The Limits of Human Science

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In an attempt to carry on a dialogue with the scientific empiricists among us, I would humbly like to submit a few thoughts and arguments about what I perceive to be the limitations of science and the scientific method. This is not necessarily intended to be an argument in favor of religion or mysticism – only an attempt to question the degree to which some of us, paradoxically, put our absolute faith in scientific knowledge, to the exclusion of anything else. Nor is this intended to question the validity of the scientific method – it’s really about questioning some of the basic assumptions we make about science.

One of the basic steps in the scientific method is “observation”. Empirical science is entirely predicated on observation, as it is the first step in the process, followed by the steps of “analysis” and “inference”. Newton, for example, developed his laws of motion when he observed an apple falling from a tree, as the legend goes, which is an anecdotal way of pointing out that, essentially, Newton’s laws of motion reflect his rational explanation, in the language of Mathematics, of the behavior of physical objects in the observed universe – the key point being that it is a rationalization (i.e. mathematical explanation) of observations.

Einstein added a unique twist to the scientific method in that he often worked from what he called “thought experiments”. Einstein was also a major proponent of the role of the imagination in science, which was a significant departure from the scientific method preceding him – much more driven by empiricism, i.e. experiment and observation. The scientific method, as it stands today appears to follow an iterative paradigm in which we have such steps as “Think of Interesting Questions” and “Formulate Hypotheses”, etc. However, it still appears to be fundamentally predicated on the apparently all-important step of “Making Observations”.

Now here’s the thing about making observations – they are essentially subjective. Every scientific observation ever made on record has been made by a human being with five senses and with a uniquely human point of view. It might be argued that scientific instruments provide us with a more objective means of observing reality, but let’s keep in mind that every scientific instrument ever built was designed and built by human beings with five senses (or by machines designed and built by similar human beings) and intended to be read by other human beings with five senses. Thus, in design, architecture and interface, every scientific instrument ever built essentially serves and reinforces the human five-sensory perception of reality. Einstein’s approach of deploying the creative imagination lends his theoretical work a uniquely original, out-of-the-box perspective. Nevertheless, in order to be accepted as mainstream science, Einstein’s theories had to be subjected to mathematical elaboration and empirical validation (by means of scientific experiments and instruments designed by human beings with a five-sensory perspective on reality).

Following Einstein’s example, if we allow our imagination to take flight, at this stage, and conduct a small thought experiment … let’s imagine that somewhere in our vast universe there is an intelligent alien life form of some sort – a silicon-based life-form, for argument’s sake, with eleven senses, three hearts and five brains operating in parallel, like nodes in a computer server cluster. In other words, a life form as far removed from our own as we can imagine. Let’s imagine that they eat raw sand and other silicates for breakfast and that they can see a different range of electromagnetic frequencies than we human beings can (e.g. radio frequencies, UV frequencies, etc.) and hear a different range of audio frequencies than we can, much like bats, for example. Let’s even imagine that their sense of touch is not “in tune” with ours, so that they might be able to walk through walls or on water. Would the perception and experience of reality of such an alien being be remotely similar to our own? Of course not. Therefore, would their observation of nature be remotely in sync with our own? Obviously not.

If, therefore, this alien being had a profoundly different observational experience of reality than our own, and if, as we understand, observation is the integral step in the scientific method, does it not follow that any science developed by this alien intelligence would have absolutely no correlation or similarity with our own concept of science? Is it not reasonable to suppose that this alien science would be fundamentally different from what we must now term “human science” – different in ways that we cannot possibly imagine? Indeed, it may be the case that not only will an alien intelligence arrive at different physical principles than our own, based on their very different observation of reality, but, in my opinion, we cannot even be sure that the mathematical systems they develop will have any correlation with our own. We would tend to suppose that 2+2=4 is a universal fact, but can we be sure of that? Unless we happen to encounter an alien intelligence that corroborates that as a universal fact, we cannot be absolutely certain – it remains an assumption.

If we then conclude that our present understanding of “human science” is limited by our five-sensory experience of reality, and if, one day, we happened to develop a sixth sense, out of the blue, is it not possible that our new perspective of reality, afforded to us now by our six senses, might render all of existing human science as simplistic or incomplete or even, possibly, deeply flawed in some way that we now cannot fathom in our five-sensory state? In which case, how can we have any clue that what we now consider to be indisputable fact is not utterly absurd from a more enlightened point of view, even as the Renaissance theory of the bodily humors or the Medieval ideas about medicinal blood-letting are from our post-modern point of view?

