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ESP: Will Evidence Survive Posturing?

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Benedict Carey reports,

One of psychology’s most respected journals has agreed to publish a paper presenting what its author describes as strong evidence for extrasensory perception, the ability to sense future events.The decision may delight believers in so-called paranormal events, but it is already mortifying scientists. Advance copies of the paper, to be published this year in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, have circulated widely among psychological researchers in recent weeks and have generated a mixture of amusement and scorn.

– “Journal’s Paper on ESP Expected to Prompt Outrage”, New York Times (January 5, 2011)

We hear, of course, the familiar “craziness, pure craziness. I can’t believe a major journal is …”

ESP may be the victim of a sort of materialism in science that has long since functioned more as a stopper on science than a filter. Briefly, there have been many honest studies that confirm the existence of some sort of entanglement, as Mario Beauregard and I discuss in some detail in The Spiritual Brain.

ESP is a psi phenomenon, the apparent ability of some humans and perhaps animals, to consistently score above chance in controlled studies of mental influences on events. It is seen in such phenomena as extrasensory perception and psychokinesis, and is a low-level effect, to be sure, but efforts to disconfirm it have failed.

It isn’t popular.

These disturbing phenomena seem to deny all our usual scientific ideas. Unfortunately the statistical evidence, at least for telepathy, is overwhelming. It is very difficult to rearrange one’s ideas so as to fit these new facts in.—Artificial intelligence pioneer A. M. Turing, quoted in A. M. Turing, excerpt from “Computing Machinery and Intelligence,” Mind 59, no. 236 (1950), reprinted in Hofstadter and Dennett, Mind’s I, p. 66.

And it seems nothing much has changed since Turing’s (1912-1954) day.

Carey mentions an argument against study of the psi effect which was once offered against Newton’s laws of gravity: No mechanism is proposed. That’s not a very good argument when there is persistent evidence for a small effect. We still don’t have a definitive mechanism for gravity, but Newton’s laws proved outstandingly useful in subsequent decades and were accepted on that basis, mechanism or no.

Lets hope that study wins out over furore and posturing.

See also:

Psi effect: The Teton Mountain Stomp! Stamp! has not worked, I guess …

Neuroscience and Physicalism: A Key Letter

Hat tip: Rob Sheldon.

11 Replies to “ESP: Will Evidence Survive Posturing?

  1. 1
    Collin says:

    this is an interest of mine. For those who would like to know more, read Rupert Sheldrake’s “The Sense of Being Stared At.” He goes over the huge amount of research that has been done in this area.

    Those who say this should not be published don’t really believe in the scientific method. They believe in materialism.

  2. 2
    zephyr says:

    Yes Collin I concur with you on Sheldrake. He has in fact made a lot of contributions to furthering experimentation of psi faculties, and continues to do so. Check up his work on telepathy experiments, including the telephone and the e-mail experiments, and so much else. Also his work on animal psi is interesting and important (and quite incredible). The famous debate (in parapsychological circles at least) he had with atheist biologist Lewis Wolpert where Wolpert turned away from the screen demonstrating a telepathy display, he refused to watch! is something else.

    Actually the serious literature on ESP and related is vast, massive, with a lot of back and forth. It easily fills a whole library (I’m not talking the New-Age fluffle nonsense here, I’m talking the meaty stuff although to materialists there is no difference between the two). The serious scientific investigations of the paranormal/psi goes back to the 1880s and among the greatest minds of their time were involved and took the phenomena seriously. William James, William Crookes, Alfred Russel Wallace (yes you read that right), Camille Flamarrion, James Hyslop, Oliver Lodge, William Barret, Charles Richet and so many others. They faced a lot of resistance and hostility from the mainstream. It was J B Rhine who would kickstart the lab based work into psi investigations in the US (at Duke) circa 1930s, where he met considerable hostility and suffered disgraceful attacks on his person. Nothing has changed.

  3. 3
    critter says:

    Are there projects for making use of PSI?

  4. 4
    ellijacket says:

    I’m not a big believer in ESP myself but what do scientists have to fear from a study about it? Seems nuts to go nuts over it. It might actually be interesting.

