The Selection Effect – Studying Mind’s Influence Over Matter

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Herb Mertz, author of The Selection Effect, was involved in Princeton’s PEAR lab. PEAR, which stands for Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research, was established in the late 70s to study the effect of mind over matter. They created random event generators, or random number generators, and had participants try to influence the output. These machines were designed to output a random stream of 1s or 0s. The human subject would then try to will the machine to output either more 1s or more 0s. They then calculated the odds against chance. Successful participants would skew the results one way or the other, producing many more 1s or 0s in a given data set than would be expected by chance—if the machine were just left to run without any mind trying to influence it.

Although the effect size was small, the lab got statistically significant results. It was eventually shut down in 2007. Mertz decided to team up with a fellow former employee of the lab John Valentino to continue the research. They created a company called Psyleron with the goal of marketing these random event generators for the masses. Specifically, they wanted to make a smaller USB RNG (Random Number Generator) that anyone could hook up to a computer and use to experiment at home. The software shows you a graph with a dotted line going through the center and another dotted parabola extending outward above and below the center line with the upper and lower bounds corresponding to the point of statistical significance.

When you hit a key on the keyboard the RNG generates either a 1 or a 0. As you hit key after key a solid black line builds on the chart starting from the left and “walking” to the right. A 1 will make the black line go up, whereas a 0 will make it go down. Let’s say you’re focused on getting more 1s, which is what Mertz was trying to do. Then your goal would be to see the black line on the screen go up and up way higher than the dotted center line which represents chance (an even number of 1s and 0s). If the line went all the way up to the upper bound of the parabola, you would know that you achieved results that were statistically significant—meaning highly unlikely to be due to chance.

There’s also another mode of feedback on the screen in the form of a green or red box. If the RNG produces a 1, then the box will be green and display the number of consecutive “hits” or 1s inside the box. If it’s a 0, then the box will turn red and again display the number of consecutive hits in that direction. So, you might get four 1s in a row and the box would be green and display the number 4 inside. Then on your next key press the RNG produces a 0. The box would then turn red and show a number 1 inside, meaning that’s your first negative (0). If you get another 0, the red box would display a number 2 inside. Then, on your next key press you get a 1, the box would turn green again and display a number 1 inside.

There were many strategies to try and achieve the desired result. Strategies used by Mertz included “thinking green”, thinking the line on the screen to go up, imagining a high score (number in the box), envisioning the box with the next number in it rising to the surface, and many more. What he found during his first few series of studies was that he had success getting the black line to go high enough to indicate an effect beyond chance, and his success rate was remarkably similar across all three trials. Each time he had succeeded, the odds against chance were about 200 to 1.

It’s important to note that the REG he used is designed to be shielding against the effects of physical forces such as temperature fluctuations, vibrations, and electromagnetic waves. Also, he ran control trials where he had it run without his influence/presence and those trials all had results well within chance. He surmises that his consistent results of 200 to 1 against chance was due to having the first study data set analyzed before he ran the next two. Based on the first data set, with odds of about 200 to 1, he expected that was how well he could do.

Indeed, he found that expectation was a huge factor in how the results turned out. Specifically, he talks about a mental regulator deep in the mind that alerts us to danger when something abnormal is perceived. For instance, if he was in the zone and the line was going up and up, if it got too high—if he started doing too well—his mental regulator would cause a feeling of fear inside of him. The line would start coming back down because that’s what should happen.

The mental regulator is itself built upon the foundation of mental models. These are models we have of ourself and the world. For example, you might have a mental model of a friend. This friend loves to go out in nature, take photos and post those photos on facebook. One day without even having consciously thought about it, your mental regulator will cause you to experience an uneasy feeling, a feeling that something is wrong. You will then think about that friend and realize they haven’t posted any pictures in a long time. They have deviated significantly enough from your mental model of them that your brain fires an alert. You might then call them and inquire about what happened and why they aren’t posting pictures anymore. As you acquire new information, your mental model of them can be updated and changed.

Then, we have a mental model of ourselves in relation to the world. We have models of what we can and can’t do. Our models define our limits. That first set of trials, which showed results against chance of about 200 to 1, created a mental model within himself of his ability to affect the REG. If he starts doing much better than that, the mental regulator will send an alarm that something is wrong and he will start to feel uneasy about his success and expect results to start coming back down, which he describes as a rubber-band effect.

