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Your Thoughts Can Release Abilities Beyond Normal Limits (scientificamerican.com)
218 points by azsromej on Aug 14, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 135 comments



A quote: "There seems to be a simple way to instantly increase a person’s level of general knowledge. Psychologists ..."

Ahh. Psychologists. Expectations calibrated.

"Expecting to know the answers made people more likely to get the answers right."

Ah, yes -- that conclusion should be easy to rigorously quantify, explain in neuroscientific terms, turn into a general theory, and replicate before anyone assumes we're doing actual science. But no one will shape a theory, there will be no replications, and this study, like 99% of psychology studies, will disappear without a trace, only to be inadvertently repeated years from now by someone who will arrive at the opposite conclusion.


explain in neuroscientific terms

Isn't that putting the cart before the horse? The article draws attention to a phenomenon that isn't predicted by current theory. Before a predictive theory has been developed, there is even some censorship or bias risk in using neuroscientific terms.


>> explain in neuroscientific terms

> Isn't that putting the cart before the horse?

Not in science. In science, the explanation is both the cart and the horse. No explanation, no science. Einstein didn't win a Nobel Prize for noting that electrons are emitted by a metal surface, he won for explaining why they are emitted. Had Einstein been a psychologist, publishing the fact that electrons are emitted (for simply describing) would have been enough.

> The article draws attention to a phenomenon that isn't predicted by current theory.

That's uncontroversial, since there are no theories in psychology, only descriptions. This, by the way, is why the director of the NIMH recently decided to abandon the DSM, to so-called "bible" of psychiatry and psychology, on the ground that it only contains descriptions and therefore has no scientific value (the DSM will remain as a diagnostic guide):

http://www.nimh.nih.gov/about/director/2013/transforming-dia...

Quote: "... symptom-based diagnosis, once common in other areas of medicine, has been largely replaced in the past half century as we have understood that symptoms alone rarely indicate the best choice of treatment ... Patients with mental disorders deserve better."

> Before a predictive theory has been developed, there is even some censorship or bias risk in using neuroscientific terms.

I think there's little risk in asking "Where's the science?"


In science, the explanation is both the cart and the horse.

I'm sorry, but no. Observation comes first, then hypotheses, then prediction, then verification. Explanations go from proposed to confirmed, but they are certainly not the genesis of scientific knowledge. The phenomenon itself must come first, otherwise all you have is the fitting of facts to theory.

So, we have observations w/out a coherent, compelling, or generally agreed-to theory. If and when a successful theory is developed, it will predict observations to date and predict more effects not yet observed or observed and ignored. Well, that sounds like a pretty exciting field of science, actually.


>> In science, the explanation is both the cart and the horse.

> I'm sorry, but no. Observation comes first, then hypotheses, then prediction, then verification.

The corpus of scientific theory is a set of tested, falsifiable explanations. Legitimate sciences don't rely on mere descriptions, even well-tested ones.

But let's take your claim and test it scientifically -- let's assume that we don't need explanations, we can get by with your stated criteria: observations, "hypotheses, then prediction, then verification." Here goes:

Let's say I'm a doctor and I've created a revolutionary cure for the common cold. My cure is to shake a dried gourd over the cold sufferer until he gets better. The cure might take a week, but it always works. My method is repeatable and perfectly reliable, and I've published my cure in a refereed scientific journal (there are now any number of phony refereed scientific journals). And, because (in this thought experiment) science can get along without defining theories, I'm under no obligation to try to explain my cure, or consider alternative explanations for my breakthrough — I only have to describe it, just like a psychologist.

Because I've cured the common cold, and because I've met all the requirements that psychology recognizes for science, I deserve a Nobel Prize. Yes or no?

Ask yourself what's wrong with this picture, and notice that the same thing is wrong with psychology — all description, no explanation, no established principles on which different psychologists agree, no effort to build consensus, and no unifying theories.

> So, we have observations w/out a coherent, compelling, or generally agreed-to theory. If and when a successful theory is developed, it will predict observations to date and predict more effects not yet observed or observed and ignored. Well, that sounds like a pretty exciting field of science, actually.

Yes -- and shaking a dried gourd can cure the common cold.


To continue your thought experiment, another researcher designs a new, double-blind trial of gourds, and discovers that while gourds per se have no effect, the placebo effect is statistically significant.

There is no explanation for WHY expectations would effect outcomes. In fact, any explanation at this stage would be provisional and highly suspect. And yet, there it is. What are we to do, ignore this phenomenon as if it didn't exist? Question the statistical ability of the researcher, and all other researchers who document a placebo effect?

And lo, the messenger. Ready, aim, fire.


> To continue your thought experiment, another researcher designs a new, double-blind trial of gourds, and discovers that while gourds per se have no effect, the placebo effect is statistically significant.

Without a search for causes, for explanations, even the placebo effect is routinely disregarded. For example, it has been recently discovered that all psychological therapies are equally efficacious. Until now, the assumption was that Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy was superior to others, but that's been disproven. But, even though all therapies produce the same outcome, no one in psychology seems willing to consider the idea that it's all placebo effect.

> In fact, any explanation at this stage would be provisional and highly suspect.

Except the one that Occam's razor suggests, the default assumption under these circumstances: placebo effect. Or, perhaps better, the non-explanation suggested by the null hypothesis -- nothing meaningful has been measured and no conclusions can be drawn, which I think is your point.

> What are we to do, ignore this phenomenon as if it didn't exist?

No, but as scientists, we would do well to avoid drawing any conclusions not supported by rigorous experiment -- including the responsibility to propose and then test a theory about what's been observed.


I'm not really sure what you guys are arguing about... obviously observations and descriptions are an important first step toward developing scientific theories. Lutusp seems to be complaining about people who feel descriptions are sufficient and make no effort to discern the underlying mechanism. Is there really disagreement on this point?

If there is, then maybe this is just a debate about Instrumentalism:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Instrumentalism


> Lutusp seems to be complaining about people who feel descriptions are sufficient and make no effort to discern the underlying mechanism. Is there really disagreement on this point?

Yes, among psychologists, who insist that explanations aren't necessary, that it's science even if no one tries to identify a cause for the effect being measured. But this assumption is now under serious challenge, as more and more emphasis is being placed on a search for causes, to the degree that the director of the NIMH recently ruled that the DSM (psychology's "bible") will no longer be accepted as a source for science (it will remain as a diagnostic guide).

The practical meaning of this change is that researchers who apply for funding through the NIMH will need to avoid using the DSM's symptomatic categories as a basis for research -- they instead need to express their proposals in more scientific terms, in terms of causes, not just effects. In other words, explanations, not just descriptions.


"I'm sorry, but no. Observation comes first, then hypotheses, then prediction, then verification. Explanations go from proposed to confirmed, but they are certainly not the genesis of scientific knowledge.

Not really. I mean, I appreciate the old "Scientific Method" card, that doesn't actually describe how it happens, pretty much ever. All observations happen schematically: by the time you're in grade-school, you've already gotten a basic grounder in Science: The Lies to Children Edition, and all future observations and learning are elaborations on the groundwork. Observations without theory happen at somewhere around, I don't know, age 2. By the time you can speak, you've already started the process of sense-making. In reality, observation always happens against the background of pre-existing theory. It's turtles, all the way down. (This is hardly ground-breaking: Thomas Kuhn was discussing this half a century ago).

"The phenomenon itself must come first, otherwise all you have is the fitting of facts to theory."

Which is precisely what we do. We collect facts, interpret them (that is, use them as a representation of underlying trends or relationships), and then collect more facts to see if our generalization holds true beyond the initial dataset that we used to generate our ideas. Science is absolutely about fitting facts to theory, and then collecting more facts to test that theory, and then elaborating that theory based on those new facts. It's entirely circular (for at least the last few centuries): no modern scientist sets out gathering observations without any pre-existing theory in his head.


