Thursday, December 20, 2012

PSI events and evolutionary psychology

In an earlier blog I asked the reader to consider the idea that we can better understand the PSI event by putting it in the context of natural selection.  I am not dismissing the research on PSI that looks at the phenomenon as it relates to question of physics, pharmacology, religion or psychology.  Those disciplines bring to the study  their individual tool bags of studied and documented structures and processes that can be applied to similar traits found in parapsychological events.  My point is that biological processes can also shine some new light on examples of PK, telepathy or precognition.  It would be very enlightening to thoughtfully apply an evolutionary psychology perspective to anomalous cognition events.

I believe anomalous cognition occurs, that ESP is happening.  I am not here to debunk or explain away parapsychological phenomenon.  I do want to understand it better,  and examining some of the strange events with the light of biological processes can be very helpful.  For example, when the mind disassociates, and local sensory and memory data is not longer getting the job done, PSI data becomes much more valuable and will be perceived.  Other mental processes also occur, these are evolved adaptations that occur along side the increased perception of PSI data, and because they are both unusual, and are occurring at the same time, they are commonly thought of as one thing.    Experientially, because the weird event has no other associations (that's why we say its weird) then in the mind all the stuff happening gets lumped together.  Unfortunately, when I go to examine the processes involved in the PSI perception it gets all mixed together with the dissociation processes of the brain, and that is a problem.  I want to see the PSI process more clearly, and to do that, I need to see the basic biological, natural selection processes of the human mind more clearly.

My overall goal is answer the big questions, but I am happy if I simply get some discussion going regarding what Natural Selection can tell us about how PSI works.  I am not a trained biologist so I am happy to hear from anyone if my ideas about Natural Selection are wrong.  The statements I make about biological processes are very simple and basic biology 101 stuff, not controversial.  The basic rules of Natural selection are simple.  The process of natural selection needs 1) Gene heritability, 2) Reproduction that passes on genes, and 3) Gene variability.

Your experiences are mediated by your physical parts, and those physical parts with their sensory structures got here via natural selection.  It is known that there are psychological processes that you are born with, that are built into your DNA such as the ability to use language or walking.  One such evolved trait in humans is a mental world where you create a virtual simulation of life.  This allows you to make plans, to remember events, to solve problems and practice real-world activities in a virtual setting.  The process of natural selection also takes place in this virtual world.  The mind is constantly taking in new pieces of information and testing them against problems that you can expect to encounter.  This seems to be the primary evolved function of dreaming.  Because we have these adapted structures, just like our physical adaptations, our mental adaptations also have a structure in place through learning.  Your mental landscape is not a tabula rasa when you enter it every time, there are default frameworks in place to work with, just as your hands and fingers are there when you wake up each day. 

Another built in brain trait is self-identification.  For obvious survival reasons, its useful to be able to identify what in your sensory environment is you and what is not you.  The brain is constantly filtering for this.  It mainly uses local incoming sensory data and compares it with stored identity info.  This is why you often hear people describe how sensory deprivation or drug induced brain changes also make them feel "expanded" or disassociated from their normal identification of self.  Strong self-identity is correlated to environmental stability. 

As humans have evolved a social environment along with their material one, many brain adaptations have developed along with it.  We seem to have built in mental processes for identifying other entities, such as our specialized brain functions for perceiving faces.  We have evolved a reflex to anthropomorphize, just like we evolved a reflex to self identify, its a built-in, default setting for our mind.  Its easy to see how adapting strong social skills would benefit an organism's reproductive potential.  Again, it makes sense that a basic perceptual structure exists in our minds, in our brains, to allow us to quickly identify a set of environmental stimuli as a person, and work from there.  As much as I dislike the use of the simplified model "human brain is like a computer", it does make sense that using basic frameworks, as is done in computer virtualization software, would make sense for mind processing as well.  It's a good example of convergent evolution.