  5. 5
    Collin says:

    zephyr, thanks for the interesting info!

  6. 6
    vjtorley says:

    Hi zephyr,

    I’d be interested to see any good links you have for psi research. It’s an area I haven’t much looked at, but I’d like to. Thanks.

  7. 7
    bornagain77 says:

    Zephyr, I would like to see more along this line as well.

    ,,,Though not directly related to psi research, Here is the little bit I do have collected so far to suggest ‘something more’ going on:

    Quantum mind–body problem
    Parallels between quantum mechanics and mind/body dualism were first drawn by the founders of quantum mechanics including Erwin Schrödinger, Werner Heisenberg, Wolfgang Pauli, Niels Bohr, and Eugene Wigner

    “It was not possible to formulate the laws (of quantum theory) in a fully consistent way without reference to consciousness.” Eugene Wigner (1902 -1995) laid the foundation for the theory of symmetries in quantum mechanics, for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1963.

    Dr. Quantum – Double Slit Experiment & Entanglement – video

    The Mental Universe – Richard Conn Henry – Professor of Physics John Hopkins University
    Excerpt: The only reality is mind and observations, but observations are not of things. To see the Universe as it really is, we must abandon our tendency to conceptualize observations as things.,,, Physicists shy away from the truth because the truth is so alien to everyday physics. A common way to evade the mental universe is to invoke “decoherence” – the notion that “the physical environment” is sufficient to create reality, independent of the human mind. Yet the idea that any irreversible act of amplification is necessary to collapse the wave function is known to be wrong: in “Renninger-type” experiments, the wave function is collapsed simply by your human mind seeing nothing. The universe is entirely mental,,,, The Universe is immaterial — mental and spiritual. Live, and enjoy.

    These following studies and videos confirm this ‘superior quality’ of existence for our souls/minds:

    Miracle Of Mind-Brain Recovery Following Hemispherectomies – Dr. Ben Carson – video

    Removing Half of Brain Improves Young Epileptics’ Lives:
    Excerpt: “We are awed by the apparent retention of memory and by the retention of the child’s personality and sense of humor,” Dr. Eileen P. G. Vining; In further comment from the neuro-surgeons in the John Hopkins study: “Despite removal of one hemisphere, the intellect of all but one of the children seems either unchanged or improved. Intellect was only affected in the one child who had remained in a coma, vigil-like state, attributable to peri-operative complications.”

    The Day I Died – Part 4 of 6 – The Extremely ‘Monitored’ Near Death Experience of Pam Reynolds – video

    The Scientific Evidence for Near Death Experiences – Dr Jeffery Long – Melvin Morse M.D. – video

  8. 8
    bornagain77 says:

    further notes:

    Blind Woman Can See During Near Death Experience (NDE) – Pim von Lommel – video

    Kenneth Ring and Sharon Cooper (1997) conducted a study of 31 blind people, many of who reported vision during their Near Death Experiences (NDEs). 21 of these people had had an NDE while the remaining 10 had had an out-of-body experience (OBE), but no NDE. It was found that in the NDE sample, about half had been blind from birth. (of note: This ‘anomaly’ is also found for deaf people who can hear sound during their Near Death Experiences(NDEs).)

    Quantum Consciousness – Time Flies Backwards? – Stuart Hameroff MD
    Excerpt: Dean Radin and Dick Bierman have performed a number of experiments of emotional response in human subjects. The subjects view a computer screen on which appear (at randomly varying intervals) a series of images, some of which are emotionally neutral, and some of which are highly emotional (violent, sexual….). In Radin and Bierman’s early studies, skin conductance of a finger was used to measure physiological response They found that subjects responded strongly to emotional images compared to neutral images, and that the emotional response occurred between a fraction of a second to several seconds BEFORE the image appeared! Recently Professor Bierman (University of Amsterdam) repeated these experiments with subjects in an fMRI brain imager and found emotional responses in brain activity up to 4 seconds before the stimuli. Moreover he looked at raw data from other laboratories and found similar emotional responses before stimuli appeared.

