Sunday, April 29, 2007

Interview with a quantum physicist. . .

Here is a fascinating interview where a parapsychologist interviews a quantum physicist. Here are a few excerpts:

MISHLOVE: It's a pleasure to have you here. You know, as a parapsychologist I find it fascinating that of the various academic disciplines that are interested in psychic phenomena, there seems to be the most interest from quantum physicists such as yourself.I wonder if we can begin the program tonight by having you explain to our viewers just what is quantum physics, and why would you find the phenomenon of consciousness to be so interesting?

HERBERT: Well, quantum physics started out in the twenties to explain the interaction of light with atoms. It focused on that, but now it's extended to explain the interaction of anything with anything. It's basically the physicists' theory of the world these days, and it's been very successful. So there are two reasons, I think,why quantum physics and consciousness have some connection. One is that quantum theory, as most people know by now, is very strange. It has very weird properties. . .

MISHLOVE: Subatomic particles. Typically we hear that this sort of stuff [knocking on furniture] is no longer solid; it's mostly a vacuum in quantum physics.

HERBERT: Not only is it not solid, is it mostly empty space, but it's also probabilities -- just fuzzy, not even totally real.

MISHLOVE: In other words, particles aren't even particles anymore.

HERBERT: Particles aren't even particles anymore. That's one of the connections with consciousness -- that the solidity of matter is dissolving away in light of these theories, and becoming more and more like the fuzziness that's inside our heads.

MISHLOVE: And that's the basic, most fundamental theory in all of physics.

HERBERT: Yes, that's the basis of everything that we do in physics anyway, in quantum physics.

MISHLOVE: And physics is in fact the basic science of all the sciences. So the most fundamental theory of all of science is that the basis of reality is fuzzy.

HERBERT: Is fuzzy, is crumbling, and it is ambiguous -- that's a word I like to use. Somehow there's a basic ambiguity at the center of the world -- the center of the inanimate world, the unconscious world. . .

MISHLOVE: A term that I keep hearing is quantum interconnectedness, and the notion that separability doesn't exist -- that somehow all is one, the way the mystics used to say it.

HERBERT: Yes. There is a peculiar feature in quantum theory called quantum interconnectedness, and it was discovered right when quantum theory was discovered. It was found that in the quantum description of two objects, when two objects briefly interact and then you pull them apart, in the description at least they never come apart; there's a kind of stickiness that connects them together, so they're bound together forever in the theory. They never separate, even though they're not interacting anymore. It was thought that this was just a theoretical artifact; it was nothing that existed in the real world. Physicists noted it, said this is very strange, and then they promptly forgot about it for about fifty years. But recently, due to something called Bell's theorem, new interest has been rekindled in this interconnectedness. Bell's theorem proves that this connection is not a theoretical artifact, but actually exists in the real world.

MISHLOVE: I should mention for the benefit of our viewers, Nick, that you are probably one of the world's foremost authorities on Bell's theorem; that's what you specialized in. Bell's theorem seems like the crack in the cosmic egg, in a way; it's the one part of quantum physics that's almost turned everything upside down.

HERBERT: One of my claims to fame is that I have produced the shortest proof of Bell's theorem in existence. It's about three lines.

MISHLOVE: Now, Bell's theorem, as I understand it, goes back even prior to Bell -- to Einstein, and Einstein's disagreement with quantum physics, back in the early days. He made his classic statement, "God doesn't play dice with the universe," at a time when Einstein himself felt he disagreed with quantum physics, as I understand it. He felt that if quantum physics were true, it would have these horrendous implications which it now turns out are true.

HERBERT: Yes, Einstein was never comfortable with quantum theory, and he basically had three gripes with it. The one gripe was that quantum theory is a probabilistic theory. It just describes things like the world is essentially random and governed only by general laws that give the odds for things to happen, but within these odds anything can happen -- that God plays dice. Einstein didn't like that, but he could have lived with that. The second aspect that Einstein didn't like was the thinglessness, this fuzzy ambiguity -- that the world isn't made of things, it's not made of objects. It was put by Paul Davies -- the notion that somehow big things are made of little things. Quantum theory doesn't describe the world that way. Big things aren't made of little things; they're made of entities whose attributes aren't there when you don't look, but become there when you do look. Now, that sounds very, very strange.

MISHLOVE: Like an illusion.

HERBERT: Like an illusion, yes.

MISHLOVE: Or the Hindu concept of Maya, something like that.

HERBERT: That's right. The world exists when we don't look at it in some strange state that is indescribable. Then when we look at it, it becomes absolutely ordinary, as though someone were trying to pull something over our eyes -- the world is an illusion. Einstein didn't like that. He felt that the big things were made of little things, as the classical physicists thought.

MISHLOVE: The Newtonian view of billiard-ball-like particles -- that if you could only understand the momentum and position of each one, you could predict everything in the universe.

HERBERT: Everything in the universe, yes, a comfortable sort of view.

MISHLOVE: You mentioned three things that Einstein objected to; then there must be one more.

HERBERT: Well, the third thing is this interconnectedness. Einstein said the world cannot be like this, because this interconnectedness goes faster than light. With this quantum interconnectedness, two objects could come together, meet, and then each go into the universe, and they would still be connected. Instantaneously one would know what the fate of the other one was. Einstein said, now that can never be; that's like voodoo -- in fact, he used the word -- it's like telepathy, he said; he said it's spooky, it's ghostlike. Almost his last words in his biography were, "On this I absolutely stand firm. The world is not like this." He died in '55, and ten years later Bell showed that the world must be like this. It's kind of ironic. Bell himself said, "My theorem answers some of Einstein's questions in a way that Einstein would have liked the least."

MISHLOVE: And Einstein created a very strange picture of the universe as it is, almost time travel, in his theory of relativity.

HERBERT: Yes, but even Einstein's mind wouldn't go this far, to accept these instant connections, which now we believe really must exist in the universe.

MISHLOVE: The notion of instant connections almost implies that space itself is an illusion.

HERBERT: Yes, that distance is an illusion.

MISHLOVE: That distance is an illusion -- that you and I and our viewers and the chair are all somehow intimately connected with the most distant part of the galaxy.

HERBERT: Yes, that we're all in one place, that there aren't any places.

MISHLOVE: And the notion the mystics sometimes say, that you and I, we're not really separate individuals, but at a deeper level we're like fingers; we're all connected. Or we're like islands connected. There's that sense of connectedness as well. . .

MISHLOVE: Well, you mentioned earlier that you believe quantum physics is at the basis of consciousness. I wonder if you would come back to that point and elaborate on it.

HERBERT: Yes. Right now there are two main approaches to consciousness, I believe. They are studying the brain, looking at how the brain does it -- the one machine in the world that we know is conscious for sure -- and then trying to simulate cognitive things on computers. I think this is where the smart money is placed these days. I think these are a good place to do research.

MISHLOVE: Trying to simulate brain functioning on the computer.

HERBERT: On computers, and looking at brains. And I think we learn a lot about brains and computers there, but not very much about consciousness.

Fraud-proof experimental design demonstrates PK effect. . .

The entire paper is available from this site.

Here is the abstract:

The author summarizes five experiments in which he studied the psychokinetic (PK) effect (the mental influence on the outcome of chance processes) under tight supervision by independent observers. Through the use of prerecorded random events as targets, the observers could evaluate the results independently, without having to trust the reliability of the author or his equipment. The total of these five studies, which represent all the work done under external supervision, produced an effect deviating by 3.67 standard deviations from chance expectancy. The odds against such an outcome are about 8,000 to 1. Thus, the results support the extstence of a PK effect on prerecorded random events, in agreement with previous experiments. The observed PK effect is inconsistent with current quantum theory. It shows that the theory is not correct when applied to systems that include human subjects. Furthermore, the existence of a weak mental effect on the outcome of chance events cautions the physicist to be careful in the interpretation of results that are based on relatively few chance events.

This is very impressive. Schmidt designed a protocol which allowed outside observers, including a skeptic of the phenomenon, an essential role in demonstrating the PK effect.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Great discussion thread over at Dean Radin's blog

Dean wrote a post about books on psi phenomena, however the comments have veered into an extended discussion of variously meta-analyses of Ganzfeld studies.

We had a good debate on this topic on the old AMNAP with Andrew Endersby and some other folks, and I hope the participants in that discussion will go to Dean's blog and weigh in. . .

Friday, April 27, 2007

Non-paranormal non-phenomena. . .

Today I saw a link that looked intriguing on one one of the "weird stuff" websites about an entire village that had disappeared.

Clicking on the link to the story on, I discovered this article. Here's an excerpt:

How can an entire village with 1,200 people simply disappear without a trace? The Royal Canadian Mountain Police has been asking that question for many years. . .

This remarkable incident took place in the winter of 1930s in Canada. A trapper Armand Laurent and his two sons observed a light crossing the northern sky. According to Laurent's description, the object was cylinder-shaped and it was heading toward the[sic] Lake Anjikuni.

Some days later, Laurent was visited by a couple of Mounties who were on their way to Lake Anjikuni where they said there was "a kind of problem". Not yet knowing what had happened in the village, Laurent related the sighting he had a few days ago. At that time, the police did not the reveal what was later classified as one of the most mysterious disappearances in Canadian history. . .

