Can you test psychic claims with science? Here are a few creative ways that you can test psychic powers scientifically as well as the results of these types of tests that have been performed hundreds of times over the last fifty years. This is part of my Exposing Psychics series.
Do you have precognition? If you’ve ever thought you might, you’re not alone. We all have experiences, at least every once in a long while, where it seems we’ve anticipated something a little too precisely for it to be random chance. Sometimes we anticipate things that are so specific, and so far outside the normal events we expect, that it seems there can be no explanation other than precognitive psychic powers. Might there be some undiscovered energy or force that makes such a thing possible? Today we’re going to look at your precognitive experiences, and see if there might be some other explanation.
First, it’s important to lay the groundwork for the conventional science-based explanation for apparent episodes of precognition. It comes from the law of large numbers. If we assume that something (anything) happens about once a second in your waking life, then statistically, you’re going to have a one-in-million experience about every month. Let’s take a look at the classic case as one example:
Hi Brian. At first, thank you for giving me the reasons and rationalities behind urban myths and superstition. I live in New Zealand and in 2015, my husband was on a business trip to Tokyo. On a Friday night, I dreamed about his funeral, no idea why, because he was a very healthy and happy man. The Saturday evening, my son called me that the police had come to tell him that they had found his father slumped next to his desk in his Tokyo hotel room. He had died the Friday night of a sudden heart attack. Due to the time difference between New Zealand and Japan, I must have had this dream at the same moment he died. I am not superstitious, but I hope you can give a reasonable explanation for my experience. Thank you, and keep up the good work.
Obviously this is an incomprehensible personal tragedy. Of course this listener has all our sympathies, but today we’re looking only at the statistical probability of what happened. I call this the classic case because it’s one of the most commonly reported cases that come to be described as psychic precognition: You dream of someone and then find out they died at that same time. But can it happen without psychic powers? Let’s calculate the probability of that.
by Gordon Bonnet via Skeptophilia
Hard-nosed science types like myself are often criticized by the paranormal enthusiasts for setting too high a bar for what we’ll accept as evidence. The supernatural world, they say, doesn’t come when called, is highly sensitive to the mental states of people who are nearby, and isn’t necessarily going to be detectable to scientific measurement devices. Also, since a lot of the skeptics come into the discussion with a bias toward disbelief, they’ll be likely to discount any hard evidence that does arise as a hoax or misinterpretation of natural phenomena.
Which, as I’ve mentioned before, is mighty convenient. It seems to boil down to, “It exists, and you have to believe because I know it exists.” And I’m sorry, this simply isn’t good enough. If there are real paranormal phenomena out there, they should be accessible to the scientific method. Such claims should stand or fall on the basis of evidence, just like any other proposed model of how things work.
The problem becomes more difficult with the specific claim of precognition/clairvoyance — the idea that some of us (perhaps all of us) are capable of predicting the future, either through visions or dreams. The special difficulty with this realm of the paranormal world is that a dream can’t be proven to be precognitive until after the event it predicts actually happens; before that, it’s just a weird dream, and you would have no particular reason to record it for posterity. And given the human propensity for hoaxing, not to mention the general plasticity of memory, a claim that a specific dream was precognitive is inadmissible as evidence after the event in question has occurred. It always reminds me of the quote from the 19th century Danish philosopher and writer, Søren Kierkegaard: “The tragedy of life is that it can only be understood backwards, but it has to be lived forwards.”
This double-bind has foiled any attempts to study precognition… until now.