There’s been a lot of excellent science shows on television, many available on DVD and/or on YouTube. Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” immediately comes to mind and “MythBusters” while highly entertaining has a lot of solid science content too. However, IMHO, the cream of the crop, the best of the best, has been the “Through the Wormhole” series hosted by actor Morgan Freeman. Each of the episodes examines one of those nebulous Big Questions in science and philosophy. Here are the questions asked about the broad subject of life and the mind, our mind, and my personal opinions on each.
SEASON ONE: How Did We Get Here?
If asked the question about your ultimate origins, you might reply that you were of this or that nationality, perhaps with ancestry from this or that other place. Perhaps if you’re a bit more clued you’d say “Africa” as the birthplace of the human race. If you’re really clued, you might say the oceans, the undoubted place where life itself got its start. But no doubt, no matter what, you’d say you were “terrestrial” – of this Planet Earth. Alas, you’re still not clued enough. You’re extraterrestrial. We are the aliens, directly and indirectly.
Origin of the Universe
Once upon a time there was this Big Bang.
Since we are a part of the Universe, and since the Universe had an origin (the accepted standard model being the Big Bang event some 13.7 billion years ago), that alone of necessity means we have an extraterrestrial legacy since everything that makes you, you was born in that event, thereby in a manner of speaking making you 13.7 billion years old!
Origin of Our Stellar Solar System & Earth
As it was in the beginning, well so too did our Sun and Planet Earth have a beginning.
We are Star Stuff. Our solar system, our Sun, the planets, including Earth, were all formed out of the remains of extraterrestrial gas, dust and debris from older stellar systems, scattered to the four interstellar winds by supernovae explosions, over four and a half billion years ago. Thus, that too alone, no matter which way you slice it, means we (as beings part and parcel of our stellar system) are extraterrestrial in origin.
Origin of Life
The terrestrial origin of life may have happened within that petrii dish/test tube called Planet Earth – Or maybe not. IMHO it happened way too quickly and way too soon post Earth’s formation to probably have been a solely terrestrial happening. There’s an alternative called panspermia which expands both the time and space available for life’s origin by many order of magnitudes.
Panspermia is the idea that Earth was seeded by cosmic spores or microbes that were expelled from some other planetary abode in some other stellar system and drifted across the gulf of space. An incredibly tiny fraction of these cosmic spores lands on suitable planetary environments, where they survive and thrive and evolve. Our Earth was one such place for their lucky landing. It’s akin to a plant producing millions of spores – 99.999% of which fail to land on fertile ground; but that tiny fraction that does is all it takes to keep the species keeping on keeping on.
Ballistic panspermia is a slight variation on traditional panspermia in that the microbes or spores are inside the protective covering of a solid object – dust or tiny rocks, even massive rocks. These, alone with their microbial passengers get blasted off home turf by incoming ballistic objects (impacting meteors), escape their home planet and a few eventually, by chance land on another suitable abode. That Mars rock, ALH84001 that caused such a stir several years back is one such example of a potential case history of ballistic panspermia.
Directed panspermia is yet another variation on the theme, only in this case there’s intelligence behind the scenes, either sending out canisters of microbes willy-nilly in a shotgun manner, and/or directing that canister specifically at a chosen target.
The upshot is if terrestrial life’s origin was via a form of panspermia, then we humans, being a species of terrestrial life, ultimately had an extraterrestrial origin. If a Mars rock full of microbes impacted Earth billions of years ago, well, we might be the Martians transplanted from the fourth rock to the third rock from the Sun. Perhaps our origins were even farther a-field. Perhaps some cosmic gardener planted life here billions of years ago, maybe even stuck around to fertilize, cultivate, prune, and weed that garden.
In conclusion, we have an extraterrestrial legacy because 1) we’re a child of the Universe – a child that originated out of the origin of the Universe; 2) we’re star-stuff; 3) the origin of life was probably ‘out there’ somewhere and migrated to Earth.
SEASON TWO: Is There A Sixth Sense?
More likely as not, most of us probably have the notion that we have a sense of reality that transcends the standard five senses. We sense when we are being watched or we may have premonitions to do this or avoid doing this. Do you claim to have remote viewing or extrasensory perception (ESP) and/or the related concept of telepathy? That is probably a belief internal to you – your personal mental delusion.
