Thursday, February 22, 2007

Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Lab

The Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Lab (PEAR) is packing up to leave Princeton for its new home at the International Consciousness Research Laboratories. For almost three decades, PEAR has done research into unexplainable but scientifically measurable psychic phenomena. Using a computer that generates massive sequences of random numbers, the lab has demonstrated that subjects are able to influence the generation of the numbers by wishing for a certain outcome. In other words, humans are able to psychically exert an influence on machines.

These experiments build on a series of similar experiments that are the empirical basis for the Carl Jung’s writings about Synchronicity. The word synchronicity has been used widely to describe all sorts of remarkable events, but in Jung's work it has a very specific and narrow definition. Synchronicity is defined as two corresponding events, one inner (in the psyche or consciousness) and one out in the physical world, that appear related but for which there is no rational explanation for their relationship.

In his book, Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle, Jung cites a series of experiments by J.B. Rhine carried out in the first half of the twentieth century that use similar methodologies to PEAR and achieve similar results. Rhine used cards and dice as the random event generators. The experiments start by asking a subject to guess a card being held up facing away from them. The initial study discovered that subjects are slightly more capable of naming the correct card than can be accounted for by chance. The studies went on to measure the influence of wishing for an outcome on a sequence of dice rolls. It discovered a measurable positive effect of wishing on the outcome of the random event. This version of the experiment was carried further by placing the subject in Europe while the dice were rolled in the United States. The results were the same. In the most startling outcome, the experiment was carried further. This time subjects wished for the desired outcomes on a series of dice rolls halfway around the world that had been previously made. Incredibly, the effect was still measurable, even though the connection between subject and event was around the globe and was occurring backwards in time.

In this work, Jung sought to address the problem of what to do with empirically verifiable data sets that appear connected but have no rational explanation for their connection. How do we, in a post enlightenment rational world, relate to the irrational? In the face of empirical evidence that has no rational explanation it is tempting to make up causes for the unexplainable. History's junkyard is littered with discarded explanations of the unknown. Jung's response was to resist the impulse to make up ideas to explain these events and instead to simultaneously and separately explore ones own application of meaning to the data. In the case of the Rhine experiments and in the work of PEAR, there are clear empirical relationships between the subject and the event, but there is no evidence for the cause or the mechanism by which they are related. A person wishes for something and a measurable event occurs simultaneously in the world. Jung would have us stop there in terms of examining the cause of the result and instead look at the meaning of the coinciding events.

His theory is really a nontheory. It is about standing in the breach between question and answer, recognizing that there is evidence in front of you that is unexplainable, and neither turning away from it nor offering up an unverifiable explanation for the event. He proposes that we resist the drive to explain everything in causal relationships and instead explore the meaning of the coincidence. In the case of the Rhine and PEAR experiments, there is no evidence of a clear causal connection between wishing and outcome. And yet the relationship exists.

This kind of research is the scientific equivalent of the avant garde. It is solid, empirically verifiable science that has yet found no complete explanation for its existence. That is indeed worthwhile research, for it pushes past the boundaries of what we know. In a world more focused on financial successes like finding the next erectile dysfunction pill, asking the bigger questions that have fewer answers and less profit return may seem strange. Let's all wish for PEAR's continued success in its new home.


Kathy said...

So how can we use this research and Carl Jung's work to describe our spiritual journey's? We believe in a spirit world but we can't prove it. We believe that the prayer has an impact on physical outcomes. There is some research that shows that sick people who are prayed for, even if they don't know they are being prayed for, recover better than those that aren't prayed for. Is this just our psychi exerting an influence on another person or is our psychi through prayer exerting an influence on the spirit world which then influences the outcome?

Aric Mayer said...

I believe that Jung would not have us speculate on the causal influences of psyche to spirit to material world, since they are beyond the scope of the data or the evidence in front of us. Rather, he would have us examine the significance of the relationship between the events, ie. prayer and a measurable effect, etc.

In other words, the question, what does it mean to you that these coincidences exist and seem to be significant, is more important than creating a theory about it that can't be proved.