    Study suggests precognition may be possible – November 2010
    Excerpt: A Cornell University scientist has demonstrated that psi anomalies, more commonly known as precognition, premonitions or extra-sensory perception (ESP), really do exist at a statistically significant level. Psi anomalies are defined as “anomalous processes of information or energy transfer that are currently unexplained in terms of known physical or biological mechanisms.”

    Mind-Brain Interaction and Science Fiction (Quantum connection) – Jeffrey Schwartz & Michael Egnor – audio

    In The Wonder Of Being Human: Our Brain and Our Mind, Eccles and Robinson discussed the research of three groups of scientists (Robert Porter and Cobie Brinkman, Nils Lassen and Per Roland, and Hans Kornhuber and Luder Deeke), all of whom produced startling and undeniable evidence that a “mental intention” preceded an actual neuronal firing – thereby establishing that the mind is not the same thing as the brain, but is a separate entity altogether.

    “As I remarked earlier, this may present an “insuperable” difficulty for some scientists of materialists bent, but the fact remains, and is demonstrated by research, that non-material mind acts on material brain.” Eccles

    “Thought precedes action as lightning precedes thunder.”
    Heinrich Heine – in the year 1834

    A Reply to Shermer Medical Evidence for NDEs (Near Death Experiences) – Pim van Lommel
    Excerpt: For decades, extensive research has been done to localize memories (information) inside the brain, so far without success.,,,,Nobel prize winner W. Penfield could sometimes induce flashes of recollection of the past (never a complete life review), experiences of light, sound or music, and rarely a kind of out-of-body experience. These experiences did not produce any transformation. After many years of research he finally reached the conclusion that it is not possible to localize memories (information) inside the brain.,, In trying to understand this concept of mutual interaction between the “invisible and not measurable” consciousness, with its enormous amount of information, and our visible, material body it seems wise to compare it with modern worldwide communication.,,,

    And though it is not possible to localize memories (information) inside the brain, it is interesting to note how extremely complex the brain is in its ability to manipulate rudimentary information:

    Boggle Your Brain – November 2010
    Excerpt: One synapse, by itself, is more like a microprocessor–with both memory-storage and information-processing elements–than a mere on/off switch. In fact, one synapse may contain on the order of 1,000 molecular-scale switches. A single human brain has more switches than all the computers and routers and Internet connections on Earth.

    This following experiment is really interesting:

    Scientific Evidence That Mind Effects Matter – Random Number Generators – video

    I once asked a evolutionist, after showing him the preceding experiment, “Since you ultimately believe that the ‘god of random chance’ produced everything we see around us, what in the world is my mind doing pushing your god around?”

    Here is another article that is far more nuanced in its discerning of our ‘transcendent mind’ from our material brain, than the ‘brute’ empirical evidence I’ve listed:

    The Mind and Materialist Superstition – Six “conditions of mind” that are irreconcilable with materialism:

    Genesis 2:7
    And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

  9. 9
    bornagain77 says:

    Of related interest:

    The predominance of quarter-power (4-D) scaling in biology
    Excerpt: Many fundamental characteristics of organisms scale
    with body size as power laws of the form:

    Y = Yo M^b,

    where Y is some characteristic such as metabolic rate, stride length or life span, Yo is a normalization constant, M is body mass and b is the allometric scaling exponent.
    A longstanding puzzle in biology is why the exponent b is usually some simple multiple of 1/4 (4-Dimensional scaling) rather than a multiple of 1/3, as would be expected from Euclidean (3-Dimensional) scaling.

    “Although living things occupy a three-dimensional space, their internal physiology and anatomy operate as if they were four-dimensional. Quarter-power scaling laws are perhaps as universal and as uniquely biological as the biochemical pathways of metabolism, the structure and function of the genetic code and the process of natural selection.,,, The conclusion here is inescapable, that the driving force for these invariant scaling laws cannot have been natural selection.” Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piatelli-Palmarini, What Darwin Got Wrong (London: Profile Books, 2010), p. 78-79

    Though Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piatelli-Palmarini rightly find it inexplicable for ‘random’ Natural Selection to be the rational explanation for the scaling of the physiology, and anatomy, of living things to four-dimensional parameters, they do not seem to fully realize the implications this ‘four dimensional scaling’ of living things presents. This 4-D scaling is something we should rightly expect from a Intelligent Design perspective. This is because Intelligent Design holds that ‘higher dimensional transcendent information’ is more foundational to life, and even to the universe itself, than either matter or energy are. This higher dimensional ‘expectation’ for life, from a Intelligent Design perspective, is directly opposed to the expectation of the Darwinian framework, which holds that information, and indeed even the essence of life itself, is merely an ’emergent’ property of the 3-D material realm.