There are but four physical forces that act upon you or can influence you. There’s gravity. There’s the strong nuclear force that holds the atomic nucleus together. There’s the weak nuclear force which lets atoms split apart – radioactivity. Then there’s the electromagnetic (EM) force. Only the latter could explain ESP/telepathy since it is the EM force that transmits information from A to B at the speed of light via photons – visible light photons, gamma-ray photons, radio wave photons, microwave photons, X-ray photons, infrared photons, ultraviolet photons, etc. To receive information directly into your brain, bypassing your normal five sensory channels and organs (sight, sound, taste, smell and touch) restricts immediately what part of the EM spectrum could be at work.
It can’t be visible light since the thickness of your skull blocks that out – your brain resides in eternal darkness. If it were infrared or ultraviolet your brain would heat up and fry or get sunburn. If it were microwaves, you’d experience an everlasting ‘hiss’ in your brain due to the cosmic microwave background radiation – a leftover from the Big Bang. It’s not radio waves since you aren’t bombarded with 24/7/52 information from radio stations around you – not to mention all that radio noise given off by interstellar hydrogen and other elements and compounds that are in interstellar space. In fact, each and every part of the EM spectrum can be rejected for these sorts of reasons.
That’s quite apart from the fact that if you were telepathic, how could your sanity cope with the picking up of the thoughts 24/7/52 of all those odd-bods and sods around you?
If remote viewing were even possible, why are there spy-in-the-sky satellites; the U-2; eves-dropping bugs planted; industrial espionage is rampant; computer hacking (cyber-spying) ditto; intelligence agents like the fictional but all too real 007 and agencies like the NSA or CIA, and all manner of other espionage apparatus part and parcel of our modern society? Remote viewing, etc. would be the great equalizer. It would result in a level playing field among all nations and nationalities. There could be no secrets in any medium, from paper to grey matter that’s safe. That’s not the way the world works, so ESP and telepathy, etc. is just so much BS. On a more personal level, you could ‘see’ winning scratch-it lottery tickets without scratching, and select accordingly. Students would all get 100% on their exams.
Besides, if ESP/telepathy/remote viewing were really possible, given all the scientific put-up-or-shut-up experiments that have been conducted, why isn’t this standard information in all the relevant textbooks? The global implications of such abilities, over the course of human events, would not have produced the sort of history we know today, since from Day One, human society would have been an Orwellian society because Big Brother would have been watching you! In fact everyone would be ‘watching’ everybody else. Again that not the way of the world, so of course it’s no surprise that these ESP and related experiments have all resulted without resolution in favour of the claimants.
There just might be a (slight) case to answer after all. That telepathy isn’t, isn’t silent one or two way crystal clear communication over vast distances between two separate brains or minds. What telepathy might be is that vague sense that there’s another mind out there, close by though, that has some resonance with your own. The classic case is that sense that you just know that someone else is watching or staring at you even though you can’t see who it is.
There has to be a medium by which this transfer can well, transfer from them to you. That medium apparently is Earth’s electromagnetic (EM) field. Brain thoughts or activity is electromagnetic in nature. It perhaps might be barely possible for those brain EM waves to be carried via Earth’s EM field to another person’s brain. That other person would at best just have a quasi-vague sensation that they were sensing, well, something, without being able to put a definitive finger on the specifics to many decimal places.
The non-human evidence is how large flocks of birds or schools of fish can in near unison turn on a dime. Since the “turn” command isn’t vocal, and visual observations would make for unacceptable lag times, the idea is that the communication is EM in nature from brain to brain at light speed via Earth’s EM field as the in-between medium.
However, there’s one absolute reason I’m convinced telepathy doesn’t exist. As I go about my daily walkabout routine and associated observations, I’m forever passing out mental thoughts and images of what I think of many of the deadbeat drivers and other lesser forms of humanity I spy with my little eyes. My thoughts tend not to be very complementary to say the least. But since the lowlifes and rift-rafts haven’t ever proceeded to immediately stop their lowlife activities and drop what ever rift-raft things they were up to, to instead change direction towards me and beat me about the heat and body unto a bloody pulp for my unflattering thoughts, I conclude telepathy doesn’t exist. If it did, I doubt I’d be typing these thoughts now.
Escape Clause: Apart from special effects on make-believe TV and in the movies, and works of literary fiction where all things are possible, there is another realm where anything goes – virtual reality; video games; simulations of all kinds. It’s in fact a simulated Universe that resides in the guise of computer software. Software can be programmed to give rise to images or experiences of out-of-the-body happenings; near death experiences; ghosts; past lives; astral planes; and ESP. You could have existence in other dimensional realms like the famous 2-D “Flatland”.
