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Is This Your Brain On God?

  1. May 23, 2009 #1

    Ivan Seeking

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    A five-part NPR series about the science of spirituality:


    Note that any specific and controversial scientific claim discussed requires a published paper or an appropriate scientific reference. Otherwise it must be treated as anecdotal evidence.
    Last edited: May 23, 2009
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  3. May 25, 2009 #2


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  4. Jun 2, 2009 #3
    From the first link:

    Could this be true?
  5. Jun 2, 2009 #4
    That particular "institute" conducts research on "consciousness and spirituality". I think the experiments should be repeated by some group not prejudiced in favor of "spirituality". The results might be different.
  6. Jun 2, 2009 #5
    Huh?? Are you suggesting that someone with an opposing view - i.e. your traditional mainstream research "institute" run by individuals who are very likely atheists who subscribe to a firmly entrenched reductionist/materialist world view - wouldn't equally be prejudiced by as well?

    Or is it your belief that the documented neuroscience and cognition research which demonstrates that EVERYONE'S neuroconnections, Reticular Activation System (whose job it is to filter out stimuli information that's not well aligned with pre-existing thought patterns/worldviews) and indeed perceptions are affected by some sort of prejudice....not the case?

    I could buy an argument put forth about possibly creating a group made up of individuals who'd demonstrated a clearly agnostic type worldview (agnosticism is about knowledge; atheism and your traditional spirituality-based systems are about beliefs; beliefs have a built in irrational component as they consist of thought patterns+emotional attachments, the latter not being logical by nature. That is why people often emotionally react when faced with information that challenges their firmly held beliefs). However, the presumption that those in what you'd probably consider a "real institute" aren't likely to be prejudiced, IMHO is not supported by the neurological, cognitive and psychological evidence about how humans in general operate....
  7. Jun 2, 2009 #6
    This is interesting!.
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2009
  8. Jun 2, 2009 #7

    Ivan Seeking

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    Hmmmm, [actually, YIKES! is more like it] I looked at this briefly and the information seemed to be okay, but I am locking the thread until I have a chance to take another look. I don't like the direction this is going or the references made.
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2009
  9. Jun 2, 2009 #8

    Ivan Seeking

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    And in particular, was it published?

    I thought this was a review of more mainstream material, but it is sounding like a free-for-all for cranks.
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2009
  10. Jun 5, 2009 #9

    Ivan Seeking

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    Okay, any discussion of claims like those listed above first require that the published papers be linked - at least a link to the abstract and the name of the journal. If the papers or studies mentioned have not been published in a mainstream journal found in our master journal list

    then they must be clearly identified as anecdotal evidence. This means that for the sake of argument and context, it counts as no more than an unconfirmed story. It cannot be used as experimental or scientific evidence that the alleged phenomenon exists.
  11. Jun 5, 2009 #10


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    :confused: The reticular activating system is a diffuse regions in the brainstem primarily involved in consciousness and sleep/wake cycles. Where do you get the idea it is involved in any sort of filtering of stimuli related to world views? Beyond that, I've re-read your statement several times and can't figure out what you meant to say. I think you have an incomplete sentence there.

    From the first part of your statement where you said:
    Why do you assume that mainstream research is conducted primarily by atheists? And, why would you also further assume that atheism then leads to a reductionist approach? Even worse, why would you claim that a reductionist approach would be synonymous with a materialist view?

    Indeed, it is a poor approach to science to try to justify prejudice by saying the other side is prejudiced too, and isn't how quality science is conducted. Sound science needs to consider all the alternative interpretations and systematically test them.

    As for the OP, one thing that comes to my mind is questioning how one defines a "spiritual experience." That could mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people, and if one starts lumping too many things into a single category, it's going to muddy the research and make it impossible to test a clear hypothesis. Indeed, even in the OP, the article cited lists quite a range of experiences under this umbrella category, and it's quite possible, even probable, that they are due to a range of different neurological phenomena that for lack of a better description and understanding by those experiencing them are all being lumped under the category of "spiritual" experiences.
  12. Jun 6, 2009 #11
    I'm sure they are. Are there any researchers conducting an experiment on the experience of brains on technology? Personally I find faith in science, politics, and persistent grade school beliefs more controversial.

    Shining the light of derision inward is a rare occurrence, isn't it?
    Last edited: Jun 6, 2009
  13. Jun 6, 2009 #12
  14. Jun 6, 2009 #13
    LOL. I was going to say the same thing but I thought I'm not smart enough :biggrin:.
  15. Jun 8, 2009 #14
    Guess what!, this is actually what happened and as you predicted, the results were different. Dr. Richard Wiseman, a known skeptic replicated the experiments and he failed to find any significant effects. The results seemed to be because of experimenter effect. So the solution was to do a joint study with Dr. Marilyn Schlitz under the same settings and conditions. Tow studies were done at Richard Wiseman's laboratory at the University of Hertfordshire in the UK. And again Schlitz results were significant unlike Wiseman's. One of the strange possibilities is that the experimenter effect itself is inexplicable (experimenter psi abilities). Wiseman who expected the experiment to fail, disturbed the effect, unlike Schlitz who is proponent.

