" (as it would have after only step 1 or only step 2 or only steps 1 and 2 or only step 3).  If it is clear from this example that you cannot avoid passing through a nonfunctional intermediate when changing a very simple "stop" sign into a very simple "tow zone" sign, it should be far more clear that you could not avoid passing through a nonfunctional intermediate state when making a transition almost infinitely more complicated: a transition from asexual reproduction to sexual reproduction. 

We have in this essay a discussion of why sexual reproduction is baffling from the standpoint of evolutionary dogma.  The author (an orthodox Darwinist) states that " the payoffs of asexual baby-making are quite clear, while its male-and-female based alternative is loaded with liabilities."  These include the fact that with sexual reproduction, there's only a 50% chance of a favorable genetic trait being transmitted to an ancestor, as opposed to a 100% chance with asexual reproduction.  Eventually the author tries to argue not very convincingly that sexual reproduction might be superior in the very long term because "sex enables individuals to diversify their long-term bets." 

A similar approach has been taken by quite a few writers who try to suggest that ultimately in the very long run sexual reproduction might be superior. But as blind evolution lacks all foresight, there is no reason why it would ever make drastic coordinated changes in organisms because in the very long run (generations later) this might leave something superior.  Let us imagine a species that successfully reproduced asexually starting to gradually transform into a species that reproduced sexually. In the short term, this would be disadvantageous, surely leading to a decrease in reproductive success while the species was in some intermediate state in which asexual reproduction had been damaged, but sexual reproduction was not yet possible. So such a transformation would never occur under Darwinian assumptions. 

Darwinian evolution should always be as short-sighted as the law of gravity.  Gravity "wants things to fall," but gravity never causes a ball to roll up a mountain top so that it can have a bigger fall from a mountain top. Gravity doesn't have the foresight for such a thing. And similarly, since blind evolution should lack all foresight, we can imagine no plausible path by which an asexually reproducing species would ever transform into a sexually reproducing species. It is a fallacy to talk about some possible eventual superiority of sexually reproducing organisms, if you also maintain that a path leading to sexual reproduction (having negative short-term effects) was produced by a blind process in which immediate rewards are all that count.  So today's biologists lack any credible explanation for the origin of sexual reproduction. 

Overall it seems that the great majority of sex and reproduction is not well understood by biologists. You may start to realize how little we know about these topics when we consider that nowhere in DNA is there any such thing as a specification of the physical structure of either the male or female reproductive organs, nor is there any such thing in DNA as a specification of any of the cell types used by such organs. Since such things cannot be explained by "favorable DNA mutations" or any other changes in DNA, we can't even explain very well the things involved in the very beginning of reproduction.  A scientific web page states that "the complexity that we observe in cells can be compared to that of airplanes." The reproduction of a single eukaryotic cell is a marvel comparable to an airplane splitting into two full copies of itself, so that one airplane splits to become two functional airplanes as big as the first. We understand neither that little microscropic marvel nor the almost infinitely more impressive macroscopic marvel of a full-sized human growing from a tiny speck-like egg. 

Postscript: The recent Quanta magazine article "Why Sex? Biologists Find New Explanations" does nothing to change my previously stated opinion that biologists have no credible account for the origin of sex.  The discussion is purely advantage-oriented type of speculation, in which biologists speculate that sexual reproduction might be better for one reason or another. There is no coherent theory advanced as to how sexual reproduction could have naturally originated, or how life could have naturally made a transition from asexual reproduction to sexual reproduction.  In this regard the biologist is like someone claiming that a pumpkin and mice turned into a horse-drawn coach (as in the Cinderalla story), and who offer the "explanation" that this happened because the horse-drawn coach was nicer transportation. 

Sunday, February 23, 2020

More Apparitions Seen by Multiple Observers

In two previous posts I discussed 34 cases in which multiple witnesses reported seeing the same apparition. The two posts are below:

In this post I will discuss additional cases of this type.  I will give links that will usually take you directly to the exact page I am quoting or citing. 

 On page 402 of Volume 24 of the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, we have the following account:

"The first is the case of a certain Mr. William Smith (pseudonym) who had been for many years Senior Warden of his church, and as such had been accustomed to collect the offertory. On a certain Easter Monday Mr. Smith committed suicide, and on the following Sunday he was seen by the officiating clergyman and two members of the congregation standing on the chancel steps when the offertory was being presented by the two acting Wardens."

On page 297 of Volume 27 of the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, we read the following: "In February 1932, the hauntings described below began : the apparition of Samuel Bull being seen by the members of the family." On the next page we read this about the same case:

"The apparition was seen by Mrs Edwards and the grandson (aged 21) and then by all the others, widow and grandchildren. At first everyone was terrified and the children screamed, but later, and on subsequent occasions, were calmer, but in a state of quiet awe. The  'appearances' have been very frequent since, but no diary has been kept of dates and happenings."

On page 300 of the same volume, we are told "the appearances are not fleeting, but quite lengthy, and [on] one occasion at least, lasted for several hours." At least eight witnesses reported seeing the apparition: Mrs. Edwards (Bull's daughter), her husband, Bull's widow, and Mrs. Edwards' five children (Bull's grandchildren). On page 302 of the same volume, we read, "Mrs Edwards and the grandson, James Bull, aged 21, saw the apparition together."  We are told this:

"Mrs Edwards said that all the members of the family, including her husband, had seen the figure. The figure appears to be quite life-like to Mrs Edwards. It does not glide, but walk, and seems solid."

