A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions

From Abracadabra to Zombies

Book Review

Entangled Minds: Extrasensory Experiences in a Quantum Reality

by Dean Radin

(Paraview Pocket Books 2006)


by Robert T. Carroll

Entangled Minds (EM) is a sequel to Dean Radin's 1997 defense of psychic phenomena The Conscious Universe (CU). EM is CU for Dummies: more of the same, but in a casual, conversational style, and aimed at non-scientists who are likely to be impressed by references to quantum physics.  In my review of The Conscious Universe, I describe how Radin distorts the history of psi research, omitting the seedy side of the story, and abuses statistics to make his case for the paranormal. He repeatedly shouts out the incredible odds against chance of getting some result in an experiment that allegedly demonstrates telepathy, precognition, or psychokinesis, yet he still can't find a single person in any of these experiments who is even aware of a psychic ability, much less able to demonstrate one under properly controlled conditions. In the end, what needs to be explained is not psychic phenomena but why Radin and other parapsychologists think these experiments demonstrate psi. The true believer will not be deterred, however. Radin thinks psi will some day be explained by fitting it into a framework of quantum phenomena. This skeptic isn't convinced that there is anything to be explained except Radin's belief in the reality of psi despite overwhelming evidence against it.

Radin knows that polls show that most people believe in some sort of psychic phenomena. So, he is not in a minority when it comes to belief. He notes, however, that there are only about 50 scientists around the world engaged in full-time psi research (p. 7). This disparity is not due to scientists recognizing that psi research is probably a waste of time. In Radin's view, ordinary people believe in psi because "they see farther into the depths of the world than other people do" (p. 51). Scientists, he claims, are afraid to admit that they believe in psi. They don't engage in psi research because they would be looked on as mentally deficient if they did. Radin thinks that skeptics consider believers stupid and have succeeded in putting the fear of God into both ordinary folks and scientists. They dare not admit their beliefs for fear of being ridiculed. He doesn't consider the possibility that pandering by the media and ignorance of affective, cognitive, and perceptual biases might account for some of those beliefs in the paranormal. Nor does he blush when he mentions that many great minds have believed in psi and done psi research, including some Nobel laureates.

He even misuses the brilliant experiment on inattentional blindness at the University of Illinois to try to give support to his view: just as many people don't see things that are right before their eyes, scientists and skeptics are blind to the reality of psi (p. 44). This is clearly hogwash. Nothing sells like the paranormal. The popularity of psi increases with each new television program featuring ghosts or mediums. Scientists may be staying away from psi research because they don't see any future in it. If there were much hope of finding anything important by psi research, scientists would be fighting for the opportunity to be the one to make the first great discovery. You don't need to have precognition to see the future of this discipline. The past provides plenty of solid evidence that the future looks dim.

believers in psi are not stupid

Even though Radin provides little evidence for the claim that scientists and skeptics view people like him as stupid or uneducated, he spends an entire chapter arguing that believers in psi are not stupid and uneducated, but "normal." He seems to be confusing stupidity with ignorance. Even educated people are ignorant of many things, including many things about perception and the psychology of belief. As he did in CU, Radin distorts the truth by quoting out of context. One egregious example comes in his suggestion that the American Psychiatric Association (APA) has declared that belief in psi is a mental disorder (pp. 36-37). There are several mental disorders, it is true, that manifest themselves in part by "odd beliefs or magical thinking," including superstitious beliefs and beliefs in clairvoyance or telepathy. Radin admits this, but the reader is left to figure out how to make sense of his suggestion that psychiatrists consider people like him to be mentally ill. The least he could have done is note that most people don't consider a person mentally ill if his delusions are shared by numerous other people in his social group.

Radin's attitude toward believers in psi and skeptics in EM belies his degree in educational psychology. He should be well aware that there is a great body of psychological literature supporting the notion that belief or disbelief in the paranormal or supernatural is not a matter of intelligence or education. Why a brilliant man like Brian Josephson would spend his days in pursuit of psi or an equally brilliant Murray Gell-Mann would consider pursuit of psi a waste of time is not going to be answered by looking into their IQs or their educational experiences. Why Richard Dawkins finds atheism a natural consequence of science and Francis Collins finds science leads him to belief in God is not going to be understood by probing into their intellects or education. Likewise, there are believers and skeptics who suffer from various mental disorders or brain malfunctions, but those disorders don't provide an adequate explanation for why many people who don't suffer from such disorders believe or disbelieve in the paranormal or supernatural. This is not the place for a full-blown discussion of the psychology of belief. I recommend as a starting place the short article by Jim Alcock called "The Belief Engine." Alcock uses a machine metaphor to introduce some basic notions about beliefs, starting with the claim: "Our brains and nervous systems constitute a belief-generating machine, a system that evolved to assure not truth, logic, and reason, but survival."

