Tag Archives: Parapsychology

The Columbus Poltergeist

Did a poltergeist infest a home in Columbus, Ohio? Or was this the work of a mischievous teen?

skeptoid eyeby Blake Smith via skeptoid
Read transcript below or listen here

In 1982 a terrifying phenomena was lifted from the pages of parapsychology literature and turned into the highly successful film, Poltergeist. Although the film was not based on a real case, and the phenomena in the film veered wildly from the historical symptoms, it did make this peculiar type of event culturally available in a way it had never been before. So when a trouble household in Columbus, Ohio began experiencing flying objects and mysterious disturbances, one had to wonder: was this a poltergeist or merely zeitgeist?

poltergeist 02_250pxEnthusiasts of paranormal lore will know that the word poltergeist is derived from the german words for noisy and spirit. Before we get into the particulars of the Columbus Poltergeist, lets talk about skeptics and hauntings. Skeptics are often depicted as dismissing the idea of ghosts and spirits without investigation, but there is actually a rich history of thorough scientific investigations of such alleged phenomena. The most difficult challenge is that the allegedly paranormal events rarely manifest themselves when skeptical researchers are present. This leaves the investigator to more of a forensic role and sometimes with nothing but a collection of anecdotes.

Even the terminology for such events is difficult because a skeptical view of any such phenomena is predicated on examining each unusual component rather than collectively viewing them as a haunting. This is a problem for paranormal believers too in that ghost investigations are all trying to explain elusive phenomena.poltergeist 0800_225px Consider these words: phantoms, shadows, phantasms, ghosts, spirits… there is a robust lexicon to describe these non-corporeal entities, but no scientific proof that any of them exist. For the purposes of this article I’m going to talk about various aspects of this field but remember that these are terms which the scientific community – and Skeptoid – do not endorse as real or genuine. So when I talk about hauntings I’m not endorsing the existence of supernatural manifestations, but using the word to mean “the collection of unusual events” associated with such cases.

Poltergeists cases are characterized by loud noises, things being thrown, apportations of tiny objects, mysterious liquids appearing, rocks falling on the roof, and occasionally people being pushed, clawed, pressed or otherwise harassed. In most cases the poltergeist events are centered around one person – often a teenager. Many times when this central figure is removed from the scene the events stop and do not follow them to other locations.

In 1984 the home of John and Joan Resch became the scene of such events. Glasses, photographs, telephones and lamps were being thrown about and broken and the events all seemed centered on the Resch’s adopted daughter Tina.

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Are psychic powers real?

By Stuff They Don’t Want You To Know via YouTube

60% of Americans believe in psychic powers. What about you?

Where Is the Science in Electronic Voice Phenomena?

themer-evp
Via The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry – CSI

It is hard to turn on the television today without coming across a program about ghosts and the paranormal. These shows might shine an entertaining light on the unknown, but they are often more about their cast of characters and investigators than the science of parapsychology.

Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison

Since the 1920s, when Thomas Edison hinted that he might have attempted to build a “ghost machine” to communicate with the dead, some have tried to apply a scientific method to proving the existence of life after death. So far this has been unsuccessful, and to this day every group of investigators, both amateur and professional, has their own set of protocols as to what is or is not considered paranormal (see Sharon Hill’s “Amateur Paranormal Research and Investigation Groups Doing ‘Sciencey’ Things,” SI, March/April 2012).

With no universally accepted methods of investigating the paranormal, the beliefs of investigators can greatly influence the outcomes of their own investigations. Some investigators believe removing objects from a location will end a possible haunting. Others use objects to capture spirits, and psychic investigators believe spirits can be blessed or cast away. None of these methods have been scientifically proven, yet every investigator claims that the method they use is successful.

In pursuit of scientifically verifiable evidence, tools of all types have been employed. Many theories about detecting paranormal activity have been tested using everything from dowsing rods to Geiger counters. While the evidence they provide is scientifically debated, some tools such as audio recorders have become popular mainstays of the paranormal investigator.

soundwave-175x150The art of recording EVPs, or electronic voice phenomena, is one of the most widely accepted methods of collecting evidence. Originally, a portable tape recorder was used to record an investigator asking a series of questions and waiting for responses in the silence following each question. After the EVP session, the tape was played back and investigators listened for intelligent and relevant responses caught on the tape but not audible to the ear at the time. The theory is that spirits do not have enough energy to create sounds audible to the human ear but can leave impressions on the tape.

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Psychic test cards were actually invented to make psychic tests easier

psychic test cards
Esther Inglis-ArkellBy Esther Inglis-Arkell via io9.com

Earlier this week we did a post on survivorship bias, and how it could trick people into believing in psychic ability. It turns out that the most famous test of psychic ability was made expressly to allow for this kind of bias.

One of the most famous tests of psychic ability was made by J. B. Rhine. He claimed to identify strong psychics by testing a lot of people with Zener Cards. The tests involved two people, the examiner looking at the card, and the person being tested trying to guess the card that the examiner is looking at. Rhine noted that some people, a small minority, got a disproportionate number of cards right. They were “strong psychics.” Skeptics countered that, if you were to test any group on the street, some would do far better than average – just as some would do far worse than average. That’s the point of survivorship bias. You test a large amount of people and hold up the few who do better-than-average as examples of proof rather than coincidence.

One could argue that there shouldn’t be a coincidence at all. What are the chances that if someone looks at a card – a card that could show any picture at all – that another person will be able to guess the picture on it? The chances, it turns out, got a lot better once Zener Cards were invented. Zener Cards were made by Karl Zener, a paranormal investigator.

