Scientific Proof of ESP or Evidence of Statistical Error?

Predicting the future? Proof of ESP?? Seems like pseudoscience or the latest title of a supermarket tabloid, doesn’t it.

Well, would it lend more credence if I mentioned that the research was completed by one of the most respected names in the field of psychology today, Professor Emeritus Daryl Bem of Cornell University?

His research paper, ““Feeling the Future: Experimental Evidence for Anomalous Retroactive Influences on Cognition and Effect”, seems to produce experimental statistical evidence that ESP exists.

Professor Bem created nine separate experiments with 1,000 university students. These experiments were intended to find evidence of “psi”–precognition or premonition. Bem defines it this way:

The term psi denotes anomalous processes of information or energy transfer that are currently unexplained in terms of known physical or biological mechanisms. Two variants of psi are precognition (conscious cognitive awareness) and premonition (affective apprehension) of a future event that could not otherwise be anticipated through any known inferential process. Precognition and premonition are themselves special cases of a more general phenomenon: the anomalous retroactive influence of some future event on an individual’s current responses, whether those responses are conscious or nonconscious, cognitive or affective.

You can view his research paper in it’s entirety .. here

After his research paper was accepted for publication by the respected “Journal of Personality and Social Psychology”, several mainstream news releases proclaimed the results..

Wired Magazine “Feeling The Future: Is Precognition Possible?”
Guardian UK “Can we feel the future through psi? Don’t rule it out.”
Huffington Post “It’s about time: The scientific evidence for PSI Experiences”

But another paper from researchers at the University of Amsterdam, scheduled for publication in the same journal, comes to a completely different conclusion…

Instead of revising our beliefs regarding psi, Bem’s research should instead cause us to revise our beliefs on methodology: the field of psychology currently uses methodological and statistical strategies that are too weak, too
malleable, and offer far too many opportunities for researchers to befuddle themselves and their peers.

That refuting research paper can be viewed in it’s entirety .. here

As for me, at one time I would have dismissed ESP and “I got this Aunt that got up to answer the phone before it rang” stories as exaggerations of the human imagination.

But other fields of science, particularly in the field of Quantum physics, have already shown experimental results that conflict with thinking about time in a linear way.

Based on the theory known as “Time-Symmetric Quantum Mechanics”, experimental results have shown that measurement events in the future can produce causality effects in the past.

And of course there is also the trickiest slight of hand of them all, the Quantum double slit experiment.

I’m not saying that Quantum Physics can become a “blank check” explanation for some of the “woo-ness” out there. But it has shown, at least on the sub-atomic level, you cannot use preconceived notions for how things behave.

As for the original Bem research paper, I wouldn’t be so quick as to throw it out as balderdash. It definitely warrants further research along the same lines.

Science must always keep an open mind. Skeptical of course, but still open.

If quantum mechanics hasn’t profoundly shocked you, you haven’t understood it yet.
Niels Bohr

 Scientific Proof of ESP or Evidence of Statistical Error?
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Posted by on February 4, 2011. Filed under Commentary. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry
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31 Responses to Scientific Proof of ESP or Evidence of Statistical Error?

  1. Collin Hinds Reply

    February 4, 2011 at 9:12 am

    I love this sort of thing. One of my favorite books I have read regarding psi phenomena is stuff by McMoneagle, a former Army guy, that was part of the Army’s psi unit. Hi specialty was remote viewing. His story is very compelling and the government found it useful enough that the program was in place for about a decade, I think.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_McMoneagle

  2. SagaciousHillbilly Reply

    February 4, 2011 at 9:58 am

    bunk. there is absolutely no sceintific evidence that “ESP” is real. One study that is not very conclusive on top of thousands that are.
    People just gotta believe in things they don’t understand.

    • The Lawyer Reply

      February 4, 2011 at 2:48 pm

      One of the problems with such an experience is that there is no way to prove it in a classical empirical way, because it is an interior experience–not out there. I’ve had psychic experiences. To explain it away as neurological misfiring doesn’t cut it.

    • Duster Reply

      January 19, 2012 at 1:03 pm

      It isn’t “One study” or even two. There are hundreds of them. You want to look into P.E.A.R. and the experiments it conducted. When you say “there is … no scientific evidence…” you are mistaken. There is considerable empirical evidence. What is missing is any kind of theoretical ground that would offer a physicist an epistemological feeling of understanding what ESP might be, at least in terms of 19th century physics. The problem has never been the lack of evidence so much as how to deal with causality and apparent paradoxes that the idea of precognition presents. What do we do if time has NO arrow?

