Thursday, February 20, 2014

Skeptic Paranormal Challenge.

Hey guys,

I know I've been away from this blog for years, but life sort of happened. However,  I recently had something so interesting to share that I've decided to resurrect Mentathlete. 

I've only casually mentioned this before, but I was a paid ESP test subject while in college.  I did unusually well on one particular type of experiment called binary ESP (also called binary intuition, binary precognition, and binary presentiment).  I didn't think much of it during the time. It was in the category of my memory banks of "weird things I did for money" not "evidence I may have ESP."  Testing for binary ESP is pretty simple. You have one of two choices--heads or tails, 1 or 0, male or female, etc.--and you have to predict which will randomly show up after you guess.  Chance says you should only be right 50% of the time, especially over a very long run of, say, 100 guesses. But during my testing days I always did well above chance, no less than 66% (66/100 guesses) and sometimes as high as 85%. 

I mentioned that part of my history to a few of my skeptic friends years ago in a discussion, and it wasn't until they pointed it out (with lots and lots of skepticism) that I had an inkling of how "odd" my experiences as an ESP test subject were.    My friends of course were all over that one to shred. It had to be impossible, after all. I submitted myself to all of their testing to find out--there was a lot of assumptions about what all I should be able to do, so consequently lots of variations on testing in the beginning.  This was actually good, because I eventually started figuring out what I couldn't do, which resulted in a firmer description. 

During this exploratory phase, it went from,
"I can score high on binary ESP tests" to
"I can score high on binary ESP tests if there is immediate feedback" to
"I can score high on binary ESP tests if there is immediate direct feedback"
and so on, until there was nothing else we could identify as a requirement.

After somewhere of the ballpark of 130 trials (most of them involving 100 runs or guesses), it eventually became clear what were the requiring factors to consistently perform so robustly.

1 ) Generous amount of time to guess. I average about 2.5 hours for a run of 100 guesses.
2 ) Immediate feedback.  That is to say after I guess, I need a result in under a second.
3 )  Direct feedback.  I need to see the result for myself, not have a result reported to me by way of a second party.  This is simple if the number (I'm usually guessing "will it be 1 or 0")  shows up on the computer screen I'm sitting in front of after I hit the button. 
4 ) Feedback after each bit, not for a sequence.  So guessing for 1, then getting feedback, then 0  and getting feedback, then 1 and getting feedback works, but guessing for 101 will not. 

Without these four, my results consistently return to predictable scores. 

Given all the controversy over how to test for ESP, what I just described is a surprisingly simple thing to measure for if you use a good random number generator (RNG) or something mechanical like a fair coin. Yet I definitely have always done no worse than 66% on testing in the past and this should not be so unless I'm actually remembering the immediate future or there is a design flaw in the protocol that no one has yet found.  So after a lot of nagging by others and a lot of curiosity of my own, I finally mustered up the courage to have more sophisticated testing done to see what was going on, even though I had a good idea of what to expect for coming forward.

I contacted the Skeptic Society nearest to me for assistance to figure out what's really going on here when I do this kind of test after my contacting JREF for assistance proved fruitless.  As it happens, the Skeptic group local to me sponsors a Challenge of their own, and I thought, "Hey, why not?"  I must say I expected the correspondence with the Skeptic point of contact--a man by the name of John Blanton-- to go much more smoothly than it did. A few bumps along the road of communication, sure, but not someone who was almost looking for a fight.   Instead, our correspondence got rather comical and very back-and-forth.*  I guess I was more disappointed than anything else, because I'd have rather flat out failed in testing than to not even get to test because my insistence that neither party be in a position where they could tamper with the RNG used was considered unreasonable.  I'm even more disappointed in his follow-up write-up because he--either intentionally or unintentionally--misconstrued quite a number of things that need to be cleared up, which I've done so here.  It's a Google Doc set to be read by the public, but anyone who reads it can edit, unfortunately.

Having said that, his write-up wasn't as bad as I thought it would have been. I can at least give him that. 
For the record, I'm pretty sure that my results on this test are not paranormal.  It's not because I don't believe in ESP, it's because this particular thing doesn't "feel psychic" to me.  The closest thing I can liken it to is a stimulus-response memory, only the response precedes the stimulus in this case.  I'm also pretty suspicious--or perhaps curious--why I would be *this* consistent on this test and have such a large effect size.  It's usually one or the other with ESP studies.

In fact, this endeavor has made me even more curious about what is going on here, so I'll continue to do research, both on my own and collaboratively to get a definitive answer.  I swear it's the most curious thing... 

*For whatever reason many of my own emails he posted are mis-formatted, so you can sometimes only read glyphs and hypertext commands where you should be reading what I actually wrote.  I'm sure it's just an accident, but if anyone wants an un-butchered copy just let me know as well as knowing where to send the

Note: Sometime in July of 2014, I went to check on the correspondence Blanton listed on his website, and discovered Blanton had taken it down.   But no worries, I found out it was archived, so the link to our correspondence is now changed to that one.