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Secrets of the Psychics

Secrets of the Psychics – James Randi
Original broadcast: October 19, 1993

Description via PBS.org:

Can psychics predict the future? Many people seem to think so. Others argue that, in most cases, so-called psychic experiences are really misinterpretations of events. In this episode of NOVA, magician and confirmed skeptic James Randi challenges viewers to weigh the evidence for and against the existence of psychic phenomena.

Randi argues that successful psychics depend on the willingness of their audiences to believe that what they see is the result of psychic powers. The program highlights some of the methods and processes he uses to examine psychics’ claims. Using his own expertise in creating deception and illusion, Randi challenges specific psychics’ claims by duplicating their performances and “feats,” or by applying scientific methods. His goal is to eliminate all possible alternative explanations for the psychic phenomena. He also looks for evidence that they are not merely coincidental. His arguments can motivate your class to discuss the differences between psychic performances and legitimate cases of unexplained phenomena.

Psychic Secrets

Jamy_Ian_SwissBy Jamy Iam Swiss via randi.org

The secret is out: professional storefront psychics are mostly comprised of fakes, frauds, cheats, and con artists. Step into a psychic storefront – especially in New York City or Southern Florida where organized criminal elements of the Romani (gypsy) culture is a significant presence – at your own extreme risk.

Second psychic in Hingham fraud probe surrenders to police - Quincy, MA - The Patriot LedgerWell, maybe that doesn’t seem like a secret to many skeptics, but the fact is that since the inception of the modern skeptic movement, skeptics have pursued and possessed specialized knowledge in the realm of paranormal claims such as psychic phenomena. Of course, skeptics are interested in a vast panoply of pseudoscience – a glance down the list of subjects at the Skeptic’s Dictionary [skepdic.com] will produce an alphabetical list of nonsense, from the doofus to the deadly, “From Abracadabra to Zombies,” as it says on the home page.

But the paranormal is a special area of interest and expertise, partly because of the so-called science of parapsychology, which for more than a century-and-a-half has attempted to establish the existence of psychic phenomena in the laboratory. Unfortunately, this science has yet to produce so much as a single replicable, paradigmatic experiment (as compared with even a “soft science” like psychology which has hundreds of such examples that can be readily replicated by new students and scientists alike).

Another reason for this interest is the role of magicians in the skeptic movement, who themselves possess specialized knowledge not only of deception and illusion in general but also in particular of the methods of psychics, which often encompass techniques that magicians and particularly “mentalists” routinely use in their own work. Thus the magician has been a key player in parapsychology investigation since the first committee on psychical research was organized by “Scientific American” magazine, with Harry Houdini as a member.

And finally – surely far from least – there is the terrible predation and damage that professional psychics do. Whether it is a television talk-to-the-dead medium who entraps people in their grief rather than helping them to return eventually, as they must, to the normal living of their own lives, despite the loss of their loved ones – or professional storefront fortunetellers-and-takers who use their traditional finely honed psychological weaponry to rob people of their dignity and self-respect, their self-control, and often their life savings.

220px-Secrets_of_the_PsychicsVideoIn 1993, the “Nova” television series devoted an entire program, entitled “Secrets of the Psychics,” to James Randi and his work as a psychic investigator and consumer protection advocate. Although this episode of the famous science documentary series has been available in various recorded forms, including in segments on YouTube, the program has just been posted in its entirety [here (illuminutti.com) and] here.

The show covers the gamut of psychic claims, and Randi’s investigations and insights. He looks at Russian psychics who claim to be able to gain special knowledge about a person just from examining a photograph. He tries to test specially psychically altered water, which seems to (rather hilariously) possess the special quality of being untestable. He looks at claims of the alleged psychic power to alter people’s blood pressure and brain waves. The program provides a synopsis of Randi’s legendary investigation of the faith healer Peter Popoff, and also provides a useful overview of Randi’s debunkings of Uri Geller during Geller’s metal-bending heydays.

Oh, and a young long-haired magician with a waxed moustache offers a brief original demonstration of psychokinesis in the first three minutes of the show. Go take a look!

The show is twenty years old but its principles and subjects are as fresh as today’s headlines, and literally so.

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James Randi – Secrets of the Psychics (Full)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

Secrets of the Psychics was a PBS NOVA episode following James Randi‘s work.[1] Also appearing in stock footage are Peter Popoff, Uri Geller, and many others.

In the program, “Randi argues that successful psychics depend on the willingness of their audiences to believe that what they see is the result of psychic powers.”[2]

This program is not to be confused with a later UK documentary Secrets of the Psychics, which was transmitted under this title as well as Secrets of the Super Psychics.


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(Psychic) Staring Effect

via The Skeptic’s Dictionary

In a nutshell: The psychic staring effect is the idea that people can tell by ESP when somebody is staring at them.

Can anyone really tell when someone else is staring at them? Sure, especially if the one doing the staring is standing right in front of you. But what about someone staring at you from behind? looking-back-over-my-shoulder_300pxNine out of ten people say they can “sense” when they are being stared at even when they can’t see the person who is doing the staring. What does science have to say about this ability to sense being stared at?

There have been several scientific studies on staring and all but one of them has found that people are fooling themselves if they think they can tell when they’re being stared at. The one scientist who found that some people can tell when someone else is staring at them is Rupert Sheldrake, the same scientist who found that a parrot and a dog can read the minds of people. If you think about it, you would have to be psychic to be able to “feel” somebody staring at you rather than see them with your own two eyes. That’s why this ability to tell when you’re being stared at is called psychic staring effect (PSE).

The first scientific studies of PSE were done in 1898 by Edward B. Titchener. He wanted to prove once and for all that PSE was a superstition. He did prove PSE is a superstition, but most people didn’t believe him anyway.

