Friday, June 15, 2007
Things Which Science Has Not Explained
A journalist has compiled a list of things science has yet to explain. While I don’t particularly admire his list, it occurs to me that the best way to evaluate the state of science has always been to consider phenomena which scientists have been unable to explain and which, better still, contradict their current theories. It is through those chinks in the armor of accepted scientific knowledge that great new discoveries come. . . although at first considered the dubious notions of an eccentric or heretic.
Here’s the list of “Ten Unexplained Phenomena”, by Benjamin Radford (omitting most of his discussion):
1. The Placebo Effect. ‘The placebo effect demonstrates that people can cause a relief in medical symptoms or suffering by believing the cures to be effective -- whether they actually are or not. Using processes only poorly understood, the body's ability to heal itself is far more amazing than anything modern medicine could create.’
2. Extrasensory Perception (ESP). Contrary to Mr. Radford’s insinuations, this is one of the best proved phenomena on his list, and the one most likely to crack the façade of conventional scientific wisdom. The most impressive evidence is probably the ability of a “receiver” to draw strikingly accurate pictures of something the “sender” is viewing in another place, a phenomenon that has been demonstrated repeatedly since at least the 1930’s. “Psychic detectives” are proving their usefulness in crime solving again and again.
3. Near-Death Experiences.
4. UFOs (“Unidentified Aerial Phenomena”).
5. Déjà vu.
7. Mysterious Disappearances. (I remember a convincing account of a man who was seen by his family simply to vanish as he was walking toward them across a field. No explanation was ever discovered. A number of ships have been found with their crews inexplicably missing. Objects as well as persons sometimes mysteriously disappear. When I was a teenager I was alone in a second story bedroom with a towel which I threw on the bed; when I turned a moment later to pick it up, it was not there; repeated searches failed to find it. Most people also know of situations in which unsuccessful search after search of an area is made for some item which was placed there, and after the item has been given up for lost it is found in plain view in the area previously searched.)
8. Intuition; Sixth Sense. It seems Mr. Radford is referring to ‘hunches’ about things which are going to happen, but he does not use the term “precognition” or “premonition”.
9. Bigfoot. I’ve never been interested in Bigfoot or the Abominable Snowman, but the Loch Ness Monster holds a certain appeal.
10. The Taos Hum. ‘Some residents and visitors in the small city of Taos, New Mexico, have for years been annoyed and puzzled by a mysterious and faint low-frequency hum in the desert air.’
I add the following phenomena of my own selection, which fail to fit within current scientific theories.
1. Premonitions; precognition. Foreknowledge of events occurs frequently in many people’s lives, even if on the mundane level of knowing the telephone is about to ring. “I started thinking about you a few seconds ago!” Often precognition is much more striking and important.
2. Miracle cures; spontaneous and medically inexplicable remissions of deadly illnesses.
4. Synchronicity. We tend to call them “coincidences” but the courses of our lives are often affected in startling ways by synchronicities. . . especially if we pay attention to those startling “coincidences” and try to detect what they may be telling us.
5. Psychokinesis. Although not as well established as ESP, the ability of humans to influence physical objects outside their bodies with “the mind” has been demonstrated. I feel that this is accomplished not by trying to direct a force from one’s head or hands at an object as if shooting a rifle at a target – but instead by going beneath the surface, so to speak, and influencing the common energy or power which underlies both the human influencer and the object.
6. Poltergeists. These destructive spirits or forces are not ghosts. They may be a form of involuntary psychokinesis. Poltergeist phenomena are so far off of science’s charts, yet so well verified and so relatively common, that they are prime candidates for forcing revisions in scientists’ theories about how the universe works. Unfortunately many scientists, as humans trying to protect their territories, prefer stubbornly to deny a well documented phenomenon rather than to dismantle their existing theories.
7. Aging. Science still does not know what causes people to dry up, shrivel and wrinkle, lose hair, lose strength, become fragile, and gradually suffer loss of bodily functions.
In conclusion, I respect science and its applications, especially when I have a painless tooth extraction or drive my car to the next town instead of walking twenty miles, but what pass for “explanations” by science are often just labels rather than explanations. Giving names to things and diagramming them or describing them with numbers can give the illusion of explanation. True,it is an advance in knowledge to find that aging and intelligence have a genetic basis, but it is more a discovery of a fresh path for investigation than an explanation of why people get old in spite of periodically renewing all the cells in their bodies. Even if scientists reach the point of being able to say, “This gene is responsible for shutting down body functions at a certain point and bringing on old age,” will they really have explained why aging occurs? Is saying “a gene does it” any different, really, from saying, “Something in our bodies, placed there by something, for some reason, keeps us from staying young”?