On the Existence of George Washington

In yet another friendly religious debate, I was given the argument that goes something like, “How do you know that _____ _____ existed?” The blanks can obviously be replaced with any prominent historical figure who is no longer living. On this occasion it was George Washington. This argument is quite weak in itself, since it is not even an argument for or against the existence of God (or Jesus); instead, it argues only that human knowledge is fallible, therefore no fact can be absolutely certain, indirectly leaving a little room for the possibility of a god.

The response to this kind of argument is three-fold. First, we have thousands of instances of indirect evidence that supports the existence of George Washington in the form of biographies, paintings, and letters, as well as documents and letters written by the man himself. It’s highly unlikely and unnecessary for all of these sources to have conspired to invent a non-existent first president of the United States.

The second part of the response is perhaps the most important: George Washington never claimed to be able to break the laws of physics! There are no claims of Washington parting seas, curing the blind, or turning water into wine. If such a claim had been made, we would undoubtedly need some truly convincing evidence, like confirmations of the observed phenomena by the greatest scientists of the time (emphasizing their inability to explain the phenomena), as well as experimental data on repeatability and consistency of Washington’s powers.

The third part of the response is a bit more subtle, but also very important. Believing in the existence of George Washington is not integral to the understanding of reality. History is reevaluated all the time. One day, historians might even discover that Washington was a hoax, and never existed as a real person. However, this kind of finding would have no effect on the foundations of physics, cosmology, or biology. The existence of Jesus, however (especially the god-man Jesus of the Bible) would have profound consequences in many scientific disciplines. The fact that the Bible is the only (second-hand) source that attributes supernatural powers to Jesus makes for particularly weak evidence for his divinity. If there was a single manuscript claiming that George Washington had magical powers, I would undoubtedly want evidence that is as credible as the claim is outlandish. Wouldn’t you?

Another Thought on New-Age Nonsense

Why is it that the more ancient a certain alternative healing technique is (or the more Eastern it is), the more “hip” it is to practice it?

Isn’t it well-established that people in ancient times were less smart than we are today? What does this say about the medicinal techniques they employed?

With the advent of modern (“Western”) medicine, the average human lifespan has nearly doubled, numerous diseases have been completely eradicated, and we are well on our way to reverse-engineering the very structure of life itself. This is due only to the fact that all forms of voodoo, magick, and pseudoscience have been eliminated from the medical profession.

For New Age proponents to attempt to reinsert pseudoscientific quackery into medicine and “restore harmony with the ancient ways” is not only counterproductive, but dangerous, and ultimately futile.

Takionic Follow-up

There’s something I forgot to mention in my previous post on the absurdity of Tachyon Energy. What good is any New Age healing technology without the endorsement of one or two controversial medical practitioners, and some anecdotal evidence from athletes and friends of the inventors? Well, that’s exactly what you’ll find in the “Testimonials” sections of the Tachyon websites.

No doubt, endorsements from doctors and other professionals can be used to lend more credibility to a theory as radical as tachyon energy. An endorsement from a physicist would really be preferable, but no such luck. Still, let’s examine the credibility of the professionals that the Tachyon websites quote as being full supporters of the tachyon technology.

The most prominent figure in the field of Tachyon research appears to be David Wagner. Indeed, Mr. Wagner is actually the founder of Advanced Tachyon Technologies, whose website was the main focus of my previous article. He is also the supposed inventor of the mysterious Tachyonization machine, which is claimed to alter any substance at a “submolecular” level, so that the substance becomes “tachyonized.”

One would think that, with a breakthrough of this magnitude, Mr. Wagner would have published a paper or two in well-known scientific journals, or offer his device for testing in a laboratory. But a simple search turns up no results for Wagner in any publication, except a book about Tachyon energy that he cowrote with Gabriel Cousens, a medical doctor (again, not a physicist). I would wager that the book contains similar drivel to that found on the ATT website. Truthfully, some of the explanations reminded me of Gene Ray’s discourse on his Time Cube theory! But at least Gene Ray isn’t selling anything.

