Monday, 22 March 2010

taking the wide view of psi..

It has been a while since I posted anything on this blog and I want to re-engage by stepping back a few paces and taking a wide view of the whole paranormal thang (meaning not only PK, but other forms of ESP too) with the idea of seeing the forest in its ground-hugging entirety....

Parapsychology researcher and lecturer, Dr. Lance Storm, has written two review articles covering all ESP domains. These articles review the meta-analytic literature within parapsychology. Briefly, meta-analysis involves bringing together data from many different studies, so that statistical analysis may generate more conclusive findings. The idea is that the more data you have, the more reliable the results of the statistical analysis.

The first of these papers reviews the meta-analytic literature on the Ganzfeld parapsychology experiments. The second paper reviews all other psi domains excepting Ganzfeld. Without falling into the trap of reviewing the review, I would like to flag some of the findings which I think are particularly interesting...

..starting with the second paper. This article covers studies in six areas of ESP**. For more info on each of these and methods used, take a look at the original papers (links provided). Overall what is being found across all meta-analytic studies is a consistent effect which is statistically very significant. The identified effect however is tiny, tiny. PK studies (dice-throwing and REG) yield the smallest effect sizes booo, whilst DMILS studies yield the greatest effect sizes (DMILS studies involve subjects trying to mentally influence biological organisms or systems, such as the blood pressure or skin resistance of a target subject.)

Another major finding, mostly from DMILS studies, but also found in relation to PK, is that effects occur in a 'goal-directed manner' - in other words, subjects are able to bring about effects without knowing how those effects take place. For example, in DMILS studies, subjects do not know the physiological or biological processes behind blood pressure changes, yet manage to affect these. In PK studies (I have to find the reference, but I have it somewhere), subjects who attempt to influence a moving ball as it drops through a series of pegs are significantly less likely to succeed than those who cannot see the ball's trajectory and who simply will it to land left or right.

Now this is interesting! It suggests that if you focus on what you want, the how resolves itself. Somehow by focusiung on the final aim, you have a greater chance of succeeding.

One thing about all this irks me - how do we isolate the mental influences of the experimental subjects on the cards, dice, REGs etc, from the mental influences of the experimenter? It is all very well for the subject to sit there trying to make dice land on sixes, or someone else's blood pressure rise, but surely the experimenter - with his/her own set of goals - has an influence too? Furthermore, the experimenter is likely to have quite a lot of emotional energy invested in the study, and so their goal-based intentions are most likely much stronger than those of the experimental subject? And if this 'experimenter effect' is real, doesn't that imply that the intentions of other people (skeptics, for example) also have an effect?

I've read (no time to find reference right now!) that physical distance doesn't influence the size of an ESP effect. So someone on the other side of the planet could have just as important an influence on an experiment as the person sitting in the lab. As long as there are people who are aware that a particular ESP study is taking place, and as long as these people have some kind of goal-based intention regarding this study, the outcome of the study will be dependent not on the subject's intention only, but on the intentions of the different people.

This might account for the fact that the big research consortiums looking at various types of ESP, such as the Freiburg, Giessen, and Princeton collaboration started in 1996, failed to produce consistent effects or significant results (see Jahn et al, 2000, Mind/Machine Interaction Consortium: PortREG Replication Experiments, Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol. 14, No. 4, pp. 499–555). A widely-publicised collaboration such as this, engaging proponents and skeptics from the various organisations is likely to produce a mish mash of results depending on the strength of intention of the many different people involved. If goal-based intentions are key to producing results, then no-one needs to know the details of the experiments, but only need to have a goal in mind ("I want the consortium to succeed", or "it must fail") to influence the data. What if they had kept their experiments secret? Would they have produced consistent effects which were statistically significant? Who knows, but it is an idea...

** 1. DMILS (direct mental influence on living organisms), 2. forced-choice ESP (e.g. "what card am I holding in my hand?" kinda thing), 3. free-response ESP (aka - same as forced-choice but the thing that the person has to guess at could be anything at all!), 4. dice-throwing (macro-PK, e.g. "land on a three! land on a threee!"), 5. REG (micro-PK - see previous posts for description), 6. dream-psi (i.e. clairvoyance and telepathy in dream state).

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