Skip

Con-man, the next Einstein, or...?
October 21, 2003 6:47 PM   Subscribe

Rupert Sheldrake, author of several books (The Sense of Being Stared At; Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home) that detail evidence for the existence of various extra-sensory perceptions. In a lecture for Microsoft Research [page contains link to a 73 minute streaming ASX file] entitled "The Extended Mind: Recent Experimental Evidence", he attacks the mechanistic view of nature and the materialistic view of the mind, and presents his own theory, which involves fields of Morphic Resonance, formative causation, and what he calls "The Extended Mind". Feel free to dismiss after watching.
posted by goethean (38 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
The CBC radio show "Ideas" did a show on The Sense of Being Stared At, and they were very friendly towards it and non-questioning. They talked about an experiment where they had a blindfolded test subject hit a button when they felt that the person standing behind them was looking at them. Didn't mention once about the fact that you can hear people breathe very easily.
posted by Space Coyote at 6:54 PM on October 21, 2003


Interesting, thanks for the the post. The fact that MS-R puts it's lectures online was new and very appreciated for me.
posted by rudyfink at 6:55 PM on October 21, 2003


Pre-emptively, skepdic.com on morphic resonance
posted by goethean at 6:56 PM on October 21, 2003


Wise move, goethean... don't wanna be 'unbalanced' in this day and age. I've long been a fan of morphic resonance; whether or not it's true, it's a theory that seems to fit in nicely with various phenomenologies. Just like Tao, or Jung's collective unconscious, it seems to explain a lot. Trying to prove it is another matter entirely.

Excellent post!
posted by moonbird at 7:02 PM on October 21, 2003


immediately brought to mind the 100 monkeys phenomenon which, according to some guy with a website, is bunk.
posted by juv3nal at 7:08 PM on October 21, 2003


Sheldrake is an interesting character, he's very professional but his work simply hasn't been reproduced or peer-reviewed to the point where it can be taken remotely seriously.

The fact that he appeals to the populus through these books and seminars makes him come off more like a snake-oil salesman than a scientist. Worse, on his site there's a little "Seven paranormal experiments you can do at home!" section. Cute, but far from the demands of proof.

He reminds me of the all the advocates of Kirlian photography in the 70's with their "soul pictures." You know, the leaf torn in half "resonates" "magical energy" and the camera picks up this "magical energy." Well after a few attempts to reproduce this, it ends up that these photographers weren't properly cleaning their equipment, thus the residue photo.

I've read a bit of Sheldrake in the past, for some reason Robert Anton Wilson was/is obsessed with him and his idea of morphogenic fields. What I found was a suspiciously lacking account of how much our subconscious percieves and how much we filter, thus the appart illusion we can "see" from behind. Or external factors when dealing with animals with heightened senses. Interesting how these two go hand in hand, Sheldrake finds a way to show that it looks like we're seeing from behind then moves to a much more sensory acute animal than the human. To me it sounds messy and by using dogs he's just making his mistake even more obvious.

I wish more took him seriously just to see how well his work can be reproduced, if at all.
posted by skallas at 7:10 PM on October 21, 2003




juv3nal, here's the Monkey Shakespeare Simulator.
posted by moonbird at 7:21 PM on October 21, 2003


Believe me, I would like nothing more than to believe, but this guy's methodology is seriously flawed. Turns out the test patterns used in his celebrated staring experiment weren't very random -- they're guessable at better than even odds. Whoops. A PhD researcher should understand the significance of that, yet he apparently still provides the same flawed sequences up on his web site for young experimenters to "try at home". Not cool. Here's a skeptical analysis.
posted by krebby at 7:39 PM on October 21, 2003


Yeah right, like I'm going to sit through a 70-odd minute lecture that will prove to my satisfaction that ESP (sorry, "morphic resonance") exists.

