The 1994 J. B. Rhine Lecture, delivered at the 37th Annual Convention of the American Parapsychological Association, Amsterdam, 8 August 1994.
The General Evolution Research Group
Montescudaio (Pisa), Italy
Albert Einstein, The World As I See It (1934)
The pioneering work of J. B. Rhine at Duke University has borne fruit. In the words of Russell Targ, psi is no longer elusive: it can be demonstrated when needed for study and investigation. (Targ 1994) The fruit is not yet mature, however: the results of the experiments, as Targ also noted, are `all data.' Even meta-analysis - defined as demonstration research with the purpose to find out whether events would have occurred that are not explicable by known physical and physiological processes - fails to demonstrate the origins of the data - in the words of one observer, it is mainly `glorified literature review.'
This introductory remark is not to detract from the indubitable value of current work in quantitative psi analysis and controlled experimentation, but to point to the need to supplement such work with another effort of paramount importance: to interface the results with current theories in the natural sciences. Realists would claim that the aim of that further research is to demonstrate not only what is, but what is true about psi phenomena. A more modest definition of the objective is to link psi phenomena with bona fide phenomena in scientific fields, thereby clothing psi with whatever degree of realism one would attribute to scientific observations in general.
Not being an active psi researcher, I do not presume to add to the literature on empirical psi research or its meta-analysis. Instead, I will attempt to contribute elements to the supplementary task of confronting the data of psi research with theories in the natural sciences. To this end I shall not trace out the indicated conceptual framework.
I begin with the basics. Psi suggests some form of interconnection between phenomena separated in space and/or time. The connection is not explained in the received theories of the natural sciences, and is indeed anomalous with respect to the finite speed of signal propagation in general relativity. This poses a challenge: do we declare the laws of physics as presently formulated complete an definitive - and thus brand psi as paranormal, if not outright sham or illusion; or do we concede, as Einstein did in regard to quantum theory, that the repertory of concepts and laws of the natural sciences is essentially incomplete, and attempt to build in the additional factors that would account for psi consistently with non-anomalous phenomena? I take the latter option.
Let me proceed, then. The concept most generally used in science to account for spatial and temporal interconnection is field. If event A at one point in space is connected with event Bat a different point, A and B are interconnected by a continuous (causally or functionally correlated) matrix conceptualized as a field. Fields themselves are not observables; it is enough that the influences propagating through them should be. If a net, to use an analogy, is so fine that its thread can only be seen when tied into knots, on observing one knot moving at point A, we could in principle observe knots at points B,C,...n move without observing the net itself.
The concept of field has a considerable history: the need to link events at different points in space was known already to the Greeks. In modern times the need to account for systematic interconnections among spatially removed events arose out of Newton's theory of gravitation. Gravitational effects make for a link between cause and effect, yet `action at a distance' was unacceptable to modern science: if one event at point A attracts another event at point B, physicists assumed that there must be some medium that transmits the causal effect from A to B. Thus already in the eighteenth century gravitational action began to be interpreted as action in a gravitational field. The gravitational field was assumed to be built by all the existing mass-points in space, and to act on each mass-point as its specific spatial location. In l849 Michael Faraday used this notion to replace direct action among electric charges and currents with electric and magnetic fields produced by all charges and currents existing at a given time, and in 1864 James Clerk Maxwell stated the electromagnetic theory of light in terms of the field in which electromagnetic waves propagate at finite velocity. Since the 1920s, quantum physicists have been interpreting particle interaction in terms of quantum field theories: they view elementary particles as manifestations of energy and probability fields. A few years later Einstein, whose relativity theory is rooted in the geometry of continuous fields, pointed to Maxwell's concept of field as the most profound and fruitful transformation in our concept of reality since Newton. (Einstein 1934)
Fields link phenomena in time as well as in space. In classical science time-connections were ascribed to an unbroken chain of causes and effects. The causal chain extended logically to the very beginning of time: the initial conditions of every process could be seen as the effect of prior causes that, in turn, were the effect of still prior causes. This form of temporal connection was epitomized in the famous statement of Laplace, that an intelligence that would fully know the present state of the universe could predict and retrodict all its future and past states. This tenet is no longer maintained by scientists. By the first decades of this century the determinism of classical mechanics was discarded, and time linkages through causal chains were discarded. A probabilistic universe cannot be `caused' by its past; at the most, specific events can leave traceable impressions on a limited range of subsequent events.
