Can science prove we’re psychic?


Minority-Report-horiz-1p_photoblog600 Scientists are buzzing over a peer-reviewed study that suggests humans have predictive powers, but it’s too early to predict whether or not the research will hold up. The 61-page paper, titled “Feeling the Future,” was written by Cornell psychology professor emeritus Daryl Bem and is due for publication in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Bem says his experiments support the idea that there really is something to human precognition of events that haven't yet occurred. You could argue that this is a case of science imitating sci-fi — particularly considering that precognition provided a key element of the plot for “The Minority Report,” a Philip K. Dick short story that was made into a movie starring Tom Cruise in 2002. You might be forgiven if you think this is the latest trick from a professor who used to be a stage magician. But Bem is dead serious about the experiments, and his submission to the journal is no work of fiction.

“My very first publication was 50 years ago in that journal, which would make a nice capstone,” Bem told me today. Bem said each of the experiments described in the paper simply takes a well-known method for testing how sensory input affects the brain's output “and turns it around backwards” in time sequence. Here are three examples:

  • Precognitive selection: A hundred subjects were asked to predict which of two computer screens will flash up a picture rather than an empty space. They're told in advance that some of the images will be erotic in nature. The computer didn't make its random selection of which images would appear where until after the human subjects made their choice. The subjects correctly identified the future position of the arousing images 53.1 percent of the time — while the success rate for the non-arousing images was merely the expected 50-50. A separate experiment, involving 150 subjects, came up with a 51.7 percent “hit rate” for selecting preferred images over negative images.

More here.