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Our future, our universe, and other weighty topics


Monday, August 25, 2014

Does the Future Splash on the Present?

On the morning of August 24, 2014 around 2:00 AM EST I was woken up by a vivid dream. The dream seemed like the simplest dream I had ever had. It consisted simply of an image of a small metallic trash basket moving a few inches on the floor, without anything else being nearby.

I thought about the dream and at first thought that it might be a dream about some ghostly force moving the small trash basket. But then I thought of a simpler idea. Perhaps the dream was about an earthquake tremor. If there were a sufficiently powerful earthquake, that might cause a small trash basket to move around on the floor by itself.

Having previously suggested in a blog post that people describe unusual dreams by sending out a Twitter tweet, I decided I would do just that – as soon as I woke up in the morning. I imagined myself sending out a Twitter tweet in the morning, a tweet about a possible earthquake premonition. That would be proof of my premonition if an earthquake soon occurred, because you can't change the time stamp on Twitter tweets.

After I woke up in the morning and went to my computer, I discovered there was no longer any point in sending out such a Twitter tweet. The earthquake had already occurred. It happened about four hours after my dream, at about 6:20 AM EST (3:20 AM PST). It was the worst earthquake in the San Francisco area in 25 years. I hope all those who got injured will recover fully.

This year I have recorded some 17 dreams I have had that match either events that occurred shortly thereafter, or events that occurred (unknown to me) within the previous few days. The most dramatic case is fully described here. It's a dream I had of a meteor fall that had an uncanny resemblance to something that happened within a week. On June 30, 2014 I had another meteor dream that matched reality well. I dreamed that a meteor made a bright colored flash of light in the sky, and that an observer saw the meteor wearing sunglasses, thinking: I'm sure glad I wore these sunglasses, because that was so bright. That night while I was sleeping a British observatory reported the brightest meteor flash it had ever seen, which witnesses said produced a bright green light (it was a type called a bolide meteor).

On April 10 I had a dream about a senior White House official resigning. The resignation of a senior White House official (Sibellius) was announced later that day. On April 16 I had a dream of a power outage at a stadium. There was such an outage on the previous night (unknown to me), and a week later there were two such outages in different places. On April 25 I had a dream of astronauts on the moon carrying radiation shields (stone umbrellas, to be exact). Later in the day a scientific study was released saying that future lunar astronauts will need much better radiation shields.

On June 12 of this year I had a dream of a non-elderly adult woman completely underwater in a bathtub. The next day there was a news story of exactly such an event (a drowning), an event that only occurs about once a month to non-elderly adult women in the US. On June 13 I had a dream of someone stabbing a robber who entered that person's house. Within 24 hours (before or after) there were two such events in different places.

On July 16 I had a terrible dream of a child falling to his death from about the tenth or fifteenth floor of an apartment building. A day earlier (unknown to me) a 16-year-old described as Turkey's youngest novelist had fallen to his death from the tenth floor of an apartment building. On June 30 I had a dream about homeless people living in a hotel or motel. I learned later that day that there had been a local protest a few days earlier about a nearby motel being converted into a homeless shelter. Then there was the dream discussed here.

What I find is that for every case in which one of my dreams seems to match well something that soon happens (which may be an example of precognition), there are roughly an equal number of cases where one of my dreams seem to match well something that happened one day or a few days previously (but which I had no knowledge of). The latter examples may be cases of what is called retrocognition, which means an anomalous knowledge about something that happened in the past.

It is very hard to mathematically compute the odds of such things occurring randomly. These cases could all be due to mere coincidence. But let us at least speculate: what type of theory of time might allow for both anomalous precognition (knowledge of a future event) and anomalous retrocognition (knowledge of some past event that you never learned about through normal means)?

I can think of a crude sketch of such a theory. Let us imagine time as being like a stream of water. We can imagine ourselves as fish swimming in that stream, or we can imagine ourselves as people walking along the side of the stream. Now let us imagine events as being like rocks or pebbles that fall into the stream. We can imagine that each event causes a little splash or ripple. We can imagine that the bigger and more important the event, the bigger the splash or ripple it produces.

