Wednesday, May 27, 2009

"My faith was broken ..."

Last week the National Public Radio program "All Things Considered" mentioned one of the distant intentionality studies that my colleagues and I published last year. The study showed that in emotionally bonded couples where one was healthy and the other was being treated for cancer, that when the healthy partner sent compassionate intention thoughts towards their loved one, then the physiological state of the patient, who was isolated at a distance, responded. This is one of a few dozen similar studies conducted over the past few decades. Cumulatively they show repeatable evidence that we are connected in spooky ways that resemble on a macro scale what quantum entanglement is on the micro scale. [These studies were not designed to test whether that connection affects healing.]

It was predictable that some people would not like the NPR program. One of those comments appeared today in the Huffington Post by someone who was clearly miffed by the very concept that thoughts might influence the world. When I see such strong opinions expressed, it is almost always the case that the person offering those opinions doesn't actually know anything about the underlying empirical data. And the emotional pressure underlying that opinion, especially among scientists, very often can be traced to a deeply held anger against religion, which they imagine which is what motivates these experiments [It doesn't, at least not for me. I'm agnostic about religion.]

In this case, the author of that op-ed admits his bias: "When I was young, my faith was broken by God's apparent stony silence in the face of such [medical and other] agonies...." That same faith can be broken by discovering that Santa Claus is really your dad, or that the Tooth Fairy is really your mom. Some children never recover from the humiliation at being fooled by supposedly trustworthy adults, so like a steel trap their minds snap shut and forever after disallow certain ideas.

The problem is that in this case there is empirical evidence that has nothing to do with religious faith, or any sort of faith, that supports the idea that our thoughts actually do influence the world around us. A little bit. And not nearly to the extent that a child's imagination thinks they ought to. In addition, the quantum connection is not so easy to dismiss after all, at least for those who are willing to rationally ponder the evidence. My books and the book Quantum Enigma discuss all this in more detail.

30 comments:

Sandy said...

Dean,

I’ve commented a few times about how I feel a certain sympathy for the skeptics simply because it took some rather extreme personal experiences to get me to see past my own biases on paranormal research. I still have my issues, although lately I am seeing the way I perceive the world as more of a gift than a disability. I’m even getting ideas on how I might use my own particular expertise as a scientist to very quietly contribute to this body of research once I finish graduate school.

That being said, I think the comments made in the Huffington Post are way beyond my sympathy. Bringing religion up as a way of pushing the buttons of sensible scientific folks is just too low a tactic. I’m pretty much agnostic on religion. I’ve noticed that connecting parapsychology to religion even makes me want to shy away from looking at the data. I’ve seen the same connection made between Sheldrake’s work and Intelligent Design for the same reasons. This is just a very deceitful way of invoking the power of taboos to get scientists not to look. We should be following the data instead of closing our eyes

Sandy

David Bailey said...

To me, it is very hard to believe in a religion with intellectual honesty, because:

a) There are many religions, and they are mutually inconsistent

b) As Richard Dawkins shows, Christianity is absolutely riven with inconsistencies (whatever one thinks of Dawkins other work)

c) Many religions serve a political agenda.

PSI research might reveal core truths which spawned religious belief, but I can't see how it can possibly support such belief - I mean for starters, which one would it support?

mercado said...

Hello Dr. Radin,

I don't know if this is the correct place to write this, but I wanted to ask you a question about J.B. Rhine's work.

I've read in several places that Dr. Rhine's early research showed significant effect sizes, but as he continued his research and added more controls, the effect sizes gradually decreased until they reached the point where they were no longer significant.

Do you believe this to be true? If not, can you point me to a source that discusses this issue in more depth?

Thanks.

Dean Radin said...

> the effect sizes gradually decreased until they reached the point where they were no longer significant ...

Such stories assume that the original effects weren't real because they weren't properly controlled, and later when they were controlled, the effects disappeared. This is not true, as described in gory detail in the book "ESP After Sixty Years" by Pratt, Rhine and colleagues.

However, it is quite true that hit rates in these tests sometimes do decline. One reason for the declines is that after studying something for a decade or more, and gaining confidence that something is going on, the aims of the experiments change. They are no longer interested in proof of an effect, but rather the underlying processes -- i.e., how does it work? This goal usually involves comparing performance among different conditions, and those studies often end up with lower effect sizes than proof-oriented studies because some of the tested conditions aren't expected (or at least aren't hypothesized) to show effects.

