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Psycasm is the exploration of the world psychological. Every day phenomenon explained and manipulated to one's own advantage. Written by a slightly overambitious undergrad, Psycasm aims at exploring a whole range of social and cognitive processes in order to best understand how our minds, and those mechanisms that drive them, work.

My posts are presented as opinion and commentary and do not represent the views of LabSpaces Productions, LLC, my employer, or my educational institution.

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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Editor's Selection IconThis post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for

I consider myself a skeptic, and I've often wondered how I can tie my skeptical bent with my interest in Psychology, while remaining true to the format of this blog. I don't like to sit here and write essays, nor do I like to sit here and push a particular agenda. I do like to sit down, ask a question, find an answer, and try to apply it.

And so, when last musing upon this topic, I realized that I'm in the field most capable of debunking such woo. Perhaps information, in and of itself, is useful - should you be confronted by one afflicted with an  'open mind' . Furthermore I'm on the side of light - Science! and so have special +1 debunking abilities. While the purveyors of Woo also lay claim to domain on the brain and mental abilities, we have replicability and statistical analysis.

Initially I thought this post would be a bit of fun. Poke around the old journals and find some acid-trip hypotheses and from the '7o's. Naturally I checked the 'peer review' box when searching...

Oh. Em. Gee.

I found this gem from the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine:

Over decades, consciousness research has accumulated evidence of the real and measureable existence of "spooky actions at a distance"—modes of telepathy, telekinesis, clairvoyance, and the like. .... A barrier to taking such work seriously may be the belief that it is fundamentally incompatible with the scientific world view. This article suggests that it need not be; contemporary physics has generated a series of paradigms that can be used to make sense of, interpret, and explore "psi" and distant healing. Four such models are discussed, two drawn from relativity theory and two from quantum mechanics. First is the energy signal. Second is the model of "warps" space–time, easing certain pathways of movement, so may acts of consciousness have warping and facilitating effects on the fabric of the surrounding world. Third is the model of from quantum mechanics. Perhaps people, like particles, can become entangled so they behave as one system with instantaneous and unmediated correlations across a distance. Last discussed is a model involving of potentials into a single outcome. Perhaps conscious healing intention can act similarly, helping to actualize one of a series of possibilities; for example, recovery from a potentially lethal tumour.

Oh wait, it's alright:

Such physics-based models are not presented as explanatory but rather as suggestive.

- Leder, 2005.

Wow. I thought 'This has got to be bullshit. Somehow PsychInfo has let this slip through.' You'll notice, however, that it has a DOI and is considered peer-review. Reviewed by who? I don't know. Maybe there are some nuances I'm missing, but if I can't pick it up, you can put your money on the fact that some believer isn't even going to try looking.

The same database also lists 'The Journal of Psychical Research' and 'The European Journal of Parapsychology' as peer reviewed. Fortunately, I find nowhere else that also considers them so.

Robert Charman (2006) in the JPR: Evidence obtained from over twenty studies using electroencephalographic (EEG) and/or functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) indicates that direct brain to brain communication can occur between pairs of participants when completely isolated from each other but remaining in mutual rapport. He references with two articles, both written by a certain Charman, R (2006a, 2006b).

However, the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine is most worrying.

This study, using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) technology, demonstrated that distant intentionality (DI), defined as sending thoughts at a distance, is correlated with an activation of certain brain functions in the recipients. Eleven healers who espoused some form for connecting or healing at a distance were recruited from the island of Hawaii. Each healer selected a person with whom they felt a special connection as a recipient for DI. The recipient was placed in the MRI scanner and isolated from all forms of sensory contact from the healer. The healers sent forms of DI that related to their own healing practices at random 2-minute intervals that were unknown to the recipient. Significant differences between experimental (send) and control (no send) procedures were found (p=0.000127). Areas activated during the experimental procedures included the anterior and middle cingulate area, precuneus, and frontal area. It was concluded that instructions to a healer to make an intentional connection with a sensory isolated person can be correlated to changes in brain function of that individual.

Wait, did you say 'a correlation'? Amazing!