If his theories have any validity the scientific community will confirm them, and we will see the evidence published in the relevant scholarly journals and reported in the mainstream media. I'm not holding my breath - I'd rather wait for the monkeys to type the complete works of Shakespeare.

I'll just state the obvious: the guy's either a charlatan, a fool, or both.
posted by cbrody at 7:46 PM on October 21, 2003


The microsoft link discusses 'telephone telepathy', a phenomenon already adequately explained. I'm a bit surprised there's still research going on in this area.

The whole 'sense of being stared at' thingy can perhaps be explained by the fact that we are social animals and a large chunk of our subconscious is dedicated to guessing and predicting the behavior of our fellow humans.
This purported sense seems at best intermittent, and would be more impressive if it worked with the same consistency as, say, the 'sense of determining how far away that chair is before one sits down' (aka. 'vision').
posted by spazzm at 7:51 PM on October 21, 2003


This stuff reminds me of Michael Talbot's Holographic Universe. It's chock full of examples of unexplainable (except by Talbot's holographic model) phenomena, some of which are clearly overreaching and can be dismissed. But after reading a whole book of them, there's a nagging feeling: Even if all the examples except one are bogus, that still means our Newtonian/Einsteinian model of the universe is wayyyyyy off and needs to be replaced, because it says that one is impossible.

I won't repeat the whole story of how lucid dreaming used to be "paranormal" and "impossible" yet now isn't now that it's been proven in a laboratory. But that one example makes me very leery of any "scientific" model that says "things outside of this model just aren't real."

Interestingly, Scientific American just conjectured (found while googling for Talbot) that we are, in fact, living in a Holographic Universe.
posted by soyjoy at 8:03 PM on October 21, 2003


STOP STARING AT ME!
posted by quonsar at 8:13 PM on October 21, 2003


>
I won't repeat the whole story of how lucid dreaming used to be "paranormal" and "impossible" yet now isn't now that it's been proven in a laboratory.

Oh please, that's such a lame strawman. Lucid dreaming was a philosophical problem because no one could figure out how to prove it, e.g. come up with a falsifiable thesis.

Well, LaBerge figured out that perhaps REM could be controlled so he setup an experiment so that after a stimulus (squeezing a hand or flashing a bulb) the sleeper would become lucid and roll his eyes in a manner unlike REM. LaBerge did this, over and over. Proved it and eventually got taken seriously.

Relativity and quantum mechanics were considered bunk by the Newtonians, but the new crowd *proved* their theories and others reproduced the results. Einstein had a field day trying to debunk quantum mechanics over and over. Where do you think that famous "god does not play dice" quote came from? A non-theistic jew didn't say this as a sort of Madonna kabbala nonsense but to tell the QM types that nothing is random. Well it turns out there quite a bit of randomness when you look DEEP enough.

Hell, 200 years ago the idea of a meteriod was considered heresy.

The above examples are a sign of the PROGRESS and self-correction of the scientific method not a reason to become to pick one idea that was once controversial and jump on some flake's bandwagon.

soyjoy, look at the headline of your article: "Theoretical results about black holes suggest that the universe could be like a gigantic hologram" Also, are you kidding by comparing Talbot who assers "conscoisness is an element of the universe" with an article about entropy and a possible model of the universe? You're scraping the bottom of the barrel here.

Theory. Could. Notice the words? There's no definitive accepted definition of the universe. There is much contention regarding size, shape, matter, expansion, etc.
posted by skallas at 8:19 PM on October 21, 2003


World-famous theorist Gene Ray gave a lecture at MIT (2 hours worth of quicktime video) in which he attacks the simplistic reductionistic vision of the passage of time, and presents his own theory, which involves the Time Cube. Feel free to dismiss after watching.

Seriously -- Sheldrake's been saying the same things for ages. A nice, well-controlled, reproducible experiment would make it worth spending 73 more minutes of my time on him.
posted by ptermit at 8:46 PM on October 21, 2003


The whole 'sense of being stared at' thingy can perhaps be explained by the fact that we are social animals and a large chunk of our subconscious is dedicated to guessing and predicting the behavior of our fellow humans.
This purported sense seems at best intermittent...