Radin's dismissal of critics

In both his books, Radin devotes extensive space to dismissing criticism without reviewing a single skeptical evaluation of the data for psi. He ignores the critiques of Ray Hyman, David Marks, Jim Alcock, Susan Blackmore, C. E. M. Hansel, and the like. He has two main reasons for dismissing critics: 1) they don't look at the data, but reject psi research outright as mistaken or fraudulent; and 2) skepticism and critical analysis of psi research are "outdated" (p. 79), "stubbornly incredulous" (p. 89), and  "insufficient" (p. 246). The irony of reason number one is obvious. Reason number two seems to be little more than a defense mechanism and excuse for not doing the hard work of answering critics.

In chapter 14 of CU, Radin runs through a litany of cognitive biases and psychological aberrations, which he thinks provides an adequate explanation for why skeptics and the majority of scientists around the world don't agree with his rosy assessment of the evidence for psi. Radin may not believe it, but this skeptic is more interested in why he believes what he does than in what he believes. The 'why' I'm most interested in, however, is not the 'why' he seems to focus on. I want to know what his reasons for believing are, not what cognitive bias or psychological aberration led him to his belief. Any speculation on biases is secondary to critical evaluation of the data he presents.

I have no reason to doubt that Radin is an intelligent, highly educated, experienced, "normal" person. I find his data and arguments unconvincing, and I state why I find them unconvincing. Others, much more knowledgeable than I of the history of psi research, have also stated why they find the data and the arguments for psi lacking. Radin chooses to ignore us, except to hurl a blanket accusation at us that we are fearful, lazy, or irrationally obstinate.

I took Radin to task in my review of CU for the way he considers the affective, cognitive, and perceptual biases that hinder all of us from thinking critically and evaluating experience and experiments fairly. I used CU as a text in a course I taught called Critical Thinking about the Paranormal. My method in that course was to review the biases before reviewing the psi anecdotes and experiments. Knowledge of the biases, in my opinion, helps the student assess the data with more critical thinking tools at her disposal. Radin's goal in CU is to bias the reader in favor of psi, and then use the discussion of such things as confirmation bias to pigeonhole skeptical viewpoints.

A critical thinker needs to have a solid foundation in the psychology of belief in order to apply logic and careful reasoning to experiences and experiments. But criticism should focus primarily on the data and the arguments, not on the possible psychological biases of the one presenting the data or making the arguments.

the leap to quantum physics

Entanglement is a concept from quantum physics that refers to connections between subatomic particles that persist regardless of being separated by various distances. Radin notes that some physicists have speculated that the entire universe might be entangled and that some Eastern mystics might have been on to something cosmic. His speculations are rather wild, but his assertions are rather modest. For example: "I believe that entanglement suggests a scenario that may ultimately lead to a vastly improved understanding of psi" (p. 14, italics added) and "I propose that the fabric of reality is comprised [sic] of 'entangled threads' that are consistent with the core of psi experience" (p. 19).

John Renish calls the idea of the entire Universe being entangled just plain silly:

Entanglement can be only of identical elementary particles and must take place in space-time, so the earliest it could have taken place was in the expansion phase following the Big Bang. Since the vast majority of elementary particles were not close enough together to be entangled, except in rare instances, only a tiny portion of the Universe could be entangled, and that randomly, such as a photon deep in our Sun and another umpteen light-millennia away emitted by a hot planet like Jupiter. (personal correspondence)

In any case, jumping on the quantum bandwagon is something Radin did not do hastily. In an interview with Jeffrey Mishlove for the series “Thinking Allowed,” Radin said he thought it unlikely that quantum physics would help us understand biological phenomena. He still admits that there are "practical difficulties that have to be overcome before entanglement is demonstrated in ... living systems...." (p. 16). In fact, a recent article on quantum mechanics in Scientific American supports Radin's initial view. The odds of a collection of particles in one brain being entangled with a collection of particles in another brain, for example, are next to impossible. Anyway, apparently there are no theoretical limitations that prevent him and others from speculating about psi and entanglement to their hearts' content. In the end, though, he admits he and other parapsychologists are just guessing that psi will be explained by quantum physics.

