Apr 03 2017

Transcendental Meditation Pseudoscience

Transcendental-meditationIt’s fun to run into such a wonderful example of pure pseudoscience. Let’s deconstruct this one: Field Effects of Consciousness and Reduction in U.S. Urban Murder Rates: Evaluation of a Prospective Quasi-Experiment. This study comes from the Maharishi University of Management.

The idea here (which, let’s be clear, is a tenet of religious faith, not a scientific theory) is that consciousness is a field, and that there is a universal field of consciousness of which we are all a part. When individuals engage in transcendental meditation (TM) they are not only affecting their own consciousness, they are affecting the entire field.

The point of this and other similar TM studies is to confirm the belief (they are not testing the belief) that if enough people put good vibrations into the universal field of consciousness, society in general will benefit. How many is enough? Well apparently they have an answer for that. It is the square root of 1% of the population. Why? Because math.

That is such an excellent example of pseudoscience, having the trappings of science without the real essence of science. Look, they use numbers and everything. Apparently there isn’t a dose-response effect, there is a threshold effect, and once you get over the magic threshold the effect kicks in. That threshold has a simple mathematical formula, the square root of 1%. There is no established theoretical reason for this, but it sounds nice, having more in common with a magic ritual than a scientific process.

This is what they claim to have done with the experiment: The tracked the murder rate in the 206 largest US cities where FBI murder statistics were available. They then compared the baseline period from 2002-2006 with the intervention period from a 2007-2010. The intervention period was when the, “Transcendental Meditation and TM-Sidhi group exceeded 1,725 participants beginning in January 2007.” So they claim that murder rates were increasing and then when participant #1725 (because 1724 was not enough) signed up, the rate started to drop.

What is really funny is the blatant frequentist nonsense they spout in the press release. They claim:

“They calculated that the probability that the reduced trend in murder rates could simply be due to chance was 1 in 10 million million.”

So they think the probability that the murder rate declined from 2007 to 2010 was one in a trillion. Right.

This study screams p-hacking and assuming causation from correlation. The authors should take a look at spurious correlations website. There are countless trends in any variable you want to look at in society, and you can find countless correlations if you look. That does not mean there is a causal relationship.

If you look at the FBI statistics there has been a general downward trend in homicides since 1991 (hey, maybe vaccines are decreasing homicides). Like all long term trends, there are likely to be ups and downs over shorter periods. The trend leveled off a bit in the early 2000’s and then resumed the previous downward trend.

There is no consensus on what is causing this downward trend in crime and homicides in the last 25 years. No one societal factor explains the trend. That is why it is also laughable that the study authors claim that no other factor explains the drop in homicides during their study period, as if this lends support to their TM hypothesis.

This study, and other similar studies touted by the authors, is entirely worthless. They are simply taking credit for general trends in society. TM has been around since the 1950s, and became popular in the US in the 1970’s. Despite TM’s popularity, the 1970s was the beginning of a two decade historic increase in crime and murder rates. They should take credit for that also.

It’s interesting that the authors call their study a “quasi-experiment” which is a sort-of admission that it is not a real experiment. There is no real control. They cannot control for how many people are using TM at any time (so how do they know their magic 1,725 figure is reliable). This is like prayer studies – how do you know people who are not part of the study aren’t praying for the subject?

Also, how do they define “society.” Does Canada count? Does the universal consciousness field obey political boundaries. Should they include the population of Canada in their square root of 1% calculation, or include Canadian crime statistics (which did not follow the same trend)? What about Mexico – does language matter? Perhaps they can use east and west of the Mississippi as a control. Or can they go state by state?

That’s the problem with studying magic. There are no real rules. This raises p-hacking to a new level, because you can arbitrarily make up whatever variables or thresholds you want. Essentially all they are doing in this and the other studies they tout is cherry picking favorable trends.

They then do useless frequentist statistics to make it seem “statistically significant,” but they are crunching the numbers as if this were a clean experiment and not just looking at societal trends. The numbers ultimately mean nothing because there is no real control group.

Applying numbers to magic does not make it science.

38 responses so far

38 Responses to “Transcendental Meditation Pseudoscience”

  1. Jonathan Jarryon 03 Apr 2017 at 9:37 am

    This same psychological mind set is at play, I would argue, in cases of regression to the mean. You take a homeopathic remedy when your flu symptoms are at their worst. When you get relief, you ascribe it to the homeopathy. In both cases, a process outside of your control looks to be influenced by some bit of magic you engaged in.

  2. Fair Persuasionon 03 Apr 2017 at 10:42 am

    The university constructed this report during the Obama presidency, 2010. Since February 2017, the date of their report, Trump is now in office. How many university subjects of transcendental meditation will they need to impact Chicago’s murder rate? Ohm.

  3. Beamupon 03 Apr 2017 at 10:53 am

    1% isn’t even an interesting number unless you’re working in base 10. Real effects almost never come out so numerically neat.

  4. SteveAon 03 Apr 2017 at 11:55 am

    You buried the lead.

    In 2009, 800 people died after getting tangled in their bedsheets!

