PEAR Lab

Original in the New York Times.

By BENEDICT CAREY
Published: February 10, 2007

PRINCETON, N.J., Feb. 6 — Over almost three decades, a small laboratory at Princeton University managed to embarrass university administrators, outrage Nobel laureates, entice the support of philanthropists and make headlines around the world with its efforts to prove that thoughts can alter the course of events.

But at the end of the month, the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research laboratory, or PEAR, will close, not because of controversy but because, its founder says, it is time. The laboratory has conducted studies on extrasensory perception and telekinesis from its cramped quarters in the basement of the university’s engineering building since 1979. Its equipment is aging, its finances dwindling.

“For 28 years, we’ve done what we wanted to do, and there’s no reason to stay and generate more of the same data,” said the laboratory’s founder, Robert G. Jahn, 76, former dean of Princeton’s engineering school and an emeritus professor. “If people don’t believe us after all the results we’ve produced, then they never will.”

Besides the annoying use of the term "telekinesis," which no one in the field uses, and the fact that Princeton University administrators were supposedly embarassed, as though embarassment has any role in evaluating scientific research, this article implies that the PEAR Lab was an academic anomaly reporting anomalous results, and as such, it was justifiably shunned by all sober scientists. What the article does not ask is whether the PEAR Lab's results have been independently confirmed by other scientists. The answer is clearly yes, as anyone can discover with a bit of homework, or by reading Entangled Minds or The Conscious Universe. This makes the Princeton lab's interests not so anomalous after all, and their empirical results not anomalous at all.

Was their work actually dismissed by most scientists? Perhaps in public within university circles, but certainly not in private. As the PEAR Lab found, I've also discovered that there's a large and growing network of mainstream academics who are privately very interested in these topics. But taboos in academia prevent scientists from openly discussing their real interests.

There is much said about the lofty ideals of academic freedom, the freedom to explore any topic with impunity. But the ideal is a myth. It is not possible to study any topic one wishes without risk. Scientists who attempt to study controversial topics will find that they do not get tenure, or if they already have tenure they will not get promotions, and if that fails the administrator will attempt to avoid embarassment and try (usually unsuccessfully) to fire the violator. In this sense the PEAR Lab showed incredible fortitude by simply surviving within an environment that tried every trick in the book to make the lab disappear. This emotional side of supposedly rational academia is a hidden and shameful secret, not often seen by those outside the ivory towers.

I recently had a conversation with an intelligent, highly skeptical scientist who vehemently insisted with unshakable confidence that there is no reason to accept any claims of psychic phenomena because there are no peer-reviewed publications supporting their existence. Thus, any claims to the contrary, even by places like the PEAR Lab, are necessarily flawed or fraud. And further, if there were such evidence, then it would have won the "million dollar prize" by now. Ipso facto, there is no evidence. It's all fraud run by scam artists.

I calmly pointed out that there are in fact hundreds of such publications, most in peer-reviewed journals. The scientist was incredulous, refusing to believe that this could possibly be true, and even if was true, those journals couldn't possibly be any good. I could only sigh. There are tens of thousands of journals. No one can know more than a tiny sliver of information appearing in journals that are not within one's speciality. To assume that because you haven't heard of the information it doesn't exist is the height of hubris. As Prof. Jahn said in the NYTimes piece, “If people don’t believe us after all the results we’ve produced, then they never will.” I'm afraid that is quite true.

Comments

K.L.Wright said…
It is sad that, in the year 2007, such articles appear in a newspaper necessitating your response. Since the publication of "Margins of Reality" in the 80's, I've followed Jahn & Dunne's work with great interest. Their research speaks for itself, provided your ears are uncovered. Their efforts will be missed.
Anonymous said…
indeed, why didn't someone they evaluated or used in their testing win the Randi challenge? Did no participant show extraordinary ability during the latter years of the lab's existence?

I'm beginning to think PSI results, negligible but significant, are much like the global warming situation: A very small (but measureable and proven) increase in temperature can't be negated by invoking ridiculous statements ("10 feet of snow in New York, how can we have global warming?"), much the same way as embarrassments such as Sylvia Browne or John Edward don't diminish statistically significant PSI effects, albeit too minor to notice on a day to day basis.
Dean Radin said…
Anonymous said...
indeed, why didn't someone they evaluated or used in their testing win the Randi challenge?

This is not what such studies are about. The point of most lab tests is to see what is true in general, and not to evaluate people who make extraordinary claims. The PEAR Lab and many other labs show that psi is generally a small magnitude but natural and widespread phenomenon. Not something that just a few people claiming superpowers can demonstrate.

I'm beginning to think PSI results, negligible but significant, are much like the global warming situation...