    Information and entropy – top-down or bottom-up development in living systems? A.C. McINTOSH
    Excerpt: It is proposed in conclusion that it is the non-material information (transcendent to the matter and energy) that is actually itself constraining the local thermodynamics to be in ordered disequilibrium and with specified raised free energy levels necessary for the molecular and cellular machinery to operate.

  10. 10
    zephyr says:

    Interesting stuff bornagain. You make mention of some of the leading thinkers and researchers on the cutting edge of parapsychology – Ring, Radin, Bierman.

    I just wanted to respond to Vincent’s query further up (directed to me), but work and life pressures intervened, and my commentary here is kinda long as well, yet the complexity of the subject demands it I reckon.

    Vincent and others, there is so so so much out there and you need to sort the wheat from the chaff (not always easy!). Imagine somebody who doesn’t follow the evolution debate asks you for some good links re the evolution controversy not really knowing anything about it, and ID, Creationism and the various controversies here. It would be easy for him to get lost and confused initially if you just swamp your questioner with links, unless you first explain to your questioner before you give him the links about the difference between evolution as it is commonly misunderstood by the general public and neo-Darwinism, the different schools of thought within orthodox Darwinian circles, the differences between ID and Creationism, and the differences among IDists themselves.

    So let me just say this, before I swamp you with names and links, there are significant disagreements among parapsycholgists themselves on what is valid re ESP/Psi and has significant evidence going for it, and what is more ‘up in the air’ or dubious. Also their disagreements on theoretical models and hypotheses here, which are constantly evolving, is considerable as you would expect given the nature of the phenomena under scrutiny here. The skeptics themselves run the gamut from the more extreme types (often rightly called pseudoskeptics, for they are not genuinely skeptical at all in the true meaning of the word) such as James Randi and many of the old CISCOP crusaders (now CSI) to the less extreme more temperate types such as Richard Wiseman, Chris French, Ray Hyman. It’s worth remarking that many of the notable self-appointed so-called skeptics of the paranormal who see themselves as arbiters of Truth and Reason, as crusading knights battling the superstition of the paranormal which will drag us back into a dark age where we will be burning witches at the stake for sorcery and using the entrails of frogs to predict the weather, are often enough notable critics of ID. Michael Shermer, Lewis Wolpert, Steve Novella, Paul Kurtz, Chet Raymo, Jerry Coyne (had a recent post at his blog dismissing the published Daryl Bem paper at the journal that got all this started here), P Z Myers, Skeptical Inquirer as a whole, they all come to mind, and plenty others.

    Also I will give you links, but as with the evolution debate, there are no substitutes for books, the meaty heavy well-researched stuff. I know Vincent that you are in Japan, and so I assume not easy to come by obscure academic English-language books on a much maligned marginilsed discipline within science! yet if you can afford it, it’s worth trying to get hold of a few books on the history of psychical research in the West and the contemporary research here as well.

    To keep it as brief as I can, Rupert Sheldrake’s website (and his books and papers/articles on psi) is a good place to start, includes video and audio podcasts. sheldrakeaudio.

    A really good place to start is with the hour long talk he gave on the dubious and dishonest tactics of skeptics of the paranormal that he and others have personally experienced, including with Randi and Dawkins.
    At the same link above scroll to ‘Spotlight on Sceptics Day The SPR Study Day on Skeptics – London. October 25 2008 Rupert’s lecture: How Skeptics Work (MP3 file, playing time 1hr 4min)’

    The account of Dawkins that he relates in his talk is so priceless. You can also read it here Dawkinscomestocall.

