Friday, 26 September 2014

Explore A Bit More: Supernormal by Dean Radin

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  • Sunday, August 18, 2013

    I recently enjoyed reading Dean Radin's new book.   Since my intention with this blog post is to mainly share some of the information I found fascinating, think of this entire blog post as being covered by one gigantic footnote, referencing Dean's book, which is also linked by the image above.*

    I really liked the angle Dean took in this new book.  It seems like some folks interested in parapsychology, or psychic phenomenon (psi), don't seem to have a desire to learn about mythology, or even seem to have an aversion to religion altogether.  I can't say I blame them, as many modern Western religious groups have an aversion to psi.  It's really too bad, because psi is mentioned in many ancient texts in the East and amongst more mystical traditions in the West, even in modern-day times.  In fact, even fundamentalist Christians acknowledge the existence of psi, but it's only allowed to happen in one person - Jesus.  Jesus performed remote healing, telepathy, mind-over-matter and other "miraculous" acts, very much in accord with what is talked about in modern day psi research, albeit at a far lower level of manifestation.

    The religious text that most explicitly talks about psi is probably the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali.  Held to be written approximately 2000 years ago, perhaps 2nd century BC, the oral traditions are believed to go back much, much further.  Images of figures in a yoga posture have been found on archeological artifacts dating back much further, as well.  Within the Yoga Sutras, certain abilities are outlined in rather explicit detail, which one is said to gain via concerted mental efforts.  These abilities are called Siddhis and they correspond very well with modern day psychic abilities, such as telepathy, mental healing, clairvoyance, psychokinesis and others.

    I appreciate Dean Radin tying modern day psi research back to these ancient traditions.  I feel it adds credence to the overall psi phenomenon when what is being validated by modern scientific method today has been talked about for thousands of years.  The more robust and consistent an observation, the more likely it is a real phenomenon.  In addition, our materialistic cultures seem to have lost some of the mental apparatus for gaining psychic ability, so these ancient traditions can tell us how great our potential is.  In fact, the cycle of progress often seems to take the form of re-gaining something of old in a new, more powerful form.

    Anyhow, Dean Radin isn't likely to win a Pulitzer Prize in literature anytime soon, but his books are always insightful and an entertaining read.  He is one of the leading psi researchers in the field and his books typically have some of the latest and greatest research mentioned, as well.  So, I plan to just cover some of the more interesting tidbits mentioned in his book.  Hopefully, these tidbits will be tantalizing to others, as well.  I'll also cover a small selection of the experiments covered in the book that I found especially interesting.  A link to a longer list of published studies can be found at the bottom of this blog post.

    Yoga Sutra 1:12

    Early on in the book, Dean talks about how stories are found in the lore of every culture about a repeatable human experience, often called the mystical experience, where one attains to an experience of the Divine, or a direct knowing of something that is ineffable, which is later identified as the ground of all being.  Aldous Huxley called this Perennial Philosophy, which later became the title of his well known book.  Dean quotes Alan Watts, who also noted this

    "... single philosophical consensus of universal extent.  It has been held by men and women who report the same insights and teach the same essential doctrine, whether living today or six thousand years ago, whether from New Mexico in the Far West or from Japan in the Far East"

    I recently spoke about an aspect of this experience in my Middle Way blog posts Part I and Part II, though mostly talked about in Part II.

    After discussing this common experience, Dean mentions William James' definition of the mystical experience, which I hadn't heard of before, but found rather insightful.  He says a mystical experiences is comprised of the following four elements, or qualities:

    (1) Ineffability, which means the experience is beyond something that can be put into language, or words.  It is only through having the experience, that one can truly understand.

    (2) Noetic, which means the experience is one of a state of knowledge, or illumination, or a revelation.  One has a greater awareness of reality after the experience, than before.

    (3) Transiency, which means the experience transcends time.  The experience may only literally happen over a few minutes, but may seem far longer, or even vice-versa. 

    (4) Passivity, which means the state may have been brought about via efforts of the experiencer, whether through meditation, or some other discipline, but once the experience begins, it proceeds as if the experiencer is no longer in control, at least not completely.  After all, how can one control the contents of a revelation?

    Dean also gets into the discussion of why psi is taboo and on the possible reasons for such intense skepticism, even though psi has been demonstrated to be real to modern scientific standards.  Even Richard Wiseman has admitted that all psi phenomenon meet the usual standards for a normal claim.  However, I'm going to avoid talking about most of that, except for a new angle I hadn't heard of before and how it relates to funding for psi research.

