Is This Your Brain On God?

  • #1
Ivan Seeking
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Main Question or Discussion Point

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

More than half of adult Americans report they have had a spiritual experience that changed their lives. Now, scientists from universities like Harvard, Pennsylvania and Johns Hopkins are using new technologies to analyze the brains of people who claim they have touched the spiritual -- from Christians who speak in tongues to Buddhist monks to people who claim to have had near-death experiences. Hear what they have discovered in this controversial field, as the science of spirituality continues to evolve...
http://www.npr.org/news/specials/2009/brain/

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.
 
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  • #3
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From the first link:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=104351710
The Love Study

On a bright spring day, Schlitz is leading Teena and J.D. Miller down a path to the laboratory at the Institute of Noetic Sciences, north of San Francisco. Schlitz is the president of the institute, which conducts research on consciousness and spirituality. The Millers have been married a decade and their affection is palpable — making them perfect for the so-called Love Study.

Schlitz takes Teena into an isolated room, where no sound can come in or go out. Teena settles into a deep armchair as Schlitz attaches electrodes to her right hand.

"This is measuring blood flow in your thumb, and this is your skin conductance activity," the researcher explains. "So basically both of these are measures of your unconscious nervous system."

Schlitz locks Teena into the electromagnetically shielded chamber, then ushers J.D. into another isolated room with a closed-circuit television. She explains that the screen will go on and off. And at random intervals, Teena's image will appear on the screen for 10 seconds.

"And so during the times when you see her," she instructs, "it's your opportunity to think about sending loving, compassionate intention."

As the session begins, Dean Radin, a senior scientist here, watches as a computer shows changes in J.D.'s blood pressure and perspiration. When J.D. sees the image of his wife, the steady lines suddenly jump and become ragged. The question is: Will Teena's nervous system follow suit?

"Notice how here … see, there's a change in the blood volume," says Radin, pointing to a screen charting Teena's measurements. "A sudden change like that is sometimes associated with an orienting response. If you suddenly hear somebody whispering in your ear, and there's nobody around, you have this sense of what? What was that? That's more or less what we're seeing in the physiology."

An hour later, Radin displays Teena's graph, which shows a flat line during the times her husband was not staring at her image, but when her husband began to stare at her, she stopped relaxing and became "aroused" within about two seconds.

After running 36 couples through this test, the researchers found that when one person focused his thoughts on his partner, the partner's blood flow and perspiration dramatically changed within two seconds. The odds of this happening by chance were 1 in 11,000. Three dozen double blind, randomized studies by such institutions as the University of Washington and the University of Edinburgh have reported similar results.
Could this be true?
 
  • #4
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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.
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....
 
  • #6
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From the first link:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=104351710
..."A sudden change like that is sometimes associated with an orienting response. If you suddenly hear somebody whispering in your ear, and there's nobody around, you have this sense of what? What was that? That's more or less what we're seeing in the physiology"

An hour later, Radin displays Teena's graph, which shows a flat line during the times her husband was not staring at her image, but when her husband began to stare at her, she stopped relaxing and became "aroused" within about two seconds...
This is interesting!.
 
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  • #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.
 
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  • #8
Ivan Seeking
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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.
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.
 
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  • #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
http://scientific.thomson.com/index.html

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.
 
  • #10
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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?
: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:
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?
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.
 
  • #11
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A five-part NPR series about the science of spirituality:
More than half of adult Americans report they have had a spiritual experience that changed their lives. Now, scientists from universities like Harvard, Pennsylvania and Johns Hopkins are using new technologies to analyze the brains of people who claim they have touched the spiritual -- from Christians who speak in tongues to Buddhist monks to people who claim to have had near-death experiences. Hear what they have discovered in this controversial field, as the science of spirituality continues to evolve...
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?
 
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  • #12
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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?
What?
 
  • #13
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What?
LOL. I was going to say the same thing but I thought I'm not smart enough :biggrin:.
 
  • #14
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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.
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):
EXPERIMENTER EFFECTS AND
THE REMOTE DETECTION OF STARING

Richard Wiseman
Perrott-Warrick Research Unit
University of Hertfordshire
UK
&
Marilyn Schlitz
Institute for Noetic Science
USA
The apparent detection of an unseen gaze (i.e., the feeling of being stared at, only to turn around and discover somebody looking directly at you) is a common type of ostensible paranormal experience, with between 68% and 94% of the population reporting having experienced the phenomena at least once (Coover, 1913; Braud, Shafer and Andrews, 1993a).

