Radin for a Rerun

This is the 3rd and currently last part in my series on parapsychological double-slit experiments. It discusses the pilot study by Dean Radin and the six following experiments by him and others.

The Less Said…

In 2008, Dean Radin published an article in Explore, The Journal of Science & Healing, a journal dedicated to alternative medicine. That’s certainly a good way to hide it from anyone who knows or cares about physics. Or ethics.
Dean Radin is currently coeditor-in-chief.

Now hold tight because this paper is bad.

Obviously, the original design and justification for the experiment is taken from Jeffers, though Radin fails to give him the appropriate credit. However, the implementation is different.

Radin used a so-called Michelson interferometer for the experiment. This is physically equivalent to Jeffers’ set-up in all relevant aspects. However, due to being extremely sensitive to environmental factors, like temperature or vibrations, it seems a less than ideal choice.
Another thing that is different is the outcome measure. That’s where things really go south. He uses a CCD chip to capture the interference pattern. Unfortunately he then completely disregards it.
Instead he computes the total intensity of the light reaching the chip.
With that, the experiment becomes a test if the subjects can throw a shadow by concentrating on a spot.
Radin seems completely oblivious of that simple fact.

In all likelihood, Radin simply did not get a positive result and then, instead of accepting it, went fishing. How that works (except not really) is simply explained here.

The title of the paper, Testing Nonlocal Observation as a Source of Intuitive Knowledge, tells us that Radin sees this as relevant to intuition. Intuition, as he points out, is regarded as an important source of artistic inspiration or for scientific insights. It’s a bit hard to see what the connection between that and casting shadows should be. But remember that Radin doesn’t know what he is doing. He believes this is like Jeffers’ original design.
His first error is in thinking that the original design could that someone gains knowledge about the photons’ paths. Learn why not in this post. This is a simple misunderstanding and easy to follow.
His second error is more weird and more typically parapsychological. He thinks that, if people can gain knowledge about the paths of a few photons in some unknown way, then it’s reasonable to assume that they can gain any knowledge via the same unknown mechanism.
We detect photons all the time with our eyes, and much more effectively. If that doesn’t tell us anything about intuition, then why should this?

The bottom line is that evidently the experiment was botched. And even if it hadn’t been, the conclusions he tries to draw just wouldn’t follow. The connections he sees are just not there, at least as far as there is evidence.

Six More Experiments

Finally, we get to the current paper by Dean Radin, Leena Michel, Karla Galdamez, Paul Wendland, Robert Rickenbach, and Arnaud Delorme. I think Radin wrote most of the paper. It repeats so many errors of the previous one and the statistics are his style.

The paper is miles better. It follows Jeffers original set-up quite closely. For one, they use a standard double-slit set-up. They don’t measure the contrast in the way Jeffers did but something that should work just as well. At least, the justification seems solid to me though I don’t know enough to actually vouch for it.
What’s more, they say that the ups and downs of the measure were given as feed-back to the subjects. This again follows Jeffers’ lead and, importantly, gives me some confidence that it was not chosen after the fact. But again Jeffers is not properly credited with coming up with the original design of the experiment.

Unfortunately this paper again does not report the actual physical outcome. They don’t report how much the subjects were able to influence the pattern. What seems clear is that none of them was able to alter the pattern in a way that stood out above the noise.
It would have been interesting to know if the measurements were any more precise than those conducted by Jeffers and Ibison. If their apparatus is better, and the effect still couldn’t be clearly measured, then that would suggest confirmation that Ibison’s result was just chance.

They calculate that, on average, the pattern in periods where subjects paid attention was slightly different from the pattern when they did not pay attention. That is valid in principle because you can get a good measurement with a bad apparatus by simply repeating the process a lot of times.
However, any physicist or engineer would try their utmost to improve that apparatus rather than rely on repetitions.

On the whole, this is not handled like a physics experiment but more like one in social science.
Most importantly, the effect size reported is not about any physically measurable change to the interference pattern. It is simply a measure for how much the result deviated from “chance expectation”. That’s not exactly what should be of top interest.