Intermittent is good enough for me. We know so little about our subconscious and intuition and perception, and i think we've all had moments that aren't explainable by rational or scientific means, so let's see where this goes...Maybe someone will do more rigorous testing--there really may be something to this. If nothing else, it's interesting to think about.
posted by amberglow at 9:54 PM on October 21, 2003


fwiw, here's alan moore's take on sheldrake :D
MDA: I have a great attraction to theories like Sheldrake's morphic resonance - I read an interview with him, when he was talking about how there is no proof that memory is actually held in the brain. He posited a view that the brain is more like a radio tuner than a video recorder, receiving thoughts, memories - both those of the self and the collective - from localised morphic fields. These ideas are very attractive because they posit an alternative to straightforward mortality - you read it and feel that leap within, 'perhaps there might be more to life than just death'. You have to be suspicious of your own motivations for seizing at these ideas - like a dying man reaching for miracle cures.

AM: Sheldrake's idea of the brain as a radio receiver - I feel something quite similar. But I'm still thinking it through, so this is a thought in progress. It strikes me that self, not just my self, but all self, the phenomenon of self, is perhaps one field, one consciousness - perhaps there is only one 'I', perhaps our brains, our selves, our entire identity is little more than a label on a waveband. We are only us when we are here. At this particular moment in space and time, this particular locus, the overall awareness of the entire continuum happens to believe it is Alan Moore. Over there - (he points to another table in the pizza restaurant) - it happens to believe it is something else.

I get the sense that if you can pull back from this particular locus, this web-site if you like, then you could be the whole net. All of us could be. That there is only one awareness here, that is trying out different patterns. We are going to have to come to some resolution about a lot of things in the next twenty years time, our notions of time, space, identity. The flowerings of seemingly outlandish concepts like Sheldrake's are what you would expect. At the scientific end of the spectrum - and I am a regular New Scientist reader - I like to balance the mad howling diabolism with a dose of scientific reality - I have noticed that the crossover is getting a bit extreme. The people at the cutting-edge of quantum physics and cosmology are trying to come up with a practical, workable model for the original expansion of the universe, and what is happening now at a quantum level. They were saying that they are having to turn to these archaic belief structures, like Sufi beliefs, or the Qabbalah. They were talking about how this idea of expansion from a single point is the core of the Qabbalah - and the most accurate description of the Big Bang, knowing what we know now, would be (Hockma Bine - er). So I was reading this in the New Scientist and I was thinking, well surely this is the sort of idea I would expect from Robert Anton Wilson. All of us collectively are fumbling towards an apprehension of something that feels like a kind of group awareness - we are trying to feel the shape of it, it's not here yet, and a lot of us are probably saying a lot of silly things. That's understandable. There is something strange looming on the human horizon. If you draw a graph of all our consciousness, there is a point we seem to be heading towards. Our physics, our philosophy, our art, our literature - there is a kind of coherence there, it may look disorganised at first glance, but there is a fumbling towards a new way of apprehending of certain basic fundamentals. In post-modern literature you can see similar things happening to what is happening, at the same time, in science with the quantum theory advances. They are trying to come up with non-linear ways of viewing things, trying to think our way outside of our own perceptions to find a new perception. Some people mistake this approaching new perception as the approach to Armageddon. In a certain sense, they might be right. There is a sense that we are reaching a critical point in the expansion of our inner worlds. For better or worse - I mean, I have no dreamy New Age notions of this - whatever awaits us up the road might not be all sunshine and smiles, pretty flowers everywhere. That all sounds a bit Yellow Submarine to me. But it will certainly be different. To me, when we talk about the world, we are talking about our ideas of the world. Our ideas of organisation, our different religions, our different economic systems, our ideas about it are the world. We are heading for a radical revision where you could say we are heading towards the end of the world, but more in the R.E.M sense than the Revelation sense. That is what apocalypse means - revelation. I could square that with the end of the world, a revelation, a new way of looking at things, something that completely radicalises our notions of the where we were, when we were, what we were, something like that would constitute an end to the world in the kind of abstract - yet very real sense - that I am talking about. A change in the language, a change in the thinking, a change in the music. It wouldn't take much - one big scientific idea, or artistic idea, one good book, one good painting - who knows - we are at a critical point where the ideas are coming thicker and faster and stranger and stranger than they ever were before. They are realised at a greater speed, everything has become very fluid. I like to imagine setting a camera up in a field in the Bronze Age, taking a frame a week, - I worked out the maths of this in a sad moment if I can just remember it - over the intervening two thousand years, you would have a two hour film there, it would be very boring and slow for an hour and half, the buildings that were appearing very slowly, staying there for a long while, and then decaying very slowly. For the last half hour, buildings would be boiling. Going up and down in seconds. Some of the more alarming possibilities for nanotechnology that people are talking about, you get that as a literal reality without needing a speeded up film. You would be able to assemble and disassemble matter at the speed of thought. As far as I know, that is the definition of fluidity. We are approaching a more fluid state. I have talked about cultural boiling. The idea of the phase-transition period which, in fractal mathematics, is the chaotic flux between one state and another. Cold water is one state, you heat it up till boiling point, then it reaches a phase-transition where there is this immense chaos - that mathematically, we still don't know what is going on, when a kettle boils, in the boiling - and what comes out is steam. Which is nothing like hot water at all. An alien could not predict steam from water, anymore than he could predict water from ice. They are three different things, each with a phase-transition dividing them. Culturally, and as a species, we are approaching a phase-transition. I don't know quite what that means, on a human level. A bronze age hunter is analogous to cold water. We, with our very different lifestyle, are analogous to very hot water. But we are still both water. There is less difference between us and the bronze age hunter than what is twenty years down the line.



