How to win a million dollars

Let's say we want to win a million dollar prize for rigorously demonstrating something psychic in a scientifically acceptable way.

One of the best candidates at present is the ganzfeld telepathy experiment. In this study two people are isolated, one is given the job of the "sender," the other the "receiver." The receiver is placed into a mild, unpatterned sensory stimulation condition called the ganzfeld, which produces a dream-like, hypnagogic state. In this state the receiver is asked to verbally report any impressions which come to mind. Meanwhile the sender is shown a randomly selected target image or video clip, and asked to mentally send that material to the receiver. After a half-hour of sending, the receiver is taken out of the ganzfeld and asked to select one of four images based on his or her impressions. One of those images is the target, along with three decoys.

By chance, the receiver will choose the actual target one in four times, or a 25% chance "hit rate." Because the result of each session can only be a direct hit or a miss, there is no ambiguity and the results are clean and straightforward to evaluate.

During the test session, the experimenter and receiver are of course blind to the sender's target image, and all parties involved are sequestered under rigorous conditions designed to preclude cheating. Within this design there is no way that receivers can systematically guess the correct target by conventional means.

A session typically takes about an hour for the two participants. For the investigator it takes another hour to prepare and to close down the session.

Analysis of over 4,000 such sessions, conducted in labs around the world for four decades, indicates that, with ordinary people involved as subjects, the observed average hit rate is 32%. This is stupendously significant from a statistical point of view, and it constitutes strong, repeatable evidence for telepathy.

How could we use this effect to win the million dollar prize?

First, we do a power analysis to determine how many repeated sessions we have to run. Let's say for a million dollars we are required to achieve results associated with odds against chance of a million to one. That seems like a reasonable criterion for success. Much less than this the prize holder runs the risk of losing a million to a fluke. Much more and the test becomes impossible to achieve during any one person's lifetime, as we'll see.

We'll design an experiment that is run in three phases, where each phase has the same parameters: p(chance) = 0.25, p(hypothesis) = 0.32, alpha = 0.003, power = 0.99. This means that if we assume that telepathy gives us a hit rate of 32%, then if we run this experiment we'll have a 99% chance of getting a final p-value of 0.003 or better, i.e. good evidence for telepathy. The power analysis tells us that we need to run N = 1,147 trials to achieve this result. So now we will run this same experiment two more times, get a result each time at least as good as p = 0.003, and then the combined p-value over all three phases will be one in a million or better, or odds against chance of at least a million to one.

This requires that we run a total of 1147 x 3 = 3441 sessions.

Say we pay each sender and receiver a modest $50 to help compensate their time and costs. So we need to budget $344,100 for participant compensation. And let's say we run one session per workday, and we pay our investigator $80 per hour. That comes to 688 weeks or 14 years of effort assuming we run the experiment 48 weeks per year. For the investigator (we'll assume one investigator, which is an underestimate), at two hours per session x 3441 sessions x $80, we end up with an investigator budget of $550,560.

Now we need a testing facility that provides exceptional security against cheating and will also allow independent observers, and perhaps the general public, to witness each session from afar. (Observers interested in monitoring this experiment are not going to camp out in the laboratory for 14 years to personally observe every session.) To do this, we could use a secure digital video recording system that streams encrypted data over the web to a secure site, and is also designed to detect any interception or tampering of the video record at the source, in transmission, or at the secure site. We will need at least three video streams to cover the sender, receiver, and investigator, and perhaps one or two more to survey the larger environment. So let's say we need five tamper-proof video streaming systems, a secure server, and expert consultants to ensure that the system is not only designed correctly, but is systematically re-examined to check for proper operation. Let's say all this costs $250,000 for the 14-year life of the project, which is undoubtedly a vast underestimate.

The testing facility itself should consist of two isolated chambers that are thoroughly shielded against any possible transmission of sensory cues, including sound, light, vibration, odor, magnetic or electromagnetic signals. This might cost $100,000. The cost of running the facility itself (air conditioning, electricity) might cost say $200 per week or $137,640 in total.

The total so far is $1,382,300, not including costs for independent analysis of the video, Internet bandwidth, storage costs, data analysis, etc. So, for the mere possibility of winning a million dollars, we're already deep in the red, not to mention the investment of 14 years of dedicated effort. In addition, to optimize the likelihood of success, we would want to recruit people who we think would perform well. Based on past studies this would be creative people (artists, musicians, etc.) who believe in telepathy because they've experienced telepathic episodes in their own lives, and/or siblings, spouses or friends who frequently experience telepathic-like connections. So we need an advertising and recruitment budget, and probably a travel budget as well to compensate selected participants who must travel to the testing facility.