Right, so you are describing what Kuhn termed the period of "normal science": theory in hand, collect new facts, fit facts to theory, repeat.

HOWEVER, that theory-in-hand rests on an earlier paradigm shift, where previously anomalous observations were re-integrated via some new conceptual framework that better accounted for all observations, not merely the conformed ones that scientists had focused on in the prior period of normal science.

So yeah, perhaps in the day-in, day-out existence of professional scientists, most work is fitting facts to theory. However, that theory exists because facts come first, because at some point in the past, mounting factual evidence overwhelmed the theoretical biases of an earlier generation.

Do I really need to spell this out for the HN crowd? For you, who reference Kuhn?


> no modern scientist sets out gathering observations without any pre-existing theory in his head.

Or without the intent to shape a new theory, a new, testable inductive generalization, as when Einstein shaped special relativity. That's my favorite example because it happened in a theory vacuum, no pun intended. There must be a theory to inform the research, or the research must lead to a testable theory, or both.


> Not in science. In science, the explanation is both the cart and the horse. No explanation, no science.

Fair enough. But that doesn't mean that whenever you encounter the boundaries of science you get to call people derisive names and ridicule them.

See my other comment — I used to have the same smug approach, until I found out on myself that there are things that medicine doesn't understand. Of course I don't call it "science", but I don't ridicule it, either. I just know that we don't know.


> But that doesn't mean that whenever you encounter the boundaries of science you get to call people derisive names and ridicule them.

Not an issue except to the oversensitive. Consider the words of NIMH director Insel as he recently announced that the DSM (psychiatry and psychology's "bible") is to be abandoned:

http://www.nimh.nih.gov/about/director/2013/transforming-dia...

Quote: "The strength of each of the editions of DSM has been “reliability” – each edition has ensured that clinicians use the same terms in the same ways. The weakness is its lack of validity ... Patients with mental disorders deserve better."

To a psychiatrist or psychologist, in particular those responsible for the content of the DSM, calling it invalid and unscientific might be taken as personal criticism. But that's unavoidable if we're going to move away from unscientific practices.

> See my other comment — I used to have the same smug approach, until I found out on myself that there are things that medicine doesn't understand.

That isn't a legitimate comparison. In medicine, if something isn't understood, a researcher says, "We don't understand this." In psychiatry and psychology, the response is, "Take some Zyprexa and call me in the morning."

Personally, I look forward to the day when "NOS: Not Otherwise Specified" will no longer be looked on as a legitimate diagnosis meriting treatment.


He's not talking about medicine, he's taking about psychology. I'm sure molecular pathology gets a very favourable "is science" score.


There are a number of people through the ages who have greatly advanced science by providing accurate observations. In fact, many scientists specialize in working out how to test the explanations of others.

It seems somewhat odd to say that Tycho Brahe was not doing science when he compiled unprecedentedly accurate astronomical tables that were the foundation for revolutions in the way we understand the universe, or to say that Arthur Eddington was not doing science when he measured the deflection of light during a solar eclipse.

The first (and many subsequent) Nobel prize in physics was given for a discovery, not an explanation.

Rutherford famously said "All science is either physics or stamp collecting", and I'm sure he meant to denigrate the stamp collecting aspect, but the fact is that it's absolutely key to science.


> There are a number of people through the ages who have greatly advanced science by providing accurate observations.

We need to distinguish between scientific observations and scientific theories. A scientific theory, in particular the sort that ends up defining scientific fields, must be in the form of a tested, falsifiable explanation of observations, preferably one that predicts new observations yet to be made.

Psychology's problems don't result from an absence of scientists -- there are plenty. But until those scientists start crafting falsifiable theories about their observations, psychology will remain a pseudoscience.

The peculiar thing is that psychologists don't realize this. It has something to do with how they're trained. At some point, they're told that, with respect to the mind, looking for causes is a fool's errand, and they assume they can create science without proposing and testing explanations for what they observe.

But they can't -- science doesn't work that way. As a result, psychology has produced any number of dried-gourd cures over the years.


his point is that these studies never seem to get to that point. they never even seem get to the point of forming a predictive theory.

'seem' is the operative word here.


>Ahh. Psychologists. Expectations calibrated.

A, a positivist reductionist. Expectations on intellectual sophistication and ability to comprehend the world beyond simplistic models calibrated.


>> Ahh. Psychologists. Expectations calibrated.

> A, a positivist reductionist.

With respect to psychology, given its history, the burden isn't on me to avoid faulty generalizations, it's on psychology to overcome the weight of its past.

> Expectations on intellectual sophistication and ability to comprehend the world beyond simplistic models calibrated.

At a time when the director of the NIMH has decided to abandon the DSM on the ground that it's not scientific enough to take seriously?

http://www.nimh.nih.gov/about/director/2013/transforming-dia...

Quote: "The strength of each of the editions of DSM has been “reliability” – each edition has ensured that clinicians use the same terms in the same ways. The weakness is its lack of validity ... Patients with mental disorders deserve better."

What appears to be a simplistic generalization is, in this case, the result of much reflection and analysis, and a reluctant but legitimate conclusion.


I think the phrase you're looking for is "ad hominem".


I don't think "ad scientum field" is any better than an "ad hominem".

Not to mention that mine was not an ad hominem in the first place. I attacked an epistemology/methodology "positivism/reductionism" that he exhibited (as far as I can tell), not his person.


> "Expecting to know the answers made people more likely to get the answers right."

Well, yes, if someone expects you to know the answer it seems pretty straight forward that you would be more inclined to make a guess rather than saying "I don't know." All of us who ever watched a quiz show on TV know that people who guess an answer instead of passing will sometimes get it right. More often than people who pass, actually.


>Well, yes, if someone expects you to know the answer it seems pretty straight forward that you would be more inclined to make a guess rather than saying "I don't know."

And what makes you think that they didn't account for the "I don't knows"?

It generally surprises me how, from reading an 100 high mile description of an article, some commenters always assume (without any evidence) that the results are due to some extremely naive methodological mistake.


But did they account for the "I don't know so I'll just randomly pick something" vs the "I should know this, so I'll reason about it" groups?

If you're teaching a subject to someone, you will often come across situations where what is lacking is not knowledge, but confidence or willingness to apply the knowledge. I see that often in my son, and I've seen that at work: People say they don't know, or make a crap guess even in situations where I know that they know the actual answer. Often some prodding or "confidence boosting" will make them produce the real answer very quickly, and often subsequent answers appears to be forthcoming a lot quicker.

It'd be very surprising to me if you can't systematically improve peoples response by increasing their confidence in their ability to answer. The more interesting question to me is by how much, and with how little encouragement.


I think it's due to expectations. Every single time I read about psychology research there are these glaring gaps in methodology that completely nullify their experiments. After losing track of how many psych papers have used statistics wrongly, planned their experiment poorly or had seriously questionable methodology I have lost faith in this field. It's too much work going through a paper every time something reaches the news.

I therefore make the very personal and questionable choice to ignore (most of) them and go straight to the neuroscience people - which in general have a way higher understanding and higher scientific standards.


> ... some commenters always assume (without any evidence) that the results are due to some extremely naive methodological mistake.

Since the article doesn't presume to explain its results, the presence or absence of mistakes is moot. Science isn't about descriptions -- that's metrology. The threshold of science is crossed when someone dares to offer a testable, falsifiable explanation. But in psychology, that rarely happens, and psychology has no central defining theories (explanations) such as are found in scientific fields.


It at least explains why I'm so smart ;)


you dare question a website with 'scientific' in the URL? I like your moxie.

I recall reading something posted recently about how the way the grants in social sciences is set up ensures that you get a whole lot of papers that have a catchy 'truthy' hook to them, which will then get disseminated by the mainstream media and quickly forgotten.