However, contemporary science knows temporal linkages between phenomena that take forms other than a deterministic causal chain. The key concept is memory. Memory is not necessarily an anthropomorphic concept: it can exist in nature independently of mind and consciousness. The simplest of living organisms conserves some impressions of its environment: it has some form of memory although it does not possess a nervous system capable of mind and consciousness. Even an exposed film has memory: it `remembers' the pattern of light of various intensities that reaches its surface through the camera lens; and the computer that processes the text now being written also has memory - and even a form of logic and intelligence - although I, for one, doubt that it has mind and consciousness.
While there are several types of memory in nature, the one that has the greatest promise of affording the kind of temporary and spatial connections that are manifested in psi is that which is associated with the hologram. As used by scientists and engineers, holography is an artificial process, created for specific purposes (its principles have been discovered by Dennis Gabor in 1946 as he searched for a more efficient microscope), but holographic processes could - and very likely do - occur in nature. In a holographic information is recorded in a distributed fashion. All parts of the holographic plate receive information from all parts of the photographed object, so that the full 3-D image can be retrieved by reconstructing the wave interference patterns stored on any part of the plate - although the smaller the part used in reconstructing the information the fuzzier the resulting image. This means that, since two or more parts of the holographic plate can be viewed simultaneously, observers on two or more locations can retrieve the same information simultaneously.
Holographic information storage is also extremely dense: a small portion of a holographic plate can conserve a staggering variety of wave interference patterns. According to some estimates, the entire contents of the US Library of Congress could be stored on a holographic medium the size of a cube of sugar.
These properties of holographic information storage and retrieval suggest that a field capable of providing the kind of connections among phenomena that are exemplified in psi is likely to be a holographic one. Connections in space call for the simultaneous availability of information at different spatial locations; and the distributed nature of holographic information storage responded to this requirement. Connections in time, in turn, require the conservation of complex information and, provided the holographic film or field does not degenerate, holography satisfies this requirements as well.
But does a holographic field actually exist in nature? It is one thing to postulate a concept just to explain a phenomenon, and another to demonstrate the physical existence of the thing or event to which the concept points. To accomplish the latter, we have to show that the postulated concept is a bona fide element in the universe as known to contemporary science. Let us take closer look, then, at the question of the physical reality of a holographic field.
Contemporary physics knows four varieties of universal field: these are the gravitational, the electromagnetic, and the strong and the weak nuclear fields. According to grand-unified theories all four fields originated as a single `super-grand-unified force' in the very early universe - the currently observed fields separated out by spontaneous symmetry-breaking subsequently. It is not likely, however, that the known fields would account for the kind of spacetime connections manifested in psi. The nuclear fields are local forces of interaction; they do not interconnect phenomena across macroscopic stretches of space and time. Gravitation and electromagnetism are both universal fields, but there is no evidence that their effects would transcend the relativistic limitations of spacetime. We may have to entertain the possibility that the repertory of fields in contemporary physics needs to be completed; that there is a `fifth field' in nature.
In looking for evidence for a fifth field, we can follow the lead of David Bohm, who is an analogous context pointed to the quantum vacuum, the energy-field that characterizes the ground state of the universe. Rather than postulating a fifth field suspended, as it were, in the realm of abstract speculation, we should consider the possibility that the quantum vacuum furnishes the indicated `fifth field.' The proposition merits a deeper look.
In the course of this century, physicists have replaced the notion of an ether-filled plenum with that of a cosmic vacuum. They reasoned that, since the famous experiments of Michelson and Morley failed to show any `ether-drag' associated with the motion of the Earth, the universe is not filled with the mechanical friction-generating medium known as the luminifeours ether. Since deep space is also free of matter and gravitation, it came to be seen as a vacuum.
