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9 Paranormal Phenomena BACKGROUND The primary purpose of this chapter is to evaluate the scientific evidence on parapsychological techniques in selected areas. A more complete understanding of the topic, however, requires that we provide background on the military's interest in these phenomena and treat the conceptual issue of how people come to believe as they do. This background section includes a discussion of the phenomena and the military's interest in them as well as an overview of the committee's focus. A brief examination of the different kinds of justifications for the claims is followed by a more detailed treatment of the evidence in areas that have produced large literatures: remote viewing, random number generators' and what are called Ganzfeld (whole visual field) experiments. In addition, we describe experimental work that the committee actually witnessed by visiting a parapsychological laboratory. Despite the growing scientific tradition in some of these areas, many people continue to rely on qualitative or experiential evidence to support their beliefs; we discuss the problems associated with qualitative evidence in conjunction with the research on cognitive and emotional biases, which is reviewed in the paper by Dale Griffin (Appendix B). Finally, the chapter summarizes the committee's . . mayor cone uslons. THE NATURE OF THE PHENOMENA Parapsychologists divide psi the term applied to all psychic phenom- ena into two broad categories: extrasensory perception (ESP) and 169
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170 psychokinesis (PK). Included in ESP are telepathy, precognition, and clairvoyance, all of which refer to methods of gathering information about objects or thoughts without the intervention of known sensory mecha- nisms. Popularly called mind over matter, PK refers to the influence of thoughts upon objects without the intervention of known physical proc ENHANCING HUMAN PERFORMANCE esses. A presentation to the committee by several military officers described in some detail the results of experiments in remote viewing carried out at both SRI International and the Engineering Anomalies Research Laboratory at Princeton University. In these experiments subjects are said to have more or less accurately described a geographical location being visited by a target team. Although the human subjects have no way of normally knowing the target location, the examples recounted appear to indicate, at first glance, some striking correspondences between their descriptions and the actual sites. These studies have been related by some persons to reported out-of-body experiences. The presentation included discussion of psychic mind-altering tech- niques, the levitation claims of transcendental meditation groups, psy- chotronic weapons, psychic metal bending, dowsing, thought photogra- phy, and bioenergy transfer. It was indicated that the Soviet Union is far ahead of the United States in developing potential applications of such paranormal phenomena, in particular psychically controlling and influ- encing minds at a distance. At the presentation, personal accounts were given of spoon-bending parties, in which participants believe they have caused cutlery to bend with the power of their minds, as well as instances of self-hypnosis to control pain and cure illness, walking barefoot on fire and handling hot coals without being burned, leaving one's body at will, and bursting clouds by psychic means. The media and popular publications, especially in recent years, have discussed various aspects of psychic warfare. Three recent books, by Ebon (1983), McRae (1984), and Targ and Harary (1984), have attempted to document Soviet and American efforts to develop military and intel- ligence applications of alleged paranormal phenomena. These accounts have been augmented by newspaper stories, magazine articles, and television programs. Many of these sources acknowledge the speculative nature of the proposed applications, but others report that some of the techniques already exist and work. The claimed phenomena and applications range from the incredible to the outrageously incredible. The "antimissile time warp," for example, is supposed to somehow deflect attack by nuclear warheads so that they ~ ~ +~ time ~nc1 r~rpl~l~. among the ancient dinosaurs, thereby leaving us unharmed but destroying many dinosaurs (and, presumably, some of our evolutionary ancestors). Other psychotropic weapons, such - W lil Ll ~ll~ll ~LI111- ~-''- ~-~
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PARANORMAL PHENOMENA 171 as the "hyperspatial nuclear howitzer," are claimed to have equally bizarre capabilities. Many of the sources cite the claim that Soviet psychotropic weapons were responsible for the 1976 outbreak of Legion- naires, disease, as well as the 1963 sinking of the nuclear submarine Thresher. POTENTIAL MILITARY APPLICATIONS Some people, including some military decision makers, can imagine potential military applications of the two broad categories of psychic phenomena. In their view, ESP, if real and controllable, could be used for intelligence gathering and, because it includes "precognition," ESP could also be used to anticipate the actions of an enemy. It is believed that PK, if realizable, might be used to jam enemy computers, prematurely trigger nuclear weapons, and incapacitate weapons and vehicles. More specific applications envisioned involve behavior modification; inducing sickness, disorientation, or even death in a distant enemy; communicating with submarines; planting thoughts in individuals without their knowledge; hypnotizing individuals at a distance; psychotropic weapons of various kinds; psychic shields to protect sensitive information or military instal- lations; and the like. One suggested application is a conception of the "First Earth Battalion," made up of "warrior monks," who will have mastered almost all the techniques under consideration by the committee, including the use of ESP, leaving their bodies at will, levitating, psychic healing, and walking through walls. THE COMMITTEE S FOCUS Although such colorful examples provide the context for our agenda, the cumulative body of data in the discipline of parapsychology enables us to judge the degree to which paranormal claims should be taken seriously. Since 1882 reports of both naturally occurring incidents and phenomena in laboratory settings have been accumulated in journals, monographs, and books. Just to survey the reports in the refereed journals of parapsychology would be an enormous undertaking. As scientists, our inclination is, of course, to restrict ourselves to the evidence that purports to be scientific. But the alleged phenomena that have apparently gained most attention and that have apparently convinced many proponents do not come from the parapsychological laboratory. Nothing approaching a scientific literature supports the claims for psychotropic weaponry, psychic metal bending, out-of-body experiences, and other potential applications supported by many proponents. The phenomena are real and important in the minds of proponents, so
