Thursday, June 24, 2010

Can We Evolve a DNA Computer or Cultured Neural Net that Perceives the Future?

After some interesting conversations about psi with Damien Broderick, I couldn't resist spending a half-day writing up some old ideas I had about how to modify quantum physics to better explain psi phenomena like precognition, ESP and psychokinesis.

You can find my funky physics speculations at

-- (Parenthetical remark: If you want to argue with me about whether psi phenomena exist or not, please first read the excellent books by Damien Broderick (a serious-minded popular overview) and Ramakrishna Rao (a selection of research papers from the relevant scientific literature). My general attitude on the topic of psi agrees with that of researcher Dean Radin, expressed in the last few paragraphs of his online bio. I enjoy discussing the topic as time permits, but I don't enjoy discussing it with people who are both heavily biased AND ignorant of the current state of scientific knowledge.) --

After writing up those old physics speculations and then thinking on the matter a bit more, I started musing in an even more weird direction....

Suppose it's true that psi phenomena are related to peculiar quantum-like phenomena among interacting molecules in the brain....

Then, this suggests that it might also be possible to cause other conglomerations of organic molecules or cells, similar to the ones in the brain, to display psi-like phenomena....

One naturally wonders about technologies such as reconfigurable DNA computers ... or cultured neural networks (neural nets grown in the lab outside the brain) ....

There is abundant data demonstrating the ability of many people to predict the outcome of random number generators with statistically significant accuracy (see this article for a moderately out-of-date review and some pointers into the literature). Might it be possible to create a DNA computer or cultured neural network that could carry out, say, statistically significant precognition of number series produced by random number generators?

Since we don't know much about how the brain does precognition, we don't know how to wire such a DNA computer or cultured neural network, step by step.

However, nobody wired the brain step by step either -- the brain evolved to do the things it does (apparently including a weak capability for psi).

What if we used evolutionary computing -- a genetic algorithms approach -- to evolve biological computing systems (DNA computers or cultured neural nets), where the fitness function was the capability to predict the future of number series generated by random number generators?

In this way, we could potentially create psi-capable biological computing systems, even without understanding exactly how they work.

We would also get an ensemble of biological computing systems with differing levels of psi capability -- and by applying machine learning tools to study the internals of these evolved systems, we would likely to be able to limn some of the patterns characterizing the more psi-successful systems.

Obviously, if this worked, it would be a scientific revolution -- it would point the way beyond current physics, and it would allow us to carry out psi research without needing whole living organisms as subjects.

Yes, yes, yes, this is real mad scientist stuff ... but every now and then one of us "mad" scientists turns out to be right about some pretty surprising things.... The idea in this blog post is one of those that seems really wacky at first -- and then less and less so progressively, the more you read from the relevant scientific literature, and the more you think about it....

Well, this stuff is tantalizing as hell to muse about, but now I'd better get back to my more mundane, not-so-speculative activities like trying to build superhuman AGI and studying the genetics of longevity....


James D. Miller said...

I read much of Broderick's psi book, but if human psi is real why hasn't someone used it to become a trillionaire by making psi-based financial market investments?

Ben Goertzel said...

James: what the data shows is that precognition is a statistically weak effect in laboratory settings. If you can predict the Dow's direction tomorrow 51% of the time, that's bloody interesting scientifically, but it's hard to make $$ once you take frictional trading costs into account.

However, if the psi results are real, there could be potential in using a team of humans to try to predict market direction, so that the errors in individual predictions partially cancel out. This raises the question of whether, if you have 100 people trying to precognitively predict the same time series, the errors they make will be correlated or independent. I'm not sure this has been studied.

Also, I note that some few people DO have an uncanny capability to make money trading the financial markets, based on pure intuition.

And I also note that where trading $$ is concerned, people have a strong tendency to fool themselves. It takes a lot of self-awareness and cool to distinguish your analytical judgments from your emotions where trading is concerned. I imagine that even a trained psychic would need a lot of mental balance to distinguish their stock market precognitions from wishful thinking...

If I were going to try this I'd get 100 people to try to predict direction of tomorrow's Dow every day -- but I wouldn't tell them if my trading strategy were long or short oriented, so as not to give them an emotional bias to predict UP versus DOWN....

Antiplutocrat said...

I had a similar thought on the evolution thing when I glanced at the first few pages of the paper you just wrote. C.f.

To my mind, a/the key question is: how do we organize an evolutionary framework that could produce the desired result? Perhaps the results above might be helpful?

Also, if, in the aggregate, humans are able to predict the stock market, then isn't there a constant grandfather paradox at play (since the stock market itself is the result of aggregate human prediction, more or less)?

James D. Miller said...


I would be willing to join you if you want to try to find a group of psi abilitied people who could beat the market by enough to establish with extreme confidence they were not just lucky. The goal could be to get enough evidence to convince someone like Peter Thiel to back us. If you could prove to Peter that you could predict the market with 51% accuracy I'm almost certain he would back you.

Think of how much money could be raised for AI research!

I'm an academic economist who also writes for an investment magazine.

James D. Miller

Kevin said...

>what the data shows is that precognition is a statistically weak effect in laboratory settings.

That just goes strongly against my priors for how the universe works. My prior says that it should be randomly expected that some people *seem* to have weak precognition. Can you link me to the paper or papers that are the strongest evidence for psi?

Kevin said...

Sorry, missed the meta-analysis you linked to because of the missing http:// on the link.

Sean Daniels said...

On page 10, you wrote ~ "If psi must rely on the coordinated buildup, among multiple correlated molecules, of biases in subquantum fluctuations, then it's no wonder the results tend to be small and somewhat fussy."

