Boggling the Mind
by Todd I. Stark
A review of Some Science Adventures with Real Magic by William Tiller, Walter Dibble, and J. Gregory Fandel; 2005, Pavior Publishing.
Some Science Adventures with Real Magic conveys a simple and familiar idea in an unusually complex way. The goal is to define and explain broad domains of anomalous phenomena in a way consistent with modern science, and to show what it all means for the future and potential of humanity. Many have tried this task in the past with varying degrees of credibility. These efforts have typically been pigeon-holed by hard-line physicists and others as "New Age" mysticism, while some of the better ones have been labeled "The New Physics."
The core idea in all of these efforts is that modern science and older spiritual traditions converge in a meaningful way to point to a higher plane of existence, with profound consequences for the human species. Science brings its cultural credibility to the argument and spiritual metaphysics offers us a much more interesting and central role in the universe than science has managed thus far to produce.
The most unique thing about Tiller’s group’s efforts is the specific and systematic manner in which they use physics and mathematics, and the use of a device that is claimed to detect the conditions necessary for paranormal or “psychoenergetic” activity. This book is full of equations, new terms, and references to obscure physical laws in spite of being targeted to general readers.
Whereas Fritjof Capra’s books on the New Physics are a conceptual journey into metaphysics, and novel ways of looking at physics, Tiller’s book presents a systematic logical argument with a distinctly mathematical twist. Like the brilliant Ervin Laszlo, Tiller handles complex science and mathematics so well that he can make even seemingly bizarre ideas seem plausible. Tiller makes his case seem so straightforward that it is hard to believe that there isn’t already a market for some magic-wand technology based on his theory.
What Tiller is calling magic is “observations that cannot be explained by the prevailing paradigm.” In other words, what Tiller means by magic is what most of us call anomalies. If any sufficiently advanced technology is indeed indistinguishable from magic, Tiller seems to assume that the anomalies represented by parapsychology data represent an advanced technology in the making rather than an explanatory puzzle, so they are magic rather than simply anomalies. What justifies this assumption?
Tiller and his collaborators begin with a key experiment purported to expose an important physical effect (a currently anomalous molecular effect at a distance) and then interpret that effect in a way that extends to everything in the catalog of parapsychology, from telepathy and psychokinesis to “materialization.”
The obvious question from the start is whether the effort succeeds. Tiller’s explanations are an interesting adventure in philosophical speculation because they take many of our reported observations and spiritual traditions into account along with our scientific theories, resulting in an elegant explanatory synthesis.
The core of the theory is that Tiller postulates the existence of “inverse spacetime” in addition to conventional spacetime. Information is transmitted through inverse spacetime faster than light, just as objects in conventional spacetime travel slower than light. The various putative scientifically anomalous things that skeptics and popular movies like to characterize as “spooky” all live somehow in inverse spacetime, where we don’t often come into contact with them.
The bridge, according to Tiller, is the Deltron. Deltrons are a hypothetical substance which can travel both faster than light and slower than light, and so penetrate the veil between the worlds, so to speak. This is of even more interest to us than most particle physics anomalies because Deltrons are, according to this theory, part of the emotional domain. The emotional domain apparently allows human intention to interact with Deltrons, bridging the mind and the physical world.
The theory predicts that successful “psychoenergetic” experiments occur when we have a higher electromagnetic gauge symmetry than usual. Human intention can accomplish this feat, according to the theory, and this allows the novel kind of connectivity between humans and objects that is found in all sorts of paranormal phenomena. Tiller has a device and procedure (the IIED) which he believes can measure this critical shift in electromagnetic gauge symmetry and can accept imprints of human intention.
Tiller’s theory says that human intention can create the conditions for paranormal phenomena because the human energy system (which coincides with the acupuncture meridians and Yogic chakras) actually exists in some sense at the elevated electromagnetic gauge symmetry level.