The cingulate cortex, for interests' sake, is a limbic structure (involved in emotion) and is also involved in some executive function (considered thinking); the precuneus has been implicated in processes involving self-reflection, and the 'frontal area' is, again, more executive function.

Sounds to me like they found activation in the brain when someone is thinking about being thought about by a caring other [assuming that their methodology and technology was sound]. Colour me a jaded skeptic. Seriously, if they want to be taken seriously they should have at least included the tin-foil helmet control condition. Pfft.

Here's how you get taken seriously when consider Psi. Moulton & Kosslyn (2008) [FYI -Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience]. This is key elements from their abstract and methodology.

...moreover, the study included biologically or emotionally related participants (e.g. twins) and emotional stimuli in an effort to maximize experimental conditions that are purportedly conducive to psi. In spite of these characteristic of the study, psi stimuli and non-psi stimuli evoked indistinguishable neuronal responses.

And their methods.

We first randomly assigned each picture pair to a stimulus category (psi, non-psi). Next, we randomly assigned half of the psi stimuli to each position (first, second), to ensure that psi assignment was not confounded with stimulus presentation. To ensure... randomization, we tested for difference in arousal and valence across Stimulus Category x Position conditions... We then created four stimulus lists to counterbalance completely each pair on these variables...

Hello Science! Its sad legitimate scientists need to spend time and money disproving such hokum. But, the open-minded cry, they didn't use believers! Then I don't think you understand the nature of evidence, we respond.Not everyone has an fMRI and grant money to burn.

Heres a great little study. First, consider how good you are inferring people's states-of-mind. I can usually tell when my girlfriends happy or sad, and there are some people who I cross the street to avoid (usually late a night). It's called Theory of Mind (written about previously). Realo and colleagues (2003) have found that those who believe that they are good at reading others' minds (in the every day sense) are generally neither significantly better than others in recognition of emotions expressed in face or speech, nor superior in the estimation of the personality traits of a stranger... actual mind-reading performance was correlated with IQ scores. Basically they're saying people aren't very good at predicting how good they are at estimating a stranger’s personality or state of mind. This is different from my first post (about actually predicting things about people based on single viewing ) but about their ability to accurately predict their own ability to do so. Woah.. metaknowledge...

It's a shame that the brain and cognition is such a rich breeding ground for such idiocy, particularly when there is so much to marvel at, and so much being discovered. In some sense it's good we've got real scientists working against such belief, but as the saying goes 'Give a lie a running start and the truth will never catch up'.


Leder D (2005). "Spooky actions at a distance": physics, psi, and distant healing. Journal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, N.Y.), 11 (5), 923-30 PMID: 16296928

Realo, A. (2003). Mind-reading ability: Beliefs and performance Journal of Research in Personality, 37 (5), 420-445 DOI: 10.1016/S0092-6566(03)00021-7

Achterberg J, Cooke K, Richards T, Standish LJ, Kozak L, & Lake J (2005). Evidence for correlations between distant intentionality and brain function in recipients: a functional magnetic resonance imaging analysis. Journal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, N.Y.), 11 (6), 965-71 PMID: 16398587

Moulton ST, & Kosslyn SM (2008). Using neuroimaging to resolve the psi debate. Journal of cognitive neuroscience, 20 (1), 182-92 PMID: 18095790

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UC Davis
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"spooky actions at a distance", The Journal of Parapsychology, participants from Hawaii? I think you just stumbled across publications from the Dharma Initiative!

Washington University School of Medicine
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There is a guy on the radio here who had a PhD in Parapsychology. He's got all sorts of crazy conspiracy theories and thinks just about everything is haunted. I can't stand him. Where does one obtain a degree in Parapsychology?

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I love reading about the supernatural or occult so I like your article Rift.

I've never come across anyone who said they could read minds. Read palms? Yes. Minds? no.

Brian and I were having a conversation recently where he had the exact same idea as I did and I thought- "Dude is reading my mind".  It seems like we have read each others minds on several occasions.  But of course, it's simply thinking about things the same way. Being on the same "wavelength" as someone else.

I have a co-worker who I am close with and there are times when it feels like we are reading each other's minds. We can be in a meeting and with one glance at each other, we both know instinctively what the other is thinking about something someone just said. Do we actually know what we are thinking? No. I can't read her mind.  But yet we are both having the same thought.

