3 November 2012

Parapsychology and telepathy (and related bogus science)

Every year, in English-speaking countries alone, more than a hundred books that promote the wildest forms of bogus science and the paranormal are published. The percentage of Americans today who take astrology seriously is larger than the percentage of people who did so in the Middle Ages
writes Martin Gardner, in his foreword for the book How to Think About Weird Things: Critical Thinking for a New Age, by Theodore Schick and Lewis Vaughn, concluding that
[the book will perform] a service that our technologically advanced but retarded nation desperately needs.
He is referring to the Unites States where 79% of people believe in miracles, 75% in the paranormal, 18% in ghosts (the number doubled in a decade), and many many other weird and stupid things.

But the phenomenon of retardation is observed in non-English speaking countries as well. Today, a colleague pointed out to me that a Swedish university has established a chair in the field of ... parapsychology and telepathy! Long ago, a rich Danish guy, called Poul Thorsen, wrote a book (Die Hypnose in Dienste der Menschheit, Bauer-Verlag, Freiburg-Haslach, 1960) on how to use hypnosis to have your way with women and left some money for a chair in parapsychology and hypnology. 40 years after his death, the chair was finally established.

Parapsychology is not a science, not a discipline, it is nothing. It is just a bogus, empty field. It is concerned with something called "psi", which nobody knows what it is. Nevertheless, parapsychologists are interested in demonstrating that psi exists (without knowing what it is). Pure baloney, of course.

Another ex-scientist dealing with the field of parapsychology is Brian Josephson, emeritus professor at Cambridge, who, in 1973, received the Nobel prize for the discovery of the Josephson effect. The latter has nothing to do with parapsychology. It is real science, and deals with superconductivity. It is an example of a macroscopic quantum phenomenon. But, somehow, Josephson flipped out and later devoted his life to psi and telepathy and what have you. "Utter rubbish", physicist David Deutsch declared when, a decade ago, the UK Royal Mail accepted a text by Josephson (to accompany a set of stamps commemorating the Nobel prize). The text by Josephson, stated that quantum mechanics may be the explanation of processes still not understood within conventional science such as telepathy, an area where Britain is at the forefront of research.

Well, parapsychology is now in Sweden too. In the UK nobody took Josephson seriously. But are there people taking parapsychology, psi, telepathy, the paranormal, etc, seriously in Sweden? How many? Sweden, supposedly, is not a religious country. But could it be that superstition is widespread? I don't know the answer.

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T H E B O T T O M L I N E

What measure theory is about

It's about counting, but when things get too large.
Put otherwise, it's about addition of positive numbers, but when these numbers are far too many.

The principle of dynamic programming

max_{x,y} [f(x) + g(x,y)] = max_x [f(x) + max_y g(x,y)]

The bottom line

Nuestras horas son minutos cuando esperamos saber y siglos cuando sabemos lo que se puede aprender.
(Our hours are minutes when we wait to learn and centuries when we know what is to be learnt.) --António Machado

Αγεωμέτρητος μηδείς εισίτω.
(Those who do not know geometry may not enter.) --Plato

Sapere Aude! Habe Muth, dich deines eigenen Verstandes zu bedienen!
(Dare to know! Have courage to use your own reason!) --Kant