So, it’s a trade-off. If you accept impossible things like ESP before breakfast (and lunch and dinner too), then you need to believe in another – you don’t exist as flesh-and-blood; your ‘reality’, including say telepathy, resides in a computer. Who programmed the simulated Universe is another question.
That escape clause aside, if after multi-decades of inquiries and research into the plausibility of telepathy, etc. there’s nothing, no hard evidence to convince scholars, academics and skeptics of the bona-fides, then I think it’s safe to conclude that if it ain’t happened by now, it’s not going to. These really are impossible things. It’s not rocket science after all to come to once-and-for-all conclusions about these issues in the affirmative if they were in fact issues that had any possibility of an affirmative resolution.
SEASON THREE: Is There A Superior Race?
Yes, there is a superior race (or breed as I prefer), albeit it depends on exactly what one means by “superior”. There are clearly genetic differences between the races, quite apart from skin color. Some races tend to be either more immune or more susceptible to various afflictions. Races can be told apart by their unifying facial features. Hair textures and predominate colors differ racially. So, it probably comes as little surprise that when pinpointing any specific trait that’s determined by genetics, some races will have more or less of what makes up that trait.
SEASON THREE: What Makes Us Who We Are?
This is the old nature vs. nurture argument. It’s obvious that it’s not an either/or argument. On the nature side, there is your genetic heritage, as well as all those little happenings nature throws at you like injuries and diseases and that you throw at yourself via the foods you eat and the drinks you drink and the drugs (legal and otherwise) you take. On the nurture side, there are inputs from parents, friends, family, teachers, members of the community and the mass media. There’s also you manipulating you by picking and choosing various highways, pathways and byways.
But, and as is nearly always the case, there’s a but that complicates things, the scoreboard might read not nature vs. nurture but free will vs. determinism. If the universe is a clockwork universe where cause and effect rules absolutely and the laws, principles and relationships are fixed and absolute, then the universe, including you, unfolds as it should in a predetermined way. From the nanosecond of the Big Bang, what makes you who you are was as certain as death and taxes.
The other part is all that nebulous stuff that nature and nurture instills into you – your mind, consciousness, awareness, personality, sense of self, etc.
SEASON THREE: Mysteries of the Subconscious
Have you ever had a complex thought leap suddenly, almost or even unbidden, into your conscious (the self-aware or self-conscious) mind? Why? Was it your conscious mind that brought it to the fore, or your subconscious (otherwise more technically known as the unconscious) mind? Chances are, it was your subconscious (unconscious) mind. It’s been shown that your subconscious mind makes up your mind for you split seconds before you’re consciously aware of it. It’s almost as if it was predetermined.
Your subconscious mind bubbles along under the radar without an actual conscious input from your self-aware you, processing, ever processing. What should be random bubbling like boiling water should therefore result in a mess – a hodgepodge. Instead, you seem to get a purposefully and linearly directed nebulous something which at the least expected time pops through your grey matter’s ‘wormhole’ that links your subconscious mind with your conscious mind. Your conscious mind cannot seemingly draw out of your subconscious mind the nebulous something you need when you need it.
So how does your subconscious stay on the straight and narrow without your conscious input? I have no idea, but it apparently does. When your conscious thoughts go off the rails, say you’re distracted by something not relevant to the task at hand; well you can quickly force your conscious mind back on track to the task at hand. You don’t have to do that with your subconscious since the subconscious apparently can’t be distracted.
So I wonder whether the world’s greatest thinkers – scientists, philosophers, inventors, writers, etc. weren’t really conscious thinkers at all but derived much of their inspiration from their subconscious.
It’s not your conscious mind that connects the dots, it’s the subconscious. How often do you hear, or even tell yourself, “I’ll sleep on it” (which is why it is probably a good idea to always have pen and paper or a Dictaphone next to the bed)? How many people can relate to solving an out of the ordinary mental puzzle in their dreams, or the solution comes to them ‘out of the blue’ while preoccupied with something related. There are no tools, only the resources in your own mind. In fact if you consciously try to come up with an original creative idea, you’ll probably fail, but when you’re in mental neutral gear – eureka.
Ever immediately forget something you thought of just minutes before and cannot now for the life of you consciously recall? Throw your mind into neutral and when you least expect it, there it is back to the fore again. Now quickly, write it down!
Here are a few other examples where the subconscious rules your roost.
We’re all aware of hypnosis drawing out memories locked away, in the subconscious of course. You have no control in your conscious ability to recall. It takes a more extreme form of that “gotta put my mind in neutral”, the hypnotic state, to bring the data to the fore. Of course unethical or badly trained or amateur hypnotists can implant false memories or manipulate those already there thus producing unreliable results.
