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The Potential of Attention Can humans affect physical reality with their minds? https://www.utne.com/mind-and-body/parapsychology-research-zm0z17wzols Dean Radin explains parapsychology research. Photo by Jessica Cohen Like a frightened hedgehog curling into a ball, photons in light wave form may “collapse” into particles when subject to human attention, according to psychologist Dean Radin. He is chief scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS) in Petaluma, California, founded by astronaut Edgar Mitchell to study consciousness. Explaining this collapse of photons, Radin says nothing about hedgehogs, nor does he imply that light waves have feelings. He does say that experiments he conducted with his IONS colleagues suggest that we subtly affect the objects of our attention. Radin was testing John von Neumann’s theory about the role of observation in quantum mechanics. According to the theory, before an object is observed it exists only as a multitude of possibilities. So, the chair where you now sit is there, but the properties of its microscopic components are not fixed. You can never be sure what happens when you look away. Arguments about this notion pit materialists, believers that reality is fundamentally physical, against idealists, who believe that awareness is an underpinning of reality. “This philosophical debate has been going on for 3,000 years and getting nowhere, but experiments sway the argument in one direction or another,” says Radin, who sides with idealists. “Both views give us this reality, but these experiments inform the debate.” The theory that objects are affected by observation already had support from a 1998 study published in Nature, led by Mordehai Heiblum at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. He used a mechanical observer, called an electron detector, that seemed to influence whether electrons behaved as waves or particles. However, in Radin’s 17 studies, observers were human. This resulted in smaller effects, he said, but with grand implications about consciousness. To conduct the experiment, Radin built an 8 ft by 8 ft by 8 ft double-walled solid steel room at IONS. “It’s a steel cube, a Faraday cage, with steel walls, ceiling and floor.” The room is electromagnetically shielded, so no wi-fi, cell signal, radio frequency, or electromagnetism can intrude. Tan muslin cloth lines the walls and ceiling. A brown anti-static rug with metal fibers covers the floor. During the experiment, the room was dim, just light enough to see. It was intended to feel like a tent, Radin said. In a corner to the left of the metal door, on a wooden table, stood a two-foot long double-slit interferometer, used to observe photon behavior. On one end of it, a laser would shoot rays of light toward a barrier with two slits in the middle. The rays were recorded by a camera on the other end as they came through the slits. Unlike the Heiblum experiment, in which an electron counter “observed” electrons on the way through the slits, at IONS, photons were not directly observed — only imagined. A computer, perched on another wood table, was wired to the camera and analyzed the photos to compute the amount of “interference” among photons coming through the slits. More “interference” meant that photons as waves were combining to form more waves. With less interference, photons became particles. However, says Radin, “No one really knows what a photon is. It’s a packet of energy that sometimes behaves like a wave, sometimes like a particle. They’re the electrical impulses that keep living systems alive.” Diagonally across the room from the interferometer, a subject sat on a comfortable but not too comfortable, chair, where they were asked to focus on decreasing interference among photons coming through the slits for 30 seconds at a time, alternating with 30 seconds of relaxation. Although they could not see photons going through slits, they were told that when a light from the system brightened, interference had increased, and vice versa, so their visualizations were guided by that feedback. For those who preferred a meditative state with their eyes closed, the pitch of an “om” sound indicated whether more or less interference was occurring. Radin explains that the “intention” required of these subjects is a particular kind of “attention” — “focused attention with a direction,” to help them concentrate on photons in the interferometer. A recording guided them to focus on the photons for 30 seconds at a time, varied by a few seconds, so the pattern would be less predictable. Each session lasted 15 to 30 minutes. When the session was over, they hit a high-pitched chime, and someone would open the big metal door. “It’s a meat locker heavy door. A lever sucks the door in. We showed people how it worked,” says Radin. “The computer was timed to give us a chance to tell the subject to please concentrate and then get out.” Many subjects were IONS staff members or visitors who were recruited at lunch. “They tended to be the kind of people we needed, interested in the research and involved in meditation practices,” says Radin. Through his previous experiments that required focused attention, Radin believes that artists, musicians, and meditators have stronger results, perhaps because of their honed concentration habits. In this experiment, correlation between subjects’ intent and light interference measures was consistent enough to be statistically significant, though the effect was small, as was typical for this series of experiments. Since 2008, Radin has done 17 versions of the study, including one in which the computer connected to the interferometer was also connected to a web server. People around the world could be subjects, though only one at a time. They had to wait for an open slot. During 2013 and 2014, a total of 1,479 people from 77 countries contributed 2,985 test sessions. Over the same period, 5,738 sessions were run as controls by a computer programmed to simulate human subjects. Though effects were minute in these trials, results were consistently