Dr. Charles T. Tart on December 19th, 2010

Lately I’m finding it useful to think of myself (and others) as “intention fields,” intermeshed sets of intentions, some reinforcing, some contradictory, that certainly control the way my mind functions, including the way I perceive reality and perhaps, to some extent, the very functioning of external reality itself.  I was recently stimulated to try to figure out what I believe on this in detail by some discussions with parapsychologist colleagues on the degree to which the experimenter (E) is actually a part of some or all experiments, rather than the detached, uninvolved observer that classical science postulates.

The topic of E bias, E subtly “pushing” or otherwise influencing the behavior of subjects in psychological experiments, arose in the 60s.  I and colleague Suzanne Troffer did an experiment on E bias, e.g., that showed that a group of Es, psychologists and graduate students, who knew they were being tested for bias and believed they were not showing any, nevertheless showed significant bias in the way they carried out a large study testing whether hypnosis increased people’s suggestibility.  The article is available under Articles at www.paradigm-sys.com/cttart/.  I think the idea that we psychologists were not objective scientists was too threatening to the profession, though, so the topic quickly disappeared from the journals.

While E bias can be fairly well controlled for if you assume that all communication is by sensory means, once you allow for the possibility of ESP, things really get complicated.  We have an unknown information flow channel, which we do not know how to block, through which an E could bias subjects as to what was a desirable outcome.

It has also been clear to me for decades that in parapsychology you must realize the E is part of the experiment, not simply an objective observer.  If you’re investigating ESP that means you know there is this other information channel that we don’t know how to block, so E bias may flow through that.  I’ve found much resistance to this idea among parapsychologists.

So how then do we do experiments that mean anything?  If E, like me, is an “intention field,” how do I find out anything about reality per se, rather than my intentions perhaps distorting my perception and the operation of external reality to falsely fit my assumptions and desires?  This is what led me to work to make my assumptions more conscious.  Consider what I’ve written below a stimulus to thinking about this and similar subjects, though, not any final word on the subject: I’m still thinking about it….

What I assume:

#       I have experiences.

– nature of “I” and “experiences” and “have” all subject to further investigation

#       Some of these experiences are unique and seldom or never repeat.

#       Some/many of these experiences cluster together in terms of properties and repeatability and I have named these “the physical world.”

#       It is convenient to assume that much of the physical world exists independently of what I “know” and “believe” about it.

– so perhaps the consistency of many experiences I label as belonging to the physical world comes from inherent properties and laws of that world.

– nature of “know” and “believe” subject to further investigation

– note stress on “convenient” here, I don’t know in any absolute sense, but acting in accordance with this belief is generally useful.

– “useful” here means acting in accordance with the working hypothesis of the independent existence of the physical world leads to sensibleness, predictability, and control

#       Some of what appear to be inherent properties of the physical world may be subject to psychic perception by me and psychic influence by me and/or other people.

#       I can think, I can create theories and models of this physical world.

#       The degree to which such theories and models are consistent with all relevant data I can observe about the physical world is subject to investigation.

– the extreme that everything I experience is actually only a creation of my own mind seems silly and not of practical use, the other extreme that my intentions and actions have no effect at all seems just as silly and useless

– Henry Ford: “Those who think they can and those who think they can’t are both right.”

#       I like to believe that the more consistency between my theories and models and my relevant observations, the closer I am to understanding the inherent nature of the physical world.

#       I believe that systematic and wide-ranging observation is more likely to yield theories and models that are more consistent than sporadic, unsystematic, careless, or obviously biased observation.

#       I believe that many phenomena I can observe are affected by multiple factors, often several factors acting simultaneously.  As such complexity makes it harder for me to observe or think clearly, deliberately isolating such factors and observing what happens is often helpful.

#       An “experiment” is a deliberate attempt to isolate factors affecting what I want to observe, either(1)  by holding all factors but the one of interest constant during my observations and/or (2) by observing large numbers of phenomena with the assumption that these other factors will cancel out in a statistical sense, and/or (3) by analyzing the effects of several measured factors at the same time.

#       My observations may be distorted by my biases.

– my biases may be many, and need to be investigated and measured

#       Known biases may generally be controlled for if we assume that all E influences are transmitted by known physical energies and matters.

#       Known biases may sometimes be transmitted by unknown means, what we call psychic.

#       Unknown biases may sometimes be transmitted by both sensory and/or psychic means.  The degree to which such biases actually alter the observed phenomena needs to be measured, and compared to the magnitude of changes taking place because of the inherent nature of the physical world or of other known causative agents.  In some cases the effects of the biases may be negligible, in other cases the biases may be the main factors responsible for observed effects.

#       I, as E, am generally the person most biased to favor a particular outcome of an experiment, so generally my biases are the most important to measure and analyze the effects of or find ways of controlling.

#       Other people may also be involved in biasing some outcomes, so group effects also need to be investigated.

#       Bottom line: Research where psi bias effects may occur is harder to do than if it didn’t exist, but not impossible.  Let’s admit that and get on with it, instead of assuming, for whatever reasons, that we are just objective Experimenters who only control and observe but don’t bias….

All of the crucial terms in the above need more investigation and understanding…..

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