Imagine that you’re a scientist and you have an experiment in your field that has been replicated all over the world by over 50 scientists in a 108 different publications, comprised collectively of thousands of trials. It is so dependable that it’s often tweaked in order to understand the phenomenon better.
This experiment demonstrates something very important to your field and probably to other fields of science as well and meets any and all ordinary scientific criteria for success, and yet there is a level of crazy surrounding it that is only rivaled by national politics. You discover that people will outright lie like little children rather than accept the results. Some scientists are so hostile that they write papers attempting to smear the research with badly written and inaccurate critiques.
Imagine that despite your best efforts you cannot get past the hostility, inaccuracies and lies, so you see this magnificent, replicated, and incredibly important experiment languish. Although it is filled with profound scientific implications, it sits there, a testament not to the failure of science, but of humanity.
Ganzfield Experiment In The Hostile World
This is the story of the the Ganzfeld Experiment; the flagship experiment of parapsychology. It has so thoroughly demonstrated the existence of telepathy that among researchers in the field, there no longer exists any doubt. Even hard core skeptics, -those few who have taken the time to actually understand the science- know this and one has even admitted it. It meets any sane standard of scientific evidence, and there’s the gotcha. The standard isn’t sane and indeed, never has been.
The experiment itself is pretty straightforward at its core. There is a sender, who sends an image, and a receiver, who receives the image. The experiment is easy to control for cheating because all you need to do is separate the test subjects and design the flow of data so that they can’t interact in any way. Easy peasy.
The receiver must select from four different images and choose the one that the sender was sending. This is called “forced choice.” If the receiver only gets it right 25% of the time, then he/she is just guessing; anything better than that? Then something interesting is happening.
The name “ganzfeld” refers to the fact that the receiver is shielded electromagnetically in a room, can only hear white noise; their vision is reduced to a blur by covering the eyes with the halves of ping pong balls and the lights are dimmed. Their total field (In German this translates to “Ganzfeld”) of sensory input is diminished. Without distractions, the receiver has a much better chance of receiving information telepathically.
This works. Not perfectly, but certainly well enough for an experiment. It’s been done more than enough times by more than enough people to rule out any statistical anomalies. The success rate is typically between 32 and 35%. That’s pretty normal for a successful, statistics based experiment. There have been six different meta analyses from skeptics and researchers alike, all showing positive results. From an objective scientific perspective, this is an ordinary successful scientific experiment.
Who’s Bat Shit Crazy?
But this is parapsychology we’re talking about; a science surrounded by batshit crazy people with advanced degrees and a horde of intellectual wannabe’s desperate to bury and ignore the profound implications that the experiment has for science and reality itself. It’s . . . always like that. People fight change.
Since the inception of the modern version of the experiment, first done in 1974-75, critics have been taking shots at it, trying to discredit it. From the skeptical point of view, psychic ability cannot possibly exist, so something MUST have gone wrong. It’s a poor way to do an evaluation and it has led to some quite ridiculous criticisms.
The main one used these days is what is referred to as “selective reporting” aka the “file drawer effect.” The claim here is that studies which did not show positive results were never published and only positive ones were, skewing the results. This is something that can be claimed without having to produce evidence, which is makes it a favorite argument among skeptics.
Can The Ganzfield Experiment Be Disproved
This doesn’t mean however, that it’s impossible to disprove. You can statistically look at how many unpublished studies it would take to nullify the findings. If that number is unrealistically high, then you can safely dismiss this as a consideration. Long story short: in this tiny scientific field where everyone knows what’s happening, you would have to run ten years worth of experiments non stop and have every single one of them fail and have no one else find out about it, in order for selective reporting to be worthy of consideration. So no, selective reporting is not a problem.
When people have dug up unreported studies in the past to examine how deep the problem goes, what they found was a mixed bag. Some results were null, some were positive, some were negative. The results tended to reflect the results of existing research. This outcome should surprise no one with an actual brain. Only in the fever dreams of skeptics would there be a massive conspiracy to withhold studies and carefully curate positive results.
Then there was the 1999 Milton-Wiseman meta analysis that found no effect. Wiseman, a skeptic, made sure to widely publicize that result and because of this, skeptics cite this one as proof that the Ganzfeld is a failure. This is typical of the drama surrounding parapsychology. Failures are widely publicized and positive results buried and ignored.
But do a little research, (getting skeptics to do serious research is like trying to give a cat a bath. They lose their shit fighting against something that’s good for them.), and you’ll find that a mistake was made in calculating the statistics and when corrected, the analysis yielded positive results. Today it is regarded as just another positive meta analysis. There are still skeptics 20 years later who will not admit this.
It gets even more absurd. There have also been arguments that meta analyses may not be useful. They are ready to throw away a tool used by many sciences in order to make this go away.
Try the Ganzfield Bias Test
Try this experiment. There are two encyclopedia articles on this experiment that you can access for free. Compare them. One is from the Society for Psychical Research, and Wikipedia, which you can find here. The SPR article is written by experts in the field. It contains all the relevant criticisms, but it also contains the rebuttals and puts everything in its proper context.
The Wikipedia article, in contrast, is written by skeptics. (They have overwhelmed that platform and dominate all psychic related topics.) People who try to bring balance to those topics are quickly booted off the platform. You can see this in the writing.
What you will see is that the Wikipedia article massively overemphasizes criticism, puts it in everywhere and provides no rebuttal to it, although those rebuttals certainly exist. It cites the 1999 meta analysis and conveniently ignores its correction, while downplaying the other 5 meta analyses. The article is cherry picking the data to create a false impression. It’s quite biased and very amateurish.
The trick to understanding the Ganzfeld Experiment and parapsychology in general is to not let yourself get drowned in the criticism. Science is complicated and if you try hard enough, you can find fault with anything. You have to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. The study is in line with other parapsychology experiments and affirms something that many people have experienced. That’s why it’s being studied in the first place. Based on people’s real world experiences and other experiments, telepathy is something that we would expect to find.
Psychic Ability Under The Microscope
There is something about existence of psychic ability though that is deeply unsettling to some people and they will look for any reasons, even imaginary ones, to deny its reality. This is the controversial soup that the Ganzfeld experiments must swim in.
In their mentality, parapsychology’s skeptics are not much different from Young Earther’s, climate deniers, Holocaust deniers and the Stop the Steal crowd. Their compulsive need to deny the existence of psychic ability is not a contribution to society, as they claim, but rather an attempt to relieve their own anxiety.
Once you frame the endless criticism in that light, it makes a lot more sense. The skeptics aren’t convinced that the Ganzfeld is a successful experiment because they are incapable of conceding. If you want to understand the Ganzfeld, you have to see them for what they are: barking dogs on the side of the road. You can listen to the barking if you like, or even bark back at them if you want, but it’s best to just leave them behind.
The Ganzfeld meta analyses:
Honorton (1985); Bem & Honorton (1994); Milton & Wiseman (1999); Storm & Ertel (1999); Bem et al. (2001); Storm et al. (2010)