A few weeks ago, I followed a curious link on The Level 8 Buddhist‘s post, A Sucker Born Every Minute. The post, was about an “ESP experiment” being conducted on-line and included this link, Take the ESP Experiment. You eventually arrive to the test, a group of six cards, from which you choose one in your mind, or even speak it out (the computer can’t actually hear you), then click a link below. The computer will remove your card every time, without fail. The first time, I was impressed, then the second time I thought about it a bit and saw the trick.
Not being impressed at all with it being an “ESP experiment”, I wrote to the author of the site to see what kind of a flake he was if he even bothered to respond. I was surprised just now when he finally responded with a good explanation of his “experiment”:
Thanks for your note. How did you find my web page?
You were perceptive! It’s great you discovered the ESP trick. Try it on friends and watch their faces.
What do you like best/worst at my site? Do you have any suggestions on how to make my web site better?
I don’t know how many people realize it’s a trick, but all the responses are real. I performed this experiment as research for a chapter in my recent book Dreaming the Future.
The book goes into more detail about this “ESP test” and discusses human beliefs in general. In the book, I also discuss an even more interesting study called “The Antinous Prophecies.” As I say in my book:
“My goal in conducting this little demonstration was to emphasize how easily we can be fooled and how great our will is to believe in the spiritual, the paranormal, and phenomena beyond science. I hope this simple test reinforces the need for skeptical thinking when evaluating claims of the paranormal.”
My guess is that most people see it’s a trick after a few tries, but some don’t. I don’t have statistics that tell me the ratio of the two classes of people. (After all, only a small set in both classes e-mail me.)
I believe the universe has facets we’ll never truly understand — the universe is mysterious — but at heart I’m skeptical about ESP until we have very conclusive scientific results.
Regards, Cliff “
The most amusing part of the experiment for me was reading the comments of those who think it’s real, and especially those who think the computer didn’t remove their card!