Thursday, May 31, 2007

Transplanted personalities. . .

Some fascinating anecdotes about personalities being transplanted along with donor organs. This is obviously compatible with field theories of memory like Sheldrake's morphic resonance and incompatible with reductionistic neuralism. . .

H/T Ulrich Mohrhoff

David Chalmers and John Horgan discuss consciousness

If you haven't yet, go watch this fascinating video of Chalmers and Horgan discussing the nature of consciousness.

Why do so many people resist science?

This self-congratulatory essay has been gathering a lot of commentary around the blogosphere. Basically authors Bloom and Weisberg are posing the question (and quite a pose it is) 'why are so many non-scientists so deluded about reality? (of course we scientists have it in the bag)'

From that fundamental misunderstanding of science as a position, not a method, Bloom and Weisberg go on to enumerate their prejudices:

Many believe in the efficacy of unproven medical interventions, the mystical nature of out-of-body experiences, the existence of supernatural entities such as ghosts and fairies, and the legitimacy of astrology, ESP, and divination.

Bloom and Weisberg sneer at these beliefs as "unscientific". But of course what is unscientific is to make a dogmatic judgement for or against the reality of a phenomenon without evidence. Actually, most of their "roll of anti-scientific errors" are in fact supported by scientific research and anecdotal evidence of the highest quality. These two authors seem to feel that all belief systems should be discounted, except their own, which cannot be questioned or examined scientifically because it is a priori true.

The question must be asked, why do people like Bloom and Weisberg resist the scientific inquiry of their materialistic belief system?

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Fashionable stupidity

I shall not commit the fashionable stupidity of regarding everything I cannot explain as a fraud. - Carl Gustav Jung

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Nobody has the slightest idea how anything material could be conscious. Nobody even knows what it would be like to have the slightest idea about how anything material could be conscious. So much for the philosophy of consciousness. - Jerry Fodor

H/T: Ulrich Mohrhoff

Great interview with Deborah Blum

Michael Tymn begins his interview with Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer Deborah Blum by recounting a brief history of the history of psychic research:

A century ago, roughly between 1885 and 1925, some distinguished scholars and scientists conducted some very thorough investigations of mediums. Their objective was to determine if spirits were really communicating through the mediums and, concomitantly, whether consciousness survives bodily death. Almost without exception, they came to the same conclusion: that spirit communication was real and that consciousness does survive physical death. The few exceptions accepted that certain mediums were not charlatans; they simply didn't know what to make of it and sat on the fence to protect themselves from ridicule by their closed-minded colleagues, who felt it was beneath their dignity to consider such foolishness.

When I see modern scholars and scientists aping those “closed-minded colleagues” of yesteryear and their ancient ancestors, I've got to believe that evolution has come full circle. Either that, or there are checks and balances in the evolutionary plan to make sure that we don't progress too rapidly. A recent example of what I am talking about is a comment in TIME Magazine by Steven Pinker, a Harvard University psychologists, that “attempts to contact the souls of the dead” by scientists of a century ago “turned up only cheap magic tricks.”

Having thoroughly studied the research done by those psychical researchers of a century ago, I find it difficult to believe that anyone could make such a statement, unless he or she hasn't really dug into the material and is simply suffering from the aping syndrome, the tendency to want to look bright and not foolish by smirking, scoffing, and sneering at things that are beyond the grasp of current science.

After introducing us to Blum's area of research, Tymn goes on to ask some good questions which Blum adroitly answers. Here's the first:

Tymn: What prompted you to write the book?

Blum: Curiosity. I had been researching the early history of psychology for another book and I kept finding references to William James losing his mind, going astray into the world of the weird. And I thought, ‘Well, that's strange because I thought James was considered an intellectual statesman.' So I got a book that Gardner Murphy had put together called ‘William James and Psychical Research.' And as soon as I read it, I saw the possibilities. First, James was far more adventurous and less stuffy than I'd always thought. His personality and that of his correspondents - Fred Myers, Edmund Gurney, Oliver Lodge - just shone in their writing. Second, I found myself agreeing with James perspective on the attitude of science toward psychical studies. More than 100 years ago, he wrote: ‘The rigorously scientific mind may, in truth, easily overshoot the mark. Science means, first of all, a certain dispassionate method. To suppose that it means a certain set of results that one should pink one's faith upon and hug forever is sadly to mistake its genius and degrades the scientific body to the status of a cult.' And that is as true today as it was then. And finally, I realized that there were some wonderful inexplicable supernatural events, uncovered by this group that I wanted to recreate. One of them, I use as the opening of my book - it's called ‘The Woman on the Bridge'.

Now go read Tymn's interview, and check out the rest of his blog while you are at it!

(HT: Michael Prescott)

Suppression of ideas. . .

The suppression of uncomfortable ideas may be common in religion and politics, but it is not the path to knowledge, it has no place in the endeavour of science. - Carl Sagan

A cult?

The rigorously scientific mind may, in truth, easily overshoot the mark. Science means, first of all, a certain dispassionate method. To suppose that it means a certain set of results that one should pink one's faith upon and hug forever is sadly to mistake its genius and degrades the scientific body to the status of a cult. - William James

Monday, May 28, 2007

When half a brain is better than a whole. . .

A fascinating article showing how the brain is able to heal and reroute functionality, even when half of it is removed. Here are a few excerpts:

The operation known as hemispherectomy—where half the brain is removed—sounds too radical to ever consider, much less perform. In the last century, however, surgeons have performed it hundreds of times for disorders uncontrollable in any other way. Unbelievably, the surgery has no apparent effect on personality or memory.

The first known hemispherectomy was performed on a dog in 1888 by German physiologist Friedrich Goltz. In humans, neurosurgeon Walter Dandy pioneered the operation at Johns Hopkins University in 1923 on a brain tumor patient. (That man lived for more than three years before ultimately succumbing to cancer.). . .

Nowadays, the surgery is performed on patients who suffer dozens of seizures every day that resist all medication, and which are due to conditions that mostly afflict one hemisphere. "These disorders are often progressive and damage the rest of the brain if not treated," University of California, Los Angeles, neurosurgeon Gary Mathern says. Freeman concurs: "Hemispherectomy is something that one only does when the alternatives are worse."