MDA: The steam.

AM: The steam. Whatever that means. I can't conceive of vapour culture. I might not survive it. But that is where we are heading. I don't know quite what I mean by my own metaphor, but I have feeling, it may bring in an even greater, faster space of fluid transmission, where no structures, as we used to understand structure, will sustain itself - we will have to come up with new notions of structure where things can change by the moment. I'm talking about physical structures, political structures, I can't see coherent political structures in the traditional sense lasting beyond the next twenty years, I don't think that would be possible.
also, btw, the pear group at princeton have been researching "the role of consciousness in the establishment of physical reality" for quite awhile now. a little less sketchy! (i think!) in establishing a physical theory through which morphic resonance might act is self-organized criticality:
SOC is a dynamic first studied in regard to digitally simulated sand piles[5]. It is a dynamic that causes the systems in which it operates to spontaneously move towards a fractal description, i.e. that is, a scale-invariant description at which all scales of events are permissible. For example, in the case of the sand pile being formed by the steady dropping of sand grains, the pile eventually assumes, after experiencing avalanches of increasing size as the slope of the sand pile increases, what is termed a critical slope at which avalanches of all sizes are experienced as well as long periods of static behavior or stasis. Such scale invariance of avalanches, it should be noted, implies that the grains of sand are effectively behaving in a "cooperative" manner: a single grain may suffice to "persuade" others to cooperate. Generalizing, we can say that "in the critical self-organized state, two events are equally likely to act together, whether or not they occur close to each other in space and irrespective of how much time has elapsed between their individual occurrence."
like i think it's interesting and all, but yeah, count me among the "testable and reproducible" crowd for wider application beyond comic books, pop psychology, the noosphere and singularity :D
posted by kliuless at 10:26 PM on October 21, 2003


"Intermittent is good enough for me. We know so little about our subconscious and intuition and perception, and i think we've all had moments that aren't explainable by rational or scientific means, so let's see where this goes...Maybe someone will do more rigorous testing--there really may be something to this."