...This is interesting to me. One of the subjective phenomena I perceive is a periodic building up of a charge that accumulates somewhere near my brainstem, then consolidates itself somewhere inside my head. This stored energy periodically discharges, upon volition, to create static-electrical effects that trickle along a gradient and ultimately diffuse over the surface of my skin. It probably takes on average less than 3 seconds between the time that I experience the volition, and the time when the diffusion is complete.

Sean Daniels said...

Only sometimes am I able to cause this phenomenon to occur via volition.

I have at various times experienced a sort of psychological addiction related to prompting this sort of a discharge event to occur.

I have also perceived myself hold my hand out towards some water and "channel" some energy which registered as a perception of energy flowing through my arm, hand, and fingertip(s) which corresponded temporally with ripples being created in the swimming pool that I was pointing at.

Within the current psychiatric paradigm there is not an explanation for this sort of a phenomenon. When I report the electrical discharge events to doctors, they do not recognize the phenomenon and say that it does not exist or that I am imagining it. I have spoken with several physicians since several members of my family are physicians. Also when I spoke to family members about the hydrokinesis event, they put pressure on me to take drugs that block my dopamine d-2 receptor, and so I decided eventually to cease allowing myself to experience intellectual interest in the origin or cause of this particular phenomenon, in order to integrate myself more into society. Which has not entirely worked, as I continue to trust hesitantly and my mind is filled with strange magical things that I like to talk about which comes out and weirds out lots of the people who I would otherwise pursue open dialogs and intimacy with. There are only a few people in the world patient and tolerant enough to be my friend, or something, I don't know.

Sean Daniels said...

In terms of answering James' question about how "if human psi is real why hasn't someone used it to become a trillionaire by making psi-based financial market investments" ~ I think that many of the people who exhibit some kind of psi phenomenon are, like me, mentally unstable in some way. This may result from their integration into a society which actively harasses, denigrates, and institutionalizes individuals who experience genuine psi phenomenon, as well as makes attempts to use coercion to modify brain chemistry of individuals who exhibit such phenomenon. I would say that revealing psychic experiences or topicalizing telepathic experiences during conversation is more taboo than topicalizing homosexual activity.

Sean Daniels said...

Because people have so many preconceptions and schemata associated with conceptually representing any psi phenomenon, verbal reports are often an unreliable source of evidence concerning psi phenomena. Much of my exposure to psi phenomena has been in mental hospitals, where I have observed individuals who attempt to communicate with some entity that is not there, maybe directing verbal remarks towards the corner of a room, and noticing a temporal correspondence between an instruction given to some non-apparent entity and an event that happens in the nearby proximity. For example, if you were to sit in a room quietly for 6 minutes, then the person beside you were to make a remark to an invisible entity in the corner, then you were to notice a change in the energy fluctuations in the ambience, or in your body, some kind of swishing of energy around in the sensors that detect propioception, and this swishing corresponded with a shrieking made by someone half a football field away down the hall, you might after 8 or 9 instances of such a phenomenon be inclined to attribute some kind of causal significance between the remarks made by the person beside you, the swishing feeling, and the shrieking of the person down the hall. Alternately, you could interpret the shrieking as a completely unrelated event, and chaulk the correspondence in time between the expression of your neighbor and the shrieking to chance, or some other variable.

Sean Daniels said...

Just like you could chaulk up the correspondence between indentations in the surface tension of the water and the trajectory of the imaginary vector extending from your index finger to chance or some other variable, like wind, or swirling eddies at the bottom of the swimming pool...or you could infer that causality is occuring in the reverse direction...that your finger is tracking the movements of the swirling in the pool, instead of radiating out energy that is causing the indentations...

as far as precognition goes, the recalcitrant data (I call anything that does not fit into my picture of reality, or events which I cannot explain given any of my current scientific theories, recalcitrant data) I remember one time after delivering a tocharian presentation at my university...I remember being compelled to lay down on the ground in the quad, and point at the sky. Some people made fun of me while I was doing this, remarking "this is why you don't smoke crack." I had already formed some kind of "trust bond" with some kind of "undisclosed principal" who later began to engage in invasive kinds of activity within my mind, so that I ended up going through this ritual of "shutting the door" on some aspect of my consciousness that contained this entity, or internally vocalizing an express desire that this invasive activity cease, after spending days or weeks in my room alone feeling extremely intimidated by subtle tiny changes in the environment, a poster on the wall made of paper slipped an inch and made a grinding noise against the wall and I experienced a kind of terror that may have been the most intense fear that I had experienced in my life up to that point...anyways, several years after attempting to kick this entity out of my consciousness, and experiencing the perception that this link had been severed, and restoring some of the functionality to my life, and getting into a university...

Sean Daniels said...

I found myself compelled, literally compelled to lay on the ground and point at the sky, and when I did this, I noticed that after I ignored this person that was bicycling towards me, which for moments made me afraid that I would be run over by some irresponsible biker, but being more moved by the force that was animating me to point at the sky, I noticed a discoloration in the sky, similar to two half-moons or crescent moons joined at a point, so that the two arcs looked like a bird, and while I was attempting to grapple or explain the experience, the modality I used to attempt to account for it was by attempting to semantically label the phenomenon, I ended up labelling it a phoenix, and when I diverted my attention to someone nearby in order to indicate what I was perceiving, when I glanced back along the trajectory of my finger, this phoenix had disappeared. Later after puzzling about that for awhile, I decided that probably there had been some aspect of my consciousness which had been aware that there was some kind of solar event that was going to occur at that moment, and so it moved me into a position where my attention would be focused on the region of space where the event would occur at the time that it was occurring.

Sean Daniels said...