The paper reports six experiments. To give credit where credit should not be due, some would have pooled the data and pretended to have run fewer but larger experiments to make the results seem more impressive. That’s not acceptable, of course, but still done (EG by Daryl Bem).

Results and Methods

The first four experiments presented all failed to reach a significant result, even by the loose standards common in social science. However, they all pointed somewhat in the right direction which might be considered encouraging enough to continue.

Among these experiments there were two ill-conceived attempts to identify other factors that might influence the result.
The first idea is that somewhat regular ups and downs in the outcome measure could have coincided with periods of attention and no attention. I can’t stress enough that this would have been better addressed by trying to get the apparatus to behave.
Instead, Radin performs a plainly bizarre statistical analysis. I’m sure this was thought up by him rather than a co-author because it is just his style.
Basically, he takes out all the big ups and downs. So far so fine. This should indeed remove any spurious ups and downs coming from within the apparatus. But wait, it should also remove any real effect!
Radin, however, is satisfied with still getting a positive result even when there is nothing left of that could cause a true positive result. The “positive” result Radin gets is obviously a meaningless coincidence that almost certainly would not repeat in any of the other experiments. And indeed, he reports the analysis only for this one experiment.
Make no mistake here, once a method for such an analysis has been implemented on the computer for one set of data, it takes only seconds to perform it on any other set of data.

The second attempt concerns the possibility that warmth might have affected the result. A good way to test this is probably to introduce heat sources into the room and see how that affects the apparatus.
What is done is quite different. Four thermometers are placed in the room while an experiment is conducted. The idea seems to have been that if the room gets warmer this indicates that warmth may have been responsible. Unfortunately, since you don’t know if you are measuring at the right places, you can’t conclude that warmth is not responsible if you don’t find any. Besides it might not be a steady increase you are looking for. In short, you don’t know if your four thermometers could pick up anything relevant or how to recognize it, if they did.
Conversely, even if the room got warmer with someone in it, this would not necessarily affect the measurement adversely.
In any case, temperature indeed seemed to increase slightly. Why the same temperature measurements were not conducted in the other experiments, or why the possible temperature influence was not investigated further, is unclear to me. They believe this should work, so why don’t they continue with it?

The last two experiments were somewhat more elaborate. They were larger, comprising about 50 subjects rather than about 30, and took an EEG of subjects. The fifth experiment is the one success in the lot insofar that it reports a significant result.

Conclusion

If you have read the first part of this series then you have encountered a mainstream physics articles that studied how the thermal emission of photons affects the interference pattern. What that paper shares with this one is that both are interested in how a certain process affects the interference pattern.

And yet the papers could hardly be more different. The mainstream paper contains extensive theoretical calculations that place the results in the context of known physics. The fringe paper has no such calculations and relies mainly on pop science accounts of quantum physics.

The mainstream paper presents a clear and unambiguous change in the interference pattern. Let’s look at it again.

The dots are the particles and the lines mark the theoretically expected interference patterns fitted to the actual results. As you can see the dots don’t exactly follow the lines. That’s just unavoidable random variation due to any number of reasons. And yet the change in the pattern can be clearly seen.

From what is reported in Radin’s paper we can deduce that the change associate with attention was not even remotely as clean. In fact, the patterns should be virtually identical the whole time.
That means, that if there is a real effect in Radin’s paper, it is tiny. So tiny that it can’t be properly seen with the equipment they used.

That is hardly a surprising result. If paying attention on something was able to change its quantum behavior in a noticeable way, then this should have been noticed long ago. Careful experiments should be plagued by inexplicable noise, depending on what the experimenters are thinking about.

The “positive” result that he reports suffer from the same problem as virtually all positive results in parapsychology and also many in certain recognized scientific disciplines. It may simply be due to kinks in the social science methodology employed.
Some of the weirdness in the paper, not all of which I mentioned, leaves me with no confidence that there is more than “flexible methods” going on here.

