Observing the Scientific Method
By Cate Montana
[NOTE: I put this here because this is a fascinating article, especially because I organized the Vibrational Medicine Seminar in 1989 in which I gave Dr. Benveniste an award for his contributions to humanity [see photo album]. He was a true scientist and meeting him helped build my faith in the future of humanity to overcome dogma and closed-minded approaches to understanding Life.]
history of the living world can be summarized as the elaboration of ever more
perfect eyes within a cosmos in which there is always something more to be
Teilhard de Chardin
It was pure synchronicity.
I had been reading Lynne McTaggart’s The Field, and had highlighted a fascinating section on Dr. Jacques Benveniste’s research into basophil degranulation (the reaction of certain white blood cells to allergens).
It was not his experiment that interested me. It was the fact that, in his fervor to make his findings as replicable as possible by other labs, he built a robot that diluted the antigens, mixed the dilution with the blood cells and then read the results. It was a foolproof testing procedure, except for the fact that…
“Once Beneviste had got his robot up and working, he discovered that generally it worked well, except for certain occasions. Those occasions were always the days when a particular woman was present in the lab. … The woman herself, a doctor and biologist, was an experienced, meticulous worker. Nevertheless, on no occasion did she get any results.”
After six months of the same dynamic he couldn’t avoid the conclusion: something about the woman was preventing positive results. Troubled and curious, he developed a means of testing her, and discovered that she was emitting electromagnetic fields, which were interfering with the communication signaling of his experiment.
A couple days after I read this, Betsy Chasse asked me to investigate what the future might be for the ‘pure scientific method’ in the face of the Observer Effect in quantum physics.
Although Benveniste’s situation did not result from the Observer Effect, which is the impact that the act of measurement and observation of a quantum event has on the event itself, it had gotten my mind churning in the direction of the fallibility of the scientific method in general. I eagerly took on the assignment.
What is the Scientific Method?
The scientific method is the process of investigation by which scientists collectively endeavor to construct an accurate, reliable, consistent representation and understanding of the world. It is the foundation of all the sciences as well as the source from which much, if not most, of our technology springs. The scientific method has four steps: observation and description of a phenomenon or group of phenomena; formulation of a hypothesis or model to explain the phenomenon; use of the hypothesis to predict other phenomena and finally; development of rigorous experimental tests to prove (or disprove) the hypothesis.
Above all, the scientific method attempts to minimize or eliminate the influences of an experimenter’s bias on the outcome of an experiment. Only after a hypothesis has been proven to be true via replicable, consistent experimentation, does it move into the hallowed halls of scientific theory.
[NOTE: there was a picture of a painting here in the original article]
The development of the scientific method is generally attributed to Copernicus, who succeeded in transcending one of the most basic human mistakes that the scientific method has been designed to avoid: the assumption that something that is patently obvious is therefore true. The geocentric view of the universe, that had been maintained as “truth” until his discovery that the Earth and the rest of the planets actually revolve around the sun, is a case in point.
Another common mistake the scientific method is designed to eliminate, is the oh-so tempting possibility of ruling out or ignoring data which does not support the hypothesis or which skews otherwise perfect lab results.
Unfortunately, as scientists are beginning to realize, much of modern physics has been engaged in doing just that by ruling out the omnipresent influence of Zero-point energy (the energy still present in the emptiest state of space at the lowest possible energy) in a process called “renormalization.” As McTaggart writes in The Field, “Modern physicists had set mankind back for many decades. In ignoring the effect of the Zero Point Field, they’d eliminated the possibility of interconnectedness and obscured a scientific explanation for many kinds of miracles. What they’d been doing, in renormalizing their equations, was a little like subtracting out God.”
Towards an integral science?
The scientific method and its value – which is enormous - is not being called into question here. This is, rather, a brief sortie into “yeah, but what about…” land and a look at some of the issues surrounding the scientific method today..
Given that scrupulously designed and executed lab experiments may result in false or misleading findings due to “anomalous” events (such as an individual’s electromagnetic arrangement); and given that the modern scientific community can, almost across the board, choose to ignore data which may prove to be the keystone in developing Einstein’s long-sought-after unified field theory, it seems that the scientific method is not always as infallible as we would like it to be. And this is even before we bring quantum physics’ Copenhagen Interpretation and the observer effect into the picture.