In terms of explaining this, one could use your theory that perhaps there is some cluster of molecules, maybe 4,000 molecules, which when organized into a discrete configuration, sends a general category of signals out to the rest of the brain. I imagine that there is information competition at every juncture where the signal is transduced. In some cases, this competition originates from intelligent entities whose volitions act to suppress that signal, as in instances where the signal is dampened because the D-2 receptors which receive components of the signal are capped by drugs that are coerced onto the subject by institutions and individuals. In other instances, there are specialized neurons or cells which experience preferences (yes I think that different parts of your brain experience different preferences, and when I try to explain your cumulative preferences, I think about weighted voting, and I use this to explain why people cannot do things that they want to do but cannot supply themselves with verbal justifications for, because frequently people's language centers have disproportional representation in the decisionmaking heruistics that operate in consciousness, and I am also percipiently aware that the language centers can be disenfranchised by training the brain to notice and interpret pre-lingual cues, but that operating on these cues often violates the social contract or you can get into Freudian topics if you want to discuss how society legislates against the animal(s) inside us, emotional communications can probably be modelled in terms of transaction analysis and game theory, tit for tat, you can probably represent discrete emotions or discrete pre-lingual cues as packets, and categorize packets, and represent them as waves, and superimpose waves over each other summing them putting them into superposition with one another or cancelling each other out, noticing their periodicity, their amplitude.

Sean Daniels said...

I think that in order for these 4,000 molecules to overcome the inertial resistance informationally produced by the rest of the brain, that a threshold energy is required, and that often when energy accumulates near my brainstem and discharges on some portion of my skin, that represents a failed attempt on behalf of some organized component of my consciousness to signal some volition to the rest of my body, the information becomes lost in translation and since there is potential energy but there is not sufficient enformy to organize the flow of energy through the structure, it just diffuses and disappates, providing some aesthetically pleasing or displeasing sensory experience that registers through propioception receptors, or whatever those receptors are that detect electrical activity within one's body--some kind of afferent signalling system--but the "meaning" or "intention" behind the original discharge of energy is not understood, one does not form a complete cognition of its purpose or the associated referential intention...

Sean Daniels said...

So to summarize I think that some of the reasons why I don't use my psi abilities to become a trillionaire is that 1) I don't understand them so it is not trivial to become a trillionaire by manipulating these abilities, if it were a trivial problem then I probably would incline to do so.

2) I have never had a teacher who was interested in teaching me how to make trillions of dollars by manipulating the pilot waves or by directing my attention to focal points in the market that would allow me to make trillions of dollars. On one occasion I was on probation and my probation officer expressed some interest in the stock market, and being highly suggestible to his preferences, I focused some energy on the stock market, and my attention did become rivetted upon a bankrupt company named Frontier Airlines which I found some news that said that some company named Perseus LLC was loaning it $75 million to get out of bankruptcy and to acquire an 80% interest in the company...I looked at the market capitalization for Frontier, it was $11 million, so shortly after I told my broker to buy $3,000 of the stock with a limit buy at $0.26 and a limit sell at $0.42, and notified my probation officer of this decision, then I watched two episodes of weeds then noticed that I had doubled my money while watching TV...but I did not attribute this decision to precognition or psychic phenomena, instead I interpreted it as the result of noticing something in the news and reacting to it before other people reacted. I ascribed my motivation for focusing attention on this task more in relation to achieving freedom...I wanted to make good with my probation officer so that I could attain my freedom, get off probation, get professional licenses, and so on...and not because I wanted to collect little green pieces of paper.

Sean Daniels said...

I rather think that once you have telepathic contact with other people, you experience an inclination to move them emotionally, and although one way to influence a person is by offering this person little green pieces of paper, I tend to think that there are a broad domain of symbols and semiotic referents that can be used to impact a person's consciousness, and, perhaps this is a fault on my part, but it seems to be hard for me to intellectually grasp the value of accumulating so many little green pieces of does not motivate most of my gestures, I am motivated to do things that I perceive a need to do, if I don't need to do something I am likely to think for 9000 hours before deciding to do it, or not do it at all. If it were trivial to make a trillion dollars I would, but I would also be worrying about things like drawing attention to myself, inspiring jealousy of friends and co-workers or having to pay taxes and the result of paying taxes, weapons being placed into the hands of soldiers, people being killed, karma, i would have to account for all the perceived interactions resulting from my decision before i can make that decision, unless i am able to blow off the consequences, but if i blow off the consequences, then i will receive a messaging unit containing a fear signal of some degree of intensity, or i can re-map that fear to uncertainty, but anyways I imagine that many psi-sensitive individuals are paralyzed by uncertainty. In fact all of humanity may be paralyzed by uncertainty, or I'm not sure what the factor is, but I know that if you deliberately act in a manner so as to prompt a person to experience a loss of control perception, even without any ostensible violation of any statute or rule or some explicitly articulated behavioral norm, you can incur intense emotions which translate into risks of incarceration merely by making people experience loss of an illusion of control. So I think there are a number of cognitive biases accounting for the hostile reactions to psi-phenomenon which we observe in American Culture, United States Culture, California Culture...I don't know what the rest of you guys experience around the world...

Sarah Cardenez said...

Ben wrote: "Also, I note that some few people DO have an uncanny capability to make money trading the financial markets, based on pure intuition."

This may be due to genetic factors. My research has led me to understand that certain individuals are genetically predisposed to prefer to make "safe bets," for example, individuals with less than 7 repeats of a sequence of 16 amino acids in the 3rd cytoplasmic loop of the DRD4 gene display inferior executive performance as children, and increased preference for safe bets as male adults. This gene also interacts with number of friends nominated during adolesence to affect political ideology. I am given cause to wonder if the amount of friends that one has, globally, is related to the number of extant safe bets that can be apprehended (think: insider trading, social networks, global connectivity). Also, I am curious about the process for nominating I merely need to grant my offspring access to a social network during adolesence, and insure that s/he finds x amount of friends in order to significantly affect the odds that s/he will share my political ideology?

