Re-enchanting Nature and Ourselves

Isaac Newton was the father of modern, quantitative physics, but it would never have occurred to him that this precluded magic or spirits in nature.  He spent much of his experimentation with alchemy and astrology.

In the 1880s, Arthur Conan Doyle went to seances and communed with the dead, but his alter-ego Sherlock Holmes was a hard-headed scientist who sought and found a mechanical explanation for every mystery that seemed supernatural.  He read the spirit of the times.

In the early 20th Century, Sigmund Freud found abundant evidence for telepathy and extraordinary knowing among his case studies, but he wrote about this only in private letters and denied it in public.  He knew that establishing the new field of psychology as a legitimate science would be hard enough without taking on prejudice of the intelligentsia against things supernatural.

William James, his older contemporary, was much more explicit about believing in a non-material soul that survives the body and in telepathic communication.  And Freud’s student, Karl Jung, broke with Freud over his explicit embracing of mystical transpersonal connections.

The prejudice that says “Science Knows Better” is alive and well today, fueled by all of the technical successes of the science establishment.  The spirit of our times is no spirit.  We believe in the religion of no religion.  We think we know better than the Greeks who associated personalities with the sun and the wind, and we smile condescendingly at the Native American beliefs in spirits of nature.  The shamanism that is our heritage in every indigenous culture is explained away as an interesting anthropological phenomenon.

But the truth is that we have been robbed of a great deal of the beauty and mystery in life.  The community of scientists has denied the overwhelming evidence for telepathy and precognition and psychokinesis, even after classical mechanics (which is inhospitable to souls and spirits) was replaced with quantum mechanics (in which there is a natural place for the supernatural).

The result is the nihilism that dominated philosophy in the 20th Century, existential angst, anomie, whole generations of people who don’t know who they are or why they are alive, an epidemic of suicide in the most prosperous countries in the world.

Each of us has within us our dreams, intuitions and presentiments, communications from nature and from the divine.  We have learned to look past them.  We have learned to attend to the five senses and the material world, to the exclusion of half of ourselves.  We routinely suppress the very parts of ourselves that know why we are alive.

The natural world is alive and ensouled and enchanted.  We can re-sensitize ourselves to a living spirit, and listen to what the voices of the trees and the ocean.  In fact, the dominant intellectual culture of physicalism is melting in our lifetimes.

 

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Hephalumps

We have enslaved elephants and we have murdered elephants for their teeth.  We have “culled their herds” for the sake of preserving their habitat, before we realized that they knew much more than we do about sustaining their African habitat.

We have done everything with elephants save to learn from them.  They have much to teach us about how to care for children, how to constitute groups that offer a deep sense of community while honoring individuality.  Elephants communicate telepathically, and we have a long way to go before we even acknowledge that that is possible, let alone learn from them how to live in a communal pool of thought.

Don Ross says it’s time for us to recognize elephants as human.  Perhaps that’s an insult to elephants.  Perhaps promoting elephants is a small step toward demoting humans, recognizing that we are one among millions of unique and wonderful interdependent life forms.

The Elephant as Person

Ross’s essay uses the analytic methodology of the philosopher to argue for what it is to be human.  He concludes that it is our ability to restrain our instincts in the name of a morality that is collectively agreed.  Do elephants have this ability?  He proposes to answer this question with a sophisticated version of the kind of experiment that psychologists do in their labs.

But Ross doesn’t venture into the territory of asking what the elephants have that might be better or more valuable that what humans have.  Perhaps they don’t have to restrain their selfish violent instincts with willpower because they experience more harmony between self and community than we do.  Perhaps instead of trying to teach elephants our human ways and teach them to communicate in our language, we should be learning all we can about elephant ways, and listening in on the elephants’ language.

If I tell about my experience, what will people think of me?

