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Scientific Discovery or Waste of Money?

This post was written by Donald Michael Kraig
on July 9, 2012 | Comments (0)

I recently read an article (LINK) about scientists using a Ouija® board as a way to get information from the unconscious. Written by Clare Wilson, the medical features editor for NewScience, the article is actually a review and comment on a scientific paper entitled “Expression of nonconscious knowledge via ideomotor actions” by HĂ©lène L. Gauchou, Ronald A. Rensink, and Sidney Fels. If you want to read the original article it costs $31.50. Since this post is going to comment on Ms. Wilson’s article, I did not read the original.

Ms. Wilson writes, “Typically a group of users place their hands on a movable pointer , or ‘planchette’, and ask questions out loud.” Actually, this is not accurate. Most typically and traditionally, two people, not a “group,” (standard planchettes are too small to be used by a group of people) sitting face to face, place the board on their knees. Often this was done at parties with young, unmarried couples, their knees touching. Contrary to popular belief, it was this position—unmarried men and women sitting with their knees touching—that caused religious outrage during the heyday of the Ouija’s popularity, not any supposed spirit communication.

Ms. Wilson continues, “Believers think the answer comes through from the spirit world. In fact, all the evidence points to the real cause being the ideomotor effect, small muscle movements we generate unconsciously.” In 1988 Llewellyn published a booklet I wrote (now out of print) called The Truth About Psychic Powers. There, I clearly explained that the movement of the planchette was not caused by a spirit directly moving the device. Rather, it is the ideomotor (I referred to it as “micromotor”) movements of the muscles, movements that are too small to be detected and are controlled by the unconscious mind.

The point that is totally ignored by Ms. Wilson, a question I asked in my booklet, is what influences the unconscious to cause those motions? Ms. Wilson assumes that it simply comes, totally unbidden, from some level of the unconscious. However, there is no way to know this. Could the unconscious mind be influenced by non-physical entities or “spirits?” There is no simple answer.

Well, debunkers will say that the principle of Occam’s Razor, that all things being equal, a simple explanation is more likely to be correct, indicates that yes, what the planchette spells out just comes from the unconscious. However, this does not explain how people have been able to get answers to questions when they could not have known the answers, nor how users of Ouija boards and similar devices have been able to write entire books even though they’re not writers or authors. It would seem that there are four possible solutions:

  1. The users have psychic abilities that operate through their unconscious minds
  2. The users are able to tap into some previously unknown source of information (mystically known as the “akashic records”) that influences their unconscious minds, or
  3. Spirits influence the unconscious minds of the participants.

Debunkers don’t like any of those issues and usually just ignore them. They tend to prefer a fourth alternative, that someone with no previous writing talents, someone who cannot compose a decent letter or email, is somehow able to draw from within themselves astounding abilities to write entire books with coherent plots and other attributes of good authorship, even though they never write a book again.

If this is their solution old Occam (c. 1285c .e.–1349 c.e.) is currently turning in his proverbial grave.

But That’s Not What the Article is About

According to Ms. Wilson, the original article is based on a realization from HĂ©lène L. Gauchou based on a simple experience: You’re driving home, late at night, and before you know it, you’re home. During that drive you weren’t in conscious control of your car. It must have been driving by your “unconscious intelligence.” How to contact this intelligence? Gauchou chose to use a Ouija.

Ms. Wilson reports that Gauchou believes “the ideomotor effect is maximised if you believe you are not responsible for any movements.” There is no justification given for this belief, but it is a presupposition for the test. Here’s how the test is run:

[T]he subject is told they will be using the board with a partner. The subject is blindfolded and what they don’t know is that their so-called partner removes their hands from the planchette when the experiment begins.

The planchette does not move randomly around the board; it moves to yes or no. It seems to move almost magically. None of them felt responsible for the movement.

A typical Ouija is shown in the image above. As with most such boards, the “Yes” and “No” words are small in respect to the entire board. When a person is blindfolded, it’s very easy to lose sense of direction. Did the test subjects actually cause the planchette to move to the words or is Gauchou merely accepting movement in a basic direction as indicating a yes or no response? Without actual videos it is impossible to tell. Therefore, the interpretation of the movements of the report of this “test” is questionable.

What Were They Testing, Anyway?

By reading Ms. Wilson’s article, it’s unclear as to what is being tested. It sounds like they’re just trying to give evidence to the debunker’s focus that the planchette simply moves as an ideomotor response. That’s hardly anything new and certainly doesn’t answer the question of what influences the unconscious that triggers the ideomotor response. It’s also not the purpose of the test at all, and this was not reported by Ms. Wilson.

According to the freely-available abstract of the paper, the test actually showed that “implicit semantic memory can be expressed through ideomotor actions.” The concept of “semantic memory” is that we can have a memory of “meanings, understandings, and other concept-based knowledge unrelated to specific experiences” (source: Wikipedia). “Implicit memory is a type of memory in which previous experiences aid in the performance of a task without conscious awareness of these previous experiences” (source: Wikipedia).

So what this test proved is that concepts from memories in our unconscious minds can be expressed through ideomotor motions, such as moving a planchette. Or put another way, it is our unconscious that moves the planchette.

Ms. Wilson reports, “Goucher’s team has not yet used the technique to get new information about the unconscious, but they have established that it seems to work, in principle…The team now plan to refine the technique, as a normal Ouija board can take too long to deliver an answer – up to two minutes. ‘We’re trying to develop a reducted friction device,’ says Gauchou. She’s even developing a ‘Ouija app’.”

Science or a Means to Obtain Research Grants?

Okay, so now we can see what is going on. Ms. Wilson, in my opinion, did not adequately or fairly relate the actual purpose of the research, instead presenting a “let’s make fun of the scientists” article that is popular among debunkers reporting on research outside of the debunkers’ belief system. The actual research, which was funded by some well-meaning group or university, was to show whether the unconscious mind can communicate through ideomotor actions.

And that’s where I have to take issue with this research. Unfortunately, people who specialize in one area are often unaware of the voluminous research and information available elsewhere. Specifically, there are numerous books describing research into this exact area.

The concept of ideomotor signaling has been described and used in hypnotherapy for at least half a century, including books such as Leslie LeCron’s Self-Hypnotism: The Technique and Its Use in Daily Living and Mind-Body Therapy: Methods of Ideodynamic Healing in Hypnosis by David B. Cheek and Ernest L. Rossi. Books such as these give information on how to retrieve information from the unconscious and, perhaps more importantly, how to “program” yourself by sending information directly to the unconscious, bypassing the parts of us that usually prevent such communication.

I am generally in favor of scientific research of any kind, but this is just repeating what has already been done. Perhaps the next research that could be done by this team is whether we dream during sleep?

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