I See Dead People

I’ve always been interested in the supernatural. Timgreshe infamous line in The Sixth Sense where the little boy says “I see dead people” will be in the books forever as cinematic history. Growing up, my mom used to tell me I had strong intuition. I never really knew what they meant but the concept has always fascinated me. Humans have always and will continue to have a fascination with all things spooky. We all want to believe that something greater could possibly exist. Similar to the classroom question of does prayer actually heal, we have turned to scientific evidence to try to prove this phenomenon. The null hypothesis is that the sixth sense does not exist. What many scientists and researchers are questioning is the alternative hypothesis, being if there is a possibility of the sixth sense.

Looking into various scientific tests, the number one problem facing sound evidence on the matter is that the tests have difficulty being replicated. Because of this, many believe these trials to be insignificant. Joe Kirschvink, who is based out of the California institute of Technology, believes he has discovered a form of sixth sense in the way humans are able to detect the Earth’s magnmagnetic_field_earthetic field. This field is something we can not see with the naked eye, but, many living things can sense. It was believed that humans were unable to detect this, but Kirschvink thinks otherwise. He was testing if humans could receive magnet wavelengths.  Using an extremely controlled experiment, he took participants into a pitch dark black room where he used a Faraday Cage to cancel out the third variable of other electro noise. In the room, the participants are subjected to the x variable of a controlled magnetic field. He then manipulated the form of the wavelength and used advanced technology (EEG monitors and heart rate detectors) to observe the body and brains changes. During the changing of the magnetic field to counterclockwise, Kirschvink observed the participants sinking Alpha waves. What Science Magazine calls “the EEG World”, this action of alpha wave activity shows that the brain is reacting to the changing magnetic field. More importantly, the brain’s response was delayed and this shows brain exertion. Since no other variable was present, this shows that the subjects brain was picking up on the changing electric waves in the room. Because many believe this to be impossible, this phenomenon may be the  ‘sixth sense’ in action. If only a handful of people can sense it, this very normal occurrence for other animals may be the answer to question. Although this discovery was very exciting, it is important to note that Kirschkvink tested under 30 people, and new trails are being replicated in New Zealand and Japan. Therefore, it could be possible that the human reaction or awareness of these wavelengths be the key to our perceived sixth sense.  

In denial of the “sixth sense”, Live Science explores the idea that this sixth sense phenomenon may simply be using underlying vision detection to justify these changes.  At the University of Melbourne, Piers Howe conducted an experiment to test people’s ability to detect or specify changes in substantial differences between photographs. Using just our normal visual processing, Howe tested 48 randomized students in their ability to acknowledge obvious changes. Showing the original photo for 1.5 seconds followed by the altered photo with a 1 second pause in between, the students were asked to verbalize the changes. Even given a list of possible changes, the study showed that people could recognize that a change occurred, but, were unable to give specifics about this. I think Howe really sums up his point by saying this: 

It’s simply a matter of detecting a change we are unable to verbalize.”

It is noted that the scientists changed something as obvious as a large sombrero, and the participants still could not articulate this. So yes you may “sense” a change, but that is because you are taking in visual cues that are physically there, you are unable to actually verbalize them and that is why you think you have a “sense” of knowing. 

Therefore, I believe that we must maintain with the null hypothesis that a “sixth sense” does not actually exist. Until more tests are able to be peer reviewed, repeated, and tested in larger numbers, the alternative hypothesis can not become the new norm. For more of an explanation from Howe himself, here is a video link. Sadly we can’t all be like Karen.


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4 thoughts on “I See Dead People

  1. Olivia Anne Browne

    Great post! You did a really good job of bringing in class concepts to this post. I also think you using these helps readers understand the uses of these concepts in a different way. Great job! This topic is extremely intriguing and you made it really relatable for fellow students. Speaking of ‘seeing dead people’ Theresa Caputo (AKA the LI medium) was actually here at psu last week ! Me and a bunch of my friends went to see her and she was amazing. She totally had me convinced of this sixth sense. Although, the information behind your study you wrote about does not. This is definitely a topic within a grey area.
    Check out this site about mediums (if your into that kinda stuff)

    1. Katrina Burka Post author

      Hi Olivia, thanks for your response. I actually did hear about Theresa Caputo coming to Penn State but sadly, I didn’t get tickets. Her work is so interesting and I wonder if she used real life examples during the show. Looking into the work of being a medium, I don’t deny the possibility. I think that she focuses more on communicating with the dead or lost souls while in this scenario, I was talking more about being aware of or having a connection to the supernatural. This was a really awesome testimonial to Theresa Caputos work, she talks about seeing souls of those who walk in the bright light and how she communicates with those that step forward. https://www.longislandpress.com/2014/12/21/my-not-so-psychic-experience-with-long-island-medium-theresa-caputo/
      It is interesting to think about what she is doing an ethical or unethical. In terms of science, is she using her gift of the supernatural for good or for bad? Looking at morale, should she be charging people for these tickets or is she just trying to make a living? For me, I personally think she is a good person and to grapple with these difficulties of communicating with spirits must have been hard. She could have kept this gift from the world or she could embrace. I’m not sure if I buy it all, but its interesting.

      Extending the scientific dialogue, should be like Theresa go under trials and scientific testing to learn more? Since they come out publicly, would they be okay with being ‘lab rats’ in experiments. Also, what findings if any can be reputable?-since every medium is different, you can not repeat experiments and get the same results. Without repetition, facts can not be solidified.

  2. Taylor Weinstein

    First off I love the movie the sixth sense so I was drawn into your title right away. Second this was an amazing article because you used so much information from class. talking about the null and alternative hypothesis. You really took a lot of great information away from the study and I really liked that. I was a little confused on the part of the article talking about the magnetic field and how it was related to the movie. The information you wrote was insightful but I couldn’t find the connection to one another. I would love to know more about what the connection was that you were trying to make. Do you believe that the this has anything to do with the supernatural information we talked about with the ghost’s in class? I think this movie could be connected to that concept. This movie talked a lot about the supernatural and the world. http://www.livescience.com/42635-esp-sixth-sense-just-vision.html
    (this article talks about the sixth sense from science’s perspective) helps go into more detail about the sixth sense. Is this supernatural?

  3. Shannon Hughes

    What I really appreciated about this blog was what you took away from the study. You acknowledged that although the study did result in some findings, the evidence was not enough to prove anything. The small study may indicate the possibility for humans to detect this magnetic field, however it does not completely prove we hold a “sixth sense.” Something I would need clarification on is how does detecting this magnetic field relate to the sixth sense. I became confused when it came to the relationship between “seeing dead people” and this invisible field. Finally, you did a nice break down of explaining the null and alternative hypotheses.

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