Neurosurgeons have performed the operation on children as young as three months old. Astonishingly, memory and personality develop normally. A recent study found that 86 percent of the 111 children who underwent hemispherectomy at Hopkins between 1975 and 2001 are either seizure-free or have nondisabling seizures that do not require medication. The patients who still suffer seizures usually have congenital defects or developmental abnormalities, where brain damage is often not confined to just one hemisphere, Freeman explains.

Another study found that children that underwent hemispherectomies often improved academically once their seizures stopped. "One was champion bowler of her class, one was chess champion of his state, and others are in college doing very nicely," Freeman says.

Of course, the operation has its downside: "You can walk, run—some dance or skip—but you lose use of the hand opposite of the hemisphere that was removed. You have little function in that arm and vision on that side is lost," Freeman says.

Remarkably, few other impacts are seen. If the left side of the brain is taken out, "most people have problems with their speech, but it used to be thought that if you took that side out after age two, you'd never talk again, and we've proven that untrue," Freeman says. "The younger a person is when they undergo hemispherectomy, the less disability you have in talking. Where on the right side of the brain speech is transferred to and what it displaces is something nobody has really worked out."

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Don't set an impossible bar. . .

Here is the second minor quibble with Alex I mentioned in my last post.

Stephen Novella stated the following:

In the end we have the same goals, design research that is carried out in such a way that it doesn’t matter what you believe, that the results will be valid despite the belief of the researcher...

Alex cheered this comment multiple times in the podcast. However I am not sure how realistic this is. Even clinical research trials in medicine show strong lab and experimenter effects, and standard psychology experiments do as well. I don't see how anyone can expect and hope that parapsychology experiments will ever be conducted without experimenter effects, since no other human subject science is able to do so. Sheep / goat performance differences for experimenters are the rule in parapsychology as in other fields of human-subject experimental science. Additionally, if the psi hypothesis is correct, then psi influence can work both for believers and disbelievers in psi phenomena to reveal or obscure psi effects.

This does not mean that every experiment by a sheep will demonstrate results, nor that every experiment by a goat will point at the null hypothesis. But there is a definite tendency for this in psi research, as well as clinical trials, standard psychology experiments, animal experiments, and other experiments with probabalistic results.

I'd also suggest additionally that if one's goal is primarily to "prove" psi or spiritual reality and "defeat" materialism once and for all one might well find oneself walking down the path tread by Susan Blackmore and Louie Savva, and ending up in the same place as they did. Because that kind of motivation does not seem to be correlated with fostering psi phenomena.

Science is a method, not a white coat. . .

I was listening to Alex Tsakiris today and uncharacteristically found myself disagreeing a bit with him. He was talking to Stephen Novella and kept saying to Stephen "You're a scientist" and "I'm not a scientist" and "I'm just a layman".

The problem with that is that science is a verb, not a noun. A method, not a position. So anyone can be practicing science, or failing to practice science, at any particular time. A white coat and the honorific "doctor" in front of our name and many years spent in a medieval-style apprenticeship resulting in a fancy certificate doesn't mean that we are approaching a phenomenon scientifically, and lacking those qualifications doesn't mean we are failing to use the scientific method.

Indeed it seems clear to me that often those educated in science and paid to do it approach the topic of psi phenomena in the least scientific way imaginable. Confirmation bias is ubiquitous, and all of us are susceptible to it. Never forget that!

I have another small quibble with Alex's comments today and I will post on it soon. . .

More Richard Conn Henry

Richard Conn Henry has another delightfully irreverent essay on the implications of Quantum Mechanics, this time commenting on a recent experiment testing "realism" interpretations of QM:

Alain Aspect is the physicist who performed the key experiment that established that if you want a real universe, it must be non-local (Einstein’s “spooky action at a distance”). Aspect comments on new work by his successor in conducting such experiments, Anton Zeilinger and his colleagues, who have now performed an experiment that suggests that “giving up the concept of locality is not sufficient to be consistent with quantum experiments, unless certain intuitive features of realism are abandoned.”
Be clear what is going on here. Quantum mechanics itself is not crying out for such experiments! Quantum mechanics is doing just fine, thank you, having performed flawlessly since inception. No, it is people whose cherished philosophical beliefs are being threatened that cry out for such experiments, exactly as Einstein used to do, and with exactly the same hope (we think in vain): that quantum mechanics can be refined to the point where it requires (or at least allows) belief in the independent reality of the natural world it describes.

Quantum mechanics makes no mention of reality (Figure 1). Indeed, quantum mechanics proclaims, “We have no need of that hypothesis.” Now we are beginning to see that quantum mechanics might actually exclude any possibility of mind-independent reality and already does exclude any reality that resembles our usual concept of such (Aspect: “it implies renouncing the kind of realism I would have liked”). Non-local causality is a concept that had never played any role in physics, other than in rejection (“action-at-a-distance”), until Aspect showed in 1981 that the alternative would be the abandonment of the cherished belief in mind-independent reality; suddenly, spooky-action-at-a-distance became the lesser of two evils, in the minds of the materialists.

Why do people cling with such ferocity to belief in a mind-independent reality? It is surely because if there is no such reality, then ultimately (as far as we can know) mind alone exists. And if mind is not a product of real matter, but rather is the creator of the illusion of material reality (which has, in fact, despite the materialists, been known to be the case, since the discovery of quantum mechanics in 1925), then a theistic view of our existence becomes the only rational alternative to solipsism.

Hat tip: Alex.

Monday, May 21, 2007

An optical delusion of consciousness. . .

A human being is part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest. A kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from the prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. - Albert Einstein

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Real science (Repost from AMNAP 1.0)

Read Michael Prescott explain to "scientists" and "journalists" how to do their own job.

Dubious claim (Repost from AMNAP 1.0)

Michael Prescott covers the self-destruction of a dubious claim. . .

Psi in the real world (Repost from AMNAP 1.0)

While skeptics debate whether "science" proves that psi phenomena cannot possibly exist, intriguing evidence keeps showing up out in the real world. .

A fascinating project (Repost from AMNAP 1.0)

This man is reproducing some of the enormous stone-block construction of the ancient world using only muscle power and simple handmade machines. Quite remarkable!

Deja Vu (Repost from AMNAP 1.0)

I originally planned to title this post, Bad Science part two. Because this is yet another example of how the sociological mainstream of science investigates a phenomenon presupposing the parameters of the debate in advance, and ignoring any evidence that its presuppositions might be mistaken.

