A few years ago a Cornell University professor claimed to have found proof of psychic powers as a result of his research in to precognition. His test volunteers were reported to have been able to predict the future, but ever since the results of his controversial experiments have been debated.
Believers in ESP and psychic powers often claim that these abilities have never been proven because scientists don't take this aspect of humanity seriously, but one professor spent eight years investigating claims of psychic abilities in a series of nine experiments using 1,000 test subjects. The results confirmed that psi powers are real and this lead to a team of respected scientists spending considerable time and effort trying to validate or debunk these claims.
The original experiments were carried out by Dr. Daryl Bem's, a social psychologist known for his research in to psi phenomena. His most famous piece of research was dubbed the "feeling the future" experiment, but is his conclusion that psychics can predict future events valid?
Dr. Bem's Experiments
In one of Bem's experiments he gave his volunteer test subjects, made up of the university's students, a list of words to memorise. They were only given a short amount of time to learn the list before being given a test to see how many of the words they could recall.
The results were not revealed to the test subjects and at some point after the test some of the words were randomly selected and the students were asked to retype these words multiple times for practice.
When the results of the test were analysed, it showed that the students were better able to recall the words chosen for the practice session, even though these words were randomly selected AFTER the test.
This seems to imply that studying the words in the future helped the those being tested in the past. Dr. Bem concluded that this was proof that his students could feel the future. He called this "anomalous retroactive influences on cognition," a finding which goes against the belief of mainstream science and the unidirectional nature of time.
In another experiment, volunteers were monitored using equipment similar to a lie detector that measured their state of arousal. They were sat in front of a screen which showed them randomly selected images, some showed scenes designed to induce negative emotions, while others were erotic in nature.
Bem found that the test subjects showed signs of arousal before the stimulating images were shown. Bem said, "the remarkable finding is that your physiology jumps before the provocative picture actually appears on the screen, even before the computer decides which picture to show you. What it shows is that your physiology can anticipate an upcoming event even though your conscious self might not."
It's not known exactly how many tests were performed, but according to Bem, all of his nine experiments proved that participants were able to gain unconscious influences from future events. Apparently, the odds against the combined results being due to chance are about 74 billion to one.
Of course, Bem's findings have been criticised by the scientific community. The overwhelming opinion is that the professor's experiments were biased in favour of supporting ESP, that his statistical methodology was fundamentally flawed, as well as serious methodological flaws, such as changing the procedures partway through the experiments and combining results of tests with different chances of significance.
Bem said, "I designed the experiments to be persuasive, simple and transparent enough to encourage them to try replicating these experiments for themselves." And, this seems to have worked, since the original experiments, many have tried to replicate the results.
If Bem's results are accurate, then they should be able to be repeated by others. Repeatable results prove that the original results are rigid and accurate, otherwise the results may simply be due to normal errors and expected statistical variations.
To date no one has had the same results from identical experiments, this is a clear indication that the original study was flawed in one or more ways.
One team of researchers, headed up by skeptics Professor Chris French and Professor Richard Wiseman, conducted Bem's experiment in exactly the same way, they found absolutely no evidence of participants being able to predict the future or being influenced in any way by future events.
In 2016, Bem told his peers at a meeting of the Parapsychological Association, that he had carried out a replication of his experiments, using more rigorous methods than in his original research. This time round the experiments yielded no evidence at all for the existence of ESP or the feeling the future effect.