Respectful Insolence

The Trouble with Deepak Chopra, Part 2

Alright, I’ll come right out and admit it up front. There was no part one to this piece. Well, there was, but it wasn’t on this blog, and I didn’t write it. PZ did in response to some really idiotic arguments from ignorance that Deepak Chopra (or, less pleasing to Dr. C, here) displayed as part of an “argument” (and I use the term loosely) that there is some mystical other quality that explains life other than genes. He paraded a litany of arguments that so conclusively demonstrated that he had no clue about even the basics of molecular biology that I as a physician cringed and hid my head in shame when I read it, given that Dr. Chopra is, at least nominally, a medical doctor. PZ did a fine job of fisking Chopra’s nonsense (with one minor quibble that I mentioned in the comments). Even the people leaving comments on Chopra’s article were in general pretty hostile to his drivel and pointed out the large number of misstatements of our understanding of genetics, logical fallacies, and credulous arguments from ignorance that flew hither and yon from Chopra’s keyboard. I thought that, having thoroughly embarrassed himself once, Chopra would slink away for a while before dropping another woo-bomb onto an unsuspecting blogosphere. I even thought that Chopra had a shred of self-respect that would prevent him from embarrassing himself again that soon.

I was mistaken.

He’s back, with The Trouble With Genes, Part II (also found here).

You know you’re in for some first class Chopra woo (or, as I think I’ll call it from now on, Choprawoo, given that Dr. Chopra has “distinguished” himself with a certain kind of credulous woo that has become his trademark and therefore deserves a word of its own to describe it) from the very beginning:

The mystery of life cannot be solved without answering one essential question. Why are human beings intelligent? In common understanding, we are intelligent because of our brains, our brains are intelligent because of the operation of brain cells, and brain cells operate because of genes. By this reasoning, either genes must be intelligent in their own right, or by some magic of chemistry, molecules that lack intelligence produce it when combined in various ways.

So, is this whole line of thinking false? To a materialist it must be true without question, and any attempt to find intelligence outside the brain–meaning outside DNA–is preposterous. Except that it isn’t.

Straw man argument. Scientists do not consider any attempt to find intelligence outside of DNA “preposterous.” It is not a reasonable inference to conclude that because our brains are “intelligent” must imply that our genes are also “intelligent,” nor do scientists make that argument. This is one big straw man combined with an argument from ignorance. It’s an astounding simplification of how organs function. Yes, at the simplest level, our brain, like our other organs, “functions because of our genes.” But the combinations of gene products and activities are staggeringly complex, even though many gene products may actually perform relatively simple functions. If we analogize to a simpler “intelligent machine,” namely a computer, it’s very clear that a set of very simple binary switches can be made to produce quite complex “behavior.” True, it is arguable whether anything that can truly be considered akin to human intelligence has been produced–yet. However, modern artificial intelligence networks and neural networks are becoming increasingly complex, and they are all built on the basis of very simple binary switches. In the mind, neurons function similarly, in that they conduct action potentials (small chemical charges) that provoke the release of neurotransmitters at the synapse (where a nerve ending connects with another nerve), thus communicating a message to another neuron (or multiple neurons) to fire an action potential of its own. Neurons network with multiple other neurons and integrate all the incoming signals, both inhibitory and excitatory, in complex ways, but it all boils down to one mechanism of action that is not that unlike that of a computer: Either the incoming stimuli are of sufficient strength to result in the neuron firing an action potential or they are not–in essence a binary system.

So, yes, Dr. Chopra, units which, individually, perform a fairly simple function, can indeed when integrated into networks result in highly complex behavior and even–dare I say it?–intelligence. Just because you cannot fathom how this might be so is not a valid justification to invoke the mystical.

The Choprawoo gets worse, though:

Consider the now-famous and much replicated studies at Princeton in which ordinary people were asked to sit in a room with a computer that generated a random string of zeros and ones.