These are just two mental processes that shed some light on some parapsychological phenomena.  There seems to be default experiential frameworks the mind uses to form experience, and they are in basic framework shared as humans, just as our environment that shapes them is shared, but are individualized by individual experience.  Jung's archetypes can be seen as evolved conceptual structures.  The "others" that Jacques Vallee discusses in his book Dimensions are probably basic mind frameworks, default settings for "other" that the normal waking mind use as a basic framework of perception.  This basic framework has evolved along with people's social environment.  As the range variety of what makes up "other entity" has expanded, the default setting in the brain has had to regress to include the new variety.  When some disassociating event occurs, when things can't "make sense", the mind defaults back to the most basic framework, and people see little gray people, or floating bodies, or religious icons.  Now these default perceptual entities may start providing PSI information, just like people in my dreams tell me how to fly, the default mental environment will take information and try it out.  Sometimes the information available to be worked into dreams or dissociated states is PSI information.

It is logical to assume that solutions to problems are more likely to be found if a basic framework is presented to consciousness, instead of no experience of anything.   We can say dreamers do better than non-dreamers just like we understand memory priming improves performance, so we would expect human minds with a basic virtual landscape to survive better than those without.  Priming exists.  Dreams exist. 

So by examining paranormal phenomenon within the constraints of biology/natural selection we can perhaps more clearly discern what is happening in some disassociative events.  My point here is that the experience of entities, such as aliens or ghosts or saints, can be separated from anomalous cognition for study.  And if you add in, from my previous blog, the requirement that PSI be capricious and unavailable for intentional use, then it may be true that PSI events are biologically programmed to be connected with associative events to make sure they stay out of reach of conscious application.  If that is the case, we would do well to look for PSI correlations in behaviors that are not consciously controlled such as autonomic events.  Fortunately, that is exactly the direction much of parapsychological research is going.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Sex and the Single Psychic

This blog is not a discussion on how to use your psychic powers to get a mate.  I apologize if the title misled you, but it as you'll see it is not inappropriate, just easily misinterpreted.  A more descriptive title would be " How the process of natural selection selects against the ability to consciously use PSI information".   I want to point out how biology explains a lot of the phenomena we find in the study of PSI, and to encourage more exploration in this area.  I am not a professional biologist but the principles I will discuss are very simple, the most basic fundamentals of the process of natural selection.  In this day and age of mapping genomes and with all the ethical questions and biological potentialities that demand our attention,  there is more information being presented every day that can be applied to our understanding of the mechanics of PSI.  There are many different branches of science that can shed light on the mystery of how PSI happens, and biology is one of them.

Your perceptive hardware, your five senses, are the result of your DNA.  Your consciousness is structured by your interactions with the material world.  In other words, your DNA gave you the equipment to act in this world to propagate itself, and your reality is largely defined by your five senses (and associated neurons) that your DNA gives you. 

PSI has been shown to exist in numerous studies, but though statistically significant, it is almost always barely significant.  And it is well known for being hard to reproduce, capricious, and almost always uncontrollable.  I think these attributes can be explained by natural selection.  As a matter of fact, nature requires PSI work this way.

The process of natural selection requires variability in the gene pool.  Without variability, there is nothing for nature to select from.  Variability comes from mutation, and mutations that severely limit variability would lead to disaster for a species and are eliminated through the process of natural selection.  Without variability, given the inevitability of environmental change, a species could not adapt to that change.  There is of course much more to natural selection than a requirement of variability in the gene-pool but for my point here, that's all I am going into. 

So any trait in an individual (that got there from a mutation) that is overwhelmingly powerful would in short order severely limit the variability in the gene-pool.  For example, if a person did have the ability to use their psychic powers to get a mate, they could also use those powers to give them and theirs every advantage.  Soon, those with the PSI ability would control all the resources, and with each generation of self-selection, the variability of the gene-pool is reduced. 

One may posit that through some higher moral or rational route human beings could think their way around this problem, but keep in mind PSI perception didn't just start with humans, it came into the process early on.  While biology was evolving processes to utilize sound, smells, light and other types of information in the environment, so too would evolve the ability to obtain PSI data.  The built-in brakes to consciously utilizing PSI data has been evolving right along with the other traits we have. 

