Saturday, 22 July 2017

Dark Matters Indeed: What Dark Matter Tells Us About a Potential Physical Model of Ghosts.

Was there something I was meant to be doing?

Oh yeah, I was going to elaborate on the comments made by Brian Cox way back in February this year. I discussed the reaction the internet had to the comment but never explained why I think people in the paranormal community reacted so badly to the comments.

Firstly let's revisit exactly what Cox said:
"We are not here to debate the existence of ghosts because they don't exist. If we want some sort of pattern that carries information about our living cells to persist then we must specify precisely what medium carries that pattern and how it interacts with the matter particles out of which our bodies are made. We must, in other words, invent an extension to the Standard Model of Particle Physics that has escaped detection at the Large Hadron Collider. That's almost inconceivable at the energy scales typical of the particle interactions in our bodies. I would say if there's some kind of substance that's driving our bodies, making my arms move and legs move, then it must interact with the particles out of which our bodies are made. And seeing as we've made high precision measurements of the ways that particles interact, then my assertion is there can be no such thing as an energy source that's driving our bodies."
Most people familiar with physics weren't shocked by these comments, in fact. many pointed out that Cox didn't have to recourse to such modern developments as the work conducted at the LHC to dismiss ghosts as a possible element of a physical model of reality. The second law of thermodynamics, they argued, showed that any cluster of energy could not exist for a sustained period of time as it would lose energy to heat. I think we could go even more basic than this. Energy is a facet of matter. A property of matter, much like mass. It doesn't make much sense to consider energy away from some physical element be that matter or some kind of field or force carrying particle. To think of energy sat in some amorphous cloud or vague human shape, or orb is nonsensical.

Of course, that isn't the physics that the paranormal community is normally exposed to. This is a community where typical proclamations about energy run something like this:
"Energy can’t be created or destroyed; it can only change forms — that’s a law of physics. Not a theory of physics — a law. It’s called the law of conservation of energy. It means that if you take an isolated system, such as a person, the energy contained in that person can’t be destroyed. It can change forms from chemical energy — like the signals that travel down your nerve pathways — into kinetic energy, the energy required to move your arm, for example, but the energy is always there. This law makes sense to me. It means that when we die, our energy must go somewhere. The flesh and bones — the empty vessel — is left behind, but the energy survives." -Nick Groff
Scientific Evidence That Proves Ghosts Are Really Real
And sure that's true. Your chemical energy does go on. But not in the form of a "ghost" much of it is lost to heat. The rest consumed by other organisms converted to kinetic energy and electrical energy and eventually heat too. Your energy will indeed go on, just not in the way Groff wants you to believe. Manipulations such as Groff's require an extra mechanism in our physical model of reality. A living energy. A vitalism if you like. It's something we've found no evidence of, but more important than that we are missing a much more important piece of the puzzle than evidence. Something more fundamental than evidence. We can identify this missing piece in the reactions to Cox's comments and one particular aspect that his critics raised repeatedly.

What about dark matter?

And so on.

So why are ghosts any different than dark matter? Surely both are unknowns not within our current understanding? Frustratingly unknown, perhaps even unknowable?

The fundamental difference is something even skeptics miss when considering ideas of ghosts and spirits, dark matter exists as a concept within physics because it is necessitated. We observed gravitational effects in far regions of the universe that could not be explained by observable matter in those areas. The need for dark matter in our models of the universe became clear as early as 1906, when Henri Poncaire assessed the work of Lord Kelvin. The distribution of velocities and masses of far flung star systems did not match with the observation of visual matter in those systems. There was a need for "something else" not gas, dust or plasma, dark in both its interaction with light and its place in our body of knowledge (this also answers the question "could ghosts be dark matter?" Not if you also maintain ghosts could be something seen or even photographed.) By the 1960s we were analysing rotational curves of disc galaxies to discover galaxies were enveloped in dark matter halos, as the rotational curve of the M33 galaxy (below) shows. The difference between the calculated velocity (the white line) and the observed velocities (yellow line) can be accounted for by the addition of a dark matter halo.

In the hundred plus years since 1906 we've become adept that detecting dark matter. Perhaps the most striking example of this is the observation of colliding galaxies such as the Bullet cluster (below).

This image shows the gas and plasma colliding and slowing down at the meeting point of two galaxies as they merge. Yet when we observe the gravitational lensing, the way light passing its strong gravitational influence is bent, often forming a ring-like pattern, produced by this super-cluster we see a different picture emerge.

It appears as if the majority of the mass of the colliding galaxies has passed harmlessly through the site of collision distributing itself at either side of the cloud. We have observed this multiple times. This is the inner edges of the dark matter halos slipping through each other and everything else to form one outer halo. It is unencumbered by the violent electromagnetic battle that dominates the gas and plasma interactions.

That should illustrate what we are missing when we ask for evidence of ghosts. With dark matter, we identified a hole in our model of reality. There was an element that current elements of that model could not explain. We then set out to find evidence that this factor exists. Then we quantified it and began to identify its properties. We still don't know what dark matter is, but we know what it isn't. It isn't baryonic matter, it doesn't interact with baryonic matter, it doesn't absorb or emit light, it doesn't interact with itself. But it has a gravitational influence that can be measured. Step one here, in the case of ghosts, is missing. There is no hole in our model of the universe that requires a ghost shaped piece to fill, some behaviour or observation that defies any other explanation. Before we speculate on the properties of a ghost, before we collect evidence we must first ensure there's something to speculate on. Otherwise, the evidence we collect is random, amorphous and pretty meaningless.

I believe it's this missing necessity that both skeptics and believers fail to recognise that accounts for some of the disconnects between the two groups. Believers present evidence to the skeptics and fail to see exactly why it is dismissed. Often it's because it's clear that evidence isn't warranted without cause.

When we approach the idea of ghosts through a lens of physics, the concept becomes redundant beyond even pure hypothesis. We can hardly express anger or dismay at the attitude of Brian Cox to ghosts when we consider this. He isn't being a skeptic, or a cynic, or cruel.

He is simply being a physicist. Physics doesn't speculate beyond things which are in some way necessitated, it tends to ignore the superflous in favour of utility. Unfortunately this includes ghosts.