Natural and Supernatural Science
The investigation of paranormal phenomena often cites the existence of ‘supernatural’ causes to explain the observed events.
We live in a world governed by physical laws, these laws are generally:
proven by repeated experimentation
absolute (as far as can be observed or deduced)
stable (although they may be superceded by more accurate laws)
Omnipotent (everything in the Universe apparently must comply with them).
Laws should not be confused with theories which are generally more complicated and are subject to change or even rejection.
When a phenomena is observed it MUST obey physical laws, anything which relies on mysterious energies must not break the laws governing conservation of energy, an explanation which relies on breaking the conservation of momentum laws should be suspected etc.
Here are some short explanations of some of these physical laws, along with some other interesting quantum theories, which is another world where things can really start being ‘supernatural’.
Energy can be thought of as ‘the capacity to do work’. Work is something that transfers energy from one form to another so a light bulb performs work as it transfers electrical energy to heat and light energy.
Energy cannot be created or destroyed, you can only convert it into another form of energy, quite often it is not obvious where the energy has gone, it is often as heat which is lost to the surroundings.
Nuclear energy seems to create energy from nothing, but in fact the heat given off from nuclear fission is created by the conversion of mass into energy (following Einstein’s famous equation E=MC2 where mass and energy are interchangeable) conversely energy can be converted directly into mass.
The uncertainty principle is a quantum mechanical principle, stated by Werner Heisenburg which says that it is impossible to simultaneously measure the position and momentum of a particle. So it is possible to measure the velocity of a particle, but not know its position and alternatively the position of a particle can be measured but then its velocity can not be known. An alternative form concerns uncertainty between energy and time.
If all matter and radiation is removed from a region of space you would think that all that would remain would be a vacuum. However quantum physics has shown that a region of space can contain less than nothing, its energy density – amount of energy per unit volume – can be less than zero. This can have some extraordinary effects on space and time. Einstein’s theory of gravity states that mass (and hence energy) will distort space and time. What we perceive as gravity is the space-time distortion caused by normal (positive) mass or energy. Negative energy or mass will create all sorts of amazing phenomena – time travel, worm holes, faster than light travel or perpetual motion machines.
Negative energy is not anti-matter which has positive energy, when an electron collides with its anti-particle (positron) the two will annihilate each other and produce gamma rays which have positive energy. Negative energy arises because of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, which requires that the energy density of any electric, magnetic or other field fluctuates randomly. Even when the energy density is zero on average, as in a vacuum, it fluctuates. Thus, the quantum vacuum can never remain empty in the classical sense of the term; it is a roiling sea of "virtual" particles spontaneously popping in and out of existence. In quantum theory, the usual notion of zero energy corresponds to the vacuum with all these fluctuations. So if one can somehow contrive to dampen the undulations, the vacuum will have less energy than it normally does–that is, less than zero energy. The vacuum fluctuations can be suppressed with several methods, laser beams passing through special optical materials can produce a negative energy state. The energy density between two uncharged plates in a vacuum will also be negative – causing the Casamir effect.
The production of negative energy pulses are only permitted by quantum theory under three conditions. 1. The longer the pulse lasts the weaker it will be. 2. A pulse of positive energy must always follow. 3. The longer the time delay between the pulses, the larger the positive energy must be – an effect known as quantum interest.
Gravity is a force that attracts bodies of matter towards each other. We are attracted towards the centre of the Earth, but conversely the Earth is also pulled towards us (although too small an effect to be measured). The amount of matter in an object is called its mass, the greater the mass the greater the gravitational force, so the Earth has a greater gravitational force than the moon. The force caused by gravity is given by F = mg where m = mass of the object and g = acceleration due to gravity. The acceleration due to gravity on the Earth is 9.8 m/s2 The weight of an object is the gravitational force experienced on its mass, the weight of an object depends on the local gravity, the gravity on the moon is 1/6 that on the Earth so you would weigh 1/6 of your Earth weight on the moon.
In truth gravity is not a force but a manifestation of Einstein’s General Theory Of Relativity where the fabric of space is curved by mass, the larger the mass the greater the curvature (hence greater the apparent gravity). Two consequences of this curvature of space are that light will be bent or deflected by gravity and time will slow down in a strong gravitational field.
A magnetic field is a region in which a particle with magnetic properties experiences a force. The appearance of a magnetic field can be shown with iron filings or plotted with a small compass.
