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Research into the 'Paranormal'

  1. Apr 12, 2005 #1
    Most 'paranormal' phenomena/effects are difficult to research scientifically since they are too difficult to produce on demand, and maybe they are illusory anyway. However, if one uses the old fingers on a glass and letters around the table method of 'communicating with the other side' (or whatever is really going on) it is very easy to reproduce the effect. Although I'm sceptical of many claims about the paranormal this one bothers me. I've done it many times and there is no doubt that something very odd is going on.

    It seems to me that this is an easily reproduced phenomenon and that as such it requires some sort of scientific explanation. Does anyone know of any formal (and respectable) research into it? I haven't had much luck with Internet searches so far.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 12, 2005 #2
    There was this one time a few years back that a group of us did the Ouija board thing. After about 30 mins with not much luck when asking for signs and stuff we put it away. We were about to watch a movie, down in my basement, its gloomy. When i turned on the TV you will never believe what happened!

    There was an elvis special on. we were all like whowa. /funny.
  4. Apr 12, 2005 #3
    The succes of this kind of experiment is most likely also dependant on the person(s) doing it. And perhaps also the location.

    Some people may have weird results, others will have none.
  5. Apr 12, 2005 #4
    Most if not all of it is made up in the persons/groups head. Ohno's a strange sound. Ohno's something fell. From all the stories ive heard, (please feel free to post links to some interesting ones) im sure there is not as much fact as some would like to believe.
  6. Apr 12, 2005 #5


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    Canute, the effect you describe can be explained by reference to the ideomotor effect. Subconscious thoughts can subtly influence motor movements in ways that we, as conscious agents, ultimately do not attritbute to ourselves. So it seems as if we aren't guiding the movements (in this case, the glass on the board) when in fact we are.

    Another demonstration of the same phenomena is the Chevreul Pendulum. Attach a string to a light weight, such as a washer; this is your pendulum. Place your elbow on a table, with your forearm raised, such that you're holding the pendulum over the table and it can swing freely. Now, do not try to make the pendulum swing, but just imagine it swinging in a particular way (back and forth, or in circles, etc.). You will eventually find that the pendulum moves in the manner you are thinking of, even though you had no conscious intent to move it. The accepted explanation for this phenomenon is that your thoughts are sufficient in this case to activate very slight motor movements in your hand, and these in turn are enough to actually move the pendulum.

    Of course, just because the ideomotor effect seems to be consistent with Ouji board phenomena and others does not prove that it is the mechanism at work; after all, supposed supernatural phenomena are also consistent with the observed results. But because the ideomotor effect has been scientifically demonstrated to be a 'real' effect, and because it operates in ways that fit comfortably with what we know about the world from physics and biology, it seems to be the more plausible explanation.
  7. Apr 12, 2005 #6
    A better way to test the pendulum, would be with 3 people. One who writes the directions they would use to command of the pendulum, privately. One who holds the pendulum, and one who records the doings of the pendulum. A clock would be used and one minute increments would be used for pendulum commands, up to 10 minutes, or so. Then the notes could be compared.

    I just think that the universe is so "magical" on its own, that we will still be knocking ourselves out to explain it, a thousand years from now.
  8. Apr 13, 2005 #7
    Thanks for the replies everyone.


    That's the answer I was after (and why I posted the question in General Physics). Personally, from experience of doing it, I would say that the ideomotor effect was not a satisfactory explanation. I wouldn't be able to prove that it isn't, but it's such an obvious explanation that it's one of the first that comes to mind for anyone doing it. Yet I have always found it pretty obvious if someone is knowingly or unknowingly pushing the glass around, and pushing it around is very difficult to do. Also the ideomotor effect would not in itself explain what actually happens, the content of the messages that are spelt out.

    The pendulum example seems quite different to me, since it is impossible to stop a hand held pendulum from moving, whereas it requires a sustained effort to make a glass move, and a purposeful intelligence to make it spell out words and meaningful sentences.

    I would have thought the ideomotor effect could have been tested for, by putting pressure sensors on the glass and so on. Has anyone found any actual evidence that this effect is responsible for the movement of the glass, or is the idea as yet untested?

    Anyway, the ideomotor effect is the scientific explanation and that is what I was after. Thanks.
  9. Apr 13, 2005 #8


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    I'm not sure what serious objection you have. The explanation readily explains why one is typically surprised that the glass moves in a certain way, and why one thinks that it is not really him/herself doing it. Both of these are accounted for by explaining that the movement of the glass is performed subconsciously, i.e., without conscious intent. While it may be difficult for us to come to terms with the extent to which our bodies can meaningfully move without us explicitly guiding the actions, it's certainly not grounds for declaring such a proposal unsatisfactory; surprising or counterintuitive, yes, but not unsatisfactory.

    The idea is that you have something like subconscious thoughts, and the content of these thoughts is sufficient to activate slight motor movements in a way analogous to the manner in which conscious, intentful thoughts can be sufficient to activate large scale muscle movements.

