6.12.1913  -  12.12.2002

Books of N.M.Amosov

Digression. About miracles

Science consists of models as well as strict and indisputable laws of physics. Science is determinism or, at least, statistics, probabilities.

There is no such a term as a "miracle" for science. But of late, newspapers and even popular journals very often report "strange phenomena": telepathy, telekinesis, or ESP. Treatment of diseases by "the laying on of hands" has become almost commonplace in every town. Strictly speaking, there is something with ESP which engages in healing.

This causes irritation among specialists.

My stand is more complicated.

I am well acquainted with several people who have seen for themselves various phenomena of parapsychology in their different manifestations — it will take time to enumerate them all. The cybernetics department invited several "miracle workers" to our section to carry out double "blind" tests of thought reading, guessing of the past, etc. There was not a single successful experiment.

I repeat: this does not mean at all that my acquaintances have lied. Apparently, the scientific skepticism of our section completely inhibits "other-minded" psychics.

I'll tell you about one case when we almost managed to catch the fire bird.

About seven years ago, a young man came to my office and introduced himself as a student in his final year at one of the Ukrainian medical colleges. He said he had made a discovery and asked for my assistance in bringing it to an end. (I don't know why I am often approached by all kinds of dreamers and unrecognized talents.) The student, in his early twenties, had set up a primitive physiological laboratory but was short of funds. He made quite an impression on me. He had seen much in his life and had changed jobs many times. He was looking neither for material benefits nor academic degrees but was filled with pure curiosity and an obsession for his work. He made his own living, and earned extra money for the laboratory by repairing sophisticated electronic equipment — oscillographs, tape recorders, or whatever the case may be. A jack of all trades, he was quite well trained in physiology of the nervous system and parapsychology. The essence of his discovery: If you cauterize the foot of one frog, the other frog feels it and responds with salvos of nerve pulses which can be registered by an oscillograph even when the second frog, a control animal is placed into a metal chamber — that is if all external electromagnetic effects are suppressed.

I was intrigued: how could "secondary physics" be detected with the aid of "primary." "Secondary" since the psychic sufferings of the cauterized frog were expressed not only by its pain nerve pulses (they could be easily recorded) but in some non-physical sensations experienced by the second frog in the chamber which was responding to them by nervous excitation. What else could you expect? A model experiment of co-enduring suffering through parapsychological (extrasensory) effects. There was no material carrier of this transmission, since the metal screen cut off all electromagnetic waves. One scientist told me of experiments carried out by Professor Vasiliev, a Leningrad-based physiologist. Supposedly he had a woman who was a powerful medium. She was able to read thoughts — to execute mental orders. She was placed in a lead chamber, but this did not hinder her; she was taken to distant Rostov, but that did not stop her either. This meant that the nature of the signal transmission was not electromagnetic — not related to "primary" physics.

The student showed me oscillograms of his experiments. He was right. At the time when the experimental frog experienced suffering, and its pulses were registered, the second frog had the same responses. We worked out a plan for a detailed report which would sound convinc­ing at a conference. This report had to be substantiated with descrip­tions, diagrams, examples and data. After that I was ready to help him.

The plan was completed several months later. By that time, the student had graduated from the college and was looking for a job. He had to protect his laboratory — it was going to be closed down otherwise. He brought me a bound report with oscillograms. Several dozen experiments, about 90 per cent coincidence. Volodya Belov, Deputy Chief of the Cybernetics Section, went to his laboratory to see everything for himself.

I took the manuscript and went to Boris Paton, President of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences. I knew he supported everything interesting, and I was right. He promised to get a job for the young man and added: "I'll give him a job for his enthusiasm and initiative, even if nothing comes out of it — you're seldom infatuated with anything."

All conditions were provided so this young man could work, accumulate data and verify details. He was full of enthusiasm. I promised him prestigious guidance (that of an academician).

Philipp N. Serkov, a prominent scientist and a "die-hard" in neurophysiology, an academician, when I told him everything, said: "Bosh, a mistake, I do not have a single confirmation of this."

You cannot rely on the benevolence of scientists. You have to prove to them that you are right. Well, that's how it should be.

In the summer, I arrived in that young man's city to lecture and visited his laboratory. And I found what was usually described in novels about self-educated scientists. An old barn had been cleaned and tidied up — the students had done everything themselves. There were two rooms, rather cluttered, but quite workable: instruments and tools. Two multichannel high-precision oscillographs, capable of enhancing and recording weak currents, with reliable insulation. No stray pick ups — without a signal, recorders draw straight lines.