I think your idea of "using a team of humans to try to predict market direction, so that the errors in individual predictions partially cancel out" is the principle that several think tanks operate upon.

Michael said...

I think we are already have the technology to perceive the future in our brains, and it's our habits of cognition and the data structures that we use, our software, that impairs our ability to recognize the potential predictive power of our hardware. Without addressing the absence of scientific (exclusion of non-falsifiable hypotheses from truth-weighting) epistemology affecting the tasking processes of individual brain users, consider the following:

I think the myth that we can only hold 7 +/- 2 items in our working memories is inaccurate. I think the way working memory works is that you can only isolate one item at time in your mind. While you perceive this thing, you can notice the relations between this thing and any other things in the Universe that you are aware of. You can also ascribe causal relations or infer a directional relation between the state of this thing's organization and another thing's state of organization. Also, there is a stack of things in your mind. There is the thing you are currently isolating, and there is the previous thing, and the next thing, and so on. In some states of mind you are able to see up the stack, or recall prior elements of the stack. So if your stack was bananas, yellow, spots, leaves, turnips, trousers, lakers, kobe, cocktail, jim beam, olives, plastic spear, desk, papers, motions, PDF file, facebook, shorts, closet, tennis shoes, stop sign, ramp, dog, lawn, sky, berries... you might recognize some kind of pattern that allows you to see the next 999 items in the stack, and you might be able to remember several prior items in the stack, if you were presently isolating "shorts" for example, there might be 999 things you could isolate within less than a tenth of a second just by backtracking 1 item and noticing the relations between "facebook" and any other things in the Universe that you are aware of.

In other words, I think that the "number" of things you can hold in memory simultaneously is not some arbitrary fixed constant with a fixed variance (e.g. 7 plus or minus 2), but rather, this number is limited by constraints that involve a stack of things that has been isolated, and the logical connections between the elements of that stack, and all the other things in the universe.

Michael said...

"if you have 100 people trying to precognitively predict the same time series, the errors they make will be correlated or independent"

So is it the case that brains interfere with one another? I am imagining 50 Sartans and 50 Patyrns all murmuring and tracing runes and sigilia tailored to cause oil particles to aggregate around two discrete strange attractors in the gulf of mexico.

The intention of the Sartans is to direct traffic of oil particles to a locus near a saddle point in the southern section of the gulf, whereas the Patyrns are attempting to manipulate the pilot wave to drag particles in a field to a saddle point in the northern section of the gulf.

The interaction between the magnitudes of these two discrete attractors is an apparent chaotic behavior of the oil particles, aggregating around two hubs, but neither group's predictions are being achieved with high fidelity, because of the price of conflict.

Terren said...

Hey Ben, interesting post and I will certainly read one of Dean Radin's books, so thanks for the reference. Very interesting to hear that there's legitimate scientific research lends evidence to psi phenomenon.

Reading this and your suggestion that macro objects like brains could be entangled, I thought of a Ouija Board, have you ever played with one? It's eerie, and even if you invoke the "ideomotor effect" to explain it, left unanswered is how the movements of those participating become synchronized - there's never any "fighting for control" of the planchette.

And I'm not saying for sure something like "brain entanglement" makes a plausible explanation either, but it is interesting, I think, to note the similarity between making an observation of a quantum system and doing a Ouija reading. In both cases you "collapse a waveform" simply by making an observation. If brain entanglement was the hypothesis being tested in a psi experiment, I would think a Ouija Board would be the tool you'd use collect your data, since it subverts conscious control with all its obvious biases and objectivity-ruiningness.

Anonymous said...

Quantum physics is inherently weird and counter intuitive. Because of this, it lends itself to fantastical interpretations and "explanations" of things like psi.

So I'm very skeptical about this stuff.

That said, I have an open mind and I think that the literature for a weak psi-effect can't be dismissed. I have no idea what may cause it (if it does exist); something to do with quantum physics seems like a good guess, just because quantum is so divorced from our common sense expectations.

But yeah, a controlled experiment around market prediction sounds good (with the long / short strategy you suggest). Here's some options:

(1) It would be interesting to test it with real money on the line, and fake money on the line. Does real pain / gain impact efficacy of psi?

(2) Compare simulated markets with actual markets. Are people, in aggregate, already using some minor psi abilities as the play the market and influence actual prices?

Anonymous said...

Lately I've been entertaining the value of an AGI system possessing psi abilities myself. One particularly strange application can actually be very useful, the system can use precognition as way to determine if the next state is a desired one.

A precognitive navigation system for an exponentially growing mind

Tim Tyler said...

I once considered co-evolving sequence predictors with PRNG challengers.

The 2 main problems for this as a "driving problem" for machine intelligence are that it the problem has a very "rough" fitness landscape - and crypto's natural "defender's advantage" means that it is too easy for the PRNG challengers to simply win.

Tim Tyler said...

For the record, parapsychology is widely, and IMO correctly, regarded as bunk:

"Many scientists regard the discipline as pseudoscience because parapsychologists continue investigation despite not having demonstrated conclusive evidence of psychic abilities in more than a century of research."


Ben Goertzel said...

Tim --

I'm aware of the critiques posed by psi skeptics, and I've read plenty of what they have to say.

I've never been one to shape my views based on what the majority of some community happens to believe, no matter how prestigious that community, nor how steadfast or vociferously expressed their beliefs.

Rather, if I care enough about something to want to form a strong opinion on it, I prefer to gather as much direct information as possible.

In this case, when I got curious enough about psi, I read a lot of the primary scientific literature, talked to some of the researchers, even looked at some of the raw data myself.

