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.

6. Ghosts.

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.

3. Dowsing.

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”?


  1. Blogger has issues and it's ticking me off. That said, this was an interesting post. I don't disagree with your statement that what often passes for an explanation is just documentation. However, I don't hold with the idea that science is supposed to explain everything away. Most times it IS mostly just about documenting what is seen and others will work it out later.
    There is the case of the Spanish Influenza outbreak in 1918. Millions died, and scientists had a heckuva time pinpointing exactly where this bird-flu passed over into the general population.
    Enter in scientists of the day who had taken lung samples of Americans who'd died of the illness. Those were studied and the bird flu was found and studied and even reproduced! They tracked things to a man in 1916 who may have had the first case ever.
    The scientists in 1916 had so carefully documented this man's sickness and death that today's geneticists and virologists could go back and almost single-handedly pinpoint the beginning of one of the deadliest pandemics in history.

    That isn't an explanation, it's documentation, and it's science.

  2. Shelley, very insightful comment, thank you.

    You're right has issues. When I try to accept and publish a comment (like yours) from my email, it won't accept my password and I have to go to the site and hope it works there. Also, it tells me it will save my sign in info for future sign ins, but it never does.

  3. Thought provoking as these are things we all wish we had answers to and good comment from Shelley. I think we missed the fountain of youth on this shift but I bet a hundred years from now the aging process will be reversed . . . by a scientist!

  4. Zoey, your comment about 100 years from now gives me an excuse to tell that in a dream that woke me up this morning I dreamed that the year was 86,400. Can you imagine what things will be like by then?

    If the aging process is reversed, what are "they" going to do with all those people? I imagine that those who are getting younger will see to it that new ones stop being born.

  5. Well Fleming, there's always Iraq and you gotta know by 86,400 another Bush will be elected causing thousands to die. That will be the new attrition rate for the human race.

  6. There are many things that science has not explained, or not able to explain.
    Perhaps humans are god's creation, we can't think beyond god, we have limitation.

  7. Thanks, Pink Ginger. Good to hear from you.

    I couldn't agree more with your comment. I seem to become more and more aware of the limitations of human knowledge in relation to the divine.

  8. When the word science is mentioned, I always prepare myself to argue. Is it the role of science to explain everything? Well, no, because science is not one monopolistic corporation devoted to finding explanations for everything.

    I think your list is more interesting than Radford's apart from the Placebo Effect, which fascinates me, especially as I am beginning to think it was heavily involved in my miracle cure from a chronic illness two years ago, an illness which I have almost forgotten now, though it held me back and caused misery for more than ten years. But you have mentioned miracle cures in your list.

    The science which interests me most is that which illuminates our understanding of ourselves: evolution and in particular how man has developed special abilities which separate us from other animals (abilities which cause us huge problems).

  9. Vincent, when you write, "When the word science is mentioned, I always prepare myself to argue" you remind me of someone I know who argues about EVERYTHING.

    Seriously, your comment is most interesting. You and Shelley both remarked, in so many words, that it isn't the job of science to explain everything. So maybe I'm putting an unfair burden on science. It's just that I've always thought of science as a rational discipline aimed at explaining all phenomena -- though of course individual scientists are studying only a bit of the whole. . . except those bold enough to seek "The theory of everything."

    I would put your recovery in the category of "miracle cure" rather than "placebo effect", because to me a placebo is an inert or ineffective substance given to fool a patient or medical test subject.

  10. Swedenborg says that our every thought and feeling comes from a multitude of spiritual communities that surround and interact with us. Not to make us like puppets because we have also 'free will' to choose what thoughts or feelings we interact with and express. I think that ESP is simply those spiritual communities that we share, communicating with one another.

    Swedenborg is very well worth researching Fleming. An eminent scientist of his time, he devoted his later life to finding the seat of the soul and found himself carried into states of heaven and hell where he documented all he saw. Fascinating stuff and very little known.

    We are what we invite into ourselves through our own states of being and we are not in a position, not to be able choose those. Swedenborg's idea of Maximus Homo and our every fibre and filament being home to a specific spiritual community is both mind boggling and heartening.

  11. Link, your comment really has a strong impact on me personally. I'm aware of Swedenborg, have read some about him -- in particular his psychic experiences and his ability to see things from other "dimensions" which other people could not see -- but I've never read his writing in depth. Now you have me so interested that I'm hoping his work is published somewhere online.

    These things you wrote are especially fascinating: "our every thought and feeling comes from a multitude of spiritual communities that surround and interact with us." "We are what we invite into ourselves through our own states of being and we are not in a position, not to be able choose those."

    One thing that makes this even more fascinating to me is that I faithfully read your blog and had no idea you were interested in the subjects you discussed here. If you feel like writing more, maybe I could put it all together in a "guest post". But why would you give me material you could put on BEELZEBUBLOG?

  12. Very interesting post. I never heard of The Taos Hum. These things sure make our world more interesting to live in.

    A few weeks ago I was sitting on my sofa thinking about my Aunt Mary...I haven't talked to her in a long time, when the phone rang and it was her! I've had that happen to me more than once with my Aunt Mary.

    Dowsing. I've always been curious about that one too.

    interesting post! Thanks Fleming :)

    love the picture too!

  13. Thanks, Shelley. Very useful.

    Kathy, your Aunt Mary episode fits right in, doesn't it? I'm impressed.

    I never heard of the Taos Hum either, but I think similar phenomena have occurred in other desert places and have been explained by the physics of the sand.

    Thanks again, Kathy and Shelley.

  14. Good for you, Fleming! Science is admirable, but it's only a part of the equation of existence.

  15. Thank you, Freyashawk. I do believe that I seemed in this post to expect too much of the scientific method. Just as reason is a limited tool, science is also a limited tool.

  16. A wife caught her scientist husband in a compromising situation with another woman. "Darling," he exclaimed. "I can explain everything!"

    What branch of science did he practise? String theory, apparently.

  17. which came first, science or um, everything?

    science is good at naming and claiming so much of our reality that it can be mistaken for being able to explain it all........

    in behavioural terms the will to control is driven by fear, and so i will surmise that science is a fear of the unknown, which is natural and human.

    but as one grow spirtiually one can let go and accept much that caused anxiety moments before.