Retropsychokinesis

Amazon.comHaving finished off Philip K. Dick’s Ubik one sleepless evening last month, I found my interest in retropsychokinesis rekindled. One of the characters in the book is able to go back briefly in time to change the outcomes of events. While a staple of science fiction, most find it to be some of the least plausible sort of phenomena — more “fiction” than “science.”

In fact, there are a number of scientists who claim to have shown that psychokinesis does exist; that we are able to affect the outcomes of seemingly random events. These effects are very small, yet statistically highly significant. The size of the effect does something to explain why we haven’t noticed it in everyday life. The reason that Las Vegas is still in business is that these effects are tiny — far smaller than most house margins — and that they probably cancel each other out in many games of chance.

While consciously affecting an unfolding set of events is fantastic enough, the idea of changing previously occurring random events by thinking about them seems beyond the pale. What if you could, simply by thinking, show that you are capable of changing the distribution of a random set of numbers drawn a week or a year ago and sealed in an envelope. If this were the case, we would really have to rethink how we think about the world around us.

Many simply reject out of hand such a suggestion. Of course, rejecting the suggestion out of hand is unscientific. There are studies, and they have been repeated, despite the critics. Skepticism is an important part of scientific progress, but not when it is blind.

The most notorious of the psychokinesis projects are run out of the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research group. If you would like to try your hand at retropsychokinesis, you can do so via these online experiments. Those who do this work have co-opted the term “skeptic” for themselves, suggesting that those who question their results without evidence are not skeptics but knee-jerk traditionalists.

No such post could be complete without a link to the widely celebrated “Amazing Randi” who debunks claims of the paranormal. Unfortunately, he does not employ the tools of science to do so, and easily dispatches the existing showmen with a showman’s aplomb. He implies that because so many claims of paranormal phenomena are deceptive, they must all be, which is a very odd claim indeed. I would prefer to leave the option open, since it is potentially a paradigm-shifting set of experiments, and at worst an engaging fiction.

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