  3. Krell Reply

    February 4, 2011 at 10:09 am

    Another great book would be “The Secret History of America’s Psychic Spies” by Jim Schnabel.

    The CIA was involved along with the Army in a group of programs known as Project Stargate that consisted of this remote viewing or psychic spying.

    The CIA shut down their operation of the Stargate project in 1995.

    Although the results are classified, it seems that since parts of the project are still in operation at Fort Meade, perhaps they are having some positive results.

    • Michael John Scott Reply

      February 4, 2011 at 11:01 am

      I haven’t read that one. I will check it out. Thanks.

    • The Lawyer Reply

      February 4, 2011 at 2:49 pm

      Yeah, McConeagle was involved in Stargate.

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  5. Dusty Reply

    February 4, 2011 at 10:52 am

    Anything the CIA or Army was involved in doesn’t make me feel warm and fuzzy.

    • Krell Reply

      February 4, 2011 at 12:14 pm

      During the height of the Cold War, I think if the Soviets had a parade where they all wore aluminum foil hats,we would have immediately allocated 50 million and had the CIA studying it.

  6. Michael John Scott Reply

    February 4, 2011 at 10:54 am

    True or not the field is fascinating. I had a cousin who could predict, with remarkable accuracy, the outcome of games of chance. We would love going to the local fair with her. We always went home with armfuls of cool carnival stuff.

    There was a movie with George Clooney, The Men Who Stare at Goats, that I never saw but understand it was about some sort of CIA ESP experimentation.

    Great read by the way.

  7. Stimpson Reply

    February 4, 2011 at 12:04 pm

    Bem’s study found 53% “right” guessing instead of 50%. That’s a small difference. As well, it’s important to note that the subjects may have detected a pattern, maybe without realizing it, in the software’s “randomizing” of images. Add the “incentive” of seeing dirty pictures and – voila! – you have ESP magic!

    The big questions are about methodology and whether Bem’s work can be replicated with the same results. There are already huge doubts about his methodology.

    It seems like bunk to me. But, as some of you say, who knows? Maybe …

    • Krell Reply

      February 4, 2011 at 12:11 pm

      53 percent doesn’t seem like much until you have a large n sample amount. Mike, did you see the link to the University of Amsterdam paper refuting Bem statistical methods.

      There are huge doubts and controversy about his methods. But then science is all about being able to repeat the experiment by different researchers and coming up with the same results.

      With some of the research that I have seen on the IGNoble awards, I think that this subject could legitimately be studied more.

  8. Mother Hen Reply

    February 4, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    Having read both the original papers, I must conclude that the results are anecdotal at best. The method of analysis used will exaggerate positive effects (disproving the null hypothesis) ESPECIALLY in the presence of a large sample size.

    It is once again a case of crunching numbers using various methods until you can get the statistics to prove an effect. This is far too common in studies, especially in the “soft sciences”.

    • Duster Reply

      January 20, 2012 at 12:57 am

      You might want to look up “anecdotal” before you misuse the term again.

  9. Krell Reply

    February 4, 2011 at 12:39 pm

    Another link to a site on the New York Times about the Bem research paper. The article is critical of the results and the research methods.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/06/science/06esp.html?_r=2

  10. Gwendolyn H. Barry Reply

    February 4, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    That is my old alumnus dept? right? However; I have forever been for putting psi science on it’s own merit, sans the freaking psychology dept / major. I did manage a BS (I heard that Mike!) in psychology (as we all do / did) in psi science or what I was given the determination of: “parapsychology”. Much research and clinical investigations of sensory deprivation… heheeheheheh. However, this IS my accreditation.
    Ok, small technicality; it’s not “woo-ness” it is officially known as the ‘great booga booga’ (we charge larger with that distinction).

    Krell, you really REALLY think stargate is in a closet? I wonder… wonder much. Even the viewers (one is an artist who lives very close to you) think it’s still ongoing…

    This is great post. { If quantum mechanics hasn’t profoundly shocked you, you haven’t understood it yet.
    Niels Bohr} o yea baby.

    Now, lets discuss ant wars on tv and white noise! Really!

