Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Parapsychology in the PRC: 1979 [pdf] (cia.gov)
49 points by dosy 35 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 27 comments

Can anyone offer some context on “parapsychology” in general? Is there any credible results on this stuff that happened within the last decade? Etc.

>Parapsychologists are constantly protesting that they are playing by all the standard scientific rules, and yet their results are being ignored – that they are unfairly being held to higher standards than everyone else. I’m willing to believe that. It just means that the standard statistical methods of science are so weak and flawed as to permit a field of study to sustain itself in the complete absence of any subject matter.


Just as a thought experiment, suppose psi were actually real. How would you ever discover it, if you always interpreted positive results as evidence that your methods were bad?

There are plenty of people that believe they have discovered it, they just can't actually use it for anything practical except scamming rubes. I actually had a conversation once with a real person who said basically -

"The mistake the cold fusion guys made is they didn't apply it to something practical, like powering a car or heating a house".

Er, maybe there's a reason for that.

So my test for these things isn't so much did they achieve a P-value of less that 0.05, it's are their results good enough to use in a hospital to cure patients, or to propel a vehicle, or to use instead of a telephone. Are they actually useful for anything? Not just so that some people think they get a benefit sometimes, but that anyone can provably get a consistent benefit.

Lots of things many people think are just blue sky science are actually super-useful. Quantum mechanics is used to engineer semiconductors (the operating principle of a transistor is a quantum effect), relativity is used in GPS calculations to provide accurate positioning data, Chaos theory is used to extract useful information out of data once thought to be random.

Psi is super useful for making sensationalist TV shows about haunted houses and clairvoyants that claim this or that, provided you only watch the show and don't actually look into the facts behind the stories. If this stuff was true one or two police departments wouldn't have used one or two clairvoyants on a few cases, every police force would have a full time clairvoyant on the payroll and oil companies would fund clairvoyant schools and pay graduates top dollar to go prospecting for them.

I agree. I think it exists, but humans are pretty weak at it. I think we can get much better, and it's pretty rare to get results at a useful level, but the "baseline" abilities (parasympathetic activation by being watched, blind sight, remote viewing, to name a few) are accessible to all at a very rudimentary level with some training/awareness, but to get useful consistent results is very rare, and probably requires a lot of training combined with natural talent.

So on the "have it and aware of it" long tail you get a lot of psychics basically functioning as highly emphatic counselors with access to some out-of-band knowledge. Maybe at the high-end there are consultants who do work for big oil, corporate, aerospace and government. But for some reason (maybe the topic's history, Stargate, etc) they're secreted away.

How do you distinguish between it existing but being very weak, and it not existing but cognitive bias and random fluctuations in the data occasionally producing a false positive?

it's a good point, I'll have to think more about it.

have you read paper zero by Bem? what's your thoughts on it?

I went looking for some more scholarly evidence, which is quite hard to find, but I am grateful for the opportunity to look more into the existence of studies.

A 2018 review that finds cumulative support, published in American Psychologist[10], and here's an intro and write-up by the British Psychological Society [11]

A 2011 review of approaches to meta-analysis of psi studies that finds support[12]

A 2012 review of evidence and proposal of a quantum mechanical basis that finds support[13]

My take: Scholarly evidence is hard to find, but the evidence is there, and acceptance is growing. That claim that psi is impossible and unsupported is the bolder claim that requires strong evidence to be taken seriously.

Personally, I believe. And I do not understand the visceral resistance, especially from Americans, who are deeply religious people. I see no contradiciton between faith and psi. We take faith at face value, the feeling of connection to the divine, or belief in the main figures, and in stories, and saints, and miracles that speak of extraordinary powers, or people sharing how they knew their loved one had died, or speaking with deceased relatives. Do you really believe that is all cognitive bias and random fluctuations, personally I mean?

Another way of saying things is, we need to be more humble. We don't understand how it can work, but we need to recognize we don't know enough to dismiss it and say it's impossible. What if psi was part of God's plan? And by rejecting it, and the stories of people who tell it, we are turning our backs on one part of divine creation?

[10]: https://www.neuroquantology.com/index.php/journal/article/vi...

[11]: https://digest.bps.org.uk/2018/07/02/parapsychology-has-been...

[12]: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2011.0011...

[13]: https://www.neuroquantology.com/index.php/journal/article/vi...

Research on the topic will always be, well, tricky. We're talking about determining that the cause of a particular event is nothing more than the most mysterious system in the entire known universe. Until we can fully understand the brain, we'll never be able to create the kind of universal causality that underpins scientific achievement.

If I can do something interesting, say, 7 out of 10 times, science is not going to be happy until it's 10 out of 10. How do you get from 7 out of 10 to 10 out of 10? It could be as simple as changing your diet or as complicated as changing beliefs.

