Dr Jeff Rediger,  Harvard Medical School (2020) Cured: The Remarkable Science and Stories of Spontaneous Healing and Recovery.

Printed on a postcard, My Wife and Mother-in-Law, and distributed as a novelty by an unknown French artist (1888). They are both in the picture; find them? (p254-5). An old woman with a hooked nose, and her chin tucked into her fur coat is in one picture. The elegant young woman in the other. Initially, I couldn’t see the old woman, just the young. I tried rotating it. Blocking out parts of the picture and concentrating on where her long chin was supposed to be, resting on the furs. Then I could see her. I could see both pictures. Switch-shifting attention from one to the other. Miracles are like that. Although Dr Jeff Rediger doesn’t call them that. He was looking at the outliers in conventional medicine. Things that weren’t reported in respected journals because there was no scientific way of explaining spontaneous healing and recovery. It was seen as akin to quackery, and more importantly trying to report it could destroy a research doctor’s career. That’s why underneath the author’s name, in smaller font, are the words: Harvard Medical School.

What Dr Jeff Rediger is saying is hey, I’m one of you, one of the establishment. But also signalling to us outside the establishment, hey, I’m also one of you. If covers of books could wink, that is what he was doing.  There is a checklist and a story attached that reads like a Greek saying: ‘Live each moment of your life as if it were your last’ (331).

So what’s the science and what’s the hoo-ha? I’m old enough to remember the cure for cancer was carrot juice and coffee enemas. And those that died were the unpure, the unbelievers that didn’t believe enough or purge enough. Only the virtuous survived.

Rediger begins with some self-help philosophy of Soren Kierkegaard: ‘There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true. The other is to refuse to believe what is true.’

Bad guys and good guys. Everything’s connected. The head rules the heart. The heart rules the head. Our stomach rules the heart, rules the head. Rediger is a medical doctor, but he also trained as a theologian. He visits healing centres in rural Brazil because he hears of miraculous cures of killer diseases.

Bad guys. Inflexibility. Not being willing to change. Takes you on the same old path of least resistance that’s killing you.

Good guys. ‘I accept your diagnosis, but not your prognosis.’

Scepticism is a cousin of inflexibility. It’s part of the medical condition. Don’t prove me right, but try and prove me wrong. If nothing can be done, nothing will be done.

In Oprah speak, ‘When we know better, we do better.’ (p343).

But certain ways of thinking can be addictive. Thought patterns, habits, ways of behaving.

Bad guys, a dismissal of spiritualism.

Good guys, an active seeking of meaning in your life. A strong will to live. Embracing your new vision of a new life.

Case study, Opening the lines of communication: How to talk to your immune system.

26-year-old Daniel, embryonic cell cancer or the testicles. Prognosis, ‘Weeks’ to live.

Therapist asked him what he wanted to do before he died?

‘I want to get ordained and married.’

You know what happened next. Documented case of spontaneous remission. He embraced his new vision of life.

‘We know that the nervous system and the immune system are, in fact, intricately interwoven… Neuroreceptors were believed to be limited to the brain and nervous system until Candice Pert, often called ‘the mother of psychoimmunology,’ discovered the presence of neurotransmitters and neuropeptides in the walls of cells of both the immune system and the brain… they’re a way for the nervous system of communicating cell to cell… meaning whatever’s going on in your mind is being broadcast directly into your immune system… Our emotions talk to our immune system’ (p53).

‘Good’ bacteria. 100 trillion bacteria that live in your body, each with their own DNA.

80% of your immune system cells are in your gut.

Antibiotics wipe out ‘bad’ bacteria. Can impact your gut bacteria for up to a year. (pp55-56).

The secret to health, killing the germ? Destroy the microbe. From Silver Bullets to Superbugs.

Preparing the soil (yourself) for spontaneous healing.

Case Study, Clare Haster, pancreatic cancer, went home and began to prepare to die.

Changed her diet, gradually, from foods that left her fatigued, with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, to more plant-based foods.

Something shifts that allows the immune system to do its work.

‘Everything we put in our bodies affects our terrain.

The strength of your team of natural killer cells and other disease-fighting cells within your immune system are linked not only to what you eat, how you exercise, and other lifestyle choices but also how you manage stress, relationships, old traumas, what you believe, and how you see and understand yourself’ (p65). 

