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

From Abracadabra to Zombies | View All


This entry is excerpted from the precognition entry.

One of the latest attempts at establishing the reality of precognition in a scientific experiment involves measuring galvanic skin response or brain activity (as measure by an fMRI) in presentiment experiments. Presentiment is a feeling that something strange or unusual is about to happen. If the feeling is especially foreboding, it is called a premonition. In presentiment experiments, however, what is measured is not the conscious feeling of anything, but the alleged unconscious effect on a machine of a physical response occurring before a stimulus is presented. Those doing this kind of research have no way of knowing that what they observe on their machines is in any way related to the stimuli they present. Assuming such a connection begs the question. The researchers might equally assume that the electrical resistance of skin in a subject or the blip of color on an fMRI caused the researcher to select the stimulus presented.

In 1993, Dean 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" (2006, 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). (2006, 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 (2006, 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" (2006, 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.

"Based on the experimental evidence, it is by no means clear that pure telepathy exists per se, nor is it certain that real-time clairvoyance exists," says Radin. The evidence, he says, "can all be accommodated by various forms of precognition."

Last updated 11/21/10

This page was designed by Cristian Popa.