    What?! The one place I thought I’d be safe.

    http://www.tylervigen.com/spurious-correlations

  5. Willyon 03 Apr 2017 at 12:06 pm

    I think this “university” has a connection to the infamous Jeffrey Smith of anti-GMO fame.

    Here’s the MUM website: https://www.mum.edu/. They claim to offer “conciousness-based education”. Perhaps that means they discourage student keg parties?

  6. Atlantean Idolon 03 Apr 2017 at 12:38 pm

    I meditate daily but if others could influence my behavior by doing the same I sure as heck wouldn’t.

  7. Atheeb Ur Rahmanon 03 Apr 2017 at 12:57 pm

    Apologies from India 🙂

  8. MaryMon 03 Apr 2017 at 1:36 pm

    I couldn’t resist looking at the journal’s other items, of course. Yeah. “Principles and Practice of Sustainability in Maharishi Vedic Science”.

    But maybe we can actually get this work published now–I’ve been asking John Fagan and his pals for the studies on these humming pandits that improve plant growth for a long time. They haven’t given me the data. https://youtu.be/92iguO2vIgY

  9. Paul C. Anagnostopouloson 03 Apr 2017 at 8:40 pm

    I’m a trained teacher of TM, doing my stint in 1975. I backed out the door slowly as the Sidhi program was being introduced.

    Prior to the square root of 1%, it was 1%. But then they figured out that was never going to happen.

    ~~ Paul

  10. marineron 03 Apr 2017 at 9:26 pm

    I’m coming up on the 50th anniversary of my initiation into TM, and I can claim that I once gave a flower to Maharishi himself. But like Paul, I backed slowly into the hedge about the time they founded the University and started talking about levitation etc. There’s a certain face validity to the notion that if enough people are doing something like meditating, then the crime rate will drop — it’s hard to commit crimes when you’re sitting still with your eyes closed. I didn’t realize that the target meditator/unenlightened ratio had been revised downward from 1% to the square root of 1% — I guess the power of TM got more efficient due to the great strides in scientific research at Maharishi U.

    All that snarkiness aside, I still practice TM occasionally. If you ditch all the philosophical/religious baggage, it’s a pretty good relaxation technique. At my age, I usually fall asleep before I reach a state of “restful alertness.”

  11. dangon 03 Apr 2017 at 11:20 pm

    How many former TM teachers are reading this blog? I became a teacher in mid-to-late seventies. I wish I could get back the money I spent on their courses. Still waiting for world peace, no crime, and super powers. Still chagrined that I once believed it.

  12. MCRISLIPon 04 Apr 2017 at 12:04 am

    My DMD suggests it for crowns and fillings instead of novocain: transcend dental medication.

  13. jt512on 04 Apr 2017 at 12:05 am

    I was never a teacher, but I experimented with practicing it in the 70s. Never did anything for me, at all. You weren’t supposed to tell your mantra to anyone, because it was personal. Turns out, everybody had the same mantra: inga.

  14. Bill Openthalton 04 Apr 2017 at 6:47 am

    dang —
    Many skeptics are reformed believers. I’ve been a member of Opus Dei followed by the communist party (I love contrasts and I wanted to believe in something “positive” 🙂 ) in my misspent youth. A few years after recovering from my ideological delusions, I went to a TM course (because it was taught by my uncle, a advertising copy-writer turned guru) only to be kicked out after two hours for asking the wrong questions.

    Belief not only addles the mind, it distorts any and all observations.

  15. BillyJoe7on 04 Apr 2017 at 8:40 am

    I never practised TM but I used to practise levitating for thirty minutes every Saturday morning for about twelve months, convinced that one day I would succeed. Actually doing something stupid like that ingrains into your brain the stupidity of things like that, which acts as a sort of protective shield against stupid things like that.

  16. edamameon 04 Apr 2017 at 9:13 am

    The problem is much deeper than an frequentist methodology (you can p-hack Bayesian stats too after all, and I’m sure people will do so in the future).

    Also just to be clear, TM, taken as a vanilla technique for relaxation and lowering stress, seems to have many benefits. Physiological routes for things like focusing on breathing can be studied in the lab. For instance, March 31 Science paper connecting the breathing CPG (prebotzinger complex) to more generic emotional arousal centers in mice:
    http://science.sciencemag.org/content/355/6332/1411

    So it isn’t like the focus on breathing, and claims that it can be calming, are crazy.

    But when people start pushing things into the extrapersonal conscious Atman field (or whatever the heck it is the kids these days are saying)? Yeah…no. Or violating the laws of physics by levitation? Umm. WTF. Give me the evidence. Good evidence. Not the second-hand hearsay of your friend’s sister’s pig’s guru. Oh suddenly you aren’t so sure? OK bye.

    That said, I know many practitioners of TM who just use it as a relaxation tool and aren’t dancing with the wu li masters. We can divide and conquer, and need to intelligently evaluate these complicated fields of thought that may contain useful practical skills. Even if some of their metaphysical and factual claims are BS.

  17. cosmicaugon 04 Apr 2017 at 11:03 am

    Quoting Arthur C. Clarke, “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”.

    Paraphrasing Arthur C. Clarke, any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from bullshit.

  18. Grimbeardon 04 Apr 2017 at 2:28 pm

    Good article, but I have to take issue with this statement: “It’s interesting that the authors call their study a “quasi-experiment” which is a sort-of admission that it is not a real experiment. There is no real control.”