"Did you see what I saw, Mommy?"

On page 252 of Volume 28 of the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, we read the following account by J.E. Moore and Marjorie Moore of an apparition seen by multiple observers:

"It was during one of these visits that the following covenant was drawn up between my wife's mother and I. ' Should I die before her I would come back and visit her if possible ' —and the same was to apply in her case. —This was agreed in my wife's presence. We returned to Portland in due course and I quite forgot the incident, but the other partner to this strange agreement was in the meanwhile unexpectedly called to the place of many ' Mansions ' but had not forgotten her part in the play of this strange drama. About six months after this incident, whilst the clocks were chiming the midnight hour, there appeared by the bedside occupied by my wife and myself the spiritual form of my wife's mother.  She looked beautiful in her Angelic state, as she stood there quite close to Baby's cot, which was in close proximity to our bed. Her earthly stay only occupied a few seconds—but quite long enough to convince us that she had kept her promise. This was witnessed by myself & wife simultaneously."

On page 240 of Volume 29 of thJournal of the Society for Psychical Research, we read of an apparition that was seen by multiple observers at the same time. 

"Only on one occasion does the figure seem to have appeared to two persons simultaneously. This was during August, 1935. At about 8 o'clock, while the family and several guests were sitting at dinner in the hall, a young Dutchman present, who had never heard of the ghost, saw a stranger walk into the door, cross the hall, and go upstairs. 'Mr Henry Westfield ' also saw it, and recognised it as the ghost. "

On the next page we read, "At least two of the people who have reported this phenomenon had not previously been told anything about the ghost, so that suggestion, unless it were a telepathic suggestion, would not account for it."  On page 243 of the same volume, we read the following:

"The case presents many interesting features, and is probably as well authenticated a ghost story as it would be possible to find. The phenomena are many and varied, and have been witnessed by several people, some of whom are quite independent (i.e. they did not know about the ghost) so that suggestion can be eliminated. It seems highly improbable that so many phenomena of such widely different types could have been the result of malobservation or pure imagination."

On page 207 of Volume 6 of the Journal of the Society of Psychical Research, we read that "repeated apparations of the same person" were seen by his wife, his mother in law, by a Mrs. B, and "another lady." 

On page 230-231 of the same volume, we have an account of a person saying he saw an apparition that "before my very eyes vanished." Mentioning how others had seen the same thing, he stated, "It certainly surprised me to see what was apparently 'too solid flesh' dissappear before my very eyes, and when we got outside my friend told me that his was the figure which came to different members of their family so often, and, indeed, had been the cause of their leaving one house."

On page 33 of Volume 31 of the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research,  we have an account of an apparition seen by two people.  A lady, identified in the journal as Mrs. X, killed her husband and herself at about 9 PM on Monday, December 5, 1938. The next morning (December 6) a man and woman reported seeing Mrs. X, hatless, walking on the road outside her house at about 9 AM.  As we read on page 34, the husband stated the following (which the wife agreed with):

"Also Mrs X was the only person in sight on the road at the time,  neither did we mistake any one else for her as she happened to be a very unmistakable woman owing to her style of hairdressing, etc. We passed within say 6 feet of her."

On page 239 of Volume 33 of the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, and the next page, we have an account of an apparition of David Western that was seen by a Mrs. Carter and Janet Mack in 1942, long after David had died in 1941. 

On page 75 of Volume 6 of the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, we read the following mention of an apparition seen by multiple observers: 

"Mrs. G. and her three brothers and sister, when children, used every evening to see an apparition of a lady in a stiff brocade skirt, whicli rustled as she moved, pass through the garret where they played. She was always seen by all present and had also been seen by two ladies next door."

On page 224 of Volume 5 of the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, we read of an apparition seen by three out of four sisters (the other one looking in the wrong direction to see it):

"The apparition glided onwards towards my sisters, who were standing inside the room, quite close to the outer door, and who had first caught sight of it, reflected in the mirror. When within a few inches from them it vanished as suddenly as it appeared. As the figure passed we distinctly felt a cold air which seemed to accompany it. We have never seen it again, and cannot account in any way for the phenomenon."

The account states that all four of the sisters felt the cold air that accompanied the apparition. 

On page 371-372 of Volume 14 of the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, we read that this occurred the day after the drowning death of Mr. Macy, due to an accident involving a ship named Niagra on Lake Michigan:

"In the night, after the family had retired to rest, my daughter discovered a bright light in the sitting-room opening into hers, and the same shadow, which she had indistinctly noticed in the morning, now appeared in the shape and exact semblance of Mr. Macy. She informed her mother of the apparition, immediately adding, under impression, 'Mr. Macy is drowned.'  Another daughter, who is also a medium, sleeping in a different part of the house, saw the same light and the shadowy form of Mr. Macy as he appeared to her sister, upon which she was influenced to write 'Niagara — drowned by the upsetting of the small-boat.' The next day, and for the first time, the news of the catastrophe, and the manner of Mr. Macy's death, reached our village."

