A Dialog About Magic* and Science by Representatives of Both Traditions – Part 2

December 28, 2023
IONS Communications Team

* The word magic in this discussion refers to esoteric practices of real magic, and not to magic tricks or stage illusions.

The Following is the second part of a dialogue between IONS Chief Scientist Dean Radin, and Magician Peter Carroll. Read Part one here.

Peter Carroll: Many interpretations of quantum mechanics exist, and I tend to regard quantum field theory as another possible interpretation rather than as something qualitatively new that supersedes quantum mechanics. Adding 20+ different quantum fields to the array of particle/waves just to model the annihilation and creation of quanta may prove unnecessary. Yet on the other hand field excitations below the quantisation level may explain the effects attributed rather clumsily to so called virtual particles, particularly if, like the supposed fields, they can act non-locally.

I find John Cramer’s Transactional Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics attractive; in this, “quantum handshakes” occur between emitter and absorber both forward and backward in time and the process becomes complete and irreversible when a whole quanta has become exchanged. This seems to model the double slit experiment, interference, and entanglement quite neatly, at the price of allowing temporally reversed “advanced waves” to travel backwards in time (Maxwell’s equations do permit this). Such temporary temporal reversibility could supply the non-locality that most interpretations of quantum mechanics require.

The “measurement problem” seems to come down to the problem of “what do quanta do whilst not interacting?” Quanta “fly as waves but take off and land as particles.” We cannot actually observe the waves directly because if we try to observe them, we stop them and force a particle-like interaction, causing what we call a “collapse of the wave function.”

I do not believe that an observer is necessary to force an interaction, quanta do it all the time to each other, but we can make choices about how and when to make a measurement that creates an interaction.

To me the real measurement problem lies in what the results of interactions tell us about “what do quanta do whilst not interacting?”

At present the consensus asserts that except at the instant of interaction, quanta cannot have definite properties, definite position, definite momentum, and to some extent any definite quantum numbers at all. When they do interact, they show evidence of having selected from amongst their possible properties on a basis that seems entirely random, but in some cases anti-correlated with the properties of quanta they had entanglements with.

Unfortunately perhaps, the randomness seems to prevent the non-local exchange of meaningful information. I have speculated on a possible way around this here, but I may have based it upon a misunderstanding: Delayed Choice Quantum Eraser Ansible.

Anyway, whilst I have preached that the apparent chaos/randomness underlying the substructure of the universe frees us considerably from fate and determinism, I do often wonder precisely how we can force the hand of chance or rescue luck from chance, and to what extent “free will” depends on some capacity for quantum randomness within ourselves.

Paradoxically perhaps, chaos magic implies some form of hidden causality which can somehow modulate the quantum randomness. I have wondered if the properties of quanta depend on various “spins” in extra pseudo-spatial temporal dimensions that we do not generally recognize despite the seeming indispensability of “imaginary” and complex numbers in modeling wave functions. If interactions cause quanta to momentarily drop out of fast spinning states into definite measurable orientations, then their behavior would appear completely random to us if their rates of spin were huge compared to the timescales we can measure.

As the properties of quanta can remain entangled over arbitrarily large distances this perhaps suggests rather paradoxically that the apparent randomness and chaos of the behavior of the quanta may actually depend on the extreme precision of their behavior. If so, then psi would seem to require that the operator become somehow entangled with the experiment.   

Your experiments with double slits and interferometers intrigue me. I have some understanding of the kit involved, what exactly are you trying to influence, photon counts at detectors or patterns on screens or what?  

Consciousness – does any information processing device that can monitor both some parts of its environment and some of its own internal states, have consciousness to some degree? If so, we cannot completely deny consciousness to almost anything.

Qualia – don’t these subjective experiences depend on the associations we make between experiences – aka Tononi’s Integrated Information Theory. For me ‘Redness’ seems the summation of all the associations I have with it, – not primarily an abstract thing in itself.

Dean Radin: Regarding, “I do not believe that an observer is necessary to force an interaction, quanta do it all the time to each other,” my reaction is — maybe. An “observational theory” (OT), developed by parapsychologists in the 1970s, predicts a retro-PK (psychokinetic) effect whereby observation is necessary to convert possibles into actuals, and it doesn’t matter when that observation takes place. That is, the prediction of the OT was that if you record a batch of quantum indeterminate random bits without looking at them, then the unobserved bits will remain in a superposition until they are observed. So, on Monday you record the bits, and on Tuesday you play them back while an observer watches the output. As the prerecorded bits are being observed, you give the observer instructions to intend, or will, say, more 1 bits than 0 bits. What you will find, on average over many trials, is that the already-recorded but not-yet-observed bits will in fact conform to instructions created after the bits were already recorded!

