Namaste: If Not Now, When? Chapter 18 Your Consciousness Is Not Trapped Inside Your Head (Part 2)

Author’s Note: Each chapter of this book can be read as a stand-alone and it is not necessary that they be read in numerical order. All of the previous chapters are posted here or in my Diaries at Firedoglake/MyFDL.

I welcome comments and will respond as time allows. Thanks for reading.

Chapter 18

Your Consciousness Is Not Trapped Inside Your Head (Part 2)

Robert Jahn and his colleagues at the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Laboratory (PEAR) have been investigating the possibility of mind-matter interactions for many years. They published a review in 1997 of the experiments they had conducted in their lab during the preceding 12 years in which more than 100 volunteers first attempted to intentionally influence RNG results to drift above the average results attributable to chance and then attempted to influence the results to drift below chance. During the third effort, they stopped attempting to influence the results in order to establish an RNG baseline, or control condition.

The results were astonishing.

When wishing for high scores, the RNG outputs drifted up, and when wishing for low scores, the RNG outputs drifted down. By comparison, no positive results were observed when simulated random number generators were used, like those generated by software algorithms. They estimated that the magnitude of the PK effect was approximately equal to 1 bit out of 10,000 being shifted away from chance expectation. While this may seem like a tiny effect, over the entire database this resulted in odds against chance of 35 trillion to 1 (Figure 9-3).

Ganzfeld is a German word that means “whole field.” Ganzfeld experiments test the ability of one participant to mentally transmit an image to a second participant remotely located some distance away. Dr. Radin describes the experiment and his results as follows (pp. 115-117, 120):

In a ganzfeld psi experiment the participant, say Jill, is asked to relax in a comfortable reclining chair. The experimenter places halved Ping-Pong balls over her eyes and gives her headphones to wear that play pink noise, a whooshing sound like a deep-throated waterfall.

Then the experimenter shines a red light on Jill’s face, and she is asked to keep her eyes gently open under the Ping-Pong balls. All she’ll see is a soft red glow everywhere she looks. Soon she won’t be able to tell if her eyes are open or closed, and this, combined with the whooshing sound she’s hearing, will eventually stimulate her brain to provide something more interesting. Many people in the ganzfeld condition described that a pleasant, dreamy state of awareness is evoked within a few minutes.

After being allowed to relax in this dreamlike reverie for fifteen minutes, Jill is asked to speak aloud (the jargon is to mentate) anything that comes to mind over the next 30 minutes, while Jack, at a distance, tries to mentally “send” an image to her. In most ganzfeld setups, Jill’s mentation is audio recorded, and in some of the newer setups Jack’s target imagery (a picture or a one-minute video clip) is recorded along with Jill’s mentation to allow independent judges to later examine Jill’s impressions in comparison to the target image that Jack was viewing.

Over the course of a 30-minute session, Jack views the same or a repeatedly played video clip (Figure 6-5). This target image is randomly selected from a pool of four possible images. Each of these pools is formed so that each of the four images within a pool is as different from each other as possible. A typical pool might consist of say, a one-minute video clip of a desert scene, a second video clip of a city scene, a third involving a person eating an ice cream cone, and fourth involving a fish swimming in the ocean. A computer randomly selects one of those clips, and Jack is asked to mentally send that target imagery to Jill.

In most modern ganzfeld designs, Jack can listen to Jill over a one-way audio link as she describes her ongoing imagery. In this way, Jack can use Jill’s impressions to help adjust his mental sending strategy, like a kind of biofeedback. During the 30-minute sending period Jack might send the video clip target a total of 10 times, interspersed with short rest periods. At the end of the sending period, the experimenter—who, like Jill, is blind to the target – takes Jill out of the ganzfeld condition and then discusses her impressions with her while they both look at four possible videos, one of which was the real target, and three were decoys. Jill is asked to rank the four videos based on her impressions of the target. By chance she’ll rank the correct target first one in four times, for a 25% expected hit rate.

* * *

From 1974 through 2004 a total of 88 ganzfeld experiments reporting 1008 hits in 3,145 trials were conducted. The combined hit rate was 32% as compared to the chance-expected 25% (Figure 6-6). This 7% above-chance effect is associated with odds against chance of 29,000,000,000,000,000,000 (or 29 quintillion) to 1.

