Mar 11 2014

Can Thinking Change Reality Part II

Yesterday I discussed a recent article claiming 10 lines of evidence supporting the claim that consciousness can directly alter reality. I addressed the first five claims in the list. Here are the next five.

6. The Placebo Effect

The author claims:

“It suggests that one can treat various ailments by using the mind to heal. Many studies have shown that the placebo effect (the power of consciousness) is real and highly effective.”

This is a common misconception, but it is demonstrably not true. Placebo effects (plural) are mostly reporting bias, regression to the mean, investment justification, researcher bias, and other sources of self-deception. They are transient, and significant only for subjective symptoms where reporting bias can play a major role. Studies have shown, in fact, that there is no significant “healing” that occurs due to placebo effects – no objective biological improvement.

I discuss placebo effects at length here, here, here, and here.

7. Teleportation

When I read the header I thought the author might be talking about quantum teleportation -but no, he is talking about actually teleporting macroscopic objects like watches, nuts, and insects. His single reference is a report by Eric W. Davis, who is a physicist. He is an interesting character. The report goes over the physics of teleportation very well, but is credulous when discussing various Chinese experiments conducted in the 1990s, and earlier experiments with Uri Geller.

The Chinese studies claim that gifted children and adults were able to teleport small objects from sealed envelopes or containers. The objects would vanish from their containers, and then reappear somewhere else either instantly or over the next several minutes. The report further claims that this was all done while being video taped and under tight protocols.

It seems odd that smoking gun evidence of such teleportation existed over 20 years ago and yet has not garnered international scientific attention. If such psychic teleportation were really genuine and repeatable, it would not be referenced in one obscure report from China.

More importantly, as I discussed in Part I, Project Alpha and other examples clearly demonstrate that a little slight-of-hand is all that is necessary to deceive even generally competent researchers. Scientific researchers are not used to being deliberately deceived, and do not necessarily have the skill set to detect and control for deception.

There are at least two huge red flags with the reported research. The first is that the objects that were allegedly teleported are all small enough to be palmed and manipulated by slight-of-hand. Of course you can explain this as a limitation of the psychic teleportation power, but that is just special pleading. Demonstrations of alleged psychic powers always take a form that is compatible with fraud, and the details can always be justified because reasons can be made up as necessary. Claimants are free to invent any hand-waving justification for the details that are necessary to allow for the deception.

The second red flag is the variability in the timing of the teleportation – instant to several minutes. Why the variability? I’m sure the researchers or alleged psychics can invent a completely made-up reason, but it remains highly suspicious. Much slight-of-hand is opportunistic, and magicians use various methods to achieve the same ends. I suspect it took as long as was necessary for the “gifted” subjects to complete the slight-of-hand.

I could only find second-hand reports of the study online, not the studies themselves, and not any video from the experiments.

8. The Science of The Heart

Here the author is referring to Heartmath, and that is the only reference he provides. The claim is that emotional information is encoded in the electromagnetic fields of the heart. Since emotions can affect the heart, this means consciousness can affect matter. There are two huge problems with this line of reasoning.

The first is that the Heartmath claim is pure nonsense. Their data is nothing but mining noise for apparent patterns. I discuss it at length here. Certainly this is not an established scientific phenomenon.

Second, it is highly problematic to argue that because the mind can affect the body that this represents consciousness affecting external reality. The body is not external – it’s internal. The mind, in fact, is the brain, and the brain is an integral part of the whole organism. There is something called the neuroendocrine axis – the brain contains the thalamus, hypothalamus, and pituitary that represent a physical connection between brain activity and hormonal regulation of the body. This is why if you are startled your heart will begin to race – the mental experience triggers a sympathetic reaction that affects various other parts of the body through both nerves and hormones.

This entire line of reasoning is therefore dubious, and the specific example given is not legitimate.

9/10 And Beyond

I guess the author just wanted their list to include 10 items. Nine and ten are just a vague reference to other research showing psi phenomena are real. There are a few more items in the references, but none establish psi as real.

Conclusion

There isn’t a single line of scientific evidence that objectively establishes a phenomenon that represents consciousness affecting reality. The author, like many proponents of this claim, combines misinterpretation of real science (like quantum mechanics) with dubious claims about psi phenomena.

No such phenomena, however, have been established to anything even close to a reasonable threshold of acceptance. Believers simply accept low grade evidence, usually by the same small group of researchers who are dedicated to promoting psi belief. As I wrote yesterday, we never meet the following minimum criteria for being taken seriously:

1- statistically significant results
2- reasonable signal to noise ratio (meaning a good effect size)
3- rigorous methodology
4- independently reproducible consistent results

Instead of one single line of compelling scientific research, we get piles of low grade dubious evidence. It is all a useful example, however, of the nature of pseudoscience.