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172 EI4HANClNC HUMAN PERFORMANCE we attempt to evaluate them fairly. Although we cannot rely solely on a scientific data base to evaluate the claims, their credibility ultimately must stand or fall on the basis of data from scientific research that is subject to adequate control and is potentially replicable. We divided the task into two parts. First, we looked at the best scientific arguments for the reality of psychic phenomena. Our sponsors, as well as our own appraisal of the current status of parapsychology, indicated that the two most influential scientific programs were the experiments on remote viewing and the experiments on psychokinesis using random event generators. In addition, we looked at the research on the Ganzfeld (whole visual field) because this, in the opinion of many parapsychologists, is the most likely candidate for a replicable experiment. We also report on a parapsychological experiment that the committee itself witnessed. Second, we considered the arguments of proponents who rely on what they call qualitative as opposed to quantitative evidence for the paranor- mal. Such evidence depends on personal experience or the testimony of others who have had such experience. Most, if not all, of this evidence cannot be evaluated by scientific standards, yet it has created compelling beliefs among many who have encountered it. Witnessing or having an anomalous experience can be more powerful than large accumulations of quantitative, scientific data as a method of creating and reinforcing beliefs. Because personal experience rather than scientific data has been the source of most beliefs in the paranormal, we have devoted some of our resources to considering this sort of cognitive method as a tool for achieving knowledge. STANDARDS OF EVIDENCE Diverse justifications have been offered for pursuing paranormal claims. One argument asserts that paranormal phenomena may no longer be anomalous, given the implications of contemporary quantum mechanics. Indeed, a few physicists have supported some parapsychologists in maintaining that certain forms of precognition and psychokinesis are consistent with some interpretations of quantum theory. The other major argument is that we have no choice but to get involved because the Soviet Union already has a program to develop military applications of psychic phenomena. Several proponents, including some scientists, firmly believe that paranormal phenomena have been scientifically demonstrated several times over. At the same time, most scientists do not believe that psi exists. Many persons on both sides believe this paradox to be the result of irrational and dogmatic belief systems. The proponents accuse the critics of being closed-minded and bigoted. The critics imply that the
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PARANORMAL PHENOMENA 173 proponents have allowed wishful thinking to bias their judgment and that they are incompetent scientists and are self-deceived. Both sides can point to examples to back their positions. One essential question confronts the committee: What does an impartial examination of the scientific evidence reveal about the existence of psi? Such an examination assumes that clear standards exist for judging the adequacy of the evidence, which, in turn, raises the issue of what constitutes sufficient evidence. That issue involves many difficult philo- sophical, theoretical, and methodological matters. For example, Palmer, in his '`An Evaluative Report on the Current Status of Parapsychology" (1985), denies that current parapsychological experiments can provide any evidence for the existence of psi. This is because psi implies paranormality and, according to Palmer, we cannot argue that a given effect has a paranormal cause until we have an adequate theory of paranormality. He further argues, however, that parapsychological ex- periments can and do provide evidence for the existence of anomalies. By an anomaly, Palmer means a statistically significant deviation from chance expectation that cannot readily be explained by existing scientific theories. The burden of Palmer's paper is that just such anomalies have been demonstrated. Because parapsycnologists other than Palmer do not make this distinc- tion between demonstrating an anomaly and testing a theory of paranor- mality, we do not carry on this distinction in our own assessment of the evidence. We tend to agree with Palmer on this matter, however. When we talk about evidence for psi in the remainder of this chapter, we are using psi in the neutral sense of an apparent anomaly rather than in the stronger sense of a paranormal phenomenon. MINIMAL CRITERIA Fortunately, critics and parapsychologists appear to agree on the general requirements necessary to demonstrate psi in a parapsychological experiment. Both Palmer (1985) and James E. Alcock (Appendix B) discuss such criteria in their respective papers. As Palmer points out, psi is defined negatively as a statistical departure from a chance baseline that cannot be accounted for by chance, sensory cues, or known artifacts. Such a negative definition implies the minimal criteria required to justify a conclusion that psi has been demonstrated. Given the statistical aspect, it is imperative that the data be collected in such a way that the underlying probability model and assumptions of the statistical test are fulfilled. This means that targets must be adequately randomized and that each trial in the experiment must be independent of the preceding ones and, of course, the statistical procedures must be
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74 ENHANCING HUMAN PERFORMANCE applied and interpreted correctly. Given that all ordinary explanations must be ruled out, the experimenter must take special precautions to ensure that sensory cues, recording errors, subject fraud, and other alternatives have been prevented. Although it is impossible to rule out completely every possible contaminant or to anticipate every alternative, there are reasonable standards that most parapsychologists would agree should be followed. Because different research paradigms have their own special require- ments, no single set of standards can be specified in advance for all parapsychological experiments. Experiments with electronic number generators, for example, rarely have problems with data recording, but they do require special methods such as tests of randomness and attention to the immediate physical environment that are unnecessary with more traditional parapsychological experiments. One requirement for assessing the adequacy of a given experiment is that its procedures and methods of analysis be adequately documented. Unless we know how the targets were selected, how the results were analyzed, how the possibility of sensory leakage was prevented, and how other such aspects of the study were carried out, we have no basis for evaluating the quality of the information provided by the experiment. GLOBAL CRITERIA The criteria mentioned in the preceding paragraphs apply to the individual experiment. More global criteria come into play when one wants to evaluate an entire research program or set of experiments. Here we look for such things as replicability, robustness, lawfulness, manip- ulability, and coherent theory. These criteria deal with the coherence and intelligibility of the alleged phenomena. It is in terms of such global criteria that parapsychological research has been especially vulnerable. Much of the objectivity involved in assessing the adequacy of research applies to judging individual experiments. But science is cumulative and depends not so much on the outcome of a single experiment as on consistent and lawful patterns of results across many experiments carried out in a variety of independent settings. Lawful consistency in this sense, according to both parapsychologists and their critics, has never been found in parapsychological investigations in the history of psychic research. Recently a few parapsychologists have expressed the hope that the experiments on remote viewing, random number generators, and the Ganzfeld (the very ones we have chosen to examine in detail in this report) may actually yield the long-sought replicability. The type of replicability that has been claimed so far is the possibility of obtaining significant departures from the chance baseline In only a proportion of
