An Explanation of Supernatural Phenomena

In On the Existence of Paranormal Phenomena I argued that phenomena occur which violate the known laws of physics.

A friend pointed out to me that the phenomena which we call “paranormal” do not always violate the known laws of physics; for instance, UFOs do not do this. Also, phenomena that violate the laws of physics are not always what we call “paranormal;” e.g., perpetual motion machines. So let us instead use the term “supernatural phenomena.”

What is a supernatural phenomenon? Firstly, it violates the known laws of physics. Secondly, it is explained according to an appeal to mental or spiritual forces: e.g., the power of human intention, or an act of God. So these are cases where people think that mind or spirit is causing changes in the physical world, in a way that would not be possible under the known laws of physics.

If we postulate that supernatural phenomena occur, we are led to the rather uncomfortable conclusion that the laws of physics are sometimes violated. I present a hypothesis which allows us to escape this conclusion. It allows for supernatural phenomena to occur without violating the laws of physics.

Quantum events involve nondeterminism. Every event has a set of possible outcomes, and a probability distribution over those outcomes.

I am given to understand that, due to quantum nondeterminism, it is theoretically possible for anything to occur. For instance, a car could appear out of nowhere and then disappear, due to quantum nondeterminism. I am given to understand that this is possible, but so outrageously unlikely that it would not occur in a hundred million universes.

We can explain supernatural phenomena by postulating that mind and spirit have the ability to control quantum nondeterminism. Thus, for instance, a person could turn water into wine by directing the quantum events in the water in such a way that it became wine. We have to posit an extremely detailed and extensive control over quantum events which results in things occurring that would otherwise be extraordinarily improbable.

When we postulate intelligent control, it is not unreasonable to say that extraordinarily improbable things can become probable. It would be extraordinarily improbable, for instance, for a car to come into existence as a result of the random behavior of matter. But when human intelligence sets out to build a car, this configuration of matter becomes quite likely. So if we postulate that mind and spirit can control quantum nondeterminism, we can reasonably expect events of any level of prior probability to become probable.

This is not a scientific hypothesis, nor would most scientists accept it. I am also somewhat hesitant to enter myself into the group of people giving mystical interpretations of quantum physics, because this group has a fairly bad reputation.

That said, I believe that this is a sound hypothesis given the starting assumption that supernatural phenomena occur. Of all possible explanations of supernatural phenomena, this one has the significant advantage that it does not require violating the known laws of physics.

An intuitive problem with this hypothesis is that it seems implausible, for instance, that Jesus was able to observe and consciously manipulate the individual subatomic particles in water in the complex fashion that would be required to turn it into wine. The human mind is not capable of processing that volume of information; and furthermore, Jesus certainly did not know physics or chemistry. We require a more intelligible account of the manner in which these phenomena occur.

To do this, let us invoke the metaphysical idea that all things are alive and intelligent. (Not all things are equally intelligent; a goat is intelligent, but not as intelligent as a human. Similarly, a rock is intelligent, but not as intelligent as a goat.)

Now we may postulate that Jesus spoke to the water, and bid it to turn into wine. The water, by its own intelligence, obeyed Jesus and reconfigured itself appropriately. It is not that Jesus manipulated the water on a subatomic level; he simply gave it instructions.

Similarly, if I instruct another person to do something, I do not manipulate their subatomic particles to cause them to do that thing; I simply instruct them, and they use their own intelligence to move as a united whole towards the configuration of doing that thing.

Nor do we need to think of the reconfiguration only in terms of quantum events. If I move my arm, this involves many muscle cells contracting, which in turn involves many quantum events. We can indeed think of the motion as a set of quantum events; but we can also more simply think of it as me moving my arm. Similarly, the water might think of its own transformation into wine in terms simpler than the actual quantum physics involved.

Now we can formulate a complete hypothesis explaining supernatural phenomena. Supernatural phenomena occur when mind or spirit instructs some physical thing to change. The thing changes by the use of its own intelligence. These changes are within the laws of physics, and involve quantum events which would be extraordinarily improbable under ordinary circumstances.

  1. Reductionism II « antitheology

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