They were asked to try and will the machine to produce more ones than zeros or vice versa. In trial after trial the subjects succeeded in this challenge (on average, the machine produced extra ones or zeros about 2% more often than random), and there was no need for the subjects to have ESP or any paranormal abilities. This is a primary example of mind operating outside the brain.

I can’t believe that Chopra’s citing that particular study. First off, when he says “2%” more often, what he really means is that the researchers claim to have detected more 1’s or 0’s by a 51% to 49% ratio, rather than the 50%-50% ratio predicted by chance alone. That’s hardly impressive and, unless the experiments were done with exceeding care and careful statistics, unlikely to be outside the margin of error. In any case, Chopra is again falling for dubious claims. Let Robert Carroll explain why (this is a long excerpt but well worth reading):

In 1986, Jahn, Brenda Dunne, and Roger Nelson reported on millions of trials with 33 subjects over seven years trying to use their minds to override random number generators (RNG)… In 1987, Dean Radin and Nelson did a meta-analysis of all RNG experiments done between 1959 and 1987 and found that they produced odds against chance beyond a trillion to one (Radin 1997: 140). This sounds impressive, but as Radin says “in terms of a 50% hit rate, the overall experimental effect, calculated per study, was about 51 percent, where 50 percent would be expected by chance” [emphasis added] (141). A couple of sentences later, Radin gives a more precise rendering of “about 51 percent” by noting that the overall effect was “just under 51 percent.” Similar results were found with experiments where people tried to use their minds to affect the outcome of rolls of the dice, according to Radin. And, when Nelson did his own analysis of all the PEAR data (1,262 experiments involving 108 people), he found similar results to the earlier RNG studies but “with odds against chance of four thousand to one” (Radin 1997: 143). Nelson also claimed that there were no “star” performers.

However, according to Ray Hyman, “the percentage of hits in the intended direction was only 50.02%” in the PEAR studies (Hyman 1989: 152). And one ‘operator’ (the term used to describe the subjects in these studies) was responsible for 23% of the total data base. His hit rate was 50.05%. Take out this operator and the hit rate becomes 50.01%. According to John McCrone, “Operator 10,” believed to be a PEAR staff member, “has been involved in 15% of the 14 million trials, yet contributed to a full half of the total excess hits” (McCrone 1994). According to Dean Radin, the criticism that there “was any one person responsible for the overall results of the experiment…was tested and found to be groundless” (Radin 1997: 221). His source for this claim is a 1991 article by Jahn et al. in the Journal of Scientific Exploration, “Count population profiles in engineering anomalies experiments” (5:205-32). However, Jahn gives the data for his experiments in Margins of Reality: The Role of Consciousness in the Physical World (Harcourt Brace, 1988, p. 352-353). McCrone has done the calculations and found that ‘If [operator 10’s] figures are taken out of the data pool, scoring in the “low intention” condition falls to chance while “high intention” scoring drops close to the .05 boundary considered weakly significant in scientific results.” According to McCrone, the “size of the effect is about .1 percent, meaning that for every thousand electronic tosses, the random event generator is producing about one more head or tail than it should by chance alone” (McCrone 1994).

These data should remind us that statistical significance does not imply importance.

Furthermore, Stanley Jeffers, a physicist at York University, Ontario, has repeated the Jahn experiments but with chance results (Alcock 2003: 135-152). (See “Physics and Claims for Anomalous Effects Related to Consciousness” in Alcock et al. 2003. Abstract.) And Jahn et al. failed to replicate the PEAR results in experiments done in Germany (See “Mind/Machine Interaction Consortium: PortREG Replication Experiments,” Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol. 14, No. 4, pp. 499-555, 2000).

