Two scientists and two nominations

President Obama has nominated Francis Collins to be director of the National Institute of Health. Collins led the project to sequence human DNA. He is an outspoken evangelical, though he is also a theistic evolutionist. Click the link for an interesting discussion of his ideas and the controversy he elicits from all sides.

Then again, President Obama’s nomination for the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology, John Holdren, has written a book, entitled Ecoscience back in 1977, in which he argues for the following:

— Women could be forced to abort their pregnancies, whether they wanted to or not;
— The population at large could be sterilized by infertility drugs intentionally put into the nation’s drinking water or in food;
— Single mothers and teen mothers should have their babies seized from them against their will and given away to other couples to raise;
— People who “contribute to social deterioration” (i.e. undesirables) “can be required by law to exercise reproductive responsibility” — in other words, be compelled to have abortions or be sterilized.
— A transnational “Planetary Regime” should assume control of the global economy and also dictate the most intimate details of Americans’ lives — using an armed international police force.

Mollie Hemingway, to whom I am indebted for this information, asks, after some very interesting discussion, why is the media presenting Francis Collins as a controversial pick for being an evangelical Christian (though one who is pro-evolution, pro-stem cell research, and pro-abortion) but not John Holdren?

Towards a new scientific worldview, #3: Changing the past

More weird science: A quantum entity, such as a photon of light or an electron, behaves either like a particle or a wave, but not at the same time. Which way it behaves depends on how it is being observed. That’s weird enough, an example of what we have been talking about the last few days of the evidence that reality requires an observer (or Observer).

In 2007, a team of physicists found a way to change the mode of observation of beams of photons in the course of the experiment AFTER they have already entered the measuring apparatus. Somehow, the observation in the present affected how the photons behaved in the past. As one of the authors of the study put it, as quoted in a physics forum,
“In the present, one can change something that has already happened in the past.”

The experiment was published in Science, with this abstract:

Wave-particle duality is at the heart of quantum mechanics. Particles and photons can display both properties, and which property is measured depends on the type of measurement made. What if the experimental setup changes when the photon or particle is “in flight” and has already entered the experimental apparatus? Jacques et al. (p. 966) report an almost ideal realization of such a “delayed choice” experiment as formulated by Wheeler. A triggered single-photon source provides a mechanism for precise timing of the experiment within laboratory conditions. The behavior of the photon in the interferometer depends on the choice of the observable that is measured, even if that choice is made when the photon is already in the system.

Go here for the entire original article.

Go here for a simple classroom experiment–that I have witnessed doing a class observation of our college’s excellent physics class–that shows how we know that light can be either a particle or a wave and that can help you visualize this more sophisticated experiment, in which the light apparently entered the two slits (as it were), which would involve starting to act like a wave, but then when one slit was closed reverted to acting like a particle as if the wave “decision” (the experimenters’ word) never happened.

Towards a new scientific worldview, part 2: Biocentrism

Picking up from yesterday, Robert Lanza is a scientist who has written a new book entitled Biocentrism that uses the latest findings of physics and quantum mechanics to posit a new scientific worldview. Here are the seven principles of Biocentrism (via Mike LaSalle):

1. What we perceive as reality is a process that involves our consciousness. An “external” reality, if it existed, would — by definition — have to exist in space. But this is meaningless, because space and time are not absolute realities but rather tools of the human and animal mind.

2. Our external and internal perceptions are inextricably intertwined. They are different sides of the same coin and cannot be divorced from one another.

3. The behavior of subatomic particles — indeed all particles and objects — are inextricably linked to the presence of an observer. Without the presence of a conscious observer, they at best exist in an undetermined state of probability waves.

4. Without consciousness, “matter” dwells in an undetermined state of probability. Any universe that could have preceded consciousness only existed in a probability state.

5. The structure of the universe is explainable only through biocentrism. The universe is fine-tuned for life, which makes perfect sense as life creates the universe, not the other way around. The “universe” is simply the complete spatio-temporal logic of the self.

6. Time does not have a real existence outside of animal-sense perception. It is the process by which we perceive changes in the universe.

7. Space, like time, is not an object or a thing. Space is another form of our animal understanding and does not have an independent reality. We carry space and time around with us like turtles with shells. Thus there is no absolute self-existing matrix in which the physical events occur independent of life.

Now this will be taken as more New Agism, a secularization of the Hindu god-within and as support for the postmodernist view that we create our own reality. If we think in terms of individuals’ perceptions and observations and life, so it is.

But so much more manifestly exists in the universe than what we humans can interact with. There must be a greater Life that is the ground for all other life, an Observer who observes all things who thus keeps them in existence. (If quantum events require an observer, and the universe existed on a quantum level at the big bang, as physicists are saying, there must have been an observer at the beginning.) Such thinking, properly, is surely evidence for the existence of the transcendent personal God.

Towards a new scientific worldview, part 1: The Goldilocks effect

Robert Lanza is a scientist who has written a new book entitled Biocentrism that uses the latest findings of physics and quantum mechanics to posit a new scientific worldview. One aspect he thinks cosmologists have to factor is the Goldilocks Effect. From Mike LaSalle’s review of the book:

Dr. Lanza begins his book with its denouement: “The world is not, on the whole, the place described in our schoolbooks.”