It basically turned the fields into little more than generators of soundbites.


> you dare question a website with 'scientific' in the URL? I like your moxie.

Yep, I had a lot of nerve doing that. :)

A while ago, in an article I noted that Wikipedia defined neuroscience as "the scientific study of the brain and nervous system", while psychology was defined as "the study of the mind, partly through the study of behavior." Within hours of my article's appearance someone inserted the word "scientific" into psychology's definition. Solved that problem.

> I recall reading something posted recently about how the way the grants in social sciences is set up ensures that you get a whole lot of papers that have a catchy 'truthy' hook to them, which will then get disseminated by the mainstream media and quickly forgotten.

Yes, even to the extent that two studies arrive at opposite conclusions but don't notice each other (and no one points out the contradiction). My favorite example of overlooked contradictions are two current, well-regarded psychological theories -- Grit and Asperger Syndrome.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grit_(personality_trait) : "Grit in psychology is a positive, non-cognitive trait, based on an individual’s passion for a particular long-term goal or endstate coupled with a powerful motivation to achieve their respective objective."

So according to the Grit contingent, focusing on a few activities, or just one, is a "good thing", and typical of successful people.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asperger_syndrome : "Asperger syndrome (AS), also known as Asperger's syndrome or Asperger disorder, is an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) that is characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction, alongside restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests."

So according to the Asperger contingent, focusing on a few activities, or just one, is a mental illness.

How can this happen? The answer is that there's no central defining theory in psychology, so people are free to draw conclusions that don't need to be compared to tested, defining principles like relativity or evolution.

> It basically turned the fields into little more than generators of soundbites.

Well put. :)


> So according to the Asperger contingent, focusing on a few activities, or just one, is a mental illness.

You chose to ignore the requirement of "significant difficulties in social interaction". These are also not the only diagnostic criteria.

When you make comments like this, it becomes very hard to take your other criticisms of psychology seriously, as it raises the question as to what else you're ignoring/leaving out or unaware of.

The entire point of a syndrome is that it is a grouping based on the presence of a certain set of required symptoms combined by some threshold of additional symptoms, rather than a clearly identifiable underlying cause.

Many individual symptoms of a syndrome can be perfectly normal on their own or even strong desirable at certain degrees, but become substantial problems for the individuals involved when combined together, or when the trait is too intense. There's in other words no contradiction between the positive treatment of grit vs. the description of Asperger syndrome as a disorder.


>> So according to the Asperger contingent, focusing on a few activities, or just one, is a mental illness.

> You chose to ignore the requirement of "significant difficulties in social interaction". These are also not the only diagnostic criteria.

But much field experience shows that the absence of the full symptom set doesn't prevent the diagnosis, therefore the comparison is valid. During its tenure as a serious syndrome Asperger's diagnoses went completely out of control, due to ambiguous diagnostic criteria and (my point) how much like normal behavior the symptoms are.

Allen Frances, the editor of DSM-IV (the edition that introduced Asperger's), now thinks the inclusion of Asperger's was a mistake that led to what he now describes as a "phony epidemic" of diagnoses. Over the protests of many psychologists, Asperger's has been removed from the new DSM.

> There's in other words no contradiction between the positive treatment of grit vs. the description of Asperger syndrome as a disorder.

False. The contradiction is obvious -- they both describe the same behavior. And when it was pointed out that many very successful people exhibited Asperger's symptoms (or "Grit" symptoms, depending on one's outlook), psychologists responded by labeling those people mentally ill. As a result, Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Thomas Jefferson, and Bill Gates have been labeled mentally ill. The evidence? They accomplished something noteworthy by focusing their attention on a few activities, or just one.

But you're missing the point, which is that psychology proceeds based on descriptions, not explanations. Asperger's is a description without an explanation. "Grit" is a description without an explanation. Science requires explanations. This is why the DSM, psychiatry and psychology's central authority, is in the process of being abandoned as unscientific.

> There's in other words no contradiction between the positive treatment of grit vs. the description of Asperger syndrome as a disorder.

That's true, and it shows what's wrong with psychology -- its superficiality and willingness to accept mere descriptions in lieu of explanations.


This is a real thing. There appear to be intimate connections between the mind and the body, in both directions. Levels higher up the hierarchy of dynamical systems within an organism appear to direct the function of lower systems. It's feedback loops all the way down.


> There appear to be intimate connections between the mind and the body, in both directions.

That may be true, but only one of those can be studied scientifically.


I'm not sure I follow. There's nothing mystical about the idea. The hypothesis is testable as shown by the research. The data currently looks to support it. I'm not sure why you are saying it is unscientific. I grant you there may be alternative explanations for the data, but it is often true that science has been lead astray by incorrect framing of the question, but it's still science...


> I'm not sure I follow.

The mind is not -- cannot be -- a source of empirical evidence. Science requires empirical evidence.

> The hypothesis is testable as shown by the research.

What research is that? Which scientific theory did the research either shape, or test, or potentially falsify?

> I'm not sure why you are saying it is unscientific.

The article describes, it doesn't explain. Science requires explanations, explanations that can be generalized into principles, tested, and potentially falsified.

> I grant you there may be alternative explanations for the data ...

But the data aren't explained, they're described. Test subjects were more likely to answer correctly if they received positive encouragement. That's a description. No one has tried to explain or generalize that description, turn it into something falsifiable.

> it is often true that science has been lead astray by incorrect framing of the question,

Absolutely true.

> but it's still science...

Absolutely false.


> The mind is not -- cannot be -- a source of empirical evidence. Science requires empirical evidence.

Since that's clearly not true of the brain's behavior, you seem to be making a claim that the mind is supernatural. Is that your position?


>> The mind is not -- cannot be -- a source of empirical evidence. Science requires empirical evidence.

> Since that's clearly not true of the brain's behavior, you seem to be making a claim that the mind is supernatural.

No, only that the mind is not a legitimate source of empirical evidence (a negative assertion). Consider the areas that science doesn't (cannot) cover, and notice what they have in common -- usually, the inability to gather empirical evidence on whose meaning similarly equipped observers can agree.

For me to say that the mind cannot produce empirical evidence is uncontroversial -- it's certainly true. For me to claim that the mind is a supernatural entity, I would need to produce evidence for that conclusion. But I can't, so that assumption is itself unscientific.


It's hard for me take this at face value given that I haven't heard that there is a scientific understanding of what the mind is. You seem to be asserting an unfalsifiable, almost axiomatic statement that the mind cannot produce empirical evidence. This flies in the face of common sense. To the extent that there is anything that can objectively be called the mind, as an agreed upon real thing there has to be empirical evidence produced by that thing. Otherwise the term has no descriptive power, and if I accept you assertion, I might as well reclassify things that I consider evidence of the mind (like utterances) to be evidence of something else. This something else is still there, in plain view by all (others behavior) and people present everyday at mental health clinics with very disturbing symptoms, every bit as real as a heart attack.


> It's hard for me take this at face value given that I haven't heard that there is a scientific understanding of what the mind is. You seem to be asserting an unfalsifiable, almost axiomatic statement that the mind cannot produce empirical evidence.

Science proceeds using the null hypothesis -- meaning a claim is assumed to be false until there's evidence for it. On that basis, until someone produces reliable, empirical, falsifiable evidence by measuring the mind, evidence on which different observers agree, then the burden isn't mine to say that the mind cannot be a source for empirical observations, the burden is on psychologists to say and prove that it can be. So far, psychologists haven't been able to do that.

Without the null hypothesis, Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster would be assumed to exist, and someone would have to shoulder the burden of proving that they do not exist (an impossible evidentiary burden). But with the null hypothesis, the burden of evidence for proving Bigfoot properly belongs to those who believe it exists. That same burden rests with those who claim that the human mind can produce empirical evidence, a position for which there is zero evidence.

