- the Cambridge Nobel Laureate for Physics, Professor B.D.
Josephson, has kindly sent me a transcript of the BBC Radio 4 'Today' Programme
on October 2nd 2001. It's on Professor Josephson's website:
- Perhaps you would be kind enough to let your contacts
know the truth as Randi is still denying he used the word "scoundrels"
to describe those who link survival after death with the scientific discipline
of subatomic physics - the study of the invisible part of the universe.
This must include Sir Oliver Lodge whose wonderful article 'The Mode of
Future Existence' was recently posted on your notice board. I am sure when
people are eventually given a choice they will rather go along with two
of the greatest scientists this world has ever produced - Sir William Crookes
FRS, OM and Sir Oliver Lodge FRS, together with this current Nobel Laureate
for Physics, Prof. B.D. Josephson who works from the Cavendish Laboratory
at Cambridge University where Rutherford split the atom. This was mentioned
by Carl Sagan in 'Cosmos'.
- Only the Jeff Rense Programme is publishing the truth.
Surely, this must be picked up soon by others across the world? We are
only fighting to just present the secular case for survival after death,
not to sell it. Give people a choice, that's all I ask.
- Could Telepathy One Day Be Explained By Modern Physics?
- This is a transcript of a discussion on BBC Radio 4's
Today programme, October 2nd. 2001, with Sue MacGregor (presenter), Brian
Josephson and Nicholas Humphrey, and a voice recording of James Randi.
If you have <http://real.com/>RealPlayer software, you can <http://www.bbc.co.uk/cgi-bin/radio4/today/listen/audiosearch.pl?ProgID=1002031547>
- listen to the discussion in the BBC sound archives.
- (See also <http://www.tcm.phy.cam.ac.uk/~bdj10/stamps/today.html#comments>
- comments on some of the issues, also on the <http://www.tcm.phy.cam.ac.uk/~bdj10/stamps/today.html#theory>theoretical
- Sue MacGregor: A new set of Royal Mail stamps released
today to celebrate the Nobel prizes has caused a stir in the scientific
community because of claims made in a booklet accompanying the stamps that
telepathy, and other paranormal activity, will one day be explained by
modern physics. The claim is made in the booklet by Professor Brian Josephson,
who is professor of physics at Cambridge University, winner of the Nobel
prize for physics himself; we'll hear from him in a moment. James Randi
runs a foundation in the United States which was established to look at
the credibility of claims of paranormal activity: it offers a million dollar
prize to anyone who can prove its existence, and Randi challenges the claim
made by Professor Josephson:
- James Randi (recording):
- "There is no firm evidence for the existence of
telepathy, ESP or whatever we wish to call it, and I think it is the refuge
of scoundrels in many aspects for them to turn to something like quantum
physics, which uses a totally different language from the regular English
that we are accustomed to using from day to day, to merely say, oh that's
where the answer lies, because that's all very fuzzy anyway. No it's not
very fuzzy, and I think that his opinion will be differed with by the scientific
body in general ..."
- Sue MacGregor: James Randi. Well, earlier I spoke to
Professor Josephson himself, also to Professor Nicholas Humphrey of the
London School of Economics, and I asked Professor Josephson first if, as
the Royal Mail booklet suggests, he really thinks quantum physics can explain
- Brian Josephson: It's a question of professional judgement.
I can sort of see the outlines of how it might be done.
- Sue MacGregor: Can you explain to us?
- Brian Josephson: It relies to some extent on the thinking
over the years from Professor Henry Stapp of the University of California.
He has given some pretty strong arguments that present science doesn't
take the mind properly into account. He's indicated where mind might fit
in, and roughly how it works. And that's the kind of idea which I hope
can be developed into something that will satisfy the scientists.
- Sue MacGregor: I mean you are saying, to put it simply,
that the mind is powerful enough to operate on the sort of level that physics
- Brian Josephson: Stapp is actually deriving his ideas
from a very old and accepted result that the observer has to be taken into
account when you are dealing with nature on a quantum-mechanical scale.
So he has looked rather deeply at the implications of that result, so it's
not a crazy idea, it's absolutely standard physics.
- Sue MacGregor: Professor Nicholas Humphrey, a crazy idea?
- Nicholas Humphrey: Well, I think the idea that quantum
physics explains the paranormal is an unnecessary idea, because there's
nothing to explain. I mean, the issue really is whether there is any evidence
for telepathy, or for psychokinesis or for any of the other phenomena which
Brian thinks requires these extraordinary explanations. I don't think for
a moment that Brian Josephson is a scoundrel, that is rather absurd language
and Randi should keep it to himself, but I think that Brian Josephson's
attempt to apply a very sophisticated theory in a rather novel and unnecessary
way is irrelevant because we haven't got any phenomena to explain. If Brian
Josephson could produce the goods by showing that there is evidence for
telepathy or evidence for psychokinesis or evidence for metal bending or
anything else, then we have a problem, but we haven't got any evidence.