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20 responses so far

20 Responses to “Can Thinking Change Reality Part II”

  1. Sastraon 11 Mar 2014 at 2:36 pm

    It seems odd that smoking gun evidence of such teleportation existed over 20 years ago and yet has not garnered international scientific attention.

    Just as it seems suspiciously odd that all these ten amazing examples have not garnered international scientific attention. The trouble is that there are two ways to satisfy that suspicion. The first, that these examples are weak and not compelling — and the second, which involves either conspiracy thinking, a grave misunderstanding of how science works, or both.

    I know people who — if they haven’t already seen this article — would enthusiastically agree with its conclusion anyway. When asked why scientists, the people who would seemingly have so much to win if these things are true, are not convinced, they say that scientists are “afraid” of losing their world view (as if that would stop them on the way to fame, fortune, and new discoveries.)

    They also have a very distorted understanding of where the scientific consensus is, based on the fact that the woo they read is always citing approving scientists. Someone guessed that maybe 40% of all physicists already believe in vitalism, for example. This is cutting edge stuff, apparently.

  2. chrisjon 11 Mar 2014 at 3:14 pm

    Instead of saying, “THERE ISN’T a single line of scientific evidence that objectively establishes a phenomenon that represents consciousness affecting reality.” (I agree there probably isn’t). Shouldn’t you say something like, “I HAVEN’T FOUND a single line of scientific evidence…” After all there is a vanishingly small possibility you have missed something.

  3. steve12on 11 Mar 2014 at 3:33 pm

    I don’t think so chrisj. It’s not like a real science lit search where you’re worried there’s a paper out there that you should cite but weren’t aware of. If there was real, solid evidence for psi it wouldn’t be languishing in some arcane journal.

    E.g., Darrel Bem’s paper was poorly done and couldn’t be replicated, but it’s quite famous.

  4. steve12on 11 Mar 2014 at 3:33 pm

    Daryl Bem, pardon me

  5. Ori Vandewalleon 12 Mar 2014 at 7:42 am

    Re #8: I once thought about moving my leg, AND THEN IT MOVED.

  6. BillyJoe7on 12 Mar 2014 at 7:56 am

    Ori,

    The brain that produced the illusion-of-self called Ori, had already determined to move that leg before it determined to inform Ori of this determination.

    (I hope you appreciate that effort – it took have a dozen corrections to get right!)

  7. Bronze Dogon 12 Mar 2014 at 12:23 pm

    Citing government agencies for researching the phenomena strikes me as interesting. Psi proponents are often quick to assert governments are in on or controlled by the big conspiracy to cover up psi. I think some use the perceived authority because they believe we’re the straw sheeple who believe whatever the government says, therefore we have to trust the judgement of government agencies. Some might approach it from the premise that the government is super-competent (minus the ad hoc super-incompetence hypotheses that spring up for convenience), therefore they would never research something unless they knew it worked.

    Among those who aren’t so quick to spin global conspiracies, many probably project a love of authoritarianism onto us. If the government researches it, it must be Serious Business and thus they disapprove of analysis and ridicule by lowly non-sanctioned commentators.

    In either case, a lot of them conflate the idea of scientific authority as something akin or even synonymous to legal or political authority, specifically endowed in designated individuals instead of something much more abstract and emergent.

  8. steve12on 12 Mar 2014 at 1:11 pm

    “Citing government agencies for researching the phenomena strikes me as interesting. Psi proponents are often quick to assert governments are in on or controlled by the big conspiracy to cover up psi.”

    When you catch conspiracy theorists in these kinds of conflicts, they just say false flag.

    The playbook is that you cite conspiracy when the facts don’t agree, and you claim false flag when the conspiracy is absurd and makes no sense.

    They have completely insulated their ideas from any type of falsification.

    The condescending “You’re so naive – do you believe everything you’re told?” is really just for style points.

  9. SteveAon 12 Mar 2014 at 2:12 pm

    Steve12: “When you catch conspiracy theorists in these kinds of conflicts, they just say false flag.”

    My favourite example of an alleged false flag operation concerns David Shayler, the former journalist and MI5 officer who was jailed for breaches of the Official Secrets Act. He later joined the 9/11 Truthers and became their darling for a time…till he declared himself to be the Messiah and came out as a transvestite.

    Of course, THEN it became ‘obvious’ he was nothing but a Government plant designed to discredit the movement…

  10. Bronze Dogon 12 Mar 2014 at 2:30 pm

    Yeah, they’ve got many, many individually optional layers of insulation against having to reevaluate (or even define) their worldview. Some amuse me and/or grind my gears more than others do.

