Appendix I – Daryl Bem and Feeling the Future

This material is a more detailed extension of Daryl Bem’s work on Feeling the Future which was covered in Section 2 – Cracks in the Beaker, sub-section c) Into Unknown Unknowns of Chapter 6 - Volume II – The ISF Emerges Within Science. Bem is an Emeritus Professor of Psychology from Cornell University, He outlined his findings in an article “Feeling the Future: Experimental Evidence for Anomalous Retroactive Influences on Cognition and Affect” which, to the American Psychological Association’s credit, first appeared in a January 2011 online edition of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, and then in the print edition in March of that year.*

[*Bem, D. J. (2011, January 31). Feeling the Future: Experimental Evidence for Anomalous

Retroactive Influences on Cognition and Affect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 100, No. 3, pp 407-425.]

Akin to work by Dean Radin, Bem too distinguishes between precognition and premonition, attributing the first to a form of conscious cognitive awareness, the second to a form of affective (i.e. emotional) apprehension.

In the article, Bem reports there had been 24 pre-sentiment studies with human participants up to 2009, of which 19 were in the predicted direction and about half were statistically significant. Two additional animal studies were both positive, though one only marginally significant, the other substantially so.

As relates to his own research, Bem reported on nine experiments involving more than 1,000 participants that set out to test the premise of retro-causation – a phenomenon known in physics quarters as time-reversed communication.

[As you might expect, many mainstream scientists find the notion of retro-causation difficult to accept on many grounds. Yet physicist Richard Feynman’s finding that the positron is an electron moving backwards in time. A positron is an anti-matter particle theorized to co-exist alongside electrons but in a contrary spin. This has provided quantum physics a communication mechanism through which information may flow “backwards” in time, at least to some extent from our perspective. Hence the term: time-reversed. This would make the notion of pre-cognition something of a misnomer, as what is actually occurring is that information from some future event is actually rippling backwards in time, which some of us can purportedly detect better than others in the present moment.]

Unlike previous studies, Bem chose to present subliminal rather than overt stimuli and measure responses prior to exposure, if any. Bem looked at four conditions: (1) pre-cognitive “approach” responses to erotic stimuli and pre-cognitive “avoidance” to aversive stimuli; (2) retroactive priming; (3) retroactive habituation; and (4) retroactive facilitation of recall. Eight of the nine experiments yielded statistically significant results. For brevity, here’s how things played out in just two of the nine experiments.

In the first experiment, study participants were told they would see two side by side pictures of two curtains on a screen. One had a picture behind it, the other, a blank wall. The participant’s task was to click on the curtain s/he felt had a picture behind it. There were only 36 trials in all. The participants were told that some of the images contained explicit erotic images (e.g. couples engaged in nonviolent consensual sexual acts) and that if they objected to seeing such, they should not participate in the experiment.

The main psi hypothesis being tested “was that participants would be able to identify the position of the hidden erotic picture significantly more often than chance (50%).” And that’s exactly what they did, they correctly identified the future position of the erotic pictures 53.1% of the time. But what’s doubly intriguing is that non-erotic pictures didn’t evoke the same statistically significant effect. Here’s what Bem found: Romantic but non-erotic pictures, a 50.2% hit rate; positive affect pictures, 49.4%; neutral pictures, 49.6%; and negative pictures, 51.3%. Moreover, the differences between erotic and non-erotic pictures proved to be statistically significant.

Though no significant gender differences were found in the results, another interesting finding did emerge: “stimulus seeking” extraverts scored higher than introverts in five of the experiments. Based on previous work by psychologist Hans Eysenck (1996) and others, it was suggested that an “extravert’s susceptibility to boredom and a tendency to seek out stimulation” and a predisposition to “respond favorably to novel stimuli” was likely connected to their slightly better psi performance. [From a VPT perspective, we’re inclined to attribute this superior performance to a greater openness and hence sensitivity toward the environment.]

