The double blind experiment has come about because of the awareness of the subtle levels of influence of consciousness on the outcomes of scientific experiments. In this sense, it’s a valid response. Unfortunately it has become so rigid and so focused on the assumption of objectivity in science that it’s (a) missing its own point, and (b) being used as a weapon against natural phenomena that are difficult to measure and are subject to very subtle influences that the need for the double blind itself acknowledges!
You can’t please all the people….
The vicious circle has become that researchers in the fields with the greatest chance of showing a subtle influence, eg. what often comes under the very wide umbrella of parapsychology (psycho-energetics, bio-electromagnetics, etc,) use the highest level of experimental control including the double blind (Sheldrake 2012) under the pressure to comply strictly with the scientific method so that the truth they want to bring to light can be so. But they constantly come up against the walls of belief in other fields of science, and the difficulty of finding technology and methodologies apt to their work. Their controls are never considered enough, even by scientists in fields who can be considered ‘slack’ in regard to the level of experimental controls they themselves routinely use. It shows that it’s not about the quality of the experimental controls, but about the beliefs in the so-called ‘hard’ sciences.
Do as I say, not as I do
Ironically, researchers in the very fields of science that are the poorest at using double blind methodology, are the ones who increasingly propose that consciousness is a property of the continuous, connected field of energy which underlies the universe and of all living things! Physicists are at the top of the list in assuming that they are working so objectively that they could not possibly influence the results, and yet their materials – atoms, sub-atomic particles and fields – are super-sensitive to the tiniest energies and field perturbations which respect few material boundaries. Biologists come next, and by their own admission their subjects – living organisms – are likewise immensely sensitive to energies and quantum processes, but oddly, biologists do not generally apply this knowledge in their own practice. As Sheldrake comments, the scientists who are the most secure in their belief of objectivity are the most vulnerable to self-deception, namely the physicists and biologists.
That double blind someone
Someone knows what every experiment is about, no matter whether double blind or triple blind or whatever level of control you care to use is applied. And even if that someone has no access to the technicians performing the hands-on, or the experimental apparatus, or the subjects, or the data gathering and coding, their consciousness will permeate the whole experiment because their mind is focused on the process from creation to inception to outcome.
So I would say that double blindness is a property of the scientists themselves!
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not mocking scientists, as I am one! I love science when it is carried out in its ideal form. It is an art and a discipline and a joy of heights unimaginable to the non-scientist. To me, Reductionism as it is practiced today is not its ideal form, just to be clear on that issue. I find that beliefs and blind spots are rife in Reductionism, to the poverty of science.
As is now becoming increasingly apparent from the research of workers like David Bohm and his successors since quantum physics was born, consciousness is part of that universal field or energy that connects all and exists irrespective of individual material brains transducing it down into perceived thoughts and experiences. This reality must completely transform the landscape of all experimental and theoretical science.
We now need to do controlled double blind experiments on the experimenters! It is done to some extent in some areas, but there is still a focus on the outer, material aspects.
Starting with the familiar…..
Let’s look at a classic, objective, laboratory experiment in biology.
Let’s say we were testing the effect of a new drug on the central nervous system or behaviour of rats. Traditionally we would control for the following (gross physical) factors:
- species of rat, eg. Rattus norvegicus
- strain of that species, eg. Hooded Wistar
- gender, eg. male
- other physical attributes, eg. age, weight range
- naivety, eg. never been used for a drug experiment before
That would most likely be the limit of it for most experiments.
Then let’s say there seem to be some very unclear initial results, and our normal controls are not discriminating enough. We might extend our controls in the next trial to take into account:
- the rooms the rats were raised in
- the type of food they received
- the type of water they received
Let’s say that was not enough either. Now we get down to finer details:
- the air supply
- the type of bedding they were given and how often it was refreshed
- the dark-light cycle length and pattern in the rat room
- the light and temperature micro-environments of the cages they were raised in
- whether they were raised in the same cage with other rats, or within sight, sound and scent of other caged rats or totally isolated
- what was the rat’s auditory environment? Steady and quiet, or steady with regular, predictable sounds, or with sudden unpredictable loud noises?