This would quite obviously represent a “revolutionary paradigm” to say the least, as well as taking a step toward solving some very sticky philosophical problems regarding the relationship of mind and matter. We’ve been prepared for such radical interpretations of data by the widespread acceptance of other theories like “many worlds” in quantum physics. Today we expect such bizarre things about our reality at its extremes.
Although this sounds at first more like science fiction than science, perhaps we should evaluate theories like this seriously, if speculatively, and explore their implications, particularly in contrast to those of more conventional scientific theories regarding the same phenomena. Although it would certainly be disconcerting to find that the things that go bump in the night might often be influences from another plane of existence, and we might often find that they are purely our imagination, even a single such valid phenomenon might be very significant to our understanding of reality.
This logic is a pivot upon which the book’s argument rests, that the validity of “the remote sites experiment” makes the rest of the domain of paranormal phenomena (and even the link to occult metaphysics) far more credible. In other words, if I can show that I can really affect molecules in an anomalous way, then it seems reasonable that telepathy, clairvoyance, psychokinesis, and spirit materialization are real phenomenon in some cases rather than always being hoaxes and illusions.
Like most books that propose something scientifically revolutionary, this book provides its own take on the philosophy of science. According to the philosophy of science of Tiller and associates, the goal of science is to make its equations consistent with each other and with our observations in the simplest possible manner. This isn’t a bad way to characterize science, so long as we remember also that that our models must also make precise new predictions that can be tested and put to use in other research, and which aren’t implied already by existing theories.
Science being an intrinsically and deliberately conservative enterprise, the acceptance of such a revolutionary paradigm depends on: (1) being able to show cracks in the existing framework via reliably anomalous observations (there must be something new to explain that is not currently explained), (2) being able to continue to explain previously explained phenomena without conflict (new laws must be compatible with well-tested existing ones), and (3) the new model must make predictions that we can test and contrast with those of existing theories.
The acceptance of the Tiller model would, in principle, then, depend upon several things:
1. The validity of the remote molecular effect which provides the pivot point of credibility for the argument (have we found a legitimate physical anomaly with broad theoretical implications?)
2. The unity of the domain of other phenomena claimed to be explained in the same way (does that anomaly make the existence of all of the other phenomena more credible?)
3. The success of unique predictions from the theory that differ from those of conventional theories (can we continue to find research protocols for which the new model is consistently more useful than existing ones?)
While it is a bit early to decide the fate of the Tiller model, Tiller already has a defense prepared against the skeptics, and it tells us a lot about his approach to science. He calls it the “boggle effect.” This is a measure of how large the effect size has to be in an anomalous experimental result before the skeptic becomes cognitively disoriented and refuses to accept the result. People who automatically reject the idea that a legitimate anomaly can occur in experiments and apparently can’t deal with it intelligently when it happens have effectively a zero boggle factor. People who can deal with small anomalies but their eyes begin to spin when asked to consider larger effects have a small but non-zero boggle factor. The higher your boggle factor, the better, in Tiller’s view, because it moves you toward the goal of objectivity regarding the data.
Naturally then, the authors find themselves in a tiny elite minority with a high-boggle factor, because the boggle effect never occurs for them. Rather, they just incorporate the experimental data as they find it, noting when it isn’t explained by existing theories. Presumably, conventional scientists handicapped cognitively by their low-boggle factor manage to get by with their normal science, but revolutionary science such as Tiller’s group does require something special, a very high-boggle factor. Copernicus, Einstein, and Tiller can construct new paradigms because they don’t “boggle” when presented with data that doesn’t fit.
I agree up to a point, but the boggle factor defense alone isn’t going to have much impact on skeptics. Claiming to be one of the very few among a community who can see the truth is not generally a very compelling argument, especially in a field where the ability to communicate new ideas universally is a central characteristic. People reject new ideas arbitrarily sometimes, but they also reject them for good reasons.