> To the extent that there is anything that can objectively be called the mind, as an agreed upon real thing there has to be empirical evidence produced by that thing.

The same can be said about love -- everyone knows it exists, but it certainly isn't a source for empirical, objective evidence, the meaning of which all observers accept, evidence that produces consensus. There are any number of similar entities that clearly exist, but that are not appropriate subjects for scientific research.

> This something else is still there, in plain view by all (others behavior) and people present everyday at mental health clinics with very disturbing symptoms, every bit as real as a heart attack.

If I want a PTSD diagnosis, or an Asperger's diagnosis, I can certainly get them. If I want to avoid those diagnoses, I can also do that, by simply acting and speaking in a particular way. If I go to psychologist X I will get diagnosis A. If I go to psychologist Y I will get diagnosis B. Tom Widiger, who served as head of research for DSM-IV, says "There are lots of studies which show that clinicians diagnose most of their patients with one particular disorder and really don't systematically assess for other disorders. They have a bias in reference to the disorder that they are especially interested in treating and believe that most of their patients have."

Having faked out a psychologist, or been faked out by a psychologist as explained above, can I then fake out a cardiologist? You seem to think the mind and the heart are equally objective as sources of evidence. But they aren't -- the mind is not a physical organ and it cannot produce objective evidence.

> Otherwise the term has no descriptive power, and if I accept you assertion, I might as well reclassify things that I consider evidence of the mind (like utterances) to be evidence of something else.

We take you now to a psychology clinic where a test is about to be performed.

Therapist: "Please define the following words: ignorance, apathy, isolation. Go."

Subject: "I don't know, I don't care, leave me alone!"

Therapist: "Perfect score!"


It would be interesting to know what the questions were (or even what genre) - to get a better sense of the significance of getting them right.

Unfortunately there is no indication in this article, or the abstract of the paper, and the journal article itself requires a subscription.


The article includes a bunch of references to placebo effect research by neuroscientists.


In many cases, thinking that we are limited is itself a limiting factor.

I've noticed this is true in ever facet of my life. When I was 14, I memorized pi to 50 digits with almost no effort. Later, I memorized it to 100, then 200. I realized at that point that I could memorize anything that I wanted to. I memorize phone numbers, credit card numbers, everything with almost no effort and not using any mnemonic device. It's so handy when buying something on the Internet to have every credit card in my wallet memorized.

Invariably when I demonstrate this to someone I get the, "Oh I could never do that, my memory is terrible." I actually convinced a friend of mine many years ago that he could in fact memorize pi to 100 digits... and he did and still remembers it to this day. I'm convinced anyone can do this and the major thing stopping them is their belief that they can't do it.


I'm happy you have this ability, but suggesting that everyone else just isn't living up to their potential because of some mental block that you have supposedly (and accidentally) overcome is, perhaps, limiting your compassion. You are very lucky to have an exceptional memory; others are not so lucky, and must work hard to do what costs you no effort. Supposing they just aren't trying hard enough or are succumbing to some crippling lack of self-faith is belittling and people will rightfully resent it.


I'm not sure if you read my comment before becoming offended by it.

Your response makes it all about me, but I specifically mentioned other people being surprised by their own memorization capabilities after I asked them to consider that maybe they're more capable of memorizing numbers than they believed.

Your comment also says that I memorize through "no effort" when I stated, "almost no effort" which is > "no effort". When I originally memorized pi to 50 digits it took about 15 minutes which is what I could consider "almost no effort" but that's more than 15 seconds which is what I would consider "no effort".

And I'm sorry my comment made you resentful. Hopefully you don't resent other people telling you how with little effort they were able to increase their vertical jump or learn how to play the guitar.


I'm quoting you:

> I'm convinced anyone can do this and the major thing stopping them is their belief that they can't do it.

It's not a matter of taking offense. It's a matter of your assumption. It took you little effort. And it might take many people little effort. But by saying "anyone" and "their belief that they can't do it" in the same sentence you disenfranchise people who, you know, might actually have tried this and failed.

This type of statement tends to irk some people (and I'm here assuming sillysaurus is part of this group) because the same structure is present in all kinds of victim-blaming statements ("oh, you don't work hard enough, that's why you're poor. You have to believe in prosperity").

Let me be clear, I'm not saying that you'd actually use the more horrible versions of the pattern. I'm simply hoping to explain sillysaurus's strong reaction to your original post.


> "I'm not sure if you read my comment before becoming offended by it."

That post didn't read to me like he was in the slightest bit offended.

It's simply making the point that if you view the world through a lens of "you can do anything if you just try" then there's a downside of becoming less compassionate as one might ascribe to laziness what may (more correctly) be ascribed to a genuine physical or mental inability.


That post didn't read to me like he was in the slightest bit offended.

He said that my post was belittling and he was resentful of it.

That seems to be a textbook definition of offended. Please tell me how I misunderstood.


I am not offended. I wrote that the sentiment I described was belittling and people would resent it.


I am not offended. I wrote that the sentiment I described was belittling and people would resent it.

Sorry, I don't believe you. You were either directly speaking for yourself or you were using weasel words a la, "people would resent it."

In either case, you should man up to the fact that you were truly speaking for yourself. There were three people that voiced their offense at what I said. Two appeared to not be able to avoid petty insults and name-calling. One of those two ended up deleting the dozen or so responses they had in here, apparently ashamed of what they wrote.

I'm still hoping that you'll own your words more than the other two.


You are very much mistaken, and are making a fool of yourself.


What an absurd thing to say. I feel sorry for any kids you may have if this is how you speak to people.

Someone worthwhile would just admit they were offended at what I said and move on with their life. I'm sorry you aren't such a person.


Personally, I would rather have a mediocre memory and mediocre emotional intelligence, than an exceptional memory and the complete lack of EQ which you're demonstrating here.

Hopefully you don't resent other people telling you how with little effort they were able to increase their vertical jump or learn how to play the guitar.

Nope, I wouldn't. But if they then concluded from their own lack of effort that I should also be able to jump higher and play the guitar with similar ease, then they should expect it.


the complete lack of EQ which you're demonstrating here.

I would think someone with even a mediocre EQ would have more tact than telling someone they have a complete lack of EQ.


[deleted]


Attitudes like yours smack of the smugness and arrogance that I've had to deal with all of my life

Take a breath, my friend. I'm not the person who's been keeping you down all these years that you are apparently lashing out at.

I responded to your other comment down-thread. My comment was aimed at a normal demographic. You state that you have some undiagnosed mental handicap.

If I posted a comment saying how I was able to increase my vertical leap by 10% through almost no effort and I think anybody can do it, should people in wheelchairs respond with self-righteous anger as you have? I would hope they would read it for what it is; a call to believe in yourself to reach your best potential. People have different potentials - I would think that was self-evident.


If this page is anything worthwhile (and cross-referencing it with wikipedia, it just seems out-of-date) http://pi-world-ranking-list.com/lists/memo/ you clearly aren't in the normal demographic considering the few people who made it on that list.

15 minutes to memorize 100 digits of Pi should get you higher on that list if you dedicate some time to it ?


[deleted]


I'm sorry about your memory problem, but I think you're being a little sensitive. OP's point was simple: if you believe in yourself, you'll be in a better position to succeed. No, this doesn't guarantee success. But it's better than not believing you can. You're correct, your crippled grandma won't be able to walk because she believes she can. Unfortunately that wasn't OP's point.


I know I'm going to sound crazy, but sometimes I really wonder if "mind over matter" can make things that we've been made to believe impossible, is actually possible. Like, what if we could willpower ourselves out of a disability that even medical-science claims is impossible. Maybe we all just have to believe "there is no spoon". I'll admit that from time to time I try to move small objects by focusing on them. Maybe I watch too much anime...