In chapter 12 of EM, Radin presents his case for a quantum approach to psi. He reviews a few ideas in quantum physics and then bridges the gap between this history and the history of psi research with some one-liners. For example, he simply asserts:

Quantum theory and a vast body of supporting experiments tell us that something unaccounted for is connecting otherwise isolated objects. And this is precisely what psi experiences and experiments are telling us. The parallels are so striking that it suggest that psi is—literally—the human experience of quantum interconnectedness. (pp. 231-232, emphasis in the original)

He then spends a few pages trying to justify this claim, mostly by noting how baffled scientists like William James and Robert Jahn have been when confronted with apparently psychic phenomena. Then, in a final burst of hubris, Radin claims that physics has caught up to psi research!

Over the past century, most of the fundamental assumptions about the fabric of physical reality have been revised in the direction predicted by genuine psi....psi is the human experience of the entangled universe. (p. 235)

Radin concludes his fantasy with the following remark:

...classical physics is wrong....in just the right way to support the reality of psi. (p. 239)

Of course, when classical physics was the only physics there was, defenders of psi used classical models to try to explain how psi might work, e.g., as a mental radio. The fact is that you don't have to be very clever to speculate about how psi might work in any of several models of reality. For all we know, we might live in a universe that is enveloped in several other universes identical to ours but ahead or behind in time. Occasionally, some people slip into a crack in one of these other universes and appear to have a precognition or a telepathic communication. But until the evidence for the reality of psi is substantial, we ought to hold off our speculating about how it works.

Anyway, Radin devotes a whole chapter to reviewing various theories of psi. I won't bore the reader with his entire list of candidates, but he found five that use quantum theory to explain psi. He likes the one that

...suggests that the mind/brain might be a self-observing quantum object, and as such, it resides within an entangled, nonlocal medium that just happens to be entirely compatible with the known characteristics of psi. (pp. 257-258)

Yes, and then again the mind/brain might not be a quantum object at all, and the above sentence might not have any cognitive meaning, i.e., be a bit of bovine excrement. The fact is, this section on theories is really a section on exercising the imagination to speculate about how paranormal phenomena might work if they were real. The fact is, though, that the evidence that they are real is outweighed by the evidence that they are not real. Radin can shout as loudly as he wants about skeptics, but their analysis of the data is much more convincing than his.

regression to Eastern mysticism

Radin may appear to be promoting progress in psi research, but in the end he resurrects some old notions that critics relegated to the ash heap long ago: he notes several times in EM that quantum physics parallels concepts in Eastern mysticism. Remember Capra's The Tao of Physics (1975) and Zukav's The Dancing Wu Masters (1976)? In The Skeptic's Dictionary entry on Deepak Chopra, I note:

...physicist Heinz R. Pagels, author of The Cosmic Code: Quantum Physics as the Language of Nature vehemently rejects the notion that there is any significant connection between the discoveries of modern physicists and the metaphysical claims of Ayurveda. "No qualified physicist that I know would claim to find such a connection without knowingly committing fraud," says Dr. Pagels.

The claim that the fields of modern physics have anything to do with the "field of consciousness" is false. The notion that what physicists call "the vacuum state" has anything to do with consciousness is nonsense. The claim that large numbers of people meditating helps reduce crime and war by creating a unified field of consciousness is foolishness of a high order. The presentation of the ideas of modern physics side by side, and apparently supportive of, the ideas of the Maharishi about pure consciousness can only be intended to deceive those who might not know any better.

Reading these materials authorized by the Maharishi causes me distress because I am a man who values the truth. To see the beautiful and profound ideas of modern physics, the labor of generations of scientists, so willfully perverted provokes a feeling of compassion for those who might be taken in by these distortions. I would like to be generous to the Maharishi and his movement because it supports world peace and other high ideals. But none of these ideals could possibly be realized within the framework of a philosophy that so willfully distorts scientific truth (Pagels).

What Chopra is peddling is quantum gibberish.