It turns out that someone has done more rigorous testing, and no, there is really nothing to this. "Intermittent" is a polite way of saying "non-existing".
Sheldrake's experiments merely prove that humans guessing a random sequence tend to do so in a certain pattern - if you conduct a experiment according to this pattern (as Sheldrake did) you can get any result you want to.

Science may not be able to answer all our questions and explain all mysteries, but that doesn't mean that the claims of charlatans and frauds are true.

And what the dang does Alan Moore have to do with science? The guy tries to prop up his credibility by confessing to be a New Scientist reader, for pity's sake... if you're going to post monstrous amount of cut'n'paste in a thread, try to make it at least vaguely relevant.
posted by spazzm at 12:41 AM on October 22, 2003


Brain as radio-like receiver. Fascinating, I wondered when I would discover someone having this idea. I thought of it some years ago, simply having fun, trying to explain the gap between what we 'know' about the brain/mind, and our various mythologies on things like 'spirit'.

Vapor Culture: Advancement happens at an increasing rate. Somewhere in the future one can easily imagine either horror or nirvana. Perhaps the 11th century ideas backing American policy these days is a symptom of the horror. Maybe it is just an unimportant blip on the progress of the race. I'm convinced any event that would bring a significant decrease in population density would slow the process back down, eg: new frontier suitable for pioneering; mass die-off due to war and/or plague.

Morphic Resonance: sounds so fisticated this guys budget must consist mainly of Crisco. That's my off-the-cuff reaction.
posted by Goofyy at 2:10 AM on October 22, 2003


Brain as radio-like receiver. Fascinating, I wondered when I would discover someone having this idea.

Didn't Descartes?

The pineal gland may not be the brain, but it's right up in there.
posted by tss at 5:17 AM on October 22, 2003


Brain as radio-like receiver
Welll, that would explain why I keep hearing Tony Basil.
posted by adamrice at 7:28 AM on October 22, 2003


You just need to be re-tuned, adamrice. Here, let me help you with this screwdriver...
posted by spazzm at 7:31 AM on October 22, 2003


Lucid dreaming was a philosophical problem because no one could figure out how to prove it, e.g. come up with a falsifiable thesis.

Lucid dreaming was a phenomenological problem. Because it contradicted everything that was "known" about the phenomenon of consciousness, it was officially impossible. Imaginary. Through the 1970s, lucid dreaming as a phenomenon was completely equivalent to ESP, OBEs and telekinesis.

This was no idle classification. Because lucid dreaming was "paranormal," psychiatric patients who reported lucid dreams as honest-to-god experiences were routinely "corrected:" No, they were wrong, they were misremembering, they were exaggerating, they were lying, they were misguided somehow because the phenomenon described couldn't actually happen as described. Since no one could be asleep and conscious at the same time, silly theories like "microawakenings" were propounded - maybe the patients woke up for just a moment and the confused brain recast this event as part of the dream memory. Please note that people who correctly and accurately reported true, actual phenomena were not told "No one's been able to come up with a falsifiable thesis about this," they were told they were wrong - it didn't happen.

This is how my example is different from the natural progress of the scientific method you reference. It deals specifically with human consciousness, and our convoluted, recursive attempts to comprehend it. Talbot and others have pointed out striking similarities between quantum mechanics and age-old theories of connected consciousness that should at least make us wary of dismissing as hoaxes phenomena we don't understand yet.

So I'm not "jumping on some flake's bandwagon," I'm only cautioning that we should be extreeeeeemely careful about defining what's outside the realm of possibility. I believe the power to determine what can't possibly happen may be beyond the reach of our intellect.

Theory. Could. Notice the words? There's no definitive accepted definition of the universe.

