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Testing Nonlocal Observation as a Source of Intuitive Knowledge

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This study explored the hypothesis that in some cases intuitive knowledge arises from perceptions that are not mediated through the ordinary senses. The possibility of detecting such nonlocal observation was investigated in a pilot test based on the effects of observation on a quantum system. Participants were asked to imagine that they could intuitively perceive a low-intensity laser beam in a distant Michelson interferometer. If such observation were possible, it would theoretically perturb the photons' quantum wave functions and change the pattern of light produced by the interferometer. The optical apparatus was located inside a light-tight, double-steel walled, shielded chamber. Participants sat quietly outside the chamber with eyes closed. The light patterns were recorded by a cooled digital camera once per second, and average illumination levels of these images were compared in counterbalanced mental blocking versus nonblocking conditions. By design, perturbation would produce a lower overall level of illumination, which was predicted to occur during the blocking condition. Based on a series of planned experimental sessions, the outcome was in accordance with the prediction (z = -2.82; P = .002). This result was primarily due to nine sessions involving experienced meditators (combined z = -4.28; P = 9.4 x 10(-6)); the other nine sessions with nonmeditators were not significant (combined z = 0.29; P = .61). The same experimental protocol run immediately after 15 of these test sessions, but with no one present, revealed no hardware or protocol artifacts that might have accounted for these results (combined control z = 1.50; P = .93). Conventional explanations for these results were considered and judged to be implausible. This pilot study suggests the presence of a nonlocal perturbation effect that is consistent with traditional concepts of intuition as a direct means of gaining knowledge about the world, and with the predicted effects of observation on a quantum system.
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Preprint: Accepted for publication in Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing
Testing nonlocal observation as a source of intuitive
knowledge
Dean Radin, PhD1
This study explored the hypothesis that in some cases intuitive
knowledge arises from perceptions that are not mediated through the
ordinary senses. The possibility of detecting such “nonlocal observation”
was investigated in a pilot test based on the effects of observation on a
quantum system.
Participants were asked to imagine that they could intuitively
perceive a low intensity laser beam in a distant Michelson interferometer.
If such observation were possible, it would theoretically perturb the
photons’ quantum wave-functions and change the pattern of light
produced by the interferometer. The optical apparatus was located inside a
light-tight, double steel-walled shielded chamber. Participants sat quietly
outside the chamber with eyes closed. The light patterns were recorded by
a cooled CCD camera once per second, and average illumination levels of
these images were compared in counterbalanced “mental blocking” vs.
non-blocking conditions. Interference would produce a lower overall level
of illumination, which was predicted to occur during the blocking
condition.
Based on a series of planned experimental sessions, the outcome
was in accordance with the prediction (z = -2.82, p = 0.002). This result
was primarily due to nine sessions involving experienced meditators
(combined z = -4.28, p = 9.4 × 10-6); the other nine sessions with non-
meditators were not significant (combined z = 0.29, p = 0.61). The same
experimental protocol run immediately after 15 of these test sessions, but
with no one present, revealed no hardware or protocol artifacts that might
have accounted for these results (combined control z = 1.50, p = 0.93).
Conventional explanations for these results were considered and judged to
be implausible. This pilot study suggests the presence of a nonlocal
perturbation effect which is consistent with traditional concepts of
intuition as a direct means of gaining knowledge about the world, and with
the predicted effects of observation on a quantum system.
1 Institute of Noetic Sciences, Petaluma, California, USA
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Preprint: Accepted for publication in Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing
Introduction
The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have
created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift. - Albert Einstein
Intuition is widely regarded as a key source of inspiration in medical diagnosis,1- 4
technological innovation, business decisions, artistic achievement, and scientific
discovery.5 Based upon an analysis of the lives of numerous scientific icons, Root-
Bernstein concluded that “Virtually without exception, the greatest mathematicians and
scientists assert that the development of this pictorial, visual, kinesthetic, or generally
sensual algorithm [associated with intuition] is the basis for scientific thinking.”6
But what is intuition? Given its central role in advancing science and civilization,
one might expect that this topic has been a keen subject of inquiry, especially within
academic psychology, for many decades. Surprisingly, until recently it has been
studiously ignored. This may be because the quasi-magical, non-rational nature of
intuition presents an embarrassing challenge to science, which prides itself on the power
of rational knowing. Intuitive knowledge does not appear to function like the methodical
inferences associated with rational thought. It arises “in a flash,” or “out of the blue,”
sometimes with correct answers to thorny scientific and technical problems, elegant
solutions to complex mathematical theorems, and complete scores for intricate musical
compositions.7
Because of the scientific emphasis on rational knowing, and especially of
physicalism – the belief that “mental entities, properties, relations and facts are all
physical”8 – other ways of knowing, including intuitive knowing, have been regarded as
an inferior epistemology at best, and a vestige of superstitious nonsense at worst. For half
a century, this belief led academic psychology to utterly deny the importance of
subjective experience.9 Indeed, when behaviorism was in full bloom, many psychologists
embraced a perplexing Catch-22 in which minds concluded with great confidence that
there were no minds at all.
But as the cognitive sciences and neurosciences advanced, the idea of an
unconscious mind, once the sole province of psychoanalysis, became scientifically
acceptable again. This transformed the original concept of intuition from a mysterious
means of gaining unmediated knowledge of the world to the more familiar domain of
computer-inspired background information processing. The computer analogy spawned
experiments looking for physiological markers of implicit learning, for the brain circuits
responsible for the “ah ha” experience,10-11 and for identification of unconscious
cognitive biases.12 In medical research, suspicions about the accuracy of intuition
contributed to the enthusiastic acceptance of evidence-based medicine, which is based on
the assumption that a purely rational evaluation of experimental evidence will always be
more reliable than educated intuition.13
Given these trends, the traditional concept of intuition as a non-rational, non-
sensory way of knowing seems well on its way to oblivion. And indeed, experiments
testing the possibility that there may be other ways of knowing are rarely reported in
psychological, neuroscience and medical journals. By contrast, in the literature of
parapsychology, the discipline that straddles those uncertain realms between physics and
psychology, one finds numerous relevant experiments. Based on thousands of such
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reports, there appears to be strong cumulative evidence in favor of unconventional ways
of knowing.14-15 This supports some nursing researchers’ contentions that intuitions
about patient care, insights that are not based on explicit evidence, can provide significant
efficacy in real-world contexts.1,3 It is noteworthy in this context that the emphasis once
placed on evidence-based medicine is now being critically revisited based on studies
demonstrating the effectiveness of intuitive decisions in medical contexts,16-17 and there
are renewed calls for reassessing the overly “authoritative aura” that evidence-based
medicine has tended to convey.18
Further, in the broader arena of human decision-making, experiments now show
that people are much more efficient at making accurate intuitive decisions than
previously thought. After describing one such experiment, Cosmides and Tooby
concluded that “It may be time to … grant human intuition a little more respect than it
has recently been receiving. The evolved mechanisms that undergird our intuitions have
been subjected to millions of years of field testing against a very rich and complexly
structured environment.”19 These findings, all supporting the idea that there may be many
valid ways of knowing, have helped to bring about a rapprochement between meditative
disciplines and Western psychology, and are fostering a new openness to reevaluating
assumptions about the capabilities of the human mind.20 The motivation of the present
study was to explore the traditional concept of intuition by testing whether it was possible
to gain knowledge without the use of the ordinary senses. The method was based on the
effects of observing and thereby perturbing a quantum system.
The measurement problem
[The double-slit experiment] has in it the heart of quantum mechanics. In reality, it
contains the only mystery. – Richard Feynman21
The mystery Feynman was referring to is the fact that a quantum object is
perturbed, i.e. it behaves differently, when it is observed than when it is not observed.
This “measurement problem” violates the common sense assumption that we live in an
objective reality that is completely independent of observers. The measurement problem
does not imply a solipsistic world where everything is a mental fantasy, nor does it
support the new age mantra that one can create one’s reality simply by wishing it so. But
it does question the orthodox dualistic assumption that subjective and objective are
completely separate.
Virtually all of the founders of quantum mechanics, including Bohr, Planck, de
Broglie, Heisenberg, Schrödinger, and Einstein, wrote about the perplexing
epistemological and ontological challenges presented by the measurement problem.22-24
Some, like Pauli, Jordan, and Wigner believed that consciousness was not merely
important, but was fundamentally responsible in the formation of reality.25-26 Jordan
wrote, “Observations not only disturb what has to be measured, they produce it…. We
compel [the electron] to assume a definite position…. We ourselves produce the results
of measurement”.27
This “strong” view of the role of consciousness has been echoed by numerous
physicists for over a half-century, from von Neumann, to Walker, d’Espagnat, Squires,
Stapp and many others.28-32 A “weaker” view was expressed by physicist John Bell, who
pondered that “The concept of ‘measurement’ becomes so fuzzy on reflection that it is
quite surprising to have it appearing in physical theory at the most fundamental level. ...
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[D]oes not any analysis of measurement require concepts more fundamental than
measurement? And should not the fundamental theory be about these more fundamental
concepts?”33 Bell did not explicitly nominate consciousness as being that more
fundamental concept, but it is a possible candidate.
While consciousness as a component of physical theory appeals to some
physicists, it also introduces an annoying, slippery, and non-material substance into what
is otherwise a satisfying material edifice. And it challenges a gut feeling held by many
scientists that the physical world was here, more or less in its present form and operating
under the same physical laws we know today, long before humans evolved to observe it.
Because of such discomforts, many physicists have strongly resisted the idea that
consciousness in general, and an experimenter’s attention or intention in particular, can
play any role in the formation of physical reality.
To help eliminate the need for an observer in quantum mechanics, some have
attempted to finesse the measurement problem by simply declaring it a non-problem.34
Others deny that there ever was a problem: “Many physicists pay lip service to … the
notion that quantum mechanics is about observation or results of measurement. But
hardly anybody truly believes this anymore – and it is hard for me to believe anyone
really ever did.”35 Still others have attempted to clarify the nature of the problem by
noting that observation increases our knowledge of a measured system, and “from that
position, the so-called measurement problem … is not a problem but a consequence of
the more fundamental role information plays in quantum physics as compared to classical
physics.” 36
After reviewing the relevant literature on the measurement problem, Rosenblum
and Kuttner concluded that while most physicists do not believe that observation literally
creates reality, something about observation remains deeply important.37 The only way to
avoid the essential role of the observer in quantum experiments is to deny the belief that
we have free will. Other physicists agree. Gribbin concluded that: “Quantum entities
seem to know when you are watching them, and adjust their behaviour accordingly….
Each single quantum entity seems to know about the whole experimental set-up,
including when and where the observer is choosing to monitor it, and about the past and
future of the experiment.”38
Experimental Tests
Because it is central to interpretations of quantum theory, and hence to our
understanding of physical reality, discussions about the measurement problem abound in
the physics literature. And given its importance, one might expect to find a
correspondingly large experimental database in that literature. But it is not so. As with
intuition, it is again the literature of parapsychology where most such tests can be found.
Four classes of parapsychological experiments have been most relevant to tests of
the measurement problem.39 They involve (1) experiments testing the effects of intention
on the statistical behavior of random events linked to quantum sources,40-43 (2) studies
involving macroscopic random systems such as tossed dice and human physiology as
“targets” of intentional influence,44-45 (3) experiments involving sequential observation
to see whether a second observer could consciously or unconsciously detect if a quantum
event had been observed by a first observer,46-51 and (4) experiments investigating
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conscious influence of both living and nonliving systems, including effects on photons in
optical interferometers as reported here.52-54
Together, these studies comprise nearly 900 experiments, conducted by dozens of
investigators over six decades.13-14 Collectively they provide independently replicable
evidence that observers can affect the behavior of physical systems. The absolute
magnitudes of the observed effects tend to be small and variable, but from a statistical
perspective their existence is well established. Of these experiments, the one that most
closely followed Feynman’s reference to the “only mystery” in quantum mechanics was a
study reported by Ibison and Jeffers.54
Jeffers asked a team of participants at York University to “observe, by extra-
sensory means … monochromatic light passing through a double slit, prior to its
registration as an interference pattern by an optical detector”.55 Ibison later asked a team
at Princeton University, using the same apparatus, to mentally intend that a bar graph
indicating the contrast between optical interference patterns recorded with and without
observation “to remain as low as possible”.56 In both cases the mental effort periods were
30 seconds in length, alternated with no-effort control periods. The team at Princeton
reported marginally significant experimental evidence in favor of an observational effect,
and the team at York reported a non-significant result.
In interpreting this ambivalent outcome it is useful to know that the Princeton
University test had employed a small team of dedicated participants who were
experienced in conducting these types of mind-matter interaction experiments, whereas
the York University test had employed unselected participants recruited without regard to
their interest or skill. In addition, the York participants were asked to imagine that they
could “see” photons leaving the slits in a double-slit apparatus.57 That task is more
difficult than it may seem, for it required unskilled participants to visualize photons in the
vicinity of a double slit, which is only a few microns across. If, as it seems more likely,
participants imagined focusing on the beam of photons itself, then their observation
would, in effect, be equivalent to placing a filter in the path of the entire beam. That
would reduce its intensity, but it would not change the shape of the resulting interference
pattern, and thus Jeffers’ specific outcome measure would not be affected no matter how
successful the participants were in following his instructions. In the case of Ibison’s
instructions, despite the marginally significant results he reported, a goal-oriented task
seems so detached from the critical issue of gaining “which-path” information about the
photons that the task may not have been optimal to detect an observer effect. And in both
cases, apparently no attempt was taken to optimize the likelihood that participants could
maintain a stable mental focus for 30 seconds at a time.
To overcome problems of task difficulty, relevance, and unskilled participants,
the present study used an optical interferometer, which is equivalent to a double-slit
design, but it provided a macroscopic “target” area in which to focus one’s attention, and
it included some participants who were highly experienced at maintaining focused mental
states for long periods of time.
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Method
Equipment
A 5mW He-Ne laser sent a 1 mm diameter beam of 633 nm photons through a set
of neutral density filters (N in Figure 1) into a Michelson interferometer.58 The reduced
intensity beam passed through a diverging lens (L) and a beam-splitter (B), then half the
beam went to mirror 1 (M1) and the other half to mirror 2 (M2). The two beams reflected
off the mirrors back to the beam-splitter where they were combined to form an
interference pattern. That pattern passed through a 633 nm narrow-band notch filter and
into a thermoelectrically cooled, back-thinned CCD camera.59 The camera was controlled
by a Windows XP computer running LabView 7.1, and it was configured to use a shutter
interval of 500 msec and to record images at a rate of one per second. In practice it took
about 500 msec to process and store each image to the hard disk, thus each nominal one-
second frame of data, captured in the form of a 512 × 122 matrix of pixels, took about 1.5
seconds to process and store.
Figure 1. A 5 mW He-Ne laser beam passed through three neutral density filters (N) into
a Michelson interferometer, where it encountered a diverging lens (L), beamsplitter (B),
and two mirrors (M1 and M2). The resulting interference pattern passed through a high
performance narrow-band notch filter and then into a back-thinned, cooled CCD camera
controlled by a computer. The optical apparatus was housed in a double steel-walled,
electromagnetically shielded, vibration isolated, and acoustically dampened room. During
experimental sessions the chamber was sealed to be light-tight and the camera computer
was remotely controlled by a second computer outside the chamber via a fiber-optic
Ethernet connection. The participant sat quietly outside the shielded room about 2 meters
from the outer wall; the experimenter sat at the remote computer about 2.5 meters from
the shielded room.
To reduce artifacts due to ambient vibrations, the interferometer, laser and camera
were secured to a 18 kg block of wood, which in turn rested on a 7.6 cm thick sheet of
foam rubber. The optical apparatus rested on the floor of a 900 kg, double steel-walled,
electromagnetically and acoustically shielded room, which in turn rested on a vibration
isolation mat on the ground-level concrete floor of the research laboratory at the Institute
of Noetic Sciences.60 The camera interface and computer used to control the camera were
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also located inside the shielded room. During experimental sessions the computer
monitor and all sources of light other than the laser were turned off or covered with black
tape, and the chamber door was closed. Prior to data collection the laser, camera and
computer were allowed to warm up for a minimum of one hour.
During a test session the participant sat quietly on a chair or on the floor about 2
meters away from outside wall of the shielded chamber. The experimenter sat about 2.5
meters away from the chamber in front of a computer used to remotely access the CCD
camera.
Procedure
The experimenter asked each participant either to imagine that he or she could
intuitively sense the presence of the photons in a specific area of the interferometer
(noted in Figure 1), or to withdraw that intuitive perception and allow the photons to pass
through that same area unimpeded. The participant did this with eyes closed, sitting
quietly outside the shielded room. The experimenter, stationed within six feet of the
participant, used the computer to remotely control the camera, setting it to automatically
run for 20 camera frames per run. He also verbally announced each run’s condition
(block or pass) to the participant, following a pre-set sequence of counterbalanced
conditions.
Each blocking or passing run consisted of 20 frames, each frame comprised of a
500 msec exposure taken at one 1 second intervals, plus 500 msec to record the image,
for a total of 30 seconds per run. The experimenter followed one of two pre-planned
counterbalanced sequences of blocking/passing runs per experimental session, as
described in Table 1. Counterbalanced sequences were used to counteract possible drifts
in the interferometer’s fringes due to ambient environmental fluctuations. Most test
sessions consisted of 16 runs, or a total of about 8 minutes per session.
Runs lasting only 30 seconds may not sound overly demanding, but
accomplishing this mental task with high stability and intense focus is more difficult than
it seems. Without extensive practice in holding one’s mind tightly focused on a single
task, thoughts tend to wander every few seconds. Indeed, within 30 seconds untrained
minds can branch into so many fantasies that the original task itself is completely
forgotten. Thus, to help optimize adherence to the task at hand, some participants
recruited for this study were required to have experience in one or more mental focusing
techniques. Special emphasis was placed on recruiting highly experienced meditators
who were actively engaged in a daily practice.
Analysis
Figure 2 (top) shows an interference pattern as captured in a single frame by the
CCD camera when both arms of the interferometer were open (i.e., the split beams were
allowed to pass unobstructed through the interferometer). The surface of the plot
indicates image intensity recorded at each pixel during a 500 msec exposure. Figure 2
(bottom) shows what happens when the laser beam passing through the “target area” in
one of the interferometer arms (indicated in Figure 1) was physically blocked with a
piece of black cardboard. Note that these images show only a small portion of the overall
interference pattern because the CCD aperture was rather small (12.3 x 2.9 mm).
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Figure 2. Average intensities recorded by the CCD camera in 50 repeated exposures, each
exposure consisting of 500 msec. The top image shows the illumination intensity (z axis)
observed when both arms of the interferometer were physically open; the bottom image
shows the intensity pattern when the target arm was physically blocked. The x and y axes
show the pixels of the CCD (122 x 512, respectively).
From these images we see that physically blocking the beam in one arm of the
interferometer caused two conspicuous changes: the wavy interference pattern
transformed into a smooth pattern, and the overall level of illumination intensity declined.
The former occurred because interference was prevented, which occurs when blocking
one slit in a two-slit apparatus, and the latter occurred because approximately half of the
available photons were physically prevented from reaching the camera.
If one calculates the average illumination levels in Figure 2 collapsed across the
respective x-axes, the result are two curves providing average cross-sections (and one
standard error bars) along the y-axis. These two curves are shown in Figure 3, and the
difference between those two curves in Figure 4.
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0.00
0.05
0.10
0.15
0.20
0.25
0.30
0.35
1 101 201 301 401 501
pixel
illumination
two slits
one slit
Figure 3. Average illumination intensity (in terms of voltage levels returned by the CCD)
in the physically blocked (one slits blocked) and passed (both slits open) conditions,
based on 50 frames in each condition. One standard deviation error bars are shown for
both curves. For the one-slit condition the error bars are quite small, indicating the
stability of the laser and camera. The larger error bars in the two-slit condition reflects the
exquisite sensitivity of the interferometer to environmental fluctuations. Pixels 420 to 512
were blocked by the edge of the notch filter.
-0.25
-0.20
-0.15
-0.10
-0.05
0.00
0.05
1 101 201 301 401 501
pixel
differential illumination
Figure 4. Difference in illumination levels (physically blocked vs. passed conditions).
Error bars are one standard error of the difference.
As indicated in Figure 2, the two-dimensional intensity surface produced by the
interference pattern can be quite complex. In practice, this pattern tended to differ from
one test session to the next, primarily due to miniscule differences in ambient temperature
(mirror movements on the order of a quarter wavelength of light are detectable in a
Michelson interferometer). Thus, for the sake of analytical clarity we based the formal
analysis not on a change in the precise shape of the interference pattern, but rather on an
expected decrease in average illumination level over the entire CCD image during the
blocking as compared to the passing conditions, as shown in Figure 4.
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To test this hypothesis, the average illumination intensity across all pixels per
CCD frame was calculated for each image (a total of 8 x 20 = 160 frames per condition),
and then a Wilcoxon rank sum statistic was used to compare the two sets of averages
across the blocking and passing conditions. The result of the Wilcoxon test was expressed
in terms of a single, standard normal z score, which was predicted to be negative,
reflecting a lower illumination intensity observed during the blocking condition. Because
the hypothesis was directional, one-tailed p-values were employed.
To test the hardware, software, design protocol and analytical procedures for
possible artifacts, after the first five experimental sessions were completed, all
subsequent sessions included a control run in which the same test was allowed to proceed
automatically without anyone being present in the laboratory or paying attention to the
interferometer. Data from these control sessions were analyzed in the same way as in the
experimental sessions. All analyses were performed in custom Matlab 7.0 programs.
Results
A total of 20 experimental sessions were pre-planned. The first two sessions
experienced sporadic problems in capturing the image frames, reducing the usable
experimental dataset to 18 sessions.61 Immediately following the last 15 of those
sessions, control sessions were also run. See Table 1 for further details about each
session.
- table 1 goes about here -
We were fortunate to recruit four highly experienced meditators to participate in
this test, each of whom was an acknowledged master of a contemplative tradition with
many decades of continuous meditative practice. A fifth individual with two years of
active meditation practice also participated; together these five participants contributed
nine sessions. Five other individuals with less than two years of meditation practice, or
with a lapsed practice, contributed nine additional sessions. For expository reasons the
latter group will be referred to as non-meditators.
Figure 5 summarizes the results of the Wilcoxon tests per session; Figure 6 shows
the same information in the form of a cumulative Stouffer z score. The combined
terminal z score for all experimental sessions was significantly negative as predicted, z =
-2.82 (p = 0.002). The same terminal z score for all control sessions was z = 1.50 (p =
0.93), indicating that the experimental results were not caused by procedural or analytical
artifacts.
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-4
-3
-2
-1
0
1
2
3
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9101112131415161718
session
Wilcoxon z
experiment
control
Figure 5. Results of Wilcoxon rank sum test, expressed as a z score, for all experimental
and control sessions. Experienced meditators participated in sessions 1, 5, 6, 8-11, 13 and
16. Among those sessions, 8 of 9 resulted in the predicted negative z scores. Among non-
meditators, 5 of 9 sessions resulted in negative z scores.
-5
-4
-3
-2
-1
0
1
2
3
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 101112131415161718
session
cumulative z
control
experiment
Figure 6. Cumulative Wilcoxon z scores in experimental and control runs. The terminal
experimental z = -2.82 (p = 0.002, one-tail), and the terminal control z = 1.50 (p = 0.93).
Figure 7 shows the cumulative z score for the nine sessions with experienced
meditators and nine sessions with non-meditators. The terminal results here were
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strikingly different, with the experienced meditators resulting in a combined z = -4.28 (p
= 9.4 × 10-6) and the non-meditators resulting in z = 0.29 (p = 0.61). This supports the
expectation that the postulated intuitive observation effect would require an ability to
sustain a highly stable, focused concentration.
-6
-5
-4
-3
-2
-1
0
1
123456789
session
cumulative z
meditators
non-meditators
Figure 7. Cumulative results for experienced meditators and non-meditators. Mediators
terminal z = -4.28 (p = 9.4 × 10-6) and non-meditators terminal z = 0.29 (p = 0.61).
Control sessions run immediately after the experienced meditators’ sessions resulted in a
terminal z = 0.46 (p = 0.68).
Post-hoc analysis
It is instructive to examine the results of an experimental session contributed by
one of the experienced meditators (session 6). The bold curve in Figure 8 shows the
difference between the blocking vs. passing conditions for the experimental session, and
the thin curve shows the same analysis applied to the control session run immediately
afterwards. From these curves it can be seen that the absolute magnitude of the
illumination changes was tiny, but the error bars show that the blocking vs. passing
differences observed in the experimental condition were statistically non-trivial, and in
the control session the same differences were essentially flat. In addition, the error bars in
these two sessions were about the same, indicating that the outcome of the experimental
session was not due to vibrations or drift artifacts.
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-0.0025
-0.0020
-0.0015
-0.0010
-0.0005
0.0000
0.0005
0.0010
0.0015
1 51 101 151 201 251 301 351
pixel
illumination
Figure 8. Session 6 difference in average illumination levels (expressed in terms of
differences in average voltage values recorded by the CCD pixels) for experimental (bold
line) and control (thin line) conditions, with one standard error bars. Note that error bars
in both cases are about the same, suggesting that the lower illumination level recorded
during the experimental run was not due to artifacts.
Discussion
This experiment indicated that a non-locally “observed” quantum system behaved
differently than an unobserved system. It also supported the traditional idea of intuition as
a means of gaining direct knowledge of the world, unmediated by the ordinary senses.
Because the latter result would be considered anomalous by orthodox epistemologies, it
is prudent to consider alternative conventional explanations for the observed effects.
There are three leading contenders: Drifts in illumination levels that caused artifacts
mimicking an apparent observer effect, violation of statistical assumptions, and selective
data reporting.
In the first case, controls against signal drift were accomplished through six
design features: (1) the test environment was allowed to reach thermal equilibrium by
warming up all the equipment for at least an hour prior to each session, (2) the optical
apparatus was enclosed inside a shielded room during each session, (3) that room was
optically sealed during all sessions, and (4) participants directed their attention towards
the apparatus from outside the chamber. If (5) the electrical equipment in the chamber
had caused a rise in ambient temperature over the course of a session, effects of such
drift would have balanced out by the use of short-period counterbalanced conditions,
which eliminates biasing effects that can occur with systematic (linear) drifts. Systematic
artifacts due to (6) vibration were unlikely not only because any such artifacts would
have had to fortuitously conform to the counterbalancing pattern, but also because both
the apparatus and the shielded room were independently shielded against vibrations, and
because participants and experimenter were required to sit quietly during each session.
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However, it should be noted that for nonlinear drifts in temperature the use of
counterbalanced sequences would not have been sufficient to completely rule out
artifacts. To study possible biases introduced by such drifts, the control sessions were
conducted immediately after the experimental sessions. Those sessions resulted in a
nonsignificant overall outcome, reducing the plausibility of an explanation based on
temperature drift. However, because temperature was not independently recorded during
these sessions, this explanation cannot be firmly excluded.
A second conventional explanation is that statistical artifacts might have arisen
due to non-normal distributions of the average illumination measures recorded by the
CCD. Violation of parametric statistical assumptions was avoided through the use of the
nonparametric Wilcoxon rank sum statistic.
A third potential explanation is that the reported data represent a selected subset
of a larger collection of data. This is not the case. A series of 20 experimental sessions
was preplanned, and excepting the initial two sessions which experienced data acquisition
problems, all other data in all experimental sessions are reported. The series of 15 control
sessions was not planned in advance, but were added to the testing protocol after the first
five sessions to provide a secondary way of assessing possible artifacts in the data
collection, counterbalancing, and analytical processes.
One may also wonder whether the experimenter’s manual control of the
beginning of each run might have introduced a bias. This manual procedure was
necessary because participants sat quietly with eyes closed during the session, so the
experimenter had to provide an audible prompt at the beginning of each successive run by
announcing its pass or block condition. The question is whether through this manual
procedure the experimenter could have biased the resulting images to favor the
hypothesis. While the camera software displayed each frame image as it was taken by the
camera, and the experimenter could see those images, changes from one exposure to the
next were imperceptible, as indicated by the tiny changes in illumination magnitude
shown in Figure 8. At the end of each session the experimenter could not tell if the
session was successful; only after applying the statistical analyses was it possible to
measure differences between the two conditions. In any case, the experimenter merely
announced the condition of each run, started the data collection program, and then the
next 20 frames were collected automatically. Unless the experimenter was able to
outguess what the camera was about to observe 30 seconds in the future (which cannot be
dismissed as a possibility62) then manual operation of the test could not have biased the
outcome.
Decline effects
From Figure 5 we see that experimental effects declined over the course of the
experiment. Similar declines have been frequently noted in previous experiments
involving nonlocal perception and intention.63 Researchers have proposed that these
declines may be due to inherent limiting factors in complex, recursive systems, or to
social factors, or environmental influences, or psychological factors. In the present case,
after conducting 13 sessions,64 the experimenter became concerned that 12 of those 13
sessions had gone in the predicted direction (for ease of exposition, I will now switch to
first person pronouns). While I had employed numerous design features to avoid artifacts,
and only four of the 10 control sessions conducted to that point had gone in the predicted
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direction, I still found it difficult to believe that the experimental effect was as easily
repeatable as the results were suggesting. I knew that if I had trouble believing it, I could
hardly expect anyone else to accept these results. So I found that my intentions for the
experiment changed – I no longer hoped to observe results solely in the predicted
direction, but rather I found myself hoping that some of the remaining sessions would go
against the prediction, to validate that the methodology was not biased.
If one is prepared to take the hypothesis of mind-matter interactions seriously,
then the experimenter’s intentions and expectations cannot be completely excluded from
the object of study. When my goals changed, the constellation of relationships that
comprised the experiment also changed. I suspected at the time that this shift would
create an intentional double bind – to simultaneously confirm and disconfirm the
prediction – that would very likely cause the results to disappear, but I also found that I
could not easily banish my new intentions once they arose, because they were not
frivolous concerns. I mention this internal conflict, which is often glossed over or ignored
in conventional scientific reports, to help illustrate the complexities one faces when
conducting experiments involving intention. Extracting an investigator’s intentions from
an experiment seeking to measure intentional effects may not be possible, even in
principle. This highlights the special epistemological challenges faced by studying
systems that are sensitive to observer effects, including experiments in the life sciences
and especially in health care.
Conclusion
This article inquires about the source of intuitive knowledge. Based on the present
pilot study, one source of intuitive knowledge appears to involve a means of gaining
information that is not mediated by the ordinary senses. If this conclusion is correct, it
raises the radical possibility that the existence of such nonlocal mental capabilities – a
form of “first sight” that precedes sensory awareness, as philosopher John Locke
(1690/1964) put it 65 – may help shape the nature of physical reality itself through
quantum observer effects. Further speculations about such basic ontological issues are
enticing to pursue, but they are also premature pending replications of this effect.
A number of refinements should be considered for replication attempts. These
include: (a) Emphasis should be placed on recruiting highly experienced meditators. The
present results were attributable solely to those participants. It is relevant that a review of
16 experiments reported in the 1970s,66 all investigating various nonlocal phenomena
associated with meditation, estimated that their combined results were significant at p = 6
× 10-12. Few systematic replications of similar studies involving meditators have been
reported since then, but it appears to be a special population worth pursuing. (b) It would
be interesting to test the effects of “dose,” meaning the timing of the mental blocking
periods, and also the distance between the meditators and the optical apparatus. (c)
Temperature and vibration should be independently measured to see how image
illumination levels are affected by such environmental factors. (d) The optical apparatus
could be further isolated from ambient fluctuations by housing it within a temperature-
and humidity-controlled chamber. (e) A prespecified interference pattern shape could be
devised to standardize the camera images across separate runs and sessions. This would
allow development of an analytical test based on predicted changes in specific
interference fringes, which would be the ideal measure in this type of experiment. And
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finally, (f) it would be valuable to use computer voice-prompting to automatically inform
the participant at the beginning and end of each blocking and passing run. This would
eliminate the need for the experimenter to manually announce the test conditions, or even
to be present during the data collection periods.
Acknowledgements
I thank the Bial Foundation for generously funding this experiment, to Harald
Walach and Stephan Schwartz for valuable comments on a draft of this article, and to
Swami Veda Bharati, Shaman Zorigtbaatar Banzar, Baba Harihar Ramji, Brother David
Steindl-Rast, Damian Bundschuh, Adam, Gail Hayssen, Roger Nelson, Tom Sawyer, Ben
Young, Stephen Kenny, Frank Pascoe, Jenny Mathews, Charlene Farrell, Tina Amorok,
and Arianna Husband for kindly participating in the experiment.
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Table 1
Session Participants Sequence Type
1 DB BA BA BA AB AB Meditator
2 BY ABBA BAAB BAAB ABBA Non-meditator
3 BY ABBA BAAB BAAB ABBA Non-meditator
4 BY ABBA BAAB BAAB AB Non-meditator
5 DB, TA, VS ABBA BAAB BAAB ABBA Meditator
6 SV ABBA BAAB BAAB AB Meditator
7 DR ABBA BAAB BAAB ABBA Non-meditator
8 DB, SK, FT ABBA BAAB BAAB ABBA Meditator
9 DB BAAB ABBA ABBA BAAB Meditator
10 SV BAAB ABBA ABBA BAAB Meditator
11 BB BAAB ABBA ABBA BAAB Meditator
12 GH BAAB ABBA ABBA BAAB Non-meditator
13 BD BAAB ABBA ABBA BAAB Meditator
14 AF BAAB ABBA ABBA BAAB Non-meditator
15 DR BAAB ABBA ABBA BAAB Non-meditator
16 HR ABBA BAAB BAAB ABBA Meditator
17 RN, TS ABBA BAAB BAAB ABBA Non-meditator
18 DR BAAB ABBA ABBA BAAB Non-meditator
Table 1. Participants, counterbalanced sequences and meditator type used in the 18
experimental sessions. Note that in sessions 5, 8 and 19 more than one person
participated. In control sessions following the experimental sessions the same
counterbalanced sequence was used. Session 1 used a simple alternating
counterbalancing scheme; this was changed to an ABBA-BAAB style counterbalancing
in all subsequent sessions because the latter is more effective in reducing potential
biasing effects of signal drift. In sessions 1 & 4 the last two planned runs were
inadvertently dropped. Something unusual may have happened in session 6. During that
session, for unknown reasons the last blocking run failed to record properly. This glitch
was discovered a few hours later when the data were being analyzed. But as soon as that
session had ended, the participant, an experienced meditator, reported that he felt his
efforts in the last blocking run had been particularly effective. The experimenter was
surprised to hear this because he had felt peculiarly dissociated at the end of that session.
On mentioning this coincidence, two videographers who happened to be filming that
session each reported that they too had independently experienced unusual sensations
during the same period. Whether these experiential and hardware synchronicities were
related is unknown.
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The present discussion arose from the desire to explain, to an audience of non-physicists,1 the epistemology to which one is forced if one pursues the quantum mechanical theory of observation to its ultimate consequences. However, the conclusions will not be derived from the aforementioned theory but obtained on the basis of a rather general analysis of what we mean by real. Quantum theory will form the background but not the basis for the analysis. The concept of the real to be arrived at shows considerable similarity to that of the idealist. As the title indicates, it is formulated as a dualism. It is quite possible that it will soon be rejected not only by the community of the philosophers but also by that of the scientists. If this should be the case, the attempt to derive an epistemology from physics will prove to have been premature. Naturally, the author hopes that this will not be the case because, quite apart from the quantum theoretical background, the concepts to be presented appear natural also as an outgrowth of common sense considerations. They have been arrived at by many (including Schrödinger) who did not accept the epistemology of quantum mechanics.
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The standard theory of measurements in quantum mechanics is reviewed with special emphasis on the conceptual and epistemological implications. It is concluded that the standard theory remains the only one which is compatible with present quantum mechanics. Hence, if one wants to avoid the conclusion that quantum mechanics only gives probability connections between subsequent observations, the quantum-mechanical equations would have to be modified. Particular attention is paid to the case that the measuring apparatus is macroscopic and its state vector not accurately known before the measurement.
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Doctors within the NHS are confronting major changes at work. While we endeavour to improve the quality of health care, junior doctors' hours have been reduced and the emphasis on continuing medical education has increased. We are confronted by a growing body of information, much of it invalid or irrelevant to clinical practice. This article discusses evidence based medicine, a process of turning clinical problems into questions and then systematically locating, appraising, and using contemporaneous research findings as the basis for clinical decisions. The computerisation of bibliographies and the development of software that permits the rapid location of relevant evidence have made it easier for busy clinicians to make best use of the published literature. Critical appraisal can be used to determine the validity and applicability of the evidence, which is then used to inform clinical decisions. Evidence based medicine can be taught to, and practised by, clinicians at all levels of seniority and can be used to close the gulf between good clinical research and clinical practice. In addition it can help to promote self directed learning and teamwork and produce faster and better doctors