Such a theory might help to explain both precognition and retrocognition. Just as the splash of a rock in a stream travels in all directions, we can imagine that some type of paranormal or psychic “event splash” travels both forward and backward in time. When someone has a dream of something about to happen, it might be caused by a “backsplash” of a future event. When someone has a dream about something that recently happened (something he never learned about normally), that might be caused by a “foresplash” of the event.


I have no idea whether such a theory is valid. But I have at least learned one thing. I must discard my previous policy of waiting until the morning to send out a Twitter tweet when I have a vivid dream of something that might soon be verified. From now on when I have such a dream in the middle of the night, I am going to immediately wake up, turn on my computer, and send out a time-stamped Twitter tweet describing the dream, as soon as my dream is finished. Hopefully if I follow this policy I will one day have a nice juicy case where I can prove I dreamed about something a few hours before it happened. 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Hints of ET Civilizations Found in 50 Galaxies?

There are various possibilities for how mankind might first learn of the existence of extraterrestrial life. We might one day see a huge alien spaceship heading toward our planet. Or we might sniff out the chemical signatures of extraterrestrial life by studying nearby planets. Or we might get a radio message from extraterrestrials. Or, we might discover extraterrestrial intelligence by detecting indirect signs of large-scale astronomical engineering by alien civilizations.

I have always thought the last of these possibilities is quite plausible, and I have argued that perhaps the mysterious hard-to-explain planet Kepler 78b may be an example of extraterrestrial engineering at work. But now astronomers may have discovered evidence of astronomical engineering on a much vaster scale. The finding suggests the possibility of very large-scale astronomical engineering in about 50 different galaxies.

Before discussing the finding, I should discuss why the idea of large-scale engineering projects by extraterrestrials is a very plausible one, rather than some far-fetched idea dreamed up by a wild-eyed fantasist. The universe is about 13 billion years old, and intelligent life could have arisen on other planets at any time during the past several billion years. The universe consists of billions of galaxies which each contain millions or billions of stars. There are therefore a huge number of planets on which intelligent life could have evolved, and many eons during which such intelligent life could have appeared. A civilization much older than ours might be expected to engage in large astronomical engineering projects such as building large space colonies, constructing Dyson spheres, moving planets, or breaking up planets and creating space colonies from some of their parts. Such projects, very difficult for us, might be “child's play” for a civilization thousands or millions more advanced than ours.

Given all these factors, scientists have half-expected to scan the far reaches of space, and find evidence of the large-scale activities of extraterrestrials. It was hoped that such evidence would show up in the form of “heat signatures” that would take the form of infrared radiation. Infrared radiation is given off by all hot bodies. If an extraterrestrial civilization were to be engaging in large-scale engineering projects, this would give off a lot of excess heat which would create infrared radiation that could be read by scientific instruments. But prior to this year, scientists had found no such evidence. Quite a few scientists have said that it is surprising that such evidence has not been found. 

infrared radiation
Map of infrared radiation given off by a human

 So we should not be too surprised to hear about the exciting results from a recent astronomical survey. The survey was done by the Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds at Penn State University, using data from a scientific satellite known as the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE). According to team leader Jason Wright, a galaxy should emit only about 10 percent of its radiation as mid-infrared radiation. But the survey detected about 50 galaxies that are emitting more than half of their radiation as mid-infrared radiation.

This is exactly what we might expect to see if these galaxies had been “taken over” by one or more extraterrestrial civilizations that engaged in huge engineering projects that caused excess heat to be emitted. Someone speaking in the style of Erich von Daniken (author of Chariots of the Gods?) might call this excess infrared radiation the heat of the gods.

But scientists will need to do more work to rule out natural sources of radiation that might be producing all of this excess heat in these galaxies. Until that is done, we cannot say that proof has been found for extraterrestrial intelligence. But for the time being, we seem to have a tantalizing hint that extraterrestrial intelligence exists, and exists abundantly.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

“Cosmic Discordance” Punctures Our Pretensions

When you go to study biology in school, your textbook will refer to a doctrine called the central dogma of biology. This is the doctrine that DNA makes RNA, which makes proteins. There is no doctrine that is generally recognized as a “central dogma of physics.” But it is as if modern physicists have a central dogma: the doctrine that all of the major forces at work in the universe are currently known.

