Mar 27 2009

Magic in the Huffington Post

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Comments: 72

In the Huffington Post yesterday Srinivasan Pillay informs readers about the Science of Distant Healing. Although Orac professed some (perhaps for dramatic effect) surprise that the HuffPo has sunk to such pseudoscientific depths, I confess I was not surprised. This is on a par with the antivaccinationist crankery that has found a home at HuffPo and the occasional Chopra nonsense. Any publication with the lax journalistic standards that would allow such rabid antivaccinationist nonsense to be published under its banner is capable of almost anything.

What Pilly is now offering is the claim that distant healing effects are real based upon poorly referenced and cherry picked data, abject naivete as to the nature of research, and the usual handwaving explanations invoking (or course) quantum mechanics.

The Claim

Pillay claims there is good evidence that distant healing effects are real. The effect, he claims, is due to “intention” – which is a euphamism for “wishing”, which means he is talking about magic. If everyone in the audience says they believe in faires, then Tinkerbell will come back to life.

For evidence Pillay cites a study alleging to show that one member of a couple can influence the autonomic function of their partner in a separate room. Unbelievably Pillay did not give the reference, and had to be brow  beat in the comments to do so. I found the study abtract online.  (Orac was sent the full version by a reader, so had access to more details). It turns out the study was performed by Dean Radin, which might explain Pillay’s reluctance to give the reference.

Radin has a reputation for creatively massaging data, and other researchers have a hard time replicating his claims for positive results. From the abtract of this study he write:

Planned differences in skin conductance among the three groups were not significant, but a post hoc analysis showed that peak deviations were largest and most sustained in the trained group, followed by more moderate effects in the wait group, and still smaller effects in the control group.

If we take a skeptical eye toward any study such as this there are two basic questions that need to be answered – was their adequate blinding, and is the signal in the data real or the result of fudging, cherry picking or bias. Regarding blinding, Orac brings up excellent points – the person receiving the intention was being watched by a remote camera during periods of intention, so perhaps the little red light on the camera came on and clued them in. No attempt was made to verify that the recipient was properly blinded.

But the quote above from the abstract is perhaps even more of a problem. I interpret that to mean – the agreed upon outcome measures were negative, so I went back and looked at the data again (post hoc) and was able to massage an apparent effect out of the noise. Radin is known for doing multiple fancy statistical manipulations of the data, as he did in this case, and spinning gold out of straw. He also discarded a few bits of data as “artifacts” which is further suspect.

The bottom line is that this is a dubious study by a researcher with a dedicated ideology and a poor history. I would not even begin to take this research seriously until it was independently replicated by more respected and skeptical researchers.

Pillay, however, is ready to rewrite the physics textbooks.

Quantum Woo

Having prematurely concluded that intention magic is real, Pillay offers these possibilities as to mechanism:

(1) that intention is transmitted by an as yet unknown energy signal;

(2) that intention warps space-time much like gravity, creating pathways for connection;

(3) that people, like particles are described in quantum physics, have instantaneous correlations across distance;

(4) that intention is much like measurement in quantum physics. It organizes random possibilities much like how wave functions can be collapsed into a single function.

The first option – an unknown energy signal – is almost the equivalent of saying “by magic.”  First, the room in which the receiver sat was extensively shielded. So this unknown energy must have some unusual properties – it can go through heavy shielding but will interact with soft biology. It also, apparently, can be generated by the human brain. Until such a candidate energy is detected and something is known about its characteristics, and it is plausibly tied to biological creation and effects – this option does not deserve to be taken seriously.

This is the equivalent of  Larry Arnold inventing the new subatomic particle he dubbed the “pyron” to explain spontaneous human combustion. First, he failed to demonstrate the phenomenon is real, and second you just can’t make up the physics as you go along.

The second choice is intention warps space-time. Wow – that is some serious woo. Well, I guess if Hiro can do it on the Heroes, it makes sense.

And then he goes into the typical quantum woo, completely misunderstanding quantum mechanics. There are two basic reasons that quantum weird effects do not apply to people (and for all those physics majors out there, forgive my oversimplification, but these are the key concepts as I understand them). The first is that as particles interact with other particles any quantum non-locality or entanglement is effectively lost. This is called decoherence. For that reason quantum effects just don’t apply to people. Or (as Michio Kaku said when I interviewed him on the SGU) it does, but you would have to wait longer than the age of the universe for any quantum effects to manifest. In fact I specifically asked Michio if quantum mechanics allows for any new age woo, and he said unequivocally no.

The second reason quantum effects do not apply to people is the de Broglie wavelength. Louis de Broglie won the Nobel prize in 1929 for his work in quantum mechanics deriving the formula for calculating the effective wavelength of an electron. His equation actually applies to any physical object, including a person. The de Broglie wavelength of anything is equal to Planck’s constant (6.626 x10^-34) divided by the object’s momentum. For electrons, this gives a sizable wavelength. The bigger an object the smaller the de Broglie wavelength, and for macroscopic objects it is insignificantly small. This determines in essence the degree of quantum uncertainty, which is so tiny we can ignore it for macroscopic objects.

Bottom line – quantum effects cannot be invoked to explain the magic of intention. Sorry, Pillay.

Conclusion

Once again we see a pattern of a believer who credulously accepts the reality of a phenomenon based upon cherry picked, flawed, and vastly insufficient evidence. They then prematurely propose mechanisms for the alleged phenomenon which turn out to be just fancy ways of saying “magic” or butchering existing science. The science butchered is usually cutting edge stuff poorly understood by the public – and today, hands down, that is quantum mechanics.

This is an epic science failure for Pillay and the Huffington Post.