Hippocrates (Do No Harm) but also ‘All disease begins in the gut’ (p75).

Eat to Heal (chapter 3)

The person who takes medicine most recover twice. Once from the disease and once from the medicine William Oder, M.D.

‘Every day we are bombarded with conflicting messages about what we should eat’ (p75).

Michael Pollan, In Defence of Food (2008): ‘Eat food, not too much. Mostly plants’(p76).

He meant the kind of food your grandmother would have recognised. That rots. Not processed foods that looks and tastes the same a decade later. No sugar. Very little salt.

What we eat is deeply ingrained. Like any other of our addictions.

Anti-cancer diet takes out processed and salty foods. Gravitates towards whole-foods.

Case study. Tom: ‘I ate more Burgher King than anybody alive’ (p81).

Type-2 diabetes. Insulin, saved millions of lives, but causes weight gain, which worsens insulin resistance. Spiral continues  (p82).

Dr Joel Fuhromon, The End of Diabetes.    Eat highly nutritional food, loaded with vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals, but low in calories.

Notice how Tom uses the language of addiction, ‘I don’t feel the need…The cravings were gone’ (p87)  Burger King was gone.

‘Detox from years of accumulated toxins’ (p87).

‘Claire has made it a rule not to share the specific menu she followed after her diagnosis. Obviously, what worked for me didn’t work for [everybody]

I believe each of us responds to and needs different things…I don’t believe there is any silver bullet out there for everyone. We need to find out what works for us individually’ (p90).

‘A study with mice at Georgia State University established a disturbing correlation between emulsifiers and cancer. Emulsifiers are ubiquitously present in everything from mayonnaise to ice cream…added to extend shelf life and ‘improve the mouthfeed’ [taste]

FDA limits how much of an emulsifier can go in a product, but companies dodge this by using different kinds of emulsifiers.

The Georgia study suggests disrupted the microbiome and triggering chronic inflammation, emulsifiers may contribute to weight gain, inflammatory illnesses, autoimmune disorder and even cancer’ (p91).

T. Colin Campbell, The China Study (2005) link between diet and disease. Western diet, rich in meat and dairy, disease-creating diet (p94).

‘Individual nutrients matter less than the overall diet. Occasionally eating a bit of dairy didn’t seem to increase disease risk in the Chinese population, but they truly did eat only a very small amount. Mere ounces of pork to flavour soup…’(p95).

Case study, Pablo, Stage IV tumour, glioblastoma. Ketogenic diet. Most people find the keto diet difficult to adhere to because it’s extremely specific and limiting.

‘He started with a few days of fasting, a quick way to achieve ketosis—a metabolic state where the body deprived of glucose (which cancer cells feed on) begins to break down its own fats. Once he achieved ketosis, he switched to the standard ketogenic diet. He maintained ketosis for the next three years’ (p101).

Chapter 4, Shut down the disease superhighway.

Hippocrates: Before you heal someone, ask if he’s willing to give up those things that make him sick (p111).

‘In the short-term, there’s nothing wrong with treating symptoms.’

‘The so-called lifestyle illnesses—cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung disease and diabetes—are the top causes of death and disability in the United States, and they account for 75 percent of all health-care spending’ (p116).

Death due to dementia more than doubled from 2000 to 2015. And there’s depression, announced by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2017 as the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide. More than 300 million people worldwide are living with depression, according to WHO estimates, and that represents an increase of more than 18 percent between 2005 and 2015. People who are depressed have less robust immune systems and are vulnerable to more illness in general and poorer recoveries (p116).

Chronic inflammation comes from how we think, how we feel, how we live (p217).

Case study: Juniper Stein, ‘a picture of health’ (pp117-

Her back started bothering her.

Incurable, autoimmune disease.  Over a 100 autoimmune disorders. Characterised as ‘inflammatory disorders’ (p125).

When your immune system is your own worst enemy. (p124).

Link between chronic stress and inflammation. Study found alter genes of immune system, which help determine a cell’s function. (p126).

1) Get rid of processed foods and sugar which fuel the inflammatory response.

2) Look at personal stress triggers.

3) Larger life overhaul.

‘I accepted the diagnosis,’ she say, ‘but not the prognosis’ (p130).  

‘But there were a lot of wrong turns,’ (p135).

‘An anti-inflammatory lifestyle is ultimately based on changing your relationship with your body’ (p136).

