Can the human mind affect random number generators?
October 2, 2001 4:14 AM   Subscribe

Can the human mind affect random number generators? Sounds absurd (especially to a diehard skeptic like me), but this research is coming out of Princeton, not some fringe group. And here is an independent experiment which seems to confirm the effect. I've emailed CSICOP and The Skeptic Magazine about it, but haven't heard back yet. Anyone know anything about this stuff?
posted by grumblebee (17 comments total)
original link found via memepool.
posted by grumblebee at 4:15 AM on October 2, 2001

A friend just pointed out that the second link I posted ( belongs to a group founded on the work of Wilhelm Reich and his discovery of "orgone energy" (a.k.a total bullshit). See for more info.
posted by grumblebee at 4:55 AM on October 2, 2001

You mean there was no connection between me concentrating on a high number and the NY Mets almost being good? Darn.
posted by ParisParamus at 5:01 AM on October 2, 2001

All I know it that this looks too familiar.
posted by chules at 5:12 AM on October 2, 2001

MeFi posting is now more dangerous than changing your name to Osama and wrapping a towel round your noggin.
posted by Frasermoo at 5:14 AM on October 2, 2001

Oops. Sorry about the repeat post.
posted by grumblebee at 5:20 AM on October 2, 2001

well, I remember I had once made a similar program in QBASIC about 5 years ago when I was 13; that had this graph bing plotted using random numbers. I had seen this experiment on Discovery Channel, and I used to sit in front of it for hours trying to make the graph go up.
I learnt that it works best when there's no disturbance around you, and that my mom was a really cool telepsychokinetist.
posted by arnab at 7:42 AM on October 2, 2001

I read a book several years ago (out of Princeton, I believe) that documented very similar research.

Margins of Reality: The Role of Consciousness in the Physical Worldby Robert Jahn & Brenda Dunne.

"This book reexamines the role of consciousness in the light of a new body of experimental data on the interaction of human operators with various technical devices and information-processing systems. Many philosophical fibers are required to sift these results into a coherent model; but once the essential concepts are in place, human consciousness indeed emerges endowed with an active component. By virtue of the manner in which it exchanges information with its environment, orders that information, and interprets it, consciousness has the ability to bias probabilistic processes, and thereby to avail itself of certain margins of reality."

Provocative stuff and not easily dismissed as bullshit.
posted by donovan at 8:52 AM on October 2, 2001

it was already mentioned in the other thread that the random number procedure depended on white noise -- the kind of thing that is generated by radio transmissions and the like. do you think there could have been a lot of transmission going on 9/11?

random numbers always depend on an outside source to seed their generator, and even then, your number depends entirely on the random number algorithm used in the computer. no offense to anyone, but to claim that the human consciousness has any direct effect on random number generation is to be ignorant of the processes that go into random number generation.

acting all computer science like,
posted by moz at 9:18 AM on October 2, 2001

Oops moz. The other thread reported that a friend of a poster who knows nothing about the hardware used by PEAR says that it would be influenced by radio transmissions.

You then extrapolate to software generated pseudo-random numbers which have absolutely nothing to do with hardware generated random numbers used in the experiments.

The three types of Random Number Generators used in the PEAR project purport to be based on quantum effects evidenced in solid state junctions. Properly designed, they should be immune to electromagnetic and other external influences.

I would feel a lot better if I could see the schematic instead of seeing references to proprietary designs, etc. The RNGs are produced by Mindsong and Elgenco. Wish I could find some better links.

Nevertheless, it is amazing how easily you dismiss the
experiments while being ignorant of the processes that go into random number generation. Hmmm, weren't those your words.
posted by Geo at 10:44 AM on October 2, 2001

hi geo,

my friend's point was that the website does not explain whether they are properly designed; in other words, there's some question as to whether radio activity could affect the number generation, and without that information it's impossible to know whether this is a well-formed experiment or not.
posted by rebeccablood at 11:19 AM on October 2, 2001



while there is no reason that hardware RNG cannot use the software RNG algorithm i described, it does seem that the REGs used in the PEAR experiment do differ. my mistake.

i stated that RNGs always depend on an outside source of some sort, and you admit as much with your reference to solid state junctions. as to your remark about proper design, i wonder. skallas' link references the effects of light, extreme cooling, and the operation of REGs in a vacuum (the latter is untested). from your link, i found a page attempting to explain the method, and from another page it is quite clear that white noise is indeed factored by the REGs. while temperature change and component aging are claimed to be factored, i cannot judge whether or not this design would be bullet proof enough to withstand the turbulence in radio transmissions of what may have been happening on 9/11. i simply don't have the physics background.

can you elaborate?
posted by moz at 12:37 PM on October 2, 2001


in light of that, maybe "global consciousness" is a poor choice of words. perhaps more appropriately would be the investigation into whether brain waves have an effect, and how? i assume through white noise?
posted by moz at 1:16 PM on October 2, 2001

I hear warnings when I see "some of these show reverse casaulity " offered as evidence. This sounds like Rhine counting poor performances in card prediction as being evidence of "negative ability", ie no matter what the result, it proves the point.

When I read the site, the first thing I thought is that at any given moment, something significant is happening in the world, as long as you define the "window of association" widely enough.

I don't think this is a well designed experiment at all.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:45 PM on October 2, 2001

What kind of spikes do we see before, during, or after a time when nothing in particular happens? Isn't it quite possible that- just as thousands of coin flip trials can have streaks of many heads and many tails without there being a direct causal relation other than "true randomness or chaos sometimes shows subsets in which patterns or non-randomness appears to occur"- we would see any RNG have periods of unusual non-randomness. And those periods of non-randomness would even occur, randomly, at times when they seemed to coincide with another event or events outside the RNG.

The question I'd have is whether this random non-randomness- like a hitting streak in baseball in September or October as opposed to April- is only noticed or publicized because of the coincidental timing; are there many more spikes that occur that these folks don't notice or care about because they don't find any external event to justify them?
posted by hincandenza at 4:32 PM on October 2, 2001

This thread has an explanation of why these experiments are meaningless. Scroll down to the post by "Quester."

The general thrust of the James Randi Educational Foundation is that this sort of stuff requires very strong evidence. The problem is that things are often promoted as "predicting" something only after it has happened, while they offer no useful predictive value for the future.

Or, in this case, the data set has been massaged so that things look more impressive than they are, without asking important questions that could act to clarify or even deny the phenomena in question (such as "Are there any peaks or valleys when nothing important happened? Are there any important events that the eggs don`t indicate?")
posted by chiheisen at 7:04 PM on October 2, 2001

Are there any peaks or valleys when nothing important happened

Whoa- is there an echo in hear? :)
posted by hincandenza at 8:20 PM on October 2, 2001

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