Dr Angela Puca AP: Hello everyone and welcome to the live stream Symposium. As you know, I’m a PhD and a Religious Studies scholar, and this is your online resource for the academic study of Magick, Esotericism, Paganism, Shamanism, and all things occult. As you know, Angela’s Symposium is a crowdfunded project, so I would really appreciate it if you want me to keep this project going if you’d consider supporting my work with a one-off PayPal donation. I actually have my little presentation here about the academic fun, which is what we are all about here on Angela Symposium. So, these are all the ways to support my channel if you are interested in doing so. And these are the fantastic books of the guest that we have on today or tonight depending on where you are from. And we have here Dr Dean Radin. Thank you so much for being here on the channel. I really appreciate the fact that you came on, and we got in contact thanks to RENSP, the Research Network for the Study of Static Practices, which is a new association, and we are both working with it. And you guys will know more about it in the upcoming months because it’s going to launch quite soon. So, thank you so much, Dean, for coming over and gifting us with your knowledge. How are you today?
[Dr Radin’s mic is muted]
Dr Dean Radin DR: That’s a little better.
AP: Yes, that was my fault. I had to turn your mic on.
DR: I’m doing well. I’m here on the western side of the U.S., so it’s early morning for me.
AP: So, good morning to you. For me, it is leading up to the evening. So, I really appreciate your work, Dean, I think it’s work that is really important. One thing that I really appreciate about your work, and also a conversation that we had when we met for the interview for RENSEP, is when you said how important it is to look at the evidence, and that sometimes, even when presented with the evidence when the theoretical framework or the dominant framework is not really in line with the evidence, they tend to be discarded. And so, I appreciate your effort to find evidence and also to generally research magic and esoteric practices because I am sure you have encountered a lot of problems doing so in your career. So, thank you for having dedicated your life to that. That’s the first thing that I wanted to say.
DR: Well, thank you. If I had, I didn’t know in the very beginning. I was told by many of my professors that it was probably best to avoid working in a field that was as controversial, and I did for about 10 years. I’ve worked in industry, but I thought that actually, the advice was useful because it’s true that when you are working at the edge of science, not just looking at things like parapsychology but the edge of science, most of it is really unknown. And so, there’s a lot of disagreement among scientists, and if you look at any field of science at the edge, you will find people screaming at each other all the time in journal articles and in conferences. There’s a huge number of disagreements because nobody knows the right answer. And that actually appealed to me because I tend to get bored pretty easily. So, one of the problems I’ve had in school was, ‘Why am I learning things that we already know?’ Like, you could read it, you know it, okay, let’s move on, let’s move on to the remaining 50 billion unknown mysteries of the universe, rather than constantly trying to make tiny little advancements over what we know. So, I stayed in this field now for something like 40 years already because I have never been bored. It’s always interesting.
So, the first objection that is quite common is the idea of reproducibility. Because some of your studies report positive findings for phenomena such as telepathy and psychokinesis, however, there are scholars who claim that attempts to replicate these kinds of findings in other labs have failed. So, is there an explanation for the lack of consistent reproducibility, or do you think that they are actually reproducible? So, what steps are you taking to address that?”
DR: Well, this sort of critique arises among people who have never conducted an experiment because experiments always fail, especially if you’re studying something new and you don’t know all of the variables involved. So, if you look within the medical sciences, psychology sciences, and sociology sciences, you cannot rely on an experiment working. This is why you always evaluate things at a statistical level.
So, the place, the realm of human existence where you expect things to work every time is technology. That’s when you’ve taken research, you’ve done lots of experiments, you figure out how things work to such a point where it becomes reliable, and then you have the technology. So, the technology we’re using now is pretty reliable, but even among technology, it fails sometimes and we don’t even know why it fails. So, there is nothing in the realm of human experience which is completely reliable, and this is especially true when it comes to experimentation on topics at the edge of the known.
So, the way that we deal with this, again, not just in parapsychology but in all of the behavioural and medical sciences, is through having independent people do similar experiments. And then, you look at, on average, what do people get? How many people are getting significant replications? How many people are maybe not reaching significance from a statistical perspective, going in the right direction or at least a predicted direction? So, you use a technique called meta-analysis, which is the analysis of many studies. And you can make an assessment as to whether or not replication is actually happening. That’s how you determine whether an effect is reproducible when it comes to things about human performance, in particular, but as I said, it’s true in every discipline, including physics. So maybe even physicists don’t think about this very much, but if you go into a book that shows the values of constants, so there are dozens and dozens of constants that have been discovered in physics, you will see a table in there showing the value of the constant, like the mean value of many, many experimental replications with error bars. Because you can never know something precisely, so there are error bars, and it changes over time. It doesn’t change dramatically, but it does fluctuate as new methods are developed and as we find other factors that begin to influence the results of an experiment. So, if you’re seeing that in physics, you can just imagine what goes on in the areas having to do with the human body and human performance. So, I’m not surprised at all that not only do my experiments not only work all the time but that others as well. They’ll try an experiment; it won’t work. Well, we don’t know why it didn’t work, but that’s why we rely on averages.
AP: Do you think that there’s a higher degree of non-reproducibility when it comes to studying magic practices or esoteric phenomena?
DR: Well, I can’t say that much yet about magical practices, in particular, because while I actually do think that most of what parapsychology studies are magical practices, we don’t normally think of it in those terms. We think if we’re doing an experiment, does it work or not? So, one of the ways of answering this question is by looking at the meta-analytic results for things like psychic perception. I’m going to make a distinction here between perceptual kinds of effects and action effects, and psychokinetic effects because you get different sizes of the effects in these experiments. So, one of the ways of addressing this issue is we know what the effect size is for certain kinds of things like telepathy and clairvoyance, and you can compare that against a meta-meta-analysis that was published a few years ago in the social sciences.
What these authors had done is they went through 10,000 studies that have been meta-analysed. So, there are dozens of different meta-analyses, and they came up with an overall effect size for all of those studies, a huge number of different experiments, and it was 0.2. That’s the effect size. It ranges between zero and one or sometimes above one. So, 0.2 is… But it’s 0.2. It doesn’t sound like it means anything except there are error bars around it, and the question is, is that 0.2 actually zero? Is it like no effect at all? And the answer is no. It actually is way above zero because you look at the error bars, and they’re far away from zero. So, there are real effects that are seen in the social sciences and in parapsychology for psychic perception. You get 0.2. So, are our results more difficult to replicate or smaller or larger? The answer is, it’s almost exactly the same as what is found in the social sciences, most of which are not controversial at all.
AP: And is it different from natural science, since you mentioned social science?
DR: Well, it depends on what natural science you’re talking about. I think of human behaviour as completely natural, so that is a natural science. So, the distinction between where does physics turn into something like human performance, it’s arbitrary. You know, I don’t know how to make that distinction. Maybe you have a better way of describing what you mean by natural sciences because it’s all-natural, as far as I can tell.
AP: Yeah, I guess that by natural science, I would mean the disciplines like biology, medicine. I guess also physics. Usually, those that rely more on quantitative data collection and analysis, even though you also do quantitative data collection and analysis.
DR: So, do the natural sciences include psychophysiology, all of which are objective measures of what’s going on in the body?
AP: I would say so. I don’t consider myself an expert on what classifies as natural science. It is just a distinction that is often made when you talk about natural science as opposed to social science or humanities. These are the types of classes of disciplines that you’re here talking about. But I get your point that there are intersections, and it’s not that clear-cut.
DR: No, no, it’s… I mean, maybe the distinction is objectively measurable effects versus subjectively reported effects.
AP: Yeah, that’s a very good way of putting it.
DR: Right, so psychophysiology is right in the middle because it is a reflection of what’s going on in the subjective sense, but it’s objective measures. Like, you can measure what’s going on in your heart rate, and that will reflect things going on in your mind. So, the old distinctions of the term ‘natural science’ really are beginning to fall apart because even now, with neuroimaging methods, you can tell a fair amount about what’s going on subjectively by looking at things like blood flow in the brain. So, that distinction is beginning to dissolve.
AP: Yeah, I get the point. Let’s move to the other questions then.
I think that you already kind of covered some of this, but in terms of the statistical methodology, what’s the scale of your studies, as well as that of others in the field, and are there only small studies and/or what was the statistical significance of them? Because that’s another typical objection that I hear against the scientific and academic study of isolated practices, the idea that they tend to be small-scale studies and they are not really statistically significant.
DR: Right, so in the old days, a lot of attention was paid to whether something was statistically significant. Still, that still happens in some disciplines, but that is completely dependent on the size of the sample because the two are linked. So, the constraint throughout the social sciences and behavioural sciences is based on funding. If we had a lot of funding, we’d have much bigger studies. It really comes down to that. So, what typically happens is, especially in the academic world, you might have 30 participants in the study. If you’re lucky, you’ll be at a university, and you will give credit to students to do something. Maybe you’ll get 100 students to do an experiment, but it’s again limited by resources. So, in parapsychology, it has always had a problem with gaining funding. So, the average study might have 30 participants in it, each person doing multiple trials. So, it’s not a lot, and that is again why you rely on meta-analysis because if you’re doing something like a telepathy study, there’s something like 120 publications, each one having somewhere between 20 and perhaps 100 subjects. And if you look overall, then there are more than 5,000 sessions of telepathy testing sessions among those 120 publications. So, you can make pretty good statistical evaluations based on 5,000 sessions because they’re all more or less done the same way by different people.
