Rebuttle to Reliability

I understand your concern, but when you really think about it, what human capabilities are perfectly replicable on demand? For example, even the best hitter is major league baseball cannot hit on demand. That why there are batting averages. Nor can we predict when they will hit a homerun. It’s rare for players to consistently hit home runs. In fact, we cannot even predict whether or not a home run will occur in a given baseball game, but that doesn’t mean home runs do not exist (Utts, 1995). If there really truly is an effect, it may not ever be replicable on demand in the short term even if we understand how it works, i.e. a batter may not hit one home run in this game or the next, but over his career he may have several. Similarly, in the long run, in well-controlled laboratory experiments, we should see a consistent level of functioning that is above chance. There are many labs that have replicated remote viewing experiments, by various experimenters and in different cultures (Utts, 1995). With such strong results, were it not such an unusual field, we would no longer question as a real phenomenon. It is highly unlikely that methodological problems could account for the consistency of the results because the various experiments have been different enough that there would have to be a different explanation for each type of experiment (Utts, 1995). It would take a considerable amount of fraud on the part of a large number of experimenters and subjects for the results of remote viewing experiments to be completely invalid.

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Problem: Lack of Reliability

Whether or not psi phenomena exist or not, the current psychological studies have failed to provide adequate evidence at this moment. Researcher Christopher C. French provides an extremely reasonable review of several experiments which have investigated psi and remote viewing. He considers himself to be a “moderate skeptic,” and while he doesn’t doubt the potential for us ever to discover the existence of remote viewing, he argues that “further thought needs to be given to the strengths and limitations of meta-analysis [which] parapsychologists… appear to have embraced… as providing the royal road to scientific respectability.” Meta-analysis is the examination of an experiment by the experimenter, and there are several implications of this act which call to question the results of said experiment. French continues, “Parapsychologists are not only carrying out an essential service for their own discipline by attempting to resolve these issues but are also helping other disciplines that employ meta-analysis… At this stage it would appear to be premature for parapsychology to put all its eggs into the meta-analytic basket.” Therefore, it seems to be the case that the basis for deeming these experiments worthy of proving a genuine psi effect is hinged largely, if not entirely, on the artifact of researcher bias. Because these reports are rooted in biased, subjective meta-analysis, it is also very difficult for these experiments to be replicated.

This isn’t the only bias, in fact. Those entering the paranormal field for the first time will have no problem finding a book to support paranormal activities, such as remote viewing. However, often times, readers fail to realize that these books are uncritical accounts with little scientific evidence. This is due to the fact the publishers see the topics like remote viewing to be opportunities to sell, because surely one would rather read experiential anecdotes suggesting this phenomenon is real, as opposed to murky lab results that are open to interpretation (French, 2010).

Ultimately, it becomes a question of reliability. Can we trust that information is published to inform rather than entertain? Additionally, meta-analyses result in a lack of replicability; not only do these experiments fail to replicate one another, but meta-analyses are open to too many different interpretations.  

 

Remote Viewing: Much More Than a Crystal Ball

Remote viewing extends beyond magic. True remote viewing, unlike crystal ball gazing or tealeaf reading, is strictly controlled.  As explained earlier, in these experiments, a viewer attempts to draw/describe a randomly chosen target location or object while all known channels for receiving the information are blocked. There is a protocol for a remote viewing experiment, which as seen in the video, is strict and completely blind to those actually in the experiment, with people who are unrelated doing much of the background work. Using the standards applied to any other science, remote viewing experiments have statistical analysis of results in relation to chance (p-value), effect sizes, and randomness (Utts, 1995). Based on the size of the study, researchers determine the correct statistical value of if chance alone were responsible, how likely it would be to observe results as strong or stronger than the ones obtained. The smaller the answer to that question (the p-value) the more the researchers are willing to rule out chance and an explanation. In numerous remote-viewing experiments, small p-values are found, supporting that this phenomenon occurs separate from chance. With the application of these standard scientific procedures, and the results of the studies being statistically significant far beyond what could be expected by chance,  it can be concluded that psychic functioning is well established (Utts, 1995). Far too often, people who question the existence of psi are questioning on the basis of their personal beliefs and paradigms rather than examining scientific data. 

Remote Viewing: Nothing More Than a Magician’s Trick?

It has been proven that only 7% of the population does not believe, whatsoever, in any kind of paranormal phenomena. Could it be that this isn’t due to the actual existence of such paranormal phenomena? And if so, why do so many people believe in these supernatural forces?