Another trapper named Joe Labelle called the Royal Canadian Mountain Police to the crime scene, if we can use the term. Labelle noticed that [the] village of the[sic] Lake Anjikuni was unusually quiet. There was not a person moving in the streets, no smoke from the chimneys, boats and kayaks were still tied up at the shore, but the village was empty.

The police noticed a couple of strange things. To begin with, it seemed as if the residents had been suddenly interrupted by something. In many houses, meal was still standing at the table. Additionally, rifles were left at home, which is very usually [sic] as the men always take the rifle when they go out. The most peculiar discovery was yet to come.

At the Anjikuni burial ground, they discovered that graves were opened and bodies of the dead were gone! Someone had removed all the corpses. . .

The case remains open to this day. The village residents were never found, neither [were] the corpses stolen from the graves. How can 1,200 people simply disappear off the face of the earth without a trace and who would be interested in acquiring bodies of dead [people]?

Hmmn. Intriguing, I thought, if this is true.

So I went to Wikipedia and made a quick search for Lake Anjikuni. Wikipedia is of course not an authoritative source on any topic, however it is often a useful starting point. But not in this case. . . Wikipedia returned my query with this message:

No results found. For help on searching within Wikipedia, please see Wikipedia:Searching.

Alternatively, you may be able to use an external search engine such as WikipediaSearch to find what you are looking for and/or identify misspelled words

I clicked the link "search Google for Lake Anjikuni" and this time came back with some hits. From the search engine summaries, a bunch of the results appeared to be relaying the same story as However, the very top of the results referenced the RCMP website. That looked promising. Here is what the RCMP has to say:

Historical Notes — Anjikuni


The story about the disappearance in the 1930's of an Inuit village near Lake Anjikuni is not true. An American author by the name of Frank Edwards is purported to have started this story in his book Stranger than Science. It has become a popular piece of journalism, repeatedly published and referred to in books and magazines. There is no evidence however to support such a story. A village with such a large population would not have existed in such a remote area of the Northwest Territories (62 degrees north and 100 degrees west, about 100 km west of Eskimo Point). Furthermore, the Mounted Police who patrolled the area recorded no untoward events of any kind and neither did local trappers or missionaries.

So there you have it. Unless someone can come up with convincing evidence that the RCMP is lying, and some good primary sources, this one ought to be filed in the "tall tales" folder. Apparently isn't the only one media outlet to flub this story: according to the australian Skeptic, People Magazine was also taken in. . .

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Taboos in science. . .

Here is Rupert Sheldrake talking about taboos in science:

I hope Lewis would also say something about that because … I think it is a taboo subject. It’s an extraordinary thing that scientists who claim to be rational or rationalists, get extraordinarily irrational when it comes to the subject of telepathy. The belief in evidence just goes out of the window. It often arouses deep emotions, and I often wonder, why is it that people get so upset at the possible existence of telepathy? Why is it something so deeply disturbing?

I think the reasons are historical. They go back at least as far as the ‘enlightenment,’ when the idea of the agenda was to push forward the science and reason and reject religion and superstition, credulity, folklaw and so forth. Somehow, telepathy - at that time, not called telepathy - but somehow, these psychic phenomena got put into the compartment of ‘superstition,’ and ever since then, rational people have been supposed not to believe in them. I think that’s why (as a sociological fact) you won’t find serious articles about this in broadsheet newspapers or on Horizon programmes on BBC, because these are beyond the pale of rational discourse, and educated people - not just scientists, but most university graduates - know that they’re meant to be part of this ‘enlightenment’ project, and at least in public, are supposed to deny telepathy, or at least, not talk about it. The penalty for doing so is to be thought credulous, superstitious or stupid and no one wants to lose intellectual cast.

So, I think that this taboo got established quite early on and it’s somehow been in place ever since then. If you look at the controversies in the late 19th century, they were the same as today, the same kinds of arguments. The people in favour, said, “Here’s all the evidence.” The people against, said, “It’s impossible, the evidence is all not credible, etc.” It’s very strange in science that some new ideas are perfectly acceptable. For example, David Deutsch who is a Physicist in Oxford has written a book on Time Travel. He’s also written a book on Multiple Universes, the idea that every time a physical observation is made, the universe splits, and there’s billions, trillions, quadrillions of parallel universes, completely unobserved. He holds down a respectful position in Physics in Oxford. There’s no evidence at all for this postulate, and yet, this is quite tolerable within Physics. However, when it comes to the subject of telepathy, David Deutsch says very much the same as Lewis Wolpert. “It’s total rubbish, not a shred of evidence.” I know he hasn’t studied the evidence, but somehow the same person can have totally wild theories about parallel universes and yet, this complete taboo against telepathy, co-existing in the same person. . .

Telepathy Debate: Wolpert and Sheldrake

Here are some excerpts of a debate between Lewis Wolpert and Rupert Sheldrake at the London Royal Society for the Arts held in 1994:

Rupert Sheldrake: Thank you. Well, Lewis Wolpert and I agree on one thing, which is that we think the nature of science is based on evidence. He thinks there’s no persuasive evidence for telepathy. Of course, that depends on how easily it is to persuade somebody. There are many creationists who think there’s no persuasive evidence for evolution. If you have a closed mind and if you’re convinced you’re right, then no amount of evidence will make the slightest difference. I think that the question really is, what is the evidence for telepathy and that’s what I’m going to talk about. I, myself, think there’s a lot of persuasive evidence for telepathy, and I think that the experiments that have been done to test it have been far from pathological. . .

Professor Lewis Wolpert: . . .I have in front of me a paper by Richard Wiseman, Matthew Smith, and Julie Milton, actually done with your dog … (sorry, no, Pam Smart as your collaborator), with your dog, Jaytee, which you claimed, knew when (I think it was you) who were coming home, and their analysis of the behaviour of the dog, Jaytee, shows that the dog didn’t have a clue. It would go outside for all sorts of reasons, and, you know, there was somebody passing by, there was a cat in a nearby tree. It didn’t have a clue when you were coming home. So, here is a people, trying to replicate your experiment, and simply falsifying it. . .

Rupert Sheldrake: Well, I noticed that when the parrot film was showing, Lewis wasn’t looking at it! That film was shown on television … and in early stage of our investigations, he did the same then. They asked a sceptic to commentate. Lewis appeared on the screen and he said, “Telepathy is just junk … there is no evidence whatsoever for any personal, animal or thing being telepathic.” The filmmakers were surprised that he hadn’t actually asked to see the evidence before he commented on it, and I think, this is rather like the Cardinal Bellarmine, and people not wanting to look through Galileo’s Telescope. I think we have a level here of just not wanting to know, which is not real science … I’m sorry to have to say it, Lewis.

Let me come to his specific points. He said that in the telephone experiments we didn’t bother to find out the effects of distance. Yes we did. If you read the paper, we deliberately recruited people in England who had relatives living in Australia and New Zealand and South Africa. We tested it at distances right up to the Outer Hebrides, precisely to find out, is it distance-dependant. It’s not … distance had no effect. . .

Now, when we come to the case of the psychic dog, Jaytee, - the dog that belongs to Pam Smart who is here this evening - what we found in our experiments was that the dog - here are some averages from these experiments the dog … these are 10-minute periods after Pam went out … these are the number of seconds at the window, evaluated from the videotape by a third party who knew nothing else about the experiment in an objective measure at the time it went to the window. That is the first 10 minutes of her homeward journey, from at least five miles away. These are medium-length experiments and these are short ones. The dog did sometimes go to the window, when she wasn’t coming home, to bark at passing cats or look at commotions or disturbances outside or people arriving in cars, but it went to the window far more when she was on the way home and it started waiting, in the 10 minutes before she started off home, when she decided to come home or when she got a random signal on a pager to go home. It was highly significant it was at the window most when she was on her way home and it wasn’t just that it waited a certain time and then went there, because in these short experiments, you see it was at the window at long time, whereas at the same time after she went out here, it wasn’t. These results are highly significant, highly repeatable. We’ve done lots of them.

The case of Richard Wiseman and his colleagues is a very interesting one. Wiseman is one of Britain’s leading media sceptics. He is an informed sceptic, in the sense he reads the literature and knows what’s going on and he actually does experiments. However, he is a very committed sceptic who believes these things are basically impossible, and Wiseman went along to do these experiments with Pam Smart. He invented a criterion for the success or failure of the dog, which was, that it should go to the window, for no reason apparent to Wiseman … the first experiment it was 60 seconds. Then he changed the criterion to being two minutes for no apparent reason. If the dog went to the window for no apparent reason when she wasn’t coming home, it failed the test.

He published a paper in the British Journal of Psychology, saying it had failed the test. There’s the paper. He put a Press Release. It was in all the science correspondence that most of our broadsheet newspapers are committed sceptics (most of them). They’re very credulous when it comes to claims of sceptics. The papers were full of it. ‘Psychic dog fails test … Psychic dog fails to give scientists a lead,’ and so on! It was on the radio, it was on the television … the whole phenomenon was totally refuted and everybody bought it (who wants to believe that) and we’ve heard from Lewis, a categorical statement.

