The Conscious Universe The Scientific Truth of Psychic Phenomena by Dean Radin

Psychic Phenomena: Unquestionably Real

Dean Radin’s The Conscious Universe forever lays to rest any question as to the experimentally demonstrated existence of at least some psychic (or “psi”) phenomena. Using the statistical technique of meta-analysis, Radin methodically and forcefully examines the results from nearly a century of increasingly sophisticated experiments. Notwithstanding the possibility of thousands of researchers committing fraud in a massive decades-long conspiracy, or a complete misapplication and misunderstanding of meta-analysis, the existence of telepathy (mind-to-mind perception), clairvoyance (perception at distance), precognition (perception through time), psychokenesis (mind-matter interaction), and perhaps other psi phenomena (e.g., mental interactions with living organisms) is incontrovertible.

Now, a statement such as “forever lays to rest any question” may, to a careful audience, seem extreme. But that’s just the point. If carefully read, Radin’s thorough, relentless, and pointed volume will — or should — win over even the crustiest and most skeptical (but open-minded) mainstream scientist. The hows and whys of psychic phenomena remain unknown, but whether they occur is now settled. Post-Radin, a refusal to accept the reality of psychic phenomena is itself prima facie unscientific and untenable.

New Ideas are Accepted in Stages

In the Introduction, Radin describes how the acceptance of a new idea occurs in four stages. First, skeptics “confidently proclaim that the idea is impossible because it violates the Laws of Science”; second, “skeptics reluctantly concede that the idea is possible but that it is not very interesting” and its effects are extremely weak; third, the mainstream realizes the importance of the idea and “that its effects are much stronger and more pervasive than previously imagined”; and fourth, those who were originally skeptical now “proclaim that they thought of it first.” With psi, we are currently in

the most important and the most difficult of the four transitions — from Stage 1 into Stage 2. While the idea itself is ancient, it has taken more than a century to demonstrate it conclusively in accordance with rigorous, scientific standards. This demonstration has accelerated Stage 2 acceptance, and Stage 3 can already be glimpsed on the horizon.

The book has 4 main parts: Motivation, which discusses science, replication (or reproducibility), and meta-analysis; Evidence, where meta-analysis is applied to the various types of psi research, and the leveraging of skeptics’ objections into continually improving experimental designs is described; Understanding, which presents a field guide to skepticism and skeptics, a discussion of why scientists can’t “see” psi, and a comparison between “Orthodox ‘Separateness’ Science” and psi-friendly “Proposed ‘Wholeness’ Science”); and finally, Implications, a short discussion of psi theory and what it might all mean.

Motivation and Evidence constitute the heart of the book. From the beginning, Radin is clear that “persuasive scientific evidence for psi requires independently replicated, controlled experiments.” If psi is real, the skeptics ask, then why can’t it just be repeatedly, reliably demonstrated? The answer is two-fold: (1) although a “simple,” large-effect, repeatable psi demonstration may not be possible on demand, the same thing is true of most truly interesting problems in science, and (2) with the application of meta-analysis, it becomes clear that various types of replicated psi effects have been unambiguously demonstrated. In fact, “when psi research is judged by the same standards as any other scientific discipline, then the results are as consistent as those observed in the hardest of the hard sciences!”

The Analysis of Analyses

Meta-analysis, the analysis of analyses, can be thought of as an integrative review or a “structured technique for exhaustively analyzing a complete body of experiments.” Radin states that:

Meta-analysis has been described as ‘a method of statistical analysis wherein the units of analysis are the results of independent studies, rather than the responses of individual subjects.’ In a single experiment, the raw data points are typically the participants’ individual responses. In meta-analysis, the raw data points are the results of separate experiments.

Thus, “by combining thousands of people’s performances over hundreds of experiments, we can obtain very high levels of confidence about the existence of psi.” Put another way, “when we combine results of many similar studies to form the equivalent of a single, grand experiment conducted by many experimenters, from many locations, over many years, we also substantially increase our confidence in the outcome.

Meta-analysis has exploded in popularity because behavioral, social, and medical sciences needed a “method of formally determining whether the highly variable effects measured in their experiments were replicable.” Since data from similar but not identical experiments are combined, some reevaluation of the original data is needed. This leads to criticisms of mixing apples and oranges (which is fine if what you’re after is facts about fruit), and the “file drawer problem,” which insinuates that many unsuccessful experiments go unpublished, sitting in file drawers and skewing results.

