0. Something to think about...
A complete stranger hands you a sealed envelope and asks you to choose an
number between one and fifty. A bit puzzled, perhaps, you think for a moment
and announce "twenty-eight". The stranger scribbles this in a notebook, tells
you to open the envelope in two weeks, smiles, and disappears.
Two weeks later you open the envelope to find a piece of paper with "28"
printed neatly in the centre. Your mind swims with possible explanations,
including the possibility that it was merely a coincidence. But a few
days later, the stranger reappears with another envelope, you choose another
number, and the sequence of events repeats. How many times would this have
to occur before you accepted that something VERY STRANGE INDEED was going on?
1. Basic Idea
The idea of the Project is to make use of recently established global computer networking facilities in order
to explore the purported anomalous effect known as retropsychokinesis
(from now on we shall refer to this as "RPK"). The existence of such
an effect has such profound philosophical implications that, despite
repeated and well-regulated
demonstrations carried out for over 20 years, it has remained an obscure matter of
parapsychological controversy. However, the emergence of the WWW
has created an exciting new possibility.
Although attempts to create "online" interactive parapsychological experiments
appeared on the WWW, these are in early stages of development and
published results have not been extensive. These experiments
are increasing awareness of the claims and methods of parapsychology
research. But the collection of data for serious research purposes is
obviously restricted, as subjects cannot be supervised, and the
lack of control in the experiments jeopardises the credibility of any
However, the "retrocausal" or reverse-time nature of RPK is such that problems of this nature
can generally be overcome. The proposed experiment(s) would, in fact, bypass most of the usual obstacles
which occur in parapsychological research. These include attracting and motivating appropriate
subjects, the limitations on the number of subjects which can be tested in any reasonable length
of time, the elimination of all possible fraud, and the difficulties subjects face in performing in
unfamiliar laboratory settings or in the presence of sceptical observers. The difficulties in
publicising and gaining acceptance for the results obtained has perhaps been
the most significant obstacle.
Experiments which yield significant results have generally been accepted by the "believers" and rejected by
the sceptics as insufficiently well-regulated (a claim which is often justified, but which can never be
overcome in the existing research format). However, this too could change, as we shall see.
2. A Brief History of Retropsychokinesis Research
The more generally-defined effect known as
psychokinesis (PK) has been studied extensively since the
1930's when J.B. Rhine
(Duke University) began systematically testing claims that seemingly
random events such as dice and coin throws are subject to subtle psychic influences. His
succesor, Helmut Schmidt, increased the rigour and efficiency of these experiments by
introducing an electronic random number generator which used subatomic decay processes in
order to generate data of the most fundamentally "random" nature. One must
keep in mind that the issue of
a difficult one - the interpretation of probabilities, the seeming effectiveness of statistical
methods, and the fundamental role which probabilities play in quantum mechanical models of
objective reality are all problems closely related to this work.
Schmidt went on to run experiments similar to the
original ones (PK effects on
electronically generated random data), the only diference being that the data
was prerecorded (and, importantly, unobserved), rather than
generated in "real time" as the experiments were carred out. Despite being
extraordinarily counterintuitive, the results suggested strongly that
random events which occured in the past are subject to psychokinetic influence - in other words,
the human mind can in some (limited) sense
"influence" or at least "select" the past.
Schmidt and others have spent many years repeating the experiments, refining the techniques,
and gathering valuable data, despite the general lack of public awareness and academic
acceptance which they have received. Various acausal models of reality, and appropriate
modifications of quantum theory have been suggested in order to account for the phenomenon,
yet many fundamental questions regarding the nature of time,
consciousness and causality remain largely unanswered.
The Project has been in communication with Schmidt (now retired, but still active) for the past few
months, and we have received letters and e-mail in which he describes the
proposed experiment as "very
reasonable and exciting". Although he admits to being only vaguely familiar
with the more sophisticated applications of the Internet,
he can be contacted via e-mail.
He has provided the Project with a random number generator
and continues to offer useful advice as it is needed.