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PARANORMAL PHENOMENA 175 the experiments, which is a kind of replicability quite different from the consistent and lawful patterns of covariation found in other areas of Inquiry. Despite the fact that scientific progress in a given area depends on the accumulation of lawful and consistent patterns across many experiments, the methods for deciding that such consistency exists are still quite primitive in comparison with the standards for judging the adequacy of a single experiment. Indeed, it is only within the past few years that serious attention has been devoted to developing objective and standard- ized procedures for evaluating the consistencies across a body of inde- pendent studies. For the most part, judgment about what a body of investigations demonstrates is still a surprisingly intuitive and haphazard process. This probably has not been a serious drawback in those areas of inquiry in which the basic phenomena are robust and experiments can be conducted with high confidence that the predicted relations will be obtained; but such impressionistic means for aggregating the outcomes of several experiments in the domain of parapsychology open the door to all the motivational and cognitive biases discussed in the paper prepared for the committee by Griffin. Not only are the data and alleged correlations erratic and elusive in this field, but their very existence is open to question. EVALUATION OF THE SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE To evaluate the best scientific evidence on the existence of psi, and with the advice of proponents and our sponsors, we conducted site visits to some of the most notable parapsychological laboratories. The para- psychology subcommittee (see Appendix C) visited Robert Jahn's Engi- neering Anomalies Research Laboratory at Princeton University, where it witnessed presentations and demonstrations regarding psychokinetic experiments on random number generators. Jahn and his associates also briefed the subcommittee on the current status of their work in remote . . viewing. The subcommittee also visited Helmut Schmidt's laboratory at the Mind Science Foundation, San Antonio, Texas. Schmidt pioneered the use of random number generators in parapsychology experiments in 1969. His is considered one of the two major research programs on psychokinesis (the second is Jahn's). As an additional posssible input, the committee agreed to participate in a psychokinetic experiment of new design with Helmut Schmidt. Specifically, Schmidt accepted the suggestion that the committee's con- sultant, Paul Horwitz, be included in the conduct of the experiment. The
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176 ENHANCING HUMAN PERFORMANCE work has not yet begun, however, and it now appears that we will not have any results to report before our terms expire. The chair of the parapsychology subcommittee also visited SRI Inter- national, another major laboratory studying psychic effects on random number generators. (This latter research group argues that the observed effects are not due to psychokinesis but rather represent a special form of precognition.) The subcommittee chair also attended the meetings of the Parapsychological Association held at Sonoma State College in California. The entire committee made a site visit to Cleve Backster's laboratory in San Diego (arranged to coincide with the committee's meeting in La Jolla, California). These site visits enabled the committee to observe firsthand the experimental arrangements and equipment used by some of the major contributors to parapsychological research. They also provided us an opportunity to discuss results, interpretations, and problems with a few important investigators. We were impressed with the sincerity and dedication of these investigators and believe that they are trying to conduct their research in the best scientific tradition. We also got the impression that this type of research involves many unresolved problems and still has a long way to go before it develops standardized, easily replicable procedures. The information obtained from these site visits does not provide an adequate basis for making scientific judgments. For this we rely, as we would in other fields of science, on a careful survey of the literature. RESEARCH ON REMOTE VIEWING The SRI Remote Viewing Program Since the early 1970s, probably the best known research program in parapsychology has been the experiments in remote viewing initiated by physicists Harold Puthoff and Russell Targ when they were at SRI International. In a typical remote viewing experiment a subject, or percipient, remains in a room or laboratory with an experimenter, while a target team visits a randomly selected geographical site (e.g., a shopping mall, an outdoor arena, the Palo Alto airport, the Hoover tower). Neither the experimenter nor the subject has been given any information about the target. Once the experimenter and the subject are closeted in the laboratory, they wait for 30 minutes before the subject begins to describe his or her impressions of the target site. Meanwhile the target team, consisting of two to four members of the SRI staff, obtains instructions for going to a randomly chosen target site from another SRI staff member. They then drive to the
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PARANORMAL PHENOMENA _ _ . . . -- r ~r -A 177 designated target site and remain there for an agreed-on 15-minute period (after allowing approximately 30 minutes to reach the site). During the time that the target team remains at the target site, the subject describes his or her impressions into a tape recorder and also makes any drawings that would help to clarify those impressions. When the target team returns to the laboratory, all the participants listen to the tape recording of the subject's impressions. Then all the participants go to the target site, where the subject is allowed to see how closely his or her impressions agreed with the actual target. The first subject to participate in such a formal series of trials was the late Pat Price. In the first series, consisting of nine sessions, the duration of each session was 30 minutes. The transcript for each session is rich in detail; the one published transcript in Targ and Puthoff's first book runs to almost six printed pages (Tar" and Puthoff, 1977~. Given such data, how does one decide if the experiment was a