Psychics fail tests of their abilities in academic setting

by Bob Yirka weblog
Credit: Wikipedia

(Medical Xpress)—Researchers from Goldsmiths, University of London, in an attempt to prove or disprove the notion that some people have the ability to read the thoughts of others, set up a structured environment to test such abilities – but after inviting many well known British psychics to take part in the study, only two agreed to participate: Patricia Putt and Kim Whitton. After performing blind "readings" of five hidden volunteers each, the psychics produced just one reading that was identifiable to the volunteer. A rate the researchers described as a failure due to it being equal to chance.

The test was designed by Chris French, leader of the Anomalistic Unit at Goldsmiths who described the test in detail in a post to the Guardian. In it, each psychic was asked to sit in a chair and perform readings (capture ) on individual volunteers who were seated behind a curtain. No oral or was allowed between the two. As a reading progressed, the volunteer was asked to think about things that might help someone identify them. The psychic wrote down what they believed to be the thoughts of the volunteer. Both Putt and Whitton performed readings on all five volunteers. After all of the readings had been performed, the were invited back to try to identify which of the written commentaries were based on a reading of their thoughts. Of the ten readings performed by the two psychics, just one was identified by the volunteer as describing them and their thoughts. The researchers concluded that the results failed to show any psychic abilities in the two mediums as a single correct match of reading with volunteer was no better than chance.

When told of the results, both Putt and Whitton expressed sadness at having failed the test but suggested that the inability to see the person they were reading might have prevented them from getting accurate results despite both having rated their of success highly after the completion of each reading. Each was asked to describe their confidence in the reading on a scale of 1 to 7. Whitton's confidence averaged 5.2 while Putts' came out to 5.8.

French concluded his post by acknowledging that the psychic challenge didn't prove that some people can read minds, or that such abilities are non-existent, but insists it does show that at least some of the people who claim to have psychic abilities are fooling not only themselves, but those that pay them for readings.

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gwrede
1.5 / 5 (11) Nov 01, 2012
Haven't we left the dark ages already? I don't understand why this kind of tests are still made. And in an academic setting!

But seems this Goldsmiths, University of London thing doesn't include any Exact Sciences, so maybe nobody told them that, while the jury is still out on Spooky Action at a Distance, telepathic waves are so last millennium.
AceLepage
4.6 / 5 (9) Nov 01, 2012
You cannot disprove a phenomenon by claiming you do not believe in it. The scientific process requires that it be tested in a controlled and repeatable manner. Even if you are confident you know the outcome.
Lurker2358
2.2 / 5 (17) Nov 01, 2012
while the jury is still out on Spooky Action at a Distance, telepathic waves are so last millennium.


Wrong.

While I don't believe in "Psychics" as they present themselves, Quantum Theory's "Spooky Action at a Distance" is actually as good an evidence as any that "ESP" in some form may well be possible.

Yes, "psychics" are either self deluded, or con-artists, as far as we know. The crowd manipulating skills they use are not all the different from a preacher.

All of that being said, I don't think you can totally rule out different forms of ESP or precognition, even from a purely naturalistic point of view, precisely because of Quantum Theory. It's entirely conceivable that some aspects of precognitive dreams or other ESP experiences may be mediated by Quantum Theory.

Personally, I think precognitive dreams are real, and they are a tool God uses to speak to us while we are at rest without a distracted mind, BUT that doesn't mean I'd ever trust a "Psychic".
Claudius
2.1 / 5 (12) Nov 01, 2012
What this indicates is that there are phenomena that are sporadic, non-repeatable, non-falsifiable. Such events will always fail scientific tests due to their nature. An objective observer who witnesses such phenomena can either disregard the evidence of his own senses, or attempt to integrate it into his view of the world. It seems much easier to do the former rather than the latter. It is impossible for the same observer to convince others of what he has witnessed, other than the credulous.

Speaking from personal experience.
Dokudango
3.4 / 5 (10) Nov 01, 2012
In what ways are phenomena that are sporadic, non-repeatable, and non-falsifiable different from phenomena that do not exist?
Tangent2
2.3 / 5 (8) Nov 01, 2012
With an experiment being done with only 2 subjects, you can't exactly rule out the chance that they just got 2 bogus psychics. Trying to claim results from only 2 subjects is ridiculous, more extensive testing with multiple subjects needs to be done.

