Number 10 BEM - Does ESP Exist Daryl J Bern-—-————— Daryl J Bern is professor of psychology at Cornell University He became research in

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Unformatted text preview: Does ESP Exist? Daryl J. Bern -—--—————-.______________ Daryl J. Bern. is professor of psychology at Cornell University. He became inmiuedintheworidofpsi research in i983. when. he mas asked to criticaiiy Maine the aimed:an procedures for the autognnzfeid studies from the per- spective ofan experinwntai psychologist and mentalist (a magician who special- izes in the simulation ofpsr'). Reports of psychic phenomena are as old as human history. Experimental tests of psychic phenomena are almost as old. According to Herodotus, the ancient Greek historian, King Croesus of Lydia dispatched sev- eral of his men to test seven ora- clestoseeifanyofthemcould divine what he, the king, was doing on the day of the test. Only Pythia, priestess of Apollo at Delphi, was able to divine cor- rectly that the king was making a lamb and tortoise stew in a bronze kettle. Convinced of her powers, Croesus then posed the question that really inter-wheel him: Ifhe attacked the rival kingdom of Persia, would he be able to defeat its army? Pythia replied, l‘When Croesus has the Halys crossed, a mighty empire will be lost.” Insuf— ficiently alert to the ambiguity of this prediction, Croesus ceased the river, attacked, and lost his mighty empire. Evaluating “psy- chic” data is a risky business. This article originally appeared in The “build & l. Recent laboratory . 0 The acum- reseerch suggests “in °f ‘“f°m“°“ “Wt Pia”, objects, or events without the that mediation of any of the known parapsychologisrs senses (for example, Pythia’s might finally have knowledge that the king was cornered their elusive making mi . . m The _ Precogruao acquisi- quafl'l’: mP'OdUGWO tionofinformation aboutafubure evidence for psychic event that could notbeanticipat- funcflanfng. ed through any known inferential process. (Pythia’s prediction about the loss of an empire, although dubious, is an example.) Serious scholarly investiga- tionofpsibeganin 1892,whena The contemporary technjml group of scholars in London term for psychic phenomena is founded the Society for Psychics] psi. More precisely, psi denotes Research (SPR) to anomalous processes of Merma- tionorenergytransfenprooesses inmtigflm fiathmwyof that, am may unexplained in debatable phenomena desig- terms ofknown physical or'bio- hated by such terms as me:- logical mechanisms. These pro- “Eric. Paychical and spiritual- oases include adrasensory pm We - - - without Prejudice m" caption (ESP), the acquisition of WSW 0‘ any kind. and information 'without using the in the "1119 Spirit 01’ m and inwwn senses, and psychokinesz's, mpmiflned infinity Which the ability to affect physical has enabled Science to solve so objects or events without the my Problemfi. Once not less interventionofanyknownphynss ital force. ' In turn, ESP comprises the The SPR was active until the following: ' early years of the twentieth cen- 0 Why. The transfer-of tury, when many ofthe original information from one person to founders had died and enthusi- another without the mediation of mm: declined. any known channel of sensory Cmmmporsrypsireseardzis communication. usually considered to have begun August 1994, pp. 215-219. Reprinted by permission of The Bond a i. a _ 77 publication oi the Washington Times Corporation. © 1994. 3. PERCEPTUAL PROCESSES in 1927, when Joseph Banks Rhine and his Wifeioollabcrator, Iouisa, arrived in the psychology department at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. Rhine’s experiments, which test- ed for ESP with decks of cards containing geometric symbols, became Well known to the gener- al public in 1937 when he pub- . lished New Emitters ofthe Mind . The book received widespread press coverage‘ and became a Bookof the Month Club selection. Even today, many Americans know of Rhine’s work. Since Rhine, many parapsy— chologists have reported positive psi malts using a wide variety of experimental procedures. Yet most academic psychologists are tence d psi has been established. Searchan for a repeatable experiment In science generally, a phe- nomcn is not considered estab- lished until it has been observed repeatedly by several re- searchers. This criterion has been the source of the most seri- ous u'iticism of parapsychology: that it has failed to yield a single reliable demonstration of psi that can be replicated by other inves- tigators. In 1974, an experimen- tal procedure was introduced thathcldsoutthepmmised'sup- plying that repeatable demon— stration: the ganzfeld procedure. By the late 1960s, several parapsychologists had become dissatisfied with the repetitive forced-choice procedures pio- neered by Rhine, believing that they failed to capture the kinds of psi experiences that people report in everyday life. Both his- torically and cross-culturally, psi has usually been associated with dreaming, meditation, trances of various kinds, and other altered states of consciousness. This sug— gested that psi information may 78 function like a weak signal nor- mally masked by the sensory “noise” of everyday life. Thus, altered states of consciousness may enhance a person's ability to detect psi information simply because they reduce interfering sensory input. Psi researchers first sought to test this hypothe- sis by adapting the ganzfeld pro- cedure, a mild sensory isolation technique introduced into exper- imental psychology during the 19305. In a ganzfeld telepathy experiment, one subject (the receiver) restsinarecliningchair in a soundproof chamber. Translucent Ping-Pong ball halves are taped over the eyes, i _ receiver is presented with sever. al stimuli {usually four) and, without knowing which one was the target, is asked to rate the degree to which each matches the thoughts and images eqoefienced ' during the ganzfeld period. If the receiver assigns the highest rat- ingtothetarget, itis scoredasa “hit.” Thus, if the experiment uses judging sets containing four stimuli (the target and threecon- trol stimuli), the hit rate Exped- edbychanceisoneoutoffounor 25 percent. In 1985 and 1986, the Jour- nal ofParapsychology devoted two entire issues to a critical examination of the ganzfeld stud- ies, featuring a debate between By the late 19605, several parapsychologists had become dissatisfied with the repetitive forced- choice procedures pioneered by Rhine. and headphones are placed over the cars. A red floodlight is direct- ed toward the receiver’s eyes, and white noise is played through the headphones. {White noise is a random mixture of