    I paste an excerpt from his tête-à-tête with Dawkins here:

    Dawkins came with a camera crew to interview Sheldrake for a Dawkins polemical TV programme called Enemies of Reason. Anyway they were discussing telepathy experiments. Sheldrake relates:

    We then agreed that controlled experiments were necessary. I said that this was why I had actually been doing such experiments, including tests to find out if people really could tell who was calling them on the telephone when the caller was selected at random. The results were far above the chance level.

    The previous week I had sent Richard copies of some of my papers, published in peer-reviewed journals, so that he could look at the data.

    Richard seemed uneasy and said, “I don’t want to discuss evidence”. “Why not?” I asked.
    “There isn’t time. It’s too complicated. And that’s not what this programme is about.” The camera stopped.

    The Director, Russell Barnes, confirmed that he too was not interested in evidence. The film he was making was another Dawkins polemic.

    I said to Russell, “If you’re treating telepathy as an irrational belief, surely evidence about whether it exists or not is essential for the discussion. If telepathy occurs, it’s not irrational to believe in it. I thought that’s what we were going to talk about. I made it clear from the outset that I wasn’t interested in taking part in another low grade debunking exercise.”

    Richard said, “It’s not a low grade debunking exercise; it’s a high grade debunking exercise.”

    In that case, I replied, there had been a serious misunderstanding, because I had been led to believe that this was to be a balanced scientific discussion about evidence. Russell Barnes asked to see the emails I had received from his assistant. He read them with obvious dismay, and said the assurances she had given me were wrong. The team packed up and left.

    Like I write above, it’s priceless.

  11. 11
    zephyr says:

    A few other links. A good blog is British journalist Robert McLuhan’s paranormalia.

    He has a book just out ‘Randi’s Prize’, responding to the Skeptics’ often dubious arguments against ESP.

    Scientist Dean Radin’s website deanradin A very well-known parapsychologist in the US (bornagain makes mention of him above). His two books ‘The Conscious Universe’ recommended by Dembski himself and ‘Entangled Minds’ are among the most comprehensive up to date accounts of the state of the research, and where it is leading and its implications. His talk at Google, ‘The Taboo of Psi’ is the most popular talk Google have ever hosted! Just check it out on google videos.

    Stacy Horn’s blog here stacyhornunbelievable.

    She has worked at the Rhine Lab (now off Duke campus, history there not too dissimilar to what happened at Baylor re ID) and its investigations of psi. Her recent book ‘Unbelievable’ about a history of the research at the lab is recommended.

    I also recommend skepticoaudio

    This is an audio podcast show run by Alex Tsakiris stateside. He interviews both researchers in parapsychology and skeptics regarding controversies and research into the paranormal and occasionally touches on religious themed broadcasts as well (Tsakiris is not a Christian). He really does the cutting-edge stuff here and really knows his stuff (he has really earned the respect of the parapsychological community). Unlike many who do these kind of shows, he does not sink into New-Age fluffheaded woowoo and he is as critical of that kind of non-thinking as he is of pseudoskepticism. If you have any interest in the latest on research into NDEs (bornagain77 has made mention via links of some of the research being done here) and the very technical details here, and the opinions across the board, this is your go to place.

    There is actually just so much out there. There is so much out there just on telepathy alone. There is over a century’s worth of journal articles, essays, theses alone! Never mind the books. As with the evolution debate, read all sides if you are really interested. In fact that is a must. It gives one an opportunity to hone critical thinking skills, as does the evolution debate. I will be upfront here, I consider the tactics and “reasoning” employed by the so-called skeptics of ESP to often enough mirror the tactics and rhetoric of the Darwinians in their battle against ID, although to be fair, some of the former have made valid criticisms and given valuable, if biased critiques of the field.