A comparison to aspirin studies is useful. Individual studies on aspirin reducing heart attacks were not very persuasive, but when many studies were combined, the aspirin effect was declared to be real. This, says Radin, is

exactly what meta-analysis has done for psi experiments. Considered individually, some psi experiments have been successful but the effects did not appear to be easily repeatable. This uncertainty has fueled the skeptics’ doubt for over a century. But when studies are combined, there is no doubt that the psi effects are real.

Meta-Analysis Applied To Psychokinesis

As one of the clearest examples of psi meta-analysis, consider random number generator (RNG) experiments, sometimes called “micropsychokinesis,” where subjects attempt to “will” the generation of more “1s” than “0s” (chance predicts equal numbers). Radin sets the stage:

Today, most RNG experiments are completely automated, including the presentation of instructions, the provision of feedback on a trial-by-trial basis, and data storage and analysis. Most RNGs are technically highly sophisticated, employing features such as electromagnetic shielding, environmental fail-safe alarms, and fully automated data recording.

The results? A 1987 meta-analysis looking at 832 studies (597 experimental and 235 controls) showed overall odds against chance beyond a trillion to one. When skeptics rated the various experiments, observed hit rates were unrelated to experimental quality. As for the “file drawer” problem, “the number of unreported or unretreived RNG studies required to reduce the RNG psi effect to a non-significant level was 54,000 — about ninety times the number of studies actually reported.”

The Bottom Line

The meta-analyses presented for the other types of psi research are similarly impressive. As a consequence, “Informed opinion even among skeptics, shows that virtually all the past skeptical arguments against psi have dissolved in the face of overwhelming positive evidence,” and “informed skeptics today agree that chance is no longer a viable explanation for the result obtained in psi experiments.” Only time will tell, however, if the scientific establishment’s acceptance of psi will really be this simple and inevitable.

The Conscious Universe is not without its problems. The book could have stood more editing: at times it rambles, is overly repetitious, or seems insufficiently integrated. Moreover, when Radin gets into subject matters that are not his expertise — he says some things about physics and mysticism that Ken Wilber, in Quantum Questions : Mystical Writings of the World’s Great Physicists (1984), shows are patently not so — he occasionally falters. Nonetheless, this extraordinarily important, watershed volume should be read by every serious student of the human mind, and put into the hands of anyone who insists that “there isn’t a shred of evidence for psychic phenomena.” That’s just not true any more.

Dean Radin
is senior scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS). He earned a BSEE magna cum laude in electrical engineering from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and both an MS in electrical engineering and a PhD in psychology from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. For ten years, he was a member of the technical staff at AT&T Bell Laboratories and later a principal scientist at GTE Laboratories, where he was engaged in R&D on a wide variety of advanced telecommunications products and systems.

For fifteen years, he has conducted experimental studies of psi phenomena in academia and industry, including appointments at Princeton University, University of Edinburgh, University of Nevada, and SRI International, the latter as a visiting scientist on a classified program of psi research. Before joining IONS, he cofounded the Boundary Institute and was in charge of a psi research program at Interval Research Corporation in Palo Alto, California.

Radin was elected president of the Parapsychological Association, an affiliate of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), in 1988, 1993, 1998, and 2005. He also served as a counselor in the Society for Scientific Exploration from 1986 to 1994, and was program chair for the Society’s annual meetings in 1987 and 1997.

His research awards include the Parapsychological Association’s Outstanding Achievement Award and the Rhine Research Center’s Alexander Imich Award for advances in experimental parapsychology. He has earned Special Merit Awards from GTE Laboratories and Bell Labs. He has received grants from the Richard Hodgson Memorial Fund Grant at Harvard University, the Bial Foundation in Portugal, the Parapsychology Foundation in New York, the Society for Psychical Research in London, the Swedish Society for Psychical Research in Stockholm, the Institute for Border Areas of Psychology in Germany, and the Bigelow Foundation in Las Vegas.

