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User Name Thread Name Subject Posted
GUEST,Wolfgang BS: Are you aware when you are being stared (58* d) RE: BS: Are you aware when you are being stared 29 Aug 09


When does something become a valid scientific phenomenon? Mostly if it has often been repeated successfully under controlled conditions. Experiments on detection of staring are in principle very easy (and quite difficult in detail, see for instance TIA's example from Feynman).

The co0ntrolled/manipulated variable is obvious: someone is either staring or not, all other things being equal. The dependent/measured variable is not much more diffcult: counting successes and failures, something everyone can do. Scientists too can count with great accuracy.

When this procedure is done with due care the result is unequivocal: no surplus of successes when all perceptual information is taken away.

The only remaining interesting question is why so many people have the feeling they can do it better than chance. This question has a very interesting answer. There are two different neural paths to the "upper" parts of the brain.
Path 1: Using the "old" neural circuitry, very quick, triggering action(s) but without awareness; this path makes us do things like turning our head withour awareness of what has triggered the head turning.
Path 2: slow and with awareness, leading (or not) to voluntary actions.

So, what happens in these cases is easy and the answer of science is in a way quite similar to what people say with the usual exception that lay people (not all, look at McGrath's post for instance) have the wrong theory for a correct observation:

Someone is behind me, perhaps even staring at me. Something barely perceptible changes in my environment: a very small sound behind me, radiation of body heat, some movement picked up by extreme peripheral vision, slight changes in front of me in other people/animals. Nothing of this sensory information is strong enough to reach my self conscious aware brain, but a bit of this information is strong enough that my unconscious attention free neural path proceeds the information "something worth looking at, better turn round" to a motor part in my brain. So I turn around and, see, there was someone watching me, AND I HAD NO SENSORY INPUT (I am aware of). So I might call "a feeling" or "extrasensory perception" what in fact was sensory perception using a path I am not aware of.

That's why Little Hawk's appeal to "direct experience" falls short of what can be known by superior, scientific methods. Noone has "direct experience" of what happens in own's own brain. We have no receptors telling us about what goes on in which part of the brain. We only see/feel the result and try to find a word for it. So if someone has "a feeling" and turns around to see why, quite often this feeling turns out to be right. Only the additional "direct experience" or inference of having had no sensory information available is simply wrong, because it overlooks intrasensory (not: extrasensory) information that has triggered action without being processed so far as to lead to awareness of why one has acted.

A book chapter telling what I have written here with many more words and some pictures (in German)

Wolfgang (who has written that book chapter)


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