So this is a problem with anybody doing a laboratory study. For example, in the neuroimaging world, where you might be doing functional MRI, you could publish a paper with five subjects. You can sometimes do it with one subject. So, a lot of it depends on what field you’re looking at, and what kind of measures that you’re getting. Things are beginning to change now throughout many of the sciences with online experiments. So, I just finished a study, and I’m writing it up now with 85 million trials contributed by 250,000 people over 18 years. So, this was an internet-based study with a huge amount of data. So, when we make a statistic, it provides enormous statistical power to be able to see things that we were not able to see before because we didn’t have that power. And so, one of the effects found in this study is a seven Sigma result. I mean, seven standard errors away from chance, which is roughly a trillion to one odds against chance from a statistical perspective. So, I think we’ll see more and more, especially during the pandemic time, that people move their experiments online because they had to. But you get so much more data in these experiments that I think that’s going to become more or less a standard now. And there are more and more tools available to be able to do these kinds of studies online. And the same will be happening for parapsychology, I’m sure.
AP: Do you focus more on subjectively measured data or objectively measured data? I think you mentioned it earlier, I might be misremembering the exact words, but I’d be interested in knowing that. I would imagine both, but…
DR: All of the data is objective in the sense that it has to be, otherwise we couldn’t record it. In other words, it may start out subjectively like you get an impression of something at a distance if it’s a Clairvoyance experiment, but you have to express it somehow. Either we get it physiologically by measuring your body reactions or your pupil dilation, or you say something or you write something or do something. So, all of the data is always objective. Evaluation of the data is also as objective as you can make it. For example, if somebody’s doing an experiment in Clairvoyance and they’re getting a mental impression and they speak about what their experience is, you can transcribe that. In today’s world, you could have automated evaluations of the concepts that were spoken. And you can do the same thing then for the distant Target. You could have judges looking at a Target and describing it. And now you have computer analysis of transcripts, all of which is now you can see then how you can take these subjective impressions and cast it into terms and become objective. And then have totally automated evaluation of the results. That’s just one example. But ultimately, in order to be scientific, you need to have data to work with. So, we can’t work with data that just stays in your head. It has to come out somehow.
AP: Can you give us an example of how studies that you have conducted take place and are carried out in terms of how you set up the study and collect the data and analyse the data? For instance, on telepathy or telekinesis.
DR: Well, those two are actually quite different. So, I’ll start with telepathy. So, I’m going to describe a classic method, meaning that it’s been used now for about 50 years, the same technique. It’s called the Ganzfeld telepathy experiment. Ganzfeld is a German word meaning ‘whole field’, and it was developed by Gestalt therapists back in the 1930s. So, what you do is you have two people in this experiment because this telepathy, the person who will act the role of the receiver of information is put into a heavily shielded isolated chamber. They sit in a comfy chair, typically that can recline. You get some kind of eye cover. The cheap way to do this is you get a ping pong ball and you cut it in half, and then you tape the ping pong ball over the eyes. You tell them to keep their eyes open. You shine red light on their face, so everywhere they look, they only see a pink colour. And then they wear headphones that play white noise. So, in that position where you’re reclining, you’re comfortable, your eyes are open, you’re just hearing white noise. You’re pretty well isolated from the world, but it’s not sensory deprivation because you’re getting input. You’re getting a random input into your ears and your eyes, and you’re comfortable. In that state you very quickly drop into a hypnagogic state, which is if you’re falling asleep and you remain just aware enough, you’ll begin to see all kinds of hallucinations essentially. So, it’s a state between sleep and awake, and you can sustain it as long as you wish.
So, you put the receiving person in that state, and you tell them the name of the game is if their friend somewhere at a distance is going to try to send something to them telepathically and to speak aloud. This is how we get this subjective impression out. They have to speak aloud because we record that. That’s the data of the experiment. So, meanwhile, we have a sender, their partner somewhere at a distance. And before either of these two people come to the laboratory, there’s a large pool of pictures which is created. Each pool has four images, four as different from each other as possible, and typically trying to be simple images. Like not a complex image of a cityscape because there are a gazillion things in there, but simple things that you can look at and immediately know what it is, but different from each other. So, you might have a hundred different pools of four targets. So, an assistant who is otherwise not involved in any of this randomly selects one of the 100 pools, and then another person will randomly select, or sometimes a machine will randomly select, one of the four targets that will be telepathically sent.
So, the sender now is given that target. And by the way, when I’m talking about people involved in the experiment and so on, nobody who is dealing with the receiver will deal with the sender to keep the information separate. So, there’s no way of information leakage between the people.
So, the sender is given one picture. They know that there may be four pictures, but they only see one, and this is the picture you need to send to your partner. So, the reason the other reason why we have the receiver speaking aloud is that we have a one-way audio link carrying everything they say to the sender. So, the sender is able to hear what the receiver is experiencing because they’re talking about it. And that helps the sender adjust their mental sending strategy. So, if you’re lucky, maybe they’ll start saying immediately. Like if you’re trying to send a picture of an elephant, the receiver, you hear the receiver saying, ‘I don’t know, there’s something grey.’ And so, as a sender, I’m thinking, ‘Oh, good. They’re getting it now.’ You know, send the animals and the elephant, everything about elephants. So, this goes on for 20 minutes. Then that sending period stops. The research assistant who had dealt with the receiver now goes back into the receiver room. They have no idea what the target was that was being sent. They take the person out of the Ganzfeld state, and now they give them all four pictures. So, neither of them knows which one was the one that was being sent, but the receiver now has to speak aloud, ‘Which one matches your impressions the best?’ And sometimes you play back everything that they had said because it’s difficult to remember what you said when you’re in this Ganzfeld condition.
So, they hear back everything they said, and now they have to remember their impressions and match which one is the best. So, by chance, the receiver will guess the right target one in four times. So 25% is the chance rate in this experiment. And over the 5,000 or so trials like this conducted in 20 different laboratories and 120 or so publications, the overall hit rate is between 30 and 32 percent. So, it doesn’t sound like much. It’s somewhere between five and seven percent over chance expectation. But because there are so many trials involved, and especially because it’s been replicated in many laboratories, you can come up with a statistical assessment as to whether or not this is due to chance or not. And the odds against chance, I don’t know, trillion to one, something like that. It’s extremely far away from the idea that this was a chance effect of getting 30 or 32 percent where you should have gotten 25 percent.
So, that’s an example of a telepathy experiment, and by the way, when the design of the apparatus or the laboratory is done, in the case at the University of Edinburgh where I was setting up one of the testing chambers, and an earlier version of that, which was set up in Princeton, New Jersey, and also at The Institute of Noetic Sciences where I am now, in each case, we did extensive testing and calibration beforehand to find out: was it possible to hear something from one room to the other? We’d use very loud noises with recording apparatus, to see: could you hear anything at all? The answer is no. In most of these cases, we also bring in a magician, not with a ‘k’ at the end, but like a stage magician, who knows how deception works and how confederates can be used to cheat. And we have them go through the protocol and say, ‘If you were trying to cheat this system, to figure out a way of faking it, what would you do?’ And sometimes they gave advice, and sometimes they say, ‘Oh, I don’t know how to cheat this system. It’s, it’s too rigorously separated.’ So there’s no way to do it. But the point is that we brought in people who specialize in ways of cheating a system or creating illusions or whatever methods that they can think of, including a sub-speciality of stage magic, which is called psychic entertainers, where people who act as though they’re psychic on stage and do performances. Well, so people like that have gone through these setups to vet whether or not they’re actually good or not. And they pass muster. So, at Edinburgh, we had a well-known British, magician who also happened to be an experimental psychologist, go through the whole thing and gave his blessing, saying, ‘Well, we didn’t know anybody could, they would cheat on this, so we felt good about that.’ And as I said, we’ve done that with other setups as well. So, the combination of the laboratory, the controls, the protocols, and all the rest of it, 20 years ago, one of the primary critics of this kind of research was a professor at the University of Oregon named Ray Hyman.
So, he wrote extensively about why he didn’t believe any other stuff. 20 years ago, when he was asked about these kinds of experiments, in particular, his response was that he could no longer think of any plausible alternatives to this hypothesis because all of the loopholes that people had found over the years had been closed. So, the Ganzfeld telepathy experiment is now used, as I said, as a kind of classic exemplar of doing the same experiment by many people over many years, finding loopholes and closing them and making it more and more rigorous up to the point where a lifelong sceptic said they no longer can think of any reason that somebody could cheat the system, and you still get results. And then, so, one of the final pieces in this puzzle is, well, what happens if somebody does the experiment who thinks it’s all nonsense, is totally sceptical, doesn’t believe in any of this stuff, but follows the protocol legitimately? They also get 30 to 32 percent. So, unless everyone for 50 years has been overlooking something, which is possible, then this is a way of demonstrating the proof of principle that sometimes information in one person’s head gets into another person’s head. So, that’s one example. I mean, I can go through the same kind of story with experiments involving precognition and psychokinetic effects and so on.