It is hard to say exactly when this idea became an ossified dogma of the modern physicist, but it was perhaps around about 1970 or 1980. After discovering the forces of electromagnetism and gravitation centuries earlier, scientists discovered two more forces in the twentieth century: the weak nuclear force and the strong nuclear force. Then somewhere along the line, physicists seemed to erect a great big “Mission Accomplished” banner, rather like George W. Bush's team did on an aircraft carrier a few weeks after the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003. Physicists came to believe that they had figured out all of the important forces at work in the universe.

mission accomplished
The central dogma of modern physics

A modern physicist is someone with great confidence that he understands every major force at work in the universe. He is willing to consider that there may be new types of matter that he doesn't know about. He is willing to consider that there may be some unusual type of energy that he doesn't know about. He is willing to consider that there may be whole other universes he knows nothing about. But the modern physicist draws the line at considering the possibility of unknown forces at work in our universe. No, no, no, he thinks to himself, we already have all the forces of the universe figured out.

Perhaps we can understand this vaunting affectation if we think of it as a kind of firewall. Admitting any unknown force at the work in the universe might open the door to possibilities many a physicist wishes to exclude, such as the idea that what is going on in the universe is not merely the result of blind chance. To lock out such ideas that make them uncomfortable, physicists cling to the pretension that they understand all forces at work in the universe.

Later some serious difficulties arose in understanding the universe. It seemed that the known force of gravitation just was not doing the job adequately at explaining the structure of the universe. None of the other four fundamental forces works on a large scale. The physicists and cosmologist had a choice: they could either concede the existence of some unknown force at work in the universe, or they could start believing that almost all of the matter in the universe was invisible (the doctrine of dark matter). Strangely enough, they chose the second of these beliefs. The average physicist seemed to think: Much better to believe that most of the matter in the universe is some weird, invisible, unknown matter than to believe in the terrifying idea that there is an unknown force at work in the universe.

Later on cracks started to show in this model. It seems that the positions and motions of dwarf galaxies are not consistent with the theory of cold dark matter, as discussed here and here. Also, a just-released scientific paper (entitled “Cosmic Discordance”) shows a problem with the cold dark matter model, as shown in the diagram below. The blue part shows estimates made using dark matter theory. The purple part shows data from two major space satellites. The purple part and the blue part are supposed to overlap, but they do not. The deeper blue part and the deeper purple part (the most likely values) are far apart. Message from this graph: we are lost in the cosmic woods.

cosmic discordance

But have physicists now started to doubt dark matter? Have they conceded their approach may be wrong, and that there may be forces at work in the universe they don't understand? No, they're clinging to their cold dark matter theory as zealously as ever. It's needed to prop up the central dogma of physics, that there are no major undiscovered forces.

A corollary of this central dogma of physics is that there can be no earthly forces we do not understand. So any paranormal phenomena involving some unknown force is taboo, strictly prohibited. A long-running project involving random number generators around the world has apparently shown deviations from randomness whenever important events happen, as if global consciousness was mysteriously affecting the random number generators by some unknown force. But such results must be wrong, a physicist would tell you, because it involves an unknown force, and we understand all the forces at work in the universe. Such phenomena are excluded on the grounds that they are “occult.” The word “occult” simply means hidden, but what could be more occult than the physicist's assertions that most of the universe’s matter is some invisible, unknown, hidden type of matter (dark matter)?

We saw this central dogma of physics at work recently when two sets of tests (including one done by NASA) indicated that some new type of space drive works, apparently using some new type of force. Physicists jumped quickly to their keyboards to in effect tell us: the tests can't be right, because there can't be some new force we don't understand.

Perhaps the best way to refute the central dogma of physics is to consider the Big Bang, the explosive origin of the universe. According to modern science, the entire universe began to expand from an infinitely dense mathematical point about 13 billion years ago, a point called the primordial singularity. Can we really claim that we understand all the forces that were involved in that infinitely strange event, or that it only involved the forces known to us? Can we have any confidence that such an unfathomable event of infinite mystery involved only the small number of forces we know of? Of course not.

