Investment

The John Templeton Foundation and backing research into time travel fuelled by a jellyfish

The $3.8 billion John Templeton Foundation is the oddest, and most interesting, in its sector, according to Inside Philanthropy.  Its research is set to become even odder – and more interesting – after its decision to back research into time travel fuelled by a jellyfish. 

The project will be led by Jim Al-Khaleli and Andrea Rocca of the University of Surrey in the UK who will also use their $3 million grant to study the impact of quantum mechanics on nuclear fusion, bird migration, photosynthesis and (maybe) life on earth.

They call their area of study quantum biology. Their team will use green fluorescent protein (GFP) – a biomolecule first discovered in a jellyfish named Aequorea Victoria – to throw light on a curious relationship between sub-atomic particles, living cells and time. 

Their grant is the latest of many by the John Templeton Foundation founded by Sir John Templeton, an intensely curious, and spiritual, individual, who died in July 2008. To this day, the foundation remains determined to answer the “deepest and most perplexing questions facing human kind.” 

He set up the John Templeton Foundation in 1987 to fund spiritual and scientific endeavours. Templeton saw no contradiction in this approach: “God is revealing himself more and more to human inquiry, not always through prophetic visions or scriptures but through the astonishingly productive research of modern scientists.”

Templeton, born in 1912, funded his education at Yale out of winnings at poker. His early fortune grew out of his decision to buy 100 shares in every listed US company priced at less than a dollar a share during the 1930s depression. Their recovery paved the way for his renown as a billionaire fund manager, driven by research but never by anxiety.

After the war, he became a mutual fund pioneer, launching funds involved in cutting-edge industries like nuclear energy, chemicals and electronics.  His master fund Templeton Growth was the first to take a view on Japan, and other emerging markets, although its portfolio has lately become more conventional, investing in global companies like Samsung, Roche and Walt Disney. 

In 1992, Templeton sold his asset management business for $912 million to Franklin Resources, a family-controlled outfit, which shared his belief in value investment. Sadly, Franklin, and Templeton Growth, have underperformed growth managers and stock market indices since the crisis of 2008 when central banks pushed interest rates to zero, fuelling technology stocks and durable market euphoria, which Templeton always mistrusted. 

To avoid income tax, Templeton renounced his US citizenship and chose to live in the Bahamas with joint UK citizenship, channelling philanthropy towards religious, educational and charitable causes. 

He set up the John Templeton Foundation in 1987 to fund spiritual and scientific endeavours. He saw no contradiction in this approach: “God is revealing himself more and more to human inquiry, not always through prophetic visions or scriptures but through the astonishingly productive research of modern scientists.”

The foundation likes to be practical rather than dogmatic. It once asked: “What constitutes a religious experience? It depends, of course, on who you ask.” Its research grants have covered topics including block holes, immortality, genetics and near-death experiences. It has made 3,320 grants since inception. Its partners include the Bezos Family Foundation and Omidyar Group. Templeton’s son, John Templeton Jr, took over the running of the foundation after 2008.  Following his death in 2015, the running of the Foundation passed to his daughter Heather Templeton Dill who likes to see humility in the way research is tackled. 

In recent years research into quantum mechanics has been steadily gaining traction.  It shows that sub-atomic particles can behave according to laws very different to conventional science.

For example, the movement of some electrons or protons can get slaved to each other through entanglement even when they are far from each other. If one of them is spinning one way, the other will always spin in the reverse direction. Entanglement has been observed over 1,200 kilometres and mathematics suggests it takes place over space and time. Migrating birds are said to navigate their flight by using entanglement with the earth’s magnetic field, seen through their eyes. 

Alternatively, a sub-atomic particle can exist in several different states at once, through super-positioning, although it all breaks down if someone else spots what is going on (unlikely as that might seem) and the particles jump one way, or another. Quantum computers encourage the super-positioning of particles in sub-zero temperatures and use entanglement to produce their calculations. Some say human thought is also influenced by quantum mechanics. 

Through tunnelling, sub-atomic particles can penetrate impermeable barriers without needing to use a vast amount of energy. This can change the way in which objects interact. It could enhance a sense of small. In the sun, or a nuclear fusion reactor, tunnelling encourages hydrogen atoms to knit together. Without it, nuclear fusion would not happen and neither would we.  

In coherence, particles behave like a wave when they are in rhythm with each other. This may maximise the way light photons hit reactor cells to enable photosynthesis to take place in plants, further aided by entanglement and tunnelling. 

Research published in 2021 confirms quantum and traditional processes both play a role in photosynthesis. Some say this process could have been key to the development of life on earth, as energy and chemistry reacted through the agency of sub-atomic relationships to produce a simple life form.  

Quantum mechanics can also produce a paradox. Entangled particles, for example, instantly react to each other, even when separated by millions of miles. Einstein was a bit uneasy about it all, calling the relationship “spooky action from a distance.”

But research suggests the impact of movements through entanglement is the same whether time moves forward or backwards – even though travel faster than the speed of light is supposed to be impossible.  Even academics don’t entirely rule out the idea of light photons travelling through time through entanglement. According to a news release the Templeton foundation confirms it is backing research which will “expand the theoretical and philosophical frameworks used to understand the arrow of time.”

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