Thus, if we consider any of the so-called “conspiracy theories” or “mystical ideas” out there, such as Deepak Chopra’s ideas about alternative healing or David Icke’s theory that the moon might be an artificial satellite or Masaru Emoto’s ideas on the effect of human consciousness on the crystalline structure of water – are we justified in claiming that such ideas contradict modern science? Isn’t it more accurate to state that such ideas contradict human science as we currently understand it – in its current stage of development? Does that invalidate these alternative ideas or render them inaccurate? Surely not! Unless and until we can find solid evidence definitively to demonstrate the fallacy of such ideas, we must at least concede that they are possible, however improbable we may consider them to be. And even if we do find the evidence to refute any of these ideas, how can we be certain that we are not misreading or misinterpreting the evidence or the idea?

Given all of these considerations, is it reasonable for some of us to assert that our current understanding of modern science gives us the right and ability to ridicule any ideas that may seem to be absurd from the modern scientific perspective? Or should we not, at least, try to be more open-minded and accepting of apparently unconventional ideas, considering that some of them may have the potential to be enormously beneficial to humankind?

In Defense of “Conspiracy Theories”

Let’s imagine living in Soviet Russia during the 1960’s – the height of the Cold War – and let’s imagine that the KGB used the Russian phrase teoriya zagorova to signal to the Soviet public that certain ideas, beliefs and sources of information were to be marginalized, even shunned – how would you, as a literate adult in the 21st Century look upon those ideas and information? I think the rational response would be to take a closer look at them, for the simple reason that the Soviet-era KGB (or, for that matter, the SVR, the contemporary Russian intelligence agency) is not, by any reasonable measure, to be regarded as a reliable source of public information.

Now, let’s flashback to November 22, 1963 – the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, commonly believed to have been perpetrated by a lone, crazed assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, from the Texas School Book Depository. This was the official version of events propagated by the mainstream press of the time. However, since then, a small group of out-of-the-box thinkers, based upon significant evidence – as publicized, most famously, in the Oliver Stone film JFK – began to suggest that the Kennedy assassination was not as it had been made out to be in the mainstream press. There may have been other shooters involved, most notably a shooter from behind the so-called “grassy knoll”, while Lee Harvey Oswald may, in fact, have been a CIA operative, and the assassination itself may have been orchestrated by former CIA chief and notorious Nazi sympathizer, Allen Dulles. Well, FSU professor Lance deHaven-Smith, in his 2013 book Conspiracy Theory in America (as cited on Wikipedia), alleges that the CIA “deployed” the usage of the phrase conspiracy theory in the 1960’s in order to discredit such alternative speculation about the Kennedy assassination, and this became the first widespread usage of the term as we understand it today.

What does this historical background about the origin of the modern colloquial usage of the phrase conspiracy theory suggest to the rational adult living in the 21st century? I guess it depends on how much credence one gives to the CIA, as a reliable source of public information – the CIA, one of whose stated objectives is the perpetuation of disinformation, especially with respect to the perceived enemies of the United States! One would have to be gullible indeed, if not utterly deluded, to take the CIA’s word at face value! For the same reason that no rational adult living in the modern world would take the KGB’s or SVR’s word at face value – because these are state-run intelligence agencies for whom deception and disinformation is standard operating procedure!

And yet, somehow, against all sense and reason, the term conspiracy theory has entered common usage as a label with which to discredit and marginalize any information or idea that happens to conflict with or challenge the widely accepted mainstream, institutional interpretation of reality. No doubt, if Galileo or Kepler had introduced their theories about heliocentrism and elliptical planetary orbits in this day and age, the CIA would label them as conspiracy theories, even as the Catholic Church of the 16th century declared them as heretical ideas at the time! The phrase “conspiracy theory” is, in effect, the modern equivalent of the Medieval “heresy” – both are basically ways of flagging certain ideas or information as unacceptable, even threatening, to the establishment. It is the establishment’s way of marginalizing and discrediting any form of knowledge that may threaten its hold over the public imagination.