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72 responses so far

72 Responses to “Magic in the Huffington Post”

  1. Hubbubon 27 Mar 2009 at 1:55 pm

    I have to say, this is the first time I’ve heard space-time warping invoked to explain a supposed psi phenomenon. This does fall under the category of “psi”, correct?

  2. Timmysonon 27 Mar 2009 at 2:10 pm

    As a physicist, I have found woo-explanations extremely irritating, because they require some description of the math to effectively debunk, and people get grumpy at you for bringing up math.

    It is also worth noting that even if coherence is not disrupted, due to a quantum mechanical trick, information cannot be transmitted faster than the speed of light. The advantage of quantum signalling is that more information can be transmitted than classically.

  3. Mark Entelon 27 Mar 2009 at 3:17 pm

    Craziness, I always thought that “quantum woo” was when Dr. Samuell Beckett put the moves on a lady from the past. Ya know, to put right what once went wrong . . .

  4. tmac57on 27 Mar 2009 at 4:59 pm

    RE: “(1) that intention is transmitted by an as yet unknown energy signal;”
    Even if there were such a signal, there is no explanation as to how the “intention” is doing something arguably as complex as healing someone! I guess Pillay would have no problem believing in Benny Hinn’s hands on approach.

  5. Jim Shaveron 27 Mar 2009 at 5:03 pm

    So Mark Entel, I guess what you’re saying is that the Huffington Post has taken a Quantum Leap into bad journalism.

  6. krazy9000on 27 Mar 2009 at 5:38 pm

    The Huffington Post… I would have NEVER expected this out of them!

    /sarcasm

  7. IanJNon 27 Mar 2009 at 7:38 pm

    As a physicist, I have found woo-explanations extremely irritating, because they require some description of the math to effectively debunk, and people get grumpy at you for bringing up math.

    As a would-be engineering physicist, I also find woo-explanations extremely irritating. I tried substituting handwaving for math, and I flunked wave mechanics something fierce. Guess those damned materialists were trying to keep me down.

  8. DevilsAdvocateon 27 Mar 2009 at 10:01 pm

    I don’t know why you guys have so much trouble making woo physics work. Are you approaching it correctly? Are you knocking your brains out with a baseball bat first?

    They’re just dreamers. The conclusions they begin with are so delicious it just overwhelms them, making all those bothersome preliminary steps towards conclusion mere details to be confabulated PRN.

  9. IanJNon 27 Mar 2009 at 10:36 pm

    I don’t know why you guys have so much trouble making woo physics work. Are you approaching it correctly? Are you knocking your brains out with a baseball bat first?

    When I was a kid, I had this great invention idea for walking up walls. All it would have to do is shift gravity sideways. Child’s play! I’m surprised it hasn’t been invented yet.

  10. HHCon 27 Mar 2009 at 10:38 pm

    I think this new phenomenon has an old name, Voodoo.

  11. llewellyon 28 Mar 2009 at 8:50 am

    When I was a kid, I had this great invention idea for walking up walls. All it would have to do is shift gravity sideways. Child’s play! I’m surprised it hasn’t been invented yet.

    It’s already working in many great video games. And video games are becoming more and more like reality every few years. Soon they will become reality. Walking on walls, space jump, jetpacks, ray guns, dodgeable bullets, turtles that grant extra lives when jumped on, and many other wonderful technologies will all ours.

  12. HHCon 28 Mar 2009 at 10:37 am

    This study wants to measure skin conductance in cancer patients. It could be looked at as a form of monitored self-biofeedback. The cancer patient is told something positive will be happening and essentially he can regulate his own changes on cue. I have known cancer patients that feel isolated by their diagnosis. Any type of concern expressed properly by another person to these patients is appreciated. The study discussed is similar to results obtained by studies measuring the power of prayer. Similar positive results are reported.

  13. Karl Withakayon 28 Mar 2009 at 7:40 pm

    >>> “you just can’t make up the physics as you go along.”

    Well, physicists did “invent” the WIMP as a possible explanation for the apparent missing matter in the universe, but the difference is that they didn’t decree it to be an established fact, and they didn’t presuppose the effect it was hypothesized to cause.

    Physicists hypothesized the WIMP to explain an established phenomenon in natur, and then began searching for it in nature. The WIMP is still considered to be hypothetical because it has not yet been detected.

    Science observers a phenomenon and proposes a hypothesis as a possible explanation and then experiments to determine the validity of the hypothesis

    Woo tends presuppose a phenomenon, conducts an experiment designed to validate the presupposition, and then makes up an explanation for the phenomenon that is supported by the pre-established existence of the phenomenon.

  14. Thenewyorkdolleyon 28 Mar 2009 at 7:54 pm

    Did we get a Krapp’s Last Tape joke in the comments here? Bravo!

  15. DLCon 29 Mar 2009 at 2:37 pm

    Using Dean Radin for a source ?
    I suppose I will next see someone cite John Mack on sleep disorders vs alien abduction.

  16. massimoon 29 Mar 2009 at 6:27 pm

    man, I love Huffpo, except for this nonsense. its always really dissapointing when I see one of these preposterous oprah moments on their page. just yesterday, the front page of the living section was a very vague detox article. the “doctor” who wrote this lead article has a doctorate in, OMG, homeopathy. that sounds like some pretty rigorous study.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-patricia-fitzgerald/detox-demystified-fad-fac_b_179900.html

    I was hoping more skeptics would have shown up on the thread actually, there is a deluge of praise for her absurd article.

  17. sonicon 30 Mar 2009 at 5:32 am

    I detect the following fallacies in the above post-

    ad hominem
    pooh-pooh
    straw man
    loaded words.

    Did I pass the test?

  18. Steven Novellaon 30 Mar 2009 at 7:50 am

    Sonic – nope, you fail.