However, if you plant Richard Wiseman’s data on a graph, which he didn’t do in his papers, even though I sent him graphs before he submitted it, his data corresponds very precisely with my own!

Mind and Body

This study provides more evidence that much of medicine is based on the body's own healing abilities being marshalled through a placebo effect. In this case, the "treatment" consisted only of informing hotel housekeepers that their work amounted to a substantial amount of physical exercise which provided health benefits. The control case was only different in that they were not provided the same informational program that explained the work they were already doing was healthy exercise.

The group informed of the health benefits of their job lost weight, improved their blood lipids profile, and showed a number of other beneficial health effects all of which were statistically significant changes versus the control group. Three of the measurements showed strong statistical significance to the .001 level, or 999 out of 1000 against the null hypothesis. And remember, the only difference is that one group was informed that the work they were already doing counted as "healthy exercise" and the other was not.

Hat tip: Robin Hanson.

Update: Robin also references this study showing that most of the effects from antidepressants are placebo effects.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Vacation. . .

I'll be on vacation for several days. See you all when I get back. . .

More quantum mechanics. . .

Ulrich Mohrhoff, author of the Pondicherry interpretation of quantum mechanics has written a fascinating essay describing his interpretation of what quantum theory tells us about reality. I've excerpted from his essay below:

[M]atter, which we can now define only as that which satisfies the laws of physics, may be spirit insofar as... the spirit conforms to the mental operations of distinguishing and objectifying. We can explain causally... precisely to the degree to which spiritual reality can be objectified; in this objectified form it is called... matter.

[I]n the history of philosophy this identity has been variously expressed by asserting that the final reality is spiritual; what... we call matter is the mode in which this final reality is perceived by itself as alienated from itself.

--C.F. von Weizsäcker

In the 1999 Hollywood blockbuster film The Matrix, an enigmatic character called Morpheus tells Neo, a computer programmer and night-time hacker: "The world has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth." Adi Shankara could have said that. To bring home his point, Morpheus asks Neo: "Have you ever had a dream that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream. How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world?"

How indeed would we know that this world is not a virtual reality created by something or someone beyond it, by whatever means, for whatever purpose? There are two ways to find out. One is a spiritual awakening to "That which being known all is known", yasmin vijñāte sarvam vijñātam. The other is to take a close look at this dream world, this world that has been pulled over our eyes.

Mohrhoff goes on to describe the findings of quantum mechanics and why he believes they indicate that reality is an indivisible whole. Certainly some will disagree with his interpretations, but it's interesting reading nonetheless. Go check it out.

Those interested in the non-dual implications of Mohrhoff's interpretation of quantum mechanics (or who enjoy landscape photography) might enjoy my other blog. . .

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The unskeptical skeptic

Michael Prescott uses his rapier wit to skewer noted professional "skeptic" and former parapsychologist Susan Blackmore.

The difference between science and dogma

Kenneth G. Libbrecht read about Masaru Emoto's research and his book Messages from Water and decided it was a bunch of crap. Here's Libbrecht:

Have I tried to reproduce Mr. Emoto's experiments? No, and I don't intend to. While I try to keep an open mind to new ideas, this one is just too outrageous.

Dean Radin also read about Emoto's research and was skeptical, but open-minded:

Some people, when faced with claims like Dr. Emoto's "intention affects the formation of water cystals," immediately dismiss it as nonsense. Others uncritically accept the claim because it sounds nice. My first reaction is to try to replicate the claim to see it for myself.

In Radin's case, he in fact worked with Emoto and designed a triple-blind protocol that showed striking positive evidence in support of his ideas. Dogmatism decides beforehand what is possible and what is not. Open-minded science investigates claims carefully, and lets the results speak for themselves.

Thought-provoking series. . .

Closer To Truth is definitely worth checking out.

Here are some show transcripts that readers of AMNAP will probably want to read:

What is Consciousness?

Do Brains Make Minds?

Strange Physics of The Mind?

Can Science Seek The Soul?

What is Parapsychology?

Can ESP Affect Our Lives?

Hat tip: Markus Hesse via Michael Prescott's blog.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Not so well-informed skepticism. . .

On the way to work today I listened to this Skeptico podcast interview with Dr. James Alcock.

I noticed a few inconsistencies between what Alcock said and the psi research I am familiar with.

5:50 Alcock: "One would expect that over this length of time that there would be at least some phenomenon that was indisputable. Some phenomenon that however weak, could be reproduced by skeptical, by neutral scientists, but that's never occurred".

Wrong. Just as one example, quantum physicist Henry Stapp was at best neutral to the possibility of psi, but he participated in a fraud-proof experiment that provided strongly statistically significant evidence for PK effects.

It is true that those who are strongly skeptical to psi phenomena are quite unlikely to discover any evidence for it. Alex mentions a related phenomenon in the interview:

13:15 Drug research done at major universities is three times more likely to show efficacy of the drug if the drug company has sponsored the work.

Later in the interview, Alcock assures us of his intimate familiarity with psi research:

15:15 Alcock: "I've looked at probably as much parapsychologic literature, certainly as any "skeptic" and probably more than most parapsychologists.

Having informed the listeners of his bona-fides as an investigator of psi phenomena, Alcock later turns his guns on Rupert Sheldrake's research on staring detection:

28:40: I don't know if you're familiar with the staring experiments -- some of the early parapsychologists back in the 20s, did staring experiments, and they came to the conclusion there was nothing there, and this was then abandoned by modern parapsychology, no modern parapsychologist that I know of, apart from Dr. Sheldrake has had much, or any interest in this.

Actually, this is completely incorrect. Dean Radin covers a recent meta-analysis he conducted in his book Entangled Minds that showed an extremely significant effect. He has also conducted studies with statistically significant evidence for this phenomena. Other parapsychologists who have independently conducted recent research into staring detection with positive results include Jonathan Jones, Marilyn Schlitz, and D.L. Delanoy.

Somehow James Alcock missed this in his extensive review of the parapsychology literature that he alluded to above. In particular I am surprised that a "well-informed" skeptic missed the very prominent discussion of these experiments in Dean Radin's book Entangled Minds, which really has to be considered must-read book for anyone who wants to be abreast of the latest psi research.


There was something else about Alcock's statement that really bothered me. Let's revisit it again:

I've looked at probably as much parapsychologic literature, certainly as any "skeptic" and probably more than most parapsychologists.

I happen to agree with him that he is probably much more familiar with the literature than most psi deniers. However that's a pretty damning indictment, since he appears to be largely unfamiliar with the latest and most important published review of the parapsychological research (Entangled Minds). If the average psi denier is even less familiar with the research (and probably a lot less), can their opinion even be worth listening to? I guess that's what happens to any group of people who outsource their beliefs to a propaganda organization. . .

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Mental Universe

Richard Conn Henry, a physicist at John Hopkins University, penned a delightful essay for the journal Nature titled "The Mental Universe". I've excerpted parts of the essay below:

Historically, we have looked to our religious leaders to understand the meaning of our lives; the nature of our world. With Galileo Galilei, this changed. In establishing that the Earth goes around the Sun, Galileo not only succeeded in believing the unbelievable himself, but also convinced almost everyone else to do the same. This was a stunning accomplishment in ‘physics outreach’ and, with the subsequent work of Isaac Newton, physics joined religion in seeking to explain our place in the Universe.

The more recent physics revolution of the past 80 years has yet to transform general public understanding in a similar way. And yet a correct understanding of physics was accessible even to Pythagoras. According to Pythagoras, “number is all things”, and numbers are mental, not mechanical. Likewise, Newton called light “particles”, knowing the concept to be an ‘effective theory’ — useful, not true. . .

The 1925 discovery of quantum mechanics solved the problem of the Universe’s nature. Bright physicists were again led to believe the unbelievable — this time, that the Universe is mental. According to Sir James Jeans: “the stream of knowledge is heading towards a non-mechanical reality; the Universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine. Mind no longer appears to be an accidental intruder into the realm of matter... we ought rather hail it as the creator and governor of the realm of matter.” But physicists have not yet followed Galileo’s example, and convinced everyone of the wonders of quantum mechanics. As Sir Arthur Eddington explained: “It is difficult for the matter-of-fact physicist to accept the view that the substratum of everything is of mental character.”

In his play Copenhagen, which brings quantum mechanics to a wider audience, Michael Frayn gives these word to Niels Bohr: “we discover that... the Universe exists... only through the understanding lodged inside the human head.” . . .

Discussing the play, John H. Marburger III, President George W. Bush’s science adviser, observes that “in the Copenhagen interpretation of microscopic nature, there are neither waves nor particles”, but then frames his remarks in terms of a non-existent “underlying stuff ”. He points out that it is not true that matter “sometimes behaves like a wave and sometimes like a particle... The wave is not in the underlying stuff; it is in the spatial pattern of detector clicks... We cannot help but think of the clicks as caused by little localized pieces of stuff that we might as well call particles. This is where the particle language comes from. It does not come from the underlying stuff, but from our psychological predisposition to associate localized phenomena with particles.”

In place of “underlying stuff ” there have been serious attempts to preserve a material world — but they produce no new physics, and serve only to preserve an illusion. . .