After Sheldrake did some tests that showed PSE is real, several other scientists tried to duplicate his work. No one else could find evidence for PSE. It looks like Sheldrake made a mistake or two. Right now it does not look like there is any logical reason to believe that some people can psychically tell when someone else is staring at them.

For more information on the study of psychic powers see A Short History of Psi Research by Robert T. Carroll (psi is what parapsychologists call perceiving or moving things with the mind only).


[END] The Skeptic’s Dictionary

Whatever Happened to Parapsychology?

Glenn McDonald, Discovery News via LiveScience

mind_body_225pxIt seems that stories of the paranormal sprout up every day, and everywhere, in pop culture and the media. Weird news websites number in the hundreds, and there are entire television series dedicated to psychic abilities, hauntings and paranormal investigation.

But that’s all showbiz, really. The actual academic study of parapsychology — the established term for phenomena such as clairvoyance, psychokinesis, telepathy and precognition — has seemingly disappeared since its heyday in the mid-20th century. So what happened to parapsychology?

It hasn’t gone anywhere, said John Kruth, executive director of the Rhine Research Center in Durham, N.C. It’s just become disorganized, underfunded and — in the realm of traditional science — largely ignored. The Rhine is one of a handful of privately funded groups in the United States still doing active research into parapsychology, sometimes called “psi phenomena.”

“People have never stopped doing research in these areas,” Kruth said. “But the skeptic community is strong and vocal, and they’re much better at working the media.” Kruth attributes much of the field’s decline in the United States, during the 1970s and 1980s, to media-savvy debunkers such as James Randi.

esp_200px“Certainly there are fraudulent practitioners out there, and we’re always watching for that,” Kruth said. “It’s like we have the frauds on one side and the debunkers on the other, and we’re in the middle, still trying to do science.”

Critics respond that, as a field of scientific study, parapsychology has much bigger issues. In short, the science has a fundamental evidence problem.

“It’s fallen into disuse due to the fact that there’s just nothing there,” said Michael Shermer, editor of the quarterly journal Skeptic and columnist for Scientific American. “Parapsychology has been around for more than a century. (Yet) there’s no research protocol that generates useful working hypotheses for other labs to test and develop into a model, and eventually a paradigm that becomes a field. It just isn’t there.”

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ESP

via The Skeptic’s Dictionary

In a nutshell: ESP stands for extrasensory perception. If you had ESP, you could see, feel, or hear things without using your eyes, hands, or ears. There are some scientists who say they have proof of ESP, but most scientists think the proof is weak and does not support a belief in ESP.

ESP stands for extrasensory perception.

mindcontrol_640px_200pxSensory perception is seeing, hearing, smelling, feeling, or tasting. Extrasensory perception is when you see or hear something that can’t be seen or heard with your eyes and ears. Such experiences happen outside the normal range of the senses and are said to be paranormal or psychic. Most scientists don’t think paranormal events actually happen or that anyone is actually psychic.

If you had ESP, you could see, feel, or hear things without using your eyes, hands, or ears. Somehow your brain would get messages and images from distant places and distant times. If your brain confused you with perceptions from the past and from places far away while you were trying to get dressed, eat breakfast, get on the school bus, pay attention in class, or do your homework, you would have a very hard time making it through the day. As far as we know, this has never happened to anybody.

mind reading or telepathy

Mind reading is a type of ESP where a person “sees” what is in another person’s mind. Mind reading is also called telepathy. The scientific study of telepathy began over one hundred twenty years ago when it was called psychical research. Today, scientists who study ESP are called parapsychologists and their science is called parapsychology. (Psychical comes from the Greek word for spirit. Many parapsychologists say the mind is a spirit.)

rsz_museumesptestThe first scientific test of telepathy was done in England in 1882. Scientists at the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) tested several young girls who said that they could tell what each other was thinking. The scientists put the girls in different rooms and asked those in one room about a card or name of a person that a girl in the other room was thinking of. Many tests were given over a period of six years. The scientists said there was no way the girls could have got as many right answers as they did just by guessing. The scientists also said they were sure the girls weren’t cheating. The scientists agreed that the girls were reading each other’s minds. The scientists were right about one thing. The girls couldn’t have gotten as many right answers as they did just by guessing. But the scientists were wrong about the cheating. The girls—the Creery sisters and their servant Jane Dean—admitted they cheated by using secret signals. This wasn’t the first time, and it wouldn’t be the last time, that children would fool scientists.

In 1848 two sisters, Kate Fox (age 12) and Margaretta Fox (15), said they heard strange rapping noises in their bedroom. They got people to believe that they were getting messages from spirits. Soon they went on tour with their big sister Leah who was in her mid-30s. They did séances, which became the rage in both the U.S. and Europe. In 1871, the Fox sisters fooled Sir William Crookes (1832-1919), an important scientist who attended a Fox-girls séance in London. Sir William said he tested the girls “in every way that I could devise” and was sure they were not producing the rapping noises “by trickery or mechanical means.” In 1888 the sisters confessed that they made the raps by cracking their toe-joints. They made bumping noises by fastening an apple to a string under their petticoats and bouncing it off the floor.

q461-2From 1979-1983, two teenagers tricked scientist Peter Phillips into thinking they were able to move and bend objects by their thoughts, a power known as psychokinesis. (Psychokinesis comes from two Greek words meaning mind or spirit and movement. Psychokinesis, when it involves moving an object with mental power alone, is called telekinesis, literally distant-movement.) Steve Shaw (18) and Mike Edwards (17) fooled the scientist for four years through more than 160 hours of tests. One of their favorite tricks was to pretend to bend a spoon or fork with thoughts, a trick made popular by Uri Geller. Geller, however, claimed that he had psychokinetic powers. At one time, he claimed he got his powers from the planet “Hoova” in another star system and a UFO called “IS” or “Intelligence in the Sky.”