significant, ranging from .00001 to .00000000000000001 probability that they occurred by chance. This means that human attention likely affects the material world, although the influence is miniscule. Effects in internet trials were 10 times weaker than in Faraday cage trials, which Radin expected, given the variable circumstances of subjects. Still, results were significant. “Our effects are much smaller in magnitude than those typically observed in physics experiments exploring the role of observation, which isn’t surprising because as ‘detectors’ we’re using the mind alone,” Radin says. “We’re not using physical hardware like the usual physics experiment. The effects we see in these experiments are so small they would likely not be noticed at all in an everyday context. All we can say is that this type of experiment is relevant to understanding the meaning of observation in quantum measurement and the role of consciousness in the physical world.” Interactions between objects are common and conducive to building devices like the iPhone, Radin says, but thoughts should not be able to interact with objects at all, by conventional principles. So if these findings are repeatedly and independently replicated, basic scientific principles, the paradigm, would need to change. At least two other scientists have replicated Radin’s findings. In 1998, two double-slit interferometer experiments similar to Radin’s were conducted at Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Laboratory (PEAR), led by then Dean of Engineering and Applied Science Robert Jahn. He had invoked freedom of inquiry rights to establish the lab to do parapsychology research in 1979 and ran it for 28 years, despite disdain from colleagues. The lab was funded by McDonnell-Douglas and motivated by a student advisee’s experiment showing evidence of psychokinesis — the effect of intention on a machine. Her findings interested Jahn, who did research on electronic propulsion for NASA and the U.S. Air Force. Even small effects could have a mechanical impact. Now 87 and retired, Jahn and his PEAR colleague, psychologist Brenda Dunne, looked at Radin’s series of interferometer studies. “We’re delighted he followed up. Dean’s work is first-rate work,” says Dunne, speaking also for Jahn. “In 28 years at the PEAR lab, we also found that effects were tiny, but the statistical shift was toward the human operator’s intention. It was significant only with a large data base, but there was consistency over and over.” However, physicists at Princeton and MIT declined to discuss Radin’s research. Princeton Physics Department Chairman Herman Verlinde said that neither he nor anyone in the department would comment. Likewise, an MIT physics department staff member, who declined to be quoted, said that no one in the department would comment on Radin’s work because of his association with parapsychology. Radin has a masters degree in electrical engineering and doctorate in psychology from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, which served him well in developing advanced telecommunications at Bell Labs and elsewhere. But he had been doing parapsychology research since he was 12, and, in 2001, that interest took him to IONS. Disregard for parapsychology research in academia is longstanding and has resulted in some rather unscientific behavior. In the late 1980s, the National Research Council, a division of the National Academy of Sciences, commissioned Robert Rosenthal, then chair of Harvard Department of Psychology and Social Relations, and Monica Harris Kern, his graduate student, to evaluate the methodology of research in several fields of performance enhancement for possible military use. Parapsychology was included, as well as biofeedback, sleep learning, and others. In their investigation, Rosenthal and Harris found that parapsychology, also called “psi,” research, done by Radin’s colleagues was well designed, with necessary controls and valid statistical evaluations. “I’m not a devotee of psi phenomena. I’m agnostic about it, and some psi research is bogus,” says Rosenthal. “But the research was elegant, not only better designed than research by the other four performance enhancement sciences — it was better designed than most psychology research. Psi research had been vigorously critiqued, and they’d eliminated problematic cues.” However, after he and Kern submitted their report, Rosenthal received a call from John Swets, chair of the National Research Council (NRC) committee that commissioned the study. Swets asked him to withdraw their evaluation of parapsychology research methods, as though they had never done it, leaving other parts of the report intact. “As a serious academic, I wasn’t going to do that,” says Rosenthal. “That would have been intellectually dishonest.” When the NRC decided not to publish Rosenthal and Kern’s report, Rosenthal wrote a letter to William Estes, editor of the respected journal Psychological Sciences. Estes published the letter which, Rosenthal says, let people know about the unpublished report and how to obtain a copy. Meanwhile, the NRC published a parapsychology research evaluation by James Alcock, a prominent critic of parapsychology research — not an impartial reviewer. Radin wrote rebuttals and was quoted defending his cohorts in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Monica Kern recalled how angry she was when the report she and Rosenthal wrote was omitted. She sees irony in that long ago rejection. “Now parapsychology research looks a lot like quantum physics,” she says. The scientific worldview in fashion is materialistic, says Radin. “It’s difficult to accommodate psi phenomena within that worldview, so scientists naturally regard psi with great suspicion. What they don’t appreciate is that scientific worldviews evolve.” For materialists, consciousness is a meaningless side effect of brain mechanisms, he says. But in his findings he sees indications that consciousness has a fundamental role, even if the impact seems slight. “A charge on an electron is miniscule, but a gazillion of them run the electrical grid,” he notes.
