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The Robo-Mind Meld
July 20, 2005 12:37 PM   Subscribe

Mind May Affect Machines. Weird. No, seriously: WEIRD.
posted by ford and the prefects (75 comments total)

 
Wired. No, seriously: WIRED.
posted by joe lisboa at 12:40 PM on July 20, 2005


This strengthens my hypothesis that some of my clients are capable of disabling their computers by emitting powerful stupidity rays.
posted by fleetmouse at 12:44 PM on July 20, 2005


PEAR is known for poor research... They're an embarassment.
posted by glider at 12:51 PM on July 20, 2005


Wired. No, seriously: WIRED.

What an amazingly thoughtful and carefully considered response! Not a trace of knee-jerking there, no sir.
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 12:51 PM on July 20, 2005


which is not to defend the research, but just to point out that joe lisboa's response really wasn't in the slightest bit a knee-jerk response. really.
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 12:52 PM on July 20, 2005


I sensed you would post this.
posted by Robot Johnny at 1:04 PM on July 20, 2005


Given certain stimuli, some knee-jerks are utterly justified.
posted by Zetetics at 1:06 PM on July 20, 2005


I posted this for two reasons:

1. It fascinated me

2. It kind of reminded me of that scene in Ghostbusters, with the cards and the gum and the Murray.

glider: Do you have any links to "exposes" of the Pear project? Would be very interested in reading some.
posted by ford and the prefects at 1:08 PM on July 20, 2005


Anyone in IT can tell you that computers can sense ineptitude.
posted by pmbuko at 1:09 PM on July 20, 2005


"Participants have been able to direct one out of every 10,000 bits of data measured across all of the tests."

That sounds a little weak. And I'd really like to know how many bits of data have been sent total. I;d also like to see someone else repeat it.
posted by Artw at 1:11 PM on July 20, 2005


I haven't read these, but if you'd care to:
BB reader Tom Radcliffe points to several early 1990s papers written by now-retired University of Texas professor William H. Jefferys, critiquing some of the PEAR results. Search the page for "Random Event Generator Data" and follow the links to the PDF or Postscript files. Link
via boingboing
posted by Zetetics at 1:13 PM on July 20, 2005


You forgot the [via] to BoingBoing, but hey... at least it was posted a day later rather than, say... five minutes.

On Preview:Zetetics
posted by prostyle at 1:15 PM on July 20, 2005


What an amazingly thoughtful and carefully considered response! Not a trace of knee-jerking there, no sir.

(Humor-impaired) physician, heal thine own jerk-knee! ... that's what I get for posting a lame pun, I suppose: self-righteous hypocrisy. Lay off and lighten up, my man, I was only being silly.
posted by joe lisboa at 1:17 PM on July 20, 2005


Can I participate in your experiments?
All the participants in PEAR’s experiments are anonymous, uncompensated volunteers who are willing to commit at least ten hours of their time to generating data in our laboratory. If you would like to become an experimental operator, you should be willing to agree to these conditions and live within reasonable travel distance from Princeton. Contact us by phone (609) 258-5950 or email pearlab@princeton.edu to arrange an appointment to visit.
Please note: PEAR does not “test” people and does not validate their capabilities. We do not engage in any psychological testing or physiological monitoring, nor can we offer advice or references to individuals who have had unusual experiences and are looking for counseling or training.
I wonder what kind of people tend to call them?
posted by OmieWise at 1:23 PM on July 20, 2005


"The effects were small, but measurable". That should read, "The statistics were small, but measurable". I think what they did was "data mining" (or maybe it has to do with the law of large numbers, or selective thinking, or maybe wishful thinking). PEAR was debunked by Ray Hyman. James "The Amazing" Randi also has a couple things to say about PEAR.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 1:25 PM on July 20, 2005


See also.

I find this stuff fascinating. It might be science. It might be pseudoscience. It might not be science at all.

But something about assertions like this touch a nerve in almost everyone - positive or negative.

