A new article in Discover Magazine (March, 2012, . . . it came to us from the future) gives a nice biographical sketch of Daryl Bem and his distinguished career in social psychology. You come to see Bem's involvement with parapsychology and his 2010 splash paper in the conservative Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in a new light. Perhaps his rebellious youth foreshadowed the rebelliousness of his twilight years (Discover's words, not mine). Or could it be the other way round, with time being so bi-directional and all?
The statistical point of the JPSP experiments was to show that the future can causally alter the present with p < .05. The conceptual, epistemic, metaphysical point was much larger. That's what I tried to convey in my first Bem post. If you accept the existence of retrocausation as proven fact, many of your beliefs about the universe (universes?) will topple like dominoes. Worse yet, there is no known number of domino pieces that can topple. You'd end up in the anything goes zone with Paul Feyerabend and Philip Dick. Once there, you question the veracity of the significant statistical result that gave rise to this crescendo in the first place-an epistemic nightmare. Bem is on board with that. When considering the possibility of precognition for the first time, "I thought, my god, that is fascinating because it means that our classical view of the physical world is wrong." Thank you, Daryl, at least we agree on one thing. I think the domino point is important. I find it annoying when proponents of psi claim that positive evidence would just establish another interesting phenomenon, in addition to all that other good stuff we already know from science. Not so. And by the way, I am convinced that no true parapsychologists believe they are just pursuing phenomena that have been difficult to document because they are weak or evanescent. No, they believe that if they can demonstrate what they want to demonstrate, they have will have a scientific and cultural revolution on their hands.
What if it's all true? Where do we look for an explanation? In his JPSP paper, Bem obliquely refers to quantum mechanics. The Discover article gets more specific. Yudhijit Bhattacharjee, the writer, writes that
"the science they usually invoke is quantum entanglement, the bizarre relationship that arises between two particles like electrons or photons that have interacted with each other. Even when the particles are separated by great distances, the act of measuring the properties of one-spin, for instance, if the particle is an electron-immediately impacts the properties of the other. Albert Einstein, who doubted whether entanglement was possible, famously derided the idea as "spooky action at a distance." But entanglement is now accepted as an observable fact, if only in the realm of the very small" (p. 58).
Spooky or not, entanglement is about synchronicity, not retrocausation. So what else you got?
Bhattacharjee deploys Dean Radin, an electrical engineer, who proposes
"a different but related concept: time-symmetry of quantum events. This is the idea that microscopic phenomena, such as the motion of an electron through an electromagnetic field, would look the same regardless of whether time were flowing forward or backward" (p. 58).
But how do you know if time is flowing backward? Plus,
"on large scales such time symmetry falls apart (which is why it is not possible to uncrack an egg), but some psi proponents think it may apply sufficiently to allow the reversal of cause and effect, enabling precognition" (p. 58).
And here we have another begged question. Why do they think that? What is the justification, if this thinking is not mere hope, faith, or unleashed analogical reasoning?
The Discover article concludes with a question for Bem. How would he
"feel if other scientists were to clearly disprove his claim about precognition, the gleam fades from his eye for a brief second. "Then I guess I could decide it was a fluke," he says. "Science is self-correcting. Reality always bites back" (p. 58).
Which returns me to a peeve about significance testing. You can't disprove a non-null claim once it has been made, unless, of course, you are a Bayesian (Gallistel, 2009).
Gallistel, C. R. (2009). The importance of proving the null. Psychological Review, 116, 439-453.