Can the Soul Interact with the Body?By Alexander Pruss — August 19, 2013 Could we have non-physical souls that control our bodies by causing effects in the brain that propagate via the nervous system to our muscles? Contemporary naturalist philosophers—philosophers who understand the world solely in terms of physical causes—have three main objections to this idea. The first objection is the worry that this interaction would contradict what neuroscience has to say about our actions originating in the brain. I won’t focus on this here, but I can say that neuroscience does not have a sufficiently detailed understanding of our decision-making to rule out the possibility of a non-physical component. [Click here for content related to neuroscience and human freedom/action. --Ed.] The second objection is known as the “interaction problem”: How could a non-physical cause have an effect on something physical? The interaction problem is a red herring (a “red herring” is a fallacy in argumentation that distracts from the real issue). Yes, it is very mysterious how a non-physical cause could have a physical effect. But (at least given a non-deterministic physics like quantum mechanics) it is no more mysterious than how any cause could have an effect. Sir Isaac Newton said that the sun has a gravitational effect on distant planets. Philosophers wondered: How could that be? Certainly such causation at a distance is mysterious, but it is not just a thing’s being at a distance that makes it mysterious—it is causation that is a mysterious tie between distinct events. How can one thing cause another? That is the mystery of causation, but it is no more puzzling when one of the things is physical and the other is non-physical than when they are both physical. Maybe it is puzzling how a non-physical cause can have an effect on something physical, because the non-physical and the physical are “very different” from each other. But non-living unconscious things and living conscious beings are very different from each other, and yet non-living unconscious things constantly affect living conscious beings—oxygen molecules, for instance, constantly keep us alive. Science is full of things that are “very different” interacting causally with one another. Indeed, naturalists think that non-living matter can cause life, and non-conscious matter can cause consciousness. The third objection is based on the Closure Principle: The physical world is explanatorily closed—the explanations of physical states of affairs are always physical in nature. The closure principle would let one be confident that scientists don’t need to look for miracles—that explanations of physical events will never go beyond science. If the Closure Principle is true, then no physical event in the brain has an explanation by means of a soul. I’m going to argue that the Closure Principle is more likely to be false than true. My argument has two parts. The first part will be to establish the No Physical Explanation Thesis: No Physical Explanation Thesis: Whether or not the Closure Principle is true, some physical states of affairs have no physical explanations. The second part will argue that if the above thesis is true, then the Closure Principle is more likely to be false than true. So, first, I need to argue that some physical states of affairs have no physical explanations. A quick argument for this thesis is to consider all of physical reality as a whole. This constitutes a gigantic physical state of affairs. This gigantic physical state of affairs cannot have a physical explanation. For if it had a physical explanation, that physical explanation would be a part of the gigantic physical state of affairs, since that gigantic state contained all of physical reality. But then the explanation, in explaining that gigantic state, would also explain itself, since it itself is a part of the gigantic state. But no physical state of affairs can explain itself—that would be like the absurdity of being one’s own parent. A second (related) argument is that if every physical state of affairs has a physical explanation, we end up with a vicious infinite regress of physical states of affairs. Physical state #1 is explained by physical state #2 (maybe, my existence is explained by my parents’ existence), which then must be explained by physical state #3, and so on. So we have an infinite regress of physical states of affairs. But the regress does not stop there. For the whole infinite regress will be a physical state of affairs, and hence will need an explanation. So we will have another regress, and another, and so on. This is really absurd. A third argument is that current science gives us good reason to think that physical reality is not infinitely old, that it came into existence some finite amount of time ago, maybe in a Big Bang. If so, then the state of affairs of physical reality coming into existence won’t have a physical explanation. These three arguments for the No Physical Explanation Thesis are basically adaptations