    • Krell Reply

      February 4, 2011 at 1:13 pm

      Gwen, I love your comments. And I will remember to reclassify to the “great booga booga”…LOL!

      Project Stargate was the umbrella name for a lot of projects concerning this remote viewing. The CIA closed down in 95, but it’s my understanding that there are still several parts of Stargate still continuing today.

      A non disputable fact is this country and the Soviets had large programs and research dollars with this stuff.

  11. cory Reply

    February 4, 2011 at 1:26 pm

    Quantum physics’ considerations about time are many and varied. One view would point out that time seems to be relative in a similar way to how space seems relative; that is, there is no up or down in space except that which is relative to the viewer, and there is no past of future in time except that which is relative to the timewatcher. A very good book on the topic, entitled “Quantum Psychology” was written by R.A. Wilson, a champion of Maybe Logic and English without the Is-of-Identity.

    In the book, he makes mention of some findings which bring up the valid hypothesis that our quantum experiments which verify the anthropocentric nature of our world may have indeed created the world to exist in order to perform those experiments. Have fun untangling that one…

    As for me, well, reality is the original rorschach. I suspect that the case may very well be that we’ve created ourselves retroactively, and this suspicion seems more valid than that of a limitless past in the hand of an unverifiably ancient Jewish guy. Cheers.

  12. Tim Waters Reply

    February 4, 2011 at 1:57 pm

    Hmm I knew you were going to write about this… Spooky huh..

    • Krell Reply

      February 4, 2011 at 6:20 pm

      What’s even spookier? That I knew you were going to say that. But then I also knew I would say what I’m saying in this comment as well. But if I knew, wouldn’t that change what I was going to say?

      Perhaps it’s my parallel self that is writing this, something from the multiverse. Ya, must be…I’m looking outside the window and it’s a springtime day, about 76 degrees, and I’m thinking I need to start mowing the lawn.

  13. The Lawyer Reply

    February 4, 2011 at 5:55 pm

    I’m a little bit like Agent Mulder–I want to believe. Either you do, or don’t. There’s plenty of evidence for both. I think those who don’t are taking the easy road. It must be nice to have it all figured out.

    • Krell Reply

      February 4, 2011 at 6:16 pm

      I used to think I had it all figured out, right about the time I was getting out of college and I was going to change the world.

      That crap got knock out of me right quick.

      “Time it was, and what a time it was, it was
      A time of innocence, a time of confidences”

    • cory Reply

      February 4, 2011 at 7:13 pm

      Fie on belief. Suspect, know, don’t know–these are the valid options.

      Well, at least I suspect they are. :P

      • cory Reply

        February 4, 2011 at 7:27 pm

        And now I know that there’s a time limit on editing/deleting posts. Groovy.

  14. Bee Reply

    February 5, 2011 at 10:04 am

    But other fields of science, particularly in the field of Quantum physics, have already shown experimental results that conflict with thinking about time in a linear way.

    This is the only reason I do not fully discount esp, ghost stories (some), UFO stories (some) and other phenomena. I said “fully” discount. Most I do. Occasionally I run across one that doesn’t send my bullshit meter in full defcon 4.

    I myself have had certain “experiences” concerning deja-vu and dreams. I doubt it had anything to do with predicting the “future”, and more possibly to do with non-linear time.

    However, as for this researcher – I tend to think that the counter questioning the methodology might be on the money.

    • Krell Reply

      February 5, 2011 at 11:46 am

      Bee, I just finished a book,”Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind”, that I can highly recommend. Very interesting.

      http://www.amazon.com/Phantoms-Brain-Probing-Mysteries-Human/dp/0688172172

      The reason that I brought that up is the book goes into the many strange mysteries beginning with phantom limb and continuing into some I had never heard about like “Charles Bonnet Syndrome” where people have vivid hallucinations like cartoon characters will be sitting next to them or suddenly a car will appear with one of their parents driving. Bizarre stuff.

      Sometimes I wonder if those brain tricks could be so realistic that events perceived as happening in one way, really happened in another way. The person that experienced this would swear to the events and in a way, they would be telling the truth from their prospective.

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  16. melvin goldstein Reply

    October 25, 2011 at 4:05 pm

    Numbers are the Supreme Court of science. However Godel proved that we may not prove everything. There are Physics Foibles!!

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