[deleted]


The point was anyone can improve themselves by believing they can. Anyone can do that. While your nitpick is technically true, it serves little purpose besides inflating your under compensated ego. This seems to be a recurring theme on HN, where people point out irrelevant nitpicks as if I couldn't do that myself.


Here's the lesson: if you have a point to make, please don't fit in extraneous claims, which are much debated themselves, into your argument or comment. It's not hard to see that they can be confused as being part of your point.

> This seems to be a recurring theme on HN, where people point out irrelevant nitpicks as if I couldn't do that myself.

I will say this again: there is nothing wrong with nitpicking. If you can't be technically correct, then you're not correct.


I underwent a formal psychological evaluation a few years ago, my shrink informed me that I have incredibly bad memory (I was ranking in at 1-2 percentile for two or three different memory tests). But yet, I've also been able to memorize pi to about 50 digits, I've memorized the entire periodic table, and I've memorized whole poems in Latin (despite knowing very little Latin).

The thing I've found to be true in my case is that I do have bad memory in general -- but this is because of the unique childhood I had: I was never forced to memorize anything. I've a habit of referencing my smartphone when I need to know what someone's phonenumber is, I've a habit of looking at address books and maps to know where someone is, instead of making a concerted effort to think where they live beforehand. My brother-in-law is the opposite of me: he purposely avoids using his smartphone/GPS, and instead looks at Google Maps directions before taking off for the trip... and relies on it with memory. I asked him why he did that instead of just using the GPS that he does have and he straight up told me he does these things for memory exercises. So now, at least for the past few months, I've also been making a concerted effort in improving my memory and I've found that I can do these incredible things... I can memorize pi to 100 digit, I can memorize pages of books that are in a language I barely understand -- despite my shrink telling me that I have terrible memory.

So I don't think 300bps's comment was offensive at all. Memory is very much a skill that can be improved with dedicated effort. I'm someone who long believed until recently that I had bad memory and I had to deal with it... but this is not true, I can do mental exercises to improve it. Research has proved time and again that learning new languages, new musical instruments, etc. are great exercises to keep the mind/memory sharp. I implore you to look into the idea: use little tricks, read the book "Moonwalking with Einstein" (it's about memorizing things in fun ways), take about a week to memorize digits of pi (spend about 10 hours, I'd say -- use various techniques (which you can read up on online)), and get back to us. See if you truly can or can't memorize pi to the 50th (or even 100th) digit if you really put the effort to it. The more you do it, the more your ability will improve. If it takes you 5 hours the first time around to remember some 50 digits, it'll take you just one hour the next 50th time you do it.


What mental exercises do you find effective at improving memorization, and what would you recommend to a beginner?


There is likely an element of truth to OP's general point.

For example, journalist and author, Joshua Foer[1], talks about the astonishing feats of memory by average people. It becomes more persuasive, when it turns personal. While he starts out by writing a story on memory championships, he decides to take it further and delves deep into learning the techniques himself. Some time later, he ends up becoming the USA Champion!

"In 2006, Foer won the U.S.A. Memory Championship, and set a new USA record in the "speed cards" event by memorizing a deck of 52 cards in 1 minute and 40 seconds"[1]

The Ted Talk provides more detail [2].

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joshua_Foer

[2] http://www.ted.com/talks/joshua_foer_feats_of_memory_anyone_...


I suspect your concept of memory is incorrect. Outside of rare people with deep automatic synaesthesia or other sever mental differences, I don't think there's much variation in different peoples' inherent "ability to remember". People aren't generally better or worse at remembering things by some innate property of their brain. It is a skill, and one can practice and improve at it, and there are lots of very powerful memory techniques, especially including specific problems like "memorizing digits".

I strongly recommend the book "Moonwalking with Einstein" which was very enlightening for me.


It does not take exceptional memory to memorize pi to 100 places--for context, that is only 10 phone numbers worth of digits.

The research is on the parent's side: most people can improve their memory performance with focused practice.

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/02/20/magazine/mind-...

This should not seem that surprising; we easily accept that most people can improve their physical fitness with exercise, for example.


If this response by devindotcom was really "irrelevant nitpicking", then there is an easy solution to that: correct yourself immediately and be very explicit about it. The remainder of this branch could have been avoided completely.

300bps didn't do that though. So did he/she actually mean what was said? Well no, because 10 minutes later your criticisms will be dismissed as [strikethrough]pedantry[/strikethrough] silliness.


Others here are skeptical that just anyone can memorize pi to an arbitrary length. One way you can test if this has to do with you being 14 when this happened, is to memorize phi or e to 100, 200 or so digits with no mnemonic device. Or, maybe a string of random words or the contents of an entire magazine, each 100s of items long. It all depends on you being honest, but I'm curious. Maybe your brain has changed since then or you learned how to do this, but at a certain age when the brain was more malleable, hence the window of training was very narrow and adults like myself can't do this, either.

If you can memorize this without a mnemonic device, then I hate to break it to you, you are a mutant with Eidetic memory. And, so incidentally was your friend.

If you can't, then perhaps you've found a special, easy way to make memorizing numbers easy. Perhaps you should start a website and sell this technique?


People who have preternaturally good memories invariably turn out to have intuitively rediscovered classic mnemonic techniques at a young age and have used them semi-consciously without realizing it most of their lives.


I'm not sure it's possible to not use a mnemonic device. Our brains record information by association, which, by definition, is a mnemonic device.

I highly recommend reading Moonwalking with Einstein. It's about a journalist who got interested in memory competitions and, with a lot of practice, ended up winning the US memory championship. Anyone can do it.

[0] http://www.amazon.com/Moonwalking-Einstein-Science-Rememberi...


You've received a lot of criticism for that comment, but, considering myself as having a very bad memory, i'm grateful that you posted it. It made me reconsider how much of my "terrible" memory is because it actually sucks or because i already have a preconception that i'll forget about everything if i don't write it down.

You see, it's not that my memory is equally terrible for all things. Sometimes i forget about things i was told literally seconds ago; but somehow i remember quotes from The Simpsons episodes that i haven't seen in years, or equally seemingly useless stuff. So, what makes these things different? Maybe the situation of being told something and thinking "shit, i must remember this! [but i probably wont]" actually makes things much worse.


You've received a lot of criticism for that comment, but, considering myself as having a very bad memory, i'm grateful that you posted it

Thanks. Just to dig the hole deeper for myself - I used to have a terrible time falling asleep when I was younger.

For the past 20 years though I sleep like a baby every night. If I wake up in the middle of the night (normally due to one of my 3 children or my wife), I fall back asleep with no problem.

Honestly the only thing I did differently was I managed to convince myself that I am a great sleeper. I found the thing that was keeping me up nights was worrying about how much sleep I was going to eke out that night.

I'm sure someone will now say how arrogant and smug I am because they have a disorder that causes them to smack themselves in the face every 10 seconds which makes good sleep impossible.

i already have a preconception that i'll forget about everything if i don't write it down.

I purposely write nothing down temporarily. I deal with CUSIPs at work a lot and I will purposely memorize them for short time periods instead of copying/pasting them because I find the more I do it, the better I am at it.


This topic is one that my wife and I talk about regularly.

She is slowly learning to better control her anxiety, but one side effect is that she worries about sleep, all the time. She almost universally resists committing to morning activities because she's worried about how much sleep she'll get the night before.

We just got back from a vacation where she slept like a rock the whole time despite sharing a room with our two kids, a noisy ventilation system and the sounds of the city. I told her it was because she didn't care how much sleep she got.

I've noticed the same thing in myself. The nights I slept the worst are the nights where I care/worry how much sleep I will get.


