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Anomalous CognitionReview - Anomalous Cognition
Remote Viewing Research and Theory
by Edwin C. May and Sonali Bhatt Marwaha
McFarland, 2014
Review by A. P. Bober
Oct 7th 2014 (Volume 18, Issue 41)

Reading this book is not for the statistically faint of heart.

This (over-?)technically written series of twenty-six articles published, where the editors do, usually, provide publication data, between 1988 and 2009, overwhelmingly in parapsychology journals, is a "product of forty years of research" (vi).  Governmental secrecy might account for a publication delay of half that time.  Early use of the controversial Uri Geller may also have contributed, as well as the desire to create an aura of technicist scientism contouring the language in difficult graphics and sophisticated-looking statistical formulae. 

Four main categories of research appear:  A.) essentially perceptual methods to investigate what they call 'anomalous cognition,' B.) research on physiological correlates, C.) undefined 'phenomenological' modeling of decision-making theory and application, and D.) entropy as the core model used to explain 'AC.'  Then come three articles more difficult to categorize, followed by one article assessing the field and its future as well as one on related politics of three-letter agencies.

A.)  This series of papers addresses the following:  a stimulus-response and a free-response method of anticipating a picture that will appear on a monitor, a random means of producing a pool of scenes to describe by anticipation, ways to manage clarity in a pool of varied targets, means for judging report-accuracy of viewers of target material by evaluators, a further ('judge-free') method for assessing accuracy, whether a sender is needed for a remote viewer to (pre)view (apparently not), whether intensity of luminescent feedback aids AC (probably not).

B.)  A series of psycho-physiological papers:  a study that corrects inflated significance scores correlating skin conductance and EEG data, a pilot study of skin conductance response before presentation of startle stimuli (virtually a Pavlovian replication?  and thus narrowly related to AC, if at all), a following similar study relating to the autonomic nervous system, and an additional replication regarding skin conductance, a study of interruption of alpha activity related to AC (negative), another study of alpha changes in experienced and inexperienced viewers showing probable response to a remote stimulus (thus, AC).

C.)  The next three studies present a model for, review articles about, 'decision augmentation,' and seek to find 'global consciousness' effects in terms of AC and anomalous-perturbation explanations different from 'force'-analysis (Newtonian?) interpretations.

D.)  Since the research studies reach a crescendo in this 'entropy-thermodynamics-Schrödinger' section and the book contains eight pages of glossary, which I urge the reader to study before reading the book, the reader has some hope of understanding this section.  (For this section review the three 'retro' concepts, as well as 'von Neumann' and 'Wigner' and 'Shannon'.)  The basic idea seems to be that AC and successful RV arise from both reduction of entropy ('disorganization') and awareness of presumed observation effects on presence of confirmatory data.  Readers will surely balk at retro or reverse causation in a Western world that, increasingly in an industrialized or social-change context (See Karl Mannheim on this), views time as an arrow and space as a locus or focused place.  It is there that the neo-Rhinian (as in J. B. and Duke) claims of this book face the buzz saw of critique.

Specifically, I propose the following regarding this set of five papers:  the first, excepting the formulae on 286, informs best if May had placed it right after his introduction (4).  It is written in English and summarizes the logic of the book's studies.  From there the reader could consult the glossary at any point, reading on from a much higher level of comprehension.  The next paper on Shannon entropy seems to discuss Heisenberg's indeterminacy on a range of ambiguity that allows attribution of AC to a 'target.'  The third paper is an experimental specification of the second.  The fourth discusses entropy in terms of thermodynamics for the purpose of creating a theory of AC based on guesses of the five symbols on Zener cards.  The fifth paper goes deeply into an implicit quantum-mechanics interpretation of AC, concluding, with cymbals clashing, that (348) "we nevertheless interpret [this] as a prima facie case that quantum theory may be violated," ending (349) with the incomplete sentence:  "It gives us the tool we need to find just where to [cut] von Neumann's chain."  "So what," you say?  Well, doing that allows the collapse of the wave function between the measurement and the observing human in a way that I am sure May the physicist can explain in a way illustrative of the AC mechanism.

The next section, by its designation as other research, features tangential studies:  another forced-choice AC study of the Zener-card type, a study of intention, attention, and expectation in RV claimed to be very successful, and a number of evaluated studies relating AC to sidereal time, geomagnetics, and solar wind.

Finally comes a paper giving a general assessment of the field and suggestions for future research as well as one blaming federal-departmental politics for discontinuance of the research.

Before taking off on a critique of the AC program as suggested by this political article, I shall, though a person with considerable background in undergraduate psychological statistical methodology and considerable graduate coursework of that kind in the social sciences, make some minor criticisms in this area without remotely claiming the sophistication needed to meet these studies on their ground.  As a transition to this, my inner grouchy grammarian must expose an English (ab)usage so extreme as to make a high-school C-student blush, even though May admits writing "Munglish" (vi), whatever that is, as his Indian co-editor calls it.  Seriatim:

--"this form of free-response methodologies" (18)

--Note 9.  "There are number of reasons" (192)

--Note 7.  run-on sentence (218)

--Note 10.  "condition stimulus" (219)

--Note 8.  "defined as when"/"defined as where" (266); "domain in which DAT is applicable is when"  (416)

--"potential target confounds" (280)

--"there are a wide array" (281)  ["is a wide" or "are wide arrays," I would say]

--"a short while-precognitive" (281)  [em-dash required?]

--Note 3."metric," the current cutesiness, a bit like "gravitas"  (312)  [A statistical quantification has always been a 'measure.']

--"Methods of Approach"  (353)  [redundant]

--"internal mental processes"  (354)  [as opposed to external ones?]