Physicists shy from the truth because the truth is so alien to everyday physics. A common way to evade the mental Universe is to invoke ‘decoherence’ — the notion that ‘the physical environment’ is sufficient to create reality, independent of the human mind. Yet the idea that any irreversible act of amplification is necessary to collapse the wave function is known to be wrong: in ‘Renninger-type’ experiments, the wave function is collapsed simply by your human mind seeing nothing. The Universe is entirely mental.

In the tenth century, Ibn al-Haytham initiated the view that light proceeds from a source, enters the eye, and is perceived. This picture is incorrect but is still what most people think occurs, including, unless pressed, most physicists. To come to terms with the Universe, we must abandon such views. The world is quantum mechanical: we must learn to perceive it as such. One benefit of switching humanity to a correct perception of the world is the resulting joy of discovering the mental nature of the Universe. We have no idea what this mental nature implies, but — the great thing is — it is true. Beyond the acquisition of this perception, physics can no longer help. You may descend into solipsism, expand to deism, or something else if you can justify it — just don’t ask physics for help.

There is another benefit of seeing the world as quantum mechanical: someone who has learned to accept that nothing exists but observations is far ahead of peers who stumble through physics hoping to find out ‘what things are’. If we can ‘pull a Galileo,’ and get people believing the truth, they will find physics a breeze.

The Universe is immaterial — mental and spiritual. Live, and enjoy.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

"Official Science" as social control

Science is supposed to be a systematic method of inquiry, not a set of beliefs and dogmas that one must swear alliegence to or be drummed out of the ranks. So why is this kind of behavior so common? In this case, a critic was attacking a science blogger on Seed about a supposed insufficient commitment to reductionism:

sounds an awful lot like you are circling around the long discredited pit of vitalism. Why isn't it? How is it different?. . .

Are you are in fact headed down the anti-scientific path of "magic stuff" . . .If the former, I will have to withdraw my apology: I will have no truck with 'woo woo' science.

Yes, the guardians of official scientific belief stand guard to protect us from the dangers of 'woo woo' science. We can all breathe easier now. . .

Excellent podcast interviews. . .


Skeptiko has been doing some really excellent interviews and landing some of the top names in both skepticism and parapsychology research. Names like Dean Radin, Rupert Sheldrake, Charles Tart, Stephen Schwartz, Marilyn Schlitz, Michael Shermer and more. . .

Congratulations to Alex Tsakiris for his extremely successful new endeavour. AMNAP plans to analyze some of these interviews in more depth later. . .

Friday, April 13, 2007

"Skeptical" or just dogmatic and ignorant?

Below is part of a transcript of an interview with Rupert Sheldrake and "skeptic" Peter Atkins:

The discussion started with the interviewer asking Rupert to describe his work on telephone telepathy, and on his similar test with emails. Rupert described the results. In the videotaped telephone telepathy tests, the average hit rate was 45% compared with 25% expected by chance, with odds against this being a chance coincidence of billions to one. . .

The discussion continued as follows:

Interviewer: However let’s talk to a leading scientist, Professor Peter Atkins, who is a biologist at Lincoln College Oxford. Professor Atkins why is all this a total waste of time in your view?

Atkins: Well, you can’t rely on any of these experiments. And by the way I’m a chemist not a biologist. But there is no serious work done in this field. The samples that people use are very tiny, the effects are statistically insignificant, the controls are not done in a scientific way. On the whole there’s just no point in doing it. There are no serious reasons for believing there should be an effect of telepathy anyway. There is no mechanism within modern science to account for it. There’s nothing that drives people to believe in it except sentiment, emotion, and things like that.

. . .

Interviewer: On the other hand when he produces his evidence, he said 25% was what you would expect, but what he got was 45%, that is remarkable.

Atkins: No, that’s just playing with statistics.

Interviewer: Let’s put that to Rupert. Rupert Sheldrake, he says you’re just playing with statistics. He doesn’t believe a word of it. What do you say to him?

Rupert: Well I’d like to ask him if he’s actually read the evidence? May I ask you Professor Atkins if you’ve actually studied any of this evidence or any other evidence?

Atkins: No, but I would be very suspicious of it.

Rupert: Of course, being suspicious of it in advance of seeing it is normally called prejudice.

Atkins: Yes, there’s always reason to believe in bizarre phenomena by looking into alternative explanations within the scientific milieu. For example people guessing, because of a particular time of day that someone’s going to call.

Rupert: These tests exclude that, you seemed to have missed the point of the experiments. They’re done by random selection. You know, I started from the kinds of objections you’re putting forward, that’s the starting point, then we try to go on and test those in rigorous scientific tests.

Atkins: But they’re not rigorous.

Rupert: How do you know? You don’t know a thing about it, you haven’t looked at the evidence. I think you’re talking from a point of view of prejudice, dogma and frankly lack of information. I would never presume to comment on your experiments in chemistry without reading them.

Notice that Atkins hasn't even read the research he is criticizing. Without reading, he comments that the effects are "statistically insignificant" while in fact the research shows extremely strong statistical significance of billions to one against the chance hypothesis. He also attacks the research for a flaw that is already addressed by the experimental design. Yes, the hubris of the dogmatics of orthodoxy is quite something to behold!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Introduction to Morphic Resonance

In the late 1970s and early 80s, Rupert Sheldrake synthesized and publicized a new theory on holism, usually labeled the theory of Morphic Resonance. Rupert's theory looks at how more and more complex wholes (holons) emerge in the universe through time in a kind of universal evolutionary process. This research paper on Rupert's website provides a brief overview of the theory, for more detail I recommend his book The Presence of the Past. Here are some excerpts from Rupert's introductory paper on morphic resonance:

In the hypothesis of formative causation, discussed in detail in my books A NEW SCIENCE OF LIFE and THE PRESENCE OF THE PAST, I propose that memory is inherent in nature. Most of the so-called laws of nature are more like habits.

My interest in evolutionary habits arose when I was engaged in research in developmental biology, and was reinforced by reading Charles Darwin, for whom the habits of organisms were of central importance. As Francis Huxley has pointed out, Darwin’s most famous book could more appropriately have been entitled The Origin of Habits.

Morphic fields in biology

Over the course of fifteen years of research on plant development, I came to the conclusion that for understanding the development of plants, their morphogenesis, genes and gene products are not enough. Morphogenesis also depends on organizing fields. The same arguments apply to the development of animals. Since the 1920s many developmental biologists have proposed that biological organization depends on fields, variously called biological fields, or developmental fields, or positional fields, or morphogenetic fields.

All cells come from other cells, and all cells inherit fields of organization. Genes are part of this organization. They play an essential role. But they do not explain the organization itself. Why not?

Thanks to molecular biology, we know what genes do. They enable organisms to make particular proteins. Other genes are involved in the control of protein synthesis. Identifiable genes are switched on and particular proteins made at the beginning of new developmental processes. Some of these developmental switch genes, like the Hox genes in fruit flies, worms, fish and mammals, are very similar. In evolutionary terms, they are highly conserved. But switching on genes such as these cannot in itself determine form, otherwise fruit flies would not look different from us.

Many organisms live as free cells, including many yeasts, bacteria and amoebas. Some form complex mineral skeletons, as in diatoms and radiolarians, spectacularly pictured in the nineteenth century by Ernst Haeckel. Just making the right proteins at the right times cannot explain the complex skeletons of such structures without many other forces coming into play, including the organizing activity of cell membranes and microtubules. . .

I suggest that morphogenetic fields work by imposing patterns on otherwise random or indeterminate patterns of activity. For example they cause microtubules to crystallize in one part of the cell rather than another, even though the subunits from which they are made are present throughout the cell.

Morphogenetic fields are not fixed forever, but evolve. The fields of Afghan hounds and poodles have become different from those of their common ancestors, wolves. How are these fields inherited? I propose that that they are transmitted from past members of the species through a kind of non-local resonance, called morphic resonance.

The fields organizing the activity of the nervous system are likewise inherited through morphic resonance, conveying a collective, instinctive memory. Each individual both draws upon and contributes to the collective memory of the species. This means that new patterns of behaviour can spread more rapidly than would otherwise be possible. Foe example, if rats of a particular breed learn a new trick in Harvard, then rats of that breed should be able to learn the same trick faster all over the world, say in Edinburgh and Melbourne. There is already evidence from laboratory experiments (discussed in A NEW SCIENCE OF LIFE) that this actually happens.

The resonance of a brain with its own past states also helps to explain the memories of individual animals and humans. There is no need for all memories to be “stored” inside the brain. . .

The memory of nature

From the point of view of the hypothesis of morphic resonance, there is no need to suppose that all the laws of nature sprang into being fully formed at the moment of the Big Bang, like a kind of cosmic Napoleonic code, or that they exist in a metaphysical realm beyond time and space.

Before the general acceptance of the Big Bang theory in the 1960s, eternal laws seemed to make sense. The universe itself was thought to be eternal and evolution was confined to the biological realm. But we now live in a radically evolutionary universe.