  11. Sirius1001on 15 Mar 2014 at 11:20 am

    Is it possible that consciousness affects reality without statistically different results and thus undetectable? On an individual level it may show effects but since the state of mind needed to produce an effect is so rare in society and barely reproducible due to tiny amounts of stress sabotaging it, it is conceivable that the rest of the results even themselves out as part of the way the universe works. This is especially logical if you don’t see the observable world as the essential world but the result of another unseen primary reality which keeps everything observable in balance and that everything is connected in some way like a massive computer simulation (I’ve seen some people promote the idea of zero world rather than many worlds). I’ve noticed that the state of unconditional love is threatening to a lot of people on the opposite end of consciousness as they think they have them beat but never can beat them so this increases their stress so a balancing effect on consciousness does seem to be in operation as showing true love always increases the fear of those not ready for it.

  12. Bill Openthalton 17 Mar 2014 at 4:48 am

    Sirius1001 –

    Is it possible that consciousness affects reality without statistically different results and thus undetectable?

    Is it possible we live in the matrix? Is it possible god created the world, including all galaxies, suns, planets, fossils etc., last Thursday?

    What you say is possible, but highly improbable, and –by your own definition– unverifiable. This means it’s nothing more than idle speculation, akin to debating how many angles can dance on the head of a pin (which we know, of course, to be 16, because we really do live on Discworld).

  13. Bruceon 17 Mar 2014 at 4:59 am

    “Is it possible that consciousness affects reality without statistically different results and thus undetectable?”

    I stopped reading there because you are proposing an invisible, heatless, silent dragon living in the basement…

    If it is not that, then you have as much evidence to prove it than someone proposing the dragon and that makes both your arguments as valid as each other’s.

  14. Steven Novellaon 17 Mar 2014 at 8:20 am

    Sirius – a hypothesis is only useful if it can be tested in some way. If, by definition, your notion does not result in any possible observable phenomenon, then it is “not even wrong.”

  15. Sherringtonon 17 Mar 2014 at 11:01 am

    Just one minor quibble that does not at all detract from your analysis (does this mean I am being pedantic?).

    You write that:

    “Placebo effects (plural) are mostly reporting bias, regression to the mean, investment justification, researcher bias, and other sources of self-deception.”

    In experimental psychology, the term “placebo effect” is usually reserved for the subjective perception that a treatment is having an effect. Thus, if someone is given an injection of saline and told it is a painkiller and then, on a self-rating scale, reports a decrease in pain, that is a placebo effect.

    The other effects you mention — such as regression to the mean and researcher bias — are other, but separate, phenomena. For example, a single-blind study helps deal with placebo effects and a double-blind study also deals with experimenter bias.

  16. The Other John Mcon 17 Mar 2014 at 11:07 am

    Sherrington, that is a good point, the placebo effect is technically the statistical effect often observed from a placebo treatment. The other issues Steve mentions are some of the many possible influencing factors on the placebo effect. Spontaneous remission might be another one to add to list.

  17. BillyJoe7on 18 Mar 2014 at 12:06 am

    Sherrington,

    Steve is taking about the placebo effect in clinical trials, and he did use the word “mostly”.
    In clinical trials, the placebo effects includes all those things he mentioned, and it also includes the subjective psychological effects you mentioned.

  18. grabulaon 18 Mar 2014 at 7:34 am

    ” I’ve noticed that the state of unconditional love is threatening to a lot of people on the opposite end of consciousness as they think they have them beat but never can beat them so this increases their stress so a balancing effect on consciousness does seem to be in operation as showing true love always increases the fear of those not ready for it.”

    …I think my head just exploded

  19. unitedcats1957on 19 Mar 2014 at 1:56 am

    I agree, there is no current scientific evidence for “magickal” events, the idea that people can change reality with their minds alone. And people who claim there is are lying or misinformed. I have nothing good to say about pseudo-science. What I do submit though is that there are some curious anecdotal reports along these lines, and there’s certainly no harm in serious scientific inquiry into same. Why would any scientist judge what another scientist chooses to look into?
    — Doug

  20. Casperon 19 Jun 2014 at 1:07 pm

    Not on the topic at hand but I really, really don’t know where else to go other than to a neurologist that I trust and have for years. If there is a better place for this question, I would be happy to go in that direction but please, someone, help….

    There is this cute thing called “cloud bursting” or “popping clouds” or “dissolving clouds” which is a practice that is supposed to be something along the lines of making a cloud disappear with your mind by focusing and staring at it. I have now wasted hours of my life trying to find any information on what actually causes the cloud to vanish (either it actually has or it only appears to have) and I can’t find one piece of information regarding the subject that is reasonable or rational, to explain it.

    Mind you, I have stared at the cloud(s) in question. They have disappeared. I just don’t understand why?!?!

    http://realpsychicpower.com/dissolving-clouds-with-your-mind

    ^^ That is a full explanation of the concept, clearly from a ridiculous source, which is all I seem to find and they are all the same.

    If someone could find it in themselves to offer insight to this or even just point me in the right direction, I will be ever grateful!!

    ~Casper

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