It's just a matter of great minds think alike, I guess.

I am more interested in the phenomena around "fortune-telling"- or Tarot cards and the like.  Is there any research on that? Also, what about precognitions?

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There's a lot of 'research' on precognition. All published in 'parapsychology' and 'psychical research'. Not worth a thing. Certainly there's genuine research into the topic, but you can make an educated guess as to the outcomes of what it finds.

I didn't look into Tarot or Palms, which might be interesting. It's likely it falls under the topics of luck and/or superstition. I'll have a poker around and see what's there.


As for getting a PhD in Parapsychology - see this comprehensive list :

Some are akin to scribbling 'Parapsychology' in crayon on crete paper and wearing your underpants on your head.

Anything worth its salt is a PhD in Psychology, with maybe an elective in 'Parapsychology' or just a general research history of it. In which case you can expect to be looking at microexpressions, mirror neurons, somatic markers and other interesting non-verbal capacities (I should think); I'm hardly an expert.

Brian Krueger, PhD
Columbia University Medical Center
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Get out of my brain, Jade...  I'll sick my fMRI on you!

UC Davis
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@Jade - My husband and I do exactly the same thing. As you say it's just a side effect of knowing someone far too well!  We spend most of our time together, I know what his emotional responses or opinions generally are so it's not surprising that we often have moments where it feels like we are inside each others heads.  I swear sometimes we have whole conversations just by looking at each other! It would be much more interesting if two people who had never met could consistently do this, then I might start to believe it.

When I was younger and maybe a bit more gullible I always used to get really freaked out by strange conicidences or supernatural things (still do a bit though I rationalise it much better in my own head now), my Dad always used to burst my bubble by talking about the probability of certain things happening, like the exact song I'm singing being on the radio when I turn it on etc. What a party pooper! But he was likely very right!

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HA HA Bri, I think its you reading my mind. Or just scooping me whenever I want to give you a new idea :-).

Rift- I think with precognition, maybe there isn't much research into the area because people don't know how to test it? How do you stimulate precognition? So much of the phenomena of the mind is untestable.  I've had precognitions before but not sure why.

Janede- true, you might have been singing that song because the radio plays it every 30 minutes anyway so chances are good when you turn on the pop station, it's on. Or you are thinking about someone you haven't spoken with in a very long time and then suddenly they call because they are thinking about you too.  There are many coincidences that could be probability or could be something else. What is the other option? What is the "something else"?

Question to Rift: What do you think/ psych experts say about people you meet who you hit it off with right away vs. people who just immediately rub you the wrong way. Has there been any studies about that? I don't think it is simply a matter of opposite personalities, because opposites can attract. Could be the topic of a future article.


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Yeah, that is an interesting thought. I wonder what it is - but I'm going to hazard a guess and say there's not much literature (at least not much that's generalizable) because something like that, I imagine, would be very hard to manipulate. I'll have a look into it.

Regarding your second last line - food for thought - opposite what? What might be opposite that facilitates the attraction?

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Sorry I wasn't specific - it's interesting regarding instantly liking/hating someone.

Any precognition is almost certainly confirmation bias; there may be cases of priming cues, but when cogntion matches stimuli in the absense of any cue it'll be confirmation bias.


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There's a lot of 'research' on precognition. All published in 'parapsychology' and 'psychical research'. Not worth a thing. Certainly there's genuine research into the topic, but you can make an educated guess as to the outcomes of what it finds.


God, you are an ignorant no nothing scientician. I use the term scientician as you don't appear to be assessing the evidence, rather reacting based on your own beliefs and when they are contradicted, ignoring this evidence.


See the recent paper in PLOS One for details on that with stockbrokers.


For the people who come here genuinely seeking some kind of insight, there are a number of meta-analyses on psi phenomena, make of them what you will.

There was a recent meta-analysis of free choice psi experiments (the ganzfeld technique) and the link to that is here:

while Hyman's critique is here

Older meta-analyses include the one by Utts (which also has an interesting discussion on the history of statistics -

Sense of being stared at meta-analysis:

The 1985 meta-analyses by Honorton and Hyman with opposite results are a wonderful demonstration of the subjectivity of meta-analysis.