If we want to stick to the idea of natural laws, we could say that as nature itself evolves, the laws of nature also evolve, just as human laws evolve over time. But then how would natural laws be remembered or enforced? The law metaphor is embarrassingly anthropomorphic. Habits are less human-centred. Many kinds of organisms have habits, but only humans have laws. The habits of nature depend on non-local similarity reinforcement. Through morphic resonance, the patterns of activity in self-organizing systems are influenced by similar patterns in the past, giving each species and each kind of self-organizing system a collective memory. . .

Habits are subject to natural selection; and the more often they are repeated, the more probable they become, other things being equal. Animals inherit the successful habits of their species as instincts. We inherit bodily, emotional, mental and cultural habits, including the habits of our languages. . .

The morphic fields of social groups connect together members of the group even when they are many miles apart, and provide channels of communication through which organisms can stay in touch at a distance. They help provide an explanation for telepathy. There is now good evidence that many species of animals are telepathic, and telepathy seems to be a normal means of animal communication, as discussed in my book DOGS THAT KNOW WHEN THEIR OWNERS ARE COMING HOME. Telepathy is normal not paranormal, natural not supernatural, and is also common between people, especially people who know each other well.

I believe that Sheldrake's theory of morphic resonance sheds a great deal of light upon a holistic understanding of nature, and the kinds of correlations and information transfer that we label as "psi phenomena".

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

AMNAP Interview with Rupert Sheldrake - (Repost from AMNAP 1.0)

AMNAP has been fortunate enough to get a personal interview with Rupert Sheldrake. As most of you probably know, Dr. Sheldrake is one of most prolific scientific investigators of the topics covered by this blog. Here are the questions I asked and Rupert's answers:

AMNAP: What experiments are you personally conducting and / or coordinating these days?

RS: At present I am mainly concentrating on Online Telepathy Tests, and investigating the ability of people to wake sleeping animals by staring at them. I invite anyone who is interested to try the Online Telepathy Test for themselves. It’s on my website Also, I’d love to hear from any who’s found they can wake an animal, such as a dog or cat, by staring at it. Please email me at

AMNAP: It's been a decade since the publication of your book Seven Experiments that could Change the World. Have you thought of an eighth (or more) experiment that would be worth adding to the list?

RS: I have already added several more experiments to the list of seven. Perhaps the most notable is the telephone telepathy test, on which I’ve published several papers and which has been giving very positive and highly significant results. This is the background for the online telepathy test currently on my website.

AMNAP: Why do you think that parapsychology and related areas of study are so disreputable to "mainstream" science?

RS: Parapsychology has been under a kind of taboo for decades. I think this is because psychic phenomena became classified as superstition by Enlightenment rationalists, who wanted to move beyond superstition and religion, to a new era of science and reason. Unfortunately this hope has hardened into dogma and ironically, people who defend these taboos become very unscientific and very unreasonable.

AMNAP: I found your research with JayTee to be some of the most convincing evidence for the existence of telepathy. The effect size was very large and even a hard-core "skeptic" like Richard Wiseman was easily able to replicate your data. Are you aware of anyone conducting ongoing research with other animals like Kane and Jaytee to try and replicate your findings with other return-anticipating pets?

RS: I don’t know of anyone trying to replicate our work with return-anticipating pets. I wish someone would do this. It would be very good to have some filmed experiments with cats, and also with parrots. This would make a good student project and I hope someone will take it up.

AMNAP: You've been involved with a lot of different projects since the publication of A New Science of Life. Educational videos and series, books touching on spirituality and science, conducting experiments and writing scientific papers, interviews, writing books, and family life too. What do you see as your major projects over the next decade?

RS: My main projects over the next few years are likely to be automated tests for telepathy and other psychic phenomena. I think that democratising this research and opening it up to widespread participation is extremely important. The internet provides a wonderful way of doing that. I hope also that large scale participation in experiments on the sense of being stared at will also be possible both through the internet and in school and college classes.

In addition to these interests in unexplained human and animal phenomena, I continue with my original fascination with biological morphogenesis, and am particularly interested in the forms of leaves and how they develop. The idea of morphic fields arose first of all in developmental biology, and I still see this as one of the core areas in which biology needs to move forward.

AMNAP: One of the benefits to a "standard" academic career is the opportunity to mentor young people to follow in one's footsteps, carry on one's work, etc. Your book Seven Experiments That Could Change the World seemed to have that sort of a feel to it. Are you seeing any young people picking up the gauntlet and carrying out the sorts of experiments that could change the world? Any names in particular we ought to pay attention to?

RS: Very few people within universities at the graduate level have taken up the kinds of experiments I do. This is not through shortage of interest, but because over and over again graduate students who get interested are advised by their academic supervisors that they should do something conventional unless they want to damage their careers. Regrettable though it is, I’m afraid this is probably sound advice. It reflects the reality of the prejudices that are still so strong within the academic world. On the other hand dozens of undergraduates and high school students have done projects based on my research, and have made an important contribution to knowledge in this field. I have recently launched on a trial basis a Work Scholar programme, which encourages people in schools and colleges to take part in my research projects and gain research experience by doing so.

AMNAP: Is there anything that people can say or show to "skeptics" that might change their minds about the possibility that something beyond a dead, mechanistic universe might be real?

RS: One of the biggest problems for the mechanistic worldview is consciousness itself. Those who believe that mechanistic science can explain everything have not done too well in the area of consciousness studies, although they still hope that somehow the study of brain activity will lead to an understanding of the nature of the mind. But very few people think this problem can be solved easily. In fact, in academic circles is it usually called "the hard problem".
I hope that if there is good, repeatable evidence for telepathy in animals and people this will also have an impact on "sceptics". Many have had these experiences themselves, or know people who have but are forced to deny them in the interests of what they think of as science. However if it can be showed through scientific investigations themselves that the evidence for these phenomena is stronger than the evidence against them, I think this will help to open things up. Some "sceptics" are afraid that if telepathy is admitted to exist, then science as we know it will crumble. This is not the case. I hope when they realise that they needn’t be so afraid that their minds will be more open. Richard Dawkins has recently suggested the term "perinormal", meaning near the normal, for phenomena like telepathy as opposed to "paranormal", which means beyond the normal. I agree with him that these phenomena could become accepted as part of normal science and I hope this change will come about quite soon.

AMNAP: The main current of thought in science and academia is incredibly reductionistic. Seemingly more today than ever before. Everywhere you hear about the power of the genome to control virtually all aspects of human physiology and behavior, how neurology and brain biochemistry experiments have disproved the existence of a soul, and that self-replicating machines and strong AI are just around the corner. In the background there are a few voices with a different message, but those voices seem so marginalized and so ignored. Do you see any hope for a sea change in the scientific establishment's position any time soon?

RS: The reductionistic, molecular biological approach has dominated biology for more than forty years. It has lead to a vast amount of detailed information, like the sequences of the genomes of many different organisms. But it has still not given us an understanding of fundamental biological problems like the development of embryos and plants. Increasing numbers of molecular biologists are coming to realise that they are drowning in data and need to have some simplifying principles, some way of understanding how all this molecular detail has organised and integrated. I think this will lead to an interest in more holistic approaches to biology and that this could start to happen soon.

Thank you very much Rupert for participating in this interview. I'm sure the readers of AMNAP will find your answers as interesting and thought-provoking as I did. Make sure you check out Rupert's web site and read some of his peer-reviewed research.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Other blogs to read. . .

Parapsychologist Dean Radin writes about his own research and the broader field of parapsychology in his blog.

Annalisa Ventola covers the broad field of parapsychology in her blog, updated frequently.

Bestselling author Michael Prescott writes frequently about psi phenomena, and his collection of articles on survival after death is second to none.

The Daily Grail (or simply TDG for the cognescenti) is not exactly a blog, but offers daily coverage of psi phenomena, UFOs, the other parapsychology blogs, weird science, and much more. . .

Medium Marcel Cairo (who AMNAP is quite impressed with) writes a blog and also co-hosts a radio show!

"Rudis" on his blog Psience makes fun of the gullibility and foolishness of believers in the "paranormal".

I'm sure there are lots more blogs I need to mention, but this is a good start. If you know of some more I should include, please add them to the comments!

Update: Marcel informs me that his blog is actually here now. Also "anonymous" points out which covers parapsychology and also conducts online psi experiments.

Confirmation Bias (Repost from AMNAP 1.0)

Emory University released a study in January of 2006 examining fMRI images of brain activity in registered Democrats and Republicans who were watching videos of George Bush and John Kerry caught in political untruths. The results of the study were fascinating (emphasis added by me):

When it comes to forming opinions and making judgments on hot political issues, partisans of both parties don't let facts get in the way of their decision-making, according to a new Emory University study. The research sheds light on why staunch Democrats and Republicans can hear the same information, but walk away with opposite conclusions.

The investigators used functional neuroimaging (fMRI) to study a sample of committed Democrats and Republicans during the three months prior to the U.S. Presidential election of 2004. The Democrats and Republicans were given a reasoning task in which they had to evaluate threatening information about their own candidate. During the task, the subjects underwent fMRI to see what parts of their brain were active. What the researchers found was striking.

