Feeling the Future: Round Two

Crystal Ball

Two years ago we posted news of a study by Professor Daryl Bem which seemed to support the idea of 'presentiment', which went on to cause no end of controversy within scientific and skeptical circles (and continues to do so). And now here comes another one on the same topic, although not directly related to Bem: a broad review of experiments so far exploring the presentiment effect, titled "Predictive physiological anticipation preceding seemingly unpredictable stimuli: a meta-analysis. The paper is fairly heavy on terminology and statistics, but here's the basic summary (though 'basic' doesn't do it justice, given the implications of a presentiment effect being proven):

It has been known for some time that arousing and neutral stimuli produce somewhat different post-stimulus physiological responses in humans. However, what is remarkable is that many of the studies examined here make the claim that, for instance, the same physiological measure that yields a differential post-stimulus response to two stimulus classes also yields a differential pre-stimulus response to those same stimulus classes, prior even to the random selection of the stimulus type by the computer. Authors of these studies often refer to the effect as presentiment (sensing an event before it occurs) or unexplained anticipatory activity; we favor the latter terminology as it describes the phenomenon without implying that the effect truly reflects a reversal of the usual forward causality.

Basically, data from experiments appears to show that the body begins reacting to a future event from 2 to 10 seconds *before the event happens*. Needless to say, this is not part of the canon of the current scientific paradigm...

The physiological responses mentioned above are recorded from various sources, including skin conductance, heart rate, blood volume, respiration, electroencephalographic (EEG) activity, pupil dilation, blink rate, and/or blood oxygenation level dependent (BOLD) responses.

The meta-analysis found a small effect size (though many scientific and medical breakthroughs have been smaller), with a high level of significance. The analysis also seemed to rule out the chance that the results were an artifact of poor experimental design, "as higher-quality experiments that addressed known methodological concerns (randomization and expectation bias analysis) produced a quantitatively if not significantly higher overall ES and level of significance than lower-quality studies."

The authors also analysed data from emotional physiology studies that were not investigating the presentiment effect, and found that this data also contained evidence of the phenomenon.

The paper addresses a number of possible 'mundane' explanations for the observed presentiment effect, but found no smoking gun. In the final summary...

...the results of this meta-analysis indicate a clear effect, but we are not at all clear about what explains it. We conclude that if this seemingly anomalous anticipatory activity is real, it should be possible to replicate it in multiple independent laboratories using agreed-upon protocols, dependent variables, and analysis methods. Once this occurs, the problem can be approached with greater confidence and rigor. The cause of this anticipatory activity, which undoubtedly lies within the realm of natural physical processes (as opposed to supernatural or paranormal ones), remains to be determined.

And by that last sentence, I think they mean "well most people would probably describe this as paranormal, but we know we'll lose all the skeptics and scientists if we do that so we'll explicitly disavow it"...

(hat tip to @DavidBMetcalfe)

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jupiter.enteract's picture
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Fascinating. I'm not conversant enough in the technical aspects of this study to know how it differs from similar experiments done along these lines a few years back (by Targ and Putoff, I believe?), or if it is any more rigorous, but if anyone else can say, I'd appreciate knowing.

Considering the scorched earth reaction to Bem's work from the skeptical community, it will be interesting to see how this one goes over. (Let me guess....)

Greg H.'s picture
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The stigma of the paranormal or supernatural label facinates and frustrates me. Science is supposed to perform open-minded investigation, yet steers clear of anything at the fringe of normal or natural for fear of ridicule and loss of reputation. Yet if presentiment exist isn't it by definition natural and normal? If anything under the supernatural or paranormal umbrella exist, isn't it in reality natural and normal, just possibly rare or misunderstood? Seems to be a problem of paradigms and semantics interfering with a pure research methodology.

Greg H.

emlong's picture
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I know a few academic scientists who run in terror from stuff like this. They all in one way or another explain that "career suicide" is always waiting in the wings. It remains for scientists who don't suck so hard at the teat of institutions and funding to raise the questions.
The presentiment thing is one of the most fascinating and momentous discoveries I can imagine at this moment in time. It leads off into a multitude of directions all at once. It sniffs an awful lot like something that might envelop a Grand Unified Theory of Everything.

red pill junkie's picture
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we favor the latter terminology [unexplained anticipatory activity] as it describes the phenomenon without implying that the effect truly reflects a reversal of the usual forward causality.

No. You favor the latter terminology because basically you are all a bunch of pussies, hiding your tiny tiny junk with the Semantics fig leaf.

It's not the depth of the rabbit hole that bugs me...
It's all the rabbit SH*T you stumble over on your way down!!!