So, a lot of people over many years have been thinking about these things, and often times the criticism that somebody raises essentially is a loophole, you know, maybe it was this. You’d say, ‘Okay, we’ll devise a new version of it where that’s not possible.’ And so, the experiments have gotten to the point now where there are about 10 classes of experiments which are so tight that, and this, I think, is a very important point, it is true that if you ask, in general, sceptics who don’t pay much attention to this area, if you’re asked Wikipedia, for example, ‘What do you think about this stuff?’ it’ll say, ‘No, there are a lot of criticisms about the methodology and so on.’ Those criticisms are based on what happened 40 years ago. It’s not based on what’s available now. And so, the state of the art was, well, represented a couple of years ago by two articles that appeared in American Psychologist, that’s the journal, the flagship journal of the American Psychological Association. And the APA, as we call it, has never particularly been fond of parapsychological work, so it’s unusual to be able to get a major article in that journal.
Nevertheless, in 2018, there was an article reviewing the evidence for parapsychological effects in American Psychologist as a feature article. This was by Etzel Cardeña, who’s a professor at Lund University in Sweden. And then the next year, there was a counterpoint sceptical article written by two professors, lifelong professors who all think it’s all nonsense. So, we have the state of the art in terms of the evidence and the state of the art in terms of critical response. So, the fascinating thing is a 2018 article. It shows 10 meta-analyses of different classes of experiments, as I just described, along with the results. It shows that they’re repeatable. These are effects that have been repeated again and again by different laboratories in their well-designed experiments. When you look at the sceptical argument in the old days, meaning 20 years ago and before, people would say, ‘Well, maybe there’s this problem, and maybe there’s this loophole, and so on.’ State-of-the-art scepticism today is, ‘We don’t have to look at the evidence because we know it’s impossible.’ And it’s actually astonishing if you put on your neutral scientist’s hat, and you’re looking at these two articles, one of them is presenting evidence, but the other one is saying, ‘This is impossible.’ It’s like saying that pigs can fly. They actually, use that phrase in their response.
AP: Did they give any argument for that, except that it was impossible?
DR: No, there’s no argument to that because they’re saying this is theoretically impossible; therefore, anything that is presented has to be flawed.
AP: Yeah, but what is, what do you, what does it mean, theoretically impossible? If something has evidence behind it, it means that it is theoretically possible. This is practically possible.
DR: This is exactly why I was really astonished that it was even published because it’s an anti-scientific position. It’s saying, I mean they literally say, ‘We don’t have to look at the evidence. We don’t have to review the evidence because it’s impossible.’ It’s mind-boggling that scientists would actually say that and write it. So, I use ChatGPT, which as an AI system is actually quite good if you give it information and you say, ‘Compare this article with that one,’ and so I said, ‘Okay, here’s one article, here’s one other article. Now I want you to compare the two for credibility,’ which you can do. So, it did that, it came back very quickly and said that the first article, the one that’s presenting evidence, was neutral and scientific and presented evidence. The second article was essentially an argument, not referring to the evidence at all. So, the first article was credible and the second was not, which is again, I would say anybody even moderately neutral about this topic who looked at those two articles would come to the same conclusion.
The reason I had ChatGPT do it is because an AI doesn’t care. People do care, right? So people’s emotions get into play when you do this, but presumably, an AI doesn’t have those emotions and can make an assessment based on what it just read, and it read the way that I read it. And you have evidence in this case, and what are these people talking about? They’re saying it’s impossible based on evidence. It’s just crazy.
AP: Yeah, that’s very interesting. And, so, as for the other objections that we find to people that are averse to, you know, that, say that these kind of experiments are not really scientific, another thing is experimental controls and blinding. So, can you elaborate on the controls and blinding procedures you use in your studies to rule out any possible experimental bias or participant expectation effects?
DR: Right, so this, this refers back to what I was saying about the telepathy experiment where we, we make sure, through having magicians look at the setup, to make sure that somebody can cheat, and we do lots of extensive pilot tests to make sure that that sounds and vibrations and things can’t carry from one place to the other. And when we deal with multiple people, anybody who deals with either person is kept separate as well, especially if there’s somebody like a telepathy experiment, the receiving party, anybody who deals with that person cannot know what the future target is going to be or what the target is at a distance. In precognition tests, it’s much easier because nobody knows, by definition, what the future target is, right? It’s not a clairvoyance experiment where a target exists in an envelope in some other room. It hasn’t been selected yet when the person is making their assessment of what the target is. So that’s, that’s like a perfect control.
And then in other experiments, for example, we’ve done experiments where we’re looking at the effect of the intentional influence of water and whether that grows plants better. So if you would have, in our case, we had three Buddhist monks do an intentional blessing of water where the intention was that this water will make plants grow better. So you start with a big batch of water, and you separate it into two bins, one gets blessed and the other one does not. So it starts out as, under the null hypothesis, there shouldn’t be any difference because they all came out of the same source and intention doesn’t do anything under the null condition. So you now give the water to somebody who is blind to which one of the waters is which. Obviously, if they knew which one it was, which they could behave differently, so they are blind at that stage. And then they grow plants in some kind of way that they normally would grow plants, typically a plant physiologist, and then they measure the effects, still blind. And then they give the data to a statistician who is also blind. They just know that these are plants A and these are plants B and have no idea what the difference was between those, and they make an assessment: ‘Well, are these plants different than those?’ And at the very end, the blind is broken and you see whether or not the hypothesis was upheld or not.
So, we’ve done experiments involving food and beverage and plants and stem cells. We’re doing one now involving cancer cells, always using these blinds in as many ways as we can. Typically, though, the main blinding is the person who’s doing the assessment, like measuring cancer cells or measuring stem cells, they’re blind to what the water is, and also the statistician is blind. So, in any place where expectation might bias the results, we use as close to placebo-controlled double blinds as we can, and of course, it depends entirely on the nature of the experiment.
AP: Yeah, thank you, that’s, that’s really interesting. I think that most people don’t even know how these kinds of studies are conducted, so it’s really important to cover that.
DR: There’s an interesting historical element here. What is not known by many scientists today is that methods like blinding were developed for ESP tests back in…
AP: Really? I didn’t know that.
DR: … about 1917 at Stanford University. There was a professor who was conducting ESP tests. His name was J. Edgar Coover, and he was a professor there for something like two decades. It was funded by the brother of this Stanford who created the university in the first place. So, his brother was also named Stanford, so he gave a fellowship to the university to study these kinds of things. So, he was the first professor. He was doing experiments using cards. This was before J.B. Rhine, who was probably better known for doing card tests. So, because this was about 20 years before it became popular, nevertheless, he figured out that there were expectation effects, so you had to remain blind. Anyone involved in the experiment had to be blind. So, the idea of blinding and double blinding came out of the ESP tests. What is also not known is that the modern neurosciences, much of which is based on the electroencephalograph, was developed by Hans Berger, a German psychiatrist, in the 1920s and 30s.
And the reason why he developed the human electroencephalograph was because of a psychic experience that he had. He had an experience with his sister, and his sister somehow knew something was, he was in danger, and that was true. And he was so struck by this coincidence that his sister sent him a telegram saying, ‘What’s wrong?’ when he just almost lost his life, that he spent the rest of his career trying to measure what he called the psychic energy. That has given rise to the primary tool used in the neurosciences today. Not very many neuroscientists know that. Another example is the use of statistics in evaluating psychological experiments. That started as a result of figuring out a way to evaluate ESP card tests by Charles Richet, who is a French Nobel Laureate.
And the last example I’ll give and actually, I’ll give two more. So, the development of meta-analysis, which is a major tool now, and basically all across all of the sciences, the very first meta-analysis was done by J.B. Rhine to look at the accumulation of card tests that were done in his lab and in other labs to assess whether or not this was a generally repeatable effect. The answer is yes, it was, even back in 1940. So, that was the first meta-analysis. And then there was one more, that is, his escape, oh.
So, the discipline of psychophysics was started by Gustav Fechner, a Germa
Gustav Fechner n scientist who was also a spiritualist who developed the idea that the mind and body are correlated with each other, very tightly correlated, which now is taken for granted but that was not taken for granted back when Fechner was developing this. And the reason he came up with this idea is that, from a spiritualist perspective, he was an idealist, a philosophical idealist, and expected that everything ultimately came out of consciousness, in which case, the mind as a reflection of consciousness and body too was part of consciousness. They had to be correlated with each other. So, the discipline of psychophysics comes out of, what amounts to his spiritualistic metaphysical basis. People doing meta-psychophysics today are focused more on mathematical ways and physics ways of understanding how the body and mind connect. And then one last bit is, it is possibly not known today, even by many physicists, that the founders of quantum mechanics were idealists, very heavily influenced by Eastern philosophy and mysticism, specifically. So, today, many physicists are very quick to dismiss mysticism and Eastern philosophy and all that stuff as it’s that we have nothing to do with that.
