Monday, 9 November 2015

Physics .Vs Phantom: Do the laws of physics allow for the existence of ghosts?

A few weeks ago I overheard a friend talking about Nick Groff, who, due to my disdain for ghost hunting on television, I'd never been aware of. My friend assured me that Groff had some amazing "theories" about ghosts and how Einstein PROVED that ghosts exist. I was, of course, a bit skepitical and decided to Google Groff and his ideas when I got home. (She also asserted, by the way, that Ghost Adventures isn't like all the other ghost hunting TV and its much more serious. After watching one episode, I am considering recommending her a course of cognitive behavioural therapy).

This led me to this page from the Huff Post, 2012 . apparently an excerpt from a book, Groff tells us what a ghost is and he asserts that due to the law of the conservation of energy, the energy within a human being must "go somewhere" when that human dies. The major flaw with this idea, and it isn't Groff's alone, I've heard and read hundreds of people espouse this, the major problem being the wooly definition of "energy" some paranormal enthuasists have. Certainly the energy within a human being doesn't disappear when a human dies, some of it is dissipated as heat, much of it remains as chemical energy, which is consumed and converted to other forms of energy by detritivores, organisms that feed on dead and decaying material.

Essentially the majority of the energy which we are comprised of returns to the food chain. As Ben Raford says in this excellent article for live science:
"Most of the "energy" that any dead person leaves behind takes years to re-enter the environment in the form of food; the rest dissipates shortly after death, and is not in a form that can be detected years later with popular ghost-hunting devices like electromagnetic field (EMF) detectors. Ghost hunters who repeat the claim that Einstein's theories provide a sound basis for ghosts reveal less about ghosts than they do about their poor understanding of basic science. Ghosts may indeed exist, but neither Einstein nor his laws of physics suggests that ghosts are real." (Radford, 2011)

Radford's assertion of poor understanding of science certainly holds for Groff who at one point in his article makes this statement:
"It's called the law of conservation of energy. It means that if you take an isolated system, such as a person, the energy contained in that person can't be destroyed. "(Groff, 2012)
But Nick is fundamentally wrong here, consider the definition of an isolated system:

physics) A system that does not interact with its surroundings, that is, its total energy and mass stay constant. Wiktionary

Therefore living organisms in no way constitute an isolated system, even a corpse is receiving energy from its surroundings in the form of heat, and losing mass due to consumption by other organisms.

So with this in mind I decided to take a look at some reputed attributes and abilities of ghosts as documented by eyewitness accounts and see how these stack up against other laws of physics and finally one of physics finest discoveries.

In the form of a boxing match.... 'cos.... reasons...

 It's only fitting that in round 1 we put perhaps the most reported feature in ghost accounts, the fact that move and more specifically walk, occasionally through walls, up against the first laws of physics.


Round 1: Walking Dead .Vs Newton's Laws of Motion

"Sightings of the Grey Lady walking the Ghost Corridor have been part of local legend from before the Victorian era. Dressed in grey and in Tudor style, the grey lady walks the length of the corridor and turns right before the end to disappear through a wall. In the 1960’s the lath and plaster removed from this wall revealed a Tudor doorway – at the exact spot where the grey lady walks through the wall!" (The Grey Lady of  Gainborough Hall) 
Now with that in mind let's consider Newton's first law:
"Newton's First Law states that an object will remain at rest or in uniform motion in a straight line unless acted upon by an external force." (hyperphysics)
Therefore from this we can gather that in order for a ghost to begin to move there must be some force acting on our spook. You and I move by applying a downward force on the floor, which in turn applies an equal and opposite force on us according to Newton's third law:
 "For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. The statement means that in every interaction, there is a pair of forces acting on the two interacting objects. The size of the forces on the first object equals the size of the force on the second object." (Physics class room)

It wouldn't be unreasonable to assume ghosts move in the same way, in addition to many eyewitness accounts of seeing spirits walking, ghostly footsteps are also a commonly reported phenomena as well as ghosts climbing stairs. Ghost hunting groups often advise amateurs to detect ghost pathways by dusting surfaces with flour or other fine powders.

 This leads us to conclude that the ghost must be material, its the only way to exert the required force.