A moment, on the other hand, is a time when he’s feeling good and getting good results. He achieves a flow state, which temporarily deactivates the mental regulator as he’s living in the moment. One such moment was when he suddenly envisioned his Grandma wearing a green hat. Green, remember, indicates a 1 which makes the line go up and is the direction he was aiming for. The vision of his grandma with the green hat filled him with feelings of love and nostalgia. He just let himself embrace that feeling and the image. During that time he got a surge of hits and the line rose up sharply. But as with all moments, there comes a time when one becomes self-aware again, realizes what is happening, starts analyzing it and loses it. You extricate yourself from living in the moment and start analyzing and questioning it. What’s happening here? How can I be getting results this good? How long can this last?

That’s when things start to come back down. The mental regulator steps back in and reverses the direction to pigeon-hole reality into what it expects should happen. You can’t have results that good, says the mental regulator. After all, the mind isn’t supposed to be able to affect the material world around it. If it can at all, it must be a small effect. So, to be able to affect the RNG to a great extent is downright scary to the mind. A small effect may be acceptable, but to go too high is to threaten ones deep sense of its relationship to reality. We are scared of being GOD.

The mind has a model of normalcy—what should happen—which it uses to monitor the world. When something out of the ordinary happens, the mind tries to force its model onto reality and make reality conform. He likens it to a kid misbehaving. The parent admonishes the child and tries to impose the model of proper behavior on the kid.

He found that a feeling of what should happen can also work in your favor. He described a session where he started out doing well with a slight trend in the upward direction, but then got spooked and lost his grip. No matter how hard he tried to resume his earlier positive thoughts, the line kept trending downward. It went all the way down to the point of negative significance, dipping below the lower parabola. At that point he had a feeling of righteous indignation. He knew he was better than that. He felt strongly that he should be at the upper bound of the parabola. It was as if the universe had done him wrong and he was pissed. He knew he could do better and achieve a statistically significant positive score. And from that point on, the line rose in a steep fashion. Greens, or 1s, kept being generated by the REG at a significantly higher rate than reds and he ended the session at the upper parabola.

He found that when he had a strategy that worked, it only worked for a while and then the mental regulator would try to sabotage his strategy. One strategy he was using to great effect was the Mental Pen strategy. He describes this as a kind of reverse perception where he uses his eyes to push the color green outward onto the screen, as if he’s projecting green outward from his eyes onto the screen. As his success with this grows the mental regulator will come forth and put up a mental wall that prevents him from using it. It’s like getting on stage for a speech and suddenly your mind goes blank. You can’t remember the speech you had prepared just a short time earlier. Again, his mind is trying to conform reality to a model. And in that model, a person is not supposed to be able to greatly affect a material process that should be purely random. So if his results are deviating from chance too much, the mental regulator will force him to change his mindset to expect or fear loss, and he will start getting more red’s and the line will come down.

There’s also the problem of the exploratory response. Even when he had a strategy that was working well, after a while his mind would think about changing strategies. He would start to second-guess his current strategy and start thinking another strategy might be better. He likens this evolutionary mental mechanism to an ant colony marching in line to a food source. While the majority of the ants will faithfully march on to the known food source, a few will stray from the group and go another direction to explore. After all, even though there’s a known food source, maybe they are marching past an even better one. Without a few ants out exploring, they will never know. So our mind has a tendency to try new strategies, even when past strategies have worked well, in case environmental factors have changed and there is some better pattern or way of doing things.

As he got closer to his goal of achieving a combined score against chance of one million to one—that is when he combined the results of all the studies—fears started kick in even more. On the one hand, any misstep from here on out could cause his results to worsen and not achieve his goal by the end of study 4. On the other hand, if he was successful, it would force him to change his understanding of himself. It’s a great pill to swallow to know that you affect the world around you simply by way of your mental activity.

He decided to stop during study 4 to regroup and try to get better at influencing the REG so that he could definitely achieve the million to one goal. He kept trying to overcome the aforementioned difficulties for achieving a high score with little success. He just couldn’t seem to get much better at getting hits. His mind would always find a way to disrupt any positive flow state that was allowing him to get a high percentage of hits.

So finally he decided to just give up and tell the universe: “I tried to do a good thing.” Amazingly, giving up seemed to do the trick. He started feeling himself connected to a greater power, or a greater self and the hits started coming more and more. In this flow state, he achieved great scores. He himself no longer cared. He had taken ego out of it. He was just using the REG to display his feelings of serenity that he didn’t care about the outcome anymore.