If stuff like this is even remotely true, it may be extremely difficult to "prove" to satisfaction with traditional scientific methods. Where does the field of effect end? How do you scientifically test something with traditional methods that is itself probably sensitive to the effects of observation and testing?

I'm admittedly biased. I want to believe. I've seen some pretty strange stuff that leads me to believe - strange stuff that may admittedly be mere coincidence.

But coincidence in itself is often "magical" enough.

Occam's Razor or not, looking at the given course of scientific history and discovery it's safe to say we've still got a long way to go and a lot of strange things to understand.

And considering that humanity as a whole has a very long, broad and diverse history of belief in "prayer" or "thought" or "spirituality" effecting the world around us, where does that fit in? Why do so many cultures believe that? It would be easy enough to explain it away as "Misguided attempts to impose order on a chaotic universe", but I believe that there's something more going on there for it to be so flippantly discarded.
posted by loquacious at 1:27 PM on July 20, 2005


Lay off and lighten up, my man, I was only being silly.

Believe it or not, that was really just a failed attempt at playfulness (which I'm just realizing more and more lately I'm really bad at...)...
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 1:37 PM on July 20, 2005


The Bad Science column in The Guardian has some interetsing things to say on the subject of statistics and reports.
posted by Artw at 1:41 PM on July 20, 2005


You forgot the [via] to BoingBoing, but hey... at least it was posted a day later rather than, say... five minutes.

you forgot to credit your source for his source - [via your anus].

Unless you hacked his machine and trawled his surf history you have no clue how he got to the links. Its the WWW...there are these things called pages and these things called links. One page can have many links to it. There are a multitude of path's to the same destination.

For example, there are currently 12 links to it on del.icio.us. It is one of the most popular links on bloglines. It all over the place.

Unless of course you somehow, in a PEAR research kinda way, know what data went to their computer.
posted by srboisvert at 1:42 PM on July 20, 2005


Right on, ASED. That's what I get for posting via mental power.
posted by joe lisboa at 1:42 PM on July 20, 2005


"the mind may affect machines."
more like...The mind may affect result data.

Heh, i really do WISH this was true tho. It would certainly explain all the times when my coworkers ask me to fix their computer, and i somehow fix it just by looking at it. "That's strange, it was doing it before, you must have the magic touch."

Also reminds me of a quote from robert moog in the new Moog documentary that just came out on dvd, where he says he believes that moog players have a connection to the internal circuitry, that they feel what's going on inside.
posted by TechnoLustLuddite at 1:49 PM on July 20, 2005


paging Dr Peter Venkman
posted by nervousfritz at 1:56 PM on July 20, 2005


I sensed you would post this.

posted by Robot Johnny at 3:04 PM CST on July 20 [!]


:) paging agent smith?
posted by spiderwire at 2:15 PM on July 20, 2005


>>we've still got a long way to go and a lot of strange things to understand.

And lot of horse shit like this to trudge through.
posted by wfrgms at 2:27 PM on July 20, 2005


This is all explained/predicted by the theory of Quantum Bogodynamics
posted by bashos_frog at 2:34 PM on July 20, 2005


I'm pretty sure this is the institute that was set-up to perform research into remote viewing in the '80s.

loquacious, I'd be curious to hear what those strange things were. (seriously)
posted by 517 at 2:34 PM on July 20, 2005


There is very little that the researchers understand about the phenomenon, but they do know that results aren't affected by distance or time. Participants, for example, can have the same effect on a machine from outside the room or across the country. They can also have the same effect if they have the intention before the REG is turned on or even if they read a book or listen to music while the machine is running.

Does this mean that if we ll willed all the machines not to listen to those other suggestions, that we could throw the whole thing off?
posted by Phantast at 3:05 PM on July 20, 2005


They see tiny unreproducible fluctuations from the null hypothesis whose statistical significance depends strongly on prior assumptions. Big deal. Show me some physical effect not some unimpressive numbers pulled out of probably bogus statistical analysis. Stupid irrational fucktards.
posted by snoktruix at 3:10 PM on July 20, 2005


There's a fascinating ongoing study on a related topic, conducted by Princeton University, called the Global Consciousness Project. In it, they try to discern effects on the physical world by the human mind.