What happens when they walk into a wall?

Round 2: Walking through walls .Vs the Pauli Exclusion Principle and Electromagnetic Repulsion.

The Pauli exclusion forbids electrons from cramming into the same state defined by four principle quantum numbers, matter passing through matter would require just this. In addition to this even though the majority of an atom is technically empty space, a popular analogy being a football placed on the centre circle of a football stadium representing the nucleus and a fruit fly orbiting the outer wall representing an electron, that "empty space" is filled with electromagnetic force. Its the repulsion between these forces that forbids matter from passing through matter.

Sorry Kitty, phasing on a macroscopic scale isn't possible.

Also if ghosts are material they can't possibly pass through a wall as an immaterial object, otherwise logically they would just pass through the floor, even if this can be controlled at will, a ghost would have to simultaneously material and immaterial to at once both exert force on the floor and pass through the wall.

While we are on the subject of physical interaction...
"21.4pm: We ... found two chairs had been stacked on top of one another on top of the table in the bedroom.
12.40pm: Bed, box and drawers were heard moving in [Robert's] bedroom] upstairs.
5.00pm. The chest of drawers [from Robert's room] was pulled out onto the landing on the top of the stairs and the large box full of stuff was moved from one bedroom to another.
5.10pm. While in the bedroom two toys were thrown at Marianne and Marc.
5.20pm: the door leading into the kitchen opened three times on its own.."-Incidents logged in the South Shields Poltergeist Case (Halowell,  Ritson, 2005) 
The ability to pick up and interact with objects such as documented above is another  aspect of ghost accounts that would require them to be physical material objects consisting of atoms. To move, pick up or interact with an object there must be friction. Friction is generated when two surfaces move against each other, again requiring that our spook is some phase of physical matter.

Ghost hunters and believers in general seem to have no objection to the physical nature of ghosts, but ability to interact with the physical world comes at a price.

Round 3: Instant dematerialisation .VS the Conservation of mass.

What does being a physical object consisting of atoms tell us about a ghost's ability to appear and disappear at will?
“She hopped right in the front seat. She had on this fancy kind of white dress, like she’d just been to a wedding or something, and those new kinds of disco-type shoes, with the straps and that.... I asked her where she was going and she said she had to get home. I asked her what was wrong, if she’d had car trouble or what but she really didn’t answer me. She was fuzzy. Maybe she’d had a couple of drinks or something or was just tired. I don’t know.... A couple of miles up Archer there, she jumped with a start like a horse and said ‘Here! Here!’ I hit the brakes.... I looked around and didn’t see any kind of house. ‘Where?’ I said. And then she sticks out her arm and points across the road to my left and says ‘There!’ And that’s when it happened.... I looked to my left, like this, at this little shack. And when I turned she was gone. Vanished! And the door never opened. May the good Lord strike me dead, it never opened.” (Cab driver Ralph gives his account of an encounter with Chicago area's Resurrection Mary.  Suburban Tribune, January 31, 1979)

There are hundreds of accounts of hitch-hiking ghost riding in cars, opening doors, sitting on seats.... all things requiring a material structure, and then vanishing, something not consistent with matter. There is currently no known way for matter to dematerialise, even a state change wouldn't constitute true dematerialisation  as reported in these accounts. True dematerialisation would violate another conservation law. The Conservation of mass. Mass can't simply disappear, it can only change from one state to another.

I can hear the protests already.... Energy mass equilevence..... E= mc^2... E=mc^2.... what if ghosts are comprised of "energy"?

Round 4: Ghosts as energy .Vs The second law of thermodynamics!

Let's start by looking at what the second law of thermodynamics tells us:
"...the entropy of an isolated system does not decrease". This is often taken to mean that "disorder always increases" and is frequently misinterpreted. Another way of putting it is "an isolated system's ability to do work decreases over time". The second law provides the thermodynamic arrow of time in that one can tell the difference between the past and the future by looking at the amount of entropy in the closed system...." (Rational Wiki)
This would mean that the structure of form of the energy representing the ghost would become more disordered and less able to do work as time progressed. This would be more evident if the ghost was expending energy over a number of years by playing pianos and throwing pint pots in struggling English pubs.

