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Virtual Worlds and ESP 310

Posted by timothy
from the wait-I-know-what-you're-thinking dept.
Yesterday's post about an experiment using virtual worlds in an attempt to investigate the possibility of telepathic ability elicited nearly 400 comments from readers who had points to raise about experimental design, skepticism and credulity, and quantum mechanics. Read on for the Backslash summary of the discussion.
Many readers' comments focused on the likelihood generally of a hitherto undetected, unexplainable mechanisim for mind-to-mind communication. Okian Warrior was one of a handful of readers who presented the argument that telepathy is unlikely to both exist and not be widely distributed among the population (or at least widely noticed). He writes:
"Instead of thinking about telepathy from a present perspective, as in 'we have/use it now,' consider it from an evolutionary standpoint.

Prehistoric humans with even a little telepathy would have enormous survival advantage. You'd be able to tell whether a predator was hiding behind the next rock, or whether it's an animal you're hunting for food. Or nothing, in which case you go off and hunt somewhere else.

In that case, natural selection would at the same time pressure animals, both predators and prey, to evolve to a form where they could block the effect so that their adversary (human or other) would have no idea where they were hiding.

Even if we can't tell where animals are hiding, even a little telepathy between humans could be used in group hunting and teaching offspring, or summoning help in a dire emergency. Even a brief feeling which influences your actions based on information from another human would confer enormous advantage.

Some people have reported that they have gotten 'feelings' that some loved one is in trouble, but frankly there is an overwhemingly enormous number of dire incidents throughout human history, each one of which would select for having the telepathic trait. Something as simple as children having the ability to alert their parents that they are in trouble would still confer enormous survival advantage.

From an evolutionary perspective, telepathy is a strong survival trait. Since we don't see it in the gene pool, it's unlikely that it's even possible."

Sesticulus raises a similar idea in a more compact form (it could be called the haven't been slapped" argument): "Invariably if I'm in a public place, there will be someone I find attractive and I will think "hey now". I've never had someone come up and slap me for thinking rude thoughts, so at the very least, women I find attractive, as a rule, do not have telepathy."

Reader seanellis writes with his prediction of the experiment's outcome:

"This experiment is very poorly controlled (who's to say that two people aren't also on the phone to one another, for example?), and some startlingly accurate correlations will occur. These will be debunked as the players come under scrutiny and the communication channels between players are detected.

However, after these have been removed, some correlations between players will still remain, below the level of statistical significance. Rather than being dismissed as insignificant, the woo-woo crowd will seize on these random correlations as 'proof of need of more research.'

This prediction is not the result of clairvoyance, rather it is an educated guess based on previous observations of this kind of setup."

Even more dubious, dpbsmith writes not to "discount the possibility of outright fraud," asking: "Are they planning to strip-search the participants for hidden transmitters and receivers? To test and debug the system, have they hired a couple of good magicians skilled at 'mentalist' acts, with a promise to pay them well for their time if they can successfully cheat? Or, like most scientists, are they just protecting against unconscious cheating by honest, good-faith participants?"

Further, dpbsmith is disappointed that the article "doesn't really discuss the possibility of conscious, clever cheating... or implies that it's impossible because, well, gee, the system is so high-tech. ... People have smuggled transmitters and receivers into casinos, where the management is probably far more savvy, cynical, and experienced at detecting cheating — and financially motivated to do so — than these scientists."

Reader mdkemp took issue with the implication in some readers' comments that this research was disreputable, pointing out that such research is also undertaken "at respected institutions," writing: "Research into this stuff isn't just for [k]ooks and crazies -- even Princeton has a small lab the goal of which is to experimentally gather a 'better understanding of the role of consciousness in the establishment of physical reality.' It's called the 'Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research' (PEAR) lab, and its web page can be found at princeton.edu/~pear."

This met with an acerbic response from reader aepervius, who calls PEAR "a laughing stock" with "bad hypotheses, bias, bad statistical analysis, etc." He points out critical reports critical of PEAR at skepdic and at the Skeptic Report.

Reader RexRhino expressed a common sentiment:

"Can someone tell me why this isn't as outrageous as spending tax money to research 'intelligent design'? I mean, there is no real scientific theory that describes how telepathy would work, and virtually all scientific evidence says that telepathy doesn't exist. Telepathy is pretty much to fortune telling what Intelligent Design is to creationism — turning superstition into pseudo-science to make it palatable to the modern audience. I realize that England doesn't have the same strict legal seperation between religion and state as other countries, but even if research into the mystical and supernatural isn't strictly illegal it is certainly a questionable use of taxpayer money, no? Why are people outraged over Intelligent Design but not this kind of stuff?"

Reader Pyromage provided one answer to that question, writing: "Because it's possible to devise an experiment that could provide scientific evidence in its favor. ... Such an experiment does not — even in theory — exist for [Intelligent Design]."

Other responses to the story show that at least many Slashdot readers are none too happy with research into telepathy being done with tax monies. A long thread on that very topic raised several good points:

Reader denoir kicked off this thread with a sarcastic call to "invest some more tax money on finding UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster and inventing the perpetuum mobile!"

To this, reader misleb responded "I'm always been surprised at the kind of reaction anything labeled 'paranormal' gets from rational people. Why exactly couldn't telepathy exist? Is there some fundamental law of nature which states that two people cannot communicate over a distance without sound or visual cues? Obviously, you'd have to identify a mechanism for the communications. If telepathy exists, it isn't magic. ... If you had told someone from 200 years ago that you could communicate with people across the globe in real-time, they'd probably think you were some kind of sorcerer. But since then we've discovered radio waves..."

