Stories about how completely kooky our brains really are

New Research Suggests Autistic Savants May Have Enhanced Telepathic Abilities

Dustin Hoffman as an autistic savant in Rain Man

The amazing abilities of autistic savants – prodigious feats of memory and calculation, as well as musical and artistic talents, despite the presence of mental disabilities (see the bottom of this post for examples) - remains one of the most fascinating topics in brain science. But these abilities may only be the tip of the iceberg, with new research suggesting that autistic savants may also have an enhanced capacity for extrasensory perception.

In 2013 neuropsychiatrist Dr. Diane Hennacy Powell was sent three homemade videos of a severely autistic nine-year-old girl which claimed to show her demonstrating a telepathic ability. Intrigued, Powell organised to conduct research sessions with two separate therapists who had reported telepathic experiences with the girl.

Though the ideal scientific set-up would be to keep the 'sender' and 'receiver' isolated from each other, this case had the complication of the sensitive nature of the girl's condition. As such, Powell kept the therapist in the same room, noting that "even subtle changes to the environment are very distracting and disturbing for a child with severe autism". Instead, a divider was put between the therapists and the child. Then randomized numbers, sentences, fake words, and visual images were presented to the therapists. The girl was then asked to “read the therapist’s mind.”

The therapists were asked to write their own verbal descriptions of the images for comparison to the girl’s answers. Random numbers were generated for mathematical equations.

The girl was asked to give all the numbers involved in the equations and duplicate the answers generated by the author with a calculator…The child typed her answers after choosing them from a stencil. To assess for any possible visual and/or auditory cueing, five high definition point-of-view (POV) cameras and three microphones were strategically placed in the experimental space to capture coverage of the entire room, the therapist and child, and their separate workspaces.

Powell presented her preliminary findings at the 57th Annual Convention of the Parapsychological Association, held last weekend. The results were jaw-dropping, with 'hits' such as 100% accuracy on two random numbers, one eight digits and the other nine; 60 to 100% accuracy on three of the five-letter nonsense words; 100% accuracy on six out of twelve equations with 15 to 19 digits each; and between 81 to 100% accuracy on sentences of between 18 and 35 letters. The video surveillance showed no evidence of cueing or fraud.

Powell's conclusion: "The data is highly suggestive of an alternative, latent and/or default communication mechanism that can be accessed by people born with severely impaired language abilities.

This new research comes on the back of news reports last year of a nine-year-old autistic girl in Sharjah who appears to have the ability to read her mother's mind. Though the idea that autistic savants might have paranormal abilities goes back further than that. Pioneering researcher into Savant Syndrome, Darold Treffert, included a section on the possibility of extrasensory perception in savants in his 1989 book Extraordinary People: Understanding Savant Syndrome:

Dr. Bernard Rimland describes several instances of extrasensory perception in his autistic savants. In his sample of approximately 5400 autistic children, 561 cases, or approximately 10 percent, were reported to have special abilities. Four of the 561 cases were based on reports from parents who claimed that their child had consistently exhibited signs of extrasensory perception. In one case, the parent reported that "teachers have also noticed that George probably has ESP. He seems to be very psychic. We would decide to pick up George from school suddenly, if we were in the area (he usually rode the bus). He would tell the teacher we were coming, and he would come to open the door when we arrived. So he has many special abilities, but cannot write his name or write a sentence".

Two other reports made by parents describe children with, in one case, "an extraordinary ability to hear conversations out of range of hearing, and to pick up thoughts not spoken" and, in another case, "verified ESP…first observed around age 4". The child in the latter case "accurately related an accidental occurrence known only to her father. His watch crystal fell out in the bathroom and was immediately replaced. Michelle accurately related the entire incident back to her father a short time thereafter. Several dozens of similar 'clairvoyant' instances have occurred since this first incident. Statistical probability of coincidental knowledge nil."

The parents of Ellen, a blind musical savant…report three instances of unusual perception on her part. One perhaps could be explained by heightened auditory discrimination: in that instance the driver of the special bus that picks her up each day to take her to her classes gave the usual very brief horn beep when picking her up one morning. Instantly Ellen said, "New bus". On checking, it was determined that indeed a different – and new – bus was waiting. The difference in the sounds of the horns was imperceptible to her parents. The other instances are more difficult to explain. One week before Christmas she announced what would be in her gift packages, although she really had no way of knowing and had not been given any clues as to what those gifts might be. Another instance had to do with a telephone call. Ellen's sister, for a variety of reasons, always calls her parents' home during the day and, only under special circumstances, does she call in the evening. At supper time one evening Ellen told her parents that her sister would be calling. Her mother assured her, for the above reasons, that there would be no such call. Shortly thereafter the telephone rang and Ellen answered it, knowing it would be her sister, who it was. The sister has been called out of town unexpectedly and wanted her parents to know that. Ellen somehow knew that the call was coming.

…Some have explained the savant in terms of reincarnation. Barbara Boudreaux recalls that one day some friends who believe that to be the case asked Ellen to listen to a Mozart piece she had never heard before. Near the end they stopped the piece and asked Ellen to play it for them. She obligingly did and, according to the friends at least, continued to play the piece beyond the point at which they had stopped – "as if" she had heard the whole number – and played it just as Mozart had written it.

Are these abilities, and the new research by Dr. Diane Hennacy Powell, explainable without recourse to paranormal abilities? Savants certainly have magical-like abilities that could easily lead to unnecessary leaps of logic – the 'new bus' example given above is a case in point where an enhanced ability could be being mistaken for something paranormal. Would it be so far-fetched to think that the girl in this new research is picking up cues that seem impossible to us? Also, given her severe disability, is there any sort of interaction needed with others to give her answers?

Alternatively, many have suggested that the brain disabilities and injuries suffered by both autistic savants and acquired savants are the likely cause of their savant abilities; shutting down one section of the mind seem to open pathways to these latent abilities which seem almost superhuman to the rest of us (some researchers, such as Dr. Allan Snyder, think we may be able to unlock these abilities via magnetic stimulation). Could this unlocking of ability also allow access to hidden functions of the brain related to extra-sensory perception? Only time, and further research, will offer a definitive answer.

For more on the incredible abilities of autistic and acquired savants, see the links at the bottom of this article.

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Classic Text on Consciousness and E.S.P Made Available Online

Quantum Consciousness

Norman writes:

A classic text of the "Hippies Saving Physics" ESP-researching '70s has been posted to arXiv by Sir Brian Josephson. The 200-page book (proceedings of a Cambridge symposium on consciousness) was edited by Josephson and V. S. Ramachandran, with a preface by Freeman Dyson, who remarks: "The authors of this book ... are accepting a certain risk that their orthodox colleagues will consider them a little soft-headed ... [especially the biologists because biologists] have made the meaninglessness of the universe into a new dogma."

Link: "Consciousness and the Physical World" - Edited Proceedings of an Interdisciplinary Symposium on Consciousness Held at the University of Cambridge in January 1978

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 ;)