Well, yeah, they do because the origins of quantum mechanics came from those scientists. And one of the reasons that are important is that you could have a very deep interest in metaphysical concepts and mysticism, and it doesn’t mean that you’re any less of a physicist than anybody else. In fact, a case can be made that if they did not have those interests, then quantum mechanics as we know it today would not even exist. So, the origins of, and you probably encounter this in your own scholarship, the origins of the way things play out today are typically forgotten in the way that the disciplines are taught.
AP: Yeah, that’s why… Yeah, sorry, I interrupted you. I was about to say, that’s why Woulter Hanegraff described esotericism as ‘rejected knowledge’ because it’s sort of the wastebasket of history. So, when it comes to describing our historical figures and what they have done, usually the esoteric side is just forgotten. Like Newton, I remember having a discussion with somebody in my family who was saying that I’m a religious scholar, so I’m in a different field, but he was saying that I studied weirdo stuff. He is a mathematician, and so he was saying how he worshipped Newton. By the way, you know, as a way of saying, ‘Oh, you know, that’s what I believe in, in Newton and the laws of physics.’ And it’s like Newton was very much interested in the weirdest stuff that I study. So, if you want to know this character that you adore so much, you might as well study some weirdo stuff yourself, so that you could have the full picture and not just the polished, sanitized version that abides by the dominant cultural framework that we have now.
And the same is for Descartes, who was also considered extremely rational and the father of modern rationality and dualism, and we still see in science, and has probably been the precursor of positivism, which has done a lot of damage, but also it has been quite useful in science. So yeah, you do find this throughout history, how certain aspects of certain characters that are very much adored and accepted even within the current framework, those aspects, those elements about them, they are just bracketed out. It’s like we are just pretending this never happened. We are pretending that these historical scientific figures never ever got interested in this ‘woo-woo’ or, you know, whatever pejorative term is used, even if one of my Patrons really likes that term. But I know that it is often used in a pejorative sense.
DR: Yeah, the woo-woo taboo. It’s something that we all know, but nobody wants to talk about it. Well, fortunately, some of us want to talk about it because if you study history, it’s true, you find that people are complex and people have all kinds of interesting ideas. And especially in this, it has probably always been true in the academic world and also even in the scholastic world within religion. That part of the goal of it is that academia is an ideological place where ideas are the currency, and so you defend your ideas. And part of the defence of an idea is you kind of squish it into a little space and say, ‘This space is good. We can work with this. Everything else is either pseudoscience or pseudo-scholarship, and we reject it.’ And in the process, things are being rejected which are actually quite useful.
AP: Yeah, that’s why I think it’s important, It doesn’t have to polarise opinion. Like either you believe that this is true and real or you don’t. I think that it’s just important, I think the essence of academia and the essence of science is free inquiry based on evidence and just being open to change your mind depending on whatever is the latest methodology that allows us to gather the most accurate information that we can gather at a given time. And in 50 years, what we think now is accurate information might not be so, and that is fine. You know, I really oppose the polarized views even about these matters because it’s important to have an open mind, especially if you are academically inclined or you are a scientist or an academic. I think that the purpose of it all is understanding, discovering, and having an open, inquiring, and wondrous mind, not just being stuck in your positions and saying, ‘No, this is the truth, and yes, theology.’
DR: That is the aspiration of every academic centre, but that is not the reality. Right? It takes work to do what you’re saying. It takes work to remain open-minded in the face of something that may be counter to your long-held wishes. And it’s easier not to do the work. So yeah, no, I completely agree that especially in the academic world, the notion of being open to many possibilities is really part of the core idea of it. But in my experience, some ideas, get squashed by politics, they get squashed by business interests, industrial interests, and sometimes military interests, and also ideology within departments. So somebody becomes a famous professor because of idea X. If somebody comes along and says, ‘Well, you know, idea X is no longer true. There’s all this other stuff showing that it’s not even true anymore,’ Do you think they’re going to accept it? No, they will not accept it because now you identify with idea X. It’s like your whole reason for being is X, and somebody’s coming along and saying, ‘Well, then, you know, your reason for being is no longer true.’ Nobody wants to hear that. So, that’s how the ideology becomes coagulated and turns into dogma, and it’s almost unavoidable.
AP: I think that is that my field tends to be a bit more open. I mean, religious studies, especially in the UK, tends to be a bit more open. But my sister is a scientist, and she doesn’t do any of these things. She is in cancer research, but she says the same exact thing about how politics really rules everything when it comes to research. I think that probably one of the reasons why, in religious studies, things are a bit more open, other than the fact that I think the UK is more open because Italy is not as open, but it’s also because in religious studies, you don’t have much funding, to begin with, so there isn’t much to fight over. So, that’s one of the reasons, at least I think that might be why perhaps Religious Studies and Anthropology tend to be a bit more open, but also because I think the UK tends to be a bit more open in certain ways and certain things. Yeah, because I have experience, which I’ve said in Italy as well, so it can also be counter-dependent. There are some countries that tend to… You tend to find more pressure in certain fields.
AP: And speaking of the theoretical framework, that’s another typical objection that people tend to present when it comes to these kinds of studies. They would say that most scientific fields operate within a widely accepted theoretical framework that guides their hypothesis and helps interpret their findings. But parapsychology is often accused of lacking such a framework. So how do you formulate your hypothesis and interpret your findings in the absence, if that is the case, of a guiding theory?
DR: Well, that’s quite true. Parapsychology does not have an overarching theory that everybody agrees is useful, and that has been a problem from the very beginning. It is not anywhere near being resolved at this point. So, how do we do anything? Well, most of the studies, in fact, all of the studies in parapsychology, ultimately are based on what people report. It comes out of experiential reports. So somebody describes something which sounds telepathic or sounds clairvoyant or whatever. There are dozens of such stories.
The very first question that you find, as you would say in the natural sciences, is, ‘Well, how do we interpret that? How do we interpret that experience?’ Because all of these essentially come down to correlations, that something strange happened that connects these two things. How did that happen? So, you come up with a list of possible explanations. It could be coincidence, it could be misremembering, it could be crazy, it could be a pure coincidence, or maybe it’s something else. So, you devise an experiment which excludes all of the usual explanations like chance and fraud, and all of the other explanations are gone, like in the telepathy test. And so, you leave it open so that if it’s really some kind of mind-to-mind correlation going on, that’s what the experiment will find. And so, that’s what parapsychology is. That’s how it has worked from the very beginning into a larger sense still today.
We can have a hypothesis without a theory. And, in fact, if you look at the history of science, the theories always came later, right? I mean, you can come up with ideas like, ‘I think the world works this way,’ and then you do an experiment. But oftentimes, the development of historical disciplines came out of somebody noticing something peculiar and then beginning to look at it. So, it starts from the observation, and you do lots of experiments, and you start figuring out ways of trying to explain it. And that ultimately develops into a theory. So, we’re not at the stage where we have strong theories in parapsychology. There are lots of hypotheses that have been tested. But mostly, what we’re doing today, I would say, is we’re pretty darn sure at this point, in terms of our statistical confidence, that most of the basic psychic phenomena are real. There is very good evidence for telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, and some psychokinetic effects are real, things that can happen. We see it repeatedly. The effects tend to be pretty small in magnitude, but, as I said before, for perceptual psychic things, it’s about basically the same as what you see in the social sciences. So, they’re not all that small. You can get interesting effects.
So, the next stage, after getting confidence that the phenomena are real, is, ‘Well, then what’s the process?’ Because the process of how it becomes real will begin to provide clues that could be used to develop into a theory. So, that’s what a lot of the research today is looking at—the process underlying something like precognition. The large experiment I mentioned earlier with 85 million trials, that were designed not so much to look at precognition as proof-oriented, but rather, ‘What is the process involved? What are you getting when you gain information about something in the future? What are you seeing when you pre-cognize some future event? What does that even mean?’
So, that experiment was devised to be able to answer that question and got some very interesting results. So, this is…
AP: What the results are now? I want to know.
DR: So, there are two main ways of imagining what’s going on with precognition. One of the more popular ways that has been talked about recently is one that doesn’t involve anything spooky or woo-woo at all. It does involve quantum mechanics because, with quantum mechanics, we know that a system can be connected, and entangled with itself through time. So, entanglement is not just through space; it’s also through time. So, maybe your brain is entangled with itself in time. And so, if you have some kind of experience in the future, you can feel that now because you and your brain are—you’ll feel it later. And so, the entanglement connects the two. So, this is sort of an appealing and simplistic way of thinking about precognition because it’s saying, ‘Well, it really all comes down to physics.’ In the old days, meaning Newtonian days, this would have been considered impossible because we didn’t know of any space-time connections like that. But now we do. I mean, they’re turning them into technologies at this point. So, maybe we’re talking about entangled brains. That would be precognition.
So, that assumes that if you have an experience in the future, something must happen between now and the future event. All kinds of things can happen. So, for real-world events… actually, I was going to change my mind here. For some kinds of things, like whether a volcano is going to explode or not, that’s probably going to happen. But you notice it where it said the word ‘probable,’ right? In the future, there are all kinds of things that could happen between now and then. So, you say, ‘Okay, let’s pull it back into something like the roll of a die.’ So, that probably could come up with one face or probably could come up with a six face. So, it’s taking a real-world event and squishing it into something that you can do in the laboratory.
