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Donald Morrison: Could Donald Trump's declassifying powers mirror those used in the Philadelphia Experiment?

USS Edridge

The U.S. Navy destroyer escort USS Eldridge is shown at sea circa 1944. Years after World War II, a seaman reported that the ship disappeared and quickly re-materialized at a naval base 200 miles away, inspiring several books and the 1984 feature film, “The Philadelphia Experiment.”

One October day in 1943, the U.S. Navy reportedly tried to make the destroyer escort USS Eldridge invisible. Not camouflaged, not impervious to radar, but literally and completely unseeable.

Word of the attempt, at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, did not leak out until well after World War II. Since then, the so-called Philadelphia Experiment has been shrouded in myth, mystery and the mists of science.

Yes, science. The tale has a basis in several branches thereof, including theoretical physics. Einstein’s quest to unify the fundamental forces of gravity and electromagnetism into a single theoretical framework, for instance, might accommodate the possibility that the Eldridge entered another dimension.

I stumbled across the Navy’s experiment while researching a more recent scientific conundrum: Donald Trump’s alleged transformation of documents from one state to another through the application of thought waves.

In an interview on Fox News last week, the former president said that he had the power to declassify a document, “just by saying it’s declassified. Even by thinking about it.”

Intrigued by that claim, I searched the use of mental and other unconventional methods to change matter from one state — or place, or time — to a different one. That quest took me deep into the fields of quantum mechanics, cosmology, optics, psychokinesis and, of course, the Vulcan mind meld.

I won’t bore you with details, but deep thinkers from Plato to Sean Hannity have long grappled with this question. Trump’s declaration merely reignited the debate. The former president’s supporters insist his mind is up to the task. Legal and other experts have their doubts.

There are, however, several scientific and quasi-scientific perspectives from which to examine the matter:

• Quantum mechanics posits that matter simultaneously has the properties of both particles and waves, which suggests that a given document could be at the same time both classified and declassified. Alas, German physicist Werner Heisenberg cautioned that you can never tell which it is, because the mere act of observing changes everything. The FBI might well agree.

• The related field of cosmology hints that our universe is so vast, and expanding so fast, that there may be universes parallel to ours, with different rules and in which versions or ourselves are living simultaneous lives. That would posit more than one answer to the question Trump opponents and supporters sometimes ask of each other: What universe are you living in?

• The science of optics might well hold an explanation for the diminished visibility of, say, a destroyer escort. Alas, optical illusion could not account for the total invisibility of either a ship or a piece of paper stamped “Classified” in red ink.

• Psychokinesis, also known as telekinesis, is the hypothetical ability to influence an object without physical interaction. Thus, a president could hypothetically declassify a document without touching or even reading it, and the former guy is not known to be a heavy reader. Still, nearly all known cases of psychokinesis have been discredited as hokum.

• The Vulcan mind-meld, as Star Trek fans know, is the ability of certain superior beings to probe the consciousness of mere humans and even affect their thought processes. Thus, the Navy could theoretically have distorted the perceptions of observers in Philadelphia that day in 1943, much as the former president has allegedly done throughout his career. Alas, no plausible cases of mind-meld have been reported outside the Star Trek franchise.

If science offers no clear explanations of thought-triggered, altered-state transformations, history is replete with examples. After all, Jesus changed water into wine, the 15th century Italian preacher Savonarola levitated in his jail cell, and the New York Mets won the 1969 World Series. There are also reports that Melania Trump obtained a divorce last week by thinking about it, though these remain unconfirmed.

As does, frustratingly enough, the Philadelphia Experiment. It first came to light in 1955, when a seaman on the Eldridge named Carl Allen wrote in a letter that the ship disappeared and quickly re-materialized at a naval base 200 miles away. All hands were accounted for, he reported, though a few went insane, and others were left embedded in the ship’s iron hull.

Allen’s account inspired several books of fiction and nonfiction, as well as the 1984 feature film, “The Philadelphia Experiment,” starring Michael Paré and Nancy Allen. You can stream it on Tubi.

A better option, though, is HBO’s 2008 drama “Einstein and Eddington,” starring Andy Serkis as the relativity guy and David Tennant as British astrophysicist Arthur Eddington. It doesn’t get into the Philadelphia Experiment, but the science is sound and lucid.

Unlike the saga of the USS Eldridge, which has been thoroughly shunned by the scientific community. The U.S. government officially denies any attempt at invisibility ever took place.

But a large navy of skeptics and conspiracy theorists still insist otherwise. They claim the incident is the target of a government coverup. Also, that relevant documents have been either falsified or… classified.

Hmmm. Sounds like a job for Donald Trump.

Donald Morrison is an Eagle columnist and co-chairman of the advisory board. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.

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