I’ve always been interested in the supernatural. The 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 magnetic 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 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.