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Trippin' out to tell the future

Sam Duthie

In the first of a series of lectures on ‘Consciousness, Culture and the Occult’, guest lecturer Dr. David Luke delivered a talk on his experimental work into psychedelics and pre-cognition His absorbing talk pulled the audience through the mystical field of South American psychedelic drugs, shamanism and pre-cognition. But was it really science?

David Luke, the ex-president of the Parapsychologist Association, started off the talk with an engrossing look at the history of occult rituals and practices. However, as interesting as the talk was, when he presented his own experimental work, which intertwines paranormal phenomena and the effects of psychedelic drugs, the lecture took a very surreal turn.

Parapsychologists study phenomena not traditionally associated with mainstream science, such as telepathy, telekinesis and near-death experiences. Luke’s interests lie within the psychology of luck, pre-cognition (the ability to predict the future) and psycho-pharmaceuticals.

Though the field of parapsychology has many critics and has suffered many controversial and fraudulent setbacks, many researchers such as Luke hope to find conclusive data on the paranormal within a scientific framework.

Like the 19th century psychologist, Hermann Ebbinghaus, Luke will happily serve as both experimenter and participant.

Looking into the possible effects of pre-cognition in a South American cactus-based psychedelic called Mescaline, Luke elected to conduct twenty trials on himself, and only himself, while recording highly suspect data on his own pre-cognitive abilities.

To make things worse, Luke administered decent sized quantities of this powerful drug on himself throughout the “experiment”. To test his drug-induced pre-cognitive abilities, he attempted to predict the random presentation of video clips from a selected library on his laptop.

He jotted down maniacal descriptions of what the following clips may be, before the laptop randomly selected one of four videos. Luke could then determine his success and reported that he achieved a success rate of 40%, significantly higher than the expected 25%, if he were to have no pre-cognition powers.

It is easy to criticise the experimental data Luke has collected, however for all its shortcomings the lecture was warm and interesting. Luke spoke on issues that he’s clearly very interested in and the audience got on well with him. He courteously spent a good deal of time fielding questions ranging from drug policy to individual drug experiences and their effects.

Fascinated from an early age in both science and altered states of consciousness, Dr. Luke decided to pursue an understanding through psychology. He obtained a first at the University of Westminster before going on to do his PhD at Northampton University.

However, he expressed disdain and disappointment at what he feels are limited answers provided by mainstream sciences in response to his main interests in psychedelics and the paranormal.

David Luke’s work on psychedelics is funded by the Beckley Foundation, a UK organization which promotes scientific based drug reform and exploration into the human consciousness. Luke also works as a research associate for the foundation.

So does David Luke conduct real science? Well, maybe it wasn’t the most rigorous of science. But when you’ve been given a grant to determine whether tripping out on top of a South American mountain gives you the ability to predict the future, it’s probably the fun that counts, not methodological prowess.

David Luke co-wrote ‘Palgrave Insights in Psychology: Anomalistic Psychology’, which is available on Amazon.com or any good psychology book-store. ‘Breaking Convention: Essays on psychedelic consciousness,’ also co-written by Luke, is out soon.

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5 Comments

  1. Hi, I presume this article was written by Anna Gross (who posted it), but it’s not clear. While I congratulate you on your largely well-written article I want to know what makes you say that the study described collected “highly suspect data”. What makes it so suspect? I have been studying and researching psychology and parapsychology for more twenty years, have taught research methods at university level for 15 years and have an intimate knowledge of parapsychological methodology and the potential pitfalls in conducting this kind of research, and have conducted careful and well controlled experiments into precognition for 10 years. Please tell me what, exactly, is not scientifically rigorous, as you say, with the research I have conducted, and please point me to any better research that has attempted to ask the same kind of questions – or, better still, tell me how you would do it. You say it is easy to criticise my research and yet you have only done so in the most general hand waving sort of ways. You make no specific points of criticism. Please, can you give me some specifics that I can respond to, or will you retract your vague vilification?

    Regards,

    Dr David Luke, BSc, PhD, CertTESOL, PGCertHE, FHEA, CPsychol, AFBPsS

    Reply
  2. Hello Dr Luke,

    
Thank you very much for your feedback. Before I respond, I would once again like to say that the talk was very interesting and to thank you for coming to Sussex. As you can imagine, the article was written to be both widely accessible and fairly brief.

    I will however try to respond to your points as best as I can. I have looked for your study online but I don’t think has been published yet? So I will just refer back to your talk. If I make any mistakes about your study then I apologize, I’m relying on memory.

