Genomics in Medicine

Genomics in Medicine

The Gene Sequencing Future Has Arrived

Introduction

Merriam Webster defines genomics as:

A branch of biotechnology concerned with applying the techniques of genetics and molecular biology to the genetic mapping and DNA sequencing of sets of genes or the complete genomes of selected organisms, with organizing the results in databases, and with the applications of the data (as in medicine or biology)

Many of us have just started to hear about the advances in genomics in some fashion.

These advances are on the leading edge of technology. The growth in this field is happening all around us. This article will provide a little review and then address a few of these advances.. In the interest of simplifying, the complex biochemistry will not be extensively addressed in this writing. We will look at the basics of biochemistry in future articles.

DNA was first discovered in the late 1800’s. Then in 1957, Francis Crick and James D. Watson discovered and described the double helix structure of DNA along with some of the molecular biology and chemistry that are all related. This article is more of a general overview of genomics and some recent advances in the field

When Watson and Crick made these discoveries, they opened a door more powerful than the discovery of nuclear fission, the Atomic Bomb. The consequences of their discoveries and the subsequent science devoted to those discoveries make it the most important discovery humankind has ever made – according to some of the current experts in the field and Watson himself.

The pursuits related to this discovery, the accompanying biochemistry, and many other rapidly growing branches of genetic science, have been going on since that first breakthrough.

The first complete genome sequenced was that of a common bacterium called Hemophilus Influenzae – good old H. Flu. H. Flu is a bacterium with which most of us in the medical field are familiar. It is capable of causing infections from meningitis to pneumonia when it is the agent. Identified years ago, Hemophilus Influenzae is a very familiar and notorious organism. A Nobel laureate, named Hamilton Smith, one of the Human Genome project leaders, had been working on this organism and its DNA for decades because of its prevalence, and it was chosen as the first organism for sequencing because of the high quality DNA libraries he could provide.

In modern genetics, the genome is the entirety of an organism’s hereditary information stored in the DNA, including all of its genes. The plan for sequencing the entire human genome was initialized in 1987 and was funded and planned for 15 years to accomplish the goal. Work started about 1990 and was declared completed in April of 2003. It cost 2.8 Billion dollars. It was a big event, you might remember seeing or reading about it.

The Basics of What We Are Doing

As we began the sequencing of genomes for organisms in our world, discoveries have literally exploded and are driving technological advances as well. Technological advance had to occur to keep pace with the discoveries being made and vice versa. Some of these advances are faster computers, better storage of data, and ever-increasing efficiency in sequencing machines. We have sequenced all types of organisms from viruses, bacteria, plants, animals, and people, to even wine and chocolate. The numbers of completely sequenced organisms in each of these categories is relatively small. The number of organisms we have partially sequenced is large and growing. We also sequence the DNA from nonliving organic remains.

At the peak of the Human Genome Project, we were generating DNA sequences at the rate of 1000 nucleotides per second, around the clock. In February of 2013, a gene sequencer came on the market that could sequence 1million nucleotides per second for targeted sequences. That is a 1000 fold increase in 11years. Moreover, they just keep getting faster and faster and cheaper and cheaper. The speed with which this technology is advancing is literally overwhelming.

We have also fairly recently completed the sequencing for hundreds of cancers which have hundreds of mutations because of simple changes in the sequencing of their DNA which makes a gene stop or change functioning.

The most common of the hereditary cancers are breast, ovarian, prostate, and colorectal. These genomes were chosen first in cancer sequencing because of this commonality. We all have similar DNA but it is not exactly the same, we do not get “exactly” the same cancers, even though we are 99.9% genetically identical. It is that elusive one tenth of the genome we look at for our ancestry, and the remainder for indications of disease. Therefore, the sequencing of an individual’s genome can tell us about that person and their ancestry on a genetic level, and grossly simplified, it tells us which gene changes are causing what expressions in the phenotype (body) or other areas of interest such as the biomolecular pathways.

Sequencing identifies problems related to gene coding such as cancers, a myriad of genetic disorders, susceptibilities, and other unobvious interactions at the biomolecular level. The list is literally almost endless. The good news is that it is also getting cheaper to do it… exponentially cheaper. It is calculated that in the next few years, you will be able to have your complete genome sequenced for around a hundred dollars. The magic money goal for quite a few years has been a complete genome sequence for $1000 and we have now achieved that goal. There are some companies doing very tiny parts now for somewhere under $400. However, there are 6 billion bases to the complete genome, so it is a tiny part. There are markers called SNP’s (single nucleotide polymorphisms) these companies use to tell you if you have a genetic predisposition for a certain health issue, such as heart disease, prostate cancer and many others. The bit they examine does not take into account psyche, lifestyle, pollution or external factors because we do not know in most cases, exactly how these factors affect our genes, we know only that they do. This approach then gives a percentage of risk for certain diseases.

We know that pollution damages the vascular endothelium and this damage causes an inflammation that is the precursor to inflammatory atherosclerosis. Demonstrating of course that we do know quite a bit from our current research, but it is so minuscule in comparison to the numbers of genes that it is essentially nothing numerically speaking. This type of information was not on the gene level of investigation until recently and we are not sure what it means on a gene level but we are getting there.

However, what we currently know, along with the information we are gleaning from genomics, can make a huge difference in someone’s quality of life with the appropriate intervention. It will be immeasurably better as the science of genomics continues to improve.

Will we be able to alter the gene, or gene plate, or some other factor in the process to make us more resistant to pollution, or rather the damage it causes on the endothelial level? Yes, we will… and soon.

What These Pursuits Mean – An Overview

On a grand scale, the ability to understand our genome tells us who we are and where we came from. I mean, who we really are. We all carry all our collective human history from the beginning of humankind in our DNA. In addition, we have established that scientific Eve began in East Central Africa approximately 100,000 to 200,000 years ago. She is Humanity’s genetic mother. We have even sequenced the DNA of the Neanderthals and found that a small percentage of the current population carries their genes. Just imagine, not only are we about to change all of medicine and pharmacology and many other sciences, but we will truly know ourselves, for the first time.

At present, we are beginning to be able to find the gene or gene sequence (plate), isolate the coding problem, and understand to some degree how that change in coding has expressed as a disease. It is an intensive and complex process to identify an anomaly after the sequencing has been completed.

You might remember that there are just four nucleobases… guanine (G), adenine (A), thymine (T), and cytosine (C) (see Fig1 above). Ninety Eight percent of your DNA does not code for active proteins. This leaves two percent holding sequenced information from the nucleobases that produce proteins. These proteins manage essentially everything in the body. If the nucleobase is damaged, mutates, was never present, or was wrong in the first place for whatever reason, there can be disease expression because of a malfunctioning protein the gene processes produced, or did not produce when they should have. At this point, we are very limited in what we can do to adjust or repair one of the nucleobases, but that knowledge foundation is growing exponentially as well. In designer pharmacology at present, the focus is trending toward fixing the malfunctioning protein or process that the damaged sequence has created rather than fixing the nucleobase or even the gene plate specifically. Fixing the nucleobase, at the root level, is the ultimate goal however. Some of this is now being done at the embryonic level for the more known or devastating genetic diseases such as Huntington’s Chorea, Cystic Fibrosis, Sickle Cell Anemia and a long list of others.

The genome is sequenced from cells taken from the embryo and examined for known adverse phenotype expression, or in other words, known genetic disease and its bodily expression.

It is being observed, though not clinically proven that treatments for these diseases, based on genomic medicines are far more effective, in some cases even “curative” in the younger patient. This means that being genomically sequenced and treated after the disease has advanced may improve some aspect or quality of life, but in all likelihood will not save you once the damage is done. This is why there are so many advocates for early sequencing in the scientific and medical community. However, as this science advances age may no longer be a factor.

In 2013, the cost for a genome sequence was about $8,000. We have now achieved complete genome sequencing for $1000. The current cost has now become less expensive than many treatments currently in use. In only a few years (approximately 3-5), the cost will be about $100. As the cost falls exponentially and the information grows exponentially this will become the preferred treatment of the very near future, where almost all types of health issues are addressed at the genomic level, with lifestyle and environment not left out, but their effects on the genome much more understood genomically and maybe even more amenable to change or correction.

Though genomics are essential in many diverse fields, the medical field has been given a significant focus because it means curing or controlling the worst diseases that have plagued us for centuries, not to mention changing aging, selecting optimal traits for our children, and even improving the ones in those of us already here. There will come a future time with the use of this science that we will have to ask ourselves “Are we still H. Sapiens Sapiens, or have we become something else?”

Cardiology

The way we view the practice of medicine, diagnostics, and treatment at the present time, is about to change, drastically, and it is already happening. Instead of just treating the disease symptoms, in its outward expression or “phenotype,” we will be treating and curing diseases at the genomic and biomolecular level. We will change the genes themselves and/or their pathways. This has produced a new limb of the medical science tree populated by “omics.” DNA and RNA and the Messenger RNA use many processes to get the coded information from the gene or gene plate to the RNA that can make the protein, which is active in the person or “phenotype.” Examples of these include transcriptomics, proteomics, and metabolomics. These are all representative of accessible pathways of intervention and are becoming or have become specialty medical and scientific fields of their own.

Alterations in these various genomic pathways are being identified as areas of interest or intervention to change the outcome of disease manifestation in the body.

Chemical modifications in these numerous pathways or proteins can be made pharmacologically. Epigenetics studies the effects of environmental factors on the DNA. DNA changes its coding if influenced by outside factors. This means our DNA changes over time for better or worse depending on innumerable internal and external variables.

Thomas P. Cappola, MD, ScM, and Kenneth B. Margulies, MD put it this way:

“For example, emerging data indicate that in-utero exposure to stresses such as starvation can alter DNA methylation patterns of genes involved in growth and metabolism to affect organ development and future cardiovascular risk. Exposures such as tobacco smoke and air pollution may modulate cardiovascular risk in part by inducing epigenetic changes. Animal models have also demonstrated a substantial role for histone modification in cardiac hypertrophy, and drugs that target histone-deacetylases (HDACs) have been considered as a therapeutic strategy for heart failure.” NIH public access document.

