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Kary Mullis

is a part of me, just like the rest of those people that feels immortal, and would like it to be that way. That question does not really have a rational answer.

David: It’s a question that fascinates me because I think it really stimulates the imagination.

Kary: Yes it does. If you were to take a vote around the planet, it would definitely come out that we are eternal and responsible somehow for ourselves and our actions forever. But that’s not a rational point of view. There’s nothing that we accept like that in science except for mathematical truths. The universe itself, we would say it changes, and it has a lifetime. And at some point, it will either return to a singularity, or it will just expand itself out of existence, or whatever. I mean, there’s nothing around us that has that property of being immortal.

David: When I spoke with Rupert Sheldrake he told me that he questions the idea that there are these eternal, unchanging mathematical laws that govern the universe.

Kary: He questioned that too?

David: Yeah, he thinks of them more like habits than laws, and that they could be evolving, just like everything else in the universe is evolving.

Kary: Our idea about mathematics is that, once a theorem is proven, that it will always be true, because of the whole interwoven structure of mathematical logic. But a lot of things that we think are true in terms of physics, which is different from mathematics, have changed-like Newtonian gravitation, for instance. In the Seventeenth Century it seemed to be true, then, after three  hundred years, with more thinking and better observations, it turned out not to be exactly true. Relativity came along and said no, you’re dealing with elements like mass and length as though they were absolute and none of them are. Space is not absolute. Only the velocity of light is absolute. So everything had to be changed. But in mathematics, as long as we keep the definitions clear, it seems that a mathematical truth is eternal. The fly in the ointment, of course, is that mathematics does not say anything directly about reality.  We make the associations intuitively and we also up the axioms for want of any other way to get them. But we wouldn’t want it to be simple here, would we?

David: What Rupert questions is the idea that universal constants, like the speed of light, or gravitational constants, remain eternally unchanging.

Kary: There’s no reason to think that those things can’t change.

David: Yet that’s the assumption that most scientists have.

Kary: The speed of light is something that actually is a measurement that we make, and special relativity says it will always be the same for everyone. But special relativity is just a theory in the same way that Newtonian mechanics was a theory. We could find out that in certain circumstances special relativity wasn’t quite true. What we found out from Newtonian mechanics was that, in certain circumstances, Newton was wrong. The mass of something does seem to increase if it is going, relative to us, at a speed near the speed of light. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be going near the speed of light. If it’s just moving at all, the mass increases. It’s just that the increase is kind of small until it gets up to a very high velocity. Newton thought that mass would always stay the same.

David: Has your use of psychedelics influenced your scientific work, and how has it affected your perspective on life in general?

Kary: I would say that it was a mind-opening experience. It showed me that it might be a lot weirder here than I thought it was. So pay attention. Know what your assumptions are, and which of those are just arbitrary. Notice that things might be a little bit different than you think they are. I wouldn’t say that it led to any particular developments in my thought, except that it just expanded it a little bit. I think almost anyone who’s had those experiences would say that this place might be a little weirder than it appears. I’m not so certain anymore that the world is exactly the way I think it is. Most people get fairly stuck in ways of thinking that really are the current fashion, the current theory-like Newtonian mechanics seemed to be the way that things were for two hundred years.

David: What is your perspective on the concept of God?

Kary: It’s a notion that really doesn’t solve any philosophical questions; it just puts it off a little bit. On the other hand, it’s a concept that occupies the minds of a heck of a lot of humans, so it’s an important concept to keep in mind. But if you look at it in a philosophical way, it simply puts off any kinds of thoughts that you might have of your origins, or of your purpose. To just say, I’m here because of Allah, and I’m here to do his will, doesn’t really tell you what to do, or why you’re here. It just gives it a name, and there’s nothing really specific about anything of it.

David: Do you think it’s possible that there could be any type of intelligence or consciousness inherent in nature?

Kary: Well, what we know of the universe is so big, and so complex-on a large scale or on a small scale-that nothing really should be all that shocking to us. If it turns out to have properties that echo various religious beliefs, I don’t think it would be terribly shocking.

But there’s no evidence for such a thing. If you read and follow the thinking of those theories that are prominent today in terms of physics-like how physicists envision the whole of existence-and when they start talking about things like quantum mechanics, you realize that this place is so complicated, and so non-intuitive in a way, that anything is really possible, and nothing should surprise you.

But, on the other hand, there’s no evidence that we are being lead by some divine purpose. There’s no evidence for that, and there’s no evidence against that. It’s not a question that science really needs to address, because there’s no evidence to support it. But we often ignore some of the weirdest things on the planet.

David: Like what?

Kary: Crop circles, for example. People might say that they don’t exist, or they’re all a hoax, but that’s pretty silly. I don’t think anyone could make some of the ones that I’ve seen. Either the pictures are faked, or the things are made by some kind of forces that we don’t quite understand. They’re not made by people going out in the middle of the night with sticks and ropes. There are a lot of things like that that we don’t understand.

If you ask people the question, “Have you ever had any experience that you just could not explain at all, but you couldn’t deny it?” most people will say, yes, that happened to me at least once. I consider that the experiences that I’ve had in my life are real in a sense. I don’t make them up. Some things have happened to me that I can’t explain, and I can’t deny that they happened.

David: What are some of the things that have happened to you that you can’t explain?

Kary: All kinds of things have happened to me that I can’t explain. They happen all the time. Don’t you ever have what you might call an intuition, but really it seems that you have seen into the future?

David: Sure.

Kary: I have that happen a lot. My wife has that happen. Just simple little things that are kind of contrary to any sort of scientific explanations that I can see. Actually, there’s nothing in present day physics that says that you can’t have precognitive experiences. Like I was saying earlier, part of you exists in the future. Present day physics says that the percentage of you that exists in the future drops off exponentially, and there’s not much of it really, but how much does it take to see something in the future? I have all kinds of experiences that don’t fit with the very simple and Newtonian picture of causality. Things seem to be connected by more dimensions than I can perceive with my vision, and modern physics says that’s true.

David: Why do you think it is that so many conventional scientists are opposed to the idea that telepathy or precognition might have a basis in reality?

Kary: Maybe they think there’s scientific reason to doubt that those things could possibly exist. I don’t think there is scientific evidence for these phenomena. Science has been silent on those things because scientists don’t know how to deal with them. They don’t really present a side we can grasp. 


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