Deja vu is a very common, yet extraordinarily odd subjective phenomenon which many or most people have experienced at least once in their life. Here is a brief description from Wikipedia:

The term deja vu describes the experience of feeling that one has witnessed or experienced a new situation previously. . . The experience of deja  vu is usually accompanied by a compelling sense of familiarity, and also a sense of "eerieness," "strangeness," or "weirdness." The "previous" experience is most frequently attributed to a dream, although in some cases there is a firm sense that the experience "genuinely happened" in the past.

After reading about or experiencing deja vu, one comes to the obvious question: is this just a misguided feeling of familiarity, or is the feeling due to an actual repetition of something the experiencer is remembering from a previous dream or other altered state of consciousness? A few minutes research on the internet turned out the following stories that bear on this question:

1. for example, a few years ago i was in a building that had posters taped to the walls. i was walking and talking with my friend, but i was distracted by one of the posters as we walked by it. i stopped, walked back to the poster, and said, "that poster is going to fall." my friend and i stood there for a few seconds, then the poster fell.

2. Alright, when I was about 14 and only friends with which is my girlfriend now I had a dream of being on a train. So I was sitting on this train I was sitting next to someone I don't remember the face but I remember the hair color and holding my hand, and two people infront of us(we were sitting at the very last seat against the wall), young couple. Across from me was an African American woman with spiked curly hair and glasses and a tan sort of suit, she was sitting next to a nerdy looking cacausian male who had a newspaper, behind them was a man, looking like a musician with his bike tucked away behind him, he had a beard and glasses. Also behind the couple infront of myself there was a guy built like a wrestler in a very nice suit and seemed very professional.

Well when I had went to Washington D.C in August I had went on a train, this was with my girlfriend. We chose a seat at the very end at the wall, my girlfriend holding my hand with the same dirty blonde hair color in my dream, but now the people infront of me I recognized, this was her sister and her boyfriend and they looked exactly like they did in my dream years ago, I looked across and there was the African American lady, the nerdy guy and the musician and the wrestler built looking guy.

3. I often find myself in these awkward situations, seeing dreams play out. Over the years, I can even see the situations coming. The other day, I was in my office planning to work late. All of a sudden someone comes into my office, then another. The dream begins playing back. I sat there like I was watching a movie, even interacted with the cast. I was freaked and didn't work late that night. Which also bothers me. I often wonder how my decisions during these moments affect the outcome.
I've been searching for anybody that understands this stuff. I consider myself an educated person, well studied and well read. This stuff literally freaks me out. If I ever told my friends, family, or co-workers, I just don't know. I have mentions stuff like this in general conversation, just to test the waters.
Somebody say something.

4. I had a conversation yesterday with Hendrik and Elise about those times when you experience something you're sure you've dreamed about in the past. She had a dream scene that she saw, months later, in a movie. I had a mundane dream sequence of driving in a car with Cristian and two other people I didn't know in a U-shaped parking lot; months later, when it happened, I almost had to pull over.

5. I have been experiencing deja vu for almost my entire life, but today I had the most vivid of all: I was watching a TV show, one that I have never seen or heard of before, and then the feeling started, I saw that before and I actualy recited three lines before they were spoken on the show. Unfortunatley now I cant remember much. My question is if deja vu is caused by some temporary mulfunction of the brain, how could I have known the future ?

And here are two incidents I relayed previously on AMNAP:

In 1990 I was sitting with some friends in the Rathskeller, a favorite nachos-and-toppings hangout next to the NCSU campus where I was enrolled. Suddenly I had a strong feeling of deja-vu and I recognized the couple sitting at the next table over. Because the experience was stronger than previous deja-vu experiences I wondered if it would be possible for me to actually predict what was going to happen. I realized that I could "remember" what was going to transpire. I said to myself "that woman is about to say: " and came up with a 12-15 word sentence that I remembered her saying. About 5 seconds later, she turned and uttered exactly the sentence I "remembered".

In 1991 in another cafe, Elmo's Diner in a nearby town, I had exactly the same experience. Again, I "remembered" what a woman sitting at a nearby table was about to say to the man sitting with her. Again, she said it, word for word, about 5 seconds after I recalled the words I "remembered" her saying. In neither of these cases did I know the woman or her companion.

Now let's look at the so-called "scientific" explanation of the phenomenon from the same Wikipedia article:

In recent years, deja vu has been subjected to serious psychological and neurophysiological research. The most likely candidate for explanation, according to scientists in these fields, is that deja vu is not an act of "precognition" or "prophecy" but is actually an anomaly of memory; it is the impression that an experience is "being recalled" which is false. This is substantiated to an extent by the fact that in most cases the sense of "recollection" at the time is strong, but any circumstances of the "previous" experience (when, where and how the earlier experience occurred) are quite uncertain. Likewise, as time passes, subjects can exhibit a strong recollection of having the "unsettling" experience of deja vu itself, but little to no recollection of the specifics of the event(s) or circumstances they were "remembering" when they had the deja vu experience, and in particular, this may result from an overlap between the neurological systems responsible for short-term memory (events which are perceived as being in the present) and those responsible for long-term memory (events which are perceived as being in the past).

Notice the "scientific" explanation assumes that deja vu couldn't possibly be what it seems to be, living through a previously remembered precognitive experience. Notice how it conveniently ignores evidence from incidents which indicate that the precognitive explanation is the correct one.

Mainstream science has an extraordinarily poor understanding of subjective experiences. Perhaps that is because it refuses to question its foundational assumptions that consciousness is fully explainable through chemical and physical properties of brain tissues, that precognition is impossible in principle, and that anyone who has an experience to the contrary is deluded or mentally unbalanced.<

Lewontin lets the cat escape. . . (Repost from AMNAP 1.0)

Here is an extremely interesting citation of Harvard biologist Richard Lewontin:

We take the side of science despite the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, despite its failure to fulfil many of its extravagant promises, despite the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories because we have a prior commitment to materialism.

It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a divine foot in the door.

Uncovering Fraud (Repost from AMNAP 1.0)

One of the problems with psi research is sifting out the chaff. It's no secret that many people make fraudulent claims of extraordinary abilities, whether for personal profit or to garner attention.

