Are melting points constant? – reply to article in this issue, p. 35 – Brief Article

Rupert Sheldrake

(Reply to the article by Van Genderen, Koene, and Nienhuys)

Like van Genderen, Koene, and Nienhuys (subsequendy GKN) I am a skeptic, but of a different kind. I think it is important to question fundamental assumptions that are usually taken for granted. In particular, I am skeptical about the idea that the “laws of nature are constant. This theory was built into the foundations of modern science in the seventeenth century, and was originally based on theology; The laws of nature were created by God and shared in God’s nature: they were changeless, universal, and omnipotent.

Until the Big Bang cosmology became orthodox in the 1960s, there seemed no reason to challenge this belief. But we now have a radically evolutionary cosmology; In this context, does it make sense to say that all the laws of nature were fixed at the Big Bang, like a cosmic Napoleonic code? Or to claim that they existed before the Big Bang? There can be no experimental evidence for such a claim. This is clearly a metaphysical assertion. Evolutionary cosmology raises the possibility that the laws of nature may themselves evolve.

We can even question the concept of natural “laws.” This is a very anthropocentric notion, since only humans have laws. As the English writer C.S. Lewis once said, “To say that a stone falls to earth because it is obeying a law makes it a man and even a citizen. Perhaps the regularities of nature are more like habits than laws. Habits imply a kind of unconscious memory. In my hypothesis of formative causation, I suggest that self-organizing systems, including molecules, crystals, cells, organisms and animal societies, are organized by morphic fields which contain an inherent memory given by the process I call morphic resonance. I give a detailed account of this hypothesis in my book The Presence of the Past.

According to this hypothesis, the first rime a new chemical substance crystallizes in the history of the universe, there will be no pre-existing morphic field for this compound. But once the chemical has crystallized, subsequent attempts to crystallize it in other places will be influenced by morphic resonance from the first crystals. As the compound is crystallized repeatedly there will be a cumulative effect. It should therefore, on average, become easier to crystallize that chemical.

The morphic field of the crystal works, I suggest, by patterning the crystallization process toward one of the many possible minimum-energy structures that the compound is capable of taking up. Morphic resonance from past crystals should strengthen the morphic field, and hence nor only make the compound easier to crystallize, but also more resistant to disruption. Therefore a higher temperature would be necessary to break it up. Thus the melting point would be expected to rise.

According to the hypothesis of morphic resonance, compounds that have crystallized in nature for millions of years will show little or no change in melting point. There would be a very small incremental effect of new crystallizations against a background of influence from countless crystallizations in the past. By contrast, new compounds first synthesized or crystallized in laboratories or industrial processes should show increasing melting points.

In fact, for example, cocaine in its natural form had a melting point of 98[degrees]C in 1915, and its melting point was still the same in 1989. By contrast, cocaine hydrochloride, the cocaine of commerce, is man-made. Its melting point increased from 184[degrees]C in 1918 to 197[degrees]C in 1989.

Nienhuys first wrote to me four years ago challenging my suggestion that melting points could actually change. I provided a range of examples from the chemical literature showing that such rises apparently occur, some as great as 30[degrees]C. When his chemist colleagues checked my figures, they found very similar figures. GKN have now fallen back on the circular argument that when melting points go up, it must mean samples are purer. And how do we know they are purer? Because they have higher melting points! If GKN had actually produced data for changes in purity, their argument might have had some force. In fact for most of the melting points in the older literature no data on purity are available.

GKN have now shifted their ground to theoretical arguments about the Gibbs free energy. In effect, GKN claim that melting points of chemicals are constant because textbook theories assume they are. They bring confusion rather than clarity to the empirical question of whether melting points can actually change. They try to make skepticism about the constancy of melting points seem unnecessary. But whether they like it or not, in an evolutionary universe, the evolution of the regularities of nature is an open question. The comfortable doctrine that all “laws” and “constants” are fixed cannot be taken for granted. If the universe and everything within it evolves, it would be strange if chemistry were somehow immune.

I would be grateful to hear from any chemists who have empirical data relevant to these questions.

COPYRIGHT 2002 Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal

COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group

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