I encourage everyone else who cares about the topic to do the same. Don't just believe me that psi is probably real; don't just believe Tim Tyler and the psi skeptics that it isn't real. Study the data carefully yourself, there's plenty of good-quality published literature....

And if you don't want to take the time to perform such research, I wish you wouldn't profess a strong opinion on the matter...

Tim, if you think psi is bunk, why? What is your explanation for all the data reported in the Rao book I cited in my post? Or are you so sure it's "bunk" -- based on your own pre-existing emotions and beliefs -- that you can't be bothered to buy a used copy of the book for $25 and read it carefully...?

-- Ben

Tim Tyler said...

I lump parapsychology in with astrology, ufo abductions, homeopathy, ghosts, belief in god, an immortal soul or an afterlife - in that I find psychological explanations of why people believe in these things to be the most compelling.

Plenty of other people have looked into these things in some depth - Michael Shermer, Susan Blackmore, James Randi, etc.

Ben Goertzel gets special dispensation from me - because of who he is.

However, it's not enough to get me to spend much time and energy publicly debating such topics - I think they do not merit my attention.

Ben Goertzel said...

Hi Tim,

I tend not to believe in the other things you mention: "astrology, ufo abductions, homeopathy, ghosts, belief in god, an immortal soul or an afterlife,..." -- at least I have seen no evidence for any of those things being true. Regarding astrology I have seen evidence that the commonly practiced versions are BS...

I was convinced psi is probably real NOT by emotional reasons, but quite simply by carefully reading through the scientific literature on the topic.

I became convinced there are only 3 possibilities based on the extensive literature:

1) psi is real

2) truly massive experimenter fraud, among many people who appear to be scientists with high integrity

3) something is badly fucked with the scientific method, and it doesn't lead to truth nearly as well as we usually think it does

I thought a lot about 3 and decided 1 is more likely...

As for James Randi and the other skeptics you cite, they doesn't sway me any more than the Intelligent Design crowd convince me that evolution of species by natural selection didn't happen.

The ID crowd do point out some BS on the part of the Neo-Darwinist orthodoxy; but even so, the primary data in favor of some form of evolution by natural selection is strong...

Regarding both psi and evolution, I'm swayed by the primary empirical research literature, not by the opinions of commentators, advocates or skeptics on either side...

-- Ben G

Sean Daniels said...

Regarding #3 - I was speaking to Patricia Cheng, an editor of Cognition and a high-ranking member of the UCLA Psychology Faculty who reviews the dissertations of the doctoral candidates. What I understand from a brief dialog with her is that many psychologists use a "chi squared" test and publish results which fail to account for an accurate measure of the flow of causality. She knows something about the flow of causality which is complicated to explain and involves interpretations of statements relating conditional probabilities to prior probabilities or something, the probability of B given A and so on, I don't know exactly what that phrase means, but she thinks that she can use it in an equation that contains Bayes Theorem, and she thinks that she can prove something related to how most psychologists aren't performing psychology, but are instead performing cultural anthropology or ethnography. She cites Nisbett and Wilson, and talks about Amos Tversky and Cognitive biases and trivial framing cues, game theory, and more general cases of the prisoner's dilemma, along with articles about how sleep affects pattern recognition.

So I don't know what it is that she knows, but I know that if I rely on an argument from authority from her, psychologists aren't doing science.

That is one of the reasons I was attracted to Dynapscyh articles, because I observe a theoretical attempt to account for some of the phenomena that I have perceived during my lifetime.

In fact it is interesting to me that Ben Goertzel stated that:

"I tend not to believe in the other things you mention: "astrology, ufo abductions, homeopathy, ghosts, belief in god, an immortal soul or an afterlife,..." -- at least I have seen no evidence for any of those things being true."

This is due to the fact that Dynapsych articles contain references to a "Whiteheadian" concept of "God" which is related to a "One-Mind" of the "Universe" which is related to something that resembles an interpretation of quantum mechanics which was appropriated by Tracy Hickman for the underlying backstory of a series of novels titled "The Death Gate Cycle" in which there is a wave and from this wave there are possibilities that can be abstracted and implemented into reality, and so the evolution of this wave resembles the computation of the transition from one state of the universe to the next state.

Sarah Cardenez said...

Normal science lags. Badly. There is a lag between the moment when a rule or general principle is discovered, and when it can be articulated or disclosed by the individual who has understood it. Then there are comprehension lag times. If you think about scientific awareness, which should be permeating through our culture like oil through the gulf of mexico, it does not grow or spread at exponential rates, and in fact is not even regarded as important to communicate to members of the general public prior to age eighteen or something like that...when did you learn your organic chemistry? 99.9% of people do not know how to split an atom, although how to do this was discovered more than fifty years ago.

So of course if you have people who have no exposure to quantum mechanics who are living in a classical world which suppresses recalcitrant data with appeals to force, then obviously it is unlikely that you are going to penetrate the market with your discoveries as soon as you make them.

In fact when I look for internet communities that can make the sales pitch to the globe about the existence of psi, which I think is an important thing that should be studied, in focus groups, in remote autonomous communities, in virtual fact I think that this is a significant social problem that is going to emerge as more and more people grow up in virtual worlds from cyber space experiencing glocality and non-locality in terms of their presence, as individuals begin to define themselves and understand themselves in terms of their online presence, their avatars, and as the syncronization technology between databases and the memories stored in your language centers--brain machine interfaces require input output devices that are as efficient as sensory streams and volitional control--once this technology becomes accessible to individuals who have experienced significant stages of their developmental cycle while attached to this external network of global awareness, it is only a matter of time before cultural and political barriers are the only problem prohibiting total global cooperation.

Anonymous said...