What they are saying is that the histone pathway is a target area for use of a designer drug that would be a treatment for heart failure. Think of the number of pathways at the gene level that regulate our bodies and then picture the applications of targeted pharmacotherapy on the outcome of the diseases whose pathways we understand. We will create drugs whose role is so specific that there are not even side effects with which to contend. We also have to consider the amount of drug necessary, which would be minuscule compared to the amounts we currently use. At present, we are essentially treating the whole body, with large doses of chemicals, to control a symptom or symptoms, and our numerous other systems and organs become treated as well with this shotgun approach. This approach opens the door for countless side effects and the need for endless clinical trials for safety, and we know little about the effects of all these chemicals on the DNA. That is all about to change as you can see if you are able to grasp the potential for a new dawn in the age of medicine and pharmacology.

We will be able to identify gene markers that represent Mendelian or “familial” potential for all diseases, including cardiac disease. Heart disease is still the number one killer in the world.

We will also understand the anomalies of rare genetic diseases that affect the cardiopulmonary system, and what will stop their expression through repairing the DNA or one of the pathways at the embryonic level before damage ever appears. Imagine all of the invasive testing this will also eliminate.

Whole branches of medicine such as the Cardiac Cath lab, Surgery, and all manner of invasive techniques, will be relegated to trauma assessment and repair, or be eliminated because they will no longer be needed for diseases. Branches of genomics are already arising for regrowing limbs, organs, and spinal cord repair. The list of pathways and interventions is almost endless as you can see.

The most common areas of interest in cardiology have continued to be researched for the past fifty years because heart disease has been the most common cause of death. Among these are Coronary Artery Disease and Myocardial Infarction, Heart Failure, Arrhythmias, and peripheral and cerebral vascular disease. Ongoing, genome wide association studies continue in these primary areas as well and variants in the genes and gene plates identified or implicated for these vascular diseases. Our knowledge is growing as more and more sequencing is done and comparative patterns across the population are seen expressed in the genomes of the individuals who are sequenced. We have a growing body of knowledge of specific gene patterns accumulating daily from 10,000 or so workers in these genetics fields. In complement, because of electronic medical records and the internet, along with the growth of gene sequencing ability and technology, this knowledge is being shared and the areas of association repeatedly compared and confirmed. This is the path to therapeutic intervention and real cure. If one knows they have a mutation in a gene plate that is associated with early MI, then we can assign a percentage of risk based on the clinical picture of how completely or partially this gene pattern is expressed. Alternatively, in the case of early sequencing, we can intervene in the embryo before the disease is even manifested. We are learning how to do these interventions at an ever-accelerating pace, but there are several libraries of research to be done. The good news is the speed with which we can do this and the ability to store and share the information we acquire.

In this brief article, I have only been able to lightly touch the surface of the rapidly growing fields in genomics and a minuscule amount of what we are seeing now and will be seeing in the very near future in terms of diagnostics and treatment. I hope it has sparked your interest for this amazing and exploding field. I would humbly recommend accessing all the information you can find on genomics and get your head around it. Not only is it changing the world economy, but also our roles, our jobs, and how we deliver health care. It is also changing the way we diagnose, treat, and care for patients and families. Genomics is happening now.

How We Discover and Why It Matters

We are driven to explore. As individuals, and as a civilization, we possess an insatiable desire to search and discover.

We see it in Star Trek, which proclaims a mission “to explore… new worlds, to seek out new life… , to boldly go where no (one) has gone before.” In science, we see it in the quest for larger telescopes, more powerful particle accelerators, and more sophisticated satellites to observe planets. We see it in other fields. Philosophers want to answer unanswered questions; mathematicians want to prove unproven theorems; oceanographers want to observe unobserved depths.

And we see it in the more mundane. We see it in the curiosity of a young child watching a swarm of ants on the sidewalk. We see it our own attraction to a mystery novel or a television crime episode – we want to know who did it. We see it in the mountain climbers scaling new peaks, the chefs experimenting with new recipes, or just us, looking for a new place to visit, or new restaurant to try, or new book to read.

As individuals, and as a whole, we seek to know what is unknown, to comprehend what is not yet comprehended, to investigate that which remains a mystery, to understand the who, what, where, when and why of an event-very simply to grasp the here and the beyond here.

The Source of Our Curiosity

What drives this drive, what pushes humanity, you and I, individuals and groups, to strive for this comprehension?

Certainly the answer to that question forms a quest in itself, a question not completely answered. We can, however, conjecture that as humans evolved, a curiosity about the world endowed a competitive advantage. Those that explored, learned, and as they learned they invented, key inventions, like tools, and writing, and agriculture and on and on. Being curious meant being inventive, and being more inventive rendered those with curiosity more fit in the competition of evolution.

But even without the evolutionary advantages of curiosity, as humans developed larger brains, those larger brains and the correspondingly more complex intellect gave us for free, as a tag along, an inquisitiveness. Mankind with a larger brain could think more, and in more intricate and abstract ways. With this, and given the brains essentially unceasing activity, mankind naturally sought out things to think about.

Then humanity entered the modern age. Technological and cultural evolution augmented biological evolution, and our rate of progress increased. As progress propelled us, modern desires (and pressures) also grew, to increase efficiency, grow profits, gain promotions, win elections, earn raises, avoid being unemployed. These new, emerging drives and imperatives added to the prior curiosity born of biological evolution. While we still enjoyed that natural curiosity, we also became endowed, and burdened, by a social impetus to innovate, discover and improve. Sink or swim. No treading water.

The Reason to Study

Well enough then. The goal here centers only initially on a survey of why humanity explores. We have done that, partially, but enough to get the idea or at least stimulate ideas. Our main focus now turns to how we explore. What approaches do we use to seek out that which we don’t know, but need to know, or alternately, are innately driven to know?

Why take up this how question? Why be inquisitive about how we satisfy our inquisitiveness? Seems an esoteric question, right?

First and foremost, understanding how we discover can improve the effectiveness of our discovery and exploration. And, with a judgment here that the good of such discovery out weighs the bad, discovery and exploration improves and raises mankind, eases its burdens, assists in the attainment of good and promotes the creation of intrinsic value.

We speak here not just of economic or material gain, though that may come to mind first and is of course singularly important. Beyond that, though, discovery and exploration can and will improve the non-economic lot of individuals and humanity, by improving social cohesion, emotional well-being, intellectual satisfaction, and so on.

But a more subtle motivation exists. Practitioners and proponents of the different methods of discovery do not always see eye-to-eye. Practitioners of one or another method do not always value or even respect how other methods work or what they find. This does not always occur, but often enough.

That is regrettable. I would offer that the scope and span of knowledge and experience, the breadth of what can be discovered and explored, ranges so far and wide that mankind, we, collectively need more looking and rowing towards knowledge, and less looking sideways bemoaning (and at times castigating) fellow explorers. And when disagreements do arise, we need more reconciling and less arguing.

Four Methods of Discovery

What then constitute the methods of discovery? I will put them in four broad categories, as follows:

Science
Philosophy
Religion
Art

I will cover each in turn.

Science

Science has achieved spectacular success. In just the last few centuries, science has amassed orders of magnitude more knowledge than that collected in all the preceding millenniums of civilization, and expanded our understanding of our actuality from small to large, from sub-particles of sub-particles to universes of universes.

Consider some specifics. Science has sequenced the human genome, uncovered the esoteric nature of quantum mechanics, and mapped light from earliest eons of the universe. Science as realized through technology has landed rovers on planets and a satellite on a comet, has populated the world with electronics, and regrettably, enabled weapons of enormous destructive power.

Scientific understandings underpin our modern civilization. Engines and power generation rest on thermodynamics. Modern medicine rests on biochemistry. Electricity and electronics rest on electromagnetism and quantum mechanics. The corrections in the clocks for GPS satellites depend on understandings from General Relativity. Our skyscrapers and bridges emerge from the principles in mechanics, dynamics and strength of materials. Flight depends on aerodynamics. Plastics and synthetics fibers became possible due to organic chemistry. And on and on.

The success of science, and the corollary (reasonable) reliability of technology, rest on the process by which science discovers. Science rests on measurement. While the great theoretical equations stand out, for example Einstein’s theories of relativity, or importantly but less well know Maxwell’s theories of electromagnetism, these theories and corresponding equations have succeeded due to their ability to explain and predict measurements.

That focus on measurement, or observation, or empirical data, motivates science to built ever finer and more sophisticated (and maybe unfortunately more expensive) means of measurement. We mentioned before the push for larger telescopes, faster particle accelerators and more capable satellites. Add to faster means of gene splicing, finer probes of the human brain, and quicker tests for diagnostics. And so on. Building better instruments for measurements has underpinned the essentially exponential growth of scientific discovery and knowledge.

But with its focus on measurement, science progresses only incrementally. As fast as these increments have come, science by its inherent approach builds one step at a time, observation-by-observation. We may view science through its breakthrough theories, but the theories we don’t readily recall, like the efforts to show light traveled through a medium called the “ether,” fall by the wayside as measurements, one-by-one, show such theories in conflict with the way things are.

Similarly, science progresses only within its scope, the measurable world. Size, composition, configuration, behavior-these type items constitute the measurement focus of science. That scope and focus spans an enormous range, a range expanding as science plus technology develop new means of measurement, but a range currently with limits.

The core process of science, objective data collection to support generalized theories, builds piece-by-piece. Science does not soar like a bird, but rather stays grounded, always moving forward, but (thankfully) well-grounded.

