Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Extended Mind: Recent Experimental Evidence

Recently in the comments on another blog, there was discussion that science has plenty of evidence that there is an immaterial part of us. I was directed to the following video which describes these things. I am pretty skeptical of the whole thing, but I figured I would give it a look and a fair shake. I think I'll just watch it and comment as I go. Hopefully this will make an interesting blog post, it's an experiment! Let's give it a go.

I decided to put my overall reactions here and leave my running commentary below. My overall impression is that this guy has some pretty crazy ideas. He thinks that our minds are fields that extend past our skulls and he thinks that there is telepathy for example. All of this sounds pretty out there to me, and for most of what he was talking about there seems to be simpler answers to the questions.

That being said, he also seems to be very good at putting experiments together and it sounds like he has some pretty interesting data. I am intrigued by it and do plan on following up and looking into some of his work.

I'd also like to add that the experiments he described don't prove that these fields are real. His ideas are consistent with the data, which is really interesting. However, it is certainly possible that there is another explanation.

One more thing I will add, this guy seems very genuine. I have seen people peddle these kinds of ideas before who had something to gain and it seemed like they didn't really believe what they were saying. This guy is not trying to take money from anyone (as far as I can tell) and he is really believes what he is saying. He is trying to advance his ideas and is doing a lot of work to gather data to prove his point. You have to respect that.


2:42 Our minds spread out beyond our brains in a similar manner to the way magnetic fields spread out

3:08 He uses vision as an example and talks about this for a few minutes. One idea is that light bounces off of things, has an effect on the rods and cones in your eyes, and your brain interprets this to create a picture in your brain. If you look at the sky, there is a picture of the sky in your brain, so your mind is as big as the sky. So it must be more than just in your skull. This seems like utter nonsense to me. Why couldn't there just be a smaller representation of the sky in your brain? He is also arguing that your picture of something in your mind is right there with that thing. So if you are looking at someone the representation of that person is not in your skull, your mind is over there where they are.

6:15 Can you affect something simply by looking at it? He argues that you can and cites the common experience of feeling like you are being watched. I would argue that there are other senses involved (subtle sounds and such) rather than psychic phenomena.

8:10 He describes an experiment to test this idea. Two people are back to back and one randomly looks or doesn't look and the blindfolded person has to guess whether they are being looked at. I'd be curious to see the experimental design.

9:10 Another experiment involving closed circuit TV, very interesting.

10:25 "Private detectives know that when they are shadowing people they shouldn't stare at their back because the person is likely to turn around, catch their eye, and blow their cover" Wouldn't an alternate explanation be that if you are not staring and they happen to look back it wouldn't be suspicious?

13:09 "No one has ever seen a thought or an image inside a head...I'm suggesting our minds reach outside our brains" Yeah, no one has ever seen that either.

13:36 This also happens with animals, they can tell they are being looked at, just ask a hunter or a wildlife photographer. The much simpler explanation is that animals have really good senses and they can hear you or smell you. Also, the idea that an animal feels you looking at them, you'd have to compare how often they move for no reason other than staying in one place could be bad for them. I'm imagining an experiment where we have some video cameras on some wildlife and have people look at the animals and see if they move. We can have some people with a live feed and some people watching recordings from earlier and see how they shape up, I'm guessing no difference.

15:40 Flocks of birds and schools of fish move in formation and change it up quickly. He suggests the best explanation is their minds influence one another directly, instead of the birds simply having really good sense and the ability to move very quickly.

21:30 Another common phenomenon is that dogs and cats know when their owners are coming home and are waiting by the window. I remember reading about this a while ago. Someone tried to replicate it and found that the dogs would wait by the window frequently throughout the day. There wasn't a significant difference for when the owner was actually coming home. (Note from later, he claims this was James Randi and that is was BS. This shows how important having a source is)

31:20 Telephone telepathy. This is when you think of someone right before they call. This is so easily explained, usually the people this happens with are people you think about a lot. You remember the hits (when it happens) and forget the misses (when you think of them and they don't call). Also, there are plenty of times they call when you hadn't just thought of them.