    The term “quasi-experiment” can be used in that way, and doubtless is here, but it is also used for actual experiments where the independent variable is not directly manipulated by the experimenters. For example, comparing men to women, smokers to non-smokers, psychology students to medical students, and so on. In such quasi-experiments there *is* control, for example in sample selection and to eliminate or minimise confounding variables, but they’re not ‘true’ experiments because the IV isn’t manipulated.

    The fact that something is a “quasi-experiment” doesn’t automatically invalidate the findings, as you seem to imply here.

  19. David Orme-Johnsonon 05 Apr 2017 at 5:05 pm

    I read this paper on the effects of the Transcendental Meditation technique (TM) on US homicide rates and I have a different view of it than Mr. Novella. The study predicted in advance the exact point in time at which the homicide trend would decrease, the statistical methodology was impeccable, and an extension of the study found that the TM coherence creating group also changed the trends of violent crimes, traffic fatalities, deaths due to accidents by other causes, drug-related deaths, and infant mortality.

    Mr. Novella begins his review by asserting that the theory informing the study is “a tenet of religious faith, not a theory”. In fact, the theory that the universe is fundamentally a field of consciousness has been seriously proposed by such luminaries of the modern scientific worldview as Sir James Jeans(1), Max Planck (quoted in Klein (2), Erwin Schrodinger(3), Niels Bohr, Eugene Wigner(4), Sir Arthur Eddington and Albert Einstein(5). This view has been similarly expressed by other eminent physical scientists, for example, Sir Arthur Eddington’s “mind stuff” and Wolfgang Pauli’s “unity of all being” (6) p. 124). In an article on quantum mechanics appearing in Scientific American, French physicist Bernard d’Espagnat summarized the field by stating, “The doctrine that the world is made up of objects whose existence is independent of human consciousness turns out to be in conflict with quantum mechanics and with the facts established by experiment” (7)p. 158.

    Schrodinger argued for the primacy of consciousness from an analysis of volitional action: “So let us see whether we cannot draw the correct, non-contradictory conclusion from the following two premises:
    “(i) My body functions as a pure mechanism according to the Laws of Nature.
    “(ii) Yet, I know, by incontrovertible direct experience, that I am directing its motions, of which I foresee the effects, that may be fateful and all-important, in which case I feel and take responsibility for them.
    “The only possible inference from these two facts is, I think, that I—I in the widest meaning of the word, that is to say, every conscious mind that has ever said or felt ‘I,’,—am the person, if any, who controls the ‘motion of the atoms’ according to the Laws of Nature.” (3)(pp. 92-93)

    In the social sciences, concepts of a collective consciousness appear as Gustav Fechner’s description of a single transcendental continuum of “general consciousness” underlying the discontinuities of numerous localized individual minds associated with different people. (8) Emile Durkheim, one of the founders of modern sociology, described “collective consciousness” as the mind of society, created when “the consciousness of the individuals, instead of remaining isolated, becomes grouped and combined”(9) A related theory is Carl Jung’s collective unconscious.

    The suggestion that individuals interact directly at a distance through an underlying common field of consciousness has a long history. Indeed, it is embedded in the “perennial philosophy,” the term Aldous Huxley (1945) first applied to the universal system of thought that has persisted throughout history in all parts of the world(10) and which continues to be seriously discussed by major thinkers (11-14).

    Currently, there are dozens of studies (not involving TM) showing that people interact with each other all the time, whether they are meditating or not. When we get angry at, fear, or love another person it has a measurable physiological effect on them. Meta-analyses of the best controlled of these studies show that they have small but highly significant effect sizes.(15) All of these streams of influence going on all the time between individuals in a population is what we call the collective consciousness of the population.(16)

    What TM adds to the mix is a way to experimentally test for field effects of consciousness. The rationale is that by reducing the stress and increasing the happiness and harmony in the individuals who practice TM, their influence on collective consciousness will become more positive than it was before, less stressed and more harmonious. Research has shown that it takes only about 1% of the population practicing TM for their coherent influence to begin to change the trends of time towards more coherence, operationalized as decreased crime rate, for example.

    This is not cherry picking. These studies have been predicted in advance and replicated numerous times. Good examples are studies on stratified random samples of 160 US cities and 80 Standard Metropolitan Statistical Areas over an eight year period.(17) These studies controlled for 13 demographic variables. Causality was supported by the finding that increases in TM participation in the cities predicted subsequent reductions in crime rate, but not vice versa.

    Further research found that when the meditators meditate together in a group that their influence became squared, following the general principle that the coherent elements of a system have an influence proportional to their number squared, whereas the incoherent elements have an influence proportional to their number. Hence the prediction is that when the √1% of a population practices TM and the more advanced TM-Sidhi program together in a group, that a measurable influence of coherence would be created in society.