Man, this is so disappointing that everyone shits on you for this post. Just like most negative internet forums, you end up with one person putting themselves out there and telling about their experience and then 100 people criticizing everything about it (and plenty of stuff they made up about it).

Anyhow, I think your root sentiment is valid (that most people are only limited by what they believe they can accomplish). Most people take offense to the "little effort" part, but I believe that if you through pure will power accomplish something you thought you would NEVER accomplish, that's "little effort". Most people would probably be surprised by their progress in something if they just put their heads down and worked at it.


I see this a lot on HN, people embarrassing themselves by totally missing the point of some post / article / blog / whatever and raging about the tone or taking issue with some particular usage.

Oh no, this guy maybe over reached in his assumption about how well general people can memorize numbers! Better make ourselves look like idiots and go wildly off point about it!

Check out the thread about that guy's blog "Kids these days can't use computers" as a prime example :(


> I actually convinced a friend of mine many years ago that he could in fact memorize pi to 100 digits... and he did and still remembers it to this day. I'm convinced anyone can do this and the major thing stopping them is their belief that they can't do it.

I have similar experiences with (re)teaching basic math tricks and approximation to adults. "Oh, I wish I could to that but I suck at math" is a quite common response. I love the flash in their eyes when, after a short explanation, they make their first multiplication by 9 or division by 5 without the use of a calculator.

What I still don't understand is why some people are satisfied after learning the first trick while other (only 1/10th max) ask for more tricks. Shouldn't the idea of having learnt something new _always_ sparkle the interest in learning more?


Learning something new is fulfilling, but it tires you at the same time. I think that you'd have much more people wanting to learn again if you asked them after some time.


Eh, no mnemonic device? Most people memorize things by simple repetition. If you're implying anyone can have eidetic memory by "removing their limits", I don't buy it. It's something developed at a young age.


If you're implying anyone can have eidetic memory by "removing their limits"

What I said is that most people don't try to memorize things because they think that they can't.

Most people memorize things by simple repetition

Sure, and most people don't try to memorize things because (again) they think that they can't no matter what technique they use.

I don't buy it

I'm not selling anything. I'm merely passing on my own experiences and those of my friends. If you choose to continue to believe you can't memorize things because of some innate lack of ability, it doesn't affect me at all.


> Sure, and most people don't try to memorize things because (again) they think that they can't no matter what technique they use.

Citation? I mean, you're saying "most people" after all. If we're just talking anecdotes here, I've never met anyone who couldn't memorize something with simple repetition technique. When people say they have "poor memory", they are referring to not having eidetic memory. For example: "I don't remember her name! I have terrible memory." Well, it's probably because you only met her once in passing. It's not like you went home, wrote her name on some flash cards and crammed it into your memory. You weren't holding yourself back thinking "I can't remember her name because I have terrible memory!" It's simply that some people have eidetic memory and some don't. You can't learn eidetic memory by "thinking you can" or sheer will. It's developed at early childhood. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eidetic_memory)

> I'm not selling anything. I'm merely passing on my own experiences and those of my friends. If you choose to continue to believe you can't memorize things because of some innate lack of ability, it doesn't affect me at all.

You are overly pedantic. It's just an expression.


Citation? I mean, you're saying "most people" after all.

I think you may be the most confused person in this thread. Go ahead and re-read this particular branch of it.

You said most people first. I then quoted your use of "most people". So I guess the appropriate thing for me to do at this point is to snarkily ask for your citation?


> I'm not selling anything. I'm merely passing on my own experiences and those of my friends. If you choose to continue to believe you can't memorize things because of some innate lack of ability, it doesn't affect me at all.

Fortunately, there's a large body of scientific research that can tell us how many numbers a person can memorize in short term memory (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Magical_Number_Seven,_Plus...) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exceptional_memory


I am glad that you developed an excellent memory. I used to know PI to 30 digits but forgot it and got some digits wrong.

You might want to write a book on memory and memorizing things using what you learned when you were young. People like me need to learn that. My memory is not perfect, and I am often picked on for not being able to remember stuff.

I believe that I can do it, and am not sure why I fail. Ever since I developed a mental illness in 2001, I've been having memory issues and difficulty concentrating. The psyhe meds for example make me dizzy, confused, and drowsy. In 2003 I could no longer work as I was too sick and became disabled. I always wanted to get out of this rut and get back to work some day. I am 45 now, and nobody wants to hire someone that old these days.


[deleted]


You're right. And if I made a comment about how well I learned to clap through almost no effort I suppose I'd have one-armed people writing comments to complain.

If you have a mental handicap, my comment was not directed toward you and I hope you took no offense.


> If you have a mental handicap, my comment was not directed toward you and I hope you took no offense.

There are people with dwarfism, and there are people who are just short. The latter don't have a physical abnormality, but they still aren't as tall as tall people.

The way I'm reading this, you've discovered that yourself and a few of your friends are tall, and now you think the world is divided into tall people and dwarves.


The way I'm reading this, you've discovered that yourself and a few of your friends are tall, and now you think the world is divided into tall people and dwarves.

It's more like my friends and I are of average height but discovered that through little effort we can dunk a basketball.

Then a very short dude comes by and says he's vertically handicapped and that I don't know what I'm talking about because he can't dunk a basketball to save his life.


You said, with regards to memorization, in your OP:

"I'm convinced anyone can do this and the major thing stopping them is their belief that they can't do it."

If you want to now adjust that claim and say "some can do it", you better be able to tell us how to distinguish.


Oh you're just being so silly now. Here is my original comment:

I'm convinced anyone can do this and the major thing stopping them is their belief that they can't do it.

Here is how I am comfortable revising it for the offended sticklers in this thread:

I'm convinced anyone (of typical mental capacity) can do this and the major thing stopping them is their belief that they can't do it.


I'm asking you to be rigorous with your claims. And there's nothing wrong with being pedantic.

If you can't respond to questions without getting defensive, please grow up.


I'm just writing to let you know your insulting responses have earned you no further replies from me. I invite you to reconsider how you write to people on the internet and perhaps avoid writing things like, "grow up."

This thread has given me more karma than your entire account has received in its existence. I think it's clear there is a vocal minority of people who are posting a half-dozen comments each in this thread while the vast majority at least don't find what I'm saying as offensive as you apparently do.


>This thread has given me more karma than your entire account has received in its existence.

Oh my goodness! What was the point of saying that, really?

>I think it's clear there is a vocal minority of people who are posting a half-dozen comments each in this thread while the vast majority at least don't find what I'm saying as offensive as you apparently do.

I don't find this offensive. I'm just asking you to be technically correct with what you say, or to at least address the people who are confused by what you're saying. Apparently, that's too high of a standard for you to live up to.


[deleted]


> I think your revelation that anyone can memorize anything is a load of silliness, and untrue for most people.

This entire debate:

300bpm: people with average memory skills can memorize far more than they realize

sillysaurus: I have a memory deficit, and by the way, you're also wrong about people with average memory skills

300bpm: no I'm not

sillysaurus: yes you are

This is an incredibly useless debate (made worse by nitpicking over semantics) and based entirely on anecdotal evidence on both sides. 300bpm was just trying to be inspirational, which I find to be harmless in moderation. The end.


I'm just replying to tell you I'm not going to reply to you anymore. This has apparently stirred some serious anger in you and there's no point to any further discussion between us.

I apologize for any offense and hope things get better for you.


>I apologize for any offense and hope things get better for you.

Just FYI, that can also come across as being belittling. I am not being sarcastic and I can see the ambiguity would be confusing, but that seems like a polite way of saying '&!#$ you', I hope you get better. At memorizing?


Just imagine how great at offending people I would be if I tried to offend them!

I apologize in advance for the inevitable offense you will take from this comment.