Replace the Maharishi and Chopra with Radin: what Radin is peddling is quantum gibberish.

What new evidence is there for psi?

Even though Radin boasts that parapsychologists are beyond the stage of proving psi exists and are now trying to understand how it works, he spends the first 200 pages of EM trying to demonstrate, with anecdotes and brief descriptions of experiments, that psi exists no matter what the skeptics say.

Radin is well aware of the power of anecdotes to interest people in the paranormal, even though such stories have little scientific value. He persists in scattering such stories throughout EM, and he resists the temptation to go into too much detail about experiments. Thus, EM is more readable than CU, but less impressive as documentation of scientific research in support of psi. The anecdotes, especially the ones that come from his own research, suffer from having no controls. For example, he finds an interesting bit of commentary in a precognition study, but he makes no effort to show that the commentary was unique and that similar commentary didn't occur many other times when nothing happened shortly afterward that he could easily connect it to. A description of "something falling...a chaotic scene" the day before 9/11/2001 might seem impressive to some people, but similar descriptions by the same person or others in the experiment may have been provided hundreds of other times over the years. By selecting this vague and ambiguous comment at this time Radin gives the false impression of precognition. He does the same thing with his global consciousness data and claims the odds against chance of getting the data he got are 1.8 million to 1 (p. 33). He admits "this is purely speculative," but he expects us to take his word for it that we are not dealing with coincidences here.

Much of Radin's review in EM of the experimental evidence for psi is a rehash of what he wrote in CU. For example, his chapter on mind-matter interaction adds little to his discussion in CU of dice experiments and the PEAR lab. One thing new, though, is Radin's linking of modern neuroscience with old psi experiments to support his case. There's nothing wrong with that in principle, but Radin's tactic is deceptive, while rather clever. Radin appeals to brain imaging to defend the psi hypothesis. Using brain imaging in psi experiments isn't new, but CU makes no mention of it. The general idea is to find some sort of correlation or post hoc connection between a blip on a brain scan or EEG, and a psychic trigger such as a person thinking or viewing something in another place. As in other psi experiments lauded by Radin, these involve the psi-assumption. Every one of the experiments commits the fallacy of begging the question. They all assume that if they get this or that blip on a screen, it is evidence of presentiment or telepathy, etc. The issue, however, is to prove that these blips have anything at all to do with psi phenomena.

Radin didn't mention René Warcollier in CU, but in EM he discusses the French psi researcher's work on why psi subjects don't get precise images. Skeptics dismiss these imprecise images as part of a game parapsychologists play that involves trying to find reasons for claiming that, for example, having a dream about Winston Churchill counts as a hit when the target was a painting of Max Beckman’s Descent from the Cross. Warcollier invented the notion that images are distorted and misperceived by psi people because they were transmitted "scrambled, broken up into component elements which are often transmuted into new patterns" (Radin, EM, p. 92). Instead of shaking his head in wonder at the claim that images appear not to match their targets because they don't match their targets, Radin uses this tautological drivel to open a door to a phony connection to a real science:

What Warcollier demonstrated is compatible with what modern cognitive neuroscience has learned about how visual images are constructed by the brain. It implies that telepathic perceptions bubble up into awareness from the unconscious and are probably in the brain in the same way that we generate images in dreams. And thus telepathic 'images' are far less certain than sensory-driven images and subject to distortion. (pp. 92-93, italics added)

Radin is just making up the claim that cognitive neuroscience implies anything about telepathic perceptions.

In EM, Radin devotes nearly an entire chapter to meta-analysis and the ganzfeld experiments, topics he explored in detail in CU. Here he defends meta-analysis as fair and balanced, dismisses the major criticisms of this technique in a few paragraphs, and describes the ganzfeld experiment "as close to the perfect psi experiment as anyone knows how to conduct" (p. 117). (See my comments on ch. 5 of CU regarding meta-analysis and my comments on ch. 6 of CU regarding the ganzfeld.)

In CU, Radin mentions Rupert Sheldrake twice, and only in passing. In EM, he goes into some detail regarding Sheldrake's studies of the staring effect, and concludes with a typically inane statistic regarding the odds of getting the results by chance: "202 octodecillion to 1." As in CU, however, Radin ignores studies that found no staring effect, including one done in his own lab! He makes no mention of a study done by Marilyn Schlitz and Richard Wiseman that found nothing interesting in a staring experiment. Radin's name is even on the published paper, since it was done in his lab. (See Watt, C., Schlitz, M., Wiseman, R. & Radin, D. (2005). "Experimenter differences in a remote staring study," Proceedings of the 48th Annual Convention of the Parapsychological Association, 256-260. A version of the paper is available online here.)