success? Did Price's descriptions, for example, convey correct knowl- edge of the different target sites? In fact, two methods have been used to demonstrate the effectiveness of remote viewing. One method is simply to compare the description with the target and make a judgment as to whether the correspondence is sufficient to claim a "hit." The second method uses an independent judge to rank the degree to which each description matches each site and then applies statistical tests to decide if the association is greater than chance. Unprecedented success was claimed for the early remote viewing experiments in terms of both methods (Tar" and Puthoff, 1974, 1977; Puthoff and Targ, 19761. Many examples were supplied of dramatic correspondences between impressions of the percipient and the physical details of the actual target. Such correspondences, no matter how dramatic and compelling? do not carry scientific weight, because it is impossible to assess their probabilities. In addition, much psycholog- ical research indicates how such subjective validation can create strong. but false, illusions of matching (see below). The more formal evidence from the rankings of independent judges was also impressive. The first formal series of nine trials resulted in ~ .. . , . . . . ~ . . .. . . . . . . . seven ot the transcripts being ranked 1 against their intended larger sites by the independent judge. Only one such ranking would be expected by chance. Puthoff and Targ reported the probability of such an outcome being due to chance as only 0.0000029. The second formal series, using Hella Hammid, was equally impressive, producing five first places and four second places in the rankings of transcripts against target sites. Although subsequent series by Targ and Puthoff, as well as by
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178 ENHANCING HUMAN PERFORMANCE other investigators, have not always yielded such overwhelmingly impressive results, most of them have continued to display highly significant outcomes (Tar" and Harary, 1984~. On the surface, at least, this is a reliable, simple, and highly effective recipe for producing paranormal communication. Especially appealing is the claim that remote viewing works with just about everyone. Targ and Harary, for example, provide exercises for anyone who wants to develop and improve his or her ability to pick up information at remote sites. Neither space nor time, its proponents assert, is a barrier. The percipient can pick up information from the surface of Jupiter as well as from target sites that can be visited at some future time. Scientific Assessment of Remote Viewing After the first remote viewing experiments were conducted in the early 1970s, many investigators throughout the world tried to follow suit. Most of them believed that their findings supported the claims of the SRI International researchers. The majority of these experi- ments, however, consisted of informal demonstrations rather than formal scientific experiments and relied solely on subjective matching. In the past 15 years, the number of formal experimental replications of the SRI remote viewing experiments has been surprisingly few. Targ and Harary (1984) include as an appendix in their book a report by Hansen, Schlitz, and Tart that evaluates all the known remote viewing experiments conducted from 1973 through 1982. "In an examination of the twenty-eight formal published reports of attempted replications of remote viewing," write Targ and Harary, "Hansen, Schlitz, and Tart at the Institute for Parapsychology found that more than half of the papers reported successful out- comes." They concluded: "We have found that more than half (fifteen out of twenty-eight) of the published formal experiments have been successful, where only one in twenty would be expected by chance." Two comments may be in order with respect to the foregoing conclusion. First, given the enormous publicity and the unusually strong claims, 28 formal experiments in 10 years seems surprisingly few. In comparison, the Ganzfeld psi experiments produced approxi- mately twice as many formal experiments during the same interval. Second, 13 of the 28 formal experiments, or 46 percent, failed to claim successful outcomes. This rate of failure is much higher than what might have been expected on the basis of the earlier claims by Targ and Puthoff (1977), namely, that they had succeeded with every subject they had tried. .
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PARANORMAL PHENOMENA Even 15 successful outcomes out of 28 tries 179 is impressive, especially of the listed studies by parapsychological standards. An inspection however, suggests that the 28 formal experiments vary considerably in their importance. Some of these "published formal experiments" appeared as brief reports or abstracts of papers delivered at meetings of the Parapsychological Association or similar organizations. Others appeared in print only as brief or informal reports in book chapters or letters to the editor. Altogether, 15 of the 28 were published under conditions that fall short of scientific acceptability. Only 13, or 46 percent, of the experiments were published under refereed auspices. As in other sciences, only published reports that have undergone peer review and are adequately documented can be con- sidered seriously as part of the scientific data base. Of the 13 scientifically reported experiments, 9 are classified as successful in their outcomes by Hansen et al. (Tar" and Harary, 1984~. Seven of these nine experiments were conducted by Targ and Puthoff at SRI International, the remaining two at other labora- tories. This relatively small harvest of nine "successful" experiments suffers from the fact that each is seriously flawed. A variety of problems afflicts the published reports on remote viewing. The documentation, even according to many parapsychologists, is seriously inadequate. Attempts by both neutral and skeptical investigators to gain access to the raw data have typically been thwarted or strongly resisted. Because the essence of scientific justification is public accessibility to the data, this relative inaccessibility suggests that much of the remote viewing data base is not part of science. Most of the reasons for questioning the acceptability of the evi- dence for remote viewing lie in a methodological flaw that char- acterizes all but one of the experiments deemed successful: the successive trials are not independent of one another. This lack of independence has unfortunate consequences for any attempt to draw conclusions about ESP based on the outcomes of such experiments. The concept of independence is technical and somewhat difficult to explain simply, but. since it is critical to understanding why the remote viewing experiments fail to make their case, we supply an Intuitive explanation. Assume that we are considering a remote viewing experiment in which the subject participates in only two trials. In other words, we deal with two randomly chosen target sites. For the first trial, the target team goes to the first target site and remains there while the subject produces his or her first description. Immediately after this trial, the target team returns to the laboratory and takes the subject to the actual target site so that he or she and the others can gain a ,, ,% . . . ~. . . ~, .