Poor Quantum Physics

Radin believes that a positive result supports “consciousness causes collapse”.  He bemoans a lack of experimental tests of that idea and attributes it, quite without justification, to a “taboo” against including consciousness in physics.
Thousands upon thousands of physicists and many times more students have out of some desire to conform simply refused to do some simple and obvious experiment. I think it says a lot about Radin and the company he keeps that he has no problem believing that.
I don’t know about you, my dear readers, but when I am in such a situation would have thought differently. Either all those people who should know more about the subject than me have their heads up their behinds. Or maybe it is just me. And I would have wondered if there was maybe something I am missing. And I would have found out what it was and avoided making an ass of myself. Then again, I would have (and have) also avoided book deals and the adoration of many fans and the like, all of which Radin secured for himself.
So who’s to say that reasonable thinking is actually the same as sensible thinking.

But back to the physics. As is obvious when one manages to find the relevant literature, conscious awareness of any information is not necessary to affect an interference pattern. Moreover, wave function collapse is not necessary to explain this. Both of this should be plain from the mainstream paper mentioned here.

Outlook

My advice to anyone who thinks that there’s something about this is to try to build a more sensitive apparatus and/or to calibrate it better. If the effect still doesn’t rise over the noise, it probably still wasn’t there in the first place. If it does, however, future research becomes much easier.
For example, if tiny magnetic fields influence this, as Radin suggests, that could be learned in a few days.

Unfortunately, it does not appear that this is the way Dean Radin and his colleagues are going about but I’ll refrain from comment until I have more solid information.
But at least, the are continuing the line of investigation. They deserve some praise for that. It is all too often the case that parapsychologists present a supposedly awesome, earth-shattering result and then move on to do something completely different.

 

Update

I omitted to comment on a lot of details in the second paper to keep things halfway brief. In doing so I overlooked one curiosity that really should be mentioned.

The fourth experiment is “retrocausal”. That means, in this case, that the double-slit part of the experiment was run and recorded three months before the humans viewed this record, and tried to influence it. The retrocausality in itself is not really such an issue. Time is a curious thing in modern physics and not at all like we intuit.

The curious thing is that it implies that the entire recording was in a state of quantum superposition for a whole three months. Getting macroscopic objects into and keeping them in such states is enormously difficult. It certainly does not just happen on its own. What they claim to have done there is simply impossible as far as mainstream quantum physics is concerned. Not just in theory, but it can’t be done in practice despite physicists trying really hard.

A Quantum Understanding

This is the first part in my series on parapsychological double-slit experiments. However, this post contains just straightforward mainstream science. This tells you the minimum about quantum physics that you need to know to make sense of the parapsychological adaptation.

In a double-slit experiment, particles are shot at a barrier with two slits or holes in it. The particles are usually electrons or photons but large molecules, such as C70 bucky balls, have also been used.
Behind the barrier, there is a detector. In the case of photons, aka light, you can simply put a piece of cardboard there and see a special pattern projected onto it.
The interference pattern indicates that a wave is passing through the double-slits.

Interference

In a nutshell, when a wave crest encounters another wave crest, their heights will add. When a crest encounters a trough, they will cancel out. That is called interference. This can be seen when throwing two stones into a pond. It will look like this:

Double-slit

The simple and obvious explanation for what can be seen in the double-slit experiment is that there are waves coming from either slit and interfering, as can be seen in this diagram:

This is curious since we thought we were shooting particles at the slits. Particles shouldn’t show interference. Think of kicking a ball at two windows. Have you ever noticed an interference pattern in such a situation? Or in any?

So how can it be that a particle behaves like a wave? The answer is given by quantum mechanics.
Quantum means ‘amount’ and there’s quite a story behind ‘amount mechanics’ and how it was discovered and why it is so named. It involves Einstein but this is not the place to tell it.

For one, in order to get an interference pattern, the size of the slits needs to match the wavelength of the particles. Just in case you were wondering why kicking a ball at two windows does not produce interference.