This is not to suggest that every idea in the realm of the conspiracy theory must, at once, be taken seriously. No doubt, there are many ideas in that domain that have no rational basis or justification, and must, therefore, be considered to be irrational, pending the disclosure of additional supporting evidence! However, it does imply that any idea, however far-fetched or outrageous it may seem to be at first glance, should be assessed on its own merits and on the evidence supporting the claims made. Not because some mainstream institution happens to dismissively label it as a “conspiracy theory” without any serious consideration of the case to be made in support of the claims. Anything less than this essentially amounts to surrendering one’s rational faculties to the self-appointed wardens of taste in our society, many of whom have no more than a grade-school understanding of the facts in question, and certainly are lacking in the specialized knowledge necessary to make sense of them.

An excellent example is the theory, posited by the well-known “conspiracy theorist” David Icke, that the universe is constituted of wave-form energy and that our perception of the solidity of matter is, in fact, a trick of the senses. The immediate, reflexive response of most of us in mainstream society, conditioned as we are by mass media and a simplistic grade-school understanding of Newtonian Physics, would be to roll our eyes and murmur the words “conspiracy theory.” And yet, this idea is substantiated by modern experimental quantum mechanics – wave-particle duality as demonstrated in the well-established “double-slit experiment” – that clearly points to the possibility that all matter is, at its core, wave-form energy, and that electromagnetic energy waves double as material particles upon the intervention of a conscious observer. Similar themes have been expressed by such brilliant minds as Einstein and Planck. Unless one is aware of this background into theoretical and experimental Physics, one would not be in a position to adequately form an informed opinion on what the mass of uninformed humanity might dismiss as a “conspiracy theory.”

As such, the least one can do is to give such ideas a fair hearing, because, who knows? It may not be so far-fetched after all to suggest, for example, that the Bushes and Clintons are involved in narcotics and human trafficking and child abuse, or that the Rockefellers conspired with the Nazis to suppress the healing Solfeggio frequencies. Without a clear knowledge and understanding of the evidence and the case to be made, are we in a position to adjudicate on the credibility of these ideas?

David Icke and the Limits of Human Perception 

banksy-canvas-prints-people-with-television-heads-73cm-by-50cm-1r177mRecently, I have been delving into the ideas of the reputed conspiracy theorist turned metaphysical philosopher, David Icke. I now own several of his books and have watched and listened to hours of video and audio footage of his talks and interviews, so I think I have some basic understanding of some of his more esoteric and mind-bending ideas.

One of his ideas that really speaks to me is what he says about the very nature of human perception of the universe. Complementing the ideas of such brilliant minds as Tesla and Einstein, Icke delineates his concept of the universe as a giant field of wave-form energy that we human beings inhabit as conscious, sentient entities. We interpret this field energy through our five senses and brain to construct the experience of living in a universe of three-dimensional space and time – physical reality, as it were. But this construct really only exists in our minds – it represents how we human individuals interpret the field of wave-form energy in which we are immersed. In its raw form, the universe is nothing like how we perceive it. Icke likens our perception of the universe to the video programming one might watch on a television screen. The TV interprets the electromagnetic waves that it intercepts via its antenna or cable to construct a recognizable experience of the world. However, in its raw form, the TV signal is simply electromagnetic wave energy.

The really fascinating insight that David Icke provides is that the human sensory apparatus is tuned to an extremely limited bandwidth of frequencies. We can perceive visible light and infra-red (heat) radiation through our senses of sight and touch, we can hear a limited range of sounds through our sense of hearing, we can detect a limited range of odors through our olfactory system, and so forth. But the senses we are capable of constitute an extremely limited range – other members of the animal kingdom, in fact, have their senses tuned to different ranges, so that cats can see in the dark, dogs have highly sensitive senses of smell and hearing, and bats have a highly developed sense of hearing that it uses as a form of acoustic radar to navigate through a world in which it is, essentially blind. Furthermore, while our senses are bombarded with signals at all times, our brain filters these signals so that only a fraction of what our senses perceive actually reaches our awareness.

The bottom line is that what we human beings know and experience as reality is only a tiny fraction of what is really around us – our interpretation of the vast field of wave-form energy that surrounds us is extremely limited. There is much that we cannot perceive simply because of the limitations of our senses and the capacities of our brains to process the information our senses receive. Even with the benefit of peripheral devices and technology, our perception of reality can only be slightly extended.

And this brings David Icke to the startling hypothesis that, potentially, explains much of what we conceive – and dismiss – as the workings of the supernatural. If our perceptions are so limited, how can we reasonably infer that what we see or hear or otherwise sense is all there is to the universe around us? If we are tuned to a specific channel on our TV sets, then we are limited to viewing only the specific programming to which we have access. But that doesn’t mean that all of the other channels don’t exist, simply because we are tuned to one specific channel. They do exist, and if we flipped the channel we would be able to access that programming.

