Physics and Parapsychology

by David T. Phillips (
Posted at Parapsychology Research Forum on 5 June 1996

Luca Mana recently raised some questions about conflicts between contemporary physical theory and phenomena such as macro-pk and precognition. I feel this is an important area to explore, since so much of the intellectual resistance to the study of parapsychology is based on the common assumption that parapsychological phenomena are completely inconsistent with contemporary physical theory and so are unlikely to exist.

I feel that contemporary physics theory remains unfinished, and may prove to be quite consistent with psychic phenomena. Luca Mana specifically asked if precognition violates relativity postulates. The Lorentz transformation which mathematically embodies Einstein's special theory of relativity is indifferent to the direction of time. The equations of classical relativistic mechanics are time symmetric, and the relativistic field equations of quantum electrodynamics and nuclear forces have a slightly more complicated symmetry which includes time reversal. So at one level, physics does not care about the direction of time.

As a practical matter we normally experience time in one direction. In calculating radiation from an accelerating electron, it is customary to simply discard any solutions to Maxwell's equations which move backward in time. Such backward waves are mathematically consistent, but are normally discarded because they seem to exhibit an effect (the backward wave) that precedes its cause ( the acceleration of the electron ).

In a remarkable pair of papers (Rev Mod Phys 1945, 1949) based on Richard Feynman's doctoral thesis, Feynman and Wheeler present a consistent theory of classical electromagnetism that include the waves moving backward in time. They show that in a completely absorbing universe, where no radiation escapes, the backward waves provide an important energy conserving effect at one point in space and time, and conveniently cancel themselves out everywhere else. This made full use of the time-symmetry of the equations of physics without causing any conflict with our usual experience that the cause precedes the effect.

In his Nobel prize address, Feynman described this work as a favorite idea of his, and expressed his regret that he could never formulate a quantum theory based on it. ( He shared the Nobel prize for developing a workable quantum theory of electromagnetism which used only forward moving waves, but achieved its success by utilizing the symmetry between particles and anti-particles ( like the electron and positron ) which includes time reversal.)

My point here is that even Maxwell's equations for electromagnetism which date from the mid 1800's have the seeds of precognitive waves lurking within.

Recent developments in physics are even more mind-stretching. See Michu Kaku's popular books "Beyond Einstein" and "Hyperspace" for a description of electromagnetic waves as a vibration in a 5th dimension. The whole approach of adding new dimensions of space for each force has been advanced with increasing success many times over the last thirty years.

The most far-out (and in some ways the most exciting ) corner of contemporary physics is string theory. So far, string theory has not explained anything, and it has been roundly denounced by some theorists as a waste of time. The big advantage of string theory is that it is mathematically consistent in ways that the ordinary relativistic quantum field theory of point particles is not, and string theory seems to include gravitation which ordinary field theory does not.

The price paid for this mathematical consistency is that the strings must exist in a space of at least 10 dimensions ( 26 dimensions works too ). The string theorists have explained the missing 6 dimensions as "collapsed" to such a small size that they are only important for the inner workings of the "elementary" particles.

My point for parapsychology is that if signals (such as electrical waves) can travel in these other dimensions then it may not be so suprising to find information appearing to hop around in our four dimensions of time and space. Our giant four dimensional universe may be no more than a fragile soap bubble in a ten dimensional universe.

Another area where physics seems to be open to outside influences is in the randomness of quantum mechanics. This is another area where many books have been written. The equations of physics just give the _probabilities_ of what will happen on a microscopic level. What _actually_ happens is determined by something that is not described by the physics theory. Recent expositions of David Bohm's model of quantum mechanics have suggested that the quantum wave function is actually an "information wave" that exerts an unusual force on a moving particle. The force is unusual in that it does not get weaker when the wave amplitude is reduced. This is suggestive of the lack of distance effects in psychic phenomena, and makes the "psi wave" of quantum physics a candidate for the carrier of psychic "psi" phenomena.

A particularly instructive set of quantum calculations involve correlated particles. The mathematical description of the correlated particles seems to involve instantaneous changes no matter what the distance between the particles. This may be just a symptom of the mathematical difficulty of fitting quantum theory into relativity, or it may be an important clue about the inherent connectedness of matter. The "synchronicity" of Jung and Koestler suggests an almost playful interconnectedness that defies conventional physical logic.

Sorry about the length of this post. I hope to stimulate a bit of thought on such topics as where consciousness fits into physical theory, or how DAT might work ( are we selecting one of the many worlds of quantum mechanics by using our consciousness to create a psi wave? ) Hopefully, we can come up with some more _testable_ theories like DAT that will lead to real progress.