Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Are You Precient?

Here's an outtake from a fascinating conversation I had awhile ago with Steve Rubin, one of our top engineers ...

"I think that scientists in general are not acting like scientists anymore, but are acting more like religious figures, with their belief in some stuff and rejection of anything that doesn't fit within their doctrines — for example, paranormal effects. I used to reject the paranormal, too. You know, 'That's BS.'

"I had the standard skeptical thing until I did some programming work for Dean Radin. He's considered a paranormal or psychic researcher. He's a Ph.D., scientist, statistical expert, skeptic, and what he does is he goes around and he repeats the experiments that people claim are demonstrating paranormal effects. Someone says, 'The following proves a paranormal effect,' and he says, 'Bullshit. Let's see for ourselves.'

"I was his programmer, building his experiments, and it was quite convincing. Here's one example; I wouldn't have believed it could work.

"Are you prescient? Can you see the future? Some people think they can, but they can't quantify it. They can't prove it. There are a lot of people, by the way, who believe in these effects, but they can't really defend it because someone can always say, 'Oh, you just got a hint from somewhere.'

"What Radin did was he got a collection of pictures. Some of them were 'calm' pictures as he called them. A picture of a spoon. A picture of a flower. Then he had 'difficult' pictures. A picture of a deformed face. A picture of a bloody accident. Pictures of people having sex. Pictures to get your blood boiling. He would then randomly flash these pictures on a screen in front of a subject. Not only that, when the difficult pictures hit the screen, he would play the most annoying, grating, screeching sound. And he had you hooked up to a number of devices, measuring your blood pressure, heart rate, and stuff like that.

"All he told the subjects was, 'We're measuring your response to these pictures.' and he'd show a few dozen pictures. Sure enough, when the difficult pictures hit the screen, the curves jumped. People were not happy. And when the calm pictures hit the screen the biometrics just continued normally. Except for one interesting thing. Before the difficult pictures hit the screen, people's rates would already start to climb. People knew. People are prescient.

"I programmed this thing, and I know I did it right. In fact, I've been programming computers for almost 40 years now. Since high school. I have never in my life had my code scrutinized so heavily as this code. First of all, the random decision to show a calm or annoying picture had to be made immediately before it happened. They didn't want it made ahead of time so someone could argue that it was stored in the computer and somehow detectable. They also wanted to make sure that the amount of code that was executed for the the two paths, calm versus difficult, was the same length of time so no one could detect a little delay.

"They went on and on with this level of scrutiny of the code, checking everything. But there's no doubt about it. Statistical analysis bears it out, as well as just an eyeballing of the data. When a calm picture is coming, people stay calm. When the difficult picture is coming, people know before that thing hits the screen, before that sound comes out of the speaker. They start to get tense ahead of time. Everyone does it (not just the people who claim to be prescient). We can document that all people are prescient, even though they don't know it.

"Prescience? Intuition? These I believe are real phenomena, and we could have endless discussions about why I think they're real. I'm not saying it's real because I've seen the aliens, or taken too many drugs, or something like that. There are some real phenomena out there. And there are many people with theories. My basic take on it is that it's just a phenomenon we haven't learned to measure yet. No one believed in electricity before it was invented. Or radio waves. How magical is that?

"At each point in time we think, 'We know it all. We're done now.' And this is what I complain about with scientists today. They say, 'We have all our answers.' But we don't have all our answers. Did you know that the physical constants are not constant? The speed of light is not constant. Yet scientists blithely treat these things as if they're constants. The history of their values shows that they change, and this is not just due to better measuring equipment. If you go into a lab today and try to measure them ten times in a row, you'll get ten different answers. They're all within a fraction of a percent, or something like that, but they're not constants ... it varies more than the equipment's margin of error. All sorts of things that we think are true are not. But we gloss over that stuff because it's just too hard to believe.

"There is lots out there; we just can't detect it yet."


Greg Bardsley said...

"At each point in time we think, 'We know it all. We're done now.' " --- Boy, isn't that true? Imagine how ignorant we will seem to our evolved descendants 1,000 years from now. ... And I agree: I still think the radio (and the cell phone, for that matter) are amazing -- almost magical.

Chanh said...

It just happens. I am here reading your blog...Ah! Joanne must be my former pre-press supervisor at Columbia Printing more than 10 years ago. Hello to JoJo and thanks for your blog.

Anonymous said...

Al, great story. I knew a woman who once said that about me. I had asked her out on numerous times for a date. After about the dozenth time, she said, "My you are PERSISTENT. Take a hint, NO I'm not going out with you - ever." Now, how that relates to knowing the future is beyond me. No wait, at that point in time, I knew I'd never go out with her in the future. Hmmmm, I guess I did have some idea of what the future held then.

Groovy Tuesday said...

If most of my memory wasn't dedicated to which kids like blueberries and which will inevitably shove them up their brother's or sisters' noses, what brand lunch box holds up the longest against two-year-old torture, and who took their vitamins last night and who hid them in Bear's secret compartment instead, I'd perhaps be able to recall the exact percentage of our brain us humans use today. I'd guess around 10% or some other equally dismal number. Or perhaps I'm the dismal one - the glass is half full, right? We've got something to look forward to, learning to tap into the rest of our brains. Particularly since, as I see it, somewhere in that untapped region is the ability to predict or sense or actually recognize and respond to that evasive "sixth sense". Anyway great article, Al (and Steve). Also loved the first post ending with "Al is." I felt like I was there. But I'm not, and I'm leaving here, too, because I have a sudden and irrepressible urge to drink coffee. Thank you for being, Pal Al.