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Monday, 17 August 2015

Hard Answers for Psi Skeptics: Reasons Some Tests of Psychic Abilities Fail

Hard Answers for Psi Skeptics

Reasons Some Tests of Psychic Abilities Fail

Famed debunkers of psychic abilities may be missing the larger picture.  (TPopova/iStock; Loooby/iStock)
Famed debunkers of psychic abilities may be missing the larger picture. (TPopova/iStock; Loooby/iStock)

Some people seem to easily discredit psychic phenomena by setting up tests for purported psychics that they fail

For example, famed debunker James Randi tested several psychics as part of an ABC program, having them try to correctly discern images contained in several envelopes. It would seem that the psychics who could not guess correctly did not have special abilities.

While quick and simple tests are often highly publicized because they are suited to popular media, the more technical data that could support the existence of psychic abilities is easily buried in academic papers.

Another example is a test described by Joe Schwarcz, a chemistry professor at McGill University in Canada. At the annual USA Science & Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C., last year, he told the story of a woman who said she could leave her body and go to Paris, France, on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean and tell him what was happening there. He told her she didn’t have to go as far as Paris to prove her abilities to him. He said he would put a playing card on top of a filing cabinet in the room where he was giving a talk at the time and she could simply leave her body to see what the card was and report back to him. She was unable to do this.

It may seem clear-cut. If someone has psychic abilities, he or she should be able to do this or that on demand. But, such tests fail to take into account some key aspects of reported psychic abilities.

Level Above Chance

The general public may expect a higher success rate than is necessary to show someone has special abilities.

Someone watching Randi’s test on television may think a psychic should be able to guess correctly within the limited number of chances given on the show. However, in statistical analysis large numbers of tests are given to show an individual can guess correctly at a rate far above chance.

For example, a man named Hubert Pearce who seemed to have special abilities was tested at Duke University in the 1950s. He was given 74 tests, each of which consisted of 25 guesses. He averaged seven to eight correct guesses (out of 25) per test. “The odds against this occurring by chance are calculated to be 1 in 22 billion,” wrote David Ray Griffin in his book “Parapsychology, Philosophy, and Spirituality: A Postmodern Exploration.”

“The odds against this occurring by chance are calculated to be 1 in 22 billion.”
— David Ray Griffin

Pearce was given 1,850 guesses to give such a strong indication that his abilities are real. Randi’s subjects were given only a few chances. Schwarcz’s subject was given one chance only. 

Internal State

Researcher Dr. Ed Kelly at the University of Virginia has analyzed Pearce’s case along with similar successful studies and found that the correct guesses seem to come in clumps. These clumps correspond with a change in the test subject’s internal state. 

If the test subject’s internal state is off during a very limited number of tests, the guesses may all be incorrect. It can take many tests to hit on the right internal state and a significant clump of correct guesses.

Kelly also showed that the ability to “see” using psychic abilities may be compared to trying to discern skittering visual images. It is imprecise.

In the 1970s, Kelly was testing a man named Bill Delmore, a Yale law student. He showed Delmore slides of playing cards, briefly exposed under very poor viewing conditions. Delmore made systematic mistakes Kelly expected. For example, he mixed up face cards (queens, jacks, and kings) and he also mixed up aces, twos, and threes. When Delmore performed similar tests without any visual access to cards—using only his psychic abilities—he had similar results.

“This imagery was often degenerate in quality—the images would often be small, poorly formed, not well colored, poorly lit, fast-moving and so on.”
Dr. Ed Kelly, researcher, University of Virginia

Kelly interpreted this result in his paper “A Psychobiological Framework for Psi Research”: “He was doing basically just what he told us he was doing: That is, to do the psi [psi refers to any psychic phenomenon, such as psychokinesis, telepathy, or clairvoyancetask he would close his eyes, look into his internal world and observe visual images go skittering by. This imagery was often degenerate in quality—the images would often be small, poorly formed, not well colored, poorly lit, fast-moving and so on.”

Every ‘Psychic’ Is Unique

Not everyone’s abilities may manifest or function in exactly the same way. Thus, cookie-cutter experiments may fail whereas experiments tailored precisely to what the psychic says he is capable of may succeed.

One of the psychics tested by Randi, Jesse Bravo, told Epoch Times that the test was not suited to his ability. Trying to tap into information about inanimate objects for the purpose of a test just doesn’t work, Bravo said. The messages he receives are not completely within his control, and they are also not so precise. They are open to interpretation. There’s just no on-demand, 100 percent guarantees in this matter, he said. 

Cookie-cutter experiments may fail whereas experiments tailored precisely to what the psychic says he is capable of may succeed.

Dr. Gary Schwartz received his doctorate from Harvard, taught psychiatry and psychology at Yale, and is now a professor at the University of Arizona. He has studied individuals who said they are able to predict the future and found some he considers “the real deal.”

“If you’re going to test someone who claims to do extraordinary things, it’s essential that you design the experiment to be as close as possible to what they actually do,” said Schwartz on his website. “And if you don’t design an experiment around their actual skills, you can end up asking people to do things that they actually can’t do or that don’t really represent what they do.”