It is the process of natural selection that explains why PSI is often difficult to reproduce in the lab.  It explains why it is not naturally consciously controllable.  It is by nature just slightly significant, to give a small advantage but not a overwhelming one, to the individual who is getting PSI information.  It is by nature unpredictable, and PSI data is not discernible and therefore capricious in its occurrence.  It can even be argued that it is natural to be afraid of it, to doubt it and marginalizes it, because volitional PSI has been by nature self-destructive.  We have other hard-wired fears, natural fears, and a fear of  PSI may be one of them.  And it doesn't have to be one trait that clamps down on PSI, most functions in humans have multiple genes that control them.  The restriction of volitional PSI doubtless reaches across many biological systems, be they endocrinal, neurological, or whatever is required to maintain variability.  Because PSI would be such a huge advantage, it has to be severely restricted.

The implications for this way of viewing the function of PSI are too vast to go into here.  I do think it may shed some light on the mechanics of the PSI process to explore it from a biological viewpoint.  Again, given the explosion our knowledge of genetics, and our growing ability to apply that knowledge, the biological basis to PSI will be explored, hopefully from a rational and moral foundation.

You comments are invited.
-Benton R. Bogle

Sunday, July 22, 2012

 Arlan Andrews and Sci-Fi Writers in SIGMA Think Tank Help World Leaders Imagine Better Futures

Although for the past ten years I’ve lived less than an hour away from the well-known Rhine Center, in Durham, last week was the first time that I had a chance to attend one of their programs.  The Rhine Center has a long history in research on parapsychology and human consciousness and is composed of a research center and an education center. The Rhine Education Center “provides professional education in parapsychology and public events at the Rhine explore psychic abilities, experiences, techniques, and the culture of ESP throughout the world” (Rhine Center website).  On Friday, July 13, they were featuring  a science fiction writer that I didn’t know—Arlan Andrews and his talk ‘Science Fiction and the Future of the Paranormal’ caught my eye. The novel I am writing examines the effects of uncontrolled ‘psi’ outbreaks, so I thought Andrews’s talk created a good reason to make the trip.
Dr. Andrews is an engineer, science fiction writer, and author of hundreds of articles, stories and columns on the paranormal, science fiction, futurism, ancient civilizations, future technology and politics.
His began by discussing how he got interested in science fiction, and his experiences investigating paranormal activity with his wife (a noted psychic). His talk was chock-full of intriguing concepts, great stories and photos of him, Ray Bradbury and other science fiction writers at conferences during the 1980s and 1990s. But, what I found the most fascinating was how he founded SIGMA, a think tank of professional science fiction, fantasy and game writers who provide pro bono futurist talks to the U.S. government (and paid consulting for corporations). He developed this think tank after working as a Fellow in the White House Science Office in 1992-1993. Given science fiction’s enormous role in shaping  and imagining technology and the future, he wanted to bring the expertise of the science fiction community to inform challenging public policy issues. He started SIGMA, in 1993, with a modest group of nine PhDs (he stressed that in the beginning, he had to have people with doctorates to get over the ‘giggle factor’ by Washington officials), and has grown it to 40 plus members.
What? A group of distinguished science fiction writers (many of whom are scientists and engineers) giving talks to U.S. government officials and world leaders on how to stretch their thinking to solve global dilemmas and imagine a better future? Sign me up!! How do I join? How do I get invited? Well, I’ve probably got a bit more publishing to do before I get invited (and hmm maybe a doctorate  in a science field wouldn’t hurt either)…but hey, I’ll put getting invited to SIGMA on my bucket list!
SIGMA has spoken to the U.S. government, over the years, on national security issues, evolutionary technologies and futurism. He showed us pictures from some of these meetings on ‘science fictional thinking’ in which they stress the importance of imaginative and associative thinking, and turning problems upside down in order to generate innovative ideas.  My creativity coach’s heart pumped three times harder as I learned about SIGMA (and was surprised that I’d never heard of them before). The talent of the SIGMA group is extraordinary and includes many writers you know: Elizabeth Moon, Nancy Cress, Greg Bear, Dr. Yoji Kondo, Michael Swanwick, S.M. Sterling, and Dr. Larry Niven to name a few.
Earlier this year, as invited guests, SIGMA presented a panel on “Disruptive Technologies” at the Global Competitiveness Forum (GCF) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. This panel generated great buzz. The conversation inspired computer engineer Yasser Bahjatt to create a TEDx talk about how Arab science fiction could dream a better future and he’s created an open platform to support artistic expression and a new culture of science fiction writing. Check out the inspiring video and his vision.
Arlan Andrews didn’t look tired after giving a rousing two-hour talk. I’m glad that I went (thanks to my partner, Tim for finding out about this event and buying tickets!) and learned so much. I’m sure that my future will include more visits to the Rhine Center. I talked with Dr. Andrews about a possible interview exploring his ideas about creativity. I’m expecting that will be a blast, too!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Remote Viewing Group

