Science and Seances

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Nathaniel posted this past week on the relationship between religious faith and scientific evidence in the wake of new evidence for cosmic inflation. I followed up with a brief post about religious scientists (including Big Bang discoverer Georges Lemaitre). To top it off, this month’s issue of Nautilus has an excellent article entitled “Why Physicists Make Up Stories in the Dark.” The author presents a fascinating history of modern science. Here are a few gems:

  • “Who now will stand up for the British physicist Edmund Fournier d’Albe, who in 1908 put forward the theory that the human soul is composed of invisible particles called “psychomeres” possessing a rudimentary kind of intelligence?”
  • “[W]hen science first began to fixate on invisible entities, many leading scientists saw no clear distinction between such occult concepts and hard science…Victorian physicists were particularly prone. Some conjectured that there exist intelligent, unseeable beings on the subatomic or the cosmic scale. Others speculated that high-frequency waves outside the visible range could transmit thoughts between minds, or that immortal souls were consistent with the laws of thermodynamics. Anything seemed possible, as it often does when we awaken to our ignorance.”
  • “It is no coincidence that these discoveries [e.g. radio waves] happened at the height of the Victorian enthusiasm for spiritualism, in which mediums claimed to be able to contact the souls of the dead. The two trends supported each other. The new physics hinted at explanations for thought transference, whether from other people or from spirits; and a widespread belief in invisible influences and intelligences created a receptive environment for ideas in physics that seemed scarcely less incredible. If radio waves could transmit invisibly between a broadcasting device and a receiver, it did not seem so hard to imagine that human brains—which are after all quickened by electrical nerve signals—could act as receivers.”

And so on. Check it out.

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