    Journal of Parapsychology, 61(3), 197-208 (1998):

    Richard Wiseman
    Perrott-Warrick Research Unit
    University of Hertfordshire
    Marilyn Schlitz
    Institute for Noetic Science

    A third joint study (done at the Institute of Noetic Sciences), reported in 2005, has failed to replicate this experimenter effect:
    British Journal of Psychology (2006), 97, 313-322
    (c) 2006 The British Psychological Society:
    Of two minds: Sceptic-proponent collaboration
    within parapsychology

    Marilyn Schlitz1, Richard Wiseman2, Caroline Watt3
    and Dean Radin1
    1Institute of Noetic Sciences, USA
    2University of Hertfordshire, UK
    3University of Edinburgh, UK

    Another European study (failed) (2006):

    Susanne Müller1, Stefan Schmidt1 & Harald Walach2
    1Department of Evaluation Research in Complementary Medicine
    Institute of Environmental Medicine and Hospital Epidemiology
    University Hospital Freiburg, Germany
    2University Northampton, School of Social Sciences and Samueli Institute, European Office
    http://www.uniklinik-freiburg.de/iuk/live/forschung/publikationen/Staring_EDA_conscious_PA_2006.pdf [Broken]​
    And here are some of the early (failed) experiments that were done by a skeptic, and were mentioned in http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=9D00E6DB133FE633A2575AC1A9669D946296D6CF" [Broken] (October 19, 1913, Sunday, Page 14):
    "The Feeling of Being Stared at": Experimental J. E. Coover The American Journal of Psychology, Vol. 24, No. 4 (Oct.,1913), pp. 570-575
    (article consists of 6 pages)
    Published by: University of Illinois Press
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  16. Jun 8, 2009 #15
    Great post, SDetection!

    Actually we had a thread here a few years back about the Wiseman/Schlitz situation, which is exactly why I phrased my post the way I did.

    I wasn't aware of the third experiment where the experimenter effect couldn't be duplicated, though. Thanks for that update!
  17. Jun 8, 2009 #16

    Ivan Seeking

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    Note that the Journal of Parapsychology is not found in the master journal list and is not an acceptable scientific reference. Nor is any publication from the Noetic Society. Claims of phenomena found in these sources may be used anecdotally, but any theories or conclusions are not acceptable for discussion here. The British and American Journals of Psychology are acceptable references.

    This is not appropriate speculation for this forum. One cannot use an unproven claim as evidence for another or as an explanation for any lack of evidence to support another claim.

    SDetection, please be sure to check the master journal list [link in the S&D guidelines] before citing a journal as a source.
    Last edited: Jun 8, 2009
  18. Jun 10, 2009 #17
    Thanks, I found your thread, it's interesting. The problem with testing such phenomena is that we need a clear hypothesis and I don't think there should be any for now. These experiments are for testing a non local effect and we must account for all reasonable possibilities and also account for all the reported natural conditions. When testing such phenomenon, all we need to do is to find and trace any inexplicable correlation, and then let it lead us to the actual hypothesis.
    We shouldn't assume that we know exactly what we are testing or all the conditions. We shouldn't take what we know for granted, or we could end up testing the wrong hypothesis, and the actual hypothesis could be showing sometimes as a side effect that we don't know how to reproduce. We shouldn't assume that any inexplicable correlation will prove spirituality, conscious psychic abilities, distant healing or whatever. Being an atheist myself I don't believe in any of that. But as many people reported experiencing this phenomenon themselves, further experiments should be conducted to prove any correlation beyond doubt, in order to get funding for more extensive research.

    Personally I find this open-mined skeptic-proponent collaboration a very good idea to resolve the issue of distrust and to find an explanation for such highly reported phenomenon.

    Regarding all of these experiments:
    We know that, in normal every day life, no one will stare at something without having a strong desire to do so. The reported starers certainly weren't testing their psychic ability or casting a magic spell on people. Yet all of these experiments that have been done regarding this staring effect were conducted as if this is the case. And I think it's a mistake not to account for such condition which by the way would have made the experiments naturally blinded and the results more reliable but still would have made the experiments more difficult to conduct. The experimenters seemed to be misled by public myths or the alleged psychics that are defrauding people.