"We did not see any increased activation of the parts of the brain normally engaged during reasoning," says Drew Westen, director of clinical psychology at Emory who led the study. "What we saw instead was a network of emotion circuits lighting up, including circuits hypothesized to be involved in regulating emotion, and circuits known to be involved in resolving conflicts.". . .

Once partisans had come to completely biased conclusions -- essentially finding ways to ignore information that could not be rationally discounted -- not only did circuits that mediate negative emotions like sadness and disgust turn off, but subjects got a blast of activation in circuits involved in reward -- similar to what addicts receive when they get their fix, Westen explains.

"None of the circuits involved in conscious reasoning were particularly engaged," says Westen. "Essentially, it appears as if partisans twirl the cognitive kaleidoscope until they get the conclusions they want, and then they get massively reinforced for it, with the elimination of negative emotional states and activation of positive ones."

During the study, the partisans were given 18 sets of stimuli, six each regarding President George W. Bush, his challenger, Senator John Kerry, and politically neutral male control figures such as actor Tom Hanks. For each set of stimuli, partisans first read a statement from the target (Bush or Kerry). The first statement was followed by a second statement that documented a clear contradiction between the target's words and deeds, generally suggesting that the candidate was dishonest or pandering.

Next, partisans were asked to consider the discrepancy, and then to rate the extent to which the person's words and deeds were contradictory. Finally, they were presented with an exculpatory statement that might explain away the apparent contradiction, and asked to reconsider and again rate the extent to which the target's words and deeds were contradictory.

Behavioral data showed a pattern of emotionally biased reasoning: partisans denied obvious contradictions for their own candidate that they had no difficulty detecting in the opposing candidate. Importantly, in both their behavioral and neural responses, Republicans and Democrats did not differ in the way they responded to contradictions for the neutral control targets, such as Hanks, but Democrats responded to Kerry as Republicans responded to Bush.

While reasoning about apparent contradictions for their own candidate, partisans showed activations throughout the orbital frontal cortex, indicating emotional processing and presumably emotion regulation strategies. There also were activations in areas of the brain associated with the experience of unpleasant emotions, the processing of emotion and conflict, and judgments of forgiveness and moral accountability.

Notably absent were any increases in activation of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain most associated with reasoning (as well as conscious efforts to suppress emotion). The finding suggests that the emotion-driven processes that lead to biased judgments likely occur outside of awareness, and are distinct from normal reasoning processes when emotion is not so heavily engaged, says Westen.

The investigators hypothesize that emotionally biased reasoning leads to the "stamping in" or reinforcement of a defensive belief, associating the participant's "revisionist" account of the data with positive emotion or relief and elimination of distress. "The result is that partisan beliefs are calcified, and the person can learn very little from new data," Westen says.

The study has potentially wide implications, from politics to business, and demonstrates that emotional bias can play a strong role in decision-making, Westen says. "Everyone from executives and judges to scientists and politicians may reason to emotionally biased judgments when they have a vested interest in how to interpret 'the facts,' " Westen says.

Coauthors of the study include Pavel Blagov and Stephan Hamann of the Emory Department of Psychology, and Keith Harenski and Clint Kilts of the Emory Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.

It is obvious that these results--if themselves confirmed--could easily have a broad application to any area of strong beliefs and heated debate. Is it true that skeptics of psi phenomena are being irrational about the facts? There is certainly some data pointing in this direction. Of course, those who accept the existence of psi phenomena need to watch for their own tendencies towards confirmation bias, and remember that many psychics and purported phenomena are bogus. This definitely adds support to the charge that "scientific" opposition to psi phenomena is more about sociology than science.

Are scientists afraid of ghosts? (Repost from AMNAP 1.0)

Pulitzer prize-winning science writer Deborah Blum has written an insightful opinion piece for the LA Times decrying the way modern science has systematically ignored the most interesting and important questions of human nature and the possibility of the survival of consciousness. Here are some excerpts:

A HUNDRED years ago, one of the most ambitious of research projects was launched, a study that linked scholars and mediums on three continents. Its purpose was to discover whether living humans could talk to dead ones.

Newspapers described the work as "remarkable experiments testing the reality of life after death." The scholars involved included William James, the famed American psychologist and philosopher, and Oliver Lodge, the British physicist and radio pioneer. They saw evidence for the supernatural — in this world and perhaps the next. . .

Could any study produce results more provocative, more worth pursuing — more forgotten — a century later? For many, the dismissal of such Victorian research represents a triumph of modern science over superstition. But — and I admit that this is an unusual position for a mainstream science writer — I believe that it may instead represent a missed opportunity, a lost chance to better understand ourselves and our world.

Curiosity about the supernatural has not diminished over the last century. The last few years have, in fact, seen a surge in occult-themed TV, including such popular dramas as "Medium," parodies such as "Psych" and reality-themed shows featuring professional mediums or paranormal investigators. On the radio, "Coast to Coast AM with George Noory" focuses on supernatural issues and boasts 2.5 million listeners. Paranormal organizations, schools for mediums and practicing psychics flourish.

What has diminished is the interest of academic researchers on a par with James and his colleagues — and, correspondingly, the quality of the science. Yes, there are paranormal investigators using modern technology to hunt for the heat signature (in the infrared) of ghosts or the energy of a spectral communication (electronic voice phenomena). There are even a few accomplished university scientists exploring the supernatural, although often on the side and covertly. But there's nothing as sophisticated, at least in design, as the Victorians' work.

In addition to the ambitious "cross-correspondence" study cited earlier, the Victorian scholars ran an international survey of reported ghost sightings, particularly those tied to the death of a relative or friend. Tens of thousands of people in multiple countries were interviewed; hundreds of volunteers sifted through the reports, rejecting those that lacked independent witnesses or documentation. They concluded that "death visitants" occurred more than 400 times above chance. . .

Why do so many people report visions, voices or sensations of friends or relatives at the moment of the other's death? Is it wishful thinking, hallucination, undiagnosed mental illness, a human tendency to stamp meaning onto events, a remarkable pattern of liars, genuine telepathy, a visiting ghost? All those possibilities have been raised, and none have been adequately researched.

"Either I or the scientist is a fool with our opposing views of probability," James wrote. The risk of appearing foolish, he believed, was the least of the dangers. There was also the risk of failing to investigate the world in all its dimensions, or making it appear smaller and less interesting than it really is. He worried about a time when people would become "indifferent to science because science is so callously indifferent to their experiences." He worried that a close-minded community of science could become a kind of cult itself, devoted to its own beliefs and no more.

And, as should be obvious here, I have come to agree with him.

More dogmatism (Repost from AMNAP 1.0) has published some fascinating essays from the history of psychical research and parapsychology. Here is an excerpt from an essay by Hans Enysenck and Carl Sargent (emphasis added by me):

Finally, scientists have queried the research methods and statistics of parapsychologists - in isolated skirmishes. This seems to be a symptom of their concern rather than part of it. The statistical issues were settled many years ago, and whilst some researchers occasionally make slips, parapsychologists generally are extremely careful and even over-conservative in their evaluations of experiments. Similar comments would apply to methods of experimenting: the average standard is better than it was, say, 30 years ago, and a pinnacle of achievement like Schmidt's work has produced many laudatory comments from parapsylchologists and sceptics alike. Anyone trying to mount a comprehensive critical attack on parapsychology from a statistical viewpoint would be doomed to failure (no-one has tried for the last 30 years). An attack based solely on criticism of research methods could not survive without extensive appeal to fraud (which, as we've seen, is all unscientific and corrupting argument - like heroin once get the taste for it you can't stop).

This exhausts all the rational sceptical arguments which are brought to bear on parapsychology. However, it is clear that a purely rational perspective will not suffice to explain scientific attitudes. What makes John Taylor utter emotive (and amusing) phrases like 'ESP is dead'? What made one colleague of Sargent's say to him, after a discussion of his, and other researcher's, Ganzfeld-ESP work, 'The results you presented would convince me of anything else, but this: I just cannot believe it and I don't know why'? A story told to us by Dr Bernard Dixon, an ex-editor of New Scientist and someone broadly sceptical about parapsychology, which really brings this irrational component home is this. After a lecture at the Royal Institution on PK metal-bending, one physicist sitting close to Dixon leapt to his feet and shouted, 'It's all nonsense. Nonsense! Heard it all before! Nonsense!' Dixon stated that he was so purple that he, Dixon, worried for a moment about whether the man might have a coronary or not. What is it that drives normally sane enough people to such extremes of virtually speechless irrationality?

We are familiar enough with irrational belief. There are some people who will believe almost anything. But, on the other hand, there are people who will refuse to believe anything. A perfect example would be the great scientist Helmholtz: 'Neither the testimony of all the Fellows of the Royal Society, nor even the evidence of my own senses, would lead me to believe in the transmission of thought from one person to another independent of the recognised channels of sense.' Here we have irrational disbelief: just another Lavoisier. Helmholtz has put himself beyond the pale of science: not the testimony of every single Fellow of the Royal Society would persuade him to revise his irrational disbelief. In short, Helmholtz has stated: My mind is made up and no evidence is going to change it. Now, whatever rules science has (and these, are constantly debated), this nonsense violates most of them.