The world appears to be designed for life, not just at the microscopic scale of the atom, but at the level of the universe itself. Scientists have discovered that the universe has a long list of traits that make it appear as if everything it contains — from atoms to stars — was tailor-made just for us. Many are calling this revelation the “Goldilocks Principle,” because the cosmos is not “too this” or “too that,” but rather “just right” for life. (p. 83)

“Goldilocks” is a recognized natural phenomenon covered under the anthropic principle — a term first coined by Australian physicist Brandon Carter at a 1973 symposium in Kraków to honor the 500th birthday of Nicholas Copernicus.

Nowadays science identifies this phenomenon as the observation selection effect, wherein a “selection bias” must be factored in to cosmological measurements.

The gravitational constant is perhaps the most famous [example of the Goldilocks Effect], but the fine structure constant is just as critical for life. Called alpha, if it were just 1.1x or more of its present value, fusion would no longer occur in stars. (p. 87)

The Rare Earth hypothesis narrows the field of habitation down again, until the possibilities become too extreme to believe. In fact, the long odds against your reading this article are so remote as to be practically impossible. Yet, here we are, evidently snug inside the safe wave of the physical present. . . .

By the late sixties, it had become clear that if the Big Bang had been just one part in a million more powerful, the cosmos would have blown outward too fast to allow stars and worlds to form. Result: no us. Even more coincidentally, the universe’s four forces and all of its constants are just perfectly set up for atomic interactions, the existence of atoms and elements, planets, liquid water, and life. Tweak any of them and you never existed. (p. 84)

The trouble with the Goldilocks principle is that it ultimately infects any sample that may be subjected to the scientific method. And according to the authors, scientific observation is simply not immune to the indirect effects of the observation selection effect or to its quantum cousin, the uncertainty principle. . . .

In fact, at least two problems in evolutionary biology could be informed by selection bias:

Exhibit 1: Abiogenesis. To this moment, there is no standard biological or mechanical theory to explain life’s origin. There is factually no mechanism known to science that could explain how living things could have formed through random mechanical processes. Famed biologist Francis Crick and the astronomer Fred Hoyle favored the theory of panspermia, where extraterrestrials are credited with seeding earth with its first life. But Panspermia merely passes the buck. How did life begin?

Exhibit 2: The Fermi paradox. Human sentience at this point in the evolution of the universe is explainable only if life is commonplace. Yet there is a mathematically conspicuous absence of observable extraterrestrial life. So where are they?

Embryonic stem cells instead of lab rats

From Christian Telegraph:

General Electric has announced that it will use embryonic stem cells provided by Geron Corporation for the purpose of testing toxic effects of drug treatments, reports Alex Bush,

GE issued a statement, attempting to preempt criticism over the decision, saying, “We acknowledge the considerable debate and take very seriously the ethical and societal issues associated with research using stem cells derived from embryonic or fetal tissue.”

“We conduct our research in an ethically and scientifically responsible manner,” the statement said.

However, embryonic stem cells have been the center of heated controversy since harvesting the cells requires the destruction of embryonic human beings.

But Geron Corporation indicates that in this case it believes that the ends justify the means.

“Up to three quarters of toxicity problems are not detected until preclinical or later stages of drug development and this significantly increases the cost of developing new drugs,” Geron Corporation said in a press release, “Earlier detection of toxicity problems could reduce both overall drug development costs and potentially harmful patient exposure in clinical trials.”

Konstantin Fielder, General Manager of Cell Technologies at GE Healthcare said that stem cells harvested from human embryos could even replace lab rats as the primary scientific testing method.

“Once you have human cells and you can get them in a standardized way, like you get right now your lab rats in a standardized way, you can actually do those experiments on those cells,” he said.

I wonder if this prospect makes animal rights activists happy, or if their kindness to animals extends to embryonic human beings. At any rate, get your mind around this.

Death of a technocrat

Robert McNamara, the Defense Secretary under Kennedy and LBJ and architect of the Vietnam war, died. I know some of you object when I blame that war on Democrats and on liberals, but it was a war that was started and waged under that ideology’s optimistic assumptions. Yes, conservatives supported it out of patriotic zeal, and, yes, the New Left would rise to oppose the Old Left liberalism, but the war was still the brainchild of the Democratic “whiz kids,” of whom McNamara was leader of the class. Described as the ultimate technocrat, McNamara was a modernist who assumed that the correct application of technical expertise, social engineering, rational planning, advanced technology, and quantitative science can solve any problem. Yes, Republicans now often exhibit the same hubris. And that spirit is very much in vogue in Washington today.

George Will has some comments along these lines:

Today, something unsettlingly similar to McNamara’s eerie assuredness pervades the Washington in which he died. The spirit is: Have confidence, everybody, because we have, or soon will have, everything — really everything — under control.

The apogee of McNamara’s professional life, in the first half of the 1960s, coincided, not coincidentally, with the apogee of the belief that behavioralism had finally made possible a science of politics. Behavioralism held — holds; it is a hardy perennial — that the social and natural sciences are not so different, both being devoted to the discovery of law-like regularities that govern the behavior of atoms, hamsters, humans, whatever.

Two of behavioralism’s reinforcing assumptions were: Things that can be quantified can be controlled. And everything can be quantified. So, pick a problem, any problem. Military insurgency in Indochina? The answer is counterinsurgency. What can be, and hence must be, quantified? Body counts, surely. Bingo: a metric of success.

Not exactly. The behavior of the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong did not respond as expected to America’s finely calibrated stimuli, such as bombing this but not that, and bombing pauses. Behavioralists were disappointed but not discouraged. They would give nation-building another try.

And we keep trying it, unable to falsify our optimistic theories.