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Our future, our universe, and other weighty topics

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Cox's Ghost Goof

Although he is an engaging television personality, physicist Brian Cox can go way wrong when he veers into metaphysics, as when he advances the completely groundless “fake physics” claim of an infinity of parallel universes. Cox has recently claimed that research at the Large Hadron Collider (the biggest machine used by physicists) has ruled out ghosts.

Cox's reasoning is that if there were ghosts or souls, they would have to be made of some new type of particle that scientists hadn't yet discovered; but such a new ghost particle hasn't been found by the Large Hadron Collider; therefore, ghosts or souls don't exist. This reasoning is fallacious.

Cox has assumed that ghosts or souls must be made of some type of undiscovered particles, that are either mass or energy. But this assumption is invalid. We can imagine several different possibilities:

Possibility 1: Souls or ghosts are not made of any type of matter or energy at all, but consist of some utterly non-material thing that we may call soul-stuff, spirit, or mind-stuff.

Possibility 2: Souls or ghosts are made of some special configuration of ordinary energy such as photons.

Possibility 3: Souls or ghosts are made of some special configuration of neutrinos, a particle that is known to be able to pass through solid matter.

Possibility 4: Souls or ghosts are made of some undiscovered type of matter or some undiscovered type of energy, different from anything physicists are familiar with.

Based on reports of ghost sightings, all of these are viable possibilities. Evidence that ghosts can travel through walls is slight, so Possibility 2 is still viable. Even if it could not travel through walls, a ghost made only of photons might have various ways of getting into a room, such as traveling through windows.

Now it is clear that no results from the Large Hadron Collider do anything at all to exclude the first three of these possibilities, because the first three possibilities do not involve any type of new matter particle or energy particle that wasn't known before the Large Hadron Collider started operation several years ago. And also Possibility 4 is also not excluded by results from the Large Hadron Collider, because it's still perfectly possible that ghosts or souls may consist of some undiscovered type of matter or undiscovered type of energy that the Large Hadron Collider simply hasn't found yet.

Scientists believe that a significant fraction of the universe's total substance is something called dark matter. But no evidence for dark matter has been produced by the Large Hadron Collider. Scientists believe that most of the universe's substance is something called dark energy. But no evidence for dark energy has been produced by the Large Hadron Collider. But scientists have just kept on believing in dark matter and dark energy, despite these negative findings. In light of such facts, it is absurd or hypocritical for Cox to be speaking as if we shouldn't believe in ghosts because no ghost particles have been found by the Large Hadron Collider. To make such a claim is to evoke a rule (“If the Large Hadron Collider didn't find it, it doesn't exist”) that is exactly opposite to the rule scientists are following in regard to the Large Hadron Collider and dark matter and dark energy.

What exactly is the Large Hadron Collider? It's a gigantic ring-like machine in which scientists accelerate particles to nearly the speed of light, and crash them together. It's a machine that was designed not to search for ghosts, but to partially replicate the high energy conditions near the time of the Big Bang in which the universe was born. The Large Hadron Collider tells us something about what particles appear under insanely high-energy collisions that are about the least subtle things imaginable – no more subtle than the condition under which two jet planes might collide head on. Such a machine is, of course, totally unsuitable for detecting some extremely subtle “ghost energy” or “ghost particles” that might be associated with ghosts or souls. 

A messy particle collision at a particle acclerator

Prior to Cox's comments on this matter, I cannot recall a single person who has ever speculated that findings from the Large Hadron Collider had the slightest relevance to the existence of ghosts or the existence of a soul. Cox's attempt to draw a connection between the two is highly imaginative, but unsubstantial.

Cox also gives us some completely erroneous reasoning suggesting that the Second Law of Thermodynamics argues against ghosts or the survival of the soul. This is entirely fallacious. The Second Law of Thermodynamics tells us that entropy tends to increase in a closed system – meaning a system receiving no external inputs. If you consider the universe as a closed system, such a law may predict increased entropy in the universe as a whole in future eons. But the Second Law of Thermodynamics tells us nothing about the lifetime of an individual body (whether material or immaterial, biological or ghostly) – for the simple reason that such things are not closed systems, and may receive external inputs.

Very weighty evidence for apparitions was accumulated in the classic 700-page scientific book Phantasms of the Living by Gurney, which met high standards of corroboration. Cox doesn't want you to believe in ghosts, which have been repeatedly observed by reliable witnesses for centuries. But Cox does apparently want you to believe in the infinitely more unbelievable “fake physics” idea of an infinity of parallel universes, something for which there is not the slightest bit of evidence. I, on the other hand, prefer to follow the rule of: believe in proportion to the evidence, regardless of your presumptions and expectations.