--"a state vector which include[s]"  (416)

--"these data" [417; good]; "Data is collected"  [418; bad]

--"acquire knowledge without inference and/or the use of reason"  (418)  [i. e., without either? difference?]

--"a startle stimuli"  (420)

--"The acquisition of information concerning the thoughts, feelings or activity of another conscious being is known as telepathy;"  (422)  [And, let's see, also 'communication'?]

--'establish . . . bona fides'  (391)  ['bona fide':  Latin ablative singular phrase means 'in good faith,' as to act/speak without exceeding one's authority, to the best of one's belief, never signifying 'to establish credentials']

Statistical methodology:

(417)  Figure of merit is the product of accuracy and reliability, the glossary says.  What is, for May, reliability?  "fraction of the response that is correct"  (420)  So figure of merit is a product of accuracy and correctness.  (A tight bunch of arrows outside the target are 'accurate' but not 'correct,' and both are far from reliability.)  A first-time student learns that reliability is repeatability or consistency.  So where is May's telling definition of 'validity'?  Nowhere.

May often gives a Pearson correlation around 0.2, sometimes 0.3 or 0.4, that statisticians usually regard as on the weak side.  Also, non-operational hypotheses are useless for research, e. g. (83), "We will observe significant evidence for anomalous cognition."

May's use of anticipation of a picture among a group of five I'd call, rather than Remote Viewing, RNV, Rather Nearby Viewing.  I would like to have seen, for the potential military use sponsors envisioned, photos of ground on four sides of known military sites, like the missile site in Cuba, without revealing the evidence, letting the reviewer 'intuit' the weapon placement.  There must be an endless supply of such sites from history that few people would know about.  Rather than replicate, a thing I've never seen anyone do without some change, in this 'psi' field, I would want to be present to feel confident of no untoward influence.  In the last article, May points out that Ray Hyman wanted to do that, but secrecy prevented it.  Such 'security' issues are, of course, contrary to scientific openness.

While mentioning Hyman, I would encourage the reader to browse his name.  He was a paid magician at seven, did palmistry, studied journalism, switched to psychology earning a PhD, and helped found CSICOP, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal.  Is this a Skeptical Inquirer religious conversion?  May has a problem with his critique as a hatchet job.  I don't.  Just make mutual critique of evidence and arguments.  Utts, a professor of statistics, who appears in two of the articles, ends up a shuttlecock between May and Hyman.  Does the potential reader go online before and if buying the book?  But then, how evaluate the book before buying it?  Catch-22.

My own search has me recall, unable to find it again, that Hyman believes there were interior clues provided by dates on study sheets, reminders of 'the target you saw yesterday,' and the like.

I seem to recall an offer of a tidy sum for being fooled by a case in parapsychology.  That only works if, being fooled, one pays off.  On the other hand, May has become convinced of the demonstration of anomalous cognition.  (By the way, AC may be a contradiction in terms.  Anything 'anomalous' is contrary to the 'law' [nomos] of reason, and cognition is more of a rational pre-frontal, left-brain, activity.  In this way you might interpret AC as non-reasonable, 'a-rational,' reason!)

Again, James Randi, a magician and skeptic, in Flim-Flam, I believe, shows, on the one hand, how to make a table mysteriously rise by setting one leg on the front edge of a shoe's sole and pressing down on that corner with the elbow, while, on the other, despite the manipulation of chi by Chinese doctors for brain surgery without anesthesia, asserting "now that doesn't make sense, does it?"  To me it's either all empiricism or it's all reason.  I trust only the former.  It may ultimately boil down to the reader's wondering, as in the days before a psychologist studied the relation between the horse Kluger (Clever) Hans and his trainer, in 1907, who asked the horse to hoof out 'two times two,' which he dutifully did, whether there is a similar relationship among participants in AC experiments—the equivalent of the subtle body-language cues to stop the count which the psychologist felt the horse trainer unwittingly gave out.  I have no question about May's honesty.  But if we end up being fools, we surely all do so honestly.

By the way, all the statistics in the world won't turn a smelly pile of research design, if such it be, into ambrosia.  A simple clear design that gives discriminating play to the independent variable is best.  Another physicist, Kurt Lewin, did the smartest, most meaningfully relevant to human beings, and profound research ever seen in social psychology.  On the other hand, tricksters abound.  Madame Blavatsky's assistant labeled that early psi 'mystic' a fraud.  Teresa de Avila was an honest and earnest 'remote viewer' of twenty-eight convents of 'shoeless' Carmelites and a profound, natural humanistic and transpersonal psychologist on a de facto PhD level, far beyond Maslow, Rogers, Puthoff, Tart, Targ, Hyman, or May, and perhaps even Jung, who anticipated the modern movement of personal growth though couched in terms of religious symbols.  Yet even in her time the maid of a pretender 'mystic' observed through the crack of a doorway saw her own mistress applying wound-paint to her palms—in any case a rippingly weak place from which to hang an argument.

I shall conclude with restraint without saying what I really think.  After all, I've already implied that an exhaustive evaluation of the methodology is far beyond my capacity as a non-specialist in a review task that has barely brought me to a minimal level of understanding.  For any puchase decision the reader might make my mere opinion is meaningless.

 

© 2014 Anthony P. Bober

 

A.P. Bober has studied a psychology spanning Skinner and a humanistic-clinical view based on existential phenomenology and had been a PhD candidate in a substantive yet philosophic European-based sociology including the "critical" view. His teaching augmented courses in group theory/"small-group developmental dynamics" (lab) while introducing "sociology of knowledge" and "issues in biological anthropology," with publications in the first two fields. Currently he is writing a book on mystical experience as metaphorically tied to neuroendocrinology.


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