Quantum Telepathy: Why Science Needs Weird Ideas to Advance

George Musser explains the central role of weirdness in physics, and shatters the dreams of those who hope humans can one day tap into psychic powers.

George Musser: The whole progress in physics is to start with our everyday experience and to analyze it and to look at it and to look for deviations from it. So the very nature of really all the natural sciences but certainly of physics is to really get away from our experience. So the things physics comes up with are just kind of are weird. They are going to be because that’s just how the world operates. That’s how physics makes sense of the world. Subatomic particles we can’t see them directly at least but we know they’re there. We actually do thought experiments about the things we do see and deduce their existence. So already even with just that limited example we have gone intra beyond our direct experience. And a hundred years ago or so people doubted the existence of atoms, let alone of subatomic particles. Nonlocality, spooky action at the distance is very much in that mold. It’s taken this yet further away from our experience. And therefore we expect it to be weird. It should be weird. That’s why physics is fun. If they were just reproducing the things we already knew I mean who really would care. It’s kind of fun because it’s taking us beyond our experience. It’s transcending our daily experience into this new realm that is weird.

And as other scientists have said you expect it. In fact if the theory isn’t weird you kind of doubt it because you might worry that your own biases are intruding into the theory and causing you to think the world is a certain way when you’re not listening to the way the world actually is. So weirdness is in a sense a test of theory. Now that said you can’t just sit here and kind of just daydream over a beer and come up with more and more weird things. They have to somehow connect back to what we do observe and that’s really the challenge of this whole field is well with subatomic particles how do they connect with what we do see. So they’re not just weirdness for weirdness sake. It’s weirdness in a way that actually relates ultimately back to what we see. And so it has to be with spooky action at a distance with nonlocality that ultimately we get locality back, the quality of space that governs our lives has to emerge. It has to come out of the nonlocality that seems to reside at the very fabric of the deepest levels of the universe.

One instinct you might have when you learn about these connections among different particles and different objects in the universe is aha, maybe that explains telepathy. Maybe that allows psychic powers. Maybe that bull that is apparat from Hogwarts into London or one of these things you would want to do. And unfortunately or actually I’ll come to in a sense fortunately that’s not really possible. It’s kind of unfortunate because you kind of would want those magical abilities. But it’s a case of you have to be careful what you wish for. So for example supposed I could sit on my couch and just by psychic action get the Mets to win the World Series. So wouldn’t we want that? But unfortunately all the other baseball teams would also have that psychic ability and we would have this huge babble of psychic wits taking place among the couch potatoes of the world. So the baseball game itself in that case would be irrelevant. In a more broad sense our very existence depends on space. We’re spatial creatures. We even have a certain little volume of space. We have a shape. We have very spatial properties. And if space didn’t exist we couldn’t exist. So we would kind of want the psychic powers but if we had them that would actually kind of undermine the very conditions of our own existence.

If you tell a physicist they’re weird, the correct response should be, "Why thank you." Science journalist and editor George Musser says this particular branch of science is supposed to engage the zany. One hundred years ago, people doubted the existence of atoms; the job of physics is to go beyond our everyday experience, to think of ‘what if’ ways to explain the world and prove them by relating the truly strange back to reality until one day, invisible things like atoms are a given.


Physics is fun precisely because it’s so weird, and the weirdness of it really is pivotal. "In fact if the theory isn’t weird, you kind of doubt it because you might worry that your own biases are intruding into the theory and causing you to think the world is a certain way when you’re not listening to the way the world actually is. So weirdness is in a sense a test of theory," Musser says. However there’s an important ‘but’ clinging onto this push for the strange, and that is that a theory can’t be weird just for weird’s sake. The ideas physicists propose have to connect back to what we observe in the world, which is what makes the field so challenging – can we be playful and creative and then rigorous enough to learn the truth about how subatomic particles work?

One of the most wonderfully weird ideas humans are fascinated by is psychic powers – telepathy, telekinesis. But the connections between different particles and objects in the universe don’t support these ideas and Musser states that they undermine the foundation of the spatial laws that our existence is built upon. So as much as we would love psychic ability, it undermines physics. Playfully imagining what those powers might be like, he warns it’s a ‘careful what you wish for’ scenario anyway. It would be great if only you had these powers; your team would always win the baseball! But assuming we’re all equals, each team would have a multitude of brains fighting each other for momentary control. The interference and mess caused by mass mental manipulation of physics would be catastrophic.

George Musser's most recent book is Spooky Action at a Distance:The Phenomenon That Reimagines Space and Time--And What It Means for Black Holes, the Big Bang, and Theories of Everything.

Volcanoes to power bitcoin mining in El Salvador

The first nation to make bitcoin legal tender will use geothermal energy to mine it.

Credit: Aaron Thomas via Unsplash
Technology & Innovation

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.

In June 2021, El Salvador became the first nation in the world to make bitcoin legal tender. Soon after, President Nayib Bukele instructed a state-owned power company to provide bitcoin mining facilities with cheap, clean energy — harnessed from the country's volcanoes.

The challenge: Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency, a digital form of money and a payment system. Crypto has several advantages over physical dollars and cents — it's incredibly difficult to counterfeit, and transactions are more secure — but it also has a major downside.

Crypto transactions are recorded and new coins are added into circulation through a process called mining.

Crypto mining involves computers solving incredibly difficult mathematical puzzles. It is also incredibly energy-intensive — Cambridge University researchers estimate that bitcoin mining alone consumes more electricity every year than Argentina.

Most of that electricity is generated by carbon-emitting fossil fuels. As it stands, bitcoin mining produces an estimated 36.95 megatons of CO2 annually.

