'Blood Moon' Rises Over Brisbane, Australia

Blood Moon rises over the ocean off Brisbane, Australia

While today's 'blood Moon' lunar eclipse occurred in the middle of Monday night for people in the United States, here in Australia the eclipse rose in the east - over the ocean for me here in Brisbane - right on the stroke of sunset on Tuesday evening. We took the kids down to the pier with a camera and tripod and grabbed a few images, including the one above. Bonus points for this shot, because it includes the star Spica (above the Moon) and the planet Mars (out to the left). Did you get clear skies and the opportunity to walk outside and take a look?

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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News Briefs 14-04-2014

Part of today's news briefs were inspired by Richard Greene in The Adventures of Robin Hood: The Complete Series (58 hours, 11 DVDs), which has a richly-deserved five-star rating at Amazon US & UK.

A big thanks to Perceval and Greg for loads of links.

Quote of the Day:

We live in a world dominated by greed. We have allowed the interests of capital to outweigh the interests of human beings and our Earth. It is clear [fossil-fuel energy companies] are not simply going to give up; they stand to make too much money.

Desmond Tutu

Near-Death Experience Researcher Melvin Morse Given Three Years Prison for Abusing Child

Melvin Morse Sentenced to Three Years Prison

Well-known near-death experience researcher Melvin Morse, convicted two months ago of 'waterboarding' his step-daughter by holding her head under a faucet, has been sentenced to three years prison by the judge presiding over the case. Shockingly, given the details of the case, Morse was a former pediatrician (his licence was revoked) who had become famous for his research into the near-death experiences of children. This had led some to speculate that the abuse of the child was an attempt at inducing an NDE, though ultimately the judge disagreed on that count:

The judge ordered Melvin Morse, 60, to serve two years on probation after completing the prison term. Morse also received concurrent sentences of probation for other charges of endangering and assault.

...Morse, whose medical license was suspended after his arrest and has since expired, wrote several books and articles on paranormal science and near-death experiences involving children. He has appeared on shows such as "Larry King Live" and the "The Oprah Winfrey Show" to discuss his research, which also has been featured on an episode of "Unsolved Mysteries" and in an article in "Rolling Stone" magazine. Morse denied police claims he may have been experimenting on the girl.

"The idea that the defendant was experimenting on (the girl) is speculative, and I see his actions differently," said the judge, who described Morse as controlling and manipulative in his abuse of a vulnerable child.

Beyond the sad tale of abuse in this case, where does this leave Morse's body of research on the NDE? Should it be disregarded on moral grounds simply because it is the work of a convicted child abuser, or perhaps more cogently because - in a field that leans heavily on personal testimony - this throws doubt on his honesty and integrity? I for one would find it difficult to cite any of his research in future, for the latter reasoning, unless the details could be corroborated via another source.

Jason Silva: What is a God?

We've covered a few of Jason Silva's "Shots of Awe" here on the Grail over the past couple of years. But if you're going to do 'awe', then you've got to go big, and in this latest monologue Jason scales things up to star size, contemplating the light- and life-giving presence that is our Sun. So much awe in fact that you can begin to understand how you might form a religion based on it...

More Jason Silva monologues:

Document Suggesting That Jesus Had a Wife is Proven to be Authentic

'Jesus wife' papyrus

Dating tests performed on a controversial piece of papyrus which suggests that Jesus had a wife have found that, contrary to claims of a hoax, it is indeed an ancient document:

Since Harvard professor of divinity Karen L. King publicized the so-called “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” in 2012, scientists and theologians have fiercely debated the authenticity of the fragment — the only known papyrus containing the words “Jesus said to them, my wife.” Biblical scholars have argued that the 1- by 3-inch chunk of papyrus is modern, “oddly written” and a “clumsy forgery.” But results from recent chemical and handwriting analyses say otherwise.

...Scientists used a technique called micro-Raman spectroscopy, which measures the way objects scatter photons from a laser, to determine the chemical composition of the ink used to write the “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife.” The chemical composition of the ink dated back to between the sixth and ninth centuries, or earlier, and matched other samples from the same time period.

A second study examined the fragment’s handwriting to verify its authenticity. King, at Harvard Divinity School, weighed all the evidence and concluded that the fragment is likely a product of early Christians, not a forgery. The findings were presented in a series of studies published Thursday in the Harvard Theological Review.

Note that this does not necessarily prove that Jesus was married, but it certainly provides additional evidence for those wanting to build such a case (though if you're a fiction writer who think s novel based around that idea could be a bestseller, you're about a decade late...).

News Briefs 11-04-2014

"May your trails be crooked, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view..."

With thanks to Kat for today’s looming robo-pocalypse news.

Quote of the Day:

“May your mountains rise into and above the clouds. May your rivers flow without end, meandering through pastoral valleys tinkling with bells, past temples and castles and poets' towers into a dark primeval forest...”

Edward Abbey

For Your Dream Travel List: Kailashnath Temple

Kailashnath Temple

I was blown away by this photo of Kailashnath Temple taken by Santha Faiia, and posted by her partner Graham Hancock to his Facebook account. The world is filled with a mind-boggling array of amazing ancient sites which I'd one day love to visit. Here's what Graham posted about it:

One of the most mysterious and most beautiful sites I visited on my recent trip to India was the in the Ellora Caves complex of Maharashtra state. From a quick glance of the attached photo you do not immediately realise the scale, but look closer, find the people in the shot, and then you will begin to get the idea. The temple, which is intended to symbolize Mount Kailash in the Himalayas, mystical abode of the god Shiva, was not “built” but is rather sculpted in one piece out of the solid basalt bedrock of the area. It is estimated that close to half a million tons of this very hard igneous rock had to be removed, cutting downwards from the top to isolate the core body of what would become the temple before the mass of intricate relief carvings were begun. So far as I am aware none of the tools used to create this stunning monument have ever been found and it beggars belief how the work was done with the rather simple technology that archaeologists tell us was available in India in the 26-year reign (757-783 AD) of King Krishna I of the Rashtrakuta Dynasty. Either there is something wrong with archaeological undertstanding of the technology of that epoch – very likely in my view – or with the time-frame attributed to the temple, or both. But however it was done it is undoubtedly a tribute to ancient Indian craftsmanship and aesthetics on an exceptionally grand and breathtaking scale. Though smaller I have visited similar temples, also hewn from solid rock, at Mahabalipuram in Tamil Nadu in south India. It is noteworthy that the Mahabalipuram shore temples overlook extensive submerged ruins which may date back to the last Ice Age when sea level was 100 metres lower. I dived on the underwater ruins at Mahabalipuram in April 2002 as described in my book Underworld.

To keep up with Graham's travels while researching his new book and see more amazing photos from Santha, be sure to follow the official Graham Hancock Facebook account.

Link: Photo of the Kailashnath Temple at Ellora by Santha Faiia

News Briefs 10-04-2014

Beware of his coming…

Thanks to Susan.

Quote of the Day:

“Their mouths, which mere minutes before had been employed in the process of demolishing and ingesting various foodstuffs, were now jammed up damply against one another while still being used for breathing, which must have been more than a little uncomfortable.”
“Bits of one jammed into bits of the other, dangerously close to some of the weakest and most important internal organs.”
“With absolutely no regard for personal space, the two of them created an unnecessary amount of friction, generating sweat in the process.”
“Some sort of gel emerged.”
“One sat upon the other, like furniture that sneaks inside of your body.”

Erotica Written By An Alien Pretending Not To Be Horrified By The Human Body (excerpt), by Mallory Ortberg.