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Precognition and Psychic Martial Arts: A Scientific Perspective

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Recognizing the tremendous importance of timing, Japanese martial artists classify their responses into three types:

  • Go no sen refers to a late reaction, initiated after the attacker’s movement has begun. Late reactions are unreliable, relying on extraordinary motor speed for their successful application.
  • Sen no sen describes a response launched roughly in time with its attack. While obviously superior to go no sen, some practitioners consider this an intermediate level of skill.
  • The ultimate timing, sen-sen no sen, responds to an attack that has yet to be launched, one that has only just formed within the opponent’s mind. An expert in sen-sen no sen might use this timing to guide his assailant into a futile and vulnerable position, or launch a preemptive strike.

Martial legends aside, how does science explain this seemingly paranormal ability? Is it possible that high-level martial artists have used precognition and other psychic abilities to enhance their effectiveness? Or are they all just very quick?


From National Geographic Channel’s Fight Science

Fast reaction time is a valuable trait for the martial artist. By reacting almost instantly to an opponent’s movement, a fighter might also appear to be a mind reader. Sharp reflexes are a sensible explanation for this seemingly paranormal feat—but they are not the simplest explanation.

Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem, Occam’s razor states: do not add elaborations beyond what is necessary. The simplest possible cause for the appearance of psychic power is genuine psychic power. Unless and until we have shown that explanation to be false, it is irrational to search for more elaborate alternatives.

A Summary of Psychic Research

The study of psychic phenomena, like that of ethnic or gender differences, is a taboo topic among the scientific community; empirical observation might strengthen a politically unacceptable idea. Thus, noisy amateurs dominate the field: skeptics and believers insist that these paranormal skills must or must not exist, giving little attention to experimental results.

“Using the standards applied to any other area of science, it is concluded that psychic functioning has been well established.”
- Prof. Jessica Utts, UC Davis

Nevertheless, a small number of researchers have performed experiments. And they have demonstrated, beyond a reasonable doubt, that direct mind-to-mind communication (telepathy) and premonitions (precognition) are real!

Dean Radin, of the Institute for Noetic Sciences, outlined the research and conclusions during a recent presentation at Google’s California headquarters. Here are some highlights from his free 90-minute talk:

Between 80% and 90% of reported psychic experiences can be dismissed as selective memory, wishful thinking, coincidence, misperception, embellishment or mental illness. The remainder cannot be dismissed with any of these explanations.

Scientific oversight panels convened by the United States government have repeatedly assessed the evidence for psychic powers, or psi, and judged them credible.

An analysis of major telepathy experiments conducted over the past century shows a statistically significant effect. The statistical probability that these results represent random chance: 29 million trillion to 1.

The measured effects of psi are five times greater than the effect of aspirin in preventing heart attacks. Nearly everyone accepts the latter effect as real.

fMRI and EEG machines have repeatedly corroborated a psychic link between two human test subjects.

Other studies have shown that test subjects often respond to an emotionally charged (erotic or violent) image slightly before the image actually appears, or has been selected (randomly by computer). This magnitude of the precognition effect is lower for emotionally neutral images (such as a table lamp). These results cannot be explained by any procedural or analytical defect in the studies themselves.

None of this proves that history’s greatest martial artists bested their opponents with the help of psychic power. If asked, the majority of them would certainly deny it. However, as instructor Raymond Thiberge noted, even experts can fail to understand the details of their own performance.

Accepting that psi ability does exist, martial arts training might be an ideal route to its cultivation. In what other setting could you willfully misdirect another person’s autonomic nervous system or subconscious mind, without violating ethical standards of conduct? In what other activity would the power to see just 200 milliseconds into the future offer such a distinct advantage?

Your thoughts?

Categories: Psychology · Video

26 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Patrick Parker // Feb 23, 2008

    You read my mind! That is, you scooped me on the sen article I had half-written ;-) Of course, you knew that I wouldn’t have gone the precognition route, but that was very interesting nonetheless. A couple of additions from my ideas on roughly the same article:
    1) I still think I differ from you somewhat on the 200 ms thing. Your (admitedly super cool) test measured the simplest reaction time skills. I still hold, though I can’t find any proof as interesting as yours, that more common reaction times in martial arts are on the order of 3/4 sec.
    2) Tomiki has a great article on sen: http://www.judoinfo.com/tomiki.htm#4
    3) Is it precognition or psi if you are reading explicit physical tells in the opponent but you can’t quantify those tells?

