The breach can be ploughed over, the abyss can be filled up. One of the results of my previous article "Feeling the Future: Premonitions and Precognition - Elements of Practice and of a Theory" was a dialog with Tomasz Witkowski (T.W.), a well known Polish representative of a particular psychology school, a prolific author, rationalist and skeptic. I consider it as being a positive sign. This dialog was not an easy one. Both sides are suspicious of each other, sometimes emotions take over, the arguments used were not always well aimed. This is natural, and the psychologist knows it from his own professional experience even better than the physicist.
In a difficult dialog between the two sides that are suspicious of each other a mediator may help. A marriage consultant sometimes helps in a difficult relationship. Sometimes it helps, but it also happens that the result is quite opposite - the mediator tries to heal a relationship that, for the good of all the those involved should be broken, the sooner the better. In our case of the conflict between physics and psychology no such mediator is in sight. To the contrary, there are those who show the symptoms of an arsonist - happy to watch the conflict explode. Therefore the task of filling the abyss (real or imaginary) is left to the parties involved. Here I am taking this task on myself. Whether I will succeed or not - the future will show.
Let me start with where, in my opinion, I, a physicist, agree with T.W - a psychologist. Only after that will I consider the differences, and not in order to stress them, but rather to understand and to clarify their possible source.
A clarification, when not tied to the demands that one party subjugates to another part, sometimes helps in extinguishing conflicts that are caused by chance events.
My interlocutor, the psychologist, declares himself as a dedicated rationalist and skeptic. I like such a stand, I consider myself to be a rationalist as well, I think that science should expand to cover more and more of human experience and cognition. In the past I have stressed it repeatedly that knowledge and the scientific method is the way - contrary to all kinds of fundamentalism, including the so called 'scientific fundamentalism' - which is also harmful.
My interlocutor, T.W., wrote in particular: "I am convinced that a fair scientific knowledge, one that is empirically based, is a better enemy of religion and other distortions than a whole bunch of desperate atheists."
Not everything is clear in this statement. As one may guess from the above formulation, according to T.W. religion is one of the examples of distortions of reality. It is not clear whether this statement is supposed to concern the religion understood as an internal experience or, the organized and politicized religion that is being used on a large scale for controlling the masses. Religion considered as an inner experience seems to have some deeper foundations and can not be reduced to just ignorance of the laws of nature and fear of what is unknown.
T.W. also writes: "I never heard a priest questioning the natural order of things, questioning laws of nature, using for it results of science [...]. I have never heard a theory justifying the possibility of walking on water.[...] Perhaps I was lucky."
So we have here the word "heard". It is also not clear which priests T.W. is talking about. I think that T.W. certainly knows the exaggerated creationism, and that he knows about 'scientific explanations' of Jesus walking on water.
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Can't all Jesus' miracles be explained naturally?
Let me now move to the main issue, where the abyss between psychology (or at least part of it, represented by T.W.) seems to be deepest. Perhaps I will be able to fill a part of it. The future will show.
The issue at hand here is: what should science be concerned with? T.W. thinks that research of such 'strange' phenomena (clairvoyance, precognition, telepathy, telekinesis) is an unpardonable waste of taxpayer's money. I am also guessing from the context that the research on, say, nonstandard analysis or string theories, is not a waste of public money, even if it has no use at all.
Why such a difference of perception between us? Perhaps because I am a physicist and my experiences are different. Eminent physicists repeatedly stressed a certain principle that non-physicists may consider as being a complete nonsense and rubbish. And yet these physicists treat it as a philosophical, a methodological, rule of a great value. The principle states: What is not forbidden is compulsory:
" [...] totalitarian principle of physics (attribution uncertain): What is not forbidden is compulsory. [In: David Robert Bates, Advances in Atomic and Molecular Physics, Volume 12, p. 226]"This principle is not taken out of the air. It grew out of observations and out of reflections upon these observations. Of course, as every principle, so also this one has its exceptions. Some authors will concentrate on what confirms the principle, some other will pay special attention to exceptions. Nevertheless the very fact that the principle is so often stressed by eminent experts can not be simply dismissed. Since these experts emphasize it so strongly, that means that the principle is in some way useful in their creative research - and I mean the research in the domain of physics.
"It is a general working principle in physics that what is not forbidden is compulsory. [John D. Barrow, Frank J. Tipler, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, p. 501]
"What is not forbidden is mandatory" [Frank Wilczek, Quantum Field Theory, p. 5]
"In quantum mechanics what is not forbidden is compulsory" [Andrew Strominger, "Unitary Rules for Black Hole Evaporation"]
Let us therefore consider the consequences of assuming the validity of the principle "What is not forbidden is mandatory", at least when dealing with natural phenomena.