In sum, based on the state of the science today, and based on decades of repeated experiments that give us some confidence on what to expect, I believe we could conduct an experiment that would win a million dollar prize (assuming we need odds against chance of a million to one). But from a pragmatic perspective it wouldn't be worth it. Even if it were possible to raise over a million to run the experiment in the first place (unlikely, unless a wealthy individual or foundation is interested in backing this project), this doesn't make either financial or scientific sense. It might generate some publicity for a day or two, but most people already believe in telepathy based on their personal experiences, so this would only be news to a small percentage of scientists who would raise an eyebrow for 10 minutes. And then they'd say "cool," and some of them would start working on explanatory theories. The hardcore skeptics, like flat-earthers and creationists, aren't convinced by evidence or prizes; they'll just go on believing whatever they want to believe.

If say, the X Prize Foundation, an organization with a good track record of offering clear challenges and criteria for success, were to establish a prize to demonstrate telepathy under rigorously controlled conditions, then I believe that the design I've sketched here would do the trick. For $10 million it would be worth it.


Those are some drastic underestimates.
Aaron said…
It would be worth 10 million dollars to find out. Some rich backer should cough up for the cause. I want to find out in my lifetime. Hit up the Templeton foundation, they might back it.
TheVegan said…
Great Article Dean!

Put differently, I'll give Randi 2 million for proof of the Higgs Boson.

Also, judging from the fact that he published an at home ESP test in the 1980's(*), I am pretty sure he doesn't know what a Power Analysis is.

In her recent biography Godess of the Market, Jennifer Burns notes that after a lifetime of belligerent promotion of her myopic version of rationality, Any Rand decided to learn high school algebra.** Perhaps the amazing Randi would care to learn college statistics!

keep posting, and be well

* Test Your ESP Potential (Dover/83). A workbook, complete with do-it-yourself testing procedures, test cards and statistical tables that enable readers to actually test scientifically for themselves whether psychic abilities exist. Soft cover.

Mike said…
It doesn't matter. The skeptics will find arguments, no matter how ridiculous & fantastical they are, to dispute the positive results. That's par for the course, unfortunately!
Erik said…
This whole discussion is quite disappointing.
If the overall succes rate of a strictly controlled telepathy experiment is near 33 per cent ( as opposed to 25, as in random) then there is a good chance that any SINGLE demonstration will fail.

Dean Radin is persistently working on providing the long tail data and not the single sensational shot, and the last thing he or IONS need is a bad day in front of the world's TV cameras.

By the way, there have been many individuals like e.g. Uri Geller, who repeatedly did sensational things even under laboratory conditions, and still one part of humanity choose to call them a fraud.
Maybe fear of the unknown is stronger than curiosity about our human potential.
levis said…
to Erik. U.Geller has been exposed as a ridiculous fake time and time again. The key and spoon bending tricks, using magnets to move a compass etc.(exposing videos)
Under laboratory conditions Geller was unable to bend anything (without physically bending)
U.Geller even abuses DMCA to cover up embarrassing YouTube videos. That's pretty pathetic.
Dean Radin said…
> then there is a good chance that any SINGLE demonstration will fail.

The value of a power analysis is that it tells us that if the actual hit rate is 32%, and we do the proposed experiment, then we have a 99% chance of success.

Please note: I will no longer post comments about claims or counterclaims associated with controversial individuals. There are plenty of forums out there that love to stew in ad hominem gossip. I'm not interested in that.
matthewx78 said…
Dean, Saw you on Bleep, Loved this Blog. reading "conscious Universe now"

Thank You! I had no clue as to how much research has been done for PSI stuff. It is astonding. I am a "middle brainer" so now I know I am not crazy for having PSI experinces!
David Bailey said…
Mathwex78 said: "I had no clue as to how much research has been done for PSI stuff."

This is part of what originally sparked my interest. I watched a TV program in which a prominent skeptic said something like, "There is no scientific evidence for psychic phenomena." I knew that wasn't true - so he clearly wasn't telling the unvarnished facts - and I gradually came to realise just how much misrepresentation there is out there.
mikorangester said…
Telepathy research like this is like living in the 70's or the dark ages. I live in a world where its all real but we spend our time pretending we don't know about it. In the meantime, our children suffer from lack of an education in our first gift. Is it because the realisation gives people too much power (not likely - you get killed if you find out too much), or is it because we can't bring ourselves to the conclusion that yes, maybe religious education has something to teach us.
matthewx78 said…

Thanks for your comments. Last winter I literally had a "quarter life crises" of some kind after quitting smoking. I have been philosophical and spiritual every since my younger sister and I were able to guess objects in each others heads with great, (80% or higher) accuracy.

