Thinking outside the box in experimental parapsychology
Journal of Nonlocality and Remote Mental Interactions Volume II Number 2 July 2003
One hundred years have passed since quantum physics has proven that consciousness cannot be separated from a complete description of nature. This truth has become symbolic of XXth century science, and judging by the number of popular science books and yearly conferences dealing with this topic, it is a truth that is here to stay - making its way into our cultural heritage as surely as the understanding that our bodies are made of quarks and leptons.
Unfortunately, in the century since this statement was first made, the physics community has done an exquisite job of forgetting about it. Like an embarrassing family secret, it has made a policy of never discussing it seriously, leaving it up to strangers to bring up in conversation. As a result of this strategy, the body of experimental work designed to illuminate the characteristics of this fundamental relationship consists today mostly of parapsychological and spiritual healing studies, as well as a mixed bag of odd observations and experiments that science has no label for. These fringe disciplines are minimally and sporadically funded (if at all), are consistently ridiculed by mainstream scientists and have no theoretical or experimental legacy to look back upon, beyond the brave inroads carved over the past 100 years.
The outcome, at least in the West, is that the field of experimental parapsychology appears to have been cornered into a very defensive, very conservative position in which the same basic protocols are repeated, with minor variations and refinements, by almost every team. While such scrupulous replications and methodological improvements are very valuable in their own right, and an understandable reaction to the attitude of the mainstream scientific community, one has to wonder whether the current path continues to make sense. Are we truly in need of more proof-of-existence experiments, is it still too early to start looking for the mechanism behind these phenomena - or is the so called "skepticism" before such overwhelming evidence only a tactic designed to delay further progress for as long as possible?
After a hundred years of scientific research, thousands of papers and many generations of scientists who have sacrificed their personal lives and careers pursuing this intellectual adventure, it is perhaps time to ask ourselves where this "quiet revolution" is going. In an age in which scientific truth is touted as the ultimate western value, which denounces the heretic-burning policies of the Dark Ages as one of the great nightmares of humanity and draws politically charged parallels to certain contemporary practices in other parts of the world, the western scientific establishment and mainstream media have adopted and maintained a solid policy of ignoring any challenges or questions pertaining to this evidence. To repeated calls for investigation and debate their answer has been one of complete silence. This refusal to acknowledge the very existence of a major body of experimental data and to face the type of fundamental questions that it raises is unprecedented in the history of modern science - and it forces us to re-examine our focus.
The problem is clearly not the lack of good scientific evidence [see Radin 1997]. Under these circumstances, replicating more standard laboratory protocols, performing more meta-analyses, organizing more conferences merely to present additional proof of the robustness of these interactions is simply more of the same ineffectual strategy. What is our main obstacle? The only obvious answer is fear - the individual, subconscious fear of what psi represents, combined with the institutional, very conscious fear of professional ostracism. However, while at the level of academic organizations this argument can make sense, it is a profound mystery why the mainstream media, always hungry for a remarkable story, has failed so conspicuously to cover this type of material. If something as wildly extravagant and as opposed to Ockham's principle of scientific reasoning as the Many-Worlds Interpretation can regularly make headlines in publications like Discover and Scientific American, how is it possible that the hundreds of solid studies of distant mental interactions with living systems can raise no awareness, no questions and no debate in these or similar magazines?
Perhaps the answer is that they strike too close to home. While the MWI evokes memories of good old sci-fi novels, provoking at most an indulgent smile on the faces of most mainstream scientists, the notion that space- and time-transcending experiences are within the reach of every one of us places too much power and too much responsibility within our complacent grasp. The fact that such experiences also challenge cherished views of cosmology, religion and personal identity surely doesn't help much. And if that is a valid assumption, then we have to ask ourselves one more time: where is the psi paradigm going? Is there any chance it will ever become a part of the sanctioned pursuit of knowledge, part of our general awareness of reality - or is it so fundamentally opposed to our "genetic programs" of culture and civilization that it is condemned to remain the domain of a few adventurous souls and much misrepresenting literature?