The growth of the Internet is the first thing to consider, and as knowledge of psi phenomena grows, so does the number of imitations. Fraud has become more prevalent, as it’s been made easy for people to claim supernatural ability and to accrue web followers. In fact, many people who claim to have supernatural ability have been unable to execute their abilities while under scientifically controlled conditions. Targ and Puthoff, famous scientists from within the remote viewing field, argue that their performances may have been strained by the scientific environment, but how can such abilities be validated unless regulated? (Perlman, 2001)

There is also a greater psychological process occurring here on the perception end of such events–a process that innately wires us to make sense of that which we cannot explain. Psychologist Bruce Hood argues that since birth, we have conditioned ourselves to “fill in the gaps” of unexpected events. He uses the term “intuitive reasoning” to explain how our brains build theories of the world to explain unobservable events– it’s all a matter of how we perceptually process information gaps.  When babies are shown a magic trick, in which an object is originally held in one’s hand, and then disappears “mysteriously,” most babies express shock in their facial expressions. As Dr. Hood argues: “I believe that these misconceptions of naive intuitive theories provide the basis of many later adult magical beliefs.” These intuitive theories are so strong that even the most rational of people and scientists can be biased toward irrational reasoning. (Hood, 2006)

The second part of Hood’s argument is that humans tend to perceive events as a unquestionably linked. He adds, “Humans are causal determinists; we cannot help but experience the world as a continuous sequence of events and outcomes.” For example, when we are thinking about someone and they call us, we can’t help but think this wasn’t a coincidence. In reality, these things are usually reigned by chance, but they stick out in our memories because they are unusual. (Hood, 2006)

It seems that belief in remote viewing could very likely be explained by the ideas of intuitive theory and causal determinism. When a remote viewers predictions match the actual site, we immediately think this is out of the ordinary, and so we may believe that this can only be explained by a supernatural ability–that because one statement is (perhaps even vaguely) accurate, remote viewing is unquestionably validated. But are we no more observant than our infant selves? Our response to such events is very similar to our responses to magic tricks–we immediately attribute our lack of understanding to paranormal activity before considering what other force may be responsible–be it fraud or chance.

 

Reasons to Doubt Joseph McMoneagle

 

The host of “Put to the Test” narrated this testing of remote viewing. Upon first considering many of the statements concluded from McMoneagles attempt, this showing of remote viewing may seem very convincing. However, if you really consider each observation McMoneagle draws, you can see that each was much more general than we think.

A blogger from skeptoid.com did a very estute analysis of what actually might have happened in this experiment. As mentioned above, the researchers narrowed down the possible locations to four: a water slide at an amusement park, a dock along the river, a water wall, and a cement water fountain structure. McMoneagle observed that the location was near a river; not only is Houston famous for its rivers, but this observation would have applied to both the waterslide and the river dock. The next claim McMoneagle made was that there were perpendicular lines at the site, but in reality, most sites have perpendicular lines. He also claims that there was a pedestrian footbridge, which much more closely matches the description of the tree house and the waterslide. Spectators were also impressed by his guess that there was something large nearby that wasn’t a building–a statement which could be applied to any of the four drawings. And these are the statements that were emphasized in comparing his claims to the actual site–the television program failed to mention the statements which didn’t line up. McMoneagle predicted the woman at the site was on an incline, and that the dock was flat; he also mentioned a platform with a black stripe that is similarly nowhere to be seen. (Skeptoid, 2010)

As skeptoid points out: “Those were the only statements of Joe’s that they broadcast. Strangely, at no point did they ask McMoneagle to identify the location; they did not even ask him to choose from the four possibilities. Instead, they simply took him to the actual destination where the target person was, which turned out to be the dock, and the set out about finding matches to the actual destination.” (Skeptoid, 2012)

What I’m trying to get at here is that often times, people look for evidence when they want to believe something. This is a psychological tendency known as the confirmation bias.

 

Joseph McMoneagle: Talented Remote Viewer

In 1994, the TV show “Put to the Test” famous remote viewer Joe McMoneagle flew to Houston, a city he had never visited to show his remote viewing abilities. Joe, a career army man, began working for the CIA’s “Stargate” project that was using remote viewers, operating under strict guidelines, to provide additional information to aid US intelligence operations. Joe helped the army locate hostages in Iran, named the city and described the apartment where an American General was being held hostage, and helped discover a traitor in South Africa who was feeding information to the Soviets (Weeks, 1995). This is an impressive resume, and possibly the most successful remote viewer on record. Many doubt these abilities but McMoneagle is able to replicate his abilities over 450 times both in and out of the CIA (Weeks, 1995). The TV show put to the test asked him to show his abilities on live TV in order to show the world the powers of remote viewing. In Houston, Joe was put in a small room and taken through a procedure has done many times before. In a windowless, sound proof room, McMoneagle quiets his mind in order to see a target that has been chosen by the role of the dice. Four possible targets were chosen by a movie location scout who specifically chose locations based on their similarity to each other and their distinction. Photographs were taken and placed in envelopes far from accessibility to Joe and those conducting the experiment. A random woman then rolled the dice to see which photo would be the target location, which was then given to another woman, whom Joe had never met, to go to. Joe was shown a picture of the woman who was at the target and asked to describe where the woman was. With a quiet mind, McMoneagle sketched where he saw the woman and described aspects of the location such as a natural river that had been improved by man and of a bridge with foot traffic (“An anomalous cognition,” 1994). The target was the ship channel in Houston and Joe’s drawings and descriptions are eerily clear to the target. He describes having traces of all five senses aiding him in his description, about 80% of what he says turns out to be correct (“An anomalous cognition,” 1994). This is a very good example of how remote viewing works.

–Lauren