wow. what a zinger from the past. back in the halcyon, collegiate days of my youth i read “margins of reality”, which detailed the controversial experiments done in the princeton engineering anomalies research laboratory [PEAR]. what’s controversial about the research? well, from PEAR’s website:

“The most substantial portion of the PEAR program examines anomalies arising in human/machine interactions. In these experiments human operators attempt to influence the behavior of a variety of mechanical, electronic, optical, acoustical, and fluid devices to conform to pre-stated intentions, without
recourse to any known physical processes. In unattended calibrations these sophisticated machines all produce strictly random outputs, yet the experimental results display increases in information content that can only be attributed to the influence of the consciousness of the human operator. ”

slashdot has posted a piece concerning a patent that was granted which could possibly, someday, maybe [bigtime handwaving] be used to develop computer peripheral that can ‘read’ your mind [cough]. from the patent abstract:

“A method and apparatus of generating values and detecting whether the values fall outside chance probabilities. In one embodiment, a random-noise source provides a signal that is amplified, conditioned, and sampled to provide a series of random numbers. In one embodiment, conditioning includes inverting some of the values according to a pseudo-random sequence mask in order to remove certain first-order bias. Another aspect of this invention is to perform a statistical analysis of the values generated, and to control an output based in whether or not a chance expectation has been exceeded, or by the probability of a certain result obtained. Yet another aspect is to control a toy, game, appliance, or computer display
based on whether or not a chance expectation has been exceeded by a measured sequence of values.”

back in the day i enjoyed “margins of reality” in the ‘it’s-always-a-“good-thing ™”-to-stretch-your-brain-in-ways- that-it-may-not-be-used-to’ sort of way. however, the slashdot bit is pretty misleading, since it leads one to believe that ibm is somehow involved, therefore implying some sort of technology credibility. as one poster noted, ibm is not involved and it reflects poorly on slashdot to let such a sensationalist representation get through the ‘editors’.

of course, this misrepresentation and the enormous degree of handwaving in the patent don’t necessarily negate the findings of the PEAR lab. i’m no physicist and i don’t even play one on tv, so i’m not qualified to comment on the results one way or the other. at the very least, “margins of reality” gives you something to chew on which probably doesn’t fit into your normal views, and it can give you hours of ‘armchair’ philosophical enjoyment, if you’re into that sort of thing.

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