Chapter 5, Activate Healing Mode.

‘We can either change the complexities of life—and unlikely event, for they are likely to increase—or to develop ways which enable us to cope more effectively.’ Herbert Benson, (p139).

  Fight or flight?

Benson suggested stress the invisible killer in heart disease (in all disease?)

Case study, Jan Shaw (p143-

The woman in the photograph was overweight and obviously ill.

Sick as a teenager…aged 25 ruptured a disc in her back.  Aged 28, diagnosed with dry nerve root.

Jaw implant…that didn’t work.

Misdiagnosed for decades. Nothing worked. Lupus progressed to her brain. Renal failure. Multiple organ failure.

‘Spiritual healing?’ A centre in Brazil.

‘I poo-pooed it,’ she says ‘It sounded crazy.’ (p147).

Within ten days she was off the drugs she’d been taking for decades (p149).

Mediation and relaxation breaking the fight/flight response

‘We now know that mediation can literally change the shape of the brain’ (p151).

The stress conundrum, can’t live with it, can’t live without it.

Autonomy and how you perceive stress. More autonomy of job/life/ relationships the less flooding of body with stress hormones, less inflammation and wear and tear, less heart disease.

Jan Shaw: ‘I’m a different person now.’ (p171).

Chapter 6, The Healing Heart.

‘The body is the instrument of the mind…the mind is the instrument of the heart’ Hazrat Inyat Khan (p173).

‘You can teach yourself how to shift into parasympathetic mode by managing stress, eliminating stress, or changing your lens on stress’ (p174).

Case study: Matt. Glioblastoma multiform, the most aggressive form of brain cancer.

‘Matt first turned to diet as Pablo Kelly had. He read Beating Cancer with Nutrition and learned that one in five cancer patients don’t actually die from cancer—they die from malnutrition.’ (p177).  

‘It was love that healed me,’ he says with conviction. ‘To me that’s what God is, that’s what life is. That’s what getting better is, it’s love.’ (p182.).

‘Our narrow concept of love could be making us sick. In her book on the topic, Fredrickson makes the bold claim that our fixation on the ideas of love as something that can only be shared in long-term, intimate romantic relationships shows “a worldwide collapse of imagination”.’  (p186).

Survival of the fittest or the kindest? (p189).

Social connection, a more evolved strategy than fight or flight. (p193).

Heartbreak?

Something we talk about metaphorically; we don’t actually believe our heart can break like a dropped vase.

Case study: Joanie Simpson (p197).

Heart attack. Doctors expected to find blocked arteries that they would have to prop open with a stent, but they were crystal clear.

An intense flood of stress hormones, stun the heart. (p197).

(p.199) we know the vagus nerve is activated by compassion for others, compassion for the self…love.

Chapter 7. Faith Healing and Heating Faith.

‘It is better to believe than to disbelieve; in so doing you bring everything to the realm of possibility.’ Albert Einstein. (p205).

Case Study: Dr Nemeh (faith healer).

‘Dr Nemeh has detractors, people who believe he is a false prophet, peddling a fantasy. But when you witness the sheer number that flock to be treated by him and listen to their stories of hope and recovery…There’s a down-to-earth practicality about him that, as a doctor myself I find refreshing; though he believes fervently in the power of prayer, he also advises those to come to him to continue seeking mainstream medical treatment.’ (p207).

‘Gallup polls, nine in ten Americans say they engage in prayer, and three out of four pray daily.’ (p208.)

Leanard DeBenedictus whose bones were literally dissolving after working for decades with toxic chemicals. Many of his co-workers had died.

“God wants you healed.”’  (p209-210).

(p214)’ Dr Nemeh’s patients believed their healing came from God and that Dr Nemeh was their conduit.’

‘Faith the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen’ (p219).

Chapter 8. The Power of Placebo.

‘In the theory of relativity there is no unique absolute time, but instead each individual has own personal measure of time that depends on where he is and how he is moving.’  Stephen Hawkins. (p228).

Placebo>L> ‘I shall please’.

Case study. During World War II, Doctor Henry Beecher.

A field surgeon he ran out of morphine. He didn’t want to tell men in excruciating pain that he couldn’t help them. In a remote battlefield surgery tent, he rigged up an IV of saline solution, hooked it up for his suffering patients and told them it was morphine.’ (p230).

