Universe

For The Sceptics

An article written for me by my husband Rob Walker:

I’ve occasionally been heard to jokingly describe what Yolandi does as “mystic bullshit”, generally after dinner and maybe one too many glasses of wine. This has been a source of great consternation to one of our close friends. His concern is not just how derogatory this sounds, but also how Yolandi and I can remain on anything like civil terms with me holding this apparently disdainful view. Well, luckily, Yolandi knows I am a joker and someone who loves to invoke a reaction from people, but the real reason she isn’t offended to the point of slinging the nearest heavy object at me goes much deeper. You see, despite that flippant remark, Yolandi knows that I have absolute belief in her and (although it surprises me to say so), I also believe in what she does. My problem (and it is very much my problem, not Yolandi’s) is that my background is in science – so it’s very hard not to be a complete sceptic of anything spiritual that has no apparent explanation. So I have written this chapter specifically for those partners, friends, and family who may also be sceptical, or even worried about this mystic bullshit. It is, I hope, not just an explanation of how I have resolved my problem, but also I hope touches on something fundamentally deeper about the nature of spirituality, science, and their rather awkward relationship.

Einstein is famously quoted as having referred to quantum entanglement as “spooky action at a distance”. His issue was one that has plagued science from its very beginning – that often, things are observed long before they can be properly explained. In many cases, even the observation is indirect – things are only seen from the effects they cause. Our modern atomic theory was first postulated by Joseph Dalton in 1803, and revolutionised by J.J. Thompson with the discovery of the electron in 1897, leading to the conclusion that atoms were themselves made up of smaller particles. Since then countless experiments and practical applications proved the existence of electrons, protons, and neutrons, and mankind has been harnessing electricity for everyday use since Eddison opened the first power station in 1882. And yet, it took another 100 years for scientists to be able to actually see a visible image of an atom, thanks to the magic of the high voltage electron microscope. And it’s only in the last decade that we have been able to properly observe the internal structure of the atom, including those electrons that J.J. Thompson discovered 110 odd years ago.

A little more recently, scientific study of the cosmos has revealed a more exotic and elusive substance, which to this day is still only referred to as Dark Matter – because as yet we have no real understanding of what it is. The concept was proposed in 1933 by Fritz Zwicky, who mathematically showed that the mass of all the stars in the Coma cluster was only about 1 percent of that needed to keep the galaxies from escaping the cluster’s gravity. Meaning that 99 percent of the mass was somehow invisible. Later more accurate observations refined the accuracy with which we could calculate the amounts of these missing masses but, to me, what is more fascinating is the manner in which we were first able to detect their presence. Imagine looking at a faint point of light through a pair of binoculars (please do not actually do this!). Now gradually make the binoculars go out of focus. That one point becomes two, by virtue of the fact that the light now passes through two lenses which are no longer sufficiently well aligned to bring the light paths back to a single point. In 1979, astronomers were faced with a conundrum. They were observing two quasars, separated by a vast distance in space, but pulsing with the same frequency, in perfect synchronisation with each other. The chances of this happening were so improbable as to be effectively impossible. And being on a galactic scale, this was far too large for something like Einstein’s spooky action at a distance to explain. In a stroke of pure genius, it was realised they were not in fact observing two stars – but one single quasar. Just like our binoculars, the light from that star had taken two different, not quite focused, paths to reach them. These astronomers were the first witnesses to the phenomena of gravitational lensing – an idea theorised by both Einstein and later Fritz Zwicky. But there was still a problem. The mass of the galaxies in between was not nearly enough to split the light path to the degree being seen. An enormous, but invisible, additional mass must be generating the additional gravitational force required. This was not just the first observation of gravitational lensing, it was the first real evidence that Dark Matter not only existed, but it had some physical location which could be detected. Two of Fritz Zwicky’s ideas collided into reality some forty years later with the discovery of the pulsating ‘twin quasar’ known as SBS 0957+561. As with our early atomic pioneers, science had been able to detect the presence of the invisible mass through its gravitational force, even though we cannot see it, and have no real explanation for what it is. For now, the best we can come up with is Dark Matter. In fact, the most recent attempts at peering further into this mystery start to border on the incredible – some of which require the existence of a new particle (the tachyon), which has imaginary mass and travels faster than the speed of light. Something, which many people (incorrectly) cite as being impossible according to Einstein[1]. Despite not being spiritual myself, science itself rather surprisingly becomes one part of how I can reconcile my scepticism to what Yolandi does. Given my background, I can accept that some things exist because their effects can be observed, even if I can’t see or explain them, yet. But, if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to offer a few more ways to look at this strange mystic realm as an outsider.