So, basically, Chopra is taking dubious experiments that might be marginally statistically significant to the tune of a 1/1000 increase in non-random events and presenting this as evidence for psychic powers or some mystical “intelligence” that doesn’t depend upon the brain itself. Even if the effect were real, which is highly doubtful, given its small magnitude and the failure of other researchers to replicate it, it would be incredibly weak and not evidence for a nonmaterialistic cause for this phenomenon or against the hypothesis that brain activity itself somehow caused it due to very weak electromagnetic activity (which is, by the way, the basis for “thought-activated” devices being developed to help paralyzed individuals). For all we know, electrical activity of the brain could very weakly influence computer electronics in a manner related to the sheer activity of concentrating. If so, it would be worth studying, but it’s hardly evidence of some mystical “consciousness.”

Chopra then delivers another heaping serving of Choprawoo:

We also have numerous examples of patients who died after cardiac arrest–to the point of exhibiting no brain function–only to be resuscitated and tell vivid accounts of the afterlife. They had mental experiences–seeing light, hearing voices, feeling emotions– without brain activity. Are these cases to be denied wholesale?

Then there are the 2,500 children documented by researchers at the Univ. of Virginia who recall past lives in vivid detail that can often be independently verified. Or consider the entire scientific field of sociobiology founded by Edward O. Wilson of Harvard that is based on DNA’s ability to respond to the outside environment. How does a fixed, static chemical ‘know’ how to develop such complex behaviors as altruism and self-sacrifice? In short, even in the ranks of materialism there is intriguing speculation–and hard evidence–that DNA’s role in human intelligence is far more mysterious than often supposed.

Now I can’t believe that he’s quoting the University of Virginia parapsychology researcher Ian Stevenson, whose work only appears mainly in books, rather than peer-reviewed journals. One commenter points out that it’s nowhere near 2,500 cases that are the least bit convincing, but rather somewhere around 30 out of the billions of people who have ever lived and that many of these children came from India, where belief in reincarnation is widespread. Richard Rockley in his review of Stevenson’s book critically examined 14 of Stevenson’s cases of alleged reincarnation and found that in the vast majority of them the persons involved strongly believed in reincarnation. Moreover, in many of these cases, the parents believed that a specific deceased person would be reincarnated as the child who ultimately reported past life experiences. It makes one wonder whether these parents had spoken of their beliefs in front of their children, perhaps even without realizing it, and thus influenced the children to believe that they had lived a past life, doesn’t it? More interestingly, Stevenson’s own observations suggest cultural influences. For example:

Other trends are noted. For example, in cultures where:

They believe that you cannot change sex in a reincarnation, they report no cases of changed sex reincarnation. Where they do believe reincarnates can change sex, this is sometimes reported.

They believe that there is no gap between death and rebirth, they always report no gap, usually with the device of a poorly remembered “intermediate life” (see Suleyman Andary in the book review).

They believe that there is no gap between death and rebirth there are no “announcing dreams”, because rebirth is instantaneous. These dreams occur regularly where they believe there can be a gap.

They have a matriarchal society, the prior lives are more likely to be linked through the mother�s side of the family. The converse is true in patriarchal societies.

They believe the spirits reside in a “discarnate realm” between lives, the children more frequently remember these “discarnate realms”.

There’s also considerable circular logic in Stevenson’s own reasoning:

Stevenson has another view. He believes that the cultural beliefs of a person (e.g., you cannot change sex in a reincarnation), are carried over when the person is reincarnated, and this prevents the person being reincarnated in a form that conflicts with their cultural beliefs:

“If a person dies believing that he cannot in another incarnation become a person of the opposite sex, perhaps he cannot, even if he can reincarnate.”

How’s that for a nonfalsifiable hypothesis?

But perhaps the worst offense Chopra commits against science and logic is in his abuse of twin studies as he puts them in the service of his woo:

Possibly the single most intriguing research concerns identical twins. To fully understand the role of genes, one must account for certain well-documented phenomena:

–Twins who are separated at birth but later discover that they had the same life experiences, including marrying women with the same name in the same year, holding the same jobs, having extremely similar families, giving their offspring the same names, etc.

–Twins who know what the other is thinking, who feel physical pain when the other is injured (at a distance, out of sight), or who sense the moment the other is killed.

