Quantum Confusion for the Audiophile

I was Farking around the other day and found one of the more questionable technological claims I’ve seen on Gizmodo and on Engadget.Com: the Blackbody, by LessLoss, at http://www.lessloss.com/blackbody-p-200.html . The idea is that this bit of heavyish black plastic gear will make your stereo system sound better just by being placed near it. And how much does it cost? Only a pittance of $959 plus your gullible soul. Let’s see what the company says about this little magic doohickey in their own words…

The Blackbody is a high-tech audio accessory which greatly enhances your audio playback experience by addressing the interaction of your audio gear’s circuitry with ambient electromagnetic phenomena and modifying this interplay. The Blackbody takes advantage of the quantum nature of particle interaction, and is therefore able to permeate metal, plastic, wood, and other barriers to affect the circuitry inside your components. This altered electromagnetic influence results in profoundly improved sound quality.

So far this sounds like the typical examples of the mangling of quantum mechanics that I’ve come to expect on the Web, and that raises a huge red flag to my Troythuluness, but let’s see a bit more…

The Blackbody utilizes particle/wave patterns to work…The device can be thought of as a sort of flashlight which shines at a 35 degree angle from its center.

Particle/wave patterns? This is just more of the nonsense I’ve seen on New Age websites rather than anything that legitimate physicists and engineers would say, but let’s look further…

The “beam of light from a flashlight” analogy is easy to grasp, but the truth is that the opposite is happening. The Blackbody is more akin to an “anti-projector” — in the sense that it is actually the gear which is “shining the light,” and the Blackbody’s 35 degree angle “line of sight” modifies the gear’s “shining” so that it ceases to affect the audio.

Urrgh?? An anti-projector? The fact that they put quotes around it indicates they’re not so sure what that is either. They then employ the disclaimer that it is ‘not sci-fi,’ saying that this little gadget “does not set up a ‘force-field,'” and then going on in to say that it does just that with classic rubber science. A little further down the paragraph, they commit the completely non-scientific usage of the term ‘photon energy’ that would just make scientists cringe.

Further, the quality of the sound from any audio system has nothing to do with ‘ambient reflections of actual EM fields originating from and affecting the gear’ but upon the vibrations of air caused by the speakers…hello, basic high-school electronics shop, anyone?

Could this device possibly work? If so, I suspect not as described, unless almost all of modern quantum mechanics is wrong.

But let’s see them back up their claims for their equipment with double-blinded independent tests, using electronic means of measuring and analyzing the alleged cleanness of the audio quality instead of relying on the notoriously flawed subjective expectation, perception, and assessment of all-too human listeners, and leave the techno-speak to the science-fiction writers and New Age gurus.

But, hey, just poke around the links provided and if you find yourself starting to think that this Wonderful New Technology™ sounds like a good deal, do yourself a favor—be skeptical. Fnord.

Disappointed, But not Surprised…

Well kiddies, it looks like even over a week after the November Nor’easter fun and games I mentioned two weekends ago, after an exhaustive bit of mucking around on the Wayback Machine and other sources, looking at the archived Web pages of psychic websites, that I have thus far been completely unsuccessful at verifying a single prediction by a major psychic concerning the Nor’easter, neither its timing nor its effects before the storm actually formed (you’d think that those psychics would at least have a heads-up that clueless, blathering meteorologists would be completely blindsided by–but no, it was the psychics who were blindsided…chortle evilly with tentacles waving).

More to the point, after over a week of poking around, I was completely unable to verify a single prediction that was meaningfully specific in content and time of occurrence, that was not added to the site retroactively when it was updated, nor a successful prediction that wasn’t so likely as to almost certainly be fulfilled anyway.

One would think that with so many self-styled psychics in the world that statistically (and statistics are very important in the arcane lore of parapsychology) at least one of them would have verifiably predicted (as opposed to retrodicted…) the 2004 Tsunami, the effects of Hurricane Katrina, the horror of September 11, 2001, or lately, the aforementioned Nor’easter.

But no, not one did on any internet archives that my vile Troythuluness could access.

That doesn’t mean that no psychic predicted these events at all, anywhere, at any time, but that’s not the point. It means that no psychic has ever predicted these tragic events in a way that is subject to meaningful verification using archived sources existing prior to the events themselves. And until that happens, I remain skeptical of such claims.

The LHC is Up and Running…

So far so good, the Large Hadron Collider seems to be working like a charm, even after last year’s delays, and despite the wacky ideas about sabotage not just from the future, but by it, the fears of strangelets, planet-devouring mini black holes, and other amusingness.

It seems that the dire predictions of bad luck by otherwise distinguished Nobel-prize winners haven’t born fruit, and would have happened last Saturday if they were to happen at all.

Sorry, hypothesis falsified.

The idea that this sabotage by the Universe itself works selectively involves too many assumptions to be very likely even without last week’s disconfirmation, but them’s the breaks. Things are lookin’ up for the hunt for the Higgs boson.

(Last Update 11:16, 11/23/2009, Link Added)

A Question…and Some Thoughts

Here’s a question I came across on the JREF forums by one of the members, which I’ll post here as well, just to raise a point:

Scientists can correctly predict astronomical occurrences…down to the minute, and often down to the second. Why should psychics and prophets be held to a lesser standard?

It is true that psychics use a different method than scientists to allegedly gain their knowledge, but this is merely a statement that ‘They are different ways of knowing, therefore they are different ways of knowing,’ which is begging the question and does not serve as a valid excuse for why psychic predictions are not only always a little of target, but often completely wrong (when made beforehand and meaningfully specific in time of fulfillment and content).

Dedicated believers in the paranormal see nothing logically inconsistent with criticizing ‘mere materialistic scientists’ like meteorologists about even slightly inaccurate weather forecasts, and at the same time coming up with all manner of ‘reasons’ to support psychics whose only meaningfully accurate predictions are those made after the fact. Hindsight is 20/20, though most savvy media psychics will tailor their retrodictions to make them just a little off target to avoid suspicion.

Saying that the psychic and science are different provides no valid reason for giving the psychic a free pass no matter how off target its predictions, yet castigating science for even the smallest uncertainty or inaccuracy in the same. As the believers like to say, and as I will now, “…the forest for the trees, people!”

If psychic abilities are even as good as conventional, materialistic ‘ways of knowing,’ much less superior, what is the logic that they shouldn’t be held to at least the same if not better standards of accuracy? I’m gonna pull an Oprah and say, ‘I’m just asking questions.’