There can be other reasons for declines in effect size, such as boredom on the part of the experimenter or participants.

rob said...

An excellent example of "puzzling evidence" is the blackbody radiation curve - which in the 1890s completely flummoxed physicists, because it did not fit the theoretical predictions of classical physics, yet the experiments on radiation were unambiguous in the *data*.

Experiments such as the one Dean adduces - and the earlier ones he did at Interval Research - are, to my mind, very similar. The *mechanism* is unknown, but the effect is real. I was initially sceptical in the 1990s when we were both at Interval, but changed my mind - *without* having any idea of the mechanism(s).

For an excellent history of this sort of thing see "Black-Body Theory and the Quantum Discontinuity, 1894-1912" by Thomas S. Kuhn.

As both an a-theist and an a-gnostic (look up the original meanings of both, as coined by Huxley) I find most of the discourse around these phenomena to be... peurile.

anonymous said...

Hi David,

Have you studied any other religions besides Christianity?

"a) There are many religions, and they are mutually inconsistent"

Buddhist and Spiritualist beliefs are not mutually inconsistent.

"c) Many religions serve a political agenda."

Spiritualism does serve a political agenda. It was formed so that people interested in developing and using psychic talents could gain protection under the first amendment from persecution by misguided attempts to protect the public from imagined fraud.

"PSI research might reveal core truths which spawned religious belief, but I can't see how it can possibly support such belief - I mean for starters, which one would it support?"

I think you can find support in psychology, parapsychology, and quantum physics for Buddhism and Spiritualism.

For 150 years while Science has been ignoring psi, Spiritualists have been demonstrating psi, educating people about psi, and training people in the use of psi. During that entire period Science has been trying to deny the existence of psi.

"To me, it is very hard to believe in a religion with intellectual honesty,"

When it comes to psi, there is more intellectual honesty in Spiritualism than mainstream science.

anonymous said...

To a Spiritualist, the idea that parapsychology is a means of supporting religion is ridiculous.

While parapsychologists are struggling with small effect sizes and decline effects in their labs, and at the same time debating the merits of the super-psi hypothesis to explain the phenomena of spiritualism, spiritual healing and spirit communication are every day facts of life for Spiritualists.

The ancient Egyptians built the pyramids without scientsts, the Romans built roads across Eruope without scientists, the Chinese developed gunpowder, and movable type without scientists. Ships sailed across the seas long before Bernoulli discovered the principle which explained their motion. In certain fields of endeavor, science is not necessary. Psi is foremost among them and in fact would be better off without Science because mainstream science has only hindered understanding of psi by denying its existence.

Parapsychology and psychical research are interesting and I hope eventually they will increase our knowledge about psi, but at the present time Spiritualists are years ahead of the scientists when it comes to using psi. Parapsychologists will find more support for their science in a Spiritualist church than a Spiritualist will find support in parapsychology labs for many years to come.

Dean Radin said...

> The ancient Egyptians built the pyramids without scientsts, the Romans built roads across Eruope without scientists... In certain fields of endeavor, science is not necessary.

For our personal sense of reality, yes. But I disagree about what the ancients were able to accomplish. In fact, they were successful at learning how to manipulate the world due to an enormous amount of empirical testing. And that's what a great deal of science is still about today -- exploring the nature of Nature using special tools and methods.

What science has to offer beyond personal experience (even those experiences we call "experiments") are theoretical models that systematize and generalize observed phenomena far beyond the ken of individual experience.

I do agree that science hasn't yet figured out how to study personal experience in the same way that it studies stars and rocks. But that it could some day, and as a result generate much better models about consciousness and its properties than we presently understand, I have little doubt.

Mimi said...

Wow, I think this study shows how important it is to chose the right partner - Someone who is compassionate, and willing to send good intentions during difficult times (or any time)!

anonymous said...

"I do agree that science hasn't yet figured out how to study personal experience in the same way that it studies stars and rocks. But that it could some day, and as a result generate much better models about consciousness and its properties than we presently understand, I have little doubt."

The psychical researchers of the late 19th century wanted to do this too. They hoped to find ways to extend the methods of science so that personal experience could be studied quantitatively and objectively.

