Wednesday, October 04, 2006

A Connecting Principle Linked To The Invisible

The end of last week found me investigating the large extra dimensions model of the universe for work. Then in my internet ramblings I stumbled as a Sally-come-lately into the cryptozoological phenomenon of rods. Next, I was paging through Carl Sagan’s The Demon Haunted World, again for work. Finally, yesterday morning on the train I read H.P. Lovecraft’s “From Beyond.” Clearly, I am in the midst of a full-blown synchronicitous event, directing my attention to considerations of the reality of things we can’t see. Join me in ruminations on unobservables after the jump.

  • The large extra dimensions model, or ADD model, is an attempt to understand the relative weakness of gravity compared to the other four fundamental forces. It posits extra dimensions, folded up very small, which are filled with gravity. We can’t see or feel these dimensions because they are so small, but the high-energy Large Hadron Collider may test the model when it starts up next year.
  • Rods, also known as skyfish, are cryptozoological entities that can only be seen with video cameras. Enthusiasts suggest that rods move too fast to be seen without these tools. The pictures are real, believe it or not. But critics make an utterly convincing argument, suggesting the rods are motion-blurred insects captured mid-flight with long exposure times.
  • The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark is Sagan’s defense of scientific rationality against all forms of superstition, religious and otherwise. He charts the fine line good scientists must trace between skepticism and acceptance of new ideas.
    We humans have a talent for deceiving ourselves. Skepticism must be a component of the explorer’s toolkit, or we will lose our way. There are wonders enough out there without our inventing any.
  • Lovecraft’s short story “From Beyond” involves a mad-scientist-type who invents a machine that stimulates dormant senses in human beings, allowing people to see normally-invisible entities in the world. Quoth the mad scientist:
    You see them? You see them? You see the things that float and flop about you and through you every moment of your life? You see the creatures that form what men call the pure air and blue sky? Have I not succeeded in breaking down the barrier; have I not shown you worlds that no other living men have seen?

Interesting, no? But I’ll admit right away that I’m enough of a skeptic to doubt the reality of synchronicity. I would subscribe to a soft version of the idea, one in which we give synchronicitous events meaning, one in which our behavior patterns create a pattern in events in our lives. But a harder version of the theory, in which we tap into a dynamic that is bigger than ourselves and directs history, seems impossible to me.

Skepticism, as Sagan points out, is a necessary tool for people trying to understand the world. Too little, and people will end up thinking that blurry insects on video are a life form that is all around us but has never been detected in the thousands of years of recorded human history. Simple logical exercises fail these people in their desperate wish to believe (Where are the dead skyfish?).

Maybe they were sucked into extra dimensions?

Seriously, though, some very smart scientists do suggest the world is queerer than we had previously imagined, and may include invisible dimensions. I’m less comfortable saying these ideas are BS, but I’m still inclined to doubt. Sure, I accept other things no one has seen, like electrons, but those entities are based on innumerable experimental observations. Extra dimensions seem to pop up as predictions of equations nestled in often-untestable models. But maybe the LHC will test at least the large extra dimensions model. I just expect this model to fail.

So, considering this flood of skepticism and my doubt of deep synchronicity, I’m content to simply wonder why these events struck me now. Obviously, science deals with a lot of unobservable phenomena, so the fact that I work in a science-related field means I’m going to encounter a lot of this. As a committed materialist, I’m convinced my experience is just coincidence. But I think that, as is the case with Lovecraft, my materialism spawns a fascination with supernaturalism. Part of me wishes the world was a bit more magical than it seems to be, and yet another part of me delights in putting the smack down on magical thinking.


MattG said...

there are some new books out that diss good 'ol string thoery. String theory is pretty sexy because it gives us this universe that is more complex than our little brains can handle. The first time I heard the "How would a 2-dimensional being explain a 3-dimensional sphere passing through his world" puzzle i was fascinated and then tried to wrap my head around a multi-dimension universe.. anyway the point is, according to these authors, that its not really science because it doesn't provide a testable hypothesis. even though it comes from sciencey types, and it sounds very sciencey, it may have nothing to do with reality. after all there are no 2-dimensional beings right?


i still like the multidimensional universe idea.. though I don't know why gravity just can't be a pussy force..

109 said...

One of my favorite student questions in physics is when we do light and people wonder about what the world would look like to an alien who saw a different wavelength than our so called visible light. Like flowers as seen by bees is one possible answer, or cosmological photos taken by strange wavelength satellite cameras I guess. I would prefer to experience the world by a different dominant sense, myself, like smell per a dog.

BTW, I am happy to say that I see these "rods " on my bar of soap in the shower, always after shaving, never before. And the longer I wait to shave the longer the rods are!