Red Pill Junkie
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Elgon's picture
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When all the dust (and i mean all) has landed, they (concencus science) just might come up with an explanation that goes something like this:
"Unknown attractors, that's it".

What might those unknown attractors be then?

---
The flap of a butterfly's wings in the Atlantic may cause it to fly.

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red pill junkie wrote:

No. You favor the latter terminology because basically you are all a bunch of pussies, hiding your tiny tiny junk with the Semantics fig leaf.

From what Dean Radin has posted on his blog, sounds like they had to soften the language somewhat to get it past one particular sniffy referee. Ah the perils of publishing!

The parenthetical portion of the last line of the abstract is rather peculiar. As I understand it, it was added by the authors due to the concerns of at least one referee, who was apparently worried that some may see this paper as supporting evidence for an anomaly that is far too similar to what people have reported through the ages as instances of precognition.

Kind regards,
Greg
-------------------------------------------
You monkeys only think you're running things
@DailyGrail

red pill junkie's picture
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That was part of what people at the conference were talking about the Paradigm shift that's coming. Or rather: the Paradigm shift that WE need to elicit in society.

'How?' you ask. Simple: By being courageous ourselves. Stop hiding our interest in this stuff from our co-workers or employers. Recommend books to them; talk to them about our personal experiences. No matter what most people say, EVERYBODY has had a run with the unexplained.

The idea that paranormal experiences are rare is a complete falsehood being pushed by the gatekeepers of the Truth.

We all have a part to play in this.

It's not the depth of the rabbit hole that bugs me...
It's all the rabbit SH*T you stumble over on your way down!!!

Red Pill Junkie
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jamesrav's picture
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rigorous ESP testing has been going on for 80 years, and we're *still* at the stage of "maybe" and "could be". Bem's experiments showed a *very small* deviation from chance - so even if this phenomena exists, it appears to be of no use since the effect is so small and completely unpredictable. If it's going to be proven, it will take considerable investment in brain research, and I don't think that's ever going to occur. Is there anyone in the psi field 'probing the brain' at a serious level, or is it just Zener cards and computer guessing games?

jupiter.enteract's picture
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"...so even if this phenomena exists, it appears to be of no use..."

Could be that the implications of this research turn out to be more philosophical than practical, but that's no small matter. Proving that our consciousness extends outside of our body, or that we can sense future events before they happen, would decisively overturn the standard meat-body paradigm in several ways, among other things. Remember, major scientific or technological revolutions often begin with seemingly insignificant developments. (What was Ben Franklin's response when asked about the value of electricity?--something like "What's the value of a newborn baby?")

emlong's picture
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Deriding ESP data because the effect measured is small is sort of like claiming that because such a minute amount of plutonium affects the body the effect must be small.
Dragging in scale here is more likely just an artifact of our still primitive measurement tools, and what's more the effect is often reported as quite large outside the laboratory setting and in certain moments guided by parameters of which we are not certain at the moment. We should probably be devoting more research to the ambient conditions that seem to favor paranormal phenomena. For instance, why is that around 3:00am paranormal activity as measured by the various tools of the ghost busting trade statistically peaks? Laboratory researchers as far as I know pay very little attention to this sort of thing. It is assumed by and large that timing or ambient conditions have nothing to do with ESP and other paranormal phenomena when in fact the field researchers - the boots on the ground so to speak - indicate that it has everything to do with it.

red pill junkie's picture
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Timing and Location do seem to be important components. Heck, maybe we also have to take into consideration things like solar activity, or lunar cycles.

There are all sorts of variables that could be taken into account, unfortunately there's neither the money nor the will to conduct the studies in a more thorough manner.

It's not the depth of the rabbit hole that bugs me...
It's all the rabbit SH*T you stumble over on your way down!!!

Red Pill Junkie
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@red_pill_junkie

Inannawhimsey's picture
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See video

---------
All that lives is holy, life delights in life.

--William Blake

emlong's picture
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red pill junkie wrote:

Timing and Location do seem to be important components. Heck, maybe we also have to take into consideration things like solar activity, or lunar cycles.

There are all sorts of variables that could be taken into account, unfortunately there's neither the money nor the will to conduct the studies in a more thorough manner.

I would call the reality television shows on the paranormal to be expensive laboratory tests. The better ones use very good controls, and sometimes get spectacular results that hold up to scientific scrutiny.

red pill junkie's picture
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You know I have issues with those ;)

But, for the sake of argument, let's say these guys who go out in television, trying to find things that bump in the night, are already starting to collect variables and all sorts of consistencies in the cases they (allegedly) investigate.