    You may have heard of the Myers-Briggs personality type test.  As it turns out, people that are more creative, or likely to have a psychic experience, or even being open to having a psychic experience, typically are a type called NFP - N for intuitive, F for feeling, and P for perceiving.  However, 99% of top executives are what you might call the opposite type, or STJ - S for sensing, T for thinking, and J for judging.  These are the types that are less oriented towards "touchy-feely" kind of experiences like psi, so there is potential for bias right from the start.  Since these folks predominantly control the power and funding, this bias affects not only psi, but also other areas like alternative medicine, which suffer from similar taboos.

    Large Hadron Collider (LHC)

    Since psi is a small effect that is typically not under conscious control of the test subjects, its existence is validated to a large extent by statistical analysis.  However, this is not at all unusual in science.  As I mentioned in a previous blog post here, the Higgs particle recently discovered at the LHC was not directly detected.  It was only by analyzing a large enough amount of data that gave odds against chance of 1 million to 1 that the result was a statistical fluke, which finally gave scientists the confidence to proclaim an "official" discovery.  Even Aspirin was released to the market for its heart benefits on similar statistical grounds.  Anyhow, try and remember that 1 million to 1 figure!!

    Before we dig into some of the modern-day experiments confirming the existence of Siddhis, we need to define a few terms.  The first two are technical terms dealing with statistical analysis.

    Meta Analysis: a type of analysis useful for systems that are complex, variable and/or subtle, to such a degree that it is very difficult for a single experiment to provide persuasive evidence that a consistent phenomenon, or effect, is occurring.  Instead, a strictly defined set of methods is used to combine data from many studies, making the statistical equivalent of one single, gigantic study.  Meta analysis helps us to gain high confidence in small effects found within large, complex and variable systems.

    Effect Size:  more, or less, determines how "big" an effect is.  A small effect size means that only a tiny fraction of the observations can be explained by the effect in consideration.  Small effect size does not at all imply a certain phenomenon is any less real.  Statistical analysis like the above mentioned meta analysis can help us pin down the uncertainty of a small effect size, giving us a high degree of confidence the effect is real, albeit small.  An example provided by Dean of a real, but small effect size, comes out of the pharmaceutical industry.  The effect size of the relationship between tamoxifen ( a breast-cancer drug) and clotting is only 0.01, meaning only 1% of folks taking this drug may experience a blood clot.  However, the downside of an occurrence is so catastrophic for the patient, this tiny effect size is taken very seriously.

    The next four terms deal with terms used in the Yoga Sutras.

    Dharana: is essentially concentration, but a steady, sustained form focused on a single object, or concept

    Dhyana: is essentially meditation, consisting of prolonged levels of concentration, with higher levels of absorption and awareness.

    Samadhi:  is a state where the object being concentrated on and the subject doing the concentrating merge in mystical absorption, or a state of unity, which is a hyper-aware, blissful state.  The absorption of subject/object and seeming loss of individual identity is usually viewed as a loss by an ego-bound personality.  However, for those that can break free and achieve this state, it is described as a state of incredible richness and activity, to which normal waking consciousness cannot begin to compare.

    Samyana:  a combined effort of the Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi, resulting in inner transformation.  When one can practice Samyana on certain objects, or concepts, it is here that the Siddhis are gained - but, not to be experienced just transiently, as a fluke, but to be used at will in full strength.  However, it should be stated that within Yoga it is advised to ignore the Siddhis, as they can be become stumbling blocks by re-inflating the ego.

    One can now perhaps appreciate why psi is very subtle in the laboratory and is often considered a small effect.  Few people are capable of keeping their mind focused for 10 mintues, let alone practice Samyana at will for indefinite lengths of time.  Imagining the amount of concentration required is enough to give most folks a head ache just thinking about it.  Therefore, it is very difficult to find subjects that can perform Siddhis (psi) at will in any appreciable way.  What modern day experiments seem to be finding is that this potential does exists in all of us at a mostly unconscious level and shows up as a small effect in the world at large.


    Now that we got those definitions out of the way, let's look at some experiments.  The first few will deal with precognition, which correspond with Sutra 16, in Book III, of the Yoga Sutras, which basically says one can gain knowledge of the past and future by practicing Samyana on the changes in Samskara, or mental impressions.

    Zener Cards

    Perhaps the most simple type of precognition experiment are the forced-choice experiments.  The classic example is among one of the first major psi experiments, which was conducted by Joseph B. Rhine and colleagues at Duke University.  The experiment basically consists of card "guessing" using a set of 5 cards called Zener cards (named after psychologist Karl Zener).  Of course, if the participants were really just guessing, we would expect an outcome from the experiment that matches chance expectation.  With 5 cards, they would only get a right answer 20% of the time.  The larger, and larger, the data set taken the more the results would converge upon 20%, with greater and greater confidence.  What one finds instead is something above chance results, telling us that the participants are getting hits, or correct "guesses", more often than they should based on chance alone.  In fact, a meta analysis of 309 forced-choice experiments showed odds against chance of 10^25, or ten million billion billion to one!

