free debate

September 5, 2009

Google and Unexplained Phenomena

Today, September 5th, Google put up a doodle on its homepage. This isn't particularly unusual, as Google puts up a doodle for most holidays, birthdays of important people, or other major event. But, today's doodle doesn't seem to have anything to do with an event. Instead, it simply shows an alien spacecraft stealing one of the Os. If you click it, it takes you to a search on unexplained phenomenon.

The September 5th Google Doodle

As to why this is the doodle for today, I have no idea. But there are lots of interesting, unexplained phenomena out there. And, along with all of these, are paranormal and pseudoscientific explanations. One of the top search results, from LiveScience, lists 10 of the top phenomena that science has yet to explain.
  • The connection between the between body and mind: this includes things like the placebo effect. Medical science is just uncovering some of these complex connections, but specific answers haven't been reached yet.
  • Psychic powers: There is no scientific evidence that psychic powers or ESP actually exist. It cannot be proved in controlled, experimental conditions. However, the idea of psychics is highly popular, for whatever reason. So, it is also considered an unexplained phenomenon, even though its very existence is unlikely.
  • Near-death experience and the afterlife: Individuals who have had near-death experiences often report some "light at the end of a tunnel" experience. This may suggest a mystic afterlife. However, this is impossible to prove scientifically. There is no way to die, conduct research on the afterlife, and then return to publish a scientific paper on it. Many skeptics suggest that this experience of the "other side" is simply hallucination caused by brain trauma.
  • UFOs: Technically, a UFO is simply an unidentified flying object. Typically, these get attributed to alien spacecraft. Further investigation normally reveals them to be much more mundane things: meteors, military aircraft, a thrown hubcap, etc. There are some objects that simply can't be identified, though. The probability that these are aliens visiting planet Earth, however, is extremely slim, as the universe is a gigantic place. (Carver has discussed the idea of UFO's before, here.)
  • Deja vu: This is that sneaking feeling that you've already done something before. For instance, you might be walking down the street in a state you've never been, and feel like it's very familiar, and that you've been there before, despite the fact that that's impossible. There are scientific explanations, suggesting why deja vu might be triggered. Psychology still hasn't shown why exactly it occurs, or the nature of these "memories" yet, though. It's still unexplained.
  • Ghosts: Shows such as "Ghost Hunters" on SyFy suggest the existence of spirits of the deceased. However, there isn't any scientific evidence proving the existence of these either. There are many individuals who consider themselves "ghost investigators," and try to definitively prove that ghosts are there. But, as I mentioned above in regards to the afterlife, there is no person who has died, come back to life, and published a scientific paper on the nature of death and beyond. So, ghosts are also an unexplained phenomenon, which science does not support.
  • Mysterious disappearences: Unfortunately, people often vanish, whether because they ran away, were kidnapped, or had some sort of accident. Sometimes, police work and forensic science can help to find them, or at least determine what happened. Other times, people vanish without a trace, like Amelia Earhart or the crew of the Marie Celeste. When there is no evidence and no leads, not even the best forensic scientist can find them.
  • Intuition: Also known as instinct, a gut feeling, or a "sixth sense", intuition is easy to observe. What is more difficult to explain is why these gut feelings are often correct. Psychologist speculate that we subconsciously pick up information and cues, and then can consciously apply them to a situation. How exactly this works, though, is undetermined.
  • Mythical creatures: Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, and other mythical creatures are also unexplained. The likelihood of their existence is small, and the evidence proving they exist is not there. (See It's Nessie on Google Earth!) However, science cannot definitively prove a negative. These creatures might exist. Until we have strong evidence, however, these creatures are just a myth.
  • Strange sights and sounds: There are certain locations that people claim to hear unusual sounds, hallucinate, or see unusual activity, such as Area 51 or Taos, New Mexico. The Taos Hum is a common one. Visitors claim to hear a buzz in the area, which is supposedly very annoying. However, many residents do not hear it, and neither do some visitors. The sound is probably natural or psychological; however, its source is indeterminate.
With nearly all of these phenomena, there is simply not enough evidence to draw solid conclusions. I'll try to go more in depth with each of these, and other unexplained phenomena, in the future. They pose interesting questions, and can be areas of research in the future.

Thanks to Google for the inspiration, even though no one really understands why this doodle is there.