In the freakiest result, they have found highly significant statistical correlations between the results of a number of computer random event generators, and human events (such as New Year's day, or the December tsunami).
posted by curtm at 3:19 PM on July 20, 2005


Favorite words
posted by Phantast at 3:22 PM on July 20, 2005


they have found highly significant statistical correlations between the results of a number of computer random event generators, and human events

They also can't explain why there are peaks in correlation when nothing significant is happening and why there are no peaks when something significant is happening.

The global consciousness project suffers from the ability of its directors to be selective in the data they present.
posted by 517 at 3:24 PM on July 20, 2005


"Women tend to get a bigger effect, but not necessarily the one they intend. For example, they might intend to direct balls in the random cascade machine to fall to the left, but they fall to the right instead."

Could someone point out the validity of this conclusion, because it sure beats me.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 4:20 PM on July 20, 2005


Anyone interested in this stuff should read His Master's Voice by Stanislaw Lem. It will cast a good perspective on the ability of the human mind to perceive patterns in data.
posted by Nelson at 4:34 PM on July 20, 2005



I'm pretty sure this is the institute that was set-up to perform research into remote viewing in the '80s.


Nope, that was the U.S. Military.
posted by zardoz at 4:56 PM on July 20, 2005


I think the salient bit is this, hidden away on the third page:

"Stanley Jeffers, a professor of physics at York University in Toronto, attempted to conduct experiments that were similar to Pear's, but couldn't replicate the results. Researchers at two German labs, working in cooperation with Pear, also were unable to replicate results using the same equipment that Pear used."

Researchers make wild claims, attract funding. Serious scientists debunk claims. Film at 11.
posted by spazzm at 4:59 PM on July 20, 2005


This sort of crap is how a religion starts.
posted by angry modem at 5:16 PM on July 20, 2005


1 out of 10000 bits of data... that's basically 1 one-hundredth of 1 percent.

Are there some people actually arguing that this is statistically significant?
posted by clevershark at 5:18 PM on July 20, 2005


clevershark: To be fair, that depends on the variance and the sample size.

But no, I can't imagine the sample size you would need to make that statistically significant.
posted by spazzm at 5:20 PM on July 20, 2005


Belated disclaimer: I am not a statistician. Please don't hurt me.
posted by spazzm at 5:22 PM on July 20, 2005


angry modem: "This sort of crap is how a religion starts."

Only religions like this one.

More often, there tend to be positive messages affirming peaceful interaction with one's fellow humans and the world. These messages are, of course, as quickly forgotten as this story will be when another lab attempts to reproduce the results.
posted by voltairemodern at 5:32 PM on July 20, 2005


Radin said the phenomenon could be similar to quantum entanglement -- what Einstein referred to as "spooky action at a distance" -- in which two particles separated from each other appear to connect without any apparent form of communication.

Sometimes, teaching people about quantum physics can do more bad than good.
posted by Citizen Premier at 5:37 PM on July 20, 2005


And didn't it occur to them that the evidence first shows that humans may be able to predict seemingly random events? Haven't they heard of Occam's Razor?
posted by Citizen Premier at 5:39 PM on July 20, 2005


This is exceedingly old stuff. I am kind of shocked it has taken this long to get on metafilter.
posted by nightchrome at 5:39 PM on July 20, 2005


"Women tend to get a bigger effect, but not necessarily the one they intend. For example, they might intend to direct balls ... to fall to the left, but they fall to the right instead."

Ahem.
posted by joe lisboa at 5:50 PM on July 20, 2005


Have they considered the possibility that it is actually the machines that are willing the human participants to believe that they are controlling the machines with theirs minds?
posted by mullacc at 5:52 PM on July 20, 2005


If this effect were real, it would probably demonstrate that the maintainers of the system in which our existence is being emulated have decided that "our" universe is more interesting when there is a small amount of feedback between sub-simulacra (such as our mental model of the universe) and the universe itself (which is only a higher-level model).