This retrocausal idea was not previously observed or even imagined, but nevertheless experiments conducted to test it from the 1970s through the 1990s (including a few I participated in) significantly supported the prediction. This is evidence that something about observation really does seem to be important in converting the wave-like quasi-real world into the particle-like everyday world, and this effect is acausal in the sense that it does not take place in everyday spacetime. The retro-PK experiments suggested that quanta remain in a superposed state until they are observed. However, I also agree that human observation is not the only way that a quantum system can be “collapsed.” But exactly what constitutes a measurement, or who or what entails a proper observation, remains a puzzle.

Regarding your experimental proposal, I don’t think it would work because with current spontaneous parametric down-conversion technology it’s not so easy to create entangled pairs. I.e., most of the pairs are classically correlated, not quantum entangled. Only a few pairs in a million are entangled. Also, the pairs that are entangled can be identified as such only by comparing their polarizations. So, if you have one of a pair of photons on Earth, you can’t know if its partner on Alpha Centauri is entangled until you compare them both, and you can only do that at light-speed. Now, if a super-high-fidelity device could generate say 99%+ of entangled photon pairs, then what you’re proposing might work. Someone might eventually be able to make such a device, but we’re not there yet.

By the way, we did an experiment to see if mind could influence the correlation strength of entangled photons. Bottom line: yes, apparently it can.  Here’s the article:

Radin, D., Bancel, P., Delorme, A. (2021) Psychophysical interactions with entangled photons: Five exploratory experiments. Journal of Anomalous Experience and Cognition. 1 (1-2), 9-54.

Regarding your comment, “Psi would seem to require that the operator become somehow entangled with the experiment.” Yes, and I believe this happens through meaning, similar to how even a mind-blowing synchronicity can be viewed as a coincidence, but one that is seasoned by the spice of meaning. In this sense, all psi phenomena, whether spontaneous or created in the lab, can be thought of as synchronicities: meaningful coincidences created on demand.

You asked what people do in our double-slit experiments. We ask participants to mentally imagine that they can see photons passing through the double-slit (so as to gain which-path information), or to pay attention to a real-time feedback signal based on an aspect of the interference pattern. This signal rests upon metrics like fringe visibility, or a Fourier Transform of the interference pattern, or in the case of single photon studies the count of the number of photons at a specific location of the interference pattern. These metrics are then compared during periods when people focus their mind toward the optical apparatus vs. away. If the resulting differential measure is significantly different from chance expectation, and the apparatus is well-calibrated, so we know how it behaves when no one is mentally interacting with it, then that provides evidence that the mind interfered with the interference pattern.

You suggested that any information processing device that can monitor both parts of its environment and some of its own internal states may have consciousness to some degree. And if that is the case, then we cannot completely deny consciousness to almost anything. I agree. It’s one of the reasons why a growing number of scientists are reconsidering the notion of panpsychism and the importance of including aspects of consciousness into our understanding of the physical world.

Among my many projects, I’m currently working on a second book on magic, again from a scientific perspective. I’m at the earliest stages of thinking about this, but so far I have yet to find anything within the magical traditions (bypassing the religious dogma and superstition) that contradicts what parapsychology has empirically established, or that would in some way help to significantly inform it. But I may well have overlooked something that might change my mind. What am I missing?

Navigating how to test magic

Peter Carroll: I think I can see what your entanglement experiment consists of and what it seems to show, although the details of the data processing do seem very tortuous and complicated.

It surprises me that you asked participants to increase entanglement as any observation of, or interference with, entangled states tends to reduce entanglement., because decoherence is the bane of quantum computing.  On the other hand, a psychic “which path observation” of a single photon in a double-slit apparatus may perhaps allow for the psi exploitation of superposition collapse, if you can use single photon detectors.

I’ll answer your question about what I think may be missing from parapsychological research from a magical perspective by speculating on what I might do to try to show a statistically significant PK type effect:

Recruit 400 participants. Invite them to turn up with a dollar to throw a pair of D20 Icosahedral dice just once. If they throw double 20, they get $400. If not, you keep their 1 dollar entrance fee. Or recruit 8,000 and use three D20 for an even more exciting prize of $8,000.

I rather suspect you might not break even as statistically predicted but might lose a fair bit of money and get a psi-positive result. It would also be interesting to see if overall the number of 20s thrown exceeded statistical expectations. I suggest this for several reasons, magical link – participants handle the dice and watch them fall. Emotional involvement – you are offering something they would really want to win. Gnosis – the heightened state of concentration arising from only doing this important thing once.