Skeptics don’t think there is good evidence that anyone has moved even a pencil across a table using only the power of thought. Psychokinesis nearly always involves trickery, though we might occasionally think we caused something to happen when it happens right after we thought about it happening. If you point to the sky during a rain storm and say “let there be lightning” and then a lightning bolt shoots across the sky, you might think you caused it. You’d probably be wrong.

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James Alan Hydrick claimed to be able to perform acts of telekinesis, such as his trademark trick involving the movement of a pencil resting at the edge of a table.

Here he is exposed as a fraud by none other than James Randi:

It was soon after this appearance on That’s My Line Hydrick confessed the fraud to an investigative reporter.


Uri Geller’s Tonight Show failure (courtesy of James Randi):


Also see: Top 10 Psychic Debunkings

Amazing Discovery in Used Bible

I found the following story to be amazing because it’s the perfect example of how randomness creates incredible coincidences that people then interpret as a sign of something supernatural or paranormal.

What a coincidence! Just the other day i posted an article discussing coincidences.

Enjoy:)

Mason I. Bilderberg (MIB)


via About.com – Paranormal Phenomena

In this video report, Marion Shurtleff tells about how she bought a Bible in a used bookstore. When she got home and opened it, she found inside folded, yellowing sheets of paper. She was astonished when she read what was on them. Immediately she saw her name — and her own handwriting! It was an essay she wrote 65 years ago when joining the Girl Scouts — in another city 2,000 miles away!

Review:

A stunning coincidence like this makes the head spin. The odds of this happening are beyond astronomical:

  • That she went to this particular bookstore
  • On this particular day (the book could have been picked up by someone else any time)
  • That she sought this particular type of book
  • That she bought this specific book

And that would be remarkable enough if she grew up in this town. But she was a little girl in another town 2,000 miles away! So:

  • How did her essay get in the book?
  • Why was it ever saved in the first place?
  • Who saved it?
  • Why did they place it in a Bible?
  • How did it get to the city where Marion now lives, so far away?
  • How and why did it survive in the book considering all the hands in must have passed through?

We certainly cannot blame Marion for thinking that there was a higher power at work in this case. It’s such an unfathomable and unlikely — one might say nearly impossible — outcome that we can only wonder if it was somehow directed by “something,” whether you want to call it a higher power or collective unconscious or psychic phenomenon. What do you think?

MORE here and here.

Remote Viewing

via The Skeptic’s Dictionary

In a nutshell: Remote viewing is a kind of ESP where a person in one place “sees” what another person in another place is looking at. Remote viewing is another name for clairvoyance or telepathy.

remote viewing_250pxRemote viewing (also called clairvoyance or telepathy) is seeing things at a distance using the mind alone. A remote viewer may claim to read the mind of a person in a distant place to see what that person is looking at (telepathy). A remote viewer may claim to somehow directly see the place where another person is located (clairvoyance). Or, a remote viewer may claim to see a distant place even if nobody else is looking at it (clairvoyance).

Skeptics doubt that it is possible to see places, persons, and actions that are not within the range of the senses or such things as telescopes and binoculars. ESP scientists (parapsychologists) claim that they have proof of remote viewing.

Tests of remote viewing often involve having one person go to a remote site while another in a different location tries to get impressions of the site by reading the mind of the person at the remote site. There has never been such a test where one person looks at, say, the Golden Gate Bridge while another person across town says “she’s looking at the Golden Gate Bridge.” In one test, a person went to the Dumbarton Bridge (pictured below) and the remote viewer reported that he was getting “impressions” of

dumbartonbridge

  • half arch
  • something dark about it
  • darkness
  • a feeling she had to park somewhere and had to go through a tunnel or something, a walkway of some kind, an overpass
  • there’s an abutment way up over her head
  • we have a garden, it’s a formal garden
  • formal gardens get passed
  • open area in the center
  • trees
  • some kind of art work in the center
  • this art work is very bizarre, set in gravel, stone.

If you try hard enough, you can match some of the impressions of the remote viewer with the Dumbarton Bridge, but if you only had this list to go by, I don’t think you’d ever figure out what he was talking about.

Your Sixth Sense

Perhaps you’ve lived this moment before. Perhaps you’re seeing yourself at a distance, as never before. Anomalous experiences are real and life-changing. That doesn’t mean they occur outside your own head.

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By Matthew Hutson via Psychology Today

Chances are, at some point in your life, you’ve felt someone staring at you. Maybe you were at the grocery store.looking-back-over-my-shoulder_300px Maybe walking along the sidewalk. Maybe sitting on a bus. And sure enough, when you turned your head to look, the suspect’s eyes met yours.

You just had an anomalous experience.

The job of the conscious mind is to form a story out of all our sensations and reflections. Life as we experience it is not just a series of unconnected thoughts and events; it’s a coherent narrative unfolding in an orderly universe. But sometimes we have experiences that don’t fit our expectations and may even contradict what science has taught us is possible. In our attempts to accommodate such outlier phenomena, we often turn to unproven forces or entities. We start to believe in the paranormal.

Anomalous experience of this sort ranges from sensing a strange vibe in a room to feeling outside your own body. We often explain such experiences using concepts related to spirits, luck, witchcraft, psychic powers, life energy, or more terrestrial (and extraterrestrial) entities. Such explanations are often more appealing, or at least more intuitive, than blaming an odd experience on a trick of the mind.

astralt_250pxOne of the most common anomalous experiences is the sense of being stared at. When you see someone gazing directly at you, emotions become activated—it can be exciting or comforting or creepy—and this visceral charge can give the impression that gazes transfer energy. Further, if you feel uncomfortable and check to see whether someone is looking at you, your movement may draw attention—confirming your suspicions.

