This anonymous scientist is a developmental pediatrician and Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine at a major American medical school. She has carried out research on the treatment of childhood autism. She contacted me after reading a popular story about this TASTE project. I was immediately intrigued as I began to read her submission, because I realized she had been one of the most successful and interesting participants I had ever had in an ESP study, one done in the 1970’s, a study designed to see if the provision of immediate feedback of results in multiple-choice guessing conditions could allow participants to start to discern when they were just guessing and when they were actually using ESP, and so learn to improve their ESP abilities. While this was a straightforward and “behavioristic” application of learning principles from an external point of view, I am always interested in internal processes, and so was fascinated to get this retrospective report. her report both confirmed my initial interpretation of why she quit the study after being so successful (fear of psi) and added a new interpretive dimension.
I will let her report speak for itself at first and then, in the first Comment on this report, add material from Chapter 3, “A Pilot Study: Psi-Missing and Fear of Psi,” from Tart, C. (1976), Learning to Use Extrasensory Perception. Chicago: University of Chicago Press about her performance and make some further comments.
The Mystery Experiment
I was working as a waitress at a restaurant in Davis that was frequented by a woman graduate student in psychology whom I often chatted with. One day she asked me if I wanted to be in a psychology experiment being conducted by yourself (Dr. Charles Tart) and I agreed.
Soon thereafter I participated in this parapsychology experiment regarding card guessing. I had to sit in a Faraday cage with a panel that had cards Ace through 9 arranged in a circle, with switches for choices. A light in the center of the panel indicated when a sender had selected a card for me to guess. The sender was located outside the Faraday cage (A Faraday cage, named after physicist Michael Faraday, is a room whose surface is formed of electrically conducting material, copper in this case, to shield the interior from external electrical signals) in some other area of the building. Runs of 50 test cards would be done at a time.
For each card guess, I would push a button to indicate my choice, then I would get feedback by a light appearing near the card that was the accurate choice. The first several runs I did I scored pretty much in the chance range.
Then one evening I had a powerful feeling like “I know that I know” how to do this task; I started getting feedback from the lights that many (most) of my choices were correct; even the choices that I missed, I had often narrowed it down to 2 choices and picked the wrong one of the two. If I recall correctly, I did two 50-run sessions; the first session I did fairly well at guessing about 15 out of 50 correctly. The second run I guessed an amazing number of the cards correctly: in the low 30’s I believe. I don’t remember if I did more runs that evening after that high score: I might have, and if I did I think I just scored in the chance range and felt tired. The lady graduate student did show me my score and did seem pleased but did not seem overly excited.
Over the next few weeks I did a few more sessions and just scored in the chance range, even though I tried to convince myself that I could re-create the feeling that “I know that I know.” I never got any further feedback on the experiment and never saw the lady graduate student again, so I don’t know what the overall experiment was about (it seems to me I do recall the graduate student mentioning the study involved seeing if learning curves could be documented for ESP abilities).
I’ve puzzled over that experiment ever since: If I truly guessed more than 30 of 50 cards right, with a 1 out of 10 chance of accurately guessing each card by pure chance alone, that was a phenomenal performance, but I never got any excited feedback about it. It occurred to me that the experiment may have involved giving false feedback to the subject, so that perhaps I didn’t really guess over 30 correctly. Even if this were so, it occurred to me that there were at least 15 or more times during those two good runs I had that I had narrowed my choices down to 2 cards, but picked the wrong one of the two: that is something the experimenter would not have known or had any control over, and even that level of accuracy was fairly remarkable.
Over the last 30 years I have found myself to be a fairly intuitive person, and my intuition is often very helpful. Once in a great while I will suddenly seem to know or guess accurately at something where the probability of it happening by chance or usual avenues of knowledge is fairly small, but I have no control over when this will occur, and to my disappointment, it has not seemed to follow a learning curve. If you recall this experiment and can share with me the outcome of your studies, I would be most interested.
Contributor’s Comments on the Experience
The experiment results gave me a sense that I had untapped abilities and empowered me to pay closer attention to my intuitions. At the same age as the experience occurred, I also began having a form of “out of the body” experiences on an intermittent basis: sometimes these occurred in the early morning hours as I lay in a meditative but awake state in bed, or as I drifted off to sleep at night. As I have gotten older, these experiences have gotten less frequent. I don’t feel that I understand these experiences, but over time I have come to accept that perhaps it is not necessary for me to “understand” them. Most of my work has been in the clinical arena of delivering health care services, rather than research. In a generic way I’ve learned to pay attention to my clinical intuition and check it with what I know medically/scientifically to improve my skills as a clinician.
The most revealing experience I had regarding clinical intuition occurred when I was a 3rd year pediatric resident in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at a major university hospital (I believe in the fall of 1978): An adorable little girl was recovering from a possible viral-induced cardiomyopathy and was looking very well; she seemed stable and the attending doctors wrote orders to transfer her to the ward: I was only a resident, but somehow I had a bad feeling that all would not go well, whereas I seemed to sense a really strong life-force for this other little girl with Respiratory Distress Syndrome on high-ventilator settings who was very close to death many times. Indeed, the little girl with the cardiomyopathy who was so cute and talkative developed a sudden fatal arrhythmia on the ward and died just a few days later; the girl with the Respiratory Distress Syndrome was in the ICU for months but finally did make a full recovery and I saw her a year later and we talked about her trip to the zoo, and her favorite animal, the hippopotamus.