As if I hadn’t learned my lessons with Tribal Science, I’m about to embark on another insane journey with a follow-up book. A pitch is with the publisher, who has asked for a sample chapter.
The roots of this one stretch back some way, to about 2006 when I delivered a public lecture to a young audience on the topic of energy. After the crowd had left, a curious couple came up to ask me about ‘living energy’. It inspired me to take a closer look at the impact theories involving vital forces have had on our history of biology.
One related topic of interest is the theosophical field of noetics – a branch of metaphysical philosophy that holds that thoughts and mental constructs have material properties (or at least are immaterial subjects that have an influence on the material universe). In other words, noetics is primarily concerned with the point at where the two branches of dualism intersect.
Modern noetics has the classic features of a pseudoscience – it uses scientific terms and incompatible theories and principles to confuse the metaphysical with the material. Research related to this field varies from relatively rigorous (if anomalous and unrepeated) studies of the likes of Dr Duncan Macdougall, to hints at research that I can only conclude is at best a fabrication, and at worst a hoax.
In hunting down 20th researchers who have attempted to measure material properties of thoughts, mind or soul, I came across numerous mentions of two scientists by the name of Becker Mertens and Elke Fisher. Even relatively skeptical blog articles cited them. It’s alleged that in 1988, they concluded based on research that human thoughts amounted to a mass of about 1/3000th of an ounce. While no source is provided for the research’s publication, it’s implied that at least some mention of it was made in a German magazine by the name of Horizon.
This claim is so pervasive, it is repeated in the new age magazine, New Dawn (special issue 15, page 70), not to mention a variety of blogs and online articles. Its original source seems to be a Weekly World News Article.
Given there’s no sign a German science journal named Horizon ever existed (there is a media/advertising journal named Horizont), and no evidence of scientists by the names of Becker Mertens or Elke Fisher, we can be fairly confident that we’re dealing with fiction here. I’m not overly surprised by that, given Weekly World News isn’t exactly known for its academic rigour. Yet it is a rather good example of how pseudoscience relies on a reluctance of authors to ask critical questions of what they’re presenting as fundamental facts.