Debunking Denialism

Defending science against the forces of irrationality.

The Scientific Ignorance of Stasia Bliss – Part V: Dark Matter

Note: This is the fifth installment in an article series debunking the massive amount of pseudoscientific claims made by Stasia Bliss. This time, her crank beliefs about dark matter are debunked. For more posts in this series, see the introduction post here.

Bliss on Dark Matter

As this article series reaches the halfway mark, it is worth highlighting the most egregious errors made by Stasia Bliss. Previously, she has made a number of claims that are demonstrably false: the absurd claim that individuals with cystic fibrosis caused their own genetic condition because of their eating habits and negative thoughts, that eating genetically modified foods made you less human, that staring into the sun is not harmful and that the activity gives you the power to use astral projection and that the DNA double helix contains twelve strands. It is extremely important to emphasize that her beliefs are not just unsupported by the evidence. Many of them are actually directly harmful for people, such as her encouragement to stare into the sun or her insistent victim-blaming when it comes to cystic fibrosis. According to Alexa, Guardian Express (unrelated to the Guardian Newspaper) has over 50000 unique daily visitors and over 3 million monthly page views. With such an audience, Stasia Bliss has the potential to be a very dangerous person.

In this installment, we will continue to dissect the pseudoscientific claims made by self-described “master alchemist” and the “High Priestess of Qi Vesta” Stasia Bliss. This time, we turn to the her writings on the topic of dark matter. Despite her assertions to the contrary, dark matter is not something our consciousness invented to prevent us from observing parts of reality we are not ready for yet, the existence of unsolved questions does not diminish our current knowledge, the notion that the earth was flat was not a widespread belief, 100% of non-coding DNA is not functional, new age cranks have not been communicating with aliens for thousands of years, DNA and humans originated on earth and not in space, the sun is not a star gate and quantum mechanics does not state that we create our own reality.

There is nothing magical about dark matter / dark energy

Although there are a lot of things about dark matter and dark energy that we currently do not understand, there is nothing magical about it.

Dark matter is matter that does not absorb, reflect or emit electromagnetic radiation, but physicists can detect it due to its based on their gravitational effects on ordinary matter. A small portion of dark matter is baryoic (i.e. made up out of particles that contain three quarks, such as protons and neutrons), and most of it is considered to be non-baryonic (made up out of something else).

Dark energy, on the other hand, appears to be related to the accelerating expansion of the universe and counteract the gravitational attraction of ordinary matter. However, it is not the energy “version” of dark matter. Dark matter and dark energy could very well be completely separate phenomena. There are three main models for dark energy: (1) dark energy is a manifestation of the cosmological constant, (2) dark energy is accounted for by quantum vacuum energy (although this approach gives a massive order-of-magnitude error) and (3) dark energy is quintessence, which is a dynamic energy field.

For more information about dark matter and dark energy, see Jones and Lambourne (2007) and NASA (2013).

To a certain extent, her post about dark matter does not seem to really be about dark matter. She uses dark matter as a convoluted literary device to bridge into her irrational beliefs about new age, communication with aliens, and quantum mysticism.

The existence of the unknown does not undermine modern scientific knowledge

Bliss makes a big deal out of the fact that there are many things in science we yet do not understand. However, this does not undermine the credibility of mainstream science like the standard model, big bang or evolution. This is because such knowledge is based on a massive amount of evidence, makes extremely specific predictions, has survived many attempts at falsification and so on. It bares little resemblance to the debunked ideas of the past, such as phlogiston, alchemy or geocentrism.

The ancient Greeks knew that the earth was not flat

One of the ideas that Bliss puts forward as something “we knew for sure” is the notion that the earth is flat. However, this was never a widespread belief, it was not supported by the medieval Catholic church and even the ancient Greeks knew that the earth was not flat (Numbers, 2009, pp. 28-34). Eratosthenes of Cyrene estimated the circumferences of the earth and Aristotle provides several arguments against a flat earth, such as the fact that the mast of ship descends as it sails further and further away and that the shape of the earth on the moon during a solar eclipse is round.