    Great article, keep it up.

  • 2 Dojo Rat // Feb 23, 2008

    Very cool. I wonder how these studies would treat the supposed “no-touch knockout”.
    I may have to dredge up my review of the book “The men who stare at goats”, detailing the military’s study of Psychic technology
    D.R.

  • 3 Thomas // Feb 23, 2008

    I dunno, there’s been a lot of research for sure, but the Center for Skeptical Inquiry has proven a great deal of them wrong. Even claimed “mentalists” like Gerry McCambridge have been disputed as the real deal. While I suppose it is possible that there exists some kind of link between minds (I do recall that video of the man putting animals to sleep), I’m not going to say that they are the cause of sen sen no sen.

    Occam’s Razor still applies, but you didn’t take it far enough. How do we define “psychic power?” What is the mechanism that allows it to function? Some kind of brain-wave pattern syncopation, or radiative thoughts, or n-th dimensional medium? When compared to simple reaction to visual or kinetic stimulus, the tables are turned.

  • 4 Jay Gischer // Feb 23, 2008

    In order for you to do something to me, you must first vizualize it in your brain. This process can be observed with the assistance of MRI or implanted electrodes. Then the signal must travel through your nervous system to your limbs at a speed significantly slower than the speed of light, perhaps as fast as 200 mph. But that means the travel speed might take 300 or 400 milliseconds.

    I think it is possible for a skilled observer to see these “intentions” forming via the face, which is much closer to the brain. I think it might be possible to sense electric patterns, especially ones that are as powerful as is usual when that person is going to visit physical harm upon someone else.

    After all, our blood is iron, and our bodies are full of electricity. Birds sense magnetism, why not humans?

    I have had the direct experience of knowing what move someone was going to do just a little bit in advance. I don’t know exactly how it worked. The more skilled the opponent, the harder this is to do, by the way.

    I don’t think that there is some new fundamental force of the universe that we didn’t understand. So it has to work via one of the basic four, gravity, electromagnetism, strong and weak nuclear forces. That’s it. My money is on electromagnetism.

  • 5 Rick Matz // Feb 23, 2008

    I don’t know.

    When I train regularly and well, I find that I am more sensitive to the people around me and that I can read them better. I also find my reaction time improved a great deal.

  • 6 Chris // Feb 23, 2008

    Patrick,
    In the video clip above, Taekwondo master Bren Foster is shown hitting the pads an average of 180ms after a visual stimulus is applied.

    One of my old classmates, a student of Gao Fu, liked to say “I can’t read your mind, but I can read your body.” I did, and still do find this a useful idea, contrary evidence notwithstanding.

    Dojo Rat,
    I understand these skills are more widely accepted in the Russian military than they are in America. One of my teachers told a funny story about his encounter with a Russian Spetsnaz agent. Long story short, the agent tried to read his mind, but my teacher’s gongfu was higher, so he reversed the technique! :)

    Thomas,
    Dean Radin explained in his presentation that as much as 90% of all psychic claims are junk…and the remaining 10% are decidedly not junk. Some of the legitimate experimental trials are specifically identified there, if you care to read about them. In every case, they are measuring the measurable, not a catch-all “psychic power” that I use above for convenience.

    As an aside, most of what passes for skeptical inquiry on the Internet is closer to schoolyard bullying than science: preying on the weakest, and avoiding the strongest claims. Sure, there is a place for these “skeptics”, just as there is a place for vultures and maggots on this Earth; but in the end, you are what you eat. Personally, I choose not to dine on, in or at bullshido.

  • 7 Thomas // Feb 23, 2008

    My apologies, I was not clear.

    I’m referring not to web-bullying, but to a legitimate scientific watchdog group, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CIS).

    http://csicop.org/
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Committee_for_Skeptical_Inquiry

    In short, extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.

  • 8 Chris // Feb 23, 2008

    Thank you Thomas, I realize you were referring to CSI, and my criticism still applies. They are, in my opinion, bottom feeders.

