People May Be Just a Bit Psychic

I’d make a ‘Minority Report’ reference, but it had Tom Cruise in it. Instead, be subversive and hand “Alan Mendelssohn, The Boy from Mars” to a young adult. Was enormously fun to read in school, that book…

The WSJ sums up a fascinating meta-study which concludes the human body ever so slightly anticipates upcoming stimuli it can’t possibly know about. (In the comments discussion of the research publication, one of the studied authors claims this applies to periods of silence as well.)

I’m going to assume this is in fact real (they analyzed 26 studies from 1978 to 2010). I don’t know enough about quantum physics things to say if that field could explain this phenomena, but the proven ability of even artifical neural networks to exploit quantum stuff by accident suggests one way this could occur.

The implications for security are all kinds of interesting… especially defense, since being able to anticipate an attack even by a split second can be a major boost to the defense.

The challenge is identifying this biological response, and ensuring it can’t be faked or manipulated by the adversary.

Here’s the original research — the discussion (featuring the primary author, and one of the authors of the studies in the meta-analysis) is well worth reading if this sort of thing interests you.

“Scientists understandably don’t have much patience for the notion of extrasensory perception. Yet evidence persists in the psychological literature that people’s bodies sometimes unconsciously “predict” unpredictable future events. These visceral responses don’t appear to be the result of sheer chance.

That’s the result of a meta-analysis of earlier papers on this subject conducted by a trio of researchers led by Julia Mossbridge of Northwestern University.

They started with 49 articles but, in bending over backwards to take the most conservative possible approach, tossed out 23 that, for various reasons, didn’t meet their standards. The effect remained. By “effect,” I’m not talking about people having the ability to read palms or tea leaves.

What the studies measured was physiological activity—e.g., heart rate or skin conductance—in participants who, for instance, might have been shown a series of images, some harmless and others frightening. Using computer programs and statistical techniques, experimenters have found that, even before being shown a troubling image, participants sometimes display physiological changes —a faster heart rate, for example—of the kind that would be expected only after seeing the image, and not just because the subjects know a scary snake picture is coming sooner or later.

Nobody has been able to explain this phenomenon, although some scientists believe it’s the result of researchers somehow tipping off their subjects. In quality studies, however, images have been randomized and even the experimenters don’t know what’s coming—unless the same physiological prediction mechanism is at work in them.

“The remarkably significant and homogenous results of this meta-analysis suggest that the unexplained anticipatory effect is relatively consistent, if small in size,” the researchers wrote.

They add that, “the cause of this anticipatory activity, which undoubtedly lies within the realm of natural physical processes (as opposed to supernatural or paranormal ones), remains to be determined.”

Unfortunately, people aren’t very good at hearing what their bodies may be telling them, even when getting the message could mean averting disaster—which has led Mossbridge to wonder if there might be value in a feedback device of some kind, perhaps in the form of a smartphone app attuned to your body’s alerts.”


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