November 12th, 2010
|10:52 pm - Explorations in Precognition|
I ran into a reference to an interesting-looking study on precognition on the New Scientist website. So, I waited to see the actual article about these allegedly successful experiments in precognition from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Psi research is often very sloppily done, a physics professor at my undergrad University (Washington University in St. Louis) was rather infamous for this, but this sounds fairly solid.
These experiments were quite clever, effectively being standard psych experiments in perception run in reverse, with effect coming before cause, such as an experiment where subjects were ask to memorize a series of words, and then after their performance on this memorization was scored, they were given exercises to help them memorize some of those words. As is typical of many psych studies, the deviations from chance are relatively small (a bit more than 7% in one case, and more like 3% in most of the rest), but with sufficient numbers of tests, even those numbers are meaningful. It's impossible to know how carefully these experiments were performed, but if they were, then this could be interestingly significant. We'll now see if these experiments can be replicated.
In any case, experiments with precognition always makes me think of An Experiment with Time by John W. Dunne (not the poet), which is a fascinating philosophical work on time & precognition written in the 1920s. Amusingly, but unsurprisingly, I learned of this book (which I very much enjoyed reading) from reading by the 1952 SF novel Jack of Eagles written by James Blish.
It's also interesting for me to consider that this result fits in with Alan Moore's ideas of magic & the supernatural, if you assume that the "realm" of imagination does not function in lineal time.
Current Mood: thoughtful
With sufficient numbers of unpublished studies, even significant numbers can be in-. :p
I'd love to see this one replicated. I'm highly sceptical at the moment, but as always, willing to be persuaded.
I ran across an interesting reply (pdf)
to the Bem paper, which I think draws the most important conclusion:
Although the Bem experiments themselves do not provide evidence for precognition,
they do suggest that our academic standards of evidence may currently be set at a level
that is too low. It is easy to blame Bem for presenting results that were obtained in
part by exploration; it is also easy to blame Bem for possibly overestimating the evidence
in favor of H1 because he used p-values instead of a test that considers H0 vis-a-vis H1.
However, Bem played by the implicit rules that guide academic publishing—in fact, Bem
presented many more studies than would usually be required. It would therefore be mistaken
to interpret our assessment of the Bem experiments as an attack on research of unlikely
phenomena; instead, our assessment suggests that something is deeply wrong with the way
experimental psychologists design their studies and report their statistical results. It is a
disturbing thought that many experimental findings, proudly and confidently reported in
the literature as real, might in fact be based on statistical tests that are explorative and
biased. We hope the Bem article will become a signpost for change, a writing on the wall:
psychologists must change the way they analyze their data.