Dr. Gary Schwartz is best known for his VERITAS program - revolutionary investigations of the abilities of mediums to obtain anomalous information - perportedly through communication with deceased individuals (AMNAP will be discussing this research in the near future). But his Human Energy Systems laboratory at the University of Arizona also conducts research into a wide range of other unusual phenomena and controversial claims. Dr. Schwartz has made it very clear that if any of his investigations uncovers evidence of fraud or trickery, he will expose it. In this case that is exactly what happened:

Abstract: The purported ability of a seventeen-year-old female, investigated for seven years in China, to perceive information without using visual and kinesthetic cues, was studied. In one experiment, five letters from A to Z and five numbers from 0 to 100 were randomly selected by computer, written on small sheets of paper and individually folded and placed in a sealed envelope. The folded stimuli were removed one by one and placed into a cloth bag that was opaque to light; the bag was tied below the participant's right elbow. The participant was accurate for all ten trials. In a second experiment, three video cameras carefully monitored the participant's hand movements; in addition, both ends of the folded papers were sealed with clear tape. Careful analysis of the clear tape and the videotapes revealed evidence of practiced deception. Data were also collected from a 25-year-old graduate student and a 7-year-old child not employing a cloth bag. Their data suggest that deception is not necessarily involved in all cases of purported anomalous perception.

Scientific proof of psi phenomena (Repost from AMNAP 1.0)

The phrase "Scientific Proof" is a high standard to acheive. In science, a phenomena is considered proven if it has met the standard of multiple independent replications, as determined through meta-analysis of all the data available. And certain experiments demonstrating psi phenomena have easily met that standard of proof.

The first question to answer is "what is the meaning of replication". A simple naive belief in replication is that it refers to a phenomenon which can be demonstrated at the 95% confidence level in every single experiment.

Unfortunately, in science involving huge numbers of uncontrollable variables such as human beings, this sort of replication almost never happens. Instead, replication is a statistical phenomenon.

In order to illustrate this phenomenon, Dean Radin selects the example of studies on aspirin as a preventative for second heart attacks in his seminal book on the meta-analysis of psi, The Conscious Universe. Today, everyone knows that aspirin is an effective preventative treatment for heart attacks. Why is this an accepted scientific fact? Because a large meta-analysis of multiple studies comparing aspirin to placebo showed an overall significant effect far beyond the chance expectation. See Radin's figure 4.2 below. Note that the vertical line with horizontal endpoints in these charts shows the 95% confidence interval with the actual measurement value in the center.

Notice that only 5 of the 25 individual studies actually returned statistically significant results on their own. If we relied on statistical significance of individual studies, we would say "aspirin's effects on heart disease can't be replicated" because of all these individual "failed studies". In fact, 3 of the 25 studies showed a (non-significant) negative effect from aspirin versus placebo! That is why we need to use a meta-analysis of studies from multiple independent researchers. The combined meta-analysis clearly shows us that aspirin has a statistically significant effect in preventing heart attacks. Aspirin therapy has gone up against the most rigorous examination possible and come out with the scientific seal of approval.

So what happens when we examine the evidence for psi phenomena? Certain categories of psi experiments have been extensively conducted at independent institutions by seperate research teams. These psi phenomena have all been subject to meta-analysis by Dean Radin and other independent meta-analysists, including skeptics such as Ray Hyman. And the effects are astronomically significant. For certain types of experiment such as the Ganzfeld and auto-ganzfeld, the time, effort and expense means that most of the data which could have been collected has been included in these meta-analyses, so no possible "file drawer" effects can even exist.

Below I have reproduced Radin's charts for meta-analysis of dream telepathy experiments, the 1985 Ganzfeld meta-analysis by Hyman and Honorton, an updated Ganzfeld meta-analysis, high-security ESP card tests, RNG PK experiments and dice-rolling PK experiments. Although all of these meta-analyses include data from trials showing non-significant effects, the overall meta-analysis is clear. These phenomena all show enormous, often astronomical deviations from the null hypothesis.

So the answer is clear. Certain psi phenomena have gone up against the most rigorous examination possible and come out with the scientific seal of approval. So why do so many scientists and "rationalists" think that psi is "nonsense", "without a shred of real evidence"? I'm afraid that is more of a sociological question than a scientific one.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Open-source science

Alex Tsakiris of the Skeptiko podcast and Annalisa Ventola of the Public Parapsychology blog have just publically launched a project that I believe has an enormous potential to change the way science is done.

Go check it out.

AMNAP wishes this endeavour the best of success!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Prescott on quantum mechanics. . .

Michael Prescott has written a great post on quantum mechanics. Go read it. . .

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Wonderful quote. . .

I am skeptical of people who believe they know what is possible and what is not. This belief leads to dogmatism, and to the dismissal of ideas and evidence that do not fit in. Genuine skepticism involves an attitude of open-minded enquiry into what we do not understand, and this is the approach I try to follow. -- Rupert Sheldrake

The White Crow

This post is another response to another discusson on Overcoming Bias.

Robin Hanson is addressing disagreements in the context of the cold fusion controversy.

How can they each reconcile their own view with the fact that smart expert people are on the other side?

The positions of accepting and denying a phenomenon are not symmetric. This was pointed out by William James with his "White Crow" analogy. You only need one white crow to disprove the rule that all crows are black.

In a similar way, a large number of failed cold fusion replications are irrelevant if we can find a single experiment that provides irrefutable data. Of course there is no such thing as a single irrefutable experiment, but in the case of LENR / cold fusion there are a whole host of good experiments demonstrating some kind of anomalous effect.

The principle problem is that people, even very smart and motivated professional scientists, are very much driven by their theories on how the world must be. In fact, professional scientists are probably much more theory-driven than the average person, and therefore more inclined to confirmation bias.

We see a good example of this in Eliezer's remark in his afterlife post that cryonics, actuarial escape velocity, and nanotechnology roads to immortality were preferable to a hypothesized afterlife, because they "put far less of a strain on the Standard Model".

The truth-seeking approach is to consider the full spectrum of available evidence to determine the correctness of our models, instead of using our models to determine what evidence is correct. It is the only way to avoid dogmatism and discover what is real.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Reply to an OB post

My comment is too long for Overcoming Bias, so I am posting it here instead. The subject is apropos for this blog. You can read Eliezer's post for more context.