–Twins who develop different diseases from the same genetic basis.

–Twins who develop one half who is heterosexual while the other is homosexual.

–Twins who develop schizophrenia in one person but not the other (or obesity or any number of psychological behaviors that are currently theorized to be genetic in origin).

Genes cannot ‘explain’ these anomalies, and trying to backfill the argument to say that genes make us ‘susceptible’ seems only partially convincing. To be susceptible to homosexuality, obesity, cancer, and so forth begs the question of what causes these things. The common answer, as regards homosexuality, is that experience also plays a part. Does this mean that one twin’s DNA can be seduced, abused, tempted, turned on, or coaxed into deviating from the result achieved by the other twin’s DNA?

Again, one is not trying to undermine genetics, only observing that ’cause’ is a tricky business. The truth is that if experience does cause behavior A in one twin and its exact opposite, behavior B, in the other, that’s the same as doing without genes altogether. I can be susceptible to overeating, for example, without needing a gene for it.

This is no different from the same old Choprawoo from part 1 (also here) of this unfortunate series of articles. Genes are not completely deterministic. There are genetics, and there are epigenetics. Few human characteristics are completely specified by their genes, particularly when it comes to complex behaviors like homosexuality or complex diseases like cancer, there is an interaction between genes and environment. The activity of genes in these situations can be stochastic as well. For example, mutations in BRCA1 may result in up to an 50-80% lifetime risk of developing breast cancer; however, a significant minority of women with a mutation in this gene do not get breast cancer, even though they have the gene. Moreover, we can and should flip Chopra’s “logic” around on him and point out that most twin studies show a very high contribution of genetics to certain behavioral characteristics (homosexuality, for example). Indeed, whatever role upbringing and environment have in homosexuality does not imply that environment somehow “seduced” genes into behaving differently. As for the other examples (separated twins meeting and finding out that they had similar life experiences, twins recalling feeling the other’s pain) are almost certainly nothing more mysterious than confirmation bias; i.e., the remembering of events, however rare, that fit with one’s preconceived notions and the forgetting of all the other times events didn’t correspond to those notions.

Naturally, Chopra can’t resist a grand finale of woo:

In earlier posts the non-materialistic view has been stated often: intelligence is innate in nature. It gives rise to consciousness in myriad forms. The brain–and DNA–are agents of this underlying intelligence. They embody it, give it flesh and physical experience, carry out its activity mechanically, and so forth. The materialistic worldview rejects such assumptions categorically, but in doing so, it turns life into a random chemical reaction, which will never suffice. When there is a credible answer to why human beings are intelligent, we may discover that we are the means whereby DNA has learned to discover who it really is. And how did DNA come about in the first place? It came about when the universe wanted to watch itself at play. DNA has served that function for around 2 billion years and shows no sign of stopping.

No, the “materialism” of science does not change life into a “random chemical reaction.” The chemical reactions that form life are most definitely not random; if they were, life couldn’t exist. Indeed, this sort of view is the same as the frequent misrepresentation of evolution as being a “completely random” process. It is anything but. Randomness is the raw material of evolution, but natural selection is the force that harnesses that randomness in a nonrandom manner, as Richard Dawkins is so fond of pointing out. Similarly, the chemical reactions responsible for life are stochastic in nature, as is all chemistry, but few of these reactions would occur with sufficient efficiency or direction to support life without the help of enzymes, which are made by living organisms to catalyze and direct the necessary chemical reactions. And what is responsible for encoding these enzymes? Genes. Of course.

Deepak Chopra is mystified by things that can’t strictly be explained by genetics alone, such as the personality traits and diseases that affect twins with less than 100% concordance. Scientists, when faced with such questions and gaps in our understanding, look for the factors other than genes that affect whether these traits or diseases will manifest themselves using the scientific method–and usually ultimately find them. Chopra, on the other hand, behaves like just like a fellow of the Discovery Institute, except that, rather than appealing to God or some unnamed “designer” (whom, the DI and Michael Behe insist, does not necessarily have to be God), he appeals to some nonsensical and vague mysticism to explain it.

