Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Miraculous Powers of the Human Brain

by Richard Crews
There is no doubt that the human brain has an amazing ability to deceive itself. This is evident not only in the powerful healing of the placebo effect but also in mistakes by eye witnesses, distortions of statistical expectations (the "lottery effect"), misremembered personal history, and other phenomena.

Of even more interest are the possible causative effects that the human brain can have on the physical world--yes, CAUSATIVE effects. This is manifest most curiously in quantum physics where, for example, a ray of light does not "decide" whether it is an energy wave or a particle (a photon) until it is observed; once it is observed (that is measured, studied), it even seems to go back and revise its history--once it is called upon to show itself as a wave, it also reveals that it always was a wave; once, a particle . . . well . . . it always was a particle. And the wave and particle forms each carry information that the other form cannot have carried.

This causative or creative power of the human brain may also be manifest in cosmic physics and astronomy. As one looks back 13.7 billion years to the moment of creation of the Universe (the Big Bang), there appears to have been a remarkable (nigh, impossible) series of coincidences. There were, for example, a dozen parameters that were built into the original Universe which are so finely tuned, that if any of them had been even a tiny fraction of a percent different, that would have precluded the evolution of human beings.

When cosmologists and theoretical physicists first confronted this observation, some postulated the Anthropic Principle: that the Universe was designed from the get-go with the eventual creation of human beings in mind. Because this seemed too theological (scientists are trained to be allergic to religion), some of them postulated the "Weak" form of the Anthropic Principle: that the Universe is the way it is--impossible as it seems--simply because if it were any other way, we wouldn't be here looking back and wondering about it.

But the Weak Anthropic Principle seems statistically daunting: What are the odds that an indifferent physical universe would get everything just right? So a further theory of Multiverses was coined: that there are in fact lots and lots (and lots) of different universes--although we can't see them--and ours just happens to be the one that turned out just right to produce humans.

That is certainly, from a scientific standpoint, more satisfyingly non-religious; at least it pushes the questions of First Cause ("Where did it all come from in the first place anyway?") and the related question, "Why is there SOMETHING rather than NOTHING?" further away a bit from scientific considerations into philosophical musings.

Moreover, mathematical manipulations of observations from tiny physics seem to imply that there may be more than four dimensions (many more--at least eleven, to be precise), and that perhaps there may be more than the observed set of elementary particles (there may be the heavy, sister particles of Supersymetry). And it seems damn hard to make gravity get along theoretically with the other three fundamental physical forces (electromagnetism and the strong and weak nuclear forces). So it seems that cosmologists and theoretical physicists still have a lot of head-scratching to do before they have to bite the bullet and own up to some sort of offensively religious perspective.

What about possible CAUSATIVE effects of human brain power in our daily lives? Not just the hyper-suggestibility of hypnotism, the manipulation of crowds by demagogues, and the healing of the Placebo Effect, but also the convincing appeal to intelligent people of astrology, homeopathy, and faith healing. If one has had convincing personal experiences of these (as I do NOT of astrology, though I DO of homeopathy and faith healing), they are impossible to dismiss as imaginary distortions of perception and cognition.

Even in our daily lives--as well in the abstruse observations of cosmology, nuclear physics, psychology, and sociology--the human brain clearly has powers to manipulate the physical world.