Sunday, February 7, 2010

We Got Rhythm: The Nearly Forgotten Anomalies of Frank Brown

This post is "inspired" by the accident of my stumbling across an old research file that I had not looked at for twenty years. It reminded me of what is a rather spectacular anomalous discovery, which I shouldn't forget, and that the "establishment" of Science is vicious towards all of those things that its biassed minds can't easily swallow. I'm writing it so as to remember both of these things--a possible anomaly of deep importance and as a curative for thinking that the "ordinary fringe" [UFOs, Psi, Cryptozoology, et al] are treated no differently from anything else that addles their constricted minds. This is not about the old fad called "biorhythms" by the way. I studied the data on that quite a bit, and it is an instance of a con game best forgotten [except for the lessons that it teaches]. As with all areas of anomalies, there are instances of our finer qualities as researcher/adventurers and instances of qualities that we, as a species, should be ashamed of. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
One day, as a young graduate student, Frank Brown was sitting on a fishing dock in a warm climate, and was treated to a "visit" by a hoard of shrimp. He caught a few, and no one recognized the species. He went back looking again without luck. One lunar month later, they were back. That simple nature experience started him on a lifelong study of biological rhythms in sea-life. Many of these critters seemed naturally to have a cycle relating to the Moon, very expected in a way, since they were tidal creatures. Brown, particularly after he was hired as a young prof at Northwestern, had the lab and where-with-all to begin detailed work. He chose species like Fiddler Crabs and Oysters. He studied them both in the "field" and isolated in tanks at the University. He found many things relating to rhythms, but I'll mention only two. Less interesting, perhaps, to us "outsiders", he found that creatures like the crabs appeared to have a "clock" which was significantly regulated by "outside" influences [i.e. not just a "hard-wired" internal cellular clock--which is what the establishment believed]. This, astonishingly, bought him not just disagreement but a shameful volley of insults and "professional" dirty tricks. The second thing that he found was that creatures displaced from their native environment "re-set their cyclical clocks" even if placed in lab environments where they were shielded from all gross environmental "natural" inputs. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Those two discoveries are, of course, closely related in Frank Brown's Big Picture, but the second was mostly ignored because it stretched any sort of thinking past most of our limits---but the first thing was viciously opposed as a pseudoscientific concept. [Brown is shown on the left at one of his study tanks at Northwestern]. "Scientific" persons began doing things like blocking his publications, slurring him in talks and even in writing, creating cabals to agree to never cite any of his work nor that of his students, mounting erroneous "statistical" arguments to show his alleged errors of data, refusing to invite him to speak at relevant symposia, or if they had to, offering him ten minutes to his opponents' 50 or 100 minute talks [I kid you not--read this disgusting crap in Brown's biographical chapter in Discovery Processes in Modern Biology, edited by W.R.Klemm. 1977]. Brown eventually "won", although he wasn't trying to "fight" anyone--Frank Brown is a civilized man. But his deeper discoveries are not spoken of much today, at least one of them. This is the fact learned from the oyster research that even if you keep them isolated in the lab, they not only re-set their "tidal" clocks, but they re-set them as if they somehow "know" that they been moved from the East Coast to Chicago--- that is: their new rhythm is the correct rhythm if they were sitting in a tidal situation in Chicago. But they're NOT, so how do they think they are? Brown said that the only way that this is possible is if organisms have astoundingly subtle ways of "sensing" environmental external changes "right through the laboratory walls et al". He said that all life is probably clued to its "local" circumstances in ways more intimately and more subtly than we can even measure. And when locality is changed, life senses that. How? A mystery. Brown also said that whatever is going on here operates in a "normal" range of these forces that life is sensing. Either too low OR too high is not immediately responded to. Life adjusts to such dramatic change but not as "immediately" as to changes in its normal range. How is it doing this? Gravitationally? Electromagnetically? Something even stranger? It's not Light--Brown blocked the organisms completely off from that. And, the lab environment should have knocked out almost any E-M influences from the outside. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
A thought that naturally arises and immediately sends the Establishment paranoid, is" what might this have to do with human behavior?" And, uhh-ohh, this leads us into the maelstrom of the Moon-Madness debates. [Brown by the way does not address this]. The old people have felt for time immemorial that lunar rhythms existed in humans, and one of them, the female menstrual cycle, has gotten very grudging acceptance [at least as statistically the correct time length, and, when studied in certain environments, seeming to actually cohere to the real phasing of the Moon]. [Most students of this think that living in the modern world of unnatural light cues has largely discombobulated the rhythm's natural pace]. If there is one spectacularly important Lunar rhythm in humans, might not there be more? This inspired Arnold Leiber's highly debated statistical studies of murder rates in Miami and Cleveland, wherein he wrote that he found significant increases in that source of extreme violence at both the Full and New phases of the Moon. This catalyzed a flurry of objections and a fair number of supportive commentaries as well. Once upon a time, I looked at the debunking studies which were aimed directly at Leiber's work. Those studies were two things: widely applauded and accepted, and, on second look, utterly flawed [for example, some alleged counter-studies looked at general crime rather than violent crime; some took the day when the victim died, rather than the day when the violence was perpetrated---mind-boggling]. I was quite prepared to see Leiber's work as flawed--I have no emotional connection to the issue at all. But the debunking, back then, was inappropriate, and another "scientific" embarrassment. Do we have good data for the human violence "full Moon" effect? Are there behavioral Wolfmen among us? I don't know, I haven't kept up with the literature for twenty years. -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
What I believe that I DO know from all this is that scientists, often, are an embarrassment to the ideals that they claim to hold sacred. They are petty-minded, paranoid, and even vicious-- and I used to teach science for thirty years. The science is great. How it could have originated from the "scientists" is one of the greatest anomalies of our culture. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------And one last thing for the fun of it: the female menstrual cycle has the full Moon correlating with the ovaries' production of eggs. It seems to me that fertile women and aggressive men is something that Mother Nature wants to get together. :-). "See the Moon; Be the Moon".