    Here are some strengths of this study of TM on homicide:
    • the exact point of the phase transition to decreased homicide was specified and predicted in advance;

    • it is not “p-hacking” because you do not even need any statistics to see the obvious shift in the homicide trend from a slightly rising trend to a downward trend;

    • the statistics were competently done, controlling for issues of autocorrelations, stationarity, homoscedasticity, prior trends, underlying statistical assumptions of the structural break equation used, and model adequacy. The bottom line of all this is that the change in crime trend, which can be clearly seen without any statistics at all, cannot be explained by prior cycles or trends in the data , nor by violation of any statistical rules and assumptions that might give rise to a spurious p value. The tiny p-value indicates that it is highly unlikely that that any of these items could have accounted for the reduction in crime associated with the sudden increase in the number of TM and TM-Sidhi participants practicing together twice a day sustained over the four-year period.

    • The authors of the study did consider alternative explanations, and point out that whereas the TM effect was immediate, parameters that influence crime are generally slow changing, for example, poverty, lack of economic opportunities, residential instability, social networks, and percent of young adult males ages 18-24. In fact, increased unemployment and decreased prison populations during the study period would have predicted an increase, not the observed decrease in crime.

    • What is most convincing to me is that the extension of this study to other variables found that not only homicides had decreased, but also violent crime (18), infant mortality(19), drug related deaths (19), traffic fatalities(20) and death due to other kinds of accidents (20). As with the homicides, shifts in trends occurred at the predicted point in time. What is the likelihood of that happening by chance?

    Because collective consciousness is about human consciousness, family ties, political boundaries, etc. being structures of consciousness will be relevant to how the effect is transmitted. The √1% formula is in terms of the number of people who will be affected. So as you increase the size of the group in a town, for example, that town will first be influenced. But as the size of the group becomes large enough to influence the state, the state will be influenced. When it becomes big enough for the nation, the nation will be influenced. As it continues to grow, it will influence neighboring nations, favoring those that are more culturally similar because of greater affinity of language, TV shows watched, etc. But as the group become large enough to influence the whole country it spreads out to that level and will not necessarily be more powerful in the town that it is in.

    This is science because it is predictive– the effect can be implemented anywhere at any time. For example, in a study I was involved with in the Middle East in 1983, we proposed to create a TM group in Jerusalem with social indicators specified in advance to an independent project review board (crime, auto accidents, fires, national mood, and stock prices in Israel and war deaths and war intensity in the Lebanon war). Trends changed in the predicted direction and supported a causal interpretation(16). The effect was replicated seven times.(21) There have been over 50 such studies.

    So what is happening now? In the US, the size of the coherence group has fallen to 800, approximately half the √1% requirement. What happened was that a donor was providing scholarships to meditators to participate in the group program as their dedicated “job”. But when the funding ran out, half had to get other jobs. We have been searching for other ways to create sustainable groups, such as in schools, the military, prisons, and retirement communities. Such effects are meeting with great success in other countries, especially in Latin America and India. https://www.davidlynchfoundation.org/

    1. Jeans J. The Mysterious Universe. New York: Macmillan; 1932.
    2. Klein DB. The Concept of Consciousness: A Survey. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press; 1984.
    3. Schrodinger E. What is Life and Mind and Matter. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 1944,1985.
    4. Wigner E. Symmetries and Reflections. Woodbridge, CT: Ox Bow Press; 1967.
    5. Einstein A. Albert Einstein Quotes on Spirituality. Judaism Online; [cited 2014]; Available from: http://www.simpletoremember.com/articles/a/einstein/.
    6. Dossey L. Recovering the Soul. New York: Bantam Books; 1989.
    7. D’Espagnat B. The quantum theory and reality. Scientific American. 1979;241(5):158–81.
    8. James W. Human Immortality: Two Supposed Objections to The Doctrine. Boston and New York1898.
    9. Durkheim E. Society and individual consciousness. In (Eds.), , 1101. 2 (). : . In: Parsons T, Shils E, Naegele KD, Pitts JR, editors. Theories of society. Glencoe, Illinois: The Free Press; 1961. p. 720-4.
    10. Huxley A. The Perennial Philosophy New York: Harper Collins Publishers; 1944/2009.
    11. Theise ND, Kafatos MC. Fundamental awareness: A framework for integrating science, philosophy and metaphysics. Communicative & Integrative Biology. 2016;9(3).
    12. Shear J. On mystical experiences as empirical support for the perennial philosophy. Journal of the American Academy of Religion 1994;LXII(2):319-42.
    13. Goswami A. Physics within non-dual consciousness. Philosophy East and West. 2001;51(4):535–44.
    14. Lanza R, Berman B. Biocentrism: How life and consciousness are keys to understanding the true nature of the universe. Dallas, TX: BenBella Books; 2010.
    15. Radin D, Schlitz M, Baur C. Distant healing intention therapies: An overview of the scientific evidence. Global Advances in Health Medicine. 2015;4(Suppl):67-71.
    16. Orme-Johnson DW, Alexander CN, Davies JL, Chander HM, Larimore WE. International Peace Project: The Effects of the Maharishi Technology of the Unified Field. Journal of Conflict Resolution. 1988;32(4):776-812.
    17. Dillbeck MC, Banus CB, Polanzi C, Landrith III GS. Test of a field model of consciousness and social change: The Transcendental Meditation and TM-Sidhi program and decreased urban crime. The Journal of Mind and Behavior. 1988;9:457-86.
    18. Dillbeck MC, Cavanaugh KL. Societal violence and collective consciousness: Reduction of U.S. homicide and urban violent crime rates. SAGE Open. 2016;April-June:1-16.
    19. Dillbeck MC, Cavanaugh KL. Group Practice of the Transcendental Meditation® and TM-Sidhi® Program and Reductions in Infant Mortality and Drug-Related Death: A Quasi-Experimental Analysis. SAGE Open. 2017;January-March:1-15.
    20. Cavanaugh KL, Dillbeck MC. The contribution of proposed field effects of consciousness to the prevention of U.S. accidental fatalities: Theory and empirical tests. Journal of Consciousness Studies. 2017;24(1-2):53–86.
    21. Davies JL, Alexander CN. Alleviating political violence through reducing collective tension: Impact assessment analysis of the Lebanon war. Journal of Social Behavior and Personality. 2005;17(1):285-338.