In my article about 'Feeling the future' I was stressing the fact that premonitions and presentiments are not in contradiction with what we know about physics. Moreover, I was proposing one particular possible mechanism - even if at a somewhat abstract level. I am not aware of any legitimate argument forbidding such phenomena, even though I know many arguments that do not stand up to scrutiny. If so, and if we assume that what is not forbidden is mandatory, then, with some legitimacy, we should look for such phenomena taking place in nature. And if so, we should do it through scientific research, and then such research is not a waste of taxpayer's money. To the contrary, it is a legitimate extension of the scope of research.
T.W. is showing the lack of understanding of the methodology of physics also in another respect when he writes: "I am demanding the data that would allow me to decide whether the [fantastic] hypothesis should be accepted or rejected"
When Albert Einstein was publishing his theories of relativity, no one was demanding the data from him. Other scientists got busy checking these theories. And that is how it is. There are those that are discovering the new paths, there are those who make them wider, those who lay down the asphalt, and those who drive their trucks on the ready-made highways.
In a January 20, 2011 issue of a the scientific periodical Nature, an article was published with the title "Preplay of future place cell sequences by hippocampal cellular assemblies". The two authors of the article are: George Dragoi and Susumu Tonegawa. Tonegawa is a Nobel prize winner in the domain of physiology.
In their article, the two authors present and discuss a new phenomenon that they noticed. They give this new phenomenon the name 'preplay'. So what's it all about? It's about mice, and what goes on in the brain of a mouse when he is sleeping or just resting before undertaking a new task.
[Note: See also the editorial "Seeing Into the Future" in the same issue of Nature. The editorial is written by Edward I. Mser and May-Britt Moser.]
interviewed (via telephone) one of the authors of the paper, George Dragoi, regarding his research.
At min. 15:49 of this podcast, the reporter asks whether animals are not seeing into the future this way? To which Dragoi replies that indeed, they do, but predicting future events is a natural phenomenon. In our brains we play predicting sequences that may have some value in dealing with possible future events. This preplay is important for creativity and may be connected to something that Dragoi calls "preexisting knowledge" - knowledge that exists even before the experience. In their paper, Dragoi and Tonegawa are not concerned with calculating the probability of to what extent the observed preplay sequences may be attributed to a pure chance. Other scientists will probably discuss these questions in the future.
To some extent the phenomena of preplay are similar to those reported by Dean Radin:
Dean Radin, PhD, is Senior Scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS) and Adjunct Faculty in the Department of Psychology at Sonoma State University. His original career track as a concert violinist shifted into science after earning a BSEE degree in electrical engineering, magna cum laude and with honors in physics, from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and then an MS in electrical engineering and a PhD in psychology from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. For a decade he worked on advanced telecommunications R&D at AT&T Bell Laboratories and GTE Laboratories. For over two decades he has been engaged in consciousness research. Before joining the research staff at IONS in 2001, he held appointments at Princeton University, University of Edinburgh, University of Nevada, and several Silicon Valley think-tanks, including Interval Research Corporation and SRI International, where he worked on a classified program investigating psychic phenomena for the US government.In a semi-private exchange just a few days ago Dean Radin commented on the paper published in Nature as follows:
"In this week's Nature. They call it preplay instead of presentiment. May not be exactly the same as what we've been measuring, but it appears that what is now acceptable for the pages of Nature is getting progressively closer to our findings."In physics that which is not forbidden is compulsory. Such is a principle pronounced by eminent physicists. I am making psychologists aware of this principle, since it is probably not known to them. Perhaps it will help in filling out at least a part of the abyss between physics and psychology.
Note: The gap seems to be narrowing. See for instance this paper:
"A Conclusive Experimentation Evidences that Mental States Follow Quantum Mechanics. Further Experimentation Indicates that in Mind States Bell Inequality Violation is Possible"
Elio Conte (1,2)
(1) Department of Pharmacology and Human Physiology - TIRES - Center for Innovative Technologies for Signal Detection and Processing, University of Bari- Italy;
(2) School of Advanced International Studies for Applied Theoretical and Non Linear Methodologies of Physics, Bari, Italy;
(3) Andrei Yuri Khrennikov, International Center for Mathematical Modeling in Physics and Cognitive Sciences, MSI, University of Växjö, S-35195, Sweden;
(4) Orlando Todarell, Department of Neurological and Psychiatric Sciences , University of Bari, Italy;
Antonio Federici (1) Joseph P. Zbilut (5)
(5) Department of Molecular Biophysics and Physiology , Rush University Medical Center , 1653 W , Congress, Chicago, IL 60612 , USA.
Abstract: In the first part of the paper we reach an experimental final confirmation that mental states follow quantum mechanics. In the second part further experimentation indicates that in mind states Bell inequality violation is possible.