Eliezer: Any one of those Third Alternatives stretches credulity less than a soul - that is (a) an imperishable dualistic stuff floating alongside the brain which (b) malfunctions exactly as the brain is neurologically damaged and yet (c) survives the brain's entire death.

If I yank capacitors from my radio, randomly reconnect wires or otherwise damage the device, I might find the sound becoming distorted, the station changing, or the entire radio becoming silent. That does not mean, of course, that the music is somehow stored inside the radio.

I am not sure that the religious concept of "soul" brings anything of value to the discussion. A better concept is "survival of consciousness". And dualism is not required, neutral monism or idealism will do just fine. Given the failure of neuroscience and computational theories of mind to supply any decent explanation for subjectivity as well as the vast amount of evidence, including many scientific studies showing a non-material aspect to consciousness, I think avoiding a premature raising of the "mission accomplished" banner for reductionism would be wise.

Unless someone has investigated this topic thoroughly, reading the best material from each side, they are quite simply "excuse[ing] a fixed previous belief from criticism". Since I know the good folk at OB would prefer to avoid that at all costs, here's some homework. Start with Chapter 3. I think by the time you finish that chapter, your faith in reductionism will be sorely challenged. Neurobiologist David Presti of UC Berkeley had this to say about Irreducible Mind:

This is an extraordinary book. Despite the awesome achievements of 20th-century neuroscience in increasing our knowledge about the workings of the human brain, little progress has been made in the scientific understanding of mental phenomena. This book infuses new hope into the issue of scientific approaches to the study of these phenomena. In the arena of neuroscience of mind, it is the most exciting reading to have crossed my path in years.

Monday, May 7, 2007

"Protecting" Science

Frank Tipler has written an intriguing paper questioning whether the current peer-review system is stifling science. Here are some pertinent extracts:

If one reads memoirs or biographies of physicists who made their great breakthroughs after, say, 1950, one is struck by how often one reads that “the referees rejected for publication the paper that later won me the Nobel Prize.” One example is Rosalyn Yalow, who described how her Nobel-prize-winning paper was received by the journals. “In 1955 we submitted the paper to Science.... The paper was held there for eight months before it was reviewed. It was finally rejected. We submitted it to the Journal of Clinical Investigations, which also rejected it.” (Quoted from The Joys of Research, edited by Walter Shropshire, p. 109). Another example is G√ľnter Blobel, who in a news conference given just after he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine, said that the main problem one encounters in one’s research is “when your grants and papers are rejected because some stupid reviewer rejected them for dogmatic adherence to old ideas.” According to the New York Times (October 12, 1999, p. A29), these comments “drew thunderous applause from the hundreds of sympathetic colleagues and younger scientists in the auditorium.”

In an article for Twentieth Century Physics, a book commissioned by the American Physical Society (the professional organization for U.S. physicists) to describe the great achievements of 20th century physics, the inventor of chaos theory, Mitchell J. Feigenbaum, described the reception that his revolutionary papers on chaos theory received: Both papers were rejected, the first after a half-year delay. By then, in 1977, over a thousand copies of the first preprint had been shipped. This has been my full experience. Papers on established subjects are immediately accepted. Every novel paper of mine, without exception, has been rejected by the refereeing process. The reader can easily gather that I regard this entire process as a false guardian and wastefully dishonest. (Volume III, p. 1850). Earlier in the same volume on 20th century physics, in a history of the development of optical physics, the invention of the laser by Theodore Maiman was described. The result was so important that it was announced in the New York Times on July 7, 1960. But the leading American physics journal, Physical Review Letters, rejected Maiman’s paper on how to make a laser (p. 1426).

Scientific eminence is no protection from a peer review system gone wild. John Bardeen, the only man to ever have won two Nobel Prizes in physics, had difficulty publishing a theory in low-temperature solid state physics (the area of one of his Prizes) that went against the established view. But rank hath its privileges. Bardeen appealed to his friend David Lazarus, who was editor in chief for the American Physical Society. Lazarus investigated and found that “the referee was totally out of line. I couldn’t believe it. John really did have a hard time with [his] last few papers and it was not his fault at all. They were important papers, they did get published, but they gave him a harder time than he should have had.” (True Genius: The Life and Science of John Bardeen, p. 300). Stephen W. Hawking is the world’s most famous physicist. According to his first wife Jane (Music to Move the Stars: A Life with Stephen Hawking, p. 239), when Hawking submitted to Nature what is generally regarded as his most important paper, the paper on black hole evaporation, the paper was initially rejected. I have heard from colleagues who must remain nameless that when Hawking submitted to Physical Review what I personally regard as his most important paper, his paper showing that a most fundamental law of physics called “unitarity” would be violated in black hole evaporation, it, too, was initially rejected. (The word on the street is that the initial referee was the Institute for Advanced Study physicist Freeman Dyson.) Today it is known that the Hawaiian Islands were formed sequentially as the Pacific plate moved over a hot spot deep inside the Earth. The theory was first developed in the paper by an eminent Princeton geophysicist, Tuzo Wilson: “I … sent [my paper] to the Journal of Geophysical Research. They turned it down…. They said my paper had no mathematics in it, no new data, and that it didn’t agree with the current views. Therefore, it must be no good. . .

Philip Anderson, a winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics opines that “in the early part of the postwar [post-WWII] period [a scientist’s] career was science-driven, motivated mostly by absorption with the great enterprise of discovery, and by genuine curiosity as to how nature operates. By the last decade of the century far too many, especially of the young people, were seeing science as a competitive interpersonal game, in which the winner was not the one who was objectively right as [to] the nature of scientific reality, but the one who was successful at getting grants, publishing in Physical Review Letters, and being noticed in the news pages of Nature, Science, or Physics Today. . .

But the interesting question is, what caused the “excessive specialization and careerist sociology” that is making it very difficult for new ideas to be published in peer review journals? There are several possibilities. One is a consequence of Anderson’s observation that, paradoxically, more scientists can mean a slower rate of scientific advance. The number of physicists, for example, has increased by a factor of a thousand since the year 1900, when ten percent of all physicists in the world either won the Nobel Prize or were nominated for it. If you submitted a paper to a refereed journal in 1900, you would have a far greater chance of having a referee who was a Nobel Prize winner (or at least a nominee) than now. In fact, a simple calculation shows that one would have to submit three papers on the average to have an even chance that at least one of your papers would be “peer” reviewed by a Nobel Prize winner.