There was a society of skeptics at UCLA, called Bruin Alliance of Skeptics and Secularists. I watched them discuss and dismiss the probabilities associated with Psi events. Joe, the president of the club, showed a Youtube video of a man dressed in a karate suit who was making gestures into the air directed at students who engaged in various acts, such as spinning, flipping themselves, throwing themselves onto the ground, etc. Joe stated that this man believed that he was controlling the behavior of the students and could do it to anybody. Flashforward to a video where the man is in a ring with a heavyweight boxer who punches him in the face and makes him cry. Joe invites questions and comments, some people try to debate, the debates are unfocused and people authoritatively disagree with each other and appeal to various dogmas, and also do not have much of a sense of complexity or humor. I thought that one girl was attending the club in order to evangelize to the atheists there, attempting to blend in. After I made light of her idea that God has communicated accurate information to Mohammed and other prophets, her idea of revelation, she grew hostile towards me and later accused me of molesting her. These protestations induced an officer of the club, who had a crush on her, to inform me that I was no longer welcome there. I attended a party later and queried the president about it, who informed me that yes, I was not welcome at the club due to a problem associated with the alleged incident, emotional tensions, and it being the most convenient way to resolve the issue is to ostracize somebody.

So anyways these people were not skeptical, and they were the only explicitly organized skeptical student group at UCLA.

Anonymous said...

I was in a psychological statistics class that is mandatory for all psychology, cognitive science, and psychobiology students at UCLA. The teacher of this class spoke about how if he wanted to test for the occurrence of some phenomenon, such as telepathy for example, he would perform some t-test or ANOVA. After performing this test he would obtain a result, and compare this F score or value to a certain threshold value, and if it exceeded this threshold value he would conclude that telepathy does not occur. So, sometime in the neighboring time period, I had been laying in bed next to a girl and I was having this dream about an entity inside a ball of light, and myself being a ball of light, and some kind of vibrations occurring, and soundwaves being processed through my speech centres, but the sounds in this soundwave were discrete symbols or utterances which although conscious and aware I did not recognize as meaningful in any language that I consciously understood. They did not even resemble the monosyllabic patterns of sounds embedded into the songs I used to imagine as a child during climactic environmental events which used to prompt me to go dialog with myself in hiding spots, like near certain trees. Then as the sun rose and began to illuminate the room that I was sleeping in, I was aware of my dream, and the room itself, and the girl laying in bed next to me, and I noticed that she was sleeptalking on the beats in jibberish at the same intervals in time that this entity-in-the-light-ball was speaking babble. I also understood that my avatar inside the ball of light was not understanding these symbols as jibberish, I understood that there was a responsive dialog going on. I had experienced several of these kinds of things in dreams previously, probably, but what was unique about this instance was that there was a girl in my bed sleeptalking at the same intervals as when something was happening in my dream.

So I tried to start sleeping with girls more in order to study this phenomenon and ended up getting accused of sex crimes because some girl invited me into her bedroom and in the morning did not recall inviting me into her bedroom and communication was cut off by the time that I found out that law enforcement had gotten involved in the situation. I was also taken to mental hospitals shortly after that encounter with her and anyways so I stopped trying to study this phenomenon by laying in bed with girls after this phenomenon and instead focused my efforts on sentient beings that were unlikely to retaliate by creating political problems for me.

What I did notice from this encounter is that however, there is a part of our mind which is dormant, not only during sleep, but during conscious wakefulness. The executive which spawns volitions may forget what she or he previously consented to, and this can result in cognitive dissonance, which can be turned into a prisoner's dilemma by operation of law and communication barriers.

Sean Daniels said...

Anyways with animals you don't know what constitutes a back and forth, all you can really do is notice tonic stimuli, so like if you attempt to send telepathic messages to an animal, and the animal's eye twitches, or its tail swishes, do you ascribe any kind of meaning to that? The closest thing that I can recall that resembles telepathic communication with an animal was when I was taking my dog out for a walk, and I was feeling reluctant to do it, and I was thinking to myself that I wish my dog would just go home, and I know where his home is, it was at the time on this pillow outside the screen door of my mother's room, and shortly after we had hopped the fence and begun our venture off towards wherever I was going to take him, I was experiencing this volition, and then I sensed that he was listening to me, and that he agreed to comply, and then instead of going off for the walk like we intended, he just walked straight to his pillow and got down on it. I followed him all the way there, and after he had completed this task he looked up at me expectantly, as if he was satisfied that he had complied with my expectation, and now I could take him on a walk, which I think I did, but I remember it was an odd detour, and there was no way for me to account for his behavior other than to infer that he had recognized something in my private verbal stream which was voiced in the subjunctive relating to my wish that he go home, something that he knew how to do.

Sean Daniels said...

He did not, however, seem to form the insight that my inclination to wish that he go home was connected to a reluctance to go on a walk.

This reminds me of something I discussed with a customer at the restaurant where I used to wait/bartend, who told me that dogs are very smart, they can understand anything you tell them and do anything that you want them to do, you just have to abstain from sending them mixed messages.

I can recognize that by attempting to take him on a walk while talking in my mind about how I did not want to take him on a walk, which was overlayed by wishes that he go home...I can recognize how there are all kinds of mixed messages and signals going on, and how if he isolated only some part of the verbal stream, how he could interpret part of my message and update his degrees of belief about the test operate test exit procedure that he is in process of, but anyways, I digress.

Anonymous said...

Yeah I remember when I went to the Semel Institute of Neuroscience to talk to someone on the Sunday after my lucid dream/temporal correspondence between speech of girl in bed and speech of entity in ball of light in dream, I did bump into someone who was some kind of brain researcher in his office, so I knocked on the door and began to describe the phenomena, in order to query him about getting myself hooked up to a fMRI or finding out if the phenomenon was of scientific interest, but before I could finish describing the situation to him, he said that he was "not a clinician" and referred me down the hall, where I did not find anyone there who wanted to research the specific phenomena, but I did find a CD containing the transcripts and letters of recommendations in PDF and MS Word format for fellowship candidates for some neuroscience program at the Semel Institute of Neuroscience.