Another common experience is déjà vu, a phenomenon two in three people report. Most of us shrug it off as a mental hiccup. Indeed, researchers propose it’s a sense of familiarity without a recollection of why something is familiar, or perhaps a timing issue in the brain where thoughts are experienced twice because of a slight wiring delay, lending the second occurrence an odd sensation of repetition. But some people believe it’s a glimpse into a past life.

While anomalous experiences may be associated with stressful circumstances, personal pathologies, or cognitive deficits, the experiences themselves may not always be so bad, and may actually be healthy inventions. They’re just our attempts to make sense of a weird situation. After all, there’s nothing the mind likes better than a good story.

Meaningful Coincidences

photoalbum_250pxAlex and Donna Voutsinas were leafing through family photo albums a week before their wedding in 2002 when one picture caught Alex’s eye. In the foreground was Donna, five years old, posing at Disney World with one of the Seven Dwarves. Behind them was Alex’s father pushing a stroller. And in the stroller was Alex. The boy’s family was visiting from Canada, and the two children would not meet until 15 years later. When he saw the photo, Alex said, “I got chills. It was just too much of a coincidence. It was fate.”

Nearly anyone would get chills in such a situation, but it takes a lot less—hearing the same new word twice in an hour, meeting someone who shares our birthday—to make us pause and say, “Well, how about that!” Such moments occur when we spot patterns, an ability (and compulsion) built into the brain from the earliest stages of perception. Pattern-finding lets us make sense of sensory input (those four legs are part of a table) and to predict regularities in our environment (apples fall down, not up; they’re often tasty; and throwing them makes people mad).

Pattern-finding is so central to survival and success that we see patterns everywhere, even in random data—a phenomenon called apophenia. We spot faces in clouds and hear messages in records played backward. And while we expect some level of order in the world, on occasion our pattern-spotting gets away from us and makes a connection we wouldn’t expect. When that happens, we demand, at least subconsciously, an explanation.

It turns out that our favorite kinds of explanations involve “agents”—beings capable of intentional action. The agent could be a person, a god, or a superintelligent robot. We’re biased to blame even simple events on agents—spotting them or their footprints allows us to manage them if they are dangerous: It is better to mistake a twig for a snake than to mistake a snake for a twig.

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Ganzfeld Experiments

The true history of the experiment that is said to present the strongest evidence yet for telepathic abilities.

Via Skeptoid
Podcast transcript (below) | Listen | Subscribe

14_balin4001_300pxToday we’re going to enter a quiet, darkened room, sit comfortably, and prepare to receive psychic imagery, in what’s often claimed to be the most convincing evidence for the reality of psi — psychic abilities. The idea of being able to transmit thoughts from one person to another is so compelling that there’s never been a shortage of researchers hoping to find a way to develop it. We all wish we could have such a superpower, so we all want this to be true. Today’s subject is ganzfeld experiments. Ganzfeld is German for “whole field”, referring to its method of replacing the whole of your field of perception. Let’s take a close look and see what it is, how it works, and — most importantly — whether it does indeed promise to be proof of psi.

A ganzfeld state is a bit different from sensory deprivation, as made famous in the movie Altered States. In sensory deprivation, the idea is to remove all stimuli, audio, visual, thermal, and tactile. Ideally the subject is placed in an isolation tank, a coffin-like device in which you float in a dense saline solution, the temperature is a constant, comfortable ambient temperature, and it’s completely dark and quiet. You see, hear, and feel nothing. Sensory deprivation has often been used recreationally, both with and without hallucinogenic drugs, for its ability to make the imagination seem surprisingly real, given the lack of competing stimuli.

However, in ganzfeld, the idea is to instead provide homogenous stimuli. The subject, called the “receiver”, sits comfortably in a recliner, wearing headphones playing gentle white noise.fortean_times_815_200px The room is bathed in red light and the receiver wears translucent cups over the eyes, so all they see is a uniform, featureless red. They are relaxed and cozy. That’s the physical setting of the experiment. Two other people are involved: an experimenter and a “sender”. The sender, in an isolated room where they cannot be seen or heard by the receiver, concentrates for 30 minutes on a “target”, which is some object or video clip or something. Throughout the 30 minutes, the receiver is supposed to verbally recite what they see or imagine. The experimenter, who is also supposed to be isolated from both the sender and the receiver, records what the receiver says, and usually keeps notes about what they describe.

At the end of the 30 minutes, the receiver is shown the actual target upon which the sender was focusing, presented alongside with three other control objects. The receiver guesses which of the four most closely resembles their impressions during the ganzfeld session. Pure chance predicts a 25% hit rate. But ganzfeld experiments became famous within the parapsychology community because experimenters consistently found a significantly higher hit rate; closer to 35%.

The history of ganzfeld experimentation is essentially the history of a particular battle between skeptics and believers; a cordial battle, but a battle nevertheless. Beginning in the 1970s, the leading proponent was American parapsychologist Charles Honorton, a staunch believer in psychic abilities, who was dedicated to finding a reliable scientific method of establishing the reality of psi.

Ray Hyman demonstrates Uri Geller's spoon bending feats at CFI lecture. June 17, 2012 Costa Mesa, CA

Ray Hyman demonstrates Uri Geller’s spoon bending feats at CFI lecture. June 17, 2012 Costa Mesa, CA
Image courtesy Wikipedia

Honorton’s idea was that whatever psi abilities many people may have is lost in the sea of constant stimuli that we’re all receiving all day long. We see, we hear, we touch, we think, to such a degree that if we did receive a psychic impression we’d never recognize it as such. So by placing subjects into a ganzfeld state, it’s thought that the signal-to-noise ratio would be increased, by shutting off all that noise, and subjects might be more likely to recognize a psychic transmission.