Their first attempt was to use a survey to help make sense of anecdotal information about crisis apparitions. The survey was called "the census of hallucinations". They tried to do a representative survey of the British population asking a simple question:

"Since January 1, 1874, have you when in good health, free from anxiety, and completely awake had a vivid impression of seeing or being touched by a human being, or of hearing a voice or sound which suggested a human presence, when no one was there ? Yes or no ?"

If the subject answered yes, they requested further information. If the event seemed to include veridical information they sought corroborating testimony from other witnesses such as family members to whom the subject described the hallucination.

This is described in:

"Phantasms of the Living" by Edmund Gurney,volume 2 chapter xiii "The Theory of Chance Coincidence"


http://www.archive.org/search.php?query=title%3A%28phantasms%20of%20the%20living%29%20AND%20creator%3A%28edmund%20gurney%29

Next, using sources of information on the frequencies of deaths such as "Supplement to the 45th Annual Report of the Registrar-General", they calculated the expected probability of having a hallucination near the time of death of a relative or acquaintance. From this they were able to demonstrate that the frequency of crisis appiritions (seeing an apparition of somone near the time of their death) was much too high to be explained by chance coincidence.

The census of halucinations is also described in The Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research. Many articles on the census can be read on line at books.google.com. These articles can be easily found using the Web Guide to the PSPR on my web site:


http://www.geocities.com/chs4o8pt/pspr_map.html

Unfortunately, the ambition of extending the scientific method to the study of personal experiences withered when easily replicable laboratory experiments came into vogue.

ricelander said...

I want to share you this link:

http://discovermagazine.com/2009/may/01-the-biocentric-universe-life-creates-time-space-cosmos

Tor said...

This is off topic, but I just visited the SSE homepage which lately have been heavily updated and renewed. The front page is loaded with SSE talks (videos) of topics that should be interesting to anyone reading Dean's blog.

And Dean, I kind of envy you (in a positive way) since you get to dabble in all these fun experiments. Playing with interference patterns and meditators, trying to slow down the speed of light... Maybe you don't get rich by doing this, but you surely have interesting days!

I've already turned down a couple of offers for PhD positions the last few years because they seemed too boring to keep my interest. Maybe some god can shine it's light on me and make me filthy rich. Then I could build my own lab to participate in this kind of psi vs. physics research. I guess some of the others reading this blog would want to join in on the fun too then :)

Tor

Atheistic Mystic said...

David Bailey said

"There are many religions, and they are mutually inconsistent"

Only on the exoteric level. Once that surface level is penetrated and the esoteric level is reached, the inconsistencies vanish.

Artist and Graphic Designer Kelli Swan said...

I recently read a book called Busting Loose from the Money Game. (by Robert Scheinfeld) After reading that, I gained some new insight into issues such as these. There is a great amount of power that goes into keeping our "illusion" intact. These back-and-forth dialogues are part of the game, part of the illusion... all part of waking up to our true nature if we can see the "players" for who they truly are - us. :-)

Dean Radin said...

> Unfortunately, the ambition of extending the scientific method to the study of personal experiences withered when easily replicable laboratory experiments came into vogue.

It's true that quantitatively studying spontaneous experiences has been difficult. Psychics often tell me that what they do is not fully captured by lab tests. But this is really a matter of proper experimental design, and not a problem inherent in all laboratory work.

The reason the research of the 1880s went in the quantitative direction is because qualitative research alone doesn't provide confidence that what people are reporting is objectively true (meaning true for all, not just the individual). I suppose that because I'm involved in these lab studies that I'm more optimistic about what can ultimately be achieved in the laboratory.

Dean Radin said...

Tor, I'd recommend that you get a PhD in some scientific field that interests you, then do psi experiments (quietly) on the side and attend conventions where you can meet people involved in the field. That's what I did for many years, all the time looking for a position I could take, or create, to do psi research full time. Persistence pays off.

Tor said...

Dean Radin said:

Tor, I'd recommend that you get a PhD in some scientific field that interests you, then do psi experiments (quietly) on the side and attend conventions where you can meet people involved in the field. That's what I did for many years, all the time looking for a position I could take, or create, to do psi research full time. Persistence pays off.Yes, I know this is the way to go, but finding something I find an interesting PhD position isn't easy, at least not locally. Another issue is the taboo of having "crazy" interests like this. I still remember the resistance of most of my fellow students when I enthusiastically explained about the Global Consciousness Project. The kind of "you're a nice guy, but seem to have fallen off the edge" type of laughing it away. And that was my fellow students, not the old professor!