Reader Alsee has a satirical reponse: "Why exactly couldn't invisible pink unicorns exist? Is there some fundamental law of nature which states that invisible pink unicorns cannot exist? Obviously, you'd have to identify a mechanism for invisible pink unicorns. If invisible pink unicorns exist, it isn't magic. ... Telepathy, invisible pink unicorns, elves, Zeus, telekenesis, Narnia, rain dances, flying potions, the Tooth Fairy, I'm always surprised at the reaction of rational people when they think that these things do not exist."

Wavicle offers another reason for the widespread skepticism about such research:

"While there may be some out there shouting paranormal things couldn't possibly exist, most of us are just pissed. Pissed that for every genuinely deluded person who believed they had witnessed a paranormal event, there are 20 others out there looking at using it to scam people out of money.

We have looked, and looked, and looked and come up empty handed EVERY TIME. The vast majority of the people who have said they had special powers were LIARS. The rest were just wrong. Nobody has ever passed muster. There are people out there doing genuine harm to others under the veil of paranormal abilities.

For example EVERY instance of 'psychic surgery' (where someone performs surgery with just their hands, leaving behind no scar or wound) has been a scam for money."

The same corner of the discussion led to a freewheeling exchange of comments on scientific credulity and exotic explanations for telepathy involving quantum mechanics.

Reader kfg writes "I am, at least nominally, a physicist. You wouldn't catch me saying any such thing as 'telepathy can't exist.' However, you first need to demonstrate that it does exist if you expect me to do work on that basis. If and when that happens I will not posit any 'paranormal' event, but rather that there is a quite normal mechanism at work. Then it will be my job to find it, because, at the moment, there is no valid theory of such a mechanism. ('Well, maybe it could be ...' is not a theory.) A theory is model that is concordence with data. ... Which brings us back to the need to show me it exists, particularly since everything I have ever seen so far indicates that the world works just spiffily in accordance with the rules of chance."

Reader Thing 1 asserts "if the human brain works on quantum principles, and one of those principles is communication at a distance, then that tells me that telepathy is possible," and mentions the phenomenon of entanglement as a mechanism for instantaneous communication: "Through a process, two electrons become 'entangled,' and when separated experimentally up to 10 km, when the spin on one is changed, the spin on the other is changed immediately--with no speed-of-light delay."

To this, reader aardvarkjoe responds that "The problem is that, in these 'entanglement experiments,' no information is being transmitted from the first site to the second. By measuring the state of the first electron, you can instantaneously affect the state of the second electron — but according to all of the current theories, there is no way to actually use that to communicate. (If that sounds weird ... it is. Quantum theory is rather unintuitive.)"

Several readers' comments were not about the experiment at issue in this case, but rather about the James Randi Educational Foundation prize I mentioned. Two comments in particular sum up many of the others: Reader nido calls Randi a fraud with an agenda" and says this is how Randi is viewed by "people who can," to which Mr2001 responds "Well, there's also the slight difference that he has facts on his side. None of these so-called 'people who can' have ever been able to demonstrate their alleged abilities under controlled conditions. Until they can do that, they're nothing more than 'people who lie to others,' or at best, 'people who lie to themselves.' ... It's a pity that there's no evidence that these experiences actually took place in reality, not just in the participants' imaginations, don't you think? Because if there were evidence, someone would be a million dollars richer."


Many thanks to everyone who took part in the discussion, in particular those readers whose comments are quoted above.

This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Virtual Worlds and ESP

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  • by yagu (721525) *

    I think for the large part, the world of psychics is snake oil, predators preying on the gullible.

    But, if you're familiar with the double-slit "interference" experiment [physicsweb.org], you may get an uneasy sense there is much for us to learn about interaction of particles, forces, energies, etc. It's not for me to determine ESP is real but I've experienced unexplainable phenomena at least to my level to understand.

    One example, a very close friend in college, she was an identical twin, and talked about the typical enta

    • by Kid Zero (4866)
      Pfft. You have to people of common genetic origin, similar upbringing, similar schooling and life experiences who can pick the same things? I'd say they think alike rather than believe in ESP.

    • I think for the large part, the world of psychics is snake oil, predators preying on the gullible.

      Don't forget the gullible dancing for money. Not everyone who operates on a false premise are predators; some are just ignorant.

      But, if you're familiar with the double-slit "interference" experiment, you may get an uneasy sense there is much for us to learn about interaction of particles, forces, energies, etc. It's not for me to determine ESP is real but I've experienced unexplainable phenomena at least to my
      • by StingRay02 (640085) on Wednesday July 19, 2006 @01:28AM (#15741419)
        I think it's naive to say that ESP and other phenomena can not be real, but it's also extremely naive to think that common, everyday, well documented coincidences are something extra ordinary.

        I've been with my wife for nearly eight years, married for four. I finish her sentences, she seems to know when I've forgotten my keys, and keeping presents and surprises secret from one another is a huge undertaking. That doesn't make us telepathically linked, though. Intuitive about each other, maybe, but that's nothing paranormal.

    • This poster is a fraud. He did not 'sense' that this article was going to be on ESP. He is a suscriber and this allows him to see into the mysterious future. He then writes a long first post in the future and travels back in time to the present to get lots of karma. It is nothing to do with ESP!

