Can a supernatural phenomenon by definition exist?

  • #1
AndromedaRXJ
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Or would any apparent supernatural phenomenon ultimately be boiled down to natural laws that we just don't understand yet? By definition, a supernatural phenomenon doesn't obey natural laws, or a certain subset of natural laws.

Like say for instance, we observer a large star orbiting a small planet. We know this should be impossible, but low and behold, we're hit in the face with this nonetheless. What would we make of it? I'm sure we'd first have to assume and rigorously test for other explanations that fit in the framework of natural laws (maybe aliens hid a black hole inside the planet or something, and/or the planet appearing in the telescope is some kind of illusion).

Could something ultimately be verified to indeed be supernatural? Or is there always a possibility that, no matter how bizarre something is, it could still be natural and we just have an outdated natural framework that just can't account for it yet? Could it be verified that there is indeed nothing wrong with the framework, and that something just exists outside of it?
 

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  • #2
russ_watters
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Or would any apparent supernatural phenomenon ultimately be boiled down to natural laws that we just don't understand yet? By definition, a supernatural phenomenon doesn't obey natural laws, or a certain subset of natural laws.
Doesn't the definition answer your question?
Could something ultimately be verified to indeed be supernatural? Or is there always a possibility that, no matter how bizarre something is, it could still be natural and we just have an outdated natural framework that just can't account for it yet? Could it be verified that there is indeed nothing wrong with the framework, and that something just exists outside of it?
Both options are possible. Nothing is 100% certain in science or outside it.
 
  • #3
hmmm27
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Like say for instance, we observer a large star orbiting a small planet. We know this should be impossible, but low and behold, we're hit in the face with this nonetheless.

What would we make of it?
Photoshop.
 
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  • #4
hutchphd
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I will fall back on Arthur C. Clark:
  1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
  2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
  3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
I am an elderly scientist so you should not listen to me decry anything as impossible. Arcane enough for you?

?
 
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  • #5
AndromedaRXJ
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Doesn't the definition answer your question?

I don't think it does. I guess what I'm asking is can a physical law actually be violated or not be obeyed by a particular phenomenon.
 
  • #6
hmmm27
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I guess what I'm asking is can a physical law actually be violated or not be obeyed by a particular phenomenon.
For example ?
 
  • #7
berkeman
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I guess what I'm asking is can a physical law actually be violated or not be obeyed by a particular phenomenon.
Probably not so much violated, but in need of modification/extension when an observation does not match the current laws. Are you familiar with the photoelectric effect? Einstein's rings, etc.? Quantum Mechanics and GR would seem to be examples of extensions/improvements of the then-accepted physical laws, no?
 
  • #8
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Using this definition:
https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/supernatural
relating to an order of existence beyond the visible observable universe

does what is happening this exact instance on Kepler -22b count as supernatural? It will always be outside our observable universe on Earth. The only information that will ever be available to us will always be over 600 years old. Also, whether anything existed before the big bang or if there are other universes are also supernatural questions?
 
  • #9
Keith_McClary
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Suppose we find numerous ternary star systems in this unlikely orbit:
 
  • #10
russ_watters
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I don't think it does. I guess what I'm asking is can a physical law actually be violated or not be obeyed by a particular phenomenon.
Your definition of "supernatural" was that it doesn't obey natural/physical laws. It's an exact answer to your question:
1. Can a supernatural entity violate natural laws?
2. Yes, by definition a supernatural entity violates natural laws.

But that question is different. Here are the two questions:
Q1: Can a supernatural entity violate physical laws. (obviously yes, by definition)
Q2: Can a supernatural entity exist. (maybe)
[edit]
Q3: If we saw one, would we know? (probably yes)
 
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  • #11
wrobel
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Or would any apparent supernatural phenomenon ultimately be boiled down to natural laws that we just don't understand yet?
Well... Did you see movie "The Matrix"? Formally speaking we can not prove that we do not live in such a Matrix. If we were living there then Agent Smith with his abilities would be a supernatural phenomenon for us.
His magic tricks would be real but we could not study them by the scientific method.
 
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  • #12
AndromedaRXJ
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Probably not so much violated, but in need of modification/extension when an observation does not match the current laws. Are you familiar with the photoelectric effect? Einstein's rings, etc.? Quantum Mechanics and GR would seem to be examples of extensions/improvements of the then-accepted physical laws, no?

I'm familiar with some of those.

What if after an immense amount of time and research, we never put a dent in modifying the theories to account for the observed phenomenon? Could we eventually conclude that the phenomenon is indeed supernatural, and that there's nothing wrong with our theories? Or would we be stuck indefinitely assuming that there must be something wrong with our theories? What if worse still, we observe more natural phenomena that only strengthen our theories, but the apparent supernatural phenomenon still flies in the face of it?
 
  • #13
AndromedaRXJ
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Q3: If we saw one, would we know? (probably yes)

So it is actually possible to verify a supernatural phenomenon and not be stuck indefinitely looking for ways to modify current theories?
 
  • #14
wrobel
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So it is actually possible to verify a supernatural phenomenon
I would say that what we can verify is not supernatural:)
 
  • #15
AndromedaRXJ
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For example ?

Well there's my example in my original post. We come across a lower mass body being orbited by a higher mass body. I can make it more bizarre and say its orbital path is quadrilateral. Really just any observed phenomenon that doesn't at all fit into any current framework.

