Through the Wormhole s02e05 Episode Script

Is There a Sixth Sense?

Touch Taste Sight Smell Hearing.
These are the senses that connect us to the world.
But are there more than five senses? Researchers are diving into hidden folds of our brains, discovering that the blind can actually see That thoughts can fly across space And that somehow, we might have the power to feel the future.
Is there a sixth sense? Space, time, life itself.
The secrets of the cosmos lie through the wormhole.
The human brain is a truly remarkable organ.
It contains as many nerve cells as there are stars in the Milky Way.
Sights, sounds, smells, anything happening in the world around us triggers waves of activity that ripple through this vast network in our heads.
Could this network interact with the world in ways we don't yet understand? We are only just beginning to see what these cells are really capable of.
As long as the brain remains a mystery, the sixth sense cannot be written off as superstition.
Scientifically, it's entirely possible.
I was mostly a good kid.
But every once in a while, I stepped out of line.
But even with my back turned I knew when I'd been caught.
I could just feel her accusing stare.
Was this a sixth sense? At Tilburg University in the Netherlands, Beatrice de Gelder is researching how emotions travel from person to person.
She studies blind sight A strange phenomenon in which some blind people are able to see emotions in other people's faces.
De Gelder: We tend to think of visual perception as a matter of intact eyes.
In fact, the eyes only see because they are connected to the brain.
Most of Beatrice's patients don't appear blind.
On the outside, their eyes look perfectly normal.
But on the inside, there is hidden damage.
In a healthy brain, a complex symphony of signals flows from the eyes to a region called the visual cortex.
But if the visual cortex gets damaged, usually as a result of a stroke, the signals can no longer be picked up.
A stroke normally affects only one side of the cortex, leaving the patient blind in one eye.
Beatrice is investigating whether the brain might have other ways to pick up signals from that eye.
She uses a partition to separate what a patient's blind eye and functioning eye can see.
A computer shows images of happy, sad, or angry faces to one side only.
De Gelder: So, we present a stimulus.
It's an image of somebody laughing, somebody expressing joy.
Electrodes on the patient's face pick up any twitches of his muscles, detecting if he reacts to the emotions on display.
We see that his face was actually imitating.
He was using the same muscles without knowing it, of course, that the model he is seeing on the screen uses to produce that smile.
What's remarkable is that the emotional faces are being shown only to the patient's blind side.
The seeing eye only sees neutral expressions.
Yet, time and again, Beatrice's patients imitate the emotions their blind eye is looking at.
But the response is not a conscience one.
De Gelder: We asked the person, "Were you sure, or are you guessing?" And we systematically get the answer that they were guessing.
Beatrice believes blind sight is a deeply buried, subconscious sensory system rooted in a hidden part of the brain that receives signals from the eyes only when the image is loaded with emotion.
But where could that part of the brain be? De Gelder: We are really trying to tap into the different layers of the brain.
From the surface landscape, we try to sort of go underground in a way.
You can see that this is, like, underground or undercover work.
What is it all built on? What are the lower, more ancient layers? Beatrice uncovered those layers by showing the same images of facial expressions to blind-sight patients while they were inside an M.
Normally, information from the eyes travels down the optic nerve directly to the visual cortex.
But when the eyes are looking at human emotions, the signals diverge from that path and travel to the amygdala, the superior colliculus, and six other structures in the brain.
De Gelder: The human visual system consists at least of nine different pathways.
Only one of those we begin to understand, and the eight other ones are completely in the background.
So it's only in the case where that one needs to be sidestepped that the alternative pathways have a chance.
Beatrice has identified subconscious mental pathways that allow us not to see emotional stimuli but to sense them.
We all have these pathways, even though they are normally overwhelmed by our primary sense of sight.
It's the first scientific evidence of a new sense beyond the five we know.
De Gelder: One should have a sympathetic ear to those noises about a sixth sense because we don't have a clear view yet of the abilities of the brain.
Beatrice's work has shown that our brains can sense things even when we are not aware of them.
It implies that any search for a sixth sense depends on understanding the boundary between conscious awareness and subconscious experience.
Once a month, an elite group of philosophers meets at a small tavern in Greenwich Village.
Greetings, New York.
They call themselves the New York Consciousness Collective.
I act like you act I do what you do At the helm of this jam session is David Chalmers.
He may never fill Madison Square Garden, but his research is earning him a growing fan base in academia.
He's trying to understand the nature and limits of consciousness.
