Stories about how completely kooky our brains really are

Synchronicity or Coincidence? Parapsychologist Dean Radin Tells a Strange Personal Tale

Synchronicity

Dean Radin is best known as a scientist who examines possible 'psi' abilities in others, working at the Institute of Noetic Sciences on experiments on topics ranging from telepathy and precognition through to the effects of consciousness on quantum experiments. But the seasoned researcher has also had his own brushes with the stranger side of reality, including the massive synchronicity he personally experienced in the year 2000 involving another psi researcher (and lead designer of the Apple Powerbook) Jon Krakower.

I'll let Dean tell the story himself:

What do you think? Evidence that our minds/reality have certain undiscovered connections, or just a massive coincidence?

Researchers Use ESP to Make Thousands of Dollars on the Stock Market

Crystal Ball

If telepathy and precognition are real abilities, why is it that nobody has cashed in on them by using their 'psi' talents to predict or mind-read sporting results, casino games, or changes in stock markets? It's a common criticism leveled by skeptics, but there is actually research out there showing that people *have* done exactly that - and made some serious money!

The most recent example is an experiment into the validity of using 'remote viewing' - that is, the practice of attempting to use extrasensory perception (ESP) to 'see' targets at a distance (geographically, and/or in time) - to predict the stock market. Published in the most recent issue of the Journal of Scientific Exploration (Vol. 28, No. 1) under the title of "Stock Market Prediction Using Associative Remote Viewing by Inexperienced Remote Viewers" (PDF), the study was carried out as part of a class project (in a course entitled “Edges of Science”) at the University of Colorado in Boulder. The ten 'remote viewers' were neophytes, nine of them being students and one a professor.

The experiment went like this: Firstly, two visually distinct 'target' images were selected and printed out from a pool of pictures depicting objects and scenes. A coin toss was used to decide which target was going to symbolise the market going up, and which would be down. The two target images were then sealed in dated envelopes by an independent party (to keep participants and judges blind to the targets as much as possible).

Then, every few days the study participants were tasked to remotely view one of the pre-selected targets during class, the identity of which would be revealed to them at the beginning of the next remote viewing period a few days later. The remote viewers were given five minutes to quickly describe on paper and sketch the image they would be shown in the future. Afterwards, judges compared each remote viewing session to the two targets, selecting the one they thought matched the session best. See the image below showing the two targets, and the remote viewing session notes by one RVer.

Remote Viewing Session Targets and Notes

If the majority of the ten viewers’ sessions were judged to most accurately describe the Up target, that was taken as a prediction that the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) would close up at the end of the next market day. If the majority were judged to describe the Down image, that would be a prediction that the DJIA would close down. At the beginning of the next market day, the experimenter purchased DJIA options according to the prediction, then just before the close of the market, he would sell the options and actualize any loss or gains.

The experimenters - Christopher Carson Smith, Darrell Laham and Garret Moddel of the Department of Electrical, Computer, & Energy Engineering at the University of Colorado - repeated the procedure for seven trials using the same 10 remote viewers. The result? Of the seven trials performed, all seven resulted in correct predictions, showing statistical significance at p < .01. More tangibly, however:

Regarding the financial results, on an initial investment of $10,000 we gained approximately $16,000 with a total of $26,000 at the end of trial 5. The first five trials were conducted on days of large market swings, therefore the potential gains were very large. Trials 6 and 7 happened on days of small market changes and, despite resulting in correct predictions, produced small losses because of the mechanics of the options trading vehicle. A timing issue in the trade of trial 7 resulted in an additional monetary loss of approximately $12,000. However, it is important to stress that this was in spite of the prediction itself being correct. (Without this timing error, total
cash at the end of the project would have amounted to $38,000, or a return of almost 400% on the investment in a span of about two weeks.)

The study concluded that remote viewing "appears to be a reasonably accurate way to predict the future of binary outcomes... RV has dramatic implications for how we view time and our ability to perceive the future".