    My comments about Radin are not ad hominem fallacies – reputation is very important to a researcher because of the trust required to accept their findings. Radin has a reputation for finding results that cannot be replicated and for creative statistics.

    Pooh-pooh and loaded words are probably the same thing, but I would point out that ridiculing the ridiculous is not a fallacy, it’s appropriate. Also, I backed up my ridicule with a reasoned argument.

    Straw man? – you’ll have to point that out.

  19. tmac57on 30 Mar 2009 at 11:15 am

    massimo:”I was hoping more skeptics would have shown up on the thread actually, there is a deluge of praise for her absurd article.”
    This is a good point that has gotten me thinking lately that we skeptics need to be more activist in getting the word out about where to direct our attacks on this kind of nonsense.
    I wasn’t aware that Huffpo was into this kind of thing, since I visit it only rarely .
    If someone knows of good sources for alerting us about media woo that has just popped up, so we can jump on it while it’s hot, please let us know. This site of course is a good start. Maybe an email alert service for skeptics could be developed by some hero out there. I’d do it myself if I had the skills.

  20. sonicon 31 Mar 2009 at 4:27 am

    Allow me to fill in the details-

    “Pillay claims there is good evidence that distant healing effects are real. The effect, he claims, is due to “intention” – which is a euphamism for “wishing”, which means he is talking about magic. If everyone in the audience says they believe in faires, then Tinkerbell will come back to life.”

    That is what I am calling a straw man.

    As far as I know, Radin has a good reputation as a researcher and analyzer of data. I would consider the statements to the contrary ad hominem.
    Reference to the contrary please-

    The word ‘woo’ is a loaded word. I don’t know what it means, but I see the effect it has on the readers here. The word ‘magic’ is a loaded word. (I admit I don’t understand the problem with this word, but it seems to have an emotional impact on some of the readers that disables their rationality.)

    Your analysis of the four options that Pillay gives is an example of ‘pooh-pooh’.

    Consider that Pillay is looking at an experiment. A phenomenon is noted. He tries to describe the phenomenon and gives a few hypotheses in an attempt to explain the phenomenon. We know our understanding of physics is incomplete, so it is not surprising that his explanation might involve that. I don’t see that what he is suggesting is out of the realm of possibility. (Consider Cramer’s explanation of quantum mechanics and realize that intelligent, knowledgeable scientists take it seriously. Pillay is not saying anything beyond the realm)

  21. Steven Novellaon 31 Mar 2009 at 8:21 am

    Sonic

    Straw man – I completely disagree. Saying that intention can directly affect the world IS magic. This is an apt analogy, not a straw man. The Tinkerbell reference was satire.

    Radin has a good reputation among ESP believers only, but not in the general scientific community. In any case, it’s not a fallacy to point out that someone is not a reliable reference. Just like it’s not a fallacy to point out legitimate conflicts of interest. Science is partly about trust and ability – reputation matters. And, I only brought this up to say that the results need to be replicated before they should be trusted, which is a completely legit point.

    Woo and magic are basically the same thing – believing in phenomena that have no plausible mechanism. It’s a convenient shorthand. Yes, it is meant to be critical – that’s the point, criticism. Arguing that they “disable the rationality” of my readers is absurd.

    And I did not “pooh pooh” Pillay’s proposed mechanisms – I gave a detailed explanation for why they are not plausible. Pillay was displaying profound intellectual laziness. He was not proposing plausible or even thought out testable mechanisms. He was simply throwing out some buzz words, exploiting the edge of current science understanding.

    I gave specific and generally accepted reasons why his proposals are nonsense. That is not “pooh pooh”.

  22. HHCon 31 Mar 2009 at 10:40 am

    I have counseled cancer patients at nursing homes. Basic studies involving counseling show prolonged life expectancy in this population. The researcher attention to cancer patient could be interpretted as some type of social intervention with the attending expectation of benefit. Sorry, I will not give this sleazy researcher the ” benefit of the doubt.” Cancer patients deserve real scientific medical treatment and proper therapy.

  23. tmac57on 31 Mar 2009 at 10:50 am

    Sonic: Given the possibilities of mechanism :
    ” (1) that intention is transmitted by an as yet unknown energy signal;

    (2) that intention warps space-time much like gravity, creating pathways for connection;

    (3) that people, like particles are described in quantum physics, have instantaneous correlations across distance;

    (4) that intention is much like measurement in quantum physics. It organizes random possibilities much like how wave functions can be collapsed into a single function.”

    How does Pillay propose to test any of these things? If he doesn’t have any idea how to test these, then they don’t rise to the level of hypotheses, they are just wild guesses.

  24. artfulDon 31 Mar 2009 at 12:40 pm

    If your intentions are sufficiently “good” you can concentrate a quantum of matter into as long a solid pole as you can imagine and reach out to touch some thing or some one faster than the speed of light. It then has the healing effect of a tiny acupuncture needle. It can also be used as an irritant. As I have just demonstrated.

  25. tmac57on 31 Mar 2009 at 4:45 pm

    artfulD:”It then has the healing effect of a tiny acupuncture needle. It can also be used as an irritant. As I have just demonstrated.”
    So in summary, you can either prick someone or be a ‘prick’ ?

  26. artfulDon 31 Mar 2009 at 4:59 pm

    Only from the “prick’s” point of view.

  27. sonicon 02 Apr 2009 at 6:22 am

    Dr. N- Thank-you for your patience.
    I think I understand the difficulty I have with the post more completely. Here is what I’m thinking-

    1) Saying intention can directly effect the world is what the experiment was designed to test. Pillay is stating that the experiment gave positive results. He is not assuming that the experiment cannot have positive results, but rather is taking the evidence as presented.
    So straw man is probably incorrect. Begging the question would be more appropriate. (I understand the need for confirmation of the result, but Pillay is reporting as if the result is correct. This is not unusual in science discussions.)