His limited ego self with all its attendant fears would inevitably step back in after a while of experiencing the “connected self”. However, he found that over time he was able to experience the connected self more and more and empathize with his ego self. He ended up, by the end of study 4, achieving results against chance of 1.7 million to one.

An important lesson he learned is that direct intention alone has little effect if there isn’t meaning or purpose behind it. His whole project was meant to advance human knowledge and show that the reach of the mind is not confined to our skulls. He had purpose, and that’s the key to achieving your goals in life.

His company also created a “Mind Lamp” that is driven by an REG. The lamp is designed to rotate around a color wheel clockwise, only occasionally changing colors in the counter-clockwise direction. So it rotates around the colors, turning red, then Magenta, then Purple, then Blue, etc… Sometimes it will sit for a while on one color before changing. The timing and direction is completely driven by the REG.

Mertz’s success with controlling the mind lamp involved creating a story around it. One day the lamp was blue with just a hint of purple. He imagined that the purple color was a virus that was invading the lamp. The virus was replicating inside the lamp, growing, and taking hold. The lamp then changed in the counter-clockwise direction to become fully purple and started moving into Magenta. He then envisioned that the virus was invading the inner core of the lamp now, creating a red, menacing glow deep inside the lamp. The red brightened and the lamp became almost fully red. He then became unnerved and thought, “My God, I really can’t keep this up!” His mental regulator, no doubt, caused him to start questioning and feel uneasy about what he was doing. As we would expect, the lamp began to move clockwise around the color wheel at that point becoming Magenta and then Purple.

However, he wasn’t done yet. He jumped back into the story, imagining that the reason the lamp was turning purple is because the lamp’s immune system had started fighting off the virus. So, he imagined that the virus had mutated into a supervirus! Sure enough, the lamp color changed direction going back to Magenta and then fully red.

Clearly he was successful, but he decided that just wasn’t enough. He wanted to get the lamp to change even more backwards from red to orange, just as icing on the cake. However, he had pretty much exhausted his story at that point. The plot was over; he had lost it. So, the color started heading back to Purple. He could have created another story involving Orange, but he thought that was too artificial. Instead, he just sat back and noted to himself that he was clearly able to direct the lamp’s output. In effect, a strong belief rose within his being that he could do it. He knew he could. After all, he had just been successful two times in a row. He just sat back with the desire, certainty and serenity to have orange show up on the lamp. The lamp then moved backwards again through Magenta, Red, and finally to a glowing bright Orange.

We all create stories about our lives, who we are, and our place in society. These stories guide our actions and shape our lives in unseen ways. Sometimes the stories are given to us. We are told, for instance, that we are smart from a very young age. As we were growing up, many people commented on how smart we were. So, that gets imprinted in our brains and becomes part of our story. Negative stories, also, can be imprinted. These stories are hard to break out of, but we each have the power to create a new story for ourselves.

I do this for myself by envisioning myself kneeling before GOD, which I envision as a great light like the sun. As I kneel in my vision, I imagine writing down what I want for my future on a piece of paper. With each line I write, I picture it in my mind—I see it in my mind’s eye. Then I write the next item and envision that one. As I’m going through this process I feel each vision/picture of what I want. I feel the joy it will bring, not just for myself, but also for others’ lives too. This is not just about me. This is about my place in society and the future that can help me use my skills to do the most good in the world and make myself and others happy. Finally, I envision myself signing the paper and stamping it with my blood. Then the paper is folded up and floated into the Light. Then, I know GOD, or the universe, has received my request.

This request to the universe culminating with the stamping of my blood creates a powerful feeling that wells up inside me. I truly believe that the universe will respond by shaping events outside of me over time to match that vision—so long as I stay true to the vision and work towards it myself.

I’m sure there are many ways to create stories for oneself. That is just my method. One thing’s for sure—as Herb Mertz demonstrated in his experiments—our minds are powerful forces whose influence extends beyond the body. Our minds can reach out and shape the world around us and, when connected in a powerful way to the universal mind, can create new events and experiences in our lives. We don’t have to stay stuck in our usual patterns. The universe is here to work with us to create better, more fulfilling lives so long as we’re willing to take the leap, create a powerful story, and put in the work required for its fulfillment.

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