      I have proof! See the star next to his name!
    • Agreed. There have been occasions when I knew that I had to call a certain friend even though they were hundreds of miles away and there was no reason other than a "feeling" that I would know to call. I did and sure enough he had huge news and was going to call me later that night. Just like I don't think that psychic enegies revolve around us constantly, I think there are many events that cannot simply be explained as "coincidence."
      • by blancolioni (147353) on Tuesday July 18, 2006 @06:00PM (#15739903) Homepage
        Why don't you keep a record of all the times you call a friend because of a feeling. Put down a tick if they had big news, and a cross if they didn't. Get back to me in a couple of years. The human brain is extraordinarily selective about these things.
        • The reason it stands out so much is that it was the first and last time it has happened and it was once in a lifetime kind of news. If I had such feeligns all the time then I think coincidence makes far more sense. But, as it is, I can count on one hand with no thumb the number of times I've had a "feeling" that I needed to call someone and it was accurate both times.
          • No, you can count on one hand the number of times you've had a "feeling" that you remember. As the GP said, the human brain is very selective about remembering these sorts of things. Document it rigorously, writing down your "feelings" BEFORE you make the call, and people who have a scientific mind might start to believe that you aren't utterly full of shit.
        • For completeness, also keep a log of when bad things happened to your friends and you did not have a feeling.
        • Human mind (not brain) is selective in general. About all things. Including the minds of the most sincere, scientifically materialistic (speaking about philosophy here, and not making a moral judgement), objectivistic (again, philosophy reference -- a belief in an objectively existing world) people.

          In other words, the mind is not only selective about paranormal-sounding things. It's selective about all things, including what we consider factual.

          In other words, selectivity of human mind is evenly distribu
      • he had huge news and was going to call me later that night.

        Advice: When someone says 'I was going to call you later' do not take it literally.
      • by Atzanteol (99067)

        I think there are many events that cannot simply be explained as "coincidence."

        Why not? Things with long-shot odds happen everyday. Somebody winning the 'jackpot' in a lottery has obscene odds (far worse than those two girls picking the same card) yet I don't hear people attributing ESP to it.

      • And you only remember the times when there was a correlation.
        (And at certain points in your life, news that seems life changing is silly in retrospect)
        That last comment isn't supposed to be a barb, since I don't know how old you are. Just a thought...
    • You're a jackass. The double-slit experiment has been explained completely via quantum mechanics. Your anecdotal evidence of "unexplainable phenomena" can be explained very easily... by the word COOINCIDENCE! Wow, two people with identical genetic structures, raised by the same parents and undergoing many of the same experiences in life, happen to have the same taste in birthday cards, and maybe even shop at the same stores? STOP THE FUCKING PRESSES!

      When you break into your "can you really feel object"
    • by vertinox (846076) on Tuesday July 18, 2006 @06:00PM (#15739906)
      I think for the large part, the world of psychics is snake oil, predators preying on the gullible.

      Depends. I think I have latent psychic powers, but its not very useful.

      Mostly, I notice it when people call in to my job at tech support and I already know what the problem is.

      And I already know the solution to their problem.

      You know... Rebooting the computer

      Unfortunatley I haven't been able to figure out how to strangle people remotley with my mind... yet.
      • Mostly, I notice it when people call in to my job at tech support and I already know what the problem is. And I already know the solution to their problem. You know... Rebooting the computer

        I'm getting something... here it comes... you do Windows support for a living!

    • Yeah, except that if you're familiar with quantum mechanics you'll have figured out we learned all we could from the double slit experiment more than 50 years ago and have moved on to other experiments. But you do need a *proper* *scientific* experiment to begin with for ESP.
    • One example, a very close friend in college, she was an identical twin, and talked about the typical entanglements with her twin, who was back in her hometown 200 miles away. Her twin came down on her birthday and I was there when they opened their cards, identical (and not with any "twin" theme... just random typical birthday cards). Not a HUGE example of unexplained communication, but at least odd.

      Not that odd really - given the (statistically) limited number of birthday card styles out there.

    • But my siblings and I _regularly_ buy my parents the same cards from occaision to occaision.
      I think it's partly due to the fact that we already know what kind of card a person wants (funny, mushy, religious, plain), and there usually isn't much selection turn-over from year to year.
      Have you ever picked up the same card for someone's birthday like 3 times in a row? I have. WHY DON'T THEY FIND NEW PEOPLE TO MAKE CARDS ANYWAY? Ugh.
  • by _pi-away (308135) on Tuesday July 18, 2006 @05:30PM (#15739743) Homepage
    ... couple of wavy lines.
    • What are you trying to prove here anyway?

      I'm studying the effects of negative reinforcement on E.S.P. ability.

      The effect? I'll tell you what the effect is, it's pissing me off!
  • by apsmith (17989) * on Tuesday July 18, 2006 @05:35PM (#15739765) Homepage
    As all the discussion about cheats indicates, "telepathy" is a word for some "magical" form of communication between people; given that we have lots of real-life means of communciation between people, and more and better ones coming out every year, it's almost certain that within a few decades humans will be communicating with one another via means that are essentially indistinguishable from classic telepathy.

    That doesn't mean it was likely to have evolved naturally though. There does seem to be a whiff of real "irreducible complexity" in an iPod...
  • Only 400 posts... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by creimer (824291) on Tuesday July 18, 2006 @05:37PM (#15739776) Homepage
    I thought the minimum number of posts for another article appearing the very next day is 800 posts. I guess someone is desperate for click through traffic.
  • by dR.fuZZo (187666) on Tuesday July 18, 2006 @05:47PM (#15739833)

    I'm always been surprised at the kind of reaction anything labeled 'paranormal' gets from rational people. Why exactly couldn't telepathy exist?

    There's nothing logically impossible about the idea of telepathy. Or the Loch Ness Monster. Or UFOs.

    The thing you need to realize, however, is that they're labeled 'paranormal' for a reason. If we had solid evidence of any of them, we'd call them scientific fact. People look down on these ideas because, while there may be some people who believe in them, rigorous studies haven't been able to substantiate any of them.