ADDENDUM: Oops, I did it again (fisking Chopra, that is).

Comments

  1. #1 J-Dog
    October 16, 2006

    Dr. Peter Venkman had a much better study, while at Columbia, with very positive results vis a vis co-ed response.

    Dr. Chopra is on the same path, and his studies appear to have the same rigor as Dr. Venkman’s. We can only hope that his unversity administration pulls the plug on Chopra’s funding and nonsense just like they did for Venkman.

    I am sure Chopra has the same carreer path in mind as Venkman, as a future “parapsychology / paranormal exterminator. All he has to do is get that Photon Pak working. Maybe Dr. Dembski can help him with it.

  2. #2 Blake Stacey
    October 16, 2006

    Ick. Ick, ick, ick. One could fill a book with all the ways Chopra has abused scientific knowledge to justify his fuzzy mysticism.

    It is probably worth pointing out that Mark Chu-Carroll of Good Math, Bad Math did a pretty thorough fisking of PEAR back when his site was on Blogspot.

  3. #3 Stuball
    October 16, 2006

    My computer programming skills and knowledge are pretty limited, so I may not know what I’m talking about, but: Isn’t it difficult (impossible?) to program a truly random number generator? And with only two possible outcomes (0 or 1), then you would pick the biased number approximately %50 percent of the time. This could be offset by randomizing the “targeted” integer, but it still seems that %51-%49 isn’t outside the area of “drift.” But I’m just an aspiring biologist, a profession not even rooted in science as claimed by some. If only Ann were here to set the record straight.

  4. #4 Skeptico
    October 16, 2006

    The mystery of articles like this cannot be solved without answering one essential question. Why is Deepak Chopra so stupid?

    btw, “Chopra woo” is redundant.

  5. #5 Joshua
    October 16, 2006

    So intelligence exists independent of biological organisms? My god, the chiropractors have been right all along!

  6. #6 ebohlman
    October 16, 2006

    Chopra’s major logical fallacy is the category mistake known as the fallacy of division, which is the erroneous assumption that the parts that comprise a complex entity must individually have the same characteristics as the whole entity. The usual reductio ad absurdum illustration of the fallacy of division is to point out that while all cars have wheels, none of the individual parts that make up a car do.

    He’s also committing the fallacy of reification, i.e. treating abstractions as if they were concrete. He can’t properly understand “intelligence” because he insists on treating it as an object rather than an extremely complicated set of relationships between objects.

  7. #7 Ahcuah
    October 16, 2006

    I burst out laughing at the very first Choprawoo line:

    The mystery of life cannot be solved without answering one essential question. Why are human beings intelligent?

    So, 1 millions years ago (before any intelligent human beings), there was no mystery to life? It was all perfectly understandable until that dad-burned intelligence appeared?

    Yeah. Right.

  8. #8 Steve Watson
    October 16, 2006

    Isn’t it difficult (impossible?) to program a truly random number generator?
    I was wondering about that myself.

    Yes, strictly computational methods only give you pseudo-random numbers — a deterministic sequence which conforms to a chosen probability distribution, and whose next emission cannot be predicted (other than by running the same algorithm with the same seed). Obviously, the output of such an algorithm is not subject to influence by alleged psychic powers (that would be quite remarkable!)

    However, I think one could get as random a bit string as you could ask for by quantizing thermal noise (though you’d have to be sure that the source was well-shielded from external RFI, or you might get some sort of systematic pattern created by, eg. the carrier wave of the nearest radio station, 60Hz electrical hum, etc.) Does Chopra say how they generated the sequence?

  9. #9 KeithB
    October 16, 2006

    While you can only get pseudo random numbers in software, you can get them in hardware:

    http://www.lavarnd.org/

    Also there are units that use radioactive decay. I imagine you could build one yourself with an old smoke detector.

