Post by Jack Hunter on Sept 11, 2012 15:57:18 GMT -5
This is definitely a commendable effort for honest investigation, and should certainly be taken as a useful model for conducting research in parapsychology - it makes sense, after all, and ensures that both "sides" are happy with research procedures and motives.
Post by Dominic Clarke on Sept 12, 2012 3:22:10 GMT -5
I think the temper of the paper is amazing. The sceptic is forced to admit everything that the experiment fails to rule out, the proponent is forced to admit everything the experiment fails to show. The discussion doesn't lean on either of the two conclusions it suggests (pro-sceptic/pro-proponent). All in all, a real piece of science, albeit with rather dull results.
I'm interested in your (the collective you) thoughts on the validity of the experimental setup, and your interpretation of the results reported.
More generally though, I hear things on both sides along the lines of "how much evidence do we need to get before they accept that it is (is not) a real phenomenon?". So I'd like to pose two related questions:
1. Is there an experiment you can think of that, if it yielded positive results, could show conclusively that a specific psychic phenomenon has indeed occurred, that would pass the same rigourous standard as the above paper?
2. Is there an experiment you can think of that, if it yielded negative results, could convinve you, conclusively, of the non-exisitence of a specific psychic phenomenon?
If you can answer both questions with the same experiment, then you've come up with a very important experiment, but really what I want to do here is illicit the degree to which we are all willing to change our ideologies based on evidence. I am also interested in the point of view of those of you working in the 'para' fields as to the limits of validity of certain experimental setups, and the steps that can be taken to improve this, within the confines of proper scientific rigor.
Post by Jack Hunter on Sept 12, 2012 5:36:08 GMT -5
As an aside note to consider, one of my biggest concerns with the experimental approach to these issues is their lack of ecological validity. When experiences of psi occur naturally they usually do so under unpredictable circumstances (spontaneously), or during specially developed rituals. Any conclusive experiment, for me, would have to be ecologically valid, and no experimental (on either end of the spectrum) would be totally convincing without this.
Post by Jack Hunter on Sept 12, 2012 13:54:40 GMT -5
A similar collaboration between sceptic and proponent can be seen in Ray Hyman and Chuck Honorton's 1986 "Joint communiqué" on the psi ganzfeld controversy. I can't find a link to the whole paper (does anyone have it?), but here's the abstract:
Post by Dominic Clarke on Sept 12, 2012 14:25:51 GMT -5
Jack, I understand that the kind of simplified, binary experiments that are possible in psychology labs are never going to provide a full picture of these kind of phenomena. I think your research provides much more effective methodologies for understanding these phenomena.
I also do not wish to give the impression that I question the existence of the phenomena you study. I don't think for a second that you and others in your field sit around looking at nothing happening for hours and months at a time . They certainly exist, they are certainly interesting.
What I do question though, is that there is something to these phenomena beyond manifestations of individuals' psychology. Whether there is genuinne, non-mental realism to the spirits for instance. Or whether (specific) information can be passed from one person to another without any 'traditional' communication. Whether there is any truth to pre-cognition etc etc. I think these questions ought to be ammenable to lab-based experimentation.
As I understand your work, and perhaps anthropology in general, it is in the enviable position of not being required to take sides on realism vs anti-realism or the native interpretation vs a scientific one etc. You are generally able to have the best of both worlds, gaining insight by actually embodying and experiencing all interpretations for what they are.
Still, you must have these kind of views, so I'd be interested in understanding how you actually think of these phenomena (and anyone else who cares to share) actually are. "What is going on?" as you put it.
Also, we won't be able to read every book put down here (though suggested reading is great to have) so perhaps, if it illustrative of a point, we could summarise the point in the thread.
Post by Jack Hunter on Sept 12, 2012 14:57:33 GMT -5
Yeah, traditionally anthropology hasn't really commented on the reality of paranormal phenomena, except for either dismissing the possibility entirely, or focussing only on beliefs. I think I (as well as other of my colleagues) differ in taking seriously the possibility that beliefs might have their foundations in genuine experiences and real phenomena. So, unlike traditional anthropology, I am interested in understanding "what is going on," and so do see the importance of experimental parapsychological research. But I also see the importance of understanding the ecological, social and emotional factors involved in the manifestation of psi.
I certainly think there are ways of making this sort of research amenable to laboratory investigation, but it will require an effort towards achieving ecological validity. Field psi experiments are one example, and an anthropologist called Patric Giesler has suggested some methods, which he has termed "psi-in-process," for trying this sort of thing. Serena Roney-Dougal's experiments with tibetan lamas, reported in Paranthropology Vol. 3, No. 2 (http://issuu.com/paranthropology/docs/paranthropology_vol_3_no_2) are also a good example of field-based laboratory research.
As for what is going on, I just don't know (and I wonder whether I ever will), but I do feel there is "something" going on, and I can't ignore it.
Dom, you must have similar kinds of issues in your own research with bees. In essence, I suppose, you are attempting to verify that the bees are employing a "sense" that has not previously been recognised by science. Your experiments must have to exclude potential "sensory leakage" while also possessing ecological validity. Do you think there is any similarity?
Last Edit: Sept 12, 2012 15:05:28 GMT -5 by Jack Hunter
Post by Dominic Clarke on Sept 12, 2012 15:36:24 GMT -5
Yes, there are massive similarities. We employ exactly the same terminology too, 'ecological relevance'. Actually, with my work, showing that the sense exists was the easy part - it took a couple of months of experimental design and implementation - and we have since developed a method that can show similar results in a week. Putting it in its ecological context is what has taken me over two years of very mutlifaceted research.