It might also be that this meta-model feedback is the only line of communication up through all the levels of emulation and may form the only way for us to communicate with those on higher levels of the emulation. So think "hello", everybody.
posted by gregor-e at 6:06 PM on July 20, 2005


I once had a really interesting instance where (by accident) I managed to *prove* a friend of mine was, in fact, a danger to computers just by being near them. Absolutely repeatable.

It involved a very unstable program. IIRC, it was trying to run Ultima 7 (the original, not Exult) on a Cyrix 586-wannabe. But in short, I could play it however long I wanted, but as soon as he took over the computer, the program would hang within a minute.

And if he then rebooted, it would fail to run.

Yet if I rebooted, it ran fine, and would continue to run fine right up until the point he took over. Then an almost immediate crash.

We did this for more than an hour. (I wish I'd actually kept numbers on it, actually) It was just staggering. He was using the computer in the same way as me, same commands, same mouse clicks. But the program did or did not work SOLELY based on whose hands were at the keyboard.

I still can't fully explain that one. But it convinced me there are, in fact, people in this world who simply must be kept away from computers.
posted by InnocentBystander at 6:19 PM on July 20, 2005


gregor-e: Are You Living in a Computer Simulation?

I know I am.
posted by voltairemodern at 6:24 PM on July 20, 2005


I know, I know, not everyone can work on a cure for cancer. But 26 YEARS? Is there any government funding in this? Cause I'm damn sure I don't want to be paying for this.
posted by boymilo at 6:36 PM on July 20, 2005


Mind influencing Machines? Bah, humbug!

Wait, I take that back. Where's my trusty fine tuning hammer? I think I'll fix the annoying hum coming from my pc.

That's the only way your mind is going to exert an influence over a machine. (Or well, I suppose you could write code, but I'm a hardware engineer, not a software dweeb)
posted by substrate at 6:41 PM on July 20, 2005


It strikes me as a bit foolish to claim that there's NO effect. There is likely at least SOME interaction between the mind and probability, for the simple reason that the mind emits a weak electromagnetic field. We know everything's connected, event hough we don't entirely understand HOW.

Because the field is weak, the resulting effect should be quite weak, and that appears to be what they're getting.

I would be most surprised if they got a consistent zero... there really should be some small influence.
posted by Malor at 6:42 PM on July 20, 2005


Unless you hacked his machine and trawled his surf history you have no clue how he got to the links. Its the WWW...there are these things called pages and these things called links. One page can have many links to it. There are a multitude of path's to the same destination.

Right on. I, you know, get the Wired RSS feed. What in the Hell is BoingBoing?
posted by ford and the prefects at 7:07 PM on July 20, 2005


Scoff as much as you want, suckers. I typed this comment without touching the keyboard. OOOOWEEEEEEEOOOOOO!
posted by Soulfather at 7:47 PM on July 20, 2005


Malor I'd feel a lot more comfortable if you would tell me that your comment was meant as a troll. If you were serious, then please ignore this comment.
posted by rdr at 8:05 PM on July 20, 2005


Reminds me of The Secret Life of Plants.
posted by swift at 9:15 PM on July 20, 2005


Also reminds me of a similar thread from a couple of months ago.
posted by swift at 9:20 PM on July 20, 2005


powerful stupidity rays
I knew there was a name for my condition. My husband will be relieved to find out science is on its way to making computer use safe for me.
posted by slimslowslider at 9:26 PM on July 20, 2005


Find a statistically significant group--say Americans of Lithuanian ancestry--and have them perform a task--say flip coins.
If you break the results into sub-groups, you will find differences, because statistical significance no longer holds. Forty year-old left-handed circumcised male Lithuanian-Americans flip ninety-two percent heads. Amazing.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:36 PM on July 20, 2005