    Another kind of experiment along these lines are called "free-response" experiments, which basically test whether, or not, an individual can foretell the future like in the force-choice, but here they are allowed to freely report an impression they receive, which are then matched to a hit/miss.  One example of this kind of test was performed by Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research (PEAR) laboratory.  The "percipient" was separated by 2,200 miles from an "agent" who would travel to a randomly selected location, which the percipient would try to determine beforehand. Without getting into the details, many free-response precognition experiences have been done, but the bulk come from two large sources.  The first source is a partially declassified government program involving Sciences Applications International Corporation (SAIC) and Standford Research Institute (SRI).  The second source was PEAR.  The 770 free-response tests conducted at SRI resulted in odds against change of 300 million to 1.  At SAIC, 445 tests resulted in odds against chance of 1.6 million to 1.  Finally, at PEAR, a total of 653 sessions resulted in odds against chance of 33 million to 1.

    Another precognition experiment and one of my favorites is the presentiment tests that have done utilizing skin conductance, or even reactions within the eye, such as pupil dilation, spontaneous blink rate and simple eye movements.  In one example, test subjects are shown a series of randomly selected images.  Some of the images are calming scene, while others are of a more stimulatory nature, either erotic or violent.  In between each image is a set of time called a cool-down period where the reaction from the previous images can come back to equilibrium.  There is a definite an obvious spike in skin conductance from the erotic and violent images, which is entirely what one would expect.  What is surprising is that a pre-stimulus response is found before the image is actually shown!  It appears as though the test subject is unconsciously responding to a shocking stimulus before actual sensory perception.  One particular test involving 47 participants contributing to a total of 1400 trials and odds against chance of 2500 to 1.

    A certain flavor of Quantum Mechanics called Time Symmetric Quantum Mechanics is a bit suggestive of precognition, in that it seems to allow a type of retro-causal influence to travel backwards in time (without violating causality, mind you!)  You can be read more about this in the following Discovery article.

    Dean covers several other types of precognition experiments and also mentions a meta-analysis of 26 studies showing odds against chance ranging from 17 million to 1 to 370 billion to 1. The 17 million figure corresponds to a conservative estimate, which assumes the presentiment effect varied randomly from one experiment to the other (probably more realistic), while the 370 billion did not.

    Overall, this all shows robust evidence in favor of the Siddhi mentioned in Sutra 16, in Book III, of the Yoga Sutras, to be a real effect.


    Telepathy is a mind-to-mind connection, or communication, without the assistance of the 5 senses, and potentially over great distances.  This is a another Siddhi mentioned in Sutras 19-20, in Book III, of the Yoga Sutras, which says through another practice of Samyana one can gain knowledge of other's minds.

    Test Subject in a Ganzfeld Experiment

    Perhaps, my favorite example of this is the Ganzfeld set of experiments.  Dean talks about this at some length and I have also talked about it on a previous blog post, which I will quote here for convenience:

    "Probably the most popular and perhaps the most conclusive experiment, or set of experiments, showing this effect is called the Ganzfeld.  Essentially, two people are separated in two different chambers that are electromagnetically shielded.  One is the receiver, one is the sender.  The receiver is in a dark reddish-light, with eyes covered and wearing headphones that apply white noise (i.e. they are sensory "starved").  The sender is given an image, which is part of a set of 4 visually disparate images, all randomly selected via computer from a large database of images. This is done in a double-blind fashion so nobody knows what the image will be beforehand, even the experimenters.  The sender mentally sends the image and the receiver is instructed to tell what impressions he/she is receiving.  Later, an image is chosen from the four visually disparate images that fits the impressions recorded.  If there was no effect and this was due to random chance, one would expect a hit rate of 25%.  The value being converged upon after performing a meta analysis of many replications across different labs is 32%, indicating more correct choices than random chance would predict. That doesn't sound like much, but it turns out to be a highly statistically significant result ...

    .....  the meta-analysis for the Ganzfeld indicates roughly a 6-sigma significance.  To be a bit more precise, the Storm (2010) meta-analysis indicates approximately 46,948,356 to 1 with outliers removed and 8,695,652,173 to 1 without outliers, that the 32% hit rate is due to random chance, which implies rather strongly something real is happening.  This is an order of magnitude stronger than the data for the Higgs, at the time of their original announcement "

    Dean goes on to talk about other telepathy experiments that once again provide evidence for the Siddhi mentioned in Sutras 19-20, in Book III, of the Yoga Sutras, to be a real effect.


