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

From Abracadabra to Zombies

Book Review


The Conscious Universe: The Scientific Truth of Psychic Phenomena

by Dean Radin
(HarperOne 1997)




part eleven

Chapter 10 is Radin’s presentation of the evidence for “field consciousness,” the notion that when groups of people focus their minds on the same thing, they may influence “the world at large.” According to Radin, there may be something like a “global mind” that is spawned by the interconnections of many individual minds. What evidence is there for such a claim? As in all other cases involving the science of the paranormal as seen by Radin, the evidence is statistical, and involves comparing chance expectation with actual measurements.

Roger Nelson, a colleague of Robert Jahn in the PEAR experiments, introduced the notion of “field consciousness.” According to Radin: “In the basic field-consciousness experiment, we measure fluctuations in a group’s attention while simultaneously measuring fluctuations in the behavior of one or more physical systems” (p. 161). For example, data from random event generators (REGs) are collected for the time just before, during, and after a “global event”like watching the televised funeral of Princess Diana. The researchers then look for fluctuations in the order of the REG outputs. Chance fluctuations of order are then measured against any fluctuations in order during these and other events where large numbers of people might be focusing on the same thing. Then, cumulative odds against chance for the random data collected before, during, and right after the global events are calculated. According to Nelson, for Princess Diana’s televised funeral:

....results compounded across twelve independent recordings at various locations in Europe and the United States showed an anomalous effect that would occur by chance only about once in 100 repetitions of this experiment (p = 0.013), as displayed in a graph of the deviation accumulated across all the datasets.

But for Mother Teresa’s televised funeral:

Eleven datasets for Mother Teresa’s funeral show little indication of an anomalous effect, with a composite outcome indistinguishable from chance (p = 0.654), as displayed in a similar graph. We speculate that the difference derives from the nature of the global attention, which was very different in the two cases. The significant result for Diana's funeral confirmed our prediction based on the obvious potential of this tragic and unexpected occasion to produce emotional engagement and resonance. The outcome is consonant with results obtained in previous Field REG studies and supports tentative interpretations suggesting that groups of people, especially when they are attuned and engaged by a common theme, may produce something like a "consciousness field" that can induce a small but statistically identifiable bias in a nominally random sequence.

Nelson's explanation of the difference in machine outputs for the two funerals is just this side of moronic, but it is consistent with his hypothesis:

The shock and dismay over Diana's death galvanized an overwhelming reaction that was the preeminent media topic for several days. The funeral ceremonies occupied virtually all the major television channels and hence the attentions of an unprecedented number of people. This focus, and the entrainment of ideas and emotions it entailed, might be expected to produce a widespread resonance of affect. In contrast, Mother Teresa's death was expected, and she had lived a full and exemplary life, allowing her memory to be honored without the profound grief and dismay that was engendered by Princess Diana's death. These important differences in the two situations may explain the significantly different experimental results, and also link them with findings in psychological and sociological studies of personal loss.

On the other hand, perhaps these difference in results indicate that the fluctuation in machine output has nothing to do with people watching television.

Several other experiments have been done that have resulted in similar data and graphs, according to Radin (pp. 161-162). He claims that finding such "anomalies" provides support for “ideas about deep interconnectedness espoused by physicists, theologians, and mystics” (p. 172). Does it? I have no idea. These researchers have found statistical differences, which they call anomalies. But do these "anomalies" support a belief in psi or global consciousness? To assume they do is to assume that information is being transferred from minds to machines, but that is the very issue that is being investigated by these researchers. It is true that they predicted certain outcomes would occur if their hypothesis were correct. It is true that the outcomes they predicted did occur. However, it is not clear that these successful experiments support their hypothesis because we have no way of knowing that their prediction must truly follow from their hypothesis. How can we be sure that if there is a field consciousness, the thoughts of many people will affect random event generators in some cases but not in others? If the thoughts of many people could have some sort of unified effect on REGs, how can we know a priori that the effect would be to cause more order? For all we know, if there is a causal relationship between thoughts and REGs, it could be to produce more disorder, or more order sometimes and less order at other times.

In short, all we know from these experiments is that the data are considered anomalous by people like Nelson and Radin. This may or may not prove to be of scientific interest. It is a leap of faith to assume that every seemingly strange statistic uncovered is proof of psi or some other mysterious entity like global consciousness. Weird statistics are seductive, but they prove nothing. Furthermore, nothing is gained by doing meta-studies, as Radin has done, to support the psi hypothesis. In the end, one is left with statistical "anomalies" that need explaining. Radin may think that these meta-studies, with their million or billion-to-one odds against chance, provide strong support for psi, but what they seem to demonstrate is that if there is a psi-effect, it is so negligible as to be of little interest. If the effect were strong, demonstrations of it would be easy and convincing. In the meantime, his approach has become the platinum standard in psi research. The goal of psi research is to produce an anomalous statistic using methods and controls that are unassailable by skeptical critics. This has been achieved, but at what cost?

I would say that since this approach makes you look like a babbling idiot, the cost is too high.

end of part eleven 

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