‘40 percent of the men reported a ‘significant’ decrease in pain.

Today, going into any kind of research study on the efficacy of a drug, the expectation is that a full 35 percent of participants will experience a strong placebo response. (p230).

And it’s important to remember that 35 is the average. The range is actually between 10 and 90 percent depending on the specific illness and the particular medical treatment being tested.’ (p230).

Case study. Knee arthroscopy in the United States makes up $4 billion of health-care spending.

But when researchers ran studies to compare the outcomes between an arthroscopy and a faux arthroscopy (in which the surgeon makes an incision during ‘surgery’ but repairs nothing so the patient only believes he’s had surgery) it was revealed that there was no difference between the actual surgery and the sham surgery [to reduce pain and increase the client’s range of knee movements] (p230-231).

Case study. Mr Wright (1957) The Wonder Drug that Wasn’t. (p237).

Cancer patient, end stage. He struggled to breathe.  He’d read about a new miracle drug and begged his doctor to try it.

As soon as his hospital received a shipment he got a first injection.

Three days later, his doctor returned to work on Monday morning to find him out of bed, breathing easily, walking around the ward, joking with the nurses.

A written report noted his tumours had ‘melted like snowballs on a hot stove.’ (p232).

He was sent home.

A couple of months later, some stories hit the news about Krebiozen not being an anticancer miracle drug…but a fake quack remedy.

When Wright read this he suffered an immediate relapse.

His doctor told him on his deathbed, the report was false and he’d received a new, retooled, ‘double-strength’ version of the serum.

After one injection the tumour melted away again. But this time, Wright’s doctor hadn’t even injected him with actual medication…it was water.

Mr Wright enjoyed two months of robust good health. He went back to his life. And then he read another report in the news. Krebiozen was debunked, definitely, as a cancer treatment.

He relapsed immediately. He died within days.’ (pp292-293).

Beyond Placebo (p237).

Case study: Stephen Dunne (2011)  multiple melanoma, multiple remission. (pp237-240).

The Quantum Physics of the Body. (p241).

Quantum physics is essentially the study of the building blocks of matter. (p242).

Some reserachers are asking if MRI technology can do more than imaging?

[eg]

A placebo-controlled study found that people who were exposed to particular MRI experience marked improvements in mood (p243).

Dr Michael Rosen using MRI as a treatment for depression.

{but} more questions than answers. (p244).

The Observer Effect.

Richard Feynman’s observation. ‘If you think you understand quantum physics, then you don’t understand it.’ (p248).

Case study: the double-split experiment. (pp245-247).

Picture a tennis court. Enclosed with fences. Two open doorways equally apart.

You start throwing tennis balls at the wall in the middle, with the doorways in it. Some of them are going to miss the doors and bounce off the walls (or miss the walls and bounce off the doors).

Others will go through and hit the fence.

The double-slit experiment did the same thing, but with an electronic beam gun. It fired (single) electrons at a wall with two slits in it.

But the particles didn’t bounce off the wall like tennis balls at predictable angles (as the laws of physics and motion would suggest).

Instead, they took on properties of a wave between the slats. (no beginning, no middle, no bounce).

Physicists placed a ‘camera’ to film this response.

Particles stopped their wave-like behaviour and ‘bounced’ again and hit the fence in predictable ways.

‘It was like they knew they were being watched.’

‘The observer effect suggests, perhaps, that we are each the observer for our ongoing experiment… create the reality we see and touch’. (p247). 

When Belief Runs Deep. (p250).

A placebo works even when you don’t believe it will.

Paul Tilich: ‘Everyone has an ‘ultimate concern’ around which we organise our entire lives.’ (p251).

When we receive a pill that we know is a placebo and therefore chemically powerless to therefore help us—we nevertheless feel better when we take it. Why? Because we feel cared for…It might be everything from the doctor in the white coat dispensing the pill to the sensory experience of the being in the doctor’s office (p251).

Michael Polayni, the chemist turned philosopher called this ‘tacit knowledge’, very distinct from explicit or conscious knowledge. (p251).

When it comes to belief and its role in healing, the most important question may be: What do we believe about ourselves?   (p253)

[who are we? What are we?]

Chapter 9, Healing Your Identity.

‘Guilt results from unused life, from the unlived in us.’ Ernest Becker (p254).