However, the assumption of cosmic space as a vacuum goes considerably beyond the implications of the negative results of the Michelson-Morley experiments. In a paper written already in 1881, Michelson himself pointed out that the experiments did not call into question "the existence of a medium called the ether, whose vibrations produce the phenomenon of heat and light, and which is supposed to fill all space." (Michelson 1881) The fact that the interpretation of the ether produced by Fresnel was disproved, said Michelson, should not be taken as proof that there is no medium that fills space and time and transmits a variety of effects - gravitational, electromagnetic, and possibly still others. Michelson may have been right. The quantum vacuum is filled with the zero-point energies that characterize the ground state of the universe: hence it is best described as a plenum. But what effects would that plenum transmit? The full repertory is not likely to be known, even if literally hundreds of papers have been published in the last few years on this puzzling energy field.
Enough is known of the quantum vacuum to baffle the imagination. Quantum geometrodynamics shows that at the Planck-length of 10-35m the oscillations of this super-energetic virtual-particle gas break up the structure of spacetime, giving rise to sporadically connecting and disconnecting spacetime segments. The resulting `quantum foam' - Wheeler called it superspace - consists of a pure massless charge-flux. The known particles of the universe arise in this flux, and in black-hole evaporation die back into it. Wheeler also calculated that, assuming that quantum laws hold all the way to the Planck-length of 10-35m, the vacuum's energy density must be of the order of 1094g/cm3. According to Bohm, who reached similar results, vacuum energies exceed all the energy bound in matter by a factor of 1040. This, however, is an anomaly. Given that in Einstein's celebrated formula energy is equivalent to mass, and that according to the universal laws of gravitation matter (as mass) is associated with gravitation, the energy-density of the vacuum should have collapsed the universe soon after the explosive inflation following on the Big Bang.
The quantum vacuum is not only the source and sink of matter in the universe; recent evidence indicates that under certain circumstances it can be an active force influencing the behavior of matter. For example, zero-point energies become observable when electrons around an atomic nucleus transit from one state to another: the photons they emit exhibit the so-called Lamb-shift, which is a frequency slightly shifted from its normal value. Zero-point energies also create a radiation pressure on two closely spaced metal plates. Between the plates some wavelengths of the vacuum field are excluded, thus reducing its energy density with respect to the field outside. This creates a pressure, known as the Casimir effect, that pushes the plates inward and together.
Recent physics discloses ever more interactions between matter-energy systems and the quantum vacuum. In the mid-1970s, Paul Davies and William Unruh argued that constant-speed motion through the vacuum will exhibit its spectrum as isotropic, whereas accelerated motion will produce a thermal radiation that breaks open the directional symmetry. The Davies-Unruh effect, too small to be measured with physical instruments, prompted scientists to investigate whether accelerated motion through the vacuum would produce further effects. Various effects have been - and are being - discovered. (Laszlo 1993) Even the force of inertia, according to a recent study, is an interactive vacuum effect. It is a form of electromagnetic resistance arising in accelerated frames from the spectral distortion of the zero-point field. (Haisch, Puthoff and Rueda, 1994)
To discard the concept of the ether as a universal effect-transmitting field may have been premature. There are questions even as to whether that field may interact with the photons that traverse it. Already in 1913, Georges Sagnac showed that the speed of light does not remain invariant in a rotating frame of reference but varies with the direction of rotation. (Sagnac 1913) Sagnac's findings were subsequently contested by Paul Langevin, but Langevin's interpretation was questioned in turn by Herbert Ives. Ives applied Poincaré's (rather than Einstein's) principle of relativity to the results of the Michelson-Morley experiments and came up with the `rod-contraction-clock-retardation ether theory.' By elaborating Loretz's equations regarding motion in a universal reference frame, Ives could account for the experimental results that are usually cited in support of the theory of special relativity. (Ives 1938, 1949, 1950, 1951)
More decisive evidence was published by Ernest Silvertooth, first in 1987, on the one-hundredth anniversary of the conclusion of the Michelson-Morley experiments. (Silvertooth 1987, 1992) His results demonstrate that the wavelength of light varies with the direction of its propagation. More than Sagnac's experiments, which indicate that special relativity's light-velocity constant does not apply to rotating frames of reference, Silvertooth's experiment shows that the constant also fails to apply to light travelling in a straight line. The Earth, according to the results obtained in this experiment, moves in space with an absolute velocity. The value of this velocity (378 +/- 19 km/sec) matches the independent astronomical determination of the Earth's motion relative to the cosmic background radiation (365 +/- 18km/sec).