Right, although to be crystal clear, negligible does not mean "does not exist." Any psi effect of any magnitude is revolutionary from a scientific perspective. How long did it take for demonstrations of static electricity to turn into modern appliances? A few thousand years? The same may be true for psi.
borky said…
Dean, it's interesting how 'anonymous', as you yourself noted, used the term 'negligible'.

I've noticed this word - or some variant - occurring more and more frequently in so-called sceptical statements.

It suggests to me the work of the likes of the PEAR Lab - and its kin - has been having an ever so subtle long term effect (not unlike the 'negligible' psi one), afterall, gradually eroding away at the invincible 'confidence' of many such hardcore disbelievers who're now beginning to let slip the emotional component underlying their supposedly scientific attitude by gradually switching away from categorical denial of psi to one of advocating disregardal of it because it's so 'negligible' as to be inconsequential.

My response to such statements is to point out that that other 'negigible' force, gravity, is so weak as to be virtually non-existent, yet look at the monumentality of its effect when viewed at the appropriate scale.

It makes me wonder if instead of pursuing, say, the usual one-on-one type telepathy experiments, its effect might become more apparent if a hundred people simultaneously tried to transmit the same image to a hundred simultaneous receivers.
Anonymous said…
I have read many of the reports from PEAR Lab and respected their work.

My recollection was that the inspiration to starting the lab was that there was some question into how the human mind could affect hardware reliability, especially for computer hardware/electronics for aircraft/spacecraft.

Although there work seemed to indicate such was the case, it also seemed clear that the maximum level of impact of such effects were very low. Thus, spacecraft do not need to be protected via redundancy solely because of this phenomena (although radiation/single event upsets/galactic background radiation force such such hardware into this redundancy). Indeed it is hard to envision safety related technology that would be sensitive to the phenomena.

However, even though the level of impact on random processes is very low, it seems to me that PSI phenomena could be very useful in the area of nanotechology.

Given a vat of raw materials, thermal energy input and focused human intent, then even a very small percentage of self assembly of the materials into purposeful constructs could vastly reduce the time it takes to create useful nanomachines (especially the first replicator).
Unknown said…
I have ESP, so I know it exists. Why don't I win James Randi's challenge? I don't want a spotlight on me, and I don't need his (or anyone else's) validation. (Is it possible that someone won't do anything for a million dollars?!) Incidentally:

http://psipog.net/art-beware-pseudo-skepticism.html

I assume that anyone can develop these abilities if they try, and it's just that hardly anyone tries. Maybe because they don't believe it's possible in the first place and therefore don't want to waste any time or precious thought on it. Maybe they're afraid of going insane. In any case, if humanity is ever going to live up to its full potential, it is going to have to accept that psychic phenomena exist. I hope I'm just one of many who will bring about a new paradigm shift.

Thanks to PEAR for the effort. It's funny, in a way... It seems like this information is incredibly important, but no one cares.
Dustin said…
Bottom line, to me, is that PEAR did some really great work, and it's too bad that they're going away. I've been hoping ever since I heard about the imminent closure that they would endorse another lab, or something along those lines, to carry on the research, but I guess that's not going to happen.

Nice article.
Odiseo said…
Since the Randi challenge was mentioned here, the following comments may be appropiate:
1) Randi challenge prize may consists of worthless bonds:
http://psipog.net/art-beware-pseudo-skepticism.html
2) The prize may be unwinnable:
http://michaelprescott.typepad.com/michael_prescotts_blog/2006/12/the_challenge_a.html
realpc said…
I don't understand why no one has won the Randi prize. Skeptics always use that as proof that there is no psi.

I don't understand why PEAR is closing. If they were getting good results, why stop? Why not take their research further?

It always bothered me that PEAR depended on subjects' conscious intention. Experiments that do not use conscious intention might get much stronger results.

Dr. Radin, skeptics always criticize your meta-analysis because the effects are so small. I think that maybe be because all the experiments rely on the conscious intention of the subjects.

Why not use animal subjects? Young children? And if the subjects are adults, they should not know what they're doing. What about the implicit learning paradigm of experimental psychology, for example?

Regarding the Gary Schwartz research -- if those psychics are genuine, why don't they take the Randi challenge? Why not win the prize and get Randi to shut up? Do you realize how much influence Randi, and others like him, have? They are probably a major reasons parapsychology gets so little funding.

When trying to convince skeptics, I always mentioned PEAR. Well that's over. I don't understand why.
Dean Radin said…
realpc said...
I don't understand why no one has won the Randi prize.

Valid scientific prizes have highly specific goals, such as the prize for the first commercial rocket-plane to reach space, or the first human-powered flight over the English Channel. These are clearly understood goals that are either achieved or not. By contrast, the so-called prizes offer by skeptics are open-ended. They amount to "show me a miracle," but without specifying in advance what would constitute the miracle. This means the prize can always be revised to make it impossible to win. Such open-ended prizes are simply moving goal-posts and publicity stunts. They are not genuine prizes for scientific achievement.