This is not, however, the first time someone has made money through remote viewing research. The paper discusses some previous history, including a study conducted by pioneering remote viewing researcher Hal Puthoff in 1982, in which a series of 30 RV trials attempted to predict the outcome of the silver futures market. Financially, the trials netted a profit of approximately $250,000 for their investor, "of which Puthoff’s share was ten percent, or more than $25,000, which he used to help fund a new Waldorf School". And in that same year, researchers Russell Targ and Keith Harary also used remote viewing to predict silver futures in an attempt to raise funds for their research, with their first experiment yielding $120,000.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to practice some remote viewing for a while...

Paper: "Stock Market Prediction Using Associative Remote Viewing by Inexperienced Remote Viewers" (PDF)

(via Carlos Alvarado)

Are Animals Psychic? Meet Jaytee, the Dog Who Knew When His Owner Was Coming Home

Jaytee

Readers of this site will probably be familiar with the controversy over Rupert Sheldrake's research with 'Jaytee', a dog that seemed to know when his owner (Pam Smart) was coming home - regardless of when or how she set off on the journey (see the relevant papers here for the details of the research). I was interested to come across the video below by the Science Unit of ORF, Vienna, which shows a one-off test they conducted of Jaytee's alleged ability:

For more on this topic, see Rupert Sheldrake's book Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home (Amazon US/Amazon UK).

Could This New Discovery About Meteors Help Explain Some Paranormal Experiences?

Meteor illustration by Concejalía de Cultura del Ayto

A little known but rather strange phenomenon relating to meteors is that about ten percent of those who witness a very luminous fireball tell of hearing "strange swishing, hissing and popping noises coincident with its passage across the sky". The problem is that these 'sounds' are an impossibility – most meteors are, at the very least, tens of kilometres away from the observer, and as such any associated sounds should be delayed until well after the fireball has burned up. It is as if the sound is somehow traveling at the speed of light.

Physicist Colin Keay has pointed out that similarly strange phenomena have also occurred in association with space shuttle re-entries, lightning strikes, in the lead-up to earthquakes, and in nuclear weapon detonations, and as such has proposed that the sounds may be caused by transduction of extremely low frequency (ELF) radio waves (see for example this article in the Journal of Scientific Exploration , "Progress in Explaining the Mysterious Sounds Produced by Very Large Fireballs").

And it has long been theorised that meteors could produce such waves. In 1958, Gerald Hawkins (who many readers of this site would know as a pioneer of astronomical theories concerning Stonehenge), predicted that the plasma trail produced by a fireball as it ionises the air in the atmosphere should generate radio waves as it cools. And now, new research has - almost accidentally - discovered evidence to support Hawkins' prediction:

Kenneth Obenberger at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque and his colleagues were searching for mysterious events called radio bursts in data from the Long Wavelength Array, an observatory in New Mexico. Radio bursts show up as points of radiation in images. But to the team's surprise, analysis of 11,000 hours of data included evidence of 10 low-frequency radio bursts that appeared smudged across the sky.

The shapes of the smudges were reminiscent of fireballs streaming through the sky. So the team looked at data from a NASA survey telescope that records meteors and that scans some of the same parts of the sky as the radio array. Each of the elongated radio events correlated in time and space with known fireballs, says Obenberger.

How does this relate to the paranormal? In Volume 1 of our Fortean anthology series Darklore, I noted how many paranormal experiences were preceded by the experience of strange noises (see "Her Sweet Murmur", republished here on TDG) similar to those described by Colin Keay. So could there be a relation between paranormal experiences and ELF radio waves? In some cases, such as near-death experiences, it seems unlikely. But in other spontaneous sightings of strange craft and beings, perhaps there could be something to the idea that the brain is being affected in some way by ELF waves (an idea that has been explored in the past by neuroscientist Dr. Michael Persinger).

Speculative, certainly, but an interesting possibility all the same.

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Turing Tease: Computer Deception & Human Consciousness

Last Sunday, when I was about to wrap up my Red Pills of the Week column, I received a Twitter notification that was both exciting & disturbing at the same time: The Turing test, that technological Rubicon dividing the line between mindless Roombas & German-accented Terminators, had finally been passed! The news read that a computer program designed by a team of Russians, had allegedly succeeded in convincing 33 percent of the judges in a test conducted at the Royal Society in London, that instead of a computer they were chatting with a 13-year-old boy from Ukraine named 'Eugene'.