It now appears that what Michelson and Morley have shown is that the average of the back-and-forth velocity of light within a given reference frame is constant. This is in agreement with the principles of special relativity. What they have not shown, on the other hand, is that the one-way velocity of light would be likewise constant irrespective of the motion of the observer. This velocity would violate relativity in that it varies with the motion of the observer in relation to the light source. The variation, negligible at ordinary velocities, becomes important at high speeds. For example, in a spaceship travelling through space at 95 percent of the speed of light, a photon moving in the same direction as the ship, from the back to the front, would move 40 times slower than a photon travelling in the opposite direction, from the front to the back. That physicists do not undertake a concentrated effort to review these results indicates a considerable dose of dogmatism within the mainstream science community.
But let us return to our argument. The conclusion to be derived from the considerations presented here is that the four-dimensional manifold Einstein described as spacetime is likely to be more than a geometrical abstraction. As the energetically superdense quantum vacuum, it may be a physically real field, limiting the velocity of light and other matter-particles and transmitting a variety of effects, including, but not limited to, gravitation and electromagnetism. We may well ask, then, whether the field would also transmit the kind of effects associated with psi.
To assume that this may be the case, we would need pertinent evidence. This could be gathered. The quantum vacuum, though unobservable in itself, is researchable through its observable effects. Given that psi is no longer elusive, it can count among the set of potential vacuum effects. Psi phenomena can be investigated with the same basic methodology that was applied inter alia in the investigation of the inertial force.
Researching the hypothesis that psi is a vacuum effect is a task for the scientific community. We can, however, take a step that would encourage scientists to take up this task. This step consists in outlining the `simplest possible scheme' (Einstein) that will bind together the facts observed in psi research with those that surface in regard to the quantum vacuum. Such a scheme is theoretically possible, as the following remarks will indicate.
If the quantum vacuum is to be identified with the field that carries the effects associated with psi, its virtual energies must interact with matter in the universe, including the matter lodged in the brain of human beings. The indicated interaction calls for two kinds of propagations in the vacuum. One kind constitutes the known charged particles that make up the matter-component of the universe. The other kind, however, calls for an innovation in theory: for postulating that also scalar waves propagate within the super-dence virtual-energy field of the vacuum.
Scalars, in ordinary vector analysis represent a quantity that is completely defined by magnitude alone, without reference to displacement. Waves of this purely `informational' (rather than `force') kind have been discovered by Nikola Tesla at the turn of the century. They are longitudinal waves, like sound waves, contrasting with electromagnetic waves, which are transverse. Scalars may exist at the level of the quantum vacuum, where they would be generated by the motion of charge particles. In this view the motion of electromagnetically charged particles in the vacuum approximates the action of a monopole antenna: it alternately charges and discharges local regions of the vacuum's virtual-particle gas. Quantal motion thus triggers scalar waves in the vacuum, and these propagate by alternately compressing and rarefying its virtual-particle gas.
