David Chart's Japan Diary

June 6th 2005

This week has been another good week for work. On Wednesday I had a meeting with another potential English student, and on Thursday the outline I prepared for my next book was approved by the company, so I've started work on that. It took a bit longer than I anticipated to get approval, so I'm having to write about 2,500 words every day, although that does allow me to take weekends off. Since I do want to do things other than work, planning to be able to take weekends off seems like a good idea.

Yesterday was another session of Ars Magica. People may remember that at the end of last session we were right at the entrance to Calebais, ready to enter the heart of the adventure. At the end of this session we were right at the entrance to Calebais, ready to enter the heart of the adventure.

Japanese roleplayers are at least as good at faffing around as British ones. Actually, after the first hour was consumed with entirely theoretical discussions, involving only one or two players, of what we might do to lure Sir Gilbert into one of the regiones to check whether we could get out again, I decided to have one of my characters get bored and go scouting by himself, to 'impress the magi'.

This precipitated a discussion, which also went on for about an hour, of how best to use magic to communicate with Robert, the character, and tell him to come back. The discussion diverged into devising a code to allow detailed communication with the use of only level 10 Creo Imaginem magic. A few reminders that Robert didn't know the code were needed to get things back on track.

After lunch, Robert returned, as instructed, and the party split up to investigate the two regiones. This involved more faffing around, although the group who visited the stayr regio (if you know Calebais, that will make sense) were quite successful. If we ignore the fact that one of the magi and most of the grogs ate the food, and now cannot leave the forest.

The group who entered Calebais's regio managed to avoid eating the faerie food, on the whole, and successfully investigated the area around the entrance to the covenant. Robert was able to be brave and enthusiastic, walking into dark rooms where eyes had been spotted, but finding nothing. The other characters caught up with us, and at the end of the session we were standing at the top of the stairs down into Calebais, having decided to enter. So then we all went back to camp. (This is necessary, because we don't know who will be at the next session. Thus, there needs to be a good opportunity to swap characters around.)

It is possible that we will actually get into Calebais next time, in the fourth session of the game.


I've also been doing some more research for another writing project this week. That involved reading a book about parapsychology, because I'll be writing about psychics. Reading that book and talking to my friend the professional ghost-hunter has convinced me that there's some weird stuff going on out there.

However, I don't think that most parapsychological research is a sensible use of time and resources. Why not?

Well, as parapsychologists point out, the effects that they see are tiny. There isn't a great deal of practical use in ESP that lets me guess 30% of cards correctly when looking will get me 100%, with no trouble at all. In themselves, the effects that they seem to be measuring are of no interest.

Similarly, their deeper implications are not that interesting either. What they show, at best, is that our current theories of the mind and physics are incomplete. But we already know that. We don't really have anything that can reasonably be called 'a theory of the mind', so discovering that there are things we don't know is hardly news. We don't understand how the mind influences the body, even if we assume that the mind is just the brain, and we don't know how the mind (brain) processes the information it receives from the environment. Furthermore, we don't even have the beginnings of a theory of why we are conscious. Experiments that suggest there's something we don't understand without providing any hints on how to proceed are adding nothing.

Turning to physics, we know that current theories of physics are wrong. General relativity and quantum mechanics are inconsistent. Quantum mechanics is internally inconsistent; as far as I am aware, 'renormalisation', where the infinite values that crop up in the equations are made to cancel out, has no rigorous basis. It just happens to give the right answers. What's more, there is a flagrant fudge, the collapse of the wave function, in the most orthodox version of quantum mechanics, which says that you change the meaning of the numbers in the equations at the point that gets you an answer that agrees with experiment. (You switch from wave function amplitudes to probabilities; if you do it at the wrong point, you get the wrong predictions. The 'right point' depends on the experimental set-up.)

Don't get me wrong: quantum mechanics is a fantastic theory. It has shown, beyond any doubt, that the world is deeply, deeply weird. But it is not, as yet, a coherent theory. The only thing that parapsychology might add to that is a suggestion that we should be looking at the roll of consciousness. Since physicists were doing that anyway, there's nothing gained.

If there really are psychic powers, they will be discovered in the course of normal psychological and physical research. Since those areas are making progress anyway, that's where the resources should be concentrated. Psychic powers, as investigated by parapsychology, are only different from other psychological conditions in being really, really small effects. If they are there, experimental psychologists will uncover them, because they test just about every mental activity that humans can do. Straight parapsychology, randomly doing experiments with no guiding theory, is unlikely to contribute anything of value.

It comes down to this. There have been weird events that are very difficult to explain with current knowledge. Some will never be explained because we don't know enough about them. Others might require advances in science to be explained. These events are rare, and thus striking.

On the other hand, there are entirely everyday events, like me speaking a coherent language, that are very difficult to explain with current knowledge. The question of why the sun shines was completely inexplicable until a hundred years ago, and it's only very recently, with the discovery of neutrino oscillations, that the theory has appeared fully consistent with data. We still can't explain the weather. And as for the functioning of, say, bacteria, we are missing most of the pieces.

When so many common events are as inexplicable as appearances of ghosts that most people never experience, wasting time on the ghosts seems a little foolish. On the other hand, treat it as entertainment, and it's no less valuable than my writing. I leave it to the audience to decide just how far that goes towards saving the honour of parapsychology.