    2) I have read one of Radin’s books (Conscious Universe) and looked up the references and analyzed the statistical methods used. The presentation seems overall sound to me. I have heard that there is something terribly wrong with his work, but I have not read anything that I found convincing. Reference please.

    3) I believe in the double slit experiment, Aspect’s experimental tests of Bell’s theorem, and special and general relativity.
    I don’t know that I would consider any of those “plausible mechanisms”.
    Therefore, I think that modern physics is ‘magic’ as you have defined it, and have no problem with that. I will not discount other theories because they sound like “the wave function collapse” or “the slowing of time” or “the particle taking all possible paths” or… (Any of the currently acceptable explanations for the universe we live in).
    Quantum physics is the physics of the universe we live in- therefore it applies to us. Exactly how much the non-local aspects affect our lives and so forth is an open question. Obviously if the experimental evidence shows that intention can have an effect on a body over distance, the non-local effects may be greater than we would think.

    That’s why the experiments are done- no?

    Here is a good place to read about Bell’s theorem and what it all means-
    (Perhaps we could discuss if the universe is non-local, non-real, or both)

    http://www.ipod.org.uk/reality/reality_entangled.asp

  28. Oracon 02 Apr 2009 at 7:56 am

    Basic studies involving counseling show prolonged life expectancy in this population.

    Not true, at least not any more. Earlier, less rigorously done studies showed an apparent benefit, but the more recently done studies show no survival benefit due to counseling, psychological intervention, or group therapy.

    That’s not to say that such counseling can’t be a wonderful thing as far as improving quality of life and outlook during the time the patient has left, but there’s no good science to support telling patients that counseling will prolong their life.

  29. Steven Novellaon 02 Apr 2009 at 8:32 am

    Sonic

    1 – My criticism is that he is taking the evidence as presented. That is not a useful position – scientific evidence should be taken critically, and only taken seriously if it survives harsh criticism.

    Also – not understanding the mechanism by which something happens in nature is not the same as “magic” as I used it in this context – that is a false analogy.

    I understand this can be a fuzzy line, but there are some propositions that are so scientifically implausible, like affecting reality simply by wishing for it, that it is the functional equivalent of magic. You might as well say that invisible fairies are the mechanism.

    2 – http://skepdic.com/refuge/entangledreview.html – “Radin distorts the history of psi research, omitting the seedy side of the story, and abuses statistics to make his case for the paranormal. ”

    Also – I.J. Good, who is a statistician (and says he is not a skeptic) trashes Radin in the journal Nature. It doesn’t get more mainstream than that. http://members.cruzio.com/~quanta/review.html

    3 – Decoherence and the DeBrolie wavelength. You have not addressed these. These are specific and accepted reasons why quantum effects do not apply to people. This is not my opinion – it is the consensus of physicists who actually know what they are talking about. Even Michio Kaku, who likes to speculate fantastically for the public, says QM cannot be used to support weird effects like intention.

  30. Karl Withakayon 02 Apr 2009 at 10:20 am

    Sonic:
    RE:
    “1) Saying intention can directly effect the world is what the experiment was designed to test. Pillay is stating that the experiment gave positive results. He is not assuming that the experiment cannot have positive results, but rather is taking the evidence as presented.”

    No, the idea that intention can directly affect the world was assumed; the experiment lacked a control without intention that would be required to test if intention could directly affect the world.

    This experiment was designed to test the relative strength of a presumed effect due to training and motivation, not whether or not intention can have an effect.

    The baseline was untrained persons using intention against healthy targets.

    He is either assuming that it’s not possible for intention to not have an effect, or that effect is not possible when lacking both training and motivation.

  31. HHCon 02 Apr 2009 at 12:00 pm

    Orac, Thanks for the recent research update. {:-)

  32. artfulDon 02 Apr 2009 at 1:55 pm

    Sonic,
    Actually intention in this context is simply another word for purpose, neither of which have any physical properties. They are concepts used in our attempts to explain the mechanistic actions of life forms. Thus whatever is supposedly effecting some distant form of healing cannot be the alleged intention in and of itself. It is not a force of nature although none of these religion inspired phenomena could exist without the belief that it was.

  33. HHCon 02 Apr 2009 at 5:52 pm

    This study assumes cancer patients can heal in isolation. Maybe the authors would like to quarantine the patient, depending on the stage of the disease, and see if the patient sweats the details?

  34. sonicon 03 Apr 2009 at 4:47 am

    Karl- you are correct about this experiment- thank-you for pointing that out.

    Dr. N-
    At this point it seems any disagreement I have with you is probably coming from the level of basic premise. I consider this a good sign that the discussion is worthwhile-

    Decoherence is often cited as a solution to the ‘measurement problem’. (Why do we see one outcome of an experiment when our mathematics and models give us many? How do we divorce consciousness from physics?)
    The principle investigators of this phenomenon are Joos, Zeh, and Zurek. They do not claim that they have resolved the problem. Only those who wish not to think about it, or who have a philosophical or religious dislike of the notion of the ‘wave function collapse’ make the claim that the measurement problem has been solved. Most physicists fit into the category of “Shut-up and calculate.” I understand why. I don’t begrudge them that.
    But the problem has not been solved. I have no reason to need this to be solved one way or the other. Actually I like the possibilities presented by the situation as it evolves.

    Regarding de Broglie- you yourself say this
    “The bigger an object the smaller the de Broglie wavelength, and for macroscopic objects it is insignificantly small. This determines in essence the degree of quantum uncertainty, which is so tiny we can ignore it for macroscopic objects.”