Another example, I guess, is we come across a human being that can levitate at will. He can't explain how he does it, he just does it when he wants to. He volunteers to be examined in a lab, and absolutely nothing else about him is unusual apart from being able to levitate. No special technology or trickery is found on his body. His physiology appears to be like any other human. But he can levitate.
 
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  • #16
russ_watters
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So it is actually possible to verify a supernatural phenomenon and not be stuck indefinitely looking for ways to modify current theories?
No, those are two different things. We're going to be "indefinitely looking for ways to modify current theories" anyway.
 
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  • #18
berkeman
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Well there's my example in my original post. We come across a lower mass body being orbited by a higher mass body. I can make it more bizarre and say its orbital path is quadrilateral. Really just any observed phenomenon that doesn't at all fit into any current framework.

Another example, I guess, is we come across a human being that can levitate at will. He can't explain how he does it, he just does it when he wants to. He volunteers to be examined in a lab, and absolutely nothing else about him is unusual apart from being able to levitate. No special technology or trickery is found on his body. His physiology appears to be like any other human. But he can levitate.
Please avoid posting nonsense at PF; this thread is nearing the point where it will be locked. And try to avoid the term "supernatural" here. It is a waste of our time and yours.
 
  • #19
Delta2
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In my opinion many things happen in our daily life that violate the laws of physics but they are not reproducible in a scientific lab . They happen by intervention of Angels and Demons which have the ability to manipulate (change, violate, locally or globally in space and time) the laws of physics, while us the humans only can understand the laws of physics and use them to our advantage.

Yes we are living in some sort of Matrix and the Agents Smiths are invisible and undetectable by any technology and they are what i call "transcendental" beings. Angels and Demons are revealed to us only if they want us to see them.
 
  • #20
aheight
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By definition, a supernatural phenomenon doesn't obey natural laws, or a certain subset of natural laws.

Within that statement lies the fault: We create descriptions of Nature that become our laws and we often miss some of the connections by the very design of the Universe: it's massively non-linear and thus exudes all the trappings of such systems such as sensitive-dependence. So the question "is a phenomenon that doesn't obey a perhaps less-than-perfect particular natural law created by humans, supernatural?", then yes, I believe there will always exist supernatural phenomena.
 
  • #21
hmmm27
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Well there's my example in my original post. We come across a lower mass body being orbited by a higher mass body. I can make it more bizarre and say its orbital path is quadrilateral. Really just any observed phenomenon that doesn't at all fit into any current framework.

In that specific case, we'd probably be spending a very large amount of resources trying to figure out why the telescopes are broken - eg: "ftl neutrinos", or "cold fusion". Eventually a sticky note is placed on the file, that says "alien practical jokers".

Another example, I guess, is we come across a human being that can levitate at will. He can't explain how he does it, he just does it when he wants to. He volunteers to be examined in a lab, and absolutely nothing else about him is unusual apart from being able to levitate. No special technology or trickery is found on his body. His physiology appears to be like any other human. But he can levitate.

Oh, that's an easy one : nobody believes it at first ; the few scientists who witness the phenomenon firsthand set up a demonstration in order to get massive funding. Unfortunately, on the way to the presentation, the levitator is kidnapped either by an internal 3-letter-acronym spy agency, an external country, or an evil organization based on a volcanic island that nobody else can seem to find for some reason.

Meanwhile, a new church - probably hailing from the southern US - claims the guy is an emissary of the Supreme Being ; this somewhat mitigated by the leaked reports of juvenile shoplifting and grafitti charges.

An investigation is launched, leading to an orphanage, then to a farming couple who found a child in the field next to a wrecked tiny spaceship but for some reason didn't bother to tell anybody. Fortunately the spaceship is still around, having been upcycled into a beer cooler.

Meanwhile a(n other) secret organization - funded and personally operated by Elon Musk - puts together a rescue plan...
 
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  • #22
PeroK
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When did PF change from Physics Forums to Paranormal Fruitcakes?
 
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  • #24
hutchphd
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I am of the opinion that the overarching theme here should be

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy (Hamlet, I.5)

Hamlet's criticism is not of the science of the day but rather in our ability dream.

The question asked in the OP seems to me trivial in that light. It is the unknown unknowns that are really interesting.
Meanwhile back on planet I would definitively answer "no" to any presumed existence of supernatural events. Certainly that needs to our answer in the public sphere (as eloquently delineated by @PeroK list)
 
  • #25
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Belief in magic or witchcraft and punishing those believed to use it for nefarious purposes is not constrained to any particular religion or cultural group. Anthropologists have found it in various indigenous groups and was codified in the code of Hammurabi:

If a man has put a spell upon another man and it is not yet justified, he upon whom the spell is laid shall go to the holy river; into the holy river shall he plunge. If the holy river overcome him and he is drowned, the man who put the spell upon him shall take possession of his house. If the holy river declares him innocent and he remains unharmed the man who laid the spell shall be put to death. He that plunged into the river shall take possession of the house of him who laid the spell upon him

even in Holy Mother Russia, the center of Orthodoxy, people were tortured and executed for witchcraft

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00G6SD4JO/?tag=pfamazon01-20
 
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  • #26
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We have had many excellent responses here but I think we have also exhausted the topic. Supernatural usually borders on things we don’t know or understand and consider anomalies.

Supernatural events are often reported but always without certain details being provided. Over the years, I’ve encountered many stories of supposed supernatural events which turn out to have quite natural explanations.

We want to believe that there are things beyond our understanding and are eager to embrace them when discovered until we learn the truth of how they work.

In the words of the Iris Dement song: Let the Mystery Be

with that we will close this thread and thank everyone who contributed here.
 
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