    Though I am looking forward to their next feature story: Heroes: Are They Actual Heroes, or Just on the TV? ;)

  • 9 Thomas // Feb 24, 2008

    If even a forum of professional scientists will not even satisfy you, what form would you have skepticism take place? Not everywhere is as well-read as Seattle, where everyone knows exactly what they’re getting and who they’re getting it from at all times. Or should we avoid skepticism altogether, and just take everything as it is given to us?

  • 10 Chris // Feb 24, 2008

    Marcello Truzzi explained the problem (and solution) in his essay, On Some Unfair Practices towards Claims of the Paranormal. It is worth reading in its entirety, so I’ll just quote a small portion here:

    As psychologist Ray Hyman has noted, many scientists may be more interested in discrediting than in disproving claims of the extraordinary. This can lead to poor scholarship and methods below normal professional standards, and it also results in ad hominem attacks and rhetorical tricks rather than solid falsification.
    Hyman noted it can also lead to the use of “hit men” (nonscientists such as journalists or even magicians) encouraged to discredit the claimants. Such nonscientists have argued about the need to “fight fire with fire” and the advantages of “horselaughs” over arguments and evidence. Such counterattacks themselves constitute a form of pathology within science.
    As philosopher (and critic of the paranormal) Mario Bunge put it: “the occasional pressure to suppress it [dissent] in the name of the orthodoxy of the day is even more injurious to science than all the forms of pseudoscience put together.”

  • 11 neijia // Feb 29, 2008

    The intuition on the facial expression is probably part of it. A friend of mine did an experiment on video poker where the cards flash very quickly. The only person who had fast enough reaction time after a while was a pro volleyball player. What the experimenters discovered later (to try to prove the game could be “learned” and improved upon and therefore was not totally rigged – this was all part of litigation) was that looking only at the corner of the flashed card could indicate the suit…. that is essentially clustering a lot of data points that would tell you the same thing into only one data point that correlates with all the rest and contains the same “information content”. With a lot of training, the mind/body starts to get those signals down, especially against the less trained (and therefore less fast and more telegraphic) opponents (just like in any other movement art/sport). That sort of explains the “visual cue” aspects. That doesn’t explain really explain the volleyball player who apparently had such fast processing time in general that her skill could transfer to a novel application.

  • 12 Mathieu // Mar 4, 2008

    You seems to misunderstand both Occam’s Razor and the 200 ms delay in perception. Occam’s Razor states that you shouldn’t add more than you need to an explanation. In this case, the simplest thing is not the psychic explanation but the physical, since 99.9% of humans agree that they never had a psychic experience, but also agree that matter exists in one way or another. What then is simpler : an explanation based on facts about the human nervous system that we understand or something more added to the nervous system that we never otherwise had a glimpse of (psychic phenomenon)? I think the former is way simpler. If you think otherwise you are mistaking the level of abstraction : something can be complex in detail but simple in action, and something simple in detail but complex in action., etc. You also have to take care not to mistaken complex for complicated : psychic powers seem simple but they are in fact complicated, by the virtue of them using unknown principles which we cannot make fit with what we know and understand of the human nervous system without postulating various intermediate abstract mechanisms. Then you go on and misinterpret the 200 ms gap as somehow proving things go on unbeknown to us before we act… of course there are! How can we in a pseudo 3 dimensions without making any effort consciously? 200 ms gap (the vision center of the brain is in the BACK. It goes through a lot to go there, and then some more, and then to the cerebral cortex (our consciousness) which is at the FRONT!!! It goes round-trip the head). Also, how can we MAKE a decision, without any act of the brain? The gap IS the decision. The fact that you make the decision unconsciously is not something paranormal : every acquired reflex is unconscious in that way. When you slip on an ice patch and regain you footing instantly, it was the 200 ms gap at play. All the 200 ms gap can help prove is that we are determined and that there is really no absolute free will as religion understands it. Our conscious is only a small part of the brain, it can’t control be aware of everything and it also can’t control anything directly!!! (for example, all movement starts from the motor cortex, balance and eye movement are kept by the cerebellum on input from the internal ears and the parietal lobe, etc.)

  • 13 Chris // Mar 4, 2008

    You seems to misunderstand both Occam’s Razor and the 200 ms delay in perception. Occam’s Razor states that you shouldn’t add more than you need to an explanation. In this case, the simplest thing is not the psychic explanation but the physical, since 99.9% of humans agree that they never had a psychic experience, but also agree that matter exists in one way or another.