A world first: On June 9, El Salvador became the first nation to make bitcoin legal tender, meaning businesses have to accept it as payment and citizens can use it to pay taxes.

Less than a day later, Bukele tweeted that he'd instructed a state-owned geothermal electric company to put together a plan to provide bitcoin mining facilities with "very cheap, 100% clean, 100% renewable, 0 emissions energy."

Geothermal electricity is produced by capturing heat from the Earth itself. In El Salvador, that heat comes from volcanoes, and an estimated two-thirds of their energy potential is currently untapped.

Why it matters: El Salvador's decision to make bitcoin legal tender could be a win for both the crypto and the nation itself.

"(W)hat it does for bitcoin is further legitimizes its status as a potential reserve asset for sovereign and super sovereign entities," Greg King, CEO of crypto asset management firm Osprey Funds, told CBS News of the legislation.

Meanwhile, El Salvador is one of the poorest nations in North America, and bitcoin miners — the people who own and operate the computers doing the mining — receive bitcoins as a reward for their efforts.

"This is going to evolve fast!"
NAYIB BUKELE

If El Salvador begins operating bitcoin mining facilities powered by clean, cheap geothermal energy, it could become a global hub for mining — and receive a much-needed economic boost in the process.

The next steps: It remains to be seen whether Salvadorans will fully embrace bitcoin — which is notoriously volatile — or continue business-as-usual with the nation's other legal tender, the U.S. dollar.

Only time will tell if Bukele's plan for volcano-powered bitcoin mining facilities comes to fruition, too — but based on the speed of things so far, we won't have to wait long to find out.

Less than three hours after tweeting about the idea, Bukele followed up with another tweet claiming that the nation's geothermal energy company had already dug a new well and was designing a "mining hub" around it.

"This is going to evolve fast!" the president promised.

How Pfizer and BioNTech made history with their vaccine

How were mRNA vaccines developed? Pfizer's Dr Bill Gruber explains the science behind this record-breaking achievement and how it was developed without compromising safety.

Sponsored by Pfizer
  • Wondering how Pfizer and partner BioNTech developed a COVID-19 vaccine in record time without compromising safety? Dr Bill Gruber, SVP of Pfizer Vaccine Clinical Research and Development, explains the process from start to finish.
  • "I told my team, at first we were inspired by hope and now we're inspired by reality," Dr Gruber said. "If you bring critical science together, talented team members together, government, academia, industry, public health officials—you can achieve what was previously the unachievable."
  • The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine has not been approved or licensed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but has been authorized for emergency use by FDA under an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to prevent COVID-19 for use in individuals 12 years of age and older. The emergency use of this product is only authorized for the duration of the emergency declaration unless ended sooner. See Fact Sheet: cvdvaccine-us.com/recipients.

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Massive 'Darth Vader' isopod found lurking in the Indian Ocean

The father of all giant sea bugs was recently discovered off the coast of Java.

SJADE 2018
Surprising Science
  • A new species of isopod with a resemblance to a certain Sith lord was just discovered.
  • It is the first known giant isopod from the Indian Ocean.
  • The finding extends the list of giant isopods even further.
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Astronomers find more than 100,000 "stellar nurseries"

Every star we can see, including our sun, was born in one of these violent clouds.

Credit: NASA / ESA via Getty Images
Surprising Science

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.

An international team of astronomers has conducted the biggest survey of stellar nurseries to date, charting more than 100,000 star-birthing regions across our corner of the universe.

Stellar nurseries: Outer space is filled with clouds of dust and gas called nebulae. In some of these nebulae, gravity will pull the dust and gas into clumps that eventually get so big, they collapse on themselves — and a star is born.

These star-birthing nebulae are known as stellar nurseries.

The challenge: Stars are a key part of the universe — they lead to the formation of planets and produce the elements needed to create life as we know it. A better understanding of stars, then, means a better understanding of the universe — but there's still a lot we don't know about star formation.

This is partly because it's hard to see what's going on in stellar nurseries — the clouds of dust obscure optical telescopes' view — and also because there are just so many of them that it's hard to know what the average nursery is like.

The survey: The astronomers conducted their survey of stellar nurseries using the massive ALMA telescope array in Chile. Because ALMA is a radio telescope, it captures the radio waves emanating from celestial objects, rather than the light.

"The new thing ... is that we can use ALMA to take pictures of many galaxies, and these pictures are as sharp and detailed as those taken by optical telescopes," Jiayi Sun, an Ohio State University (OSU) researcher, said in a press release.

"This just hasn't been possible before."

Over the course of the five-year survey, the group was able to chart more than 100,000 stellar nurseries across more than 90 nearby galaxies, expanding the amount of available data on the celestial objects tenfold, according to OSU researcher Adam Leroy.

New insights: The survey is already yielding new insights into stellar nurseries, including the fact that they appear to be more diverse than previously thought.

"For a long time, conventional wisdom among astronomers was that all stellar nurseries looked more or less the same," Sun said. "But with this survey we can see that this is really not the case."

"While there are some similarities, the nature and appearance of these nurseries change within and among galaxies," he continued, "just like cities or trees may vary in important ways as you go from place to place across the world."

Astronomers have also learned from the survey that stellar nurseries aren't particularly efficient at producing stars and tend to live for only 10 to 30 million years, which isn't very long on a universal scale.

Looking ahead: Data from the survey is now publicly available, so expect to see other researchers using it to make their own observations about stellar nurseries in the future.

"We have an incredible dataset here that will continue to be useful," Leroy said. "This is really a new view of galaxies and we expect to be learning from it for years to come."

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