"Scientific American just conjectured" - notice the word? Conjectured? I used neither the word "definitive" nor "definition," and certainly wouldn't have done so in the same three-word phrase.
posted by soyjoy at 7:41 AM on October 22, 2003


A nice, well-controlled, reproducible experiment would make it worth spending 73 more minutes of my time on him.

You won't watch it, yet you know that there was no well-controlled experiment.

Maybe what Sheldrake is actually in the process of proving is that there is no conceivable experiment that would convince a materialist that materialism is untrue.
posted by goethean at 7:50 AM on October 22, 2003


No. I won't watch it. I've read plenty of Sheldrake over the years. I even have a Sheldrake-coauthored book sitting in my office. (The Evolutionary Mind.) I've given him plenty of time to make his case, and he failed. I've got better things to do than spend more than an hour listening to the crackpot at your behest.

Of course that makes me closed minded.
posted by ptermit at 8:06 AM on October 22, 2003


I've got The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire on my shelf. Not that it makes any difference.
posted by goethean at 8:49 AM on October 22, 2003


I've got Gibbon on my shelf at home. I didn't mention it because it would have been a pretentious non-sequitur.
posted by ptermit at 9:16 AM on October 22, 2003


All right, you two. Separate corners.
posted by soyjoy at 9:47 AM on October 22, 2003


Hah. I've been staring at you for hours and none of you noticed - case closed.

Look out - behind you!
posted by spazzm at 9:55 AM on October 22, 2003


soyjoy:"No one's been able to come up with a falsifiable thesis about this," they were told they were wrong - it didn't happen.

That's not at all how LaBerge frames his experiences in his own book about Lucid Dreaming
. For those who don't know Steven LaBerge was the guy who brought credibility to LD.

LaBerge described the problem as such: LD was a philosophical problem because the question "How do you know you weren't just dreaming you were awake in a dream?" And so on. Other hypothesis were held but that was the main argument regarding how LD may not be knowable or real.

Like I posted earlier, LaBerge found a way to test this and eventually got published. Using the inherent skepticism that the scientific community holds against the community itself is to be against the scientific method and holding up examples like this is highly disengenious when making arguments regarding the "unknown."

I suggest you read his book as its a good story of how a marginalized theory was accepted into the mainstream.

Also, no one here is claiming the SM explains all, you're assuming that and taking some example of a once discredited/unproven idea to argue with yourself.

See Also: protoscience vs science at wikipedia.

See Also: Psuedoscience

posted by skallas at 12:19 PM on October 22, 2003


After watching the lecture, I was left with the feeling that my brain cells were leaking out from having listened to it.

The online lectures thing is great++ though.
posted by rudyfink at 12:53 PM on October 22, 2003


That's not at all how LaBerge frames his experiences in his own book about Lucid Dreaming.

I didn't say that was how LaBerge framed his experiences. I said that was the history of the phenomenon and how it was viewed as real or unreal. But since you mentioned LaBerge...
    If pressed to explain how lucid dreams happened to occur, they would usually cite a French paper published in 1973 by Schwartz and Lefebvre. This study of patients with various sleep disorders revealed that they exhibited an unexpectedly high number of intrusions of wakefulness and partial arousals within their REM periods. Schwartz and Lefebvre proposed that these partial arousals, which they called "microawakenings," might somehow provide a physiological basis for lucid dreaming. Although the paper has been criticized for the fact that no direct evidence in support of this hypothesis was presented, and because its conclusions were based entirely on the abnormal sleep patterns of a few subjects, this explanation seemed to be generally accepted until very recently. It was not until 1981 that the "microawakening" theory of lucid dreaming was successfully challenged, and the majority of the membership of the Association for the Psychophysiological Study of Sleep (APSS) came to accept lucid dreams as the legitimate offspring of paradoxical sleep. (LaBerge, Lucid Dreaming, Chapter 3)
I suggest you read his book as its a good story of how a marginalized theory was accepted into the mainstream.