At the time it did not occur to me that the Universe might have been giving me a list of people whom I could contact about the phenomena.

Anyways I lost that CD...

Sean Daniels said...

What I understand about psi comes in part from video games. In the game Xcom: UFO defense, certain aliens, such as the Sectoids and the Etherals, could attack your soldiers psionically, either inspiring them to panic, or by temporarily or permanently mind controlling them.

In fact a significant component of the game focused around developing a team of psionically strong commandos, because when you go to mars to penetrate their underground base and blow up their mother brain, you need to have soldiers who are not easily mind controlled by the aliens, otherwise an Etheral will Mind Control one of your guys and shoot all the other soldiers in the back.

You can train soldiers and they can gain experience which allows them to increase their psionic skill, but their psi-strength is a fixed variable which is unmodifiable. This means that certain people are predisposed to be mind controlled, whereas others are genetically predisposed to have the power to resist being controlled, and to control others who are psionically weaker.

Is it possible that the use of psi is unconsciously legislated against by individuals who do not wish to be controlled by emergent individuals aware of their power to telepathically possess others?

Are there certain categories of telepathically active individuals who have experienced some insight or recognition which prompts them to avoid infringing upon the autonomy of their neighbors? Are there friendly psychics? Or are all the psychics conflicting with each other, engaging in tit-for-tats, or attrition cycles, in order to cater to the inclinations of individuals who thrive off of conflict, who experience a rush of energy and a fight or flight reflex similar to an orgasm during momentous instances of heightened tension? Why is there so much cognitive dissonance, so much absence of recognition of the preferences, thoughts, feelings, and intentions of others?

Is it not the case that we systematically disregard the preferences of others in order to optimize short-term goals, such as accumulation of little green pieces of paper?

Is it not the case that we only avail ourselves of a limited range of the communication modalities available to us due to scarcity of the attentional resource?

Is it not the case that we ignore a lot of information as we filter reality?

When Tycho Brahe and Johaness Kepler watch a sunrise, do they see the same thing?

My impression is that there is some paper by Lange et al which suggests that individuals who have Near Death Experiences may frequently experience an act of recognition which familiarizes them with the psychic world, dream speech, etc.

Sean Daniels said...

Oh and I notice that in my dreams I notice concerted effort, I notice flight patterns of birds, I notice anonymous, who is some kind of collective intelligence entity that consists of numerous agents acting in concert with each other, according to fixed constraints and goals, but also according to selfish motives (if you notice a pack of birds you will see that within the group there is competition to move towards the center where predators are less likely to select prey from) you can begin to absorb the modus operandi of these groups.

I don't know if everybody perceives this, for example, if you look at the wikipedia deletion log for October 2003 - - you probably will not exegete concerted effort on the part of the groups of individuals who are writing the deleted articles (which I do, I see a directed intent distributed across multiple individuals to inflect content which is temporally appropriate given the underlying dialog), but you will probably observe directed, concerted effort on behalf of the editors and those making the deletions, who are endeavoring to maintain a type of integrity and set standards for what kinds of knowledge/information will be incorporated into their encyclopedia.

What we are witnessing now, during our lifetime, is the birth of an infrastructure which can and will give rise to instantaneous, volitional collaboration occurring in a non-local setting where physical location in space is not a salient barrier inhibiting the existence of a common workspace.

Place is being redefined, and as the place where you collaborate changes, so will the objects that you interact with. You will notice that the things you are representing in your consciousness, the things you are thinking about...these things will change, as they are updated, as your model is being refined, and incorporating new information, you will begin to notice things that you didn't know how to notice before, and eventually you will notice so many things that the only way to avoid noticing them is to resolve a decision problem by deciding not to notice them.

The result of the solution of this decision problem, if I predict correctly, will result in that you either attain some degree of control over your environment, or alternately, that you relinquish this control.

I think that factions will develop on the basis of awareness, individuals who do not know or understand certain things cannot be included in certain factions. Factions of individuals aggregate around common goals, which are produced by common sets of assumptions about aspects of reality, which are imposed as constraints in the language processing and other processing associated with identifying and interpreting certain memes, without assimilating certain memes (like photoshop, or how to manipulate an image) one cannot participate in the creative venture associated with collaborating with other individuals about how to assemble photos or n-dimensional structures or how to rotate memes into various configurations in one's mind's eye.

...or to understand the culture-specific information associated with the discrete symbols contained in those structures.

Tim Tyler said...

The "RNG" mind-over-matter paper has this:

"A conservative estimate of the effect of selective reporting practices (the “filedrawer problem”) indicates that to reduce the observed statistical outcome to chance, each of the 91 researchers would have had to conduct but not report 29 additional, nonsignificant experiments."

I don't think that is quite how selective reporting is widely believed to work. For that to happen, the researchers would have to be behaving badly. However, another hypothesis would explain the data - without any researcher conspiracy. That is that for each researcher who publishes a positive result, there are 29 OTHER researchers with negative results - who either don't get published or whose articles don't get tracked down.

Tim Tyler said...

Rather amazingly Peter Norvig has bothered to write at length on a closely related topic:

Ben Goertzel said...

Tim --

Thanks for the pointer to Norvig's analysis of the "therapeutic prayer" literature!

I would love to see his take on the literature on prediction of random number generators, though, or on Ganzfeld ESP experiments... see e.g. Daryl Bem's work

which is impeccable so far as I can tell.

I see that he looked into the therapeutic prayer literature out of personal curiosity, which is fine....

