We do not understand how it could work, but to therefore say that whenever we label some experiment as falling under the school of parapsychology, any significant results must be a fluke.. that is almost analogous to saying that any deviation from newtons' prediction of planet movements must be due to measurement errors.
In my opinion such a mindset is a sure way to hinder scientific progress: it heavily favors finding acceptable truths.
- Gary Drescher, Good and Real, chapter 2.1: The Case against Ghosts
At the very least it's highly likely that the positive results of parapsychology, or the vast bulk of them, are due to the sort of statistical problems that plague other sciences as well. I cannot, of course, say it's 100% certain.
I think the new age / hippies / spiritual / mysticism explanation is that the moment you do an experiment in which consciousness is heavily involved, you are going to see violations of the principles that work soundly when there is noone exerting whatever the name of this consciousness-force is upon particles.
Anyway, to plead my case ;), there is this thing called the sheep-goat effect. People that belief they can exert an influence ("the sheep") tend to do better in parapsychological effects than people that do not belief. Worse even, people that do not belief in parapsychological effects ("the goats") tend to do worse than random. This effect has been reported and studied for over 60 years now (see first source)
I'm not sure how to explain the sheep-goat effect in terms of statistically slacking methods. From a 'the null hypothesis is always true in parapsychology' point of view, there should be no difference between believers and nonbelievers, so both groups should have an equal chance in performing better than the other group. The skeptics also have a problem explaining this one (see second source).
p.s. love the name sheep-goat effect ;).
believes in ESP -> reproducibly performs slightly above chance when doing ESP tasks
doesn't believe in ESP -> reproducibly performs slightly below chance (which should be impossible if the experiment is designed properly)
on the basis of some correlation, then you're wrong. A rational person would consider the other direction to be more likely.
Clearly having been told that you perform slightly better than chance when gamely trying to be psychic, would incline a person to profess more belief in ESP. But some individuals will always experience slightly above or below mean (since variance isn't 0).
What's funny is that people who believe in ESP because they feel they personally have experienced too many mystical things to accept as coincidence, mostly just miscalculate the odds of "things like that" happening to them. There are 10^15 (just a guess) possible coincidences that you'd notice and claim as noteworthy (i.e. odds of that happening are just 1 in a billion!), over your life, and most people don't appreciate the facility we have for recognizing things that align between e.g. our thoughts and others' in the same environment, our dreams and the possible events of our everyday life, our dreams and others' dreams, etc.
Of course, 1 in N people really are exposed to 1 in N better than chance past evidence of ESP. The beautiful thing is, if they're honest and firewall off those past coincidences, and perform new experiments without bias, they're almost certain to disillusion themselves. But people who have a belief tend to cherish and protect it.
And that's really all there is to belief in ESP.
Just checked the two links I pasted earlier. The second link (skeptics dictionary) quotes:
The expression dates back to 1942 and Gertrude Schmeidler,
a professor of psychology at City University of New York. She
asked her students whether they believed in psi *before*
giving them an ESP card test.
You're, I think, making that conclusion based off the prevailing knowledge that ESP isn't true. A rational person seeking to learn if it is or isn't would still attempt to consider causality in the direction the op stated and otherwise be guilty of irrationality.
Some individuals will always experience slightly above or below mean (since variance isn't 0)
By my understanding of the standard ESP experiment the observation you state there would be evidence against the null hypothesis, evidence stating that there is some external factor tied to personal identity which changes your ability (for better or worse) to guess the identity of these cards. If the both experiment was perfectly designed and ESP totally impossible you'd expect that over time no one would have an edge on anyone else in their ability to guess these cards.
But people who have a belief tend to cherish and protect it
Much as you're doing now with the counterbelief?
(Disclaimer: I personally strongly don't believe in ESP. I also don't believe it's worth spending my own time on it. Finally, I do believe that if you're going to spend time on it you should do it carefully because it is clear that if there is an effect it's going to be something highly unexpected and subtle because most of the expectable and obvious things have been tested)
We HAVE to assume "out there" stuff has some objective underpinning, or we commit the same sin as invoking God, but in mirror image.