Skeptics claim that appartions are just hallucinations. But such skeptics cannot credibly account for the 45 sightings I have discussed in this post and the two posts mentioned at the top of this post, which altogether give 45 cases in which an apparition was seen by multiple observers.  The chance of two people having the same visual hallucination is microscopic, even slimmer than the chance of two members of a family having the same dream on one night.  In quite a few of the cases I have discussed in these posts, it is not just two people seeing the same apparition, but three or more.  In future posts I  will discuss dozens of additional cases in which apparitions were seen by multiple observers. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Exhibit B Suggesting Scientists Don't Know How a Brain Could Retrieve a Memory

In a 2019 post “Exhibit A Suggesting Scientists Don't Know How a Brain Could Retrieve a Memory,” I took a close look at 68 “expert answers” given on one page of an “expert answers” site, a page with the topic of "how are memories retrieved in the brain?" I argued  that none of the experts had a coherent and convincing answer to the question “how are memories retrieved in the brain?” I maintain that answering such a question convincingly will always be impossible, because human memories are not stored in brains, and nothing in the human brain bears any resemblance to either  a device for retrieving factual information learned during human experience or a device for storing memories for years. In particular, there is not any thing in the human brain that can explain how a human brain can instantly retrieve detailed information learned long ago about about some obscure person, place or event. Since the brain lacks any addressing system, any indexing system, and any position notation system, it should be absolutely impossible for a brain to instantly recall obscure information, such as we see happening on the long-running television quiz show Jeopardy. For example, if someone asks you (for the first time ever in your life) to name three Russian composers, and you instantly answer “Tchaikovsky, Borodin, and Rimsky-Korsakov,” you are doing something absolutely inexplicable in terms of brain activity.

Now I will give a kind of “Exhibit B” suggesting that scientists don't know how a brain could retrieve a memory: a 2019 paper entitled “The neurobiological foundation of memory retrieval.” When we get beyond the hype and unwarranted braggadocio of this paper, we find that it fails to convincingly portray any such foundation at all.

A great deal of the paper is involved with trying to persuade us that experimental studies have made great progress in identifying memory storage sites (called engrams). The authors state, “In the last decade, enormous progress has been made in identifying and manipulating engrams in rodents.” This statement is not at all correct. A few scattered studies have claimed to identify and manipulate such alleged engrams, but such studies have failed to provide any convincing evidence that such engrams really exist. The studies typically suffer from several of the following methodological sins:

Sin #1: assuming or acting as if a memory is stored in some exact speck-sized spot of a brain without any adequate basis for such a “shot in the dark” assumption.
Sin #2: either a lack of a blinding protocol, or no detailed discussion of how an effective technique for blinding was achieved.
Sin #3: inadequate sample sizes, and a failure to do a sample size calculation to determine how large a sample size to test with.
Sin #4: a high occurrence of low statistical significance near the minimum of .05, along with a frequent hiding of such unimpressive results, burying them outside of the main text of a paper rather than placing them in the abstract of the paper.
Sin #5: using presumptuous or loaded language in the paper, such as referring in the paper to the non-movement of an animal as “freezing” and referring to some supposedly "preferentially activated" cell as an "engram cell."
Sin #6: failing to mention or test alternate explanations for the non-movement of an animal (called “freezing”), explanations that have nothing to do with memory recall.
Sin #7: a dependency on arbitrarily analyzed brain scans or an uncorroborated judgment of "freezing behavior" which is not a reliable way of measuring fear.

I fully discuss all of these methodological problems in my post “The Seven Sins of Memory Engram Experiments,” and I give very many examples of how the papers cited as evidence for engrams in rodents are guilty of such procedural sins. So when the authors of the paper “The neurobiological foundation of memory retrieval” assert that "enormous progress has been made in identifying and manipulating engrams in rodents,” they do not speak correctly at all. There still exists no robust well-replicated evidence that any such thing as an engram (a neural site of stored learned information) exists in any animal. 

The authors present a lengthy, credulous and uncritical review of weak neuroscience studies that have attempted to find evidence for memory engrams (neural storage sites for memories). Their review repeatedly fails to subject such studies to an appropriate level of scrutiny. The authors  trumpet weak and poorly replicated studies as evidence for the memory engrams that they  want to believe in. We hear no mention of the very many problems in such studies, such as the fact that they typically use unreliable bias-prone techniques for judging the degree of fear in rodents (subjective judgments about "freezing behavior") rather than reliable objective techniques such as heart-rate measurement (the heart rate of a rat dramatically surges when the rat is afraid). 

In the section entitled “Retrieval as neuronal reinstatement,” we have the main part of the authors' ideas about how memory retrieval might work in a brain. Get beyond the dense layers of jargon, digressions and circumlocutions, and we find very little of substance. Their basic idea is that natural retrieval cues reactivate neural ensembles active at encoding.” “Encoding” is a jargon term used by neuroscientists to describe some process that allegedly occurs when learned information is translated into neural states or synapse states. Despite the fact that the term “encoding” has been constantly used in scientific papers, we have neither any good evidence that such encoding occurs (in the sense of knowledge being translated into neural or synapse states), nor any coherent theory as to how it possibly could occur (there being an ocean of difficulties in the idea that human experience or conceptual knowledge could ever be translated into neural states). We merely have evidence that human beings remember things.

Neuroscientists so often use the term “encoding” that one way to interpret the word is to simply use it as a synonym for learning or memory acquisition. So using that interpretation, we can regard “natural retrieval cues reactivate neural ensembles active at encoding” as simply meaning “when you recall something, your brain reactivates some part of the brain that you used in learning the thing or experiencing the thing recalled.”

