ESP Experiment Creating Stir

Very distinguished and respected psych professor has published a study in a top journal that’s causing a stir. He ran a bunch of experiments and he’s suggesting that time is leaking.

I have no statistics in my pocket i can deploy, but i assume that the +/-3% chance increase in the first test to not be particularly… infallible.

The second test is more intriguing.

It’s still pretty much pseudo science though. There has to be a mechanism of transmission in anything resembling conventional space-time. I suppose you could hand wave some mumbo jumbo about quantum mechanics, probabilities, and some such, going both directions, and the mind being “entangled” by QM effects without being consciously aware of it, and these effects somehow able to reproduce in the macro scale, ect. But it seems like Astrophysics just keeps getting weirder, and not the other way around, so why not psychology? I’m going to pre-order my Lightsaber just in case.

This has every appearance of potential bullshit. There’s no plausible reason to expect the effect to happen, the actual measured effect isn’t particularly significant, and initial attempts to replicate the results have failed. I’d class him on the edge of being a true believer, which is another good reason to be highly suspicious of his findings from the outset. His most outrageous claim (that “observed psychological” whatevers occurred before the computer decided what to show) is both vague and poorly sourced in all of the media material.

The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry’s James Alcock does a much more thorough examination than I am capable of.

I knew you were going to say that.

The psychic excitement of knowing that the results weren’t going to be replicated in the future made them 3 percent more likely to occur in the first place.

Clever Girl

Yeah, in situations like this the investigator should be asking themselves, “'What could possibly be wrong with my experimental setup?” and not “OMFG EVERYTHING WE KNOW ABOUT THE SPACETIME CONTINUUM IS WRONG!1!

Chances are this guy will lose his reputation because some grad student made a mistake somewhere when programming the test. (“What do you mean the random number function always returns the same sequence of numbers unless you tell it otherwise! That’s not random!”)

Ah well, this will give future generations of freshmen something to chuckle over when their professors explain the importance of replication.

Initial research indicates that this IS this guy’s reputation. One of his first papers was a defense of Mansfeld, which has also since been discredited. His backstory appears to be that he did some time as a stage magician and mentalist, and rather than going the way most practitioners do and growing highly skeptical of psi and paranormal claims, ended up tilting the other way.

In other words, this sequence has the same problem every other paranormal testing sequence seems to have - the guy running the show is a true believer who practiced monumentally awful experimental procedure and represents his results in the media as showing something other than what they do (for example, even if we accept that all of the results of his experiments were caused by some as-yet unexplained phenomenon allowing the arrow of time to move backwards and forwards at the same time, it doesn’t confirm the existence of psychic abilities at all - it just gives us a data point that we need to explain in our models of the universe, and at best it removes one of the primary barriers to the plausibility of psychic phenomenon, which is the lack of any kind of energy to affect the purported changes or medium to transfer the information). This guy seems a lot like Dean Radin to me - a guy with questionable expertise in the field he’s doing work in (see this fellow’s appeal to quantum mechanics) who seems like a genuinely nice person who really believes what he’s saying, but is too far into his own nonsense to critically examine what he’s doing.

I’m really just disappointed in NPR for picking this up and running with it with only a single link to the CSI criticism to provide context. I would think they would be better than that.

Any percentage result can be significant depending on the data. With 100 tests, 53% vs. 50% is not much. With a billion tests, it’s an enormously big deal.

From this NPR article alone there’s no way to explore the conditions of the trial, to verify the trial’s validity from a practical experimental viewpoint, or to verify its validity from a statistical viewpoint even if you assume the experiment was pure and unsullied.

For that matter, even if you follow the link to the Bem PDF and read it, which I haven’t bothered to do, there is no way to be sure it’s not concocted from whole cloth. Or maybe the grad student he used to write the software screwed it up or thought it would be funny to mess with the expriment. It could for example be an exercise in establishing the ease of duping either scientific journals (if it really was published and peer-reviewed) or news organizations (if it’s just purely made up.)

But fortunately the whole point of science is to have repeatable experiments. If some other skeptical group can repeat the experiment, then it’s meaningful. Until then, since it runs so grossly counter to pretty much the rest of science, it’s almost certainly either a hoax or self-deception on the part of the experimenter. This last case can easily come about through a corrupt experimental environment.

And by the way, one thing that evidently is even more compelling than sex for many people is gambling.

A 3% deviation from expected outcomes in certain casino games where the user can decide which of a future outcome binary or trinary path to choose to make money (roulette red/black or video-poker-doubling-game, for example, or craps pass/don’t pass) would be grossly obvious to the entire industry.

Moreover, they would have run the gambling industry into the ground by now. Perfectly played blackjack (without counting - with counting, it’s the one game in Vegas that you can turn to your favor, albeit at the potential expense of, you know, your thumbs or knees or whatever it is casinos are breaking these days) and craps both have incredibly slim probability margins for the house, on the order of less than a single percentage point (craps gets progressively better the more they let you put out in straight odds bets, while blackjack is just an inherently slim game when you don’t play it like an idiot and follow the rules for optimizing your chances in the player’s chair). Even a slight deviation from pure chance (which presumes non-predictability of outcomes) would blow both of those games out of the water.

How would ESP help you with craps? You’re talking precognition? I can see it helping in Poker and Blackjack because you’d be reading the minds if your opponents, but craps is pure chance.


I suppose Bem could argue that the outcomes in these gambling cases are more abstract and less visceral than the immediacy of seeing a sexual image, but that would be similar handwaving to that of a medium who says that the mere presence of a skeptic keeps the spirits away.

Someone call The Doctor.

Well, as Krulwich says, we shall see if anybody successfully repeats the experiment. It isn’t really big news until then.

This gets to a different point - the tests were for unintentional, essentially random precognition and not for mind-reading, so it’s sort of the opposite of what you’re thinking. It would be applicable in situations governed by pure chance but less so in ones where multiple participants are contributing to the outcome through independent decisions, since those situations would presumably have each participant getting his whispers from the future, in turn affecting his reactions to the situation in a sort of continuous feedback loop.

ESP has been misused in this thread, everyone is talking about sub/unconsciously knowing future events.

The advantage for craps comes in knowing what to bet on, in Blackjack it would be when to hit or not.

The second test seemed very interesting - the idea that cramming for an exam after the test might somehow allow you to do better opens all sorts of interesting possibilities for serial procrastinators like myself.

It also raises some excellent possibilities for determining your suitability for future endeavors. Perhaps Mozart was not really a child prodigy – it’s just that he worked so fanatically at his music later in life that it “bled back” and showed up when he was just three. Conversely, my continuing inability to play the bagpipes probably shows that my future self never practices enough to become any good, so I can check that time-waster off my list right now.

But to return to quasi-seriousness: with all the ESP tests that have been done in the past (which card is the Queen of Spades? which cup has the ball under it? etc.), wouldn’t the 3.5% variance have been exposed long ago? Almost every serious study using similar tests to check for ESP returned near 50/50 results; if the first part of Bem’s study is actually manifesting what he says it is, you’d have to go back and figure out why all the others did not… unless the subjects were never shown whether they succeeded or failed, I guess.

I think supposedly seeing the future qualifies as “Extra Sensory Perception” :-P


Read the whole thing, it’s fascinating.