Chapter 24

Physical background

We have claimed in previous chapters that metal-bending contains both structural and quasi-force characteristics. There are at least two types of event on a microscopic scale: the formation of loop dislocations and the destabilization of grain boundaries; one is distinguishable by hardening and the other by softening of the metal.
The action in metal-bending occurs in bursts of strain, which can extend radially around the person of the metal-bender; the unconscious mind of the metal-bender is believed to control the movement of an invisible surface at which the action is concentrated. The recorded strain signals appear to be randomly orientated, and concentrated by ‘psychological’ or ‘observational’ factors in a ‘region of action’.

Why is paranormal metal-bending such a challenge to scientists? Because it is difficult to be fitted into current physics in any simple way. In order to explain why this is so, we must devote some pages to summarizing the physical background of the material world, as physicists at present understand it. I have space to describe the background only in outline; therefore the level of the description cannot be high, and an apologetic profile must be exhibited at the start!

The basis of human thought is philosophical, and even in philosophy there are strongly polarized viewpoints, described in old-fashioned terms as materialism (reality only of the material world), idealism (reality only of mind, or of God), and dualism (reality both of the material world and of mind). To a non-professional philosopher like myself, it appears that at present materialism is in the ascendant, albeit termed ‘central state materialism’, in which the reality of both mind and matter are admitted, but in a central material state.

Science is often regarded as the experimental study of the material world; but in reality science must be regarded as a method of study rather than a corpus of knowledge. The method can be summarised as follows: observation and measurements, experiment and confirmation of experiment, formulation of hypothesis, data analysis, rejection or acceptance of hypothesis and its conversion to theory, prediction and verification of prediction of events and quantitative observables, dissemination of findings and acceptance of part responsibility for their application.

It is maintained that the scientific method can be applied to the study of non-material things, if such exist. The psychological sciences use the method in the study of such things as consciousness or human emotions. The method can also be applied to psychic phenomena, which are apparently a mixture of material and non-material things. I take the view that the material side of psychic phenomena must conform at least in part to causality and to the laws of physics. In the physical or temporal absence of an active psychic subject, material phenomena reduce to the laws of physics; but in his presence they may be modified in certain ways. These modifications are themselves subject to study by the scientific method, and that is what I am trying to do.

Newton spoke of physics as the ‘study of the causes of sensible effects’. Physics is, classically, based on Newtonian mechanics in Euclidean space, in which velocity, or change of distance with time, is linked by simple algebra to mass, force and time, and the concepts of energy and momentum are derived. Energy, momentum and mass are conserved; they cannot be destroyed or created from nothing, although in Einstein’s developments they can be interchanged. Matter possesses mass, and can be split up into a variety of different particles, electrons, protons, and so on, each with its own mass. The structural arrangements of these particles are by now well known, but each particle is in continual motion; the motions, which are according to Newtonian mechanics, define temperature and can give rise to electromagnetic radiation; their collisional interactions define heat transfer.

The forces by which particles interact with each other are four-fold; first, the ‘electromagnetic interaction’ which is responsible for holding atoms together into molecules, whether they are ordinary inorganic or organic chemical compounds, or biomolecular: second, the very much more powerful strong interaction, which is responsible for holding the particles within the atomic nucleus together, and which can be released as nuclear energy; it is only the outside layer of the atoms, the electrons, and not the nuclei which are involved in forming and re-forming chemical compounds.

The third interaction is the gravitational, which is unbelievably weak compared with the first two; but since it is stronger for larger masses, and can work over very large distances, it is the interaction which ultimately dominates on an astronomical scale. The fourth is the so-called weak interaction, which is responsible for certain types of nuclear process, and which, since the discovery of ‘neutral currents’, turns out only to be a particularly weak type of electromagnetic interaction.

Immediately we see that if we were to claim a new force to be involved in paranormal physical phenomena, this would be inconsistent with the observations of physics.
However, it is not only atomic particles which have their existence in the physical world; there are also force fields and wave motion. The concept of interactive force carries with it the concept of interactive vector fields of force permeating space. A particle subject to these interactive forces, finding itself in such a region of space, experiences a force whose magnitude and direction are appropriate to the field in that space. The most obvious examples of this concept are electrostatic or electric fields, magnetic fields and gravitational fields. Great philosophical difficulty was once experienced in trying to find an answer to the question of why this should be so. The physicist long ago got used to acceptance of the observational fact that it is a convenient and realistic concept; we shall see that in quantum field theory it is these fields which are fundamentally uniquely real.

