This I Believe

Jeff - Fairborn, Ohio
Entered on July 13, 2007

DO YOU BELIEVE IN MAGIC?

Dear NPR,

Every day people go to the doctor for routine examinations, take tests, and then go home without a second thought. Too often they are called back in, because their blood work has detected the presence of a

cancerous tumor or some other malignant malady. The horrible sinking feeling associated with a discovery like this is something people go through every day, and was once a virtual death sentence. But imagine a technology whereby tiny, cell-sized robots, called

nanobots, could be introduced into the body. Once inside, imagine these nanobots

immediately descending on a tumor and tenaciously fighting it’s cancer cells to the

death while simultaneously leaving healthy

cells alone. This crazy sounding technolgy has actually been invented, is currently being tested and will probably be introduced in trial studies over the next few years. It also

perfectly explains why I love science, why I believe it’s truly magical, and why I sometimes fear it at the hands of man. Science has the uncanny ability to both solve and create an astonishing number of problems. What it can do for us is as limitless as our imaginations themselves, but it’s limits are also our own: human error, frailty, and greed. It’s not science’s fault if we decide to spend more money building weapons than feeding children. Science is simply there to teach us what is and what can be, not because

it wants to shape our reality, but because this IS our reality.

While studying science in college, I performed many experiments, and each one was like a mini-adventure. I tested the effects of certain fertilizers, microwaved water, and even insect dung on plants. The conclusions to my experiments were not always revelatory, but never dull. In fact, they helped form the basis for my view of the universe, which is

essentially that reality truly is stranger than fiction. A perfect example of this has occured repeatedly in the world of particle physics.

Experiments have shown that particles (matter) can also behave like waves

(light energy), and can appear at two places at once, or not at all! This may sound like Star Trek, but it’s actually Albert Einstein, and the

scores of quantum physicists that have

followed him have repeatedly proven the weirdness of quantum mechanics in a laboratory setting, using the scientific method. This method for me holds an almost Confuscian ideal. If all areas of life had such a simple, yet profound series of steps to follow on the path to enlightenment, then would we really need to fight amongst ourselves over religion, land, or sports scores? 1) State the

problem. 2) Create a hypothesis or guess about the nature of the problem and how to solve it. 3) Test the hypothesis through a rigidly controlled experiment. 4) State the conclusions of the experiment, and whether said conclusions support the original

hypothesis. I think I became attracted to

science based on the profound beauty of this wondrous method, a set of rules without any of the arbitrary messiness that accompanies so many areas of our lives.

Because my sense of wonder was so aroused by the modern revelations of theoretical physics, I started thinking about conducting some pretty far-out experiments. Why couldn’t we demonstrate levitation, ESP, or even time travel in a laboratory setting? There obviously isn’t the current technology to do experiments this sci-fi sounding, but there is no concrete reason to assume there never will be. Indeed, Einstein theorized amazing things about the subatomic world, and was correct in his guesses years before there was the technolgy to prove him so. Many interesting experiments have been conducted in recent years involving meditating monks, prayer groups, and peace visualizations. Results of these experiments have been fascinating; time and again people have done seemingly magical things through their meditations, often supported by

experimental results. Of couse, there will always be sceptics to this type of research and there probably should be. Indeed, it would appear nigh on impossible to quantify a prayer for peace, or a Shaolin master’s kung-fu

prowess. However, there is conclusive

evidence that brain functioning and energy change during meditation, and in this vein I decided to conduct an experiment of my own this spring/summer. An experiment I would come to call the Zen Flower Project.

The Zen Flower Project was conducted over several weeks beginning in April, 2007. The purpose of the experiment was to test the effects of Zen meditation on the growth and development of a flower, in this case a

Coleus Blackberry Waffle flower, purchased at a farmer’s market in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Because this experiment was not conducted in a strict laboratory setting, I’ll not claim it has any specific scientific legitimacy. Frankly, I did it for fun, and out of a passionate love for

doing experiments. However, I tried to pay close attention to the rules of the scientific method, and honored them as much as possible. The plants I used for the experiment came from the same grower, they were roughly the same size, and were the same species. I took them home and set them up in

the same location, giving them the same amount of water and sunlight daily. The only difference was that for the next ten weeks, I held one of the plants daily for 20 minutes of silent meditation, visualizing that I was emmitting golden energy to it through my touch. I called this plant “Smiley” and christened it with a circular blue smiley face. And sure enough, after about a month I noticed Smiley was growing at a faster rate!

I was definitely pleased by this, though slightly surprised. After all, while I believe that universal energy, or “chi” exists in all things and can be directed as a healing resource, I in no way claim to have any unique talent for doing so. While I meditate daily, I have no special training in it or extensive experience. Furthermore, I realize that the results of my experiment don’t really prove anything. Many experiments have been done to conclude that the simple act of holding and talking to plants speeds up their growth. Still, it was cool to see a plant I felt a bond with respond to it’s external environment in such an interesting way. At the conclusion of the experiment in June, I planted the two Coleus’ in my garden where I’m happy to say both continue to thrive.

So what are the implications of my little experiment? Well, being a strict supporter of the scientific method means I can’t claim any

experiment done outside a laboratory setting has academic merit. Because I already believed in the power of meditation, visualization, and prayer, I at least half expected a plant I meditated on for ten weeks to respond somehow, but I also wasn’t an impartial viewer to this experiment, I was a

part of it. Because I have a love of science and the scientific method, I’ll advocate keeping it and religion seperate. These two entities are very important, both are very valid, and both operate best on their own.

While science, (particularily the truly magnificent stuff we get from quantum mechanics and string theory), can show us magical things about our universe, it is only “valid” if it follows the rules. So in conclusion, I did the Zen Flower Project strictly for my own amusement, the magic it

contained was truly outside the realm of current explanation, and most importantly no plants were harmed during the making of this story.