    My criticisms are mainly of the methodology you used so I’m going to focus on those. As the hallucinogenic researcher Strassman has said, “It is critical that human hallucinogen research in the [present] make use of state of the art methodologies.” I feel that your research did not fulfill this prerequisite.

    Firstly, you conducted the study on yourself. Would it not have been more rigorous to use participants other than yourself in your study?

    Secondly, you conducted this study under the influence of a hallucinogen. Surely the possibility of making a mistake or forgetting the sequence of events is quite probable in this situation. Since you were the only one there we will have to take your word that everything in the study went exactly how you claim. However, I still view any experiment that has the experimenter under the influence of a considerable amount of the San Pedro plant as lacking scientific validity.

    Thirdly and I think most importantly, you only used one participant in your study. With such a small sample size, your results of a 40% success rate in predicting the future maybe purely due to chance.

    Kind regards,

    Sam Duthie (Bronze Swimming Cert.)

    Reply
  3. Hi Sam,

    Thank you for your response and willingness to engage in a debate about this. You are correct in that the study has not been published as yet, nevertheless discussing research in progress in talks is a useful means to get feedback on research prior to publishing, so thanks. I’ll answer your three points in turn.

    Conducting experiments on oneself is not necessarily less rigorous than conducting it on others. Indeed, as I point out in a recent paper (Luke, 2012 – link below) there can be advantages to conducting participant-experimenter research, such as: ensuring that the participant adheres to the protocol, motivation of the participant, ability of the participant to perform, and, as is especially important in ESP research, the security of the experiment (why would a researcher act fraudulently in their own research, after all they are seeking the truth). All of these factors apply in this research. There are of course some advantages to conducting research on multiple participants that are forgone in this kind of research, such as discovering trends in individual differences, reducing the effects of individual differences, and reducing other kinds of data noise, nevertheless this very preliminary study is merely a proof of principle experiment and so these sorts of concerns do not apply.

    Your second point is actually just a more specific example of your first point: in this case, that participant-experimenters are unreliable if under the influence of psychoactive substances. This concern has more merit than your first one, but careful systematic methodology and a written record are good insurance against error. Indeed, having conducted this sort of research multitudinous times with ‘other’ participants I was able to follow a simple and practiced procedure, which even in a mildly altered state would be difficult to get wrong, and extremely difficult for me to get wrong and not notice, even in that state . It was simply this, visualise the target, write down my impressions, watch the four clips, rank order the clips by how they correspond to my impressions and then select the actual target by random number generator. There were systematic notes taken at each stage and preformatted paperwork for logging the data. Of course, you have to take my word that I was successfully able to accomplish these simple steps in the correct order for each trial, which I was, but then if I hadn’t been able to I would not have bothered to report the fact that I was. I have nothing to gain from lying. Of course, further research with others will establish whether the effects are generalizable and robust or not, but there is nothing inherently unscientific about the methods used.

    Where you say that “any experiment that has the experimenter under the influence of a considerable amount of the San Pedro plant as lacking scientific validity” is again using vague hand waving language – there is no definition of what exactly is meant by validity. The experiment was valid in that in an altered state I was able to produce and collect data in line with the experiment’s aim – to test the hypothesis that psi scores under the influence of San Pedro would be greater than chance. The experiment did exactly what it aimed to do therefore, in this sense, it was valid. To say that it lacked “scientific validity”, is to make a claim that itself lacks validity because your use of the terms themselves are so vague as to be meaningless: The term “scientific validity” is here so broad as to be useless, do you mean it did not test it’s aims directly, or that it used inappropriate statistics, or used an inappropriate measure, or did not sufficiently operationalize its terms? No, your claim is rather based on the assumption that the ordinary waking state of consciousness is the only state in which science can be conducted, and this is the only point you are making. This is an unfortunate myth, and a hangover from prohibition-era science that will no doubt linger for a long time, but not for any good “scientific” reason.

    Charles Tart (1972) did a good job of trying to dispel the tired idea that science could only be good from the sober perspective in his classic article in the leading journal Science on “States of consciousness and state-specific sciences.” Indeed other researchers have referred to this ordinary state bias and unfounded prejudice as “pragmacentrism” (Grof, 2008). Scientists, of all people, should approach research with as few prejudices and unsupported assumptions as possible. You might recall from the talk that at least one scientist has received a Nobel prize from doing science in a psychedelic-induced state.