  20. tomballon 06 Apr 2017 at 10:25 am

    Excellent rebuttal, Orme-Johnson, in defense of meditation and of the obvious, common sense reality that people do influence each other on levels deeper than the most surface, physical interactions.

    I can’t help but think of Thomas Kuhn’s explanations of how scientific revolutions happen: Beginning with anomalies, wherein the research outcomes and data cannot be explained by the existing paradigm, scientists are forced to either disregard (or ridicule or attack) the anomalous findings, or make adjustments to the prevailing theoretical framework (develop an expanded physical theory, as physicist John Hagelin says; in this case, embrace the theory that consciousness is a fundamental field, not a mere epiphenomenon of brain functioning).

    I sympathize with Novella’s ridicule and with many of the commenters, it’s all good and it’s part of how science grows. I thank him for calling attention to the more controversial (more paradigm threatening?) of the many studies on TM (there are now over 750 published studies, 90% of them on safe ground, such as cardio or anxiety research, showing dramatic improvements in physical and mental health).

    As Kuhn says, it’s hard for a scientist to desert a tradition, to switch paradigms in midstream; in fact, it’s almost impossible. And let’s be clear: the article’s objections pertain not to faulty statistical analysis or issues with data collection, and the credible theory and mechanism offered by bold, pioneering scientists to explain TM’s sociological effect were not even addressed; the objections are paradigmatic: the naysayers are declaring that it’s just not possible, and quite loony, that group meditation can influence the surrounding non-meditating population.

    But such reactions are par for the course. When the first TM studies were introduced in peer-review journals, beginning in the 1970s—showing deeper rest than sleep, a range of health benefits, improved performance and greater emotional resilience, etc., there was the same reaction: PSEUDOSCIENCE! How can meditation have these effects! But after 40 years of research on TM and other forms of meditation, no sane person questions the health benefits anymore.

    In Kuhn’s words, when a scientist ignores the data, “he has ceased to be a scientist.”

    As Schopenhauer famously said: “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”

    The field effect of consciousness is just the next layer of deeper understanding for science to embrace. It won’t be long before sociologists and physicists will accept it as self-evident that meditation can help transform society. The data is already there and has been for decades. And please note: about 25 studies on TM’s sociological effects have been already published in respectable peer-reviewed journals, such as Yale’s Journal of Conflict Resolution. And not all scientists are snarky about the quality of the research or the plausibility of the theory: http://meditationasheville.blogspot.com/2011/12/doctorsscientists-on-transcendental.html http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jeanne-ball/collective-consciousness-meditation_b_822288.html

    How do scientific revolutions occur, accord to Kuhn? The old generation dies off, and newer scientists come along, more flexible and less invested in the old thought traditions. Perhaps in this information age, such transformations can happen more quickly.

  21. Steven Novellaon 06 Apr 2017 at 10:39 am

    David,

    You haven’t actually addressed my criticism, just added a deeper layer of special pleading and magical thinking.

    The bottom line is that they simply cherry picked a blip in the long term trend of decreasing crime and homicides. It is absurd for them to take credit for this.

    There were no actual controls in their data. If, as you say, you can have this affect on a town level or state level, then they could easily have controls, and they won’t need many people to have their alleged effect.

    Tomball – you are making all the usual crank appeals to future vindication, and closed-mindedness. This is all boring stuff for us. There is no emerging scientific acceptance that there is a field of consciousness. There is absolutely nothing in neuroscience or physics to support this. It is also not just an extrapolation from current knowledge. It is pure magic at this point.

  22. tomballon 06 Apr 2017 at 2:35 pm

    Well, I see we’ve really convinced you!

    “they simply cherry picked a blip in the long term trend of decreasing crime and homicides.”

    Actually, that’s not what they did. Orme-Johnson addressed that. I think you need to look more closely at the data and the other studies.

    Usual crank appeals? Come on, there’s no call for lack of civility. The spirit behind this study is, here’s something that might really help people, and it’s being presented honestly in the spirit of science. If it’s wrong, it’s wrong. But determining the validity or invalidity will come from a cool-headed dialogue and serious consideration of not only this one study but the whole body of data, found in about 25 separate studies, which many scientists feel supports the “field effect” hypothesis (see the link and references above). A knee-jerk dismissal, and personal insult, while understandable, is meaningless in evaluating the validity of this approach.