So, my first question would be: where can one find that data so it can be independently examined? and are they sharing the data or submitting it for review with their peers --i.e. other paranormal investigators?

Because that's one of the things we need to change in these fields: the proprietary entitlement the investigators adopt with the cases they investigate, and how they NEVER seem willing to share what they know, for fear someone will step into 'their turf.'

It's not the depth of the rabbit hole that bugs me...
It's all the rabbit SH*T you stumble over on your way down!!!

Red Pill Junkie
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@red_pill_junkie

Greg H.'s picture
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My experience with anomalous psychic phenomenah implies two things: 1) the conditions necessary for experience can be artificially induced through chemicals - specifically 2 experiences in life using magic mushrooms in my youth, or occur spontaneously when similar clearing of the noise that clouds perception/reception of information. As Graham Hancock reports in Supernatural chemicals like DMT that naturally occur in the body seem to be prerequisites for opening the channels of perception. Meditation is known to be a path to access information presumably due to either its activation of these chemicals or clearing the road blocks in their path aka the path of receiving the information always existent all around us.

Also on impulse I took one of those online psychic test one time at the ARE Foundation website where you anticipate the symbol before it appears. I was right like 8 out of 10 times, but as soon as I realized my success my heart rate rose as I got excited and my success immediately dropped to zero thereafter. In follow up research it seems people consistently perform best on psychic test first time out. The more they are repeated, the worse they do. This implies it is a naturally existent phenomenah but the more we cloud or interfere with the process through conscious as opposed to unconscious intent, the less successful we are. Our noise interferes with the process. Hence meditation - the quieting of the mind being an avenue to success, or Remote Viewing in which receiving and recording info is successful to some degree.

I agree - research into the prequisite conditions is actually the first step to successfully researching the phenomenah. Simply testing someone for success invariably will result in failure for the reasons I just cited. The scientific method requires repitition and repetition is the enemy to success - at least until the prequisite conditions are determined and applied.

Greg H.

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Some of the better TV researchers such as Ghost Adventures are always "sharing" the data. We hear the EVP's. We see the video footage of spirits, etc. Some of this data is just amazing, and it is being "shared" realtime as it happens. I suppose you could allege they were perpetrating a fraud, but there are often situations where they take their recording tapes to professional analysts and have them examined right there before us. The advantage to this over the usual sterile lab conditions are that they are going where the "action" is (and that sure as hell is often not the case in some lab) and they allow us to see events unfold as they happen.

Here for instance is some live video footage of a spirit of some sort encountered by the Ghost Adventures crew on a haunted ship. As is indicated in the "comments" I made the footage happens at about the 14 minute mark in the first video. I do not see why this can't be regarded as "science." It is science.

http://dailygrail.com/blogs/emlong/2012/...

red pill junkie's picture
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I was right like 8 out of 10 times, but as soon as I realized my success my heart rate rose as I got excited and my success immediately dropped to zero thereafter. In follow up research it seems people consistently perform best on psychic test first time out. The more they are repeated, the worse they do. This implies it is a naturally existent phenomenah but the more we cloud or interfere with the process through conscious as opposed to unconscious intent, the less successful we are.

I feel that kind of happened to me with my (possible) UFO sighting of Tuesday night. I've always been the kind of guy who is always peering into the night sky, in eager expectancy of catching the mother ship in all its Spielbergian glory. But that night I wasn't really thinking about that! I was merely brewing the good vibes that Paradigm left me, taking a break of listening to Ben & Aaron MU podcasts and their review of the event, and just... well, feeling good about myself.

And then this thing appeared and caught me completely off guard. And after it went away I was desperately trying to see if it would come back, but no such luck :-/

So maybe that's the reason most UFO hunters never get to experience their topic of study first hand. Their eagerness interferes with the 'flow'.

It's not the depth of the rabbit hole that bugs me...
It's all the rabbit SH*T you stumble over on your way down!!!

Red Pill Junkie
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@red_pill_junkie

Greg H.'s picture
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I too have always wanted to see the mothership. I've had many dreams where I look up in the sky and suddenly see stars moving, then ships, then entire invasions. But never in a waking state have I been fortunate enough to see something I could realistically identify as a satellite - small white dot moving across the sky in a perfectly straight line/arc, or a plane.

In accounts they seem so prolific, yet in my searching so fleeting. Maybe it IS my consicous intent causing the problem...

Greg H.

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Dean Radin will be on the American tv show 20/20 tonight (Friday) to talk about this study, apparently:

http://deanradin.blogspot.com/2012/10/pr...