Today, to have an even chance of having a Nobelist for a referee, you would have to submit several hundred papers. Thus Albert Einstein had his revolutionary 1905 papers truly peer reviewed: Max Planck and Wilhelm Wien were both later to win the Nobel Prize in physics.

Today, Einstein’s papers would be sent to some total nonentity at Podunk U, who, being completely incapable of understanding important new ideas, would reject the papers for publication. “Peer” review is very unlikely to be peer review for the Einsteins of the world. We have a scientific social system in which intellectual pygmies are standing in judgment of giants. . .

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Great new blog to read

Ulrich Mohrhoff

In addition to his fascinating website, Ulrich Mohrhoff also writes a blog called koantum matters that I have been enjoying immensely. Mohrhoff covers a wide variety of topics, such as observations in other branches of science, essays about his own work in quantum mechanics, and more personal and philosophical matters.

Here's part of a recent post about John Horgan's book I liked:

On p. 261 of The End of Science, John Horgan describes a mystical episode that he considers “the most important experience of my life” (p. 281):

“Years ago, before I became a science writer, I had what I suppose could be called a mystical experience. A psychiatrist would probably call it a psychotic episode. Whatever. For what it’s worth, here is what happened. Objectively, I was lying spread-eagled on a suburban lawn, insensible to my surroundings. Subjectively, I was hurtling through a dazzling, dark limbo toward what I was sure was the ultimate secret of life. Wave after wave of acute astonishment at the miraculousness of existence washed over me. At the same time, I was gripped by an overwhelming solipsism. I became convinced — or rather, I knew — that I was the only conscious being in the universe. There was no future, no past, no present other than what I imagined them to be. I was filled, initially, with a sense of limitless joy and power. Then, abruptly, I became convinced that if I abandoned myself further to this ecstasy, it might consume me. If I alone existed, who could bring me back from oblivion? Who could save me? With this realization my bliss turned into horror; I fled the same revelation I had so eagerly sought. I felt myself falling through a great darkness, and as I fell I dissolved into what seemed to be an infinity of selves.”

This was written a decade ago, but it’s such a fine demonstration of the little self’s fear of the big Self — the self of all selves — that it merits comment. For once John is lifted out of the confines of his little self, its bottomless aggressive ignorance and its petty self-confident knowledge (which we all share), merges with the conscious substance that constitutes and contains the world, with the ecstasy that creates the world by expressing itself… and shrinks back in horror. Oh ye faint of heart! What need is there to bring you back to your little self, to save it? You missed your chance! You think the big Self can’t do much better everything you did, and much more? You fell back into the habitual darkness of your little self — you hadn’t realized before how dark it was — but still you noticed, at least in reverse, that we all — this infinity of selves — are fragments of the big Self.

Now go add koantum matters to your bookmarks!

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Quantum Mechanics, actually explained

I've read over most of Ulrich Mohrhoff's website over the past few days, and pored through his papers on quantum mechanics.

For the first time, I think I am actually beginning to understand *why* quantum mechanics is the way it is. Not in great depth or detail, because this is not my domain of expertise. However, enough so that it actually makes sense why the quantum world appears the way it does, and something about its relationship with the more ordinary world we experience as human beings.

I outlined this understanding in a comment on Michael Prescott's blog (who is also on a QM tear the last couple weeks). Here is what I wrote there about what I believe Mohrhoff is pointing out:

What [the Pondicherry interpretation of quantum mechanics] is saying, essentially, is that the quantum universe represents the "edge" of the classical world. Quantum behavior is necessary to create the apparent [material] world of separate particles and evolution through time that we live in out the actual inherent oneness and wholeness of Reality.

It is not that the quantum rules are bizarre. It's that in order to create a classic[al] world out of what is essentially an undivided whole, you need the quantum world in order to do it.

The quantum world is the boundary condition where ultimate Oneness manifests itself as the apparent many, the divided, the dualistic. It is an instrument for the creation of our apparent world of space and time. The purpose of the quantum world is to create the structure needed in order to manifest the ordinary material world of space and time and the possibility of evolution.

I think Mohrhoff is absolutely dead-right about this. A true vision of genius, IMO.

Ulrich, you're very welcome to comment here, especially if you see something off-base with my personal understanding of the PIQM. A confusing topic, but one I feel is very important and relevant to scientific approaches that go beyond reductionistic materialism.

Friday, May 4, 2007

New online journal - request for contributions

Ulrich Mohrhoff, author of the Pondicherry interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, is launching a new online journal called AntiMatters.

Ulrich is inviting contributions for the inaugural issue of AntiMatters. Here is an excerpt from the journal's statement of focus and scope:

Focus and Scope
Materialism, in one form or another, is still widely accepted as the overarching framework for discussing issues not only in science but also in the humanities. AntiMatters is dedicated to illuminating these issues from nonmaterialistic perspectives.

Materialism is by nature pluralistic. It assigns ultimate reality to a multitude (particles, spacetime points, monads, actual occasions, bits, q-bits, etc.). It models reality "from the bottom up." Its principal explanatory concepts are composition and interaction, to which modern field theories have added the concept of instantiation (usually of physical properties by spacetime points).

AntiMatters encourages the exploration of ontologies that are essentially monistic, not because they aim to reduce reality to a single category such as matter or mind, but because they assign ultimate reality to an entity or principle that is intrinsically one. Such ontologies model reality "from the top down," using novel explanatory concepts such as differentiation, manifestation, emanation, or emergence (and probably others that no one has though of yet).

AntiMatters is for those who are uncomfortable with (or unconvinced of) materialism, or who favor a non-materialistic world view. Such persons are oftentimes unaware of how much of what is claimed to have been scientifically established is actually spurious. For their benefit, the Journal aims to critically examine the alleged scientific evidence for materialism. While authors are expected to respect and take account of all relevant empirical data, they should bear in mind that empirical data are inevitably theory-laden and paradigm-dependent, and that theories and paradigms, being to a considerable extent social constructions, are relative.

Science operates within an interpretative framework that formulates questions and interprets answers. This framework is itself not testable. AntiMatters wants to serve as a platform for the comparative study of alternative interpretative frameworks. The Journal emphasizes the following criteria for the evaluation of such frameworks:

(i) Consistency with all empirical data, not only the quantifiable ones but also those obtained through phenomenological methods, altered states of consciousness, and mystical or spiritual experience.

