Bell's Theorem,
As Explained By
Phil's Science-Fair Project
Landis Schmitt

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Tomoko Schmitt"
Subject: Re: PA-via_Positive_Atheism_Index
Date: Tuesday, July 31, 2001 10:53 AM

Landis,

First off, the ancients used to think that the spirit was once the same as one's breath, that a person's soul was literally in the breath. Modern ideas of "spirit" being incorporeal came about quite recently, so he will be hard-pressed to show this to be what the Bible writers understood when they wrote. If he tries to say that God was speaking in terms that they couldn't understand, but that we can grasp today, he makes God a liar because the Hebrew concept of God's word was always in terms of God giving to the people a message that they could understand. A most un-Hebrew idea is that of Jesus using Parables to deliberately hide his message from certain people (Matthew 13:10-15).

[Clarification, added later: Sorry 'bout that, Bible Fundamentalists: This is how the Hebrews thought, according to their own self-descriptions, and how Jesus, if he existed at all, and if he was a loyal Jew, trained in Hebrew thought, believed as well. The notion of any Jewish teacher deliberately hiding some secret formula for salvation (or secret of any kind) from God's people, the Jews, cannot but have been placed into his mouth at a later date by a hostile, anti-Semitic party of some sort.]

I can use the Bible to show that we must take one day off every week and sanctify it unto The Lord, and anybody who does not do this is to be put to death. I can also use the Bible to prove that we are justified in treating all days alike. Jesus said to do your good works publicly in order to draw attention to the fact that Christians are good people, that is, that Christ makes people moral. Jesus also said never do your good works in public because it is a form of boasting.

Does it depend on which passages I emphasize versus which ones I explain away? No. None of this matters until you show the Bible to be authoritative. The Bible is a collection of scrolls that we'd have forgotten long ago except that the Roman Catholic Pope controlled Europe with an iron hand for over 1200 years and then shared the wealth with Protestantism for an additional 400 years. This is the only reason the Bible means anything to anybody today.

I find it fascinating to watch those who surreptitiously stump for a faith-based world view giving lip-service to science and human reason -- if that's what it takes to convert a mark over to their point of view: "Science says this, scientists say that, and science proves such and so." First, if science is so authoritative that you'd point to it in your argument, why not leave well enough alone and continue to pursue scientific method? Well, they're not doing this, they're just trying to gain your trust by feigning respect for science. Secondly, what they call "science" is not the same as what you and I call "science."

When we say "science" we are talking about a process utilizing strict ethical game-rules which govern an ongoing discussion that has involved people from all over the world and from centuries past. We talk specifically about measures which keep anybody from having the final say on any matter, measures which allow anybody and everybody to contribute to the discussion. However, when somebody is foisting a faith-based something-or-other on us, she or he could mean any number of things. Nevertheless, you can safely bet this week's video poker budget on the likelihood that when they use the word science, they are not discussing the above-mentioned system of discovering truth from falsehood.

I've had people tell me "Science says thus and so," but what they really meant was "Some clown with a Ph.D. and an agenda said thus and so." Others have told me "Science is now saying such and such," but closer examination reveals just how little this person knows about what it means when science "says" something.

Some scientific claims are almost certain: for example, the Theory of Evolution is on very solid ground. So is the Inflationary Big Bang model of the Universe. However, some things are not on such solid ground. For example, during our interview with Victor Stenger, he told me about an idea which suggests that "there is a vast, super-universe out there ... a multi-universe or multi-verse ... [and] our universe occurs as just a quantum fluctuation, a bubble of what's called false vacuum in this true vacuum, and that expands into our universe, and these bubbles are going off all over the place making other universes." I asked him if we could peer beyond our own universe to refute or verify these speculations, and he said no, "that's where it becomes speculation, rather than actual physics." In other words, there's nothing to prevent us from thinking this to be true -- nothing refutes it and it violates no known laws of physics -- but there's no way to test whether this is, in fact, the case.

So, science (or so-called science) runs along a continuum ranging from "firmly established" (10) through "we can't prove it, but there's nothing preventing us from thinking it could be true" (7) through "this is one possibility, but if it were true, we'd have to revise or cast out some of what we currently know" (3) through "thoroughly discredited" (0). In other words, if someone tells you that "science says" something, we first need to know if the claim is firmly established, speculative, or old science (firmly refuted). A scientific claim must also be disprovable, at least in principle -- that is, if I tell you something is true, I must be able to show you what steps you could take, what experiments to conduct, etc., that would prove me wrong if I were, in fact, wrong. If I cannot do this, my claim is not scientific.

Theists have been known to take ambiguity such as this and run with it in at least two basic directions: First, they use the ambiguity inherent in science to discredit science itself. "Science keeps changing," they tell us, "but the Word of God is still the same." Never mind that the canon is not the same as it was even during John Calvin's time, or that passages and teachings that were in the forefront back then are all but forgotten today. And I won't talk about how newer "translations" patch up the classic Bible Blunders that have been floating around since Thomas Paine made a sport of pointing out errors in Scripture. But one need only compare the three lists of Ten Commandments -- Hebrew, Roman Catholic, and Protestant -- to see that religion is anything but written in stone.

