Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Recent interviews


At this page you'll find a series of recorded interviews on the Essentials of Noetic Sciences, including episodes where I interview Daryl Bem about his new retrocausal experiments, Bruce Greyson on NDEs, and Rupert Sheldrake on his latest research.

8 comments:

Lou said...

Hi, Have you seen this article?
http://www.ruudwetzels.com/articles/Wagenmakersetal_subm.pdf
It states that Bem has "only"done lots of experiments and then only picked the cherry's to prove a point. I don't know if this is fair or not but just wanted you to make aware of it.

Dean Radin said...

Yes, the author of this paper brought this to my attention on this blog. It is a more sophisticated critique than simply accusing Bem of cherry picking good outcomes (which is not the case), but I still disagree with most of the paper's thesis, because with carefully selected Bayesian priors you can nullify any effect.

Of greater import, whenever I read a critique that purports to nullify a psi effect, but also requires that ALL other experiments in all domains also have to be reevaluated, I see a major problem.

koizumi said...

I am not sure about the statistics (I had never heard of a Bayesian T test) but there are several incorrect conclusions in the article.

One argument in particular struck me as stoooopid.

"Our personal prior belief in precognition is, and should be, very low. First, there exists
no mechanistic theory of precognition (see Price, 1955 for a discussion). This means, for
instance, that we have no clue about how precognition could arise in the brain—neither
animals nor humans appear to have organs or neurons dedicated to precognition, and it is
unclear what electrical or biochemical processes would make precognition possible. Note
that precognition conveys a considerable evolutionary advantage (Bem, in press), and one
might therefore assume that natural selection would have lead to a world filled with powerful
psychics (i.e., people or animals with precognition, clairvoyance, psychokineses, etc.). This
is not the case, however (see also Kennedy, 2001). The believer in precognition may object
that psychic abilities, unlike all other abilities, are not influenced by natural selection. But
the onus is then squarely on the believer in psi to explain why this should be so."

This conclusion is incorrect for several reasons.

A. Just because a trait confers some evolutionary fitness does not mean that it will be maximized in a population. Physical beauty is one such trait (and potentially intelligence as well). Beauty confers increased reproductive fitness so following this argument all humans must be beautiful. This clearly wrong ( many people are not beautiful).

B. The implication of the paper by Bem is that Psi is pervasive in the general population. The authors assume a point (that psi is not pervasive) that is in contention. Such a contended point can't be assumed true to make an argument.

C. A significant proportion of first person experience can't be tied to any specific structure in the brain. We accept consciousness even though there is little hope of understanding the necessary and sufficient causes of it in terms of brain physiology. This makes the authors point about lack of theoretical underpinning weak.

David Bailey said...

On the subject of Bayesian analysis, it is interesting the New Scientist reports Bem's results, but claims that the true lesson is that the significance of scientific experiments should be calculated using Bayesian methods. The editorial fails to point out, however, that you can enter a prior probability as small as you like (as you say) - so this is really a bid to be able to reject any psi research on totally subjective grounds! I think skeptics must be getting desperate!

Alex said...

Actually, there are more nuggets to be had in this highly incoherent argument.

1. Our personal prior belief in precognition is, and should be, very low. First, there exists
no mechanistic theory of precognition (see Price, 1955 for a discussion). This means, for
instance, that we have no clue about how precognition could arise in the brain—neither
animals nor humans appear to have organs or neurons dedicated to precognition, and it is
unclear what electrical or biochemical processes would make precognition possible.
---

Firstly, arguing there is no mechanistic theory of PSI begs the question and the argument in its fullness a priori presupposes materialism.

Secondly, there certainly exist theories of precognition: they just tend to extend beyond classical mechanics. The fact that there exists no mechanical theory of a known-to-be-false physical theory isn't much an argument.

Furthermore, this is nothing but the old 'we don't know how it works so it doesn't exist' canard. Why should we expect to find a specific part of the brain dealing with precognition, especially in the era of neuroplasticity?

2. Note that precognition conveys a considerable evolutionary advantage (Bem, in press), and one
might therefore assume that natural selection would have lead to a world filled with powerful
psychics (i.e., people or animals with precognition, clairvoyance, psychokineses, etc.). This
is not the case, however (see also Kennedy, 2001). The believer in precognition may object
that psychic abilities, unlike all other abilities, are not influenced by natural selection. But the onus is then squarely on the believer in psi to explain why this should be so."

And here we have a massive whopper, and not just for the reasons koizumi already outlined.

It is not at all clear that powerful PSI would be advantageous. Indeed, highly psychic functioning (like, for example, remote viewing) may take one from the here and the now and expose the person to danger. Indeed, some PSI may be a detriment to survival, explaining why we -- overall -- see weak effects and only rarely dramatic ones.

The PSI that IS advantageous would be of the 'sense of being stared at' kind or of 'gut feeling' and 'intuition' (precognition) kind that warns of danger. And lo and behold, those are the types of PSI that are very, very commonly reported. Sheldrake has obviously discussed this at length. This argument holds zero force.

Pikemann Urge said...

I agree with koizumi and David. The lack of a mechanism does not preclude the lack of a phenomenon. It's very well explained in the I'm a Skeptic video.

Apparently it's okay to make presumptions when you're 'debunking' psi. The argument for evolutionary advantage assumes that all psi involves precognition. A lot of psi is telepathic. In any case, koizumi's rebuttal (more like a refutation) hit the nail on the head.

It's the same type of argument as the strawman psychic who must either predict the lottery numbers every week or confess to a delusion.

Matthew Fuller said...

The usefulness of bayes in part depends on how many "unknown unknowns" there are in existence.

Dean, an interview (I think in 2009) said you were working on a new book that was about a conference that you attended with both psi opponents and proponents, including some very authoritative scientists in multiple scientific fields.

Any progress or updates on this book?

David Bailey said...

Koizumi,

I was interested by this paper, which shows that a significant amount of the experiments that seem to localise particular kinds of thought in the brain, may be wishful thinking!

http://forum.mind-energy.net/local_links.php?action=jump&catid=11&id=4

The New Scientist editorial seemed incredibly shallow and slanted, it could, for example, have mentioned Dean Radin's presentiment work, and also perhaps Libet's classic experiments, since these too suggest a strange relationship between time and consciousness. Instead, it gave the erroneous impression that Bem's result had come out of the blue!

I wonder if there is some hard limit on the strength of precognition, because ultimately if we enjoyed perfect precognition, we would not have free will.