Inexplicable happenings that are really inexplicable

You often hear stories from the Woo-Woo Club about how something-or-other proves fill-in-the-blank. “And he could set things on fire just by looking at them, and scientists have not be able to explain how he did it. His doctors said he was a medical mystery. To this day, science has not come up with a convincing explanation…” You know what I mean. And then it turns out the doctor quoted as saying it was a medical mystery was really his primary-care physician from Kyrgyzstan, and the woowooers are conveniently overlooking widespread debunking. Or, it was inexplicable at the time, but fifty years later science can explicate every little detail.

Are there any of these types of stories that really can’t be explained by the laws of nature as we know it? Or that are just bizarrely baffling enough to attract the crazy? (I’ll bet has a list somewhere. They always do this sort of stuff).

No, I don’t believe that psychic aliens are helping the CIA teach pyrokinesis to kids from Kyrgyzstan as prophesied by Nostradamus and the Mayans. I’m just interested in weird stuff.

I’m not saying this is inexplicable, but it’s certainly weird.

the Guidestones

Oh, the world is full of weird stuff without an explanation.

Here, to get you started… ‘‘6 Insane Discoveries That Science Can’t Explain.’’

My favorite is the bloop. I for one welcome our Elder God overlord!

Since we’ve already got one Cracked link, they have two more that are along the same lines:

The 5 Creepiest Unsolved Crimes Nobody Can Explain

The 5 Creepiest Unexplained Broadcasts

The placebo effect in science and medicine is a true mystery. It is so common that most people take it for granted and think the explanation is obvious when it isn’t at all. The placebo effect occurs when a biologically active drug is tested against a fake treatment like a sugar pill of saline injection. One of the biggest hurdles in research is to design treatments that can beat the placebo controls. Most people take this to mean that not beating the placebo means that both treatments do nothing when that isn’t the case at all. The placebo often has a real and measurable effect in things like pain management and even diseases. Animals sometimes show the the response as well and nobody really understands why except in the most vague and mystical terms.

I don’t have a cite right-off, but it’s my understanding that the placebo effect has actually increased over time. It works even better now than it used to.

I know Ben Goldacre has mentioned the placebo effect (and the nocebo effect) a bunch of times in his column. Heard him give a pretty good talk last year where he spent a little time talking about just how wacky the placebo effect is. In one of the articles on that page he links to this 2002 study saying that the effect of the placebo looks to have increased over time.

The Cracked articles cited above are some of my absolute favorites.

These articles from New Scientist cover some of the mysteries noted above, plus several others:

13 Things That Do Not Make Sense
13 More Things That Do Not Make Sense

I think the mysterious Belfast homeopathy study results from the first article have pretty much been explained away as being due to faulty experimentation. Apparently others have not been able to replicate the results.

My father lives in Atlanta, and I sent him a link about the guidestones a while back. He took a day trip to see them, and was severely disappointed. His account of the visit:

I post this not to say they aren’t mysterious, but as a heads-up to anyone who might be considering a road-trip to visit them.

Also, to be honest, I’m not sure what he meant by some parts of that.

There is an inexhaustable supply of new things which happen and are inexplicable. They’re inexplicable simply because not enough accurate data was captured at the time and, by definition, more won’t be forthcoming on something which happened in the past.

The so-called Wow signal is a good example. All we will ever know about it was in that small recording of amplitude. Even if another 10 similar signals were recorded over the next 50 years, if each is a surprise and no better data is recorded, it’ll be impossible to determine anything beyond the obvious.

Almost all of the true woowoo phenomena fall into this trap. The more that so called “researchers” and Discovery Channel camera crews interview the few witnesses, the more their recollections become unreliable rehashs of the previous interview rather than accurate recitations of their original knowlege. And their set of original knowledge wasn’t all that good 3 minutes after whatever happened had ended.

I have nothing to contribute but to say this is a GOOD thing. It (herbal tea, aromatherapy, Head On) works if you think it works.

A couple of observations here:

One-off weird stuff has a high probability of simply being a faulty observation, or a poorly constructed experiment. Unfortunately, the Stanley & Pons cold fusion experiment falls into this category, as much as I’d like it to be true.

The placebo effect is interesting, but I think it says more about our limited understanding of mind-body interaction than it does about the limits of medical science.

Horizon effect: Cosmic inflation during the Big Bang is less believable than more recent violations of the speed of light limit? I agree that inflation is kind of an ad-hoc explanation, but it’s really not all that surprising that we don’t have the big-bang completely figured out yet, given that it’s a tough problem and all.

Ultra-Energetic Cosmic Rays, Dark Matter, Methane On Mars, Tetraneutrons, Pioneer Anomaly, Dark Energy, Kuiper Cliff, The Wow Signal, Cosmalogical Constants, and many others: Well, this is science at work, isn’t it? I think the most difficult thing for non-scientists to grasp about how science is practiced is that there is a great deal of uncertainty in the process of figuring it out. Every thing we know to a reasonable certainty now was once a set of observations that didn’t make a lot of sense, and were the source (usually) of some nasty arguments.


Some factual info on the Georgia stones

Some interesting recent suggests that epigenetics may explain placebo effect as well as inexplicable cures, etc.

  1. The Voynich Manuscript
  1. The Antikythera Mechanism
  1. The Baigong Pipes
  1. The Giant Stone Balls of Costa Rica
  1. The Baghdad Batteries
  1. The Bloop