Among scientists, the most skeptical of parapsychology are not as a group the physicists, but the experimental psychologists. The reason for this is obvious, psychologists are the most familiar with the way we can deceive ourselves and the kinds of illusions that haunt us. They are the ones who most readily can come up with explanations for anomalies in psychological terms. Their boggle factor is lower than other scientists on average because they spend more of their time and training seeing ways in which the human imagination affects our observations. On the other hand, physicists tend to think more like Tiller, equating objectivity with a very high-boggle factor.
There’s a clear tradeoff involved with a high-boggle factor. In laboratory science, it is known as the tradeoff between selectivity and sensitivity. The more selective your filter, the more valid results you miss. The more sensitive your filter, the more junk you end up accepting as a valid result. The less you “boggle” at bizarre observations, the more sorts of bizarre things you accept as experimental data or valid observations.
Whereas Tiller holds his group as the pinnacle of objectivity because of their high-boggle factor, it is probably more accurate to say that the optimum is a moving mid-point of high and low-boggle factor, high enough not to reject good but anomalous observations, and low enough that we don’t assume that all of the flotsam and jetsam of malleable human imagination is equivalent to our better stabilized observations.
For Tiller’s model to work as he intends, we would have to view the entire domain of parapsychological phenomena as a unit roughly equally credible as observations, because his theory generalizes to all of them and also relies on them to some extent as supporting data. This broad credibility differs from the actual profile we find when we look at parapsychology research. We find some phenomena much more carefully investigated than others, and that the phenomena differ greatly in how well they can be explained in terms of conventional science.
Credible experimental instances of macro-PK are virtually unknown, although the statistical results with the giant pachinko machine at the Princeton PEAR lab are particularly hard to explain. And as far as I know, a successful “materialization” is yet to be seen in a laboratory. However there are many claimed experimental replications of remote viewing and other anomalous information transfer; some of which have even found their way into the mainstream psychology literature. This could expose a bias in our willingness to consider anomalies; it could be that some anomalies are more difficult to reproduce than others; it could be that some anomalies are valid and others are not, or it could be, as skeptics suggest, that the phenomena are all ephemeral because they are illusions and artifacts which vanish even more readily than they appear.
Two of the central assumptions in Tiller's argument are that: (1) bioenergetic phenomena include "paranormal" events and (2) that bioenergetic phenomena are a single domain subject to a general explanatory theory.
I question these assumptions. When we do take paranormal observations seriously, one of the few things these events share (other than the tendency to boggle us) is that they tend to be shy when skeptics are involved in the experiment. This could be because skeptics tighten the controls and make the illusions and fraud go away. Or it could be because the presence of skeptical observers prevents these sensitive phenomena from happening. hese are two very different interpretations of the "experimenter effect," with very different implications for scientific research protocols.
I don’t know enough relativistic or quantum physics to evaluate the theory on that basis, but I’m willing to stipulate that it could be consistent and make sense if the domain of paranormal phenomena were legitimate. Tiller is Professor Emeritus of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Stanford University, previously worked as an advisory physicist at Westinghouse Research Laboratories, and has published 275 scientific papers and three technical books in the field of materials science. He probably knows significantly more about physics than I do, and certainly regarding the physics of materials, so I give him credit for his extensive specialized expertise. Let’s grant that the theory is likely to be logically consistent with the physics of materials at the very least, if we also grant the validity of his unusual experimental data.
Given those stipulations, I will offer some thoughts on the observations being explained, the general methodology used, and the philosophical implications of the theory and the methodology.
The first thing I observe is that the conditions required for reproducing the phenomena in question also make it very hard to do science as we now think of it. So we either are intrinsically limited in how well we can test Tillers’ theory against reality, or we are talking about changing the values and standards upon which science is based. More than just “an adventure in science,” either of these options essentially makes Tiller’s work an entity unto itself, having little to do with science as we know it today.