Across the line of battle was Ray Hyman, at the time a professor of psychology at Harvard. In the 1980s he came across Honorton’s body of work, said to be the best evidence yet for psi. Hyman studied it carefully, and came away unconvinced. In his assessment, the positive results so flaunted by the parapsychologists was due to methodological error. In 1985, Hyman published an article in the Journal of Parapsychology called “The Ganzfeld Psi Experiment: A Critical Appraisal”.

Unimpressed right back, Honorton published — in that very same issue of the journal — “Meta-Analysis of Psi Ganzfeld Research: A Response to Hyman”. Clearly, there was a difference of opinion.

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Secrets of the Psychics – James Randi

Secrets of the Psychics – James Randi
Original broadcast: October 19, 1993

Description via PBS.org:

james-randi-69Can psychics predict the future? Many people seem to think so. Others argue that, in most cases, so-called psychic experiences are really misinterpretations of events. In this episode of NOVA, magician and confirmed skeptic James Randi challenges viewers to weigh the evidence for and against the existence of psychic phenomena.

Randi argues that successful psychics depend on the willingness of their audiences to believe that what they see is the result of psychic powers. The program highlights some of the methods and processes he uses to examine psychics’ claims. Using his own expertise in creating deception and illusion, Randi challenges specific psychics’ claims by duplicating their performances and “feats,” or by applying scientific methods. His goal is to eliminate all possible alternative explanations for the psychic phenomena. He also looks for evidence that they are not merely coincidental. His arguments can motivate your class to discuss the differences between psychic performances and legitimate cases of unexplained phenomena.

Do Scientists Fear the Paranormal?

paranormal-alien-630x433_05by Benjamin Radford via Discovery News

The question has been asked for decades: why haven’t psychic powers been proven yet? Psychics have been studied for decades, both in and out of the laboratory, yet the scientific community (and the public at large) remains unconvinced.

In a recent book, “Science & Psychic Phenomena: The Fall of the House of Skeptics,” author Chris Carter insists that the reason that psychic powers have not been proven is because scientists are unaware of the research or refuse to take it seriously because “Clearly many scientists find the claims of parapsychology disturbing.”

Curiosity Spots Mystery Mars 'Flower'

Curiosity Spots Mystery Mars ‘Flower’
(Click image for analysis)

This is a common charge leveled against skeptics and scientists: that they refuse to acknowledge the existence of paranormal phenomenon (psychic abilities, ghosts, etc.) because it would somehow challenge or “disturb” their worldview.

Skeptics and scientists, they say, are deeply personally and professional invested in defending the scientific status quo and cannot psychologically tolerate the idea that they could be wrong. This results in a closed-minded refusal to accept, or even seriously examine, the evidence.

But is this really true? Do scientists ignore and dismiss claims and evidence that challenge dominant scientific ideas? Let’s examine some recent examples.

Psychic Powers

A study published in 2011 in a scientific journal claimed to have found strong evidence for the existence of psychic powers such as ESP. The paper, written by Cornell professor Daryl J. Bem, was published in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology and quickly made headlines around the world for its implication: that psychic powers had been scientifically proven.

Bem’s claim of evidence for ESP wasn’t ridiculed or ignored; instead it was taken seriously and tested by scientific researchers.

Indonesian Crop Circle Prompts Rumors of Aliens

Indonesian Crop Circle Prompts
Rumors of Aliens
(Click image for analysis)

Replication is of course the hallmark of valid scientific research — if the findings are true and accurate, they should be able to be replicated by others. Otherwise the results may simply be due to normal and expected statistical variations and errors. If other experimenters cannot get the same result using the same techniques, it’s usually a sign that the original study was flawed in one or more ways.

A team of researchers collaborated to accurately replicate Bem’s final experiment, and found no evidence for any psychic powers. Their results were published in the journal PLoS ONE. Bem — explicitly contradicting Carter’s suggestion that skeptics set out to discredit his work or refused to look at it — acknowledged that the findings did not support his claims and wrote that the researchers had “made a competent, good-faith effort to replicate the results of one of my experiments on precognition.”

The following year a second group of scientists also tried to replicate Bem’s ESP experiments, and once again found no evidence for psychic power. The article, “Correcting the Past: Failures to Replicate Psi,” was published in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology and is available on the web page of the Social Science Research Network.

Einstein’s Mistake?

In September 2011, news shot around the world that Italian physicists had measured particles traveling faster than light. The neutrino in the experiment only exceeded the speed of light by a little tiny bit — 60 nanoseconds — but if validated would violate the fundamental laws of physics.

Questions swirled: Would the findings hold up under repeated experiments? Could this team have proven Einstein wrong about the speed of light?

Real-life 'Paranormal Activity': Are Ghosts Real? (Credit: Paramount Picutures)

Real-life ‘Paranormal Activity’:
Are Ghosts Real?
Photo Credit: Paramount Picutures
(Click image for analysis)

What was the reaction from the scientific community to the news of this fundamentals-of-physics-challenging finding? They didn’t ignore the results, hoping the inconvenient truth would go away; they didn’t brand the scientists liars or hoaxers; they didn’t shout, “Burn the witch, this is heresy and cannot be true!”

Instead, they did what all scientists do when confronted with such anomalous evidence: they took a closer look at the experiment to make sure the results were valid, and tried to replicate the research. It later turned out that the anomaly was caused by at least two measurement errors, possibly including a loose cable: the experiment was flawed.

The scientists were not skeptical because accepting that Einstein was wrong about something would lead to a nervous breakdown, or that their whole worldview would crumble beneath them, or that they would have to accept that science doesn’t know everything.

