Prof. Emeritus Daryl Bem, psychology, recently made some discoveries in the field of precognition that have given support to the psychics among us.
Titled “Feeling the Future,” Bem’s paper will be published in next month’s issue of The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The research discussed focuses on the concepts of precognition, or consciously predicting the future, and premonition, having knowledge of events to come. These are both features of a concept that Bem and other psychologists call “psi,” more commonly known as “psychic.”
Bem first became interested in the ideas of precognition and premonition through his personal experiences as a stage magician. Specializing in mentalism, he used to give performances in his classes at Cornell, and in 1986 performed for a convention held by the Parapsychological Association, where he first learned about psi.
“[Noted American parapsychologist] Charles Honorton was present and he asked me to visit his lab to ensure that his own studies were cheat-proof,” Bem said. “In preparation for my visit, I began to read the published evidence for psi, discovering that it was much more extensive and persuasive than I expected, [as] I was a firm skeptic up to that point.”
According to Bem, two major challenges exist for psi researchers: the empirical and the theoretical. His work focused on the empirical challenge, which “is to provide well–controlled demonstrations of psi that can be replicated by independent investigators,” as stated in his paper.
Through nine experiments at the University involving more than 1,000 students, Bem confirmed his hypotheses in all but one of the experiments. This signified that evidence of psi exists, since “the odds against the possibility that the combined results are merely chance coincidences or statistical flukes are about 74 billion to 1,” according to Bem.
In his first experiment, Bem explored the effects of erotic stimuli on perceiving the future. After being shown an image, one hundred Cornell students — 50 male and 50 female — were each shown pictures of two curtained screens on computer monitors, one covering a blank wall, the other covering the image. Many but not all of the pictures behind the curtains were erotic images, such as those of “couples engaged in nonviolent but explicit consensual sexual acts,” according to Bem’s paper. Each participant was to click on the curtain which he or she thought had the picture behind it.
Bem hypothesized that 50 percent of those who were shown erotic stimuli would identify the correct curtain, and that those shown erotic pictures would have a higher “hit rate” — the number of times that the correct curtain was identified — than participants that were shown non-erotic pictures.
In the 100 sessions, the hit rate for those shown erotic stimuli was 53.1 percent, while the 49.8 percent hit rate of those shown non-erotic pictures did not deviate from chance. This shows that on average, given that the erotic image shown to the participant made a considerable impression, that participant’s ability to foresee the future is statistically higher than chance, according to Bem.
“The remarkable finding [we made] is that their physiological responses are observed to occur about 2-3 seconds prior to the appearance of the picture, even before the computer has decided whether to present a non-arousing or an arousing picture,” Bem said.
The results of the other eight experiments, which were conducted using different types of stimuli, were similar to those of the first. These findings will contribute to psychologists’ attempts to unravel the myths of psi.
“Most academic psychologists do not believe that psi exists; in fact, they are far more skeptical than physicists. We will see how they react to my article once it is published,” Bem said.
In addition to his work on finding other ways to provide demonstrations of psi, Bem is currently assembling “replication packages” for others to run his experiments.
“That is the acid test of any surprising new finding: independent replication,” he said.