12 November 2010

Effects before causes in the lab?

This is very exciting:


Daryl Bem has taken the unusual, yet elegantly simple, approach of testing a raft of classic psychological phenomena, backwards.

Take priming - the effect whereby a subliminal (i.e. too fast for conscious detection) presentation of a word or concept speeds subsequent reaction times for recognition of a related stimulus. Bem turned this around by having participants categorise pictures as negative or positive and then presenting them subliminally with a negative or positive word. That is, the primes came afterwards. Students were quicker, by an average of 16.5ms, to categorise negative pictures as negative when they were followed by a negative subliminal word (e.g. 'threatening'), almost as if that word were acting as a prime working backwards in time.

Got that? The experimenters have used the same techniques usually employed to see how various events affect people's behaviour, but reversed the order of the stimulus and the measurement of the response, and found that the stimulus has the same effect, even if it hasn't happened yet.

If the experiment has been done correctly, then it confirms what I have long believed. No, not that the structure of space-time is fundamentally different to what we are told. Rather, that the normal scientific techniques used to measure effects and evaluate their significance are no bloody good.

Nobody seems to have picked up on that possibility just yet, but I think the idea will gradually get around.


Mark Wadsworth said...

This experiment seems pretty unreliable to me. But I read the email in your previous post you linked to and think that you are exaggerating a bit, it's all a question of degree, isn't it?

If your find a statistically significant correlation, then it is only fair to assume cause and effect or common cause.

So if you observe that "If I push a hundred glasses off the edge of the table, ninety-eight will smash into pieces" it's fair to assume this has got to do with acceleration due to gravity, the force exerted by the floor, the fragility of the glass etc.

If you observe that "If I leave a hundred glasses on a shelf in a quiet room for a year and come back, usually one or two have a slight crack in them" then you have to start scratting around for explanations - heating and cooling? Vibrations? Were the cracks already there before I put them in? Did insects or mould cause it? Or humidity? And so on.

I accept that a lot of junk science is more like the second kind, i.e. "If you do X then it increases the chances of you getting cancer of the Y by 300%", when the chance of anybody getting cancer of the Y is usually only 0.0001%" but that's junk reporting as much as junk science.

A Nonny Mouse said...

I would like to posit another explanation. The subliminal message was not actually in the future: it was something which someone had already determined upon in the past.

Therefore one could argue that there is an undercurrent of telepathy in all human communication. Most of us know approximately what the other person is going to say—
we have read them telepathically—and human language is just an optional extra, which we think we need for communication, but is not totally necessary. Autists, those people who lack any intuition into other humans’ thought processes, are cases where the telepathic message transmitting part of the brain has been turned off by brain damage.

Therefore, the participants in this test are not seeing into the future but reading the examiners brain.

This is a hypothesis, not an attempted portrayal of morphic resonance as truth. It can be falsified by running the test again with a random subliminal generator, which the examiner cannot predict, and see if this produces different results.

Your statement is not scientific—it is just heckling. If you disagree with the results, you have to device a test which disproves them, which, if they are the crap you say they are, should be easy enough.

My experience with natural language is that the other party understands what you are saying, even if your statement is not actually chastity belt. Machines are not so enabled.