    That being said, I don't see any reason there shouldn't be some continued research into these areas. The more basic research, the better, I say. What doesn't make sense, however, is sinking substantial amounts of money into research in areas that show no actual promise of ever turning up anything. Or, spending a lot of time doing non-scientific work in these areas. I'm sure paranormal enthusiasts can point to lots of "evidence" for telepathy. How much of it would actually stand up to scrutiny, though?

    • That being said, I don't see any reason there shouldn't be some continued research into these areas. The more basic research, the better, I say. What doesn't make sense, however, is sinking substantial amounts of money into research in areas that show no actual promise of ever turning up anything. Or, spending a lot of time doing non-scientific work in these areas. I'm sure paranormal enthusiasts can point to lots of "evidence" for telepathy. How much of it would actually stand up to scrutiny, though?

      Ther

      • by ardor (673957) on Tuesday July 18, 2006 @06:55PM (#15740196)
        What if telepathy is real, but the experiments are wrong? I wonder if telepathy actually works differently than one usually thinks. After sorting out the clear frauds and hoaxes, one can see that most psychics seem to be very intuitive. If telepathy is some sort of enhanced intuition, then maybe the ability depends heavily on the environment and situation. For example, being in a very familiar room triggering telepathic abilities. Unfortunately, this would render telepathy unprovable.

        It goes further than that, though. This touches the question whether there are phenomena that cannot be described by current scientific practices or not. If true, then telepathy may well be unproved for a very long time.

        Also, if someone is REALLY capable of telepathy, chances are high that this person keeps it a secret. Reading thoughts allow revealing true motives. If one reads the minds of ESP-interested people, one may well find some rather sinister motives (like, abusing it for stealing, blackmail, military applications..) Also, reading other's minds could be quite scary and disturbing, so it would not surprise me to find lots of insane people among the real psychics.....
        • What if telepathy is real, but the experiments are wrong? I wonder if telepathy actually works differently than one usually thinks. After sorting out the clear frauds and hoaxes, one can see that most psychics seem to be very intuitive. If telepathy is some sort of enhanced intuition, then maybe the ability depends heavily on the environment and situation. For example, being in a very familiar room triggering telepathic abilities. Unfortunately, this would render telepathy unprovable.

          Intuition is not tele

          • Intuition is being able to read other people's emotions from the signs they give off.

            Empathy would be a logical step above intuition. If people's emotions emit signs we do not know of, and if these signs are just crude psychic projections or whatever, then it would be hard to distinguish it from intuition in the first place. Of course, once detected, an experiment would be easy: sit the supposed psychic in a sealed chamber, stick a totally random person whose mood is known (sad, amused, enraged...) in a sec

            • This wasnt mentioned as evidence, just some random thoughts. I am allowed to have random thoughts without some rationalist inquisition knocking on my door, am I not?


              Well, when you have random thoughts maybe you shouldn't present them in such a manner as it looks like you're trying to defend the idea of telepathy. Given that you mentioned these random thoughts in the context of a discucussion about what science is, I think it's quite normal for someone to call you on that and say it's not scientific, and in
        • Nope, you're confusing the phenomena with the method.

          Suppose you're watching a cardsharp. He has you extract all the queens, put them back in the deck, then he shuffles it and the queens appear on the top. How did he do that?! Buggered if I know. This doesn't mean that it's "unproved" that a cardsharp can do that, bcos we've seen it happen. All it means is that we don't know the method yet.

          Now telepathy. Can someone read someone else's mind? It's really a very simple test - do they continuously get i
        • "maybe the ability depends heavily on the environment and situation"

          Yes, and if you ask Randi he will tell you that magic tricks are also heavily dependent on the environment and situation. (The rest of the post is not aimed at you personally)

          How Randi helped me see the light (a bedtime story):
          Thirty odd years ago I dropped out of high school with reasonably good marks in science, shortly after this Uri Geller appered on my TV and started bending spoons and such. He conducted an "experiment" with th
          • About 15 years ago I became interested in philosophy and eventually came to the conclusion that although science is the most usefull and productive philosophy we have ever invented it is still ultimately based on the faith that what we perceive via our senses is in fact the "real world".
            If this were true double-blind experiments wouldn't exist.
      • I have a miniaturized Titanic floating in my bath complete with a tiny crew and tiny Kate Winslet. Prove that I haven't. You can't see it? Oh I meant to say it's invisible. You can't touch it? It's very fast, and it's insubstantial to the touch. You could concoct the most elaborate tests to search for my Titanic and you'd always have an "out" that you couldn't find it.

        You are missing the point. It isn't about detecting ESP, UFOs, ghosts, it's investigating unexplained phenomenon. People tried to explain
    • The thing you need to realize, however, is that they're labeled 'paranormal' for a reason.

      It's because it's not normal, and it sounds better than "abnormal".

      -Adam
  • Subjectiveness (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Suffering Bastard (194752) * on Tuesday July 18, 2006 @05:53PM (#15739864)
    If someone claims to have had a telepathic experience, it is not up to you to decide the validity of their experience. What irks me is people immediately dismissing such a person as a nutjob. There is certainly a lot more going on around us than we can directly sense, and anyone with any amount of intuition who is in touch with themselves has had experiences that demonstrate at least the possibility of "paranormal" awareness.

    People with greater than average skill are always derided by the masses. Or, as Einstein put it: "Great thinkers will always face violent opposition from mediocre minds." Just because someone might be more perceptually evolved is no reason to cast them away.

    Moreover, it is vastly ignorant of us to think we know everything there is to know about consciousness or any aspect of the physical world. As soon was we start thinking that way, the sooner the evolution of science stops.