But what if we lived in a backward totalitarian state, where the only programming we could receive on our cheap black-and-white TV sets was the government channel of 24/7 state propaganda? Because we would not have the capacity to flip the channel on our cheap one-channel TV sets, we would never be aware that any of the other channels or programming even existed. We would not be aware that there was such a thing as color TV or multiple TV channels!

Becoming aware of color television and multiple channels of TV programming and, in fact, the ability to flip channels on a whim, would be something like experiencing an expansion of personal consciousness. One becomes aware of other dimensions of reality, beyond what one had previously been exposed to in one’s very limited sphere of awareness.

That, in effect, is the profound metaphor that David Icke uses to explain his understanding of what we deem to be the “supernatural” – in other words, phenomena that we dismiss as incredible simply becauase they occur beyond our capacity to perceive them! When you really think about it, it seems perfectly logical, but the implications of this feat of reasoning are profound – and, indeed, terrifying! What, in fact, lurks out there in the universe, behind our very shoulders, perhaps – beyond the reaches of our ability to perceive it? David Icke makes some terrifying suggestions – he claims the existence of parasitic reptilian creatures who feed on human life-force energy. Apparently far-fetched, but is it really?

Having previously written about human perception on my blog, this subject is particularly interesting to me and worth thinking and reading about in greater depth!

Voices of Doom

Media Sensationalism vs. Mindfulness Meditation

It is a cliché, by now, to state that the media thrives on sensationalism and fear-mongering. This, now obvious and undeniable, fact applies not only to trashy tabloid publications like The National Enquirer, The Daily Mirror and The Sun but even to the pillars of the supposedly mainstream media like CNN and Fox News and, dare I say it, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and The Washington Post.

It is now apparent that even responsible, mainstream journalism cannot escape the influence of the established tenets of lurid tabloid journalism, namely, that “sex sells” and that “if it bleeds, it leads.” This explains the over-abundance of gratuitously sexual and violent stories and images that have saturated the media for the last century and, even more so, in this century. And, as in the case of Rupert Murdoch, when the press barons of today are actually purveyors of tabloid journalism themselves, the line of distinction between so-called “responsible journalism” and “tabloid journalism” becomes increasingly blurry and indistinguishable.

Recent examples of the absurd depths to which mainstream media institutions have fallen in their ongoing attempts to sensationalize the news, range from CNN’s infamous reporting on such trivial occurrences as the changing seasons as if they were national catastrophes and Fox News’ exaggerated reporting about teenagers on spring break as if they were crime-ridden orgies. You can say what you like about the likes of Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst — at least they had some standards! Compared to the blatantly unethical press barons of today, those vendors of early 20th century yellow-journalism come across as the most credible of media outlets!

The long-term effects of this constant, never-ending barrage of negative news can be devastating to the public. It is designed to distract and stimulate the brain’s amygdala, much in the way that Roman imperialists relied on “bread and circuses” to keep the public preoccupied and perpetually on-edge, and oblivious to their own poverty-stricken, miserable condition. Simultaneously, it is about selling massive quantities of newsprint and gleaning millions of dollars in TV advertising revenue. But for the populace at large — over time, they are reduced to a mass of cowering, paranoid, jittery lemmings — perpetually panic-stricken and on the verge of mass hysteria over the slightest untoward circumstance!

It is no overstatement to say that this is, in itself, a dangerous development. When the public has become conditioned by mass media to become so nervous and on-edge that any sudden movement by some unsuspecting bystander may be misinterpreted as a horrendous crime against humanity, then when real tragedy or catastrophe strikes, the public is so completely off the deep end that they would, potentially, give up all their human rights and liberties in the service of the next wannabe authoritarian tyrant or dictator! This is very similar to what has happened in the US over the last decade since 9/11, with the introduction of mass-surveillance, the Patriot Act and the invasion of Iraq as textbook overreactions to an undeniably devastating national tragedy and catastrophe. This trend in the media can only have one long-term consequence — to realize a self-fulfilling prophecy of Doom by inducing a populace of panic-stricken lemmings into a frenzy of hysterical self-destruction!