It did turn into a contentious topic rather quickly, huh? :)


sillysaurus apparently realized he had a chip on his should because he deleted all 9 replies he had in this thread.


Maybe. I have the habit of deleting all old content. Do you empathize with his position, though?


I have the habit of deleting all old content. Do you empathize with his position, though?

I think there are plenty of people that have legitimate difficulties doing things and I think there are plenty of people that use excuses as to why they can't do things. What the population of each group is or where sillysaurus falls in it, I don't know. He was quick to label himself handicapped. Then he said he only said that as a technique to extract information from me and that he's just bad at memorization "as most people are" according to him.

Beyond that, I think he's not a nice person. He used insults and name-calling as a frequent technique. He projected feelings he has for other people onto me. He ninja-edited almost all of his posts before deleting them. He got went from 0 to 60 angry over nothing. The guy has issues.


Please just answer the question. You seem to be using the person (sillysaurus) as an excuse to avoid having to address problems in your own worldview.


In this short "debate", sillysaurus has called me "annoying", "smug", "arrogant", "biased" and referred to me repeatedly as "people like you".

He's not debating me. He's debating every person that ever insulted him and using me as the punching bag while he's doing it. He's not listening to what I'm saying. Every time I reply to him he hears the people who have been putting him down and becomes more angry. Why in the world would I type out another reply to him?

Anyway, I don't see the significance of his question as aimed toward me.

what the difference is between someone who has a mental handicap, and who just isn't very good at memorizing things

He used the word handicap - I was just quoting him. I don't know what a mental handicap that causes you not to be able to memorize might look like. Does he have a traumatic brain injury? That would be a handicap. But he says he was like this since birth. Did oxygen get cut off to him during delivery? I have no idea what he's talking about when he says he's handicapped. How in the world can I answer his question?

In any case, I was aiming my comment at normal people and to head off the next silly question of what normal is, I mean people of typical mental capacity.


What is the functional difference between a handicapped person who can memorize little and a person who isn't labeled handicapped but memorizes just as much? If there is none, then your qualification is useless.

What difference does it make what the source of the problem is? Why do you have to know the type of handicap?

edit: he/she has already given an excuse for him/herself to stop answering questions. :(


In any event, I hope we all learned something from this. :)


In my Psych course in college we were told on how playing on gender roles can affect performance. Boys and girls were given a math test. On average they performed equally. However when they were given the test and told that the test was also to evaluate how girls do as compared to boys the results were interesting. Girls did worse then average on being told this and boys did better than average. This article seems to reinforce this point, as the expectation that boys would do better actually caused them to perform better than average. It also points out how corrosive stereotypes can be, as just the expectation that girls would not do well in math caused a drop in their performance. I don't have references for these studies unfortunately.


In addition, there was a recent study that said when women write fake names on their test papers before they take math tests, they do better! [1] This suggests not only do gender expectations influence performance, but one's own assessment of one's identity has an influence on performance!

Maybe that's why some people have multiple personalities - one is good at math, one at geography, one at programming ;)

[1]http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/smartnews/2013/07/if-women-a...


Boys were more motivated by competition, and girls were stressed by expectations that boys will be better.

Regarding the original article, people who were told the answer got flashed might simply doubted their intuition less.


In many cases, thinking that we are limited is itself a limiting factor.

I've noticed this with self confidence as well. Its interesting because suppose there were two people who were both identical in capability - the one with confidence will do much better. He/She will put ideas out, will come across as more impressive to other people, and in the long term grow faster than the unconfident person because of it...

I mention it because I was surprised when I realized that success is not just intelligence, hard work, and social interaction, but that success is also intertwined with general personality characteristics, like confidence.


Confidence plays a massive role in success. If you can balance the fine line between confidence and arrogance you'll find more doors open up to you than ever before.


We've known for a while now that the placebo effect is not just psychological; it affects real physical change.

In one experiment, when given a morphine placebo, patients reported pain relief, but when a morphine-blocker was silently introduced, the placebo morphine no longer worked. [*http://letterstonature.wordpress.com/2008/08/27/the-placebo-...]

It's fascinating and deserves more research.


Good Wired article on the subject [1], especially about Fabrizio Benedetti [2], a neurologist who has mapped the various hormones and mechanisms that underly the placebo effect.

(One fascinating claim mentioned in the article is that in clinical trials, Valium can no longer be statistically distinguished from placebo, possibly due to patients' expectations. This statistical skew in favour of placebo is problematic for a lot of drug research, essentially preventing manufacturers from proving that their drug works.)

[1] http://www.wired.com/medtech/drugs/magazine/17-09/ff_placebo...

[2] http://brainsciencepodcast.com/bsp/neurobiology-of-placebos-...


semi-CSB that may be related:

I often travel with electronic prototypes and/or custom parts, which can be really annoying if you have to cross an international border and go through customs.

I found that the best way to get through it speedily is to also carry one of my Antbots, and go into sales pitch mode when asked to explain it. People will automatically want to get rid of a traveling salesman and the fastest way to do so is to let you through.

Got me out of a ticket once, too.


Yeah there's a number of techniques similar to that which get people to leave you alone. Here's my favorite:

http://www.daily-comix.com/image/comic/small/1307/jesus-save...


As long as we're trading comic links - it can also be used as perimeter defense.

http://freefall.purrsia.com/ff100/fv00014.htm

or as a method for private communication

http://freefall.purrsia.com/ff800/fv00751.htm


I am a great fan of Napoleon Hill.

But my eyes always glazed over while listening to him talk about tapping into the "Infinite Intelligence".

If nothing else, I would like to thank this article for gently reminding me that I do not know everything there is to know about this universe.


I'm glad lutusp has already jumped in here to decry the shoddy quality of "science" relied on to build the opinion piece kindly submitted here. He is correct that psychology often relies on data unrepresentative of humankind as a whole,

http://hci.ucsd.edu/102b/readings/WeirdestPeople.pdf

often engages in dodgy data manipulation after gathering the data,

http://opim.wharton.upenn.edu/~uws/

and is usually part of a larger scientific universe of rushing to publish.

http://www.ma.utexas.edu/users/mks/statmistakes/filedrawer.h...

That said, while we will always have to be wary of grandiose claims about preliminary study results,

http://norvig.com/experiment-design.html

and especially about "mind over matter" claims,

http://norvig.com/prayer.html

there are skeptical psychologists

http://www.lscp.net/persons/dupoux/teaching/JOURNEE_AUTOMNE_...

http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/publications/o...

http://www.psichi.org/pubs/articles/article_730.aspx

and other researchers in psychology who apply rigor to their discipline, so over time we may actually find out something about human behavior from psychology more reliable than the weak and debatable assertions found in the article submitted here.

AFTER EDIT:

Because the submitted article mentions the placebo effect, in the usual manner of popular articles, perhaps I should share here some links that are helpful for understanding what placebo effects are all about. Some of these online links cite quite a few useful scholarly publications.

http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/behold-the-spin-what-a-n...

http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/michael-specter-on-the-p...

"In other words, the best research we have strongly suggests that placebo effects are illusions, not real physiological effects. The possible exception to this are the subjective symptoms of pain and nausea, where the placebo effects are highly variable and may be due to subjective reporting."

Despite the numerous press releases on the Web pointing to publications co-authored by Ted Kaptchuk, who has NO medical training or credentials,

http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/dummy-medicine-dummy-doc...

http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/dummy-medicine-dummy-doc...

the statements typically found in those articles, such as "Recent research demonstrates that placebo effects are genuine psychobiological phenomenon [sic] attributable to the overall therapeutic context, and that placebo effects can be robust in both laboratory and clinical settings" are untrue.

http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/the-rise-and-fa...