Radin still ignores frauds and hoaxes in psi

As in CU, Radin's history of psi research in EM ignores frauds and hoaxes. For some reason, these options are never considered as alternative explanations for alleged psi phenomena. Radin offers many stories in his history, but none of them are approached with any skepticism. Worse, he is not averse to exaggeration to promote his chosen field of endeavor. His description of Daniel Dunglas Home's alleged feats is credulous and fawning (p. 62). My view is a bit more skeptical. I write in my entry on levitation:

Daniel Dunglas Home (1833-1886) allegedly levitated several times, according to eyewitnesses. It is more likely that the witnesses were deceived than that Home actually floated through space unassisted. Magician and debunker of mediums Milbourne Christopher (1970: 174-187) duplicated some of Home's feats, though there is no way to know for certain exactly how Home accomplished his performance. Christopher writes:

How could Home levitate himself in a room with the lights out? One method used then, and later, by mediums is most convincing. In the dark the psychic slips off his shoes as he tells the sitters his body is becoming weightless. The sitter to the medium's left grasps his left hand, the one to the right puts a hand on the mystic's shoes, near the toes. Holding his shoes together with his right hand pressing the inner sides, the medium slowly raises them in the air as he first squats then stands on his chair. The man holding his hand reports the medium is ascending; so does the sitter who touches the shoes. Until I tried this myself, it was hard to believe that spectators in the dark room could be convinced an ascension was being made. (p. 185)

Whether Christopher is correct or not is beside the point. Radin makes no effort to look for an alternative explanation to Home's performance. The witnesses say they saw him levitate; so, he levitated. Radin doesn't even consider the possibility that the witnesses were tricked.

Radin states that Home was never caught cheating. Milbourne Christopher, however, in ESP, Seers & Psychics devotes an entire chapter to Home, exposing some of Home's tricks and speculating about others. Despite his reputation as the medium who never got caught, Home was caught cheating several times. Many of Home's marvels have been duplicated by Houdini and Christopher himself (Christopher 1970: pp. 174-187).

the Edgar Mitchell ESP fiasco

Another example of Radin's distorted history of psi research is his claim that astronaut and psi enthusiast Edgar Mitchell conducted a "successful ESP card experiment from the Apollo 14 space capsule" (p. 76). Mitchell is a founder of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, where Radin is employed as a senior scientist. The experiment was unauthorized, so NASA did not set aside a nice block of time for Mitchell to conduct his experiment. News reports based on interviews with Mitchell indicate that he went through a hand-made Zener ESP deck several times while four friends on Earth tried to get psychic messages (either from Mitchell's mind [telepathy] or from the cards [clairvoyance]. Mitchell didn't use a Zener deck, however. He said:

The well-known experiment in the laboratory was to use cards with the five Zener symbols, but the actual cards aren't important. It was easier for me to use random number tables than carry the physical cards. Instead, all I did was to generate four tables of 25 random numbers just using the numbers 1 to 5. Then I randomly assigned a Zener symbol to each number. For each transmission, I would then check the particular table of random numbers and think about the corresponding symbol for 15 seconds. Each transmission took about 6 minutes.*

We know that there was a prearranged time when Mitchell and his friends would do their trials, but that problems prevented things from going as planned. As a result, the recorded guesses on Earth were made before Mitchell went through the trials. No problem. In his published paper on the experiment, Mitchell just changed the goal to a study of precognition! (Mitchell's paper, "An ESP Test from Apollo 14," was published in the Journal of Parapsychology in 1971.) He also stated in an interview that the fact that the timing was off didn't matter:

That didn't seem to make any difference. We took off forty minutes late but I didn't try for an exact time anyway, just in the evening. We now understand why that should work, because the sequence is important but having the precise time is not.*

This is fantastic news for psichologists. It means that in an ESP study one can use data collected anywhere and any time to use as proof of psi. How could you not like such a cooperative thing to study?