    Psychokinesis is basically an interaction of mind over matter, whereby mind can effect matter, on either a micro-scale or a macro-scale.  Psychokinesis is mentioned across several Siddhis.  I'll talk mainly about the experiments that correspond closest to Sutras 44-45, in Book III, of the Yoga Sutras, which involves mastery over the elements. Dean talks about the others in his book.

    A rather extreme, albeit mythical, example of PK: Moses parting the Red Sea!

    An experiment of Dean's that always intrigued me was setup to determine if the results of the famous double slit experiment could be effected via mental influence.  This is, or at least has the potential to be, related to the quantum measurement problem.  Quantum entities, like a sub-atomic particles, do not seem to posses definite properties before the act of measurement.  Rather, they seem to exist in a superposition of potentialities, which is represented mathematically by the wave function.  For example, an electron may exist in a superposition of spin up and spin down, and it is only upon the act of measurement that forces the electron to choose one, thereby collapsing the wave function to that specific value.  Quantum Mechanics says all we can know is the probabilities of obtaining each possible result, which is encoded within the wave function and can be experimentally confirmed by measuring an ensemble of identically prepared systems.  This has been done to very high degrees of precision.

    In the interest of brevity, I won't get into the details, but Quantum Mechanics presents a mystery when it comes to the relationship between this collapse of the wave function and the observer.   It was once a semi-popular idea that consciousness itself may cause the collapse.  This seems to be too simple of a picture these days, but the observer still plays a profound and deep role in the reality presented by QM, which we still don't understand today.

    The double-slit experiment is a simple example of the quantum weirdness involved with measurement.  Basically, what we think of a single particle. like an electron, appears to go through both slits at the same time, as if it were a wave, as long as "nobody is watching".  This is where the famous concept of wave-particle duality comes from.  However, if one obtains any which-path information, which is another way of saying attempting to gain knowledge on which slit the particle goes through, the particle collapses and goes through a specific slit. An example would be putting a detector at one slit to "spy" on the electron.  It would seem like any attempt made by an experimenter (a conscious being) to obtain which-path information always effects the way the a quantum system behaves.

    Dean's experimenter put a twist on this.  He aimed to see if mental influence over a distance could effect the results of the quantum double slit experiment.  He had trained meditators try to mentally push more photons through one slit than the other.  A group of non-meditators was used as a type of control group for comparison.  A series of experiments were performed and each time the meditators achieved results with odds above chance to a significant degree, while the non-meditators were typically close to chance results.  Now, this could imply consciousness causes collapse of the wave function (for the photons used in the experiment), or it could just mean that this is a simple PK effect, whereby photons are somehow manipulated.  Either way, it does seem to indicate that mind can effect matter at the quantum scale, which is truly astonishing!

    Another experiment Dean talks about is the Global Consciousness Project, which I have already talked about in another blog post, which I will quote for convenience here:

    "The Global Consciousness Project is a global-wide experiment which demonstrates the interconnected nature of consciousness and the physical world.  A series of around 80 continuously monitored electronic random number generators have been placed throughout the world.  The experimenters seek to find whether these random number generators are effected (i.e. go non-random) during time periods where many minds are focused on a common cause, or event.  In other words, can consciousness "reach out" and effect the physical world?  To a highly statistically significant degree it would appear this is very much the case."  In fact, the overall results of the Global Consciousness Project show odds against chance of 284 billion to 1!

    Dean talks about several more PK studies that again seem to provide robust evidence that several of the Siddhis (38, 39, 42, 44-45) mentioned in book III of the Yoga Sutras are indeed referencing a real effect.

    Probably some of the most remarkable phenomenon in this category are the Siddhis and modern-day experiments that deal with mental influence over another person's mood, behavior and even physical body, such as energy healing.  Dean talks more about these in his book.

    Jesus is reported to have performed many miraculous healings, a form of PK

    Well, I don't want to spoil too much of the book, but if you liked some of the material presented here, there is much more to be found in Dean's book!  As promised, here is a link to Dean Radin's web page that contains a compilation of some of the published evidence for psi:

    Selected Peer-Reviewed Journal Publications on Psi Research

    Also, here are several recent podcasts with Dean talking about his new book:

    Skeptiko - Dean Radin

    The Other Side of Truth - Dean Radin

    Mysterious Universe - Dean Radin

    Lilou - Dean Radin


    * Radin, Dean, Supernormal, Crown Publshing, 2013

    ** Sri Swami Satchidananda, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Integral Yoga Publications, 1990

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