Kelly wrote: “It’s inappropriate to assume that different successful psi subjects all succeed in the same way, even at the same task. In fact we have some quite strong evidence against that point of view. On the physiological side, it’s also the case that high between-subjects variance is the rule rather than the exception.” Kelly studies physiological changes in subjects during psychic events, including brain activity.

While quick and simple tests are often highly publicized because they are suited to popular media, the more technical data that could support the existence of psychic abilities is easily buried in academic papers.

How to Prove the Paranormal: Scientists Discuss



A growing number of scientists are calling for a shift in scientific methods to acknowledge phenomena commonly experienced but difficult to study according to conventional methods.

Here’s a look at some insights from scientists who explore paranormal phenomena or matters related to human consciousness. They discuss how science can move forward.

1.  Dr. Gary Schwartz

Dr. Gary Schwarz 
 Dr. Gary Schwarz (Screenshot/YouTube)

2.  Dr. Bernard Beitman

Dr. Bernard Beitman, a psychiatrist at the University of Virginia, proposes the establishment of a transdisciplinary study called “Coincidence Studies.”

He wrote in a 2011 paper: “One of the biggest challenges in the development of the new discipline of Coincidence Studies is providing a systematic place in scientiļ¬c research for subjectivity and for human consciousness. Meaningful coincidences depend upon the mind of the observer. The question of how to develop methods and an accompanying technical language that includes and respects the subjective element built into the fabric of coincidence needs to be answered.”

3. Dr. Alan Sanderson

Dr. Alan Sanderson is a psychiatrist, hypnotherapist, and spirit-release therapist. He founded the Spirit Release Foundation in 1999, an organization dedicated to the clinical treatment of spirit possession.

Dr. Sanderson wrote in a 2003 paper: “I want to stress that the concept of spirit attachment and the practice of spirit release are not based on faith, as are religious and mystical beliefs. They are based on the observation of clinical cases and their response to standard therapeutic techniques.”

“This is a scientific approach, albeit one that takes account of subjective experience and is not confined by contemporary scientific theory.”

He noted that this field of study still faces some obstacles, though he hopes to see those clear as it progresses. The discipline is relatively new; much “suspicion, ignorance, and misinformation about the subject” exists; and funding is an issue.

How Do You Form a Control Group for ESP?

In their 1973 book “The Challenge of Chance,” Alister Hardy and Robert Harvie explore a widely publicized test of extrasensory perception (ESP). The experiment did not provide strong evidence for ESP, but perhaps the methods didn’t fit the subject.

People were asked to read other people’s minds and draw what they saw. For the small portion of pictures that seemed to match, the researchers were tempted to say it may truly have been because of telepathy. But they stopped short of that admission, in part because the success rate in the control group was high compared to the group being tested.

But what if not all the people in the test group who claimed to have the ability did, while a few were genuine? What if many people have ESP and a random sampling of people are actually able to sense to some degree what another person is thinking on without necessarily having felt in the past that they had some special abilities?

Future Experiments

Collective Consciousness 
 Collective consciousness app. (Screenshot/Indiegogo.com)

Smartphone apps are being used to study collective consciousness and the phenomenon of coincidence. Users report their experiences in real time and the wealth of data collected helps researchers.

Stanford Physicist William A. Tiller has developed what he says is a method of physically detecting human intention. He has discovered a powerful realm in the space between particles that contains an energy our conventional instruments cannot usually detect. Tiller has realized, however, that human consciousness or intention can activate that mysterious energy, making it interact with the substances we are able to detect. He can thereby study the physics of human intention and this energy.

In the age of mass communication, anecdotes and amateur investigators can often provide a starting point for more in-depth investigations. Here’s an example of a netizen who tested his friend’s paranormal ability and shared it on Reddit:

“[My friend] claimed he was able to leave his body during sleep and basically travel around in his spirit form. I took it with a grain of salt for obvious reasons, but I didn’t dismiss him right off the bat because I knew him pretty well and he wasn’t the type of kid that would try to troll me about these things.

“At the end of the night [of hanging out at my place], I told him hey, why don’t you prove to me that you can really fly around as a spirit and come to my room tonight [traveling from his house to mine during sleep].

“I came up with the idea that I would write a note on a post it and he would have to guess what I wrote. He agreed.

“Fast forward to the next morning. I get a call from him telling me that he had … read the note. … He got it right.

“This experience has really blown my mind. I know it would be hard for most of you to believe me, but this really happened and I am 100 percent positive that there was no way he could have seen what I had written on that post it.”

*Concept illustration of human mind via Shutterstock

For more information about psychic abilities see http://nexusilluminati.blogspot.com/search/label/psi
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1 comment:

  1. I no longer watch TV, but when I did, one of my favorite shows was "Psychic Detectives". These were real people. The show would highlight a crime that could not be solved by the detectives. Either the family of the crime victim would approach the psychic or certain enlightened police detectives would seek out the psychic, and the crime would be solved. Yes, psychics can have various abilities, and it is not a one size fits all phenomenon. Instead of scientists denial of psychic phenomenon, the scientists should broaden their test formats and individualize the tests. By the way, "Psychic Detectives" can be viewed on YouTube.


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