Religion

While science focuses on what can be reasonably measured, religion boldly (recklessly?) focuses on what can not readily be so measured. Religion takes revelations, prophecies, divine manuscripts, acts and teachings of sacred individuals, inspired testimony, spiritual experiences, and the like, to conceive what lies beyond our lives and beyond the space and time in which we dwell. Religions temper and augment these convictions with theological study, with philosophical logic, and within the historic, scientific and social context in which revelations and prophecies occurred, but by and large religion at its foundation rests on that from the divine.

Religion then, goes decidedly beyond that which can be objectively verified. Certainly the sacred individuals, the prophets, teachers, saviors, scribes. exist and existed with reasonable assurance. But whether their sayings, writings, actions and instructions stem from divine guidance, and whether these individuals were divine themselves, can not be objectively verified.

We can not, for example, go back and record Christ’s ascension into heaven, nor measure any magnetic or gravitational anomalies that may have been associated with that ascension. Nor can we interview the originators of the gospel accounts to help separate actual accounts from observer error from allegorical literary devices.

This does not level a criticism, but rather contrasts religion with other avenues of discovery.

Does religion then constitute a valid pursuit? Given what some consider the rather ephemeral basis at the core of religious discovery, can we advocate it as a method of exploration?

If history provides a guide, that history would say yes. For millenniums, people, communities, entire cultures and complete empires have professed religious beliefs and observed religious rituals. Ancient history shows Egyptian gods and goddesses, Greek and Roman mythology, ancient Hebrew prophets, and Indian Vedic texts and traditions. Christ, Mohammed and Brahman stand as iconic sacred figures (though Brahman might be considered more philosophical than theological). Even today, in the midst of ubiquitous secular and scientific influences, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and other religions remain far reaching.

But of course quantity does not prove quality. Thus, the number of adherents to, and historic prevalence of, religion does not demonstrate the validity of its tenets nor its legitimacy as its methods of discovery. So the question remains-does religion provide a valid approach to discovery?

We must distinguish here between the actions of the religious, or actions taken based on religious beliefs, from the approach to religious discovery. Throughout history, individuals, groups, countries and even organized religions themselves have undertake wars and executions, and perpetrated irrationalities and retributions, in the name of religion. The actions of the religious have descended at times to the level of despicable.

However, a method of discovery, in this case religion, does not lose validity due to the improper use of the tenets arising from the discovery. Scientific discoveries at times enabled the weapons of modern warfare. Modern production processes, based on scientific discoveries and principles, at times produced less than benevolent by-products, such as pollutants, occupational injuries, and worker exploitation. We do not stop science due to those effects.

But the question then still remains – can a religious approach stand as a valid mode of discovery?

I will answer an unequivocal yes. Certainly, no objection can be raised to a pondering of what lies beyond our corporeal world, or after our contingent lives. Even children ask questions about those topics. And as we mature, we, just about everyone wonders, at least once, if any world or existence lies beyond death or outside our universe. For many, the meaning of life, or in opposition, its futility, lies in the nature of the “out there” beyond our science and experience. Thus, to desire, or more strongly, to need to know and explore for the beyond stands as natural, reasonable, valid, dare say necessary.

And just as certainly, given current and near future technology, we can not measure or record much if anything about our continuation, or lack of, after death, nor can we measure much about the divine, or retched, realm beyond, for example below the Plank length, or in dimensions beyond our space-time, or in a spiritual-only sphere. Thus science, based as it is on measurement, can not currently or in the foreseeable future satisfy, certainly not comprehensively and likely not even partially, our naturally occurring wonderment about what lies beyond.

And finally, we do possess significant numbers of historic individuals who claim divine inspiration or nature, as well as large numbers of historic writings, texts, images and events connected with those individuals and/or dealing with the divine or god realm. And currently we do observe significant numbers of individuals who conscientiously indicate they experience, as subjective as such indications may be, the presence and existence of a God.

Thus we can 1) legitimately wonder and ponder about what exists beyond, 2) can not readily bring scientific measurement processes to bear (not yet), and 3) do have a rich body of attestations, subjective though they may be, about the divine.

What do we have then. We have a possible, and possibly important, realm out there beyond. Our “flashlight,” science can not see it. But we do have a large body of non-scientific indications. How can study and investigation of that large body of indications not be a reasonable effort?

The alternative means doing nothing. Some may argue that doing nothing represents the most logical approach, and saves us from useless speculation. I would respond that religion has endured with sufficient longevity, that the divine offers a realm of possibly great breath and scope, and that the question of what is beyond looms as too pressing, to do nothing. A given individual, or group, or organization, can legitimately conclude they should do nothing, but, on balance, they can not legitimately fault other individuals, or groups, or organizations, for pursuing religion, and a religious approach, to discovery of the beyond.

Some may further argue that at times, possibly frequently, religious discovery defies logic, spawns unchangeable dogma, and when touching upon the impact, past, present and future, of the divine realm on our actual realm, contradicts science.

I would offer this. Religious discovery, by its essence, does not possess a direct method of validating its tenets. We can not send a satellite to or run a chemical analysis of the divine. Other approaches, including theological study, interpretation of scriptures, historic analysis of religious events, and so on, must come into play. One of those other approaches rests on ritual and belief – in other words a leap of belief to accept (unproven) tenets and then ritual (ceremony, contemplation, song, prayer, abstinence) to seek revelations, divine, based to those beliefs.

Given that scientific and philosophical methods of validation do not readily apply to religious discovery, these other methods, I offer, must be declared reasonable. But validation by these other methods take time, a very long time. A detective makes a “leap of faith” or more precisely an intuitive hunch, about the perpetrator of a crime. This hunch proves true or not in a few weeks, months or maybe years. Scientists make a “leap of faith” or more precisely, a reasonable hypothesis, about new phenomena. This hypothesis proves true or not in a few years, or decades, or maybe centuries. Given the nature of the possible divine, and our limited human methods of validation of the divine, religious “leaps of faith” or more precisely beliefs, tenets and dogma, may require millenniums for confirmation. But faith does evolves, beliefs do advance, and, in the ultimate, religions that drift from alignment with ongoing contemplation and events, such religions fade away.

And where religion and the secular fall into disagreement, each side upon reflection should respect the other, and work together towards truth. And where concrete arguments arise (school science teaching, the definition of life) all should work conscientiously for resolution, and were evil invades (war, extremism) work to remove those elements. More light of reconciliation, less heat of disagreement.

Philosophy

Science has uncovered physical laws and enabled modern civilization. Religion, I have argued, provides a possible avenue to the above and beyond. Science thus receives acclaim due to its efficacy in explaining the direct world around us and in improving our living. Religion receives attention by addressing our natural and enduring questions about life after death, about the meaning or futility of our lives, and about the nature and role of the divine.

In contrast, philosophy might bring us to a yawn. Almost no one (well maybe a few) would spend a Sunday afternoon or Friday night reading Kant or Plato, or contemplating Gödel’s incompleteness theorem. And even when no sports or night life is available, many more people participate in religious ceremonies than partake of Kant, or Plato, or Gödel.

But consider justice. No doubt we agree justice matters. Almost without doubt we agree that determining what is just requires deep thought and serious deliberation. And most all would agree that justice, while possibly definable by science in terms of evolutionary pressures, presses upon us much too solemnly to leave its definition to the neurobiologists and evolutionary anthropologists, though they certainly can help.

And while religion and theology aid in defining justice, mankind possesses much too strong and active an intellect to not test the commands of religion against the reckonings of its own intelligence. And even with an acceptance of divine commands without question, such commands require interpretation, maybe extensive interpretation.

That then points to philosophy. Philosophy, in its possibly dreary and abstruse manner, focuses on questions such as justice and similar, questions in many cases at the foundation of our society and our lives. We just mentioned one such question – what is justice. Other questions include: What should we value? Do we have moral duties? What produces the good life? How do we reason properly? Can we have free will? What is existence? What is the role of government?

Reflex a moment. Almost everyone holds some core beliefs. For example, we likely judge that if we treat others fairly, they should treat us fairly, and similarly that if we receive fair treatment from a person, fair treatment is due to them.

But what is fairness? On the subway, who should offer their seat to whom? At work, what constitutes a fair wage? For taxes, what constitute a fair assessment? In education, what is a fair tuition for public college? When the charity solicitation comes in the mail or email, what is the fair step to take? Throw it out/delete it? Or give one’s entire savings to the concern? Probably neither, but what action then?

We face issues of fairness every day, and as we contemplate those issues, we engage in philosophy. As we evaluate candidates for office, we engage in philosophy (what comprises proper government?) As we reflect on the cost of medical insurance, we upon reflection think deeply and thus philosophically (what represents the best social arrangement for the good, in this case for good health?) As we bemoan the profits of big corporations, we engage in philosophy (what comprises an efficient and equitable market system?)

We might concede then that, at times, we face philosophical questions. But the average individual rarely runs off and pulls out the works of a philosopher to find answer. Has formal philosophy influenced actual events? Has this “method” of discovery impacted the world in a tangible way?

Yes.

Plato’s concept of universal forms influenced third century Augustine, who formalized many Christian doctrines, and those doctrines and Augustinian theology still underpin Christian thought. G.W.F. Hegel influenced Karl Marx, whose writings planted the seed of Communism, and Communism for good or bad rippled violently through the world.

Modern Science itself emerged from an intellectual cascade started, in part, by the philosophical writings of the Novatores in 16th century late Renaissance, writings which moved beyond an Aristotelian view of metaphysics. Writings of such as Bernardino Telesio, as obscure a name as that might be, fermented thought that lead Bacon, Descartes and Galileo to move science to an empirical, mathematical, observational basis.

The U.S. Constitution, of all things, provides an ultimate example of philosophy’s reach. We would agree, in terms of impact, that the document did not end up lost in the dark stacks of a dusty library, and that its content did not result from lofty, winsome discourse. No, the Constitution formed our government, installed the civic, legal and political processes at the foundation of our nation, and provided the framework for the freedom, democracy and growth that underpinned the success of the United States and the scope of its impact in the world. So no doubt the U.S. Constitution impacted our country, its people and the world.