Oversimplification

We think of as particles having a definite state. They have a location and a momentum.
However, it turns out that location and momentum, and a couple other properties, can’t be known with arbitrary precision. Not because of some technological limitation but because of the very laws of physics.
Going even further, it is so that the very state of a particle, or even many particles together, can only be known in terms of probabilities. A quantum mechanical description of something is known as a wavefunction and allows you to predict with what probability you will observe a certain outcome.
As the name wavefunction implies, these probabilities behave mathematically like waves.

When you shoot a particle at the double-slits, it might go through either slit. There is a probability of finding it at or behind either slit. The probabilities of finding it in some place spread from both slits like waves. The probability waves from both slit interfering is what causes the interference pattern.

Note that this pattern only emerges when you have a sufficient number of particles. One particle leaves behind only one blip on the screen behind the double slits. But even when you shoot one particle at a time, the pattern will eventually emerge. Where it is more likely to find a particle, more particles will be found.

Now we have the basics down. This is how double-slit experiment works.

Information

Now we need to ask, what happens if we try to determine through which slit the particle went?
The simple answer is that if the particle has to have come from either slit, then the probability wave only spreads from that one slit. And that means no interference.

Whenever such ‘which-way information’ exists then there is no interference pattern. In fact, how much contrast there is in the pattern depends on how much information there is. (see Wootters and Zurek 1979)

In an experiment with C70 bucky balls, these molecules were heated as they went through the slits. They were made so hot that they glowed, they gave off thermal photons. These photons carried which-way information from the bucky balls to the environment. The hotter they were, the more photons they gave off and the less pronounced the interference pattern was.
Here you can see the interference patterns obtained when different intensities of heating were applied (given in Watts).

Collisions with air molecules play the same role. The higher the pressure is, the less pronounced the interference pattern.

Warning! Philosophy ahead!

Now we must head into the somewhat murkier waters of philosophy.

In quantum mechanics everything is all about probabilities. And as the interference pattern shows, in some way these probabilities are real. If they weren’t real, the probability waves could hardly interfere.
And yet, on the screen we get a single blip for each particle. Not a ‘maybe here, maybe there’.
At first, you have a wavefunction that goes through both slits, and then, on the detector, you have a single definite location (within in the limits of the uncertainty principle).
That is known as the measurement problem.
Obviously, interactions with the environment play some role to explain this. We have seen that in the experiment with the bucky balls. Such processes cause so-called decoherence which causes interference phenomena to be suppressed in everyday situations.

However, this, most say, cannot be the entire solution. Even if there is no interference, the particle is still described only in terms of probabilities, as a wavefunction. So why do we perceive a seemingly definite outcome?

One answer to this is taking the math at face value. The wavefunction is all there is and all that matters. In that view, all possibilities are equally real. You perceiving the blip on one end of the screen or on the other, both happens. In a way, the universe splits up into different versions for each outcome. Of course, there is really just one wavefunction describing it all, so that’s more what it appears to us than reality.

This view is known as the Many Worlds Interpretation (MWI).

Another answer is that the wavefunction collapses on measurement. That means that when we perceive a definite outcome, then this outcome is really all there is. Something happened to reduce the probabilities down to one actuality.
That means that another physical process must be assumed. And it is absolutely unknown when or why or how it happens. Not to mention if.

That view is known as the Copenhagen Interpretation.

So far this is just philosophy. Both these views are interpretations of the same experiments and the same theories. The math and the predictions stay the same, whether you think that all possibilities are true or just the one you experience. There are many variants of these views, especially of the Copenhagen Interpretation.

One particular variant of the Copenhagen Interpretation holds that the collapse takes place when consciousness gets involved. This view was held by some big names like Von Neumann or Wigner but is decidedly a minority opinion now. In my opinion that’s because no one has figured out a way in which a conscious observer should be different from any old measurement device. But I’ll just leave it at pointing out that there is no evidence for this view, just like there is no evidence that collapse is real or not.

It has also been argued that this view is incompatible with experimental evidence. Though I think most physicist would rather regard the view as being unfalsifiable philosophy. Eventually all experiments we know of came into the awareness of at least one conscious being (That’s you, my dear reader. Not humble me.).

Put that way, consciousness causes collapse is awfully close to solipsism.