With the purported infinite healing properties of Wagner’s tachyonizing device, wouldn’t Wagner have a moral responsibility to give up his invention for the greater good of the planet? With the potential for healing millions of people, Wagner would gain worldwide renown, not to mention a Nobel Prize. But instead, Mr. Wagner has kept his tachyonization process “proprietary” for years, and only focuses on refining his business model for recruiting distributors for his wares. Does this sound like a true inventor, or simply a clever con-artist?

The other prominent name mentioned on the Tachyon websites is that of Dr. Hans Nieper (1928 – 1998), a German cardiologist and oncologist. Dr. Nieper was indeed a well-known doctor who used radically unorthodox methods for treating cancer, multiple sclerosis, and cardiovascular problems with megadoses of mineral supplements. Nieper did achieve impressive clinical results, but what exactly does that have to do with tachyons? Notice, once again, that Nieper is not a physicist. In fact, here’s what Russell Mills of the Delano Report says about Nieper:

Unfortunately, Nieper’s exposure to physics seems to have consisted of taking just one undergraduate physics course and then doing a great deal of reading over the years — an approach that seldom leads to excellence in such an intellectually demanding field. Thus, despite being very intelligent and having a fine memory, Nieper did not reach a deep or correct understanding of theoretical physics. In fact, his views on physics were superficial and naive, and the medical theories he tried to derive from them were rightly considered by physicists, biologists, and medical researchers to be errant nonsense.

Apparently Dr. Nieper, with his minimal formal training in physics, began to weave nonsensical theories about unseen energy fields, subatomic fluctuations, the ethereal realm, and of course tachyons, all of which he related to maladies of the human body. Naturally, New Age “researchers” snatched up Nieper’s theories and declared them as canon. Incidentally, the enthusiasm with which New Age proponents adapted these theories says something about their level of experience in physics, too, not to mention their experience in critical thinking.

And still, no publications exist that confirm the existence of tachyons, none that confirm the existence of the Tachyonization machine, and none that confirm the influence of tachyons on personal health.

I gladly welcome any of the Tachyon distributors to send me a sample of their product (I’m certainly not about to pay for it), so that I can conduct a simple double-blind test of the product’s effectiveness, a test that every one of the distributors forgot to do.

Tachyon Energy for the Masses

Browsing the Web the other day, I came upon several websites that sell products that supposedly harness the power of… tachyon energy. These products include “tachyon-infused” silica disks, beads, crystals, elbow wraps, blankets, bottled water, and of course massage oils and body lotions. Tachyon BeadsSuspending disbelief for a moment, I explored the websites hoping to discover the secret behind the process of Tachyonization. The discovery of tachyons itself, not to mention being able to control them at room temperature, surely deserves worldwide attention! I have no idea why any of these companies hasn’t gone public with their discovery. No idea at all! So let’s begin.

The last time I checked, a tachyon is a hypothetical particle that is one of the byproducts of special relativity. Recall that Einstein’s famous relation

$$E = \frac{mc^{2}}{\sqrt{1 – \frac{v^2}{c^2}}}$$

yields both real and imaginary solutions. The real solutions apply to real-world physical particles, that is, particles that travel slower than the speed of light. The imaginary solutions arise when we invent a particle that has a velocity (v) greater than the speed of light (c). Since Einstein’s equation permits this kind of solution, there’s nothing stopping us from imagining such a particle.

The thing to remember, however, is that just because the equation allows such solutions does not automatically imply that such particles actually exist. In fact, the existence of tachyons would present significant problems for physics as we know it, since their interaction with normal matter (if it’s allowed) would violate the laws of causality, since any matter or information traveling faster than light must also travel backwards in time.

Apparently, what the naïve mainstream physicists fail to realize is that there’s a ton of money to be made from selling New Age products that claim to harness the True Power of tachyons!

A company called Advanced Tachyon Technologies (no joke!), has been marketing such products, which include glass beads for $50 that “have been proven to be the most effective directional antennas for the localized clearing of blockages in the Energetic Continuum.” The company peddles its products through a multi-level marketing scheme (MLM), where various distributors organize their own websites and sell the products on behalf of the parent company. Examples of these sites are here, here, and here.

