One of the excuses for why there is only weak evidence for psi, is that psi is claimed to be a weak signal, not strong and reliable like, say, a telephone or a radio. This is supposedly the reason why parapsychological experiments only show small anomalies that need complex statistical sampling and meta studies to reveal. It’s supposedly the reason Zener cards and similar forced choice experiments don’t work as well as free response tests where the subject writes down or draws their impressions, and a judge has to determine if the “psychic” has scored a hit or not.
It’s true that some signals are weak and unreliable, so I thought it would be useful to compare psi with a real weak signal, and to see how real scientists deal with the problem. Discover Magazine (you’ll need a subscription), describes a relevant problem with the recent Huygens mission to Saturn’s moon, Titan.
Huygens was designed to land on Titan and transmit signals back via the Cassini orbiter. Huygens transmitted signals through two radio channels, A and B. These were very weak signals which would need to be picked up by the close-by Cassini spacecraft, amplified, and broadcast home via Cassini’s large antenna. The problem was, someone had forgotten to tell Cassini to listen to both channels. Cassini was only recording channel B. Channel A was just leaking away into space. Unfortunately, some experiments were only transmitted on channel A, a key experiment being one to measure Titan’s winds:
The concept behind that experiment was beautifully simple: Beam a signal to Cassini, which would record subtle radio distortion caused by winds blowing around Titan. By analyzing that distortion, researchers could reconstruct Titan’s weather patterns. The experiment relied entirely on channel A.
With no way to recover this weak signal from Huygens, the experiment could have been lost. Fortunately, since the launch of the spacecraft in 1997, the sensitivity of radio telescopes on Earth had improved. The scientists got 17 radio dishes around the globe to listen in to the signal. The result was a success:
“We will recover 100 percent of the mission goals, with the same science outcome.” As proof, he showed a crisp plot of the signal as received by the Parkes and Mopra dishes in Australia and by the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia. Early results show Titan’s high-altitude winds bluster westerly at 250 miles per hour. By summer Gurvits expects to have a map of wind patterns accurate to about two miles per hour—all extracted from a two-watt signal that originated nearly a billion miles away.
That’s how real science works: improved technology enables even a weak two watt signal to be decoded from a billion miles away, to give reliable, useful data. Compare that with parapsychology: weak supposed “signals” that do not improve with better technology, but tend to disappear when experimental controls are tightened, with no useful or reliable data ever produced. In fact, no use that I can think of has ever been made of “psychic” data. The obvious conclusion is that psi is not a weak signal, it is no signal. If you’re a real scientist, anyway. Not if you’re a parapsychologist.