    Finally, addressing your last point, I am afraid that this last one betrays one of the most casual misunderstandings of how science and statistics operate. Your concern that, “With such a small sample size, your results of a 40% success rate in predicting the future maybe purely due to chance” is of course completely correct. But, as with all science these days all observations involving statistics to support them (which accounts for most science) are based on determining the probability that the results are due to chance. Further, the sample size here has no bearing on the success rate, so all you are merely stating (that most true of truisms) is that: my findings/ the findings of science could be due to chance. Gasp! This much we know, and indeed, this is pretty much all we have to rely on. As scientists all we can do is calculate the probabilities and wait to see if replication increases the odds of our results being due to chance. There may be something deeply unsatisfactory with this approach, but I am afraid that there is nothing inherently unscientific about it, and neither is there with my research. So while the original post implies that this research is not real science, I suspect that the author of that article does not truly understand what real science actually is, and perhaps they should use their BSc for what it was intended and stick to swimming, and perhaps some science journalism, but not attempting critical reviews of scientific methodology.

    Grof, S. (2008). “A brief history of transpersonal psychology.” International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, 27, 46–54. http://www.stanislavgrof.com/pdf/A%20Brief%20History%20of%20Transpersonal%20Psychology-Grof.pdf

    Luke, D. (2012). Experiential reclamation and first person parapsychology. Paranthropology: Journal of Anthropological Approaches to the Paranormal, 3 (2), 4-14. http://paranthropologyjournal.weebly.com/uploads/7/7/5/3/7753171/paranthropology_vol_3_no_2.pdf

    Tart, C. T. (1972). “States of consciousness and state-specific sciences.” Science, 176, 1203–1210.

    Reply
  4. I was also at the lecture and in general I agree with Sam. I do accept that you may have performed the experiment correctly whilst in an altered state of consciousness, but you have no way of proving it.

    Let’s assume that you did perform the experiment correctly. A 40% success rate might be higher than the 25% random average but it’s not hugely significant – you still incorrectly guessed more than half the videos. If you are the only participant then for a statistically meaningful experiment to take place you would need hundreds of repetitions – as far as I recall there were in the region of twenty. Which means you correctly selected something like eight videos out of twenty, only three more than the random average of five.

    You also say “the sample size has no bearing on the success rate” but it does have a bearing on the confidence we can have in it. Say you were to perform the experiment on another 100 people, the mean success rate would start to tend toward the average if no precognition existed. There would still of course be outliers, those who scored higher or lower than average. As it is the sample size of one means we cannot with confidence say that you are not simply such an outlier.

    Reply
  5. Hi Hmm,

    Thanks for your comments. I will respond to your points.

    >Let’s assume that you did perform the experiment correctly.

    Thanks, this is usually the norm in science, if one is sufficiently qualified, experienced, practiced and able. All of which I was.

    >A 40% success rate might be higher than the 25% random average but it’s not hugely significant – you still incorrectly guessed more than half the videos.

    You are correct, it is not “hugely significant” but it is statistically significant at p You also say “the sample size has no bearing on the success rate” but it does have a bearing on the confidence we can have in it. Say you were to perform the experiment on another 100 people, the mean success rate would start to tend toward the average if no precognition existed. There would still of course be outliers, those who scored higher or lower than average. As it is the sample size of one means we cannot with confidence say that you are not simply such an outlier.

    Indeed. I never claimed to have much confidence in these findings. The opposite in fact, and I encouraged others to try and independently replicate the findings, which is exactly how science progresses and how findings are either found to be robust or not. One experiment does not a fact prove, but it does suggest we should explore this matter further.

    Reply

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The rising genre of online book clubs

Kate Dennett - February 11, 2019

With technology constantly advancing and on the rise, reading and writing has began to turn towards technology, with Kindles and podcasts being more frequently used. In particular,…

Jessie Burton’s feminisation of history
Arts
229 views
Arts
229 views

Jessie Burton’s feminisation of history

Kate Dennett - February 11, 2019

English author Jessie Burton has made a rapid rise to success over the past few years, writing numerous unique novels that have grabbed the public’s attention. Burton…

Sussex Introduces New Music Society
Music
218 views
Music
218 views

Sussex Introduces New Music Society

Lara Antoine - February 11, 2019

They say your university years are meant to be the best years of your life. You have so many opportunities at your disposal and only you can…

In conversation with Gen Hidaka Yamato Drummers of Japan
Arts
201 views
Arts
201 views

In conversation with Gen Hidaka Yamato Drummers of Japan

Jessica Hubbard - February 10, 2019

Internationally renowned Yamato Drummers will return to Brighton Dome to perform their new show, Jhonetsu – Passion. The group have immense skill in traditional, Japanese Taiko drumming which they…

