Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Precognitive dream

Sometime in the wee hours of August 1, 2007, I had a dream about being in a car accident. I remember waking up with a clear impression of a crash and all the air bags inflating. I don't often remember my dreams, but this one struck me because of the surprising level of detail, the emotional content, the fact that I don't recall ever having a similar dream, and because I had never before been in a car accident.

Because of the dream, later that morning I decided to play it safe and drive to work a different way than usual. The most dangerous part of the morning commute for me is getting on 101, one of the major North-South highways in the Northern California Bay Area. The entrance that I usually take has a very short merge lane that often requires you to drive on the shoulder because both of the two lanes of the highway are congested, sometimes by massive trucks going 70 mph. My adrenaline is always in high gear when I use this entrance because if an unthinking driver decides to park on that very same shoulder (it happens occasionally), thereby blocking the only available place to merge onto the highway, then the drivers on the on-ramp -- who are accelerating and paying attention to oncoming traffic, and not on who is in front of them -- are destined for a bad end.

The safer, alternative entrance is a little out of the way for me, but there is a very long, much safer merging lane. So I took that route.

I'm waiting at the traffic light at the entrance to the highway, along with a few other cars in front of me. The light changes to green, but before any of us have a chance to move, bam!, my car is hit from behind. A Chevy Tahoe smashes my rear bumper and part of the lift gate. The driver saw the green light and his foot responded before his brain realized that there were cars in front of him. The startle I felt on the impact was like what I experienced in the dream, but fortunately it was just a mundane fender bender. The airbags did not inflate.

Now, I had specifically taken the alternative route to avoid what I had experienced in the precognitive dream. But in doing so, I ended up in an accident anyway. Does this mean we cannot escape our destined future? That we have no free will? Or, does it mean that we have potential futures, and that by making this particular choice I had potentially avoided a much worse accident?

I prefer the latter explanation.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Trickster, or failure of imagination?

In his blog, George Hansen expresses concern about a statistical result I published some 14 years ago (1993) in an article on mind-matter interaction (MMI) that. He writes:

... Correlation coefficients were calculated for each of the 16 outcome measures with each of the 33 environmental variables, which resulted in a total of 16 × 33 = 528 correlations. Radin reported that the 16 × 33 matrix produced 44 correlations that were associated with p < .05. He then used the binomial probability distribution to compute the probability of obtaining that many, or (presumably) more, correlations associated with p < .05. He reported a value of p = .0004. I have been unable to reproduce this number ... In any event, Radin’s reported result is statistically significant.

However, the binomial distribution assumes independence for each of the measurements. But the correlations were clearly not independent. For instance, the environmental variables included background X-ray flux and log of background X-ray flux, humidity and precipitation, sunspot number and sunspot number for the day before.... Readers who have some familiarity with statistics may wish to ponder the implications.

The answer to his first concern was due to a simple mistake. I based the calculation on 45 rather than 44 significant correlations. I thank Hansen for spotting this error.

I addressed his second concern in the original article*, as follows:

It might be argued that some of the excess significant correlations in the experimental data might have been due to the fact that some of the environmental variables tested were intercorrelated with each other....

I explored this possibility by, among other things, forming a control correlation matrix using the same environmental variables in their originally recorded order, but randomly scrambling the chronological order of the MMI variables. (Under the null hypothesis, the former and latter variables should not be related in any way.) This control matrix resulted in a nonsignificant number of correlations, supporting the idea that the original matrix contained some meaningful relationships.

Hansen then failed to report that one of the points of this study was to test the idea that one reason MMI is highly variable in laboratory experiments may be due to fluctuations in environmental factors and differences in psychological variables like mood and confidence. Through use of an artificial neural network (Brainmaker, based on a backpropagation design), I demonstrated a genuine relationship between six environmental variables, two psychological variables, and one mind-matter interaction variable. After training the network on half the available data, the correlation between the MMI variable in the other half of the data and the neural network's prediction of the MMI effect was a highly significant r = 0.405.

The conclusions of this study were that (a) the environment appears to modulate MMI performance, (b) there are intriguing hints of space-like and time-like rebounds [in the MMI results], and (c) there is reason to believe that fairly good predictive models of MMI performance are realistically attainable.

To paraphrase Hansen's concern, readers who have some familiarity with his trickster theory may wish to ponder the implications of Hansen failing to report the rest of the story. While I think the trickster concept and lore are interesting, and that Hansen's own book on the trickster is an excellent exposition on that topic, I disagree that psi is forever doomed to a marginal existence.

The reason I don't agree is because similar pessimistic complaints have been voiced throughout history whenever we've been faced with seemingly incomprehensible effects in medicine, physics, astronomy, chemistry, biology, etc. In other words, whenever imagination fails, someone will invariably assert that we'll never be able to understand [fill in the blank], and so they come up with trickster-like theories to allow us to place our ignorance into a mysterious netherworld lying somewhere beyond our understanding. Failures of imagination are common, but promoting theories based on those failures is tantamount to glorifying an anti-scientific position.

* Radin, D. I. (1993). Environmental modulation and statistical equilibrium in mind-matter interaction. Subtle Energies and Energy Medicine, 4 (1), 1-30.