Cosmos. Earth. Man.

Four weeks ago I ordered the book "Cosmos. Earth. Man" by A. G. Parkhomov[1]. Two days ago it arrived from Moscow.

Cosmos. Earth. Man. by A. G. Parkhomov

Cosmos. Earth. Man. by A. G. Parkhomov
I was excited. I started reading it right away.... the last chapter first. Actually, I read the back cover first, so let me quote from that so you'll have an idea of where we might be going today.
Aleksandr Georgievich Parkhomov (Александр Георгиевич Пархомов) completed his education at the Moscow Engineering Physics Institute. He then worked at the Division of Radiation Physics of this institute. He directed the research group investigating of the properties of ultra-weak neutrinos at the Moscow Aviation Institute. He is Professor of the International Slavic Academy, Head of the Laboratory ''Rhythms and Fluctuations" of the Institute for Time Nature Explorations and author or co-author of more than 130 scientific publications.
A. G. Parkhomov

A. G. Parkhomov
Parkhomov's scientific career is very different from my own. He is mainly an experimental physicist, dealing first of all with facts and data and trying to understand them using the simplest possible explanations. Only when they fail would he then look for more sophisticated explanations. He has almost twice as many scientific publications as I do! And yet, in spite of these differences there is something that we both share: scientific curiosity that drives one to seek scientific explanations of the unexplained. That is what I was always looking for: the high-level scientific research into "paranormal" stuff. That is why I started reading his book from the last chapter, Ch. 4, entitled "Where physics is powerless". He has done what I always wanted to do (but never did): real, first-hand research, rather than just speculations.

The first three chapters of the book deal with those phenomena where physics still has something to say, some explanatory ability: all kinds of radiations and their strange properties, radioactivity, electronics, physical and chemical reactions of biological systems, noise, information, dark matter and dark energy, neutrinos etc.; all relatively normal. But the last chapter describes his experimental research into "psychic" phenomena. It also describes his conclusions.

So, let me start with a description of just one type of experiment that needed to be done at the early stage of this research, probably the least spectacular.

Elephantnose fish

There is one peculiar kind of a fish that attracted the attention of the researchers. Quoting from Wikipedia:

Peters' elephantnose fish

Peters' elephantnose fish
Peters' elephantnose fish (Gnathonemus petersii; syn. Gnathonemus brevicaudatus Pellegrin, 1919, Mormyrus petersii Günther, 1862) is an African freshwater elephantfish in the genus Gnathonemus. Other names in English include elephantnose fish, long-nosed elephant fish, and Ubangi mormyrid, after the Ubangi River. As the Latin name petersii confirms it is named after someone called "Peters" (probably Wilhelm Peters), although the apostrophe is often misplaced and the common name given as "Peter's elephantnose fish".

The weak electrical impulses generated by this fish can be made audible by placing two electrodes in the fish tank, which are then hooked up to an audio amplifier or a piezoelectric earbud. The elephant nose fish can use its electrosensing to detect moving prey and worms in the substrate.

Although the elephant nose fish was once thought to have poor eyesight, it is now known to have good low light vision. Its eyes use a combination of photonic crystals, parabolic mirrors and a clustered arrangement of rods and cones.
This fish happens to be extremely sensitive to all kinds of external signals, and its reactions can be read by monitoring the frequency of generated electrical signals.

This was reported in a renowned Soviet scientific journal Doklady Akademii Nauk by V. R. Protasov et al.[2] In 1982 A. G. Parkhomov (nuclear physicist) collaborated with G. K. Gurtovoy (physicist and biologist) in order to find out whether this weakly electric fish is sensitive to some "unusual" signals. The aquarium was surround by all kinds of equipment and shielded as much as possible from all external noise and influences. There was also a lot of monitoring equipment:

© A. G. Parkhomov
Gurtovoy-Parkhomov experiments
The results of prolonged experiments can be summarized as follows: the fish, though shielded, reacts to the mental activity of a remote human "operator". This reaction is of a rather unusual type: the electric activity of the fish calms down. The fish also, for unknown reasons, seems to correlate its electric activity with the Moon's phases. Concerning this last point: more recent research also detected similar electric anomalies, but rules out the possibility of gravitational influences.[3]

Where physics is powerless

Before and after the fish, Parkhomov recounts many other experiments confirming the existence of "distant influences of unknown" type, including influences on the rate of time. There were also experiences/experiments with poltergeist-type phenomena. This last type is spectacular since there were, sometimes, kilowatts of energy involved! What is clear is that the phenomena exist, only the explanation is missing. Or better: there are many explanations, but no one is able to cover the whole range of the observed phenomena with any one of them.

