Harvard researchers devise new way to test ESP claims.

You’d think such research would be unnecessary in an enlightened society such as ours, but with almost half of all American adults professing a belief in various ESP phenomena, not to mention the ongoing popularity of charlatans such as Sylvia Browne, I suppose it’s a good thing that someone sat down and devised a way of testing for ESP:

The research was led by Samuel Moulton, a graduate student in the department of psychology in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University with Stephen Kosslyn, John Lindsley Professor of Psychology at Harvard and was published in the Jan. 2008 issue of the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience. The scientists used brain scanning to test whether individuals have knowledge that cannot be explained through normal perceptual processing.

To develop a better test of ESP, the authors decided to develop a new method, which directly addressed the presumed source of ESP: namely, the brain. They argue that because the brain enables perception and stores information—even events people don’t consciously perceive or information they can’t consciously remember—it can offer a much more comprehensive test for ESP than self-report or behavior.

“The brain shows a suppressed response to stimuli that a person has seen before, even when those stimuli were presented subliminally, so the person wasn’t consciously aware of having seen them; furthermore, it shows an enhanced response to stimuli that a person is expecting,” says Moulton. “Because knowledge and expectation bias brain activation, neuroimaging offers us a uniquely powerful test of subtle perceptual or cognitive processes.”

To study whether or not ESP exists, Moulton and Kosslyn presented participants with two types of visual stimuli: ESP stimuli and non-ESP stimuli. These two types of stimuli were identical with one exception: ESP stimuli were not only presented visually, but also were presented telepathically, clairvoyantly, and precognitively to participants.

To present stimuli telepathically, the researchers showed the photographs to the participants’ identical twin, relative, romantic partner, or friend, who was seated in another room. To present stimuli clairvoyantly, the researchers displayed the photographs on a distant computer screen. And to present stimuli precognitively, the researchers showed participants the photographs again in the future.

So did they find anything that suggests ESP actually exists?

“If any ESP processes exist, then participants’ brains should respond differently to ESP and non-ESP stimuli,” explains Moulton. “Instead, results showed that participants’ brains responded identically to ESP and non-ESP stimuli, despite reacting strongly to differences in how emotional the stimuli were and showing subtle, stimulus-related effects.”

Does this conclusively prove that ESP does not exist” “No,” says Moulton. “You cannot affirm the null hypothesis. But at the same time, some null results are stronger than others. This is the best evidence to date against the existence of ESP. Perhaps most important, this study offers scientists a new way to study ESP that avoids the pitfalls of past approaches.”

I predict we’ll see a lot of charlatans use the age-old “but those people weren’t REAL psychics” defense that has worked so well for other True Believers™.

How well did Sylvia Browne do with her predictions for 2007?

I’ll give you three guesses. Oh hell, let’s just watch this recap of her predictions on Montel Williams back at the end of 2006:

It must really suck to be a charlatan psychic in this day and age what with the Internet and YouTube. You’ll note that on her official website she’s had the good sense to stop posting her lists of predictions because folks like me were digging them up and listing off all the wrong guesses at the end of the year. Apparently Sylvia hasn’t heard of YouTube yet (still you’d think she’d just know about it anyway thanks to her spirit guides) otherwise she might stop making guesses on Montel and just stick to claiming she predicted something after it has already happened. I wonder how many people took her investment advice to heart and lost their shirts this year as a result? Think they learned their lesson?

Yeah, probably not.

Clip found via Heathen.TV which is quickly becoming a daily visit for me.

“Psychic” fraud Sylvia Browne is coming to Detroit.

Well, to Novi Michigan at least. I pass by the Rock Financial Showplace, an annoying name for a convention hall, on the way to and from work and I noticed that they’re advertising An Afternoon with Sylvia Browne on the marquee. She’ll be in town for one day on July 21st to suck up as much money as she can before packing away her bullshit and heading to Cincinnati Ohio to scam more folks down there. She’s not coming alone, though, she’s also bringing Colette Baron-Reid with her! Colette’s official title is “Intuitive Counselor” as opposed to Sylvia’s title of Psychic and that was a new one on me so I did some searching to find out what the hell an “Intuitive Counselor” happens to be. Here’s the definition provided by the folks at Holistic Junction:

    What is INTUITIVE COUNSELING? Intuitive counseling is a combined technique of counseling skills and intuitive abilities. Through intuitive counseling, a counseler uses his or her intuitive abilities to access information that may nor be known by the conscious mind.

    By accessing hidden past lives or past experiences, intuitive counselors enable a client to find resolve and move past situations that are blocking energy in their spiritual pathways.

If you’re scratching your head and wondering how that’s in any way different from “Psychics” then you’re not alone. A more honest definition can be found at About.com’s Holistic Healing site:

    Why do so many healers refer to themselves as intuitive rather than psychic?

    Although there is nothing wrong with being referred to as a psychic, the term itself has gotten a bit of a bad rap. I personally don’t like to be associated with the label psychic. I think the change in labeling may be to create a distinction between those of us who are interested in helping others with our intuitive tools from the stigma attached from the scamming fortune tellers who call themselves psychic. Because we are all psychic on some level this ability need not be looked at as if it is a gift or talent. It is a muscle that can be flexed or lay dormant. Everyone doesn’t use their intuitive natures professionally to help others…. some of us that do are more comfortable referred to ourselves as intuitive counselors/healers.

Translation: “Psychic” has lost some of it’s credibility among the overly credulous so we’ve invented a whole NEW word that means the same thing but sounds kinda professional and scientific like!

I’d be inclined to actually attend this event just for the laughs, but tickets cost a minimum of $50 for the Green Section and $75 for the Blue Section, the latter of which is already sold out proving once again that you can’t put too high a price on stupid. So if you are one of the millions of people who have cheezewhiz for brains and are desperate to find out that your dead wife/husband/son/daughter/dog/chipmunk/ant colony still loves you and is very happy in the afterlife then you’d better hurry up before all the Green tickets are sold out.