    I simply cannot do justice to even an introduction to the whole controversial topic of the so-called paranormal (after all where are the lines drawn between the normal and the paranormal? what do we mean by ‘normal’?) even more misunderstood than ID believe it or not, on a comment to a blog. To clear up one common misunderstanding though, many among the general public and even some few psi researchers believe/d that say the allegedly genuine ESP and paranormal phenomena associated with physical and trance mediumship (especially in the period of circa 1870 to the 1930s when it was at its peak and subjected to scientific scrutiny and investigations, and yes many, perhaps most – not all by a long shot – of the mediums were clearly fraudulent) and poltergeist phenomena (or as is preferred by the parapsychologists – Repeated Spontaneous Psychokinesis/RSPK) are caused by discarnate spirits (of course this is especially true with the Spiritualists and Spiritists, not the same thing btw). However parapsychologists themselves in the main, and scientists and academics who have given this serious and sober attention consider this hypothesis rather thin and past its sell by date, a rationalisation unconsciously invented by the mediums and their sitters themselves, all too willing to believe they had made contact with ‘the other side’. I cautiously concur with this assessment, it appears that the subconscious, even perhaps the collective unconscious, is involved. The true culprit here. This of course only adds to the mystery of the mind, its depths and its abilities, that defy an easy materialist explanation. It also gets into weird physics and the upsetting of ‘common sense’ notions on time and space, but that’s a whole other thing..

    As far as sorting the wheat from the chaff goes, this is more easily said than done (in fact sometimes it cannot be done), for they often are deeply intertwined and often the same researchers and study projects, and writers are guilty (if that’s the word) of giving us both. There is also a strong Trickster element coursing through the whole discipline, a discipline which cannot be separated from religion, anthropology, psychology and sociology, so much for NOMA (just one reason why it is all so controversial and misunderstood). Respected US parapsychologist George Hansen has written the tour de force on this very topic ‘The Trickster and the Paranormal’.

    I would add the following writers, scientists and researchers to those so interested in getting grips with this wide field of parapsychological research, that remains very much taboo:
    Guy Lyon Playfair, D Scott Rogo, Charles Tart, Carl Sargent, Charles Honorton (a pioneer in telepathy experiments), William Braud, William Tiller, Deborah Blum (journalist), William Roll, Hillary Evans, Arthur Ellison, Rhea White, H Carrington, Gertrude Shmeidler, Ian Stevenson, J B Rhine and Louise Rhine, Hal Puthoff, Russell Targ, Doug Boyd, Stan Krippner, Stanislaw Grof, Renee Haynes, Brian Inglis, Lawrence LeShan, Chris Carter (his latest book is on NDEs, very thorough and extensive), Stephen Braude (he is one of the best, a real heavyweight on the philosphy of psi, a prof of philosophy at University of Maryland), Archie Roy, an astronomer, S K Rao, Richard Braughton, Celia Green, Lance Storm and Michael Thalbourne in Oz (check out their latest book on the cutting-edge research), Roger Nelson, Robert Jahn, Helmud Schmidt. So so many others.

    Some of the above are long deceased, some more recently deceased, many still alive and working. They have often entirely differing POVs, and being human they have made considerable errors and mistakes in a field that by its nature is mysterious and bamboozling, and severely underfunded (more so than ID even). They are all worth reading though if you are to get to grips with the field of parapsychology.

    critter writes:
    “are there projects for making use of PSI?”

    Ha you have no idea! More so than you can possibly imagine, in fact you wouldn’t believe. People who really know the history of Psi research and study in the US alone and US govt interest, circa 1970 to 1995 will know exactly. I haven’t mentioned it here in my comment, but if you follow up on the names I mention above and the research into parapsychology, well you really go into this borderlands territory, that has to be read about to be believed because until you really get heavily into it, you simply will not believe it. It really is a case of truth being stranger than fiction. And the implications to ID of what I am obliquely and sparringly referring to are incredible and obvious and nobody is making mention of it explicitly, unequivocally and in extensive detail! There are people who have made the connections of course, but it has yet to be spelled out very clearly and explicated on. It is crying out for it.

    And remember to really hold onto your hardhat here because there is a lot of bunkum that surrounds the whole discipline of Psi, from both believers and skeptics. The parapsychologists are in the main walking the middle road, which turns out to be a razor’s edge. It’s why you don’t see their books at Barnes & Nobles and Borders, but the fluffle headed woowoo on the one hand and the Dawkins/CSI(COP) style polemics on the other. So it goes.

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