Mar 11 2014

Can Thinking Change Reality Part II

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

6. The Placebo Effect

The author claims:

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

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

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

7. Teleportation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8. The Science of The Heart

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

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

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

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

9/10 And Beyond

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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