But was it philosophy? Did and does the Constitution explore and stake out answers to philosophical questions? Absolutely. The Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the subsequent Amendments define the social contract between a people and its government; establish the distribution and limitations of government power; state the rights of individuals and groups; and delineate the nature of fair justice and judgment. In doing so, the documents apply, borrow and adapt the ideas of the philosophers John Locke, Thomas Hobbs, Charles de Montesquieu, Thomas Paine, John Stuart Mills and others.

The Supreme Court of the United States provides a corollary example of philosophy’s reach. Inevitably, questions of interpretation arise on the Constitution, its Amendments and the myriad of laws created through the government established by the Constitution. And while the Supreme Court certainly follows legal precedent and theory, and can turn to science for guidance, philosophy bears centrally on the questions before the Court. When does life begin? When and whether does a corporation possesses privileges as if it were an individual? What balance must be struck between the good of the whole (in terms of a compelling state interest) and the right of the individual?

The formal discipline of philosophy may be dry, and its formal writings inscrutable, but the importance of the questions philosophy addresses and the precision philosophy can force upon us as we explore answers, is undeniable.

Art

Is art really a method of discovery? Even when defined broadly across multiple mode of expression – music, dance, song, theatre, motion picture, photography, painting, sculpture, ballet, opera – does not art sit at or near the bottom of educational priorities, and near the top of the list for budget cuts? If education itself doesn’t see art as a main concern, how can we consider art a method of learning and discovery? Even literature has slide lower in priority as economic pressures and international competition push math, science, engineering and technology to the forefront.

But art does fit as a method of discovery. Art fits because in its essence art summons and invokes the totality of means by which human’s perceive. Art presents a holistic array of sensory, mental, and perceptual inputs. Art feeds us visual, aural, tactile, kinesthetic, symbolic and, if we include culinary arts, olfactory and taste sensations, in an integrated visceral, intellectual and emotional experience.

Take a live music act. The act envelopes us with rhythm, sound, harmony, lyrics, lighting, choreography and costume, driven by the enthusiasm and precision of the musicians, singers and dancers. Take a painting. The painting may startle us with a clashing collection of images, angles and colors; or evoke a calmness through a serene depiction of still life; or impress us with the grandeur of its size and the epic poses of its legendary historic heroes.

So in their essences, art mimics life and life mimics art.

Now certainly religion also touches our emotional side, and can heighten our awareness and heal our psyche. But religion, by and large, goes there by a certain path, a path of spirituality. This no way denigrates religion, but rather simply distinguishes what we generally mean by, and how we generally practice, religion.

Certainly also science can focus on human awareness. But to understand how the eye reacts to light, or how neurotransmitters flow under different emotional contexts, does not equal the experience of a golden sunset, or of the sight of a dear friend. And certainly scientific discovery often uncovers a deep symmetry and beauty in nature. But that beauty represents a corollary. Science aims to explain actuality, regardless of whether that explanation possesses beauty, or evokes reactions within us.

In contrast, art aims squarely to reflect the manner of human experience. As we experience, our minds integrate the profusion of incoming sensations into interwoven tapestries, and our memory stores those tapestries in interconnected webs. Art, by its design and essence, similarly presents us with a profusion of sensations, and our mind similarly weaves that profusion into a tapestry, then adds that tapestry to our memory and augments, rearranges, and adds connections to our existing mental web.

Now not all art reaches such noble heights to provide a gateway to new experience and appreciation. Some art simply provides entertainment; some serves just to soothe or enliven; some appears esoteric and beyond comprehension; some in cases rates no more than trash.

But a good TV documentary not only informs us of ancient cultures, but allows us to feel what daily living was like, bring us to awe at how far humanity has progressed but at the same time make us wonder what prevents our self-destruction. A good photograph enraptures us with the bond of an infant and mother, or pains us with the cringe of a wounded soldier. A good painting taunts us to see the familiar in a new interpretation, or draws out for us the essence of a scene. And so on.

Some may claim art only invokes experiences we have already had. That might be. But humans empathize instinctively, and our minds integrate new experiences without effort. Art, done well, taps into those innate facilities, and thus stimulates new experiences and augments existing ones. A poignant picture of a flood ravaged village can bring us sorrow, and instill a passion to act, just as if we were actually there.

Loose Ends

Those then, as I view it, comprise the four methods of discovery. But the four categories, some might say, omit some critical and important methods. Let’s then take that up – items that might be missing – and see if we can fit them into the four categories, reasonably. Here listed as bullets point are some critical modes of exploration, and under which of the four categories they could fit.

Mathematics: under Philosophy
Law and Economics: Also under Philosophy
Sociology/Psychology: Under Science
Perfumery/Horticulture: Under Art
Engineering/Technology: As implied above, under Science
Architecture/Product Design: At the border of Art and Science

Why these categorizations? Here is the reasoning:

While math does enable science, math’s essence is logic, a branch of philosophy
Law and economics do measure and record, but they aim at justice and equity
Consciousness and free will, metaphysical and even religious in part, are only a subset of sociology/psychology. Overall, the two disciplines follow scientific methods.
Perfumes and landscapes aim to evoke emotions, excite senses, and recall memories
Function is paramount for engineering/technology
In contrast, for architecture and design, form weighs more equally with function.

Keep in mind that the four categories of learning here do not represent discrete buckets, but rather divisions along a continuum. Just like colors of a rainbow blend, or a valley turns into a slope then a mountain, modes of exploration merge into a united tableau. Theology overlaps and uses philosophy, and scientific theorizing reaches into metaphysics, and the boundary between engineering and design blurs as innovators explore and integrate new technology into new forms.

Wrapping Up

How do we summarize then? What have we learned about learning?

We have learned that human learning, that our methods of exploration and discovery, encompass and involve a rich, multifaceted and deep set of activities. Human exploration and discovery evokes and engages all the aspects of our being – intellectual, emotional, spiritual, physical.

How could we expect otherwise? Existence itself comprises a rich, multifaceted, deep, essentially infinite expanse. Would we think that one approach, or one avenue of discovery, would allow coverage and investigation of the enormous expanse of existence, and beyond?

Picture a group of individuals separated on a large deserted island, one in the jungle, one by the sea, one on a mountain top, one in a sandy expanse, seeking to regroup. Would they not use every means and mode available to tract their travel and to attempt communication with the others. Picture when engineers and astronomers send rovers to our neighboring planets. Would we not expect that rover to include the widest and most sophisticated array of measurement devices possible?

Similarly, for all mankind, as we picture humanity seeking to know and understand not just the terrain of a deserted island, or the characteristics of a neighboring planet, but the whole of existence, would we not expect mankind to bring to bear every means possible as it explores and discovers? We would.

And if we would, would we not also expect that in the plethora of explorations, along a plethora of paths, utilizing the differing methods of discovery here presented, that those explorations might, and would, discover different, at times apparently contradictory, things. We would similarly expect our separated individuals to find different, even contradictory, things, given the differing terrains of the island.

On the island, the imperative for survival demands resolution of the contradictions, not criticizing. Similarly, in our more complex real world, moderation, respect and appreciation should govern between explorers of knowledge as each pursues the differing means.

Just as each of the individuals on our deserted islands encounters and experiences different terrains and conditions, and just as those individuals may veer, at times even aimlessly, from a proper course, explorers for knowledge will encounter different realities, and even veer, at times aimlessly, in unproductive directions. Thus, all the more reason for moderation, respect and appreciation. Certainly, we can mutually correct, but in co-operation not confrontation.

Existence looms large. To explore and understand, we should seek to walk outward, into the unknown, helping each other along their path, even occasionally correcting, but not blocking or denigrating any path.

Closer To Truth: Some Things About Physics

There is an ongoing PBS TV series (also several books and also a website) called “Closer To Truth”. It is hosted by neuroscientist Robert Lawrence Kuhn. He’s featured in one-on-one interviews and panel discussions with the cream of the cream of today’s cosmologists, physicists, philosophers, theologians, psychologists, etc. on all of the Big Questions surrounding a trilogy of broad topics – Cosmos; Consciousness; Meaning. The trilogy collectively dealt with reality, space and time, mind and consciousness, aliens, theology and on and on and on. Here are a few of my comments on one of the general topics covered: Physics.

What is Truth?

In a practical sense, truth is whatever most people, especially the powers-that-be, say it is. Once upon a time it was true that the Sun went around the Earth; that the Earth was flat; life the Universe and everything was created “in the beginning”; Zeus ruled the roost up on Mount Olympus; and dragons existed. What is ‘true’ according to your culture helps you survive within that culture. If the Spanish Inquisition says that two plus two equals five (2 + 2 = 5) you had better damn well believe it! In practical terms, it doesn’t really matter whether or not the Sun goes around the Earth, or the Earth rotates on its axis. Either way you look at it, you get a sunrise and dawn; sunset and dusk. Does it really matter whether or not your car is moving forward on a stationary road or the road is moving backwards and underneath your stationary car as long as you get to work on time? There is of course truth beyond reasonable doubt. If you watch enough apples fall from apple trees, every time you will see an apple fall towards the ground. However, that would only be an absolute truth if you had witnessed every apple that detached itself from and hence fell from every apple tree throughout the existence of apples becoming detached from apple trees. And even that wouldn’t discount the possibility that the very next apple wouldn’t descend towards the ground but instead chart a course towards the Moon. So, there’s truth as defined by others; there’s relative truth; there’s truth beyond reasonable doubt; but there’s probably no absolute truth. You might think it is absolutely true that you cannot draw more than one straight line between two points on a flat piece of paper, but to prove that absolutely wouldn’t you have to keep drawing lines between two points on flat pieces of paper for all eternity?

What Things are Real?