    But to affect a body we don’t have to affect a large object. A small change in the path of an electron could have a large impact on the state of a human body. Ignoring what we are attempting to study is not proof that what we are attempting to study doesn’t exist.
    To say that quantum mechanics does not apply to humans is to say that physics does not apply to humans. This is a very strange position to take.

    Thank-you for the references re: Radin.

    The review of I.J. Good is a fine example of the problem.
    To quote Nick Herbert-
    “In more than 30 years as a scientist and science writer I have never encountered a more intellectually dishonest treatment of another man’s careful work.”
    http://members.cruzio.com/~quanta/badgood.html

    Brian Josephson also makes some interesting comments regarding Good’s review.
    http://www.tcm.phy.cam.ac.uk/~bdj10/psi/doubtsregood.html

    While I can appreciate the claim that something is ‘mainstream’, in this case we are looking at a history of experiment, the results are the results.

    I’ve read Mr. Carrol’s review. I didn’t find it very helpful for a number of reasons. (Example- the complaint that Radin ‘misrepresents’ the history of psi research. On the contrary, Radin spends sometime describing the ways the experiments have evolved over time in ways to overcome the various difficulties in doing this type of research.)

    Thank-you for your patience.

  35. Steven Novellaon 03 Apr 2009 at 7:47 am

    Sonic

    Your responses to the docherence and de Broglie wavelength arguments are not valid. Decoherence is a well-established phenomenon – as well established as any aspect of quantum mechanics. You can’t pick and chose arbitrarily what you want to accept. Whether or not we understand why there is decoherence is irrelevant. And yes there is still much discussion about how exactly to conceptualize it – but there is general agreement that quantum effects are not relevant to how macroscopic objects behave and function – whether or not you say such effects do not occur, or that they do but you will have to wait longer than the age of the universe to see them, is a distinction without a difference.

    Regarding the de Brolie wavelength – your response is a non sequitur and a straw man. Of course quantum effects are present for the electrons in our bodies, but these effects are averaged out. For larger and larger objects, the net uncertainty rapidly shrinks, so that even for large molecules (like proteins) it is small enough to ignore.

    It is like trying to understand the behavior of a gas. The physical description does not have to account for each gas molecule’s individual behavior. Gas equations just assume that each gas molecule is behaving randomly and when describing the behavior of a very large number of randomly behaving objects you can make statistical descriptions that are very accurate.

    In other words, for an object like a human brain, any quantum uncertainty averages out and we can ignore it. We can use classical physics to describe the function of the brain, just like we can use gas equations to describe the behavior of a gas.

    Bottom line – there is still no plausible or legitimate way to use quantum mechanics to explain something like intention. The best you can do is make a huge argument from ignorance, and even then you have to overemphasize current ignorance.

    Regarding Radin – I already acknowledged that he has defenders among ESP believers. My original point is that he is a controversial figure among mainstream scientists because he has the reputation of “creatively” using statistics. Also, I will add that I think these criticisms are legitimate. You asked for references, I gave them to you. There are many more. Whether or not you agree with the criticism is irrelevant to my original point.

  36. HHCon 03 Apr 2009 at 11:12 am

    In Radin’s cited study, there is no mention of the equipment used for skin conductance. This is a requirement for scientific communcation and replication. The equipment I have used in the laboratory and outside of it can record changes in response. As a test subject I could alter the results after training on the equipment regardless of the location.

  37. artfulDon 03 Apr 2009 at 1:07 pm

    None of you seem to understand that “intention” is not a mechanism or a force. Religious doctrines will all hold that it is – that their Gods or spirits control all forces in the universe by intent and will, and therefor one’s intent could in theory emulate that of the gods – and if not that, at least allow us to communicate with those gods. Most of us in the US seem to be sure, as an example, that we can do so with the intentional forces of our prayers.

    But if we therefor assume that results of experiments that are otherwise unexplainable can – by a process of elimination perhaps – be accounted for with this same imaginary force of our and our Gods’ wills, we have deluded ourselves in the use of this unconscious presumption.

    Quantum mechanics cannot explain how a conceivable force might be used if we have misunderstood a particular abstraction concerning force to be such a force in and of itself.

  38. artfulDon 03 Apr 2009 at 4:35 pm

    An abstraction concerning the responsibility for the consequences of forceful acts is not somehow a contributor to the nature of those consequences. Let’s be clear about that.

  39. artfulDon 03 Apr 2009 at 7:51 pm

    In the search for that illusive substance, clarity, I must quote bits from the original post:

    “Pillay offers these possibilities as to mechanism:

    (1) that intention is transmitted by an as yet unknown energy signal;
    ——-
    The first option – an unknown energy signal – is almost the equivalent of saying “by magic.” First, the room in which the receiver sat was extensively shielded. So this unknown energy must have some unusual properties – it can go through heavy shielding but will interact with soft biology. It also, apparently, can be generated by the human brain. Until such a candidate energy is detected and something is known about its characteristics, and it is plausibly tied to biological creation and effects – this option does not deserve to be taken seriously.”

    *****
    But unfortunately by this post Dr. N seems to have accepted the premise that intention per se could be some sort of tangible force field that so far has not been found to be transmissible.
    The mystery to me is, why argue from the presumption that intention has some physical component to begin with? This involves the same type of thinking that led to beliefs in the separation of mind and brain – or to a contention that “my dualism makes more sense than your dualism.”

    Although I suppose some versions of dualism can make less sense than others.

  40. artfulDon 04 Apr 2009 at 5:47 pm

    Dualism appearing more often wrong for the right reasons than seeming right for the wrong reasons.