Science is only interested in fully-causal relationships. But human beings are the things least-driven by causality in the universe. Which is why we tend to separate 'science' from 'the humanities'. Studying humans is extremely valuable. But they're not deterministic and so you need less rigorous ways to study them.

This is a very good point. Full-causal relationships. With something magic like this, science really will not be happy until it's 10 out of 10.

Probably diet, pharmacology, genetics, biome, and beliefs are important, but there's no studies. That would be interesting.

I think the human factor also comes into play. Somehow because it's obviously useful, and a human ability, it makes people treat it differently than if we could train a machine or an AI to do it. If there was a psychic AI machine that got 7 out of 10, using some quantum entanglement stuff, everyone would be losing their minds to research and improve it. But as soon as it involves humans, the scholars lose their verve.

I have documented a 2 out of 2 experience that I have had on Quora. I'll link it here: https://www.quora.com/How-does-telekinesis-work-Can-our-brai...

The sheer mass of human vagary involved in that account presents a nigh-insurmountable obstacle, especially given that one of my determinations was that "if God doesn't want a thing to happen, it won't happen." That all alone kills any attempt to make it repeatable.

I suppose I could get together with a researcher and try to explore the space. But unless we can get to rigor and full repeatability, whose going to care?

'Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away.'

And from that linked SSC article,

> ...But rather than speculate, I prefer to take it as a brute fact. Studies are going to be confounded by the allegiance of the researcher. When researchers who don’t believe something discover it, that’s when it’s worth looking into.

Good point. I don't see why we ought to bring emotion into it at all. It's obvious people are scared of the researching the topic. That makes them problematic for the science. There needs to be a way to analyse data without bias, similar to how exams are marked without knowing names.

Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research

Scientific Study of Consciousness-Related Physical Phenomena


I got interested in ESP about a year ago, from personal daily experience. I then answered this question for me personally, mostly from Jeffrey Mishlove podcasts. My short summary is that there is a focus on a handful of "protocols" (methods) which each individually validate ESP scientifically. There's a lot of confidence that because of this ESP will break out of the fringe category soon. It seems psychology is taking note (and that it must). The field is in need of a new generation as the founders are aging. ESP appears to not be constrained by time or space. There is no theoretical basis for the phenomenon.

I agree, and that we can even have this discussion on HN right now, rather than it being knocked out of the park into cranksville, ignored or flagged is pretty big. I'm no expert on (HN) zeitgeist history, but my feeling is a couple of years ago you couldn't. Things like this are rapidly seeing more public engagement.

To me that trend sounds of a kind with the slow influx of anti-vax, conspiracy theory, etc. mindsets in Internet communities; facts don't always win and the bringing together of people invested in some untrue belief provides validation and normalizes the existence of such communities.

That's not to say psi investigators deserve personal attack for their efforts, it's a harmless belief. But i think it's also ok to dismiss unsupported ideas without engaging with them. As another commenter pointed out - if there is a real phenomenon there, somebody will use it to do something.

you seem pretty level-headed and well-intentioned so that's good. but I think you need to ask yourself at what point does dismissing something become ignoring reality?

you use the word unsupported but that word is problematic. it's problematic because in the context of the scientific method what's supported and not is a constantly changing landscape in flux, moved by phenomena, experiments, data and their interpretation.

I'm not saying you're not aware of what that word means. I'm saying that I suspect that you apply it liberally when actually scientifically that word means something like an even-handed assessment of all the evidence, over time.

so if you want to have a model faithful to reality you have to be very careful about how you use that thought, about "support".

so let's take the study zero ling tear. that shows some anomalous retrocausal effect.

how do you update your beliefs when encountered with his paper from Cornell?

the other really important point is this is a phenomenon that people experience. it's qualia, and there's lots of documented things like remote viewing blind side memories of reincarnated past lives that are validated. but even ignoring that just from the anecdotal people say they have this experience. now even factoring out the important Mass psychology and personal psychology motivators for having a belief like this do you really scientifically feel satisfied that "no effect" interpretations explain everything?

in other words even framing the existing phenomena in the weakest possible form you really feel scientifically satisfied to say with integrity that there's nothing there? that it's unsupported?

I think in fact the unsupported is the bold claim to make that would require some strong evidence.

> That's not to say psi investigators deserve personal attack for their efforts, it's a harmless belief.

I'd say they might be offended, because as scientists they have accumulated a public body of work. Why can't it speak for itself, like all scientific work?

> But i think it's also NOT ok to dismiss unsupported ideas without engaging with them.

I inserted the NOT, because I think you forgot to.