Do humans have an ability to perceive the future? In Part 1 of this chapter, for example, we learned that the worldwide network of RNG’s began ringing louder two hours before the first jet slammed into the World Trade Center. Such an ability is called presentiment and Dr. Radin has conducted experiments to test whether humans have such an ability (pp. 164-168).

In this experiment, a participant (Jack) is asked to sit in front of a blank computer screen. I attach electrodes to his palm to record tiny fluctuations in skin conductance and then ask Jack to hold a computer mouse in his other hand. When he’s ready to begin a trial, he presses the mouse button and waits for a picture to appear on the computer screen (Figure 10-1). After the button press, the computer waits 5 seconds, selects a picture at random from a large pool of images, displays it on the screen for 3 seconds, then it disappears and the screen goes blank again for 10 seconds. After that a message appears informing Jack to start the next trial whenever he’s ready by pressing the mouse button again. This sequence is one trial in the experiment. Skin conductance is continuously monitored while Jack repeats 30 to 40 trials in one session. The images he sees are either calm photos, such as landscapes, nature scenes, or calm people, or emotional photos, such as erotic, violent, or accident scenes.

The idea of presentiment assumes that we are constantly and unconsciously scanning our future, and preparing to respond to it. If this is true, then whenever our future involves an emotional response, we’d predict that our nervous system would become aroused before the emotional picture appears. If our future is calm, we’d expect to remain calm before the picture appears. Of course, after an emotional or calm picture appears the response is well understood as the “orienting reflex.” This is the body’s predictable reaction to a novel stimulus, in which it momentarily tenses up while evaluating whether to fight or flee.

A more general prediction of presentiment is that the body responds in advance of a future event in proportion to how emotional that future event will be. Extremely emotional future events will produce larger responses (before the picture appears) than mildly emotional future events. Likewise, extremely calm events will produce smaller responses than moderately calm events.

Twenty-four people participated in the first set of presentiment experiments I ran at the University of Nevada (Figure 10-2). As expected, skin conductance reacted 2 to 3 seconds after the presentation of an emotional stimulus, and the expected difference between the calm and emotional responses was clearly evident. But the presentiment effect, which was predicted to occur before the stimulus, was also observed with odds against chance of 500 to 1.

In the second experiment, I ran 50 volunteers at the University of Nevada and 6 more at Interval Research Corporation, in Palo Alto, California. The results were in the predicted direction, but weren’t as strong as those observed in the first experiment. The third experiment used new hardware and software, a new picture pool, and a new group of 47 participants. In this study, the trial-initiating button press occurred 6 seconds before the stimulus (Figure 10-3) rather than 5 seconds in the prior experiments. The skin-conductance levels were virtually identical before the button press, but as soon as the button was pressed they began to diverge in accordance with the future stimulus. This study resulted in a strong presentiment effect, with odds against chance of 2,500 to 1. Participants in the fourth study were recruited to test a new type of skin-conductance monitor. The results were in the predicted direction, but weren’t statistically significant. Overall, however, the combined odds against chance for these four experiments was 125,000 to 1 in favor of a genuine presentiment effect. These studies suggest that when the average person is about to see an emotional picture, he or she will respond before that picture appears (under double-blind conditions).

What do the results of these experiments mean? No one can say for certain, however, we can rule out the reductionist theory that consciousness is confined to a chemical reaction in a brain trapped inside a skull even though we do not yet have a generally accepted scientific theory to explain these reproducible experimental results.

Next up: a new theory of consciousness

Cross-Posted at Firedoglake/MyFDL and the Smirking Chimp.

Namaste: If Not Now, When? Is my intellectual property. I retain full rights to my own work. You may copy it and share it with others, but only if you credit me as the author. You may not sell or offer to sell it for any form of consideration. I retain full rights to publication.

My real name is Frederick Leatherman. I was a criminal-defense lawyer for 30 years specializing in death-penalty defense and forensics. I also was a law professor for three years.

Now I am a writer and I haul scrap for a living in this insane land.




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