  41. sonicon 06 Apr 2009 at 5:56 am

    Dr. N-
    You are correct, decoherence is a well-established phenomenon- one that I am very aware of. I also understand its limitations to explain, limitations that many of the researchers have chosen to ignore. (The measurement problem is “why do we see a single reality?”, decoherence was an attempt to solve that question, it has failed to this point)–

    A good place to start to get a better handle on what decoherence is and isn’t-

    http://arxiv.org/abs/quant-ph/0312059

    “arXiv:quant-ph/0312059v4 28 Jun 2005
    Decoherence, the measurement problem, and interpretations of quantum mechanics

    “…leading adherents of decoherence have expressed caution or even doubt that decoherence has solved the measurement problem. Joos(2000, p. 14) writes
    Does decoherence solve the measurement problem? Clearly not….”

    Anderson has written a review where he claims decoherence has solved the measurement problem. However-

    “In a response to Anderson’s (2001, p. 492) comment, Adler(2003, p. 136) states
    I do not believe that either detailed theoretical calculations or recent experimental results show that decoherence has resolved the difficulties associated with quantum measurement theory.”

    “These remarks show that a balanced discussion of the key features of decoherence and their implications for the foundations of quantum mechanics is overdue. The decoherence program has made great progress over the past decade, and it would be inappropriate to ignore its relevance in tackling conceptual problems. However, it is equally important to realize the limitations of decoherence in providing consistent and noncircular answers to foundational questions.””

    In other words, while some want to believe decoherence solves the problems, those taking a more scientific approach (that is agreement with experiment) do not see the problems being resolved.

    (I do realize that much has been said about how decoherence solves all the problems of QM, but the reality is that it has not. The push to accept the fantasy of the ‘solution’ must be resisted so that science can continue without false answers clouding and twisting the thought of future thinkers.)

    Imagine for a moment that intention is an energy or force (perhaps it is a ‘dark energy’ like those ne’er do well pseudoscientists at NASA are pushing). Then for it to affect a body, it would only have to affect a very small object. After all, a small change in a blood vessel in your brain could bring about death very quickly-no? So we don’t need a force large enough to move a 200 lb. object, just a couple electrons in a brain.

    So realizing that decoherence fails to answer the question of how the reality we experience comes about, and that we do not need to have a large action to affect a body, we can see that your arguments are off the point.
    This is not to say that intention exists, but that it is not outside the realm of our current understanding (not ignorance) of physics and the universe we live in. Certainly I feel like my intention to communicate caused my fingers to move as I typed this answer.

  42. HHCon 06 Apr 2009 at 11:46 am

    This research is post-hoc analysis.

  43. Steven Novellaon 06 Apr 2009 at 12:17 pm

    Holy selective quoting, Sonic.

    The author of the reference you cites also says:

    “Also, since decoherence effects have been studied extensively in both theoretical models and experiments (for a survey, see, for example, Joos et al., 2003; Zurek, 2003b), their existence can be taken as a well-confirmed fact. ”

    And Concludes:

    “It is fair to say that the decoherence program sheds new light on many foundational aspects of quantum mechanics. It paves a physics-based path towards motivating solutions to the measurement problem; it imposes constraints on the strands of interpretations that seek such a solution and thus makes them also more and more similar to each other. Decoherence remains an ongoing field of intense research, in both the theoretical and experimental domain, and we can expect further implications for the foundations of quantum mechanics from such studies in the near future.”

    But let me also put this into the proper context. My point is that quantum effect are not present in the macroscopic world, which behaves classically. This is the consensus view of physicists, although there are alternate interpretations. The question is (this is the measurement problem you refer to) why? Why is there a difference between the quantum world and the classic world. This is very complex, but one answer is decoherence – reaction of a quantum system with its environment.

    The point of this review you quote is that decoherence may not be a sufficient explanation. But it accepts as a basic principle that the macroscopic world is classical.

    So you have committed the common but subtle problem of confusing a question of IF with a question of HOW.

    The related question is when does the transition from quantum to classical take place, and this was the precise point of the de Broglie wavelength. Your argument that quantum effects should apply to neurons is not valid. It takes more than a few electrons to fire even a single neuron, let alone a pattern of them sufficient to make up a thought. In any case, neurons are far above the limit for observed quantum effects.

    Finally – there is no justification for you framing this issue as between those in denial vs those willing to listen to the research. All sides are trying to understand and interpret the results of experiment. There is no high ground for you there. This is just the common and false “open minded” vs “closed minded” nonsense we typically encounter.

  44. artfulDon 06 Apr 2009 at 1:39 pm

    Holy incoherence when two people, at least one of which should know better, discuss the method by which the non-existent “force” of intention could conceivably have heretofore non-existent consequences in a universe where there would have to be a decoherent non-determinant first cause.

  45. artfulDon 06 Apr 2009 at 3:26 pm

    Erwin Schrödinger was mentioned in the cold fusion section of his forum, and brought to mind this apropos conundrum:

    Schrödinger’s Cat: A cat, along with a flask containing a poison, is placed in a sealed box shielded against environmentally induced quantum decoherence. If an internal Geiger counter detects radiation then the flask is shattered, releasing the poison which kills the cat. Quantum mechanics suggests that after a while the cat is simultaneously alive and dead. Yet, when we look in the box, we see the cat either alive or dead, not a mixture of alive and dead.

    Perhaps the cat had no intention of dying and forcefully resisted that fate? And as we know, such animal magnetism did pass from cats to humans according to the Vedic science. We may have thus found our mysterious force for distant healing.