    “nothing in neuroscience or physics to support this” Neither neuroscience nor physics at this time has a consistent theory of consciousness to confirm or deny consciousness as a field. The consensus is, they still have no clue WHAT consciousness is.

    If you wish to consider the take of a quantum physicist who, believe me, has put in more time at SLACK and CERN and published more papers on unified field and string theory in the top physics journals that you or I, see: http://istpp.org/index.html

    Show me something else that promises to be as effective and for which there is as much scientific validation. If you were to directly observe (personally experience) consciousness as a thing in itself, as an underlying field, you might change your mind about the plausibility of all this. If you’re interested, I happen to know a little meditation technique that works pretty good….

  23. chikoppion 06 Apr 2017 at 2:58 pm

    “Show me something else that promises to be as effective and for which there is as much scientific validation.”

    Ah. There’s the argument from ignorance. We don’t know know, so I’m free to insert the thing that makes most sense to me.

    “If you were to directly observe (personally experience) consciousness as a thing in itself, as an underlying field, you might change your mind about the plausibility of all this.”

    Nope. Subjective experience is notoriously crap evidence than can, and does, lead to all sorts of false conclusions.

    A scientific hypothesis is falsifiable. Hunting for correlations, cherry-picking the occasional hits and disregarding the misses, doesn’t produce statistic validity.

  24. Guy Hatchardon 06 Apr 2017 at 3:04 pm

    David Orme-Johnson writes an excellent rebuttal. The idea that consciousness needs to be excluded from science is after all becoming very old fashioned. Given our current knowledge of physical reality at its most fundamental level, there is no harm in poking a bit of fun at the luddites who cling to reductionism in all its forms. They are simply past their sell by date.
    We have known about measurement theory for 100 years and it has become a highly verified cornerstone of modern physics. The quantum mechanical wave function, existing in an abstract Hilbert space with an infinite number of dimensions containing all possible states, collapses to a single observable reality when a measurement takes place—when consciousness intervenes. Thus consciousness is inextricably intertwined with the universe. It plays a role that is so central, no complete understanding of physics can be constructed without understanding consciousness. And lets face it squarely, due to the joined-up, integrated nature of reality we need to understand consciousness to understand any discipline of knowledge. Well done to David for being a pioneer of the systematic investigation of consciousness.
    Measurement Theory might sound strange to someone who is devoted to the antiquated idea that the universe is a giant machine, but to most people it is hardly counter-intuitive. Rather being strange, it is in fact completely consonant with our familiar everyday world. During every minute of the day, we are juggling future possibilities, being influenced by past experiences, and we are taking decisions that change the world we live in. This is a concept I explore in my book “Your DNA Diet”.
    To understand the implications of measurement theory, we have to investigate the linked up nature of the physical world. Two particles may enjoy a mutually binding relationship; for example the nature of the relationship could be such that if one is spin up, the other has to be spin down in order to conserve momentum. If they then become separated in space and time, their status will evolve in the abstract multi-dimensional Hilbert space described by Quantum Mechanics, but the nature of their mutual relationship must continue to hold. In the Hilbert space, both particles evolve in a virtual probabilistic state, neither is spin up or spin down, both exist as a sort of mixture of possible future states which contain as if the memories of prior relationships and states. If you now perform a measurement on one, it must yield either spin up or spin down and the other particle instantly collapses into the opposite spin. And here is the rub, this happens even if they are separated by such a large space-time distance that no physical communication could have occurred between them, even if it was travelling at the speed of light, the maximum physical speed permitted in the universe. This is often referred to as quantum entanglement.
    This is an abstract concept, but the implication is clear. Everything in the universe is intimately connected with every other thing. The notion of local causality, the idea that everything happens as a result of one thing bumping into another nearby thing without having to invoke consciousness, is naive and frankly absurd. The universe contains a giant web of relationships created through past events.
    Or put another way, since this all occurs through the medium of an abstract non-material space, the memory of past events creates our future when acted upon by our consciousness in the present moment.
    So David Orme-Johnson is welcoming us to the systematic exploration of consciousness, he should be applauded. We have had our heads in the sand for far too long. Curiously consciousness in all its forms is here to stay in science. Welcome back.

  25. David Orme-Johnsonon 06 Apr 2017 at 5:51 pm

    If you look at the graphs of the data for the different variables (homicides, murder, violent crime, traffic fatalities, fatalities for other kinds of accidents, drug related deaths, and infant mortality), you see that during the baseline period 2003 to 2007 the trends were increasing, decreasing, or staying the same, depending on the variable.

    Then during the experimental period of 2007 to 2010 the trends ALL shifted to decreasing relative to whatever was happening in the baseline. What are the chances that the trends of these different variables with different dynamics would all suddenly start decreasing at the precise time that the TM group reached its predicted threshold, as predicted in advance?

    I invite you to look for yourself, because the full PDFs of these papers are all available online, except for Journal of Consciousness Studies. You have to buy that one from the publisher, but can see the Abstract for free.

    Dillbeck MC, Cavanaugh KL. Societal violence and collective consciousness: Reduction of U.S. homicide and urban violent crime rates. SAGE Open. 2016;April-June:1-16.