When we consider how a brain works, and the fact that all parts of it are constantly active, we can realize that such an explanation for memory retrieval is vacuous or untenable. All neurons in the human brain are constantly firing. Each neuron fires multiple times per minute. So we cannot at all explain a memory recollection as being a case where some tiny part of the brain was “activated,” as if that tiny part was the only part active. All neurons are constantly active.

Brain scanning studies contradict the claim that some little part of the brain (where some memory might be stored) is activated to a higher degree during memory recall.  Excluding the visual cortex that may be to used to kind of visually enhance some memory that was retrieved, such studies show that when humans recall things, there is no brain area that has even a 1% greater activation than any other brain area. Here are some specific numbers from particular studies:
  • This brain scan study was entitled “Working Memory Retrieval: Contributions of the Left Prefrontal Cortex, the Left Posterior Parietal Cortex, and the Hippocampus.” Figure 4 and Figure 5 of the study shows that none of the memory retrievals produced more than a .3 percent signal change, so they all involved signal changes of less than 1 part in 333.
  • In this study, brain scans were done during recognition activities, looking for signs of increased brain activity in the hippocampus, a region of the brain often described as some center of brain memory involvement. But the percent signal change is never more than .2 percent, that is, never more than 1 part in 500.
  • The paper here is entitled, “Functional-anatomic correlates of remembering and knowing.” It shows a graph showing a percent signal change in the brain during memory retrieval that is no greater than .3 percent, less than 1 part in 300.
  • The paper here is entitled “The neural correlates of specific versus general autobiographical memory construction and elaboration.” It shows various graphs showing a percent signal change in the brain during memory retrieval that is no greater than .07 percent, less than 1 part in 1000.
  • The paper here is entitled “Neural correlates of true memory, false memory, and deception." It shows various graphs showing a percent signal change during memory retrieval that is no greater than .4 percent, 1 part in 250.
  • This paper did a review of 12 other brain scanning studies pertaining to the neural correlates of recollection. Figure 3 of the paper shows an average signal change for different parts of the brain of only about .4 percent, 1 part in 250.
  • This paper was entitled “Neural correlates of emotional memories: a review of evidence from brain imaging studies.” We learn from Figure 2 that none of the percent signal changes were greater than .4 percent,  1 part in 250.
  • This study was entitled “Sex Differences in the Neural Correlates of Specific and General Autobiographical Memory.” Figure 2 shows that none of the differences in brain activity (for men or women) involved a percent signal change of more than .3 percent or 1 part in 333.

So it simply is not true that when you recall something, there is some substantially greater activation of some region of your brain where the memory is stored.  The claim that "natural retrieval cues reactivate neural ensembles active at encoding" basically means merely "your brain uses the information that it stored somewhere," but such an idea doesn't explain how a human brain supposedly storing very many thousands or millions of learned items of information could ever instantly find just the right neurons to use to cause you to instantly recall just the right piece of information when you are asked a specific question such as "What jobs did Ulysses Grant have?" 

There are many seemingly insurmountable problems that would have to be tackled by any theory of neural memory retrieval. The first is what I call the navigation problem. This is the problem that if a memory were to be stored on some exact tiny spot on the brain, it would seem that there would be no way for a brain to instantly find just that little spot. For that to occur would be like someone instantly finding a needle in a mountain-sized haystack, or like someone instantly finding just the right book in a vast library in which books were shelved in random positions. Neurons are not addressable, and have no neuron numbers or neuron addresses. So, for example, we cannot imagine that the brain instantly finds your memory image of Marilyn Monroe (when you hear her name) because the brain knows that such information is stored at neural location #239355235.  There are no such "neural addresses" in the brain. 

neural memory retrieval

Then there is also the fact that the brain seems to have nothing like a read mechanism by which some small group of neurons are given special attention. The hard disk of a computer has a read/write head, but there's nothing like that in the brain. 

Then there is the fact that if memory information were encoded into neural states, the brain would have to decode that encoded information; but such a decoding would seem to require time that would prevent instantaneous recall. When cells do vastly simpler decoding involved in decoding DNA information, it takes cells many seconds or minutes. We would expect that any decoding of encoded information stored in a brain would take many seconds or minutes, preventing any such thing as instantaneous recall of rarely-remembered data items. In addition, we have not the slightest idea of how human learned information (with so many diverse forms) could either be translated or encoded into neural states, or decoded back into thoughts once such translated or encoded knowledge was decoded.  There exist hundreds of genes for the relatively simple job of decoding the genetic information in DNA. If human learned information and experiences (with so many diverse forms) were to be translated into neural or synapse states, so that learned information could be stored in a brain, there would need to be many hundreds or thousands of genes and proteins devoted to so complex a task. But no such genes and proteins seem to exist, and no one has proven that any gene or protein is dedicated to the task of memory encoding or decoding. 

None of these problems are addressed by the paper "The neurobiological foundation of memory retrieval."  The authors simply ignore the whole speed problem of explaining instant memory recall.  Their paper makes no mention of such a thing, and doesn't use words such as "speed" or "quick" or "fast" or "instant" or "instantaneous."  The authors also ignore the issue of how a brain could decode (during memory retrieval) encoded information stored in a brain. Their paper does not use the words "decode," "decoding" or "translate."  The paper merely refers in passing to some research they claim has "potentially interesting translational implications," but give no details to clarify such a claim.  Nor does the paper have any discussion of some theory of a read mechanism that could be used to read memories from brains. Searching for the word "read" in the paper produces no relevant sentences. 