For some reason last year I started to question everything I thought I knew and had experienced. It was totally terrifying.

Thats how I got here, studying what kinda spiritual stuff can be validated with science and reason.

I gotta say there are some things I had to shed but not many!
Unknown said…
Michael, lets suppose its possible to return to an earlier time in history and make changes that effect the current time and date retrospectively.

It is irresponsible, in my opinion, to permanently displace members of the general public in the case that they were observers of your actions. Accidents do happen as do acts of terrorism but the doctrine that most of us observe, is that life goes on, and we do not give in to it or pay homage to it by the back door.

(not likely - you get killed if you find out too much)
I'm not a statistician, but common sense tells me that a modest increase over chance is not significant for what is a test of super-powers of perception. That's a little like Superman being only 32/25 times stronger than average. Shouldn't a super-power be...uh, super?
mikorangester said…
Actually I was meant to say, are you for real? You know, for someone researching the stuff you seem to support games like these. I recall there was another guy called James Randi of the sceptics society or something. Total charlatan.
Dean Radin said…
> I'm not a statistician ... shouldn't a super-power be...uh, super?

Non-statisticians often confuse magnitude with existence. Lots of things are extremely tiny in size, tendency, relationship, etc.,, or they are highly variable, but they're also very real.

When did telepathy become a super power? All indications are that it is a fairly common experience. It's just not the way it's often portrayed in fiction (few things are).
> Non-statisticians often confuse magnitude with existence.

I'm not confused about that; I'm suggesting you are.

I'll be more blunt: Your telepaths are not very good at telepathy. So how can they be telepaths?

What are you actually measuring?
Dean Radin said…
> What are you actually measuring?

That's explained in the original post and in many other sources. No confusion here.

> Your telepaths are not very good at telepathy. So how can they be telepaths?

They aren't "my telepaths," just ordinary people volunteering for an experiment. No need for people with special skills.
Eric Lyman said…
Although it would be a financial loss, the publicity generated by the win might be worth it. With the public spotlight might come even more funding for IONs?

Perhaps a good 14 year investment!
Pikemann Urge said…
When did telepathy become a super power?

This reminds me that telepathy is not extraordinary, either. You know very well the 'extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence' line. Not only does it merely reduce to 'claims require evidence', but research is showing that psi is quite ordinary indeed.

Of course, in casual language, psi is very much 'super' and 'extraordinary'!
Paprika said…
>> telepaths are not very good at telepathy. So how can they be telepaths? <<

I'm not "very good at" ping pong so how could I actually be playing ping pong? All of those reports of me playing must be attributed to false memory, delusions, fraud, methodological flaws in observation, or something of the sort...

But seriously, the fact that most people are not "very good" at telepathy is irrelevant to whether telepathy exists.

>> What are [parapsychologists] actually measuring? <<

An actual transfer or sharing of information that isn't reducible to the five senses and is more than expected by chance. Moreover, this sharing/transfer is seen under fraud-resistant controls.

But if you want "excellent" telepathy, look into the investigations of Leonora Piper by Hodgson, Myers, etc. See Michel Sage's book "Mrs. Piper and the Society for Psychical Research" (originally published in 1904 but re-released in 2009):
Machina Labs said…
Dean, I have a question about the most recent Ganzfeld meta analysis (Storm et al 2010).

Maybe it is just me, but it seems to me like this is a rather big deal - (Hyman may disagree) it seems like this is the replication that critics have wanted since, well, '85 really. I would think there would be more buzz about this, but it still feels a little...subdued. Maybe I'm not monitoring the right channels. Perhaps you could give a bit of insight into how the parapsychology community has reacted to this publication?

I really would like this paper to get a bit more attention, so that maybe, *maybe* the misconception that parapsychology has yet to come up with any evidence or evolve over the years, will shrink away a bit.

At least the Wikipedia page on Ganzfeld mentions Storm et al 2010 now (Gee, I wonder who added that... *wink*)
Tor said…
Continuing my adventure through the psi literature I currently have been looking at the Auto-Ganzfeld protocol.

When the sender is presented the target on the monitor, is the target identity then stored in the session computer file?
I can't find any method description concerning when target choice is stored, just that the target identity is revealed to receiver and experimenter by the sender when he arrives in the receiver room.

I'm thinking that obviously target identity must be recorded by the computer at session start, not when the sender arrives to inform the receiver/experimenter of the target after the sending ended? (Or else critics would have torn these experiments to shreds long ago..)
Dean Radin said…
> Perhaps you could give a bit of insight into how the parapsychology community has reacted to this publication?

