Re: psi

Damien Broderick (
Sun, 10 May 1998 11:29:21 +0000

At 11:11 PM 5/8/98 -0700, John Clark wrote:

> >First I normalised the guesses at each of the numbers in the
> >range 1-45, because populations hold different preferences
> >[...] all the `non-birthday'
> >numbers over 31 get a reduced vote.

>I don't understand why you did this. If people pick birthday numbers then
>they must have had a hunch that these numbers will win

We know empirically that in such tasks people mostly select numbers on the
basis of simple algorithms that have nothing to do with `hunches' - the
`lucky' numbers in their astrological charts, the days of the month of
their kids' or other loved ones' birthdays, etc. This creates a composite
background profile of preferences that is staggeringly stable from week to
week (it varies a little when there's a jackpot draw that either brings in
some fresh blood or encourges regulars to buy extra tickets and vary their
chosen picks). Perhaps the most intriguing finding in my study is that
people by and large *can't* be following evanescent `hunches', because
their behaviour is so rote. People might be prey to magical thinking, but
evidently this take the form of a kind of blurry background metaphysics
rather than an intentional effort to change or perceive the world by
psychic means - at least in lotteries.

> >I assume that each guess is independent, and therefore each
> >entry requires 6 `psi-mediated events'

>If it's difficult to predict the winning lottery number that are determined
>by only 6 simple events then how can it predict earthquakes , the rise and
>fall of empires, the weather, and the stock market

(1) a catastrophic earthquake, or bad weather for the picnic, or a market
slump, are each encodable as just one bit of data.

(2) I don't recall offering to predict the rise and fall of any empires
other than the Galactic Empire. :)

(3) You could in principle precognise the winning lottery numbers as a
single string of 12 decimal numbers, or perhaps as a strikingly mnemonic
graphic pattern on the entry form, but surely it makes best sense to
imagine that psi (if it exists) has to modify each discrete choice as it's
ticked or crossed off on the form.

The sense I have of psi's functioning, from reports of lab work, is that
it's akin to looking up at a blackboard that might be illuminated
stochastically for half a second every minute. If you happen to be looking
when the winning number is posted, your behaviour can be shifted; otherwise
you're in the dark with everyone else, making guesses based on internal
pseudo-random algorithms (which are notoriously biased and repetitive).

>In the USA you can win about 10$ if you guess 3 out of the 6 numbers in any
>order, the number of these small winners is in the millions and the number
>just what you'd expect if the psi effect was zero.

Good point. But how do you know the outcomes are random? They can't
possibly *look* random on any short timescale, for the reasons I've given -
collective preferences must mean that in draws where popular numbers happen
to be targets, many more winners will be generated than by pure chance
expectation, and the reverse when mostly unpopular numbers come up. And
the effects we're looking for are probably marginal at best, because if
they were not we'd be running our communications systems on psi rather than

>I don't demand that the psi effect be
>explained, I just want it proven to exist, and after a century of trying to
>do this the progress has been precisely zilch, the evidence stunk then and
>stinks now.

As Radin points out, this is the expression of a skepticism uninformed by
current evidence (from the last two decades, say). John, I believe you
mentioned that you've never heard of PEAR, one of the major
academically-affiliated anomalies research programs in the world. Even Dr
Ray Hyman, prime CSICOP debunker, admits that the latest batches of
ganzfeld studies show that *something* unexplained in afoot. He doesn't
think it can be psi, because he argues that psi as classically propounded
is inconsistent with QT, relativity, etc. (Nobel physics laureate Brian
Josephson disagrees with him, as it happens.) But he doesn't know what
*is* happening to cause these repeatable, non-null-hypothesis effects.

If you're gonna diss the field, bro, you gotta get out there and dip your
toe in the murky water.

Damien Broderick