Note: An earlier version of this blog post contained some erroneous information, and, based on those mistakes, contained some inferences and interpretations that were not supportable. As a result, I have decided to take down the original, erroneous post and replace it with the edited and revised version below. Some of the comments on this blog post refer to the earlier, uncorrected posting.
At Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, psychology professor Daryl J. Bem believes he has found evidence of precognition--specifically that the human mind can reach back in time to influence decisions it is about to make.
In "Feeling the Future," an article to be published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Bem reported on a series of experiments in which 100 college students were asked to predict whether pornographic images would be found behind one of two computer-generated curtains. When they guessed correctly 53% of the time over 100 trials (amounting to more than 1,500 individual tests), he considered this to be affirmation that the students' minds had reached back in time to tell them the correct answer because in reality the computer assigned porn to a curtain only after a student selected a curtain. In other words, they were guessing between two blank squares and only after choosing a square was porn placed on the screen.
In another experiment, Bem showed students a list of 48 words divided into four categories and non-randomly listed so that no two words from the same category were adjacent. He then asked the students to write down what words they remembered. They remembered on average 18 of 48 words. The computer then showed them half of the words again, and the students were asked to write them down. Bem found that the 18 words the students remembered were slightly more likely than chance to be on the list of 24 words they were later shown. This implies, he suggests, that quantum mechanics allows the students minds to project the list of 24 words backward in time so they can be informed to remember them when they saw them during the initial batch of 48 words.
Daryl J. Bem is active in "psi" research, and he also is credited with developing the theory that homosexuality is caused by genetically predisposed children becoming attracted to activities associated with the opposite gender instead of their own, leading to gender confusion.
The full article "Feeling the Future" by Daryl J. Bem is here.
For a moment, let us assume that the phenomena reported in this article actually occurred. (I doubt that a thorough examination of the experimental protocol or attempts to repeat the experiment will yield the same results, but I am not qualified to critique experimental design, so for the moment let us assume it is so.) The statistical significance reported in this article is interesting, but it is not alone evidence of quantum fluctuations or reverse-chronological projection of psychic thoughts. For example, we could equally well conclude that the human brain projects its desires into the computers running the experiment to alter where the machine places pornographic images or which words it chooses to display.
Obviously, even if the results are exactly as reported, it is an unsupportable leap to argue that the results demonstrate psychic vibrations, quantum time travel, etc. To be fair, Dr. Bem does not explicitly say this. But, if he did not believe that this was exactly what his experiment suggests, then he wouldn’t have spent much of his article discussing such possibilities or, in truth, have tried to design an experiment to “prove” retroactive cognition.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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