If you can ensure that the setup ensures the dice have to tumble at least 7 times before coming to a halt, then apparently this makes their final position theoretically indeterminate and not open to “ordinary” forms of cheating.

Dean Radin: In the entangled photon experiment, the details of the data processing may seem tortuous and complicated, but that is just a consequence of the nature of the raw data. Measuring entanglement strength requires a series of 16 polarization measurements, so the data is necessarily a time sequence with unavoidable dependencies, and that requires some fancy mathematical footwork. Still, after the appropriate analysis it showed remarkably clear results.

We asked participants in the entangled photon experiment to increase rather than decrease entanglement for a few reasons. One is that decoherence is not a one-way street. There’s also recoherence. Here’s an article on this topic that was published in Nature, Observation of quantum recoherence of photons by spatial propagation.

Second, if entropy were the only thing ever observed in thermodynamics, then life would never have evolved. As you know from mathematical chaos theory, complex open systems can and regularly do produce negentropic effects. We’re here because order can arise out of entropic systems. The same is true for quantum decoherence. Under the right circumstances, systems can recohere. So, we hypothesized that whatever focused awareness is, it appears to have an ordering quality, or a form of coherence. Thus, in light of the body of evidence for PK on many types of physical targets, holding the mental intention to increase entanglement strength was viewed as plausible.

A third reason for that particular task is that if we could show that the mind could push entanglement strength above the Tsirelson Bound, then that would demonstrate that whatever focused consciousness is, it is not accounted for by orthodox quantum theory. Alas, we didn’t see that outcome, but in retrospect to exceed the Tsirelson Bound we’d have to have been Merlin to overcome the constraints imposed by the optical apparatus we were using.

Regarding your suggested psi experiment, studies involving dice were conducted ad nauseum for about 50 years, with some success. Different kinds of dice were used, with different numbers of faces, use of monetary rewards, etc. Over the years methods were progressively improved to overcome valid criticisms (like you absolutely cannot have a subject handle the dice – it’s too easy for a skilled trickster to game the outcome). In fact, the stereotype of the sterile psi test largely evolved because it was found that all sorts of unintentional biases (to say nothing of intentional fraud) could produce results that were not psi, but just inadvertent flaws. Fortunately, over the last half-century new methods have been devised to provide high confidence that results of a study would not be due to one or more flaws, and at the same time methods being used today are approaching ecologically valid contexts that more closely match how psi manifests in the real world.

I published a meta-analyses of the dice tests a few decades ago.  Effects of consciousness on the fall of dice: A meta-analysis.  Journal of Scientific Exploration, 5, 61-84. (Click on the title to retrieve the paper.)

I’ve also attempted to amplify the magical link factor in a voodoo-type experiment, which resulted in such a strong effect that it scared everyone on the team.  Remote influence of human physiology by a ritual healing technique.  Subtle Energies and Energy Medicine, 6, 111-134. (Click on the title to retrieve the paper.)

The gnosis element has also been tested in many experiments involving altered-states, like dreaming, meditation, and the ganzfeld environment, and the evidence there shows that it is superior to ordinary states of awareness.

Thus, some elements of your magic equation have been explored over the last century or so. That said, it is rare to find a single study that tried to optimize all of the factors you’ve identified. This is not because of a lack of interest, but a lack of resources.

In the SIGIL study, funded by the Bial Foundation and RENSEP, the key aim is to demonstrate a remote observer effect on optical interference. I’ve been working on that problem for quite a while, and to date my team has conducted something like 20 experiments. Here’s one writeup: Psychophysical Effects on an Interference Pattern in a Double-Slit Optical System.

The sigil magic component of this test involves recruiting people who have experience using a magical technique, and that have some reason to believe that it works for them. Finding such people, with real talent in mind-matter manipulation, is a challenge, so I’m guessing that tapping into the magical world where people already believe that this sort of effect is real based on their experience, would be a step in the right direction. 

Testing magical skills is, as you’ve noted, not straightforward nor easy, so to help optimize the important motivational element of your magic equation, I’m sending each participant the physical target itself rather than conducting a test online, and they’re encouraged to adopt whatever state of gnosis they wish during the experiment. They can also arrange the set and setting however they wish. I realize that the task itself is still rather abstract, but to help overcome that the experiment provides real time feedback on their performance with sound, a graph that show real-time performance, and a color-changing LED. I’ve found that this improves how well people can focus on the task. Of course, I realize that an experiment of this type is still far from the typical magical goal, so it’s up to me to convince the participants that this experiment is very important, and thus help to optimize the motivational factor. 

Read Part 3 of this insightful dialogue.

Dean’s SIGIL experiment is now live. Click here to learn more.

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