Graham Nicholls and the Out-of-body Experience
Anders Breivik

Chris Carter's Science and Psychic Phenomena

Carter book

I've been having another look at Chris Carter's excellent book Parapsychology and the Skeptics, which I reviewed here. It's out in a new edition with the title Science and Psychic Phenomena: The Fall of the House of Skeptics. It looks good (although the original was good too).

In a new postscript, Carter says he came to write the book after stumbling across a website devoted to debunking the belief in an afterlife.

Having read several serious books on the subject, I was shocked by the crudity of the author's arguments and by his utter ignorance of the vast amount of research that has been done on the topic over the past 12 years. I sent him an e-mail message, trying to get him to reconsider his dogmatic position, and, to my surprise, he responded with counterarguments. For the next few weeks, we engaged in a debate via e-mail, and I learned much about the so-called "skeptical" mind-set. I realized that it was based upon a certain set of metaphysical assumptions that were not treated as assumptions but as incontrovertible facts; and that it was also based upon an ignorance of certain facts that cast strong doubts on the validity of those assumptions.

I also realized that nothing I could possibly say would ever change his "skeptical" opinion. He had made up his mind, and that was that.

When I first read Carter's book I was impressed with the detail and clarity he brings to the descriptions of ganzfeld and other controversies. This time I've been paying more attention to his treatment of the philosophical challenge raised by psi, which is just as important. It's silly for sceptics to say there's no evidence for psychic functioning, but fair enough that they should have misgivings about how it fits in with established science.

A classic way to deal with the problem is to state that for psi to be true, science would have to be completely turned on its head, or "unravel all the way back to Galileo". I like this idea, like knitting coming undone (I think it comes from Steven Weinberg, or maybe James Alcock.) But intuitively I always thought it was crock. Psi has nothing to say about Newton's laws of motion, or the laws of thermodynamics, optics, chemical interactions, etc. It seems instead to have implications for the underlying basis of all matter, the realm of quantum mechanics, which at present is very imperfectly understood.

The Copenhagen interpretation, which seems to be the most commonly accepted, is that the act of measurement causes the collapse of the wave function into individual particles. The result depends on the observation; it is not a property of the electron itself. But in this interaction, if I understand it correctly, a mechanical device will do the trick just the same as a human observer. This never made any sense to me; it looks like an evasion, of the kind that physicists, not being philosophers, would easily content themselves with.

200px-JohnvonNeumann-LosAlamosCarter focuses instead on mathematician John Von Neumann's idea that it's consciousness itself that collapses quantum possibilities into facts. This interpretation is a strictly minority view among physicists (although it was promoted by Eugene Wigner and others). How could consciousness, a product of matter, exert a causal influence on matter?

But it's remarkable, as Carter quotes physicist Nick Herbert saying, that the claim should come 'not from an otherworldly mystic in private meditation but from one of the world's most practical mathematicians deducing the logical consequences of a highly successful and purely materialistic model of the world - the theoretical basis for the billion-dollar computer industry'.

Carter goes on to describe a time-displaced PK experiment by physicist Helmut Schmidt, in which signals from a binary random event generator were recorded simultaneously on two cassette tapes, without anyone listening to them. One tape was given to a subject to listen to, with instructions to produce more 0s or 1s (usually in the form of clicks on the left or right of stereo headphones). When the results were analysed the influence of PK was observed. However the results also matched the other tape, which had been untouched.

One interpretation is that PK reached back in time to when the random events were originally generated. But a more interesting possibility, consistent with the Von Neumann interpretation, and put forward by Schmidt and his co-experimenters, is that events are not physically real until there has been an observation.

From this viewpoint, the PK effort would not have to reach into the past because nature had not yet decided on the outcome before the PK subject, the first observer, saw the result. Then, the PK effort should no longer succeed if we have some other observer look at the pre-recorded data previous to the PK subject's attempt. [An] experiment to study this situation ... has, indeed, reported a blocking of the PK effect by a previous observation.

The Von Neumann theory inevitably tends to invite quasi-theological speculation. What happened before there were conscious observers? If consciousness was needed to create humans - as conscious observers - then God or supernatural beings enter the equation. Carter quotes quantum theorist Euan Squires:

It is remarkable that such ideas should arise from a study of the behavior of the most elementary of systems. That such systems point to a world beyond themselves is a fact that will be loved by all who believe that there are truths of which we know little, that there are mysteries seen only by mystics, and that there are phenomena inexplicable within our normal view of what is possible. There is no harm in this - physics indeed points to the unknown. The emphasis, however, must be on the unknown, on the mystery, on the truths dimly glimpsed, on things inexpressible except in the language of poetry, or religion, or metaphor.

Sceptics could legitimately look for faults in experiments like Schmidt's to save themselves the bother of thinking about any of this. They can also complain - as they do - that quantum mechanics has been misappropriated and misunderstood by the spirituality community. But they would not convince me that there is not a mystery here, or that physicists are the people who really understand what's going on.


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Another variation of the Helmut Schmidt experiment is the double slit quantum erasure experiment. Simple, yet deceptively complex, even it's results divide physicists into sceptic and "believer" camps.

Here is a link to an excellent 17 minute YouTube video explaining it:
After watching and absorbing the content of the video, check out the short discussion posted below it. Keep in mind that the Wikipedia article they mention in the discussion is soundly debatable, and is absolutely not the last word on the subject.
The quantum erasure effect is just another one of many wild cards in today's physics.

Oh, and it should go without saying that anything Chris Carter writes is a cream of the crop must-read. Enlightening and understandable.