    OK, thanks.
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2009
  19. Aug 2, 2009 #18
    Wow, i will look into this.
  20. Aug 2, 2009 #19


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    The Institute of Noetic Sciences is on Qwackwatch's List of questionable organizations, the lack of peer review is a biggie. That would explain Shlitz's results.
  21. Nov 9, 2009 #20
    Yes, of course, what they are researching is not inside the scientific mainstream.

    What's interesting here is that so many people have been reporting the same simple phenomenon. As we're still searching for the ultimate truth, we have no choice but to be open minded. Not too open minded until our brains fall out as some people say, no!, our open mind still adheres to the same scientific method that made some "extraordinary" claims become scientific facts. The truth can mix with the myth, and there is a logical possibility that the truth itself is no less inexplicable. Just because a claim sounds unbelievable, that doesn't mean it's not true or based on some truth, especially if a phenomenon is reported by so many unrelated people.

    The scientific method begins by assuming the ignorance and by taking every logical possibility into consideration. There is a safe path to the truth, and if we don't begin by assuming the ignorance we drift away from this path. This is the mistake that many people make, we tend to assume the knowledge.
    We're willing to accept experimental errors that can come with positive results, and also we have to accept the possibility of experimental errors that can come with negative results. This phenomenon certainly hasn't been tested under the same conditions under which it was originally reported. The staring that people have been reporting happens when someone is excited/fascinated/intrigued by something, it's internally motivated (active staring). The staring that the experimenters have been testing happens only in their experiments and in the movies (passive staring). They were testing this phenomenon as if it's a conscious ability that someone can easily demonestrate on demand, and this sounds too good to be true.

    All they did in these experiments is replicate the physical stare, there was no excitement/curiosity as in the case with the natural staring that happens in everyday life. You can't force yourself to think about something because you will end up thinking about thinking about something. In the experiments, the starers/senders (mostly were the experimenters) were trying hard to concentrate on the targets/starees, and the more they try to concentrate the more they drift away from the original conditions. The reported starers were thinking of the starees, and the starers in all these experiments were thinking about staring at the targets. As passive staring can become active, this could explain the positive results in some of the experiments.

    The experimenters can test this phenomenon under whatever rigorous controlled settings that would satisfy the scientific community, but they must ensure that they're testing what is supposed to be tested, as we're not sure about that (we assumed the ignorance) this phenomenon must be tested exactly as it's supposed to happen naturally. The starers/senders mustn't be aware of the actual purpose of the test, they should be tricked into staring at the targets by somehow stimulating their internal motivation that would make them naturally stare. To eliminate the possibility of false responses, inexperienced starees/receivers needn't be aware of the actual purpose of the test if their psychophysiological variables are to be measured and/or their behavior is to be monitored.

    As we're testing something related to the brain, and the experimenters also have brains that can affect the results (in case they get excited and stare or think about the targets by themselves), they should take that into consideration.

    Instead of getting one sender to stare at many targets (as the experimenters did), they should get one target that would make people stare, and get as much starers/senders as possible. Also they should take into consideration that whatever happens in the starer's/sender's brain has a variable intensity. They can make many people stare at the target at the same time to ensure whatever the hidden conditions under which this phenomenon is supposed to happen, whatever the intensity of whatever happens in the senders brains, and whatever the actual hypothesis is (assuming the ignorance).

    There can be many different techniques that can be used to ensure the active staring, for example, children can be easily excited to stare at, for example, an animal.

    As I'm one of the people who have experienced this phenomenon in its most profound form I'm sure there will be undeniable and reproducible positive results when this active staring is properly tested, not test something else and then claim it's a myth. All people are delusional on a simple phenomenon!... I don't think so.

    More documents related to this mysterious phenomenon:

    Sheldrake, R. (2005). The Sense of Being Stared At Part 1: Is it Real or Illusory? Journal of Consciousness Studies, 12, 10-31.
    http://www.sheldrake.org/papers/Staring/JCSpaper1.pdf [Broken]

    Sheldrake, R. (2005). The Sense of Being Stared At Part 2: Its Implications for Theories of Vision Journal of Consciousness Studies, 12, No. 6, 2005, pp. 32–49
    http://www.sheldrake.org/papers/Staring/JCSpaper2.pdf [Broken]

    Schmidt, S. (2005). Comments on Sheldrake's 'The Sense of Being Stared At'. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 12, 105-108.
    http://www.uniklinik-freiburg.de/iuk/live/forschung/publikationen/Comment_Shreldrake_staring_JCS_2005.pdf [Broken]

    The Non-Visual Detection of Staring - Response to Commentators Journal of Consciousness Studies, 12, No. 6, 2005, pp. 117–26
    http://www.sheldrake.org/papers/Staring/JCSpaper3.pdf [Broken]
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