33:00 Looks like he addressed this very complaint with an experiment. Interesting. This study actually looks pretty cool, I'd be interested to look at the paper that goes along with it. He describes a few related experiments that all sound very interesting. I am planning on looking into this more closely at some point soon.

48:00 QA starts

49:08 What about the million dollar challenge? He pretty much just attacks James Randi, don't care for that. Although he did address what I said above about the dog experiment, doesn't sound great toward Randi. I wonder what the real truth is there.

58:15 Q: What is you change the order to try to find precog? A: I tried that and it gave chance levels. This is interesting as it might eliminate certain biases in the experiment.

73:30 Q:What factors can affect this stuff?

79:00 He says he has had papers rejected out of hand without being looked at. That is too bad as it seems like he does interesting stuff, but it is not surprising as editors of scientific journals are very short on time. You simply can't examine and find the faults in every paper that sounds like it is from a crank.

1:23:50 It is asked how to measure this field in other ways, he says he has worked on that but it wasn't covered in this talk. I'd like to see some of this, he said there is some on his website, I'm happy about that.


  1. Rather interesting.. I'd be interested in why his papers were rejected. Maybe there are two sides to the story. I haven't read the papers, so I have no idea.

    I will note that I only read your comments and did not watch the actual presentation. =P

    1. It's a really good question. I'm guessing that his papers never got a close look by anyone at the journals. It's a shame, because it looks like he has designed some interesting experiments and his experimental design seems good. (this is based on watching the video, not looking at the papers) I do plan on looking at his papers at some point, I'm certainly intrigued. But let's be honest, I don't believe for a second that his ideas on the mind are correct. He has potentially found something interesting. I'm guessing there is a problem with blinding and possibly some unintentional data manipulation, but maybe there is something else going on.

      It reminds me of a talk I had with a professor who used to be an editor of a prestigious algebra journal. We were talking about the problem of trisecting an angle with ruler and compass, which is impossible in general. He said that at least once a week someone would submit a paper with a proof of how to do it. If he had a grad student at the right level he might give it to them to find the flaw for a good exercise, but generally he just threw them away. He just didn't have time to find the flaw in each and every entry. And what is the point when it is known to be impossible. I'm guessing a similar thing is going on here, a busy editor isn't going to waste precious time figuring out what is wrong with a paper which says telepathy is real.

    2. I can't help but weigh in on this.

      We know that it's impossible to trisect an angle because we have a proof telling us that it's impossible. On the other hand, there's no such proof that tells us that telepathy is impossible. If this guy's experiments are well-constructed and he still gets positive results then that's as good as it gets when it comes to scientifically establishing the existence of a phenomenon.

    3. Thanks for posting that, I think I failed to fully express myself. My point with the trisecting the angle was mostly to point out that the editors simply get inundated and don't have time to look at every paper that comes in. At some point, the editor I talked to didn't even look at those papers that came in as he knew there would be a fatal error in there somewhere and it wasn't worth his time to look at it.

      I was saying that for this guy, there is potentially a similar thing where some editor has seen similar papers in the past which always had some flaw and he figured this guy's papers would be similar and they wouldn't be worth his time. You make a good point that the situations are different as we know that trisecting an angle is impossible while there is no proof that telepathy is impossible. But in the mind of the editor there is potentially little difference.

      I do think it is a shame, because this guy seems to have some interesting results. Based on the experiments he described in this video, I don't think he has proven telepathy (I could be wrong), but I think he might have shown something interesting. I definitely am interested and I am planning on looking at one of his papers more in depth. I'll probably make a post about it in a month or so when I have time.

    4. I read that over and it looks confusing. Put more simply, I agree with you, I think it is a shame that his papers were dismissed out of hand. I think that given the subject matter the editor of the journal he submitted it to probably figured he was a crank without giving him a fair shake.