Secondly, they often take speculation and use it to "prove" the validity of this or that revered message alleged to have come from somewhere other than traditional (scientific) methods of discovery. Whenever it bolsters their sacred message, scientific speculation stops being speculation and quickly becomes "scientific fact" -- at least in the writings of these individuals. One example is the Big Bang, which says that the Universe came from nothing. "You see? The Bible says the Universe came from nothing!" Excuse me, but the Universe either came from nothing or it came from something, and it either had a beginning or has always existed: we're dealing with a binary coin toss any way you look at it. They always conveniently omit the fact that the Bible says that the Universe is only 6000 years old and that chlorophyll-producing plants thrived on the Earth before the Sun and Moon came along. Oops!

Another stunt I've seen is taking some some scientific speculation and saying it "proves" the supernatural itself. Religious leaders tell the public (or their followers) that science says this or that when, as a matter of fact, science says no such thing. Victor Stenger agrees that we should say something when this happens:

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"People are entitled to their opinions, but when the opinion is in disagreement with the data -- with the facts -- when that opinion does not stand up under critical or rational scrutiny, I think we have a right to point that out. When someone says science says something, and science doesn't say something ... then I think we can state that. And if it ruffles some feathers, so what?"
-- Victor J. Stenger, Ph. D., from Cliff Walker, "An Interview with Victor J. Stenger" (November, 1999)

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Using half-baked science to promote weird ideas has been big business since before the Industrial Revolution. In fact, to call some of this stuff "half-baked" is to pay it too much respect. Occultist and actress Shirley MacLaine demonstrates that she never studied Radio-TV Repair: "Crystals are amplifying minerals. You have a crystal in a radio -- it amplifies the sound waves. You have a crystal in a television set -- it amplifies the light waves. When you hold crystals, they amplify thought waves." The crystal she's talking about vibrates at a certain frequency depending on its size: this crystal still needs an amplifier to do anything.
 

Phil's Science-Fair Project

In the ninth grade, we had to build a Science Fair project. Phil Rawsthorne and I made a "Perpetual Motion Machine." I built the machine and Philip wrote the report. The "machine" was a Roi Tan™ cigar box with holes in the side through which protruded the tips of Christmas lights. I hooked these up in a complex fashion to a series of multi-pole switches so each throw of any switch affected more than one lamp. What each switch did to what lamps depended on how the other switches had been thrown. Inside, Phil's brother's electric shaver made a tedious buzzing sound. On top was mounted the tip of a Ban Roll-On™ dispenser, and a radio antenna, which was snapped off from somewhere and held over the gas stove, was then embedded deep into the roll-on roller ball so it could rotate when we moved it. (I hope that thing didn't come from Mr. Kowalsky's car! Philip!?)

Meanwhile, Philip grabbed a bunch of his brother's college textbooks and wrote down a long list of technical-sounding nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. We then took a pair of scissors and a can of glue, cut the pages into smaller rectangles that remained semi-legible, and literally cut-and-pasted this report together in the style of Brion Gysin and William S. Burroughs, although we'd not heard of them or their cut-up poetry before: the idea simply dawned on me and we did it.

The presentation was a riot, because Philip had this uncanny ability to sound absolutely sincere even when he knew he was speaking utter nonsense (especially when he was speaking utter nonsense). We later memorized a bunch of this stuff and would pretend to be in an argument about scientific-sounding nonsense. My point is to show how easy it is to learn how to sound convincing, and how easy it is to look someone in the eye and pretend to know what you're talking about, even when you know that they know that you're lying, simply because little pictures have big ears and somebody else just might be listening in.
 

Science Baked More Than Halfway

Back to half-baked science: Each field of science has had its share of frauds: psychology, electricity, photography, biology, and medicine, to name a few. The rise of quantum mechanics is certainly no exception: quantum mechanics is admittedly strange and is, in one sense, a whole new way of thinking. Because it is so bizarre (at least from our "waking" perspective), quantum mechanics invites hucksterism like no other branch of science has. Claim to have the exclusive key to some mystery and you will surely have plenty of money that once belonged to folks who can least afford to part with it. You can get away with saying pretty much anything you want to about quantum mechanics, because few people understand the equations well enough to know if you're telling the truth. In fact, many scientists from many branches have a tough time understanding stuff like Bell's Theorem just as you would expect an astronomer to lack a thorough understanding of mitachondrial DNA.

Nevertheless, as strange as things get at the particle level, we still see things the same way that Isaac Newton saw them -- when we observe them with our unaided senses. Many have tried to apply quantum mechanics (what happens at the particle level) to what we observe in the "waking" state of everyday life. Most of this boils down to various attempts to explain claims of the paranormal.

One writer has very effectively popularized the use of quantum mechanics as a way to explain alleged paranormal events. He also happens to be my all-time favorite author, Robert Anton Wilson. Several times I have suffered acute depressive episodes. As often as not, the bout came to an end upon my coming across a new Robert Anton Wilson book. It's uncanny. I'll mope along for weeks and weeks and then -- there it is, sitting in the bargain bin at the thrift store or some other unlikely spot. Immediately Wilson's positive, do-it-yourself, very optimistic attitude will prod me off into a new direction. Wilson has had more influence on me than any other writer, so naturally I was pleased to have the opportunity to tell this to him in person in the form of an interview.