3. Description of the Proposed Experiment.
The experiment we intend to carry out would involve subjects attempting to influence random data aided by a
visual display appearing on their computer screen.
The display program would be sent to the subject from the Project
(probably launched automatically within the WWW environment using
Java), together with
with (unobserved) randomly-generated data files from which it would read.
Secure copies of each data file would be kept by the Project, so
any influence which the subject exerts on his/her copy could be measured remotely at any later time. That is, we look at our copy of the data, and do not
need to rely on the honesty of the (unsupervised) subject. We can then
calculate the appropriate statistics, and log them in a database, which
will be viewable via our homepage.
Examples of the visual feedback programs which will be used are currently
available via anonymous FTP. These are C++ programs written by Schmidt
and compiled as DOS-executables. If you are interested in testing your own
RPK abilities (or those of someone else) feel free to download them and experiment.
Our major obstacle at present is the conversion
of these programs into Java (or an equivalently interactive format). Unfortunately this involves quite a lot of work, and despite several offers of help from
enthusiastic programmers, progress has been rather limited in this area.
Various researchers (Dean Radin, Roger Nelson, etc.) in contact with us have pointed
out that very large-scale experiments inevitably yield much "noise" (i.e.
worthwhile results are "diluted" by the untalented majority). To avoid
this situation, we plan to introduce a hierarchical "filtering" method.
Anyone will be welcome to participate in "Level 0" of the experiment; this
is intended for potentially talented subjects to practice on. Users of Level 0
who achieve "significant" scores will be offered the chance to gain access
to Level 1. This is intended to filter out most of the "noise". By achieving
significant cumulative results over large numbers of runs, subjects
will gain access to higher levels. Each level will be understood as a
self-contained experiment, with progressively higher levels presumably involving fewer
subjects, but generating more significant results.
Further complications in experiment design have arisen due to the surfacing
of "decision augmentation theory" or DAT, which argues
that although the phenomenon undoubtedly involves "the flow of information
from future to past", statistical analysis suggests that it is a form of
precognition and does not involve any sort of influence. The theory
appeared shortly after this Project was established, and as it is of
great importance to parapsychology research, it seems appropriate that our
experiment design should include tests for the validity of DAT.
Multiple visual and sound-based feedback programs will eventually be made available through the site, as it
seems from previous research that each subject performs differently with different types of
feedback. Users with programming ability will be encouraged to develop and contribute their
own feedback programs. It is important to note that although the whole experiment could
potentially be presented (or perceived) as a novel form of entertainment, unlike
parapsychologically-based television or stage entertainment, the results cannot be immediately
dismissed in the same way. For any concerned sceptic who is sufficiently
interested can choose to become involved as follows:
If we are succesful, the sceptic
will find the message which s/he chose. Succesful subjects who
felt compelled to raise awareness of the effect could in this way demonstrate
it directly to an open-minded sceptic.
This could lead the way to a new type of research - for
despite the difficult and esoteric nature of the effect, all of the necessary tools to
test one's own, or anyone else's, RPK influence will be freely available.
- We e-mail them a randomly-generated file Z, with instructions to copy it onto a
floppy disk, and to leave it unobserved until further notice.
- The sceptic
should then remove the disk from his/her machine and put it somewhere secure.
- S/he will then be asked to select a simple "message" to be "encoded" into
this file (such an encoding clearly violates common sense notions of time and
causality) and e-mail the selection to the Project.
- We forward this, along
with a copy of file Z to a subject who has shown significant RPK abilities in
past experiments, and instructions to encode the "message" into the file.
completing this task, the subject contacts the Project, and we then instruct
the sceptic to look at the contents of file Z which have been safely held
on a disk for the duration of the experiment.
A more sophisticated (and perhaps sensationalistic) approach could involve
the posting of PGP-encrypted files on widely read USENET newsgroups which
purported to "predict" perhaps a single number from the following week's
UK National Lottery.
The contents of the files would actually be the unobserved "compression"
of a large amount of unobserved random data. In this way, we could perhaps
set up experiments with succesful subjects in which they attempt to "retrocausally"
encode the correct number into the file after it has been selected.
