Sunday, July 06, 2014

Frontiers of Consciousness meeting at the National Academy of Sciences


In March 2014, I helped to design and participated in a two day workshop called the Frontiers of Consciousness, held at the Beckman Center at the University of California, Irvine, the West Coast center for the US National Academy of Sciences. The meeting is described in a pdf in this linkFrom that report (lightly edited):

Innumerable anecdotal reports found in all cultures since the dawn of history suggest that the mind occasionally has access to information that transcends the ordinary senses. Examples of these "extended mind" (EM) phenomena include perceiving future events or spontaneously knowing a distant person’s emotions or intentions. Investigations of such experiences began with the very origins of scientific inquiry, and the experiences themselves continue to be reported today by individuals at all levels of educational achievement.
 Notable scientific pioneers including Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, and William James, to contemporary Nobel Laureates and prominent scientists across a variety of disciplines, have openly expressed interest in EM effects. Government programs have periodically supported applied research programs in EM, including in the United States the Department of Defense (DoD), Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Government programs in Russia, Japan, India and China have also funded research into EM-related phenomena.
 Despite persistent reports of such experiences, as well as a growing body of experimental evidence, the notion that the mind might have extended properties is considered by some to be scientifically implausible. EM seems to violate core assumptions of the neurosciences as well as physical laws about the structure of space and time. The apparent violation of existing theories has led many to assume that EM experiences are best explained as coincidence, illusion or delusion.
 However, as previous concepts about the nature of space, time and causality shifted with the development of general relativity and quantum mechanics, ideas about the properties and capacities of consciousness have also begun to shift. These shifts are now accelerating because of rising evidence that basic characteristics of living systems (e.g., magnetoreception and photosynthesis) are mediated by quantum effects. This radically challenges previous assumptions about the plausibility of EM.
While theoretical models remain at earliest stages of development, systematic empirical study of EM phenomena has been underway for over 130 years. Given the largely pre-theoretical nature of this work and the challenges they pose, the rate of progress has been slow. Nevertheless, a steady stream of research supporting the reality of various EM effects continues to accumulate, and research methods today have advanced far beyond the techniques commonly employed a few decades ago.
 Experiments now use contemporary neuroimaging and psychophysiological protocols, optical physics, automated blinding and randomization of controls, and quantitative methods for assessing effect sizes and replication rates. Experimental results using the latest tools and techniques continue to show intriguing effects.


Monday, June 30, 2014

Sometimes it takes a comedian to state the obvious

From Wikiquote (affiliated with Wikipedia, but a bit more difficult to seriously distort).

By comedian John Oliver:

"The world's become so horrifying now. It's too easy to become cynical about things and that's not fair and it doesn't work. And in fact, there is hope for the world. And it is in the form of Wikipedia. Now Wikipedia will save us all.

I found this out when recently a friend of mine emailed me and he said that someone had created a Wikipedia entry about me. I didn't realize this was true, so I looked it up. And like most Wikipedia entries, it came with some flamboyant surprises, not least amongst them my name. Because in it it said my name was John Cornelius Oliver. Now my middle name is not Cornelius because I did not die in 1752. But obviously, I wanted to be. Cornelius is an incredible name.

And that's when it hit me --the way the world is now, fiction has become more attractive than fact. That is why Wikipedia is such a vital resource. It's a way of us completely rewriting our history to give our children and our children's children a much better history to grow up with. We seem to have no intention of providing them with a future. Let's at least give them a past. It is in a very real sense the least we can do."

Friday, May 09, 2014

Friday, April 18, 2014

Levitation in Paris

I was in Paris the beginning of April, giving a talk at the Sorbonne for the launch of the French translation of my book, Supernormal. While walking about and enjoying the city on the way to the Arc De Triomphe, I passed a levitating man. This was a nice synchronicity given the topic of my book, which just won the 2014 Silver Naulitus Book Award. This is a major book award "for exceptional literary contributions to spiritual growth, conscious living, high-level wellness, green values, responsible leadership and positive social change as well as to the worlds of art, creativity and inspirational reading for children, teens and young adults." 


How is the man levitating? It's an impressive trick, even when you know how it works.