sound fre— quencies similar to the hiss made by a radio tuned between sta- ' ticns.) This homogeneous visual and auditory environment is called the Ganzfeld, a German word meaning “total field.” To quiet "noise’I produced by inter- nal bodily tension, the receiver is also led through a set of relax- ation exercises at the beginning of the ganzfeld period. While the receiver is in the ganzfeld, a second subject (the sender) sits in a separate sound- proof room and concentrates on the “target,” a randomly selected picture or videotaped sequence. For about 30 minutes, the receiv- er thinks aloud, providing a con- tinuous report of all the thoughts, feelings, and images that pass through his or-her mind. At the end of the ganzfeld period, the Ray Hyman, a cognitive psychol- ogist and a knowledgeable, skep- tical critic of parapsychological research, and the late Charles Honorton, a prominent parapsy- chologist and major ganzfeld researcher. At that time, there had been 42 reported ganzfeld studies conducted by investiga- tors in 10 laboratories. Across these studies, might seem like a small margin ot‘suwess over the 25 percent hit rate expected by chance, but a person with this margin ofadvan- tage in a gambling casino would _ get rich very quickly.) Statistical- . ly, this result is highly significant: The odds against getting a 35 per- cent hit rate across that many studies by chance are greater _ than a billion to one. ' Correcting the flaws If the most frequent criticism of '_ parapsychology is that it has not 3 produced a repeatable psi eflea, the second most frequent criti- cjsmisthatmanyifnotmoshpsi experiments have inadequate con- trols and safeguards. A frequent charge is that positive results emerge primarily from poorly controlled studies and then vanish as better controls and safeguards are introduced. The potentially most fatal flaws in a psi study are those that would allow a receiver to obtain the target information in normal sensory fashion, either inadver- tently or through deliberate cheat- ing. This is called the problem of sensory leakage. Critic Hyman and parapsychologist Honorton agreed that the studies with the experimental procedures, including the random selection and presentation of the targets and the recording of the receiv- er’s ratings. These studies were published by Honorton in the Journal of Parapsychology in 1990, and the complete history of genzfeld research was resumma- rized by Ben: (the author ofthis article) and Honorton in the Jan- uary 1994 issue of the Psycholog- ical Bulletin oftheAmerican Psy- chological Association. The autoganzfeld studies confirmed the results of the ear— lier, less sophisticated studies, obtaining virtually the same hit rate: about 35 percent. These studies also reconfirmed several Resolving disagreements over the existence of a disputed phenomenon has never been a matter of simply gathering more evidence. good safeguards against sensory leakage obtained results that were just as strong as studies that had less good safeguards But because Hyman and Honorton disagreed on other aspects of the studies, they issued a joint communiqué in 1986, in which they agreed that the final verdict awaited the outcome of future experiments conducted by a broader range of investigators and according to more stringent standards. They then spelled out in detail the more stringent methodological and statistical standards they believed should govern all fiiture ganzfeld exper- iments. In 1983, Honorton and col- leagueshadhiitiatcdanewsetof 11 ganzfeld studies that complied with all the guidelines he and Hyman later published in their joint communique. They are called autoganzt'eld studies because a computer controlled findings from other research. For example, it has often been reporb ed that creative or artistically gifl‘ed persons show highabil- ity. The autogunzfeld audios test- ed this by recruiting twenty stu- dents from the Juilliard School in New York City to serve as receivers. Overall, these students achieved a hit rate of50 percent, one of the highest rates ever reported for a single sample in a gnnzfeld study. The autoganzfeld studies also found that signifi- cantly higher hit rates were obtained when the targets were videotaped film sequences rather than still pictures. Belief and skepiidsm Even if skeptical critia can agree that the autoganzi‘eld sat- isfy the strict methodological and statistical criteria set forth in Hyman and Hmorton’s joint com- munique, the studies cannot, by 13. Does P Exist? themselves, satisfy the further requirement that gnnzfeid exper- iments be conducted by a broad- er range of investigators. In that sense, than, thejury is still out; the verdict awaits the outcome of future experiments. This state of affairs is not likely to change soon. The history of science demon- strates that resolving disagreei merits over the existence ofa dis- puted phenomenon has never been a matter of simply gather- ing more evidence until it reach- es some objective, a priori thresh— old of quality and quantity. The amount of evidence required to persuade any given scientist that a phenomenon exists depends on his orherheliefastohowlikelyit is that the phenomenon sts in the first place. Most scientists require more and better evidence for an anomalous phenomenon—one unexplained by known physical and biological mechanisms— than for other phenomena. This is usually expressed by the dic- tum that “extrurdinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” But in any givan instance, there is no agreement on or objective measure of what constitutes “extraordinary” ' Moreover; scientists’ diversa reactions to evidence in disputed areas of research are strongly determined by their attitudes toward many other issues, not all of them strictly scientific. For example, scientists differ in the kinds of intellectual risks they are willing to take. For many scien- tists,itisfarmoresinfi11tocon- dude that an effect sis when ' itdocsnotthantoconcludethat an effect does not at when it does. The choice of which kind of error is more tolerable is not a matter of good sdenoe versus bad science but a matter of taste. As Croesus learned the-hard way, evaluating “psychic” data is inherently a risky business. ...
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This note was uploaded on 04/03/2008 for the course PSYC 1000 taught by Professor Carter during the Spring '07 term at Montana Tech.

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Number 10 BEM - Does ESP Exist Daryl J Bern-—-————— Daryl J Bern is professor of psychology at Cornell University He became research in

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