Did You Think Of This Headline Before I Wrote It?

from the whoa...-creepy dept

Despite the ongoing advance of science there remain plenty of unsolved mysteries, and it’s not uncommon for people to try filling in these gaps with non-scientific or pseudo-scientific answers. One of the more well-known proponents arguing that conventional science can’t explain many phenomena is British scientist Rupert Sheldrake. Much of his work revolves around seemingly paranormal subjects, like the ability of dogs to know when their owners are coming home. Many people report that their dog always seems to be waiting at the door for them after work and through his studies he claims to have shown that this more than just the dog hearing the car come down the street, or the dog knowing what time of day its owner usually gets home. Another one he’s fond of is the experience — that we’ve all had — of thinking about a person the second before getting a phone call from them. He’s recently conducted new studies on this subject that purport to that this phenomenon is more than mere chance. But his latest study is based on a very small sample size (just 63 participants), and just 4 of the participants were videotaped. Chance could very well have played a part, as could other clues, like participants’ prior knowledge of who would call them when. Charges that Sheldrake’s experiments are poorly designed have been levelled at him throughout his career. A moment of extreme coincidence can feel very strange, perhaps even like clairvoyance, but trying to demonstrate them and show major cracks in conventional science seems doomed to fail. Sheldrake says he hopes to try his experiment next with text messages; we’re guessing he’ll be able to produce the same results.

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Comments on “Did You Think Of This Headline Before I Wrote It?”

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armando says:

happens all the time

with my wife. she’ll think about someone she hasn’t seen or heard from in a long while, and then she’ll run into them someplace, or they’ll call her up. she calls it “wishing them into her life”. it happens so often we can’t even call it creepy anymore.
it could just be a game of numbers, since she does have hundreds of friends she keeps in contact with, but it is pretty cool when it happens.

David Whatley says:

Oh it's magic!

Such silliness always persists. Bad science, psuedo-science. Even educated people often don’t understand the true odds of things, not to mention the concept of selective memroy of “hits” and forgetting or dismissing the “misses.”

A good place to learn more, and debate more is http://www.randi.org. If one could show that the phone ringing pyschic trick is actually real, they could win the James Randi Foundation $1M prize. No one’s managed it yet.

— David

Chronno S. Trigger says:

Re: maybe...

On several occasions at work I have picked up the phone to call someone and before I could even dial they were calling me. This has happened about a dozen times, especially with one of our clients. I’m not saying I’m psychic I’m just saying that maybe there’s something to this. (Not)

David says:

Does it ever NOT happen, armando?

Does she ever NOT run into someone she’s “wishing” into her life? Do you keep track of how often that happens versus how often it does? Most people only remember the good things, and not the “failures”. “Success” stands out more in your memory. Try the numbers game sometime, see if it really happens very often. And write down the names BEFORE she meets someone. I think your eyes will be opened.

Clock says:

Re: Re: Re:2 I always look at the clock at 2:22

I got a nice laugh when I saw that you only made the “66:66” bold, and not the “6:66.” I hope that was a typing mistake on your part, and not you thinking that while 66:66 is not an actual time, 6:66 is.
(just in case you didn’t realize, the minutes only go up to :59, before the hour increases. Missed first grade, did we?)

Teilo says:

Isn't this the birthday paradox all over again?

There is a statistical “trick” that anyone can play in a group of people, called the birthday paradox. Simply put, what are the odds that any two people in a group have the same birthday? If you have 50 people, (if memory serves) nearly 99%.

Why? Because we’re not talking any single birthday, but any out of 365 possible birthdays matching up with itself. Each person has a 49 in 365 chance of a match. Do the math for the collective odds and the odds are quickly in your favor.

How does this apply to the present article? Because as noted, Sheldrake is not counting the misses. If for any given call out of 50 you have one in a thousand chance of thinking of who it might be prior to their call (based upon the number of the people you know, and the frequency that you think about people in general), the odds for a single call to be a “hit” are one in a thousand, but the odds rapidly decrease if you add in the collective odds for all 50 calls. You quickly realize that you are almost certain to be thinking about someone at least once in those 50 calls, prior to the time that they call. That one you remember. The 49 you forget. One in 50 is pretty frequent, judging from the number of phone calls most people receive.

