“Late Night Thoughts About Science” from Peter A. Sturrock is a teaser as well as a repast. It’s a repast because the short examples of a variety of scientific anomalies, as orthodoxy styles them, is in itself rich and rewarding. Examples of, for instance, remote viewing or clairvoyance or well-documented UFO phenomena are carefully chosen and challenge readers who bring arch-skeptical attitudes toward such things. Either his examples are invented or mistaken or even fraudulent, the reader might think … OR, the book clearly suggests, it is facts themselves that are are damned, as Charles Fort said, by an orthodoxy which will not or cannot entertain them as incontrovertible facts. The reader who is willing to choose the latter option is at the beginning, not the end, of an intellectual adventure.
Chapter after chapter, the facts are presented carefully, quietly, matter-of-factually, until the burden is on the reader to refute them or – one intention of this short collection, I believe – use the well-chosen suggestions for further reading to explore each subject in depth and detail on his or her own.
The seventeen chapters open with four instances of unresolved issues that would be well known to scientifically trained persons – ball lightning, the Allais effect, low energy nuclear reactions, and properties of beta decay. This frames the inquiry in a way that is well within orthodox science, since these puzzles are part of the lore of orthodoxy itself and ought to be somewhat familiar. They are bread crumbs that one follows with easy acquiescence into the darkening forest of edgier facts where night is falling.
With the chapter on precognition, the text moves into what some call “paranormal” (in order to make clear they know what is normal and what is not), and that’s when the reader either tosses the book away with a snort or says, hmmm, if this single account is true, what else might be true about this mysterious universe, final knowledge of which I certainly do not have, and how can I learn more? The “further reading” suggestions point the way. The segue from daylight science to nighttime reflections is seamless but as one reads about psychokinesis or crop circles, the night-time thoughts persist until the dawn and then they remain in the daylight.
Richard Feynman observed that a fact that is both a fact and anomalous is the most interesting fact because it suggests at the least that something has been overlooked or smoothed out on behalf of a coherent but false hypothesis. At the most, however, the anomalous fact might become the cornerstone of an entirely new way of framing what we know. Sturrock’s lifetime of work is a testimony to that open-minded approach and where it might lead. My review on Amazon of his book “A Tale of Two Sciences” goes into much more detail about Sturrock’s courage and career and the toll it takes to ask questions that respectable circle-the-wagons science prefers not to hear. He is an esteemed physicist who made major contributions to plasma physics and a thinker who has studied and asked hard serious questions of well-documented UFO phenomena, preferring to let the evidence suggests answers rather than making his prior answers distort or dismiss the evidence. If the reader’s curiosity is stimulated by this collection, there is a lot more Sturrock-work to explore.
“Late Night Thoughts” is wise, thoughtful, careful, mature reflection, a good complement to his other books and evidence that at 92, Sturrock continues to find both fascination and fertile grounds for exploration in domains that others are too timid to touch.