It is not the case that 100% of non-coding DNA has a function

The ENCODE project published some papers saying that 80% of the human genome has a function. However, as detailed in The Current Creationist Abuse of ENCODE and “junk DNA”, they used a very loose definition of function: “The vast majority (80.4%) of the human genome participates in at least one biochemical RNA- and/or chromatin-associated event in at least one cell type.”

However, it is already known that a lot of the genome is transcribed to RNA. Some of that encodes actual proteins, some are functional RNAs but most are repeats, remnants of endogenous retroviruses and mobile genetic elements like transposons. So in reality, the future figure for the proportion of the genome that has a function might get up to 20%.

As was discussed in the previous installment on DNA, anyone who wants to assign a function to almost all parts of the genome has to take up the onion challenge: for what functions does an onion need four times the DNA of humans?

New age cranks have not been communicating with aliens

Bliss claims that humans have been in contact with aliens for thousands of years. Yet she provides no evidence whatsoever for this claim.

In many spiritual traditions and ‘new age’ philosophies, we have been communicating with life from other planets and star systems for hundreds and thousands of years.

How do you know?

Major problems with such a scenario is that this alien life would have to live very far from earth and the time it would take to travel or send communications would extremely long. To shorten this time would require faster-than-light processes, but we know from the theory of relativity that no body with mass can accelerate past the speed of light.

Another problem is that humans were not that scientifically advanced thousands years ago. How did people in the middle ages communicate with aliens without having access to high-tech equipment.

Humans originated on earth

Bliss blathers on, claiming that humans and DNA has an extraterrestrial origin. She garnishes the nonsense with some physics woo:

Many believe that we originated from our ‘star relatives’ and some think that our very DNA is not ‘of the earth’ but from somewhere ‘out there.’ The understanding in these traditions is that our star ‘brothers and sisters’ exist in another dimension, or at a different ‘vibration’ than us – accounting for why science has not yet discovered them.

There is ample fossil evidence that our species shares a common evolutionary ancestor not just with other primates, but with all other life on earth as well. Thus, an extraterrestrial origin for humans is not based on any evidence and, indeed, is contradicted by a vast amount of evidence.

As we saw in the previous installment on DNA, the dimension on an object is simply the fewest number of coordinates needed to completely specify its location. “Vibrations” is another pseudophysics buzz-word used to deceive people. Vibrations are not synonymous with dimensions. A vibration is nothing more than an oscillation around a point of equilibrium: think tuning-forks, pendulums, springs, the membrane of a loudspeaker or your vocal-cords.

Our sun is not a star gate

Yes, you read it correctly: Bliss thinks that our sun is a “star gate”. Yes, like in the television program with Richard Dean Anderson (of MacGyver fame).

For only recently has science begun to speculate the possibility that our very own sun is a star gate, leading to possible other realities or dimensions. This used to be only the stuff of science fiction, but now it seems our human minds can wrap themselves around this potential and even possibly longs for such things to be true.

No, there are no such credible speculations in the peer-review literature or even on ArXiv. The notion that the sun is a star gate is pseudoscientific make-belief.

Cognitive difficulties with multiverse models did not create dark matter

Dark matter exists out there, independent of our minds. It is not related to any cognitive difficulties with understanding models of the multiverse. Bliss is, yet again, just making stuff up as she goes along.

Perhaps the reality of multiple universes with multiple ‘me’s’ and ‘you’s’ is too much for our current brains to process. Perhaps this accounts for the existence of ‘dark matter’ currently. [...] We don’t want to be alone in the universe, we don’t want to believe we are ‘stuck’ in the known of what we can ‘see’ and so, the intelligent universe is perhaps responding to that longing and opening itself to us.

The universe is not intelligent. It is indifferent. The universe consists of over 99.99% lethal, radiation-filled vacuum that would kill any known lifeforms that got exposed. It is not intelligent and it does not care about the well-being of humans. This is because cognitive capabilities require a brain or a brain-like structure. The universe itself does not have this, so it cannot be said to “care” about humans.