The young man lived in his laboratory — there was an old ottoman, foodstuffs, and clothing. He was single. In one room, frog feet were cauterized with burning paper (barbarians!) and in the second room, there was a copper medical autoclave with wires running through small openings and switched to another frog — the control animal. Full isolation and insulation. First, the boys recorded biocurrents at rest from both frogs, then one of them was given a stimulus and the recorders of the oscillograph went into action, drawing lines with sharp teeth.

All this was done in my presence, I can't say that it was very convincing — the bursts of cerebral activity in the frog that was placed into the autoclave were insignificant, although noticeable. After the experiment, we discussed further steps and decided to invite scientists from the polytechnical college to take measurements. Nature does not easily part with its secrets, to say nothing of such ones as these. And it would not be so easy to convince Serkov.

Then I went to the young man's superiors and persuaded them not to close down the laboratory but rather to do their best to help the young fellows. They were not too enthusiastic about my protege, but were impressed by his enthusiasm and did not doubt his honesty.

It was all so romantic, but nothing came of it. The aphorism of an outstanding scientist: "All great discoveries are made in barns and under stairwells" was not realized in this case.

Our hero called us regularly. And then in the autumn, we heard some alarming reports: positive results had become a rarity. Previously, there had been outbursts of luck, but presently, there was no luck at all. He changed frogs, but it did not help. In fact, nothing helped.

By winter, we heard a cry of despair;

"Everything has disappeared."

And it never returned. Our hero was lost from sight, he moved to another town. Science proved correct.

I give the details of this story intentionally; it was the only time that I was ever attracted to "alternative physics." I do not know how to explain these phenomena. I cannot, following the example of con­formists, say: "It is rubbish." There are too many honest eye-witnesses. Moreover I cannot make up my mind to admit: "There is an other world." It is quite evident that people with ESP and their proponents will also deny this, but that is probably only due to their illiteracy or some ambition to put on a mask of materialists; isn't power over the time a direct way "there"? They learn about the past and predict the future. Yoga, providing we believe its prophets, brought to the absolute, promises full power over the matter. We read this in Romain Rolland's The Biography of Ramakrishna and Vivikananda.

Our worshippers of miracles do their best to bring them in to land, to find physical equivalents. For instance, they talk endlessly of "biofields." The healing of patients and even the movement (kinesis) of objects under the impact of a look is explained by their directed effects. They act as if these fields had physical properties as regular as those of electricity, magnetism and gravity. Some of our physicists thoroughly rebuffed these illiterate "scientists" in the Science and Life magazine. In fact a living organism irradiates a field, but a conventional, electromagnetic one; there are no miracles in it, and you cannot squeese anything else out of it. Apparently, photographic effects do exist, but, once again, they are conventional.

A nerve pulse cannot be explained by the electric phenomena in the nerve fibre which accompany it. The same is true of the electromagnetic fields that surround the body; they are only the reflection of more sophisticated physical and chemical phenomena — highly specific ones. However, we must either stop here or go into complicated scientific descriptions of the essence of life. One thing is crystal clear; you cannot reproduce "miracles" with physical instruments.

Let's return to miracles. The question is open for discussion. Apparently, "an alternative physics" may exist. It seems that there are people who possess certain peculiar abilities to influence other people. Such individuals may treat by suggestion, although this cannot be represented by a model as such. By the way, there is no convincing physiological explanation for conventional hypnosis.

It seems to me that wisdom can be based on pure materialism — extracted out of elements and ties between them. The brain also functions in line with the principles of physics and chemistry with a "wire communication" system which means that we don't have to involve any mythical "biofields." However, I will not stake my life on it until such a wisdom is actually reproduced. Here is an example; the term "vitalism" was in voque when the knowledge of chemistry was insufficient to explain biological phenomena. The idea of vital force was used as an explanation. Nowadays, biologists have synthesized the gene and there is hope that the simplest living element, a virus, for instance, will eventually be synthesized. All this can be explained by chemistry now. Nobody speaks of vitalism anymore. The same will happen with parapsychology; material wisdom will be created, and there will be no need for ESP. (There have been a multitude of myths in science.)

When I reread what I wrote, it seems as if I were saying that I believe in miracles. This impression is wrong — no, I don't believe in them. Would I like to believe? It is tempting to hope for Immortality, even if being born again, one might find oneself in the form of an animal (as some Eastern religions would hold). I do not believe in this and do not want it to be true. Let everything go one way — to annihilation.