For this next part, I’m going to draw an analogy by borrowing a chapter from Bryce Courtenay’s wonderful novel The Power of One (which incidentally is an absolute gem that you will not be able to put down, especially if you have any connections to South Africa). In this particular chapter our hero, Peekay, and his elderly scientific mentor, Doc, have undertaken a strenuous trek on foot to the base of a cliff in an area of rainforest. A waterfall is spouting high up from the rock face above them. Despite his age, Doc insists on this trek, and the dangerous ascent of the cliffs because of his notes from a visit to this spot many years previously. Doc had recorded an observation that, despite being rare to this region, he believed the rock may include layers of limestone. His powers of intellect, observation and climbing prowess are rewarded: hundreds of feet up the cliffs, tracking back from where the water emerged, they find a narrow cave which opens out into a wondrous crystal cavern of sparkling stalactites and stalagmites. But this was no accidental find, Doc with his knowledge of science knew that where you get water passing through rocks that include limestone you get exactly these structures. The water erodes the softer rock to create caves, and as it does so it carries tiny amounts of undissolved particles which, as they gradually drip from the ceiling, deposit to form the crystalline rock pillars above and below.

But what does this fictional account of adventure have to do with Yolandi, and my scepticism? Well, now I need you to take a bit of a mental leap with me. Let’s imagine that wondrous crystal cavern as an aspect of Yolandi’s spiritual connection: the Ascended Masters, or perhaps even the Akashic Records themselves. I’m not asking you to believe they are in fact some actual magical cave, just hold in your mind a picture of Doc’s cavern as a representation of them. Now let’s transplant Doc, still as a scientist, but far into the future – a time where quantum entanglement, dark matter, and even the inter-connectivity of the human mind have been completely understood. Using that future knowledge, he is able to do two things: firstly, to understand exactly how the right combination of matter can create such a crystal cavern (just as the story’s Doc did with water, rock, limestone, and erosion); but secondly he can also use that understanding to exactly locate such caverns based on the presence or combination of those materials. Science has an answer for us sceptics but, as with Dark Matter, not yet. The problem for us sceptics is the second part of what Doc is able to do – locating that cave. That can (and apparently does) happen without needing the first part, the understanding of exactly what it is, what materials make it, how it comes to exist etc. etc. This is another part that helps me deal with my problem. I can accept that, for some reason I do not understand, Yolandi has found a path or a map to locate such caves, visit them, and bring back information from them. Neither she nor I can explain what they are, or even in detail how her path leads to them, but that’s secondary – as with many aspects of the science I also love, I am able to accept and see the effects and the reality without necessarily having a proper understanding of it. Just like our twin quasar with the impossibly synchronised beat, the effects are far too frequent to be random, and on occasion far too accurate to be mere coincidence. I’ve lost count of the clients that Yolandi has never met or spoken too ahead of her readings, but whose information has been relevant to the point of being spooky.