A neurosurgeon of world-class reputation calls me. He’s been suffering from intractable headaches. Despite exhaustive medical workups, no physiological cause for them can be found. In desperation, he’s called for a psychological consultation—a last resort, in his view.

During our first appointment, he begins to describe his work. He’s passionate about it. He is already supremely successful. When heads of state need brain surgery, he’s flown into operate. His reputation rests not just on the brilliance of his technique but even more on his astonishing track record. He undertakes one dangerously life-threatening surgery after another, yet he tells me, humbly and with quiet gratitude, “I never seem to lose a patient.” He has a loving marriage and wonderful children. He can’t think of anything troubling him, no obvious subconscious source for the crippling headaches that are destroying his life.

I probe a little, looking for some hint of possible conflict, anxiety, or pain. He, on the other hand, keeps going back to his work, lighting up as he talks about it.
And then it occurs to me that he hasn’t mentioned doing any teaching, even though he’s on the staff of a big university hospital. So I ask: Does he teach residents? He looks away, suddenly silent. Finally, he speaks:

“No, I don’t teach at all anymore.”
“But you did? What happened?”
“I had to stop.”
“You had to?”
“Yes…I couldn’t keep it up…. But I miss it. I loved teaching. As much as surgery itself, I loved it…. But I had to stop….”

He falls silent again. Gently I probe further. Why did he have to stop? And then slowly, reluctantly, the surgeon tells me what he’s never told anyone. He can’t teach anymore because he doesn’t believe he can teach what he’s really doing. He tells me why his patients don’t die on him. As soon as he learns that someone needs surgery, he gets himself to the patient’s bedside. He sits at the patient’s head, sometimes for thirty seconds, sometimes for hours at a stretch. He waits—for something he couldn’t possible admit to surgery residents, much less teach. He waits for a distinctive white light to appear around his patient’s head. Until it appears, he knows it’s not safe to operate. Once it appears, he knows he can go ahead and the patient will survive.

How, he asks me, could he possibly reveal that? What would the residents think? They’d think he was crazy; maybe he is crazy. But crazy or not, he knows that seeing the white light is what saves his surgeries from disaster. So how can he teach and not talk about it? It’s a horrible dilemma. He’s adopted the only possible solution: he’s quit teaching.

And when did your headaches begin? I ask him. Startled, he looks up at me. It hits him and hits him hard.

“That’s interesting, he says. The headaches started two years ago. And I remember when I noticed the first one. It was the day I resigned from teaching, right after I told the dean.”

The neurosurgeon and his white light exemplify a conflict What happens when you have an anomalous experience, but you’re afraid to acknowledge it? If you admit to the experience, you run the risk of being disbelieved or thought crazy. It’s a profoundly destructive conflict, one that stops us as a society from looking for ways to discover and develop new knowledge. And one that stops us as individuals from embracing our reality.

Elizabeth Mayer was a psychotherapist and professor of psychology at UC Berkeley

Book Review—Eisenstein’s Climate

“What are people for?” The last words of the man who reports to the Ethical Suicide Society in Kurt Vonnegut’s dystopian story, Welcome to the Monkey House.

At this moment in the history of The West which threatens to overtake and homogenize all cultures and become the history of The World at this moment, we are caught between two visions.

Vision one.  Man has arisen from nature, but our destiny is to transcend nature, to bioengineer support systems for ourselves and to bioengineer our bodies and brains into something trans-human.  We are learning to dominate the planet, then, perhaps, expand through space. We will grow all the food we need, create the products we need to live and to thrive; we will be leaving biology behind.  The challenge is to do this sustainably with solar energy, before fossil fuels run out or the planet cooks itself from carbon emissions that is the short-term crisis man face on the way to our long-term destiny.