    In this case though, I imagine pseudo-random numbers are fine since it is a pseudo-theory.

  10. #10 gravitybear
    October 16, 2006

    One could fill a book with all the ways Chopra has abused scientific knowledge to justify his fuzzy mysticism.

    I think Chopra has done just that. Many times.

  11. #11 Ahistoricality
    October 16, 2006

    Woopra….

  12. #12 Lynn Fancher
    October 16, 2006

    Ahcuah beat me to it. I was utterly put off by the first two sentences of Chopra’s nonsense–“The mystery of life cannot be solved without answering one essential question. Why are human beings intelligent?”

    This is a classic case of letting the bozos set the boundaries of the debate. This claim is ridiculous–as if life itself doesn’t exist outside the bounds of human intelligence.

    Lynn

  13. #13 boojieboy
    October 16, 2006

    You know, some guys attempted to make some money off the PEAR project “results.” They founded a company called MINDSONG, and even obtained a patent for their device

    Here’s the patent link

    Here’s another link describing the device, its origins and “operation”

    Mindsong, so far as I know, never got their product to market. Just goes to show how poor the fact checking of the patent office is.

    I keep telling my students: I someone could figure out how to control machines with your thoughts (and no fancy interfaces like scalp electrodes or what have you), they’d make a billion dollars.

  14. #14 J Daley
    October 16, 2006

    One of my favorite MF Doom lyrics has always been:

    “V, rather the old stuff
    preferably the Cold Crush
    it gets deeper than Deepak Chopra
    except he keep a stack and some cheap ass vodka”

    Now I always think of Deepak Chopra as Cheapass Vodka. He serves more or less the same purpose for a lot of people – alternately blinding them with incoherence or giving them splitting headaches. :)

  15. #15 Alexey Merz
    October 16, 2006

    “Possibly the single most intriguing research concerns identical twins.” He then goes on to cite several purported instances. Doesn’t even know what the word “single” means. What an ass.

  16. #16 Todd
    October 16, 2006

    He’s posted Part III and just keeps getting worse. He even dragged Information Theory into his ramblings. Somebody go tell Mark CC he’s up next.

  17. #17 Aaron M
    October 17, 2006

    With a sufficiently decent RNG, you should actually expect to get more of either one or zero. A 50% chance of generating one or the other means that for the most part, they will be even. However, one cannot expect a ‘run’ of one outcome (which is still perfectly random) to be evenly balanced by a similar run of the other. Over a large sample, it will most likely stay close to 50-50, but not exactly. It will very likely drift to one side.

  18. #18 Aaron M
    October 17, 2006

    Oh, and these wikipedia entries on the gambler’s fallacy and the law of averages should help make sense of this effect. There’s also a bit in John Allen Paulos’s book Innumeracy which explains this far clearly than I ever could.

  19. #19 James
    October 17, 2006

    When I was studying finance at university I was shown a chart that showed the cumulative result of about 10,000 coin tosses. It had a trend and apparent cycles. If you didn’t know what it was you would hardly gess it was just the outcome of a fair coin.

    The human brain is not designed to cope with randomness, this may be why so few people seem to understand statistics.

  20. #20 Emily
    October 17, 2006

    I watched this guy on TV this morning, staring in horror at my grandparents who sat enraptured at his every word. I’m a freshman undergraduate bio major and it was apparent to me immediately that he was full of it. The first words out of his mouth postulated that imagination, inspiration, intuition, etc cannot be account for in the brain. Aside from the fact that he’s not a neuroscientist, this is a ridiculous assertion. Clearly, he’s not kept up with modern science and is still a victim to the “god of the gap” theory.

  21. #21 beajerry
    October 18, 2006

    Oh, Deepak! Why can’t you just stay in hotel ballrooms fleecing new-ager’s and stay out of sight?

  22. #22 Rienk
    October 18, 2006

    How can you all be so narrowminded! Chopra is spot on! Everyone knows that, since a car is able to use fuel and transfer it into motion, the carburator can do exactly the same!