The reason scientists were skeptical is because the new study contradicted all previous experiments. That’s what good science does: When you do a study or experiment — especially one whose results conflict with earlier conclusions, you study it closely and question it before accepting the results.

In science, those who disprove dominant theories are rewarded, not punished. Disproving one of Einstein’s best-known predictions (or proving the existence of psychic powers) would earn the dissenting scientists a place in the history books, if not a Nobel Prize.

The same pattern exists in other areas of the unexplained. For example . . . (READ MORE) . . .

What You Need To Know About… Psychometry

via paranormal.about.com

The incredible phenomenon of psychometry that senses an object’s past – by touching it

WHAT IS PSYCHOMETRY?

Psychometry is a psychic ability in which a person can sense or “read” the history of an object by touching it. Such a person can receive impressions from an object by holding it in his/her hands or, perhaps, touching it to the forehead. Such impressions can be perceived as images, sounds, smells, tastes – even emotions.

Psychometry is a form of scrying – a psychic way of “seeing” something that is not ordinarily seeable. Some people can scry using a crystal ball, black glass or even the surface of water. With psychometry, this extraordinary vision is available through touch.

For example, a person who has psychometric abilities – a psychometrist – can hold an antique glove and be able to tell something about the history of that glove, about the person who owned it, about the experiences that person had while in the possession of that glove. The psychic may be able to sense what the person was like, what they did and even how they died. Perhaps most important, the psychic can sense how the person felt – the emotions of the person at a particular time. Emotions especially, it seems, are most strongly “recorded” in the object.

The psychic may not be able to do this with all objects at all times and, as with all psychic abilities, accuracy can vary, but the ability is available to the psychic.

A BRIEF HISTORY

“Psychometry” as a term was coined by Joseph R. Buchanan in 1842 (from the Greek words psyche, meaning “soul,” and metron, meaning “measure.”) Buchanan, an American professor of physiology, was one of the first people to experiment with psychometry. Using his students as subjects, he placed various drugs in glass vials, and then asked the students to identify the drugs merely by holding the vials. Their success rate was more than chance, and he published the results in his book, Journal of Man. To explain the phenomenon, Buchanan theorized that all objects have “souls” that retain a memory.

Intrigued and inspired by Buchanan’s work, American professor of geology William F. Denton conducted experiments to see if psychometry would work with his geological specimens. In 1854, he enlisted the help of his sister, Ann Denton Cridge. The professor wrapped his specimens in cloth so Ann could not see even what type they were. She then placed the wrapped package to her forehead and was able to accurately describe the specimens through vivid mental images she was receiving.

From 1919 to 1922, Gustav Pagenstecher, a German doctor and psychical researcher, discovered psychometric abilities in one of his patients, Maria Reyes de Zierold. While holding an object, Maria could place herself in a trance and be able to state facts about the object’s past and present, describing sights, sounds, smells and other feelings about the object’s “experience” in the world. Pagenstecher’s theory was that a psychometrist could tune in to the experiential “vibrations” condensed in the object.

MORE . . .

ESP & Psychic Powers: Claims Inconclusive

By Benjamin Radford via LiveScience

The idea of special — apparently paranormal — mental abilities such as psychic powers or extrasensory perception (ESP) has intrigued people for centuries. There are several claimed varieties of psychic powers, including telekinesis (or psychokinesis, the ability to move objects through mind power); precognition (knowing future events before they happen); and telepathy or clairvoyance (French for “clear sight” — describing things at a remote location). It’s the stuff of fiction and movies — but is it real?

Many Americans believe in psychic ability (about 15 percent of the country, according to a 2005 Baylor Religion Survey; and 41 percent in another survey), but scientific evidence for its existence remains elusive. And it’s not for lack of trying; people — and the U.S. government — have spent decades searching for ESP.

Government ESP research

During the Cold War, rumors circulated that the Russians were developing an army of psychic spies; in response, the U.S. military created a program to examine whether psychics could be useful in military applications. The program, called Stargate, tested “remote viewers” to see if their feelings and visions were accurate. The research continued for about two decades, ending in the mid-1990s with little apparent success. Finally the CIA took over the program and asked scientists to review the results. They concluded that the psychics did no better than chance, and that the psychic information was neither validated nor useful. Project Stargate failed and was shut down.

Some suggest that the fact that Stargate program even existed is evidence that there must be some validity to psychic powers (otherwise it would not have been created and funded for years). Yet countless programs have been funded despite never having been proven valid or effective; the U.S. government spending money on fruitless programs is hardly novel. Some believe that top-secret government programs still use psychics today, though high-profile intelligence failures (i.e., if accurate psychics are employed by the government, why did it take a decade to find Osama bin Laden?) cast doubt on such conspiracy claims.

ESP in the laboratory

Though the government concluded that psychic power doesn’t exist (or, if it does, the information it provides is no more accurate than random chance guesses), ESP research has continued. Unfortunately, ESP has not fared well under scientific conditions, whether in the private or public sector.

Early experiments used “Zener cards” with common symbols such as circles, squares, and wavy lines selected at random and which a psychic would try to guess. In the 1930s and 1940s a researcher at Duke University named J.B. Rhine became interested in the idea that people could affect the outcome of random events using their minds. Rhine began with tests of dice rolls, asking subjects to try and influence the outcome through concentration. Though his results were mixed and hardly robust, they were enough to convince …

MORE . . .

Test Your Psychic Powers

By via paranormal.about.com

WE ALL HAVE telepathic powers to some degree, according to the psychic community, we just need to learn how to develop them. That’s easy for them to say when they’re out there predicting earthquakes, describing people’s auras, and sensing what Madonna is going to do next.