Any real theory of a neural retrieval of memories would have to also be a theory of the storage and encoding of such memories. There can be no understanding of how some memories could be read from neurons or synapses or decoded unless you had an understanding of how such memories were stored and encoded in neurons or synapses.  But the paper "The neurobiological foundation of memory retrieval" gives no theory of how a brain could store learned information. The paper does make quite a few uses of the word "encoding," but simply uses that as a synonym for "learning" or "memory acquisition" without doing anything to explain how learned information could be translated into neural states. 

So the paper claiming to elucidate a "neurobiological foundation of memory retrieval" fails to discuss in any substantive way any of the main things that would need to be explained by an actual theory or understanding of how a brain could retrieve a memory: (1) how a brain could instantly find just the right tiny engram where a memory was stored in it; (2) how a brain could read information stored in it; (3) how a brain could perform the miracle of instantly decoding such learned information that had been encoded in neural states or synapse states, acting 1000 times faster than cells do when they decode DNA information; (4) what miracle of translation would have allowed information so diverse to ever have been encoded as neural states or synapse states in the first place. The paper is additional evidence that our scientists have no actual understanding of how a brain could instantly retrieve a memory. There does not exist any such thing as a "neurobiological foundation of memory retrieval." Humans and animals remember things, but neither scanning their brains during memory activity nor rat experiments provide any insight as to how instantaneous recall of specific learned items (or any recall at all of such items) can occur. 

The lack of any real understanding on this matter is almost admitted by the paper in question, which states at its end, "Our understanding of the neurobiological underpinnings of retrieval remains rudimentary." That is not how it would be in the year 2020 (70 years after the discovery of DNA) if human brains actually performed memory retrieval.  In a brain that stored and retrieved memories, there would have been signs of its memory storage and retrieval mechanism discoverable around 1950; and around the same time we discovered the readable microscopic encoded information in DNA, around 1950, we would have discovered readable encoded memory information in brains (something which still has not been found).  Instead of finding any evidence for proteins dedicated to encoding memories,  which would have to exist in massive numbers if a brain stored memories, what was found was that the proteins in synapses (the alleged storage place of memories) have lifetimes 1000 times shorter than the maximum age of human memories. 

Saturday, February 15, 2020

They Claim to Understand Our Origins, But Don't Even Understand Cell Division

There's a basic principle sometimes evoked in the world of technology. The principle is sometimes expressed by the saying: don't try running until you've learned how to walk. What this expression means is: don't try some very difficult thing until you've first mastered some much simpler thing that should be mastered before you try the harder thing. An example of this in the technology world might be: don't try making a walking man-sized android robot until you've first made a little walking robot the size of a child's toy.

In the technology world, they are pretty good at following the principle of “don't try to run until you've learned how to walk.” But in the world of theoretical biology, scientists are very bad at following this simple rule of common sense. Again and again, our theoretical biologists do something that is like someone trying to run before he has learned how to walk. For our biology theorists attempt to answer the most difficult problems in biology (and even tell us that they have succeeded in such attempts) before they have answered some of the most simple problems in biology.

One of the most simple problems in biology is the problem of protein folding. Protein molecules have complex three-dimensional shapes. But the genes that make up DNA show no signs of specifying such shapes. A gene merely specifies a linear sequence of amino acids that make up a string-like chain of amino acids called a polypeptide chain. But such chains somehow fold into complex three-dimensional shapes, shapes that are necessary for the proper function of proteins. Why does that occur? Nobody knows.

It is sometimes claimed that the three-dimensional shape of a protein is somehow a consequence of its one-dimensional sequence of amino acids (the amino acids that make up the polypeptide chain). But there is no good evidence that this is true. If such a thing were true, it should be easy for scientists to predict the three-dimensional shape of a protein from its amino acid sequence specified in a gene. But for decades scientists have been failing at ab initio attempts to predict the shapes of complex proteins from the amino acid sequences specified in the gene that corresponds to the protein.

Long story short, we simply do not have the answer to the very simple and basic question of how proteins are able to successfully fold into the three-dimensional shapes needed for them to be functional. This is one the most low-level and basic and small-scale questions in biology, and we haven't even answered it yet.

There is another very low-level and basic and small-scale question in biology: why do cells reproduce? Why does a cell split into two to become two cells? Our biologists don't even understand this.

On a web page entitled "The Mystery of Cell Division," a scientist confesses that scientists don't understand how cells -- with a complexity of "airplanes" -- could self-reproduce. 

"Scientists have been trying to understand how cells are built since the 1800s. This does not surprise us and, as scientists ourselves, we have always been puzzled at how cells, such complex structures, are able to reproduce over and over again. Even more astonishing is that, despite the frequency of cell division, mistakes are relatively rare and almost always corrected. According to Professor David Morgan from University of California, the complexity that we observe in cells can be compared to that of airplanes."