-- Richard Rorty
The point is not that the world does not behave in consistent ways: the point is that if you assume there is some objective truth 'out there', you are bound to sometimes end up with 'wrong' conclusions, because truth is only in us, because 'truth' is not an attribute that 'what is out there' has.
Coming from biology: I know our brains are complex machines, and highly skilled and skewed pattern recognizers, and that therefore many things can be explained in terms of subconsciously picking up signals, or just plain coincidence.
Still, some of my experiences (knowing where someone's attention is at, or feeling flow of energy between bodies) seem to suggest that we can experience more than just the input of our five physical sensory organs. And rather than ignoring these more esoteric senses, I try to use them in a practical sense - as a source of information. Maybe I'm making stuff up ;), but so far my life is more fun allowing for the possibility of these esoteric senses to exist, than going for a purely material world.
P.S. I think the whole topic of this thread is sort of not within Hackers' News interest (just peeked at the guidelines). Calling it quits for now.
Synaesthasia, mirror neurons, and mystical experiences are three completely different parapsychological phenomena that have become accepted by mainstream science within the last ten years. I see no reason why science won't keep validating more paranormal theories in the future.
"The physics-defying spooky fact of X" belongs to parapsych (and I'd casually bet my life on the null hypothesis under good enough testing).
"Experience of X" belongs to neuropsych (and it reflects poorly on them if they dump it over the fence on the parapsychologists because it just sounds so spooky and unprofessional. Bah humbug.)
The link doesn't mention anything like that; if anything, the example of the woman who thought mirror-touching was perfectly normal & universal suggests the opposite.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_monoxide_poisoning (the "haunted houses" section)
But it's basically the experience of leaving your body, traveling through a tunnel toward a bright light, and then learning one or more of the noetic truths described here:
This experience is said to feel more real than real life, and to be largely ineffable. This is obviously problematic for science for a number of reasons. (For example, if it's true that there is such a thing as an ineffable experience, this means that the basic assumptions underlying all of science are false.)
Anyway in 2006 scientists were able to recreate mystical states in 60-70% of participants using a high dose of psilocybin. These experiences corresponded very well with the traditional mystical states as described by all the world religions. (Basically the vast majority of religions were created by people who had a 'primary religious experience'.)
If you want to experience this for yourself, you can sign up to be part of the next round of experiments at csp.org. Although there are definitely some pretty serious risks, so you wouldn't really want to sign up until reading a few books on the subject so that you understand these risks and can make an informed decision.
There is a podcast called Gnostic Media that has a really good interview with the researcher who did the 2006 Hopkins study. I'd highly recommend it. All of their interviews are actually really good.
Aren't all our subjective experiences ineffable? In other words we can only communicate our experiences to each other because our experiences are shared and by communicating egocentric analogies. Or to put another way: if a bat tries to explain to you what it's like to navigate with sonar it's going to seem pretty freaking ineffable to you! That's why they call it the Hard Problem. :-)
Isn't the fact that these experiences can be induced by using a physical collection of molecules to do something physical to the brain an indication that, actually, they're just the sort of physical processes that are compatible with materialistic science?
I have a couple articles on my site about how the concept of the "supernatural" is incoherent, but that it doesn't matter: we experience such a small subset of "reality" that we need a concept "outside the normal realm of experience." I called it "Hypernatural," for lack of a better term already in use.
Hmm? Isn't that what we expect if there are no psi phenomena?
[ETA: Ah, perhaps this was an argument against the premise that parapsychologists use exactly the same procedures as other scientists. But in other sciences, one suspects that researchers who believe in XYZ tend to find it more than those who don't...]
At last, with this perspective, someone has turned the pile of steaming refuse that is parapsychology into a vein of gold, waiting to be mined.