The Copenhagen Interpretation was the result of a combination of Werner Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle and Neils Bohr’s Principle of Complementarity. The Uncertainty Principle states that the more you know about a particle’s position, the less you can know about its velocity, and vice versa. The choice in the measurement and the act of observation affects the results. In some views, the observation itself apparently collapses the particle’s wave function, upon which time it becomes physically “localized” enough to be measured.
The Principle of Complementarity says that a quantum mechanical system consisting of a boson or a fermion can either behave as a particle or as wave, but never simultaneously as both. Depending on how you measure the system, it will show characteristics of either a particle or a wave.
The Copenhagen Interpretation has given rise to much scientific and philosophical speculation about what has become touted as the “observer effect.” If human beings affect the quantum world and, in essence, affect reality, is the scientific method even credible? Can we know anything objectively if we affect everything? Do we affect everything? How can we maintain objectivity as a truth when we are part of that which we observe?
Furthermore, isn’t “objective” observation skewed by the fact that, in one sense, we don’t really even know what we’re observing? What is the nature of reality? If we’re studying the ecology of a wetland pond, is it the pond and its denizens we’re studying? Or is it the interference patterns generated by billions of electromagnetic signals emanating from everything in that environment - from frogs to cattail fluff to dragonfly wings? Both? We’re not precisely sure how we even perceive “the world.” And who is it, really, doing the perceiving?
New, wannabe notions about scientific experimentation have evolved on the coattails of the various (and many scientists would say specious) interpretations of Heisenberg’s and Bohr’s work. “ Integrative science,” for example, is a new paradigm being bandied about which implies a “wider way of knowing.” It includes the traditional scientific method but also includes the observer as part of the experiment, ideally in an analogical “inner fusion between subject and object” state in which observer and observed become one. A highly intuitive process, integrative science is being touted as a more “feminine” approach, more capable of dealing with questions and states not usually dealt with by mainstream science.
The future of the scientific method
From the mainstream point of view, ‘intuitive scientific method’ is an oxymoron at best. The scientific method works very well for what it was designed for: creating workable models of the world by which to understand the world.
“Science has a procedure,” says Fred Alan Wolf, “and it doesn’t matter what science - whether it’s biology, geology, astronomy, or physics - there’s a procedure and every scientist follows it. And the procedure is one which attempts to bring out from what is looked at, what is observed, a form of data which is reproducible, which is repeatable … so that people can see that what is being observed is a part of what we would call objective nature.
“When you bring observers into the game and observers start effecting reality by what they … observe … that opens up some questions….When you start asking more complex questions, which involve such things as the emotional state of the observer, those questions are unanswerable, and will probably remain so for an indefinite period, simply because we have no way to objectify an internal experience.”
The only partly replicable cold fusion experiments of Fleischmann and Pons at the University of Utah in 1989 could be one example of the difficulties encountered when consciousness affects an experiment. How do you measure, counter or account for belief? Faith? Skepticism? Negativity? What are their effects? Entering the realms of thought and emotion in the laboratory will require a whole new set of parameters.
“We’re eventually going to be dealing with a new fuzzy area which really can’t be called science any more,” says Wolf. “…the goal of the old science will always be, what is the data we can rely on that we can say to other people, ‘If you do this, we’re going to see that.’ Because the goal of science is to make life happier and more secure for people. And if that’s not doing that by saying ‘here’s what we can do, and here’s what can be repeated,’ then people are not going to trust the results.”
Physicists themselves are very concerned with the situation and want to know what is the effect of an observer on a physical system, and there is, according to Wolf, some hope that a scientific way to account for the possibility of consciousness affecting reality is on the horizon. The study of weak measurement, which has been underway at universities in Toronto, North Carolina and Israel since the mid-nineties, looks promising.
“It has something to do with what happens when you observe things not in a completely accurate way,” Wolf says. “Looking out of the corner of your eye rather than directly at something, you get a kind of a blur. And it turns out that if you look at a blurry image many, many, many, many times, you can resolve that blurry image to give you a more refined image. So you can say, “Well, even though it’s blurry, it was centered around this exact looking value. And that’s the kind of thing which gets interesting. Because we don’t ever really observe anything totally with absolute certainty. There’s always a bit of blurriness going on. So I think that is an area of research where we know there’s an effect due to observation.”
In the final analysis it seems clear the scientific method will be around for a long time to come; a little battered and bruised perhaps, but still doing its vital job. And, like all healthy systems, it seems it will be expanded and improved along the way to meet and accommodate the new challenges and visions it helps produce.
[go to www.WhatTheBleep.com for the original and see their fascinating website]