Vision two.  Gaia is a beautiful and dynamic organism.  Life has thrived and diversified for four billion years, and humans have come along, slashing and burning, turning the planet into a monoculture of humans, supported by the few species that we grow for food.  Hence we are in the midst of the Sixth Extinction. The human project is evil, alien to the very Mother who gave us birth. It cannot succeed, because we are thinking only of how to extract more resources faster, how to convert more and more of the earth for human use, most of which is fatuous.  No one is even thinking about the Earth as a living ecosystem, or how to sustain a living planet in the long run. Inevitably, we will run out of resources to convert, the human cancer will kill its host, then die out. But the bacteria and the cockroaches and the weeds will survive us. Nature is more robust than human life, and in a brief 10 or 20 million years, Gaia will rise again, more beautiful and diverse than ever, built on the ashes of human civilization.

Either way, you and I feel like voices in the wilderness, crying “stop!” against the relentless, mad growth of capitalism, heading toward the death spiral of humanity.  We feel a desperate urgency, or (more realistically) we feel that it is already too late to deflect the momentum of the human steamroller, paving paradise to put up a parking lot.

In his new book, Climate, Charles Eisenstein articulates both these visions with clarity, with empathy, and with an extraordinary breadth of knowledge.  The book is peppered with details gleaned from his broad readings, individual stories that help us to feel the unfolding tragedy less abstractly, more personally as members of the sisterhood of life.  The farming village in Bangladesh that took World Bank loans in order to “modernize”, and found that the only way they could pay interest on that loan was for the town’s young people to sell one kidney to Western medical pirates.  Fish biomass has decreased by more than half in the last 60 years alone, and the mass of plastic in the world’s oceans now exceeds the mass of fish.  

From the spectre of earth’s death-spiral, Eisenstein brings forth in the last chapters a glimpse of a new vision, in which humans are not simply stepping back to allow nature to thrive as before.  We have many examples in which top predators greatly enrich the ecosystems that support them. We are on this earth for a reason, and that is to make the good earth ever so much richer and more beautiful.

It is a vision that is supported by its own necessity more than by data, but Eisenstein does offer us some data.  Organic farms, believe it or not, actually produce substantially more produce than monoculture, factory farms with their fertilizers and pesticides.  They require more labor, but it’s not the kind of numbing labor of the exploited migrant worker, rather the kind of diverse activity that makes us feel fulfilled, purposeful, and connected to the land.   The Native American population, Eisenstein tells us, had not learned to live lightly on the land, but had a wise and complex relationship with nature that enhanced the beauty, the diversity, and the productivity of the land.  

Restoration of thriving ecologies is not technically difficult; all the barriers are posed by human institutions.  Forests turned to deserts have been turned back to forests in a few decades.  Wetlands have been restored.  There is a science of reconciliation ecology, largely untapped to date.  We know how to do it, and we can learn to do better yet.

This is Eisenstein’s vision for our future.  All our technological wizardly will be re-purposed to sustain life for an ever more beautiful future, rather than to mine Nature for an ever more desperate present.  We are behaving at present like a cancer, but that is not our historic role, and it is not our future.

Consider the parable of the mitochondria.  A billion years ago, life on earth was limited to single-celled prokaryotes.  One day, a parasite named mitochondria learned how to harness chemical energy, and put its new skill to work where it could do the most good.  Mitochondria invaded archaea as a parasite, converting all the host’s sugars to energy to make more mitochondria. Mitochondria plundered, killed, and moved on to the next host.  While archaea were plentiful, this was a winning strategy, but eventually mitochondria became victim of its own success. Archaea were dying out, and there were no hosts left to exploit.  Mitochondria changed course, began to live lightly on its host, allowing the host to live. Better still, mitochondria learned to support its host, to share its abundant energy for use of the host.  The parasite became a symbiont. The partnership, archaea with mitochondria, became a formidable competitor spawning a new world of diverse life. Today, every human cell, every plant and animal and fungus on planet Earth is powered by abundant mitochondria living within each cell.  Gaia’s rich diversity of metazoa, all descended from that first partnership between archaea and mitochondria.