If one fails, it is random.
If two fail, it is coincidence. This is where they ended the study.
If three or more fail, you have a pattern beyond coincidence.

It is basic common sense.
cantdrive85
2.2 / 5 (12) Nov 01, 2012
If science can detect brain waves (EEG's), don't discount the possibility that there are some people out there with a heightened sensory set that can do the same. Actually, the military did extensive testing in the 60's on their scout/trackers and found that individuals with long hair were more "in-tune" with their surroundings (since then they do not require their scouts to cut their hair). What the studies inferred is that human hair behaves like an antenna to pick-up certain wavelengths of EM radiation. Could our hair represent the sensory collector for our sixth sense? Maybe Sampson did lose his strength when his hair was cut, and maybe there is some wisdom we can learn from the knowledge our ancestors were trying to impart upon us.
That being said, you still won't be finding me at the local psychics office.
Claudius
3.6 / 5 (10) Nov 01, 2012
In what ways are phenomena that are sporadic, non-repeatable, and non-falsifiable different from phenomena that do not exist?


"The concept first popularized by Karl Popper, who, in his philosophical criticism of the popular positivist view of the scientific method, concluded that a hypothesis, proposition, or theory talks about the observable only if it is falsifiable. "Falsifiable" is often taken to loosely mean "testable." An adage states it loosely as "if it's not falsifiable, then it's not scientific". But the state of being falsifiable or scientific says nothing about its truth, soundness or validity, for example the unfalsifiable statement "That sunset is beautiful.""

-Wikipedia
PinkElephant
3.9 / 5 (7) Nov 01, 2012
If science can detect brain waves (EEG's), don't discount the possibility that there are some people out there with a heightened sensory set that can do the same.
It takes exquisitely sensitive detectors armed with pre-amplifiers, connected to electrical pickups that are placed directly onto the scalp and swathed in electro-conductive gel. There are no instruments in existence, however sophisticated, that can pick up brainwaves at a distance -- even a relatively small distance such as a few centimeters. Moreover, brainwaves are aggregate activity signals that do not translate into exact thoughts or feelings; an analogy might be that urban road congestion patterns are like brainwaves, and in themselves don't tell you about what kind of cars are getting stuck in the traffic jams.
What the studies inferred is that human hair behaves like an antenna to pick-up certain wavelengths of EM radiation.
What a load of BS...
PhotonX
3.2 / 5 (9) Nov 01, 2012
With an experiment being done with only 2 subjects, you can't exactly rule out the chance that they just got 2 bogus psychics. Trying to claim results from only 2 subjects is ridiculous, more extensive testing with multiple subjects needs to be done.
So, since these are the only two with the balls to try, maybe they are the only self-deluded 'phychics' asked to participate in the study? All the other psychics were able to correctly foresee that they would fail the test, and so were psychically forewarned not to try? [SET good_natured_sarcasm = OFF] I agree that more subjects might be more convincing, at least to the believers, but they -were- given the chance, and all ran the other way except for these two admirably brave souls.
PhotonX
4.2 / 5 (5) Nov 01, 2012
You cannot disprove a phenomenon by claiming you do not believe in it. The scientific process requires that it be tested in a controlled and repeatable manner. Even if you are confident you know the outcome.
Indeed. For instance, someone once tried to convince me that the human brain could act as a receiver, because if you spread it out flat the neurons would form a fine giant antenna. This is like saying that if I took a real antenna, say the best and biggest Yagi I can find, and then crushed it into the most compact ball I could, it would still make an equally good antenna. Needless to say, no it won't, and neither does the brain. Yet, such pseudoscientific claims sound plausible to the gullible among us. This is why we need such falsifiable studies to be done in controlled scientific fashion.
PhotonX
2.1 / 5 (7) Nov 01, 2012

...individuals with long hair were more "in-tune"...human hair behaves like an antenna to pick-up certain wavelengths of EM radiation...
My hair has recently grown from 1" length to 10". Now, last night I strolled through modern art via Wikipedia, including works by Paul Kree. Within hours I heard TV mention the modern art of Paul Kree. Psychic? No, coincidence, and I didn't hear mention any of the dozen other artists I looked at.