Monday, April 14, 2014

Feeling the future meta-analysis

Before Cornell University psychologist Daryl Bem published an article on precognition in the prominent Journal of Social and Personality Psychology, it had already (and ironically given the topic) evoked a response from the status quo. The New York Times was kind enough to prepare us to be outraged. It was called "craziness, pure craziness" by life-long critic Ray Hyman. Within days the news media was announcing that it was all just a big mistake.  I wrote about the ensuing brouhaha in this blog

But the bottom line in science, and the key factor that trumps hysterical criticism, is whether the claimed effect can be repeated by independent investigators. If it can't then perhaps the original claim was mistaken or idiosyncratic. If it can, then the critics need to rethink their position.

Now we have an answer to the question about replication. An article has been submitted to the Journal of Social and Personality Psychology and is available here

The key phrase in the abstract reads:
"The paper reports a meta-analysis of 90 experiments from 33 laboratories in 14 different countries which yielded an overall positive effect in excess of 6 sigma with an effect size (Hedges’ g) of 0.09, combined z = 6.33, p = 1.2 × 10e-10. A Bayesian analysis yielded a Bayes Factor of 7.4 × 10e9, greatly exceeding the criterion value of 100 for “decisive evidence” in favor of the experimental hypothesis."
In layman terms this means that according to the same standards used to evaluate evidence throughout the psychological sciences that implicit precognition is a genuine effect. This outcome, combined with a meta-analysis of presentiment effects, provides additional evidence indicating that what bothers critics is their belief about how Nature should behave, rather than how it actually does. 

We do not need precognition to predict that the new meta-analysis will not influence the critics' beliefs. Their beliefs, like those of most people, rest upon a naive realist (i.e., common sense) view of nature. 

While common sense is good enough for most basic activities of daily life (not including an understanding of how television, smartphones, GPSs, and computers work), it is not sufficient to account for the larger reality revealed by science. Nor is it capable of perceiving the far stranger and vaster realities that patiently wait for us far beyond the reach of today's science.


Update April 25, 2014. As I predicted, this meta-analysis shows no signs of influencing critics' beliefs. Instead, new objections are invented. The latest is that we shouldn't believe this analysis because Bem was one of the authors and he has a vested interest in the outcome. But based on that logic we are also justified in ignoring any meta-analysis published by avowed skeptics because they have a vested interest in their outcomes. Do vested interests pro or con influence these analyses? Undoubtedly they do. So is it even possible to craft a truly neutral assessment? Probably, but it would take some effort because the published reports would have to be carefully scrubbed clean so the analysts wouldn't know what the topic of their analysis is all about. And somehow other analysts would need to thoroughly search all published and unpublished sources to find every relevant study ever conducted.

I  haven't heard of anyone ever getting funding for this type of uber-neutral analysis, but if you do know a source of funding that might be interested in supporting such an effort, please let me know.

Update August 14, 2014. And now some critics are claiming that the most sophisticated usage of meta-analysis itself is flawed, throwing into doubt everything published in psychology, biology, medicine, ecology, and all other disciplines that rely on meta-analysis for assessing replication of small effects. This is a "move the goal-post" strategy: When evidence is not to your liking, change the rules so it's no longer offensive. Now the only acceptable evidence is based on experimental designs that are publicly preregistered. Why any critic thinks that will solve the problem is beyond me. 


Thursday, April 10, 2014

No one pays any attention

Do scientists pay attention to psi research? Some skeptics would have you believe that this topic is so far from the mainstream that no one takes it seriously. What do article impact metrics indicate?

For the article Predictive physiological anticipation preceding seemingly unpredictable stimuli: A meta-analysis, which examines experiments studying what I've called "presentiment," Altmetric reports that this is "one of the highest ever scores" in the journal Frontiers in Psychology (ranked #3 of 1,714 articles). The average view of a journal article is typically a few hundred, and that's for a very popular paper. This paper has 47,765 views so far. 

For the article Predicting the unpredictable: Critical analysis and practical implications of predictive anticipatory activity, Altmetric reports that this article "is amongst the highest ever scored" in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, with 10,584 views.

For the article A call for an open, informed study of all aspects of consciousness, Almetric reports that this article is "one of the highest ever scores" in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, with 19,524 views.

For the article Electrocortical activity associated with subjective communication with the deceased, Almetric reports that this "is amongst the highest ever scored" in Frontiers in Psychology, with  6,121 views.

In other words, compared to most journal articles on mainstream (meaning, conventional) topics, these articles are reaching into the rarefied domain of extreme scientific impact -- hundreds of times more interest than the typical article.