Our vast brainpower and global capacity for cooperation is destined to be deployed in service of Nature.  In building an inspiring habitat for ourselves, we will restore the natural world to a state more wondrous, more diverse and more magnificent even than the original.   

Of course, say I, once I have read it, it is obvious.  If there is salvation for us, it must come in this direction.  It is right for us to assume this posture because only from this posture is there a way forward toward a future worth inhabiting.

Scarlatti

Domenico Scarlatti was born this day in 1685, the same year as Bach and Handel.  He spent most of his life composing liturgical music.  With a few exceptions, most of it was uninspired.

Age 60, Scarlatti retired from his day job and began composing for the keyboard.  Harpsichords were well-developed and common at the time; the earliest pianos were beginning to appear.  I remember the day when I was 14 and my piano teacher first put a Scarlatti sonata in front of me—“Try this.  I think you might like Scarlatti.”  I never guessed he was a Baroque composer.  To me, the music sounded nothing like Bach.  Vaguely Spanish, with spare construction and dissonances that sounded contemporary.

Scarlatti’s 555 keyboard sonatas are fun to play, fun to listen to, sometimes beautiful, often witty.  He has been called the father of modern keyboard technique.

The Zeroth Law of Science

Science explains a lot!  Many of us take as a
matter of faith that science explains
everything.


 

It’s not that old.  It was only about 150 years ago that scientists adopted the hypothesis that

Nature obeys fixed laws, exactly, no exceptions, and the laws are the same everywhere and for all time.

Within a few decades, this went from a bold land-grab by the scientists, to a litmus test for whether you really believe in science, to an assumption that everyone made, a kind of synthetic a priori that “must” be true for science to “work”.  (Feynman put this particular bogie man to bed in his typically succinct and quotable style*.)

I call it the Zeroth Law of Science, but once it is stated explicitly, it becomes obvious that it is a statement about the way the world works, testable, as a good scientific hypothesis should be.  We can ask, “is it true?”, and we can design experiments to try to falsify it. (Yes, “falsification” is fundamental to the epistemology of experimental science; you can never prove a hypothesis, but you can try your darndest to prove it wrong, and if you fail repeatedly, the hypothesis starts to look pretty good, and we call it a “theory”.)

Well, the Zeroth Law only lasted a few decades before it was blatantly and shockingly falsified by quantum mechanics.  The quantum world does not obey fixed laws, but behaves unpredictably. Place a piece of uranium next to a Geiger counter, and the timing of the clicks (that tell us that somewhere inside it an atom of uranium has turned to lead) appears not fixed, but completely random.

So the Zeroth Law was amended by the quantum gurus, Planck, Bohr, Schrödinger, Heisenberg, and Dirac:

The laws of physics at the most fundamental level are half completely fixed and determined, and half pure randomness.  The fixed part is the same everywhere and for all time. The random part passes every mathematical test for randomness, and is in principle unpredictable, unrelated to anything, anywhere in the universe, at any time.

Einstein protested that the universe couldn’t be this ornery.  “God doesn’t play dice.” Einstein wanted to restore the original Zeroth Law from the 19th Century.  The common wisdom in science was that Einstein was wrong, and that remains the standard paradigm to this day.

If we dared to challenge the Zeroth Law with empirical tests, how would we do it?  The Law as it now stands has two parts, and we might test each of them separately. For the first part, we would work with macroscopic systems where the quantum randomness is predicted to average itself out of the picture.  We would arrange to repeat a simple experiment and see if we can fully account for the quantitative differences in results from one experiment to the next. For the second part, we would do the opposite—measure microscopic events at the level of the single quantum, trying to create patterns in experimental results that are predicted to be purely random.  

Part I – Are the fixed laws really fixed?