I knew Schmidt's experiments on retrokinesis, and I think there are only three possible interpretations:

1. Retroactive causality: the act of will in present changes recording random in the past.

2. Predestination: the recording is not random at first, and subjects were predestined to exercise its psychokinetic action on the recording.

3. Indeterminacy of unobserved facts: the contents of the recording is undefined until it is observed by a conscious being, which can make the recording is not random.

The latter interpretation would be the interpretation of Von Neumann.
The problem is that all these interpretations seem to me purely metaphysical, beacause they reports about the state of a system when it is not observed, so I see no way of knowing which is correct.

Moreover, according to Carter, there is sufficient evidence to support the existence of psi phenomena, though there is no necessary connection between psi phenomena and quantum mechanics.

I couldn't agree with you and your conclusions more, our Robert. Nice thoughtful piece of journalism, as always. But I see little point in arguing - or even debating - with hard-core sceptics (which is what the vociferous psi opponents are). Pushing against something only makes it push back harder - particularly when that 'something' is human will. At the risk of sounding like Methuselah, it's my experience that people come to truth and understanding in their own time . . . . or not at all.

Gee, this looks like a good place for a bad sceptic joke:

Dean Radin and Daryl Bem are in a bar discussing their difficulties in convincing the mainstream science community of the legitimacy of their research, when Richard Dawkins and James Randi walk in.

Richard and James sashay up to the bar and demand that the bartender show them an example of his finest bottle of whiskey with the highest alcohol content.

The bartender goes to the storage room and comes back with a bottle of George T Stagg bourbon and shows it to them. "This little gem has a 70% alcohol level. See? it's right here on the label. No other decent distilled spirit has a higher alcohol content, other than pure grain alcohol, which most people use to spike fruit punch".

Dawkins slams his fists down on the counter and and bellows: "You nincompoop! We asked for a whiskey, and you brought us a bourbon! And your fruit punch defence is a straw man argument!" Randi immediately declares that the label is probably a forgery.
Both of them storm out of the bar, bitterly complaining, and lacing their criticism with insults and expletives directed toward the bartender himself.

Dean Radin and Daryl Bem turn to the bartender and say, "See? That's the problem with these guys. They challenge you to produce evidence, you show them the proof, and they they're still not satisfied".

You can groan now :-)


(Even so, I think it illustrates my earlier comment rather well, RD. Thank you.) 8))

Hi Julie, I get what you're saying about arguing with confirmed sceptics but would make the observation that it may be helpful for those silent spectators :)

I believe in the Mind Field. In this field there is no past or future. Time exists in the eye of the beholder. So effectively everything is happening at the same time. You can go "back" and alter a happening because it is concurrent with your "now."

True, very true, Paul. 8)

That's a joke? There's no punchline. And Dean Radin and Daryl Bem are superfluous elements - they don't do anything. There's no wit at all.

It's like reading a joke told by a conservative.


I think your conclusion that there is no past or future is too premature. What's more, it seems a false conclusion in the light of parapsychological research, because it was observed that precognition cases often refer to the near future, suggesting that precognition is a limit in the far future.

"if I understand it correctly, a mechanical device will do the trick just the same as a human observer."

Actually Robert à la Schrödinger's cat it's only when someone gets round to directing enough of their ATTENTION at the mechanical device's results and becomes CONSCIOUS of those results the cat or the wave's fate finally becomes actualised.

This's the hidden 'flaw' in the cat experiment Schrödinger himself was probably fully aware of - namely the consciousness of the cat's probably already long ago effected its fate long before anyone finally opens the box.

The way I sometimes put it to myself though is to ask if there was indeed an inconceivable SOMETHING which might be called God then which'd be more precise and elegant not to mention economic: to dream up/manufacture an infinitude of wildly differing types of worlds/existences or to create a universal 'material' or 'substance' which had the sole property of taking on the characteristics of the type of consciousness perceiving it?

So if a group of creatures (interlinked by a series of weak to strong telepathic gradients) were 'rigged' to have a type of consciousness which always collapsed everything down in terms of solidness then every time they directed their attention at this aforementioned universal 'substance' they'd all perceive everything - including themselves - in terms of solidness.

Similarly if a group of creatures were 'rigged' to have a type of consciousness which collapsed everything down in terms of energy waves then everything they perceived - including themselves - would have the characteristic of energy waves.

Ditto if those consciousnesses were rigged to perceive things in terms of waves or/and particles on the atomic or subatomic scale then for them waves or/and particles - and indeed themselves - 're what everything'd appear to be.

The implication of this of course's if you alter someone's consciousness - ie the way they filter what they perceive to be 'reality' - (say by evolving them into a totally new form of life or less drastically by use of narcotics) then depending on how much you alter their consciousness they'd perceive less and less of what everyone else was perceiving and more new hitherto inconceivable possibilities.

Another implication of this model of course's narcotics would no longer be recognised as causing weird perceptions but rather'd be seen as interfering with and cutting us off from the various telepathic gradients which allow us to continue seeing the world the way everyone else does with the result our consciousness'd now be forced to attempt to hook up with telepathic gradients often strikingly unlike our own (or indeed enable other types of consciousness to make a grab for our consciousness as in cases of possession).

And yet another implication's if you sufficiently hook up with a telepathic gradient related to perceiving the world as pure energy then you yourself begin to become pure energy too etc etc etc.

Or more collequially: if you hook up with the Godnet you become godlike; the Hellnet - demonic etc etc etc

In thinking about "John Von Neumann's idea that it's consciousness itself that collapses quantum possibilities into facts".

So... If we all collectively share in a single cosmic consciousness, does that mean that once an observation is made it sets the state for the observation, bringing that state into our shared reality for everyone?

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