[In a second experiment, high stimulus seekers (a.k.a. extraverts) “achieved an effect… more than twice as large as that of the full sample. In contrast, the hit rate of low stimulus seekers did not depart significantly from chance.]

Another experiment tested what’s called retroactive priming. Here’s how it works. Just before study participants are shown a picture, a positive or negative affect word like beautiful or ugly is flashed at subliminal speed on a screen. This word is called the prime. People typically respond more quickly when the affect of the word is consonant (or congruent) with the affect generated by the picture than when the two are dissonant (or incongruent). But Bem’s version of this test came with a psychic twist: the prime was shown after the participants had already made their judgments of whether the pictures were pleasing or unpleasant. Standard forward priming responses were an average 23.6 milliseconds faster for congruent trials than incongruent ones; in the retroactive condition, they were 15.0 milliseconds faster on congruent trials than incongruent for the same subjects. 64.9% produced a standard priming effect, and 60.8% produced a retroactive priming effect. A second experiment along very similar lines yielded even faster results, 27.4 milliseconds faster for congruent trials over incongruent for the standard priming effect, and 16.5 milliseconds for the retroactive priming test condition.

[When it comes to interpreting his findings, Bem presented four possibilities: (1) pre-cognition or retroactive (i.e. time-reversed) influence; (2) clairvoyance/remote viewing, where a participant accessed pre-determined computer-based information in real time; (3) psycho-kinesis, where the consciousness of participants affected the selection of random number generator’s placement of the targets behind the curtains; and (4) artifactual correlation due to inadequately randomized selections that “fortuitously matched participants’ response biases.” Based on a subsequent analysis, Bem asserts reasons (2), (3) and (4) could all be eliminated as explanations.]

In his article, Bem acknowledges that psi phenomena represent a controversial subject, citing a survey of 1,100 U.S. college professors conducted in 1979 by Wagner & Monnet in which psychologists were found to be much more skeptical than colleagues in the natural sciences, other social sciences or the humanities. “In fact, 34% of psychologists in the sample declared psi to be impossible, a view expressed by only 2% of all other respondents.” As such Bem recognized that his undertaking was apt to be controversial one, stating that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”. However because his was a data-gathering empirical venture, and not so much a theoretical postulation and defense venture, the pre-existing “extraordinary” standard did not represent “sufficient reason for rejecting all proffered evidence a priori.” Nevertheless, Bem acknowledged how a capacity for pre-sentiment unconsciously embedded in our physiology would, from an evolutionary theory perspective at least, have been an advantageous survival and reproduction trait.

Rupert Sheldrake was and is of course pretty much of a similar mind. Morphic fields arose as by-products off those who “chose” behaviors that improve probabilities of survival compared those of the same species who did not. He suggests this gets encoded in an information memory field such that, the more it’s practiced, the stronger the field becomes. He has likened these fields to nothing more than composites of successfully repeated behaviors, which become “habits of nature,” in common with what Richard Dawkins calls a meme.**

[**CBC Radio One (2009), Episode 9.]

So is there any known mechanism(s) in our current scientific knowledge capable of accounting for these kinds of psi phenomena, a veritable extension of connectedness consciousness? As a matter of fact there are, and as we alluded to above in our footnote about positrons and Richard Feynman, they come in the wacky Alice in Wonderland world of quantum physics.

Trouble is… anytime the word quantum physics is dumped into the same sentence with biological systems and consciousness, most “serious-minded” biologists, not to mention brain scientists, are apt cringe. Their concern tends to run along these lines: The effects found in true quantumly coherent physical systems only apply at very tiny scales within atoms or among groups of atoms in temperature conditions nearing absolute zero (as occurs in Bose-Einstein condensates) or in cases where temperatures aren’t quite as low, for very tiny time periods indeed. Scaling up such processes to the macro-molecular scale they say is little more than some foolhardy Marco Polo adventure in science fiction, not serious science.