Thanks for the recommendation. Really. As it happens, I first read the book the week it came out. More to the point, I've also read dozens of other books and articles by different authors - Gackenbach, Garfield, Taylor, Green, van Eeden, Saint-Denys (in the original French, fer chrissake!) - on the history of the phenomenon, as well as corresponding with some of these authors and attending sessions of the Association for the Study of Dreams. My grasp of this topic, I would venture to say, is pretty comprehensive, so I don't rely strictly on LaBerge as the gospel (it's also worth pointing out that Keith Hearne was doing the same experiments that LaBerge did at the same time, across the Atlantic).

Most of the stuff I've read isn't online. But here's just one citation about the denial of lucid dreams' reality from the Skeptical Inquirer...
    This implied that there could be consciousness during sleep, a claim many psychologists denied for more than 50 years. Orthodox sleep researchers argued that lucid dreams could not possibly be real dreams. If the accounts were valid, then the experiences must have occurred during brief moments of wakefulness or in the transition between waking and sleeping, not in the kind of deep sleep in which rapid eye movements (REMs) and ordinary dreams usually occur. In other words, they could not really be dreams at all.
OK. Now to your charge that my whole use of this example is a straw man. I'm not arguing against skepticism within the scientific method - but skepticism means "we don't know that to be true" or "we can't yet consider that to be true." What I'm talking about is that when it comes to matters of consciousness that contradict the materialist assumptions of traditional physics, that attitude has a tendency to ossify into "we know that's not true" and "that can't be considered to be true." In examining human consciousness this attitude can actually work against scientific progress due to the self-referential, recursive nature of the subject. So that's what I'm warning against - as well as intimating that since lucid dreaming, which was formerly firmly in the parapsychology column, only remained there due to a methodological problem (no easy way to prove it), there may well be other phenomena that, in the future, wind up moving from column A to column B.
posted by soyjoy at 1:31 PM on October 22, 2003


Points for you, soyjoy -- you sure know your lucid dreaming!

However, I think that implying that lucid dreaming "contradict[s] the materialist assumptions of traditional physics" is overstating the case. Sure, it wasn't believed by lots of scientists, but it violated the prevalent theories of consciousness and dreaming, rather than any fundamental physical principles. It didn't make claims about how the universe worked.

On the other hand, morphic resonance does just that. It proposes the existence of fields that violate basic physical law as we know it. There's a big difference between it and lucid dreaming, so I think it's misleading to compare moving lucid dreaming "from column A to column B" with doing the same for Sheldrake's telepathic parrots.

Or, another way, "we know that's not true" does have a role in science... it's just that there's an asterisk by every statement of that sort. The size of the asterisk depends on the confidence that scientists have in the theories that rule out the phenomenon in question. Lucid dreaming falsified a big-asterisk statement. Morphic resonance would falsify a microscopic-asterisk statement and is therefore much, much, much harder to believe.
posted by ptermit at 3:12 PM on October 22, 2003


ptermit: fair enough. I'm not trying to argue that morphic resonance per se is gonna get moved into the other column. I took a look at Sheldrake's stuff but it seems too complicated for me.

On the other hand, I do believe in challenging what goethan calls "the materialistic view of the mind," and in a very real sense this was at the root of the denial about lucid dreaming. The mind was seen as completely explicable by physical study of the brain (as "mind" was only a manifestation of the brain's functioning), and the experiential phenomenon of lucidity did not have a known correlation that could be physically measured and quantified; therefore the experience was invalidated in favor of maintaining a consistent model. For more on how this dichotomy came to be better understood through the study of lucidity, I recommend Conscious Mind, Sleeping Brain, co-edited by Stephen LaBerge and Jayne Gackenbach.

