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the power of the mind


I was sending an email to a friend and suddenly (for no apparent reason) I remembered PEAR.

The first time I heard of PEAR was about four years ago when Robert Jahn came to the Watson Research Center to give a talk. At TJ Watson there is this wonderful tradition of invinting cool speakers for talks every Friday. The lab has a pretty big theater --hundreds of seats-- inside where the talks happen. They tend to invite people of some weight, and the lab being the worldwide headquarters of IBM Research they usually say yes. :) While there, for example, I saw talks by Marvin Minsky and Oliver Sacks (of 'Awakenings' fame) among others. Anyway, beside the point.

PEAR (Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research) is a research program at Princeton University that originally got started to try to debunk the idea that the mind could have effect on reality. I was told (so don't treat this as more than hearsay) that originally the program got started because Jack Northrop (founder of Northrop Aircraft and the original designer of the "flying wing" aircraft that eventually became the B-2 Spirit strategic bomber) went to Jahn with the concern that, if so-called "paranormal" activities really did exist it would mean that a pilot, under the incredible stress of air combat, could affect a $35 million machine and maybe even bring it down, depending on this mood. Northrop gave Jahn a grant and Jahn created a research group that set out to prove otherwise.

Problem is, they didn't.

Their basic mechanism to test the hypothesis that mind-control of reality was possible was a random number generator. The mechanism was basically composed of a black-box that used the quantum properties of matter to create a random stream of bits. Later they expanded to other random-phenomena based on physical devices which made the results even more visible.

The experiment was essentially like this: take a device that, according to the laws of physics, creates a normal distribution of resulting values. Then sit a person next to it and tell that person to think that the result will not adjust to a normal distribution, that is, for example, tell the person to think that the random stream of bits coming out of the device will return more ones than zeros. If the mind is modifying the process in any way, then the deviation from the norm in the values received should be provable by simple statistics.

And guess what. The numbers turned consistently in the direction desired by the person concentrating on changing the values. Yes, some people had more effect on the result than others, but the researchers performed literally thousands of experiments that proved the same thing over and over again: people were affecting the outcome of the distribution of values every time in, in ways that made it statistically impossible for it to be a coincidence.

Even more, the person didn't even have to be in the presence of the machine. This seeming influence on reality existed regardless of place or even time.

The underlying implication of all this (aside from the disturbing idea that reality is subjective in more ways than we think) is that one of the most basic truths that we accept, the principle of causality, is flawed. If the the results of a certain operation that is random (or more generally, subject to the laws of physics) can be changed regardless of the position of the viewer in the space-time continuum, then there is something deeper that we still haven't figured out about the nature of reality.

All of this should be taken with a healthy dose of skepticism, sure, but the numbers don't lie. Something is happening here. At a minimum, there is an anomaly that is not explain by the laws of physics as we know them today, or by our typical view of the world either.

Anyway, I just realized that I've babbled on this for a while. Final note: Jahn eventually wrote a book titled Margins of Reality that details some of their findings up to the early 1990's. Highly recommended.

One thing is for sure, if Microsoft knew about this, they would start to include a new warning message in all their products: "If you want this product to stop crashing, think happy thoughts." :)

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on January 29 2003 at 6:55 PM

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