Tuesday, 22 December 2009

more on PK games....

ok, so I've spent WAY too long playing these online psychokinesis games (check out the 'Psychic Science' website for a bunch of different games)**. The lowdown? If I were to be honest (and in a bit of a hurry), I'd say yuhuh, PK shmee-kay. I'd say: why waste my time trying to make the spoon bend with my mind when I can just yank at it with my fingers? I'd say: whatever man. Whatever you want to believe in...it's none of my business.

But unfortunately for me, I don't let things go so easily. Maybe I'm doing it wrong. Maybe I need to focus and stop feeling so damn foolish as I sit here, glazed stare and square jaw, in front of my laptop trying to make a die land on a six. Maybe I need to train.

New Year's Resolution: I will train to do PK. I've come across a few websites that profess to train you in the art of moving matter with your mind. I'll check through them and see which looks easiest. Then we'll see.

**I forgot to note in my previous post that these online games use Random Event Generators to produce outputs (actually, the games on the Psychic Science website use pseudo-random computer algorithms, but unless you're planning to engage in some heavy-duty statistical analysis, this can be comsidered much the same thing as a true REG). For example, in the dice-throwing game , the REG (or pseudo-random algorithm) ensures that the output of each roll of the die is random. Same for the other games - take the butterfly game I spoke about in my previous post. The outcome (whether the butterfly lands on the tree or not) is completely random, due to the use of an REG. The aim of these games is to make these outputs non-random (e.g. throw 17 or more sixes out of 60 rolls of the dice).

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

playing psi games..

I've spent the past two hours staring at moving balls, orange butterflies, and pictures of injured cartoons in an attempt to tap into my psychokinetic potential. I'm referring to the many psi games that are available online.

The "Ball-drop psychokinetic test" is the first of the games I tried. It's a simple game, albeit badly explained (best approach is to play it once, in order to figure it out). Basically, as the name implies, the game involves a ball that drops through a series of pegs off which it bounces until it lands either to the left or to the right of a white bar. The aim is to try and send the ball either left or right with your mind (the ball's trajectory is set to be completely random, so basically you're trying to make it slightly non-random). I chose to focus on sending the ball to the right. I played the game three times. At the end of each round, I was given a z-statistic and its corresponding interpretation, which described how succesfully I moved the ball in a particular direction with my mind.

In the first round (50 balls), 28 of the balls went to the right, 22 to the left. I thought, wehey! The distribution should have been 25 to the left, 25 to the right!This is a deviation from chance surely! Wryly, the program reported that my PK influence was 'poor'. I guess 50 balls isn't very much statistically speaking. My third round produced similar results.

The second round however was far more interesting: this time I shifted 15 out of 20 balls to the left! This was most certainly a significant deviation from chance! The program agreed that my PK influence had been 'fair'. Of course, I'd actually been trying to shift the ball to the right... does this count as evidence of PK power? Can I still consider myself a budding psycho?

A quick search of the literature reveals that this result, whereby the outcome is opposite to the conscious intent, is termed 'PK-missing'. There has been very little empirical research in this area. However, there has been quite a lot of experimental research into the more generic 'psi-missing' (of which PK-missing is one type) in extrasensory perception (ESP) studies. One of the more well-known experimental studies in ESP, by Gertrude Schmeidler (1952), found that people who were cynical about the existence of ESP (termed "goats"), tended to score below chance level on ESP card-guessing games. Thus, according to this finding (replicated quite succesfully in subsequent experiments) goats tend to 'psi-missing'. She also found that subjects who reported believing in ESP ("sheep") faired above chance in the experiments. This effect is termed the sheep-goat effect. What these findings suggest is that belief and attitude are very important influences on the outcome of ESP experiments. A positive outlook towards the possibility of ESP yields positive results - a negative outlook, negative results. Interesting...

Looking back at my experience of the ball-drop game - can I remember whether I was feeling particularly cynical during the second round of ball-dropping? I really don't know. I think I was feeling cynical throughout...

I take my new findings and apply them to another online psi-game (The Garden, from the Psi-arcade, Institute of Noetic Sciences). This game is better designed (i.e. looks better and more interesting) than the ball-drop game. It is designed 'to test your intuitive abilities', through a series of challenges that take place in a garden. I skip straight to the PK part of the game, in which I have to 'help' an orange butterfly reach a tree with my mind. This time I decide to jot down my feelings and thoughts at the beginning and end of each go.

Overall, my results are unimpressive. Out of 25 attemtps, the butterfly makes it to the tree 13 times. However, look at the results in detail and the picture becomes much more interesting: for the first 14 attempts, during which I made a point of focusing on the butterfly itself, which I tried to 'push' mentally to the tree, it only made it to the tree a total of 4 times. That's 4 out of 14 attempts. This game does not report your z-statistics, and no interpretation is given of your results...but to me, this looks like another case of psi-missing. Friggin amazing, I hear you yawn. But wait: in the next 11 attempts, I make a point of focusing solely on the tree and not on the butterfly flapping around, and the results are worth at least a raised eyebrow: the butterfly makes it 9 times! That's 9/11 success rate. Now I don't need any statistical analysis to know that that result is significant.