Most of the phenomena in question tend to vanish to the degree that we tighten the experimental protocols and come more into play as we loosen them. This is explained by supporters as a subtle form of the experimenter effect, whereby the very negativity of the participants under the restrictive experimental conditions and elaborate precautions hampers the elusive phenomena we are studying. Supporters of paranormal theories often look with a kind of annoyance or even contempt at the traditional reliance on the “double blind” protocol. That protocol was introduced to prevent us from influencing the outcome of an experiment in a particular direction because we know what is expected to happen.
The annoyance is certainly understandable. If you believe that the outcome of an experiment depends heavily, either directly or indirectly, on the attitude of the participants and experimenters, then you certainly won’t find it very useful to test for a phenomenon under conditions where it shouldn’t appear. It is still reasonable to do this test to look for anomalies and test our negative expectation, but the negative outcome shouldn’t be a surprise and skeptics shouldn’t make such a big deal of it.
The bigger dilemma is when we try to go farther with the positive results. Since the results presumably depend on everyone involved knowing what is expected and believing that it is going to happen, and this is the case in some experiments, positive results in those are not particularly surprising either. So we have interesting anomalies that can be reproduced under certain conditions. Now how do we manage to find controls, so we can determine what influences the effect in question, in order to study it? We cannot effectively do experimental science without controls, and we are saying that this class of phenomena cannot withstand experimental controls.
Granting that this is at least partly the problem, for whatever reason, we essentially have a class of phenomena which can only be studied under conditions which cannot in principle prevent our expectations from influencing the outcome. We face the same selectivity/sensitivity tradeoff we encountered with the “boggle factor.” We can let in more legitimate anomalous phenomena, but we have no way to filter out the ones that are explainable purely in terms of (deliberately or inadvertently) producing by conventional means the effects we are expecting. It makes sense that the tradeoff would be ignored in experimental protocols (double blind) by experimenters who consider it irrelevant in general approach (boggle factor). However, I question whether we can really use experimental methods to study such phenomena very far, if we can’t distinguish the false positives by use of “restrictive” controls.
There’s a principle in philosophy which says that when the logical outcome of your ideas is something that is either impossible or completely unacceptable, then we know we’ve made a mistake somewhere. When we have an interpretation of science which tells us that the foundations of science are all wrong, then we have good reason to suspect that we’ve made a mistake somewhere, unless we are willing to abandon rationality itself for a particular interpretation of data.
Perhaps the implications of abandoning the double blind protocol are not as bad as all that. I think Tiller rightly perceives that some scientists accept tiny inconsequential anomalies demonstrated under laboratory conditions but then are skeptics of hauntings, auras, and spoon bendings. My impression from this book is that he finds this to be quite arbitrary, a matter of the boggle factor of the scientists rather than the plausibility of the observations.
In contrast, I think the difference is enormous because the larger scale phenomena lend themselves far more easily to either deliberate fraud or inadvertent misinterpretation. Rejecting the double blind protocol and strict precautions prevents us from distinguishing these possibilities, and makes the plausibility of the outcome of the experiment primarily a matter of trust, and we have a performance rather than an experiment. It is rather like taking a test where the student has already passed the course. The test just becomes a demonstration, not part of any selection or learning process.
The second thing I observe is the philosophical point that Tiller’s writings take a very specific and idiosyncratic view of intention as an autonomous force. This metaphysical twist seems to be necessary in order to link, as Tiller does, the “small effects” (simple anomalies of information and energy transfer) with the “larger effects” (the realm of remote viewing, spoon bending, materializations, and occult metaphysics in general).
Conventional materialistic philosophy views human intention as a complex high level property of the physical matter of the brain. Tiller theorizes that through Deltrons, intention itself can be physically stored in devices, transported to remote locations, and cause matter to be altered, created, or destroyed. That would be roughly analogous to being able to store the wetness of water separately from its constituent molecules and use it to wet other objects without hydrogen and oxygen being present.
Clearly, mind and body cannot have the supervenience relationship currently attributed to them if intention can be separated out from the brain matter that gives rise to it.