And lastly, I want to address what, for me as a diehard sceptic, is probably the toughest part of all, but the one which inspired me to write this whole piece – religion. Recently, Yolandi was contacted by a potential client but, because of that client’s faith, she needed approval from her religious mentor before being able to consult Yolandi for a reading. Yolandi was more than a little nervous on the hour-long interview with the religious mentor but, he was kind, open, and genuinely interested in what Yolandi does. There was no element of judgement, although at the end of the call it seemed unlikely that Yolandi would be able to read for the potential client within the doctrines of their faith. Yolandi’s work is spiritual, but it is not tied to any one religion or faith – and as such, she receives messages from any masters or sources that choose to share them. This, in fact, was not directly against anything within the religion in question here, but the issue was whether those messages came, in fact, from Divine Source as the particular religion required. Much to both of our surprise, after a few weeks of deliberation, permission was actually granted as long as Yolandi very specifically only sought and relayed messages from Divine Source.

Over the days since that unexpected decision, I’ve found myself wondering what brought it about. As we’ve already discussed, I’ve found a science based rational to believe in what Yolandi does. But here was a religious man who, through some entirely different line of reasoning, had reached a similar conclusion. To help me understand that, I found myself back at the foot of Bryce Courtenay’s cliff face in the rainforest. But now, three of us were standing there: myself, Yolandi, and the religious mentor. We all know the cave is up there. I know it is there because the future scientist, Doc, has explained to us how it comes to be there. But that explanation doesn’t really matter much to Yolandi. She knows it is there because over the last few years, she has discovered and practiced a process that leads her directly into it, and lets her experience and bring back some of it’s wonder. The religious mentor is several thousand years ahead of us – he has an entire body of religious research, and his own lifetime of spiritual study behind him. He knew the cave was there long before Yolandi became aware of it, and in doing so forced the sceptic in me to begrudgingly accept its existence. We all have our own interpretations of what that cave might actually be, and two of us have their own probably quite different ways of accessing it. I’m the exception here, the scientist in me would love to understand it, but I have no idea how to find it – although I do completely understand how and why Yolandi and the religious mentor could have found their paths. When Yolandi and I help our son do his maths homework, we often totally confuse him by taking completely different methods? Take 97 divided by 3 for example. As a scientist, I might write out a proper long division sum. Or, Yolandi may say divide 90 by 3, giving 30, then 7 divided by 3 giving 2, giving us 32 plus 1/3 remainder. Or, since long division is really overkill here, I might round up to 99 divided by 3, which is of course 33, and then subtract the leftover 2/3 giving me 32 and 1/3 remainder. Our rather trivial mathematical example shows us what Jorge Luis Borges manages to do with much greater sophistication and elegance in his short story The Garden of Forking Paths (a work often referenced in attempts to describe the nature of time or parallel universes). Even in the infinite labyrinth of Ts’ui Pên’s garden, certain paths always inevitably converge back to a single common point.

If you, like me, are a sceptic living in a spiritual household do not give up. Someday science may catch up to help you. But until that point, it isn’t breaking any rules of your scientific doctrine to accept something which you can observe, even if only by its effect, but cannot explain. And realise that, it’s also fine to hold different interpretations of what we believe is happening, and some of those interpretations may even be compatible with your religion, if you are a religious person. In closing, I’d like to follow in the tradition of the great Stephen Hawking, who believed that nothing had scientifically disproven the possibility of time travel. So I too, would like to invite our future time travelling Doc to come back and explain Yolandi’s world to me. And, if it’s not too much too ask, perhaps also clear up a few other mysteries that trouble me. Specifically – exactly how many dimensions did we need or find, was it the 26 of bosonic theory, or were the 11 dimensions of M-theory enough, and what or where the heck were those extra dimensions anyway (that whole curled up dimension explanation has just never sat well with me)? Assuming we did indeed figure all that out, were there really only 6 physical dimensions as suggested by Hypercube theory? And, realising I may be pushing my luck here, just one more question if I may: did anyone ever find a power source big enough to make Alcubierre’s warp drive a reality, or did we find some other way to achieve super luminal travel? I hope so, because since I was seven I’ve wondered what the other side of a black hole looks like

Rob Walker, Sceptic

[1] It’s actually acceleration of an object with real mass across the light-speed boundary which Einstein’s theory appears to make impossible. Even that has come under scrutiny with the revelation that the speed of light may not be quite the cosmic constant we once assumed.

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