Collective ESP – Can we combine our sixth sense?
In the autumn of 2009, Derren Brown famously appeared to have predicted the national lottery numbers live on national television, the following week he then revealed that his method for doing this was the intelligence of crowds or group wisdom. This inspired me to conduct an experiment using the same principles to try to find out if collectively ESP in the form of clairvoyance was more present in groups then it is in individuals. The results of this experiment are below;
In 1906 an English Scientist called Francis Galton visited a livestock fair where a contest was being held. Visitors to the fair were invited to guess the weight of an Ox and out of around 800 guesses not a single one correctly guessed the weight (1,198 lbs) however when an average (or mean) was taken of all the guesses the number was 1,197 lbs. This is believed to be due to collective wisdom, a phenomenon used widely in research (e.g. opinion polls) and is thought to provide a better estimate then any single expert ever could.
The first time I heard of this was on Derren Brown’s “How to predict the lottery” TV show and after further research I decided to conduct an experiment based on this phenomenon. At an event where there was a large number of people they would be asked try to predict the same five randomly selected cards. The cards were to be drawn from a deck of twenty five which contains five of each shape, then using only their clairvoyant (seeing without using your eyes) ability the participants were asked to make their predictions as to which shapes were on which cards.
There is one major difference between this experiment and the collective wisdom theory. ESP cards are a series of shapes which means you can’t simply take an average to find a mean shape, so for the experiment we would be looking for the mode shape or the most frequent shape predicted by the participants for each card.
The first time this was attempted was on November 13th 2009 at an event called Experience The Sixth Sense. The cards were selected and in total 45 people took part in the experiment and made their predictions. On the night their group prediction was calculated and was as follows.
Three lines, Circle, Cross, Square, Circle
At the end of the event the prediction above was announced and then the cards were removed from their places and revealed as follows;
Three lines, Circle, Square, Cross, Square
So the audience, using their collective ESP managed to correctly predict the first two cards correctly. Four possible reasons why all 5 cards were not correctly predicted include;
- Only 45 people took part in this experiment compared with Galton’s 800
- Collective Wisdom is based on the fact that all people have a certain level of wisdom, if clairvoyant ability is something which only a select few people are gifted with then success is determined by the type of people taking part rather then the number of people.
- When we look at individual test results they usually get zero, one or two correct with a minority predicting 3 cards correctly. People need to be predicting 3 or more cards correctly for them, as part of a group, to predict all 5 cards correctly.
- In Derren Brown’s first attempt at predicting lottery numbers only one number was correctly predicted, it took several attempts with the same people and the application of relaxation techniques to those people before significant results were achieved.
There are other possible reasons too including the possibility that this type of ESP just isn’t possible, either way this experiment is difficult to conclude completely. Overall the maths is flawed for this to work, a fact which has only been realised after the completion of the experiment however in the interest of fairness it is highly likely that we will attempt this experiment or a variation of it in the future.
The most positive signs we have from the results of this experiment are that the group correctly predicted two cards and they didn’t predict that any of the cards would be a star, just as with the actual cards that were on the table.
– Report by Richard O’Connor (Originally written for Swadlincote Paranormal Investigations)