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198 yielded several deflections, so it ENHANCING HUMAN PERFORMANCE is reasonable to assume that many more than 12 deflections were obtained in the complete record. It is likely that these unreported deflections were not preceded by any emotional re sponses. Almost certainly, more than 12 emotional responses must have appeared in the total record. The point of conducting the sessions was to expose the subjects to a variety of emotional stimuli; therefore, it is essential to know the number of times that emotional responses occurred without the corresponding occurrence of polygraph responses. Finally, to determine correlation, it is essential to know the frequency of co-occurrence of the absence of emotional responses and the absence of polygraph responses. All this information is needed to determine whether the claimed correlation exists. All the data must be used. From these data, one can compare the proportion of times that an emotional response is followed by a polygraph response with the proportion of times that the absence of an emotional response is followed by a polygraph response. Only if these two proportions are significantly different from one another can we assume that the data provide evidence for a correlation between emotional response and leukocyte activity. The fact that Backster was able to find 12 examples of the co-occurrence between emotional response and polygraph deflection, even if these correspondences had come from double-blind matching, provides us with absolutely no information about whether a correlation exists. The stronger claim would be, of course, not that a correlation exists, but that a causal connection exists between the subject's emotional states and the responses of the detached leukocytes. As Chapter 3 on evaluation indicates, such a causal explanation requires much more than the demonstration of correlation between two series. Because Backster did not use double-blind procedures to determine emotional responses, and because the procedures he did use are known to be just those that facilitate the occurrence of a variety of subjective biases, he may well' have obtained a correlation between his two series. However, his procedures for finding such correlations are sufficiently flawed that we do not know if in fact the suspected (and presumably biased) correlation actually does exist in his data. The Backster experiment indicates that the best intentions combined with scientific instrumentation and poly- graphic records cannot, in themselves, guarantee data of scientific quality. DISCUSSION 0F THE SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE Both the parapsychologists cited in this report and the critics of parapsychology believe that the best contemporary experiments in para- psychology fall short of acceptable methodological standards. The critics
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PARANORMAL PHENOMENA 199 conclude that such data, based on methodologically flawed procedures, cannot justify any conclusions about psi. The parapsychologists argue that, while each experiment is individually flawed, when taken together they justify the conclusion that psi exists. Palmer's conclusion in this regard is unique. Although he agrees that the data do not justify the conclusion that a paranormal phenomenon has been demonstrated, he argues that the data, with all their drawbacks, do justify the conclusion that an anomaly of some sort has been demonstrated. It is this purported demonstration of an anomaly that, according to Palmer, further justifies the claim that parapsychologists do have a subject matter. The awkward aspect of Palmer's position is that, without an adequate theory, there is no way to know that the anomaly "demon- strated" in one experiment is the same anomaly "demonstrated" in another; indeed, there is no limit to the possible causes of the anomaly in a given experiment. Without an adequate theory, there is no reason to assume that the various anomalies constitute a coherent or intelligibly related class of phenomena. The committee distinguishes among three types of criticism that can be leveled at a given parapsychological finding. The first is what we might refer to as the smoking gun. This type of criticism asserts or strongly implies that the observed findings were due not to psi but to factor X. Such a claim puts the burden of proof on the critic. To back up such a claim, the critic must provide evidence that the results were in fact caused by X. Many of the bitterly contested feuds between critics and proponents have often been the result of the proponent's assuming, correctly or incorrectly, that this type of criticism was being made. The second type of criticism can be referred to as the plausible alternative. In this case, the critic does not assert that the result was due to factor X, but instead asserts that the result could have been due to factor X. Such a stance also places a burden on the critic, but one not so stringent as the smoking gun assertion. The critic now has to make a plausible case for the possibility that factor X was sufficient to have caused the result. For example, optional stopping of an experiment on the part of a subject can bias the results, but the bias is a small one; it would be a mistake to assert that an outcome was due to optional stopping if the probability of the outcome is extremely low. Akers's critique, which was previously discussed, is an example based on the plausible alternative. The third type of criticism is what we have called the dirty test tube. In this case, the critic does not claim that the results have been produced by some artifact, but instead points out that the results have been obtained under conditions that fail to meet generally accepted standards. The gist of this type of criticism is that test tubes should be clean when doing
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200 ENHANCING HUMAN PERFORMANCE careful and important scientific research. To the extent that the test tubes were dirty, it is suggested that the experiment was not carried out according to acceptable standards. Consequently, the results remain suspect even though the critic cannot demonstrate that the dirt in the test tubes was sufficient to have produced the outcome. Hyman's critique of the Ganzfeld psi research and Alcock's paper on remote viewing and random number generator research are examples of this type of criticism. In the committee's view, it is in this latter sense, the dirty test tube sense, that the best parapsychological experiments fall short. We do not have a smoking gun, nor have we demonstrated a plausible alternative; but we imagine that even the parapsychological community must be concerned that their best experiments still fall far short of the methodo- logical adequacy that they themselves profess. Honorton and Hyman differ on whether to assign a flaw in randomization to a particular series of experiments. With Honorton's assignment, the studies with adequate randomization do not differ in significance of outcome from those with inadequate randomization. With Hyman's assignment, the experiments with inadequate randomization have signif- icantly more