Things composed of matter and energy (two sides of the same coin) are real. The body and (the mind housed within) the brain are real since the body and the brain are composed of matter and energy. Not-things are concepts, and concepts are not real since they have no structure and substance. Some concepts can be turned into or given reality although the concept itself still retains its not-thing status. The concept of a home on a quarter-acre block remains even when there are homes on quarter-acre blocks. An example of a concept that can be turned into reality might be a holiday. Planning a vacation is a not-thing. The vacation is not yet real. Actually taking the vacation is a thing. Once on vacation the vacation assumes actual reality since where you are now is a physical place. The concept of writing a novel is one thing, actually translating that concept into a real book that you can hold in your hands is another. Some concepts like Wednesday cannot be turned into reality. Wednesday never has any structure or substance. Wednesday isn’t composed of matter and energy.The concept of Pi also has no structure or substance and thus remains forever a concept. Some concepts may one day be turned into reality, but not yet. Travelling at faster than the speed of light, wormholes, a quantum PC in every home and commuting via jet-backpacks remain concepts. These concepts may, or may not ever achieve reality status. So, ideas have no real reality until such time as an idea can be turned into a something composed of matter and energy. Things composed of matter and energy already have achieved a status of being real.

What is Ultimate Reality?

Ultimate reality is “The Twilight Zone”! When it comes down to what is our ultimate reality, I’ve been forced to conclude that we are between a “Twilight Zone” rock and a “Twilight Zone” hard place. The ‘rock’ is that when trying to come to terms with quantum physics weirdness, one is pushed into a corner kicking and screaming via having to acknowledge that based on experimental and observational evidence, the ultimate fundamental constructs of our cosmos, the elementary particles, exhibit awareness or consciousness and exercise a limited range of free will. Any detailed examination of just the famous (or infamous) double-slit experiment will alone verify that. The ‘hard place’ is the explanation, the only explanation IMHO that ends up making any sense at all of quantum weirdness, and that is we exist in a Simulated (Virtual Reality) Universe. The entirety of quantum phenomena is just one (of many) software programs, in this case the software program that runs the realm of the micro. There’s another software program that runs the realm of the macro, and that’s why quantum physics and classical physics cannot be unified. There is no Theory of Everything nor can there be. So, if you reject the simulation hypothesis, you have to confront the ultimate reality that electrons, for example, are to a greater or lesser degree, ‘alive’. If you reject that then you need to accept the idea that ultimate reality is contained within the Simulated (Virtual Reality) Universe, the need for virtual reality software in order to explain the electron’s apparent ‘aliveness’. As I said, you have just crossed over into “The Twilight Zone”!

Can Science Provide Ultimate Answers?

It all depends on the ultimate question(s). Science can provide answers to some ultimate questions like are we alone in the universe; is there a multiverse; do we exist as virtual reality rather than really real reality; what came before the Big Bang; how does consciousness work; how does memory work; is there free will; are there hidden variables that explain quantum weirdness; does the Loch Ness Monster actually exist; what’s over the next hill; and maybe why is is something rather than nothing? Science cannot give answers to ultimate questions involving purpose and meaning; beauty and elegance; what are the ten best films; shades of grey in moral and ethical questions; what is the ultimate value of Pi; value and judgement systems; in fact anything that can’t really be sliced and diced and scrutinized on the slab in the lab where everyone ultimately is in agreement on everything with everyone else. Science is observation and measurement and logic and certainty and predictability; non-science is gut feelings and intuition and unpredictability and uncertainty and agreeing to disagree. Science is Mr. Spock; not-science is Leonard “Bones” McCoy, Star Trek’s equivalence to the Yin and the Yang.

What are the Ultimate Questions of All Reality?

The ultimate question we can ask about all of reality, at least for starters, is which one of three reality scenarios is the correct one. Reality scenario number one is the reality of Mother Nature and the various laws, relationships and principles we have discovered, and will continue to discover, in the sciences, especially the physical sciences. This is probably the reality most of us embrace in our daily lives. The second possible reality is that of a supernatural reality where some sort of deity or deities can override at any time those scientific laws, relationships and principles. In other words, miracles can happen. This supernatural reality can encompass all sorts of things that physics would reject, like say many of those events that are related in the Bible like the Sun and the Moon standing still in the sky upon command. Many people adopt this form of reality being the legitimate reality scenario. Finally, reality scenario number three incorporates the idea that reality is but software programming and that we are virtual beings that exist in a Simulated (Virtual Reality) Universe. The software provides those scientific laws, principles and relationships, but software can be tweaked throwing monkey wrenches into the works (are physical constants always so constant?), and programmers can make mistakes resulting in various anomalies (like an accelerating universe for example). Then too, software can accomplish anything the mind can imagine and thus any sort of paranormal phenomena can be accounted for without difficulty, like say crop circles whose existence can not be denied yet which really do defy rational explanation. The simulation hypothesis has two variations. The first is the standard software version. The second alternative is the wetware version. Reality is all in the mind; reality is a dream. Either you are imagining or dreaming up this life, the universe and everything or someone else is doing the imagining or dreaming and you are just part of their imaginary life, the universe and everything. So those are the choices that will help determine what really is reality, and once that question is answered, we can slice and dice that scenario and uncover those deeper levels inherent in that version of reality.

Why is Emergence Significant?

Why is emergence significant? If atoms didn’t emerge out of the elementary particles; if simple molecules didn’t emerge out of those atoms; if vastly more complex molecules, organic molecules, biochemical molecules didn’t emerge out of the simple molecules; if unicellular life didn’t emerge out of that soup of highly complex molecules; if multicellular life didn’t emerge out of those unicellular critters; if humans, and human minds didn’t emerge out of multicellular organisms; well we wouldn’t be here to discuss the issue of why emergence is significant! The fact that we are here and that we emerged out of those lone elementary particles is significant if for no other reason than we consider ourselves significant.

Can Emergence Explain Reality?

Can emergence explain reality? Shouldn’t that be the other way around? Reality explains emergence. Reality is electrons and quarks. Neutrons and protons emerge from quarks. Atoms emerge out of electrons, neutrons and protons. Molecules emerge out of atoms, and so on up the chain. If you wish to start by calling molecules reality, well okay then emergence explains reality, but I think reality starts at the most fundamental of levels, not somewhere up the chain.

What’s Fundamental in the Cosmos?

Obviously, what is most fundamental are the building blocks that end up creating the structures that are part and parcel of the cosmos. Fundamental means something that exists that cannot be broken down into something even more fundamental. Fundamental is where the buck stops. Given our current understanding of things, the buck stops with electrons and quarks and neutrinos and photons and a few other bits and pieces. In another context, you would say a brick is more fundamental than a brick wall since a brick can exist without there being a brick wall, but a brick wall cannot exist without the brick. The same with Lego Blocks. Oxygen and hydrogen can exist independently of water, but water can’t exist without hydrogen and oxygen, so hydrogen and oxygen is more fundamental than water. An oxygen atom cannot exist without neutrons, protons and electrons, but neutrons, protons and electrons can survive and thrive without producing oxygen. Finally, a proton cannot be a proton unless you have quarks. The question is, will quarks and electrons and neutrinos and photons, etc. ever be found to be constructed of something even more basic? Who knows? But until that day comes, the fundamental buck stops with those building blocks.

Why is there “Something” rather than “Nothing”?

Why there is something rather than nothing is one of those Big Questions that can be pondered and debated until the cows come home. I like to consider the question in the context of being just one more of those fine-tuning parameters that allow for a bio-friendly or Goldilocks Universe. If there was nothing rather than something we wouldn’t be here to ponder the issue. Although this doesn’t provide an ultimate answer, I am swayed by the simulation hypothesis. I rather suspect we are virtual beings that ‘live’ in a Simulated (Virtual Reality) Universe. We are software. We are bits and bytes. We are mathematics. Software is a something that allows for our existence even though that something is a more nebulous something than say electrons and quarks.

Are There Things Not Material

Are there things not material? Of course. There are things like matter and energy. There are also not-things which we tend to call concepts. A not-thing is mathematics or architecture or philosophy. A not-thing is Wednesday or beauty or dimensions. A not-thing is a unit of measurement. A not-thing is the concept of a wheel while the wheel itself is a thing. A not-thing is the concept of landing on the Moon while Apollo 11 was a thing. Space and time are other not-things. The past and the future are not-things. In fact there are probably more not-things, mental not-things, abstractions of things that are possible things, concepts, and so on than there are things. There are probably many more not-things that you can imagine that can not be translated into things than there are concepts that you can turn into things. Recall how the White Queen could believe in six impossible things before breakfast!

Is Mathematics Invented or Discovered?

IMHO, mathematics is a not-thing, an abstract concept that’s the invention of the human mind. Mathematics has none of the properties that we associate with things. Things can be discovered; concepts are invented. One plus two equals three (1+2=3) is not a thing. Pi is not a thing. The quadratic equation is not a thing. Mathematical theorems are not things. Mathematics can not be detected with any of the five senses, or even with instrumentation that extends our sensory abilities beyond that which our sensory apparatus can come to terms with. Mathematics is a useful tool of course, though many possible mathematics that could be aren’t. We search around for and adopt the kind of mathematics that fits in with what we observe, with what is useful, and chuck what doesn’t fit in into the rubbish bin. So the gravitational force can be accounted for by an inverse square law, but not by an inverse cube law, so the inverse cube relationship is put into the rubbish bin. Then we wonder at the beauty and elegance of the inverse square law explaining the way the gravitational force operates over distance and forget about the non-beauty and non-elegance of the inverse cube law. As an aside, beauty and elegance are not legitimate scientific or even mathematical terms. You won’t find them in any scientific or mathematical dictionary no matter how often scientists and mathematicians use them as per many of the interviews here on “Closer to Truth”.

Are the Laws of Nature Always Constant?