Also, it may also be worth noting that the Society for Psychical Research was founded by some of the greatest names in victorian science, and pioneered statistical analysis of experiments back when this was a novelty.


I don't expect others to share my views totally, but it sickens me to see someone who claims to be a scientist dismissing evicdence because it doesnt suit his preconceived notions of the world.

If we were all like that, Einstein would have stayed a patent office clerk, which would have been tragic.


Mr Maverick

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disgruntledphd said:

God, you are an ignorant no nothing scientician. I use the term scientician as you don't appear to be assessing the evidence, rather reacting based on your own beliefs and when they are contradicted, ignoring this evidence.


I don't expect others to share my views totally, but it sickens me to see someone who claims to be a scientist dismissing evicdence because it doesnt suit his preconceived notions of the world.

If we were all like that, Einstein would have stayed a patent office clerk, which would have been tragic.



I want to see the rebuttals to this argument.

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First, I'm a little confused. disgruntledphd appears to be a geniune scienceblogger, and used to correspond back when I was primarily at

Second, I must point out I'm not a scientist, but one who aspires to be so. In that manner I promise to read those articles and reply in my blog (hopefully) by Monday (I will not be writing another post until this has been given fair treatment). Following that reasoning I must point out that I'm prepared to be demonstrated wrong. I will, to the best of my ability, critically analyse those articles. However I will say that meta-analysis are only as good as the studies they compile, and so digging through the back references may take some time. I will do what I can.

Having said that - if I can find a meaningful degree of positive evidence for pre-cognition, psi, or mind-reading, if I fail to find any meaningful methodological or statistical errors, or fail to demonstrate why the evidence is in favour of our [Humans] lack of psi abilities, I will wear a tin-foil hat for a whole day [with pictures as evidence].

I mean, I'll have to, right? It would be unwise not to...


Washington University School of Medicine
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Now I'm pulling for you to be wrong. Sorry, Rift, but the pull of the tinfoil hat is too strong!!

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Hi Rift,

I don't know what you mean by "confirmation bias". Can you explain?

In these cases, an event occured in real life after I dreamed it. In one case it was only 3 days later so it was very fresh in my mind.

On opposites attract, what attracts? I don't know. Many people say my guy and I are complete opposites. I think probably when it comes to relationships, it is far more complicated because relationships with our mothers and fathers have a big impact on our choice of spouse. And our self-esteem also. And our past relationships. And maybe your hormone level at the time you are looking as well.

I am talking about - have you ever met someone and instantly knew you would be friends or just immediately felt comfortable with them?  But then there are people who you meet and you know you just don't have chemistry. My second postdoc PI was that way. As soon as we met, I knew we were opposites but not in a good way.

If Disgruntled wants to post the PLoS paper link, that would be interesting.

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Confirmation Bias is one's tendency to notice things that confirm one's opinion without noticing any disconfirmation evidence.

For instance, it seems every time I look up in the sky I see a plane. I might think "hey, I'm pretty good at spotting planes", or, "I must subconsciously spot them plans all the time, then look up and see them". Well... that might be true, but we can't know. I've simply noticed a stimuli, conceived an explanation, and reinforce every time a I see a plane. The problem? There might be 100 planes in the sky at any given moments and I only notice one, furthermore, there might be 99 planes I miss for every one I see. Thus, my explanation 'I am good at spotting planes' might be outright wrong. But it fits my observations, I have a bias to confirm what I believe.


In particular you said 'I dreamed something and it happened only 3 days later'. Well, you dream every night, then something similiar happened. Let's say that happened 3 times a year; that's still 362 times it doesn't happen. Unless this is happening on a monthly basis, it's really just the subject of coincidence. But it feels meaningful. Unfortunately it's not. That's confirmation bias.

Secondly, things that happen in life are preceeded by precipitating events. Let say you dream you get a raise. Maybe you've noticed at work talk about money, about promotion, maybe you've had a performance review recently, or your boss spent an extra 5 minutes in the coffee room talk to you about something. These events might clue you in to the fact something is happening. You brain throws up a suggestion, a raise, in a dream - and viola, it comes true. That's not precogntion, again, that's coincidence - a primed explanation.