I've found a similar response every time I've given a talk to an academic or technical audience. While opinions differ on how to interpret psi data and vigorous debates are common, there is no question that scientists and scholars are interested. And isn't that what a healthy science is all about -- the excitement of exploring the frontiers of knowledge?

As Gandhi famously said, "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." Based on interest and impact metrics, it appears that if this were a political battle (which it basically is -- the politics of ideas), as far as the actual mainstream is concerned (mainstream in terms of numbers; not that small minority that desperately holds onto the status quo), I'd estimate that we're somewhere between fighting and winning.

Update: May 7, 2014.  For the sake of curiosity, I wanted to see how my own scientific impact metric would fare against that of the average scientist. According to a study by the London School of Economics and Political Science the average tenured professor from the disciplines of law to economics have (Hirsch) h-indexes ranging from 2.83 to 7.60, respectively. The average h-index varies widely by discipline, but Hirsch estimated (based on physicists) that after 20 years a "successful" scientist will have an h-index of 20, where success in this context is equivalent to a full professorship in physics at a major research university. According to Google Scholar, my h-index is 22.  

Friday, April 04, 2014

Now it becomes clear

As I've previously mentioned, Wikipedia has a problem with topics that fall outside a tightly constrained, naive view of reality. That there are different opinions about such topics as homeopathy, parapsychology, or energy medicine, is not surprising. But it is disappointing (and on the verge of abetting libel when it comes to biographies of living persons) when an otherwise useful encyclopedia maintains a policy of presenting such topics with a systematic negative bias.

Attempts to edit these articles to provide more balance are summarily ignored, and even neutral, well-intentioned editors have been banned. Articles with citations only from unreliable, uninformed, or cynical sources might be useful for promoting favored ideologies, but only in an Orwellian world could such an encyclopedia be considered anything but a work of fiction. Indeed, this very blog was labeled an "unreliable source" when I've simply pointed out an easily demonstrable mathematical fact.

I used to wonder why those in charge of Wikipedia would allow such biases to persist. I imagined that they were simply uninformed at how a small group of enthusiastic fact-deniers had highjacked the system. But now something has happened that illuminates the problem.

On Change.org, the Association for Comprehensive Energy Psychology posted a petition to ask Jimmy Wales, one of the founders of Wikipedia, to "create and enforce new policies that allow for true scientific discourse about holistic approaches to healing." The ACEP posted this position because publications relevant to their interests have faced the same sort of systematic negative bias as articles on psi research. The response by Wales was as follows:
No, you have to be kidding me. Every single person who signed this petition needs to go back to check their premises and think harder about what it means to be honest, factual, truthful. Wikipedia's policies around this kind of thing are exactly spot-on and correct. If you can get your work published in respectable scientific journals - that is to say, if you can produce evidence through replicable scientific experiments, then Wikipedia will cover it appropriately. What we won't do is pretend that the work of lunatic charlatans is the equivalent of "true scientific discourse". It isn't.
Besides the snarky insult, this response reveals more than ignorance. It indicates that Wales has allowed his amygdala to trump his frontal lobes. He might benefit from re-reading his own guidelines on the "Five Pillars" of Wikipedia, especially the pillar recommending that articles are to be written from a neutral point of view.

ACEP provides an evidence page that shows there already is "work published in respectable scientific journals." Yes, energy psychology techniques seem strange, but so what? There are all sorts of things that are not well understood yet, but are nevertheless backed by solid empirical evidence (like psi). And in this particular case, the methods are not merely empirically intriguing, they're also clinical useful.

And so now it becomes clear why Wikipedia has become a bastion of reactionary lore. It assumes a quaint form of reality that would have been appropriate to promote in the 17th century, but that view is neither appropriate nor useful nor correct in the 21st century. As Tolstoy once said:
I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Psychophysical interactions with a double-slit interference pattern

Dean Radin, Leena Michel, James Johnston, and Arnaud Delorme (2013). Psychophysical interactions with a double-slit interference pattern. Physics Essays, Volume 26: p. 553-566

This is the third publication describing our ongoing research program on mind-matter interactions. This line of research focuses on experimentally testing John von Neumann's (and others) interpretation of the quantum measurement problem (QMP). The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has a good description of the QMP. So far we've conducted 15 experiments and have reported the results of 10 of them. Overall the evidence is consistent with von Neumann's proposal that consciousness is involved in the behavior of quantum systems. Note that consistency doesn't necessarily mean that von Neumann's approach is the only valid interpretation.


