Northwestern University Psychology professor Dr. Julia Mossbridge’s has a novel experiment demonstrating psychic abilities among her male students.
Photo by Daniela Vladimirova
The experiment is tantalizingly simple, you’re presented four images and asked which one the computer will select. It may be simple, but since the images are randomly selected after you’ve made your choice it’s also impossible, right? Not according to a new research study that shows our body may know when events in the future are likely to occur. And, here’s the twist — it seem to happen often for men who are obsessed with being right. In her recently published study, Dr. Julia Mossbridge showed that men who “wanted to win” were statistically more likely to accurately predict the future than women who expressed no interest in “winning.”
But this research into presentiment, and our body’s ability to to know the unknowable, has implications far beyond Psych 110 experiments on college Freshman. It strikes a blow against mainstream science’s insistence on the narrow limits of our abilities and our very nature.
Join Alex Tsakiris for an interview with Dr. Julia Mossbridge where the experiment and the broader implications for neuroscience and science at large are discussed:
Julia Mossbridge: I had Northwestern Psych 110 students. That’s the first Psych course they take and they have to do some research as part of that, be participants in research. So I had them come in and get hooked up to a skin conductance machine so it’s measuring the changes in the electrical conductance of their skin which is related to arousal. When you get more aroused your skin conductance goes up. It’s like a lie detector test in a way. I give them a computer monitor where they’re looking at a computer and they had to choose between four images. The question I asked them was try to guess which of these four images is going to be shown to you after you choose one of the images. So it’s like trying to predict the future.
Alex Tsakiris: To them, I would think anyone who sat for that experiment it’s kind of nonsensical. What do you mean choose which one wins? It doesn’t make any sense but that’s part of the game, right?
Julia Mossbridge: Yes and I sort of laugh with them about it. Okay, I’m going to ask you to do the crazy thing and they like that. And so I say I’m hooking you up to this skin conductance [machine] and we’ll just see how you respond…
It looks like [men’s] skin conductance increases significantly when they’re about to be correct — to say this is the image that actually shows up about ten seconds beforehand versus where they’re about to be wrong.
Alex Tsakiris: So the study sought to try and understand whether or not your physiology–in this case the skin conductance–is somehow related to some future event. Tying that back to what you said earlier, you said you had this hunch that you’ve confirmed in further research. Our physiology is able to predict future events if they’re meaningful to us. If they’re important to us. So the interesting twist here is maybe these young men are more motivated to be right than the girls are.
Julia Mossbridge: The difference in the physiology is apparent in both 10 seconds before and 10 seconds after they find out that they’re right. So for the boys there’s a huge difference in the arousal when they’re correct versus when they’re incorrect. For the girls there’s no statistical difference afterwards and beforehand there is a slight statistical difference but it’s in the opposite direction so they’re actually less aroused when they’re about to be right.
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Julia Mossbridge: It’s possible that there’s this equation where at certain times consciousness is dependent on the brain, and at other times consciousness is not dependent on the brain. That’s a solution that seems to be plausible.
Alex Tsakiris: Hold on, how would that make any sense? Again, trying to fit it back into what your colleagues at Northwestern believe in terms of the neuroscience model. And Christof Koch at the Allen Institute For Brain Science who has the purse strings of President Obama’s $3 billion brain initiative. How does that really synch up with what those guys are saying? I don’t think it does at all, but convince me.
Julia Mossbridge: I don’t know that I can convince you. What I don’t like is the following: I don’t like the idea that I run across in the post-materialist consciousness community that says, well they’re all wrong and this whole idea that consciousness is primary or whatever you want to call it is right. Because there are problems with that model as well and it sort of sees neuroscientists as this block of people who all believe in the same thing.
Alex Tsakiris: But I don’t know how much [Koch] really believes in [panpsychism]. I tried to pin him down when I interviewed him a couple of years ago — episode #160 of this show. And I really tried to pin him down because he’s a wonderful talker and a wonderful writer, and he says a lot of things that can be interpreted in a lot of different ways. I asked him directly about the neuroscience model of consciousness and this is his quote: “Your brain, and only your brain, not your liver, not other parts of your body, give rise to conscious experience.” That doesn’t leave any room for your research. It doesn’t leave any room for near-death experience research which I talked to him about. So I think to paint these people — I don’t want to paint them with a kind of brush that you said — but to paint them as some kind of open-minded voyagers into all that might be? I just don’t see any evidence for it.
Julia Mossbridge: I’m trying to be open-minded here because there’s so much that we don’t know. We have to have proper humility here and say, it could be way more complicated than we think. It could be when you’re living your life and you’re not dying, there’s a real situation where the brain is actually creating consciousness while you’re awake. And while you’re asleep it could be in fact that consciousness is creating your brain. And then that same kind of sleep state where consciousness is creating matter could happen after you die. In other words, there are so many complexities to this. I don’t blame anyone for holding any opinion because we’re all idiots.