Humans have only been measuring the laws of nature for an extremely short period of time relative to the age of the cosmos, so saying the laws of nature are constant should always come with a “but” following. For as long as we have been measuring, they appear to be constant, although some cracks have apparently appeared. In theory, it would seem entirely reasonable that what was a law, principle or relationship of physics nanoseconds after the Big Bang should be the same law, principle or relationship we observe today. In theory. However, I’d sooner believe that the speed of light hasn’t been constant over cosmic time than subscribe to the idea that the expansion rate of the Universe is accelerating due to some mysterious anti-gravitational force called “dark energy”, on the grounds that “dark energy” and an accelerating Universe violates another law which one expects to hold constant – the conservation law that says that energy can not be created out of pure nothing. There is a solution to non-constant constants, though not one which the vast majority would embrace. I’m sure every viewer has received software upgrades on his or her PC. These tweaks subtly alter some of the previous laws, principles and relationships that your PC operated on. Now the question arises, what if we are virtual beings that ‘live’ in a Simulated (Virtual Reality) Universe? We, and the cosmic landscape we exist in are in fact just bits and bytes of programmed computer software. Well, every now and again, the Supreme Programmer (no, not God), a flesh-and-blood video gamer or video game creator, might note that his software needed a bit of a tweak, or in other words an upgrade. To our virtual selves, such a tweak might appear as an alteration in the laws, principles and relationships of physics, or in other words, a change in things which we had assumed were constant.

Why Black Holes are Astonishing

Who said that black holes are astonishing? Is the Moon astonishing? Well the Moon has mass and has gravity and has an escape velocity. The Earth has a greater mass hence greater gravity hence greater escape velocity. The Sun even more-so. The ante is upped with a white dwarf star, hence upped again with a neutron star. It’s hardly surprising that eventually you will reach such a mass with such a gravity and with such an escape velocity, a finite escape velocity, that not even photons (just one of those elementary particles) can escape. So far everything is just a variation on the exact same theme. What makes a black hole, compared to its ever so slightly less massive cousin the neutron star, mysterious, is that we can’t see it or see inside of it. And because we can’t see inside it we invent all sorts of wild scenarios about the state of the stuff, that matter, that mass that makes up the inside of the black hole we can’t see. Let’s take a neutron star that is just teetering on the brink of black-hole-ness. We can see that neutron star. Add a pinch of salt to the neutron star, or maybe two or three, just enough to send it over the edge and become massive enough to turn into a black hole. Has there all of a sudden been a drastic change in the basic substance and structure of that object, that newly created black hole? Perhaps what lurks inside is just the same old sort of stuff we know and love, only a tiny bit more dense than most of the stuff we know and love. You hear some pretty dumb things about what lurks inside of a black hole from those who really should know better. I refer to the concept of the singularity, which you will often see described as something of infinite density residing inside zero volume where the laws of physics break down. How daft is that? You cannot have infinite density reside inside of zero volume. That’s absurd. You can have finite density reside in a finite volume, but that volume doesn’t have to reside in the realm of the quantum. If you have a finite density then that implies that there is a maximum limit to density. Density cannot keep on increasing to infinity. Okay, once that maximum density is reached, if you keep on adding more and more stuff, the volume must of necessity increase. Eventually you will reach a volume that can no longer be considered to reside in the realm of the quantum (and this argument applies equally to the Big Bang event and why it wasn’t a quantum sized happening either). So, what’s inside a black hole? A lump of very dense stuff in a volume that probably isn’t much smaller than that of a typical neutron star. Black holes really do not deserve the aura of mystery they have been given.

Is Time Real?

Is Time real? Is a brick real? Well a brick has structure and substance and mass and energy and has emergent properties if you combine them to form brick walls or houses, and a brick can do you a mischief if you drop one on your toe. You can see a brick, touch a brick, presumably taste and smell a brick, even hear a brick if it should be vibrating at an audible frequency. A brick is a thing. Time is not a thing. Time has no structure, no substance, no mass, no energy and has no emergent properties. Time cannot do you a mischief. You cannot drop time on your toe. You can’t see time or touch time or taste time or smell time or hear time. So what does that make time? Time is a concept. Time is a mental construct of the mind, and not just by the human mind since many animals have an ingrained concept of time. Time is something abstract that has all the reality of any other concept like Wednesday or elegance. Time is a measurement, and like other units of measurement, like the inch or the pint, time is an invention. What does time measure? Time measures change or rate of change. If nothing ever changed the concept of time would be totally meaningless. It might however be taking things a step too far to call time an illusion since what time measures, change or rate of change, is not itself illusionary.

Is Time Fundamental?

Is time fundamental? No, time is not a fundamental anything because time is not a thing. Time has no structure and substance. Time is a concept, an abstract invention of the mind that only has any meaning or significance when minds (and not just human minds) emerge in the cosmos. The mind or consciousness or awareness senses that things (matter and energy things) change. To assist in making sense of change, we invent the notion of time. Time is our way of measuring rate of change, and all units of measurement are abstractions and inventions of the mind. Another reason that time is not fundamental is that time cannot build on itself and thus create a greater complexity, unlike say bricks and Lego Blocks. Nothing can emerge out of time. Matter and energy had to exist at least simultaneously with time in order to give meaning to time. If you have no matter and energy you do not have anything that can change and if there is no change it is absolutely meaningless to talk about the notion of time. No matter and energy – no time.

Is Information Fundamental?

If the cosmos is nothing but bits and bytes, and that’s been the case since the Big Bang event, then I guess that’s the case. Well actually that sounds a bit like a game of twenty questions where anything and everything in the cosmos can be identified by twenty or less “yes” and “no” (binary) answers. Or perhaps it’s just more suggestive evidence that the cosmos, including ourselves as part of that cosmos, exist as programmed software as a Simulated (Virtual Reality) Universe. However, one essential point is that information is rather useless unless there is a mind, an awareness to absorb, assimilate, digest, ponder, and ultimately make sense and use of it. That of course suggests that life had to emerge out of those bits and bytes and that maybe the mind (ours, an animal’s or even ET’s) is the bits and the bytes way of understanding those bits and bytes and what they mean in terms of being useful information. Or do you need a biological mind to come to terms with information? For example, there is a situation whereby no two electrons can occupy the same ‘orbit’ around a nucleus if both electrons have the exact same quantum properties. One electron needs to be spin-up and the other electron needs to be spin-down. An electron in either state, well, that’s information. So if you have one electron in a spin-up state in ‘orbit’, that electron seems to be aware of another electron’s spin state if that electron wants to join up and occupy and share that same ‘orbit’. It has absorbed, assimilated, digested, pondered, and ultimately make sense of the information contained in the state of that rival electron. If that rival electron contains the information that it is in a spin-up state, it is sent packing. If that electron contains the information that it is in a spin-down state, then the welcome mat is put out. So, if the cosmos is information and information is fundamental, then maybe electrons (and by analogy other elementary particles) have an awareness and a ‘mind’ that comes to terms with the information contained in the cosmos around it.

What is Panpsychism?

You don’t have to read too many introductory layperson’s books on quantum physics before coming across a phrase like “the electron knows” or “the electron decides”. I’m sure the authors aren’t even usually aware of the implications of what they are saying although I’m sure many professional physicists not only are aware that the fundamental particles have an apparent awareness but can exhibit a limited or restricted range of free will. Of course professional physicists don’t want to talk about this for obvious reasons. However, actual experiments or observations, including one you can do at home, verify this quantum anomaly. For example, in the famous or infamous double-slit experiment, how does a particle know before-the-fact whether just one slit or both slits are open? If one slit is open, it decides to be a particle; if both slits are open, it’s a wave. Even stranger is the delayed double slit experiment where a particle can change its mind after having already passed through both slits as an apparent wave and then turn back into a particle. Another example: there’s nothing odd about an electron absorbing a photon and jumping to a higher energy level around an atomic nucleus. But how does the electron then decide to get rid of the photon at some later time and drop back down to a lower energy state? Then there is the mystery of radioactive decay. An unstable (radioactive) nucleus will decay totally at random for absolutely no reason – no causality operates. Yet, collectively, a bunch of these unstable nuclei, all going poof at random times (you cannot predict in advance when any one nucleus will decay), for absolutely no reason, will produce a precise mathematical relationship of decay which we call the half-life. The question is, without any external causality in operation, and a total randomness in operation, how does an unstable nucleus know when it is its turn to go poof, and then decide to go poof, in order to maintain that half-life relationship? Lastly, an observation you can do at home. You have one light source, say it is the Sun. You have one clear pane of glass. The sunlight, photons, approach the glass. Some of the photons will pass through the glass; some photons will reflect off of the glass. If you are outside looking in, you can see your reflection in the glass and at the same time see inside. Or, if you are inside, you can clearly see outside, yet also see an internal reflection of you and other objects that are inside. So the anomaly is, one light source, one pane of glass, two different outcomes. How does any individual photon decide or know whether to pass through the glass or reflect off of the glass? There’s something screwy somewhere!

Are there Extra Dimensions?

Not only aren’t there any extra dimensions, there aren’t even the three traditional spatial dimensions we take for granted as an obvious given in our concept of reality. The basic reason is that a dimension is a concept, not a thing. There is of course space, or volume, both of which are also concepts and meaningless unless there is an actual thing with structure and substance inside that space or volume. If there are no things, there is no space. When it comes to the concept of there being three spatial dimensions, well I have to ask what is so magical about a right angle? I mean every time you tack on another spatial dimension you have to change course by 90 degrees. Changing direction by 89 degrees won’t get you there. Again, dimensions are a concept, a mental abstraction. You can imagine a point of zero dimensions, but you can never create one. The moment you touch pen to paper to create a point, you have a 3-D volume. You can imagine a one-dimensional line, but the moment you draw one, it is again a 3-D structure; ditto for imagining the concept of an area. The mental concept is fine, but you cannot construct a 2-D area. The default is 3-D, but instead of calling it a three dimensional concept, just call it the concept of space or volume, which is really a mathematical concept or abstract mental construction without meaning unless there is something physical within. As far as extra dimensions are concerned, well again it is a concept that’s wrapped up entirely in the abstract mathematics of string theory. I’d have a lot more confidence in the existence of extra dimensions, even just the abstract concept of extra dimensions, if string theorists could manage to get even one experimental run on the board. But for decade after decade after decade, string theorists just talk-the-talk yet never seem to manage to walk-the-walk and show us the proof, heck, even some actual evidence of their stringy pudding.