At some time in the future a wiser generation of physicists will realize that our knowledge of the universe is merely fragmentary, and that the universe is greatly affected by mysterious forces and phenomena that we know nothing about. Scientists will realize that they have been like little children playing at the seashore with a few interesting shells, while the great ocean of truth lay undiscovered in front of them (to borrow a great simile from the great physicist Isaac Newton). Scientists will then take down the “Mission Accomplished” banner raised prematurely by a generation of physicists who thought they had figured out all the forces at work in the universe.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Two Reports of Autistic Mind Readers

Sometimes when nature takes away something, it seems to give something back in return. One such case seems to be the case of savants – people who have unusual mental abilities despite having other mental shortcomings. An example of a savant is Daniel Tammet, who has been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome. He holds the European record for reciting Pi from memory, to 22,514 digits. Supposedly he learned the Icelandic language in only ten days. Another example of a savant is the late Kim Peek, who supposedly could accurately recall the details of 12,000 books he had read, despite having an IQ of only 87. Like several savants, he had the ability to instantly calculate the day of the week on which any person he met was born. You can find other similar cases on the web site of Darold Treffert, a doctor who has been studying such cases for many years.

In one article on the Scientific American blog, Treffert records the astonishing case of Leslie Lemke:

Leslie–blind, cognitively impaired and with such spasticity in his hands that he could not hold a fork or spoon to eat—had become a accomplished pianist, never having had a piano lesson in his life. Somehow the hand spasticity magically disappears when he sits at the keyboard. The 1983 60 Minutes program, which many still remember, recounted in detail the astonishment of Leslie’s mother, May Lemke, one evening, when Leslie, age 14, played back Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 flawlessly, having heard it earlier for the first time that evening as the soundtrack to the movie Sincerely Yours.

This was apparently no fluke. As Treffert tells us about Leslie in another story, “He can remember a piece of any length and play it back flawlessly after a single hearing... Leslie will still play back and sing any song that an audience member might provide as a challenge and it is almost impossible to 'stump Leslie' however hard people try.”

Dr. Treffert has expressed interest in a recent case that might be the most spectacular case of a savant ever: the case of a young autistic Indian girl named Nandana who can supposedly read her mother's mind with a high degree of accuracy. The case was reported in this news feature.

Newspaper reporters visiting Nandana said, “We were left amazed and totally impressed when Nandana passed our tests with flying colors.” They tried a test in which the mother was given a piece of paper with the digits 044050799. The child then typed those digits exactly, which she apparently had not seen. In a second test the mother was given a note saying, “Can I have some warm water, please?” The child reproduced the text, with some spelling errors. The mother was then brought to a different room, and asked to think about an object. She thought of a biscuit. The child was brought back in from the other room, and specified biscuit as the object her mother was thinking of.

Recently there has appeared another case of an alleged autistic mind reader. This case seems to have been investigated under controlled scientific conditions. The reported results are as spectacular as the previously reported tests with Nandana.

The results were presented at the recent annual convention of the Parapsychological Association, in a paper entitled “Evidence for Telepathic Communication in a Nonverbal Autistic Child” written by Diane Hennacy Powell, MD. You can read the abstract here by scrolling down to page 25. Powell did experiments with an autistic girl named Hayley who can supposedly engage in telepathy with her therapists. The results reported below by Powell seem to be some of the most spectacular results ever reported in an ESP experiment:

Data from the first session with Therapist A includes 100% accuracy on three out of twenty image descriptions containing up to nine letters each, 60 to 100% accuracy on all three of the five-letter nonsense words, and 100% accuracy on two random numbers: one eight digits and the other nine. Data from the second session with Therapist A includes 100% accuracy on six out of twelve equations with 15 to 19 digits each, 100% accuracy on seven out of 20 image descriptions containing up to six letters, and between 81 to 100% accuracy on sentences of between 18 and 35 letters. Data from the session with Therapist B showed 100% accuracy with five out of twenty random numbers up to six digits in length, and 100% accuracy with five out of twelve image descriptions containing up to six letters. There was no evidence of cueing or fraud.

Powell presenting her research (credit: Parapsychological Association)

Skeptics might object that some subtle signals (either auditory or visual) may have been going on between the therapists and the child. But these results were produced under videotaped conditions, as Powell reports:

To assess for any possible visual and/or auditory cueing, five high
definition point-of-view (POV) cameras and three microphones were
strategically placed in the experimental space to capture coverage
of the entire room, the therapist and child, and their separate workspaces.
All cameras were synchronized and time-stamped.