    But seriously, the logic some people display makes me lose all hope in human progress.

  23. #23 Jeff
    October 18, 2006

    Wow – so much wrong. The one that stood out to me was in the discussion of twins’ behavior, saying that genes caused “opposite” behaviors in twin A vs. twin B. I got the feeling he was referring to homosexuality vs. heterosexuality, since that was the topic of the previous paragraph. How are those opposites? I always thought that they were the same general set of behaviors/impulses, just directed at a slightly different target.

  24. #25 theBhc
    October 19, 2006

    By this reasoning, either genes must be intelligent in their own right, or by some magic of chemistry, molecules that lack intelligence produce it

    In response to this, Orac, you said, “It’s an astounding simplification of how organs function.”

    Indeed, it is far worse than that. As one commenter point out, the fallacy is here is fallacy by division. It is also reductio ad absurdum. But it is not just an abstract logical fallacy. There are real world counterexamples to Chopra’s nonsense “reasoning.”

    Not only does Chopra display a profound ignorance of biology, which Orac and PZ Meyers have more than adequately demonstrated, this statement that genes must be intelligent in order for intelligence to exists indicates that Chopra doesn’t have even a slight grasp or recognition of the simple physical properties of materials, let alone what can possibly arise in complex biological systems.

    While superconductivity and superpfuidity are rather esoteric emergent properties, most materials display physical properties which cannot be derived from the properties of the molecules or atoms themselves. Properties such as freezing and boiling temperatures and pressures of elements and compounds cannot be discovered by the properties of component particles or molecules. These are emergent properties that arise from collections of these componenets, under various conditions, just as do the above mentioned “super” properties.

    The properties of superconductivity/fluidity, however, demonstrate more dramatically than other emergent properties one obvious thing: properties can arise that are a complete surprise and completely unpredictable from a reductionist perspective. That Chopra doesn’t seem to recognise that complex emergent properties occur even from “simple” physical systems (helium), ought to get him expelled from discussions about science forever.

    Shame on Huff Post for publishing his drivel.

  25. #26 Terrence
    October 20, 2006

    In reply to Stuball: “Isn’t it difficult (impossible?) to program a truly random number generator?”

    Yes. Here is an interesting read on the subject by Pierre L’Ecuyer that should be required reading for anyone who uses computer simulation to help with their research. http://www.iro.umontreal.ca/~lecuyer/myftp/papers/handsim.ps

    The reason (in short) is that a pseudo-random number generator is defined by a fixed size state and an algorithm. Thus, there are a fixed number of fixed progressions of numbers that a random number generator can exhibit.

    For most random number generators, the set of initial states that have a large subset of outputs that contain a 1/1000 difference can be quite large (particularly for human-parsable-sized subsets). For certain older-but-still-in-widespread-usage pseudo-random number generator algorithms, an exceedingly large percentage of initial states leads to these sorts of statistical anomalies. Some of these also have ludicrously short periods, even on human scales.

  26. #27 RBH
    October 22, 2006

    In 1987, Dean Radin and Nelson did a meta-analysis of all RNG experiments done between 1959 and 1987 and found that they produced odds against chance beyond a trillion to one (Radin 1997: 140).

    Around that time — late 1980s — I had occasion to carefully read one of Radin’s “experimental” papers on the ability to influence RNGs. A student brought me Radin’s paper — from the Journal of the American Psychical Society — saying “Lookit, Dr. H! People can read a computer’s mind!” However, a close reading of the paper showed that Radin gave hit/miss feedback to subjects and used an optional stopping rule — subjects could stop a given trial whenever they felt like it. In addition, there was some post hoc data selection that wasn’t mentioned in the paper but which could be detected by comparing appropriate numbers across several tables. So all the paper showed is that given performance feedback, people can tell when they’re ahead of the game and quit.

