The Threshold of Change
by Laura Lee
The dance between old and new, rigid and fluid, expansion and contraction is a fascinating one to watch, especially as it relates to the marketplace of ideas. And I have a ringside seat in the host’s chair of a radio talk show devoted to the exploration of new and cutting edge research.
One of my "tag lines" is this question: Are you noticing how the far out of yesterday has become the mainstream of today? This trend fascinates me, as a clear indicator of the ushering in of a new paradigm, an expansion of our collective world view.
This is a trend with quite a history to it, I’m learning, and it is instructive to note how many new ideas, theories, and inventions had to first overcome intense resistance before becoming incorporated into the mainstream.
Richard Milton, a British science and technology writer, shared several such case histories with us in a recent interview, and his book, Alternative Science: Challenging the Myths of the Scientific Establishment, documents many more. Some may surprise you.
The history of the airplane, for example, is widely known, yet the initial resistance to the very idea of machines flying is not. Before the Wright Brothers were famous inventors, they were two bicycle mechanics who could get no press.
Milton reports that for five years, as the brothers were testing their prototype in a field in Dayton, Ohio, a field lined by a railroad line and two busy roadways, hundreds of witnesses saw their machine lift off the ground and fly.
When the local newspapers received dozens of letters asking why there was no coverage of this incredible invention, the newspaper editor only complained of the nuisance of receiving these letters.
(Why not just send out a photographer or a reporter to check it out?) Meanwhile, the scientific establishment of the day was busily denouncing heavier than air powered flight as impossible. (How did they explain birds flying?)
A professor at Johns Hopkins University insisted, in a scientific way, that powered human flight was ‘utterly impossible’ unless it involved some new and as yet undetected force in nature.
The Scientific American and New York Herald of the day wrote the Wright Brothers off as hoaxers.
Finally, in 1908, President Roosevelt called for a public trial of the invention. It was only then that Orville and Wilbur Wright convinced the skeptics, and the rest of the world learned of the advent of modern aviation.
Milton points out that the Wright Brothers’ first prototype just barely got off the ground, and not always at that. "It was at first very much only a ‘threshold effect.’
On those first test flights, the plane got off aloft only to about shoulder height, and only for only a few minutes," he says. "It could have easily, at that stage, been denounced as a fluke, and left at that."
The threshold effect here meant only that the first attempts to utilize a new dynamic needed further refinement to find the greater efficiency, not that it was a misread of the data, or an effect barely measurable and therefore insignificant, or a hoax, as some threshold effects in their infancy are labeled.
This gives a new perspective to some of the new experiments going on today. Is the fact that only 4% of the body weight of test objects was lost, when held over rotating superconducting ceramic rings during a recent experiment on antigravity, a threshold effect leading nowhere, or one that may be the first inklings of a full fledged technology for levitation and antigravity flight that is just around the corner?
What about the experiments with sound waves levitating pea sized stones? Or the slight percentage above chance achieved in the mind over matter experiments at Princeton’s Anomalies Lab?
Mind over matter isn’t limited to laboratories. I had a chance to see it in action during a recent in-studio interview with Uri Geller, who likes to set up a few quick and easy non-scientific tests to demonstrate his powers.
I’ve still got the bent key and spoon to show for it, and can attest that these were no trick items designed to bend. No, he bent them by simply holding one end of the key and spoon with one hand, while using the index finger of the other to lightly and gently rub the stem, which curled up sharply.
He made it look easier than spoon bending seminar I had attended a couple of years ago, but I imagine that comes with practice. At the seminar, we were given spoons, instructed to try to bend them, and found we couldn’t, until shown how.
Let me pass on this secret: Grab a spoon (one you do not need to use again) along the stem, just under the bowl. Now focus your mental energies to a point in your mind. Imagine the mental energy going through your arm and into the spoon.
Hold the spoon up, look at it, and shout "bend! bend!" It actually worked for me and about a hundred other seminar goers. We had a pile of spoons wrapped in knots in no time. Most people reported that the spoon got temporarily warm and pliable, becoming easy to bend, and this was my experience too.
The woman sitting across from me was having trouble with her spoon, until the instructor, Jack Houck (who gives spoon bending workshops across the country) came by and held the spoon for a few seconds, which made it pliable enough for her to easily bend it, and though the effect didn’t last long, she got it going again on her own.
By this time, I’m asking myself, was it just the heat of his hand that made it pliable? The spoons do have narrow stems. Are we just using our strength to bend them? Were we unable to bend the spoon at first because we did not believe we could? Or is there something more?
The last exercise offered new data on this issue. We were to bend the tines of a fork with the mind, touching it only to hold it at arm’s length. I didn’t get too far on this one, though I watched as, about two rows over, the upright tines of a gentleman’s fork slowly fell over, on its own, as though melting in front of some unseen heat source.
Geller’s technique also involved shouting commands ("Work! Work!") to the matter in question, when it came time to fix broken watches. His demonstration prompted several callers to report that not only did their broken watch start ticking, other broken appliances fixed themselves as well.
From that it seems an easy hop for Geller to use that mental energy to get a Geiger counter ticking, which he did in 1975 at the University of London with David Bohm and other distinguished scientists observing.
Then there are the experiments in "remote influence," a step beyond remote viewing. Many regard Geller as a fraud, though Edgar Mitchell, the ex-astronaut who attempted ESP experiments from the moon, and whose Noetic Sciences Institute first focused on trying to determine if Geller’s psychic powers are real, points out that Geller has not been successfully debunked. But the attempts to do can seem a bit frantic.
