Before you read this...

Tuesday, September 05, 2006
Ask yourself, out of the Flares crowd, whose posting have you been expecting?
NORWICH (Reuters) - Many people have experienced the phenomenon of receiving a telephone call from someone shortly after thinking about them -- now a scientist says he has proof of what he calls telephone telepathy.

Rupert Sheldrake, whose research is funded by the respected Trinity College, Cambridge, said on Tuesday he had conducted experiments that proved that such precognition existed for telephone calls and even e-mails.

Each person in the trials was asked to give researchers names and phone numbers of four relatives or friends. These were then called at random and told to ring the subject who had to identify the caller before answering the phone.

"The hit rate was 45 percent, well above the 25 percent you would have expected," he told the annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. "The odds against this being a chance effect are 1,000 billion to one."

He said he found the same result with people being asked to name one of four people sending them an e-mail before it had landed.

However, his sample was small on both trials -- just 63 people for the controlled telephone experiment and 50 for the email -- and only four subjects were actually filmed in the phone study and five in the email, prompting some scepticism.

Undeterred, Sheldrake -- who believes in the interconnectedness of all minds within a social grouping -- said that he was extending his experiments to see if the phenomenon also worked for mobile phone text messages.
Of course, how can you even trust an article from Reuters? Nonetheless, I might note that I have this kind of experience not infrequently - thinking of someone and then meeting them on the street, or receiving their call, or being told when I call that "I was just thinking of you..." but I've never been sure if these seemingly coincidental occurrences happen more than, statistically, they should.


Morgan said...

Well, I'm more than a little skeptical. But one objection raised in the article is a red herring - the small sample size.

Small sample sizes are a problem when a) the effect size is small, and a large sample is needed to obtain sufficient statistical power to separate signal from noise or b) there is a possibility of selecting a small number of people who fall on the extremes of a distribution - oops, our mean income was off by a few million because of the chance inclusion of Bill Gates in the sample.

In this case, statistical power is not the issue - the effect is huge and very clearly not due to chance (which doesn't mean it's due to psychic phenomena, though). And b) - well, the equivalent case would be a small number of super-psychic people skewing the results, which would challenge the "we're all connected" theory, but would hardly be a less interesting finding.

truepeers said...

Skepticism is warranted, Morgan, but our beliefs in supernatural phenomena - if that is what is involved here - should not be dismissed as having no basis. In fact, we can understand these beliefs as being modelled by the super-nature of language: the signs of language are immortal (relative to us at least); the signs of language can be in many places at once - in how many minds, in how many countries, does the sign "Flares into Darkness" resonate? and language is powerful - it can be made to refer to anything and anyone.

What's more, language has no material existence in this world. While our signs or words leave physical traces - sound waves or marks on paper - the words themselves don't really reside anywhere. They're not imprinted in our brains which merely make associations of sounds or letters and then relate the resulting apprehension of a sign with the remembered social or linguistic contexts which gives the word its meaning. In other words, language is something among us, or something that transcends us, since it only works as a group phenomenon: we all have to share in the experience or memory of the scenes or contexts that make our arbitrarily-chosen collections of sounds or letters meaningful.

So language is a model for beliefs in the supernatural, but saying this doesn't get us any closer to knowing whether Sheldrake is a fraud or not, though it explains, perhaps, our desire to believe in the supernatural.

Morgan said...

" how many minds, in how many countries, does the sign "Flares into Darkness" resonate?>

Heh. Not sure I want to consider that one too long.

reliapundit said...

i KNEW you were gonna post on this!

chuck said...

No one expects the Yargbies.

Syl said...

So language is a model for beliefs in the supernatural


Language springs from the interconnectedness itself.

Language doesn't spring from our beliefs.

Our beliefs and our language spring from the same source.

truepeers said...

Syl, I agree with everything you said, except for the No - I think we're saying the same thing.

The first word ever uttered would have been what we can now call "the name of God", but to what degree was anyone aware of this at that first moment in human time? - the first speakers' awareness would have been as minimal as possible, though the psychic impact of the event would have been huge. It would have taken a long time before anyone could have said "the first word was the name of God". It takes a while for supernatural ideas to be fleshed out, and that happens as people become more conscious of language. In this sense language is a formal model for supernatural ideas as they become thematized with content. For example, surely there was much language already about before anyone came up with the idea of a ghost, let alone Casper the friendly ghost.

terrye said...

I can remember times when my exhusband would know if the phone was going to ring just before it did.

But then again I actually saw him witch for water once. I know you think I am drinking early in the day, but it is true.

Was he psychic or did he have a very sensitive reaction to some sort of electrical current in the air?

Note I said, I guess he read my mind one too many times.

Andrewdb said...

We had gravity long before we had Sir Isaac Newton to explain it.

truepeers said...

No Terrye, I don't think you're drinking. I believe there is something to water divining, and animals predicting earthquakes, and similar phenomena; we just don't understand it yet.

ambisinistral said...

I keep expecting myself to write another Turkmenbashi article, but it doesn't appear. Heck, even his new scheme of coupling teachers' pay raises to how many articles praising him they get published in local newspapers floated by without mention.

Seriously, how many times have you thought about somebody and then have not met them on the street?

That's the problem with this kind of approach, the exceptions are so striking we forget the frequency of the norm.

Charles Henry said...

I think that the presence of convenient coincidence in our daily lives unnerves us, because of our understanding of its use in narrative fiction.
In storytelling, everything is contrived, is made to happen, yet our skill at storytelling rests on our ability to have our audience accept our many contrivances as spontaneous convenient coincidences.
When coincidence is perceived as too convenient, we chastize the storyteller as spinning too contrived a tale. We sense the guiding hand of the storyteller moving behind the scenes and we lose the illusion of spontaneous creation.

Therefore, when the same convenient coincidences befall us in our real life, we flirt with the possibility that our choices are perhaps not so independantly arrived at after all, and come face to face with the suggestion that we are players in someone else's drama... our discomfort with coincidence probably stems from our not wanting to feel manipulated.
I agree with Ambisinistral in not treating it too seriously, but I have found it interesting to wonder why it is sometimes so hard to accept the existence of coincidence. Most conspiracy theorists parading crackpot conspiracies tend to have a hard time accepting the possibility of coincidence, for instance.