Well, I wrote: "the phenomena exist". Of course there are skeptics who start with the assumption that these phenomena have no right to exist. Since such an assumption has no scientific basis, I will set that aside for the moment. Similarly, there is no scientific basis for assuming that there must be some "scientific explanation" - as we currently define and limit science. Such an assumption, if stated as a fact, has no logical basis.

The fact is that phenomena of the above type are hard to investigate. We do not have the right methodology yet. Almost always the deduction about the existence of certain correlations is based on statistics. But statistics can be misleading. Recently, I had my own experience with statistics. I am not doing any real-world experiments. I am building mathematical models and run computer simulations to predict the results of future experiments. The real experimental work I leave to the professionals. So I had a hypothesis and I had run a computer simulation. It generated some 100 million points of data, using the computer random number generator. The data statistically confirmed my hypothesis. I was certainly happy. But I was not sure enough. So I described my methods and my results to my colleague, a statistician. His suggestion was that, on one hand, I do not need that many data, but I should run not just one test, instead, say, 15 tests. Which I did, but I kept my millions of points of data in each test. What happened was that in some tests my hypothesis was confirmed with rather high probability, but in the rest it was rejected, also with high probability! The problem turned out to be that my model was very sensitive to the sequences of generated pseudo-random numbers. What if reality has a similar sensitivity? It is all too easy to lie with statistics even without wanting to or being aware that you are doing it.

Pathological skepticism

Coming back now to skeptics: When we are researching phenomena of an unknown nature, we need to take precautions. But quite often critics and skeptics cross the boundaries of what precautions are reasonable or rational. L. David Leiter describes the pathological skeptic in his paper "The Pathology of Organized Skepticism" [4]:
... they gravitate to what appears to them to be the ultimate non-faith-based philosophy, Science. Unfortunately, while they loudly proclaim their righteousness, based on their professed adherence to "hard science", they do so with the one thing no true scientist can afford to possess, a closed mind. Instead of becoming scientifically minded, they become adherents of scientism, the belief system in which science and only science has all the answers to everything. This regrettable condition acts to preclude their unbiased consideration of phenomena on the cutting edge of science, which is not how a true scientist should behave. In fact, many "Skeptics" will not even read significantly into the literature on the subjects about which they are most skeptical.
The foundational hypothesis should be: such phenomena can exist. But if so, such phenomena can also disturb the readings of our instruments in some unknown way. Therefore we need to take the appropriate precautions. Because of the very nature of such phenomena, the mental attitude of the experimenter can influence the results the same way my model was very sensitive to generated pseudo-random numbers. Moon phases, meteor fireballs, star configurations, the position of scissors on a desk. In other words: the experimenter must have the whole knowledge of the field and take into account ALL that is known about unknown phenomena. Of course it is difficult - but it is not impossible. Even if there is no logical reason for assuming that all scientifically important phenomena should be repeatable, at least we must do all we can to make repeatable all that we can. Instead of discarding non-repeatable phenomena we need to spend on them much more time and more energy than on the "easy" ones. I write "easy" in quotation marks because even this "easy" is often extremely hard!

Famous physicist Robert Millikan received the Nobel Prize in 1920 for his discovery of the quantization of the electric charge. It would be very easy for a pathological skeptic to debunk his discovery.