Some parapsycholgists have attempted to assess whether this experience is based, at least in part, upon genuine psi ability. Such studies use two participants; a 'sender' and 'receiver'. These individuals are isolated from one another, but in such a way that the sender can see the receiver. Early experiments had the sender sitting behind the receiver (Titchener, 1898; Coover, 1913; Poortman, 1959), whilst later studies have employed one-way mirrors (Peterson, 1978) or closed-circuit television system (Williams, 1983; Braud, Shafer and Andrews, 1993a,b). The experimental session is divided into two sets of randomly ordered 'stare' and 'nonstare' trials. During 'stare' trials the sender directs his/her attention towards the receiver; during 'non-stare' trials the sender directs this attention away from the receiver. Either during or after each trial a response is taken from the receiver. In early studies the receivers made verbal guesses as to whether they believed they had been stared at whilst later studies have measured receivers' electrodermal activity (EDA) throughout each trial. Many studies have obtained statistically significant differences between responses to 'stare' and 'non-stare' trials and a recent review of this work concluded that:
We hope that other investigators will attempt to replicate these studies. We recommend the design as one that is straightforward, has already yielded consistent positive results, and addresses a very familiar psi manifestation in a manner that is readily communicable and understandable to the experimental participants and to the public at large.(Braud, Shafer and Andrews, 1993b, p. 408).​
Each of the authors recently attempted to replicate this 'staring' effect...
http://www.richardwiseman.com/resources/staring1.pdf

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
The first author, a proponent of evidence for psychic ability, and the second, a sceptic, have been conducting a systematic programme of collaborative sceptic-proponent research in parapsychology. This has involved carrying out joint experiments in which each investigator individually attempted to mentally influence the electrodermal activity of participants at a distant location. The first two collaborations obtained evidence of 'experimenter effects', that is, experiments conducted by the proponent obtained significant results but those conducted by the sceptic did not. This paper describes a new collaborative study that attempted to replicate our previous findings and explore potential explanations for past results. The new study failed to replicate our previous findings. The paper investigates whether the results obtained in our initial studies may have been caused by a genuine psychic effect, and this third experiment failed to replicate this finding because some aspect of the study disrupted the production of that effect, or whether the results from our first two studies represented chance findings or undetected subtle artifacts, and the results obtained in the present study accurately reflect the absence of a remote detection of staring effect. The implications of this work are discussed, along with the benefits of conducting collaborative work for resolving disagreements in other controversial areas of psychology...Surveys suggest that 70 to 90% of the population has experienced an uneasy feeling of being stared at, only to turn around and discover somebody looking at them (Coover, 1913; Braud, Shafer, & Andrews, 1993a). Research into this phenomenon has a long and distinguished history, with initial papers on the topic being published around the turn of the last century by two pioneers of modern day psychology: E.B. Titchener (1898) and J.E. Coover (1913)...
http://www.richardwiseman.com/resources/twominds.pdf

Another European study (failed) (2006):
REMOTE STARING DETECTED BY CONSCIOUS AND PSYCHOPHYSIOLOGICAL VARIABLES
COMBINING AND IMPROVING TWO SUCCESSFUL PARADIGMS

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):
Probably a majority of persons have experienced the sensation of being stared at from behind, and, turning the head, have actually detected the gazer. Until recently psychologists have talked learnedly about a vestigial "third eye" which in the abysm of time belonged to the ancestors of man, and might account for the instinctive feeling of being stared at...
"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
http://www.jstor.org/stable/1413454
 
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  • #15
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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!
 
  • #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.

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.
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.
http://www.thomsonscientific.com/cgi-bin/jrnlst/jlresults.cgi?PC=MASTER
 
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  • #17
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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!
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.

SDetection, please be sure to check the master journal list [link in the S&D guidelines] before citing a journal as a source.
http://www.thomsonscientific.com/cgi-bin/jrnlst/jlresults.cgi?PC=MASTER
OK, thanks.
 
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  • #18
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Wow, i will look into this.
 
  • #19
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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):
EXPERIMENTER EFFECTS AND
THE REMOTE DETECTION OF STARING

Richard Wiseman
Perrott-Warrick Research Unit
University of Hertfordshire
UK
&
Marilyn Schlitz
Institute for Noetic Science
USA
http://www.richardwiseman.com/resources/staring1.pdf
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.
 
  • #20
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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.
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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  • #21
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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.
yeah
 
  • #22
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I think this is true, I also believe that if we know the proper techniques we can enhance our "god heads" and achieve things never thought possible everyone just needs to have a mass shift in the way we think
 

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