Amazing results from the Remote Viewing group that met last Wednesday night.  We had a good crowd, a few new faces and as usual everyone seemed to have a good time.  We certainly saw some impressive remote viewing, with 9 of the 12 viewers picking the right target, and 2 more folks getting clear information on the wrong target (psi-missing).  We did something a bit uncomfortable tonight, as if sitting around trying to be psychic isn't unusual enough, and the participants worked with the process pretty well.  We like to try new "techniques" of getting intuitive info, so at this meeting one of the group led us in a process where we did what the most famous of seers did, we uttered spontaneous poetry/song, in the manner of the Oracle of Delphi.  Now as you are sitting there reading this, you are welcome to try it yourself to see just how uncomfortable it is.  Then imagine doing this sitting across from another person you do not know very well or just met, and you can see that its no simple feat.  But the idea is that by free-associating or "thought streaming" in verse and/or music, you get around the conscious mind that is distracting you from the PSI data available related to the task, which in our cases was an unknown photo sealed in an envelope.  Honestly, I and others there did not find spontaneous singing something we could do.  I think it's going to take practice. 

People who know me will tell you that public displays of spontaneous art don't happen with me very often... uh.. never.  But the effort did educate me on how the brain processes spontaneous singing.  The music aspect seems to work with a different part of the brain than just the talking part, or the effort to create meter or rhyme, and the process is different still if its done just in one's  mind.  And just letting words flow out in rhythm is another experience as well.  Again, it's going to take repeated effort to make it effortless.

Another level of  difficulty which I touched on already is the comfort level between participants.  In my experience, working with a monitor who writes down my intuitively gathered information is much more successful if I am very comfortable with that person.  It really reduces the performance anxiety and lets me concentrate on the process and not on the social context stuff.  I was impressed with our high rate of correct sessions despite this. 

Our process was pretty typical.  We had our usual sitting around chatting, then formally started the group meeting by introducing ourselves and discussing Remote Viewing issues just to allow us more time getting used to talking with each other.  I am a strong believer that the interpersonal relationships are valuable for Remote Viewing, so I want to nurture that.  If you've attended our meetings and think I am just being slack when we sit around talking all over the place and not immediately "getting down to business" , its actually done intentionally.   Then we talked about how we were going to make like the Oracle of Delphi, and discussed our schedule for the session we were about to do, and they were given their task.  We broke up in pairs, so we could take turns writing down what the other person sang/versed in their session.  We took about 15 minutes per person, and they would write down the poetry they created spontaneously.  Then we got back together and I gave each person two sealed envelopes, each envelope contained a unique photograph.  They were to open up the envelopes and place the photos beside each other and compare the photos with their session data, then choose which photo they think was the target photo they were to get PSI information on.  While they were making this choice, I stood over in a far corner and flipped a coin to pick which of the 2 photos for each viewer was their tasked photo.  Then after they had decided on the photo they thought  was the target, I told them which one was actually their target photo, and 9 out of 12 had picked the correct photo.  There was a bit of high-fiving, and lots of discussion.  Yes, there are methodological problems with this process but I was primarily interested in the experience and education factor, not in proving anything or publishing our results. 