    We should honor this experiment, not immediately dismiss it. Yes, let's make sure rigorous checks are in place, and that the data is properly validated. But give it a chance, eh?
    • Re:Subjectiveness (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Sebastopol (189276) on Tuesday July 18, 2006 @06:08PM (#15739958) Homepage
      People with greater than average skill are always derided by the masses.

      It is not uncommon for people with psychological disorders to think they are better than everyone around them, or "more aware" of what's truly going on in the world. Especially people that have severe insecurity issues.
      • Re:Subjectiveness (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Sagachi (986501)
        Actually, psychology has demonstrated evidence that clinically depressed individuals have a more objective view of the world than normal people. Have you heard of the "rose-colored glasses effect", aka "depressive realism" [wikipedia.org]? Normally, people have a slightly inflated sense of optimism which affects their outlook. It causes people to place extra value on positive things in life, and tend to discount negative things. It's sort of a psychological survival mechanism. It's also pretty much transparent because ever
    • If someone claims to have had a telepathic experience, it is not up to you to decide the validity of their experience. What irks me is people immediately dismissing such a person as a nutjob. There is certainly a lot more going on around us than we can directly sense, and anyone with any amount of intuition who is in touch with themselves has had experiences that demonstrate at least the possibility of "paranormal" awareness.

      Your response is the typical defensive "nutjob" response - whether you actually

    • Re:Subjectiveness (Score:3, Insightful)

      by DrXym (126579)
      If someone claims to have had a telepathic experience, it is not up to you to decide the validity of their experience. What irks me is people immediately dismissing such a person as a nutjob. There is certainly a lot more going on around us than we can directly sense, and anyone with any amount of intuition who is in touch with themselves has had experiences that demonstrate at least the possibility of "paranormal" awareness.

      Actually it is up to whomever the claim is being made to decide the validity of

      • > Einstein provided scientific theories that could be tested with observation.

        General relativity (as opposed to special relativity) wasn't testable then. But to his credit, at least the model was consistent and backed by rigorous formalism, which is far more than can be said for the woo-woo crowd.

        Nowadays, our GPS satellites depend on compensating for both special and general relativistic effects, otherwise they'd be off by miles. Science wins another one. I bet that flaming ball in the sky actually i
      • Actually, Einstein said:

        "Great spirits have always found violent opposition from mediocrities. The latter cannot understand it when a man does not thoughtlessly submit to hereditary prejudices but honestly and courageously uses his intelligence."
      • The paranormal has had three centuries to demonstrate it exists. How many more centuries of statistical noise should be gathered before we state that we are as certain as experiment allows to say it has absolutely no basis in fact?

        Suppose, for a moment, that Telepathy was a normal phenomena, a skill that anyone could access. However would the earth's self-appointed ruling class keep the roiling masses in line?

        For example, could George W. Bush's handlers have pushed the populace into initially accepting the

    • People with greater than average skill are always derided by the masses. Or, as Einstein put it: "Great thinkers will always face violent opposition from mediocre minds." Just because someone might be more perceptually evolved is no reason to cast them away.

      They laughed at Einstein.. but they also laughed at bozo the clown. (And in actuality, respected scientists didn't laught at Einstein). What makes you think you're Einstein, and not Bozo?
  • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Tuesday July 18, 2006 @05:54PM (#15739868) Homepage Journal
    I like these Backslashes better than nothing. They give Slashdot's editors a way to get some articulated grip on the stories Slashdot covers and Slashdotters' response to them. Which helps develop an editorial consciousness through which new stories are filtered before they're published.

    But I wish it were less centralized. Slashdot is better than newspapers because it's mainly "letters to the editor", sparked by editors' published stories. Because those LoE's are letters to each other. Maybe the top 5% by moderated points, weighted by metamoderation and negative comments (also metamoderated), of posters to each day's top story or two (by comment count), could be autoinvited to a Backslash discussion among themselves, summarizing and highlighting comments. That competition might also encourage better comments.
  • I haven't had much of this lately, but I used to see before I'd be somewhere I'd never been, people in place and all. I wasn't sure it was the same as Deja Vu as I'd actually see these places in my dreams and be stunned when I saw them come together. I think something works, but I haven't had one of these episodes for years.

    Score: -5 Daft?!? I didn't foresee that!

    • I haven't had much of this lately, but I used to see before I'd be somewhere I'd never been, people in place and all. I wasn't sure it was the same as Deja Vu as I'd actually see these places in my dreams and be stunned when I saw them come together. I think something works, but I haven't had one of these episodes for years.

      The problem with such anecdotes is that memory is simply not reliable. Really, you forget more than you remember, and your brain just sort of invents things to fill in the gaps. Over

    • There are some [mb-soft.com] explanations [yahoo.com] around that explain the "Deja Vu" phenomenon physiologically. (Those are only the first two I've got on Google, many others are avaliable, but mostly centered on the "separated routes" theory).
  • by Eric Damron (553630) on Tuesday July 18, 2006 @06:05PM (#15739935)
    When I was in high school I ran ESP tests on the kids in my psychology class. I had twenty five cards with five different symbols on them. I shuffled the deck and looked at each card and each student wrote down which symbol he/she though I was looking at. The cards were behind a bind so they would not be visible in any way to the class. I ran the test three times and collected the forms.

    Everyone scored between four to six right answers except for one kid who on all three tests scored between twelve to fifteen correct answers.

    • Everyone scored between four to six right answers except for one kid who on all three tests scored between twelve to fifteen correct answers.