The scalar waves generated in the vacuum modify the self-regenerating cosmological feedback cycle outlined by Harold Puthoff. (Puthoff 1989) In Puthoff's feedback cycle interaction between the zero-point field (ZPF) and charged particles results in an exchange such that there is no average transfer of energy in any direction at any frequency. However, given the propagation of scalars in the vacuum, the energy field with which charged particles achieve local dynamic equilibrium becomes inhomogeneous and anisotropic - the fluctuations generated in the vacuum by the motion of the particles translate into the local equilibria generated between the particles and the ZPF. In this process the interference patterns created by the motion of charged particles modify the local topology of the vacuum, and the modified vacuum field modifies in turn the motion of the particles. (Laszlo 1993, 1994)
The translation process instantiated in the interaction between particles and the scalar spectrum of the vacuum amounts to a two-way Fourier transformation between objects in space and time, and their waveform equivalents. Fourier showed that any three-dimensional pattern can be analyzed into a set of regular, periodic oscillations that differ only in frequency, amplitude, and phase. Specific waveforms can be exact representations - `Fourier-transforms' - of spatiotemporal objects. For example, when a vessel creates waves on the surface of the sea, it creates Fourier-transforms of its impact on the waters of the sea. This is precisely what may happen when charged particles trace their trajectories in space and time: they leave their Fourier-transforms in the virtual particle gas of the quantum vacuum.
The interaction of vessels with the sea is a dynamic metaphor of the above two-way translation process. H. C. Yuan and B. M. Lake have found that the surface of the sea is surprisingly information-rich. (Yuan and Lake, 1977) When its wave-patterns are subjected to mathematical analysis, it discloses information on the passage of ships, the direction of wind, the effect of shorelines, and other factors. The interfering wave-patterns may be conserved for hours and sometimes for days, after the vessels that created them have passed. Though ultimately they dissipate, eroded by the combined action of gravity, wind, and shorelines, as long as the wave-patterns persist, they provide information on the events that occurred at the sea's surface. But the waves created by vessels on the surface do more than create information regarding their own motion: they also inform - literally `in-form' - the motion of other vessels. All vessels that traverse the wake that spreads out behind a given vessel are rocked by those waves; in this sense the motion of the `wake-creating vessel' is translated into the motion of the `wave-rocked vessels.' The medium that transmits the effects is the surface of the sea: it interconnects the wave-creating with the wave-rocked vessels. And, as all vessels both create waves and are rocked by them, the sea interconnects the motion of all vessels on its surface.
Inasmuch as the quantum vacuum interconnects the motion of the events that occur in space and time, it functions as a holographic field that encodes the particulars of their motion and transmits them to `in-form' the motion of other events. There is no immediate indication, however, that this interconnection would be of the anomalous variety that is characteristic of psi. (Psi, as researchers well know, implies signals that are space- and time-transcending, that is, instantaneous for spatially distant objects and indifferent as to the time when the signalled events took place.) Yet a deeper analysis shows that the signals transmitted through the vacuum field are precisely of the psi variety. The reasons for this are first, because information in that field is holographic (that is, distributed and thus simultaneously available at distinct locations), and second, because the propagation of the holographic interference patterns is quasi-instantaneous.
The latter statement is contrary to the tenets of mainstream physics; it needs further substantiation. Consider, then, that electromagnetic waves propagate in the vacuum with a maximum velocity currently estimated at 299,748 +/- 15 km/sec. Relativity theory does not specify a physical reason for this finite magnitude: c functions as a basic axiom. However, if Silvertooth is right and c varies with the motion of the observer relative to the light source, the value of c can be ascribed to the finite electromagnetic permeability of the medium in which photons propagate. In that event c states a physical factor in the universe: its magnitude is inversely proportional to the square-root of the product of the vacuum's electric and magnetic permeability: c = 1/ 0 u0.
So much for the propagation of photons, which are electromagnetic wave-packets travelling in spacetime. What about scalars then? Scalars are neither `light' nor `matter' - they are longitudinally propagating fluctuations below the energy-threshold of particle pair-creation (which is estimated at
6 x 10-27 erg/sec). Calculations by Thomas Bearden indicate that the propagation of scalar waves is a function of the vacuum's local electrostatic scalar potential. (Bearden, 1983) Because of the increase in vacuum flux density through the accumulation of charged masses, this potential is variable. It is higher in regions of dense mass, in or near stars and planets, and lower in deep space. Hence scalars propagate at speeds independent of the value of c. In the matter-dense region near the surface of the
Earth they may reach velocities indistinguishably close to infinity.