First Part:  In biology, this is very far from being true.  I worked in a worm laboratory last year, participating in statistical analysis of thousands of protein abundances. The first question I asked was about repeatability.  The experiment was done twice as a ‘biological replicate’. One week later, same lab, same person doing the experiment, same equipment, averaging over hundreds of worms, all of which are genetically identical.  But the results were far from identical. The correlation between Week 1 and Week 2 was ony R=0.4. The results were more different than they were the same. People who were more experienced than I told me this is the way it is with data from a bio lab.  It is routine procedure to perform the experiment several times, then average the results, though they are very different.

This is commonly explained by the fact that no two living things are the same, so it’s not really the same experimental condition, not at the level of atoms and molecules.  Biology is a derived science. A better test would be to repeat a physics experiment. On the surface, everyone who does experiments in any science knows that the equipment is touchy, and it commonly takes several tries to “get it right”.  It is routine to throw away many experimental trials for each one that we keep. This is explained as human error, and undoubtedly a great deal of it is human error, in too many diverse forms to catalogue.  But were there some real issue with repeatability, it would be camouflaged by the human error all around, and we might never know.  Measurement of fundamental constants is an area where physicists are motivated to repeat experiments in labs around the world and attempt to identify all sources of experimental error and quantify them.  I believe it is routine for more discrepancies to appear than can be accounted for with the catalogued uncertainties. Below is an example where things work pretty well. The bars represent 7 independent measures of a fundamental constant of nature called the Fine Structure Constant, α ~ 1/137.  The error bars are supposed to be such that ⅔ of the time the right answer is within the error bars, and 95% of the time the right answer is within a span of two error bars. The graphs don’t defy this prediction.

FineStructureConstMeasurements
(The illustration is from Parker et al, 2018

Here, in contrast, are measures of the gravitational constant.

Glabel2016.eps

(from Rothleitner & Schlamminger, 2017)

In the second diagram, the discrepancies are clearly not within expected limits.  There are 14 measurements, and we would expect 10 of them to include the accepted value within their error bars, but only 2 actually do.  We would expect 13 of 14 to include the accepted value within two error bar lengths, but only 8 of 14 do. Clearly, there are sources of error here that are unaccounted for, but in the culture of today’s science, no one would adduce this as evidence against the Zeroth Law.

The situation typified by the gravitational constant is much more common in science than the situation of the fine structure constant above.  Still, I suggest that, in the current scientific climate, no amount of evidence of this kind will ever be considered sufficient to overturn the Zeroth Law.  We are too accustomed to “unquantifiable uncertainties” and “unknown unknowns”, and no amount of variation when a given experiment is repeated exactly will ever suffice to convince a skeptic.

Part II – Is Quantum Randomness really random?

Here, there are real experiments that have been done to attempt to answer the question directly, and there is solid evidence that the answer is, “no”.  From the 1970s through the 2000s, in the Princeton laboratory of Robert Jahn, experiments were performed with ordinary people trying to change the output of a quantum random event generator (REG).  The effect was very small, but overwhelmingly significant in the aggregate. Here’s a write-up, and here’s a graph of Jahn’s results:

REG-results

The top curve represents an average of random numbers when the human subject is “thinking high” and the bottom curve when the subject is “thinking low”.  The most pointed way to present this data is as the difference between the two, which should be close to zero in the long run, but clearly departs more and more from zero over time, reaching a difference of 5 standard deviations.  The probability that this could occure by chance is less than one in a million.

Jahn was Dean of Engineering at Princeton and a prominent researcher in aerospace engineering until his credibility was attacked for daring to ask questions that are considered out-of-bounds by conventional science.  The take-down of Robert Jahn represented a shameful triumph of Scientism over the true spirit and methodology of science.  It is no better than what the Catholics did to Galileo.

Another of Jahn’s experiments involved a big pinball machine mounted on the wall which dropped balls from the center, and let them bounce over an array of pegs, so they ended up usually in the center, but sometimes far to one side.  The human subject would sit in front of the machine and “think right” or “think left”. Here’s a write-up on the subject, and here’s a graph of results.