The main problem I have with the approach in this book in not so much that I am boggled by it, but that it tries to explain so much while telling us that we have to discard some of our most important tools for testing explanations because these particular phenomena are shy around the kind of tests that are designed to weed out fraud, placebo, and experimenter or subject bias effects. The traditional skeptical response is that if the effects are so shy, then what use are they? This theoretical objection can be overcome if Tiller’s theory produces a useful technology, as he believes it can do.
A more devastating objection is that once we allow that our usual gold standard tests and controls are not binding, we can no longer find out much about the psychological properties and conditions for the phenomena, except what the theory already assumes. Tiller has an answer to this objection as well. The gold standard tests are simply too restrictive: our goal is really just coherence of our data and equations, and in addition, all sorts of subjective experience and occult metaphysics serve as reasonable data.
Finally I am a more than a little uncomfortable about all the existing science that the theory ignores in order to explain more than just the paranormal and the occult. One of the reviews in the forward asks what human intention is, what does it do and how, and under what conditions. These are wonderful questions, but Tiller’s theory appears to me to skirt them completely, explaining even the most mundane physical phenomena in terms of an exotic form of mind over matter.
How do I manage to raise my own hand? Apparently, I do it by psychokinesis, my intention is a force that affects my body. This is one of the most bizarre things about parapsychology, the tendency to explain even the mundane through exotic theories, once those theories are taken as credible. The manner in which the nervous system manages to produce that intention and organize it for movement no longer interests us in the wake of Tiller’s model — we now explain the mind in terms of the physics of the vacuum. When the only tool we have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
We can surely agree with Tiller that human intention is something exceptional and capable of changing the world, even without accepting the theory that human intention can create a special state of connectivity conducive to paranormal phenomena. His theory goes far beyond human connections in the usual sense of the word into the exciting Star- Trek world of faster than light travel, instantaneous teleportation, and materialization of physical matter. Nor does it stop there — the adventure also takes us into the Harry-Potter world where human intention alone can make these things happen.
I’m skeptical of the theory, even though it is quite clever and as far as I know may even be entirely consistent mathematically, whether or not it is consistent with the real world. The people most likely to be able to manifest paranormal phenomena are masters of Qigong or Yogic disciplines, and my own long experience with such people has led me to believe that the tales of their paranormal powers have been greatly exaggerated and that their real powers involve remarkable self-regulation and subtle biomechanics, but not anything that requires us to postulate a realm of inverse spacetime.
If I’m wrong and our reality truly is filled with materializations, anomalous information transfer, and direct physical effects from human intention, then Tiller’s model may well be the greatest conceptual breakthrough that we have ever imagined. The excitement is not just about theory but technology as well. Tiller explains:
"Spirit drives this biobodysuit vehicle! After all, 99.999% of all physical 'matter' consists of vacuum, with BIG spaces between electrons and nucleus. The energy potential, or latent energy, stored in one single Hydrogen atom is equivalent to one trillion times all the energy in our universe! If our consciousness could interact with the vacuum, we could have some very BIG effects. We'll be able to use the physics of the vacuum to get to the stars."
If Tiller is right we will use the physics of the vacuum and the raw power of the human mind to reach the stars, and we may be justified in elevating Madame Blavatsky alongside Isaac Newton. Tiller may have the last laugh, but I’m taking a wait-and-see attitude toward the new model at this time. g
William A. Tiller replies:
I really liked Stark’s thoughtful and critical review of our most recent “psychoenergetic science” book Some Science Adventures with Real Magic.(1) I found it to be of significant value to me and my thought processes, however, he missed a few key points that I would like
Todd I. Stark is a computer consultant and freelance medical and science writer. He is also an obsessive reader and has written hundreds of book reviews for Amazon. His formal background is in computer science, electrical engineering, mathematics, and psychology at Drexel University. His academic interests include hypnosis and suggestibility research, social psychology, and most recently, evolutionary approaches to behavioral science. Todd briefly moderated the HBE-L list on Yahoo for discussions in evolutionary psychology.
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