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"Well, you dream every night, then something similiar happened"

No- it wasn't similar. It was exact. Down to the sounds outside, the man watering his grass, the kid on the bike, the shirt I was wearing, and the conversation we were having. It was exactly the same.

I don't often remember my dreams but that one was lucid.

UC Davis
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Interesting debate.  Rift I look forward to reading your blog post!

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Fair warning. Between working my way through the references and tackling my exams, I will be later than monday in replying.

I hope to make some interesting points...

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Hi Rift,

I don't want you to do much work over my questions. It's just a discussion. I don't expect all the answers to be in the literature and most certainly don't expect you to review the field. Are there one or two main opinions or theories on the subject?

If Disgruntled wants to partake in the discussion, hopefully they are capable of doing so without all the vitrole and condescention. I tried to read one of the papers linked and it had way too much jargon to be understandable. I didn't want to make myself read it.

I am asking simply because I don't know what it was/how it happened and would like to know more.

My thought was that perhaps precognitions are more common than we realize and maybe that is what causes the deja vu feeling we sometimes get. I've read articles where some believe (atheists told me this) that deja vu is a seizure in the brain. I have a hard time believing that. 


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To be honest, I'm busy with disgruntledphd's questions atm - as well as all my own study (exams, exams, exams). I'm not sure what the exact nature of deja vu is and why it occurs - but I have read that it's unique in that it's one of the few instances that the brain 'malfunctions' and we're aware of it doing so. Normally if we 'malfunction' (such as forget, misremember, perceive improperly) we're not aware of it.

Though I'm sticking with my line, based on what I know the evidence to be. There's really no such thing as psi-phenomenon, and this includes precognition, tarot, telekenesis, remote viewing, and all of that...

These questions (more broadly, as well as how they relate to disgruntled) will be addressed very shortly in my next post. As you can imagine, it's going to be a little lengthy - but hopefully outlines the validity of my position and that of skeptical / scientific perspective generally (at least as it relates to psychology - I can't be sure of the nuances that exist for other fields).

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OK- will wait for your next blog post. I experience deja vu frequently so don't like the idea that it's a malfunction. But I am open minded so am looking forward to what you find out.



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It is interesting how much interest this paper already generated. I signed up to do a journal club in our department on it about two weeks ago, and I just presented it. Here is my report.


Deja vu: Long story. It is neither. I still have to publish that...

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Thank you Pascal. But I have to tell you, I don't understand it all- it would be good if you could summarize what the results mean. For example, I don't understand how studying after taking the test says anything about Psi effect. The experiments on habituation and memory also I wasn't sure how they show psi effects.

Is it showing that you can remember things you haven't studied yet because of precognitive ability- because you study them in the future?

So demonstrating that events can occur out of time sequence?



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It follows from the definition of psi effects. If the results are real (a big IF), how else would you explain that studying AFTER a test will make you better when taking it? If that is true, precognition seems parsimonious. It challenges the cause/effect relationship, our understanding of temporal order in the universe, etc.

Given our understanding of causality, anything that you do AFTER the fact should have no influence on the outcome whatsoever. But (according to Bem), it does. In 9 different experiments. So what is going on?

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Thanks Pascal- that's an interesting study. It would be interesting to know if in the data if there were one or two individuals that scored significantly higher (like in that extrovert group- but outliers, I guess) and to know more about them. Also fascinated by whole concept of time and linearity and the notion that events that will happen in the future can influence events happening in the present.

Anyway, I am interested to hear what Rift thinks or finds out.

Rift- will your input be a new article or will you be back here on this article to comment?


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That is my assessment as well (I pointed that out towards the end). We need to test the same person on multiple tasks. The stimulus seeker scale suggests that these are the same people. The priming data suggests that they are not. The data they did collect can not speak to the issue.



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I'll be replying in a new post. Shortly.

Pascal - I commend you on your post. It's excellent. Though I do disagree with your final line - A skeptic will never be convinced. I argue that, on the contrary, I skeptic wants to be convinced, but the standards are high. I mean how great would it be to be able to read minds and change the future? I wish I was Luke Skywalker (or perhaps Darth Vader) as much as the next person.