  46. sonicon 07 Apr 2009 at 3:13 am

    Dr.N
    Quantum mechanics was first used by Max Planck to solve the ‘ultraviolet catastrophe’ problem of ‘classical physics’. The Rayleigh-Jeans law predicted that all objects would give off an infinite amount of high-energy radiation. Therefore all objects- including you and me- would be instantly vaporized if the universe were actually classical. To say that quantum effects don’t exist at some level of the universe is a mistake- without quantum effects nothing that you see would exist in any way.

    If the universe were actually described by ‘classical physics’ everything you can see and touch would be instantaneously vaporized. The universe is therefore not classical and is in fact described by QM (thankfully). This is true for all objects that exist.

    So next time someone tries to tell you that QM does not apply to something- realize that what ever QM does not apply to does not exist in the universe that you are currently inhabiting.

    Sorry if this is getting off-topic, but we need to understand this in order to think logically about the topics under discussion.

  47. Steven Novellaon 07 Apr 2009 at 11:04 am

    Sonic – this is a huge straw man. No one is saying that quantum effects are not relevant to particles and energy. No one is saying that classical physics can account for their behavior. At this stage in our conversation it is amazing you would try to make this point.

    The reality is – while quantum effects are relevant at the atomic scale, they are clearly not relevant at the macroscopic scale. If you shoot potatoes through a double slit you will not get an interference pattern on the other side. If you shoot electrons through, you do. Why? And at what point, exactly, does the transition from QM behavior and classical behavior occur? THAT it occurs is not controversial. Your point that potatoes are made of atomic particles that obey QM is a non sequitur.

    de Brolie shows that QM effects rapidly shrink to insignificance as you get above the size of small molecules. Very special conditions can be created to extend QM effects to larger sizes, but these very contrived laboratory conditions are not relevant to natural systems.

  48. Steven Novellaon 07 Apr 2009 at 11:08 am

    artfuld wrote: “But unfortunately by this post Dr. N seems to have accepted the premise that intention per se could be some sort of tangible force field that so far has not been found to be transmissible.”

    Not true. To clarify, the assumption is, rather, that the brain creates intention and also creates some energy signal that has an effect. Intention itself is not a thing, it is an abstraction of brain function, but brain function is a thing.

  49. artfulDon 07 Apr 2009 at 1:19 pm

    Dr. Novella, how disingenuous of you to pretend that it is I who fail to understand the meaning of intention.

    To quote from my own comments above in this very post:

    “Actually intention in this context is simply another word for purpose, neither of which have any physical properties. They are concepts used in our attempts to explain the mechanistic actions of life forms.”

    “An abstraction concerning the responsibility for the consequences of forceful acts is not somehow a contributor to the nature of those consequences.”

    So even now you want to say that because intention is an abstraction of a brain function, and that function is “thing,” then by inference intention is also a thing or at least representative of one.

    Which is meaningless because by definition or definitions a thing is: 1. a material object without life or consciousness; an inanimate object.
    2. some entity, object, or creature that is not or cannot be specifically designated or precisely described: The stick had a brass thing on it.
    3. anything that is or may become an object of thought: things of the spirit.

    Speaking as you often have of fallacies, here’s one that may apply:
    Post Hoc: because one thing follows another, it is held to cause the other.

    Leaving a lot of room for a thing to be a force, I suppose.

  50. artfulDon 07 Apr 2009 at 3:53 pm

    Actually if the argument here boils down to the proposition that healing from a distance cannot be accomplished by the force of a brain function, you have simply proposed that your belief system is better than Pillay’s belief system. Which is the fallacy of applying the general to the specific.
    This could mean that Sonic has had an advantage in this discussion, a specific that is seriously out of whack with the general.

  51. Steven Novellaon 07 Apr 2009 at 6:09 pm

    artfulD – I am not pretending anything. I was simply pointing out the premise I was operating under. You seem to be getting tangled up in semantic arguments.

    My position was clear – there is no mechanism by which intention can affect the health of another. This does not imply that intention has some physical existence like a force. Your assumption that that is somehow my position is bizarre. I say this claim is akin to magic because intention is not a force or something that can affect reality.

    With regard to the specific proposition that intention works by some unknown force, this notion is only coherent under the premise that this unknown force is being created by something, such as the function of the brain – although a dualist (which I am not) might also argue the force comes from something else. My point here is that invoking an unknown force is of no use unless it is testable. And since this “force” does not seem to have any of the properties we ascribe to the known forces there does not seem to be any way to test it. Again – this is the functional equivalent of saying it’s magic.

  52. artfulDon 07 Apr 2009 at 8:13 pm

    “I say this claim is akin to magic because intention is not a force or something that can affect reality.”
    And my position from the start has been that’s what you should have said to begin with. The debate with Sonic over the nature of that magic was, in that light, to no real purpose.

    And what you dismiss as semantics is the argument that goes to the heart of the problem with people like Pillay (and Chopra, et al).

    Their religious “understanding” of the nature of force is the key. This is the view that enables dualists and the religious in general to give the illusion of strength to their ideation – that there are forces such as evil and good in the world, which without the force of “intention” and the “mind” that enables them would have no conceivable powers.
    They couldn’t care less about a position that doesn’t address these core beliefs.

  53. CKavaon 08 Apr 2009 at 4:15 am

    Just read the whole comment section and kudos should go to Steve for spending so long addressing all the misconceptions, strawman and random arguments. That’s some stamina.

  54. artfulDon 08 Apr 2009 at 4:47 am

    CKava wants everyone to know that he (or she) knew all the time that intention was not a force. Just couldn’t seem to find the words to say how he knew it.

  55. CKavaon 08 Apr 2009 at 12:05 pm

    Speaking on his behalf I believe he doesn’t mind about any of that. Instead he is simply congratulating Steve for having a remarkable amount of stamina in responding to the comments on his articles. I could be wrong though.