So, in this experiment, it looks very much on the surface like a card test. In the ESP card test, you go on the computer screen, and you see five backs of cards, and you have to select one. And when you do that, a computer makes a random decision, and then it shows it to you. So, it’s precognition because when you’re selecting your card, there is no future yet. It’s after you make your selection. So, that’s a very simple card test. But what the person involved in the test does not know is that there’s a whole sequence of things that happen between the time that you press the button to make a selection and the actual presentation. And so, the question now is if I’m entangled with my future experience, my only future experience is seeing what the computer selected. I don’t see all of the intervening steps. So, am I influenced by those intervening steps? Because if I am, it means I must be tracking something in real-time that leads up to that future event. So, I’m being influenced by something invisible.
Well, that explanation is no longer a simple entanglement thing because it means that it’s like clairvoyance. I’m somehow watching something happening as it unfolds, which essentially is what clairvoyance claims. That you’re able to perceive the world non-locally in some way. So, that is woo-woo, that’s like full-blown clairvoyance, whereas the other one is like a physics entanglement thing. So, the result very clearly shows that it is not a brain entanglement. That there is something like clairvoyance going on that pays attention to the process by which a future event unfolds.
So, it’s more complicated than I want to describe right now, but in the paper, I described this whole thing, and that is the essence of the ideas, looking at two possible models. And, of course, there’s the third model, which is nothing interesting happened at all like psi doesn’t exist. Well, we did see something interesting, so that one doesn’t fit. And then, another model, which said that, as it’s similar to the entanglement model, what’s happening in the world unfolds in many different ways. And whatever’s going on psychically, you don’t care about what’s happening in the middle. You only care about what happens at the endpoint. So, it’s like thinking of this in terms of Aristotelian causality, of which there are four types.
So, the type that science pays a lot of attention to is efficient causality, as Aristotle said. That’s causal effects, that this billiard ball gets that billiard ball, and that’s how causation works. That’s how science imagines the world. But there’s another kind of causality that Aristotle said, which was the final cause, and that is the teleological effect of the thing. That is, the final thing is the important thing, the thing the way that it turns out at the end. That’s what drives everything. It ripples backwards from that, backwards in time. So, that’s essentially what we’re looking at in this experiment. Are we driven by the thing at the endpoint that ripples backwards in time, or are we kind of watching it as it’s going along in time? And there’s actually some evidence that both of those things can happen at the same time. I’ve done experiments in that too. So, all of this is about getting beyond proof-oriented studies that show that a phenomenon exists and starting to look at the process. And then somewhere further down the line, we’ll have theories to get back to the original question.
AP: So, you think that it’s actually a good thing to not have a theoretical framework?
DR: No, it would be much, much easier if we started from theory because that would guide what we do next.
AP: So, you’re letting the evidence guide towards a theory as opposed to having assumptions to interpret.
DR: If you look at other areas of science, which we might consider to be somewhat settled, like the big bang, well now because we have a new instrument, the James Webb Telescope, it’s completely thrown in the question, why? Because we’re finding galaxies near what we think is the origin of the universe, which are gigantic, huge structures which shouldn’t be there according to prevailing cosmology, but they are there. So, every time we have a new instrument that allows us to look at the world in a slightly different way, we are discovering things that take our old theories and shred them. So, theories are provisional, always. And while they’re useful for helping guide us into a better understanding of reality, they’re always provisional. Quantum mechanics, as we understand it today, will be different. It’ll be shredded in the future. Every theory that we have today will be shredded because, as you already pointed out, 50 years from now, all of our textbooks will be seen as wrong today. So, to fall in love with the theory today and assume that that’s the way things are and allow us to say something is impossible, that’s crazy.
AP: Yeah, I think that it’s very common for us human beings to want a comforting answer that is clear-cut and you have your answer and now you’re good to go for the rest of your life. But what I find is that knowledge is a moving target, which is something that I often say on this channel. And so, that’s why it’s much more important, I think, that it’s much more important to develop the critical skills than it is to find the answers because the answers that you’re going to find are provisional, as you said. And not because knowledge is a moving target, both because we acquire new methodologies that might be better suited to get accurate knowledge. And also, I would personally argue that even what we are observing changes over time, even the things that we tend to see as more fixed. So, I think that it’s much better to develop a nuanced, complex way of looking at things, not being content with a clear-cut answer, and developing the critical analysis skills because those are going to be the ones that will serve you better in the long run. And also, that keep you that allows you to keep an open mind instead of just falling in love with one response, one theory, and just sticking with it regardless of whatever happens to you in your life or whatever you see or whatever the evidence suggests.
DR: Yeah, but as you said, it requires that you are comfortable with ambiguity and that you’re more interested in being comfortable than being challenged. So, if you’d rather be comfortable and you don’t like ambiguity, you’re not going to do what we’re saying.
AP: Yes, but that’s why, yeah, I guess the people that are interested in esoteric practices and magic might be a bit more comfortable with being uncomfortable, you know, being challenged. So, in that way, that’s potentially something that trains people towards critical analysis. I’m generalizing probably a little bit, but that was my perception. It might be also because I study pagans and I study contemporary paganism, and paganism and pagans also tend to be very complex, and it’s quite a challenge to study paganism just because you don’t have a central dogma, you don’t have a central authority, you don’t have established beliefs that everybody will follow. So, it is something that is very fluid.
DR: So, the study of something which is taboo in society requires that you’re not going to be very conservative because if you were, you would follow everybody else. That would be your comfort zone. So, if you’re comfortable following ideas that are not part of the mainstream, in the sense that those self-select people who are probably more open-minded and more fluid in terms of what they’re going to grab onto.
AP: Yeah, that’s potentially true. I think that there are also examples of people that are still quite polarized in their views, but yeah, probably at least in terms of my anecdotal experiences, seems to be like you said.
And another thing that I wanted to cover is the concept of reconciliation with established science. This is another thing that people tend to object to when it comes to parapsychology. So, the phenomenon that you study often seems incompatible with well-established laws of physics and biology. For example, the concept of information transfer without any known physical medium in telepathy conflicts with our current understanding of how information is transmitted. How do you reconcile your research with established scientific knowledge? Well, first of all, I don’t feel that I have to, because established scientific knowledge is provisional, so things change.
Secondly, what we see in these experiments should not be thought of in terms of causality, but we see correlations. So, when we do a telepathy experiment, we’re seeing a correlation between one person’s experience and another person’s experience. That doesn’t necessarily mean that something got transferred; it means there’s a correlation, which is beyond chance. Right, we get a 30 percent agreement rather than 25, which would be expected by chance. That is a correlation. So, what would allow for a correlation to arise without information being transferred across space and time? Well, it’s quantum entanglement. So, is this an abuse of the terms from quantum mechanics? No, it is simply a description of what we know is not only possible but as I said, being used for technologies today. It’s science as it finally caught up with showing that the physical world can accommodate correlations that work in this way. The other thing to keep in mind is that orthodox quantum mechanics, which is the quantum mechanics of today, is definitely not the end of physics. It’s in some respects at the beginning of physics which is becoming more and more compatible with understanding what’s possible in the mind. And so, there are lots of other tweaks that you could do to Quantum Mechanics, like non-linear versions of quantum mechanics, in which information transfer is possible.
So, we need to be very careful in defining what we see as being established science today, which is provisional, and by what it predicts because it’s not the end. And so, the way that I try to explain this is saying then it is not that quantum mechanics today explain psychic phenomena. What it’s doing is showing that if you look at the progression of physics ideas over time, it is pointing in a direction. So, don’t look at my finger, look where I’m pointing. It is pointing in the direction that is becoming more and more compatible with the kinds of experiences that we call psychic and magical as well. So, maybe in another 20 or 50 years, we’ll see, ‘Oh, okay, a better version of quantum mechanics actually involves factor X, which is non-linearity or something like that.’ And then, ‘Oh, okay, you can have information transfer when that happens.’ The only next part of it, which is part of your next question, is, ‘Well, then, you know, how do we understand that? Because quantum mechanics seems to deal with only little tiny things, and we’re talking here about the human experience.’ Well, the brain is a quantum object. All physical objects are quantum ultimately. The question is, does it behave like a quantum object even to a very tiny extent? Because if it does, and quantum biology is pointing in the direction, it says, ‘Yeah, it probably does.’ Then we have a theory that connects these kinds of experiences, all psychic experiences, with a part of science, part of physics actually, which would say, ‘Yeah, that should happen, and information should be able to transfer between biological systems.’ It’s QED. I mean, that’s a theory now that connects these phenomena, and it only took at that point maybe 150 to 200 years after the development of quantum mechanics and 500 to 700 years after the development of science as an intellectual method of inquiry to come up with an explanation. So, you know, why should we expect it to happen next Tuesday? It is a long process to figure these things out.