Same night, I saw the ornate Garden Court in the Palace Hotel in San Francisco. Later, I saw a movie (The Game) and the protagonist fell through a glass ceiling in the very same room, seen from almost exactly the same point of view. Psychic synchronicity? No, coincidence, though admittedly a totally amazing one.

My long hair isn't helping, though, since such instances of synchronicity also happened when my hair was short. Happens all the time, to everyone. Selective memory makes it 'psychic' or not.
zaxxon451
3.5 / 5 (8) Nov 01, 2012
Many phenomena have appeared sporadic or non-falsifiable at first until science advanced to a degree that they could be understood.

In what ways are phenomena that are sporadic, non-repeatable, and non-falsifiable different from phenomena that do not exist?

elektron
3 / 5 (6) Nov 02, 2012
With a sample of two, nothing has been proved or disproved. They could just be rubbish psychics.
julianpenrod
1.8 / 5 (5) Nov 03, 2012
How do they know if the "volunteers" weren't all opposed to the paranormal and so would skew their actions to prevent a legitimate experiment? Most experiments use many "volunteers", why only five here? It looks like a blatant attempt to control the result, since it's not guaranteed that a large number of individuals willing to screw up an experiment could be found! And how do the "researchers" know that the "volunteers" really were thinking what they were told to think? A better test would be to place photographs, that are verifiable, in containers and asking the individuals to identify them. These are obvious points, but the failure to notice it just shows how hatred of the paranormal causes "science" devotees to violate their own supposed principles.
Ojorf
3 / 5 (2) Nov 05, 2012
Oh grief...
If any one of all the multiple psychic powers people claim to have was real, the million dollar challenge would have been claimed years ago.
Professional psychics DO NOT enter scientific tests like these, they know they will fail and lose credibility. It is only the poor honest sods deluding themselves who have the guts, because they really believe it.
wiyosaya
5 / 5 (1) Nov 05, 2012
I have to agree with others who comment on the number of psychics tested not being enough. This, as I see it, does not prove the phenomena does not exist.

Carl Sagan thought that the reported effects of humans on random event generators should be investigated.

I can't immediately locate the link, however, the results of a study on a "healer" were posted here and they found that the "healer" was empathic, and as such, they inferred that this was why the healer was successful.
Jonseer
not rated yet Nov 07, 2012
ESP as they defined it is nonsense.

The human mind is a constant flurry of thoughts and ideas, decisions in the process of being made, things being forgotten, being remembered while simultaneously experiencing the sensations of the physical body like hunger or smell.

To expect or believe from that mental maelstrom that individual clear thoughts can be picked out is ludicrous.

This is not to say ESP in a real world setting is also nonsense, because ESP as it exists in the real world is part and an extension of the usual methods we use to communicate, verbal, visual Etc.,

It ceases to exist separated from them.

Particularly insightful people know what is on a person's mind beyond what the person tells them, beyond what the person may honestly believe he feels via all our senses.

A better test would be to allow all interaction minus verbal, and then testing the psychics on the accuracy of their impressions.

Somebody also needs to tell the researchers post cognition is NOT ESP.

rubberman
3 / 5 (4) Nov 07, 2012
Clearly these two psychics do not qualify to be Italian seismologists....or does this mean that they do?

I gotta go with Claudius' first post on this one. One time in my life I saw something that defied rational explanation, and i was alone when I saw it. Since then i steer clear of metaphysical discussions....if 20 people see it and it's caught on film you have a case, otherwise you're Randy Quaid in Independance day until the aliens actually land. "What'd they do to you Russ?"
jimsecor
2 / 5 (2) Dec 16, 2012
Oooh! The used psychics. Stupid? Or were they trying to disprove the "theory" from the beginning? As to hair...I wear my hair very long--and I'm very vain about my waves. The longer it gets, the straighter it gets and (can we test this, please? it's of great scientific value) the straighter it gets the less ESPish am I. Oh, oh, oh!
But...the fact that people, however real or pseudol, are questioning and testing--think James Randi who believes that nothing not known or explainable is real--is a "sign" that the reality of ESP exists...or someone wants it to.
Oh. Sorry. A signal's coming in...