    Cavanaugh KL, Dillbeck MC. The contribution of proposed field effects of consciousness to the prevention of U.S. accidental fatalities: Theory and empirical tests. Journal of Consciousness Studies. 2017;24(1-2):53–86.

    Dillbeck MC, Cavanaugh KL. Group Practice of the Transcendental Meditation® and TM-Sidhi® Program and Reductions in Infant Mortality and Drug-Related Death: A Quasi-Experimental Analysis. SAGE Open. 2017;January-March:1-15.

    Cavanaugh KL, Dillbeck MC. Field Effects of Consciousness and Reduction in U.S. Urban Murder Rates: Evaluation of a Prospective Quasi-Experiment. Journal of Health and Environmental Research. 2017;3(3-1):32-43.

  26. jt512on 06 Apr 2017 at 6:27 pm

    If you look at the graphs of the data for the different variables (homicides, murder, violent crime, traffic fatalities, fatalities for other kinds of accidents, drug related deaths, and infant mortality), you see that during the baseline period 2003 to 2007 the trends were increasing, decreasing, or staying the same, depending on the variable.

    In other words, just as Steve said, the authors cherry-picked both the variables and the baseline period.

  27. jt512on 06 Apr 2017 at 6:28 pm

    [Second paragraph above is my comment, not part of the quote.]

  28. chikoppion 06 Apr 2017 at 6:44 pm

    [David Orme-Johnson] Then during the experimental period of 2007 to 2010 the trends ALL shifted to decreasing relative to whatever was happening in the baseline. What are the chances that the trends of these different variables with different dynamics would all suddenly start decreasing at the precise time that the TM group reached its predicted threshold, as predicted in advance?

    The mere fact that you don’t know the answer to that question is evidence that the experiment lacked proper controls. You have no idea what caused variance in the data as measured.

    Not only that, but experiment as conceived wouldn’t confirm the hypothesis in any eventuality. Let’s say we have a truly random number generator that ranges from 0 to 100. I predict that the next 20 numbers produced will be increasingly larger numbers. The next 20 numbers do, in fact, follow that sequence. Does that prove I had an accurate premonition? No. Because a single test is not sufficient to eliminate the frequency of random (arbitrary) correlation, no matter how unlikely.

    A single data point from a poorly-controlled experiment is not proof of anything, in any scenario. If you’re serious about testing the hypothesis then what you need is a pre-registered, appropriately designed, and statistically relevant experimental process. This business of cherry-picking favorable correlations is the hallmark of pseudoscience.

  29. jt512on 06 Apr 2017 at 7:38 pm

    The study predicted in advance the exact point in time at which the homicide trend would decrease…

    Nowadays, nobody believes a claim like that unless a detailed protocol for the experiment was preregistered.

  30. tb29607on 06 Apr 2017 at 11:54 pm

    I would like to point out that in figure 2 of the study, in 2007-2008, the number of meditators drops well below the stated number hypothesized to be needed for effect and yet credit is still claimed for a decrease in the murder rate. Subsequently (based on figures 1 and 2), the number of meditators again drops below the needed number and yet the downward murder rate continues. This suggests the conclusions of the paper are spurious at best.

    There is no evidence given that any “consciousness field” exists. Putting this study in the category of “Tooth Fairy” studies.

    The square root of 1% of the population number seems to be based on prior studies by the same authors and on “superradiance phenomenon that occurs in quantum optics”. How quantum optics relates to consciousness fields (assuming they exist at all) is never described. So the derivation of the square root of 1% of the population number remains a mystery.

  31. Steven Novellaon 07 Apr 2017 at 8:01 am

    regarding quantum entanglement – that is the new trendy justification for all sorts of nonsense. But is justifies nothing.

    There is also something called decoherence and the de Broglie limit. Entanglement is a very limited phenomenon to special situations. It quickly goes away when you have particles interacting with each other, like in any macroscopic system.

    Don’t try to use quantum mechanical principles you don’t understand.

  32. BillyJoe7on 07 Apr 2017 at 9:30 am

    “Sir James Jeans, Max Planck, Erwin Schrodinger, Niels Bohr, Eugene Wigner, Sir Arthur Eddington, Albert Einstein, Wolfgang Pauli, Bernard d’Espagnat…”

    Boy can these guys can name drop.
    But, sadly, a litany of dead physicists, great men all, but we know more now than we did then.
    (This is a quote stolen from a modern particle physicist)

    Bernard d’Espagnat: “The doctrine that the world is made up of objects whose existence is independent of human consciousness turns out to be in conflict with quantum mechanics and with the facts established by experiment”

    Too bad that every advance in the understanding of QM since has failed to support his ruminations.