Alternative Treatment for Cancer, Diabetes and HIV, Traditional Chinese Medicine

Cancer treatments are as likely to kill its sufferers as the disease itself. Diabetics live day to day off tubes of insulin which could be painful and costly. HIV sufferers face impending death hoping that it will be swift and painless.

Yet, sufferers continue to rely on these treatments when there are other potentially less painful and lower risk alternatives. There is a great variety of lower profile therapies and medical systems out there, a great number originated as traditional healing methods. One prominent traditional medical system that has been around of the last five thousand years is Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

Medicinal safety

Western medical system became world’s mainstream healthcare for simple reasons; it is well supported by science with observable and measurable results. Western drugs are made in the same approach, they are mainly made from isolated compound in which effects can be measured and justified. However, every drug are tested within controlled environment across relatively short years, there is no telling whether it remains safe in all situations or with prolonged use. Often, damage has already been done before harmful products are recalled.

In contrast, TCM is tried and tested by countless human trials across millenniums. Common TCM herbs are assured to be safe for consumption. Within the TCM lore, medicinal herbs are equivalent to vegetables as they are product of nature, thus nourish the body like regular food. Even with excessive intake, common TCM herbs may only produce mild side effects, such as nose bleeding or diarrhea.

Healing approach

Western drugs usually meant to counter specific conditions or to replenish certain substances that is lacking in the body. Often times, it recovers the body to the point that is ‘not sick or functional, but in great health’. During the mean time, drug resistance or reliance is formed thus it may not be as effective again.

TCM utilize a holistic approach to healthcare, and that is to attack the root of the problem while maintaining the balance within the body. This is achieved by boosting the body’s immune system through a mix of different herbs that is synergistic and gentle as they nullify each other’s negative properties. This approach allows the body to get healthier while boosting natural resistance towards that specific condition, similar to vaccination.

Analogy

Think of the body as a long string of mathematical formula, a disease is best represented as an anomaly that add onto the formula messing up some of its variables. The immune system is a part of the body formula that protects all the variables.

When drugs or pure substance is added into the body formula, it could either modify certain variables so that the overall formula still works despite existence of anomalies. Or it could be a set of formula that is meant to counter the anomaly, but it is hard to observe the changes to other variables. Meanwhile excess amount may overcome both the anomaly and the body formula.

In contrast, herbal mixtures rebalance the body variables and strengthen the immune system’s sub-formula instead of attacking the anomaly directly. Anomaly is then repelled by the immune system through time which is a slower but safer as little or no damage is done to the body variables.

Healing Capability

Despite contrary beliefs, TCM can be effective against chronic diseases. There are reasons to why none of TCM products are recognized as such. One such reason is that TCM content contains a wide range of properties that their collective effects cannot be accurately measured thus cannot be attributed to any sort of recovery. With the inability to accurately measure TCM medicinal effects, mainstream healthcare and governments denies almost all claims of TCM products, limiting them to aids for common ailments. Though many argue this is to protect ignorant consumers.

The overlooked fact is that TCM lore involves thousands of different herbs which can form countless of combinations and effects. To say that there are a few formulations that can be effective against a terminal illness like cancer is not only possible, but probable.

Cautionary note

Effective and reliable TCM herbal products are hard to come by, in part due to product authenticity issues of Chinese products. Users should seek credible sources and also perform sufficient research before trying any such products. It will be best to consult credible physicians first as body conditions differ from people to people.

Last note

This article does not seek to discredit western medicinal practices. There are many situations where western practices are superior, such as times where surgery is required. However, people should be informed that there are alternative treatments, and should take them into consideration when dealing with their health issues. And who knows if you would find a great physician like I did.

My Top Baker’s Dozen Anomalies

There are thousands of books, articles, documentaries, TV shows and websites that are or have been devoted to anomalies or mysteries or the unknown. From UFOs and ancient astronauts to Bigfoot to Atlantis, to ESP to the Bermuda Triangle to religious miracles, the list is seemingly endless. Some are pretty iffy; some have a good bona-fide pedigree. No two people will come up with identical lists of what to them are their top anomalies. There’s just too many that capture the imagination of the great unwashed. Different strokes for different folks. Here’s my list – at this point in time anyway.

ACCELERATING UNIVERSE: The anomaly here is quite straightforward in that there’s considerable observational evidence that the expansion rate of the Universe is accelerating. However, logic dictates that because of the overall gravity that the Universe has, the expansion rate of the Universe should be decelerating. The ‘antigravity’ energy required to accelerate the Universe’s expansion has to come from somewhere, and in ever increasing amounts to keep on keeping on the ever increasing rate of acceleration, yet, the Universe, almost by definition, already contains all there is and ever will be. If extra ‘antigravity’ energy is being created, it’s being created out of nothing. Something from nothing is a clear violation of the basic conservation laws and principles that form the bedrock of modern science.

NEITH: Neith is, or was, the now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t. now-forever-lost satellite of our twin planet (in size if nothing else), Venus. The anomaly here is that bona-fide professional astronomers, not one but numerous celebrated astronomers, including Giovanni Cassini (1625-1712), sighted, noted and logged the existence of the damn thing and wrote up their findings in their professional journals. Okay, the time period was the mid-1600s to mid-1700s, but the professional eyeballs and the professional equipment was good enough to verify one way or the other the presence or absence of a reasonably sized natural satellite in orbit around Venus.

Of over thirty sightings of Neith, the best known and verified were in 1645, 1672, 1686, 1740, 1759, 1761 and 1764 (multiple sightings on numerous days in March). Observations over that stretch of period would seemingly rule out the ‘satellite’ being a faint star or asteroid or outer planet like Uranus or Neptune that just happened to be way beyond Venus but in the direct line of sight. Sometimes the observed phase of Neith matched the phase of Venus, which again suggests that the object was in close proximity to the planet.

Venus, inward and closer to the Sun than Earth, is a very visible and prominent celestial object when viewed from Earth, commonly called the Morning and Evening ‘Star’. We’ve all seen Venus; in fact if you know exactly where to look it can be seen in the daytime sky. Venus is far enough away from the Sun that the Sun’s glare doesn’t drown out reflected light from Venus, and presumably any objects near or in orbit around Venus. A natural satellite of Venus of any reasonable size should be readily detectable with the astronomical equipment available at the time. And so it really didn’t raise any astronomical eyebrows when Neith was in fact discovered. The anomaly here is that all and sundry were wrong. Neith doesn’t exist. Venus has no natural satellite(s). Now either all and sundry were totally incompetent and wouldn’t know one end of a telescope from the other, or else Neith really existed but somehow exited the local neighborhood. If that’s the case, then Neith wasn’t natural at all but under intelligent control, and not by any terrestrial intelligence. What Neith was, and where it disappeared to, are major anomalies.

DRAGONS: The anomaly here is that if dragons and dragon-lore was the product of just one culture at say one particular point in time, the concept could be easily dismissed. But when they appear in every culture, from ancient times even up through the 1700’s when they were still part of natural history, then one needs to pay closer attention. That’s all the more so since dragons were taken very seriously indeed. In China they were the emissaries between the gods and the emperor, and woe beholds any of lesser rank that wore a dragon image on their person. Dragons and dragon-lore form a major part of what passes for science-fantasy today. There’s probably no child over the age of five who can’t wax lyrical and tell you all about dragon-lore. The best guess scenario is that while dragons may be considered mythical today; they certainly were not, not too awfully that many generations ago. If that’s the case, if dragons were really real once upon a time, then the anomaly is – no fossils.

GHOSTS: The anomaly here is that you’ve had hundreds of thousands, probably even millions, of observations of ghosts or ghostly manifestations since recorded history started being, well, recorded. Sightings of apparitions or specters or spirits, whatever, have been made and reported from every possible type of person from every possible walk of life. They can’t all be mistaken. The fly in the ointment is that all of this is without there being the slightest shred of physical, chemical or biological theory that can back up the sightings. There is just no way a deceased body can split in two and end up being half dead (the part that’s buried or cremated) and half animated (the ghost), yet the ghost, since it is animated, it can been seen and heard and interact with the surrounding environment after all, must be composed of matter and energy which presumable had to have been part and parcel of the original body to start with. As such the ghost needs to feed to replenish that matter and expended energy and no doubt perform related bodily functions. No physics or chemistry or biology known to mankind can manipulate a deceased body’s matter and energy in such a way as to account for that body’s ghost.

So ghosts are all observation with no adequate theory to support them (unlike say the UFO extraterrestrial hypothesis which has solid theory to back up the possibility). There is no viable way of splitting a body up into two whole (matter and energy) parts at least one of which is viable (alive) and that applies equally to out-of-the-body experiences and near-death experiences. Another question: If that were possible, why stop at two (the ghost and the dead body; the out-of-the-body body and the body it came from; the near-death body and its animated counterpart) – why not a trio or thirty or three hundred ‘clones’?

OLMEC STONE HEADS: Associated with the long since defunct cultures of the Olmecs, the first major civilization of the Americas, were multi-ton solid stone heads – just the heads; in the round. Anomaly one – nobody has any real clue why the Olmecs carved out these stone heads which would have taken quite some considerable effort. Anomaly two – the parent stones, weighing many, many tons, had to be transported from mountain quarries multi-dozens of miles away without benefit of the wheel or beasts of burden, through swampy jungle terrain; how was this done? Anomaly three – though the Olmecs were natives of Mexico, the stone heads look absolutely African, and there was no apparent cultural contact between Africa and Central America BCE.