These are sobering and painful questions to ask after so much effort and sacrifice on the part of so many wonderful, talented and generous people. But if the answer turns out to be the latter, then perhaps it is time for these people to regroup and re-focus: instead of wasted effort trying to engage an establishment intent on stonewalling, time could be better spent by concentrating on the innovative exploration and charting of this territory. We can and should continue to demand the most stringent, critic-proof methodology from all those involved in this research: but that should not be allowed to become our principal focus. The risk, if we wait for the tide of official recognition to turn, is that the entire research program may become arrested at the level of proof-of-existence protocols, creating a vicious circle in which official endorsement continues to be denied because of a missing scientific explanation for these phenomena.
What is the next phase?
Luckily, we don't have to look too far for an answer to this question. Over the past two decades, countries like China, Japan and Korea have been engaged in a bold research program around such exceptional human abilities as distant healing, remote perception and psychokinesis - typically seen as the culmination of assiduous training in mental disciplines like Qigong, but occasionally manifesting spontaneously in individuals with no formal practice. This "human potential science", or "somatic science", as it is more commonly known in the East, has been given considerable government support and publicity in these countries. As a result, hundreds of qualified researchers from mainstream fields like physics, medicine, biochemistry and other areas have turned their attention toward these phenomena, asking daring questions and making use of their technical expertise and lab facilities to probe the interface between mind and matter to a degree unknown in the West. In addition to measuring local and distant electromagnetic signals associated with gifted subjects' focused intent [Lin and Chen 2002], they have looked at the directional effect of conscious intent on the polarization angle of distant He-Ne laser beams and on the nuclear decay rate of Am241 radioactive isotopes; the ability of subjects to alter the Raman spectra of tap water, and the UV spectra of de-ionized water and solutions of DNA, K2Cr2O7 salt and fluorescein dye [Lin & Savva, 1996; Lu & al, 1993; Yan & al, 1988-a; Li & al, 1988; Lu & al, 1993], or the effect of emitted qi on the rate of chemical reactions [Lin and Chen 2002; Yan & al, 1988-b,c]. More recently, the research paradigm has shifted in favor of biological models, yielding a remarkable amount of data which suggests that focused intent can directionally alter the conformation of DNA, RNA and protein molecules, the rate of DNA, RNA and protein synthesis, mutation and apoptosis in in-vitro and in-vivo models [see Chen and Sidorov, 2003 for review] and modulate the immune responses and survival rates in animal models and humans [Lin and Chen 2002; Kataoka T. & al, 1997; Kataoka, T & al, 1997; Higuchi, Y & al, 2001; Chen and Yeung 2002]
At the same time, however, it needs to be recognized that the relative ease with which the scientific community and the general population of these countries have embraced this new research field has also lead to a proliferation of facile claims and poorly executed, poorly reported studies. A quick survey of journal publications and conference proceedings on this topic, as included in the Qigong Institute Database (which contains over 2000 abstracts) easily illustrates this point: while some studies are conducted according to standard double-blind, randomized and controlled protocols, a considerable proportion of the reports range from the anecdotal to various degrees of methodological indulgence. One other observation that negatively impacts the credibility of these reports is the obvious inability of many researchers (who probably come from a traditional Chinese Medicine background) to separate the language of traditional medicine from that of contemporary science - with the result that "mechanisms" offered as explanations for the observed phenomena are often a difficult mixture of western scientific terminology and metaphysical-sounding modeling.
However, in spite of these objections, the overall evidence accumulated in these thousands of experiments is overwhelming and remarkably convergent. This is not surprising, considering the consistency with which DMILS (distant mental interactions with living systems) studies conducted under western academic standards have demonstrated robust interactions between human intent and living organisms [Braud and Schlitz 1991; Benor 2001; Delanoy 1993; Braud 2000]. The main difference between these two approaches is that while one has focused on proving the statistical robustness of these interactions by developing ever tighter methodologies, the other has tried to identify the level on which these physical and biological effects appear to work.
