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Science and the Paranormal

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Human knowledge is limited to "I think, therefore I am". Beyond this, knowledge must consist of what is most likely to be true. However certain something may seem there is always the possibility that it's an illusion. Indeed, quantum theory (in particular the uncertainty principle) seems to confirm that human knowledge must always be imperfect. This means that not only is our present scientific knowledge incomplete, but also that we are incapable of ever fully understanding the universe.

At the end of the nineteenth century the outlook provided by science was pessimistic to say the least. The universe was seen as a huge machine operating in a totally predictable way. Theoretically, if we could have absolute information about the state of the universe at any one time we could work out its precise future. This left no room at all for free-will. Our fate was predetermined down to the last detail, and it was hard to find a useful role for God. Not only this, but the universe was also slowly but inevitably winding down towards the unavoidable 'heat death'.

The twentieth century changed all this. First of all Einstein cast doubt on the laws of classical mechanics which supposedly governed the clockwork universe, and on the nature of time and space. Quantum physics went even further in revolutionizing scientific and philosophical thinking by challenging the fundamental principle of cause preceding effect, and assigning as much importance to the observer as to his observations. Quantum theory gave a much more optimistic view of things and opened up many possibilities. Below is a model of the unfolding future.


At time t, the situation A has two potential futures, B and C, at time t+1 only one of the alternatives must be selected, in this case B. Likewise, at time t+2, one of the alternatives D and E must be selected. In reality there are likely to be an infinite number of alternatives (potential futures) at any one time, and the time slices are probably infinitesimally small.

Nature appears approximately deterministic because we observe the "average" effect of large numbers of sub-atomic events, which on closer examination aren't very deterministic, e.g. we can't predict the outcome of a single throw of a dice, but we can say that in a large amount of throws each number will come up about 1/6 of the time. This is the kind of approximate determinism we observe in everyday life. It seems that the larger the scale (i.e. the larger the number of subatomic events) the closer we get to perfect determinism, and the smaller the scale the closer we get to "chaos". Note that determinism, i.e. cause preceding effect, only has meaning in systems involving time.

It's possible that there is no such thing as an elementary or fundamental particle, because however far we analyse nature it always seems possible to reduce it further, e.g. we identified molecules, then atoms, then we split the atom etc. etc., but however far we go we can never feel we've reached the end.

There are several reasons to suppose that life is more than just a specially complex arrangement of physical matter brought about by chance. Firstly, the main aim of all living things is the survival of the species. A purely physical entity wouldn't or couldn't "care" about such matters. Secondly is the impression that most of us have of possessing freedom of the will, this isn't something that any physical explanation could account for. Thirdly, throughout his history, man has felt the need to recognize the existence of supernatural forces through belief in religion and other mysterious phenomena. The materialistic view would be that man is simply trying to reassure himself that physical death isn't the absolute ending of his existence. However, this raises the question of why a physical entity (man) would fear death or anything else? Just suppose there was just one grain of truth in all the supernatural beliefs that have arisen over the centuries, this would open up infinite possibilities outside the realm of modern science.

We must ask ourselves which is more likely, that life is no more than a special case of physical matter, brought about by pure chance and differing from other physical phenomena only in order of complexity?, or that life contains something more than just a complicated configuration of fundamental particles, something that, for want of a better expression we shall call the 'mind'? After considering the arguments I tend to believe the latter.

The physical universe of everyday reality consists of the four dimensions of space-time. These four dimensions contain matter and energy. Now, since the mind doesn't conform to the laws governing the behaviour of matter and energy through space-time, isn't it possible that mind belongs to a different dimension? Why shouldn't the universe consist of infinite dimensions? In this model, life would be an interaction between the dimension(s) of the mind and the dimensions of space-time. The interaction would begin at some point before birth and end at physical death. Remember that interaction between the dimensions of space and time occurs constantly according to special relativity. Could this mind-dimension be the mystic's astral plane?

Let's assume that life is the result of an interaction between the dimension(s) of mind and the dimensions of space-time (as space-time itself results from an interaction between space and time). There could be dimensions other than space, time and mind; but since we don't experience them it is pointless to speculate about them. In this model physics deals with events happening purely in space-time, clairvoyance is a case of a cause in space time producing an effect in the mind (dimension), psychokinesis would be a cause in the mind producing an effect in space-time and telepathy is an event contained within the mind dimension. Ghosts, hauntings and psychometry (reading an objects history by handling it) may be explained by the places of the hauntings, or the objects, acting as a symbol to the mind dimension which then recalls memories of what has been associated with that place or object. At death the mind continues to exist in its realm as the body remains in the physical plane.

According to this model, it would be possible to predict the future to some degree of accuracy given complete knowledge of present conditions and enough calculating power to work it out. Now suppose all the knowledge and power of the entire mind dimension were available to us, this may explain the mechanism of precognition.

The effect of mind interacting with the physical universe is to influence the average position of the subatomic micro-events, this in turn influences events in the everyday macro-world. This is how freewill operates. Most of the time the mind operates "automatically", it requires certain mental effort to exercise freedom of the will in order to change physical reality. This model implies that the future is more or less predetermined, but subject to slight but permanent changes caused by effort of the will.

All forms of life have certain power over their environment. Animals have more power than plants and man is the most powerful animal (intellectually). But it's arrogant to assume there is nothing more powerful than man in the entire universe. There are probably many entities which are superior to man, the most powerful of all is God, who is immortal and has complete knowledge, power and intelligence.

The multi-dimensional model doesn't invalidate the work of science through the centuries, this work continues to provide a useful description of events within the physical universe, however it does limit science to the physical realm, in a similar way to which the rules of special relativity are limited to objects in a state of uniform motion. Hopefully this multidimensional model allows the possibility of reality existing beyond the bounds of the physical world.

See also Parapsychology on the Web

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