So what exactly is this “tachyon energy” they speak of? The ATT website attempts to explain this, but I’ll spare you the mind-numbing pseudoscientific psycho-babble, and instead provide a short excerpt:

Tachyon Energy is the very first energetic structure that emerges out of non-structured, formless Zero-Point Energy. Just like Zero-Point Energy, Tachyon is not limited to a certain frequency. Tachyon cannot be measured in the Hertzian frequency spectrum. It is not a certain type of energy. Rather, it includes all energies within itself. Its qualities are much like Zero-Point Energy, varying only in that it is a structured field.

Very rarely have I seen this many misuses of scientific terminology in a single paragraph. What is an “energetic structure”? Why is zero-point energy “formless”? What other “frequency spectrum” is there besides the “Hertzian” one? This paragraph alone should be enough to taint our confidence in the effectiveness of the Tachyon line of products.

In another page of their website, ATT attempts to explain the “physics of tachyons.” This should be good…

The condensation of zero-point energy into tachyon energy is the beginning of the Energetic Continuum, which is directly responsible for all forms on the planet. It is this condensation that creates all forms. In the production of matter, this formless zero-point energy condenses into faster-than-light tachyon. At the point of the speed of light, tachyon interacts with the Subtle Organizing Energy Fields (SOEFs).

Once again, pure garbage. Each sentence becomes more and more devoid of meaning to anyone but the most scientifically ignorant. They proceed to give a diagram and an explanation of a tachyon interacting with other particles:

For this explanation, we will explore the interaction of tachyon energy with the lepton family of particles. The first elementary particle in the lepton family is a pion. The pion exists below the speed of light and has a consistent mathematically computable orbit, which we call the Subtle Organizing Energy Field (SOEF).

This paragraph, if anything, is the nail in the coffin, since it speaks volumes about the background of the “scientists” behind these products. A pion is indeed a known particle, but it’s by no means a lepton (it’s a meson). The family of leptons includes the electron, the muon, and the tau. (There are also three flavors of neutrinos, and all the corresponding antiparticles.)

Even if we assume that the author meant to say “tau” instead of “pion,” there is still a slew of problems. The tau is not the “first” particle in the lepton family. That would be the electron. Also, the author speaks of a “mathematically computable orbit.” Orbit around what?

It’s fairly clear that these ramblings are from a person with a high-school level grasp of physics who has taken too many issues of Popular Science too seriously. It’s highly unlikely that this person not only proved the existence of tachyons, but invented a process that alters matter at the subatomic level, allowing tachyons to be focused, thereby healing the human body of all ailments. The fact that the “inventor” of this technology hasn’t yet been invited to Stockholm for the Nobel ceremony proves this point definitively.

Speaking of the Tachyonization process, the ATT website states that the inventors would rather “keep it proprietary” instead of patenting it (I wonder why!). The website does, however, try to explain what tachyonization is not:

The Tachyonization process is not a frequency, spin manipulation, or transfer. It is not a high frequency or coil technology. It does not use magnets or sounds. It does not use sacred geometry to inform products. It is not a photon-based technology. It is not an SE-5 or other form of radionics-based technology. It does not require prayer or meditation. The technology does not use crystals or orgone technologies. It is absolutely not operator-sensitive.

Well of course it’s not any of those things. It’s not anything! Correction, it is something: it’s a cleverly-worded excuse for these companies to charge $30 for a bottle of water and $50 for a bunch of glass beads.

More Tachyon BeadsThese companies have created the perfect recipe for sucking in highly impressionable New-Agers: throw in a bunch of the usual vague spiritual buzzwords: energy, healing, flow, balance, chakra, any of which would give an unsuspecting customer a hard-on… and combine them with the latest cool-sounding scientific jargon hijacked by the New Age movement: frequency, spectrum, continuum, fields, waves, and now, tachyons.

Combining all these words into randomized, barely coherent sentences, as ATT has done, speaks of a very naïve, superficial understanding of physics and mathematics, not to mention medicine. The only terminology that the website uses correctly is the financial and legal terminology for recruiting distributors and reeling in unsuspecting customers to pay through their noses for glass beads, silica disks, and bottled water.

Once again, tachyons are hypothetical, and not real! Even if they do “exist,” it would certainly not be possible to manipulate them. It’s not even clear what it would mean to manipulate them. Even if tachyons could be controlled, doing so would not be possible by modifying ordinary matter. And even if it were possible to control tachyons using ordinary matter, it’s absurd to assume that they would have some sort of healing effect on the human body!