> if there is a real phenomenon there, somebody will use it to do something

People do commonly use it, it is a part of everyone's daily life, the normally invisible undiscussed part of the why and the how. But that's not the point.

Scientists, and by extension society itself, favor hard science, first and foremost because it allows them to function culturally. So now we have a culture, and cultures tend, to establish themselves, to harass those that are not a part of them. They attract those that do the harassment, and puts them in power.

Power means the cultural bullies win in a court of law, regardless of evidence, and that the court will tell the other side to shut the f*ck up.

The undesirable traits in the above are cultural side-effects. We live a culture which trumps science, as it wages a war. In a war we all lose, yet the one-eyed, those that trump the culture, somehow account a win. They feel they win by exempting themselves.

The point is, ESP is under attack, not because it is guilty of being unscientific, but because of the existence of cultural power, and because the exploit of this power provides sociopaths with a habitat, to power abuse, cultural abuse.

We are immersed in this culture, by nature it is intolerant: violent in and of itself.

strong defence, I like it.

I just went looking for some "credible results", as in "published research of well designed experiments", rather than "I predicted that X would happen and it did" or "I knew what Y was thinking and I was right", which although interesting and useful are probably less convincing for people.

There's this write up from 2011 by Huffpost[1] about this Cornell experiment[0]:

[0]: http://dbem.org/FeelingFuture.pdf

[1]: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/esp-evidence_n_795366

If you want a TLDR you do one for everyone else. You've stats skills, and maybe you're a skeptic, so I guess you can find some reason to dismiss the methodology, but it would be more interesting to get your insight into the stats in the paper.

Another paper testing more hypotheses related to retrocausal effects[2]

[2]: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/273946180_Anomalous...

I've also heard about experiments to measure the effect of humans trying to influence a random number generator (genuine entropy source), and being able to do it, but I couldn't find any papers this time.

Also would be interesting to track [3] to see if there's any high performers.

[3]: https://www.predibly.com/

The beyoncefan666[4] twitter is pretty spooky. Big ticket events, correct predictions. But I wouldn't really call it credible until I see a timeline of specific events with good accuracy.

[4]: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/feb/02/beyoncefa...

psi is about more than predictions about the future, or looking into the past, or finding missing items or people. I haven't see any good evidence for human telekinetic ability (despite the legions of people on YouTube claiming they can spin 'psi wheels').

My notion is like all abilities, this is on a bell curve. There must be some people very good at some things. Genuine strong TKs tho would probably be considered a threat and suppressed / imprisoned (like Magneto, basically, in X-Men).

If I wanted to find strong psychics I would go to casinos.

Erm I'm skimming this and not finding anything you can test using statistics. Just a bunch of weird assertions that don't mean anything. For example:

"An article published in the Dec. 13, 2010 issue of The New Yorker highlights a phenomenon that is well known to scientists, not only in the field of psi but across many disciplines: Initial experiments can show very strong results, but when the experiments are repeated again and again, the effects can decline."

First off, the New Yorker isn't exactly ... well science. Second off; there is a well known reason why "initial experiments show strong results" -it's called p-value hacking.

Please have a look at [1] and [2] now

I quoted something linked in [1] (Huffpo not science either; trash mostly) and I don't think [2] says what you think it says.

If there were statistical evidence for "psychic powers," you'd presumably be able to present some. It's not like there aren't enough fruity people out there who REALLY WANT to believe in this sort of thing. By now, after ... literally centuries of people trying this sort of thing, you should have at least one example of unexplained phenomena.

that's weird, I meant [0] and [2] the two papers.

And you could be right about 2, I didn't read it yet, just included it to add a paper I found looking for credible results.

now, you called people crazy, and if this topic is so overwhelming for you that you're falling back to ignoring facts and calling people crazy names, take a mental health day and come back to it when you're feeling more resilient, instead of projecting onto others. that's not a nice or useful way to discuss.

since you said that I think I can point out that you've ignored 0 so far. you seem to want to not believe this, so is 0 the inconvenient truth you're pretending doesn't exist? closing your eyes and hoping reality will go away seems pretty crazy to me. haha.

you know that doesn't actually make it disappear, right? Right?

I just checked out your WordPress site and you are real scientist. I'm shocked that 1 you don't think there's some sort of quantum underpinnings of this phenomena and 2 you don't want to investigate it. You're an anti establishment guy you seem bitter that your niche research is unappreciated. well, this field quantum physics X psi could be a real fit for you. seriously consider it, I mean it.

The Twitter fortune telling thing comes from a person posting as many possible predictions on their timeline, then deleting the incorrect predictions, leaving what looks like a string of correct guesses.

Being truly able to influence RNGs would break a not insignificant portion of the cryptography currently in use.

Stranger Things Chinese edition?

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact