Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Evidence based spirituality: Extra-sensory powers

More on Evidence based spirituality, this time on Dr. Charles Tart's interview on extra-sensory powers, the big five (telepathy, clairvoyance, pre-cognition, psychokinesis and psychic healing). These subjects are attractive as magic, legends and myths, we only wish they could be true, and so much better if they can be learned!

Dr. Tart mentioned that there are "lots and lots of evidence" to support the existence of these powers. As I argued in my previous post, these evidence are probably no better than "lots and lots of evidence" for folk formulations, without FDA endorsement, claiming to be able to cure cancer.

I was curious, and check on Dr. Tart's website. I read his first on-line article with the title: "A Case of Predictive Psi, with Comments on Analytical, Associative and Theoretical Overlay". Impressive title! What are the contents? It documented one single experience of the professor when once, for no apparent reason, he spoke out loud the word "coup d'etat" a few times and later received a letter from a Mrs. Coudetat. The incident is certainly mythical, and I believe no doubt there might be intervention from metaphysical elements behind. We humans are just too humble to understand the metaphysical order of things to be able to judge the event definitively one way or another. And I also believe we shall contend with the little we do know and can experience through our religious practices. Having said that I have nothing against scientists extending their reach to study subjects previously belong to religion, philosophy, mythology or metaphysics. But I beg to differ with Dr. Hart saying his as scientific evidence for anything.

No matter, I read his second on-line article with the title: "A Future for Dualism as an Empirical Science?" Needless to say, the future will be bright for Dr. Hart. But let's look at his Telepathy Training Study, he wrote:

"In the 1970s I and my students conducted several studies designed to see if telepathic ability could be improved by immediate feedback training, with partial success. Experimenters tried to send a number/card from 1 to 10 to screened percipients isolated in another room. Considerable ESP apparently resulted, the usual decline in scores with repeated guessing was not seen, and some showed signs of improvement."

Assuming the above experiment was carried out in the most professional way, I can't see how any scientist could conclude that any training, or scientific experiment, is with "partial success" instead of with success or without success. In doing psychological research, one constructs a null hypothesis, and does experiments aiming at refuting this null hypothesis at certain (say 5%) degree of confidence level. If one can't refute the null hypothesis, one simply can't refute it, and one has to go back to the drawing board! A statistician knows well that so called "partial success" without refuting the null hypothesis is considered as caused by random error And Dr. Hart called himself a scientist.

Furthermore Dr. Hart did that experiment in 1970, he had ample time to it again and again to check whether or not a significant result can be obtained under more training or working under different parameters. I had no clue whether or not he in fact did.

In his interview, he light-heartedly complained about his research being of no commercial value and therefore underfunded. I would beg to disagree. If Dr. Hart has the possibility to train common folks with telepathic skills, people in the gambling industry will certainly like to the first one to benefit (or avoid loss) from it!

So much for Dr. Hart and his "evidence based spirituality".

Previous article on the subject, click here.

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