Would like to expand this concept to see if Nerds wishful thinking in proximity to a babelicious female = "do I make you horny?" phenomenon.
posted by celerystick at 9:57 PM on July 20, 2005


Where's orange swan?
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:10 PM on July 20, 2005


My ex surprised my daughter by giving her an old car on fathers day. The car stalled and stalled, until I finally bought it a new alternator. The car runs just fine, but the daughter won't drive it, as it stalled on an electric train track, and she hates the car. Now, the car runs fantastically, unless she is in it, as a passenger. When she is in the car she hates, it stalls endlessly. At no other time does this vehicle malfunction. She drives the sports car, and I drive the beater. Fine then. Mind over matter, mind is matter in an accelerated state, or matter is the basis for mind, or the mind is inspired matter. It all matters.
posted by Oyéah at 10:12 PM on July 20, 2005


For more on debunking this see the ever popular Skeptic's Dictionary article on this.

Where'd my spellcheck option go?

Or is this just a result of my cable moden being shitty for the past two days?
posted by Hactar at 12:48 AM on July 21, 2005


What I find an intersting theory in all of this is that this might explain the "luckless idiot bastard" on computers. You know, that person we all know that can't touch a computer, any computer, without f'ing it up. They seem to CAUSE weird things to happen on them. They just touch one and weird crap happens.

Like the friend who comes over to visit, asks to check email and manages to actually CRASH OSX, or make a program do something you have never seem happen before.

My technologically challenged friend always seems to do thiswhen she comes here, but I'm on a different operating system than she's used to. Do her fears of the new OS cause my computers to freak? Maybe. I know DOZENS of computer-phobic people who actually do swear thier computer hates them, and who seem to geniunely have more problems than not on them, weird stuff that makes you go "thats not right, hell I didn't even know you could do that!"

Can "knowing" the computer will mess up, or that you are computer enept, and the fear and anxiety around that actually CAUSE it to mess up? People who work as tech support for companies with many computer illterate and fearful workers might be scratching thier chins at this thought too. It could explain a lot.

Could the power of positive thinking make a computer not fail so much?
posted by Dome-O-Rama at 2:26 AM on July 21, 2005


Dome-O-Rama,

The archetypical "luckless idiot bastard" was a famous physicist.

And there's always the AI koan about knowing what you're doing
(top story on link.)
posted by Opposite George at 4:19 AM on July 21, 2005


rdr, I'm actually dead serious. The body is surrounded with a weak electromagnetic field. The field strength is small, so any produced effect would, most likely, also be very small. And I am not at all sure that it would be controllable or predictable. But SOME effect absolutely exists... if it didn't, we wouldn't be able to measure the fields in the first place.

Whether that effect can be consciously exploited to alter probability, even on very small scales, is highly questionable, but hardly impossible. Some effect DOES exist.... finding out what that effect is, whether it's significant in any real sense, and whether it can be directed and controlled is the hard (and rather interesting) part.

If we can show that there's some kind of consistent effect (which this study doesn't yet appear to have done), it might give us some ability to build machines to do the same thing.

If there's any "there" there in this research, the rather amusing thought occurs that it might lead to artificial improbability generators.

Hopefully we can finish before the Vogons show up. :)
posted by Malor at 4:25 AM on July 21, 2005


Malor: Electromagnetism is governed by an inverse square law. This means that the force exerted becomes very weak as you move farther away. The claim that the strength of these psychic effects are independent of the distance between the person and the effect contradicts the hypothesis that they could be caused by electromagnetic forces from the human body.
posted by Nioate at 6:07 AM on July 21, 2005


weapons-grade pandemonium: Find a statistically significant group--say Americans of Lithuanian ancestry--and have them perform a task--say flip coins.
If you break the results into sub-groups, you will find differences, because statistical significance no longer holds. Forty year-old left-handed circumcised male Lithuanian-Americans flip ninety-two percent heads. Amazing.


