Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Random thoughts. Can you hear them?

I'm still spending a lot of time fighting the garden (most of which has now been deleted). I'd like to plant fresh things but I'm not yet confident the frosts have passed. The snow has at least gone but it's still pretty cold.

This isn't 'climate change'. I remember a fishing trip in April in the 1980's where the line froze to the rod rings. I also remember a May 1st, about ten or twelve years ago, where I had to seek shelter in a hurry because of hailstones that came down like buckshot. They actually punched holes in many plants.

The last ten years or so have seen warm April weather but it's just a natural cycle and nothing to get all worked up about. Unless, of course, you've set up a career or a tax income based entirely on lunatic scare stories. As, indeed, many have these days, and not just on climate change. Scares range from third hand smoke (comical) to deleting salt from the diet (dangerous) and they are everywhere now.

Funnily enough, nobody seems to be doing much about pollution, which is a real problem. They're all too involved in what kind of light bulbs we use and never seem to mention that the low-energy ones are full of mercury vapour. Whatever you do, don't break one of those things. They are far, far worse than the old filament types.

The logic has gone from science and the world, I think. This week I read an article in 'Fortean Times' about telepathy. It's not a subject I study but it's interesting because there are tantalising hints that there might be something in it. No proof, just hints.

My only possible experience was when my grandmother died. I knew she had gone even though I was hundreds of miles away at the time and when I was informed of her time of death, the time matched my experience exactly. However, that is not evidence of telepathy, but of an entirely different phenomenon which I've experienced more and more since then. Personally, I have not experienced anything I could definitely call telepathy.

The problem I have with studies on things like telepathy is not that they are too likely to find an effect, but that they are too likely to find no effect.

The current method for testing telepathy is, basically, this:

The receiver wears headphones transmitting white noise, half a ping-pong ball taped over each eye and is in a dimly-lit room with no contact possible with the outside. Okay. They can't hear or see anything.

The sender chooses one of four pictures and attempts to send it to the receiver. Then the receiver comes out of their sensory deprivation room and, with the sender cleared away so they can't give any hints, points out the picture they 'saw'.

On pure chance they would choose the right picture 25% of the time. Statistically that is correct. However, it assumes something. Something very important.

It assumes everyone is a telepath.

It assumes everyone can 'send' and everyone can 'receive'. Well, I don't seem to be able to do either of those things. Some might be able to receive but not send and vice versa.

The 25% result due to chance must be modified by the proportion of people in the population who are actually able to use telepathy. What proportion of the population can do that? I have no idea and neither does anyone else. Every test assumes it is a standard human trait.

Which is rather like assuming every human can run a mile in four minutes, or pull a railway carriage, or land an arrow in the bullseye every time. A few people can but most people can't.

I suspect telepathy is like that. I am certain that mediumship is like that. Using randomly selected people means that the few who might be genuine are lost among the noise of those who have no ability at all. So when a telepathy study turns up a 38% success rate, that is not 'just above chance'. That is astoundingly above chance.

What to do about it? I leave that to those who actually study telepathy but I would suggest devising some sort of 'pre-test' procedure which can select for those who show promise as 'senders' and those who would be best placed as 'receivers'.

The sceptics will say that this is introducing bias, but how so? If telepathy is not real then no amount of pre-selection will result in improved results. The results would be the same every time if there is no effect, no matter what criteria you use to select the participants.

If there is a real effect and if it is not in every person, then pre-selection will show an improved set of results over random selection. It will weed out those with little or no ability in the same way that successive races weed out the slow runners until only the fastest are left. If there is no real effect (as in, if everyone always ran at the same speed anyway or if nobody can transmit thought) there will be no difference.

So, take the participants who scored accurately and test them again as a subset. If telepathy is not real then the success rate will be about the same. If it is real then the selected group will score much higher than the random group. Treat it like a competition.

Worth considering, perhaps?


Regina Richards said...

Seems like the media here is the U.S. has turned into a flock of 'Chicken Littles'. The sky is always falling.

Romulus Crowe said...

Everyone was scared of volcanic ash for a week or so. Now it's all vanished even though the Icelandic volcano is still erupting.

We have an election next week and every party is now trying to make us all scared of every other party.

I am scared of them all. I'm politicophobic. Hopefully there will be at least one who is not totally evil that I can vote for.

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