[extropy-chat] Precognition on TV

Jef Allbright jef at jefallbright.net
Fri Mar 16 18:51:52 UTC 2007

On 3/15/07, Jef Allbright <jef at jefallbright.net> wrote:

> > Or the growing number of controlled
> > "presponse" measurements, which physiological sensors register
> > significant responses not only in advance of a stimulus having been
> > generated but in advance of its being chosen at random from a
> > possible set of stimuli. I would not be surprised if this latter
> > protocol is what will finally establish the reality of some kinds of
> > reverse causality in perception, and will be published in the
> > heavy-duty scientific literature. It's sufficiently simple and
> > elegant that it edges toward resembling classic probes of visual or
> > acoustic acuity.
> With the links you provided, I started with the page by Utts and
> Josephson at http://anson.ucdavis.edu/%7Eutts/azpsi.html:
> "In one type of experiment, a "target" photograph or video segment is
> randomly chosen out of a set of four possibilities. A "sender"
> attempts to transmit it mentally and a "receiver" is then asked to
> provide an account either verbally or in writing of what she imagines
> it might be. She is then shown the four possibilities, and selects the
> one she thinks best matches her perception. By chance alone, a correct
> match is expected on average one time in four, whereas the experiments
> typically show the considerably higher success rate of around one in
> three."
> These are /wonderfully/ significant results, published since 1996,
> backed by the prestige of Brian Josephson!  Why in the last 10+ years
> has this not been reproduced to the satisfaction of the scientific
> community?  I will say that my own impression is that Ms. Utts is
> quite enthusiastic about promoting this field (elsewhere she explains
> that it has received only two months of resources, proportionate to a
> century for standard psychology.)  I feel compelled to wonder at this
> point whether this isn't an (unintentional) example of cherry picking
> results.
> I'm looking forward to reading more of the references and will get back to you.

Damien, I'm getting back to you after spending a few hours last night
refreshing memories of this field since my last spelunking a few years
ago.  I'm afraid the illumination in those passages hasn't improved,
while sadly I find I'm navigating with slightly greater certainty than
last time due to lack of no new surprises.

As I re-read about May, Utts, Radin, Puthoff, Geller, Boundary
Institute, Susan Blackmore,  Ray Hyman,  the Stargate program, PEAR,
and the various other scientific and pseudo-scientific conferences and
studies on parapsychological phenomena, I see certain personalities
and their (quite understandable) will to believe overshadowing any

Edwin May's papers are perhaps the most credible in appearance,
(especially in contrast to those of some of his associates, one of
whom reminds me of PT Barnum in a lab coat) but his writing, some of
it emotional, show the marks of a true believer who will continue to
do whatever he can to prove what he already believes.  His papers on
anticipatory galvanic skin response (1993, 1995) were interesting and
while he acknowledged their weakness as retrospective analysis, I'm
left wondering about the fate of the anticipated prospective
experiments?  After the Stargate program was terminated it seems he
joined Radin at the Boundary Institute and continued to publish
additional interesting but non-conclusive papers.  But in over ten
years couldn't he or someone else follow up on the ns-GSR paper that
seemed so promising??

Some of these people do appear to attempt good experimental protocol,
but many of those around them (some who began as believers but
eventually convinced themselves otherwise) observe a multitude of
failures to account for bias and communication paths between
experimenters and subjects.

Indeed, wouldn't it be reasonable to say that any and all scientific
experiments are tainted to some small degree due to the ultimately
subjective nature of the enterprise?  So, when believers go looking
for subtle effects, they are likely to find them, with just the
quirky, unrepeatable, subjective nature which they have come to
believe characterizes their subject.  What should we think of a
putative effect that diminishes in proportion to experimental rigor?

I do respect those who strive to uncover subtle anomalous effects --
as I've said, this promotes the good by refining our understanding of
our world, but I'm afraid that when I look at this field, I see hints
that something subtle could just possibly exist, swamped by an
overwhelming array of unscientific (but quite understandable) human

I am looking forward to reading your forthcoming book (and I'm halfway
through that enjoyable collection of your short stories - thanks!)

- Jef

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