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Science
THE MATERIAL WORLD
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Thursday 16:30-17:00
Quentin Cooper reports on developments across the sciences. Each week scientists describe their work, conveying the excitement they feel for their research projects.
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LISTEN AGAINListen 30 min
Listen to 7 September
PRESENTER
QUENTIN COOPER
Quentin Cooper
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Thursday 7 September 2006
The panellists discuss the question with Quentin Cooper during the session.
The panellists (l-r): Dr Peter Fenwick,
Prof. Chris French, Quentin Cooper,
Prof. Deborah Delanoy, Rupert Sheldrake

Material World this week comes from the British Association For The Advancement of Science's annual Festival of Science, taking place at the University of East Anglia in Norwich. The BA Festival is a chance for scientists to share their results and their excitement with the public.
However, some subjects have traditionally been off limits; parapsychological claims for phenomena such as telepathy for example.  Not any more.  Before an audience at this year's Festival Quentin Cooper confronts a panel of scientific heretics and sceptics to assess just how much evidence there is for mind extending beyond the physical brain.

At the forefront of that debate is biologist and writer Dr Rupert Sheldrake, now in receipt of a Perrott-Warrick Scholarship from Trinity College Cambridge. He has pioneered scientific tests for telepathy that are easy to set up and can even be done at home or by school groups. In one, which he calls telephone telepathy, a person is primed to expect a call from one of four friends. The friend is picked at random by computer and told to call (on a landline without caller ID). Just before the recipient answers, he or she is aked to guess who's calling. By chance you'd expect a correct guess in one out of four tries (25%). Over hundreds of tests, Rupert Sheldrake finds his subjects get it right 45% of the time. He's done similar tests with emails and at the BA announced a test using text messaging. (To take part, follow the link to his website below).

Deborah Delanoy is Professor of Parapsychology at the University of Northampton and runs the biggest department devoted to such research. She discusses the difficulties and the accumulating data. In particular she is now looking at how remote 'senders' might influence 'receivers' subconsciously. Instead of asking them what they have picked up, she measures their skin resistance, as in lie detector experiments. That's known to reflect states of subconscious arousal or calmness. The remote sender is asked to convey either state as selected at random by computer. Again, statistically significant evidence seems to be accumulating.

Peter Fenwick is President of the Scientific and Medical Network and a distinguished neuropsychiatrist. He has studied evidence that the mind might extend beyond the physical brain, especially through collecting the experiences of people approaching death, and from their carers and friends. He finds that many share profound experiences that seem to point to a non-local entanglement of minds rather similar to what physicists have described as quantum entanglement.

Chris French is a sceptic. He studies what he calls anomalistic psychology at Goldsmiths College London. Unlike some sceptics however, he is not prepared to dismiss the findings of people like Rupert Sheldrake out of hand. He suspects there must be some other explanation and is interested in taking such investigations further.

Together, the panellists explore this controversial subject which touches on the very nature of the scientific method itself and the influence that beliefs both for and against have on such studies.  Quentin ends by asking the audience at the BA for their own opinion on parapsychology.
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