Monday, February 9, 2009

Proving His Point

Ben Stein is well-known for the documentary Expelled which exposes the academic closed-mindedness and intolerance of the Darwinian establishment. Stein documents in the film how those in the scientific community who question Darwinian orthodoxy often lose their jobs and suffer other forms of professional and social ostracism.

The film elicited a flurry of protests, denials, and other caterwauling from the members of that establishment who objected that Stein was exaggerating, and that there's certainly no persecution of those who question Darwinism nor stifling of speech. None.

Now the University of Vermont has turned around and demonstrated the very intolerance Stein claims pervades the liberal academic establishment by essentially rescinding an invitation to speak at the University's graduation ceremony. Apparently there was so much hostility to having a commencement speaker who challenged Darwinian orthodoxy, and who had the temerity to film some of the big-wig Darwinians - like Richard Dawkins - making themselves look foolish, that the president of the school urged Mr. Stein to cancel his engagement.

Talk about making the other guy's argument for him ...

Meanwhile, a contrite Stein kneels before the shrine of the great man himself seeking absolution for his impertinence. Maybe this will get him back into the good graces of the broad-minded folks at U of V:


LeConte's Sparrow

This tiny beauty has created quite a stir among Pennsylvania birders. It's a very rare and lovely sparrow found by a gentleman named Al Guarente in a grassy meadow in Darlington Park near Media, PA this winter. Normally the LeConte's stays west of the Mississippi and breeds in the north-central tier states and Canada, but every once in a while one makes its way east during the winter.

The bird is a skulker, staying hidden low in grasses and brush, so it's really quite amazing that it was found at all. I was fortunate enough to view it for about twenty minutes on Saturday. A photo of the actual individual seen at Darlington park can be found here.


Quantum Enigma

Bruce Rosenblum and Fred Kuttner are physicists who've written an excellent book for the layman on some of the perplexing mysteries entailed by quantum theory. The book is titled Quantum Enigma and the phenomena they discuss are certainly enigmatic. Not only do they reveal the world to be almost incomprehensible, especially at the level of the atom, but they have fascinating implications for our view of reality. Here are several of the more perplexing conclusions that quantum theorists have drawn:

1. Microscopic reality - atoms, atomic particles, etc. - is observer-dependent. There is no reality apart from observation. Nothing exists in the sense that we normally think of the word until a conscious being actually interacts with it.

2. Microscopic objects exist in more than one place simultaneously. Consider two boxes into which an atom has been randomly inserted by a machine. Since the atom was observed in the machine (let's assume) we can say that it exists, but we can't know in which box it was inserted. Indeed, until someone actually looks in the box the atom is literally in both of them, it has a dual existence, but once the lid is lifted on one of the boxes and someone peers inside the atom is found either in one or the other. In other words, the observer not only creates the reality (and a past history appropriate to the present reality) but the atom actually existed in two places at once prior to the observation.

3. Microscopic objects are entangled even at vast distances. Suppose two packets of light energy hurtle away from each other at the speed of light for two weeks. Suddenly, an observer somewhere in the galaxy passes one packet through a filter that imposes upon it a certain physical property. Simultaneously, the other particle will display the same property to another observer tracking it, even though there was no way the second particle could "know" what happened to the first. The property was created by the observation of that property in the first particle. Every particle is entangled throughout the cosmos so that what affects one affects them all. Instantly.

4. What is true of the microscopic world is true of the macroscopic world. Since large objects are made of tiny atoms what is true of atoms individually turns out to be true of atoms in the aggregate. Nevertheless, these quantum effects are much more difficult to observe in large objects.

Bishop George Berkeley appears to have been correct when he pronounced some 250 years ago that "To be is to be perceived." If everything is determined by consciousness, if things don't have any existence apart from being observed, if particles at one edge of a galaxy are connected instantaneously to particles across the galaxy then our world is not at all as it seems to us at our scale of perception.

The authors quote physicist Martin Rees who said that the universe "could only come into existence if someone observed it. It does not matter that the observers turned up several billion years late. The universe exists because we observe it."

It seems totally bizarre that the existence of the world should depend entirely upon our perception of it yet Rosenblum and Kuttner argue persuasively that there's no getting around the fact that it does seem dependent upon consciousness. Perhaps we should consider Berkeley's solution and posit that everything in the world is observed continuously by a universal consciousness. That seems like such a plausible, obvious hypothesis, but in all their speculations Rosenblum and Kuttner never mention it, even though everything in their book leads to the possibility that the world is an idea in the mind of a cosmic consciousness, a God.

Even theists will blanche at the suggestion that the world as we experience it is an illusion, and yet the more one reads about the implications of quantum theory, a theory that is said to be the best tested hypothesis in all of modern physics, a theory that provides the theoretical underpinning for much modern electronic technology - things like MRIs, lasers, transisters all rely upon it - the more one realizes that the world cannot be as we perceive it to be. Could it be that the world of our senses is, like the Matrix, not true reality and that the really real lies elsewhere?