If you do a Google search for “why do cells divide,” you will get various answers referring to high-level causes. A web site may state that cells divide to replace old, dead or damaged cells, or that cells divide so that an organism can grow, or that cells divide so that an organism can reproduce. But these are all “grand purpose” reasons, and none of them is a low-level reason. What we do not understand is: what cell-level reason is it that cells divide into two? Considering only the cell itself, and not some higher purpose, what would cause a cell to reproduce by splitting into two?

Scientists do not understand such a thing. They have identified particular stages in the most common type of cell reproduction (called mitosis): stages such as prophase, metaphase, anaphase and telophase. But without referring to higher-level “grand purpose” reasons, scientists do not understand why (on the individual cell level) a cell would pass through such phases and reproduce. A university press release confesses, "there are many remaining mysteries about how cells perform this remarkable feat." The answer is not at all "the cells follow the instructions in DNA." DNA does not contain any instructions for making cells or any specification or blueprint of a cell. 

An M. Pitkanen (who has a PhD in theoretical physics) has written the following about cell division:

"Replication is one of the deepest mysteries of biology. It is really something totally counterintuitive if cell is seen as a sack of water plus some chemicals. We have a lot [of] facts about what happens in the replication at DNA level but how this miracle happens is a mystery. At cell level the situation gets even more complex."

A university press release discusses scientific ignorance about the basis question of cell division. It states the following:

"When a rapidly-growing cell divides into two smaller cells, what triggers the split? Is it the size the growing cell eventually reaches? Or is the real trigger the time period over which the cell keeps growing ever larger?...'How cells control their size and maintain stable size distributions is one of the most fundamental, unsolved problems in biology,' said Suckjoon Jun, an assistant professor of physics and molecular biology at UC San Diego...'Even for the bacterium E. coli, arguably the most extensively studied organism to date, no one has been able to answer this question.' ”

The press release claims that some study has "shed light" on this mystery, but the study mentioned doesn't sound very impressive, merely being something that mathematically analyzed cell growth, and claimed to have found a "principle of cell-size control," without discussing a cause for such a thing. 

It would be easy to understand cell reproduction if cells were very simple. Imagine if a cells were just uncomplicated little blobs kind of like little bubbles. Then a cell might be able to reproduce easily enough by a simple collision. When one cell collided with another, it might cause a large cell to break up two smaller cells. But what goes on in cell reproduction is gigantically more complicated than that.

Cells are so complicated that they are sometimes compared to cities, and the organelles in cells (such as the mitochondria, ribosomes and Golgi apparatus) are sometimes compared to buildings in a city. You will vastly underestimate the complexity of a eukaryotic cell (the type of cells in the human body) if you look at one of those cell diagrams that shows only a few organelles in the cell. In some cells there are millions of ribosomes, and thousands of mitochondria. So when a cell reproduces, it's like some complicated machine made an exact copy of itself. Using Morgan's statement that cells are as complex as airplanes, this is as much a wonder as if some airplane were able to make an exact copy of itself.

We have no real understanding of why the marvel of cell reproduction happens. We understand high-level “grand purpose” reasons why such a thing needs to happen, but we have no understanding of low-level molecular factors that would cause a cell to undergo this fantastically complex act of reproduction.

Consider just one small aspect of cell division, an aspect discussed by a university press release : the "century-old mystery" of how cells "package long, tangled strands of chromosomes into tightly compact structures before cell division."  The press release has a kind of "mystery finally solved" sound to it, but this is just yet another example of the runaway tendency nowadays for university press releases to claim explanatory achievements that haven't actually been made (something we can see in literally thousands of other university press releases).  The scientific work being heralded merely discusses some speculations about some extremely complex structure that might be used during such a process, a structure consisting of a "helical arrangement of loops." We see a visualization of this very complicated intricate structure supposedly used to achieve only a small fraction of the huge job of cell division.  But nothing is mentioned about what could cause a structure so intricate and fine-tuned to arise so quickly during cell division that only takes about two hours.  Similarly, almost all press releases in the past twenty years claiming some progress in understanding cell division are mainly hype and exaggeration, the vast majority discussing work dealing with only a tiny fragment of the overall mystery of how cells reproduce. 

Even though such a basic low-level biological mystery as cell division cannot be well-explained by our biologists, they ask us to believe that they understand something a million times more complicated: the mystery of how human organisms first originated. A boast so preposterous is rather like a person who doesn't understand what a boat is telling you he understands 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.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

They Also Were "Ghost-Told" of a Death

In the four posts below I have described 100 cases of someone experiencing something like a suprising apparition of someone, only to soon learn that the corresponding person had died, usually at about the same time the apparition was seen. The four posts are below:

25 Who Were "Ghost-Told" of a Death

25 More Who Were "Ghost-Told" of a Death

In this post I will discuss additional cases of this type.  I will give links that you can use to go directly to the accounts that I refer to or quote, without having to scroll to the right page.  The links are from publications of the Society for Psychical Research, which was thorough in checking out the accounts told below, usually finding corroborating evidence or corroborating witnesses. 

First is an 1891 account by Mabel Olive Gore Booth that appeared in the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research (Volume 8, page 173). 

"We were about half way down, my brother a few steps in advance of me, when he suddenly said— 'Why, there's John Blaney, I didn't know he was in the house!' John Blaney was a boy who lived not far from us, and he had been employed in the house as hall-boy not long before. I said that I was sure it was not he, (for I knew he had left some months previously on account of ill-health), and looked down into the passage, but saw no one.... An hour or two afterwards I asked my maid how long John Blaney had been back in the house? She seemed much surprised, and said, 'Didn't you hear, miss, that he died this morning?'  On inquiry we found he had died about two hours before my brother saw him."