It is only fair to note, at this point, that the West is far from lacking in pioneering spirit when it comes to psi research. Some of the most significant experimental findings come from the work of Warcollier - group telepathy [Warcollier, 2001]; Swann, May, Spottiswoode and Schwartz - remote viewing [1; May & al, 1979, 1994; Spottiswoode; Schwartz & al.]; Schmidt, Radin and Braud - retro-pk [Braud, 2000]; May, Targ, Wackermann - EEG synchronization between shielded human subjects [Wackermann 2003; Grinberg-Zylberbaum & al, 1994; May, Targ and Puthoff, 1979 and Puthoff and Targ, 1979]; Germine - effect of an intermediate observer on a subject's brain evoked potential [Germine 1998, 2002]; Rein - directional effect of focused intent on the conformation of DNA [Benor 2001]; Radin and Bierman - physiological correlates of pre-sentiment [Radin 2000-a.b; Bierman and Radin 1997]; Jahn and Dunne - effect of focused intent on random number generators [Dunne and Jahn 1992]; R.D. Nelson - the Global Consciousness Project [Nelson and al., 2002]; Backster - electrophysiological response of plants and cell populations to human conscious intent and emotions or to the physiological status of other living organisms [Stone, 1994, 1995; Jensen, 1997]; Tiller - the ability of "intent-imprinted electronic devices" to directionally affect physical and biological systems; "space conditioning" effects [Tiller and al. 2001] - to name but a few examples. In addition, some truly remarkable findings related to the presence and role of coherent photon fields in all living systems (see Becker 1985; Popp and al., 1986, 1998; Gariaev 2002; or Sidorov and Chen, 2003 for full review) have opened the door to a broad spectrum of theoretical possibilities with respect to interpreting and quantifying the physical correlates of conscious intent.
Given this wealth of evidence and the number of intriguing questions raised by it, it is difficult to understand why so little effort is being made to try to integrate all this knowledge into a consistent, unified experimental program. Unless discussed in the context of quantum computation, the problem of nonlocal communication, organization and control in nature does not exist as a coherent scientific subject - and this absence of coordination between various research groups has, in our opinion, resulted in an inability to formulate the right questions and answer them effectively.
Parapsychology-oriented publications like Frontier Perspectives, ISSSEEM, the Journal of Scientific Exploration, MISAHA and others have done a superb job at assembling a considerable number of models, theories and potential mechanisms designed to bridge the conceptual gap between standard physics and the "paradoxical" data of parapsychology. Unfortunately, most of these models seem to merely quote the existence of psi phenomena, then move on to elaborate theoretical constructions that make little reference to specific characteristics of remote interactions, not to mention concrete qualitative and quantitative predictions. Clearly, outside the possibility of experimental verification, the effort and dedication involved in these theoretical proposals remains meaningless: we have no grounds on which to separate one model from another, the "still possible" from the "proven wrong" - and this implicit equivalence has a paralyzing effect on the development of further, significant protocols. As a new research field struggling to mature, parapsychology is poorly served by either the proliferation of exotic physical (and pseudo-physical) models, or by the endless replication of the same proof-of-existence studies: and yet these form the overwhelming majority of papers published in the specialty literature today.
It is obvious that our efforts need to shift from a pattern of exchanging beautiful theoretical models to one of launching these constructions and seeing which ones float. But unless enough people come together to define the most critical aspects of nonlocal interactions, unless we collectively identify the relevant questions that our experiments need to address and the technical obstacles lying in our way, there is simply no incentive for the theoreticians to challenge their own models, or for labs to move beyond a well-beaten path that guarantees unchallenged protocols and statistically significant results. To create new classes of meaningful, innovative experiments, we need to look beyond narrow areas of expertise, taking into consideration the full spectrum of nonlocal effects known to date.
As mentioned before, the body of evidence collected over the past few decades presents us with a wealth of possible research directions to pursue in the coming years. The first priority, of course, is replicating and consolidating studies that present us with intriguing results, but have been insufficiently or improperly documented. Unusual observations and odd details that might cast new light on the mechanisms behind nonlocal interactions should be carefully analyzed and compared with similar reports in other studies and to any specific model predictions currently available. Needless to say, such a process would quickly eliminate a considerable number of unjustified experimental and theoretical claims - but at the same time, it would highlight the most consistent and interesting features of remote interactions, allowing us to focus on these promising directions.