"Despite the spin of the authors – these results put placebo medicine into crystal clear perspective, and I think they are generalizable and consistent with other placebo studies. For objective physiological outcomes, there is no significant placebo effect. Placebos are no better than no treatment at all."

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20091554

"We did not find that placebo interventions have important clinical effects in general. However, in certain settings placebo interventions can influence patient-reported outcomes, especially pain and nausea, though it is difficult to distinguish patient-reported effects of placebo from biased reporting. The effect on pain varied, even among trials with low risk of bias, from negligible to clinically important. Variations in the effect of placebo were partly explained by variations in how trials were conducted and how patients were informed."

Fabrizio Benedetti, a co-author of one of the most cited papers who is also a medical doctor, sums up his view this way: "I am a doctor, it is true, but I am mainly a neurophysiologist, so I use the placebo response as a model to understand how our brain works. I am not sure that in the future it will have a clinical application."

To sum up, despite claims to the contrary by a person without medical training who is often covered by the lay press, the best-considered view among medical practitioners with clinical experience is that the placebo response has no clinical application.

See also:

http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/does-thinking-make-it-so...

http://www.skepdic.com/placebo.html

http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/revisiting-daniel-moerma...


While I would agree that "the placebo response has no clinical application", I would not discount it so easily. Modern medicine tries to sweep all kinds of things under the "placebo effect" rug. In general, whenever something happens to the human body that we cannot explain by chemistry and mechanics, we call it a "placebo effect". This view of medicine treats the human as two separate entities: the body and the mind.

I believe this is a narrow view. Our brains are not separate from our bodies and have a huge influence over what happens with us. And it seems that at lot of what we previously called "autonomic" systems can be influenced by the mind. This is something we do not understand, which is OK — but I don't think it is OK to mock anyone who says otherwise.

My views on these things changed after, having spent 8 years trying to cure joint pains, I finally got rid of them just by thinking (a simplification, but close enough). Oh, and the throat infections and allergies? Gone, too. That sort of killed my smug scientific approach, or more precisely, made it clear to me that our scientific tools are inadequate and that there are lots of things happening in our bodies that we a) do not understand, b) cannot meaningfully measure, c) cannot reason about in statistical studies. This doesn't mean it is impossible to measure those things, just that at present we do not know how to do it.

I also now believe that "medical training" is not it's all cracked up to be. And I learned that doctors really hate saying "I don't know".

So, I would much rather hear people say "something is happening that we do not understand" rather than discount any articles like this one as pure quackery.


> In general, whenever something happens to the human body that we cannot explain by chemistry and mechanics, we call it a "placebo effect".

If by "we" you mean you, sure. If you mean scientists I call bullshit. You're going to need a good citation to make that claim.

> having spent 8 years trying to cure joint pains, I finally got rid of them just by thinking

Not surprising. Pain is the one thing you expect to be able to change by "thinking." Pain is perception and placebos (and thinking) change perception.

> Oh, and the throat infections and allergies? Gone, too.

Now we're going down anecdote road. You do realize that allergies change as you age right? My anecdotes: until I was in my late teens / early 20's I didn't have allergies. Then suddenly one year I had them badly. Years later they went away again. My dad never had allergies until they came on strong in his 50's.

Similarly infections come and go.

> And I learned that doctors really hate saying "I don't know".

Good doctors don't. The problem is that the medical profession is full of egos. Egos don't go well with admitting you don't know or are wrong.


In other words, you have no idea why the pain comes and goes, or why allergies come and go.

Which is fine.

I'm just trying to say that whenever we don't know, we have a tendency to reject and ridicule any new hypothesis, especially if it's in the field where we also have no idea on how to measure things. So, while agreeing that a scientific approach (measure, quantify, prove, etc) is better, I would not reject nor ridicule hypotheses that we can neither prove nor disprove. Personally, I find them interesting, as they lie on the boundary of what we know and might offer promising research in the future.

[I don't want to pick up on your simplification wrt pain, so I'll just note it's huge. Psychosomatic pain is not about "perception" at all, it's real, and the symptoms are real.]


Your posts would be way more readable with links as footnotes instead of in the body. They read more like link dumps than actual explanatory prose.


> the best-considered view among medical practitioners with clinical experience is that the placebo response has no clinical application.

"Conclusions: It is evident that placebo effects are real and that they have therapeutic potential. Laboratory evidence supports the existence of numerous placebo mechanisms and effects in both healthy volunteers and patients with a variety of medical conditions. Furthermore, clinically relevant evidence demonstrates that placebo effects can have meaningful therapeutic effects, by virtue of magnitude and duration, in different patient populations. Although substantial progress has been made in understanding placebo effects, considerable scientific work remains to be done in both laboratory experiments and translational clinical trial research, with the ultimate aim of harnessing placebo effects to improve patient care."

from: "Placebo Effects: Biological, Clinical and Ethical Advances" / by Damien G Finniss, Ted J Kaptchuk, Franklin Miller, and Fabrizio Benedetti / Lancet. 2010 February 20; 375(9715): 686–695. / https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2832199/


FWIW, pretty much the entire sub-field of "priming" in contemporary psychological research has come under significant scrutiny over the past few years. I am no expert, I would encourage you to read this: https://chronicle.com/article/Power-of-Suggestion/136907

"The studies that raise eyebrows are mostly in an area known as behavioral or goal priming, research that demonstrates how subliminal prompts can make you do all manner of crazy things. A warm mug makes you friendlier. The American flag makes you vote Republican. Fast-food logos make you impatient. A small group of skeptical psychologists—let's call them the Replicators—have been trying to reproduce some of the most popular priming effects in their own labs.

What have they found? Mostly that they can't get those results. The studies don't check out. Something is wrong."


This is explained simply by setting your mind to something, selective attention, etc. I'm not sure why commenters are looking for exact science when we don't even have a working model of consciousness let alone the subconscious.

When we focus our attention on something, we are applying more brain resources towards that task, sending more energy through our neurons, etc. If sitting in an aircraft simulator makes you more alert due to the excitement of the experience and task, it makes sense that you will invest more energy into it to get a better outcome. Not too mysterious.

I disagree with those commenters who imply that there is nothing scientific about making observations without a theory to attach to it. I actually tink it's a lot more responsible than trying to force a theory that we don't have enough evidence for.


[deleted]


He literally linked every single paper he referred to in the article.


Montaigne explained this phenomena over a hundred years ago: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/3600/3600-h/3600-h.htm#link2H...


I have experienced this my self in real life. This is very cliché but it reminds me of Starwars, "these are not the droids you are looking for," I have seen the power of thinking influence others in a very positive way.


Thought, intention and expectation—these are causal and creative. Our experience of the world is substantially shaped by how we view it.


This is easily explained by a broader psychological phenomenon. The brain and ego will invest itself in a task in direct proportion to the expected payoff.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)

Ozgun Atasoy is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Marketing at Boston University School of Management.


“Whether you think you can, or you think you can't—you're right.” – Henry Ford


The sleeper must awaken!


This is all about releasing the blocking mechanism that exists. I feel people like Eckhart Tolle have somehow mastered this, at least in the realm of the scope of abilities they are most comfortable being confined in.


Eckhart Tolle is pretty much repackaging meditation practises with a huge dose of new age nonsense. As such, there are certainly the odd kernel of useful stuff in there, but I'd recommend a decent introduction to meditation over Tolle any day.


Tolle’s work and meditative practice are not mutually exclusive nor in conflict with one another. His characterization of the human mind—how we create (mostly unintentionally, through conditioned habits) so much suffering and problems for ourselves—is spot on and very helpful for gaining an understanding of ourselves, imo.


I've not read any books of his, though I've yet to see in video him say anything that was non-sensical. What are you referring to?


Uh, The Power of Now starts off with something about quantum entanglement "proving" that we're all one with each other.


I sense a lot of haters in this thread...




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