RandomMechanicalCascade

 

In this case, the system was macroscopic, but so arranged as to amplify the “butterfly effect”.  Very, very tiny differences in the first bounce can have macroscopic effects on the tenth bounce, and so it can be shown the system amplifies quantum randomness.  The probability of the difference between the right and left curves occurring by chance is even smaller than the REG experiment, in the range of 1 in a billion.

Later, Dean Radin performed a completely different experiment based on the same idea of human intention influencing quantum events.  Radin reports experimental results that are positive for people who have a meditation practice, but not significant for people who don’t meditate.  Since this write-up, more positive results have been collected.

More amusing than informative is the legend about Wolfgang Pauli, one of the geniuses who laid the foundation for quantum physics and in particular the relationship between theory of the atom and chemical properties of the elements and their atomic bonds.  The legend is that whenever Pauli walked into the room, experimental apparatus would stop working for no identifiable reason. This came to be called the Pauli Effect.

Significance?

If the effect of human intention on quantum random events is so small that it has to be measured thousands of times to be sure we are seeing it, does it have any practical significance in our world?  I would answer a resounding YES, for three reasons.

First, there is a hypothesis that we have more influence when we care more.  Human emotions and intention have a tiny effect on lab experiments, in which we have little stake for our lives and our destiny.  But the positive results in principle leave open the possibility that we are profoundly (if unconsciously) influencing the events in our lives that mean most to us; and perhaps with meditation and focused intent we can consciously influence distant events.  People who have thought more about this than I find evidence for a collective effect, in which many people meditating on the same intent can have dramatic effects.

Second, 90 years after quantum theory was first formulated, the physics community remains deeply divided over what it means.  One school holds a place for consciousness in the fundamental workings of quantum physics. This is not currently the dominant interpretation, but it is the one advocated by Erwin Schrödinger himself, and it was attractive to several prominent physicists who followed him, especially de Broglie, Bohm and Wigner.  The idea was expanded into three book-length treatments by Berkeley professor Henry Stapp. [Mindful Universe: Quantum Mechanics and the Participating Observer (2011), Mind, Matter and Quantum Mechanics (2013), Quantum Theory and Free Will (2017)]  More accessible is my favorite book on the subject, Elemental Mind, by Nick Herbert.

Third, there is the link to quantum biology and the “hard problem” of metaphysics:  What is the relationship between our conscious experience and activity of neurons in the brain?  Quantum biology has firmly established a special role for quantum mechanics in some biological processes, including photosynthesis; beyond this, its more radical proponents see quantum effects as essential to life.  Johnjoe McFadden of Surrey University has put forth the hypothesis that consciousness is a driving force in evolution [his book].  Stuart Kauffman, a pioneer in the mathematical physics of chaos theory, has collected evidence for quantum criticality in our brains.  I’ll take a couple of paragraphs to summarize this idea.

Human-designed machines are engineered to perform reliably.  If we run a computer program twice, we don’t want it to turn up different answers.  This must be true despite the fact that every transistor relies on quantum effects that are essentially stochastic.  The trick used by electrical engineers is to make each transistor just large enough (many electrons involved with every switching event) such that quantum uncertainty almost never plays a role in the outcome.  To make this quantitative: In today’s microprocessors, each transistor is just a few hundred  atoms across, so it contains perhaps a million atoms or less in all. The computer on which I do evolutionary simulations runs at 3.5 GHz, meaning that there are several billion switch events each second.  If one of my simulations runs for a few minutes there are more than a trillion events, and any one of them could change the outcome. So the fact that these simulations run reliably means that the probability of a transistor being influenced by quantum randomness is much less than 1 in a trillion.