Already, a variety of questions come to mind as we review these different types of experiments. For example:
1. What is the significance of electromagnetic signatures detected at the target in remote conscious interactions? Target specificity and distance independence suggest that we need to look at quantum rather than classical transmission mechanisms: in that case, what role do these signatures play, or what are they an indication of? What can we learn from their time profiles - onset and decay time, plateau effects, etc? What about characteristic frequencies/ intensity ratios, or the sign of the energy - is there an actual non-dissipative energy transaction between sender and target, a length scale-specific, topological "remote metabolism" underlying all classes of remote mental interactions, as Pitkanen argues [Pitkanen, 2003, 2002]? Are such signatures subject to constructive/destructive interference as a result of multiple operators' focus? Do they correlate with the length of intent application? Do they affect only the material target, or the surrounding space as well, as suggested by Tiller's experiments? How can we manipulate the set-up to yield more meaningful information? Are there any correlations between sender and target electromagnetic signatures - frequencies, polarization, phase, etc? What are the implications of this electromagnetic signature on the physiology of living structures - for example, does it play any role in phenomena like Bigu , or "super-efficient metabolism", as Prof. Roy has dubbed this qigong effect? How can we connect it with Gariaev's and Popp's models of endogenous coherent EM fields and their role in contextual, holographic genetic regulation? How can we adapt this EM signature effect to further develop Backster's work on inter-species communication, or to investigate the mechanism at work behind Germine's ERP effect?
2. What is the earliest physiological detector of psi information in the transduction pathway to conscious awareness? How do various structural and physiological responses (such as DNA/cell membrane/microtubular conformation, galvanic skin response, brain evoked potential and EEG) line up time-wise in anomalous perception tasks such as presentiment or telepathy? How central is the role of the brain in anomalous perception and what does that tell us about the mind/brain boundary?
3. What determines the direction of information flow in nonlocal interactions? For example - between healer and patient, between sick and diseased cell populations (with possible application to cancer research via Gariaev's notion of "contextual DNA reading"), or between various participants in remote viewing protocols? How can we distinguish between anomalous perturbation of a system and anomalous cognition applied to the selection of particular moments in order to tip the apparent distribution of random processes toward the intended outcome (see "Decision Augmentation Theory" by May and al.,1996)? In a very ingenious thought experiment (see "Time-reversed human experience: experimental evidence and implications" in this issue), Radin and Etter have proposed using a Markov chain approach to determine whether an apparent PK effect is in fact a forward-running process (anomalous perturbation) or one running backwards (pre-cognition). Can we adapt such methods to determine "the arrow of time" in other scenarios? Can we use standardized physical/biological models to measure a subject's "strength of intent" versus background noise/opposing intent? And how can we begin to evaluate a target system's susceptibility to retro-pk, or "causal inertia" (see Braud, 2000)?
4. How is information coded nonlocally? How is it retrieved? What target-intrinsic properties increase its prominence in remote viewing, in addition to its Shannon entropy (May, 1994) - and why? How does a target's cultural/social significance correlate with its prominence in remote viewing and what does that tell us about possible "field resonance effects", as postulated by the Global Consciousness Project? What is the basis of target specificity in nonlocal interactions, what is the threshold of "entanglement activation" and what determines the duration/strength of the connection between two or more points in such nonlocal networks?
5. Last, but not least, what are the technical requirements of such an experimental program and how do we develop the most suitable types of equipment for the detection of such effects? Is the temporal and spatial resolution of current brain imaging methods high enough to capture the seemingly very narrow windows of target contact in remote viewing (McMoneagle 2003)? Can subtle energetic and structural effects (such as those presumably involved in homeopathic agents or the "intent-imprinted devices" used by Tiller) be detected with new equipment like Kaivarainen's Comprehensive Analyzer of Matter Properties
( http://www.emergentmind.org/research_notices.htm)? How can we confirm and make sense of "space conditioning effects" as those inferred by Tiller? And how do we reconcile the requirement for highly sensitive photodetectors with the need to simultaneously scan a broad frequency spectrum in search of electromagnetic signatures of nonlocal interactions?
These questions are only a small sample of the much broader spectrum of challenges awaiting us at the frontier of today's science. However, unlike many other "unexplained phenomena", these issues are absolutely fundamental to our understanding of nature: it is fair to say, in light of this evidence, that our current model of space-time and causality is at best incomplete; and that our failure, as a society, to seriously study the effects of consciousness on material reality may prove to be a very costly mistake. We can only hope that powerful, centralized organizations like the National Science Foundation and other mainstream bastions of research will one day recognize this truth and pick up the challenge of a well-coordinated, well-funded experimental program in parapsychology. Until then, however, it is advisable that our efforts turn more decisively toward the design of innovative, revealing protocols and toward a concrete collaboration that maximizes the use of our limited technological and financial resources.
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