Alex Tsakiris: My point is that there’s bits and pieces of evidence that are all over the place including some of your work that the simplest explanation for them is an overturning of the dominant paradigm. I don’t know why you’re defending it so vigorously.
Julia Mossbridge: I’m not really defending it that vigorously. Most people in the mainstream would say I’m kind of nuts because of this stuff. And to take the near-death experience stuff seriously, most people in the mainstream would say that that’s kind of nuts. I’m not defending it vigorously. I’m just defending a sense of humility around [the idea] no one should be vigorous in defending any position around consciousness because we know so little. At the same time we need to be open-minded and skeptical, and rigorous about what we’re doing.
Alex Tsakiris: Wonderful in principle but let’s return to the pragmatic reality of your non-tenured position at Northwestern University; and your advancement for your scholarly paper that received 60,000 views on Frontiers of Psychology — 60 times more than any paper that I could find. A few years ago I talked to Jeffrey Schwartz at UCLA, one of the world’s most recognized experts on OCD, who said the same thing. [He said] I published this paper, groundbreaking, got all of this praise and I’m told by the head of my department, hey buddy, you’re lucky you have a job. And he said, you know what? I am lucky I have a job. And let’s talk about Christof Koch who holds the purse strings to the $3 billion budget. They don’t want to hear any of this stuff. So in the same way that you want to be open-minded and magnanimous… I just don’t know that that really works. The same way that William James said all this stuff a hundred years ago. I think the band marches on. We just need to be truth telling is all.
Julia Mossbridge: I totally agree with you. There is a worldview bias among scientists… that we have this idea that we’re trained into for sure and I was trained into it. The materialistic assumption is absolutely correct and you have to bend your conclusions to match the materialistic assumption and some people are still trapped in that. I don’t consider myself trapped in that because I’m very aware of it. I’m open to that it may be correct in some cases but I’m also–it’s clear to me that it’s not correct. It cannot explain other situations. But I’m sympathetic to people who are trapped in it because there’s so much social pressure when you’re coming up as a scientist to fall into that.
Alex Tsakiris: Say that last part again. What is craziness?
Julia Mossbridge: It’s easy to believe that going down the path of thinking that consciousness is something that maybe doesn’t have to do with the brain, or isn’t produced by the brain… you’re basically taught that way lies craziness. You might be crazy if you think that and anyone who thinks that is going insane, or it’s a drug-induced idea. There’s a lot of fear.
Alex Tsakiris: So why can’t we be more direct and just expose that as not a very worthwhile belief system?
Alex Tsakiris: Here’s my problem. We’re going to talk about your paper, but I have to start by telling you what I think the the point of that paper is, then, since you’re the author and the person that did the research, you can tell me what the point of it is. But I think the point is that the world isn’t what we think it is. It isn’t this neuroscience, “you are not a biological robot in a meaningless universe” world. Even though that is the message that gets pounded into us in terms of science. My four kids who go to school, that’s what they’re taught. Sometimes it’s a subtly packaged message, and sometimes it’s a directly packaged message. It depends on what branch of science they’re studying. But the message is — you don’t exist.
And as far as us connecting in a loving, compassionate way that really recognizes the higher consciousness in both of us, we really have to do that on the sly because science doesn’t give us any room to even acknowledge that. So that to me is where your paper fits. Now to you maybe it fits into time perception and all the rest of this stuff, but to me that’s the sub story. So that’s my understanding of your paper. Now you tell me what your understanding of your paper is.
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Julia Mossbridge: I totally agree with you on this. The sub story is time perception and that our non-conscious processes know more about the future than our conscious awareness. And you’re right. I totally agree with you. The message that we are just random and the universe is a stochastic process with no meaning and humans apply meaning to it that doesn’t exist outside of [us] is pounded in all the time. Because that’s thought to be what science is all about. And essentially in this culture we deify science at this point. So that is our meaning. And since science is our meaning and the scientific process is our meaning then the scientific process that says everything is essentially meaningless becomes the meaning. So I totally agree with you there. That’s not the underlying point but in a way the overarching point. So the paper that we’re talking about is this meta analysis that I did with Patricia Tressoldi and Jessica Utts showing that across 26 experiments from 1978 to 2010 human physiology most of which we are completely unaware of seems to predict upcoming events that are important to the participant; that are important to the person’s physiology that’s being measured. The reason it would have this implication and what I think is the most profound implication of any of my work, and any of the people who do this kind of work, is that the event has to be important to the participant. So getting information about the future seems like such a science fiction type thing to do. Like when I think of Einstein’s block universe — you’re just looking at a different slice of the block universe and you’re getting information about an event from the future. But it’s not just that. It’s not just an event it’s an event that matters to you.
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