Contrast this with the way our brains work.  Neurotransmitters are molecules that flip between two conformations, two very different shapes, dependent on their chemical and electrical environments.  Kaufman has shown that most such molecules are “designed” (meaning “evolved”) to be unreliable, in the sense that they jump with maximal ease between the two conformations, and they exist in the brain in a “superposition state”.  This is quantum jargon for saying that the atoms are in two places at once, their state is a mixture of the two conformations in a way that makes no sense to our intuitions that are attuned to macroscopic reality.  The point is that electrical engineers determine to make each tiny component of a computer as reliable as possible, but nature seems to have gone out of her way to make our brains out of components that are as unreliable as possible.  Kauffman interprets this to suggest that free will is a phenomenon that exists outside the realm of quantum wave functions (perhaps in a dualistic Cartesian or Platonic world), and that the brain is evolved to amplify the subtle quantum effects where our intent is capable of influence, and thus to allow our consciousness to shape our thoughts and (through neurons) control our muscular movements.  This is also the premise of Stapp’s books, mentioned above.

Technology

Machines work, by and large.  We count on them as a matter of everyday experience.  When we put a key in the ignition, we expect the car to start, and when we run a computer program twice, we don’t expect to get different answers.  But this is weak evidence for the Zeroth Law. Machines are engineered for a level of reliability that serves a specific market, and in critical applications, they have redundancies built in to assure fail-safe performance.  The existence of so many high-tech devices that generally work is the source of an intuitive faith in the Zeroth Law, but if we ask more carefully about the meaning of their reliability, we can only conclude that the world is generally governed by physical laws that work with good precision and reliability most of the time.

Macroscopic miracles

“Miracles” by definition are exceptions to physical law, the quintessential counter-examples to the Zeroth Law of Science.  

Miracles in the Bible and in stories of Sufis and Yogis and mystics of the East are abundant.  It is difficult to verify any one of them, but the persistence of so many stories over so many centuries might be taken as more than wishful thinking by fallible humans.  In his recent book Real Magic, Dean Radin makes a strong case (in my opinion) that some of these reports are credible.

A concerted program to test the Zeroth Law

I would never dispute that science is enormously useful.  Science has, far and away, more explanatory power than any system of thought that mankind has ever devised.  I can say this and still ask, Does science explain everything? Or does scientific law admit of exceptions? If we determine that there are exceptions, then we are moved to ask the next question, Can scientific methodology be expanded to encompass the exceptions?  Or will the whole Scientific Project be subsumed in something larger and more broad-minded, in which experimental measurement and mathematical reasoning are two powerful ways of knowing about the world, but not the only ways.

A scientific program to validate or to falsify (or to reformulate) the Zeroth Law is perfectly feasible.  It would require modest resources, in the context of today’s Big Science. It would be humbling and instructive, and would certainly invite a level of discussion that is overdue, and might prove extremely fertile.

The Zeroth Law of Science is fundamental to our world view, not just as scientists but as people.  It affects our concept of life and our place in the universe and what (if anything) we might expect after death.  It impacts our tolerance for non-scientific views of the world, and it touches on questions about the limits of what we know now, and what we can know in the future.  In this time when the world is so terrifyingly poised on the brink of eco-suicide or thermonuclear disaster or political or social chaos, we may feel that we need a miracle to carry us past the crisis to a saner world.  In the words of Charles Eisenstein,

“A miracle is something that is impossible from one’s current understanding of reality and truth, but that becomes possible from a new understanding.”

________________

*  Quote from Richard Feynman: “Philosophers have said that if the same circumstances don’t always produce the same results, predictions are impossible and science will collapse. Here is a circumstance that produces different results: identical photons are coming down in the same direction to the same piece of glass. We cannot predict whether a given photon will arrive at A or B. All we can predict is that out of 100 photons that come down, an average of 4 will be reflected by the front surface. Does this mean that physics, a science of great exactitude, has been reduced to calculating only the probability of an event, and not predicting exactly what will happen? Yes. That’s a retreat, but that’s the way it is: Nature permits us to calculate only probabilities. Yet science has not collapsed.”