(ii) An appropriate ontological status for what we value most, such as happiness, self-fulfillment, excellence — the Platonic trinity of beauty, good, and truth.

The Journal wants to set high intellectual standards, without sacrificing substance. Style is important, but more so is content. Positive thinking is as essential as clarity of exposition. Deconstruction for its own sake qualifies as little as religious dogma.

It is not the (primary) aim of AntiMatters to "convert" die-hard materialists. Instead, the Journal offers non-materialists the opportunity of a stimulating exchange of views. It will invite comments on articles that are accepted for publication and encourage comments on published articles. Authors will of course be allowed to respond to comments.

Discussions of "anomalies", which are neglected or ignored by mainstream science, also fall within the scope of the Journal.

Looks like a very worthy project. We wish Ulrich a great deal of success with this new project and invite readers of AMNAP to consider contributing material.

Changing fundamental constants? (Repost from AMNAP 1.0)

It looks like the eternal, unchanging universal fundamental constants of physics may not be quite so unchanging after all. Wim Ubachs and Elmar Reinhold have collected evidence that suggests that mu, a constant determining the scale of the strong nuclear force, has varied over cosmic history:

Measured today, the ratio indicates that a proton weighs (just roughly speaking here) 1836.15267261 times more than an electron.

The study team compared the value of mu measured today to the value measured in the light from a pair of quasars, thought to be super-massive black holes sucking in huge amounts of gas and star dust. The quasars' light was measured by study team members at a European Southern Observatory telescope in Chile. Since the quasars are about 12 billion light years away, it has taken 12 billion years for their light to reach Earth, making them indicators of conditions when the universe was only about 1.7 billion years old.

By combining today's mu measurement with the mu measurement from the chemical spectrum of light from the quasars, the European team suggests that mu has dropped by 0.002% over the last 12 billion years.

Rupert Sheldrake's theory of formative causation through morphic resonance suggests that "natural laws" evolve over time, and Dr. Sheldrake has predicted that the so-called universal constants are probably variable, in contrast with most scientific models which have postulated eternal, unchanging natural laws.

More AMNAP 1.0 articles coming. . .

I found some more articles from the previous version of this blog at So I will be reposting additional material here.

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.

Six PK experiments

Dean Radin wrote a research paper published in 1983 summarizing six PK experiments he conducted.

Here is his summary:

In summary, of six experiments testing a mental influence on machine-generated random events, four showed some evidence of PK. Two one-subject experiments showed significant psi-hitting when the subject was both relaxed and confident; a third one-subject experiment showed significant psi-missing when the subject was relaxed but not confident; a fourth experiment with ten unselected subjects showed marginal psi-hitting in an unfavorable environment; and the remaining two experiments were nonsignificant; one in an unfavorable environment, the other when the subject was doubtful of the outcome. All control studies were nonsignificant.

Note that the highly significant studies showed odds against chance of less than 1/100 and 1/2000, respectively.

New podcast and a great article about fundamentalist materialism

I haven't listened to the latest Skeptiko interview with Neal Grossman yet, but I did notice that Alex linked to a remarkably worthy article by Grossman over at the IONS website.

Here are a few cogent paragraphs:

When researchers ask the question, "How can the near-death experience be explained?" they tend to make the usual assumption that an acceptable explanation will be in terms of concepts—biological, neurological, psychological—with which they are already familiar. The near-death experience (NDE) would then be explained, for example, if it could be shown what brain state, which drugs, or what beliefs on the part of the experiencer correlate with the NDE. Those who have concluded that the NDE cannot be explained mean that it cannot be, or has not yet been, correlated with any physical or psychological condition of the experiencer.
I wish to suggest that this approach to explaining the NDE is fundamentally misguided. To my knowledge, no one who has had an NDE feels any need for an explanation in the reductionist sense that researchers are seeking. For the experiencer, the NDE does not need to be explained because it is exactly what it purports to be, which is, at a minimum, the direct experience of consciousness—or minds, or selves, or personal identity—existing independently of the physical body. It is only with respect to our deeply entrenched materialist paradigm that the NDE needs to be explained, or more accurately, explained away. . .

Perhaps the "smoking gun" case is the one described by Michael Sabom in his book Light and Death. In this case, the patient had her NDE while her body temperature was lowered to 60 degrees, and all the blood was drained from her body. "Her electroencephalogram was silent, her brain-stem response was absent, and no blood flowed through her brain." A brain in this state cannot create any kind of experience. Yet the patient reported a profound NDE. Those materialists who believe that consciousness is secreted by the brain, or that the brain is necessary for conscious experience to exist, cannot possibly explain, in their own terms, cases such as this. An impartial observer would have to conclude that not all experience is produced by the brain, and that therefore the falsity of materialism has been empirically demonstrated. Thus, what needs to be explained is the abysmal failure of the academic establishment to examine this evidence and to embrace the conclusion: Materialism is false, and consciousness can and does exist independently of the body. . .

Our collective irrationality with respect to the wealth of evidence against materialism manifests in two ways: (i) by ignoring the evidence, and (ii) by insisting on overly stringent standards of evidence, that, if adopted, would render any empirical science impossible.

One of my earliest encounters with this kind of academic irrationality occurred more than twenty years ago. I was devouring everything on the near-death experience I could get my hands on, and eager to share what I was discovering with colleagues. It was unbelievable to me how dismissive they were of the evidence. "Drug-induced hallucinations," "last gasp of a dying brain," and "people see what they want to see" were some of the more commonly used phrases. One conversation in particular caused me to see more clearly the fundamental irrationality of academics with respect to evidence against materialism. I asked, "What about people who accurately report the details of their operation?"

"Oh," came the reply, "they probably just subconsciously heard the conversation in the operating room, and their brain subconsciously transposed the audio information into a visual format."

"Well," I responded, "what about cases where people report veridical perception of events remote from their body?"

"Oh, that's just a coincidence or a lucky guess."

Exasperated, I asked, "What will it take, short of having a near-death experience yourself, to convince you that it's real?"

Very nonchalantly, without batting an eye, the response was "Even if I were to have a near-death experience myself, I would conclude that I was hallucinating, rather than believe that my mind can exist independently of my brain." He went on to add that dualism (the philosophical thesis that asserts mind and matter are independent substances, neither of which can be reduced to the other) is a false theory, and that there cannot be evidence for something that's false.