8 comments:

  1. I'm glad to hear of Frank Brown again. I first heard of him in a book I had (and loaned and lost) called, I believe, "The Moon and How It Effects You," and Brown's research stood out to me, as well as his colleagues reaction. I recall he moved oysters from Chesapeake Bay to Chicago and found them setting their biological clocks as you describe - to which this author (and I don't know if Brown would agree or not) ascribed their sensing of the gravitational pull of the moon when it was most directly overhead.
    Thanks for the post.

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  2. views of this anomaly naturally go to some sensing of the Moon--trouble is that any imaginable lunar influence on a creature in a laboratory tank would measure out at such a low force level that no one can imagine how it could be sensed.

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  3. You are quite right about the issue of how "established" science handles new and unpopular data. No area of science is untouched by this. One of the observations that I would make, mostly about fringe subjects such as Ufology, is that, on the one hand we have scientists who know how to employ the scientific but refuse to accept suprising outcomes and on the other hand we have the believers who seem to accept just about anything without discrimination. I'm trying to stay square in the middle. Thanks for the post: unfortunately this is a familiar story.

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  4. Prof, int'resting piece, very Lyall Watson.

    Intrigued by your possible correlation between fertile women, aggressive men, and the moon.

    I was wondering if the mechanism behind Brown's observations might be the Bell derived idea of nonlocal transmission of information between no longer contiguous particles, which's just started turning up in explanations for plant biology observations.

    Like you, I think the scientific method's wonderful - but researchers're often people first, scientists second.

    The thing about the scientific method, though, is, technically, it's only truly the scientific method when you yourself carry it out, i.e., no matter how much you might trust another researcher, unless you, yourself've verified their results by carrying out the experiment yourself, you only have their word for it they conducted the experiment in the first place, never mind produced the results they claim.

    This is why so many repeat the mantra, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof," knowing full well few people can be bothered to test the validity of even non-extraordinary claims, yet if ALL Science was required to submit extraordinary proof - and why shouldn't it be? - most of it'd fail at the first hurdle, especially in fields like Astronomy, Psychology, and the branches of physics dealing with, say, proving the existence of gravitons.

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  5. A). Lyall Watson is MUCH more "adventurous" with his opinions than I, and doubtless has led a much more exciting life [watching Amazonian Shaman turn tennis balls inside out without rupturing them for example---a claim that I will not at all buy until I get better support for it---he DOES tell a whale of a story however]. B).The speculation about subtle connectivity of some sort is not what Brown would go for--he was into super-sensitive "natural physical force detection". I could at least entertain the notion of a type of detection which occurred through some exotic interdimensional means, but it's just me blowing smoke with little to go on---pretty Out Proctor.

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  6. The following is probably too simple a solution, but here goes:

    There should have been a daily rhythm in the lab since the staff would have come in in the morning and left in the evening. There should also have been a weekly rhythm, since they presumably wouldn't have come in on weekends. Surely this changed the oysters' environment somehow?

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  7. Agreed, but the issue was that the oysters adopted a shifted TIDAL rhythm not a diurnal or even weekly one. Brown was actually a pretty smart guy and would not have been surprised if he had seen just a change in daily behavior. If you wanted to expand your theory, I think that it would have to go a bit "All The Way Fool" [as we say on this site for brilliant but wildly controversial ideas] and say that the lab techs adopted a tidal rhythm set of behaviors which were somehow transmitted to the oysters. What those tidal behaviors would have been [menstrual smells? aggressive water changes?] is not very clear to me, but only with some guess there would one be able to string together a hypothetical model.

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  8. Maybe it's not the moon....?

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