of the Cosmological Argument for the existence of God, but I am not concluding from them that there is a God—just that something physical has no physical explanation. So now we’ve learned that some physical state of affairs has no physical explanation. Let’s give a name to some such physical state of affairs—call it “Blob.” Blob, then, has no physical explanation. There are now two possibilities. Either (1) Blob has no explanation at all, or (2) Blob has a non-physical explanation. If Blob has a non-physical explanation, then the Closure Principle is false, since the Closure Principle said that no physical state of affairs has a non-physical explanation, and here is Blob—a physical state of affairs with a non-physical explanation. Of the two options, which is more likely? Blob having no explanation at all? Or Blob having a non-physical explanation? I will argue that think the likelier option is the latter—that Blob has a non-physical explanation. For physical states of affairs are contingent—they don’t have to be there. Blob, thus, doesn’t have to be there. The idea of something contingent having no explanation is like the idea of something coming into existence out of nothing. It is intuitively absurd. Much more absurd than the alternative, namely that it has a non-physical explanation. Maybe it’s hard for something physical to happen because of a non-physical cause—but it should be far harder for something physical to happen for no cause at all. If we think that that something contingent could happen for no cause at all, it should be even easier for it to happen due to a non-physical cause. So it is more likely that Blob has a non-physical explanation than that it has no explanation at all. But if it has a non-physical explanation, then the Closure Principle is false. So, most likely, the Closure Principle is false. Moreover, if we admitted that a physical state of affairs, namely Blob, could take place for no reason at all, with no explanation, then it would be a wonder why all sorts of other physical things don’t happen for no reason at all. Why doesn’t a dog-headed person suddenly pop into existence for no cause at all in front of me? Why doesn’t a golden mountain materialize in the middle of the Pacific Ocean out of nowhere? I can give a very simple explanation of why all these infinitely many strange things don’t happen: all physical states of affairs have to have explanations. But this explanation also implies that the Closure Principle is false. For we know that Blob has no physical explanation, and so Blob’s explanation must be non-physical. The Closure Principle was introduced in large part to save science from giving up on physical explanations and looking for supernatural ones. But if we accept the Closure Principle, then we have to say that some physical states of affairs have no explanation at all. And it is much worse to be willing to give up completely on a search for explanation than to be willing to give up on a search for physical explanation. We should thus think that most likely the Closure Principle is false, and hence this argument against interaction between the soul and the body fails as much as the previous ones did. http://cct.biola.edu/blog/2013/aug/19/can-soul-interact-body/
(bismillah) (salam) Title should read: is 'knowledge by presence' ('ilm hudhuri) enough to prove the immaterial nature of the soul? Reason I'm asking is because I know Mulla Sadra (and more recently Allamah Tabatabai and Mutahhari) have used the 'knowledge by presence' argument to prove the immaterial nature of the soul, through several premises, one of which being 'the unchanging nature of the unchanging' (lit. trans. from arabic: ghayr al mutaghayr ghayr al mutaghayr). Those of you who've studied this know what I'm talking about and I don't want to explain their argumentation around this, my question is: The human body changes itself several times over the course of a person's life (through cell self-renewal), but I have yet to read anywhere that the nervous system renews itself. IF it DOES NOT, as some materialists claim, is 'knowledge by presence' enough to prove the immaterial nature of the soul? since the fundamental basis of this, is that since the body changes over time, and the materialists claim the self IS the body, hence the self should change as well, but you know through 'knowledge by presence' that yourself 20 yrs ago, is yourself now. Therefore, since the materialists say your self is your nervous system and your self is the collection of senses that flow through this nervous system, that, presumably does NOT change, how can the argument of 'knowledge by presence' remain the main proof of the immateriality of the soul? I'm thinking out loud here and haven't fully looked into this, so bear with me. Any comments much appreciated, I'm no neuroscientist and no expert in the theory of knowledge, but this is something, I believe, that needs defenately further investigation. (salam)
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