      Yah, and when I was in high school I measured the acceleration do to gravity, g, and found the published value to be off by 20% by my experiment. Obviously there's nothing wrong with my experiment, and someone wrong with the published value of g.
    • google "Clever Hans." The experimenter drawing the cards needs to be out of sight of the study subject. I wouldn't want to play poker with the kid who scored so high.
  • I totally saw this Backslash coming.

    I want my million dollars in small bills.

  • Okay, I don't actually believe that systems are consciously projecting their thoughts in to your mind. But it does freak people out slightly when you expect a system to do something nobody expected - then it does. Colleagues start wondering if you're psychic or something. I think if you spend enough time looking at stuff on your systems, you get a feel for what may happen and when, even if you can't offer a great deal of proof.

    Ever heard a tune in your mind then switched on the radio and it was there? Maybe
    • Okay, I don't actually believe that systems are consciously projecting their thoughts in to your mind. But it does freak people out slightly when you expect a system to do something nobody expected - then it does.

      Or maybe it's just selective memory. Doesn't it freak people out when you expect a system to do something nobody expected... but it doesn't ? Well, no, that doesn't freak people out because they're used to it. They only remember that one single time when you were right, and forget the thousands

  • Okian Warriors argument is sound at first, but the argument, I think, unravels when you ask: "How is telepathy genetic?" Since we don't know how telepathy works, it's odd to assume that there would be a genetic component.
    For example, what if telepathy worked only when you were standing at a particular location? When you moved, no more telepathy. This would clearly be an environmental factor NOT genetic.

    BTM
    • There have been accounts of people (or couples of people) whom have a strong "sense" of precognition, of people who have a strong emotional/mental connection over distances (such as twins, etc), and of places that have a resonance (hauntings, stonehenge, etc).

      Indeed, both person-associated (genetic or chance) phenomenoa have been said to occur, as well as environmental/locational.
      • I frequently have a "deja vu" type feeling. I will distinctly remember certain events (either conversations or placement of people/objects) with the memory lasting up to the point that, in the present, I recall the "precognition" My wife, and numerous others, claim to have the same type of experiences.

        Additionally, my wife can "read" colors from my mind (i.e. I think of a color and she guesses, with very high accuracy, the correct color. And no, I don't think of simple colors like red, green, or blue, bu
  • by Drakonite (523948) on Tuesday July 18, 2006 @06:41PM (#15740122) Homepage
    The whole argument Okian Warrior poses is based on the idea that telepathy has no prerequisites and could be spontaneously aquired via evolution, which as with other traits that have evolved over time simply does not seem to be the case.

    If we make the relatively trivial assumption that telepathy would require a relatively high level of brain function (both as a matter of technical requirement, and also of being able to process and understand the information) then suddenly the point in our evolution it would be most possible for these traits to begin to appear we have already began stagnating our gene pool by artificially protecting those of weaker traits, thus significantly reducing any evolution.

    If we look through recorded time, and due to our nature likely much before recorded time as well, people who can 'hear voices' or otherwise know things they should not be able to know are typically regarded as crazy, devilspawn, witches, or some other name in which heavy medication, stoning, or burning at the stake would be prescribed. I would pose that because of this, not only would telepathy not be a survival advantage, any marked ability would indeed be a disadvantage.

    IMO it's also very realistic to assume telepathy would be like other ability, and require some practice and training before it would be any more than rare and involuntary flashes of thoughts.

    ...and yes, I am a firm believer in telepathy. I have seen and experienced enough that I'd be crazy not to believe in it. I just appears that like any other ability (sight and hearing included) different people have different levels of innate ability, and in the case of telepathy the vast majority are below the threshold of being able to notice it at all, and those few that do lack the a significant way of testing and training the ability.

    • So what is the biological, physical or other naturalistic explanation for telepathy? Supernatural explanations need not apply. I prefer to keep ontological bloat to a minimum.
      • Supernatural explanations need not apply.

        'Supernatural' is the label given to things that people do not understand. Yes, I realize there are a lot of hoaxes and BS out there, which is what makes the persuit of information about anything related to ESP a futile battle against an army of minds that were closed by so many liars and so many that proclaim they understand The Truth(TM) that are just as clueless as everyone else.

        Imagine if you will, a video walkie-talkie. Simply a screen, a cheap camera, a m

    • I[t] just appears that like any other ability (sight and hearing included) different people have different levels of innate ability, and in the case of telepathy the vast majority are below the threshold of being able to notice it at all, and those few that do lack the a significant way of testing and training the ability.

      The primary difference is in the training people pursue.

      Ingo Swann [biomindsuperpowers.com] says the "superpowers" are universal, and can also be trained. Some people are better than others, as with any field of
  • by TexVex (669445) on Tuesday July 18, 2006 @06:46PM (#15740145)
    People always like to bring up QM, especially entanglement, when talking about magical things like FTL travel or communication, super-duper-duper-computers, and time travel. Now it's telepathy too? Nice.

    Quantum Mechanics is not magic. It's also not dimly understood. It is counterintuitive, but that doesn't mean that it somehow turns black into white.

    The big problem with QM is how people write about it. With the double-slit experiment, for example, you'll read a phrase like "when you observe which slit each photon goes through, the interference patterns disappear". The problem is, most people think of observation as something completely passive. But in the realm of QM, observation is very active and very destructive. In QM-speak, it goes without saying that to observe something is to change it. If the above phrase were written "when you jigger with each photon to try to get an idea of which slit it goes through, the interference pattern vanishes", it would be equally accurate and sound a lot less magical. A pretty pattern of waves on the surface of a pond will vanish if you jump into the pond to get a look at the waves up close.