In the same volume, on page 214, we get another account of someone (a choirmaster) learning of a death from an apparition sighting. The 1890 account is by William W. Davis, a clergyman. 

"Mr. R[ussell], the bass-singer of the choir, fell in an apoplectic fit upon the street at 10 o'clock on a certain Friday ; he died at 11 o'clock at his house. My wife, learning of his death, sent my brother-in-law down to the house of the choirmaster [Mr. Reeves] to ask him about music for the funeral. The messenger reached the house of the choirmaster about 1.30 p.m. He was told that the choirmaster was upstairs, busy looking over some music. He accordingly sat down in the drawing-room, and, while waiting, began to tell the ladies (sister and niece of the choirmaster) about Mr. R.'s death. While they were talking they heard an exclamation in the hall-way. Someone said, 'My God !' They rushed out, and halfway down, sitting on the stairs, saw the choirmaster in his shirt-sleeves, showing signs of great fright and confusion. As soon as he saw them he exclaimed, ' I have just seen R. !'  The niece at once said, 'Why, R. is dead !' At this the choirmaster without a word turned back upstairs and went to his room."

Going back to the moment of the sighting by the choirmaster, the narrator tells us the following:

"At the door he saw Mr. R., who stood with one hand on his brow, and one hand extended, holding a sheet of music. The choirmaster advanced, extended his hand, and was going to speak, when the figure vanished. Then it was that he gave the exclamation mentioned above. You must remember that he knew nothing of R.'s death until he heard his niece speak of it as detailed above."

On page 216 of the same volume, Volume 8 of the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, we have the first hand account of the choirmaster, who states the following:

 "The figure seemed to have a roll of music in one hand and the other over its face, but it was Russell's image. I am quite sure of that. As I advanced to the head of the stairway the figure seemed to turn, as if about to descend, and faded into the air." 

On page 222 of the same volume, we have the account below by someone acting in a production of the play Antigone

"I was passing from one dressing-room to another, a few steps further along the passage, just before going on to the stage, when I saw in the passage, leaning against the door-post of the dressing-room which I left, a Mr. H., whom I had met only twice, but whom I knew well by sight, and as an acquaintance, though I had heard nothing of him for two years. I held out my hand to him, saying, "Oh, Mr. H., I am so glad to see you.' In the excitement of the moment it did not occur to me as odd that he should have come thus to the door of the dressing-room,— although this would have been an unlikely thing for a mere acquaintance to do. There was a brilliant light, and I did not feel the slightest doubt as to his identity....He was looking at me with a sad expression...Next day, as a number of us were talking over the performance, my sister called out to me, ' You will be sorry to hear that Mr. H. is dead.' 'Surely not,' I exclaimed, 'for I saw him last night at the Antigone.' It turned out that he had been dead two days when I saw the figure." 

In Volume 12 of the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research (pages 326-327), we have the following account of a daughter "ghost told" of a mother's death, told by one Joshua Hodgson. 

"Between my wife and her mother a very close affection existed
and by a strange fate they both were confined to bed at the same time, the daughter daily expecting the birth of her child and the mother sick with what proved to be her last illness....When Grandma died, by the doctor's orders the news of her death was carefully kept from my wife, as it was feared that the consequences might be serious in her critical condition. She was therefore, at the time when the apparition passed her vision, absolutely ignorant of the fact that her mother had already passed away. On Saturday night she was left alone for a short time and during the time the nurse and doctor were out of the room, the apparition appeared to her, when she saw her mother standing at the foot of the bed. The figure beholding her distress spoke to her and simply said 'don't fret' and then immediately vanished. This would be upwards of eighteen hours after Grandma had passed away, my wife being then in total ignorance of her mother's death."

On pages 317 to 318 of the same volume, we read an account of a woman who woke up to see the head of Mrs. J. W., "all else swallowed in darkness." She later got a letter telling her that Mrs. J. W. had died at about the same time. 

On pages 322 to 323 of the same volume, Volume 12 of the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, we read an account of three different people in three different places who saw an apparition of a grandmother who died at about the same time. Charles L. Tweedale stated the following:

"As I gazed I suddenly saw a face form on the panels of the cupboard or wardrobe. Indistinct at first, it gradually became clearer until it was perfectly distinct as in life, when I saw the face of my grandmother. What particularly struck me at the moment and burnt itself into my recollection was the fact that the face wore an old-fashioned frilled or goffered cap. I gazed at it for a few seconds, during which it was as plain as the living face, when it faded gradually into the moonlight and was gone....In the morning when at breakfast I began telling the experience of the night to my parents. I had got well into my story, when, to my surprise, my father suddenly sprang up from his seat at the table and leaving his food almost untouched hurriedly left the room. As he walked towards the door I gazed after him in amazement, saying to mother, 'Whatever is the matter with father?' She raised her hand to enjoin silence. When the door had closed I again repeated my question. She replied, 'Well, Charles, it is the strangest thing I ever heard of, but when I awoke this morning your father informed me that he was awakened in the night and saw his mother standing by his bedside, and that when he raised himself to speak to her she glided away.' This scene and conversation took place at about 8.30 a.m. on the morning of January llth. Before noon we received a telegram announcing the death of my father's mother during the night. We found that the matter did not end here, for my father was afterwards informed by his sister that she also had seen the apparition of her mother standing at the foot of her bed."