There is no easy solution to this problem. The only one that has really helped me has been the practice of mindfulness meditation that I have taken up recently. This form of meditation has its roots in the Zen practice of the far-east, which, in turn, developed from Dhyana Buddhism, originally from India. In fact, the Sanskrit word Dhyana, which morphed into Zen when the practice migrated to China and Japan, literally translates to “mindfulness” or “awareness.” This practice ultimately derives from the archaic Indian tradition of yoga and pranayama breathing techniques, which have truly stood the test of time in proving their usefulness and power.

Mindfulness meditation is enormously helpful in enabling one to clear one’s mind and free it from the distractions of day-to-day urban life. It effects a shift in consciousness from the amygdala — the easily excited, constantly distracted seat of consciousness that is so rampantly exploited and manipulated by the modern media — to a deeper seat of consciousness, where one can achieve perspective and think more clearly and profoundly about things. The results for me, after a relatively brief foray into this practice, have been astounding. I feel more at ease and relaxed for the most part and I find my level of reading comprehension has improved significantly. I feel less traumatized by the horrific images to which I am repeatedly exposed on the TV and I find myself more inclined to read good books instead of habitually vegging out in front of the boob tube. I find myself more aware and appreciative of the simpler things in life and, in general, my life has become more meaningful and filled with serendipity and Jungian synchronicity.

While I cannot prove it, I think there is a strong case to be made for a direct causal relationship with these developments to my recent practice of mindfulness meditation. Indeed, the scientific data supports my argument, as mindfulness meditation has been proven to be extremely powerful in treating cases of stress and trauma. The power of mindfulness meditation techniques have even been demonstrated to ease PTSD among military veterans.

The prevailing mood of pessimism and gloom induced by media sensationalism is a problem, especially when such a mood can induce the public to panic-stricken acts of overreaction and self-destructiveness. The only olive branch I can offer as a symbol of hope and peace to the hysterical masses is an entry in my blog urging more people to take up mindfulness meditation. There are apps for this practice on the IOS app store (and, I presume, on Android as well), so it is all the more accessible these days, no longer requiring one to travel to the Himalayas in search of a Guru! Here’s hoping that calmer heads will prevail in the future — and the more calmer heads there are in the future, thanks to Zen and mindfulness meditation, the more likely it will be that they will prevail!

Loud and Stupid: On Groupthink and Mob Psychology

We live in an age when, thanks to the miracles of modern technology, it is easier than ever before to express oneself and to make oneself heard. On the other hand, thanks to these very same technological wonders, the sad reality of groupthink seems to be more pervasive than ever before — people appear, at some level, to be more inclined to follow the herd and less inclined to think critically as individuals and ask difficult questions of themselves and others.

The media appears to have lost every shred of integrity, a fact underscored most recently by the Brian Williams fiasco, and is so much at the mercy of market influences that one cannot take it seriously any more. The public appears to be more misinformed and deluded than ever before — at the mercy of unscrupulous politicians, marketers and PR firms peddling their dubious wares. The disturbing levels of pervasive religious superstition and the lack of basic scientific knowledge in mainstream society are getting to be downright dangerous — the prevalence of apocalyptic ideas among the religiously minded is on the verge of turning into a self-fulfilling prophecy!

And yet, the tools for widespread education and enlightenment are readily at our disposal. It is easier than ever before to educate oneself — one can even audit lectures from the world's leading universities online for free, and great works of literature have never been more accessible, thanks to their publication in digital form by such ventures as Project Gutenberg, Google Books and others.

So what keeps us in this state of pervasive ignorance? What prevents us from achieving the enlightened state that would keep us from being manipulated and exploited by politicians, marketers and religious con-men? Perhaps it is about recognizing that mere access to tools and technology is only the first step in a very long process. There needs to be a cultural shift away from ignorance, groupthink and a mob mentality, and towards education and critical thought. There needs to be greater awareness of the tools and technologies at our disposal that enable us to better ourselves and others. We need to learn to think for ourselves and give less credence to loud-mouth talking heads on TV who try to tell us how and what to think!

The truth is probably that we are in middle of a cultural paradigm shift — a fundamental transformation that is at least as significant, in many ways, as the invention of the printing press. Technology changes so rapidly that it hardly has the time to be fully appropriated by society before it makes yet another quantum leap! And the exponential rates at which technology continues to advance means that the problem is likely to get worse in the near future before it gets better!

I guess, in the end, the only thing that will save us is our own human individuality — our human capacity to grow, learn and adapt to the rapidly shifting circumstances around us — to develop the faculty for critical thought and the ability to learn empirically as well as theoretically.

In the end, I believe that we, as human individuals, can do a great deal to shape our destiny.