Hippo Campus at Concorde 2 Preview
Arts
317 views
Arts
317 views

Hippo Campus at Concorde 2 Preview

Matthew Nicholls - February 6, 2019

Unique five-piece indie-rock band Hippo Campus are coming to Brighton, performing on Sunday 24 February at Concorde 2. Formed in 2013 in Minnesota they have been supplying…

The Messthetics Live Review: Fugazi Spin-Offs impress
Arts
483 views
Arts
483 views

The Messthetics Live Review: Fugazi Spin-Offs impress

Ryan Bridgewater - February 6, 2019

While the debut album released last year by instrumental rock trio The Messthetics was an enjoyable listen, I was not prepared for the awesome experience of seeing…

Mary Queen of Scots: Compelling but never takes flight
Arts
448 views
Arts
448 views

Mary Queen of Scots: Compelling but never takes flight

Florence Dutton - February 5, 2019

There is no doubt about it; Josie Rourke’s new adaptation of one of the 16th century’s most intriguing plots is beautifully shot. Unfortunately, John Mathieson’s cinematography remains…

Roma Palace drop debut single ‘Tell Me’
Music
275 views
Music
275 views

Roma Palace drop debut single ‘Tell Me’

Lara Antoine - February 2, 2019

Brighton’s up and coming artists Roma Palace are breaking into the scene on the South Coast with their debut single, ‘Tell Me’. The trio of best friends…

In Conversation with Pavel Kolesnikov
Arts
326 views
Arts
326 views

In Conversation with Pavel Kolesnikov

Billie-Jean Johnson - February 1, 2019

Among the din of the Brighton music scene, classical music is often stifled under the noise of other genres. This Saturday, however, Pavel Kolesnikov will be changing…

Hollywood’s Netflix New-Wave
Arts
1241 views
Arts
1241 views

Hollywood’s Netflix New-Wave

Gabriel Ross - January 30, 2019

Netflix has been ever-present in most of our lives now for a while, yet a couple years ago it still would’ve been hard to believe that the…

The Oscars’ ‘Best Popular Film’ Category reveals the vested interest that lies at the heart of Awards Shows
Arts
175 views
Arts
175 views

The Oscars’ ‘Best Popular Film’ Category reveals the vested interest that lies at the heart of Awards Shows

Gabriel Ross - January 30, 2019

Anyone who has watched The Oscars before will know very well that artistic integrity isn’t prioritised in the way that the awards' image demands. However, news of…

‘First Man’ Review
Arts
171 views
Arts
171 views

‘First Man’ Review

Gabriel Ross - January 30, 2019

Space travel has been a preoccupation for Filmmakers, almost since Cinema's invention. George Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon (1902) amazed audiences of the time. Its invention…

Romanticising the bad guy, why do we do it?
Arts
314 views
Arts
314 views

Romanticising the bad guy, why do we do it?

lillysussex - January 29, 2019

Reading Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita as a love story is a standard initial interpretation of the novel, despite the kidnap and rape of the titular 12 year old…

James Blake – Assume Form review
Arts
490 views
Arts
490 views

James Blake – Assume Form review

Alex Leissle - January 28, 2019

Arriving in to Brighton’s The Islingword on Queens Park Road, as I ordered a pint and briefly squinted to see the football score before sitting down, I…

How Netflix’s Sex Education is breaking stigmas and defying stereotypes
Arts
468 views
Arts
468 views

How Netflix’s Sex Education is breaking stigmas and defying stereotypes

Kate Dennett - January 28, 2019

Netflix’s new series, Sex Education, has been released less than a month and has already got rave reviews from fans across the globe. It has been considered…

Keira Knightley rewrites gender in Colette
Arts
548 views
Arts
548 views

Keira Knightley rewrites gender in Colette

Alice Gledhill - January 26, 2019

Colette is the biographical story of Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, a French author, performer and dancer during the late nineteenth century. Keira Knightley gives a sublime performance alongside Dominic…

LGBT representation in music: measuring the success of #20GAYTEEN
Arts
730 views
Arts
730 views

LGBT representation in music: measuring the success of #20GAYTEEN

Gemma Laws - January 25, 2019

Personally, music has always been about connection and expression, which is why I value diversity and representation. From Tchaikovsky to Freddie Mercury, LGBT people have made important…

Interview with Sunflower Bean
Interview
403 views
Interview
403 views

Interview with Sunflower Bean

Yazz James - January 24, 2019

Sunflower Bean recently performed at The Old Market; I was lucky enough to chat to Nick Kivlen – guitarist and vocalist – over the phone about the…