June 1, 2009
Professor Studies Psychic Ability Via Twitter
Experts are investigating "remote viewing," the psychic ability to identify distant locations, in the first scientific experiment to be conducted through the social messaging service.
Members of the public will be asked to "tweet" their impressions of randomly chosen spots in the U.K. that were visited by one of the researchers.
Afterwards they will vote for which of the five photographs on a website shows where the visitor was standing.
These steps will be repeated with visually different locations four times.
Once the experiment ends, if the votes correctly identify at least three targets then it will support the existence of extra-sensory perception.
Professor Richard Wiseman, study leader psychologist from the University of Hertfordshire, specializes in investigating psychic phenomena and he said "Personally, I'm skeptical, but three hits would be against odds of one in 125, which would be quite impressive."
He hopes at least 10,000 people will take part in the research, which is being conducted in collaboration with New Scientist magazine.
Wiseman will travel to every target and send a message to thousands of participants to "tweet" their thoughts about his surroundings.
After 20 minutes of sending this message he will transmit another containing a website address on which participants can view photographs of the actual location and four decoys. After that they will cast their votes.
"I have staged several mass participation studies over the years, but this is the first to use Twitter," said Prof Wiseman.
"The instant nature of tweets allows thousands of people to take part in real time, making it perfect for an extra-sensory perception experiment.
"If the effect does exist then having so many people participate will help detect it."
Wiseman is not the first scientist to experiment on remote viewing.
In the 1970, at the height of the Cold War, the CIA spent $20 million on conducting remote viewing experiments in the real-life case of the "X-files."
The Stargate Project's goal was to conduct "psychic spying" missions against the Soviet Union.
"The Russians were doing the same thing, and there was evidence from laboratory studies that suggested there might be something going on," said Prof Wiseman. "The CIA just thought it was worth a try and ran the program for about 10 years."
Remote viewing has been linked to astral projection and telepathy, but no one knows how it might work.
Wiseman is going to be looking for a group effect rather than individual ability.
This is known as "the wisdom of the crowds."
"If you have a jar full of jellybeans and you want to know many are in it, you get the most accurate estimate by averaging a number of different people's estimates," said Prof Wiseman.
The experiment's results will be known by Friday.
The online editor at New Scientist, Sumit Paul-Choudhury, said "There have been mass participation experiments since the start of mass communication and this is the next step.
"If we find some sort of effect then we can get into speculating about how it works."
Anyone will be able to take part in the experiment by visiting Wiseman's Twitter page.
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