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Demon-Haunted Brain

March 2003
If the brain mediates all experience, then paranormal phenomena are nothing more than neuronal events
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Five centuries ago demons haunted our world, with incubi and succubi tormenting victims as they lay asleep. Two centuries ago spirits haunted our world, with ghosts and ghouls harassing sufferers during all hours of the night. This past century aliens haunted our world, with grays and greens abducting captives and whisking them away for probing and prodding. Nowadays people are reporting out-of-body experiences, floating above their beds. What is going on here? Are these elusive creatures and mysterious phenomena in our world or in our minds? New evidence adds weight to the notion that they are, in fact, products of the brain. Neuroscientist Michael Persinger, in his laboratory at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, for example, can induce all these perceptions in subjects by subjecting their temporal lobes to patterns of magnetic fields. (I tried it myself and had a mild out-of-body experience.) (continue reading…)

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Psychic Drift

February 2003
Why most scientists do not believe in ESP and psi phenomena
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In the first half of the 19th century the theory of evolution was mired in conjecture until Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace compiled a body of evidence and posited a mechanism — natural selection — for powering the evolutionary machine.

The theory of continental drift, proposed in 1915 by Alfred Wegener, was not accepted by most scientists until the 1960s, with the discovery of midoceanic ridges, geomagnetic patterns corresponding to continental plate movement, and plate tectonics as the driving motor.

Data and theory. Evidence and mechanism. These are the twin pillars of sound science. Without data and evidence, there is nothing for a theory or mechanism to explain. Without a theory and mechanism, data and evidence drift aimlessly on a boundless sea. (continue reading…)

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Digits & Fidgets

January 2003
Is the universe fine-tuned for life?
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There was a young fellow from Trinity
Who took the square root of infinity.
But the number of digits
Gave him the fidgets;
He dropped Math and took up Divinity.

In the limerick above, physicist George Gamow dealt with the paradox of a finite being contemplating infinity by passing the buck to theologians.

In an attempt to prove that the universe was intelligently designed, religion has lately been fidgeting with the fine-tuning digits of the cosmos. The John Templeton Foundation even grants cash prizes for such “progress in religion.” Last year mathematical physicist and Anglican priest John C. Polkinghorne, recognized because he “has invigorated the search for interface between science and religion,” was given $1 million for his “treatment of theology as a natural science.” In 2000 physicist Freeman Dyson took home a $945,000 prize for such works as his 1979 book, Disturbing the Universe, in which he writes: “As we look out into the universe and identify the many accidents of physics and astronomy that have worked together to our benefit, it almost seems as if the Universe must in some sense have known that we were coming.” (continue reading…)

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