Precognition Debate

A few months ago I noted an interesting paper by respected psychologist Daryl Bem which appeared to provide some support for the idea that humans have some precognitive ability ('seeing the future'). A couple of weeks ago this news 'went big', with major news agencies around the world covering it. Given the attention foisted upon Bem's experiments, and the controversial nature of his conclusions, it's little wonder that scientist and skeptics have focused on this paper (still unpublished, by the way!) to try and find flaws in the methodology and analysis.

One of the first to dive in with a "big announcement" about Bem's experiment was psychologist Richard Wiseman - little wonder, given that Wiseman loves himself some publicity, and Bem's conclusions run counter to his public pronouncements/skepticism about psi. To be fair, Wiseman did point out a flaw in Bem's method: allowing non-blind scorers to fix spelling errors in participant responses, which could have led to subjective bias in the scoring of tests. Bem has since responded to Wiseman's criticism, labeling it a "legitimate concern", but also noting that taking it into consideration makes "little difference to the results".

More heavyweight responses came in the 'negative replications' mentioned by Jonah Lehrer in his Wired article about the precognition experiments (Galak & Nelson [2010], and Hadlaczky [2006]). However, Bem has pointed out that "Galak and Nelson went ahead with their trial without having full information about how his own experiments were conducted. They also had their experimental subjects take the test over the Internet rather than in person." A commenter at Dean Radin's blog ('Sandy') also showed it was possible to cheat on the test to increase the likelihood of getting a null result. In short, the kind of 'replication' that skeptics would reject if the results were positive. Given that Hadlaczky's paper is from 2006, I am unsure whether it is a genuine replication of Bem's most recent experiments. Similarly, a recent paper by Thomas Rabeyron and Caroline Watt had (largely) negative results, but again wasn't an exact replication. And another paper dismisses Bem's results because he should have used 'conservative' statistical tests rather than 'liberal' ones, a criticism which Dean Radin has responded to at his blog, and Ben Goertzel has discussed at length as well. Radin has also noted that he has just reviewed a soon-to-be-published positive replication of one of Bem's experiments.

Feeling like your brain is now scrambled? Can't say I blame you - it just goes to show how difficult it is to reach a consensus view on these controversial topics. So where do we go from here in judging Bem's precognition experiments? I think it's clear that we have to wait for *actual* replications of his methods, because everything so far seems to have not been precisely the same. But I can at least categorically say that you shouldn't base your judgement on anything written by non-scientists at the James Randi Educational Foundation, and you shouldn't even read the brain vomit that Robert Todd Carroll comes up with at the Skeptic's Dictionary.

Oh, and in case you were wondering - the irony isn't lost on me as to pondering the future outcomes of a precognition experiment...

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SJ7's picture
Member since:
2 December 2010
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3 years 33 weeks

See Jim Schnabel's recent post on this topic at:

http://hereticalnotions.com/2010/12/01/u...

Redoubt's picture
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14 July 2008
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2 years 7 weeks

"... the irony isn't lost on me as to pondering the future outcomes of a precognition experiment..."

I knew you were gonna say that.

"The power of accurate observation is frequently called cynicism by those who don't have it."

kamarling's picture
Member since:
26 June 2005
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9 hours 53 min
Greg wrote:

One of the first to dive in with a "big announcement" about Bem's experiment was psychologist Richard Wiseman ...

Well, I did have this to say a few days ago when Greg mentioned Daryl Bem in this item:

Seeing the Future of Precognition

kamarling wrote:

Wiseman is usually at the forefront of those producing contrary results. My prediction is that he will be again.

atsakiris's picture
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30 January 2007
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1 year 1 week
Greg wrote:

...Wiseman's criticism, labeling it a "legitimate concern", but also noting that taking it into consideration makes "little difference to the results".

It's irresponsible (but not surprising) for Wiseman to announce such a "flaw" without running the numbers in order to see if it makes a difference in the results.

Alex
www.skeptiko.com

entelekk's picture
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21 July 2010
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3 years 31 weeks

Prediction: The next supernova star in the Milky Way galaxy
will be Kochab, an orange giant in Ursa Minor, (little dipper).

News article:

http://www.webspawner.com/users/cosmic/

"such is the nature of reality, that anyone can
experience that which is least understood."

entelekk-numomathematics

woowoowoo's picture
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8 February 2005
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2 years 22 weeks

Einstein said "The four-dimensional structure (Minkowski-space) is thought of as being the carrier of matter and of the field. Inertial spaces, with their associated times, are only privileged four-dimensioal co-ordinate systems, that are linked together by the linear Lorentz transformations. Since there exist in this four-dimensional structure no longer any sections which represent "now" objectively, the concepts of happening and becoming are indeed not completely suspended, but yet complicated. It appears therefore more natural to think of physical reality as a four-dimensional existence, instead of, as hitherto, the evolution of a three-dimensional existence."

If there is no now objectively and other moments "exist" "elsewhere" in a timeline-like reality, then maybe our brains have evolved to use "nearby" future brains for processing. It would give new meaning to "overclocking."