The Potential of Attention

Can humans affect physical reality with their minds?

| Winter 2017

  • Dean Radin explains parapsychology research.
    Photo by Jessica Cohen
  • The double-slit interferometer apparatus reveals the behavior of photons.
    Photo by Jessica Cohen

Like a frightened hedgehog curling into a ball, photons in light wave form may “collapse” into particles when subject to human attention, according to psychologist Dean Radin. He is chief scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS) in Petaluma, California, founded by astronaut Edgar Mitchell to study consciousness.

Explaining this collapse of photons, Radin says nothing about hedgehogs, nor does he imply that light waves have feelings. He does say that experiments he conducted with his IONS colleagues suggest that we subtly affect the objects of our attention.

Radin was testing John von Neumann’s theory about the role of observation in quantum mechanics. According to the theory, before an object is observed it exists only as a multitude of possibilities. So, the chair where you now sit is there, but the properties of its microscopic components are not fixed. You can never be sure what happens when you look away. Arguments about this notion pit materialists, believers that reality is fundamentally physical, against idealists, who believe that awareness is an underpinning of reality.

“This philosophical debate has been going on for 3,000 years and getting nowhere, but experiments sway the argument in one direction or another,” says Radin, who sides with idealists. “Both views give us this reality, but these experiments inform the debate.”

The theory that objects are affected by observation already had support from a 1998 study published in Nature, led by Mordehai Heiblum at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. He used a mechanical observer, called an electron detector, that seemed to influence whether electrons behaved as waves or particles. However, in Radin’s 17 studies, observers were human. This resulted in smaller effects, he said, but with grand implications about consciousness.

To conduct the experiment, Radin built an 8 ft by 8 ft by 8 ft double-walled solid steel room at IONS. “It’s a steel cube, a Faraday cage, with steel walls, ceiling and floor.”

8/14/2018 12:21:56 PM

My indigenous friends smile and shake their heads at all this scientific rigamarole, about our needing "scientific proof" of something they know from experience. They know that life is a balance of the seen and the unseen and have long tradition from their ancestors about how to live in this balance, and how to teach it to young people.

2/3/2018 2:13:40 PM

Thank you for spotlighting the work of Dr. Dean Radin. Fourteen years after his appearance in 'What The Bleep', Dr. Radin has shown that one of the key concepts in 'What The Bleep', the two-slit phenomena, can meet the rigorous standards of scientific proof.

2/3/2018 2:13:38 PM

Fourteen years after the release of "What The Bleep', in which Dean Radin appeared, I appreciate Utne Reader's spotlight on Dr. Radin's work. His experiments involving consciousness meet the rigor of scientific standards. Dogmatic deniers should show respect for Dr, Radin's pioneering work in paranormal phenomena.

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