Case study, Mirae, Too Busy to Be Sick. (p259)

Looking back, always sick, never healthy. Chronic Lyme disease from a tick bite.

Metastatic melanoma.  

(p264) primary site, where the mutation starts, somewhere cutaneous on the skin. You might notice an unusual skin lesion or mole.

‘the cancer that kills you be millimetres,’ (p265).

Before her diagnosis time had seemed infinite—like an ocean. You could scoop up a bucketful and there was always more (p268).

‘What hit me hardest,’ Mirae says, ‘was that I was out of time to rewrite things.’ (p268).

The Importance of Your Story.

The black box of spontaneous healing.

The black box I’m talking about isn’t just a metaphor. It’s real.

A more scientific name is your default mode network (DMN).

‘The DMN is basically a collection of loosely connected regions of the brain, both older structures deep in the brain and newer ones in the cerebral cortex, which are activated, or light up, when you engage in certain categories of thinking.. (p269-270

The DMN is more active when you’re not focussing on elements of the outside world but instead are turning on a more introspective mode. It yearns for narrative, helping us compose our story of who we are by linking the past with the present and what we consider possible or likely for the future.’

The idea of the DMN is relatively new in neuroscience.

Any definition should include the prefrontal cortex (locus of planning, decision-making and behaviour regulation.

The cingulate cortex (part of the limbic system, tasked with emotion and memory function).

Inferior parietal lobe  ( in charge of interpreting those formed emotions and processing language and sensory information).

Your person>reality< personality?

The me network.

It’s who you are (p270). 

How much did you weigh when you were sexually active? [Freudian slip of the tongue]

Professor Vincent Felitti, Preventative Medicine [what’s in your black box?] (p271…]

People were dropping out of the weight-loss clinic not because they were losing weight, but because of it.

‘Overweight is overlooked and that’s the way I want to be.’ (p272)

Felitti and Richard Anda, a leading epidemiologist, identified ten types of childhood stress.

Adverse childhood experiences (ACE). > disrupted neurodevelopment> Disease causing behaviour (correlation does not equal causation).

Strong links between childhood traumas and present-day illnesses existed across multiple types of experiences and multiple categories of disease (p272).

Best treatment, early intervention (p275).

Getting Out of Your Default Network. (p277).

Healing is less about what happens on the outside. (p280).

Some people use meditation or yoga to get out of their default network [some people get pissed]

Chapter 10. You are Not Your Illness.

‘Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.’  Albert Einstein.

The power of perception.

cf. McGurg effect. What you taste and hear. (p282).

Taking off the mask of illness. (p304)

A central paradox of the whole situation is you can’t force a ground shift to occur.

We can’t force these flashes of insight. (any more than we can force ourselves to see the hag or elegant young women in the same postcard).

Chapter 11 Healing death. (p309).

‘Physician heal thyself.’ Luke 4: 23.

Why was I still alive?

Facing death can be a pivotal moment in life. (p312).

The denial of death is programmed into us at every level.

Refusing to die on schedule.

Case study, Lula Wang’s grandmother, feisty matriarch. (p316

Three months, maybe less to live.

The family refused to tell her. Stage IV lung cancer.

The family expected her to decline quickly and pass away. But she just…didn’t.

A year after her ‘expiration date’. She refused to go for her medical. Another year, and when she went to the doctor the diagnosis was the same, three months to live. (p317). 

The years went by and nothing changed. Her body, it seemed, hadn’t got the message she was supposed to get sicker, so she didn’t.

There’s no real consensus that emerges from research on withholding diagnoses (blissful ignorance or defence of ignorance). (p318).

(p321) How running for death runs us down.

It might not come as a shock to find that hospice care can extend life.

The earlier you enter the hospice the more it can extend your life. (p323).

Every story has an ending. Spontaneous remission doesn’t mean cured forever. (p324).

Chapter 12. Burn Your Boat.

‘I had the feeling there would be no harm, no shame, no judgement if I wanted to be done. But also that if I wanted to, if I chose life, it would be hard work.’ Mirae Bunnell metastatic melanoma. (p332).

Cunnigham’s (2002) study. Those that survived longer.

1) willingness to radically change habits, routines and

2) even the larger scaffolding of their lives (p338).

‘get up and go’ might be related to survival or remission.

Conditions associated with poor survival outcomes.