Robert Millikan
© Associated Press
Robert Millikan
In fact, Millikan himself could easily debunk it simply by including all the results of his measurements instead of hiding them from the public and publishing only those that were confirming his hypothesis! Millikan committed scientific fraud and was rewarded with the Nobel Prize! To quote Richard Feynman, as reported in Ylvisaker's Robert Millikan: Scientific Misconduct [5]:
We have learned a lot from experience about how to handle some of the ways we fool ourselves. One example: Millikan measured the charge on an electron by an experiment with falling oil drops, and got an answer which we now know not to be quite right. It's a little bit off because he had the incorrect value for the viscosity of air. It's interesting to look at the history of measurements of the charge of an electron, after Millikan. If you plot them as a function of time, you find that one is a little bit bigger than Millikan's, and the next one's a little bit bigger than that, and the next one's a little bit bigger than that, until finally they settle down to a number which is higher.

Why didn't they discover the new number was higher right away? It's a thing that scientists are ashamed of - this history - because it's apparent that people did things like this: When they got a number that was too high above Millikan's, they thought something must be wrong - and they would look for and find a reason why something might be wrong. When they got a number close to Millikan's value they didn't look so hard. And so they eliminated the numbers that were too far off, and did other things like that. We've learned those tricks nowadays, and now we don't have that kind of a disease. ~ Feynman - 1974
I think Richard Feynman was overoptimistic. I think today's scientists, pressed by the need to publish or perish, continue to discard those results that do not fit their preconceived ideas. They adjust their statistics in such a way as to justify spending the money that was given to them to get the expected results.

Coming back to the unexplained phenomena where physics is powerless: Of course some reasonable theory would help - it would tell us which controls are important and which not. But we do not yet have such a theory.


Let me now come to the conclusions with which A. G. Parkhomov ends his book. They are somewhat pessimistic. The last sentence of the book, translated from Russian, reads:
It may be the case that the phenomena of parapsychology are alien to our technical civilization and it is highly doubtful that they can be successfully applied on a mass scale.
And in the afterword we find:
Perhaps the barrier dividing the world of Consciousness and the world of Matter has its reasons? Let us leave to God what belongs to God, and let man deal with what belongs to man. Perhaps the meaning of the existence of Man is just in that: to use his power of Reason for the work in the material world. That is what the laws of physics have been discovered for, the laws that became the foundations of powerful technology. Yet humanity needs to understand that the power it has been given is not to be used for having more material things, food, entertainments, and certainly not for killing similar beings and devastating the biosphere.

Humanity can and should convert itself from a malefic parasite on the surface of the planet Earth into a useful worker, whose main concern is a harmonic creation. It is only the hope for such a transformation that gives us strength to study the World and to create without thinking about the reward.
As for me, I am not that pessimistic. In fact, I am even optimistic. There is work for each of us even in today's spoiled society. And there is also hope that many small steps, in the right direction, can make, perhaps, a big change for the future of all of us.

P.S. This morning I received an email from A. G. Parkhomov. He writes that in Russia they finally have a real, true Russian winter (not like the freezing US). And he quotes from Winter Morning by the great Russian poet, Alexandr Puskhin:

Pushkin, Morning Winter

Pushkin, Morning Winter
The snow below the bluish skies,
Like a majestic carpet lies,
And in the light of day it shimmers.
The woods are dusky. Through the frost
The greenish fir-trees are exposed;
And under ice, a river glitters.

The room is lit with amber light.
And bursting, popping in delight ...
For me, the world is still "bursting, popping in delight".


[1] A. G. Parkhomov, ,Cosmos. Earth. Man", MIKM, Moskwa (2009)

[2] V. R. Protasov, V. D. Baron, L. A. Druzhkin, and O. Yu. Chistyakova, "Peters' Elephantnose Fish Gnathonemus petersii is a Biosentinel of External Effects, Dokl. Akad. Nauk SSSR 260(1), 248 - 252 (1981).

[3] A. V. Deshcherevskii and A. Ya. Sidorin, Does Lunisolar Gravitational Tide Affect the Activity of Animals?, Atmospheric and Oceanic Physics, 2010, Vol. 46, No. 8, pp. 982 - 992.

[4] L. David Leiter, The Pathology of Organized Skepticism, Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol. 16, No. 1, pp. 125-128 (2002)

[5] Erik Ylvisaker, Robert Millikan. Scientific Misconduct (online, presentation from the course Ethics for Scientists at UC Davis )