My god, browsing all these sites has made my head hurt. It’s a bullshit overdose!

On Mind-Body Duality and the Afterlife

[read the disclaimer before proceeding]

Consider a clock that is ticking. We can think of the ticking as the “soul” or “consciousness” of the clock. As long as the clock’s spring or battery has sufficient power, the clock will continue to tick. When the battery runs out, the clock stops ticking. The consciousness of the clock ends at that point. The clock does not continue to tick in some kind of spiritual dimension — it simply halts. It seems only natural to apply this analogy to human consciousness: when electrical impulses stop propagating through the brain, human consciousness ceases to exist.

It seems to me that the idea of mind-body duality (that the body and the mind are somehow separate entities), and hence the idea of an afterlife, can be challenged with a short series of trivial observations.

The Brain

The very existence of a brain already casts doubt on the existence of a soul. If a separate, intelligent soul really exists and inhabits the body, why would the body need a brain? If all cognitive functions are indeed performed by the soul, then the brain becomes useless.

Brain damage can have profound effects on the body, ranging from paralysis, retardation, and of course death, to very subtle changes in the individual’s behavior or personality. Clearly, this alone is devastating evidence against the existence of a soul. If a slight modification to the brain causes a change in the personality of the individual, doesn’t this imply that the brain alone is responsible for the individual’s personality? What role, then, is left for the soul to perform?

One can make the argument that the brain is actually a “receiver” acting as an antenna of sorts, simply picking up signals from a soul that exists elsewhere. But this adds an unnecessary layer of complexity. If we make the argument that the complex structure of the brain is necessary to receive “signals” from an extra-corporeal soul, then why not simplify a bit, and admit that the complex structure of the brain is the source of the soul? It’s the same as suggesting that the Sun that we see in our sky every day is really a reflection from a giant space-mirror located where we think the Sun is, while the “real” sun is someplace else entirely, shining light onto the mirror.

Unfortunate Cases

When a mentally handicapped person dies, does his soul remain mentally handicapped for all eternity? Or does the soul somehow get “repaired” to a healthy state? If so, can the new soul really be considered “the same” as it was before the repair? The new soul would now possess cognitive abilities that the real-life person could never use in the real world. What good would these abilities be for the soul if it can no longer wield them in our reality?

When an infant dies, will the infant’s soul continue to exist in a perpetual infantile state? Similar to the previous example, let’s entertain that the infant’s soul will be “upgraded” to a healthy adult state. Frankly, this makes even less sense than the first example. In order for a soul to reach adulthood, the physical person needs to lead an actual life into adulthood, gathering knowledge, experience, and memories. What kind of memories (never mind knowledge and experience) can this hypothetical adult-baby possess if it never had any conscious experiences in the real world?

When an elderly person passes away because of a disease like Alzheimer’s, will the soul continue to exhibit symptoms of Alzheimer’s, existing in a weak, confused, and compromised state? Or will the soul be reverted to a time when the disease was not yet present? If this is the case, who decides the age to which the soul will be reverted? What about all the experiences and memories that the person collected as the disease progressed (fuzzy as they may be)?

Emotional Incentive

There also seems to be a suspiciously large amount of emotional incentive associated with the belief in souls and an afterlife, which would lead one to believe that the two are simply a product of wishful thinking. We don’t want to die, so we’d rather believe that we can survive death. Since it’s blatantly obvious that people don’t actually survive death, we invent the idea of a noncorporeal essence that represents our living “state.” This essence, conveniently enough, is only temporarily bound to the body, and thus survives death — problem solved.

Afterlife and Religion

One final problem is the utter naïveté with which the major world religions (and therefore the majority of people) interpret the idea of an afterlife, inventing pseudo-physical “places” like heaven, hell, and numerous others where life continues indefinitely after death, with benefits and/or punishments based on the person’s behavior during life. The religious interpretation of the afterlife is primitive at best, and potentially quite dangerous. Indeed, any belief that cheapens real human life and attempts to misplace our hopes and dreams onto some intangible, imponderable promise of “eternal life beyond death” casts a truly negative light on the whole afterlife concept.