29 January 2009

A Simple Test

There is a very simple, straightforward test for paranormal abilities.

Two people, one who sends and one who receives. The sender thinks about something (e.g. a number, a color, a geometric shape), and the receiver reports what the sender is thinking. Repeat that a few dozen times. To make it all scientifically rigorous, you put them in separate rooms where they can't see each other. To make it even more rigorous, you require that they don't know each other, and possibly have never even met before the test.

That last requirement basically dooms the test to fail, at least with the way it would work to my personal understanding. But even without requiring that they don't know each other, the average person off the street still has no idea how to send or receive.

Most people broadcast their thoughts the way a light bulb gives off light. It goes out in all directions with no particular destination. It's stronger if there's any kind of emotional attachment to the thought, and weaker if the thought is neutral.

But to send a thought to a specific person, two things have to happen. First, you have to be able to find the other person. How close another mind is has nothing to do with physical geography, it has more to do with whether they're thinking about you (so it helps if they actually know you). How easy they are to identify depends on how well you know them - how well you can recognize their unique signatures. (Everyone has a unique signature.)

Also, sending a thought is more like beaming a laser. You want to focus it. Otherwise it takes a lot of energy and you get tired really really fast - and then you can't keep it up for the entire duration of the test.

Then there's receiving. Most people would think of it as sitting there passively, waiting for the outside thought to appear. However, a skilled receiver can also go over to the sender's mind and actively retrieve the thought (which is useful when the sender obviously has no idea how to send). This is easier if sender and receiver have compatible minds (are operating on the same wavelength, so to speak) - and, of course, if they are actually familiar with each other.

I once sat in on an informal run of this test at a college parapsychology club. The club leader sent, and everyone else wrote down what they thought he was thinking. We did numbers and colors, I believe. It took me all of the first round and part of the second to work out the mechanism involved (that is, the sender had no clue what he was doing and I had to go there) - so I scored low on the first one and high on the second. Statistically speaking, however, if your scientific experiment consists of aggregating everyone's scores in the room (which is what sensible scientists would do), your conclusion will be that it's not significantly different from random. Because most people don't know how to send or receive.

12 comments:

mattw said...

How did the other people in the parapshychology club score compared to your score? What was the club's conclusion?

What would you say your (for lack of a better word) range is? If you knew someone well and that person was in Florida, could you tune into them?

Let's do a quick test, I'm thinking of a number between 1 and 3... :)

MWT said...

I didn't see everybody's scores (there were a lot of people in that particular meeting), but the ones I saw were lower than mine. The club didn't really try to draw any conclusions - I think the guy in charge looked at it as more of a demo than an actual experiment. (Also, he was an English major. He probably didn't actually understand scientific method in the first place...)

As it happens, I have a friend in Florida that I can tune into. (Or could; haven't talked to her recently.) But where they are geographically isn't really a factor, since distances between minds doesn't have anything to do with physical distances.

If you want to run some tests, come over to the Back Fence sometime... ;)

mattw said...

I've noticed a tendency among the UCF that there may be something wrong with majoring in English. Not all English majors are completely unaware of the scientific meathod.

Guess my degree and $1.50 will get me a cup of coffee at least. *walks away grumbling*

:P



If you want to run some tests, come over to the Back Fence sometime.

When I have some free time, I think I'll take you up on that.

Eric said...

Matt, I wouldn't call it a tendency: c.f. the Big Liberal Arts vs. The Sciences Smackdown 2008 thread, or whatever the hell it was called, where JTS and I beat each other to a pulp.

(I claim total victory. Hey, I majored in History, I think I know what's in the historical record, thank you very much. ;-) )

MWT said...

Hey now, I almost majored in English and History myself. Nothing wrong with either of those types of majors. ;) I just don't expect them to understand how science works as thoroughly as science majors do. Especially after a few too many exposures to examples of products of U.S. public science education, via evolution vs. creationism debates.

Also, that particular English major didn't seem to have the details down all that well... >.>

Incidentally, were you thinking 3?

John the Scientist said...

Well, Eric, science majors still make more money that English majors right outta school, so...

:p

mattw said...

I was thinking of two. It was a bad joke, since two is the only number "between" one and three. :)

Eric said...

Two, Matt?

Don't you know that two can be as bad as one?

It's the loneliest number since the number one.

Or so I've heard....

MWT said...

Curses. Foiled again. T.T *shakes fist at trick questions*

2 was actually the first thing to come to mind (not by any paranormal means, just in general), but then I thought, "nah, too easy."

Jeri said...

Not to be a bitch - but I'm an English major (tech writing, actually) and make a hell of a lot more money than any science major I know. :)

And JTS, I'd argue that the reason you and your family are very comfortable is that you layered an MBA and marketing degree on top of your science creds - because practicing scientists just don't make much, unless they're of the rare rock star x private industry variety.

Back to the topic at hand, very interesting first hand description. I am not gifted at all in that area, and I used to lie awake at night and wish desperately for it after reading Anne McCaffrey's "Pegasus" series.

Tom said...

Hmmm, Pern made me want a dragon to talk to and fly with. :)

Anonymous said...

There has actually been scientifically rigorous investigation in this manner that has found the numbers are beyond the threshold of statistical randomness, indicating "something" is at work.

The original article I picked this up from is located below, and there's lots of links to chase if you want more:

http://www.skepticalinvestigations.org/New/Currentresearch/Koestler_parapsych.html

EDIT: I cant get logging in to work with my openid, so this is anonymous

-Avatar_Squadron