‘ESP test’ fools UK’s daily mirror – News and Comment – Brief Article

Clifford A. Pickover

Prophecy and clairvoyance are so widely believed by millions of people that magicians are credited with psychic powers that not even Nostradamus would dare claim. In fact, a lot of “ESP magic tricks,” “mind-reading tricks,” or “mental magic” is as much trickery as pulling a rabbit out of a hat.

At my Web site www.pickover.com I promoted an “ESP Test” that is nothing more than an old-fashioned card trick. Viewers concentrate on an image of a card, and, for the grand finale, the computer appears to correctly “guess” their card. Give it a try. Do you see the trick? In order to distract test subjects, my ESP page has all sorts of distracting graphics, along with the enigmatic words “quantum consistency” followed by a random number.

I’m not the first person on the Web to try simple tricks of this sort, but I may be the first to catalog all of the amazing incorrect suggestions for how the trick worked. Here are just a sampling of explanations, excerpted so as to reduce space and to give you a feel for the range of explanations and theoretical musings.

* “The ESP experiment is awesome. I even tried thinking of one card, while quietly having selected another. Both disappeared! I have been interested in this phenomenon since 1968, when I corresponded with parapsychologist Dr. Joseph Banks Rhine at Duke University. Your results are significant and don’t deteriorate over time. Emotional excitation does not even seem to interfere, as would be expected if one looks at Sufi literature. Therefore, there is a logical, non-paranormal quantum effect going on.”

* “I viewed the computer source code and could not discover mathematical computations that would aid the Web page in making a decision. Perhaps the computer scans eye movement and detects pupil dilation resulting from concentration.”

* “Your ESP mechanism correctly determine the playing card I selected. Knowing that you have written a book on time travel, I suspect you have discovered a limited (but real) mechanism of modifying past events.”

* “I am quite impressed, Mr. Pickover. I generated random numbers using the Time of Day clock on my computer, and found the remainder when divided by 3 for the first number; took out the first business card that came to hand and took the first phone number on there modulo 6, and then located a calculator and had it generate a pseudo-random number which I then did modulo 6. I did the little experiment three times, and your program ‘got’ it all times. I would like to study the Java computer code for the Web page to learn more.”

* “I am from the University of Lapland, Finland. Your program removed several times the card I named, even though I spoke Finnish when naming the card. There are not many people in the Anglo-Saxon world who can read a Finno-Ugric mind that easily (or know any Finnish).”

* “Just another note to tell you how disturbed lam with the program’s ability to determine my selection infallibly. I would like to be able to rule out subliminal flashes or influence due to the long distance phone choices and that as far as I know, subliminal effects are extremely lessened when the subject is aware that these are in operation. Are you able to detect the mysterious ‘visual rays’ that are theorized to exist in the fringe sciences?”

You can read dozens of additional explanations at my Web site and in my book Dreaming the Future (Prometheus). This ESP Test has recently taken the world by storm. On June 5, 2002, the popular UK newspaper the Daily Mirror reported on my Web site:

It’s got to be one of the weirdest sites we’ve ever come across but it’s definitely worth visiting. Pop into http://sprott.physics.wisc.edu/pickover/esp.html and you’ll be baffled for days–even months. We don’t know how he does it but Cliff Pickover, the site’s creator, claims he’s conducting an ESP test. Click on one of three eyes, he asks, and then look at six playing cards. Without moving your cursor, pick a card, shout out its name and then click on one of six more eyes. It then tells you which card you chose. It claims to be correct 98 per cent of the time but won’t tell you how. Every one of the 60 times we tried–and we did everything we could to trick them–they got it right. Spooky!

My goal in conducting this little demonstration was to emphasize how easily we can be fooled and how great our will is to believe in the spiritual, the paranormal, and phenomena beyond science. I do believe that our universe is a mysterious place, but I hope this simple test reinforces the need for skeptical thinking when evaluating claims of the paranormal. We certainly need rigorous controls in parapsychological research and better public understanding of the difference between good and bad science. Martin Gardner in his book Science: Good, Bad and Bogus emphasizes the need for better evidence supporting research claims in such areas as precognition, biorhythms, ESP, psychokinesis, faith healing, and psychic surgery. Given the proliferation of United States parents now being issued for inventions that rely on pseudoscience and unproven divination methods with life-threatening consequences, increased diligence becomes of utmost importance.

Clifford A. Pickover, Ph.D., is the author of thirty books on science, art, and religion. His latest book is Liquid Earth, a science-fiction novel that explores the melting of reality along a rustic Main Street in Shrub Oak, New York.

COPYRIGHT 2002 Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal

COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group

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