Maybe if one is quiet about all this as you say, it will work out. But I find it uncomfortable being interested in psi/mind/consciousness and being part of academia. You have to make such a big effort to swim against the current. Of course, there are PhD positions outside academia too. I think that may be the solution for me.

Tor

anonymous said...

Hi Tor,

I've been wanting to contact you but have no contact info ...

Please have a look at:


http://psicology-forum.proboards.com/index.cgi

Click on "Members" along the top row of butons, you'll see some familiar names.

You can contact me via private message at the above site or by email at the address on my web site (click my name above where it says "anonymous said..." and you'll see the url on my blogger profile)

Thanks

anonymous said...

"The reason the research of the 1880s went in the quantitative direction is because qualitative research alone doesn't provide confidence that what people are reporting is objectively true (meaning true for all, not just the individual). I suppose that because I'm involved in these lab studies that I'm more optimistic about what can ultimately be achieved in the laboratory."

I share your optimism. However, in the first laboratory I worked at, the principle investigator used to say that in science you have to try everything because nothing works. My opinion is that all approaches should be tried and the few clues that are learned from each will help those working on all the others. There isn't enough funding, I know.

In addition, I also think there is a lot of low hanging fruit for physicists, a la Targ and Puthoff, if some would get interested in seances and physical mediumship.

In what other field of science can the mysterious force answer back and give hints to the experimenters? It seems to me a no-brainer. A living scientist collaborating with a dead scientist ought to be able to make progress faster than living scientists alone.

Sandy said...

Maybe if one is quiet about all this as you say, it will work out. But I find it uncomfortable being interested in psi/mind/consciousness and being part of academia. You have to make such a big effort to swim against the current.Tor, I understand your problems. The only difference is that I wasn’t interested in such topics when I started my PhD. I kind of got forced to come to terms with this stuff at a rather inconvenient point in my life. I try very hard to fit in and be one of the science geeks. But I’ve been teased about being “haunted”, called a witch, and asked to stay away from the lab equipment because things often malfunction in my vicinity. I’ve never openly expressed an interest in the paranormal or admitted to any anomalous experiences in the presence any of the scientists I’ve worked with, yet I still feel singled out. I don’t really want to swim against the current. I was happy being just a regular scientist.

I had started to wonder what I was doing trying to fit in and complete a degree in a very traditional area of study. But I’m starting to see work that I can do in my more mainstream area of interest that may contribute towards less traditional disciplines. I’m even starting to understand how my unique way of perceiving the world may help rather than hinder my efforts as a scientist.

Tor, if I can figure out a way to make things work, you probably can too.

Good Luck!

Sandy

Tor said...

Sandy said:

Tor, if I can figure out a way to make things work, you probably can too.

Good Luck!
Good luck to you too Sandy! I'll see what happens :)

And anonymous:

I'll have a look at that page you linked too. Thanks for the link!

Tor

james said...

to dean, i actually spoke with you about 10 years ago on coast to coast am. i think my comment to you was something along the lines of "maybe telepathy was actually a form of telekinesis, this in reference to the PEAR experiments and the idea that the human brain may be akin to a random number generator organized by an immaterial consciousness". I was moved to an acceptance of the evidence not by the researchers but by the curious irrationality of the skeptics. I think the phrase "Your lack of direction has shown me where to go" fits most well in my case. I was brought up a fundamentalist christian and like the man in the title had my faith "broken" and for a while became an atheist. As i grew older i encountered skeptics like Ray Hyman and Michael Shermer who i turned to as fellow "brights" but soon realized were just as irrational as the followers of the faith i left. I even suspect that materialism can be a safety net for those who have their faith broken. Michael Shermer is quite proud of his fundamentalist christian background. It's just sad that these individuals cannot see the psychological barriers they have erected to protect their beliefs. And it's even more sad that psi is a victim of their unconscious motives.

David Bailey said...

In response to anonymous, obviously any generalisation about religions will have some rough edges, yet even in the case of Buddhism, it is said that it is practiced more like a traditional religion in the east, its very rarefied form is a western phenomenon.