I'm not sure what you mean here. What is a "statistically significant group"? It sounds like you're talking about the problem of multiple comparisons, but any reputable researcher will be aware of this and will correct the significance level appropriately.
posted by myeviltwin at 6:59 AM on July 21, 2005


I'm not interested until hundreds of student volunteers start commanding a robot army to march around and smite our enemies. Robots marching right, some veering left, others walking in circles, a few invading a kegger at a rival frat...
posted by palinode at 9:30 AM on July 21, 2005


InnocentBystander: I used to be like that. I would ruin my brother's computer every time I used it, in normal operation. Now everyone comes to me for tech support, so apparently I've grown out of it.
posted by abcde at 10:36 AM on July 21, 2005


The argument whether this works aside, I'd second loquacious' idea about prayer, etc.
I hate Las Vegas. (Strangely, I've been there several times.) Whenever I gamble, I tend to lose, so much so that the second time I went I kept track of how often I lost. I worked out that I lost statistically far higher than I should have on average and of course more than anyone else in the group.
I also noticed that I tended to win when I was in a better mood.
(Oooh, spooky!)
You can argue correlation all you like, but when you're in a better mood you're making better decisions and responding more to feedback and therefore have a more accurate perspective. Does this apply to slots?
Well, consider how many minute details we unconsciously take into account about choosing a slot machine. Odds are a player in 'the zone' will be more receptive to those signals than someone who's got a cloud over their head and is thinking mechanically - which I was doing by the very nature of making a statistical measure.
Could this be a factor that affects other researchers? The most interesting cue-givers are other humans, so, perhaps.
But that aside, the fact remains - if a forced perspective such as belief in some form of spirituality makes you happier and healthier, so be it.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:42 AM on July 21, 2005


Nioate, I actually edited out a paragraph talking about that, because the post felt too wordy. I was using electromagnetism as an example that SOME effect absolutely MUST exist.... but if we get down into the realm of the quantum, things become much less straightforward and, as Einstein pointed out, downright spooky.

So yes, the claims of distance and time not mattering definitely weaken the argument, but they don't eliminate it. We have shown actual 'spooky action at a distance' by entangling particles and having them reflect each other's states when separated by quite some distance. (I don't remember how much offhand, but I believe it was several kilometers). And we have actually teleported single photons a (very) short distance.

There's a whole level at which the Universe works that we just don't yet understand very well. A couple years back, there was some experimentation in artificially evolving circuits that resulted in designs that work, but which we don't understand and can't explain. Given a few billion years of REAL evolution, it seems nearly certain that our minds and bodies are similarly taking advantage of natural effects, whether quantum or something else, that we don't yet understand. (Evolution doesn't need to understand something to use it... it just has to work. )

This mode of thinking, of course, has the danger of falling off into outright magic and superstition, so it's an area to tread very carefully.

This is a big claim, and it IS up to its proponents to prove it. I'm just trying to point out that it's still entirely POSSIBLE, even using just the physics we know about today.
posted by Malor at 10:48 AM on July 21, 2005


Considering a small sample out of several million trials, and adding the words "statistically significant", means absolutely nothing.
posted by vjz at 12:30 PM on July 21, 2005


If you seriously believe anything PEAR puts out then you are a fool and a sucker and I have some stuff to sell you.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 2:25 PM on July 21, 2005


From page three:
Stanley Jeffers, a professor of physics at York University in Toronto, attempted to conduct experiments that were similar to Pear's, but couldn't replicate the results. Researchers at two German labs, working in cooperation with Pear, also were unable to replicate results using the same equipment that Pear used.
From page two:
Environmental conditions -- such as room temperature -- also don't matter, but the [participant's] mood and attitude do. It helps, for example, if the participant believes he or she can affect the machine.
posted by nobody at 5:48 PM on July 21, 2005


On PEAR: One of my statistic textbooks used some of their 'data' to illustrate several common fallacies in interpretation, as well as improper ways to handle, clean, and process data. They are a laughingstock among people who understand math and science.
posted by ikkyu2 at 7:41 PM on July 24, 2005


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