Pairs of these fields, for example the electric and the magnetic, are coupled together in such a way that the temporal change of one produces the other, and vice versa. This gives rise to the movement of the fields in space, together with their time-variation at any point in space; this type of movement is that of a wave; it is the fields which move, not the matter through which the wave passes (as with the waves on the surface of water, which appear to travel while a cork on the water surface mostly goes up and down).

A movement of electrically charged particles gives rise to a wave which travels in space at a very high speed: c = 3 X 108 m/sec, and is known as a light wave. Light shows all the properties of waves, such as interference, diffraction, standing waves and heterodyning. The frequency of electromagnetic radiation determines its nature; the lowest frequencies are radio waves, then come infrared radiations which we know as radiant heat; then there are visible light, ultraviolet radiation, X-rays and gamma-rays. Since the fields due to these waves can cause the movement of particles very remote from the source of the wave, it is clear that the wave carries energy with it, and the particle whose movement originally generated the wave must lose energy. The temporal variation of the magnitude or the frequency of the waves (modulation) can carry information as well as energy.

One approach to the explanation of paranormal phenomena, both ESP and physical, has been the proposal that the brain is capable of emitting radiation, presumably of a hitherto unknown type, which carries the necessary energy with it. Since spherical waves attenuate with increasing distance and are scattered by obstacles, obvious experiments to test this hypothesis suggest themselves. But if the psychic quasi-force is of an unknown type, it will not necessarily be transmitted as a wave; none of the usual characteristics of wave motion has in fact been found. Perhaps the radiation could simply be electromagnetic waves, but in a frequency band as yet undiscovered. As each new frequency band is opened up and its properties understood, the probability of this being so becomes less and less. I recall that in 1947, when I was a research student, ‘thought waves’ were supposed by some to be the very microwaves with which I was experimenting daily.

Submillimetre radiation, very soft X-rays (XUV) and now very low frequency radio waves (ELF) were thought by some to be possible candidates. After all, the minute electric potentials produced by the brain (EEGs) do show time-variation in precisely the ELF frequency region. Unfortunately ELF waves can carry information only at a very low rate (cycles per second must exceed bits per second) and occasionally telepathic reception is known to be very much faster than this rate although of course it is not reliably so. There are precise distance effects for ELF wave transmission, but apparently none for telepathy. Certainly, ELF waves will not bend metal, and indeed electromagnetic waves in general can bend metal only by melting it diathermically. So it is fairly clear to the majority of physicists that if there are such things as psychokinetic phenomena their explanation must be sought outside conventional electromagnetic theory and classical physics.

At the beginning of the present century there were reported a whole series of physical experiments which led to the introduction of entirely new concepts, and which showed classical physics to be only a limited and inadequate way of regarding material reality. It was shown by Planck that energy E exists only in packets, known as quanta, whose magnitude are proportional to the frequency v of the radiation (E = hv) where h is the Planck constant. Not only is energy possessed by each packet but also momentum p = hv/c.

At that time it was also found, as had been predicted by Einstein in his special relativity theory, that the mass m of a particle increases with its velocity v, being given by: m = mO/sqrt(1-v^2/c^2)
where c = 3 * 10^8 m/sec is the speed of electromagnetic radiation, mO is the mass of the particle when it is at rest; if it could travel at exactly the speed of light, its mass would be infinite. Electromagnetic radiation, being unable to travel except at speed c, and having no rest-mass, nevertheless possesses momentum p = h/lambda (since c is the product of frequency and wavelength, c = nu* lambda). Thus radiation has the properties of a particle, as well as those of a wave; radiation is now also a shower of ‘photons’. The photons can, as it were, all occupy the same space at the same time, whereas massive particles such as protons cannot do so. There exist two classes of particle, ‘bosons’ and ‘fermions’.