- the ages, materials and brands of the cages
- any variations in the batches of food
- variations in the water, eg. gradual algal growth, change of pH, etc.
- presence of electromagnetic fields, like an electronic balance, power conditioner, machinery operating on the other side of the rat house wall, etc
- vibrations, eg. the cage next to the main door which is constantly opening and closing, or near the air-conditioner, compared with deep in the house away from those vibrations?
You get the picture, and we could keep going:
- are some of the rats in the direct line between the technical officer’s mobile phone and the tower it runs from?
- were some of the rats raised by their mothers and others raised from birth by people?
- the personalities of the rats – were some introverts and some extroverts? (Yes, personality differences exist between individual animals, and they respond hormonally, neurally and behaviourally, therefore biochemically, very differently to stresses and environmental variations)
- were the rats exposed to different handlers?
Perhaps now we are getting to the crux of it:
- did some handlers drink alcohol and/or smoke cigarettes or marijuana? Smell! And neuroactive effects on rats.
- what were the different body care products they used? (with their inevitably different perfumes, massively perceivable by rats with their intense olfactory sensitivity)
- what did the handlers eat? Did some eat a lot of garlic, or red meat or were vegetarians or consumed a lot of dairy products? (all of which influence smell)
- were some handlers male and some female?
- were some rough and careless, some matter-of-fact and consistent, some especially kind or some especially cruel?
- did some handle the rats more and some less?
- did some of the handlers stay up late and come to work tired and depressed, while some were bright and energetic?
- what did the handlers think about, say and do while they were caring for the rats and their environment?
You can see where this is going.
Ah, numbers (and control trips)!
Now what if the experiment is using human subjects? Just how detailed do you go into the fully controlled descriptions of the subjects and the experimenters to be sure you are getting valid scientific results? It gets tricky, and usually the statistics of large numbers over long times is the fall-back position. Yet data that comes as the anecdotal experiences of very large numbers of humans over very long periods of time, particularly in the ‘uncomfortable’ fields, is regularly discounted in science as being ‘uncontrolled’, and ‘unscientific’!
Back to the lab, experiments in almost no field of research do thorough controls of variables in the designer of the experiment, the technicians conducting it, the statistician analyzing the data, etc.
And how many even very thorough researchers would go so far as to use electromagnetically shielded rooms for all experiments? And measure the bio-energy fields of all the participants over a baseline period, correlating it with a detailed log of their daily lifestyle, monitoring it throughout the experiment whether they were hands-on or not, and running the stats over it with reference to the results of the experiment?!
Would energy and consciousness please just go away?
It seems that a level of bio-communication can occur among all living cells, tissues and organisms instantaneously over any distance, independently even of electromagnetism. How do you control for this? What if the designer of an experiment were sitting, ‘hands tied’ so to speak, in an office in another city awaiting the results of his or her experiment, and all the while strongly hoping and wishing the results will come out a particular way for whatever personal or professional reason?
You could say: this is a hopeless argument. If we did double blind to the nth degree in every experiment it would virtually stop scientific research in its tracks. It makes a mockery of objectivity in science altogether, and so what’s the point? Yes it does make a mockery of objectivity in science, and that is the whole point!
Where to from here?
However the solution is not to throw the metaphorical hands up in the air and fall back to the default, reductionist position or slide the other way into indefinite woo-woo, but to embrace the reality and evolve radically new ways of envisioning scientific problems, doing scientific experiments and interpreting the results.
So how do we design experiments to take into account the full impact of the experimenter? And can we ever get to the point of having truly objective science, if every human undertaking is part of a field of consciousness which is shared by everything all the time whether aware of it or not, and is fundamentally subjective? First of all we need to embrace and factor in all those ‘uncomfortable’ aspects of reality that we have been avoiding. We must get honest about the enormous extent to which the way we live determines our energetic configuration that in turn influences not only our own perception but also everything we touch or even think about. We have to begin working in co-operation with this understanding to form the foundation of the new science. Oh what a magnificent future awaits!
David Bohm 1980 “Wholeness and The Implicate Order” Routledge, London
Rupert Sheldrake 2012 “Science Set Free”, Random House, NY