Reading back over my notes, I can see that during the first half of the game (when I focused on the butterfly), I started off hopeful, but quite quickly became impatient and cynical as my mental 'pushing' failed to produce results. During the second half, I ignored the butterfly as it flapped around the screen and stared at the tree and told myself "that's the best place to be".

The results, in my opinion, are mildly interesting, but a million light years from even getting an audience with conclusiveness. I'll keep playing the games and repeating the procedures and see if I keep getting similar results...

Monday, 7 December 2009

Call me a cynic...

So I've been doing some reading and watching youtube...

There are quite a number of people out there who really believe they can move physical objects with their minds (the proper term for this 'power', I learn, is psychokinesis - also known as telekinesis). I’ve seen videos of self-proclaimed psychokineticists moving all kinds of stuff, from sunglasses and cds, to paper windmills balanced on a pin.

My first reaction was to sigh, to roll my eyes, to look around for someone to share the joke with. Empty living room. Baby gurgling in his cot. Which reminds me. When baby's older brother was about a a year and a half, he started acting strangely. We'd find him staring at things intently with furrowed brow, whispering, sometimes one podgy finger held aloft. He'd do it to his toys, food, the dog, me... Lean in worried parent: "go, go, go" strange child was urging. Or: "come, come, come" (the full extent of his vocabulary). After a full minute of this, he'd grab the toy/dog/parent and throw it angrily shouting "go" or "come" or whatever order had been ignored. Some months later, I found out (I read it somewhere, but can't find the reference) that it is quite normal for very young children to try to influence their external environment with their minds. (As I write this, I realise this is actually pretty damn interesting. I'll try to do some research and come back to it.)

Anyhow. Back to the adult psychos. Do they really believe they can move stuff with their minds? I want to laugh out, but hang on. I claim to be a skeptic, not a miserable cynic. Shouldn't my question be rephrased to read: can these people really move stuff with their mind??

Well, there is certainly a significant amount of scientific empirical evidence out there that suggests that psychokinetic (PK) events really may happen. A major source of PK data is the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research (PEAR) lab (now Institute of Consciousness Research and Learning or ICRL). Researchers at this lab have been collating data since the 1970's involving experiments in which subjects attempt to influence the output of a random event generator (REG) (which is essentially a sophisticated alternative to throwing dice). The millions of data points generated using this approach indicate that there is a small (I mean small) but statistically significant deviation from chance (in other words, something is making the REG output slightly not random).

Despite the wealth of empirical evidence produced by PEAR and other institutes (e.g. Duke University, Rhine Research Centre etc), the mainstream scientific community rejects PK as the explanation for the observed deviation from chance - their criticisms are almost always targeted at the statistics. And therein lies the problem: the PK effect observed in these experiments is so small, so tiny, that we need complex stats to find it. And there’s always someone who knows their stats better than you.

If the effect could be increased sufficiently, it would become much harder to dispute the evidence on statistical grounds – in fact, we would no longer be wasting our time trying to verify whether PK actually exists, and instead we’d be trying to figure out how it happens, and how we can make it work for us.

Enter the spoon-benders and their brethren on youtube.

If they can really move and bend matter with their minds, what the hell are they doing on youtube?? Why aren't they knocking on the doors of the many research institutes and university departments worldwide that are investigating these issues?? Why haven’t academic PK researchers ‘discovered’ these many talented people and stopped farting about with REGs? Why aren't these people on the news, speaking at conferences, standing on boxes in the street, championing a new scientific paradigm? Or at least, why haven’t they flung themselves into the entertainment circuit, like old Uri Geller, and started making some serious dosh??

Friday, 4 December 2009

The beginning...

It all started with a baby screaming and a uncooperative printer....

of course, the very important document that I needed to print never printed. Why? Who knows? It had been working perfectly all week, purring contentedly with each print job, flashing its green lights at me (a hardware thumbs-up)... but as time ran out, baby started stirring, and stress levels started to rise.

I didn't attack the printer physcially, but I did make angry noises when it decided to jam. Then it jammed again. And again. By then the baby was screaming for attention from the cot, and I was shouting at the printer, which responded by flashing its angry red lights at me before finally shutting down.

It always happens. Hardware breaks down on you when you're stressed. Ask anyone who's had to hand in a dissertation or thesis or report...leave it to the last minute, and chances are pretty high that a) the laptop will crash/die, b) the printer will jam/die, c) the kettle (to make your calming cup of tea) will stay cold...and so on.

I told my husband all about my problems with the printer later that evening. He told me that next time, I should lay a comforting hand on the laptop. I laughed loudly (it wasn't even that funny), but then realised he was serious. Are you mad? I cried. The man is an academic for crying out loud! What had come over him? I know it sounds crazy, he said. But try it next time. I laughed without humour. It sort of went: agh agh agh. Seriously, he insisted. Look it up online. There's been a fair bit of research on mind-matter interactions.

He was right. There is tons and tons of research. And now, here I am, at the beginning of my search for that strange something that might explain why the printer always freezes when the deadline skids onto stage.