Thursday, 25 March 2010

Just because entanglement is 'spooky' doesn't make it mystical

If your write about evolution or cladistics, (applying a system/structure to species) like my friend Henry Gee your work inevitably get picked up by creationists and intelligent design merchants. In an attempt to prove that everything was created 6,000 years ago, and that dinosaurs were wiped out in Noah's flood or put there to fool us by a (presumably) malicious God, they take little snippets from the words that someone like Henry writes and use them as justification for something that can't in any way be deduced from those words.

I don't know if I'm pleased or saddened to have joined the 'misquoted' brigade, though in my case it's on the fascinating physics of quantum entanglement. This is the subject of one of my best selling books, The God Effect. Einstein first wrote about entanglement in 1935 in an attempt to disprove quantum theory (he failed), and called it 'spooky action at a distance.' It is quite remarkable. When two quantum particles are entangled, you can separate them to opposite sides of the universe and a change in one of them will instantly be reflected in the other. Although you can't, as first appears, use this to communicate faster than light, it does make also sorts of interesting things possible from quantum computers to quantum teleporation - a Star Trek transporter on the scale of an individual particle.

However, this is all good solid physics - no woo required. So I was rather bemused when it was pointed out to me that a website talking about 'healing the body with energy' and 'empaths' was using me as a reference. Here's what it says:

I have so so many physical sensations that I had desperately sought for solutions. Also have you heard about the long experiment by Brian Clegg that demonstrated the use of the law of entanglement with empathic and telepathic individuals? I will be bringing up those foot notes of his soon.

Wow. I look forward to reading about my experiments, because it's the first I've heard about them. What I do say in The God Effect is that Nobel Prize winning physicist Brian Josephson, on the text to accompany some stamps portraying the Nobel Prizes a while ago, said that if telepathy exists, then entanglement would probably be the mechanism behind it. When I spoke to Josephson about this, he admitted it was in part just to be provocative, though he has an open mind. But let's be clear about this. There is no good scientific evidence to date that telepathy does exist. If it did exist, then a likely mechanism would involve entanglement - but if that was the case, it wouldn't show that entanglement is somehow all mystical, it would show that telepathy is just another straightforward, physically explainable phenomenon.

The website that refers to my experiments says that We have synthesized quantum theory with Eastern philosophy in order to explain human life. But quantum theory has no more than a passing resemblance to Eastern philosophy - and doesn't need such philosophy to explain how things work. See my review of The Dancing Wu Li Masters - any linkage between Eastern philosophy and quantum physics is sad wishful thinking. Hands off, please.


  1. I have come to the conclusion that one can't do anything about the woo-merchants. If I had a pound for every time I have been quote-mined by creationists, I'd be able to retire to a modest bungalow with sea views in Cromer. In the end one can only sigh, think of it as an occupational hazard, and move on, ruefully reflecting that (a) any publicity is better than no publicity (b) it's fun to see how one's name attracts all sorts of urban myths. I have given up fighting creationists as a bad job and prefer to expend my diminishing energies more productively by writing more books.

  2. "telepathy is just another straightforward, physically explainable phenomenon" and my response is, exactly! Not really such a big If from my perspective. I like Josephson's open mind position. Rather than making fun of other's ideas or experiences(a human characteristic I abhor) by calling them woo he simply states his position. Of late I have been pondering structures and the flow of information. In doing so I created a left-brain conceptual prison dominated by the predator/prey rules that control life here. There seemed no way out of this structure. The structure was so solid no air or light could get in. We seemed doomed as a species. Until I had a conversation with a friend and some chinks began to appear. I am breathing easier now and can see some light because as self-creating patterns of experience (I am talking at all scales) there is some hope that the rules might change. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. The more perspectives I consider the clearer my own becomes.

  3. Like a lot of people with a scientific background I'd love telepathy to exist - it is just proving very difficult to pin down.

    What I'm referring to as woo is the tendency to drag Eastern mystical thinking in, which just adds a cloak of confusion rather than casting any light on the subject.