“It’s my view that the existence of ghosts would contravene the second law of thermodynamics,” he said, “The principle of the conservation of energy, and the fact that entropy always increases; you’d be hard put to throw that away. You’d have to rip the book up; that’s what it would imply if you saw a ghost.” (Brian Cox, 2011)
Therefore ghosts would need a pretty much constant source of energy to remain ordered. Which brings us to....Cold spots, which many ghost hunters take to be an attempt by a ghost or spirit to draw energy from its surrounding:
" Everything that enters an environment, even ghosts, change it in some way. When we move, breath etc. we stir up the air around us, our collective body temperatures raise the temperature.The most common theory for why cold spots occur is when a ghost is in an area they use the heat in order to manifest.." (Seeks Ghosts, 2011)
The problem with this is that heat is only exchanged between a colder body and a hotter one until a thermal equilibrium is reached, i.e both bodies are the same temperature. Heat exchange between a body and the atmosphere surrounding it, and another body in that atmosphere, would happen via convection. This would result in convections currents as seen opposite (replace the window with our spook).What we would experience is cycle of cool air falling and hot air rising through the area, not isolated cold areas.

The principle of  thermodynamic equilibrium simply doesn't allow for heat to be drawn at will in a limited area, the exchange of heat would spread to all areas in thermal contact. A far more likely explanation for cold spots are draughts. As the feeling of cold is not actually due to temperature as such but the rate at which heat is drawn from us, a far more likely explanation for a sudden cold sensation is exposure to a column of cold air.

Aside from this, temperature changes are one of the most commonly misread pieces of data by some ghost hunters, and thermometers the most commonly misused piece of kit.
"Infrared thermometers are the most blatantly misused of the ghost hunting tools, so are a great place to start. These handheld devices measure the temperature of the object they are pointed at. They work exactly like your vision, except that they are sensitive to far infrared instead of the visible spectrum. They measure surface temperatures, just like your vision measures surface colors. If you can see something, an IR thermometer can measure its temperature. However, ghost hunters use these devices to detect what they believe are cold spots in rooms. IR thermometers are not capable of detecting something without a visible surface. In fact, an IR thermometer is even less likely than your vision to see a hazy apparition. Firefighters use infrared because the longer wavelengths of infrared penetrate smoke more effectively than the shorter wavelength of visible light; so if therewere a hazy invisible apparition floating in the middle of the room, infrared is perhaps the worst technology to detect it. Variations of IR readings inside a room are merely showing temperature gradations on the walls, caused by heating and AC, insulation variances, studs, wiring, or pipes behind the wall, radiant heat, recent proximity of another ghost hunter, sunlight, temperatures in adjacent rooms, or countless other causes." (Brian Dunning, 2008)

Final Round: Ghosts .Vs Electron Neutrinos.

The electron neutrino is a tiny, charge less, massless particle, which travel at essentially the speed of light, they are unaffected by the electromagnetic force and the strong nuclear force, in fact they have so little effect on the physical world more than a million, million neutrinos have streamed through your head as you read this passage.

Compare this with the physical effects attributed to ghosts: hurling objects, causing immediate and rapid temperature drops, communicating with cab drivers....

And yet we have evidence for neutrinos. After their existence was first proposed by Wolfgang Pauli in 1930, and renamed by Enrico Fermi in 1932 it took only around 18 years to start detecting them. By 1970 experiments were running using a dry cleaning fluid, yes really, in South Dakota to detect and measure solar neutrinos.

Part of the problem with these early experiments was the deficit in the number of detected neutrinos and those predicted by theories solar interior function.  By 1999 we had developed experiments to observe neutrinos changing form, thus resolving this solar-neutrino problem.

So how long have we been searching for evidence of ghosts? Things with clearly measurable attributes and supposedly very definite effects on the physical world?

And yet nothing.....

If that isn't the knockout punch, physics certainly wins here on points. To accept the existence of ghosts requires the rewriting of all of the above laws and theories of physics, does that mean that we should stop looking. Not necessarily, but believers must accept that a high standard of evidence is required to start rewriting the text books.