    99.9% of humans agree that they never had a psychic experience? Surveys say otherwise. IIRC, this point was specifically mentioned in the Dean Radin video. Anyway, this issue will not be settled by having everyone vote for their favorite explanation.

    What then is simpler : an explanation based on facts about the human nervous system that we understand or something more added to the nervous system that we never otherwise had a glimpse of (psychic phenomenon)? I think the former is way simpler.

    There is no single set of facts that “we” understand. The last point at which any one human could reasonably claim to be at the leading edge of scientific knowledge in all fields, was decades if not centuries ago.

    Nowadays, people specialize, and being clever is no substitute for domain knowledge and experience.

    You think there are simpler explanations for the test results mentioned above. Most of the people who designed and conducted these tests, and who interpreted the results disagree with you. They are all specialists. While you are not compelled to agree with their conclusions, you haven’t provided any compelling alternative here.

    If you think otherwise you are mistaking the level of abstraction : something can be complex in detail but simple in action, and something simple in detail but complex in action., etc. You also have to take care not to mistaken complex for complicated : psychic powers seem simple but they are in fact complicated, by the virtue of them using unknown principles which we cannot make fit with what we know and understand of the human nervous system without postulating various intermediate abstract mechanisms.

    Now you are attributing undue specificity to the general guideline expressed as Occam’s Razor, and advancing your personal notions of simplicity and complexity as something more than they are.

    Then you go on and misinterpret the 200 ms gap as somehow proving things go on unbeknown to us before we act… of course there are! How can we in a pseudo 3 dimensions without making any effort consciously? 200 ms gap (the vision center of the brain is in the BACK. It goes through a lot to go there, and then some more, and then to the cerebral cortex (our consciousness) which is at the FRONT!!! It goes round-trip the head). Also, how can we MAKE a decision, without any act of the brain? The gap IS the decision. The fact that you make the decision unconsciously is not something paranormal : every acquired reflex is unconscious in that way. When you slip on an ice patch and regain you footing instantly, it was the 200 ms gap at play.

    All the 200 ms gap can help prove is that we are determined and that there is really no absolute free will as religion understands it. Our conscious is only a small part of the brain, it can’t control be aware of everything and it also can’t control anything directly!!! (for example, all movement starts from the motor cortex, balance and eye movement are kept by the cerebellum on input from the internal ears and the parietal lobe, etc.)

    You’ve lost the track here. The last slide above shows that people can react predictably to future events. The Fight Science video shows Bren Foster acting in response to an event that occurred roughly 200ms in the past.

    Are both these results using the same underlying mechanism(s)? I don’t know, hence my earlier statement that none of this proves that history’s greatest martial artists bested their opponents with the help of psychic power.

    The difference between brain and mind, and the existence of free will are rich and fascinating topics.

  • 14 Chris // Aug 12, 2008

    From “What Gorilla?: Why Some Can’t See Psychic Phenomena” by Dean Radin:

    Another way of illustrating the [blind spots] is by revealing an asymmetry in how psi experiments are reported in newspapers. In January 2008, newspapers around the world hailed the first conclusive test for telepathy conducted by two Harvard University researchers. According to the Boston Globe: “Brain scan tests fail to support validity of ESP. Research on parapsychology is largely taboo in academia, but two Harvard scientists recently set out to settle, once and for all, the age-old question: Is extrasensory perception, or ESP, real? Their sophisticated experiment answers: No, at least, not as far as they can tell using high-tech brain scanners to detect neural evidence of it.”

    Finally. Once and for all. A sophisticated magnetic resonance imaging brainscanner was used (technically, an fMRI), for the first time, to answer this age-old question. The high-tech “no” answer seems conclusive unless you read the actual article, which reported that one of 16 tests conducted showed a stupendously significant outcome exactly in alignment with what was predicted if psi were real. But the authors then took pains to explain why that result was probably an artifact, and so the newspapers didn’t mention that one intriguing outcome. (It also makes one question why they employed an experimental design which allowed positive results to be explained away so easily.)

    But the study was conducted at Harvard, for goodness sake, so surely that’s the last word on ESP. After all, for the first time ever Harvard scientists used one of those expensive and mysterious fMRI brainscanners to peer deep inside the brain, and they didn’t see any psi in there. End of story, no?

