DAT Commentary

Jack Sarfatti

I comment on two papers by Ed May and co-workers which appeared in The Journal of Parapsychology, Vol 59, September, 1995 i.e., "Applications of Decision Augmentation Theory" pp 221-250 (with James P. Spottiswoode, Jessica M. Utts and Christine L. James) and "Decision Augmentation Theory: Toward a Model of Anomalous Mental Phenomena" pp 195-220 (ditto sans C.L. James).

These papers like Hal Puthoff's "CIA-Initiated Remote Viewing Program at Stanford Research Institute" in the Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol 10, No 1, pp 63-76 (1996) are formidable challenges for any objective honest skeptics (e.g., Martin Gardner, Vic Stenger, Murray Gell-Mann, Carl Sagan) who claim there is no good evidence for precognition (i.e., accessing information from the future in violation of the, by now sacred, principle of "Einstein Causality" that causes are before their effects absolutely in all frames of reference). Furthermore, this research of Ed May's was supported by the Central Intelligence Agency and the U.S. Department of Defense under much more stringent monitoring than conventional experimental work in high energy physics or even medical research. It must be taken seriously by professional debunkers of parapsychology if they wish to be taken seriously by the public, most of whom already believe in "psychic phenomena". If May's et-al extraordinary claims survive further testing, it means that a great restructuring of theoretical physics from "modern" to "post-modern" is in the offing. The new "anomalous cognition" data presented at the recent "Tucson II" consciousness conference at the University of Arizona presented data whose import for 21st Century Post-Modern Physics is comparable to the import of the radioactivity, black body radiation, and the inability to detect motion relative to the aether for 20th century Modern Physics.

May et-al distinguish four possible mechanisms for their data.

1. "Mean Chance Expectation" (MCE) for data from an "unperturbed parent distribution with unbiased sampling".

2. "Anomalous Perturbation" (AP) expected in "an interaction of a force type from a perturbed parent distribution with unbiased sampling".

3. "Decision Augmentation" (DAT) in which "Nature is unchanged, but the measurements are biased; that is, AC (Anomalous Cognition) has distorted the sampling we have measurements from an unperturbed parent distribution with biased sampling."

4 "Combination biased sampling from a perturbed parent distribution."

They consider a continuous random variable X with a normal probability distribution of given mean and variance. Suppose n unbiased measures and compute the new variable Y as the simple average over the n measures. They claim that the new random variable Y also has a normal probability distribution with the same mean as X but with a smaller variance than X by a factor 1/n. The quantity z is then defined as

z = (Y - common mean of X and Y)/squareroot of variance of Y

This z is supposed to satisfy a normal probability distribution with zero mean and variance = 1. The normalized equation for this is

p(z) = (1/squareroot 2pi) e^-((z^2)/2)

So that expectation values of any function f(z) are the integrals from - to + infinity of f(z)p(z)dz.

They do a similar analysis for a discrete Bernoulli probability distribution with a given probability p_0 to "observe a one". A discrete z score after n samples is then defined in analogy to the continuous normal case above etc. The mathematics looks fine to me, but I am no expert. I doubt that the professional psi debunkers will be able to punch holes in their mathematics at this stage.

The DAT model of "precognition" for z requires both a biased shift in the mean away from zero and a biased distortion in the variance away from 1. Similarly, the AP "force" model of "psychokinesis" for z only requires a shift in the mean i.e., "an AP effect size". There is no distortion in the variance in the case of force-like psychokinesis.

Let's discuss this before we go further with their analysis. The AP scenario is active in that some kind of mental force literally reaches out from the observer and perturbs the external objective physical process which could be the decay of a single radio active nucleus, the arrival of a single photon at a particular point on a photographic plate, the tunnelling of an electron through an energy barrier etc. In contrast, the DAT scenario, on the surface, is much more conservative and plausible because it is passive. There is no psychokinetic force on the objective external physical process, rather, there is precognition of information transmitted from that external process. This information need not come in the form of electromagnetic signals. No claim of that kind is made by DAT or AP. They are both top-down "black-box" purely empirical or phenomenological orderings of statistical data with no necessary connection to any bottom-up fundamental physics theory. This is both their strength and their weakness.

The original papers should be consulted for a large database of details that should be sifted through with a fine tooth comb by the professional psi debunkers. I accept these papers as factual. These papers are qualitatively backed up in independent studies of AC by Professor D. J. Bem a former psi skeptic and stage magician at the Cornell University Department of Psychology presented as paper 432 at Tucson II, "The ganzfeld: a procedure for obtaining replicable evidence for an anomalous process of information transfer".

Thus, to summarize where we are so far: Skeptics like Cal Tech's Nobel Physics Laureate, Murray Gell-Mann call all claims of AP or DAT "pseudoscience" and any attempt to use quantum mechanics as a theory is "The Story Distorted" (e.g., Ch. 12, The Quark and the Jaguar). Opposing Gell-Mann is another Nobel Physics Laureate, Brian Josephson, of England's venerable Cambridge University, who says that paraphysical phenomena are statistically well-established scientific facts. The small paraphysics community is now split between DAT and AP, as well as whether quantum mechanics is essential or irrelevant to the "anomalous cognition" phenomena.

Jack Sarfatti, May 24th 1996