Wilson calls himself a "guerrilla ontologist" in that he plays with philosophy. One side of Wilson thinks this is all good fun, but another side is dead serious. Perhaps Wilson knows which side is which, but having met him, I'm not convinced that he does. His most successful gig in this respect is taking the ideas and speculations of modern physics and trying to develop a philosophical outlook based upon these ideas. But with Wilson, the weirder the speculation, the more likely it is (he thinks) that it will end up being true. He has gone as far as to develop a psychology based on quantum mechanics.

I have found many of his suggestions regarding the use of language to be quite useful. Someone familiar with Wilson's ideas can see his influence in my responses on the Forum. For example, I am very careful when using the word all. I usually say "some but not all" or some other variation. I am also somewhat cautious when using forms of the word is and prefer to pepper my writings with phrases such as "appears to me" and "seems like" and similar qualifications.

Where Wilson and I may or may not part company (who knows how seriously he takes this stuff when he's not in the spotlight?) is over just how far we can take these speculations about how modern physics relates to alleged occult manifestations. Bell's Theorem is particularly sticky because Wilson flat-out states that this proves he is influencing a star whose light just reached us from a billion light-years away -- and he's influencing that star a billion years ago.

While the experiments seem to be saying this, it is not an accurate description of what is happening -- at least it cannot be expressed in terms of our everyday "waking" experience. We are used to thinking in terms of physical variables: this is how our senses and our minds interpret the visual and aural data that enter our nervous systems. Physicists are talking about something completely different when they talk about locality. But you cannot apply one to the other and still make sense: the physicist conducting experiments and speaking in terms of locality will go home and deal with life in terms of physical variables. Even though what's really happening probably has more to do with what she thinks about in the lab, it's much easier to live life thinking in terms of objects and positions and mass and the like. Yeah, it's not much different from the witch doctor sticking pins into a doll representing his target, but it's how our brains evolved to deal with what we call "reality" and this is how most of us think.

Even the Bell-Bohem experiment, that appears to connect the two photons, can only be shown for one condition at a time. To transmit information in this manner (faster than light), we would need to encode that information by varying something -- today we use the on-off action of bits where our predecessors altered the dit-dah length of an interrupted tone in Morse Code. There is no way to do this because we would already need to know what aspect we are measuring before we measured it so we can set our instruments up to measure that aspect. It sounds neat on paper and makes wonderful science fiction (such as what Wilson writes) but it's really a case of applying the science of one field to another field.

Quantum mechanics is simply a description of how sub-atomic particles behave. These effects are beyond our normal "waking" experience. Of course quantum mechanics is weird from our perspective, but this does not mean every weird idea is supported by quantum mechanics. Quantum mechanics is not magic and is not supernatural. It is simply quite different from how we're used to thinking and dealing with our environment -- quite different from how our nervous systems evolved to survive in the African savannah.

Actually, it's probably better to say our "waking" experience is what is off-beat: quantum mechanics is the nuts and bolts of how physics works. In our "waking" state, we assign size, mass, position, color and other variables to the data that our senses receive and interpret. These are the inventions of organisms that use senses such as sight and hearing, and is only slightly more accurate than a television set at representing what's really going on. In this sense, the mystics are right. Where I would disagree with them is over their claim that they have a better way: they don't. Rather, if one or the other does have a better description, he or she came to it quite by accident. Their "deep" experiences are as much a hallucination as our "waking" state -- in fact, more so: the experiences of our "waking" state can be shared, whereas the mystic's "deep" experience, like a drug trip, is experienced alone and cannot be shared with others.

It is tempting to take some surface-scratching report of a recent discovery, as published in Time Magazine, and think that "science" has finally vindicated one's religious views. A hilarious example of this has been the recent hoopla about the "God part of the brain" and Dr. Andrew Newberg's research (PAM: April, 2001). Very few people stopped and thought long enough to realize that we've just explained, scientifically, what's going on in the mind of someone who meditates for so long that they think they've "become one with God." Instead, they responded enthusiastically to suggestions that they've scientifically validated the religious experience. So eager are some to grab hold of even a fragment of reality and still keep their faith!

In a similar sense, the Big Bang looks, to some, to be scientific validation of their Creation myth. The Second Law of Thermodynamics, in describing how energy always goes to a state of equilibrium, resembles the Curse of Original Sin (wherein death came into the world) to many Christians. Even the existence of evil as explained by the Pandora's Box myth and the Garden of Eden story, and even the explanation of how houseflies came to be during the Exodus, shows humankind's quest to explain what's going on. Usually, we'd expect humans to abandon the myth when science comes up with the real explanation. But this is not what happens: we now see people clinging so tenaciously to their religious myths that instead of replacing the myth with knowledge from a new scientific discovery, they use science to try to verify the very myth they ought to be replacing with science!

If someone can explain that to me, I would be most obliged!

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine
Five years of service to
    people with no reason to believe

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