Materialism and magic bottles

Organic chemists know about the “magic bottle” effect. This is where if you use a particular bottle of stuff, the reaction goes, and if you use a different, though nominally identical one, the reaction doesn’t.

I can think of at least two hypotheses for why this might be. I have a materialist hypothesis, which is that there are very small amounts of impurities in the “magic” bottle which catalyse the reaction. I also have a non-materialist hypothesis, which is that the “magic bottle” is inhabited by the benign ghost of a departed experimenter.

I have a very good reason for wanting to test the first hypothesis really very thoroughly before the second hypothesis, and it’s nothing to do with any philosophical biases or preconceptions I might have. I have a reliable method for making solutions of stuff with given amounts of impurities, and can even state error bars, given other experiments, on what those amounts might be.

What I have no idea of how to do reliably is to manufacture, or even to get in touch with, benign ghosts of departed experimenters. I can certainly ensure departedness. Ethics committees would disapprove.

And I don’t think the ghosts would be terribly benign.


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