Milton reports that psychology professor and prominent CSICOP member C.E.M. Hansel uses the criteria that "if he is able to conceive of any hypothetical way in which fraud could account for the results of a parapsychology experiment, then his ‘rational reconstruction’ constitutes that the experiment was faked."
Which prompts me to ask, who needs proof when you have a convenient set of double standards?
There is a whole psychology to the resistance to daring new ideas. Milton cites the research of Leon Festinger at Stanford University into that uncomfortable gap between our present world view, and the world view suggested by new and conflicting information, known as cognitive dissonance.
In brief, Festinger’s theory suggests: we all try to keep to a minimum the distance between what we think we believe, and new information that challenges those beliefs.
Denial is the simplest way to close that gap and reduce this stress, and the greater the cognitive dissonance, the more vehement the denial.
When the gap involves others, three commonly used options to reduce cognitive dissonance are: 1) changing our own opinion so that it comes into alignment with the opinion of others, 2) pressuring others to change their opinion to more closely align with our own, 3) rejecting, dismissing, or deriding the opinions of others, and putting distance between them and ourselves.
Not only does that sound familiar, it neatly explains the name calling (crank, fringe, kook, fraud, hoax, etc) that often gets going in arguments when the legitimate ammunition runs out.
As far as cranks are concerned, Milton says suggests that the most important lesson here is "that a crank is not only one who, through self-delusion rather than evidence, believes a theory to be true when it is actually false.
A crank is also one who, through self-delusion rather than evidence, believes a theory false when it is actually true.
A lot of time can get wasted in the interim between proposal of new ideas and acceptance, as in the fifty years that went by between the time it was first noticed that doctors who washed their hands right before surgery lost fewer patients, and the invention of the microscope with which to view microbes and germs.
Lesson: Just because we don’t at first see the direct cause and effect link doesn’t mean it isn’t there.
Some of the most vehement name calling is found in the furor over cold fusion. Over the last five years, frequent guest Eugene Mallove, editor of Infinite Technology Magazine, has been relaying the emergence of cold fusion, stage by stage.
[This occurs] from experiments giving off excess energy (though in a threshold effect — it didn’t always work) and denounced as "pathological science," to data fudged and fraudulently misreported by skeptics in an effort to dismiss the phenomenon, to prototypes, funded in a big way by major companies and institutes the world over, throwing off unexplained, undeniable, and now measurable heat and energy.
I keep asking Mallove when we’ll be able to buy such devices to heat our homes and run our cars at Sears. Sooner than you think, he promises.
And this new direction in cheap, safe, non toxic, and much needed energy alternatives was very nearly lost by the intense pressure put on scientists not to experiment with it, and the ridicule heaped on those who did.
You may ask, why all the fuss? Its politics as usual — turf wars over money, prestige, and philosophy. Even though, as an energy source, cold fusion would be more user-friendly than hot fusion, it’s hot fusion that is getting all the government grants for energy research and development, and the hot fusion advocates want to keep it that way.
What’s more, the phenomenon of cold fusion is so anomalous as to necessitate the rewriting of text books on the atom and chemistry, even alchemy, and is sure to send us off in new and startling theoretical directions. And we nearly didn’t hear about it.
When hearing out a guest present their body of mind expanding, and therefore controversial research, I always ask how its being received by mainstream thinkers. Often, the objection to new ideas amounts to circular reasoning, the logic being, it cannot be because it has implications which lie outside our accepted scenario of how it is.
The hindsight offered by historical examples of this is often amusing. Milton points out that in the early 1800’s, the father of modern chemistry, Antoine Lavoisier, then Europe’s leading rational authority, declared that "stones cannot fall from the sky, because there are no stones in the sky!"
Today, we know that not only do meteors drop to Earth from other planets, they can contain fossils of once living organisms, adding to the argument that life is abundant in the universe, and that we are not just freaks of accident or anomalies ourselves.
But that’s not all that’s falling from the sky. Have you heard about the comet snowballs? They fly in from outer space at 20,000 miles per hour, hit the upper atmosphere, and vaporize.
That there are thousands of 2 to 4 ton snowballs hitting us daily was recently confirmed by Polar orbiting cameras. It took eleven years from the time University of Iowa physicist Louis Frank first proposed their existence to the time he was vindicated, and much rejection in-between.
Today, his views on how these mini comets are bringing not only water, but organic chemicals and the seeds of life, to our planet and others, are taken seriously.
And a picture can be worth a thousand words. In August of 1996, NASA contract engineer Vincent DiPietro made the bold prediction on the show that we would eventually discover that Mars had blue skies, not red skies, (as was then the official view) and that Mars once supported life, and still had a more Earth-like atmosphere than we had imagined, complete with water vapor.
DiPietro based his views on 17 years of research, and on a curious set of photos he had found in the Viking probe archives. They were identical Martian landscapes of rocks and sky, but for one thing: the coloring. In one photo the sky is blue, in the other, the sky, and rocks, are the same shade of red.
Was an original blue sky photo intentionally altered to look red? (See DiPietro’s two hour video, Mars: Investigations, Findings, Life? for the complete story.) This May, NASA released new photos taken by the Hubble telescope of a Martian sky. It clearly shows a beautiful blue sky, dotted with high white cirrus clouds.
Another of my tag lines is, "I have an open, not a gaping mind."
While let me share a distinction here that while an open minded stance to new ideas is, I have found it a useful and wise strategy not to accept all new ideas.
I’m just calling for an fair minded and thorough examination of the evidence, and the willingness to let new ideas that meet the same standards of proof to point the way to yet more new discoveries, and open up new realms of exploration, like signposts along the way.