This was a momentous experience for me, because here was an educated, intelligent man telling me that he will not give up materialism, no matter what. Even the evidence of his own experience would not cause him to give up materialism. I realized two things in that moment. First, this experience cured me of any impulse to argue these things with recalcitrant colleagues; it is pointless to argue with someone who tells me that his mind is already made up, and nothing I can say will change it. Second, this experience taught me that it is important to distinguish between (a) materialism as an empirical hypothesis about the nature of the world, which is amenable to evidence one way or the other (this is the hallmark of a scientific hypothesis—that evidence is relevant for its truth or falsity) and (b) materialism as an ideology, or paradigm, about how things "must" be, which is impervious to evidence (this is the hallmark of an unscientific hypothesis—that evidence is not relevant for its truth).

My colleague believed in materialism not as a scientific hypothesis that, qua scientific hypothesis, might be false, but rather as dogma and ideology that "must" be true, evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. For him, materialism is the fundamental paradigm in terms of which everything else is explained, but which is not itself open to doubt. I shall coin the term "fundamaterialist" to refer to those who believe that materialism is a necessary truth, not amenable to empirical evidence. I call it fundamaterialism to make explicit comparison with fundamentalism in religion. Fundamentalism connotes an attitude of certainty towards one's core belief. Just as the fundamentalist Christian is absolutely certain that the world was created in the manner described by The Bible (fossil evidence notwithstanding), so also the fundamaterialist is absolutely certain that there exists nothing that is not made up of matter or physical energy (NDE and other evidence notwithstanding). In fact, and this is the crucial point, their respective beliefs have nothing to do with evidence. As my fundamaterialist colleague put it, "There can't be evidence for something that's false."

With respect to (a), materialism held as an empirical hypothesis about the world, the evidence against it is overwhelming. With respect to (b), materialism held as an ideology, evidence against it is logically impossible. A complicating factor is that the fundamaterialist typically holds the metabelief that his belief in materialism is not ideological, but empirical. That is, he misclassifies himself under (a), while his behavior clearly falls under (b). The debunker and skeptic believe they are being "scientific" in ignoring and rejecting the evidence against materialism. But when asked what kind of evidence it would take to convince them that materialism is empirically false, they are, like my colleague, usually at a loss for what to say. If they're not familiar with the data, they'll come up with a criterion of evidence that in fact has already been met. When it is pointed out that there exist many well-documented cases that satisfy the proposed criterion, they will simply make the criterion more stringent, and at some point they cross the line between the reasonable demand for scientific evidence and the unreasonable (and unscientific) demand for logical proof. . .

Skeptic demonstrates psi (Repost from AMNAP 1.0)

In 1995, Rupert Sheldrake began an investigation of a dog named JayTee and his apparent ability to know when his owner, Pamela Smart, was on the way home. Dr. Sheldrake became aware of JayTee when Smart answered an advertisement in the paper looking for dogs who seemed to know when their owner was returning home.

Dr. Sheldrake began to observe JayTee and it quickly became apparent that JayTee was, indeed, going to the window and apparently waiting for her whenever Smart was on her way home. And this behavior occurred despite changes in her return time and using a variety of different modes of transportation. So Sheldrake designed a videotape experiment to provide objective evidence of JayTee's unusual ability, and conducted a large number of trials with Pam and Jaytee.

Sheldrake invited Dr. Richard Wiseman to perform his own videotaped trials with Jaytee. Wiseman conducted four trials total and then proclaimed loudly to the media that JayTee had no special abilities.

However, Sheldrake obtained the videotape data and found that Wiseman's data matched his own experimental data very closely.

It appears that Dr. Wiseman is still claiming JayTee showed no special abilities and "failed the test" despite the fact that his own data matches Sheldrake's. Certainly most of the "skeptic" websites seem to loudly proclaim how Wiseman "disproved" Sheldrake's research with JayTee.

I'm including data published in Sheldrake's account of the controversy with Wiseman below so you can judge for yourself.

The first graph shows Sheldrake's data from 30 videotaped trials. The second shows data from Wiseman's 3 trials taken at the same location. The bottom graph shows control data from 10 trials when Smart arrived home much later than the recorded data or did not return that evening. Note that the last point in all trials shows the first 10 minutes of Smart's return journey which always lasted at least 13 minutes, so no data from Pam's actual arrival in the vicinity.

UPDATE: Richard Wiseman admitted in his recent Skeptiko interview, that his data does correspond with Sheldrake's. Wiseman should be congratulated for his honesty about this.

Triple-blind mediumship experiment published

Gary Schwartz and Julie Beischel of the University of Arizona recently published a very well designed study of the ability of mediums to provide anomalous information about deceased people. Here is the abstract:

Context: Investigating the information reported by mediums is ultimately important in determining the relationship between brain and consciousness in addition to being of deep concern to the public.

Objective: This triple-blind study was designed to examine the anomalous reception of information about deceased individuals by research mediums under experimental conditions that eliminate conventional explanations.

Participants: Eight University of Arizona students served as sitters: four had experienced the death of a parent; four, a peer. Eight mediums who had previously demonstrated an ability to report accurate information in a laboratory setting performed the readings.

Methodology: To optimize potential identifiable differences between readings, each deceased parent was paired with a same gender deceased peer. Sitters were not present at the readings; an experimenter blind to information about the sitters and deceased served as a proxy sitter. The mediums, blind to the sitters’ and deceased’s identities, each read two absent sitters and their paired deceased; each pair of sitters was read by two mediums. Each blinded sitter then scored a pair of itemized transcripts (one was the reading intended for him/her; the other, the paired control reading) and chose the reading more applicable to him/her.

Results: The findings included significantly higher ratings for intended versus control readings (p = 0.007, effect size = 0.5) and significant reading-choice results (p = 0.01).

Conclusions: The results suggest that certain mediums can anomalously receive accurate information about deceased individuals. The study design effectively eliminates conventional mechanisms as well as telepathy as explanations for the information reception, but the results cannot distinguish among alternative paranormal hypotheses, such as survival of consciousness (the continued existence, separate from the body, of an individual’s consciousness or personality after physical death) and super-psi (or super-ESP; retrieval of information via a psychic channel or quantum field).