I don't understand why PEAR is closing. If they were getting good results, why stop? Why not take their research further?

Funding for this line of research is chronically scarce, and more importantly, the founder is retiring. The PEAR Lab was not a university Center or Institute. Those types of entities often outlive their founders, but labs come and go all the time.

Dr. Radin, skeptics always criticize your meta-analysis because the effects are so small.

This criticism comes from people don't understand statistics. The size of an effect is completely irrelevant if we have high confidence that the effect is not due to chance. E.g., the magnitude of the charge on an electron is extremely small, but we know that it is also quite real.

Why not use animal subjects? Young children? And if the subjects are adults, they should not know what they're doing. What about the implicit learning paradigm of experimental psychology, for example?

All good questions, and colleagues are studying them. Keep in mind that there are fewer than 50 people in the entire world who are actively engaged in these experiments.

Regarding the Gary Schwartz research -- if those psychics are genuine, why don't they take the Randi challenge?

As I noted above, it is not possible to win an open-ended challenge.

When trying to convince skeptics, I always mentioned PEAR. Well that's over. I don't understand why.

Some skeptics are like religious or political fundamentalists. Debates with them are a lost cause and simply not worth the effort. They are not interested in hearing alternative arguments or of seeing the evidence.

I had to learn long ago that we will always have cynics and skeptics among us. It's just the way some people are. These are the same folks who insisted that airplanes couldn't fly, that going to the moon was impossible, that germs didn't exist, etc. Only a small percentage of the population has the intelligence and imagination to see beyond the "in your face" proof that most people require. So trying to convince skeptics of anything is a waste of time.
Enfant Terrible said…
Regarding the Gary Schwartz research -- if those psychics are genuine, why don't they take the Randi challenge? Why not win the prize and get Randi to shut up? Do you realize how much influence Randi, and others like him, have? They are probably a major reasons parapsychology gets so little funding.

About Gary Schwartz, he recently publish an article in a scientific magazine with peer review about mediumship, and the conclusion is: "The results suggest that certain mediums can anomalously receive accurate information about deceased individuals".

This research is online, the name of the article is: "ANOMALOUS INFORMATION RECEPTION BY RESEARCH MEDIUMS DEMONSTRATED USING A NOVEL TRIPLE-BLIND PROTOCOL". You can read the research here: http://www.explorejournal.com/article/PIIS155083070600454X/fulltext

About Randi, read these links:

http://michaelprescott.typepad.com/michael_prescotts_blog/2006/12/the_challenge.html

http://michaelprescott.typepad.com/michael_prescotts_blog/2006/12/the_challenge_p.html

http://michaelprescott.typepad.com/michael_prescotts_blog/2006/12/the_challenge_p_1.html

http://michaelprescott.typepad.com/michael_prescotts_blog/2006/12/the_challenge_a.html

Best wishes.
Book Surgeon said…
I'm glad to see Dr. Schwartz doing this. He's come under a lot of fire, some of it seemingly deserved, for sloppy experiment design and an apparent taste for the limelight. It appears he has really tightened up his experiments, a necessity when the skeptics are looking for even the slightest flaws to shout "Fraud!"

Well done. I look forward to the next paper on the second set of ratings.
Dave Smith said…
Dean said:
"I had to learn long ago that we will always have cynics and skeptics among us. It's just the way some people are. These are the same folks who insisted that airplanes couldn't fly, that going to the moon was impossible, that germs didn't exist, etc. Only a small percentage of the population has the intelligence and imagination to see beyond the "in your face" proof that most people require. So trying to convince skeptics of anything is a waste of time. "

I entirely agree. For many years, I spent time on the James Randi Educational Foundation web forum trying to convince people that there was evidence for psi phenomena. I don't think I changed one person's mind. About a month ago I was having a discussion about ESP and someone wrote "you believe ESP exist. But most people here don't care what you believe. I couldn't care less". And so I realised that some people are just not going to change their mind because they don't want to. Notice that I was labelled as "believing" in ESP rather than the fact that I infer it to be true from scientific evidence. So I stopped posting any comments on that forum. It really is a waste of time.
Dean Radin said…
Dave said...
For many years, I spent time on the James Randi Educational Foundation web forum trying to convince people that there was evidence for psi phenomena... It really is a waste of time.

I admire your persistence, but trying to thoughtfully discuss complex topics with people who are consumed by anger and arrogance leads nowhere.

A book I'm working on is on the psychology of extreme skepticism. It's the other side of the double-edged sword that militant atheists like to wield to explain why religious fundamentalism is so destructive. Extremely high certainty in any position can lead to excessive anger and aggression, and the behavior of fundamentalist skeptics closely follows this same pattern. Fortunately, most people gain a little wisdom with age and experience.

