Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Who's there?

How many of you have had the experience of thinking of someone you know and suddenly having them call you out of the blue?

Those conventional explanation is that this is simple coincidence, and that you never remember all the times when you think about somebody and they don't call.

Rupert Sheldrake wanted to test this scientifically and see if there was evidence that people could determine the identity of an unknown caller at better than chance rates. He advertised in various newspapers looking for people who felt that they knew who was calling them before they picked up the phone.

After a series of preliminary trials, Sheldrake picked the most successful participants for a more rigorous set of trials under videotaped supervision. Here is the abstract of his paper:

The authors tested whether participants (N = 4) could tell who was calling before answering the telephone. In each trial, participants had 4 potential callers, one of whom was selected at random by the experimenter. Participants were filmed on time-coded videotape throughout the experimental period. When the telephone began ringing, the participants said to the camera whom they thought the caller was and, in many cases, also how confident they felt in their guesses. The callers were usually several miles away, and in some cases thousands of miles away. By guessing at random, there was a 25% chance of success. In a total of 271 trials, there were 122 (45%) correct guesses (p = 10-12). The 95% confidence limits of this success rate were from 39% to 51%. In most trials, some of the callers were familiar to the participants and others were unfamiliar. With familiar callers there was a success rate of 61% (n = 100; p = 10-13). With unfamiliar callers the success rate of 20% was not significantly different from chance. When they said they were confident about their guesses, participants were indeed more successful than when they were not confident.

Sheldrake has also studied the same phenomena in conjunction with emails. The results here also are astronomically significant, with a large effect size.

And Lobach and Bierman successfully replicated the telephone telepathy study, although their effect size and statistical significance is much less than Sheldrake's. This might be because Sheldrake advertised in large-circulation newspapers for people who felt they often experienced telephone telepathy, while Lobach and Bierman merely circulated an emailed request for volunteers among people they knew, likely reaching far fewer potential subjects with lesser abilities.


Anonymous said...

Dear M.C. Apologies that this comment isn't directly related to the above post. I would like to draw your attention to AntiMatters (http://anti-matters.org), a recently launched online journal addressing issues in science and the humanities from non-materialistic perspectives. Please take a look at the journal's Focus and Scope and its Editorial Team (under About). If you think it appropriate, would be so kind as to announce through a regular post that AntiMatters invites qualified submissions for its inaugural issue? Thanks and best,

Ulrich Mohrhoff (http://thisquantumworld.com), Managing Editor of AntiMatters

M.C. said...

Hi Ulrich.

I was just looking at your blog today, and made a few comments there. I've become quite intrigued with the Pondicherry interpretation of quantum mechanics.

I'll definitely post a notice about AntiMatters here on AMNAP in the near future. . .