The difference between a skeptic and a someone sitting in the middle is a skeptic knows exactly what they want by way of evidence, and so it is often hard to convince a true skeptic of certain claims; whereas some/many dont' know what should constitute good evidence and so are convinced by evidence that is not always of the highest quality.

At any rate, my arguments will be outlined very soon. And I really liked your post. Well done.

Pascal Wallisch

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Thank you. Well, what can I say? I presented this at our journal club and discussed it with quite a few people. I am a "sceptic" myself, but in the scientific sense. So I agree that the evidence is the evidence and should - in doubt - prevail. To my surprise, quite a few of my colleagues said that this is impossible. Period. No matter the evidence.

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Fucking LOLtastic in here. The psychics are coming!

If it's real why didn't they write their rebuttal you before you posted this? Huh?

Fucking shite,hippy bullshit


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Tideliar: That was my attitude until I read the paper. Show me the flaw in the design. Then we'll talk.

The data is the data.

Summary here:

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Comparing plate tectonics and germ theory of disease to an overthrow of causal reality is a bit of a stretch.


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Given the results, what do you think can account for them? Bem made it up?

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I'm only half way through mate. It's an extraordinarily long post. I'll try and revisit later.


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Sorry man. It *is* rather long. But not as long as the original paper, which runs at 61 pages. I tried to condense as much as possible without losing and relevant information. There are 9 individual experiments to cover.

What irks me is that I would like to dismiss this as much as anyone, but I cannot come up with a coherent alternative explanation. If this data was presented for any other effect, we would accept it at face value and commend the author on his technical rigor (replicating 9 x with different paradigms, using a hardware random number generator, etc.)

Anyway. The germ theory thing is just a justification why it cannot be dismissed out of hand. When Galileo begged his detractors to look through his telescope to see the sunspots for themselves, they refused. Their argument: How can we know that the devil isn't in the thing and makes us see crazy stuff?

I think I treated both sides fairly. In my graph at the end, I fall somewhere on the left. I can be convinced, but it takes a lot of evidence.

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Yeah, I want to read it because I need to be convinced. Seeing a slightly better than chance effect does not convince me so far, but like I said I'm not finished with your precis yet.


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Small effects are not by themselves a problem. We get that all the time in Psychology, particulary social psych.

Or in neuroscience, for that matter. Choice probabilities are usually only 0.52 to 0.55 (with 0.5) the expectation.


What matters is the p value. And that is fairly low, particularly for their priming experiments.

The cumulative p value for all 9 of their expts is very, very low.

Nothing that I can think of would account for this.


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We are scientists. Let's get to the bottom of this:

Mr Maverick

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Could Bem have skewed the data somehow, due to the fact that he performed as a mentalist (and is a member of the Psychic Entertainer's Association - see link below) for many years before this research was conducted in the early 90's? I think that there is a definite element of bias that comes into play here. Just a touch.

The paper that you are referring to Pascal, is in part a rehashed, republished paper that first appeared in Psychological Bulletin vol. 115, in 1994 - - many of the statistics at the beginning of his 2010 paper, and indeed the opening paragraphs, are lifted from that initial paper and reworded some way. This is old information, repackaged to keep a debate alive.

One cannot eliminate the bias here, Pascal. It would be ludicrous to lean on the apparent strength of evidence without replicating these experiments and getting the same results. Bem has his livelihood as a psychic entertainer at stake. What results do you think he was going to come up with? In light of this, his results need to be more exraordinary than would normally be demanded.



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I think we are all on the same page here. That's how I end my piece. I call for large-scale replication by independent people. Hell, that's how Bem himself ends his paper.
Regarding Bem, I would hope that he is Bem (as in the scientist) first and a mentalist (what's that?) second. And of course, I'm not unaware of his 1994 paper.

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Those are some interesting points - I recently posted a rebuttal to those findings. I'd be interested in your opinions on that, as well as your direct critiques of the paper in question.


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is it possible to prepare an application to know what the opposite person is thinking in his mind for us at the time when he or she talking to us.......????????????????????? plz reply plzzzzzzzzzzzz.

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