Radin has been interviewed about his research for feature stories in The New York Times Magazine, Psychology Today, Newsweek, and New Scientist, and he has given dozens of invited lectures around the world. Radin is author of the award-winning book, The Conscious Universe (1997, HarperCollins), the forthcoming Entangled Minds (2006, Simon & Schuster), and is author or coauthor of over 200 journal articles and technical reports


Do telepathy, clairvoyance and other “psi” abilities exist? The majority of the general population believes that they do, and yet fewer than one percent of mainstream academic institutions have any faculty known for their interest in these frequently reported experiences. Why is a topic of enduring and widespread interest met with such resounding silence in academia? The answer is not due to a lack of scientific evidence, or even to a lack of scientific interest, but rather involves a taboo. I will discuss the nature of this taboo, some of the empirical evidence and critical responses, and speculate on the implications.

Speaker: Dean Radin
Dean Radin is a researcher and author in the field of parapsychology. He is Senior Scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences and four-time former President of the Parapsychological Association. He holds an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and a masters degree in electrical engineering and a doctorate in educational psychology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He has worked at AT&T Bell Labs and GTE Labs, mainly on human factors of advanced telecommunications products and services, and held appointments at Princeton University, Edinburgh University, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, SRI International, Interval Research Corporation, and Boundary Institute. At these facilities he was engaged in basic research on exceptional human capacities, principally psi phenomena.


Improv Wisdom: Don’t Prepare, Just Show Up by Patricia Ryan Madson

Patricia Ryan Madson presents thirteen laws of improvisation and a life of joy. Here is an excerpt on a creative way of playing with one’s mistakes.

“Matt Smith, a wonderful Seattle improv teacher and solo performer, taught me a liberating game that can be used as a response to a personal screwup. He calls it ‘the Circus Bow.’ Matt claims this is how circus clowns deal with a slip in their routines. Instead of shrinking and berating himself silently with ‘Oh, no, I really blew it!’ the clown turns to the crowd on one side and takes a magnificent bow with his hands extended and his arms high in the air, proclaiming ‘Ta-dah!’ as if he had just pulled off a master stunt. He then turns to face the other side of the audience and repeats the bow, ‘Ta-dah!’ Doing it in both directions allows him a 360-degree view of where he is.

“The virtue of this is that it pulls his attention out into the world again, looking around and standing tall. This engaged and forward-looking vantage point is an excellent place to be after a blooper. It is more common to focus inward when a blunder occurs. ‘How could I have done that?’ The body shrinks and withdraws. Instead a mistake should wake us up. Become more alert, more alive. Ta-dah! New territory. Now, what can I make of this? What comes next?

“We need to let go of outcomes. This is the hard part. Naturally we have some result in mind. We want the bar mitzvah to go without a hitch. We want the carpet to be installed flawlessly, the dinner to come out of the oven like the magazine photos, the meeting to start on time, the vacation to be perfect. The more precise my vision of an outcome, the more likely I am to be disappointed. Things don’t turn out as planned. You don’t need to abandon your dreams; just don’t let them get in the way of noticing what is taking place. Observe the currents of life, accept what is happening, including mistakes, and continue working to create the best outcome. The key here is a flexible mind.”

Patricia Ryan Madson, Sr. Lecturer Emerita, Stanford University, has been teaching for four decades. On the Stanford drama faculty since 1977, she founded the Stanford Improvisors in 1991. As head of the undergraduate acting program, she won the university’s highest teaching prize, the Lloyd W. Dinkelspiel Award for outstanding contribution to undergraduate education. She also teaches at the Esalen Institute and for Stanford’s Continuing Studies. Patricia lives with her husband, Ronald Madson, and their Himalayan cat, Tara, in El Granada, California, where they direct the California Center for Constructive Living.

In 1996 she founded the Creativity Initiative at Stanford, an interdisciplinary alliance of faculty who share the belief that creativity can be taught. Patricia has taught Design Improv for the School of Engineering, and was a guest lecturer for the Stanford Technology Ventures Program and for the Mayfield Fellows Program.

She teaches regularly for the Esalen Institute, and has given workshops for the Banff Centre for Leadership Studies, the California Institute for Integral Studies, the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, the National Association of Drama Therapists, the Western Psychological Association, Duke University East Asian Studies Center and the Meaningful Life Therapy Association in Japan. Patricia combines her teaching of improvisation with work as a counselor using an Eastern approach to problem solving known as Constructive Living TM. For ten years she was the American Coordinator of the Oomoto School of Traditional Japanese Arts in Kameoka, Japan. Patricia was one of the founding Board members of Bay Area TheatreSportsTM, and has been a long time student of Keith Johnstone. She currently serves on the Outside Financial Advisory Board of the San Francisco Zen Center.

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