    I have no doubt that most, if not all of the papers in the so-called meta-analysis had similar flaws. My lack of doubt is reinforced by a year spent as a paper referee for that psychical journal, the editor of which challenged me to do so after she published my critique of Radin. Every manuscript I saw had serious problems of procedure and analysis. I finally quit in disgust.

    A little later, responding to Martin Gardner’s critique of the Jahn, Dunne and Nelson paper, Dunne claimed in a letter to SciAm that the tiny p-value showed that there was a “substantial psi effect”. Based on a note I wrote to him, Gardner subsequently pointed out that the alpha level calculated for an experiment says nothing about effect size. All it measures in psi experiments is the subjects’ and experimenters’ ability to fiddle the data. Given tens of thousands of trial (not atypical for psi stuff) the smallest biasing effect will result in statistically significant differences, regardless of whether there’s a “real” effect.

    What the psi meta-analyses show is that poor experimental procedures, post hoc data selection, and marginal statistical competence can yield a body of data that demonstrate that garbage can be produced at will.

  27. #28 Michael Suttkus, II
    October 23, 2006

    Actually, it’s not the patent office’s business whether a product being patented actually works, just that it’s unique from other patents. They regularly patent incredibly stupid things that just happen to be different from other incredibly stupid things.

    Think about how much money they’d have to waste if they actually had to test everything they gave a patent number to!

  28. #29 DNA Activation - Special this month
    October 23, 2006

    Oh, pish posh. You science types. Why spend so much time *studying* DNA, when you could just activate your own?

    Only costs US$400 – http://www.dnaperfection.com/index.html

  29. #30 Coin
    October 23, 2006

    Around that time — late 1980s — I had occasion to carefully read one of Radin’s “experimental” papers on the ability to influence RNGs. A student brought me Radin’s paper — from the Journal of the American Psychical Society — saying “Lookit, Dr. H! People can read a computer’s mind!”

    See, now here’s what I don’t get. If these people could actually pull off such a trick, then why on earth were they doing so in Dean Radin’s office getting paid $15 to participate in a study, instead of going to Vegas and hitting every video poker machine they could find?

    Do they fear the Curse of Henry Sugar?

  30. #31 R.Prem Kumar
    February 22, 2008

    There is now albeit not FDA endorsed, nanotechnological advances which alter the molecular structure of water whereby the the angular displace of the hydrogen atoms with the oxygen atom is optimised, i.e. the signature of the water is ‘structured’ to carry energy. Still under study, this phenomenon altering the molecular structure has been utilised in commercialised by various industries. Fluid dynamics has taken a paradigm shift. The frmae of reference is that our body with respect to age, and living habits is between 70 to 85 % water. In the event that the water in our body is of the variety that is structured, the cellular integrity is maintained and the thereby tissue & organ functioning likewise. The domestic version is used for household purposes (unlike industrial usage) whereby the catalytic conversion depends on the flow of liquid that runs of the devise. Not run on any power source. The operative word is scalar. I cant make any claims as i am not an accredited licensee. I use it to help myself and friends. Its not patented nor FDA approved, reasons best known to the inventor. The device is a piece of engineering glass about the size of a small saucer. Some minerals like quartz, dolomite- there are over 40 types available in the market)& about 11 types are subject to high heat fusion methodology and its the imbedded onfiguration of these minerals that give rise to a catalytic conversion of either alpha or beta wave. In alpha being a mass energy or beta which is in a ‘swing’, these waves causes a signature imprint on fluids. Now the significance of this comment is that, though much is less available to the public, the information seems to suggest that Dr Deepak Chopra a certified medical practitioner, is yet to peruse this technological advancement which affect the DNA/RNA. To make a statement of the magnitude he’s made seems to suggest that his knowledge of the cellular dynamics is mateurish. Would it be reasonable to leave that information in its entirety without mention of the amino-acids spectrum? There is somewhat a great deal of interest in the growing awareness of PPARs. It has to acknowledged when talking about DNA/RNA.

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