Parapsychology Journalism: The People, The Theory, The Science, The Skeptics
Related Post: Where Does Psychic Ability Come From?
This is not an easy topic, as you can imagine. Yet many fundamental underpinnings of the arguments against the existence of psi are based on a belief that it is incompatible with physics. This is simply not true. Most of the people who make this argument have no idea what the real situation is in the world of physics. Much thanks here goes to Chris Carter and his book “Parapsychology and the Skeptics.” He gives the clearest explanation I have read so far and I’m borrowing heavily from his take on this. It is an excellent book and I highly recommend it.
Observer Created Reality
Most people believe in an observer independent universe. This is a notion of classical physics that is no longer valid and is the first thing that must be addressed in any discussion about psychic ability and physics. Quantum physics has totally re-made this view of the world. An observer independent universe is one where an observer exhibits no effect on the universe. The universe operates of its own accord and the observer is unimportant in the process. That’s not what actually happens. We not only don’t live in this universe, we don’t live in an observer dependent universe either. We live in an observer created universe.
Reality is not there when it is not being observed. We know this to be true at the quantum level but we don’t notice it because of a phenomenon called decoherence. Basically, because the bazillions of quantum level phase relationships interfere with each other, they appear on the macroscopic level to even out, or decohere, much like the curvature of the earth appears to disappear in a limited area of its surface. This decoherence effect allows us to get away with ignoring quantum effects on macroscopic objects and why classical physics works so well in the ordinary world.
Like the earth appearing to be flat, decoherence is only an appearance and is not real. The quantum level is hidden in microscopic details and is not noticeable. Because of this decoherence effect, the macroscopic world, appears to be filled with objectively existing matter. In other words, the objects of the world do not actually exist objectively; they only appear as if they did.
In their book The Quantum Enigma, physics Kuttner and Rosenblum point out that if you were to fire an electron through semi transparent glass into two boxes, the single electron would arrive in both boxes. That’s because it is in its unobserved wave state. If you look into one of the boxes, you will either find the electron there or not. If not, it will be in the other box. That’s because when you observe the electron, it becomes a particle and can then only exist in one box. I’m not making this up, this is standard quantum physics. A subatomic particle, any subatomic particle, is either a wave or a particle depending on whether it is observed.
When electrons are fired at two slits and are unobserved, they will make a wave pattern on the surface they hit. If they are observed, they will make a particle pattern on that surface. When physicists have created experiments to sort of observe electrons they have responded to this by changing their behavior accordingly.
So the act of observing a subatomic particle which is in its wave form, (Known as a wave function. A wavefunction is a simple sinusoidal function extending infinitely into space in the direction of its motion. You cannot directly observe a particle in such a state because its probability function is essentially zero everywhere.) collapses the probabilities and you have a particle. (A little oversimplified)
Mathematician John Von Neuman argued that something non-physical, not subject to the laws of quantum mechanics must be responsible. The only thing he could think of was the consciousness of the observer. One of his followers, Nobel Prize winner Eugene Wigner went on to write:
When the province of physical theory was extended to encompass microscopic phenomena, through the creation of quantum mechanics, the concept of consciousness came to the fore again; it was not possible to formulate the laws of quantum mechanics in a fully consistent way without reference to the consciousness . . . it will remain remarkable, in whatever way our future concepts may develop, that the very study of the external world led to the conclusion that the content of consciousness is the ultimate reality.
There are other theories as to why probabilities collapse, but they are somewhat problematic. This is also the best explanation for the success of the psychokinesis experiments. (a.ka. telekinesis.)
Right about now it should be obvious that the world of physics isn’t nearly so unfriendly to psychic phenomena as skeptics would have us believe. There’s more. Anyone familiar with psychic ability knows that it works without regard to distance or physical barriers and with no loss of signal strength. It is also highly specific and can be targeted. Doesn’t this violate physics? Nope. Again, we turn to quantum physics.
Non Localism: Spooky Actions at a Distance
The principle under discussion here in classical physics is known as localism. Everything only interacts with its closest neighbor and therefore there is no action at a distance. In other words, the only way a cue ball can have an effect on the eight ball is to hit it. What happens in non localism is that the movement of the cue ball and the eight ball are both affected by each other regardless of the distance between them. As long as they’re both subatomic particles.
In the physics experiment it was discovered that if you know the spin direction of one proton in a pair of them, (by observing it and thereby creating the reality of that spinning particle), you also know the spin direction of the other. This is instantaneous; there is no normal communication between them because they can be traveling away from each other at the speed of light, which is as fast as normal communication can be. Somehow each proton “knows” what the other is doing. Distance is no barrier.
This is known in physics as entanglement. It does not violate classical physics (the speed of light barrier) because nothing is traveling from point A to point B. How does this relate to psychic abilities? Whatever it is that causes entanglement is clearly at work at the macro level with telepathy and clairvoyance since both of these are behaving in exactly the same manner. (Information shared over any distance with no regard to physical limitations and with no signal loss) . We know that telepathy is valid from the very stringently controlled autoganzfeld experiments so the conclusion is obvious: whatever it is that can explain entanglement is going to explain telepathy and clairvoyance as well.
Causation: Time, Backwards and Forwards
In physics, the equations work backwards in time just as easily as they move forward and subatomic particles have been seen jumping around in time so to speak. It is not inconceivable that a talent that takes advantage of the principles behind entanglement can also move around in time. However, since the universe is probabilistic, not deterministic, events in the past which have been observed are fixed, but events in the future, which have not been observed, are still in a state of probability. Those probabilities gradually shrink as the future gets closer. So we have a physics explanation for precognition and another for a partial explanation for a lack of accuracy in psychic predictions.
The basic point here is that psychic ability does not defy any laws of physics. It not only seamlessly fits into existing quantum physics theories, it is supported by it. As I stated above, if you are going to deny the existence of psychic ability, it has to be on grounds other than physics.