However, that aside, many people, certainly in the US, equate 'God' with the Christian God, and I just don't see why any positive psi results could help support Christianity - or indeed how they could support Islam. Whether spiritualism can be called a religion, I am not sure.

This really comes down to semantics - IMHO, the word 'god' has too much baggage to be useful any more.

FB said...

Atheistic Mystic said...

David Bailey said

"There are many religions, and they are mutually inconsistent"

Only on the exoteric level. Once that surface level is penetrated and the esoteric level is reached, the inconsistencies vanish.

I was going to say something much like what Atheistic Mystic said, but in more obscure terminology.

Am I allowed to be agnostic about the exoteric level and gnostic about the esoteric level? Can one be a gnostic agnostic?

FB said...

Robert Graves told Idries Shah that whenever the press had panned his books, he ought to take the review and correct its grammar.

In that spirit, I note the HuffPo ends with:
He has every right to ask: "God, why have you forsaken me?" The question is not only unavoidable. It is more polite than I would put it.

Hmm.

I'm not a professional grammarian, but I would render that last line differently.

1. It is put more politely than I would have put it.
2. I would have put the question less politely.


Consider also the paragraph near the end:
When I was young, my faith was broken by God's apparent stony silence in the face of such agonies, not only among AIDS patients or among the thirsty and dying children of Darfur, but among countless people around us who suffer greatly from with more mundane ailments.

"...who suffer greatly from with more..." Now *that's* ungrammatical.

Etc. Harold Pollack may be technically within the bounds of grammar, but I find fault with his composition.

Bharat said...

Dean: Top post. I have to say, ridiculous as this is, when I see these extreme skeptic chaps (they're rarely of the fairer sex, which says a great deal) and hear their "arguments" I just immediately resort to compassion for them because it's the only way I know of dealing with it that won't take hours of (usually pointless) discussion. Now, I just usually point them towards some stuff they should read (mainly Irreducible Mind, Thomas Kuhn type stuff). Keep up the top work, Dean. You've already earned a place in history.

Sandy and anonymous: When I get more than 10 mins' net access a day, I'll be on that site like a shot, assuming you'll have me!

Tor: If those millions come and you get some money with which to play with meditators and double-slit experiments with, I'm coming round to play!

Tor said...

A question for you Dean, off topic:

Do you know about Interchange Laboratories? If so, do you know if their MMIP (Mind Machine Interface Processor) actually works?

If it does enable you to control computer simulated objects via MMI like they claim it's great, but this sounds too good to be true.. I hope I'm being to pessimistic.

Tor

Dean Radin said...

> Do you know about Interchange Laboratories?

Someone else just asked this same question. Yes, I'm in touch with these folks and I've been following their work. They've kindly allowed me to examine one version of their system. It looks promising, but until formal tests are completed we won't know how reliable or robust it is.

The problem with any mind-machine interface is that at least half of the equation involves mind, and that's the tricky bit. Most minds are not focused enough to reliably move their own bodies around very well, as evidenced by thriving auto body repair shops and emergency rooms.

So I expect it will take specially talented people to operate mind-machine interfaces. This shouldn't be surprising -- you wouldn't thrust Joe Sixpack into a jet fighter and expect the thing to fly. You need people with highly specialized skills to operate super-sensitive machinery, and there aren't that many people out there with those skills.

David Bailey said...

Regarding the MMIP, their results read like typical psi experimental results - just slightly above chance - but don't they need a breakthrough of some sort to get the performance to actually use the machine?

They mention, of course, that they do not rely on the detection of physiological signals of any kind. It might be interesting to create a machine that could start with physiological signals, and then gradually wean a subject on to true psi-based control - as a sort of training exercise.

Dean Radin said...

> ... create a machine that could start with physiological signals, and then gradually wean a subject on to true psi-based control - as a sort of training exercise.

I experimented with this enhanced biofeedback idea in 1989-1990. It involved a combination of mostly physiological signals plus some noise from an RNG, then slowly weaning away from the physiology to pure RNG. For the few participants who tried it, it didn't work. I'm not sure but I suspect they didn't train sufficiently to reach mastery at each stage before weaning to the next. Achieving mastery might have taken 10s or 100s of hours per stsage, and we only tried it for about an hour per stage.