In another series of experiments, material particles were shown to have properties similar to those of wave radiation; and it was also shown that mass m could be converted into radiative energy E, according to the Einstein relation E = mc^2. Thus material particles ceased to be conceptuaised as very small billiard-balls and could with greater accuracy be regarded as waves confined by the constraints of the interactions to certain regions of space. Against this background, modern quantum theory, which is the cornerstone of twentieth-century physics, was formulated by Schrodinger, Heisenberg and others. A ‘wave equation’ is used in this theory to calculate with precision the probabilities of occurrence of atomic physical events. Many thousands of experimental findings conform to these probabilities, but individual events cannot be predicted; they are regarded as random, but within the framework of the probabilities, which can be precisely calculated. Thus the complete mathematical description of the event is impossible unless a large number of such events are considered. The individual event ceases to be precisely predictable. Such an event can be precisely measured, even if it is unpredictable, but there are also limitations on what can be measured. If the momentum p is accurately measured, then the position s is indeterminate, and vice versa; the product of uncertainties is the Planck constant: h bar = delta p * delta s. Similarly, energy E and time t are mutually indeterminate: h bar= delta e * delta t, with h bar= h/2pi.

Material reality is described in terms of electronic and other ‘wave functions’, which extend through space, even though the probabilities of finding any electrons outside the usual small atomic dimensions (10^-8 cm) become very small. Nevertheless, these wave functions are ‘non-local’ – they are not bounded in the way that particles are; and as far as photons are concerned, they are hugely non-local. Yet at any moment the wave function can collapse and give all its energy into a tiny region whose position is not only unpredictable, but is controlled by the experimenter himself, in that he has controlled the environment of the photons. This collapse, the so-called ‘collapse of the state vector’, raises great conceptual difficulties in the quantum theory of measurement.

Consider a weak isotropic electromagnetic radiation source emitting one photon per second. The radiation will travel, in all directions, a distance of 3 * 10^8 m (many earth diameters) in this time. A huge sphere is filled with weak radiation during this period. Now suppose that around the entire surface of this sphere an experimenter arranges an array of photomultiplier detectors; only one detector will be activated by this radiation; and there is no way of knowing which one. Dramatically, the sphere of radiation collapses to a tiny point at an unpredictable part of the universe. The same behaviour could be anticipated for the emission of an isotropic electron wave, or pure ‘s-wave’ electron. Thus it can be claimed that as quantum theory stands at present, the universe is in principle indescribable by causal laws.

However, there is worse to come! Not only are there whole arrays of strange particles in modern physics, including the neutrino, with zero charge and zero rest-mass, but there is also a complete duplication of these particles in the realm of anti-matter. As a result of quantum electrodynamical theory, Dirac postulated that space was entirely and uniformly populated by a sea of electrons of negative mass, and therefore negative energy. When sufficient positive energy is contributed to one of these by a collision, it can become a real electron with positive energy. Thereby a hole is left in space, with positive energy and positive charge – the so-called ‘positron’, or ‘anti-electron’. When this hole attracts or collides with an electron the two mutually annihilate, releasing their energy as photons. The same applies to other anti-particles, many of which have been observed in experiments. A different approach to anti-matter was proposed by Feynman, who held that the positron was an electron moving backward in time. He represented these conversion processes in the form of diagrams (Feynman diagrams) in which one axis represents time, the other space.

Quantum electrodynamics, or quantum field theory, differs from quantum mechanics in assigning reality not only to the particles of finite mass and to photons and other bosons, but to the fields themselves. The interaction between two particles is considered to arise from the exchange of large numbers of ‘virtual’ photons between them. The field, consisting of these virtual photons, is quantized – that is, canonical commutation relations are assigned between the position operators and their conjugate momenta. The particles, previously considered to be independently real and giving rise only to fields, are now reduced to the role merely of acting as sources of the real fields. Their particle-like quality, once taken as irreconcilable with their wave-like quality, is now considered to be only a relatively unimportant part of it. Such things as the electromagnetic radiation which accompanies the movement of charged particles can be understood only with the aid of quantum electrodynamics. Procedures such as gauge transformations can be applied to electrodynamical equations; these lead to very powerful results, such as the necessity of charge conservation, the unification of the electromagnetic and weak interactions, and the classification and understanding of the new quantum numbers, isospin, baryon number and, more recently, charm, in the new strange particles which form the subject of high energy physics.