 Abstract

Previously reported experiments suggested that interference patterns generated by a double-slit optical system were perturbed by a psychophysical (i.e., mind–matter) interaction. Three new experiments were conducted to further investigate this phenomenon. The first study consisted of 50 half-hour test sessions where participants concentrated their attention-toward or –away from a double-slit system located 3 meters away. The spectral magnitude and phase associated with the double-slit component of the interference pattern were compared between the two attention conditions, and the combined results provided evidence for an interaction. One hundred control sessions using the same equipment, protocol and analysis, but without participants present, showed no effect. 

A Fraunhofer diffraction model was used to explore various interpretations of this outcome. This analysis suggested that the distribution of light between the two slits and the horizontal stability of the laser beam were the principle components of the optical system that were perturbed. 

The second experiment used a duplicate double-slit system and similar test protocol, but it was conducted over the Internet by streaming data to participants’ web browsers. Some 685 people from six continents contributed 2,089 experimental sessions. Results were [significantly] similar to those observed in the first experiment, but smaller in magnitude. Data from 2,303 control sessions, conducted automatically every 2 hours using the same equipment but without observers showed no effect. Distance between participants and the optical system, ranging from 1 km to 18,000 km, showed no correlation with experimental effect size. 

The third experiment used a newly designed double-slit system, a revised test protocol, and a simpler method of statistical analysis. Twenty sessions contributed by 10 participants successfully replicated the interaction effect observed in the first two studies.

The article may be downloaded by clicking here.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Was Buddha just a nice guy?

This is a talk I gave at the Science and Nonduality Conference in 2013. It's a shortened version of a presentation I've given a number of times about my latest book, Supernormal.


"Predicting the unpredictable" in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience

I conducted my first presentiment experiment in 1996. As of today this type of experiment has been repeated something like 40 times by a dozen labs. In this article, Julia Mossbridge, Patrizio Tressoldi, Jessica Utts, John Ives, Wayne Jonas and I discuss implications and potential applications of this phenomenon. The meta-analysis mentioned in this article considers only a clearly defined subset of the published studies. 

Predicting the unpredictable: Critical analysis and practical implications of predictive anticipatory activity 

A recent meta-analysis of experiments from seven independent laboratories (n=26) published since 1978 indicates that the human body can apparently detect randomly delivered stimuli occurring 1-10 seconds in the future. The key observation in these studies is that human physiology appears to be able to distinguish between unpredictable dichotomous future stimuli, such as emotional vs. neutral images or sound vs. silence. This phenomenon has been called presentiment (as in "feeling the future"). In this paper we call it predictive anticipatory activity or PAA. The phenomenon is "predictive" because it can distinguish between upcoming stimuli; it is "anticipatory" because the physiological changes occur before a future event; and it is an "activity" because it involves changes in the cardiopulmonary, skin, and/or nervous systems.

PAA is an unconscious phenomenon that seems to be a time-reversed reflection of the usual physiological response to a stimulus. It appears to resemble precognition (consciously knowing something is going to happen before it does), but PAA specifically refers to unconscious physiological reactions as opposed to conscious premonitions. Though it is possible that PAA underlies the conscious experience of precognition, experiments testing this idea have not produced clear results.

The first part of this paper reviews the evidence for PAA and examines the two most difficult challenges for obtaining valid evidence for it: expectation bias and multiple analyses. The second part speculates on possible mechanisms and the theoretical implications of PAA for understanding physiology and consciousness. The third part examines potential practical applications.

See the full paper here.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Facts are not allowed in Wikipedia

In Wikipedia (as of February 28, 2014), the entry on psychic Eileen Garrett includes the following:
Garrett took part in "clairvoyance" tests. One of the tests was organised by Joseph Rhine at Duke University in 1933 which involved cards with certain symbols that were placed in a sealed envelope and participants were asked to guess their contents. Garrett scored 2,433 correct hits in 10,900 cards. She performed poorly and later criticised the tests by claiming that the cards lacked a psychic energy called "energy stimulus" and that she could not perform clairvoyance to order.
J. B. Rhine's ESP experiments involved the use of card decks with 5 symbols, so the probability of a correct guess was 1 in 5 or 0.2. That means with 10,900 cards guessed the chance expected number of correct guesses was 2,180. The exact cumulative binomial probability of Garrett's 2,433 hits out of 10,900 guesses in a standard ESP card test is associated with a probability of p = 0.000000001, which in turn is associated with a z score of 5.97. This is close to the estimate

z = (hits - N/5)/sqrt(Npq), where N = number of guesses, p = 0.2 and q = 1-p, or 
z = (2433 - (10900/5))/sqrt(10900 * .2 * .8) = 6.06.