We think it's great. Another major article is coming out soon in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, a top rated APA journal. The paper is by Cornell University psychologist Daryl Bem, and entitled "Feeling the Future: Experimental Evidence for Anomalous Retroactive Influences on Cognition and Affect." A third paper is coming out in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, on mediumship, by Emily Kelly.
Dean Radin said…
> obviously target identity must be recorded by the computer at session start ...

Machina Labs said…
>Another major article is coming out soon in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, a top rated APA journal.

Yessss. Stuff like this fills me with geeky excitement.

I think parapsychology is more or less at a point where psi results can be assured (if not 100% guaranteed), given our understanding of what helps psi and what doesn't. It's just a matter of declaring operational definitions tightly enough that we can say about a given failed replication attempt, "You did XYZ wrong, that's why it didn't work."

When flummoxed skeptics keep getting above chance hit rates, time after time, oh, that'll be a good day.
Tor said…
Thanks for the fast reply Dean!

About the most recent ganzfeld meta-analysis, I am a bit surprised that so much effort is spent on explaining the decline effect. As I see it, that issue should have been settled when Bem et al. published their paper on standard vs exploratory ganzfeld experiments in 2001. People are still doing exploratory ganzfeld work. And from what I understand of the current meta-analysis, they look not only at the standard ganzfeld. Thus a decline is to be expected.

I think it would be better to separate standard and non-standard ganzfeld experiments for future meta-analysis.
Dean Radin said…
> where psi results can be assured (if not 100% guaranteed)...

Well, not quite that good. There are still plenty of uncertain factors that lead to unavoidable variations in human performance. This is just as true for psi performance as it is for sports performance. Humans, even the highest paid athletes, don't have machine-like reliability.
If I ever obtain $11 million, I would consider backing this project, but figure out every way to cut down the cost by using people who are willing to "live on less" so to speak. Maybe set this up at someone's "home" and save costs of a "facility" - why not just make a home into one? :P

I would even consider living at this facility!

And my end note isn't exactly relevant to this post, but I couldn't find an email to tell you this, Dean. I released my second solo album August 12th, 2010 and you're featured in samples: is where it's uploaded - Tracks 3 & 4 ("Accepting The Uncertainty Principle", and "Q-Entanglement") is where you'll hear yourself... :P

Didn't want to really post this message here, but I couldn't find any other way! Thank you for everything you've done by doing what you want instead of having a "very secure career" - brilliant mind!

Pikemann Urge said…
When flummoxed skeptics keep getting above chance hit rates, time after time, oh, that'll be a good day.

There's no need to wish for it as it already happens. To some extent, anyway. In Dean's first book he mentions how skeptics who did psi experiments thought they got insignificant results when there were in fact significant.

You might like to know that Rupert Sheldrake claims that Richard Wiseman replicated an experiment that tested a dog's telepathy.

Wiseman go the same results as Sheldrake. Which sounds like a breakthrough, right? But Wiseman imposed a two-minute condition on the dog. If the dog waited at the front of the house, apparently for its owner to come home, and stayed there for at least two minutes, that was counted as either a hit or miss. No other data was counted. Obviously, most of those were misses. Therefore, Wiseman claimed, the dog could not be telepathic.

I leave it to scientists to discuss whether Wiseman's two-minute rule was justified or not. But his results were more or less the same as Sheldrake's.
Enfant Terrible said…
Hi, Dean

two questions:

01 - Do you know the name of the paper coming out in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, on mediumship, by Emily Kelly?

02 - Gary Schwartz said in the article "ANOMALOUS INFORMATION RECEPTION BY RESEARCH MEDIUMS DEMONSTRATED USING A NOVEL TRIPLE-BLIND PROTOCOL", published in EXPLORE January/February 2007: "The scope of this report will only include a discussion of the
whole reading scoring; item-by-item scoring analyses will be included in a future manuscript."

As far I know, this "future manuscript" never came out. Do you know any news about this?

Best wishes
Dean Radin said…
> Do you know the name of the paper coming out in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, on mediumship, by Emily Kelly?

"An Investigation of Mediums Who Claim to Give Information about Deceased Persons"

> Do you know any news about this?

Unknown said…
Another thing to consider though, is getting two individuals who are very skilled at this. If they can get a success rate of 80%, the number of trials, and the $ involved falls drastically.
Dean Radin said…
Yes, if reliably high hitting pairs could be found (a very big if), the cost would be much less. But the point of this exercise is to develop a protocol based on a substantial existing database, which relies on people who don't claim any special talents.

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