The arrogance of youth is a developmental stage that most people have passed through by about age 30. Those few unfortunates who are stuck in a case of arrested development end up on that skeptical website forever.
Dave Smith said…
I think a book about the psychology of extreme scepticism is sorely needed. The psychology of disbelief is almost as interesting, to me, as the phenomena of psi itself! I look forward to this book.

But, as interesting as this aspect of human behaviour might be, I think it is very damaging to progress so its a serious matter.

Dean, you mention that there is quite a large number of acedemics who privately hold an interest in psi phenomena. This surprises me, as I have always thought that the extreme sceptical community, such as Randi & co, have influence over the attitudes of the majority of the academic community.

Actually, thinking about it I suppose the extreme sceptical influence comes into play during public commitment to a certain view via ridicule etc, as you say.

Its all very immature schoolyard stuff.
Dean Radin said…
realpc said... Well, my point here is that, currently, the vast majority of scientists (and college-educated people in general) would deny your thesis that the universe is intelligent.

I do not claim that the universe is intelligent, but rather than a reasonable inference from the psi data and from quantum theory is that consciousness seems to play an important role in the fabric of reality. I am not a fan of "intelligent design" when it is used as a euphemism for "creation science," although I do suspect that there are teleological influences in nature that we don't yet understand.

Dave said: Dean, you mention that there is quite a large number of acedemics who privately hold an interest in psi phenomena. This surprises me, as I have always thought that the extreme sceptical community, such as Randi & co, have influence over the attitudes of the majority of the academic community.

Fortunately, most academics I know are well aware that extreme skeptics are fanatics. However, academic careers rely on playing a social game, and in that game some topics are simply too hot to handle. So it is easier and safer to publicly deny interest in psi. But privately it is an entirely different matter. My guess is that the majority of academics believe in psi because like many people, they or someone they know and trust has experienced something that doesn't quite fit conventional explanations.

I'm not saying that academics aren't skeptical - many certainly are. But they aren't rabidly skeptical. Unlike pseudoskeptics, their opinions are subject to change when they become aware that there's a great deal of valid experimental evidence for psi.
Tor said…
Last night I was at a party.I ended up having a conversation about evolution and human nature with a future marine biologist (a master student).

His view was that human beings are basicly egoistic creatures, and will wipe themselves out. This view was mostly based on his knowledge about evolution.

Now, I have no problem with evolution, but I think it's sad that some people get this kind of view on human nature from it.

I decided to give him a physics perspective on the issue. What I told him sounded like mysticism, but it was based on solid physics.

He hadn't heard of entanglement and consciousness as a fundamental factor in physics. He didn't know how to respond to this, but he was grateful for this additional perspective.

I didn't mention anything else than the more esoteric aspects of modern physics. It's sad that science students in other fields don't get to know this. But it is not surprising, since most physics students don't know this either!

I don't talk much about psi in such situations. Quantum mechanics is in itself enough to cause someones head to explode :)
But the leap is not big from the quantum view to psi. And along the way, one might discover some not so egoistical mystical insights.

It's always fun to broaden someones perspectives!

-Tor
Book Surgeon said…
I think realpc misinterprets the difference between ID and some related but nontheistic hypotheses. ID in its commonly known form has been shown to be creationism in scientist's clothing, a "stealth creationism" with no scientific underpinning at all.

There are other fields of study that are looking at the possible role of consciousness as a fundamental aspect of the cosmos and that force's role in driving or guiding the development of life and intelligence. Others view nature as the possible product of a sort of self-running mathematical equation or computer program--a kind of "intelligence"--while still others are examining Rupert Sheldrake's morphogenetic fields as the carriers of complexity. These areas, while controversial and regarded by some as pseudoscience, are nonetheless being carried out by many respects scientists and should not be tarred with the ID brush.
Book Surgeon said…
That's all well and good, but the proponents of the neo-ID had better pay attention to the power of the meme and come up with a new name for their movement, because ID is far too frieghted with intimations of creationism and religion to have any credibility whatsoever. Alternatives like Conscious Evolution would probably help them avoid dismissal out of hand in many environments. That and some repicable scientific data.
Book Surgeon said…
Interesting site, Mark. I like how it presents strong evidence without ranting on about how this makes Christianity false. It certainly jibes with more scholarly takes on divinity that reject the infantile notion of a personal savior and see a cosmic consciousness as something that can't be experienced directly.

I do feel strongly that any sort of consciousness-based scientific approach to origins CANNOT use the term ID and be taken seriously. Proponents can argue all they want about how "ID isn't like that," but 99% of Americans think it is. Another name is clearly needed.

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