17 Feb. 2008
SETI League
PriUPS Project

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A Very Special Bag of Chocolate

Do you know why this bag of chocolate is special?  If so, you're excused from reading the rest of this blogitem. 

A bag of Ghirardelli Chocolate Squares - a "very special" bag

But first...

Human Abilities

I can do anything.  So can you.  In fact so can almost anyone who is more or less normal in terms of body plan and mental capacity.  Pick any activity for which people are acclaimed:

  • A-Rod makes millions of dollars a year playing baseball, and yet you and I can play baseball albeit at a somewhat lower level of skill.

  • I can sing, although I'm more likely to be paid to not do so.

  • I can walk and talk and wriggle on my belly like a reptile and climb hills and shovel snow.

  • I can play the piano, albeit one note at a time, with many false selections.

  • I can play chess, or at least know which way most of the pieces move.

  • I can do simple sums in my head and more complicated ones with a calculator.

And, as I very recently pointed out, so can you.  In fact, I may be 25% to 50% as good as a world class talker or snow shoveler.  On the other hand, I'm probably only a fraction of a per cent as good as an actual musician, chess player, or math whiz.  I can conceive of reaching perhaps single-digit percentages in any measurable endeavor, and double digit percentages in many of them, simply by some combination of education, practice, and corporeal existence.

And yet I can't "channel" the dead.  Abraham Lincoln isn't talking to me.  I can't raise your arm.  I can't predict the future.  At least I don't think Ior anyone elsecan.  (I do believe you can raise your arm.)  While I was having a conversation last week about one of these items, I suddenly wondered about the ubiquity of almost all other skills contrasted with the rarity of those associated with, to broaden the umbrella term a bit, ESP, or Extra Sensory Perception.  In other words, if anyone has ESP, why doesn't everyone?  And, to add unreliability to the mix:  If you can do something at all, you can pretty much do it at any time.  Why is ESP subject to vagaries?  Why do you need to "believe"?  If you either cannot or can practice telepathy or clairvoyance, why don't laboratory tests show results either equal to chance or to the equivalent of 100% correct?  If you actually look at a Rhine card, you won't get it wrong!

Real or Random?

Perhaps, contrary to my thinking, it's a true random ability, possibly genetically linked.  Some people can roll their tongues or wiggle their ears or detect certain chemicals, some cannot.  Or perhaps it could be a threshold effect:  Everyone can lift weights, but for almost all a 300 pound weight will remain firmly affixed to the ground.  Or perhaps, as many believe, ESP is a dog's breakfast of psychology, stage magic, delusion, and coincidence.  I fall in the latter category, although a good dose of reliable, repeatable telekinesis might hoist me therefrom.  We have all had our near-psychic experiences.  A vivid dream that miraculously (or disastrously) came true the next morning.  Or "thinking of someone" and having them call seconds later.  Of course, we've all had dreams that didn't come true, or thought of people who have remained blessedly absent.  The great confounder of ESP is selective memory.

Yes, I am a skeptic.  Despite having been brought up on a diet of science fiction books that treat ESP in its many guises as fact, I have never personally experienced anything even close to an unequivocal demonstration.  I have never had reason to doubt that the occasional (and inevitable) coincidence is anything but coincidence.  And yet, it would be so much fun if there were at least something to ESP!  Since I am unaware of personally possessing psychic power, and since the evidence I have read about is equivocal at best, I decided to, in the best scientific manner, perform an experiment.  And that decision finally brings us to the "special bag of chocolate."

Rhine to the Rescue

In his classic experiment, J.B. Rhine used cards with symbols as a test of ESP.  To test for telepathy, one subject looked at a card, the other called out the symbol printed on it.  Where's the fun in that?  Wouldn't it be better to perform an experiment in which there's at least some incentive to get it right?  Enter the Ghirardelli Chocolate Square assortment.  By substituting chocolate squares for Rhine Cards, immediate benefits ensue:

Less work for motherI don't have to find or make Rhine Cards, I just have to pick up their equivalent at a chocolate shop I frequent.

Environmental benefitafter many runs of an experiment, Rhine cards have to be discarded and replaced.  Chocolate is automatically recycled by consumption.  (Today the chocolate, tomorrow the wrappers!)

Preparation benefitGhirardelli, using an algorithm known only to them (which I suspect can be called "accident") does not provide a controlled distribution of experimental elements in each bag.  There is a roughly equal number of each item in the bag, but for statistical purposes, there must be a precisely uniform quantity.  Between opening the bag and performing the experiment, the excess "cards" must be made to disappear.  Telekinesis?  I don't think so...

If, through divination, clairvoyance, or telepathy you determined that what was "special" about the bag was its isochocolatic preparation and contents, and did so before reading this explanation, please let me know.  I've also taken care to "publish" this web page the morning following its official date just in case you practice precognition or time travel and wish to have sent me an email last night.  Perhaps you'll qualify as an experimental subject.  There are certain attendant benefits.

NP:  "Spanish Johnny" - Emmylou Harris and Waylon Jennings

Richard Factor

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