Thursday, January 6, 2011

Respected Journal Publishes ESP results

Daryl J. Bem, an emeritus professor at Cornell, has published a paper on ESP in the The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology that’s causing a lot of controversy.  See the NY Times article.

Now, from the article alone, I can’t conclusively identify possible sources of error in his experiments, but I do have questions about the results.  The human mind is a strange thing, and operates on patterns that might lead one to think that something extraordinary its going on.

Before I get into my own experience, I want to discuss how patterns of thought manifest themselves in human endeavor.  I'm sure we've all sat in those interminable literature classes, and listened to the teacher wax philosophical about the hidden meanings and allegories  inside the stories we've been forced to read, how the author strove to insert symbolism and metaphor into the story elements that lent themselves to microcosms of the greater story.

As an aspiring author myself, I'm here to tell you it's all a load of crap.  The author likely never gave these things a single thought, and most certainly would be surprised to hear how the teacher carries on about the hidden meanings and symbology.  He or she was just trying to spin a good yarn.  The fact that all of these metaphors crept into the storyline just illustrates how the human mind works and thinks in patterns. In one of my stories that's being developed I have a perfectly innocent object that's manipulated by a couple of the main characters, and a reader saw it as a metaphor for how the one character is manipulating the very soul of the other.  Well, shucks, I sure never meant that, but by golly you're right!  Cool!

My point is that you have to discount seeming coincidences when patterns of thought are at play if you're trying to analyze results of human behavior.  Back to my ESP story:

I once did an experiment in ESP that convinced me that there was something to it.  I’m not submitting it for peer review, because there was no objective oversight, and too many ways that a critic could say that the results were compromised, and I have no objective evidence to refute such criticism.  All I can say is that the test was designed to be double-blind, we did our best to make it a clean test, and any source of contamination of the results was thrown out.  In fact, in one run of the test, the result was compromised, and I discarded that data as useless.  But we did have one good run that made me a believer that there was something to this.

This was in the mid to late seventies.  I had a clock radio, which I typically left on at night, playing very softly, almost inaudibly, on the local pop station.  Our experiment was designed like this:

On a set night, I would go to bed a little early, and try to be asleep by a set time.  Sometime after that time, my friend, some miles away, would concentrate on trying to contact me telepathically, and insert a telepathic suggestion that I would come awake when I heard a particular song on the radio.  The actual song was not agreed upon in advance, I would have no idea what it would be, except that it would be one that was currently popular, so as to be sure that it would be played sometime in the night.  If I awakened in the night, I would write down the name of whatever song was playing at the time, and present that to my partner, who would also have written down the song he selected.

We only did three or four runs of the trial.  One time the result was contaminated because my partner didn’t understand the protocol and told me what song he would use.  The other times, there were issues of when the receiving subject actually went to bed, etc that made the results garbage.  Other subjects weren’t comfortable with sleeping with music playing in the room, as I was.  What made me a believer was the experience I had on the one successful run we had of this trial.  I was the receiving subject and was in bed and asleep at the appointed time.  The radio was playing softly across the room, almost inaudible to me.  I had no idea what song was to be my “trigger”.

At about 3:20 am, I was dreaming, when suddenly the opening fanfare of the theme from Star Wars crashed through my dream like a mac truck.  It sounded loud, like it was being played at full volume, and it cut through my sleep and jerked me instantly awake, fully and alertly awake, not a groggy, fuzzy awake.  I was a fan of Star Wars, even owned the album so it wasn’t unpleasant.  I sat up in bed and looked at the clock, noting the time, and realized that I could barely hear the music, it was nowhere as loud as in my dream, certainly not loud enough to wake me the way it had.  And I had come instantly awake from the very first note, from what had felt like a deep, dream-filled sleep. By all rights, there was no reason I shouldn’t have just slept through it.

The next day we exchanged double-blind notes of what song had been selected, and they matched up.  He had sent me a message to wake when I heard the Star Wars theme.  Could I have simply wakened because I heard a song I liked?  Possibly, but unlikely.  Remember, I habitually slept with the radio on, and the Star Wars theme was quite popular, yet it had never wakened me before or since (I no longer have this habit, of course).  It was the clarity of the event, the sharp transition - almost urgency - from sleep to wakefulness that impressed me.

Recently I read a philosophical postulate that suggested that reality is a hologram that’s formed by the collective consciousness of everyone, and that time is just a point of observation within that hologram that keeps shifting.  If you accept this model, then the hologram exists in all temporal states simultaneously, and is in fact dependent on the data of other states to inform the given state you have to be observing at the moment.  This model suggests that precognition, ESP, etc is just learning to game the hologram and either be aware of other vantage points in the matrix, or actually alter the data that makes up the hologram.  But that’s a subject for another discussion.

Now, take the blue pill and return to your regularly scheduled hallucination.