This sounds like potentially bulletproof evidence for mind-reading. But there's only one problem: the tapes haven't been released. One Facebook user says that he was invited to watch the tapes, and that they are five hours of very convincing evidence. But until these tapes are released, not many doubters will be persuaded. I will update this blog post if the tapes are ever released.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Our Fragmentary Knowledge of Nature

What word would best describe our current knowledge of nature? I think the most appropriate word would be: fragmentary. When I do a Google search for that word's definition, the definition that comes up is: “consisting of small parts that are disconnected or incomplete.”

Why is it appropriate to use that term to describe man's knowledge of nature? It's because what we know is very, very small compared to what we don't know. It's also because many of the theories that we have to explain things don't do a very good job of explaining what we need to explain.

Let's look at some fields of knowledge and consider how little we really know. First we may look at the field of astronomy. According to astronomers, the universe consists of billions of galaxies, each with millions or billions of stars. A reasonable estimate of the number of planets in the observable universe is something like 1,000,000,000,000,000,000, but we know something about no more than about a thousand of these, less than a thousandth of a trillionth of the total. So what we know is like chicken feed.

There is the great mystery of Fermi's paradox, why we have not yet been contacted by alien visitors. The answer is entirely unknown. Above and below our galaxy are mysterious Fermi bubbles, which "defy explanation" according to a leading physics web site. There is the recently discovered mystery of the universe’s “missing light,” which leaves our experts stumped.

Then there is the mystery of what caused the Big Bang, which is completely unknown to us. There are unexplained mysteries such as the non-random spins of spiral galaxies, and the strange alignment of quasar polarization vectors. There is the great and deep mystery of cosmic fine-tuning. There is the mystery of inexplicable planets. Even in our own cosmic backyard, we see mysteries we can't explain, such as an asteroid that is holding together even though it shouldn't be.

To try to explain the current structure of the universe, scientists have tried to patch together theories using gigantic unobserved fudges such as dark energy and dark matter. But thus far these attempts are not working very well, and can't explain well the behavior and positions of dwarf galaxies.

So in terms of cosmology and astronomy, our knowledge is fragmentary. But if we confine ourselves only to our own planet, then do we find that our scientists have things well-figured out? No.

Talking to some scientists, you might get the idea that we have a good grasp of such issues as the origin of life and the origin of the human mind. But we do not. These are mysteries that we do not currently have a good explanation for. The theory of Darwinian biological evolution (which ably explains quite a few things) falls far short in explaining how the basic requirements for life (such as DNA molecules, the genetic code, and RNA molecules) got started. There are also many subtle characteristics of the human mind which are hard to account for under the theory of natural selection (largely because they do not fit the “fitness for survival until reproduction” idea).

The limits of our biology knowledge have been highlighted by recent news stories such as the story that plants are apparently communicating with each other, and a scientific analysis concluding that parents are apparently transmitting characteristics to each other through some way that genetics cannot account for.

Looking to the field of neurology, we have no understanding of the most basic issue of how it is that inanimate matter produces thought. There are also numerous anomalies of the human mind that prevailing theories of the human mind fail to explain. There is abundant evidence for phenomena we have no explanation for, and our typical response is to go to any extreme to explain away such evidence, rather than admit the humbling idea that there are some parts of nature we can't explain at all.

A student in high school may stand in awe of human knowledge. He may look at a textbook in physics or biology and say to himself, “Wow, these scientists have it all figured out.” But if we think of books and knowledge, we should think of the totality of knowledge as a vast library hall filled with towering book shelves, a hall that stretches on for miles and miles. We have merely acquired a few books in that vast library. 

babe in the woods
We are babes in the cosmic woods

Imagine some children invited to a huge mansion. They are led to a little room in the mansion, where they find some jigsaw puzzle pieces on the floor. They work hard to assemble the pieces. When it seems like they are almost finished, they open the back door of the room, to find someone to whom they can triumphantly brag, “We have almost finished the puzzle!” But the door leads to a vast hall, which is empty except for 10,000 scattered jigsaw puzzle pieces on the floor. We are currently at the stage of these little children opening that door. Very pleased with our ourselves with the work we have done, we fail to see that we have not yet assembled a hundredth of the pieces of the cosmic jigsaw puzzle.