"Our main idea was that he can claim that he knows anything, but his age also makes it perfectly reasonable that he doesn't know everything," said Vladimir Veselov, one of the creators of the programme. "We spent a lot of time developing a character with a believable personality."

But just as I was in a hurry to order some high-powered LED flashlights & a copy of Robopocalypse the next Monday --the book explains why flashlights would be essential to combat our sylicon-based overlords; also check out this video-- all the online buzzing powered down faster than GlaDOS after taking a beating with a portal gun. The claim, it turns out, was no more real than the cake in Aperture laboratories.

Oh, well. There's always the Zombie Apocalypse, right?

Nevertheless, all this online commotion & the readiness many people showed in accepting the news got me thinking: Why is it that we're so obsessed with the Turing test? Why do we even think it would be a valid assessment of Artificial Intelligence?

It was in 1950 when British mathematician & computer scientist Alan Turing (1912-1954) published Computing Machinery and Intelligence in which he posed the question: Can a machine think? Turing answered in the affirmative, but in doing so he pointed out to a bigger conundrum --if a computer could think, how could we tell? Here's where Turing proposed a solution: If a machine could establish a conversation with a person, and that person wouldn't be able to tell the difference between the machine & a human being, then from this person's point of view, the machine was capable of thinking.

We should also point out that there's been several iterations of Turing's test. The original version in fact, originated from the premise of a man & a woman sitting in different rooms, and a 3rd participant acting as the judge, whose job would involve determining the gender of the persons in the other rooms conversing with him through a computer; the trick in the test was that the woman would try to deceive the job in convincing him she was the man --and it doesn't take a computer genius to realize that Turing's concealed homosexuality, was quite likely the reason he chose deception as proof of intelligence.

I was considering these ideas this afternoon, while I was listening to the latest episode of the Skeptiko podcast, in which Alex Tsakiris interviewed Princeton neuroscientist Dr. Michael Graziano, author of the book Consciousness and the Social Brain. As you may probably suspect, Dr. Graziano is a hardcore materialist, and the theory he's trying to elaborate seeks views human consciousness strictly from a biological viewpoint.

Alex Tsakiris: [...]Okay, Dr. Graziano, tell us what’s necessary and sufficient to create consciousness. That would be like a first logic, rationalist kind of thing. What’s necessary and sufficient to create human consciousness?

Dr. Michael Graziano: Well one way to put it, and I have often used this example as it kind of nicely encapsulates our approach. And it is certainly totally different from the perspective that you outlined that I think a lot of people take. So here is an example – I had a friend who was a psychologist and he told me about a patient of his. And this patient had a delusion, he thought he had a squirrel in his head. And that’s a little odd, but people have odd delusions and it’s not that unusual. Anyway, he was certain of it and you could not convince him of it otherwise. He was fixed on this delusion and he knew it to be true. Now, you could tell him that’s illogical and he would say yeah, that’s okay, but there are things in the universe that transcend logic. You could not argue him out of it. So there were kind of two directions you could take in trying to explain this phenomenon. And would be to ask okay, how does his brain produce a squirrel? How did the neurons secrete the squirrel? Now, that would be a very unproductive approach. And another approach would be to say how does his brain construct that self-description? And how does it arrive at such certainty that the description is correct? And how does the brain not know that it’s a self-description? Now, those things you can get at from an objective point of view. You can answer those questions.
And in effect, I think you could replace the word ‘squirrel’ with the word ‘awareness’ and I think that the whole thing is exactly encapsulated. I think almost all approaches to consciousness take the first direction, how does the brain produce a squirrel – it doesn’t.

Herein lies the reason why modern Science has encumbered the Turing test: We should accept a deception from a computer as a sign of intelligence, because our own brains deceive us into thinking WE are conscious! I am a biological robot whose brain is tricking me to believe I'm Red Pill Junkie, and you are a biological robot tricked by your brain into believing a different identity. But it's ALL an illusion as far as modern Neuroscience is concerned, and since computer scientists also assume the brain is nothing but a data processing system, this is the model they're currently working on in order to achieve the Holy Grail of A.I.