Here we have a case of an apparition seen by multiple observers. See my posts here and here for 34 other cases of apparitions seen by multiple observers.

On page 229 of Volume 13 of the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, we read of a nun who was surprised to see her "Uncle Oldham" standing next to her. The nun reported the figure said that he had killed himself. The nun later learned that the corresponding person had died. She reported seeing the same figure additional times, for two months, but only momentarily. 

On page 234-235 of the same volume, we read the sad account told by a woman named A. A. Gollin who was suprised to see her fiancee at her place of work, at about 12:30 on Saturday.  She asked someone if that person saw the same figure, but that person said she did not. Then the figure could no longer be seen. The woman later found out her fiancee had died on the same day, at about 12:30.  

On page 230-231 of Volume 17 of the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, we read of a Mary M. Paterson claiming that on April 4, 1913 the following happened:

"I had walked but a few paces when I was staggered by seeing,
as in a cinema show, reflected in the air in front of me a clear-cut picture of my brother in Australia, lying with the unmistakeably helpless look of a dead or unconscious man who had just fallen... I felt my brother was dying or dead, or that something tragic was happening to him..Suddenly, when halfway along the road, the picture shone out again before my eyes, this time against the dark sky. Again I saw the prone helpless figure, the colouring of clothes and hair, then as before it faded quickly away, and I did not see it again."

She soon learned that her brother had fallen unconscious on about April 4, 1913, and had not awoken, dying on April 7. 

On pages 80-81 of Volume 19 of the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, we have an unusual account of someone who saw and talked to a pilot, only to later find that he had died elsewhere at the same time as this occurred. 

I will end this post with what is one of the most well-authenticated of all ghost stories. 

On page 39 of Volume 19 of the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research,  we read, "The most remarkable of the experiences which have been reported to us was an apparition of Captain Bowyer-Bower which was seen by his half-sister Mrs. Spearman in India, within a few hours of his death." On page 41-42 we have this account by Dorothy C. Spearman:

"My brother appeared to me on the 19th March, 1917....I saw my brother Eldred W Bowyer-Bower. Thinking he was
alive and had been sent out to India, I was simply delighted to see him, and turned round quickly to put baby in a safe
place on the bed, so that I could go on talking to my brother;
then turned again and put my hand out to him, when I found
he was not there. I thought he is only joking, so I called him
and looked everywhere I could think of looking. It was only
when I could not find him I became very frightened and the
awful fear that he might be dead."

On page 222 of Volume 27 of the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, we are told the following about the same individual:

"An example of such test-proof evidence to my mind, if we agree (as Mr Saltmarsh appears implicitly not to agree) that latency is hardly likely to endure for six months, is the Bowyer-Bower case (Proceedings, xxxiii. 167). Captain Bower's apparition was seen not only at the time of his sudden violent death, but also six months later (by his mother and again by his fiancee). The details of development and behaviour are strikingly suggestive of the operation of an external intelligence."

Tracing the reference made in the quote above, I find that on page 172 of Volume 33 of the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research we have this quote by a relative of this Captain Bowyer-Bower, concerning her small daughter:

"One morning while I was still in bed, about 9.15, she came to my room and said, 'Uncle Alley Boy is downstairs,' and although I told her he was in France, she insisted that she had seen him. Later in the day I happened to be writing to my mother and mentioned this, not because I thought much about it, but to show that Betty still thought and spoke of her imcle of whom she was very fond. A few days afterwards we found that the date my brother was missing was the date on my letter."

We are told on page 172 of this volume that "Alley Boy" was a "pet name" for this Eldred W. Bowyer-Bower.  So apparently we have an apparition of this person appearing to two people at the time of his death or disappearance. A third person mentioned on page 173 had a "certain and awful feeling...that he was killed" before learning of his death. On page 174 we have an account of an apparition of this Eldred W. Bowyer-Bower appearing months after his death. His mother Mrs. Bowyer-Bower narrates it as follows:

"I watched, not at all nervously, and something like a crumpled filmy piece of chiffon unfolded and the beautiful wavy top of Eldred's head appeared, a few seconds and his forehead and broad, beautiful brow appeared, still it waited and his lovely blue eyes came, but no mischievous twinkle, but a great intensity. It all shook and quivered, then his nose came. More waiting and  quivering and then his tiny little moustache and mouth. At this point he turned his head very shghtly and looked right into my face, and moistened his lips slightly with his tongue. I kept quite quiet, but it quivered and shook so much and no chin came, and in my anxiety I put out my hands and said :  'Eldred, I see you,' and it all flickered quite out, light and all."

On page 175 of the same Proceedings, we have an account by the fiance of this Eldred, who tells us the following happened months after his death:

"Afterwards I woke up and looked around and saw Eldred on the bed beside me, he was wearing his blue suit. I sat up and started talking to him....I then tried to touch him, but my hand went through him, and like a fool I started to cry, and he disappeared."

So we can see why the writer quoted earlier called this case "test-proof evidence": the quotes above establish that this apparition of Eldred W. Bowyer-Bower was seen by four different persons in four different places: by his half-sister, his mother, his fiancee and a small child.