AP: Probably it’s not even necessary to be in agreement with the established science when you conduct the experiments. I mean, one of the things that I always say to my viewers and my audience is that it’s important to never just take into account one study or one paper because this is something that has happened, for instance, when we had the pandemic and there was one small-scale study, and everybody thought, ‘Oh, we have the truth about this one thing.’ And I always say that it’s important to interpret studies in the network of the body of knowledge. In academia and science, it’s about the network of knowledge. It’s not about one study only. So, I’m not denying that, but to that, I’m also saying that it is important even to produce studies when the methodology is sound and the data collection and data analysis are sound. It’s important also to produce studies that may be in contradiction with what other disciplines say because what if they’re wrong? I mean, what if there are going to be other studies in the future that are in line with what you have found in your research? So, I think that the two things are not in contradiction. What I’ve always said about the importance of the network and the body of knowledge instead of the single study, and the fact that it’s also important to produce papers and studies that may, you know, if the evidence suggests, be in contradiction with established science or the current consensus says.
Because, as I said, maybe it is just your study, and it’s never going to be replicable, and that’s fine. It’s still knowledge that has been produced. But maybe in 20-30 years, there are going to be many other scientists that will reproduce what you have done. So, I think that knowledge is always important. It’s always important to put knowledge out there.
DR: Yeah, science advances through anomalies, right? There are things that don’t fit existing ideas. Because if everything started to match your expectations, then you should be suspicious, like, ‘Really? We’ve figured out exactly how everything in the universe works on this tiny little planet in the middle of nowhere and some vast place where most of the planet hasn’t even been investigated yet. I mean, that’s just silly to think of it in those terms. So, people will come up, always, with some kind of weird effect that doesn’t seem to be answered by current theories. And historically, some of them turn into the whole next paradigm in science. You can’t tell beforehand which one is going to be. Sometimes it’s a mistake, but sometimes it isn’t. So, yeah, that’s why I’ve always been interested and attracted to what doesn’t fit, rather than what does.
AP: Yeah, that’s much more interesting. And I had another question on quantum theory, which we kind of already answered. But that is another thing that, when it comes to quantum theory and quantum physics, I always find that people tend to, especially in New Age spaces and practitioner spaces – so, I’m not really talking about scholars, but more about practitioners – there tends to be a leap between what happens in the quantum realm and what happens at the atomic level. Now, this could be totally due to my ignorance of the matter, because it is definitely not my field of study. But I was wondering, is there a connection that we know is present between the subatomic and the atomic level? Because I think that’s one of the things that I always tend to think about when people tend to assume things based on quantum theory and quantum physics. It’s like, yeah, this is happening at the subatomic level, and we know that we are made of subatomic particles. But is there necessarily a direct relation between how the subatomic world works and how the atomic world works? Because I don’t know. I feel like I don’t have the answer to that. So, I was wondering whether you have an answer to that or whether you know of any research that has investigated the relationship between the subatomic and the atomic level, and whether the inferences that people are making are based on something that is a direct correlation or is more of a leap of logic.
DR: But the word ‘quantum’ has become kind of a symbol for exotic science. So, you can find quantum toothpaste and quantum toilet bowl cleaner, and everything is named quantum because it sounds modern and sophisticated. And it is true that from the subatomic world, as you scale up into the macroscopic, there are emergent properties that you wouldn’t necessarily predict at lower scales. One of the examples that are always used is, you can take hydrogen and you can take oxygen, and neither one of them is wet. In fact, a hydrogen and oxygen bonding that we would call a water molecule, that’s not wet either. You put a whole bunch of them together in the right circumstances, at the right temperature and at the right pressure, and you end up with water. So, this is true across the board. There are all kinds of things that at the atomic and subatomic level, their behaviour is quite strange from the point of view of the everyday macroscopic world. But it’s also being discovered that as larger and larger systems, which are purely quantum mechanical, like Bose-Einstein condensates and other methods like that, are scaled up, you can even see with the naked eye that quantum effects are happening.
But I think more importantly here, especially when it comes to the kinds of phenomena that we’re talking about, there are aspects of brain function which are operating at that scale, at the atomic scale, like ion transport between synapses and neurons and things like that, in the structure of microtubules, in the part of the scaffolding within the brain itself. The question is, if those are operating according to quantum principles inside the structure in your head, it means that it must have been there from the very beginning, right? This structure has been evolving for millions and millions of years. So, our perceptual capacity, our thinking capacity, all of that is deeply associated then with something having to do with this particular structure. Well, since we already know at this point that there are aspects of photosynthesis and olfaction and magneto navigation and things like that in living systems, which require quantum mechanics to actually understand why they’re working, well, maybe something like that is going on in the brain as well.
So, yes, it’s occurring down at that microscopic scale, but it’s necessary to happen there in order for the organism to work the way it’s supposed to work. So, my perceptual capacities have evolved over millions of years with that going on at that deep level, and maybe some aspect of the way that my senses work actually they’re quantum mechanical. In this case, they are not just localized around here, they are spread out in space and time. This is what I was saying before about the notion, the sort of appealing notion that your brain is connected to itself through time as a way of understanding precognition. Because you only need, I mean, there are studies that show that a single neuron firing in your brain will give rise to a certain memory. Well, there are tens of billions of neurons going on in there. One neuron can fire and give rise to a whole bunch of memories. So, it doesn’t take much at a microscopic scale to be involved in what our experience is. And so, that’s where the argument is. It’s not like this is suddenly, this is space-time spread out everywhere, but some aspect of it may be. And now, you think of all the subatomic particles going on in the brain. Some of them may be operating quantum mechanically. In which case, you can reconceptualize or reframe this thing as having aspects which actually are distributed in space and time. From that perspective, then you can begin to see, or at least create a model showing how something like clairvoyance would simply be a consequence of the physical construction of space and time, of which we’re a part.
So, yes, some aspects of the way that people use quantum mechanical principles are probably illegitimate, or they’re pushing the ideas too far. But that is not to say that some other aspects may, in fact, be true. So, it is worthwhile keeping in mind that there are something like two dozen interpretations of what quantum mechanics means by people who specialize in trying to figure that out. There’s no consensus. So, we don’t know yet how to completely understand this latest theory of existence. And as I said, there are a lot of people working on the next version of it, which will make things even more complicated.
AP: Yeah, yeah, it is. That’s quite interesting. And as you said, it’s important to see quantum physics as something that can aid the research. But I always found it fascinating, the idea of how the atomic level relates to the subatomic level, especially when I see that many people tend to just assume that if something happens at the subatomic level, it necessarily happens in the same way at the atomic level, right? And that doesn’t seem to be the case. But there could be indications that in some cases and under certain circumstances, that could happen. Am I understanding you correctly?
DR: Well, there are emergent properties, so things can emerge that are not what you’d expect at a lower level. And some aspects of macroscopic behaviour, and let’s say I’m talking about living systems now, can be traced all the way down to this atomic and subatomic level. So, there are… It’s our best interpretation, then, of the space-time strangeness of quantum mechanics may not literally be true at the level of everyday experience, but some of it is, little bits of it is. So, how much of a little bit do you need in order to be able to describe some of this, of things like psychic phenomena? Maybe you don’t need much. As I said, if you have a single neuron that can give rise to a memory, well, it starts out at an extremely small scale, but it nevertheless has a macroscopic effect. I mean, you almost think of this as an analogy about modern electronics. It’s all about the movement of electrons at an equivalent. But with amplifiers, you can take these tiny, tiny little things like electrons and make them do giant things under the right conditions. Maybe something like that is a way of thinking about it.
AP: Thank you for that. And I think in terms of our objections, we are only left with a last one because we have covered quantum theory, and that is confirmation bias. And we know that there is a risk of confirmation bias in any research, but it is raised more as a potential issue when researching magic and esoteric practices. So, how do you guard against confirmation bias in your research?
DR: Confirmation bias is a double-edged sword. It can make you see things that aren’t there, and it can make you not see things that are there. It works in both directions. So, how do we deal with that in science? Very few scientists will bother to do an experiment, empiricists anyway, we’ll bother to do an experiment if they don’t have some reason to believe that the alternative hypothesis is interesting. So, we’re all biased. So, the way that we get around that is through independent replication. That’s the only way to get around it. If you’re really lucky, you will get people who are proponents and people who are anti-proponents to do the same experiment. It’s not easy to do because anti-proponents generally don’t want to do the experiments because they think it’s a waste of time. So, if you’re really lucky, then you’ll find people who are neutral, who are just curious. Could this really be true?