We now have the basic properties of an interactive holographic field that encodes the particulars of the spatiotemporal motion of objects, and quasi-instantaneously transmits the corresponding wave-function to other objects in the planetary environment. This, as psi researchers will readily appreciate, could provide a physical foundation for a certain range of psi phenomena - telepathic and telesomatic transference, lifetime recall in NDEs, past-life experiences, distance diagnosis and psychic healing, among others. The exploration of these phenomena as possible vacuum effects is a task I have undertaken elsewhere. (Laszlo 1993, 1994) I shall not enter on it here, but limit myself to indicating the physiological mechanisms that would underlie the brain's interaction with scalars waves of vacuum origin.
In the brain a staggering number of dendrites fire ions, each of which constitutes a minute electric field vector. Thus the cerebral hemispheres may act as specialized scalar interferometers, so that action potentials within the neural nets may be significantly affected by the scalar topology of the vacuum. This could alter the initial condition of the nets, and the alterations may be amplified by the chaotic attractors that govern cerebral processes. Chaos in the brain is a recent but well established fact: the cognitive centers of the brain are permanently in a state characterized by chaos. Vast collections of neurons shift abruptly and simultaneously from one complex activity pattern to another in response to extremely fine variations. Within the ten billion neurons of the brain, each with an average of twenty thousand interconnections, the action potential of the smallest neuronal cluster creates a `butterfly effect' that triggers massive gravitation towards one or another of the chaotic attractors. These attractors could amplify vacuum-level fluctuations and produce observable effects on the brain's information-processing structures.
Further evidence may be marshalled in support of the hypothesis of vacuum/brain interaction. Holographic functions in the brain require coherent nonlinear interaction between neuronal networks and/or pre- and post-synaptic neurons. In biological systems coherent interactions have been noted within molecules, between molecules, as well as among dipole clusters in distinct cellular and anatomical structures. In the past such phenomena have been explained in terms of long-range electromagnetic correlations between physically separated oscillating electric dipoles. Recently, however, an alternative explanation has surfaced. The new concept makes reference to the Josephson effect, a spontaneous correlation obtaining between physically separated superconductors. Josephson effects have also been found in living streams, where they function as a factor of intercellular coherence. (Del Giudice et al. 1989)
According to quantum field theory, Josephson junctions generate fields of quantum potentials (consisting of a magnetic vector potential and an electrostatic scalar potential), which in turn modulate the connection between the correlated superconductors or cellular systems. Such fields may mediate communication between physically separate assemblies of neurons in the brain. Spectral patterns of specific frequency associated with nerve firings would impart information to the field, and the field in turn would impose coherence on the ongoing nerve firings. (Psaltis et al. 1990) Current findings indicate that fields of quantum potentials constitute an underlying regulatory system that alters non-synaptic communication between assemblies of neurons and could thus affect even higher brain functions. (Rein 1993)
Summary and conclusions
Psi is a bona fide datum of scientific research, but so far it has remained mainly a datum. Scientific understanding of the phenomenon requires connecting the datum uncovered in psi research with the observations that furnish the empirical component of theories in the natural sciences. In light of the considerations advanced here, the conceptual framework required to connect psi with theories in the contemporary natural sciences calls in turn for a field capable of transmitting information beyond the scientifically recognized limits of space and time. If the concept of such a field is not to remain an ad hoc postulate, we need to identify it with fields, or field-like continua, already known to science. The most likely choice in this regard is the quantum vacuum, a highly anomalous universal energy realm that is both the originating source and the ultimate destination of matter in the universe. Research on this field discloses significant evidence that it transmits a variety of effects that affect the behavior of matter. Complex matter-energy systems in the ultrasensitive states of chaos could amplify vacuum-level fluctuations into significant inputs to behavior. The human brain, of which the cognitive centers are in a constant and pronounced state of chaos, could receive and amplify such signals, and when not repressed by left-hemispheric censors, the signals could penetrate to consciousness. The conscious or unconscious signals would yield the phenomena investigated in psi research.
The above concepts are offered not as a definitive solution to the problem of finding a scientifically acceptable explanation for psi, but as a working hypothesis to be tested and elaborated in collaborative research between psi researchers, and workers in physics, biology, neurophysiology, and related scientific disciplines.
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