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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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Books Every Fresher Should Read
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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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