That is my story because I didn’t start out having psychic experiences, and nobody in my family did. I was drawn to this purely based on curiosity. And I’ve stayed in the field as a result of being driven by the data, as evidence suggesting that some of the stories that I have read about are probably true, which made it even more interesting because now they weren’t just stories anymore. It’s like some of the stuff can really happen. So, then, of course, I’ve become interested in, well, how can that happen and what does that tell us about the nature of reality and all those other things. So, I would say that a scientist should be able to set aside prejudices, and it’s similar to, like, when you go into a movie. If you go into a movie and you’re very sceptical, you don’t enjoy the movie anymore. You have to suspend your disbelief, right? Especially if you go to, like, a superhero movie or Star Wars or something. If you go in thinking, ‘Oh, that’s stupid, and I’m not… This is not even real because they’re just frames that are moving with high frequency, and my brain is… I mean, why bother even doing anything?’ So, you have to learn how to suspend your disbelief when you do an experiment and think of all the reasons why this could fail and ask other people to look at it to make sure that the protocol is right. And now, it’s becoming more popular to pre-register everything you’re going to do in advance so that you can’t change anything. You do all of these practices precisely to get away from the biases of confirmation bias. And it is not just that, there’s a whole bunch of other biases that can come in too. So the process then, the epistemological approach that you take when you’re trying to study something, is you might have internally thinking, ‘I hope this works, this would be really cool if this works.’ But you have to do it honestly because who wants to waste their time fooling it but if you want to fool yourself you just make it up out of cold cloth. I mean, why even bother to do the experiment?
AP: Yeah, yeah, that’s very interesting. And it is why science is fun, I think. And there are some questions from my Patrons. For instance, Hank asked an interesting question about, based on your studies, whether are there specific magic practices or magic rituals that appear to be more effective in terms of the effectiveness of practitioners that want to lean into the science of things. Do you think that there are certain practices and certain rituals that have a higher degree of effectiveness? I don’t know, but the amount of actual science applied to magical practices is so small that I don’t know of any others but other than the one I’m planning to do, which is explicitly testing that idea, is one method better than the other? My guess is the answer is no because we are all idiosyncratic. We are good at some things and not too good at others, so some things will work really well for me, which won’t work for you at all. Why? Because we’re different. So I get the same question on which style of meditation should I do, which is the best one. There’s no answer to that. And when we’re doing studies in distant healing, people would say, ‘Well, which prayer is the best prayer for healing?’ There is no best prayer.
AP: I think that’s an understandable question from a practitioner’s point of view, but as you say, yeah.
DR: Okay, what I would say is that I think that for the modern mind, I’m thinking of writing a book about practical magic for the modern mind, and methods like sigils are probably the easiest because we don’t have the time or interest or the wardrobe to do large-scale ceremonial magic. You could, I mean, people do that, but it requires a lot of paraphernalia to do that and a fair amount of time to do it right. Whereas a sigil, you can make a sigil, a reasonably good one, in probably 10-15 minutes if you use it well. Okay, it’s the use of it which is probably more important than that it’s the best. The best is the one that you use, right? Don’t they say that about which exercise is best for me? The answer is the one that you’re going to do.
AP: So if we don’t have specific rituals or specific types of magic that are more effective, are there specific conditions that make the magic more effective? Because you talked about how different individuals have different tendencies, so I was wondering whether something?
DR: It is all about intention, clear and focused intention. I think ultimately, if you take every kind of magical practice and you boil it down into the essence of those practices, it’s about clear, focused intention. That will also change from one person to the other a little bit, but the idea of clarity, focus, and the intention itself, those seem to be the three elements that you see again and again in various forms under all of these different practices.
And, by the way, you see that also with actually one additional piece, and that is probably a state of gnosis, otherwise known as samadhi in the Yogic traditions. That’s all of that together, those four elements in a non-ordinary state of awareness, plus clarity, focus, and intention, those seem to be revolving around each other all the time, whether it’s Eastern-style practices or Western-style practices.
AP: Yeah, I have so many questions. So, if you say the intention is key, then I’m wondering what’s the difference between a magic practice and just willing something into happening? Is there no difference?
DR: I would say ultimately, that’s the same. It’s the degree. Like when we call something a magical practice, it suggests that it is more disciplined. There’s a method, there’s a discipline. You enter the intentional role with a certain degree of expectation and belief. So, it’s more involved than simply saying, ‘I wish I had a hamburger.’ Well, that’s an intention, a desire, or a will, but you know, I could take it or leave it, and it’s just like a whim. I think actually the whim is the same as an intention. It just doesn’t have, what I’ll put in quotes, “the power of the intention” underneath it. So, there’s some element here having to do with the power or strength of the intention, plus the clarity and the focus and the belief and the discipline. So again, by analogy, I can go out and play tennis casually, just on a whim, just to go and try it, and you know, won’t do very well, but I can do something. Whereas if I spend four hours a day and they had a trainer and I had some talent and I did, you know, I really put everything into it, I’m going to be way better than I would be if I just did it as a whim. So the same is gonna, I don’t know this for sure, but my guess is it will be the same kind of thing that you’d find in the practice of magic or in a practice of sports or music or whatever else it is that you want to do. There are no secrets here. We would like to think that there’s some secret like a magic wand thing, but when you actually even take the idea of a magic wand, what is that doing? Well, it’s helping you focus your attention and your intention. That’s what it does.
AP: So, do you see rituals as, like you would see a trainer teaching you to play tennis, channelling your intention? What’s the role that rituals play?
DR: It depends on whether it’s a ritual that you do yourself or whether you do it with others. So, they’re similar, but I think there’s a difference here. So, with yourself, if you have a ritual, it’s a way of focusing on and starting to exclude the mundane world. That’s why people have altars and things like that. It’s a way of saying, ‘In this place, I am suspending my interest and attention on other things and allowing it to focus on this.’ That’s where the focus is important, and maybe clarity as well. Because if you put a little statue or something on an altar, that becomes the clear point of attention, which is part of intention. We need both. And if you have assigned something like a sigil or a meaning to that statue, ‘This represents a thing that I want,’ well then, it creates clarity as well. And the other thing is, if you actually go ahead and do a ritual, it means there’s a certain degree of belief underneath that. Because otherwise, you wouldn’t have done it in the first place. You would say, ‘That’s stupid. Why should I make a special place to do this magical thing?’ So you’re bringing all of it in there—the belief, the focus, attention, and everything else.
AP: And I know that in your book “Real Magic,” you distinguish between three types of magic, and one is theurgy. So, what role do spirits and gods and deities play? If you have some practitioners think that by working with certain deities, they can increase their agency in the world. So, do you think, based on the studies you’ve done and also based on what you think, do you think that the interaction with entities, gods, and spirits is just a way of tapping into your intention or the power of your intention, or is it also expanding your agency because you’re working with something that is outside of yourself?
DR: Well, from a scientific perspective, I have no answer to that because, so far, other than perhaps in mediumship research, we don’t have any way of directly interacting with spirits in an experimental way. Now, I have colleagues who claim that they are doing that. I’m not convinced that they’re actually needing that. You don’t need the concept of spirits in order to get the results that they’re getting. So we need to be more clever in terms of our experimental methods to be able to discriminate between, ‘This is a human-caused thing versus some other spirit-caused thing.’ It’s very difficult to make that discrimination. So again, from a scientific perspective, I don’t know. I also then, in “Real Magic,” I caution people to be careful about dealing with what they would perceive as something else because I think, again, it’s difficult to know what you’re dealing with. Then there are, by definition, aspects of your own unconscious that are very powerful and can make things happen because, as far as we can tell, all the psychic phenomena are bubbling up from the unconscious. That’s where they come from, or it comes from. It’s coming up from the depths of your own self, which, by definition, you are unaware of. That’s why we call it unconscious.
So, it is possible when people start doing meditation or taking psychedelics or doing magical practices that they will start hearing voices and they’ll start seeing things, and then the question is: well, is it out there or is it in here? Very, very difficult to know. Sometimes you’ll have people saying, ‘Yeah, yeah, I took mushrooms with a friend of mine, we both had the same visions, so doesn’t that mean it’s out there?’ No, maybe it was telepathy. I mean, we already know the mind-to-mind connections are real, as we can see in the laboratory, and so beginning to a very murky world where it’s difficult to know, it’s difficult even how to interpret what the shared experiences are and what the idea of others, angels and demons, what that is.
So, I kind of step back from it and look at it from a neutral perspective. I would say that for people who are invoking theurgy to help them in magical practices, it is that helps them in terms of the clarity and the focus and the intention and everything else like it’s a way, it’s like a tool. Just like a magic wand would be a tool, it’s another way of creating a degree of focus that you feel. It is easier not to be responsible for the power itself, but I’ll have somebody else do the power. That’s, I mean, that’s the whole point of intercessory prayer as well, that I can’t do this, but I will allow somebody, I will ask or allow somebody else to do it on my behalf. That is it, that’s, uh, you can think of this as kind of a psychological trick that we use to ourselves because we may not want to think that we have the power of a god, but it’s okay if God does it. So we’ll, we’ll ask him or her or it to do it on our behalf, and then if we’re lucky, then that’ll happen.
So again, I don’t know how to answer this question with any confidence because I don’t know how to even study, I don’t know how to, what the right questions to ask, so that’s why I caution people that at least when it comes to things like divination and force of will, where it’s up to the individual, we have pretty good evidence about what’s going on there, but when it comes to theurgy, I don’t know.
AP: And Hank, a patron is asking, uh, have these experiments been conducted with couples who stay telepathically connected?