1) Inflexibility associated with low self-esteem or fixed world view.

2) Scepticism about self-help techniques, or a limited ability to apply them.

3) Other activities seemed more immediately appealing.  

4) Meaning was habitually sought outside the individual from some external source.

5) Strong, contrary views about the validity of spiritual ideas.

Conditions associated with longer survival:

1) Strong will to live.

2) Actual changes in habit of thought and activity.

3) Relaxation practices, meditation, mental imaging, cognitive monitoring.

4) Becoming involved for a search for meaning in one’s life. (pp340-341).

They fill the hole in the soul

You can too be Cured. The Remarkable Science.

Tej Lalvani on Richard Feynman, Radio 4, presenter Matthew Parris, and expert witness David Berman, Professor of Theoretical Physics at Queen Mary University of London.

feynman.jpg

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0b0pwgl

Richard Feynman was part of the team that designed the atomic bomb. He was the opposite of a Yes man. Despite being one of the youngest physicists, he was head of calculations in the computation division (remember no computers in those days; calculations were done in the head). If a physicist had a problem at Los Alamos Feynman was the guy you’d ask. He also saved lives. The storage of fission material at Oakridge was at that time likely to lead to meltdown. A problem he recognised and had fixed.

He won the Nobel Prize for Physics but appeared underwhelmed, saying he didn’t believe in such prizes and the real job was in that eureka moment the discovery of verifiably truth.

His friend and fellow physicist Freeman Dyson called Feynman, half buffoon and half genius, only to modify his opinion to full buffoon and full genius. In his book, Surely You’re Joking Mr Feynman, he gave vein to his love of stories and as well as playing the bongo drums, he was a great raconteur. One of the stories here is that Feynman liked to go into topless bars and work on physics problems. He was a trial and error guy. Sometimes it worked and he got the girl, sometimes it didn’t. His first wife, Arlene, had died of TB, and his own mother didn’t want Feynman to marry her in case he contacted the disease.

Feynman was a notable anti-authoritarian. He was asked to solve the problem of what happened when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded. He was able to show that it was down to the elasticity of a rubber ring.

He was an atheist, but that did not stop him being labelled Jewish. His parents having settled in Queens following the Russian pogroms. He gained a scholarship to MIT, but his application to Columbia was rejected because the science department had filled its quota of Jews. Princeton where he did postgraduate work asked the question if he was Jewish.  In those early years, of course, there wasn’t physics departments. As an undergraduate at MIT he had two papers published and he rewrote the Science syllabus for Cal Tech. He often joked that nobody understood quantum mechanics. The Feynman diagram made that impossibility more likely. Richard Feynman died aged 69. A true polymath and true genius.

 

Fourth Lesson. Particles

quantum

Atoms are the smallest things we can see. Each atom consists of a nucleus orbited by electrons. We’re looking more closely at the nucleus here. Each nucleus consists of protons and neutrons. If we go even smaller protons and neutrons are made up of even smaller units given the name quarks by the American physicist Murray Gell-man. The force that ‘glues’ quarks together inside protons and neutrons is called gluons.

In medieval philosophy an element was thought of as something fundamental that couldn’t be broken further down into anything else. Look at the periodic table. Superimpose on it these building blocks of space and time. Ephemera comes from the Greek and the narrative is linked to a plant the ancients thought lasted only for a day. Elementary particles exist for a much shorter time than that – a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a second. Like quanta in an electromagnetic field they do not have a pebble-like reality and their effect can only be measured in terms of probability. CERN’s Large Hadron Collider in Geneva for example is a loop designed to smash subatomic particles together at increasing speeds. We already knew that elementary particles such as neutrinos existed and swarm throughout the universe, but have little interaction with us, but CERN was able to confirm the existence of the more elusive ‘Higgs bosons’.

This makes it sound like the straightforward world we are used to that of cause and effect. But quantum mechanics has its own laws, which are not laws, but more like whispered suggestions. From the early 1950s to the 1970s physicists such as Richard Feynman and Murray Gell-Mann suggested a set of commonalities and parameters that could be used to experiment with elementary particles called ‘the Standard Model of elementary particles’.  The Higgs Bosons (named after the Scottish physicist Professor Higgs) for example was a thought experiment using quantum mechanics before its existence was confirmed by CERN.

