I read a fair amount of comics, and ingurgitate geek culture with a quasi-paranoid esurience. With equal passion I imbibe knowledge of physics, sociology, anthropology and many other fields of study with fancy suffixes. The older I get, and the more I learn, the less I see a clear distinction between these two types of cultures. One presumably delves into affairs of fiction and the other of fact. But there’s so much of science which, like fiction, makes assumptions about facts. So much so that I begin to think that fact and fiction are not so separate after all.
I’m rambling a little. Let me boil it down to a list. Here are 3 superpowers from superhero fiction which may actually be fact.
#1 Telepathy: According to studies conducted by the Global Consciouness Project and other experiments performed by various scientists from different fields of study, there might actually be evidence to support the existence of telepathy. For instance the Gantzfeld Experiments – one of the more popular studies into the matter – suggests that two people separated on a sensory level can possibly communicate basic thoughts to one another. In this experiment, the “receiver” is placed in a moderate state of sensory deprivation for an extended period of time. It’s common knowledge that sensory deprivation causes an altered state of consciousness. When the “receiver” achieves this state, a second subject – the “sender” – in a different cubicle is then shown a few batches of 4 images. The sender must then focus on one image per batch and attempt to communicate that thought to the receiver. It’s an elegant experiment because the odds of success over multiple attempts is a median 25%. If the median result from the collected totals of each of these experiments is above 25%, then it suggests that the odds may have been beaten via telepathic communication. And surprisingly the results are above 25%.
Another experiment similar to this one adds tuned magnetic fields to the scenario, positing that we might on some level use these fields to communicate. Much like migratory animals use the earth’s magnetic fields to travel in tight packs and repeatedly cover large distances seemingly by memory. Still more studies have been conducted into a potential “sixth sense” which would explain the strange sensation of being stared at which is confirmed by turning around and seeing someone look at you*. Kind of like the way Charles Xavier in the image above is staring at you right now.
#2 Telekinesis: The Global Consciousness Project again rears its head here. Their main focus is study on the effect global consciousness has on random number generators. For instance, whenever a globally significant event occurs, irregularities can be measured in what are supposed to be a consistently random and infinite sequence of numbers. During Obama’s inauguration, a mass meditiation, the World Trade Center attacks, these are all registered as decreases in randomness. This suggests that our mind can make random number generators less random. There are other potential variables to be factored in here, like solar flares. But as this on-going experiment ages and collects more data, it becomes increasingly difficult to deny the correlation between consciousness and the numeric anomalies measured. Also, the odds of this happening by chance are so low that they might as well be considered mathematical impossibilities. At this point, a pattern is forming and is pointing to a correlation. How is it this possible?
It is not yet known. However, leading theories in quantum mechanics link consciousness and perception more intimately with physical reality than many scientists are comfortable admitting. This is one of the reasons Einstein had such a vehement reaction against Niels Bohr‘s radical ideas about observation having an effect on the state of physical phenomena (giving birth to such reliable theories as quantized orbits and probability distribution). This is a theory Erwin Schrödinger illustrated with his now popular thought experiment commonly called “Schrödinger’s cat“. Bohr seems to have been proven right again and again in the intervening decades and principles of quantum mechanics are used in our everyday lives.
If our observing something has an effect on that something at a subatomic level, how much less possible is it that exerting our will on the physical world can also have an effect on it? These types of questions are only beginning to gain any sort of respect within the scientific community and it will be long before we know the true link consciousness shares with physical reality as we know it.
#3 Precognition: The random number generator experiments may have inadvertently provided evidence for yet another consciousness based phenomenon. During the time of the 9/11 attacks there was an undeniable lessening of the randomness in the number generators. But what is especially interesting here is that the change in randomness began to occur a few hours before the first plane hit. This is not the only indication of the possible existence of precognition. In one experiment, subjects were shown a random sequence of images on a computer screen. Some images were pleasant, some unpleasant, some bland. Each subject was asked to predict what type of image would show up next. In these cases, the subjects showed no signs of being able to predict the type of image they would see. The results were predictably average. However, when erotic imagery was added to the mix, “precognitive” success rates increased. Why? There could be a few reasons. One being that we are either able to “gut feel” our way towards sex because we are geared to seek out pleasurable sensation. It’s a simple reward to effort principle. Another is that this “sixth sense” is an evolutionary mechanism developed by humans to more efficiently find mates.
Of course none of these abilities being studied are provable in our current paradigm so I wouldn’t go running down alleys hoping to TK some purse snatchers or precog your way into winning at poker. But it’s certainly loads of fun looking into this most recent frontier of science and pondering the possibilities. It seems scientific knowledge goes through some sort of upheaval every few decades. It could be that the field of consciousness study is the next generation’s quantum mechanics.
*Pioneer psycho-analyst Carl G. Jung was one of the first turn of the century researchers to suggest the existence of a collective consciousness from which humans can upload or download thoughts – sort of like a peer-to-peer torrent network – but he on the other hand had little to no quantifiable data (as is commonly understood) to back up his claims.