Nov 19 2012

Studying the Brains of Mediums

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12 Responses to “Studying the Brains of Mediums”

  1. SARAon 19 Nov 2012 at 10:09 am

    I think it’s sad that people who fine tune a talent for cold reading in it’s various forms are generally part of the grifters of the world. Intentionally or not.

    When you consider what such a talent could do for a therapist, for example. I don’t think therapists (or at least none that I’ve ever met) are nearly as good at reading people as the cheapest psychic at a fair.

  2. EOon 19 Nov 2012 at 10:38 am

    It would be interesting to go back in time and have painters like Masson, Miro, or any of the surrealists take these tests. They were, as part if their artistic practice, seeking to create this kind of trancelike state as a way to get away from all of their artistic training.

    I imagine results between a more seasoned surrealist (so to speak) and a younger artists would line up very similarly to the participants in this study.

    I don’t know what the spiritual beliefs are of all those artists were, but I am fairly certain they weren’t projecting their abilities on some outside or mystical source. They like myself found the subconscious far more interesting than having contact with some outside spiritual personality.

  3. Artur Krolon 19 Nov 2012 at 1:17 pm

    I would differentiate between the flow states as experienced by sportspeople and trance states as experienced by mediums. Both might be based on deeply integrated skills, but the conciousness works on the opposite ends of the spectrum.

    In trance states there is an increased “internal” awareness, concentrated on a single issue (either physiological experience, or imagination), with little “external” awareness.

    In flow states we have more of a mindful state, an increased “external awareness”, with little “internal” awareness, so the sportsmen in flow often claim to be observers of their own body moving. (This is only so in well developed skills. In undeveloped skills the same state causes a “I have no idea what’s going on, my head is empty” style panic attack.)

  4. Steven Novellaon 19 Nov 2012 at 9:01 pm

    Attul – the analogy was to increased brain efficiency with long term training of a specific task or ability. In this way sports ability and automatic writing are similar. They are obviously dissimilar in many other ways.

  5. Jared Olsenon 20 Nov 2012 at 5:35 am

    Forgive my ignorance, but why does ‘subconscious’ activity in the brain correlate to less blood flow?
    It’s still a part of the brain doing the processing, and we’re apparently not privy to it, but the processing is still occurring, no?

  6. BillyJoe7on 20 Nov 2012 at 6:02 am

    ^consciousness, itself, requires the expenditure of energy.

  7. Steven Novellaon 20 Nov 2012 at 7:11 am

    Jared – to be clear, the blood flow still increases with brain activity. The researchers were looking at specific regions that correlate with creative writing. In the experienced psychograpers these areas still lit up, just not as much as the less experienced psychographers. This is probably because some of the processing burden of the task was offloaded to subconscious parts of the brain. Further, with practice the brain becomes more efficient at certain tasks. This is probably because the subconscious processing is inherently less demanding than the higher-order conscious processing, and through plasticity the brain develops learned processing, so it doesn’t have to recreate the effect each time.

    It’s sort of like Google cacheing common searches so it doesn’t have to process the search over and over.

  8. ConspicuousCarlon 22 Nov 2012 at 11:14 pm

    SARA on 19 Nov 2012 at 10:09 am

    I think it’s sad that people who fine tune a talent for cold reading in it’s various forms are generally part of the grifters of the world. Intentionally or not.

    When you consider what such a talent could do for a therapist, for example. I don’t think therapists (or at least none that I’ve ever met) are nearly as good at reading people as the cheapest psychic at a fair.

    I suppose there could be value in a therapist being able to discover what a patient is not wanting to tell them, but I see two issues with this:

    1. Ethically, should a therapist do this? It’s probably in the patient’s best interest, but it seems creepy.

    2. I don’t think it works as well as you think it does. Cold reading is often defined as including reading signs and body language, but in practice it looks like that is limited to some very basic stuff which a patient is unlikely to conceal (eg, are they married, what sort of job do they have, are they angry today, etc). And those are only around 60-70% accurate, which is hardly something a therapist should use to draw conclusions. Most cold reading seems to be Forer/Barnum tactics, which are only impressive to the receiver and are completely useless. The “reading” heuristics (when they are used at all–most seem to offer generic rambling) are only useful to psychics as a way of making very general choices about which vague Barnum statements they crank out (e.g., a psychic notices a wedding ring on a depressed woman, and says some crap like “there is unrest in your home”).

  9. ConspicuousCarlon 22 Nov 2012 at 11:21 pm

    Steve Novella:

    Is there any existing info on whether or not non-conscious brain functions either subside or increase when a person intentionally uses a conscious process to do the same thing? I’m not sure if I know enough to come up with a valid example, but if there were a non-conscious process for determining which block of chocolate is larger, is that activity altered if I intensely ponder the exact dimensions of each? I am wondering if learning to shut down conscious thought about something might actually increase the production of impulsive guessing, instead of just reducing conscious distractions from it.

  10. Grizwald Grimon 05 Jan 2013 at 9:51 pm

    “It does, in fact, come from a place other than their conscious mind – it comes from their subconscious, and there is no need to speculate about a non-physical source.”

    It’s completely okay to believe the null-theory, there’s no need of further studies…

    If the evidence from the study is insufficient to reach the conclusions they would like to, how is it not also insufficient to reach a negative conclusion?

  11. Thadiuson 05 Jan 2013 at 11:36 pm

    Grizwald Grim- when we are presented with a claim and we want to test it scientificaly, we create a test that will falsify the claim. That is a negative outcome refutes the claim and has much more weight than a positive claim (assuming no mistakes and biases).

  12. PixelKdon 16 Jan 2013 at 12:36 am

    Okay, bear with me here – fiction writer, thinking like a fiction writer… so don’t go thinking I actually believe what I am about to write is really plausible. Obviously, there is no reason to draw these conclusions… but assume that no one in the study is actually ‘faking’. That is, they all at lease believe what they are doing is real. For my purpose, assume it is real (cough* make believe with me).

    Steve – “If psychography were truly a matter of entering a trance-state in which another entity were taking over and doing the writing, why would there be any activity of the brain areas involved in such writing, and why the difference between novices and experts?”

    Witch doctor – “Well, of course communing with external spirits is a skill you have to work on. You may have a natural talent for it, but one must learn to hone that talent in order to better make contact. And it’s important to remember that the ‘entity’ is not so much taking you over, as it is ‘writing through you.’ It’s sending impulses through all that squishy biological goo via quantum… something.. and electrical impulses generated by that… something. Think of it as a cooperative endeavor.”

    A shadow moves. A plate falls off the counter.

    End scene

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