The PGP decryption key would then be revealed on the newsgroups, allowing
the public to see for themselves evidence of RPK.
(Note that this has nothing to do with attempting to win lotteries,
or using psychic abilities for personal gain. The lottery numbers simply
serve as well-publicised and agreed-upon random "targets" for our demonstration of RPK.)
Our experience with the Internet suggests that a huge number of potential subjects could
quite easily be reached in a relatively short time. The fact that they will be free to perform in
their own environment, rather than in a (possibly distracting) laboratory, may make a significant
difference. Furthermore, the almost unlimited numbers of people who could potentially
participate in the experiment simultaneously, without the need for careful supervision, should
speed the research process up considerably. Dr. Schmidt has cautioned us,
however, that the key to getting results in these experiments may be the
effort we make to "maintain some semblance of personal contact between
subject and experimenter". Also,
Charles Tart, the well-known U.C.Davis consciousness researcher has
suggested that "there is an important experimenter effect in all psi
research; some people have the "magic touch" and regularly get results,
others don't and we have little idea as to why." Therefore we shall do
our best to make the entire experimental apparatus available to anyone on
the Web who would like to conduct similar research.
4. Philosophical Implications.
The existence of this effect (if in fact it does exist)
raises some very deep questions concerning the nature of time, the relationship between
consciousness and objective material reality, the concept of causality, and the concept of
randomness. The much misunderstood "multiple (or parallel) universes" interpretation of
quantum mechanical phenomena has been suggested as part of a model which encompasses the
RPK phenomenon. This in itself raises many important questions. The idea of "will" is certainly
related, as this is the best existing description of that which the subject uses in order to exert an influence.
The will's influence has been discussed in some details by the emminent
J. Beloff in an article on teleology
Many peripheral issues are also worthy of consideration. For example, there is the
reliability of experimental data in particularly sensitive areas of subatomic
physics (largely based on
subtle statistical assumptions, and therefore possibly subject to PK or RPK influences). Perhaps more controversially one might want to contemplate the
supposedly "random" nature of the genetic mutations which are axiomatic in
the Darwinian model of biological evolution.
Perhaps most profoundly, the very idea of "similar" measurable events, which constitutes the
starting point of all theories of probability and statistics (keeping in mind that all descriptions of
the physical universe are inherently statistical), and the (related) ubiquity of certain statistical
distributions in the physical world, particularly the Gaussian (or normal) distribution, may need serious re-evaluation.
For if the phenomenon is real, it suggests that such distributions can effectively be warped
through the exertion of poorly understood psychic faculties. This then suggests that the
perception of the physical universe as proceeding according to statistically regular (i.e. "normal",
in the truest sense) patterns may be be linked to some ongoing, collective, and/or self-reinforcing
psychic projection or interaction.
Finally, the purported results can be very simply
adapted to demonstrate what can only be
interpreted as an instantaneous transmission of information. This violates the
limit set by Einstein's Theory of Relativity, and is related to the
Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen paradox and the concept of quantum nonlocality.
This in itself, we believe, is sufficiently important to justify the experiments.
The scenario described at the beginning of this document, involving
strangers with envelopes, numbers printed on pieces of paper, etc. was
only intended as a metaphor. However, we aim to demonstrate equivalently
"impossible" things using the slightly less "physical" medium of e-mail,
computer files, etc. But it should be pointed out that if RPK really
exists (and the best existing database
suggests that the odds are in the order of 1 in 630 thousand million that
the experimental evidence is the result of chance), then such a stunt
could theoretically be carried out. The number in the envelope
would be the "compression" of a large block of unobserved random numbers,
calculated and printed via computer, and sealed in the envelope without
being observed. After a number was chosen, the "stranger" would
"unravel" it according to a certain algorithm, and set up a series of
RPK trials with talented subjects who would in effect be "encoding"
subtle biases into the original block of random data. This seemingly
"retrocausal" action should result in the printed number "having been"
the number which you (at a later time) selected.