And it was an educational experience.  I invite you to our next meeting, and I encourage you to join the Rhine Research Center or make a donation to help real scientists doing real science, and to provide the opportunity for fun educational pursuits like ours to flourish.  The fact is that real, careful and thorough science like that done by the researchers at the RRC is by necessity and design slow going.  One of the many good things about our lay-person pursuits such as the Remote Viewing group is that we may reveal new variables for future consideration by the scientists.  Its accessible, its fun, and I hope you will give it a try.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Here is a fascinating article on some recent research.

"Those who trust their feelings can predict future events more accurately"

The researchers call this phenomenon the emotional oracle effect. Across a number of studies, they compared a person's reliance on their feelings to make predictions, and the later accuracy of those predictions.  Give the article a read.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

William Roll

Yesterday on January 10th we heard of the passing of our dear friend Bill Roll, a long-time member of the Rhine Center Advisory Board.  Bill was a true giant in the halls of parapsychological investigators and  for decades until his death was the undisputed leader and expert on the field investigation of hauntings and poltergeists.  I first met Bill back in the 1950's at the Duke Parapsychology Lab when we were both young staff members and  occasionally enjoyed classy dinners at the classy house that he and his first wife built on the edge of Durham. He went on to various positions and accomplishments best described in the write-up below from our website but he always remained close friends of my father JB Rhine and the Rhine Center as it is known today.

In his last appearance here several years ago Bill was our invited guest at a PRF reunion we assembled in his honor where he delivered his typical speech combining equal parts  humor and wisdom.  About 30 of his earlier PRF colleagues were able to attend, three of whom (Pamela St. John, Debi Pratt and Steve Barrell) have continued on as active volunteers in the Rhine community.  We remember him with great fondness for his passionate interest and many contributions to the field of parapsychology and for his many human qualities that made him especially endearing. 

Sally Rhine Feather
Executive Director Emeritus
Rhine Research Center

Dr. William Roll

Dr. William Roll obtained a BA from the University of Berkeley, a B.Litt. and M. Litt. from Oxford University (under Prof. H.H. Price) and a Ph.D. from Lund University (under Prof. Martin Johnson) with a thesis on the examination of the parapsychological findings suggestive of the survival of human personality after death. Dr. Roll then worked with Dr. J.B.Rhine at the Duke Parapsychology Laboratory for a 7-year-period during which time he made his first poltergeist investigation. In 1961 Dr. Rhine appointed Dr. Roll project director of the Psychical Research Foundation which was set up to explore the question of survival after death. After the dissolution of the Duke Lab in 1964, The PRF became a sponsored program at the Duke Department of Electrical Engineering, expanded the staff, and participated in poltergeist research, now termed RSPK for recurrent spontaneous psychokinesis. The best-known PRF experiments were the OBE tests of Keith Harary and the EEG-ESP experiments with Sean Harribance, both of which had the involvement of the late Professor Bob Morris who later held the Koestler chair in parapsychology at the University of Edinburgh. In 1986, Dr. Roll was appointed Professor of Psychology and Psychical Research at what is now West Georgia University. He has retired from teaching but continues to write and do research as a member of the faculty. Dr. Roll has written numerous papers, book chapters and four books, the most recent entitled Unleashed: Of Poltergeists and Murderthe Strange Story of Tina Resch (with Valerie Storey). He has received the Outstanding Career Award from the Parapsychological Association and the Tim Dinsdale Memorial Award from the Society for Scientific Exploration.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Top Ten Myths About 2012

Or why you shouldn't stop contributing to your 401k plan.
The ancient Mayan people, whose empire extended across much of Central America from late-antiquity to the 1500s, maintained a complex system of calendars -- which, oddly enough, ended with this year, 2012. This anomaly in Mayan timekeeping has caused many today to wonder whether the great calendar-makers foresaw an apocalypse in our era. The truth is more complex. Here are today's top 10 myths about 2012. Read the whole article at Huffington Post

Robert Sitler will be giving a talk on the Maya and 2012 at the Steadman Auditorium on the Duke Center for Living Campus on January 27, 2012.  See website for tickets.

Mitch Horowitz serves on the Board of Directors for the Rhine Research Center and is a contributing instructor at the Rhine Education Center.