successful outcomes than do those with adequate random- ization. A simple disagreement on one experiment can thus make a huge difference as to whether we conclude that this flaw contributed or did not contribute to the observed outcomes. Several similar examples could be cited to illustrate the extreme sensitivity of this data base to slight changes in flaw assignments. Even if Palmer is correct in asserting that in a particular case an anomaly has been demonstrated, serious problems remain. In astronomy and other sciences, an anomaly is a very precise and specifiable departure from a well-defined theoretical expectation. Neptune was discovered, for example, when Leverrier was able to specify not only that the orbit of Uranus departed from that expected by Newtonian theory, but also precisely in what way it departed from expectation. Nothing approaching such a specifiable anomaly has been claimed for parapsychology. A vague and unspecifiable departure from chance is a far cry from a well-described and systematic departure from a precise, theoretical equation. Leverrier's anomaly was consistent with only a very narrow range of possibilities. The sort of anomaly claimed for parapsychology is currently consistent with an almost infinite variety of possibilities, including artifacts of various kinds. THE PROBLEM OF QUALITATIVE EVIDENCE The committee continually encountered the distinction between qual- itative and quantitative evidence for the existence of paranormal phe
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PARANORMAL PHENOMENA 201 nomena. Many proponents of the paranormal acknowledge such a differ- ence in one way or another. Some realize that it is only quantitative evidence that will convince the scientific community. Although they themselves have relied on qualitative evidence for their own beliefs, they refer us to the RNG experiments of Robert Jahn or the remote viewing experiments at SRI as examples of supporting quantitative data. Most proponents seem impatient with the request for scientific evidence. They have been convinced through their own experiences or the vivid testimonies of individuals whom they trust. Many argue that qualitative evidence can be as good as quantitative; indeed, they claim that in some circumstances it can be better. The arguments for the superiority of qualitative evidence are based in many cases on such factors as ecological validity, conducive atmosphere, and holism. The ecological validity argument asserts that the artificial conditions required for laboratory experiments are so different from the natural settings in which paranormal phenomena typically occur that findings from such controlled studies are irrelevant. By removing the psychic from his or her natural domain or by arranging conditions to suit the needs of scientific observation, it is claimed, the scientist destroys the very phenomenon under question. The ecological validity argument is closely related to the other arguments. Proponents who emphasize the conducive atmosphere assert that the austere conditions of strict labo- ratory procedure create an atmosphere that is numbing or inimical to psychic functioning. Those who emphasize holism point out that the experimental procedures necessarily dissect and focus on restricted portions of a system. Such compartmentalization, it is claimed, makes it impossible to study the sorts of paranormal phenomena that operate only as a total system in a naturalistic context. QUALITATIVE EVIDENCE AND SUBJECTIVE BIASES What is meant by qualitative evidence? Roughly, it means any sort of nonscientific evidence that proponents find personally convincing. Typ- ically, it involves personally experiencing or witnessing the phenomenon. Less compelling, but still effective, is the testimony of friends or trusted acquaintances who have personally experienced it. Even individuals who are intellectually aware of the pitfalls of personal observation and testimony find it difficult, even impossible, to disregard the compelling quality of such evidence in the formation of their own beliefs. A major parapsychologist admitted to one committee member that the scientific evidence did not justify concluding that psi exists. "As a trained scientist," he said, "I know quite well that by scientific criteria there is no evidence for the existence of psi. In fact, I have always argued with
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202 ENHANCING [IUMAN PERFORMANCE my parapsychological colleagues that they are making a serious mistake in trying to get the scientific community to take their current evidence seriously. Before they do this, they first have to be able to collect the sort of repeatable and lawful data that constitute scientific evidence." This same parapsychologist then explained why, despite the current lack of evidence, he remained a parapsychologist. "When I was 16 I had some personal experiences of a psychic nature that were so compelling that I have no doubt that they were real. Yet, as a trained scientist, I know that my personal experiences and subjective convictions cannot and should not be the basis for asking others to believe me." This parapsy- chologist is unusual in that he makes the distinction within himself between beliefs that are subjectively compelling and beliefs that are scientifically justifiable. More typical is the proponent who, as a result of compelling personal experience, not only has no doubt about the reality of underlying paranormal cause, but also has no patience with the refusal of others to support that belief. We see two problems regarding qualitative evidence. First, personal observation and testimony are subject to a variety of strong biases of which most of us are unaware. When such observations and testimony emerge from circumstances that are emotional and personal, the biases and distortions are greatly enhanced. Psychologists and others have found that the circumstances under which such evidence is obtained are just those that foster a variety of human biases and erroneous beliefs. Second, beliefs formed under such circumstances tend to carry a high degree of subjective certainty and often resist alteration by later, more reliable disconfirming data. Such beliefs become self-sealing, in that when new information comes along that would ordinarily contradict them, the believers find ways to turn the apparent contradictions into additional confirmation. The committee asked Dale Griffin to describe many of the ways in which cognitive and social psychologists have documented that human subjective judgment can lead us astray. Griffin's paper emphasizes the cognitive biases termed availability and representativeness, but he also discusses motivational biases. Although most of these biases have been created under laboratory conditions, they are nonetheless quite powerful, and evidence has been mounting that, if anything, they are much more powerful in natural settings. Griffin points out that one vivid, concrete experience is usually sufficient to outweigh conclusions based on hundreds or thousands of cases based on abstract summary statistics. These and the other biases discussed by Griffin should make us wary of conclusions based on qualitative evidence.