If Sheldrake is right, he would have to demonstrate precognitive ability in excess of these odds. If for instance, a person is consistently experiencing 10 or 20% more hits than a proper statistical analysis would predict, that might warrant further study (Not that Randi would be convinced anyway. He wouldn’t be convinced if he was levitated on stage and thrown 50 feet.) Otherwise it’s a waste of time.

Anonymous Coward says:

“Much of his work revolves around seemingly paranormal subjects, like the ability of dogs to know when their owners are coming home.”

“A moment of extreme coincidence can feel very strange, perhaps even like clairvoyance, but trying to demonstrate them and show major cracks in conventional science seems doomed to fail.”

regardless of how credible Rupert Sheldrake is, why would proving that clairvoyance is possible show major cracks in conventional science? This statement seems unfounded to me.

I suppose it might show major cracks in materialism, which lately people seem to be taking as their religion and calling it science in order to shoot down other viewpoints.

PhysicsGuy says:


anyone who attacks “coventional science” because it doesn’t explain everything needs to read some work by richard feynman and find out what science really is (and what it definetly isn’t).

there are always cracks in conventional science, that’s how it works, that’s how it progresses. people come across those cracks and then develop new theories incorporating those cracks, but invariably along the lines more cracks are discovered. does this discredit everything before? no. take physics for example, newton developed an enormous amount of physical law, including gravity and the idea that light is like “tiny cannonballs”. then along comes maxwell and shows that light is an electromagnetic wave and from this people learn that light is the same speed regardless of the frame of reference it is measured from, it’s always c. then comes einstein who looks and says hey, well gravity can’t be what newton said because nothing can travel faster than light so it’s doubtful that gravity can, he then reworks gravity completely. shortly later he shows that light is what newton thought, tiny little packets which goes against the perfect demonstrations of light being a wave put out by maxwell. shortly thereafter it’s found out that light is both, a wave and tiny little packets and so is all matter, which in turn shows that a lot of newton’s laws were incorrect. well let’s look at this now… newton’s laws were found to be inaccurate and there are theories now that show, and are verifiable through observation, what these inaccuracies are and what the correct laws should be, but does this completely discredit newton’s laws? not at all… newton’s laws are excellent approximations to our current physical laws, so much so that airplanes, skyscrapers, the internal combustion engine are all engineered solely with these laws, so they can’t be that bad. as it turns out there are always more cracks. it will inevitably go on, as quantum mechanics and relativity have cracks as the two don’t coincide together and one is applicable to the really small and the other the really large.

wow… sorry for the long winded post here. i just wanted to demonstrate that there obviously are “cracks” in conventional science and that these cracks don’t necessarily negate our previous concepts, and anyone who attacks it because of said cracks is, well, a moron. not to mention this guy sounds like he fits right in with the cargo-cult sciences. there’s a thing called the scientific method. a real scientist should always doubt his own work the most and point out any flaws his own work contains, which this guy certainly does not.

to conclude, i will say, that you can’t discount any proposed … there really is no good word for this that doesn’t have “mystical” connotations… psychic happenings (you CAN discount most proclaimed psychics though ;)). as there is always grounds for this in quantum mechanics depending on the interpretation you follow, but at the same time, due to quantum mechanics, you can’t discount that we don’t really live in the matrix. you CAN’T however credit either of these things as true until there is some way to verify such things (which, when dealing with quantum mechanical interpretations there most likely isn’t) only that they’re possibilities. and frankly there is a lot that science can’t EXPLAIN (predict, yes, explain… no).

PhysicsGuy says:

Science IS Magic....

Clarke’s three laws of prediction:

1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.

2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.

3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Bounce says:


Observability is a poor litmus for the existence of a phenomenon and practically irrelevant in the equation of belief. Photos of mid-air plane collisions are much less common than photos of UFOs. Facts of 100 years ago — the wonderous wandering uterus, etc — are ridiculed today. And who, indeed, has taken a snappy of God?

Anyone who dismisses a common sense of truth — however outlandish it might seem — based on the lack of hard evidence has a lot to learn about both science and religion.

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