It’s not at all extraordinary for a minority (10 – 25%) of absolutely normal adult humans to have at least one vivid hallucination during their lifetime – a product of their subconscious that’s probably much more common in children’s ‘make-believe’ like there’s a monster in the closet or their inevitable invisible playmates. As our minds grow older and mature, we become less likely to have subconscious hallucinations, but they can still happen.
Perhaps connected, we’ve nearly all experienced involuntary (as to subject) daydreams, which, like sleeping dreams, is a product of the subconscious.
Speaking of sleep, when you go to sleep you go into lockdown mode courtesy of the subconscious so you don’t physically act out the actions you dream about. That makes sense otherwise you could do yourself and others in your immediate vicinity a serious mischief, but you have no control over that lockdown process.
An ordinary conscious level mental puzzle might be how to get from A to B on the bus when your car is in the repair shop. These are the sorts of ordinary every day mental gymnastics that usually require tools – hammer and nails; a cookbook; a train timetable; a table of trigonometry functions; and memory. However, in order to utilize them, you have got to have concepts of them filed away in your subconscious cubby-holes, so everyday mental, and apparently conscious activity have mandatory roots in the subconscious, otherwise, no go.
Just as an aside, there’s another version of subconscious activity that usually deals with body language. How often do you see someone talking on the phone to someone else, neither party can see the other, yet probably both parties are making all sorts of hand gestures and using other kinds of body language as if they were talking face-to-face? Probably quite frequently – it’s the norm. Or you see a woman sitting on a bus or in a café or some such, and she’s preening her hair, running her fingers through it but not even aware she’s doing it.
When you only have microseconds to act, say when you’re standing in the batter’s box 60 feet, 6 inches away from the pitcher’s mound and a rapidly rotating baseball is heading towards you at 95 mph, do you stand there and consciously crunch the numbers before your go/no-go swing, or just turn the issue over to your subconscious to go for it, or let the ball pass you by. Ditto that for an outfielder chasing down a fly ball. In such situations your conscious mind is worthless baggage. Instinct, training, practice and all those other facets embedded in your subconscious required come to the fore and takeover. You can do the physics calculations at your leisure after the game.
SEASON FOUR: Can Our Minds Be Hacked?
Speaking of mind control, when your brain is exposed and you are consciousness, neuroscientists can stimulate / touch / manipulate parts of your brain causing you various bodily reactions and you are helpless to prevent these reactions from happening even though you are consciousness. You apparently have no free will under hypnosis. Then too there is brain washing, being subjected to perform an involuntary action when given a subconscious stimulus. “The Manchurian Candidate” is a novel / film based on this well-established concept. A milder form of this is indoctrination be in into a military mind-set or into a religious or cultist mind-set, or even into a community or nationalist mind-set. Think of “1984”. Subliminal indoctrination via advertising is also a well-established. So yes, the mind can be hacked.
However, if what is meant by “hacked” is akin to what we mean by hacking a computer then I’m not quite convinced. One might be able to overwhelm the brain via some kind of electromagnetic stimulus at a distance, but actually overriding your neural networks to do the bidding of someone else, while perhaps not impossible, isn’t yet something the average person has to lose any sleep over.
SEASON FOUR: Do We Have Free Will?
No, we do not have free will based on two grounds. Firstly, at the moment of creation, all the laws, principles and relationships of physics were determined and set in clockwork-like motion. From that point onwards, everything was a predetermined cause and effect; cause and effect; cause and effect. Everything is unfolding as it should all based on those initial parameters. Secondly, if we exist in a Simulated (Virtual Reality) Universe, then preprogrammed software rules the roost and we dance to that software’s tune, and thus to the tune the Supreme Programmer plays. And if God is all-knowing you can’t have free will since your future must be predetermined and knowable in advance. It’s already been deposited in-the-bank as it were. On the other hand God couldn’t have given you free will in the first place since there is no God (or gods for that matter).
SEASON FOUR: When Does Life Begin?
If by that question one tries to pinpoint that moment in time between conception and death when your life began, well, one would on logical grounds have to opt for the moment of conception. There’s no question that sperm cells are alive; there’s no question that egg cells are alive, so there’s little point in arguing that the union of the two isn’t alive. Perhaps the better, and more difficult question, is when does that egg and that sperm become you? Again, based on logic, the answer is at conception, since at that point you have all of the genetic material that makes you a unique life form. As to whether or not you have the same human rights at conception as you do later on down the track, well that’s a legal and philosophical question, not a scientific one.