    Well, no. Was this really the first psi study conducted using an fMRI? No, it wasn’t even the second such study. Or the third. Or fourth. Or fifth. It was the sixth. And all of the earlier experiments, all conducted since 2000, showed significant evidence for psi effects. Somehow the newspapers overlooked this, despite the fact that most of those studies are freely available in an instant via PubMed.gov, the National Institutes of Health massive online bibliography of scientific articles related to health and healing…

  • 15 Chris gallard // Jul 15, 2009

    Put a guinea pig in front of a pc screen that is putting up random images. Every now & again there is a disturbing image. the guinea pig is wearing a cap that is recording his brain activity. Normal pictures show no emotional responses. Disturbing pictures create an emotional response. The thing is, the brain scan shows an emotional response up to 5 seconds BEFORE the image is shown! As though the person is being ‘prepared’ for the shock! This experiment has been performed THOUSANDS of times. Also, the computer doesn’t even ‘know’ what images are coming up next as it is programmed to randomly insert the disturbing images.

    Re: Precognition. This would suggest to me that timespace is not linear but heliptical (a spiral)., Then one could catch a glimpse of the future as it is ‘looped’ in front of them. A set time limit (5 secs) demonstrates the ‘length’ of the loops. You with me?
    If the Emotional response shows a ‘10’ & non emotional a ‘0’ then the precognitive response would be about a 1 or 2 on the graph I saw, then it spikes
    Ptchang!
    CG

  • 16 Josh young // Jul 15, 2009

    I have ‘connected’ experienced all the time.
    I don’t question them, but they play a role in my life.
    There is something under my thoughts that just knows things. I wish I could explain it.

    I am a skeptical believer.
    I contacted Randis lawyer before, Randi is a scam. The cost of meeting his standards of experimentation exceeds his prize.

  • 17 Ottmar // Mar 28, 2010

    A website that touches upon the types of projects dramatized in “Goats” but deals with existing technologies that could very well provide the actual pathway into such psychic states is the admittedly-oddly-named http://mergenthalerlinotype.wordpress.com. In the main posting there is information stating how existing medical technologies could likely support a “non-spooky” route to useful states that could yield useful intelligence… and not just of the military kind. Mentioned there is the the work of one of the researchers who worked with the actual project that inspired the book and movie and her reaction to it, plus her thoughts on the technologies hypothesized uses.

  • 18 Fredo // Mar 29, 2010

    I believe it is possible. In the case of Japanese, many practiced Zen. Zen, enlightenment, awakening whatever you called it, it is connected to expanded awareness, to attention (meditation). Martial arts requires attention and awareness in order to manage attacks. As one mind becomes more quiet one could then become more sensitive in hearing, sight, and perhaps the energy field of others. When you listen to enlightened persons (youtube) they all mention a sense of oneness that can be achieved. A sense of oneness with ones opponent is sought for in Tai-chi as well as Aikido.

    I heard my teacher (taoist, bagua, Chen tai-chi teacher) has a practice where one person decides what attack he is going to do and another tries to predict the attack. I have never seen him do it or another. This level of practice is introduced by him after years of chi-kung practice and other practices designed to get sensitivity to others energy field.

    My teacher is also a healer and has had enlightened experiences. He and his senior students do have an ability to read a person for medical reasons. One of his senior students was able to detect a q-link energy device I was wearing, it was quite strange. My teacher was also able to detect a vice I had (kind of embarassing and shocking).

    Couldn’t find the link, but I did see an episode of “Mind, Body & Kick Ass Moves” in which an Aikido like martial arts would test a persons ability to predict an attack before and after meditating under a small waterfall. This is called Misogi. “The founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba regularly used this form of meditation to complement his training and search for perfection.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Misogi.

  • 19 Psychic Phone Readings // Oct 19, 2011

    Our mind is as mysterious as the universe. We still have more things to discover about how powerful our mind is.

  • 20 Greater being // Mar 1, 2012

    Humans pathetic yes all of your brains are more powerful than any of you realise it’s the gravitational force of your planet and the greater powers at work that nullify you all only few have managed to break this barrier.. You are almost bacteria in a test tube soon u will all realise that your science will not discover what is needed quick enough only a few will unlock the full potential of what you can become but it will not be enough for our return ..

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