DR: Yeah, some of the telepathy experiments were done with people who are recruited because they have had experiences like that, spontaneous experiences. And so, I forget which book I wrote about, but a friend of mine often has these kinds of telepathic experiences, so she came in with a colleague of hers, so she felt that she was connected to, and yeah, she did very well in that experiment. So, there are the thoughts that were emerging to her as her friend was trying to telepathically send an image. She gave almost a veridical description as though she were showing the image and said, ‘Well, now describe what you’re looking at.’ Well, it was that level of quality. So, there does seem to be better results that we even can see in the laboratory when we work with people who, in their daily life, have these kinds of experiences.
AP: And do you think that, uh, sorry…
DR: This is necessary for them to do that, even college students who have just met each other will get, will, will get better than average, will do better than chance. But if they have certain personality things, and there are creative people, and they have these experiences, they do a lot better.
AP: So, that leads to my next question, and that is, uh, can anyone do magic? Or are there people that are chosen or particularly predisposed?
DR: I would cast that in terms of, is there talent for this kind of skill? The answer is yes. Some people are of natural talents. Everybody has some kind of natural talent. I mean, some people have more than others, but clearly, when you’re watching somebody do anything that involves any kind of performance, some people are remarkably talented, and others are not. So somehow, we sort of take that for granted when we’re watching sports and everything, or even watching anybody do anything. We recognize…
DR: Yeah, when it comes to, ‘Why can’t I do magic? Why can’t I be Harry Potter?’ Sorry. Some people are talented, and some people are not. Can we learn to do something? Yes, everybody can learn to play tennis. Some people will become professionals, and some will not. And unfortunately, it doesn’t matter how much you practice, it doesn’t matter how much you want it, it does not matter. Talent is necessary. And I know that people don’t want to hear that because we all have… We all want to be the best sports star and everything else, but we can’t. So is it possible to significantly improve from where you are? In most cases, yes. The question is, where do you plateau? That’s really the question.
So very early in my lifetime, I was a classical violinist for many years, and I had some talent. And when you have that level of talent, you don’t even need to practice very much. Like, after a while, you learn to sight-read. You just sight-read it, and you’re playing it as though you practised it forever. Well, I did practice a lot at one point because I was on a career track to be a violinist, a concert violinist, and I knew I really needed to be exceptional in that case. But I found that they… I didn’t want to do that. If they wanted also, but the same is true for other things. Somebody might be a natural magician and decide they don’t want to spend a lot of time doing that because maybe they’re being successful at doing something else. So yeah, so can everybody do it? Yes, you can learn something and you can be better than what you have now. Can you be Harry Potter? No. Except, some maybe, yes. Some will be that. You know, the curious thing about this is somebody may have a talent that they don’t know they have because they actually never used, never thought of it in those terms. Maybe they think they’re lucky. Maybe they are lucky. Well, maybe that’s magic.
AP: But, that kind of begs the question since you said that magic boils down to intention. Focused intention. And everybody has intention. So how come, certain people, are more able than others to get results from magic if everybody is able to have intention and express intention? Well, a lot of people like music and singing, but you don’t want to hear a lot of people singing because they’re not very good at it. So, they are naturally endowed with something about their ability to hear and to reproduce sounds and their vocal apparatus and all the rest that makes it pleasant to hear the singing, and others who enjoy it just as much, they cannot do it. They are missing something that allows them to do it. So we’re talking here about a more abstract area because it has to do with mental capacity. Like magic is really all mental stuff. People are different mentally; they have a way of, I mean, there are so many differences. We are all humans and of the same species and have certain similarities, but we also have many, many differences. Just to name just one. We know that there is a genetic difference. It involves hundreds and hundreds of genes, but there’s a genetic difference between two types of intelligence. There’s something called crystalline intelligence, something called fluid intelligence. So, as it suggests, for somebody who has crystalline intelligence, they’re extremely good at analytical tasks. For somebody with fluid intelligence, they’re very good at creative tasks. Well, there’s a genetic basis for that. So, if you’re in a position where you’re extremely good at crystalline intelligence, but you’re put in a position of having to do creative work, it will drive you nuts because you’re not built that way. And vice versa. So, you need to learn about what works for you and then take those talents, whatever they may be, and channel them. That’s why is there a best method of magic. No, because you need to find out what works for you. And how do you do that? You try everything. Some things will be better than others.
AP: Yeah, I tend to think of mine as chaotic intelligence because that’s how my mind works. Even when I wrote my PhD dissertation when I had to write from beginning to end, I would just get into a writing block and I couldn’t write. Then I came up with this method of writing that works really well for me. And, you know, it was really surprising to my supervisor. That is to randomly write whatever I was feeling like writing. And so, I wrote my entire dissertation in a very random place. At first, I thought, ‘Okay, that’s working for me because I’m writing every day. But will it make sense in the end?’ And it actually did. It’s like I had this entire puzzle in my mind, but I just couldn’t do it in a systematic, neat way. I had to do it all over the place.
DR: Yeah, that’s common among creative people, thinking linearly. It drives you nuts, it’s hard to do.
AP: But yeah, I really find it difficult.
DR: Yeah, so if you think holistically like you had the whole thing, but you put it together in little jigsaw pieces and it fits. Yeah, that’s a great example then, right? So, if somebody said, ‘What’s the best way to write a dissertation?’ The answer is, it depends on you.
AP: Yeah, I’m not sure I would recommend my way of writing a dissertation because I don’t know if it works for other people. But for me, it does, especially when I kept getting into a writing block. It’s like when you start writing the first chapter and then it’s like, ‘I don’t know how this continues.’ But I just kept getting an idea about Chapter 5, so I started working on Chapter 5, Section 4, and then I went back to Chapter 3, Section 7. So, it was completely all over the place.
I think one of my supervisors called it ‘patchwork writing,’ and for a PhD student, it’s a bit of a problem because usually, they ask you every seven weeks to hand in 2000 words or something like that. And in my case, it made, you know, if I had to hand in 2000 words, it made no sense because it was, yeah, all over the place.
DR: One of the ways of answering that question is to say, ‘Well, here, I gave you 2000 words. They’re not in order. It makes sense in different places, but they’re not…
AP: In my head. They make sense, and I swear they will make sense in the end. It’s just gonna take a lot of time for it to make sense outside of my head.’ But, yeah, luckily, they trusted me and gave me a bit more time to hand in things considering my style. But it worked out in the end. And I feel like that is the best way for me to write now, even when it comes to papers. I don’t know why my mind works like that, but that’s just the way I’m built.
DR: Well, see, it’s good that you found that out. So, you must have tried a linear fashion before and decided, ‘I can’t do this. It doesn’t work for me.’ That’s why, in thinking about writing what amounts to a workbook for practical magic, it would present a whole bunch of different ways. Say, try each one of these things. You’re going to like some of them more than others. And like any skill that you’re trying to develop, the key is practice. Find something that you like to do and just do that.
AP: Yeah, I totally agree. And I think it was this was an amazing conversation, Dean. Thank you so much for coming over on Angela’s Symposium. Is there anything that you would want to add before we wrap up, whether it be something that you want my audience to know or where they can find you or anything that you want to share?
DR: That wasn’t enough for some people. They want a whole workbook, saying that this is what you do. And I’ve gotten questions asking, like, somebody will ask a question and just keep going, 40, 50 questions, saying, ‘If I want to win the lottery, well, and the lottery is like 300 million to one, does that mean I should, like, every day spend some time doing my magical practice? And how often? And how much? And how will that change the odds?’ And I mean, questions that nobody can answer. So, after a while, I just said, ‘Well, you need to try this for yourself to find out what works for you.’ And I did get people writing back occasionally saying they won fifty thousand dollars in a lottery as a result. In this case, of just making a sigil for that. Somebody else wrote back saying they found a ten-dollar bill. Well, the ten bill was the actual sigil that I mentioned in the book. So, are those completely chance? Is it just a matter of a fluke? I don’t know. But at least for the person winning the fifty-thousand-dollar lottery, that was, that’s interesting. It could happen.
AP: But we want to hear from him.
DR: I’d be happy to hear that. So, if he attributed to me, I’d say, ‘Oh, okay, good. That’s, that’s good.’
AP: That’s nice. So, thank you so much for coming over, Dean. It was, it was amazing having you here. And I definitely look forward to seeing the results from the experiment that you’re going to do on sigil magic, because that’s something that you’re working with RENSEP on, so that’s going to be interesting. So, thank you again for being here, and yeah, it was really, really informative. And I’m also quite happy that we covered all the usual objections that are presented against parapsychology, just so that we’ve got everything covered.
DR: My pleasure. Thank you.
AP: So, thank you so much, everybody, who has been here and joined us in this conversation. I hope that you enjoyed it. I could see that the chat was very active. I’m sorry that I didn’t reply much, but I was really focused on our special guest. And don’t forget to check out his books. They are all linked in the info box.
And also, if you want to keep this project going, you will also find in the info box all the ways to support Angela Symposium and this channel. And it’s been great to have you all here. And leave me a comment, and share this video around so that more people know about the scientific studies on magic practices and the work that Dr Dean Radin has done so far, which is quite important. And yeah, I guess this is it for today. And I hope that you stay tuned for all the Academic Fun.
Bye for now.
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First streamed 28 May 2023