    The important similarities between the two, if the ideomotor effect is the proper explanation for both, are that they operate on these principles: 1) conscious intent is not required to bring about guided or directed body movements, and 2) the content of thoughts is what meaningfully guides bodily movement, whether these thoughts are made with conscious intent or not.

    The major difference is that with Chevreul's pendulum, we are aware of the non-volitional thought(s) that appear to be responsible for our bodily movements, and we can see a clear link between their content and the resultant bodily movement. In the case of the Ouji board, we are not aware of the thoughts which we presume are responsible for guiding our behavior, and we can only assume that the words we spell are somehow related to the contents of the subconscious thoughts of the board operators. (Perhaps a sufficiently sophisticated neuroscience could settle that matter for us in the future.)
  10. Apr 13, 2005 #9
    I was half-expecting that kind of punch line, but it was still funny. :D

  11. Apr 13, 2005 #10
  12. Apr 14, 2005 #11
    Hmm. Table rapping seems like fraud to me, and many cases of fraud have been uncovered. However the ouija board thing is not fraud. It may be something like Hypnagogue says, a self-deception, but it isn't fraud.


    My serious objection is that I do not think the ideomotor effect explains what happens. As I say, I can't show that it's the wrong explanation, but in most instances when I have done it (and while being curious and I hope open-minded I'm by nature sceptical about such things) it is my conclusion that the pressure of fingers on the glass is not sufficient to account for the movement of the glass.

    For instance, in the past I did this quite a few times with my mother. With just two people involved it is immediately obvious if someone is moving the glass with their finger, since it takes a certain pressure on the glass to do it. Of course it's possible that I'm wrong about this, and certainly if I hadn't done it so many times I would have happily assumed that the ideomotor effect was the solution. However given my experiences I don't think it is the solution. If it is then it should be very easy to prove it, and I'm not aware that it's been proved. Also, it's a pretty strange unconscious process that can spell out such messages as "The only way to eternal life is Holy communion" and sign it the Bishop of Bath and Wells.

    Why do we have to assume this? Science should be about observations and experiment, not assumptions. If the ideomotor effect has not been shown to cause the movement of the glass then we don't know whether it does or does not.

    One anecdote. At school I used to do this with some friends regularly over a period of a few months. For one four day period each time we started we got James Joyce on the line. That is, each time we asked who was there, the glass moved to spell out James Joyce. Now usually the movements of the glass are fairly weak, but this was different. Every now and again the glass would suddenly whizz energetically around the circle of letters until they were all knocked to the floor. If any of the three or four people doing it had been pushing or pulling the glass it would have been perfectly obvious, and when we tried to mimic this effect by pushing or pulling the glass ourselves we could not do it. (We were also suspicious about what was going on, and someone consciously or unconsciously moving the glass with their finger is the obvious solution). Perhaps we were wrong about this, but if so one of our subconscious minds speaks in very bad language, since it was all f**k this and f**k that in the messages the glass spelt out, as one would expect.

    My brother, a little younger than me, also started to do it. However one time the glass spelt out 'Gabriel', and then it flew off the table and smashed in mid-air, since when he's absolutely refused to have anything more to do with it under any circumstances. (The incident happened over thirty years ago - but he still feels the same). But I wasn't there so have no comment on that incident. I'm only taking into account what has happened to me first hand.

    If it is not yet know whether the ideomoter effect is responsible then there's not much point in our guessing. Still, it surprises me that it is not known to be responsible, since I would have thought it was fairly easy to design an experiment to test whether it is or not. I wouldn't want to argue about it with you except to say that I don't find this proposed solution convincing. It seems to be no more than a conjecture.

    I don't have any axe to grind on this, perhaps its all got a perfectly ordinary explanation and is nothing to do with the 'other side'. If so fine, and it's what one would expect. But the ideomotor effect does not seem a plausible explanation to me.
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2005
  13. Apr 14, 2005 #12
    The ideomotor effect could be the explanation, but that certainly doesnt mean it actuallly is.

    The part u mentioned with "The only way to eternal life is Holy communion" is also possible to have been created by the subconscious (possible, but likely?). U should ask something that u urself have no knowledge about, but can easily check afterwards. For instance, ask him to tell a specific line from the bible (which u dont know urself).

    If this is succesful, then the likelyhood of the ideomotor effect being the explanation decreases. Of course, the next explanation would be that u have seen that bibleverse before in ur life, but only ur subconsciousness remembers it, etc.
  14. Apr 14, 2005 #13


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    I'm not aware of any testing that has been done along these lines, but I can think of a couple of hypotheses that could account for this feeling as if you are not exerting enough force to actually move the glass.