For biologists, demonstrating an abitlity in an animal is interesting, but the first question is whether it is of any ecological importance. Seals are very good at balancing balls on their noses in captivity, but just because you can train them to do it doesn't mean you've really observed anything important about seal biology and ecology.
So I can completely agree with your 'mission statement' so to speak. But conversely, had I made a great case for the existence of this sense in bees using ecological arguments and observation, but had no lab-based behavioural evidence for it, with all the dry and boring stats and controls and stuff that go with that, there would have been no reason for other biologists to accept my ideas as anything more than speculation. So while I would agree that an 'ecological understanding' of the phenomena is absolutely essential, I would argue that it is no more or less essential than the demonstration of the phenomena experimentally.
If nothing else, I guess this helps clarify the motivation for many of the positions I will argue for here.
Post by davidbmetcalfe on Sept 12, 2012 16:49:17 GMT -5
I'm reading through some of the Global Consciousness Project data right now for an article in Reality Sandwich on how they've applied it to the Burning Man Festival. One of the interesting things in looking at something like the GCP, is that even when there is a statistical anomaly, it's hard to say what is going on, because noone knows what's going on!
Dominic, what were the hypotheses that allows you to do your research on bees to actually measure an effect? There does seem an interesting correlation there.
To go back to the GCP, one of the events that they worked with was 9/11 in New York. The data from the REG's (random event generators) seems to have some sort of anomaly, but it's not what was predicted by the experimenters (Nelson, Radin, etc.) so in analyzing it Ed May's conclusion was that it was most likely a statistical artifact.
Also, some of the "effect" if you can call it that, happened about 3 hours after the time limit set by the limits of the analysis. So that is rejected as not being relevant to the hypothesis.
Reading through it I can see how the fundamental lack of a model for what is going on makes it very difficult to explore the data in a way that can prove something happened. And if a model is proposed, and the analysis of the data doesn't fit the hypothesis, then it's hard to say that nothing happened, because something may have happened, just not what was expected.
I can see how the fundamental lack of a model for what is going on makes it very difficult to explore the data in a way that can prove something happened. And if a model is proposed, and the analysis of the data doesn't fit the hypothesis, then it's hard to say that nothing happened, because something may have happened, just not what was expected.
Yeah, this is an interesting problem in all of science really.
David, the method we use to test for the presence of a sensory ability in bumblebees is to give them access to a bunch of feeding stations (these are captive bees) that differ in only one respect. For example, you could have 10 feeders, that all look identical except 5 have an ultra-violet pattern on them. You then present the five with the UV pattern with a sugar reward, and then present the five without the pattern with a bitter solution that the bees don't like. When they first get presented with this, the bees will do their normal foraging behaviour of randomly trying every feeding station, but eventually, after repeatedly getting rewarded when they go to the UV feeders, they learn to only go to them and not to bother with the others.
The point is not that they can learn, but that they can tell the difference between the two types of feeders (which are identical apart from the UV pattern) so you know they can see in UV. (This is not my experiment, but an old, well-known one, but we use essentially the same method).
So we form a hypothesis that Bees can sense X, then to test it we give them feeders that differ only in X. If they can tell the difference, we have shown they can sense X (taking proper precautions to control for all other factors that the bees could use to tell the difference).
That's basically how all scientists work: Form a hypothesis (bees can sense X), figure out a prediction of that hypothesis that could be tested (bees could use X to tell the difference between a rewarding and aversive feeding site) and then test the hypothesis.
Now that you bring it up actually, there might be a fruitful avenue of psi research to be gotten here: The advantage of our experiment is that the bees are essentially undisturbed. All that is asked of them is to fly around and find food, like they would do normally. They have full access to their hive and perform the same routines of behaviours (leave, orient, search, forage, return, fill food stores) that they normally would. Admittedly its in a wooden box in a laboratory, but it is perhaps a step toward the kind of 'ecologically relevant' psi experiments Jack was talking about.
There is a really interesting discussion that could be had about ecology vs biology in the life sciences that I think would provide a microscosm of the schism we have been broadly discussing here. But I will talk about that another time.
I think collaborative studies between skeptics and proponents are interesting, and should be (of course?) encouraged. Nevertheless, I'm somewhat a little bit annoyed by how the psi-proponents use them, aka as a so-called "proof" that the psi-experimentater effect do exist.
I think those studies do not show that so clearly. I'm skeptical. I don't know if you can rule out the classic experimentater effect (non-psi one).
Psi-proponents will say that those prove the that the psi-experimentater effect do exist, and that skeptics somewhat inhibit "psi" by not believing in it. When I think that it shows the classic experimentater effect (non-psi one), and the fact that psi-proponents can influence the outcome of experiments in subtle ways - consciously or unconsciously.
But anyway, I heard Chris French explaining that for replications he asks students to run them for him, and of course those students are psi-believers. So this rule out the psi-experimentater effect, if at least psi-proponents don't start to speculate about teacher effect, scorer effect, publisher effect or even reader effect. Of course, I have read psi-proponents talking about those (like for ex. Dean Radin). But if you believe that future readers of a scientific publication can influence the effect of that research, I don't think you can argue that science as a project is still possible. Reality just becomes to malleable to be studied.