Psi. A debate.

When everyone thought extrasensory perception had disappeared into the same embarrassing past as phrenology it came back with a vengeance. In a recent article by Daryl Bem titled Feeling the future: Experimental evidence for anomalous retroactive influences on cognition and affect evidence was presented that some have found very hard to ignore. Others have completely trashed the experimental methods and statistics (obviously... it IS science after all). There are a number of available pdf's of both the article and the commentary floating around the internet if you do a google search.

There is also an interesting (if you have about 2 hours) debate on youtube with the author and a skeptic or two that was just posted online.

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Two hours. To debate this 'near 2+2=5 hypothesis' and the latest pathological experimental science associated with it. *sigh* Even the rational and Bayes/Jaynes enlightened scientists who critiqued this paper fairly well (e.g. Wagenmakers et al) failed to point out that even if the results had been genuinely incompatible with pure chance they still wouldn't and couldn't have provided any support whatsoever for the absurd retrocausality hypothesis.

My favorite part of the study is that if you read it carefully, you realize that what they proved is that college students anticipate seeing porn. Seriously. Because their results show that students "predicted" that an erotic image was coming, but couldn't predict any other kind of image.

Really? College students expect to see porn. That's news? I could have told you that. ::snort::

"It isn't true because it can't be true" is an even more embarrassing meme from the dark ages. Frankly there comes a point at which "skepticism" starts to resemble birtherism: no birth certificate could possibly be good enough to be real, so Obama is still a commie from Kenya. What's going on in both cases is obvious: emotional predispositions are leading the way, and rationalizations are bringing up the rear.

The "does it exist or doesn't it exist?" debate is obsolete, tiresome, and pointless. Far more productive to start from "if it does exist, what's the mechanism?" And I'll predict (though hardly retrocausally) that when the mechanisms for these effects are found, they won't involve deities, angels, supernatural nonsense, or fluffy woo: they'll be ordinary physical mechanisms that are completely consistent with theories in other branches of science.

At that point, so-called psi phenomena will be seen as nothing more than minor quirks of the interaction between brains and information, statistically significant but hardly reliable as means of "reading minds" or "foretelling the future." The proverbial case will be closed, and we will be able to move on to more interesting issues, such as Chalmers' "hard problem," which, I predict, will still by that time not have been solved.

My favorite part of the study is that if you read it carefully, you realize that what they proved is that college students anticipate seeing porn. Seriously. Because their results show that students "predicted" that an erotic image was coming, but couldn't predict any other kind of image.

@g724

I disagree: what is embarrassing - or should be - is that psi researchers and others appear not to understand the enormous difference, in physical terms and implications, between (hypothesising the existence of) something like retrocausality and something like mind reading. There just couldn't be any (non-error, non-fraud) âordinary physical mechanismsâ to explain the results of a Bem-style retrocausality experiment in the same way there could be for a 'mind reading' experiment.

Re. Phayes:

Let me be really blunt about this: I don't like it either. I wish it would go the hell away. It appears to suggest that free will might be far more circumscribed than I would prefer, or worse yet, that free will may be entirely illusory. I have a strong bias in favor of free will, I believe in theories of neural computation that make room for the existence of free will, and as an American I've been brought up to believe in free will since I was old enough to think.

But yet here's this stinker of an apparent anomaly that seems to be fairly consistent across all of the decent experiments that have been performed to test it. And calling it fraud is exactly the type of conspiracy-type thinking that is exhibited by the Birthers, and now the Deathers (who won't believe we got Bin Laden until they can put their hands on his corpse, and even then they'll think the corpse a fake).

So, what to do with it? Denying it won't make it go away, and in any case that's intellectually dishonest. Better to "have faith" (ahem!:-) that nature is orderly, and start looking for the mechanism.

To spell that out further, I'm willing to "have faith" that when the mechanism is found, it won't also falsify the existence of free will, it won't cause some kind of existential crisis in physics, and it won't even cause us to have to rethink a major chunk of neurophysiology. It'll turn out to be a small but consistent statistical effect with a mundane explanation, that changes our ideas about a few things slightly, and that's all.

I'm not a fundamentalist about these things: I don't believe that one little piece that doesn't fit will end up smashing my entire belief system about the nature of the physical universe.

At that point, so-called psi phenomena will be seen as nothing more than minor quirks of the interaction between brains and information, statistically significant but hardly reliable as means of "reading minds" or "foretelling the future." The proverbial case will be closed, and we will be able to move on to more interesting issues, such as Chalmers' "hard problem," which, I predict, will still by that time not have been solved.

Sunday Sacrilege pz's blaspheming head

debunkingskeptics.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=7&t=1756

To spell that out further, I'm willing to "have faith" that when the mechanism is found, it won't also falsify the existence of free will, it won't cause some kind of existential crisis in physics, and it won't even cause us to have to rethink a major chunk of neurophysiology. It'll turn out to be a small but consistent statistical effect with a mundane explanation, that changes our ideas about a few things slightly, and that's all.

I'm not a fundamentalist about these things: I don't believe that one little piece that doesn't fit will end up smashing my entire belief system about the nature of the physical universe.