Original news reports made it sound like there were 200 trials, leaving one to conclude that Mitchell went through his tables eight times (there are 25 cards in a standard Zener deck). Since there are five symbols (or numbers) in each table, chance guessing would be one of five, or 20%. Mitchell reported that two subjects performed better than chance and two performed worse than chance. What a shock! This is what you'd expect from chance. News reports indicated that the group got 51 correct, which would be a hit rate of 25.5%, not bad for an individual guessing 200 times, but not statistically significant for a group of four. No problem. Mitchell provided the New York Times with the number 3,000 to 1 as being the odds against getting the results he got. Maybe this is where Radin learned to use statistical odds as a substitute for evidence.

A closer look reveals this story is typical of the history of psi: much ado about nothing except manipulation and deception by the defenders of psi. Here is an abstract of Mitchell's experiment (S=receivers or subjects, E=the experimenter and sender):

Preflight arrangements were made with 4 Ss noted for ESP ability for a short "unofficial" experiment, to be carried out while the author, who served as the E, was on the Apollo 14 mission. On 6 different days the Ss were to guess the symbol order in 1 target run of 25 symbols being concentrated on by the E. Actually, E was able to carry out only 4 target runs, and the timing arrangements could not be met under flight conditions. The Ss, a, b, c, and d, made 6, 6, 1, and 2 runs of guesses, respectively, (a total of 15) to be checked against the 4 target runs brought back by E. The major problem was to determine, before checking, how the Ss probably oriented their efforts to guess the series of 4 target columns. Three independent analyses were conducted. In the 1st, the view was that as in a precognition test the sequence of 4 target runs on the record sheet would be the natural aim of the S. There were 8 runs (4 each by a and b) that could be checked by this plan; they gave a deviation of +11. The odds are 20:1 against chance. The 2nd analysis, initiated by E, aimed at determining the relationship between the guesses and the time proximity of the targets. There were 12 runs in this group (2 runs that overlapped were omitted) and these gave a very negative deviation having odds of 3,000:1. A 3rd analysis, also with below-chance results having odds of 25:1, followed an independent plan that cut across the other 2 analyses. The 1st 2 analyses, committed in advance, are independent of each other. The deviation in the 1st was positive, that in the 2nd, negative, indicating a psi-differential response by the Ss. This effect is further revealed in the reversed direction of distribution curves of hits within the runs for the 2 analyses.*

Cutting through the gobbledygook, we find that the 3000 to 1 odds was derived by an afterthought analysis of the data that found the subjects did not guess correctly. Parapsychologists call this psi-missing. If you guess better than chance, that supports the psi hypothesis. If you don't guess better than chance, that also supports the psi hypothesis. Psi works both way, positive and negative. Rather than canceling each other out, they reinforce each other in what is called "a psi-differential response." What other scientific field would tolerate such nonsense?

Why do I spend so much time chewing on this old rag? To emphasize to the reader that the claim by Radin that an experiment was "successful" or has been "replicated" in several labs should be taken with a quantum of entangled sodium chloride. (I know; there is no such animal. Allow me some slack.) This tactic of proclaiming success and replication, even though the claim never withstands scrutiny, works. Mitchell used the same tactic in an interview where he claimed that his experiment "did show that what had worked in the laboratory also worked in space with the same very positive results."* I've had several people e-mail me about Radin's claim regarding presentiment experiments, which he claims have been replicated in several labs, a sentiment apparently parroted by Alex Tsakiris on his podcast, Skeptiko.

Radin's case for presentiment

Chapter ten of EM is called Presentiment, which Radin describes as "an intuitive hunch that something not quite right is about to unfold" (p. 101). I guess we could say that presentiment is precognition with a sense of foreboding. He repeats what he had to say in chapter eight of CU, which I've already reviewed. To his credit, in EM Radin mentions a couple of precognition experiments that failed to produce statistically significant results in favor of the hypothesis (by Jerry Levin and James Kennedy, and by John Hartwell, pp. 163-164). Then, he cites a skin-conductance telepathy test that produced results that seemed consistent with precognition. The needle jumps or blips on the screen seemed to occur before the signal was sent rather than after. Radin got inspired.