SHAVED NAZCA RIDGE: On the dissected Plain of Nazca (or Nazca desert or plateau) in Peru, there is a famous landmark, or marks – the ‘carvings’ or etchings of dozens of images on the Plain than can only be appreciated or even recognized for what they are from the air, which is how they were discovered in the 20th Century. The ground images aren’t the anomaly since it’s not difficult to construct them and their purpose was probably meant as a message or homage to the gods up in the Nazca version of heaven.

The minor anomaly is that in addition to the etched pictogram images there are many lines, even parallel lines, etched in the pebbly desert that run straight as arrows for long distances, purpose unknown, though some sort of obscure astronomical alignment might be their purpose. That’s still a theoretical option though obvious astronomical alignments have not passed muster.

The real anomaly here is that one of the ridges in the local area has had it’s top lopped off, resulting now in a flat surfaced ‘ridge’, a surface as smooth as a baby’s bottom as if a hot knife sliced through soft butter. All other ridges in the area look like well natural ridges. Now the first bit is how. This flattened ridge is not a natural formation so presumably humans flattened it. The second bit is why. It must have been a massive undertaking removing not dirt or soil or sand but solid rock for reason(s) unknown to us. The third bit is that there is no debris field or piles of rubble left over from the leveling. The rock must have been carted away, expending yet more time, effort and energy. Something is screwy somewhere. Erich von Daniken, of ancient astronaut fame, thought the flattened surface of the now ridge-less ridge could’ve served as a ‘runway’ for flying saucers, but that seems equally screwy. As I say, this is anomalous, full stop.

CROP CIRCLES: There’s no disputing, no matter how much the pseudoscience skeptic you are, that crop circles do exist. There are numerous pissed-off farmers whose fields have been vandalized; multi-thousands of after-the-fact eyewitness accounts and an equal number of films and photographs, as well as on-site and laboratory analysis of the phenomena. Observation here is at the 100% certainty level. Finding logical and rational theoretical explanations are however way more challenging than a ‘take two aspirin and call me in the morning’ type of remedy or diagnosis. In fact, no matter what theory is advanced, natural, human or alien, there are massive flaws to be had with each.

No natural phenomena can create a myriad of massive geometrically complex perfect constructions using agricultural crops as the medium. The challenge for a human, or even a team of humans, to create the same in total darkness in just a few hours (this is a summertime event – long days; short nights), without mistakes, without leaving their traces (footprints, tire tracks, litter, etc) without ever getting caught, tried and convicted for trespass and vandalism, is beyond the theoretical pale for even the most ardent of skeptics and skeptical explanations, though human hoaxes are the fallback position, albeit without real evidence. As for ET, why they would travel vast distances to, at least in part, dabble in agricultural graffiti, defies our understanding. If crop circles are an attempt by aliens to communicate with humans, well, there’s been a failure to communicate. Theory here is at the near 100% uncertainty level. There’s a long road to hoe yet to reconcile observation and theory.

ALIEN ABDUCTIONS: The anomaly here is that you have hundreds, if not thousands of case histories by individuals whose testimony you wouldn’t think twice about questioning in just about any other context, yet 1) the scenario seems rather absurd at face value, and 2) why are there so few and far between independent witnesses for what should be at face value be a scenario that’s impossible to conceal from the rest of the outside world. But, I’m not in any position to call these abductees either liars or delusional or mentally ill. In fact I’m sure they are not because who in their right mind would invent such a horrifying scenario, one perpetrated upon themselves.

HUMAN UNIQUENESS: The anomaly here is that we humans are not just a different species to all others past and present, but vastly, vastly different. Four vastly different differences in particular strike me as odd.

We alone of all the mammals are bipedal. We alone of all the primates are ‘furless’ – the “Naked Ape” as Desmond Morris described us. We alone of all species that are and have ever been, are top of the pops in IQ; king of the hill by an extraordinary wide margin in intelligence or the ability to figure things out, call it what you will, plus the use of tools and technology way above that of any other species. Lastly, humans have very distinct facial features – it’s usually how we recognize the identity of another human we’ve seen before. With all other animal species, you’re hard pressed to tell one individual from another based on facial features. You see one sheep’s face, you’ve seen them all. You tend to recognize individuals of other species by size, color and colored patterns, some sort of deformity or abnormality, not by their distinctive facial features which don’t really exist.

If it suits all the other mammals to adopt a four-legged gait and be quadrupeds; if it suited our nearly 200 other primate cousins to retain their fur; if all other species can exist, survive, even thrive without screwdrivers, the automobile, plastics, central heating, the dishwasher, the Internet and the atomic bomb then we have an anomaly here. Every animal species is different from every other animal species, obviously, but there are differences and then there are DIFFERENCES! The human species is so far out in left field as to be nearly out of the biodiversity ballpark.

SPONTANEOUS HUMAN COMBUSTION: The anomaly here is that, albeit very rare, the human body can spontaneously burst into flame, killing the victim and turning the body into ash. It’s anomalous in that 1) the human body is composed mainly of water which you don’t tend to associate with fire or spontaneous combustion; 2) the body’s temperature of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit is hardly scorching heat; 3) this anomaly isn’t noticed in animals; 4) the fire is localized to just the body and immediate surroundings despite the intense heat needed to consume a human body, and obvious sources of external fire, say a burning candle, are usually lacking. The closest theory is that perhaps the victim’s body was saturated with alcohol from excessive drinking, and alcohol of course can burn, but that rarely fitted the lifestyle of the victim and it would take one hell of a drinking binge to saturate bodily tissues with alcohol in high enough concentrations to cause the body to combust. Since animals don’t spontaneously combust, that tends to rule out body fat as a fuel source.

RADIOACTIVITY: The anomaly here is that radioactivity, the decay of unstable atomic nuclei into more stable configurations happens in a precise mathematical way, called the half-life of the unstable nuclei. This is a verified measurement and bona-fide observation. If you start with say 1000 unstable nuclei of substance X, time how long it takes for the first 500 to decay to a stable state. Once you have that, then you know another 250 unstable nuclei will decay in the exact same amount of time, and another 125 ditto, and so on down the line. But theoretically, how do these unintelligent, inanimate nuclei ‘know’ when it’s their turn to decay to uphold this half-life relationship when there are all kinds of alternatives? You can imagine that the decay process could be, should be, random and haphazard, or follow a bell-shaped distribution curb, like say autumn leaves falling off a tree – a few at first, then a lot, then many, then a lot of what’s left, then the rest of the few left. Or, it would be logical to think that if 500 out of 1000 nuclei decay in say one hour, that all (the remaining 500) will go poof in two hours – a linear relationship. Anyway, observation shows it’s the half-life relationship that Mother Nature decided upon, but there’s no theory to back up that relationship vis-à-vis any other IMHO.

The other and probably more serious anomaly is that there is no accepted trigger mechanism. An unstable nucleus just goes poof for no apparent reason. There is no cause to this effect. You cannot trigger unstable nuclei into going poof by hammering on it, subjecting it to extreme heat or cold, pouring acid on it or by any other physical and/or chemical means as your disposal. Take two identical unstable nuclei, side by side. One goes poof and the other doesn’t. Why? Lack of causality is an anomaly in itself and deeply disturbing. Things happen for a reason. Cause and effect should go back in an unbroken chain right back to the Big Bang (something else which apparently happened for no discernible reason at all).

WAVE-PARTICLE DUALITY: Of all things anomalous, quantum physics has to be right up there in the running for the gold medal. On the one hand, it has been verified to incredible levels of precision and when applied in technologies in our modern world, forms the basis for a goodly percentage of the global economy. On the other hand, it makes absolutely no sense, common or otherwise, at all. That’s why the mantra of those employed in applying and dealing with quantum physics, or quantum mechanics as it is often termed, tends to be “shut up and calculate and don’t worry about what it means”.

In our everyday macro world, bullets and billiard balls behave in a predictable fashion. They are macro particles that don’t wave all over the bloody place, otherwise a soldier would never hit his target and a game of billiards would be a farce. You certainly don’t want your car waving on down the highway. But if you lived in the micro (quantum) world, that’s exactly what would happen. Take the infamous double-slit experiment.

If you shine a beam of light, which is but little bullets called photons, or fire any other elementary particle (or micro bullet) for that matter like electrons at a single open slit, the pattern you get at a target behind that slit is just a blob of bullet-like hits. Everything behaves like particles or like bullets. But if you fire those little bullets at a double slit – two slits side by side, the target behind the double slit will show not two separate blobs, but a traditional wave interference pattern spread out over a wide area of alternating high and low concentrations of where the little bullets hit, or didn’t hit. Strange doings that.

Well obviously the little bullets are somehow interfering with themselves while in flight, so the next bit is to shoot them off just one-at-a-time, so that one bullet hits the target behind the slit(s) before the next bullet is fired. That way, bullets in flight can’t get in the way of other bullets. When you do that with a single slit, you eventually get a single blob of bullet hits on the target that’s behind: so far so good. Now fire off your one-at-a-time photon or electron bullets at the double slits. You would expect two blobs, one behind each slit. That’s what you’d expect, but that’s not what you get. What you see is what you get and what you see is still that classic wave interference pattern. So your little photon or electron bullets behave both like bullets or particles, but at the same time behave like waves: wave-particle duality rules the quantum roost. Something is screwy somewhere!

GOD: This isn’t really an anomaly due to any conflict between theory and observation. There is very little of either. The anomaly here is why anyone in their right mind would believe in such a supernatural deity. The gap between observational evidence and theoretical faith is so vast that it staggers the mind – at least it boggles my mind, all the more so since the only real description of God’s bona-fides, the human penned Old Testament, exhibits Him not as a just, loving, forgiving, merciful and compassionate deity but an all-round SOB that makes Hitler look downright cuddly.