  56. artfulDon 08 Apr 2009 at 12:34 pm

    And here I thought he was simply one of the usual arse kissers bringing up the rear.

  57. CKavaon 08 Apr 2009 at 7:41 pm

    My apologies for the interruption, please return to the probing analysis. So far you’ve established that Steve doesn’t think intention is a magical force- keep the revelations coming.

  58. artfulDon 08 Apr 2009 at 8:19 pm

    I’m afraid you didn’t take your head out long enough to note that Steve doesn’t think intention is a force at all. Therefor not magical.
    On the other hand, sycophancy has long been regarded in your public school system as an example of magical force.

  59. CKavaon 09 Apr 2009 at 5:19 am

    Very insightful. I think I’m gaining an even greater appreciation for Steve’s patience.

  60. DevilsAdvocateon 09 Apr 2009 at 9:25 am

    lol

  61. artfulDon 09 Apr 2009 at 12:48 pm

    CKava sees himself as the designated toady who for wont of anything else to contribute offers congradulations to the blog owner for going through the ordeal of successfully doing and getting what the owner started the blog to do to begin with.
    CKava seems to see the process of offering an opinion with the expectation of getting commentary and feedback other than subservient obeisance as a torturous process.
    Which of course for his like it would be.
    But that the exercise can be ultimately rewarding in and of itself escapes him completely.
    So he’s like a solicitous candy striper who offers condolences to the doctor for the success of the operation.

  62. CKavaon 09 Apr 2009 at 7:37 pm

    What the heck, I’ve got 2 minutes to kill!

    I’m not privy to Steve’s intentions but I kind of doubt that he started this blog in the hopes of repeatedly having to discuss misinterpretations of his points and/or pedantic semantic debates in excruciating detail in the comments section of his articles. Getting commentary and feedback… yes of course, but having to repeatedly clarify that he doesn’t regard intention as a force, whether magical or not, hmmm… probably not.

    I could be wrong which is why all I have offered is my own admiration at his level of tolerance for such discussions. He’s got more patience than I do. Whether I make such comments due to my deep seated ‘subservient obeisance’ or simply because I find long debates over obvious misinterpretations to be irritating and generally pointless I’ll leave to yourself and others to decide.

    Speaking of which, I have to ask, since you write your replies as if speaking to an audience, do you actually think there are many people reading this exchange, except you and me? Or is it simply because you like to make your statements sound more grandiose? I’m genuinely curious.

    Oh and since I get the feeling you like to have the last word it may please you to know that I won’t be offering any more responses. So rest assured that you can post whatever rebuttal you like and it will go unanswered and unchallenged. Which I believe will make you the undisputed comments-section-long-and-unnecessary-arguments champion.

    Congratulations and good night!

    I look forward to many future riveting discussions.

  63. artfulDon 09 Apr 2009 at 10:22 pm

    CKava,
    As far as I can tell you’ve never offered a substantive comment on any subject except those that tell us which side you have chosen to be on, without anything to convince the other side that they have lost something in the way of support by your absence.

    As to Steve’s “having to repeatedly clarify that he doesn’t regard intention as a force” as you put it, he only said that once – and even then you didn’t seem to get it.

    Actually there are a lot of people that read these exchanges, and I always comment with an eye toward getting a substantive response, positive or negative.

    But the kind of incoherent response that boils down to a defense of the blog owner’s position after there has been an agreement between the parties on that very point can only be motivated by an inability to be other than the designated adulator, apple polisher, ass-kisser, backscratcher, backslapper, bootlicker, brownnoser, doter, fawner, flatterer, flunky, groupie, hanger-on, kiss-up, lackey, minion, teacher’s pet, or yes-person.

  64. HHCon 09 Apr 2009 at 11:05 pm

    artfulD, Somehow you missed out complaining about the posters with blind faith.

  65. artfulDon 10 Apr 2009 at 12:37 am

    Well, like yourself, at least they make an attempt at substantive commentary.

  66. DevilsAdvocateon 10 Apr 2009 at 12:09 pm

    CKava: “Speaking of which, I have to ask, since you write your replies as if speaking to an audience, do you actually think there are many people reading this exchange, except you and me?”

    Oh, I’m reading, but only in subservient obeisance towards CKava’s subservient obeisance towards the blog owner, to whom I am also subserviently obeisant, having no brain of my own.

    I get a minor kick out of reading the ‘contrarians without a cause’.

  67. artfulDon 10 Apr 2009 at 1:27 pm

    And so we note the juggling for one’s proper place in the hierarchy of the subservient.

  68. tmac57on 10 Apr 2009 at 1:55 pm

    Hey Steve – I have an idea for a Neurologica T-shirt.
    How about ‘TO SERVE AND OBEY’ I got my inspiration from ArtfulD, the only one with guts to tell us all what a bunch of sycophants we all are. You print it up, and I’ll wear it at TAM7.

  69. artfulDon 10 Apr 2009 at 2:11 pm

    The self-identification process is playing out just as predicted. How about a toad as your logo?

  70. DevilsAdvocateon 10 Apr 2009 at 3:54 pm

    So you can sue us for copyright infringement? I think not.

  71. artfulDon 10 Apr 2009 at 4:45 pm

    Regardless or perhaps because of the limitations exhibited in that rejoinder, another one hops deftly into the toad wagon!

  72. artfulDon 10 Apr 2009 at 6:15 pm

    The natural hierarchy in the world of the warted is of course quite limited in range and scope, and the smarter members are mainly of the fictional variety. For example, check out the wit and wisdom of Warty Bliggens:

    http://www.donmarquis.com/readingroom/archybooks/warty.html

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