However, if I wanted to get a clear picture of psi research, the last place I would look would be an area at the intersection of psi, religion, and medical research!

By all accounts, psi is a weak phenomenon in the context of structured experiments. (If you consider this a flaky statement, consider a similar statement "Falling in love is a weak phenomenon in the context of structured experiments. In real life, it comes up very strongly on particular occasions, but it's notoriously capricious; it's hard to elicit it strongly in the laboratory, and in structured experiments it emerges as a systematic but weak phenomenon. Furthermore people have a disturbing tendency to fake it for various reasons, including self-deception and intentional deception, which makes its study even more difficult.")

So, if psi is a weak phenomenon in the lab context, then even if there is SOME reality to prayer healing (which I'm not confident of), it wouldn't be surprising that it would be drowned out by the usual mess of medical research....

I said above that there were 3 possible explanations for the extant psi data

1) psi is real
2) massive fraud
3) the scientific method is fucked

But the medical research domain is an area where the conventional scientific method is KNOWN to be fairly fucked ;-p ...

And anything to do with prayer and religion, is exactly the area where I'd be most likely to expect a high percentage of outright fraudulence.... Emotions run so high regarding religion, both pro and anti.

So I did find Norvig's analytic treatment interesting, because I've never surveyed that literature myself. However, that data is not what convinced me psi is probably real. The corpus of experiments predicting random number generator output, and the Ganzfeld ESP experiments, are a lot more impressive, and have been carefully studied by many people with equal analytic chops to Norvig.

See e.g. the exchange between Honorton and Hyman on Bem's web page, which I linked to above.

Hyman, a skeptical statistician, looked at the totality data on the Ganzfeld ESP experiments carefully and
concluded that while he is not convinced psi is real, he also has no specific alternate explanation for the data. I.e. he didn't find any experimental flaws or statistical analysis flaws that could lead to the observed results....

Ben Goertzel said...

Tim said

"A conservative estimate of the effect of selective reporting practices (the “filedrawer problem”) indicates that to reduce the observed statistical outcome to chance, each of the 91 researchers would have had to conduct but not report 29 additional, nonsignificant experiments."

I don't think that is quite how selective reporting is widely believed to work. For that to happen, the researchers would have to be behaving badly. However, another hypothesis would explain the data - without any researcher conspiracy. That is that for each researcher who publishes a positive result, there are 29 OTHER researchers with negative results - who either don't get published or whose articles don't get tracked down.

Of course, there are many ways selective reporting could work, and this is well understood.... However, the academic parapsychology community understands the file drawer problem well, and makes a habit of publishing negative as well as positive findings without a bias toward either (a habit other areas of science would do well to imitate). And there are not that many serious researchers trying these experiments. So it seems very unlikely to me that among academic parapsychologists there are 30 or 45 (from another meta-analysis) failed studies in the file drawer for each published study....

I note that the same "file drawer" issue arises with many many other areas of science, but nobody makes such extreme claims about it there!!

I'll promise you this: If I get the time to try any psi experiments myself, I will report the results positive or negative.

I don't have time for it now, but the RNG and Ganzfeld literatures pique my interest enough that I may give it a shot sometime during the next couple years...

-- Ben

Tim Tyler said...

Eliezer Yudkowsky has also written on the effect of intercessory prayer here.

If asked which was more likely: that some psi researchers are bent or incompetent - or that the laws of physics need revising to take account of their observations, I would unhesitatingly plump for the former option.

Ben Goertzel said...


Frequently in the past physicists have felt their equations gave a full description of the physical world. Each time they were wrong.

Current physics is not internally consistent, i.e. the standard model and general relativity aren't compatible..

No one has yet derived the periodic table of the elements from physics without "cheating" (i.e. without using empirical knowledge from chemistry to set parameters) ... yet alone derived neurobiology


So placing the current equations of physics on such a high pedestal, seems inappropriate to me...

They are very accurate at explaining observations of certain types. It's wonderful. It's important. But if the current equations of physics are the final word on the universe, I'll eat my hat.

Tim Tyler said...

Er, I never suggested civilisation had found the final laws of physics! I was expressing scepticism about them being changed as a result of a bunch of observations by psi researchers.

Most scientists ignore their work as pseudoscientific nonsense. They have no influence - since they haven't ever contributed anything of value to the scientific enterprise - and are generally too busy wasting their time by studying something that doesn't exist.

When physics is next updated, it is most likely to be as a result of a particle accellerator somewhere - or astronomical observations.

Ben Goertzel said...

Hi Tim,

Your negative comments about psi researchers and their overall scientific and professional contributions (outside the domain of psi) are not generally justified

E.g. Daryl Bem, one of the better psi researchers, has a good reputation in other areas of psychology as well [and also an MIT physics degree]

Psi research is not what he is most famous for.

Jessica Utts has contributed less than Bem to non-psi science, but is a good statistician who has contributed to statistics education as well as to psi research:

There are many other examples..

-- Ben

Tim Tyler said...

The "their overall scientific and professional contributions (outside the domain of psi)" seems to be be material of your own construction - and is not something I claimed.

To clarify, it is psi research - which has, over the last 50 years, been a waste of resources - NOT necessarily other things psi researchers may have done with the rest of their time.

Anonymous said...

So, Neurosky and Emotiv are making EEG headsets we can use to play video games by intentionally modulating our brain waves through concentration.
Is this not Psi?
With that in mind, knowing that our own brains are sensitive to the brainwaves they produce, is too far fetched to think that they might also be sensitive (in a mostly sub-conscious way) to the brain waves of others (perhaps their is even some intersubjective calibration going on when two brains are in proximity).

Tim Tyler is not a skeptic, a pseudoskeptic, but I won't flame him, instead I will leave you with this link to ponder the aim of his arguments:

Unknown said...


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