Quantum mechanics does not state that minds create reality

To complete her crank claim about physics, Bliss launches into quantum mysticism. Here is how physicist Victor Stenger describes the approach of such quantum quackery (Stenger, 1997):

Certain interpretations of quantum mechanics, the revolutionary theory developed early in the century to account for the anomalous behavior of light and atoms, are being misconstrued so as to imply that only thoughts are real and that the physical universe is the product of a cosmic mind to which the human mind is linked throughout space and time. This interpretation has provided an ostensibly scientific basis for various mind-over-matter claims, from ESP to alternative medicine. “Quantum mysticism” also forms part of the intellectual backdrop for the postmodern assertion that science has no claim on objective reality.

This resembles closely the claims made by Bliss in her article (written 16 years later):

Quantum mechanics tells us that the observer affects the outcome of any given reality, that until the ‘expectation’ to find something is there – it will not be found. Is this the way are we, in essence, ‘creating’ our observed universe, slowly lifting the veil of ‘what matters’ in the previously ‘dark’ regions of our minds?

The problem, of course, is that “observer effects” does not require a human consciousness to do the observer. Any kind of measuring device will do. A lot of quacks talk about how the “collapse of the wave function” is somehow deeply mysterious. Here is how Stenger responds (Stenger, 2007):

But there is nothing spooky about it. Suppose you are a resident of a planet in Alpha Centauri. Back on Earth, a friend enters your name in a lottery in which your chance of winning the prize of a million dollars is one in a million. If you win the lottery, your probability of winning collapses instantaneously to unity, and your wealth increases instantaneously by a million dollars. But it takes four years for the news, traveling at the speed of light, to reach you and your Centauri bank. You can’t start spending the money until that happens. That’s how it is in quantum physics. The collapse of the abstract wave function is just a mathematical artifice. Even though this happens at faster than the speed of light, any signal and other practical result will be limited by relativity and the laws of conventional physics.

In short, nothing in quantum mechanics requires that our minds be able to act across great distances and back in time to control reality as part of some cosmic consciousness.

Bliss butchers an entire field of physics to prop up her pseudoscientific claims about how reality does not exist objectively, but is only a product of the mind. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Conclusion

Bliss misunderstands key scientific concepts such as dark matter and non-coding DNA. She arrogantly barges into scientific fields that she knows almost nothing about, such as human evolution and quantum mechanics. It is very strange that people take her seriously.

References

Jones, M. H. & Lambourne, R. J. A. (Eds.). (2007). An Introduction to Galaxies and Cosmology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

NASA. (2013). Dark Energy, Dark Matter. NASA. Accessed: 2013-07-12

Numbers, R. L. (Eds.). (2009). Galileo Goes to Jail: And Other Myths about Science and Religion. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Stenger, V. (2007). The Mindless Quantum. The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. Accessed: 2013-07-13.

Stenger, V. (1997). Quantum Quackery. The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. Accessed: 2013-07-13.

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9 responses to “The Scientific Ignorance of Stasia Bliss – Part V: Dark Matter

  1. Pingback: The Scientific Ignorance of Stasia Bliss – Introduction | Debunking Denialism

  2. Pingback: Woo | Mr.Fowler's Email Newsletter.

  3. Pingback: The Scientific Ignorance of Stasia Bliss – Part VI: Quantum Mechanics | Debunking Denialism

  4. Pingback: The Scientific Ignorance of Stasia Bliss – Part VII: Disease | Debunking Denialism

  5. Pingback: The Scientific Ignorance of Stasia Bliss – Part VIII: HIV/AIDS | Debunking Denialism

  6. Pingback: The Scientific Ignorance of Stasia Bliss – Part IX: Ageing and Death | Debunking Denialism

  7. Pingback: The Scientific Ignorance of Stasia Bliss – Part X: Measles | Debunking Denialism

  8. nemo paradise September 27, 2013 at 21:11

    “particles that contain three quarks, such as proteins and neutrons”

    Heh.

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