The universe is made of matter and energy, convertable between each other by the now infamous equation E=MC^2.
It is a fundamental tenet of western science that matter can neither be created, nor destroyed. There is a similar, profoundly plausible truth that energy, being a speedy form of the same universal "stuff", can also neither be created nor destroyed.
By direct implication, whatever was here when the universe was created will always be here. All of the important physical thought on this blue planet stream from that biblical, physical, truth.
Because if there are major violations of this so called "conservation of matter and energy" law--and we scientists do feel it's God's undeniable law, not a suggestion, even though we don't believe in him--if that law can be violated in any substantive way, then almost everything we think we know about the world can be refuted.
So it must be true.
Heisenberg, Schroedinger, and Planck, proposed quantum mechanics over seventy years ago. The mathematical mediator of quantum mechanics is something called statistical mechanics. Quantum mechanics is a statistical version of reality. The basis of quantum mechanics is that nothing can be known to an infinite degree of certainty. Infinite degrees of precision simply do not exist. The simple explanation of that effect is this: by looking at something, we change it. We can't see or touch or smell anything without changing its course of existence in some way. Therefore, we can never know our world precisely.
We can get some darn good precision. But not exact.
What does this mean to you? Well, next time you sit on the beach enjoying the sunshine, remember that sunlight is radiation coming from a sustained thermonuclear explosion happening ninety-three million miles away. The nuclear explosion happens because the sun is a huge ball of hydrogen, the lightest element in our universe. Even the lightest thing can be heavy if you put enough of it in one place.
The sun is a ball of simple hydrogen gas, and there is so much hydrogen in one place that it creates an extreme gravitation field--so strong in fact that the hydrogen at the center of the ball becomes metallic.
Surrounding that sphere, the hydrogen is squeezed so tightly that the atoms are disrupted. Electrons split from circling their protons. Protons are squeezed together. When four protons come together, they fuse to form a helium nucleus, which is lighter than the original four protons, so some of the proton stuff turns into energy and flies down toward your skin on the beach.
But protons are all positively charged. Things of the same charge repel each other. The squeezing is so much, though, that it overcomes the charge and forces the protons together.
That's one way to look at the thermonuclear explosion in the sun.
Another way to look at it is this: things are so tight inside the sun, that the Heisenberg principle dictates that if you look at things for short enough periods of time it's statistically probable that protons will simply "appear" close to each other in packs of four. They aren't squeezed, they just pop into reality close to each other, and when they do, they fuse.
Either way, the sun makes light.
But do we really know what's going on there?
There are lots of different ways to look at the world.
Do we really know what Heisenberg means when he says that if we can't know something with enough precision, that anything probable can happen at the atomic level, and so it does?
No. And does this bother anybody?
Of course not.
My wife says that five minutes before I arrive home from work every day, my dog takes up a vigil next to the door to the garage. That's how she knows I'm coming home. When the dog is sitting by the door, I'll be home in five minutes.
I come home from work a different time every day. Sometimes by a lot. Some days, I go to yoga class and come home at 8:30PM. Some times I leave work early and get home by 5:00. Some days we have late meetings, and I get home by 7:00PM. If I have to go to dinner with a customer, I might not be home till 11:00PM.
This irregularity has no effect on the dog, who waits by the door every day. She does not wait at the door when I am not coming home. She ignores it otherwise.
In his book, Dogs That Know When Their Owners are Coming Home, Rupert Sheldrake spends 250 pages trying to convince the reader of the existence of a morphic field. To me, the morphic field is akin to the cosmic ether of the Michaelson Morley experiment fame. It's an all-pervasive matrix of invisible something that mediates ESP.
The morphic field sounds stupid to my scientific mind. It's not measurable. Nobody has observed it in a lab. Some dogs seem immune to it. My brother's beagle could care less if he ever got home, as long as someone was feeding her.
I know this because I've dog-sat for my brother's beagle many times, and never once did the dog preconceive the arrival of my brother.
But I have watched my dog jump up out of a sound sleep, park herself at our front door, and then watch my wife roll into the driveway several minutes later.
My dog does this all the time.
Sheldrake ran experiments. Lots of them. His book is full of charts and graphs in between long-winded paragraphs full of new age blather. My scientific brain tells me this guy is trying to turn something perfectly explainable into a mystery of the occult. The magic of the pyramids in our own homes. Ghosts and visions of the dead.
I know there has to be something. I just do. The dog has to be receiving a cue somehow. Maybe she hears the car. Maybe the family behaves slightly differently when they know I'm supposed to come home.
That's it. It can't be true my dog senses my arrival through some garbagy, non-mathematical morphic fairy field.
