ESP Debunked?

Scienceblogging.com has a story up claiming that Harvard scientists have resolved the question of ESP – it does not exist:

The scientists used brain scanning to test whether individuals have knowledge that cannot be explained through normal perceptual processing.

“If any ESP processes exist, then participants’ brains should respond differently to ESP and non-ESP stimuli,” explains Moulton. “Instead, results showed that participants’ brains responded identically to ESP and non-ESP stimuli, despite reacting strongly to differences in how emotional the stimuli were and showing subtle, stimulus-related effects.”

…Does this conclusively prove that ESP does not exist? “No,” says Moulton. “You cannot affirm the null hypothesis. But at the same time, some null results are stronger than others. This is the best evidence to date against the existence of ESP.

I’m not sure I get the whole premise of the experiments, which appear to be making broad assumptions about a (possible) human ability and then testing those assumptions – namely, that there will be a difference in the brain scans. But I’ll have to read the actual paper before I can offer any detailed comments.

However, parapsychologist Dean Radin has commented on the new paper on his website:

I congratulate the authors of this paper because unlike many who hold strong opinions about this topic, they actually conducted an experiment. However, I disagree with their assertion that this single study resolves anything. Like any new experiment, all it really does is raise new questions.

There are so many points I could respond to in this paper that I was tempted to write a comprehensive reply. But then I remembered that I’ve already written one. It’s called Entangled Minds, which apparently these authors have not read. Nevertheless, a few comments:

1) The authors overlooked four previously reported fMRI psi studies, all four of which reported significant results.

2) Compelling personal psi experiences are dismissed as fallacious beliefs due to cognitive biases. I fail to see how one or more of the known cognitive biases can conceivably explain even the example they provide of a crisis telepathy experience, to say nothing of thousands of similar experiences. Obviously if someone was constantly reporting such experiences, but only one in a thousand times the experience was verifiable, then such anecdotes wouldn’t carry much evidential value. But that is not the case. These are often once in a lifetime experiences, and they shatter previously held beliefs. The irony here is that a case can be made that one of those experiences started the neurosciences!

3) The authors made a common mistake by asserting that independent ganzfeld meta-analyses failed to successfully replicate, citing Milton & Wiseman (1999). Unfortunately, that meta-analysis, which is often used to cast doubt on the repeatability of the ganzfeld results, was statistically flawed and underestimated the overall p-value. When corrected, in fact it did result in a significant overall hit rate.

4)One participant out of 16 showed significant fMRI differences consistent with the psi hypothesis. The authors examined three alternative explanations for this result, and concluded that idiosyncratic responses accounted for the significant results. Unfortunately, this explanation reveals a flaw in the underlying design of the entire experiment. If it is possible to dismiss one individual’s results as an artifact, then there is no reason to have confidence that the rest of the data is artifact-free.

5) The experimental task is new, and complex. As far as I know, there is no precedence justifying why we think this procedure might work at all. This reminds me of a paper published in The Humanistic Psychologist a few years ago in which two skeptical psychologists reported a series of eight ganzfeld experiments, which overall produced a significant result. They did not like this outcome and so they conducted another study using a new, untested, ad hoc design, and it resulted in a significantly negative outcome. They then used that last study to dismiss the results of the first eight studies. In the present case, explaining away the one participant who showed a significant result also potentially explains away all other significant results, in which case why did they use this design in the first place?

I noted with interest as well that the research was partly financed from the Richard Hodgson Memorial Fund.

Editor
  1. well being pre-cognitive –
    well being pre-cognitive – and having these dreams,
    since i was a kid tells me that esp does exist –
    it goes beyond any odds imagineable.

    note they claim
    “You cannot affirm the null hypothesis. But at the same time, some null results are stronger than others. This is the best evidence to date against the existence of ESP. ”

    now every programmer should know what “null” means
    – null means the absence of data.

    thus you cant conclude what null true value is,
    its basically saying unknown value
    so in this study case null means they simply dont have
    any data on it means doesnt mean it doesnt exist

    some think null means zero and thats wrong.

    plus in terms of todays knowledge of esp and how it works
    – they dont really know what exactly to look for
    in these indiviuals have esp and what causes esp,
    and if there is better times to run these experiments,
    or if certain chemicals in body have a reaction, etc.

    now for me it was till i was in my early 40’s where i would have the odd precognitive dream and know events long before they would happen and have recall of them while awaking after than dream.

    typically thru-out my youth i would have precognitive dream but recall the event just prior to the event happening, and know outcome and what was said = example knowing exactly names of people and places and things of things i totally had no-knowlegdge prior to that, from basic strangers.

    anyhow give them dr’s and techies time, they will find answers that have them puzzled now.

    1. They don’t really know what exactly to look for
      Of course,

      As Greg mentioned, assumptions always stand as the skeleton of a searching mind. One always looks for what he believes to be the basis for an observation or a projected observation.

      This must be one good reason why an absolute cause is never mentioned, neither why an absolute objection can ever be raised, unless someone is fanatical.

      But then again, fanatics don’t care for the cause of their fanaticism.

  2. Perhaps …
    …they’re looking for evidence in the wrong place anyway – ESP does not necessarily occur in the brain – in fact I’d be surprised if it did.

    Regards, Kathrinn

    1. perhaps
      indeed – they are having trouble finding answers and one has to wonder about their approach and methods.

      i read only one book about anytype of esp and it was
      d w dunne – experiment in time written in 1927, great book,

      anyhow the brain plays a key role, and with precognitive dreams to my knowledge it seems clear the events are exactly envision in the dream as if looking thru my eyes.
      eg like dream i had me watching tv.

      so it would appear somehow i am able to read my own frequency of thought-wave(electro-magnetic in nature)
      in dreamstate of a future event – whether it be from the matrix or do to the wave coming back in time do to space-time anomality.

      anyhow – give them time – they will be bound to increase their knowledge on the topic

    2. Indeed.
      The physical brain is not the cause of ESP. It interprets it based on physical laws though and therefore analyzes what it materially perceives of reality within the confines of materiality.

      It is a trap of sort.

      1. indeed
        the brain is thought to interact with the ego,
        thus it could be open to debate. and typically the brain forgets most of it as awaiting in the morning.

        what causes esp? chemical reactions, the brain, the ego
        or could it be GOD.

        or is it a combination of all of the above.

        it happens – i havent done serious reading
        on the topic i been overwhelm with certain things.

        and for now i wait.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.