Parapsychology Journalism: The People, The Theory, The Science, The Skeptics
I spend time occasionally on a forum hosted by the Skeptico Podcast where host Alex Tsakiris takes on materialists and exposes flaws in their arguments. Sometimes I get ideas for blog posts, and that was the case today. The idea came when I was in a discussion with a skeptic who was repeating the skeptical mantra that intuition is is just a form of guessing and calculating odds. Now I’ve been hearing that drivel for my entire adult life and up until now I just brushed it off and moved on. But this time was different. Rather than argue with someone who has their mind made up, I stopped for a moment and pondered the question What is intuition? It turns out, this is a very good question. There is something quite special about intuition.
Intuition has long been linked to psychic ability; after all, many psychics call themselves intuitives in an attempt to more closely describe what they do. But it can also be described as a hunch, which is not thought to be paranormal in origin. The subconscious supposedly gathers tremendous amounts of information in an instant and makes lightening fast judgment calls which are nearly always corrext.
Michael Shermer sums up the skeptical position best with this statement in a book review of Malcom Gladwell’s book “Blink.”
We are collecting data about a person or situation, and that data is being analyzed somewhere in the brain. How precisely that is being done remains a mystery. (…) We are especially good at snap judgments when it comes to human relations, because we evolved as a social primate species living in small tribes in which social relations were extremely important. We needed (and still need) to know whom we can trust and whom we cannot trust; in the prehistoric world of our Paleolithic environment we had only our wits and intuitions, the “sense” or “feeling” we had for someone’s trustworthiness, to rely on. The social calculus was not the slow and systematic logic of analysis; it was (and is) the subtle and fast feeling of a felt emotion. That “feeling” is the expression of an internal computation whose consequences are important.
The materialist version of intuition sees our brains as supercomputers which take in crucial information in just a few short seconds and process it into appropriate responses. it is seen as a super fast logical process. Here is a perfect example of how this is explained:
Hodgkinson cites the recorded case of a Formula One driver who braked sharply when nearing a hairpin bend without knowing why he was doing so. As a result, the driver avoided hitting a pile-up of cars on the track ahead, which undoubtedly saved his life.
“The driver couldn’t explain why he felt he should stop, but the urge was much stronger than his desire to win the race,” explains Professor Hodgkinson. “The driver underwent forensic analysis by psychologists afterwards, where he was shown a video to mentally relive the event. In hindsight he realized that the crowd, which would have normally been cheering him on, wasn’t looking at him coming up to the bend but was looking the other way in a static, frozen way. That was the cue. He didn’t consciously process this, but he knew something was wrong and stopped in time.”
The literature is full of examples of this kind. What researchers have found, which the rest of us knew all along, is that intuition is something special. Very special. A University College London (UCL) experiment involved subjects picking a rotated object out of a group of 650 objects.
Intriguingly, the researchers found that participants scored better if they were given no scrutinizing time at all. With only a tiny fraction of a second for scrutinizing the target, subjects performed with 95 percent accuracy. With over a second to scrutinize the image, subjects were only 70 percent accurate. Accuracy was recovered if scrutinizing was allowed to run for more than 4 seconds.
The research is pretty consistent in its findings. Simple decisions benefit from a logical process, but the more complicated the decision, the greater the benefit from an intuitive decision. For those that read this blog, this probably makes perfect sense; it certainly does to me. But to the rest of the world, it appears to be totally counter intuitive.
The question eventually arises here: what does psi have to do with this? The answer lies in understanding intuitive people and their thought process, I think. No one denies the helpfulness of knowledge in decision making and certainly people who have expertise do better with intuition in their specialty than people who know nothing. It comes back to the total readout theory I discussed a couple of years ago. (here’s the link, but I see now that it has a few inaccuracies.) Psychic ability blends seamlessly with the other senses to create an information stream which bypasses normal logical processing to provide extremely quick answers to complex problems.
Probably the most common of these abilities is face reading. Because of their emotional sensitivities, many psychic people learned from a very early age to read faces for subtle clues because it was important to know what parents and authority figures were thinking and feeling. Highly sensitive people are generally very, very good at this. The facial clues though, can be too subtle for most people to notice, but with psychic ability comes the additional input of knowing the other person’s emotional state in that moment. A sudden tightness or a flash of anger will be felt as the subtle facial expressions are observed. Therefore, sensitive people are able to equate these minute and extremely quick changes in facial expression to actual emotion and learn face reading much more thoroughly. There is far more to the observation than what a researcher might test for.
In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink, he uses the phrase “thin slicing” to describe the way we use intuition. Although Gladwell steers well clear of the realm of psychic ability, there is ample evidence that this is what is happening. In studies of telepathy the brain shows significant activation involving the right parahippocampal gyrus and in studies of intuition, the activity is over a broader area on the right side of the brain including the right parahipocampal gyrus. It makes sense. There are few survival traits of the mind more important than intuition, so it makes sense that this area would use considerable brain power.
To sum this up, intuition is a thing. The more it is studied, the more amazing it becomes. Our ability to make goal oriented decisions lightening fast has been observed and documented scientifically. So remember: don’t think too hard or too long about your next difficult decision. You already know the answer.