Here's the thing: Like most people out there, I suspect, I and some of my friends have had experiences that "contradict the materialist assumptions of traditional physics," while at the same time indicating a different, more-or-less consistent model of consciousness being at times unfettered by phyiscal location. These involve precognitive dreaming, mutual dreaming, ESP and the like. Of course we have no laboratory proof of these and so they can be dismissed by skeptics as mere extraordinary coincidences. But as with lucidity, I suspect it may be a simple matter of methodology, that once someone devises a test appropriate to the phenomenon, the model of what constitutes reality will have to be expanded to include one or more of them. Or we may, in fact, need to abandon the old model entirely in favor of a fundamentally different one.

In other words, while I'm not arguing that lucid dreaming itself was a profound challenge to old-style physics or anything, the take-home message I get from that whole history is "those who tell you your experiences are unreal may not have the authority to say so, and may instead disbelieve them mainly because they haven't experienced them."
posted by soyjoy at 7:28 PM on October 22, 2003


When Sheldrake comes up with a scientific (repeatable, non-biased) experiment that supports his theories, I'll gladly believe them. Until then, he's just as credible as the 'end is nigh' guy on the corner.

That, I believe, is the cornerstone of science: "Oh yeah? Prove it." Or, put more eloquently: "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proofs".

Lucid dreaming is now accepted, precisely because it can be verified trough repeatable, non-biased experiments.
Before those experiments where designed and conducted, LaBerge's claims were no different from the multitude of para-normal theories put forth by crackpots and goofs about sleep.
posted by spazzm at 8:07 PM on October 22, 2003


soyjoy: I guess that's where we part company, because the phenomena you describe do violate fundamental physical law on some level (e.g. precognition violates causality, which has an extremely small asterisk). For me, the sparest explanation for ESP &c. is the capacity for humans to see patterns where none exist as well as our selective (and creative) memory.

As for methodology, you can make the same argument that we don't have the technology to detect the tooth fairy yet, so scientists are arrogant to rule her existence out. But, I think it's fair to dispense with that argument--in as far as a phenomenon has real-world effects, those effects naturally lead to some way to measure them or verify their existence -- or at the very least, make concrete and abstractly testable predictions about how a universe with this phenomenon is different than a universe without it. If the tooth fairy takes teeth from under pillows, that should be testable; if people can see the future, so should that be, too. That lack of testability or even concrete predictions is the source of disbelief, rather than a scientist's lack of personal experience. (Indeed, in some ways, scientific experimentation is a way of getting beyond the limitations and distortions of personal experience.)
posted by ptermit at 7:36 AM on October 23, 2003


Sorry, but the tooth fairy is a false analogy, because in that case we have a causal explanation for every known incidence, whereas in the case of the things I describe we only have acausal explanations (within traditional model of causality). I understand your distinction about testability in admitting certain claims into the model, and am not arguing that these things should be admitted without proof. What makes lucid dreaming - another phenomenon that's not concretely predictable - a cautionary tale is that it was in fact real, yet its reality was denied, and would still probably be officially denied today if it weren't for the coincidence that our physical eyes echo the movements of our dream eyes, allowing for a previously unthinkable method of laboratory proof.

Where we're separated, I suppose, is that I allow for a third class of phenomenon between the two classes "things that are scientifically valid" and "things that are impossible" - a class of "things that we just can't judge reliably." In this class are phenomena that have a strong experiential basis but no "testable" basis. These phenomena may or may not wind up being "testable" within our model of testing. But even if they're not, that may say as much about the model as it does about the phenomena - as in the case of lucid dreaming and the brain/mind model it violated.
posted by soyjoy at 8:24 AM on October 23, 2003


>tendency to ossify into "we know that's not true" and "that can't be considered to be true."

Perhaps in your opinion, but if one is a scientific cosmologist one must accept an agnostic role regarding the unknown. Its implied becauase no one is claiming all can be known by man or through the SM, just that it works best. A lot of people don't realize that holding a scientific worldview means having only a handful of explanations regarding the larger questions, while holding, say, a theistic or paranormal worldview means quite the opposite.
posted by skallas at 2:58 PM on October 23, 2003


« Older Email hacking to jail   |   Nanotubin' Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post