While Garrett might have been disappointed with her results, someone should have explained to her that from a statistical perspective her performance was astoundingly good and did support the idea of providing "clairvoyance to order."

Wikipedia's entry on Rhine and his ESP card test results is equally flawed. For details read the book, ESP After Sixty Yearson Google books. It shows that Rhine and his colleagues were well aware of all of the criticisms of their methods (sensory leakage, selective reporting, recording errors, etc.), they responded to those critiques by steadily improving and testing the new methods, and they showed that the ESP interpretation remained valid. That book also shows that dozens of other investigators had tried to replicate Rhine's work and that cumulatively they were successful. This book is also the forerunner of modern meta-analysis.

Update 1: When the Wikipedia entry on Garrett was edited by referring to this blog post, the correction was removed in 6 hours, citing my post as an "unreliable source." This would be funny if it wasn't so silly. I am simply pointing out a mathematical fact. I guess facts are not allowed on Wikipedia.

Update 2: There is a discussion on Wikipedia where editors assert that parapsychology is a pseudoscience, and this is why it doesn't deserve a balanced article. I guess some simply cannot accept that parapsychology is an elected affiliate in good standing with the American Association for the Advancement of Science, as I describe here on my evidence page. The AAAS is the world's largest scientific organization and as such it represents the scientific mainstream. To be an affiliate of the AAAS an organization must be approved by the AAAS Council and it must be consistent with the objectives of the AAAS: "To further the work of scientists, to facilitate cooperation among them, to foster scientific freedom and responsibility, to improve the effectiveness of science in the promotion of human welfare, and to increase public understanding and appreciation of the importance and promise of the methods of science in human progress." The Parapsychological Association, which I've been President of four times, is strongly in favor of these objectives. We are especially in favor of promoting scientific freedom to seriously investigate any topic without prejudice. That aspiration is apparently prohibited on Wikipedia.

The AAAS does not tolerate pseudoscience, nor does it include any so-called "skeptical organizations" in its list of affiliates. Wikipedia editors are ignoring the fact that parapsychology is sanctioned as legitimate by mainstream science. This is yet another fact disallowed on Wikipedia.

If Wikipedia was really interested interested in being a neutral, fact-based encyclopedia, it would disallow editorial prejudice from distorting articles on controversial topics, and it would end the ridiculous policy of allowing anyone, regardless of expertise, to edit articles anonymously. I urge readers of my blog to regularly view the Wikipediocracy site, which is doing a good job in exposing major problems with Wikipedia across all disciplines.

Update 3: The above-mentioned discussion on Wikipedia has been archived.  A saved version of the same discussion is also available here.  See the comments on this post from Ben for more details. 




Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Popular science media and ESP

The popular science media often gets things wrong about psi research. But today I saw a news post that establishes a new threshold for journalistic nonsense.

In its "Weird" news section, National Geographics' website carried an article entitled "ESP Is Put to the Test—Can You Foretell the Results? It's just hokum, say researchers, who offer a new experiment as proof."

The news post goes on to report that a study published January 13 in PLOS ONE, an online peer-reviewed journal, provides this proof in an experiment described as:"Can people use ESP to figure out what's on the face of a card?"

Seriously?

In fact the paper doesn't mention ESP, the reported study wasn't a test of ESP, and the references in the article don't cite any articles that are even tangentially relevant to ESP. It had nothing whatsoever to do with ESP.

So what was the source of this silly mistake, blaring proof of ESP as "hokum"? 

The majority of science news appearing on blogs today, even on presumably well-regarded sites like National Geographic, is just copy and pasted from other blogs. When one of the blogs gets the story wrong, but the topic seems suitably spicy for a "weird column," a writer who is under pressure to provide daily blog content assumes that the content of the copied blog is correct, embellishes it a bit to avoid plagiarism filters, and submits it to an editor who doesn't have the time or interest to check the facts. 

This practice quickly perpetuates nonsense, the nonsense morphs into a widely cited source, and that soon becomes gospel on Wikipedia.  Wow.

Update thanks to Nancy Zingrone: A further demonstration of how nonsense feeds on itself to become breathtakingly stupid: see Discovery News