But what if they are wrong? What if Alex & many of the researchers he's interviewed on his podcast, are right in pointing out that Consciousness is the ultimate test for materialistic Science, precisely because of its incapacity to adequately quantify & measure consciousness? Ironic, considering how every intellectual achievement, including Science, originates from Mind --the one thing we cannot put into a microscope.

Dr. Graziano & other skeptics might accuse me of being an uncredentialed woo-woo trying to defend a magical belief system, and argue that even though Neuroscience hasn't fully explained the emergence of consciousness in our brain, it doesn't mean it won't do so in the future. I would point those skeptics to the work of Jaron Lanier, a fellow who IMO knows a thing or two about computers --after all, he's the one who coined the term 'virtual reality'-- and who is not only VERY skeptic of the Turing test's efficacy to measure intelligence in an artificial system, but also shares my suspicions that human consciousness cannot be explained away purely from a mechanistic perspective:

But the Turing test cuts both ways. You can't tell if a machine has gotten smarter or if you've just lowered your own standards of intelligence to such a degree that the machine seems smart. If you can have a conversation with a simulated person presented by an AI program, can you tell how far you've let your sense of personhood degrade in order to make the illusion work for you?

Which is *precisely* what happened with the judges testing the Eugene program. You see, it may be that in our rush to increase our expectations about artificial intelligence, we might have inadvertently lowered our expectations for teenage intelligence --the machines are not getting smarter, 'tis the meatbags who are getting dumber!

So fear not, fellow Coppertops, for even if tomorrow, a year or ten from now, we finally get the news that some geek managed to program a computer that could pass the legendary Turing test, I hardly doubt it would mean Skynet is about to wake up & purge the world from the human infestation.

...But the keep the flashlights handy, just in case.

Dream Telepathy Research Reborn

Dream Telepathy

by Ryan Hurd

There’s new signs of life for the study of dream telepathy.

A compelling 2013 report published by Carlyle Smith, Lifetime Professor Emeritus at Trent University in Ontario, Canada, found statistically unlikely levels of targeted dream content in two related studies of college students.

These 2 new studies are a welcome addition to a field of inquiry that is often referred to the third rail of psychology. (That’s a choo-choo metaphor: touch it and you’ll die!)

The New Telepathic Dreaming Studies

Both of Smith’s experiments exposed students to a photo of an individual and asked them to try to dream about the problems of that person. So there are sender and receivers, as is traditional in dream telepathy studies. The identity of the senders were unknown, even to the experimenters themselves.

In Experiment 1, the focus was on health problems of the individual in the photo. The study compared 2 dreams that the students submitted before the “incubation” began with 2 dreams collected afterwards.

In Experiment 2, the focus was on life problems of the individual in the photograph. Like the first study, students submitted 2 dreams before they were informed about the aim of the study. Experiment 2 also used an additional control: about half of the students (56 people) looked at a photograph that was unbeknownst to them a computer simulated image–not a real person.

In both studies, the experimental post-incubation groups had many more “hits” than the controls, a hit being an image or concept in the dream that correlated to real problems of the individual in question.

More convincing for me, in experiment 2, the dream content of the control group (who looked at a fictional person’s image) did not change from before and after incubation, where as the experimental group had a large (statistically significant) change (see the graph below).

Dream Telepathy Results Graphed

Carlyle Smith says this about the findings:

The data from these experiments suggests that normal undergraduates were able to have dreams with content that reflected the real-life problems and concerns of an unknown target individual. The content reported by each experimental individual varied somewhat and the focus varied from dreamer to dreamer, but overall, the scores on specified categories were quite significantly different for the target in experiment 2. Equally important was the lack of change in content for the Controls where the target was fictitious.

Here’s where to read the study yourself. There’s great details about the dream themes and how they ... Read More »

Parapsychologist Alexander Imich is Now the World's Oldest Living Man

Alexander Imich

Parapsychologist Alexander Imich last week became the world's oldest living man (sadly, upon the passing of the previous holder of the title, Arturo Licata). Born in Poland 111 years ago, Imich fought the Bolsheviks in 1918 as a 15-year-old schoolboy, earned a PhD in zoology before then pursuing chemistry as a profession, studied mediums as a psychical researcher in the 1920s and 1930s, was detained in a Soviet labour camp during World War II after fleeing the Nazis, and upon his release (and finding out much of his family had been killed by the Nazi regime) moved to the U.S. in 1952.