Me? If I was asked to predict what day it was going to be tomorrow, I’d get it wrong three times out of five. I seem to have no powers of extrasensory perception, telepathy, clairvoyance, or precognition. I can recall only one time that I predicted something correctly. I had just arrived at Penn Station in New York, and a string quartet had set up to play for commuters and arriving and departing passengers. As soon as I saw them I knew they were going to play a certain Mozart piece. Sure enough, of all things, that is indeed what they played. A lucky guess or premonition?

Most people have probably had such experiences one or more times in their lives. How about you? Would you like to test the power of your psychic mind – to find out, perhaps, just how strong your telepathic abilities are? There are several interactive online tests that allow you to see how well you do at predicting or influencing randomly chosen events.

Go here to Test Your Psychic Powers.

Controversial Psychic Ability Claim Doesn’t Hold up in New Experiments

By Stephanie Pappas via LiveScience

Bad news for Miss Cleo and other alleged clairvoyants: A new study has failed to find evidence that psychic ability is real.

Skeptics may scoff at the finding as obvious, but the research is important because it refutes a study published in a psychological journal last year that claimed to find evidence of extrasensory perception. That research, conducted by Daryl Bem of Cornell University, triggered outrage in the psychological community when the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology announced in 2010 that the paper had been accepted for publication. Psychologists immediately leapt on Bem’s statistics and methods, finding reasons how he may have come up with the unbelievable results.

But the real key to a strong scientific finding is reproducibility. If no other researchers can replicate a particular result, it’s not likely that the result is real. So University of Edinburgh psychologist Stuart Ritchie and colleagues decided to mimic one of Bem’s experiments almost exactly to see if they would also find evidence of psychic powers.

Read More: Controversial Psychic Ability Claim Doesn’t Hold up in New Experiments | LiveScience.

Extrasensory Arts: Do Musical and Artistic Abilities Increase Psychic Potential?

by via Mysterious Universe

What is it about the artistic mind that seems to allow the more remote and esoteric aspects of existence to shimmer through the cracks in our reality? Far more often than not, it seems that individuals who are gifted in the arts claim to be more spiritual and—to put it bluntly—psychically attuned.

Countless numbers of individuals have claimed to be both progenitors of the arts, in addition to being at least mildly “in touch” with spiritual essences that are not immediately made available to the average person. But is this really a gift that many artists seem to have, or is it just the result of the creative aspects underlying the minds of such personalities taking charge, and thus creating the sometimes-convincing impression of being gifted with special abilities?

While there are indeed studies that are well known already linking musical abilities with increased success in various other cognitive activities, a different kind of study was recently brought to my attention by good friend Thomas Cameron, a martial arts instructor and colleague of mine based out of Chicago. Tom had begun a recent correspondence with me by posing similar questions, and then began to posit theories regarding level of artistic or musical ability in relation to extra-sensory gifts. Then he mentioned a study that seemed, at least peripherally, to lend some justification to why, precisely, this might be. The process of the study, according to Cameron, was as follows: …

Keep Reading: Extrasensory Arts: Do Musical and Artistic Abilities Increase Psychic Potential? | Mysterious Universe.

Top 10 Psychic Debunkings

James Randi is a stage magician and scientific skeptic best known as a challenger of paranormal claims and pseudoscience. In this list we see 10 of his best psychic debunking (and have a bonus clip of a lecture of his). These are all extremely damning to the practitioners of these magic arts and Randi makes no apologies for his tough approach; in fact he is offering a reward of $1 million to anyone who can demonstrate evidence of any paranormal, supernatural or occult power or event, under test conditions agreed to by both parties. As of this time, no one has claimed this prize.

Watch the Top 10 Psychic Debunkings.

Rhine Whine

Have you ever heard of the Rhine Research Center Institute for Parapsychology“?

I had heard about them for years and i’ve always heard they were THE place to go for information on psychic or paranormal phenomena.

According to the Rhine meetup group, their goal is “to improve the human condition by creating a scientific understanding of those abilities and sensitivities that appear to transcend the ordinary limits of space and time.[ref]

As the so-called authority on parapsychology research, i thought i’d visit their site (http://www.rhine.org/) in search of some proof of the paranormal. I am particularly interested in finding some evidence of psychic ability, so i figured The Rhine Center should have some studies i could read.

I looked all over their site but couldn’t find any studies. But i did come across a document titled “Requests for Demonstrations or Evaluations of Psi Ability”[1], so i downloaded it and this is what i found:

Am i reading this correctly? They decline requests to demonstrate or evaluate PSI (psychic or paranormal phenomena) because “Modern research has moved beyond the need for mere demonstration of psi ability to a focus on the process of how psi occurs“?

What? The Rhine Center can’t be bothered actually proving or demonstrating the existence of PSI, they just pretend it’s real and spend their time fantasizing how it might work? Wow. Is this really something they should admit?

I wish i had a job where my bosses didn’t worry whether i actually did something, but instead were just happy thinking about how i might work if i did work.

So how does one test their psychic abilities? The Rhine Center has the answer in the same document:

Got it. Let’s all sit around the kitchen table and make up our own uncontrolled tests.

How COULD they endorse somebody? They can’t demonstrate PSI and they don’t test for PSI!!! Are they serious?

That’s my Rhine Whine for the day.

Mason I. Bilderberg

1. Since i downloaded the document used in this piece (evaluation_for_psi_ability.pdf), The Rhine Center removed it from their web page – that’s weird – or maybe they realized their silly admission of not testing or being able to demonstrate PSI abilities. Fortunately, a copy can still be found at archive.org’s WayBack Machine. Scroll about halfway down, you want to click the link that says “rhine.org/research_docs/popular/evaluation_for_psi_ability.pdf” OR you can download it directly from me right here.

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