    “collective consciousness”, “single transcendental continuum of general consciousness underlying the discontinuities of numerous localized individual minds associated with different people”, “individuals interact[ing] directly at a distance through an underlying common field of consciousness”, “it takes only about 1% of the population practicing TM for their coherent influence to begin to change the trends of time towards more coherence”, “when the meditators meditate together in a group…their influence became squared”, “when √1% of a population practices TM…”

    You can’t makle this stuff up!
    And, sorry for this long quote but…

    “Because collective consciousness is about human consciousness, family ties, political boundaries, etc. being structures of consciousness will be relevant to how the effect is transmitted. The √1% formula is in terms of the number of people who will be affected. So as you increase the size of the group in a town, for example, that town will first be influenced. But as the size of the group becomes large enough to influence the state, the state will be influenced. When it becomes big enough for the nation, the nation will be influenced. As it continues to grow, it will influence neighboring nations, favoring those that are more culturally similar because of greater affinity of language, TV shows watched, etc. But as the group become large enough to influence the whole country it spreads out to that level and will not necessarily be more powerful in the town that it is in”

    …what do you get when you pile BS on top of BS

    Yes, I’m sorry, I refuse take these guys seriously.
    I mean, seriously.

    Just for the record:
    Consciousness plays no part in the “collapse of the wave function”.
    This is a complete misunderstanding of QM as it is understood by the vast majority of present day parctising physicists.

    *The tombstones of our late great physicists:

    James Jeans(11 September 1877 – 16 September 1946)
    Max Planck (23 April 1858 – 4 October 1947)
    Erwin Schrödinger (12 August 1887 – 4 January 1961)
    Niels Bohr (7 October 1885 – 18 November 1962)
    Eugene Wigner (November 17, 1902 – January 1, 1995)
    Arthur Eddington (28 December 1882 – 22 November 1944)
    Albert Einstein (14 March 1879 – 18 April 1955)
    Wolfgang Pauli (25 April 1900 – 15 December 1958)
    Bernard d’Espagnat (22 August 1921 – 1 August 2015)

    The paradigm shift is not towards but away from this discredited concept of “collective consciousness”

  33. BillyJoe7on 07 Apr 2017 at 9:54 am

    “As Kuhn says, it’s hard for a scientist to desert a tradition, to switch paradigms in midstream”

    Yes, I know.
    But you can do it if you really try.
    Just give up on that old dead physicists’ paradigm already, and get on with the new!
    Science marches on over the top of the tombs of the dead.

    “As Schopenhauer famously said: “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”

    This is BS.
    Never ever happened.
    Likely never will.

    Besides this is the actual quote from Schopenhauer:
    “To truth only a brief celebration of victory is allowed between the two long periods during which it is condemned as paradoxical, or disparaged as trivial”
    The other version was the result of the “Chinese whispers” phenomenon.

    https://cs.uwaterloo.ca/~shallit/Papers/stages.pdf

    “The field effect of consciousness is just the next layer of deeper understanding for science to embrace”

    In fact, it is the old superficial understanding that science has discarded

    “It won’t be long before sociologists and physicists will accept it as self-evident that meditation can help transform society”

    The fallacy of future vindication.
    The final resort of those who have lost the argument.

  34. BillyJoe7on 07 Apr 2017 at 10:09 am

    And this Guy is talking through his @$$
    (with corrections)

    “The idea that consciousness needs to be excluded from included in science is after all becoming very old fashioned. Given our current knowledge of physical reality at its most fundamental level, there is no harm in poking a bit of fun at the luddites who cling to reductionism in all its forms the “consciousness causes collapse” mantra. They are simply past their sell by date.”

    “We have known about measurement theory for 100 years and it has become a highly verified cornerstone of modern physics. The quantum mechanical wave function, existing in an abstract Hilbert space with an infinite number of dimensions containing all possible states, collapses to a single observable reality when a measurement takes place when consciousness intervenes.

  35. Armand Kon 10 Apr 2017 at 8:23 am

    Now this might be a minor matter (or not really, seen how they insistently repeat the bit of mathematical confusion in the “paper”), but I’d like to point out that “square root of 1%” is actually 10%.

  36. Pete Aon 10 Apr 2017 at 9:13 am

    Armand K,

    I agree. Various quotes from the paper:

    “With the introduction of the advanced TM-Sidhi program in 1976, the theoretical requirement for the predicted effect was reduced from 1% of the population to the square root of one percent (√1%) when practiced in a group.

    exceeding √1% of the U.S. population

    the group practice of the TM-Sidhi program by √1% of the population”

    Whereas what they meant was √(1% of the population). I can’t understand why the authors wrote “√1%” — it doesn’t inspire confidence!

  37. RickKon 10 Apr 2017 at 9:49 am

    Sorry for rejoining this late, but…

    David Orme-Johnson said: “The study predicted in advance the exact point in time at which the homicide trend would decrease”

    David, can you please cite the paper from ~2007 where the study published the exact point at which the trend would decrease? That’s not clear from this paper, which appears to be entirely retrospective.

    And, since you’re clearly well-versed in this field, can you please cite any recent work on TM that predicts future events so we can track them for accuracy going forward?

  38. grabulaon 19 Apr 2017 at 6:59 am

    Too Bad I came to this late, lot’s of cranks on this one.

    Guy Richard sez “The idea that consciousness needs to be excluded from science is after all becoming very old fashioned.”

    You stepped off the trail with that sentence and never found your way back. No one is saying or implying consciousness is excluded, it’s being studied from many different angles. however the idea that it is a “field” or there’s a universal consciousness, something that lies outside of the structure of the brain just hasn’t held any water.

    The rest are all just appeals to woo. Pretty basic stuff.

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