Imich has written several journal papers on parapsychological topics and also edited the book Incredible Tales of the Paranormal, published in 1995 (back when he was a youthful 92 years old).

Imich has sadly recently been struggling both with his health, after a fall earlier this year, and also financially (not helped by his lack of close family). He currently lives alone in New York, although as that linked news story reports, he has been befriended by local Jewish people who have made a great effort to help him back on his feet, both literally and metaphorically.

On a sidenote: it's worth pointing out that while Imich now holds the title of world's oldest living man, he's well down the list of the oldest living humans: number 66 actually, with women taking the top 65 spots. Which should make any female parapsychologists feel optimistic about the future at least...

(via David Luke)

Thinking Allowed on Channeling

Thinking Allowed was an independent TV series hosted by Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove, in which he interviewed some of the most radical thinkers in fields on the borders of mainstream science, ranging from Eastern mysticism to UFO abductions. IMO it represents a trailblazing example of what great television can be.

I was first introduced to it by my friend Mike Clelland; as many of you know, Mike has devoted his blog Hidden Experience to explore subjects like the UFO phenomenon, its involvement with a few selected individuals --for reasons we have yet to elucidate-- & psychic channeling as an occasional outcome of such interactions. Adequately enough, the latest clip provided by the Thinking Allowed Youtube channel, deals with the latter subject; it's a segment of an interview with professor Arthur Hastings, who provides a very sobering & cautionary point of view about channeling, and why we should not take the word of incorporeal entities for granted --if that's what we're dealing with-- just because they happen to be communicating to us from 'the other side':

Stay on your guard, & watch out for the Trolliens ;)

This Guy Will Make Your Mind Go in Circles...

A mind-bendingly beautiful piece of visual poetry for you all on this fine spring/autumn day...

Do Humans Have the Ability to Sense the Future? This Survey of Experiments So Far Says....Yes!

Crystal Ball

Can we sense the future before it happens? That question was at the heart of a set of nine experiments that sparked widespread controversy and debate when Professor Daryl Bem published his results in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2011. The reason: Bem's results were positive, suggesting that we can in some way do the seemingly impossible, and somehow 'know' (precognition) or 'feel' (presentiment) things before they even occur. The controversy grew even further, however, with widespread coverage in science media outlets of attempted replications from others that failed to find the same astonishing results. A number of scientists and 'skeptics' poured scorn on Bem's experiments, and prominent skeptic James Randi was even moved to award his infamous 'Pigasus Award' to Bem "for his shoddy research that has been discredited on many accounts by prominent critics".

In a previous post I pointed out that this focus on replications with negative results had glossed over the fact that there had also been a number of positive replications, suggesting that there might just be something to Bem's original results. And now, a meta-analysis of 90 experiments which replicated Bem's research, performed in 33 different laboratories (in 14 different countries and involving 12,406 participants), has offered significant support for the theory that humans can indeed sense the future:

The primary question addressed by the meta-analysis is whether the database provides overall evidence for the anomalous anticipation of random future events... the answer is yes: The overall effect size (Hedges’ g) is 0.09, combined z = 6.33, p = 1.2 × 10-10. The Bayesian BF value is 1.2 × 109, greatly exceeding the criterion value of 100 that is considered to constitute “decisive evidence” for the experimental hypothesis.

A subsidiary question is whether independent investigators can successfully replicate Bem’s (2011) original experiments...the answer is again yes: When Bem’s experiments are excluded, the effect size for the replications is 0.07, combined z = 4.25, p = 1.1 × 10-5, and the BF value is 757, which again greatly exceeds the criterion value of 100 for “decisive evidence.”

