Saturday, July 31, 2010

Compassion for skeptics

I occasionally receive an email from someone who challenges me to apply for one or more of the so-called "prizes" offered by professional skeptics for demonstration of a psi effect. Here's an email exchange I had on this topic recently.

Mr X. wrote:
I saw your research in a new film last night …and was impressed with the rigor with which variables were limited, i.e. through a shielded room there was a clear transference of information between loved ones. Why not duplicate this experiment under the skeptical eye of James Randi and collect the million dollars being held by Goldman Sachs for just such a possibility?

http://www.randi.org/site/index.php/1m-challenge.html

If what you have created is repeatable and is as claimed in the film, you are the people to take this prize.

Please let me know your thoughts!
This sounded reasonable, so I replied:
Thanks for your feedback. The short answer to your question is that such prizes are effective for testing individuals who make claims that do not require skilled judging or statistical analyses. But they are not intended for serious scientific experiments. In addition, there is ample reason to believe that the "prize" is merely a publicity stunt. See this site for examples: http://www.skepticalinvestigations.org/exam/index.htm

From the above site: A leading Fellow of CSICOP, Ray Hyman, has pointed out, this "prize" cannot be taken seriously from a scientific point of view: "Scientists don't settle issues with a single test, so even if someone does win a big cash prize in a demonstration, this isn't going to convince anyone. Proof in science happens through replication, not through single experiments."
Mr. X's reply, using his text formatting and colors:

Thank you for your response, Dean. I have followed James Randi’s career since I was a teenager. I believe that he is a true student of the scientific method, as well as a careful writer, speaker and thinker.

“Ample reason,” as you write, is meaningless jargon. Your link takes me to a silly, paranormal proponent who calls himself Peabrain. There is no intellectual honesty in his writing or in your response.

“Such prizes,” as you say, points to an imaginary category that says nothing about Randi’s challenge.

I am always struck by how, as is exemplified in your film, science, as such, is defined as the materialistic thinking of limited imaginations and then, in the next scene, a purported scientific experiment, (redefining science for your purposes, more properly, as a method rather than a philosophy), is used to show the rigor of the logic and thinking that produces the results that titillate us, the audience, with evidence of paranormal phenomena. The woman who criticized science in general was the author of “The Field.” The pseudoscience was played up in the closing and latching of the big steel door.

Your results in this experiment are truly revolutionary. Bigger than big. Please repeat them so that they can be verified. Otherwise your entire organization is nonsense. And, the lady who puts the “correct information” into her healing drops? Are we supposed to nod our heads in agreement because we would otherwise undermine the placebo effect or is an intelligent adult human being really being asked to believe she can do just that? If the energy healer, Dr. Pearl, if I remember correctly, could actually do what he says he can do, it would be very easy to set up a scientific investigation of his claims and not rely on anecdotes . You belittle yourselves by aligning with such obvious charlatans.

Just demonstrate something! Prove something! Use independent observers we know and trust and show us something! It would be wonderful!! I am not a cynic! I am an open minded adult who wants to see demonstrations of the amazing nature of the universe that challenges everything I believe! What fun!! Are you just going to hide behind more hyperbole?

What if the challenge is intended for serious scientific experiments? What if the money is real? It would be easy enough for you to find out. The money can be verified through Goldman Sachs, says Mr. Randi.

Why not verify through, “replication, not through single experiments,” to borrow your own words, with independent verification of your results? It would be incredible. I would so love to believe your results, however, you give the thing person nothing to hang one’s hat on.

“A stunt,” you say? In the words of the one and only alien life form I know of, Alf, “Isn’t that the cat rancher calling the orbit guard a hairball?”

Respectfully challenging your claims,

I replied:
As I had noted, well known skeptic Ray Hyman said "Proof in science happens through replication, not through single experiments." I agree. And so several classes of independently conducted psi studies have been examined in detail to see if replication has been achieved. They have.