So, why is irrational disbelief not seen for what it is? Why do newspapers detail excesses of gullibility but remain silent on this issue? Possibly because the irrational disbelievers have played a classic con-trick on us: they have pretended to be the 'real' scientists, defending the purity of science against the dangerous nonsense of parapsychology. But they may be seen, on closer inspection, to be nothing of the kind. Indeed they are not sceptics at all!

Consider what the irrational disbeliever is saying. First, there are certain Laws of nature (and the sceptic will frequently use the disreputable tactic of appealing to authority, in Inquisitional vein, here) - and psi contradicts them (which cannot be stated, as we've seen). Therefore psi cannot possibly occur, and one can dismiss any 'evidence' for it on any grounds which happen to be convenient - bad experiments, fraud, conspiracy, that kind of thing ('arguments' which contravene all rules of scientific discourse).

The parapsychologist is the true sceptic. He says, 'There is evidence, of the existence of Phenomena not generally accepted by science, and not incorporated into scientific theories. I am not prepared to accept it on the word of some authority (or group thereof) that these things cannot possibly exist. I question orthodoxy, and if you define dissent as heresy, so much the worse for science. I'm going to look at the facts without preconceptions.

New knowledge is often acquired by people who refused to accept the so-called Laws of nature, and authoritarian pronouncements about what was possible and impossible. Parapsychologists are in this tradition. They have generated new knowledge.

Double-blind experimental validation of Masaru Emoto's "Messages From Water" hypothesis (Repost from AMNAP 1.0)

Masaru Emoto raised a lot of eyebrows in 1999 with the publication of his book Messages From Water and his controversial claim that water that is exposed to positive messages and intentions will freeze into more attractive and symmetrical crystals than untreated water or water treated with negative messages.

Dr. Dean Radin and Dr. Gail Hayssen of the Institute of Noetic Sciences worked with Masaru Emoto and Takashige Kizu to evaluate these claims with a double-blind controlled experiment. First, two bottles of water were selected for remote intentionality and two were left alone as controls. Then the water was sent to Emoto's team in in Japan which used the treated and untreated water to create ice crystals and photograph them. Emoto's team was blind to which samples were control and which were treated. Finally the photographs were evaluated by 100 volunteers for their aesthetic value, who were also blind to the control versus treated crystals. The results were highly significant and have just been published in the latest issue of Explore Journal.

Here is the abstract from this paper:


The hypothesis that water “treated” with intention can affect ice crystals formed from that water was pilot tested under double-blind conditions. A group of approximately 2,000 people in Tokyo focused positive intentions towards water samples located inside an electromagnetically shielded room in California. That group was unaware of similar water samples set aside in a different location as controls. Ice crystals formed from both sets of water samples were blindly identified and photographed by an analyst, and the resulting images were blindly assessed for aesthetic appeal by 100 independent judges. Results indicated that crystals from the treated water were given higher scores for aesthetic appeal than those from the control water (p = 0.001, one-tailed), lending support to the hypothesis.

Another nobel Laureate publicly supporting psi research (Repost from AMNAP 1.0)

Brian Josephson received the Nobel Prize for physics in 1973 for his work as a graduate student on superconductivity. In 2001 Josephson wrote a brief public statement used by Britian's Royal Mail for a centenary commemoration of the Nobel prizes:

Quantum theory is now being fruitfully combined with theories of information and computation. These developments may lead to an explanation of processes still not understood within conventional science such as telepathy, an area where Britain is at the forefront of research.

Brian's web pages provide additional essays and articles in support of psi phenomena.

Great book list for survival research (repost from AMNAP 1.0)

Bestselling fiction author Michael Prescott has a keen interest in psi phenomena, particularly survival research. His latest blog post has a great book list for students of survival research, along with a short summary of each book and his takeaway impressions.

I've only read a fraction of the books on the list, but I concur with his judgements on those titles that I personally own.

Anyone interested in the scientific study of the possibility of consciousness survival after death should start with Michael's list of books.

Interview with Rupert Sheldrake (Repost from AMNAP 1.0)

The Australian Broadcasting Service has released a new interview with Rupert Sheldrake, with audio and a text transcript. Here is a brief extract:

Robyn Williams: How did you come to make this transition long ago from being a botanist at Clare College, Cambridge to what you do now?

Rupert Sheldrake: While I was Clare College, Cambridge working in developmental biology, I came to the conclusion that the regular reductionist genes and protein approach was too limited. We needed a field approach to biology. So it got me into the idea of morphogenetic fields.

Robyn Williams: Yes but how? What really made you feel that the reductionist way was insufficient?

Rupert Sheldrake: Simply through coming up against a brick wall, through realising that in specifically I was working on the plant hormone auxin, and how it's made and how it's transported. I discovered the transport system that's now in every textbook. So this was sort of straightforward mainstream research but then I realised that in order to explain plant form, this explained too much. All plants have auxin, all of them have the similar transport system, and yet eucalyptus trees, and oak trees, and ash trees all have different shaped leaves and different kinds of flowers. So auxin couldn't possibly explain these different forms. It was obviously involved in the process, but it was involved in the process in the same way that food's involved in the growth of animals. Or all animals have the same kinds of hormones, all mammals. It doesn't explain why we're different from chimps or cows. And auxin doesn't explain why plants have their specific form. For that, you need another explanation and I got from the developmental biology literature the idea of morphogenetic fields. . .

Robyn Williams: We'll come to that in just a minute. Were you disappointed by the scepticism with which a lot of this has been greeted by the orthodox university people?

Rupert Sheldrake: Well I in a way expected a kind of scepticism. I developed these ideas when I was working in the biochemistry department at Cambridge and, you know, when I discussed these ideas with my colleagues, I noticed that the idea of collective memory and morphic resonance, and so on, was greeted with less than wild enthusiasm. So I was prepared for that. I don't mind that, it's fair enough, it's part of science. What I don't like is dogmatic prejudice. I mean, healthy scepticism is part of science, a completely closed dogmatic prejudice isn't. There's plenty of that around and I think it's bad for science.

But the other thing that surprised me was how many scientists are actually open-minded. I meet them all the time. I have a lot of friends and colleagues within institutional science who are tremendously helpful to me and very friendly. The only thing is that they are afraid. There's a kind of culture of fear within science, people are afraid to step out of line. And I don't have anything to fear, 'cause I've got nothing to lose, but I think that science would be greatly helped by a parallel with the gay liberation movement. I'm always saying to my colleagues, "why don't you come out?", because science would be so much more fun if those who do have a wider way of thinking were prepared to say so.

Robyn Williams: What sort of things would they come out with? What might they say if one of your friends did something like that?

Rupert Sheldrake: Well I mean take a taboo topic like telepathy. Most ordinary people think they've had telepathic experiences. Most people within science labs have also had them, 'cause they are ordinary people when they're not at work, and indeed when they are at work. But the culture of science labs is one that says, "this is a taboo topic, you're not meant to believe in it." So they don't feel free to talk about it when they're at work. They might talk about it after work, or after a glass a beer with friends or family, but not at work, and they may even pretend it doesn't exist at work. So that's the kind of thing, you know, a kind of secret life that's separated from a public appearance. And I think the parallels with the gay liberation movement are quite strong. . .

Rupert Sheldrake: [Referring to a telephone telepathy experiment which was produced for television. . .] Well, they were people from the TV studio. They had sceptics in the audience including Professor Chris French, and they did it with sceptical critiques in mind. I discuss these things with sceptics all the time. I mean, I find people like Chris French quite helpful; he's a noted British sceptic, a professor in London University. Others are not, some of them are just purely dogmatists. You know, they say, "this is impossible, I'm not interested in the evidence cause I know it's wrong." That doesn't seem to me very scientific. . .

Some of my opponents take the view we more or less know the truth already, it's just a matter of filling in the details. I think that's wrong, I think there's a huge amount we don't understand; most of all the human mind itself, and that's one of the areas I'm working in.

Robyn Williams: No mention of spiritual values, always dealing with scientific terms only? How come?

Rupert Sheldrake: Well I don't think that the existence or non-existence of telepathy or premonition, or can animals foretell earthquakes and tsunamis, and other questions I look at, I don't think these are particularly connected with spiritual values. I mean, you find as much scepticism about these things among religious believers as among secular people, secular humanists. I don't know any religion which is sort of tied to a belief in these kinds of things. They seem to be pretty neutral from the point of view of religious belief. So I think that spiritual values are important, I think spiritual experience is important, but that, I think, is in a different category from telepathy, which I think is a basic form of communication between members of animal groups, common in many animal species, including human.

In the complete interview, Rupert elaborates on his development of the theory of morphic resonance, as well as more details on some of his experiments.

Interview with Marcel Cairo (repost from AMNAP 1.0)

Usually this blog covers scientific research into psi phenomena. Occasionally I also relate anecdotes and other less formal kinds of data. I thought the readers of this blog would find it a nice change of pace to hear from a practitioner whose work touches on the research covered by this blog. So I invited Marcel Cairo to talk about his work as a medium for the enjoyment of our readers.

AMNAP: First of all, Marcel, thanks for agreeing to perform a reading for me and having an article written about it, published here a few days ago. And second, thank you for agreeing to be interviewed about your work as a medium. I think AMNAP's readers would be fascinated to hear what you have to say about your work communicating with those who have passed on.

