Tag Archives: Oskar Pfungst

Clever Hans (Kluge Hans)

Via The Skeptic’s Dictionary

In a nutshell: Clever Hans was a horse that some people thought could do math in his head and understand German. One group of people tested him and found these claims were true. Another scientist tested Hans and found the claims weren’t true.

cleverhans_250pxClever Hans (German: Kluge Hans) was a German horse who seemed to be able to do math problems in his head, tell time, name people, and answer questions by tapping his hoof. When asked to add 3 + 2, Hans would tap his hoof five times. If asked my name, Hans would have tapped twice for ‘B’, paused, tapped 15 times for ‘O’, paused, and then tapped twice again.

Hans could even answer hard written questions. Was he really able to read?

“If the eighth day of the month comes on a Tuesday, what is the date of the following Friday?” Hans could figure that out. He answered by tapping his hoof eleven times. This was one smart horse!

Hans’s owner, Wilhelm von Osten, began showing his clever horse to the public in 1891. He did so for about twenty years. Many people, including some scientists, were sure that Hans was really doing some heavy duty thinking. They were certain that his hoof tapping was not a trick. Clever Hans became famous.

CleverHans02The German board of education sent a group of people (the Hans Commission) to study Hans. Carl Stumpf, a philosopher and psychologist, led the commission. A few school teachers, a veterinarian, a director of the Berlin zoo, and a few others joined Stumpf.

The Hans Commission listed some possible explanations for what Hans could do. Maybe he could really understand both spoken and written language. Maybe he could do math in his head. Maybe he was acting on cues his owner was giving.

[ . . . ]

a skeptical scientist tests Hans again

[ . . . ]

Oskar Pfungst (1847-1933), a biologist and psychologist, tested Hans again. He found that the Hans Commission had not done a very good job. Pfungst proved that Hans was responding to very slight movements of those watching him. Hans was especially sensitive to small head movements by his owner. Pfungst also found that the movements by those watching Hans were not done on purpose to cue the horse. If asked to add 3 + 2, for example, the horse would start tapping. smart horseWhen he got to five taps, von Osten (or others watching Hans) would lean forward very slightly and that was the cue for the horse to stop tapping.

How did Pfungst figure this out?

He set up a test where the horse could be asked questions but could not see von Osten or others who were watching. He put blinders on Hans. When the horse couldn’t see anyone, he didn’t respond. In another test, the horse didn’t respond when the one asking the question didn’t know the answer to it. But the horse did give the right response when the one asking the question did know the answer to it, even if von Osten was not present. That last test ruled out the hypothesis that von Osten knew he was signaling Hans. He wasn’t cheating. He really believed his horse was doing math and reading letters. The evidence collected by Pfungst led the scientific community to hold that Hans was responding to slight movements rather than understanding written and spoken words. Von Osten, however, kept on believing that his horse could read, do math, and understand German. He was making a little bit of money showing off Hans and he kept on with his pony show.

one scientific discovery leads to another

ouija-board-gifOne of the beautiful things about science is how one discovery leads to another. One of the things Pfungst found is the ideomotor effect: making slight movements without being aware of making them. (See the entries on dowsing and the Ouija board for other cases of the ideomotor effect.)

While testing Hans, Pfungst discovered that animals respond to movements around them that can barely be seen. He also found that people aren’t always aware that they are moving and giving cues to animals (or other persons). We now know that humans also respond to movements or sounds without being aware of it. We call this giving of signals without awareness unconscious signaling. This discovery has had a major effect on how experiments should be done when they involve either people or animals.

We now know that humans are unconsciously aware of many things right before their eyes. A botanist might see a rare flower out of the corner of his eye and not be conscious of having seen it. Later, he finds himself thinking of that rare flower. Then, he sees the flower and says “wow, I was just thinking of that flower.” Isn’t that amazing? Yes. Scientists call it “sensing without seeing.”

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Telepathy

via The Skeptic’s Dictionary – Skepdic.com

“To the present day, no one has come up with a persuasive experimental design that can unambiguously distinguish between telepathy and clairvoyance….Based on the experimental evidence, it is by no means clear that pure telepathy exists per se, nor is it certain that real-time clairvoyance exists.” The evidence “can all be accommodated by various forms of precognition.”–Dean Radin

telepathy500a_300pxLiterally, “distance feeling.” The term is a shortened version of mental telepathy and refers to mind-reading or mind-to-mind communication through ESP.

Since there is no way to distinguish direct communication with another mind from communication with a future or past perception by that or some other mind, there is no way to distinguish telepathy from precognition or retrocognition. There is no way to distinguish telepathy, clairvoyance, retrocognition, or precognition from a mind perceiving directly the akashic record. There is no way to distinguish telepathy, clairvoyance, retrocognition, precognition, or perceiving the akashic record from perceiving what is directly placed in the mind by God (occasionalism). There is no way to distinguish telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, perceiving the akashic record, or having perceptions directly implanted in our minds by a god from perceiving the hidden record of all perceptions in the eleventh dimension that is vibrating in the intersection between the tenth and twelfth dimensions. I could go on, but it would be too annoying.

The term ‘telepathy’ was coined by psychical investigator Frederick W. H. Myers (1843-1901) in an 1882 article in the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research. Myers was a classics scholar and one of the founders of modern psychology.

[…]

[E]verybody knowledgeable of the history of psi research remembers Joseph Banks Rhine (1895-1980). In 1925, Rhine and his wife, Louisa, both with doctorates in biology (plant physiology) from the University of Chicago arrived at Harvard to study psychology, philosophy, and what Rhine would come to call “extra-sensory perception.” Both heard Sir Arthur Conan Doyle lecture on spiritualism and were impressed not only with his message but his serene demeanor. The possibility that spirits might be communicating with the living, said Rhine, was “the most exhilarating thought” he’d had in years. The Rhines sat in on a number of séances but were not completely taken in by their experiences. They were quick to claim that famed medium “Margery” (Mina, wife of Dr. Le Roi Goddard Crandon, a respected surgeon) was guilty of “brazen trickery.” Yet, when they went to Duke in 1927 to work with William McDougall, their first investigation was of an alleged telepathic horse called Lady Wonder. They declared that they could detect no trickery and that the horse was genuinely telepathic. In a follow-up study, the horse couldn’t perform and the Rhines declared that Lady Wonder had lost her psychic ability.blueconsciousness_150px A similarly clever horse had been studied by Oskar Pfungst in 1904 and it was found that the horse was responding to subtle visual cues. Had the Rhines been so inclined, they might have found the same thing with Lady Wonder. It turns out humans are as clever as horses and the phenomenon of unconsciously responding to sensory cues is now known as the clever Hans phenomenon. In any case, the Rhines took over the Duke lab from Dr. McDougall and ran it until Rhine’s retirement in 1966. What did Rhine have after nearly forty years of scientific research on ESP and psychokinesis? He had a lot of data, a number of followers, but there was no Noble Prize on the horizon.

The Lady Wonder fiasco was just one of several blunders made by America’s most preeminent name in parapsychology.

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