In 1993, Radin got the idea "to monitor a person's skin conductance before, during, and after viewing emotional and calm pictures, and then see if the autonomic nervous system responded appropriately before the picture appeared" (p. 184). He eventually did four tests with mixed results, but a meta-analysis saved the day. The first test was small (24 subjects) and he found that the subjects reacted 2 to 3 seconds after the presentation of the stimulus, as measured by a blip on a screen hooked up to a skin conductance measuring device. He also found blips occurring before the stimulus and he calculated their odds against chance at being 500 to 1, for what it's worth.

His second experiment had 50 subjects. All he says about it is that the "results were in the predicted direction, but weren't as strong as those observed in the first experiment." The third experiment had 47 subjects. He says it "resulted in a strong presentiment effect, with odds against chance of 2,500 to 1." The third experiment used different hardware, software, and pictures. The fourth study produced results that "weren't statistically significant."

Radin concludes:

These studies suggest that when the average person is about to see an emotional picture, he or she will respond before that picture appears (under double-blind conditions). (p. 188, emphasis in the original)

That's how Radin sees his work. I see a mixed bag of results that assumes blips on a screen are caused by psychic means. The studies may be double-blind, but they don't use meaningful controls. Radin's kicker, however, is his meta-analysis. He lumped together the data from the four studies and produced a paper published in The Journal of Scientific Exploration (2004) called "Electrodermal Presentiments of Future Emotions." Voila! The odds against chance of getting just the results he got? 125,000 to 1, he says (EM, p. 188).

He concludes his defense of the evidence for presentiment with mention of several "replications," one of which involved testing earthworms. In the earthworm experiment, Radin says that the "results were very nearly statistically significant" (p. 171). How comforting. Other "replications" involved using machines that measure heart rate and electrical activity in the brain, as well as skin conductance. All assumed that the various blips they produced were caused by paranormal phenomena.

Radin continues the practice in (EM) that he used in (CU): distorting data with misleading visual representations. In EM, the main trick is to deceive by scale. By using large measurement intervals on the axes of his graphs, Radin makes very small differences or changes appear to be large. The blips on electronic screens or devices that report changes in galvanic skin response, heart rate, or brain activity look impressive when visually displayed in graphs that distort the data, making small differences appear much larger. Radin really has no idea what is causing the blips. He assumes it is something paranormal, but he makes no effort to test alternative hypotheses. Not one experimenter tested the hypothesis that the blips occurring before being shown a stimulus were due to delayed responses to or memories of earlier experiences with the pictures. For all Radin knows, the blips represent noise, messages from aliens in other galaxies, telepathic messages from gorillas in zoos, or Zeus (Jim Alcock: 2003). Even more curious is that, as Radin admits, "the results in these studies are relatively small in magnitude" (p. 179). Yes, and as a result his work resembles pathological science.


In EM, Radin  takes meta-analysis to an even higher level of ludicrousness than he did in CU. He lumps together about 1,000 studies on dream psi, ganzfeld psi, staring, distant intention, dice PK, and RNG PK. He concludes that the odds against chance of getting these results are 10104 against 1 (p. 276). He says: "there can be little doubt that something interesting is going on" (p. 275).

The vast majority of scientists recognize what is probably going on: when it walks like a delusion and talks like a delusion, it probably is a delusion. Having a delusion does not mean you are mentally ill. Most normal people have delusions: beliefs that no amount of evidence against can shake, even though the evidence is, in fact, preponderantly against.

I have no idea why Radin does not see that he is begging the question with his method of assuming that if he gets a statistical anomaly or a blip on screen it is evidence of the paranormal. He assumes that all explanations of weird phenomena in terms of physics, psychology, fraud, hoax, coincidence, and the like are not as tenable as the psi explanation. Furthermore, I don't understand why Radin would think I or any other skeptic wouldn't like to see some good evidence for telepathy, precognition, or psychokinesis. I think it would be wonderful to find people with such abilities. If I thought there were good evidence for their reality, I'd try to develop them myself.

February 22, 2009

further reading

Why do people believe in the palpably untrue?

What if Dean Radin is Right?

A Short History of Psi Research

my review of The Conscious Universe

Quantum Physics Revealed As Non-Mysterious by Eliezer Yudkowsky


more book reviews by R. T. Carroll

* AmeriCares *

Pseudoscience and the Paranormal
Why psychics don't win the lottery.

The Conscious Universe Exposed
What does the science really show?

The Skeptic's Shop
No shirts, no mugs, no tinfoil hats.

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