Here is my first question. How did you come to practice mediumship?

Marcel: This is a question that I get a lot, most likely, all mediums are asked this question at regular intervals. I think people are looking for what I call a “burning bush” moment. A special moment in history when God or spirit appear to man and ask for his/her assistance in carrying forward their heavenly message. Well, sorry to disappoint, but there was no “burning bush” that beckoned me to this work. In my case, my development as a medium was a classic case of nature and nurture coming together to awaken my awareness.

I say nurture because I grew up in a household where scientific, intellectual, spiritual and philosophical discussions were common dinner table fodder. My mother was, and still is, as an extreme a mom as you can ever imagine. A fiercely independent doctor who questioned and challenged the establishment at every step of the way, my mother taught me and my three brothers to question authority, defy convention and let the universe be our teacher.

Anyway, while other kids lived behind closed doors, my house was Grand Central station for all types of freaks, creeps, gurus and geniuses that one way or another made their way through San Antonio, Texas. I can remember astronomers, mathematicians, athletes, artists, ex-cons, lunatics, you name it. To me, though, they were all gypsies possessing some secret or another about life. Often times, my mom would pull out the Ziriya board (a Ziriya talking board) and hold séances. She would have me join in as she believed that children were better at channeling spiritual energy than adults. Now remember, my Mom was a doctor and researcher. To her, this wasn’t anything more than an investigation into energy and it’s continuation after death.

To make a long story short, in 9th grade at the age of 15, I asked a good friend of mine to have lunch with me. During our lunch, not knowing why, I asked her what she would do if her father died. She was taken aback be the question, and soon the subject was changed. When she arrived home that day, she was told that her father who had been on a business trip to El Paso, had fallen asleep at the wheel and died in a car crash. Even though her father was already dead by the time I had asked her this question, I felt extremely guilty and somehow blamed myself for not having done something to prevent the accident. At this same time, one of my mom’s frequent gypsies introduced me to the spiritualist church (, and it is there that I began a very long apprenticeship under the wings of an honest, talented and compassionate reverend (and medium).

AMNAP: Marcel, have you always had a spiritual belief, or were you ever a doubter or a scoffer at the notion of survival after death?

Marcel: I am constantly challenging my own beliefs and am always looking to learn from others. My doubts are doubts I have of my own self; my own shortcomings as a human, as a father, as a friend, a husband, etc. Like most people, I am my own worst enemy, and can often become self-defeating. Luckily, my own awareness and my spiritual support team are there to kick me in the ass and make me snap back into a positive mode. If I scoff at anything, it is at my own ego, and how often that ego makes a fool of me when I think I know better. Spirit has been too good and forgiving of me for me to scoff at it.

AMNAP: What do you think is the purpose of life, given the work that you do?

Marcel: For me, the purpose of life is quite simple. To love. To forgive. To laugh. I can’t think of anything that feels as good physically or spiritually as those three things.

AMNAP: Do you protect yourself from any possible "negative entities" when communicating with the deceased? Ever have negative experiences while doing this work?

Marcel: Very rarely do I encounter “negative” entities, but they are there. When I do encounter them, they are mostly spirits that are commonly termed “earth-bound angels,” those who are still resisting letting go of their earthly addictions or their carnal cravings. The way I protect myself is by telling them to keep their distance while communicating with me. I also depend on my spiritual crew to protect me. Just six months ago, I did a reading for a woman who I had seen once prior. In our reading, an uncle-in-law stepped in who while on Earth had been quite “evil and clever,” to put it in my client’s terms. He was still very disturbed in some ways, and was mocking my client by taunting her with painful memories that had rocked her family. This entity started to make me feel very uncomfortable and vulnerable. I couldn’t even look in his direction because he was so unsettling. Eventually, I had to ask my “bouncers” to show him the door. That’s the thing to remember as a medium, that even though you no control over the information that comes through, you still have free will to just say no or close down. Many mediums just beginning get so excited and caught up in the communication process that they forget to protect themselves or close down when necessary.

AMNAP: How does your family feel about your avocation for mediumship?

Marcel: That’s quite funny that you ask this question because only last year, after 22 years of doing this, did I start telling both my brothers and friends of my mediumship abilities. My brothers knew that I was a “spiritualist” and attended a spiritualist church from time to time, but they had no idea that I was a medium until last year. I told my mom a couple of years ago.

Why did I hide this part of me for so long? I guess because I am a very private person on one level, and because I never wanted my vocation to define me. I don’t walk into every situation in life broadcasting that I can talk to the dead like I’m something special. It’s totally irrelevant to who I am as a person. Sure, it’s helped me grow, but if people are going to care about me, it’s because I have earned that care by being a good relative or a friend.

AMNAP: Has it ever been difficult being a medium for you? Any regrets?

Marcel: Yes, it has. Being a medium means it’s a lot harder to deceive yourself. When I act selfishly, inappropriately or uncompassionate, I am immediately aware of it and feel the mighty sting of spirit rubbing my face in it. As a carnal being with an ego, I make at least a dozen mistakes a day, and have at least two dozen inappropriate thoughts every couple of hours. In sit-down readings, I often feel like a hypocrite when spirit starts to talk about my client’s spiritual shortcomings. I’m the first person to say, “Hey, don’t sweat it because I’m also no angel, and spirit still talks to me.”

Regrets? There are a few biggies. Mainly not preparing for a reading properly by either being drunk the night before or not getting enough sleep. If I get cocky, spirit makes me pay by humiliating me in front of clients or my wife. It’s painful.

AMNAP: What do you say about skeptics who claim that you cannot really communicate with the dead?

Marcel: I’m a fighter by nature, so my reactive instinct is to want to prove skeptics wrong. Sometimes I’m able to refrain from engaging them in battle, but more often than I care to mention, I end up goading them in to some kind of fruitless debate where no one wins and everyone’s time is wasted. Look, I’m not trying to change anyone’s belief system. All I really want is for people to entertain the idea that consciousness survival is possible and that if applied correctly, it can benefit your spiritual journey. In all honesty, I don’t have any problems with skeptics. Being skeptic only means that you are unsure, but open to new possibilities. It’s self-righteous cynics that I can’t stomach. Cynics thrive from destruction. That’s the kind of person I try to steer clear of.

AMNAP: Do you have any worries about your own death?

Marcel: I don’t fear death, but I dread dying. I was in New York on 9/11 and saw the collapse of the towers with my own eyes. I had nightmares for months afterwards and still have a difficult time with it all. My paranoia about flying has quadrupled. I’m also a father now, and I don’t think there’s enough I can do to protect my daughter. In my readings so many children come through for their parents, but in the end, it doesn’t mean a thing. There’s not much that can console a grieving parent. I understand that completely now.

AMNAP: What is your best personal story about mediumship where something that has come up in a reading?

Marcel: There are many things which delight me in each reading I am a part of. I am always in awe and wonder at what spirit manages to bring through. One of the things that really stands out in my mind goes back to a reading I did for a father who lost his four year-old son who was hit by a car as he and his mom were crossing the street. The parents were separated at the time of the accident, and quite expectantly, the father could not help but place some blame on the mother for the son’s death. This four year-old boy brought through so many validations that it was shocking even to me. It wasn’t just the things he said, but the maturity in which he said them. At the end of the reading, the boy asked the father to forgive his mother, that it wasn’t her fault, and there was nothing she could do to prevent it. The father was in tears, as this was a big request to make. Then, as if to seal the deal, the four year-old son made me raise my hand in the air with all my fingers spread out and go and place them on the hand of the father. After the father was able to speak through his emotions, he told me that he and his son never parted ways without first putting up their hands to each other, exactly the way the son had me do in that reading. It was very touching and emotional for me. It made me forget for a moment all the mistakes I make and all the struggles I sometimes have in other readings.

AMNAP: Anything else you would like to tell the readers about mediumship or the implications of your work?

Marcel: People who study PSI and other related topics hope that somehow survival of consciousness will be proven in a laboratory using the scientific method. I don’t think this is possible, because in the end, it really comes down to belief, not facts. I mean here we are nearing the year 2007, and we are still debating whether we came from from monkeys or Adam and Eve.

A good analogy here is the field of history. Though people say history repeats itself, in actuality, history cannot be repeated in a lab. Does that make it less real? Less worthy of serious study? In fact, most people think that history is an objective science, but it’s not. History is purely subjective in the eyes of the observer. Not one single event in history has been agreed to by all people. Not the Holocaust, not the landing on the moon, and not 9/11. Still, no one questions whether history happens. Everyone just question who’s version of history to believe.

As a medium, I have a simple mantra – aim for 100% honesty, not 100% accuracy. Mediumship, is a biography gathered from unreliable sources written in invisible ink on pages that don’t exist. It’s an imperfect form of communication for lack of a better one, but its proper application and careful study can be life defining. For me, the difference between those with faith and those without is just that; believers have something that can't be touched, and those who doubt, just doubt. I’m happy to believe. I’m even happier to know for sure.

AMNAP: Thanks again Marcel for sharing with the readers of this blog. I hope all our readers enjoyed this different approach to a topic than our usual emphasis on controlled experimental studies. . .