In the mid nineteenth century it was common knowledge that stones fell from thunder clouds. In particularly bad storms, honed green rocks like arrowheads and axe blades would come from the sky along with the rain, the thunder, and the lightning.
Everyone knew this happened. Livestock were killed all the time. Stone axe blades would be found in trees that had been struck by lightning.
They called them thunderstones.
Nature, Jul 13, 1893
American Journal of Science, 2-31-459
New York Times, Apr 14 1879
Annual Record of Science, 1875, p 241
Etc. There are hundreds of reports in scholarly journals about this. A man named Charles Fort recorded lots of them in the early part of the twentieth century.
And not only that, but all those journals and more reported fish falling from thunderclouds. And frogs. And unidentifiable resinous substances.
But never tadpoles.
Fort's The Book of the Damned is full of incredible fatalism. He cites tens of published cases of live snakes falling from perfectly blue skies all over the world, and yet even though the sources are entirely credible, he could find no scientist willing to go on record saying there was a natural explanation for the event. No. Not even that far--because he couldn't find a single scientist who was willing to agree the fall of rats happened, even though tens of surprised citizens had witnessed it, and Scientific American magazine reported on it.
In all cases, the scientific explanation was one of two: 1) A "whirlwind" (cyclone, tornado, hurricane) picked up the beasts and deposited them or 2) they were on the ground in the first place.
The reader cannot help but feel Fort's sense of despair when paging through Lo!, or New Lands, or Wild Talents. Unlike the sensationalized reports of UFO abductions and visitations by the spirits of the dead that hit the New York Times Bestseller List, Fort must have thought he was simply reporting the "news of the weird".
One can sense he must have felt no one would argue with the well-refereed pages of Nature or Scientific American.
But everyone did. To this day, people will argue frogs never fell from the skies over London, or New York City, or Los Angeles, even though the major newspapers in those cities report they did.
Nowadays, you'd never catch Nature publishing a story about a couple hundred pounds of unboned sole falling onto suburban Baton Rouge. Everyone knows that's not supposed to happen, so it probably doesn't anymore.
In his movie, Magnolia, Paul Thomas Anderson brings a Fortean rain of frogs onto his characters at the climax of three interlocking stories. The characters are blinded by their own beliefs, which themselves have been twisted by the beliefs of those who raised them, who themselves were distorted, tragic people.
Even though frogs rain on Los Angeles and bring an abrupt halt to all the simultaneous interlocking stories, only one person actually sees them. A child.
The child says, "This happens. This is something that happens." All the while, the other characters slip on dead frogs, slide and crash their cars on frog blood, wipe off smashed bullfrog carcasses from their windshields, continuing zombie-like in the self-absorption of their personal tragedies as if the frogs were rain, and it always rains frogs in L.A.
Rupert Sheldrake reports on an experiment done by Rene Peoc'h. Peoc'h built a small robot that moved a small distance, turned in a random direction, then moved another small distance.
He put the robot in a room and let it go. As you might expect, the path the robot took was as random as Peoc'h's robot's random number generator, which was pretty random. The trace is a rat's nest effectively covering the surface of the floor of the room.
The next thing Peoc'h did was to put the robot in the room with some hatching chick eggs. Chicks imprint the first moving thing they see, and treat it as their mother. We've all seen the experiment where the scientist is the first moving creature a newly hatched chick or duck sees, and can then be seen walking around campus trailing a line of waddling ducklings.
Peoc'h's chicks saw the robot.
Fine. When they got out of their eggs, Peoc'h got what he expected--a line of waddling chicks tracing a random path around the floor of the room, following the mindless robot.
Then Peoc'h put the chicks in a cage and left the robot out of the cage.
He did this a whole bunch of times, with a whole bunch of robots and a whole bunch of chicks.
In all cases, when the chicks are in the cage, theoretically yearning for their robot "mother", the random path the robot takes is no longer random, but rather, heavily biased toward hovering around the cage with the chicks.
What does this mean?
Who the hell knows?
But this happens. This happens, too.
John Edward's critics are many.
He's an easy target. Every day, twice a day, on nation-wide American television, Edward passes messages from the land of the dead to people sitting in his audience. Dead fathers, mothers, husbands, and children, all come through John to speak to their grieving loved ones.
"It's amazing how blatant he is," says Michael Shermer of Skeptic magazine. Shermer then goes on to expose Edward's cold reading techniques, bobbing and dodging from one wrong answer to another, finally getting a "hit" and probing. People don't remember the five wrong things John says, only the one correct thing.
Carnival hucksters have been doing this for hundreds of years, Shermer implies.