The meta-analysis paper, co-authored by Daryl Bem, Patrizio E. Tressoldi, Thomas Rabeyron and Michael Duggan, began with a search for all potential replications of Bem's method between the year 2000 and September of 2013. The experiments were then categorized according to the type of effect tested for, the number of participants involved, the statistical techniques needed to measure the effect, whether the study was published through peer-review, and the type of replication (exact, modified, or independently-designed). They found that 51 of the 90 experiments (56.6%) had been published in peer-reviewed journals or conference proceedings.

But could the positive results have been an outcome of the 'file drawer effect', where mostly positive results were published but negative replications were not - put in the file drawer, so to speak, due to no interesting findings? The authors of the paper did the math, and found that the number of 'missing' experiments needed to reduce the overall effect size to a trivial value was (conservatively) 520. This seems unlikely.

Another possible criticism addressed by the authors is the effect size. While the meta-analysis offered highly significant results, statistically, the actual 'precognitive' effect was very small. But, the authors note, "even very small effects can have both theoretical importance and practical utility":

One frequently cited example is the medical study that sought to determine whether a daily dose of aspirin can prevent heart attacks. The study was discontinued after six years because it was already clear that the aspirin treatment was effective (p < .00001), and it was considered unethical to keep the control group on placebo medication. Even though the study was considered a major medical breakthrough, the size of the aspirin effect is actually quite small (d ≈.07), about one third the size of the presentiment experiments and Bem’s (2011) original experiments and about one half the size of the exact replications in our database.

Skeptics also often raise the lack of an explanatory theory as a problem when it comes to psi results. The authors of the meta-analysis argue, however, "that this is still not a legitimate rationale for rejecting all proffered evidence a priori. Historically, the discovery and scientific exploration of most phenomena have preceded explanatory theories, often by decades or even centuries (e.g., the analgesic effect of aspirin; the antidepressant effect of electroconvulsive therapy; and Maxwell’s field equations of electricity and magnetism, which were formulated centuries after the phenomena were first explored)".

The meta-analysis also revealed possible refinements for future testing. 'Fast-thinking experiments', where the speed of the test reduced conscious cognition, produced more positive results than 'slow-thinking experiments': "every fast-thinking protocol individually achieved a statistically significant effect, with an overall effect size of 0.11 and a combined z greater than 7 sigma. In contrast, the slow-thinking experiments achieved an overall effect size of only 0.03, failing even to achieve a conventional level of statistical significance (p = .20)". According to the authors, "fast-thinking protocols are more likely to produce evidence for psi because they prevent conscious cognitive strategies from interfering with the automatic, unconscious, and implicit nature of psi functioning".

Another discovery (which might well dominate some news reports on this paper) was that the experiments which tested for precognitive detection of erotic stimuli achieved "a larger effect size (0.14), a larger combined z (4.22), and a more statistically significant result (p = 1.2 × 10-5) than any other protocol". The experiments were also the most reliable in producing substantial effect sizes, with 10 of the 11 achieving effect sizes between 0.12 and 0.52 (perhaps notably, the one replication failure in the erotic stimuli group was a study which used a set of erotic photographs "that were much less sexually explicit than those used by Bem and other investigators").

This latest meta-analysis adds to previous data collections which suggest that precognition/presentiment is a natural (if very weak) human ability. Just last month I reported on a meta-analysis of results from seven independent laboratories testing physiological responses to stimuli, that concluded the human body "can apparently detect randomly delivered stimuli occurring 1-10 seconds in the future". And a 1989 meta-analysis of all forced-choice precognition experiments appearing in English-language journals between 1935 and 1977 - 309 experiments conducted by 62 different investigators involving more than 50,000 participants - also found a small but highly significant hit rate (p = 1.1 × 10-9). Both of those meta-analyses also reported that the file-drawer effect was an unlikely explanation, given the number of experiments that would be needed to overturn the positive result.

Other scientists - and skeptics - will no doubt have their say on this paper in due course, which will hopefully bring some clarification to the validity and overall importance of this meta-analysis. From the data presented in it though, it appears that the debate over human precognition and presentiment is a long way from settled. If only we could look into the future to see how this all plays out...

Until then, follow us on Facebook and/or Twitter to keep up with the latest news from the fringes of science and history.

Paper: Feeling the Future: A Meta-Analysis of 90 Experiments on the Anomalous Anticipation of Random Future Events

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