E.g., an article currently in press in Psychological Bulletin examines, among other things, the question of replication of one type of psi study (telepathy in the ganzfeld). It provides unambiguous evidence that this effect has been repeated over thousands of trials, in multiple laboratories around the world, and reported in over 100 publications for over 40 years. Another meta-analysis, including one published in the British Journal of Psychology a few years ago, indicates independent, significant replication of the effect of intention on a distant person's physiological condition. In addition, to date there have been six studies of various psi effects using functional MRI. Five of the six have shown significant evidence for psi. These analyses and studies are reported in scientific journals.

I could go on, but I provide detailed discussion of these and many other studies in my 2006 book Entangled Minds and 1997 book The Conscious Universe. Or you might look here (http://www.noetic.org/publications/journal_pubs.cfm) where you can find a few of our scientific and scholarly papers. If you want to hang your hat on scientific evidence, these resources are one place to start.

Other places to look: http://www.princeton.edu/~pear/publications.html. And many relevant articles can be downloaded from this site: http://www.scientificexploration.org/journal/articles.html

Mr X. then sends our correspondence (without my knowledge or permission) to Randi, and copies that note to me. He writes:
Hello Amazing,

I thought you’d enjoy this little repartee I had with the “scientists” at the Institute of Noetic Studies after viewing their recent, incredibly silly, movie, The Living Matrix



[Dean's note: This is a link to the movie. This movie was not made by the Institute of Noetic Sciences. It is one of many that some of our researchers appear in.]



P.S. As a lifelong rooter out of the ridiculous, I wonder if you are a regular lucid dreamer? I wonder if skeptics are more likely to question the fantastical events of their dreams than mystics.

Mr X. then adds to me:

I so much want someone to take this prize. To say it’s just a stunt and not demonstrate your field experiment a single time with the world watching and get Mr. Randi to pay or shut up is just a shame.

Here is a note from the man himself about our conversation:

Ray Hyman presumed that I had implied that a paranormal claim could be established or denied through one experiment. I had not.

However, the million-dollar prize IS awardable for one definitive success, as already clearly – and repeatedly – stated. Incidentally, it is no longer held by Goldman Sachs, but by Evercore Wealth Management, as Account #1007550. It currently stands at $1,137,082.32, though only one million is the actual prize amount. Details and certified documents are available on request.


I replied:

You would like to see a single demonstration win the prize. One experiment cannot establish anything, and thus cannot win the prize. Even Mr. Randi now admits this, as you show in your own email.

As I had noted below our work has been replicated many times and reported in peer-reviewed journals. If you choose to ignore that data and call what we do "silly," that's your prerogative, but it's neither science nor respectful.
Mr X. replied:

You are worse than silly and I am more than respectful. Randi admits nothing of the kind. He says “the million-dollar prize IS awardable for one definitive success,

(his emphasis). Why is your experiment demonstrable for your movie but not for independent verification?
And now Randi replies to Mr. X and copies to me as well:
I find it very significant that Dean Radin imposes his own rules, ignores the generous million-dollar prize, opts to believe that it doesn’t exist, and hides away hoping that it won’t be brought up again. Since he believes that movies prove matters, he must believe in Star Wars, as well…

They will continue to ignore the JREF prize. They have to, because they do not have the evidence that proves their case, and they know it. I wonder if they also believe that The Wizard of Oz is also a documentary? “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain…!”

Finally, my last reply to Mr X, when it is clear that this is a waste of time:

You quote Randi as writing: "Ray Hyman presumed that I had implied that a paranormal claim could be established or denied through one experiment. I had not." (my emphasis)

Now you claim he says "
the million-dollar prize IS awardable for one definitive success."

Well, which is it?


And I'll leave it at that. This exchange demonstrates why I ignore "skeptics." Genuine skeptics don't speak this way. This is the language and style of scoffers and deniers. They hold on so tightly to their preferred view of the world that they can no longer respond rationally. They do not see that their approach is no different from extreme religious fundamentalists.

All I can do is offer them compassion.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Flash Mob Opera

This is not directly related to my interests in extended human capacities, but having been a concert violinist for many years I always appreciate new ways to popularize the experience of the classics (from La Traviata in this case to e.g., Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band). This video is one of the most delightful ways of popularizing classic opera that I've seen.