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Sunday, April 29, 2007

A kick in the ACEP

Things had been going a little slow at “The Joy of Sox Movie” recently, the steady momentum of progress havng noticeably dwindled of late. Even a follow-up article in the Boston Globe two weeks ago failed to attrract any new traffic to our website, which itself had to be cut back for the time being while we negotiate permission from Major League Baseball to use their trademarked images and logos and names on our site. My own energy level was down, as I kept waiting for the shot of vitality that the warm sunny weather of Spring often, but not always, brings to New England.

So “Joy” needed a jump start, and that was just what we got when I went to Washington DC (Chantilly VA, actually) last week for a meeting of the Association for Comprehensive Energy Psychology. ACEP is a group of up-and-coming psychotherapists who are literally tapping into the body’s energy system to bring about balance and health. The primary techniques involve teaching patients to tap (I told you it was literal) on their key acupuncture points while remembering traumatic memories and replacing them with positive affirmations. For reasons that no one really understands, the stuff works: phobias dissolve, nightmares disappear, and smiles reappear. And there was definitely something rejuvenating about mingling with a crowd of upbeat, enthusiastic, compassionate and happy people - it put the spring back in my step.

Plus, I had brought along my new toy to play with. One of our goals at JofS has always been to measure the invisible energies that our scientists and ballplayers talked about, but the RNGs from Princeton (the Random Number Generators) were admittedly not sensitive enough to detect rapid within-game energy fluctuations of the sort we were most interested in. So I was excited to have made recent contact with Scott Wilber, the chief developer of a second generation RNG program that promised to be orders of magnitude more sensitive than the original Princeton devices. A few days before ACEP, he generously loaned me a beta version of the newest release from his company, Comscire – it was the PsiGenics portable RNG unit, with software adapted to detect human attention. It’s actually set up to run on a laptop as a training program to develop your powers of telekinesis (yes – mind over matter). The operator tries to get the large rotating golden ball on the monitor screen to spin in a chosen directionm simply by mental focus. Over time, with practice, skilled operators can produce results that would occur by chance less than once in a million times – so there’s clearly a learning effect taking place, and most people can soon get something to happen fairly soon.

But that track record of positive results put me in a bind: I was, of course, excited to give the program a shot, and see just how psychic I actually was. But if I practiced with the unit for too long, Scott warned that I would become bonded to the computer in a way that would influence any future tests. The machine would supposedly become so attuned to my “vibe” that my very presence could skew the results. This caveat was a bit much, even for an energy devotee like me (after all, it took 30+ years to develop that sort of connection with my wife, and she’s much prettier than my PC). But I didn’t want to do anything that might jeopardize our project’s chances, so I took this warning seriously.

Scott cautioned that in order for future tests at Fenway to deliver unbiased data, I’ have to set up the unit and let it run on its own – without ever thinking about it! My thoughts might influence the outcome. Now, I pride myself on having developed a certain amount of mental control after many years of meditation practice, but I simply couldn’t imagine setting everything up at Fenway, knowing that the laptop right next to me (or across the field from me, for that matter) was holding the key to the credibility of our entire project, and yet not thinking about it. It’s like the paradoxical command:”Don’t think about pink elephants”. Can’t be done. So what to do?

I ended up practicing with the unit a couple of times at home, enough to get comfortable operating the software on the new PC (that in itself was a big existential leap – as a longtime Mac user, I was saddened to learn that a Mac version of the Psygenics software wasn’t available, yet I apparently had to sacrifice my principles in the name of expediency and buy a product from the evil one, Bill Gates, emperor of all that’s wrong with capitalism…. But I digress). So I was certainly not a telekinetic whiz when I began to tote my PC along to a series of lectures and demonstrations at ACEP, to see what we could see. I would set the program on its autopilot mode, to take ambient readings of whatever was going on in a variety of settings, with no directed attention to control the output. In other words, I’d try to measure how coherent (or non-random) the consciousness field was in different settings. Hopefully, some of the ACEP events would stir up enough of a buzz in the ethers to register on my laptop.

During those three days, I was able to take readings in the hotel lobby, in an empty workshop room, in a packed lecture hall, during a spiritual healing session, and during a demo of the Psigenics program to about 30 interested attendees. After returning home from the conference, I sent all the accumulated data files to Scott for analysis – the program doesn’t give the operator a direct readout of how many “hits” have occurred. That requires a separate program and analysis, so I had no idea whether we had anything worthwhile to show for my fun and games To ensure that no bias affected Scott’s analysis, the files were not identified, apart from their time of recording and a general title.

And the results were promising. The first file Scott reported back on, recorded during a lecture about group energy fields (what else!), contained a sequence of such high non-randomness that it would only be expected to happen by chance for one second in an entire year of continuous monitoring. In other words, the odds were 1.74x10^-7, or one in 17 million, that this blip on the meter was due to random chance. It was far more likely to be the result of something unique happening in the room at the same time. – something generated in the audience’s group mind field by Rupert Sheldrake’s spellbinding lecture on morphic resonance, for example.

After hearing this news, I was too psyched to pretend to be objective anymore. So I told Scott to check out the file that contained the group energy focus experiment, the recording I thought would be most likely to register some positive findings. Later that day, Scott reported back - there was a “clear and positive trend” during the exact 5 minute time interval when the group test was done. His excitement was clear too: “I don’t believe anyone has objectively observed such a dramatic and immediate response of this kind before”. So I was on quite a high for the next few hours, envisioning how useful this technology might be for all sorts of applications – measuring and rating the vibes at sporting events, musical concerts, healing prayer services, Academy Awards presentations for Best Documentary Film Award, etc. Anything would be possible….

And then came his follow-up email, with the crushing news that after recalibrating the program, the trend we had seen turned out to be an artifact of no statistical significance. Scott was hugely apologetic, admitting that in his own excitement he had only double checked (rather than his normal triple checking) the setup. But because his top priority was scientific rigor, the true validation of our hypothesis would have to wait for another day. This scientific research was a roller coaster ride, and definitely not for the faint of heart!


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The Joy of Sox: Weird Science and the Power of Intention is produced by 2 Cousins Productions and Pinch Hit Productions. © 2006 The Joy of Sox Movie LLC. For more information, contact info@thejoyofsoxmovie.com.

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