    Entanglement is described with equal misguidance. Usually you get a phrase like "when you measure measure one photon of the entangled pair, the other one's spin changes instantly across any distance to match". Sounds magical, right? But it ain't. The spin "changes" from a state where it has all possible values with equal probability of each into a state where you know what the value of that spin is. QM is all about probabilities and information and not so much about the actual particles. Instead of saying "the particle's spin changes", it would be more correct to say "what we know about the particle's spin changes". But instead we get shorthand that is clear to anyone who groks QM but is counterintuitive to the layman. By observing your electron (and remember, observing means you've destroyed information in it by getting the spin information out), you've gained some information about it. Because of the entanglement, you've also gained information about the other memeber of the pair, without disturbing it, at that very moment, no matter where the other member of that pair is. That's it.
    • "Quantum Mechanics is not magic. It's also not dimly understood. It is counterintuitive, but that doesn't mean that it somehow turns black into white."

      Anything where you don't understand how it works is magic.

      Why do we find this video amusing for example?
      http://www.pistolwimp.com/media/45492/ [pistolwimp.com]

      If some how the video went back in time a few hundred years (and you took the laughter away) what would the people think he was doing?
    • It's because of the overloading of words: "observation" sounds to mystics like the act of a soul, rather than something that measures something. Entanglement sounds exactly like the strange cosmic effects that they think other people have on each other - if these two electrons are "linked" somehow, then this is the proof they need that all their theories that defy reality are true. Basically they take the fact that quantum phenomena belie common sense about physics and take it to the extreme - why, if scien
      • Boring? How about fascinating!

        Maybe telepathy is not possible. Maybe it is. Maybe the human race is just on the cusp of beginning to evolve it, so experiments are unpredictable. Or maybe "work without effort" is something the human race strives for, and why I'm so into automation, and people just want to believe.

        Well anyway, I'm borg now so you won't be hearing from me again.

  • by phorm (591458) on Tuesday July 18, 2006 @06:53PM (#15740184) Journal
    A few points that came to mind as I read the above...

    Haven't been slapped: women I find attractive, as a rule, do not have telepathy

    Depending on what you find attractive in women, chances are that such women will also be attractive to others. In that event, I believe they'd be somewhat immune due to constant hinting thoughts of passerby.

    Taxpayer's money: research into the mystical and supernatural isn't strictly illegal it is certainly a questionable use of taxpayer money

    How many expeditions across the world, expected to fall off the "edge" were funded by what would have then been something similar to taxpayer's money?

    Why exactly couldn't invisible pink unicorns exist?

    There's a likelyhood to all things, as well as a case history. Cases of various paranormal events exceed those of invisible pink unicorn reports (although how something can be pink when invisible?). It leaves the possibility of lots of crazy people, lots of easily influenced/misled people (more likely), or the possibility that various paranormal circumstances may exist. Lots of things that would have been 'witchcraft' or paranormal years back are commonplace. I suppose the trade-off is in exactly how much money is spent vs the results received.

    By measuring the state of the first electron, you can instantaneously affect the state of the second electron -- but according to all of the current theories, there is no way to actually use that to communicate

    Why not? If you can in any how tell that the state of the second electron has been altered, and you could consistently alter/un-alter/re-alter the second electron, you could transfer binary data... with the limits being on how quickly one could read the changes given or affect a change.

    It's a pity that there's no evidence that these experiences actually took place in reality, not just in the participants' imaginations, don't you think

    Which leads to a previous statement. Not everyone is a liar, some people honestly (but mistakenly) believe in a paranormal ability or event that may have an existing scientific explanation beyond their own knowledge. Of course, some other unexplainable/supernatural events over time have become normal scientific data as science progressed as well.


    One thing I do wonder is about experiments done with twins (quite a few interesting cases of people having an unusual 'connection' there), and experiments vs situations of duress. Sure, a million bucks is a nice incentive, but if one did have an invisible supernatural transmitter in one's head... say a weak one... a life-threatening situation might just be the thing that squeezes out the juice in it, and that's not really something that can be (legally) simulated. Certainly there are cases where humans put in "impossible" situations have gone beyond what science dictated should be possible.
    • If you can in any how tell that the state of the second electron has been altered, and you could consistently alter/un-alter/re-alter the second electron

      You are using a false assumption there, which is that it's repeatable. The thing about entanglement is, you can just do it once. And you can't figure out which way it'll go. Once you observe either electron, and force it to a particular spin, the other one is forced to the opposite spin. Then you're done, they both have fixed spins. To get them to d
  • PEAR results (Score:3, Insightful)

    by truckaxle (883149) on Tuesday July 18, 2006 @06:54PM (#15740190) Homepage
    If you read the PEAR research they are reporting extremely small telekinetic effects. Basically they acquire data from a noise source and devise someway of generating ones and zeros at a 5 hz rate. The "operator" is supposed to think of ones or zeros in an attempt to skew the results. The "success" rate is something like %50.02 from the expected of %50. Not very impressive results and probably explainable by temperature variations, cosmic rays or maybe even the odd neutrino detections.

    I think they ought to have a World Wide Telekinetic Westling Federation where they pit two cerebral pro's against each other in ring with a noise generator between them; each combatant would either have with a big 0 or 1 on his jersey. After the bell the cumulative results in big readable digital displays in real-time above their heads.
  • The Experiment
    Many readers pointed out flaws in the experiment, it was not controlled enought to the point that any results from it would be completely invalid and would only play into the hands of the crackpots.

    Proving Telepathy doesn't exist
    Althought it is not possible to "prove that something doesn't exist", it is possible to show that the consequences of something existing would disagree and conflict with present knowledge and would lead to absurd consequences - reductio ad absurdum et al...

    Fo

    • Although I'm often called a strict spectic I find science and biology magical and exiting just because of all the things we don't know. However I'm dismayd by the lack of cricitical mind and imagination that people have. There are plenty of magic left even after you ignore all these weak speudo science ideas.

      Sounds like a mental dictatorship.

      "We decide what your scientific interests have to be! Deviating from them is heresy and will be punished by exclusion from the scientific community! Be a good scientist
      • Ah, such delicious flamebait, I cannot resist the temptation.

        Ok, aside from the fact that I was not suggesting any of those things that you claim and was only pointing out "my dismay of the lack of critical thinking and imagination people have"...

        I think someone's a bit touchy-feely about supposedly being "excluded" from the "scientific community", whatever that means. Unlike your characterization of science as 'mental dictatorship', things are appreciated as science based on the merit of consistant log

      • Sounds like a mental dictatorship.

        "We decide what your scientific interests have to be! Deviating from them is heresy and will be punished by exclusion from the scientific community! Be a good scientist! You must not think what you are not allowed to think!"

        No one is dictating to anyone what to think. The problem is the sharing of a limited resource (language). When different groups of people use the same word (science) for to represent different concepts it creates a namespace collision. We all know how in

  • :-) I'm actually not really trying to be funny.
    Some "coincidences" do occur for many people often everyday mainly because of our own intuitive processes and subconscious processes picking up a lot more subtleties than our conscious minds are aware of - is this "telepathy" per se? Probably not, but many people make a very good business out of reading others almost as good as the real thing. Even then, our subconscious minds pick up so much of what we don't that often we'll get excited about something bad
  • One thing I wonder: what if those paranormal phenomena are actually glitches in our perception of the world? Remember that the conscious mind is aware of only fractions of the actual input. The subconscious is full of wonders. This goes all the way down to the question whether the world actually behaves like our understanding of causality. If causality is actually a simplification constructed by our mind, then there might be a chance that there are situations where this approximation is just plain wrong.

    Of
  • " Reader Pyromage provided one answer to that question, writing:
    "Because it's possible to devise an experiment [slashdot.org] that could provide scientific evidence in its favor. ... Such an experiment does not -- even in theory -- exist for [Intelligent Design]."
    "

    I replied that :

    I don't think it would be too hard to come up an experiment that could falsify a particular stain of ID.

    First, we'll define an impersonal ID: the intelligent designer is simply a phenomena that is intelligent, like a human being or other
  • Slap Theory (Score:3, Interesting)

    by R3d M3rcury (871886) on Tuesday July 18, 2006 @07:46PM (#15740406) Journal
    Sesticulus raises a similar idea [...] "Invariably if I'm in a public place, there will be someone I find attractive and I will think "hey now". I've never had someone come up and slap me for thinking rude thoughts, so at the very least, women I find attractive, as a rule, do not have telepathy.
    That assumes that these are things that, if you will, percolate up the old brain stem to the point where we recognize we are reading thoughts. From what I understand, the brain doesn't necessarily work that way. Lots of data from lots of senses comes into play and we attach different importance to each of them. An example would be the sense of taste--it's made up both the olfactory senses in your nose and the chemical senses in your tongue.

    Consider this scenario: You're in the public place. You see the woman. You look her up-and-down and think, "Hey now." The woman turns around and sees you looking her over and thinks, "Gads. What a jerk." Well, obviously, there was no telepathy involved here. She saw you looking at her like a hungry dog at a piece of meat and immediately knew what you were thinking. But what made her turn around at that moment? Was it just a coincidence? Obviously, it had to be. There's no way she could have known what you were thinking.

    Or, her "sixth sense" told her there was a potential mate/threat/whatever. Automatic reaction was to look around for it. When she saw you looking her over, she figured she'd found the target of the problem (since the feelings went away) and the rest of her senses allowed her to form a better picture of what was happening and since she never really knew why she was looking around (lower brain function caused the reaction), she wouldn't chalk it up to telepathy.

    Remember, there are tons of things that we do that we don't consciously do. A simple example is we pull our hands away from hot things. There's no conscious decision there. We know why we did it, sure, but there was no higher-brain decision process involved.
  • I predict that copying and pasting +5 comments from the previous discussion will result in quick and easy karma.
  • ... by at least 3. I would have posted by slashdot was broken.

    The only comment I remember trying to make was that my wife tends to know what's on my mind, but that's because she's known me for over 10 years and my thoughts in that area are pretty predictable :)
  • From the summary: Other responses to the story show that at least many Slashdot readers are none too happy with research into telepathy being done with tax monies.

    I made a comment about this [slashdot.org] the last time around, pointing out that despite the prevalent Slashdotter belief, this pseudoscientific research is privately funded. Here's a paste of what I said before:

    I'm pretty sure there isn't any tax payer money involved. According to this page [manchester.ac.uk], the project is sponsored by a Portuguese group called the "Bial Fo [bial.com]
  • 1. Post an unskeptical story about telepathy research.
    2. Select the most controversial comments.
    3. Post story about controversial comments.
    4. Three question marks.
    5. Traffic!!!

    Good job, timothy. I expect to see a lot more or your stories about gay marriage, abortion, and flag burning being posted on the main page. Keep up the dubious work.
  • Personally, I find "mind reading" to be utterly falacious. As others have pointed out, evolution would have heavily favoured even a very slight ability in this regard.

    Also, the question needs to be asked: what physical property of the universe would allow the miniscule electrical signals in human brains to be able to be receieved and understood by persons disconnected in space? Even if only by a few millimetres? To me (at least) it seems unlikely there is this unknown quality of the universe. It seems likel

The meat is rotten, but the booze is holding out. Computer translation of "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."

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