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PARANORMAL PHENOMENA 203 EXAMPLES OF PROBLEMATIC BELIEFS In this section we discuss some examples of beliefs about paranormal phenomena that have been formed under conditions known to generate cognitive illusions and strong delusional beliefs. We attempt to make clear why we are skeptical of any evidence offered in support of the paranormal that does not strictly fulfill scientific criteria. We believe it is important to realize the power of such conditions to create strong but false beliefs. In 1974 a group of distinguished physicists at the University of London observed renowned psychic Uri Geller apparently bend metallic objects and cause part of a crystal, encapsulated in a container, to disappear. Impressed with what they saw, in 1975 these scientists contributed an article to Nature outlining their ideas about how to conduct successful parapsychological research (reprinted in Hasted et al., 1976~. In their discussion they note that successful results depend on the relation among the participants and that phenomena are more likely to occur when all participants are in a relaxed state, all sincerely want the psychic to succeed, and "the experimental arrangement is aesthetically or imagi- natively appealing to the person with apparent psychokinetic powers.,' Hasted and his colleagues describe further desiderata. The psychic should be treated as one of the experimental team, contributing to an attitude of mutual trust and confidence that facilitates successful appear- ance of the allegedly paranormal effects. The slightest hint of suspicion on the part of the observers can stifle the occurrence of any phenomena. Observers should avoid looking for any particular outcome that interferes with the required relaxed state of mind and impedes paranormal powers. To help avoid the inhibiting effects of concentrated attention, participants should talk and think about matters irrelevant to the experiment at hand. Acknowledging that these desiderata make it difficult to preclude trickery, Hasted and his colleagues express confidence that they can both create psi-conducive conditions and eliminate the possibility of being tricked (Hasted et al., 1976:1941: It should be possible to design experimental arrangements which are beyond any reasonable possibility of trickery, and which magicians will generally acknowledge to be so. In the first stages of our work we did in fact present Mr. Geller with several such arrangements, but these proved aesthetically unappealing to him. Although we may sympathize with the British physicists' desire to create conditions conducive to the appearance of genuine psychic powers, if such powers exist, we cannot fail to note the quandary that their efforts produce. In their quest for psi-conducive conditions, they have created guidelines that play into the hands of anyone intent on deceiving them.
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204 ENHANCING HUMAN PERFORMANCE The very conditions that are specified as being conducive to the appearance of paranormal phenomena are almost always precisely those that are conducive to the successful performance of conjuring tricks. One of the first rules the aspiring conjuror learns is never to announce in advance the specific outcome that he or she is going to produce. In this way onlookers will not know where and on what they should focus their attention and consequently will be less apt to detect the method by which the trick was accomplished. The authors' advice to avoid focusing on a predetermined outcome greatly facilitates the conjuror's task. The insistence that the arrangements meet with the psychic's approval is by far the most devastating of these conditions. Geller will perform only if the conditions are "aesthetically pleasing." This amounts to giving the alleged psychic complete veto power over any situation in which he or she feels that success is not ensured. This in turn means that the psychic being tested, not the experimenters, is controlling the experiment. Surely the British physicists ought to realize the irony of their admission that all their experimental arrangements designed to preclude trickery turned out to be aesthetically unacceptable to Uri Geller. Another example of beliefs generated in circumstances that are known to create cognitive illustions is macro-PK, which is practiced at spoon- bending, or PK, parties. The 15 or more participants in a PK party, who usually pay a fee to attend and bring their own silverware, are guided through various rituals and encouraged to believe that, by cooperating with the leader, they can achieve a mental state in which their spoons and forks will apparently soften and bend through the agency of their minds. Since 1981, although thousands of participants have apparently bent metal objects successfully, not one scientifically documented case of paranormal metal bending has been presented to the scientific community. Yet participants in the PK parties are convinced that they have both witnessed and personally produced paranormal metal bending. Over and over again we have been told by participants that they know that metal became paranormally deformed in their presence. This situation gives the distinct impression that proponents of macro-PK, having consistently failed to produce scientific evidence, have forsaken the scientific method and undertaken a campaign to convince themselves and others on the basis of clearly nonscientific data based on personal experience and testimony obtained under emotionally charged conditions. Consider the conditions that leaders and participants agree facilitate spoon bending. Efforts are made to exclude critics because, it is asserted, skepticism and attempts to make objective observations can hinder or prevent the phenomena from appearing. As Houck, the originator of the PK party, describes it, the objective is to create in the participants a
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PARANORMAL PHENOMENA 205 peak emotional experience (Houck, 19841. To this end, various exercises involving relaxation, guided imagery, concentration, and chanting are performed. The participants are encouraged to shout at the silverware and to "disconnect" by deliberately avoiding looking at what their hands are doing. They are encouraged to shout Bend! throughout the party. "To help with the release of that initial concentration, people are encouraged to jump up or scream that theirs is bending, so that others can observe." Houck makes it clear that the objective is to create a state of emotional chaos. 'iShouting at the silverware has also been added as a means of helping to enhance the emotional level in a group. This procedure adds to the intensity of the command to bend and helps create pandemonium throughout the party." A PK party obviously is not the ideal situation for obtaining reliable observations. The conditions are just those which psychologists and others have described as creating states of heightened suggestibility and implanting compelling beliefs that may be unrelated to reality. It is beliefs acquired in this fashion that seem to motivate persons who urge us to take macro-PK seriously. Complete absence of any scientific evidence does not discourage the proponents; they have acquired their beliefs under circumstances that instill zeal and subjective certainty. Unfortu- nately, it is just these circumstances that foster false beliefs. DISCUSSION OF QUALITATIVE EVIDENCE Our analysis of the evidence put before us indicates that even the most solidly based arguments for the existence of paranormal phenomena fall short of the currently accepted parapsychological standards. Even if the best evidence had been collected according to acceptable scientific standards, most proponents would have in fact remained convinced by personal experiences and data that clearly fall far short of scientific acceptability. We have looked at two examples to make clear why and in what ways such failures to meet acceptable standards render the corresponding arguments useless as evidence for the paranormal, even though they have created compelling and strongly held beliefs in those who have been exposed to them. The examples illustrate how different ways of attempting to acquire evidence for paranormal phenomena can depart from adequate standards. These inadequacies become especially critical when we note that the conditions under which the alleged paranormal phenomena are supposed to occur are just those known to foster biases and false beliefs. The PK parties, while creating powerful beliefs in paranormal metal bending, clearly violate almost every principle for obtaining trustworthy data. These parties offer no standardization, no objective records, and no
