Psychic Phenomena: The Methods of the Law Court, and Uncertainty”
Posted on 14 January 2014, 9:30
White Crow Books do a great job in providing trustworthy accounts of Exceptional Human Experiences (EHEs), such as NDEs, ESP, clairvoyance, synchronicities, séance communications and so on. We usually hear firsthand accounts given by trustworthy people. We usually feel like believing these stories. In the minds of the more cautious of us, though, we may hold an imaginary law court trial, and try to assess whether the person who is telling the story can separate fantasy from fact, is giving the plain unvarnished truth, and generally sounds trustworthy. We don’t think of calling in white-coated scientists, unless we want to set up a controlled experiment in a laboratory.
Take a case history like this: Someone has a frightening dream of a plane crashing in a particular place under clearly described circumstances, and writes a description of it. Sometime later such a plane does crash in that place and in such circumstances.
In looking at a case like this, a scientist will make sure that the written description of the dream was written down prior to the crash of the plane, and will construct theories about causes and effects, which will however always be open to challenge from scientists of different philosophical persuasions. As the job of the scientist is to research about the nature of things, we are usually then left with uncertainty.
On the other hand, the law court is not primarily researching about the general nature of things, but is simply trying to assess whether or not a particular event happened. Was the dream about the plane crash truly recorded before the event? Is the person reporting the event trustworthy? Do the details of the dream truly correspond to the event? Can we be reasonably sure that the foreknowledge of the crash was paranormal, and that there was no information of a “normal” kind? In such a law court, the jury will probably acquit the dreamer of making fraudulent claims, unless there is a staunch skeptic among them, who will accept no evidence of any kind.
The method of the law court does not establish the paranormality of the event with 100% certainty. Nevertheless, the greater the number of similar events, the more the law court will feel such certainty.
As said, the White Crow website is providing law court evidence rather than scientific. And this is the case with lawyer Victor Zammit with his book A Lawyer Presents the Evidence for the Afterlife. He does present articles about significant work of QM physicists, biologists, and other scientists and emphasises their importance. But the bulk of the material that he presents consists of first hand testimony, and it is this testimony that is the most persuasive.
The deeper science goes the more uncertainty we find.
As I have suggested, science often sees an event in the light of some theory, which in itself is subject to dispute. Take Rupert Sheldrake’s book called The Science Delusion in the UK and Science Set Free in the USA In that book he challenges the Materialist dogma of some scientists by turning their dogmas into questions: “Is Nature Mechanical? Is the total amount of matter and energy always the same? Are the laws of nature fixed? Is Matter unconscious? Is Nature purposeless? Is all biological inheritance material? Are memories are stored as memory traces? Are minds confined to brains? Are psychic phenomena illusory? Is mechanistic medicine the only kind that really works? Is science objective?”
Ponder these questions. They are absolutely fundamental ones, and they are all controversial. I do believe that Sheldrake (below) makes a good case for answering these questions in quite a different way from a Materialist. It is a good case, but is it convincingly watertight? Or, on the other hand, can Materialists convincingly prove their dogmas? For them, the dogmas are axioms, and almost by definition, an axiom cannot be proven. In such a controversy then, it becomes clear that certainty is only in the mind of the protagonists.
I do agree with the thinking of Sheldrake, but I have to be open to the fact that he may not have spoken the last word on the matter. In my eyes a firsthand and trustworthy account of experience will attain the greater certainty.
I remarked that theoretical scientific investigation leads to uncertainty. It leads to more uncertainty than we might think. I have been much taken with a book by quantum physicist F.David Peat, friend of QM physicist David Bohm, called From Certainty to Uncertainty: The Story of Science and Ideas in the 20th Century. Let me quote from page 17 where Peat describes the thought of Einstein, and puts these words into his mouth:
“God has created the universe out of nothing and we, as its creatures, could come to understand the divine pattern of creation. Such a pattern was objective and exists as independent of our thoughts, wishes, and desires. The extent to which this pattern remained veiled from us was a measure of our human limitations as readers of the divine book of creation.
“[Nils] Bohr and his colleagues in Copenhagen adopt a position close to that of the post-modern reader. The ‘properties’ of the electron are not objective and independently existing, but arise in the act of observation itself. Without this act of observation, for creative ‘reading’, ’the properties’ of an electron could not be said to exist as such. This was the origin of the real break between Bohr and Einstein. Einstein had argued against the notion of absolute chance in quantum theory.” [My emphasis.]
And then, on page 23, and we read, “As soon as we ask, What is the nature of quantum reality? What is the underlying nature of the world? Is there a reality at the quantum level? We find ourselves entangled in words, pictures, images, models, and ideas from the large-scale world. The result, Bohr pointed out, is confusion and Paradox. In the end, it is better to remain silent then to create endless philosophical confusion; maybe this is why the discussions between Bohr and Einstein were doomed to end in silence. What had begun as a discussion of chance and uncertainty developed into a radical transformation of our ideas about the very nature of reality.”
Some interested readers may like to investigate the concept of Quantum Entanglement, the EPR effect, and the theorem of John Bell which denies the principle of local causation. It needs to be emphasized that in the field of QM, the views of Bohr have prevailed: “Chance in quantum theory is absolute and irreducible. Knowing more about the atom will never eliminate this element.” (Page 9)
For those of us who are interested in trying to think scientifically about Spirit or dimensions of consciousness, I consider that Peat gives the scientific layman the clearest and most understandable description of the issues raised by quantum mechanics. In the rest of the book he takes the ground from under our feet even in apparently unchallengeable field of mathematics. The genius Gödel is mentioned as describing the Achilles’ heel of mathematics: that it cannot prove some of its own axioms.
Elsewhere in the book Peat explores the limitations of language.
And of course, those of us who have acquaintance with one or more foreign languages will be aware of the difficulty of translating from one to another, because what can be said in one language often cannot be clearly translated into another because equivalent words do not exist. If we look at a thesaurus we will find a multitude of synonyms for many words with slightly varying meaning. We also have a multitude of words each having many meanings. On analysis we find that human languages cannot be used to present an unambiguous picture of reality.
These limitations and many more mean that especially in considering dimensions of consciousness, there will always be an appreciable level of uncertainty. This makes any speculations about cause and effect in this realm very fragile and tentative.
There are endless personal testimonies to the reality of the paranormal phenomena sometimes called EHEs. We can feel sure about their reality. But when we start attempting to find cause and effect in paranormal events we can see that we are on shifting sands, attempting to explain the at root unexplainable subatomic world out of which the physical world emerges.
In a future blog I hope to explore the miracle of meaning that can emerge from the randomness of subatomic processes.
Michael Cocks edits the journal, Ground of Faith.
Afterlife Teaching From Stephen the Martyr by Michael Cocks is published by White Crow Books and available from Amazon and other bookstores.
His forthcoming book, Into the Wider Dream: Synchronicity and the Fates will be published summer 2014 by White Crow Books.