And I really like Shermer. I appreciate the way he thinks because mostly I think the same way. My new age friends think I'm a hopeless close-minded loser, unaware of the wonderous life around him.
But back to John Edward--he's reshaped his show format based on the criticisms. His audience can no longer give him feedback while he's talking. There were accusations he had microphones planted around the audience gallery to pick up side conversations, and now his audiences have to remain quiet until the show starts.
When the show starts John says something like: "Someone over here has a husband or brother who died of cancer."
Not such a risky thing to say. Twenty-five percent of all people who live to fifty will get cancer. Women live longer than men, statistically.
A woman raises her hand. Most of Edward's audience is women.
"You have a mother who's passed, too," he says.
The woman nods, teary eyed.
"I don't understand this," Edward says, "Your husband is telling me you need to stop playing that Beach Boys CD. Do you understand what that means?"
The woman is nearly hysterical. She nods, wiping her eyes.
"And you have this little brown cat that died--some kind of tumor--and your mother has it. It's name is--what is this? The cat's name is 'transmission fluid'?"
The woman can't stay quiet. "My husband named it. He worked in a garage. I used to work with him. We had a radio there and I played the Beach Boys all the time. He hated that CD but he would never tell me to turn it off."
Edward cuts her off. "And what's this about a crack in the bathroom window?"
"I accidentally hit the window with bottle of shampoo when I was getting out of the shower..."
"And he says you were talking about this in the car on the way over. You were joking that if he came through, he'd tell you about the bathroom window and the electric bill? You had a problem with the electric bill?"
"I forgot to pay it. They turned the electricity off and I had to go down there with cash to get them to turn it back on."
"They were closed when you got there, the electric company people--"
"And then someone came and opened the door at the last minute--your husband says he sent that guy. He wants you to know he's watching over you."
The wife gasps. The audience applauds.
Adult mackrel fall from the sky.
Rupert Sheldrake ran an experiment and he reports on it in his book Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home.
The experiment is simple. Put a person in a room. One wall in the room has a one-way mirror through which people in an adjacent room can see, but the person on the mirrored side sees only his reflection. Just like on those crime drama TV shows. The person in this room sits with his back to the mirror, staring at the cinderblock wall in front of him.
In the adjacent room, another person sits facing the one-way mirror, though which he can see the person sitting in the other room, facing away.
At predetermined times, the person who can see the other person is asked to either look at the back of the person in the other room, or to look away. The person with his back to the mirror (who couldn't see through the mirror anyway) is asked if he's being looked at or not.
Nine-hundred people were tested. A control group was also tested, in which nobody was actually looking (or not) at the person in the mirrored room.
In the tested group, people correctly ascertained were being looked at 75% of the time.
People in the control group tended to guess they were being looked at 50% of the time, even though nobody was looking.
I remember kneeling on the fluffy white rug in the debrief room at the Nancy Penn Center at the Monroe Institute after a particularly intense session where my mind had been projected from my body and into the space visited frequently by drug addicts and insane people.
I was meditating in my isolation booth, and I had a dream. In this dream I was hovering over the building, looking at boxes of shingles laying on the plywood, inert.
In this dream I looked up and saw my friend, Paul, and another guy we had just met that I'll call Pete.
Paul came into the debrief room and knelt in front of me. I was lost in the carpet weave, praying Paul would not say what I knew he would say. I wanted it to be my hallucination. It was a part of my brain. My dreams. My innermost thoughts. What did it mean if we could share dreams? What did it mean if I could project myself out of my body to a point about 30 feet above the roof of the building in which I was now doubting my sanity.
"Tell me they're not repairing the roof," I said to Paul. "Please."
Paul said, "I kept signaling for you to come up to where I was, but you were so interested in those boxes of shingles I couldn't get your attention."
It was at that point my mind went into rejection. Denial. This was not happening--and if it was, I was the victim of a cruel trick. I knew what physics was. I knew what science was. Human intelligence arises out of the complex interaction of electrical activity inside the brain. Nobody knows why, but we know if we damage the brain, we damage the person. The person is the brain--is inside the brain.
That's what I was thinking to myself, really hard. Because if I was wrong, almost nothing I believed was worth believing.
Pete had overheard my brief conversation with Paul. He stopped dead in his tracks.
Pete said, "This is total bullshit."
Paul started to laugh, "You got stuck in the trees!"
In fact, in my dream, Pete was tangled in the thin upper branches of the tall pines surrounding the center.
Pete blanched. He grabbed a wall to steady himself.
"Bullshit!" he screamed. Then he ran away.
I knew how he felt.
The frogs were falling, and I knew they weren't. It just couldn't happen.
I wouldn't let it.