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206 ENHANCING HUMAN PERFORMANCE controls against self-deception or the deliberate deception of others. All participants, including the leader, are encouraged to achieve a peak emotional state, and general chaos is encouraged. The suggestions of a group of British physicists for testing alleged psychics are aimed at somehow combining the desire to keep the psychic from feeling inhibited with the desire to obtain evidence of acceptable scientific quality. The observers' zeal for making the psychic feel trusted produces conditions that make scientific observation impossible: observ- ers are instructed to refrain from focusing attention on any expected result, and the experimental arrangement must be aesthetically acceptable to the psychic, a condition that in effect puts the psychic in control of the experiment. The search for psi-conducive conditions is understandable. Parapsy- chological research, even at its best, has been continually frustrated by the lack of robust, lawful, and repeatable outcomes, yet parapsychologists have experienced phenomena or have encountered data that have con- vinced them of the reality of the paranormal. When they try to put such evidence before their critics, however, the phenomena have a habit of disappearing. If one fervently believes that the phenomena are real, then it becomes easy to imagine a variety of reasons why they are elusive and hard to produce on demand. When proponents encounter a new phenomenon or psychic, they are strongly motivated to create conditions that will not drive the phenomenon away. The special atmosphere of PK parties and the suggestions of the British physicists are just two examples of attempts to generate psi- conducive conditions that also seem to be deception-conducive and bias- conducive. CONCLUSIONS In drawing conclusions from our review of evidence and other consid- erations related to psychic phenomena, we note that the large body of research completed to date does not present a clear picture. Overall, the experimental designs are of insufficient quality to arbitrate between the claims made for and against the existence of the phenomena. While the best research is of higher quality than many critics assume, the bulk of the work does not meet the standards necessary to contribute to the knowledge base of science. Definitive conclusions must depend on evidence derived from stronger research designs. The points below summarize key arguments in this chapter. 1. Although proponents of ESP have made sweeping claims, not only for its existence but also for its potential applications, an evaluation of the best available evidence does not justify such optimism. The strongest
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PARANORMAL PHENOMENA 207 claims have been made for remote viewing and the Ganzfeld experiments. The scientific case for remote viewing is based on a relatively small number of experiments, almost all of which have serious methodological defects. Although the first experiments of this type were begun in 1972, the existence of remote viewing still has not been established. Further- more, although success rates varying from 30 to 60 percent have been claimed for the Ganzfeld experiments, the evidence remains problematic because all the experiments deviate in one or more respects from accepted scientific procedures. In the committee's view, the best scientific evidence does not justify the conclusion that ESP that is, gathering information about objects or thoughts without the intervention of known sensory mechanisms-exists. 2. Nor does scientific evidence offer support for the existence of psychokinesis that is, the influence of thoughts upon objects without the intervention of known physical processes. In the experiments using random number generators, the reported size of effects is very small, a hit rate of no more than 50.5 percent compared with the chance expectancy of 50 percent. Although analysis indicates that overall significance for the experiments, with their unusually large number of trials, is probably not due to a statistical fluke, virtually all the studies depart from good scientific practice in a variety of ways; furthermore, it is not clear that the pattern of results is consistent across laboratories. In the committee's view, any conclusions favoring the existence of an effect so small must at least await the results of experiments conducted according to more adequate protocols. 3. Should the Army be interested in evaluating further experiments, the following procedures are recommended: first, the Army and outside scientists should arrive at a common protocol; second, the research should be conducted according to that protocol by both proponents and skeptics, and third, attention should be Riven to the manipulability and practical application of any effects found. Even if psi phenomena are determined to exist in some sense, this does not guarantee that they will have any practical utility, let alone military applications. For this to be possible, the phenomena would have to obey causal laws and be manipulable. 4. The committee is aware of the discrepancy between the lack of scientific evidence and the strength of many individuals' beliefs in r ~ ~ T _. ~ 1 ] . . ~ ~ _- , paranormal phenomena. lines Is a cause for concern. ray, my ~ . Of the the world's most prominent scientists have concluded that such phenomena exist and that they have been scientifically verified. Yet in just about all these cases, subsequent information has revealed that their convictions were misguided. We also are aware that many proponents believe that the scientific method may not be the only, or the most
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208 ENHANCING HUMAN PERFORMANCE appropriate, method for establishing the reality of paranormal phenomena. Unfortunately, the alternative methods that have been used to demonstrate the existence of the paranormal create just those conditions that psy- chologists have found enhance human tendencies toward self-deception and suggestibility. Concerns about making the experimental situation comfortable for the alleged psychic or conducive to paranormal phenom- ena frequently result in practices that also increase opportunities for deception and error. SOURCES OF INFORMATION Two of the military officers who briefed us during our first meeting urged the committee to give serious consideration to paranormal phe- nomena and related parapsychological techniques. They described a variety of such phenomena that they felt had military potential, either as threats to security or as aids to defense. Site visits to leading laboratories and a paper prepared for the committee also contributed to the bases for the committee's work. Briefings were given to committee members by Robert Jahn, Cleve Backster, Helmut Schmidt, members of the staff of the Stanford Research Institute, and the U.S. Army Laboratory Command in Adelphi, Maryland. The paper prepared by James Alcock provided detailed reviews of the available evidence on random event generators and remote viewing. In addition, the committee benefited from a thorough review conducted for the Army Research Institute by John Palmer and from its own review of recent articles in the Journal of Parapsychology and other relevant periodicals and handbooks.
Representative terms from entire chapter: