Saturday, May 9, 2009

Binary Thought -- part 8,930,281.

"...[W]hy psi phenomena flourish best in [the] darkness [of
statistics] is ...hard to comprehend. If the mind can alter the
statistical outcome of many tosses of heavy dice, why is it powerless
to rotate a tiny arrow, magnetically suspended in a vacuum to
eliminate friction?...The failure of such direct unequivocal tests is
in my opinion one of the great scandals of parapsychology."

These are the words of Martin Gardner, who for almost three decades
wrote the column on mental puzzles for Scientific American. He has
written quite a few books pointing out charlatans and sloppy research
in the psychical research laboratory. In the quote above he is
referring to the fact that there is a statistically significant effect
pointing to some kind of psychical power of mind (so-called) when
tests are done in runs, rather than individual tests of say,
precognition. So if you guess what card will come up next, you get
significant results (better than chance) only if you average the
results from a large number of tries.

Gardner has thankfully pointed out many many cases where people
cheated on these tests. He seems annoyed that there remain these
statistical results that confirm the existence of the so-called
psychic powers, and that cannot be explained away.

It would not be so odd that an individual person cannot demonstrate
psychic powers in the lab, but that large scale test results do, if we
recall the map Jan Cox used, which spoke of a global mind. If the
individual mind is merely part of a larger phenomenon, and not itself
any kind of self actuating engine, as is so fondly believed, then
these results are what one would expect. But the intellectual cannot
relinquish his dream that his rational, binary, mind is an adequate
tool to investigate everything he might encounter. So he gets annoyed.
And yet the cosmos keeps on spinning.

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