    1. Perhaps the circumstances under which you create ideomotor movements on a Ouija board are not conducive to creating a subjective feeling of effort. Possible reasons that this could be the case are:
    a) you only use a certain subset of muscle groups in creating these movements, and these muscle groups do not give the kind of feedback to your brain needed to create a subjective feeling of effort;
    b) the nature of the motor signal sent from your brain, either in type or intensity, is such that it is not the sort that promotes the kind of feedback from the muscles, in conjunction with other neural mechanisms, that create a subjective feeling of effort;
    c) because these muscle commands are sent out subconsciously, mechanisms in the brain are in some sense not 'expecting' any work to be done, and so the neural mechanisms that correlate with subjective feelings of effort are never activated.

    2. Perhaps there is a dissociation between the ideomotor movement and your own cognitive mechanisms that attribute ownership to bodily movements. Such dissociation has been observed elsewhere; some people with certain brain legions or other cognitive impairments (sorry, I can't recall the specific name) report that, say, they do not 'tell' their left hand to move in such and such a way, but rather that it acts independently of their volitional control.

    The idea behind both hypotheses is that the cognitive mechanisms by which we feel that we are doing certain things are subtle and complicated, and can be 'fooled' in certain circumstances. We should not always take that which is apparent to us to be an accurate representation of what is actually happening.

    I meant to say that the content of the messages that come from operation of a Ouija board can only be assumed (for now) to be systematically correlated with the contents of subconscious thoughts, as we cannot introspectively ascertain the content of subconscious thoughts by definition, and as yet we are a long ways off from doing any such thing with 3rd person methods. This is more an assumption about the nature of the ideomotor effect than one about the actual existence and operation of it in the Ouija board scenario.

    For an easy test of whether some sort of ideomotor effect is really at play when using a Ouija board, I suggest trying to use it while all operators of the glass are blindfolded. Have a third party rotate the board once you have been blindfolded, so that none of you know which side is facing where, and then have the third party observe the proceedings and record the messages that are spelt out. If the ideomotor effect is at play here, we should expect that mostly nonsense will be produced.
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2005
  15. Apr 15, 2005 #14
    That's a good idea. I haven't done it for years but if the chance comes I'll try it.

    When doing this thing the pressure one puts on the glass is so slight that there is no pressure to speak of on ones finger. If someone is using more pressure than this it is fairly easily spotted. One rests one finger as lightly as possible, so that ones finger can move on the glass without moving the glass.

    PIT2 - One often gets answers to questions to which nobody present knows the answer, or at least, to which nobody present is aware of knowing the answer. This happened to my son and his friends just last week. (This is what led to my original question). They had to go and ask a friend's mother if what the glass spelt out about one of his relations was true. It was. This doesn't prove anything of course, but it's a fascinating puzzle.
  16. Apr 15, 2005 #15
    If it could be proven that the persons present didnt have the knowledge to produce the answer themselves, then the ideomotor effect could be eliminated. Or perhaps it could be the ideomotor effect in combination with some paranormal way of gathering the information.

    Can i ask what the glass spelt that nobody seemed to know?

    By the way, why dont u set up some kind of experiment (like the bible one i mentioned) and report ur findings on here?

    Perhaps we can even make 1 person on here write something down on a note, and u ask the ghost (or whatever) to take a look at the note. Then the forummember can confirm if the ghost gave the proper answer.
    Sounds fun :smile:
  17. Apr 16, 2005 #16
    I don't particularly want to get into doing experiments with it. No point in having millions of scientists and then doing ones own research. I just wondered what the scientific view on it is. My feeling is that calling it the ideomoter effect without bothering to try and prove it is equivalent to not having a view. I don't have a view either. All the ways I can think of of explaining it, scientifically or otherwise, have flaws. But for myself I don't mind not knowing.
  18. Apr 16, 2005 #17
    The point wouldnt be to prove it to the world, but to prove it to urself(and perhaps others on this forum(including me)).

    If u were to conduct this experiment with a skeptical trustworthy person on this forum, then im sure that person aswell as many others would realise that the ideomotor effect can be dismissed as an explanation when the experiment turns out to be succesful.

    But do as u want :smile:
  19. Apr 19, 2005 #18
    There is a one million dollar paranormal challenge to anyone who can prove anything paranormal or psychic.


    This has been of particular interest to me. I hired Google Answers to find ANY proof in an accredited scientific journal proving anything paranormal. The short answer: NO
  20. Apr 19, 2005 #19

    Ivan Seeking

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    Of course, as discussed, there are already examples of people who qualify to win the million, such as the blind man who can see expressions on a person's face.

    Do you see any of Randi's advocates discussing this story? No. Why: That would cost him a million bucks and end the discussion. Keep in mind that Randi sets all of the rules including who and what he will test. What he really does is to demand that someone perform magic.
  21. Apr 19, 2005 #20


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    On the other hand, since when is something reported on the mass media such as ABC news is considered to be valid? Need I remind people that ABC news, and many other mass media, touted and covered Joe Newman and his "perpetual engine"?[Refer to Bob Park's book "Voodoo Science"]

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