- Sue MacGregor: Well, with metal bending and Uri Geller
and all that, I suppose people would say that the evidence is in the eyes
of the observer, that the spoons did bend.
- Nicholas Humphrey: How many times have you been to a
conjuring show and seen things happen before your eyes which you can't
explain, but which you don't think require a revision of the laws of the
physics in order to account for them -- all that's needed to account for
them is to expose the arts of the conjurer, as was of course the case with
Uri Geller. James Randi himself is a conjurer, he's an expert on fooling
people, and that's why I think he believes that Josephson and other well-meaning
physicists are being fooled if they believe in telepathy.
- Sue MacGregor: Professor Josephson, you're being fooled;
there's no evidence that would satisfy a scientist?
- Brian Josephson: Let me make the point, that there is
actually a difference between a conjuring show and a scientific experiment.
Now if James Randi is so certain that it can all be done by conjuring,
I think the challenge is now up to him, to go along to a scientific laboratory
where this is being investigated and get perfect results in telepathy,
instead of about 20% better than you'd expect by chance.
- Sue MacGregor: But isn't it up to you to provide the
evidence that would convince people like Professor Humphrey?
- Brian Josephson: Well, Professor Humphrey is somebody
who is very difficult to convince, I'm afraid; I'm not up to that task.
- Sue MacGregor: So you wouldn't offer to take part in
any sort of experiment that he might watch?
- Brian Josephson: Well ... I wouldn't rule it out. Now
a few years ago he wrote a book ... I looked at the book very carefully
and I believe I disposed of all the arguments; I haven't heard any comeback
- Sue MacGregor: Well there you are, Professor Humphrey
- Nicholas Humphrey: This isn't the time to review my book!
-- we're reviewing Brian Josephson's statements in relation to the Royal
Mail postage stamps. Let's go with what he's actually said on this programme,
which is that he thinks that he can bring in arguments about the observer
effects in quantum physics to explain telepathy. Well, let's even imagine
that therewas evidence for telepathy. Nobody in the world of microphysics
actually believes that the observer effect as he describes it does require
a conscious mind in order to get the collapse of the quantum wave function,
which is what he is referring to, when suddenly something which was undecided
becomes decided as a result of interaction with an observer -- you have
to have some measurement being made, but the measurement doesn't require
a conscious observer, it could be a measurement made by a robot, it could
be a measurement made by a cat for that matter, there doesn't have to be
a conscious mind involved ...
- Sue MacGregor: Well, there, sadly, we must leave the
argument. Gentlemen, Professor Josephson, Professor Humphrey, thank you
both very much.
- Some comments on the above: the reason for my bringing
up Professor Humphrey's book (see <http://www.tcm.phy.cam.ac.uk/~bdj10/psi/humphrey.html#humphrey>review)
is, quite simply, that his book represents his case against the paranormal.
If the arguments in the book are faulty (and, so far, no-one has refuted
any aspect of the case I made in my review), then the case for ignoring
the experimental evidence (such as that of the <http://anson.ucdavis.edu/~utts/air2.html>US
government's investigation of the paranormal) goes as well. Randi's assertion
'there is no firm evidence for the paranormal' also relies on not looking
in detail at the evidence that is available, such as that quoted above.
- At the end of the interview, Nicholas Humphrey appeared
to be trying to argue that since conscious minds and measurements by a
robot both cause wave function collapse, if one of them can do telepathy
then so can the other; hence it would be wrong to think that human beings
can do telepathy unless robots can also (I apologise if this was not the
argument intended; time ran out at this point so one can only guess where
the argument was going). But if this was the argument intended then it
is clearly fallacious; collapse by human beings might be an especially
organised process that does not occur in systems with a more limited level
- Should Prof. Humphrey care to supply me with details
of his full argument, I will include them here.
- It may be relevant to note that eligibility for the Randi
Foundation Prize is not unconditional, being decided in each case by the
- Regrettably, time does not permit detailed discussion
of the possible link I am envisaging might be possible between quantum
theory and the paranormal. However, the following links may be of interest
in clarifying what was said in the interview and in the controversal booklet:
papers on mind, matter and quantum mechanics
- My own papers on <http://www.tcm.phy.cam.ac.uk/~bdj10/mm/articles/PM.html>physics
and the mind
- Further, a significant current development that is of
relevance is the <http://www.library.utoronto.ca/see/>revived interest
in the semiotic concepts of the philosopher <http://www.peirce.org/>C
S Peirce. It is now being realised that Peirce's theories as to the role
and functioning of signs is relevant to various areas of science, some
of them having clear bearing on the paranormal.