  2. That is a really interesting perspective. When you talk about the editor getting a lot of the same submissions for things. We all only have so much time, so I'm sure after a while you don't even waste your time.

    If you do find something, please post. That would be rather interesting.

  3. He should apply for the James Randi foundation's almost 1.3 million dollar prize. Then, I'd be very impressed. If the man has some legitimate stuff, its an easy million dollars.

    1. The problem is, his evidence is statistical in nature and James Randi doesn't accept that for the million dollar prize. At least that is my understanding.

    2. This is silly, how many different "prizes" have young earth creationists put out there if someone could only give them clear and incontrovertible proof that the earth is old and evolution is true. You would think that a reputable well-informed scientist would be able to collect at least a few thousand dollars doing this but you would be wrong as the prizes are invariably setup in such a way that they cannot be won. In fact, the only reason that young earth creationists do this is to argue that neither an old earth nor evolution can be true as no one has stepped forward to collect their prize.

      The same goes for the non-scientist magician James Randi and his "prize."

      This sort of activity should offend any serious thinking person.

    3. @Hausdorff. I didn't realize it was a statistical thing. Interesting.

      @Anonymous. The difference between those young creationists prizes and the James Randi foundation is that the James Randi foundation gives a fair shot to people using the scientific method. Yes, he is not a scientist per se, but he has other people at different centers run these tests under conditions agreed too by these hacks. He made his career originally as a magician, but now he just loves to debunk the frauds out there trying to make an easy buck off people. In some cases, these people prey on the sorrows of others, like those that say that they can communicate with the dead. You can read all the experiments and methods on the forum.

      The amount of evidence for evolution and the age of the earth covers many many different fields. Anytime you bring it up to a creationist, they will just say, "bullshit. The bible says different." The Bible will always trumph "science" in their view. Or as I've seen Ken Ham say in many of his talks, "How do you know the earth is that old. Were you there?"

    4. JKerber,

      The young earth creationists also claim to give their participants a fair shake and not just quote the Bible at them, but we all know that they don't. Randi is no different, check out what happened between his foundation and Greek homeopathist George Vithoulkas:

      Mr Vithoulkas spent years going through a lot of effort to setup an experiment with JREF only to have Randi suspiciously back out at the last minute due to "health problems" just long enough so that the experiment couldn't go through.

      Again, these sorts of "prizes" are always setup in such a way that no one can win. After all, that's purpose of the prize.


    1. JKerber,

      Obviously, Randi has his side of the story, this sort of back-and-forth is endemic to these "prizes." Again, same stuff happens in creationist circles.

    2. *sigh*

      I guess that is just an unfortunate reality of these kinds of prizes. True believers will assume Randi is cheating. Scammers will be able to make the same claim and safely keep away.

    3. Hausdorff,

      Invert your reasoning and you've recovered what happens in creationist circles. People who accept an old earth and evolution think the creationists who manage the prizes are cheating while the creationists feel like their science is vindicated by the fact that no one can win their prizes.

      Again, people who think seriously about these issues don't want waste their time with prizes that aren't meant to be won. If you seriously think that a guy like Randi would ever shell out a million dollars and admit that the skepticism to which he's devoted the latter part of his life is in error then I have a bridge to sell you.

    4. Anon,

      Yeah, I think I agree with you here. And by saying "invert your reasoning" you really hit the nail on the head. If I just think about what I would say to those people about their prizes, they could use almost the same reasoning against Randi, probably very close to word for word I would bet.

      The sigh from me was just that this realization is a very big bummer.

  5. Hausdorff,

    "And by saying "invert your reasoning" you really hit the nail on the head. If I just think about what I would say to those people about their prizes, they could use almost the same reasoning against Randi, probably very close to word for word I would bet."

    You got it.

    "The sigh from me was just that this realization is a very big bummer."

    As you get older you'll become more aware of how dishonest people are. We're a species of liars.


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