Up to the present it has not been proved possible to unify the gravitational field with the other fields – an ambition which occupied the later part of Einstein’s life. However, the gravitational field becomes centrally important in astrophysics, in stellar objects where the density of matter is so great that ultimately no escape from the gravitational fields is possible, even for photons. Nothing can emerge from within the critical radius of such a ‘black hole’.
But the existence of anti-matter does make it possible for black holes to emit radiation. The black hole is a gravitational collapse of matter, which according to the theory of general relativity eventually produces a singularity of space-time, where the concept of space-time as a continuum, together with the laws of physics, break down altogether; since the inward motion of the matter exceeds the velocity of light, no communication with the interior of the black hole was believed to be possible and, as far as we outside are concerned, the interior is physically unknowable.

However, according to the Dirac theory, empty space is filled with pairs of virtual particles which come into existence at some point in space-time; these particles move apart, return and annihilate each other. But at the edge of a black hole one particle may fall into it, leaving the other to escape and appear as radiation apparently emitted from the black hole.(74) The in-falling particle, if an anti-particle, would appear to be a particle travelling backwards in time from the singularity. It appears at the edge to have been scattered by the gravitational field, forming a particle travelling forwards in time. One can regard the radiation from a black hole as having come from singularity and quantum-mechanical tunneling out of the black hole. Since black holes continually radiate by the annihilation mechanism, they continually decrease in mass, reaching eventually the Planck mass c^1/2G^1/2 h bar^1/2~=10^-5 g, where G is the gravitational constant. Finally they explode. The ‘tunneling’ process is well known in atomic and nuclear physics; a particle located within a potential barrier and bounded by a certain region of space has a calculable probability of appearing outside the barrier and escaping; no energy is required for tunneling.
One might regard the tunneling phenomenon, which is a very well known consequence of quantum theory (and is not necessarily associated with black holes), as a sort of electronic or atomic teleportation. Indeed, the speculation might be made that tunneling is of primary significance in metal-bending. However, the probability of tunneling decreases exponentially with increasing height and width of energy barrier as well as with mass of the particle, so that it would indeed be small for the transport of: an atom through the crystal lattice, unless some ‘mental intervention’ were postulated.

Some brief discussion of space-time will be of relevance to our ideas about telepathy and precognition. A diagram somewhat similar to the Feynman diagram is used to represent what is known in relativity theory as the ‘light-cone’. We have seen that mass increases as the velocity of light is approached, and since the infinite mass cannot be reached the velocity of light can never be exceeded. This is equivalent to the statement that a diagram can be drawn in the manner of Figure 24.1a in which material reality must lie within the shaded region; this region is known as the light-cone. Nothing material outside the light cone can be known to us. The origin of the graph is here and now: this point in space, at the present moment. Light proceeds along the surface of the cone, but matter can proceed only within it, along single straight or curved lines. Lines drawn within the shaded area of Figure 24.1a represent reality as physics knows it at present. There can be discontinuities in lines if we seek to represent certain types of transition of a particle on this diagram. All lines are broadened due to quantum mechanical uncertainty.

Some parapsychological phenomena might demand that the diagram have a waist, as in Figure 24.1b. This representation would allow a multiplicity of happenings now to lead to the same situation in the future. If existence is continuous in time, then logic does not permit of closed loops, which would represent such situations as a man killing his own mother and thereby preventing his own birth. Another possibility within this diagram is that of superluminal signals travelling faster than the velocity of light. These are represented by lines less steeply sloping than the surface on the cone in Figure 24.1a.

Figures 24.1c and d represent worlds in which discontinuities in time and space play a large part. Existence is possible simultaneously only in the future and in the past in Figure 24.1c; and in 24.1d a parallel universe system merges into a single universe in the future. About the parallel-universe interpretation of quantum theory we shall have more to say in the next chapter.

Figure 24.1 Possible light-cones: (a) The normal light-cone of Minkowski 4-space. (b) A waisted light-cone allowing superluminal signals (e.g. non-locality in the Einstein-Rosen-Podolsky experiment). (c) and (d) Possible light-cones allowing parallel universe, quantum-mechanical tunneling etc.


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