All magnets possess a North and South pole, the lines of magnetic force flow from one pole to the other and only opposite poles will attract. Scientists have searched for particles which only carry a single pole (monopole), but so far have only found indirect evidence of their existence.
There are two types of magnet:
Permanent magnets are made of iron, cobalt or nickel alloys. Any material which can be strongly magnetised is called a ferromagnetic material. The magnetic properties of a permanent magnet are produced by the alignment of the charged electrons and protons present in the atoms which themselves possess magnetic fields due to their rotation. In non-magnetic materials they are aligned randomly so there is no overall addition of the magnetic fields. If a magnet is heated the atoms are all rearranged and so the magnet will lose its magnetic field.
Any conductor with an electric current flowing through it will generate a magnetic field. The magnetic field can be magnified if the conductor is wound tightly around a ferromagnetic core. When the current is switched on the whole assembly acts like a permanent magnet with a North and South pole. The ends which hold the poles depends on the direction the current flows through the conductors, reversing the current reverses the poles. Although we commonly think of the conductor as a solid wire in actual fact any material which conducts which may be solid, liquid or gas can produce a magnetic field when a current is passed through it. The Aurora is produced by charged particles passing through the Earths magnetic field.
The Earth has its own magnetic field, it is often visualised as a simple bar magnet, but actually the magnetic field is produced from electrical currents circulating within the liquid molten iron core of the Earth. The presence of the magnetic field depended on an initially weak magnetic field which must have been present very early in the Earths history which inducted a current in the liquid metal core. This in turn generated the Earths magnetic field. The fact that the Earths magnetic field is not static but moves (and in fact has completely reversed several times in the Earths history) is because of the dynamic nature of the magnetic dynamo at the Earths core.
Heat and temperature are not the same. Heat is a form of energy and can be used to do work, temperature is a measure of the amount of heat an object possesses or is radiating. All substances consist of discrete particles called atoms, the type of atom determining what type of substance there is). These atoms can be combined to form molecules. Molecules are usually made from several different atoms (although there are some molecules made up of only one type of atom – e.g. Nitrogen gas is normally present as N2 that is two nitrogen atoms joined together as a molecule). Atoms join together with bonds, some bonds are rigid and so that substance is a solid, others are less rigid, forming a liquid, some are not rigid at all so that substance forms a gas. All atoms and molecules are constantly moving, this can best be demonstrated if you carefully drop a small amount of ink in a glass of still water. The ink will eventually spread throughout the whole glass rather than just stay where you dropped it, this is due to the random motion of the water molecules (also called Brownian motion after the person who first described it). The atoms in a substance are also vibrating. This motion of molecules and atoms is always present, but the amount of motion depends on the heat of the substance. Adding more heat to a substance i.e. heating a bar of iron in a flame will transfer heat energy from the excited atoms in the gas flame to the iron atoms, making the atoms vibrate more vigorously. The amount of vibration of the atoms determines the temperature of the iron bar (i.e. how much energy it contains). Eventually if sufficient energy (heat) is applied to the bar the atoms will vibrate that much that the bonds that keep them rigidly bound together as a solid will be broken, and the bar will melt and become liquid eventually if enough heat is applied even the bonds forming the liquid will be broken and the iron would become a gas.
The motion of all atoms and molecules can be only be stopped at a temperature of :
-272ºC Absolute zero. When the temperature of an object is measured then what is actually being recorded is the amount of heat energy contained by that object. Heat can be measured directly and indirectly.
Direct measurement requires the instrument to be placed in close contact with the substance – such as placing a mercury thermometer in a jug of water, the thermal motion of the molecules of the water will impact on the molecules making up the thermometer, increasing the motion of the mercury molecules and increasing the distance between atoms as the move more vigorously. The mercury expands and moves up the glass capillary tube – showing the temperature of the water.
Indirect measurement involves looking for an effect of the temperature of the object on its physical properties. One obvious effect of heating a solid object is that it radiates some of that heat energy in the form of electromagnetic radiation – often as light. The colour of the light can be mapped to the temperature of the object, so an optical device that can measure the colour emitted from an object can be used to convert that into a measure of the temperature of that object. Similarly the production of infrared radiation from a heated object can be detected to give a measure of that objects temperature.
This is not a detailed or exhaustive list of scientific laws and facts, always bare in mind that the statement ‘no physical explanation for the observations’ should be avoided. Any observed incident must obey the physical laws of nature and so can be explained using those laws (even if not obvious).