Despite the Standard Model’s success, or perhaps because of its success, it has attracted criticism. It lacks the austere beauty of Einstein’s equations. In comparison it is cobbled together with piecemeal and patched theories without any clear order; an uncertain number of fields; interacting between themselves within certain and uncertain forces; determined by certain constants whose values are unclear; but show a certain (unknown) symmetrical pattern and stirred with a big wooden spoon called the Standard Model.

The Standard Model’s predictions about the unobserved world do work in describing the world as the Higgs Boson shows but it also leads to nonsensical predictions which have to be ignored or counterbalanced; a procedure called ‘renormalisation’.  Paul Dirac, the great architect of quantum mechanics, whom Rovelli places second only to Einstein in the pantheon of twentieth century scientists, concluded ‘we have not yet solved the problem’ of quantum theory.

Quantum theory has more recently been unable to account for what has been termed ‘dark matter’, a large cloud of material observed by astronomers whose gravitation pull deflects light in distant galaxies. Quantum theory is itself in flux, as it always has been.

Quote

Second Lesson: Quanta.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Trick Questions.”

god does not play dice

Carlo Revelli (2015) Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, translated by Simon Carnell and Erica Segree.

If Isaac Newton is the father of physics, Albert Einstein is the mother, but he didn’t love all his children equally. Remember before Einstein, physics was spread out like a dirty nappy between subjects as diverse as Mathematics, Philosophy and the industry leader, Chemistry, in universities and colleges. A fresh-faced Richard Feynman after leaving the Manhattan Project, for example, found himself teaching at Cal Tech. He was the Physics’ department. The atom bomb changed everything, but before the atom bomb, quantum theory (or quantum mechanics) changed everything we know, or think we know, about atoms. Einstein’s theory of gravity, space and time wrapped reality up in a big red bow. Quantum mechanics picked it apart and introduced uncertainty into equations. No one was quite sure how it worked, but quantum mechanics did work. Nowadays, for example, quantum computers exist. Birds navigate from continent to continent by ‘seeing’ the curve of space/time.  Einstein before he died was trying to reconcile the known and the unknown. His theory of everything was championing the god of objectivity in science. And Niels Bohr, whose ongoing dialogue with Einstein enriched science, suggested at a subatomic level the devil of subjectivity played a part. Before he died Bohr had a photograph taken, in the background, a blackboard in his study. The drawing on it is a ‘light filled box’ something Einstein conceived as a thought experiment.

‘Imagine a box filled with light, from which we allow a single photon to escape for an instant…’

Photon from phos/phot ‘light’, but light is both singular and pleural. One cannot be separated from the other.

But that is exactly what Max Planck did. He imagined a hot box. In it an electric field in equilibrium. His genius was suggesting that the energy of this field could be broken down into quanta, packets or lumps of energy. Light, which travelled at a uniform speed through space, in relation to the energy expended in creation, was somehow at a subatomic level, lumpy. It made no sense, but made perfect sense. Einstein confirmed Planck’s hypothesis was correct.

Bohr’s genius was the nowadays clichéd quantum leap of gaining the philosopher’s stone, without quite knowing how it worked. He described how electrons gain and lose the energy of light (that quantum leap) from one oscillating orbit to another and how Mendeleev’s periodic table of how everything remains the same, but is different, could be best understood.

A fellow German physicist, Werner Heisenberg, put a new spin on it by suggesting, at a subatomic level, electrons do not always exist. Objective reality therefore does not exist. An apple, for example, either exist, or it does not. But Heisenberg suggested we did not to follow that strict dichotomy. We could calculate the probability of an electron existing, but only when colliding with something else and making a quantum leap. Before and after, is not measureable, and in the same way, when I’m offline I no longer exist and have no place in the world.

Rovelli puts it very succinctly: ‘It’s as if God had not designed reality with a line that was heavily scored, but just dotted with a faint outline.’

Possibility and probability replace all the old certainties. But like alchemists of old not only were electrons called into being when observed jumping from one random state to another, but the subjective element of looking or measuring could not be teased from cause and effect. I, for example, only exist online when you look at me. I don’t exist otherwise. Or I may exist, but you can’t prove it. And if you try and look at me offline you can no longer see me online. The real and unreal become wrapped around one another. And in observing you become part of the ongoing equation. Look away now. Next up, in the third lesson, ‘The Architecture of the Cosmos’.