What consciousness is I ain't got a clue Consciousness is pretty well the biggest mystery in the world, and for these reasons, because it's such a hard problem, scientists tended just to set it aside.
Science is objective.
Consciousness is subjective.
It's just in the last couple of decades, really, that scientists have started coming back to consciousness as a problem in its own right.
David believes the way to understand consciousness is to think of it in layers -- layers constructed from the data our senses are gathering.
So, consciousness has all these different levels.
First of all, there's primary consciousness.
This is consciousness of the things around you.
I look out, I might see someone and see what's around them.
That's my first level of consciousness.
But then if I stop and reflect, I could be conscious of my consciousness.
I can become conscious of what I'm thinking about.
Then we've got consciousness within consciousness.
If I reflect again, I can start to be conscious of the fact that I'm conscious of my consciousness.
Then you get consciousness that contains consciousness that contains consciousness.
Go three levels deep.
In principle, you could repeat this to infinity.
Since our brain is dealing with so many layers, it stands to reason that we might not always be aware of everything we're sensing.
Some things are in the background of your consciousness, way out in the distance.
Some things are flickering through your consciousness that grab your attention for a moment, then they move on.
Some things are in the focus of your consciousness.
They grab your attention.
They don't let go.
But how do we discover what we are missing? Why does only certain neural activity manage to fight its way into our awareness? What's actually happening in our brains when we are conscious of something is still a complete mystery.
One of the basic questions about consciousness is whether you can explain it in terms of physical processes 'cause we've got used to the idea in science that you start with a few basics in physics, like space and time and matter.
Put them together, you can explain everything else.
You can explain chemistry.
You can explain biology.
Now, I think in the case of consciousness, this great chain of explanation breaks down.
My view is, we've got a new fundamental building block in nature of consciousness, and we need to understand the fundamental laws that govern it.
This scientist thinks he's discovered a new and surprising aspect of consciousness.
He believes it does not simply exist within our minds but extends outward, as well.
And he claims he has the evidence to prove it.
What is a thought? Neuroscientists would say it's just a pattern of electrical activity inside our brains.
But if I scowl or smile, my thoughts can cross a room.
In fact, they're reaching out to touch you right now.
Some scientists believe this is how the sixth sense works -- that human thoughts merge into a collective consciousness that spans the globe.
Roger Nelson has spent the past 30 years looking for evidence of a global mind.
Consciousness lives in the real world.
The touch is very light.
But to the degree that it's a real touch, it's extremely important.
Most people don't believe this is possible.
The research shows that it is possible.
In the mid-1980s, Roger began investigating a strange phenomenon that had been reported by several other researchers.
They had noticed that the readouts of electronic devices called random-number generators could be affected by people sitting next to them if those people focused their thoughts on them.
In the course of a long series of experiments over years, we found that people could change the behavior of these random-number generators very slightly but significantly.
Random-number generators are electronic coin tosses.
Instead of heads or tails, they throw ones or zeros.
Their results are supposed to be totally random.
Roger reasoned that if one person sitting close by could alter their readouts, then perhaps the mass thoughts of entire cities could do the same.
Could random-number generators placed around the world be used to track the minds of millions of individuals? What we have done is set up a scientific experiment with a fairly simple hypothesis.
The idea is, when large numbers of people share a consciousness state, especially emotional, then our network will show deviations from randomness.
By the late 1990s, Roger had persuaded several colleagues across the globe to collect random-number data in their labs.
The global consciousness project was born.
This is a map that shows where the global consciousness project has installations all around the world.
That's Hawaii there, Australia, New Zealand, lots of them in Europe.
There's a random-event generator or a random-number generator attached to a computer at each of those places.
This global network runs 24/7, collecting data and then sending it back to a server at Roger's lab in Princeton.
We take the real-time data, and every second, a color block will appear.
Mostly it's small, but when there's a big deviation in the data like that Oh, my God, another one.
This is unusual to see so many large deviations in such a short time.
Every time there was a major global event, Roger checks to see if his network deviates from normal.
And many times, it does.
Some of the strongest changes took place during the presidential elections of 2008.
When the polls closed, the media were saying, "Looks like Obama has won.
" This graph shows the data from the time the polls closed for the next five hours.
In the middle of that is Obama's victory speech.
We have never been just a collection of individuals.
We are and always will be the United States of America.
This is a strong trend.
It just goes straight up this incline.
It's like 1,000-to-1 odds that we should have that accumulation of positive effects in a data set this size.
We have more than When we put all the data together from 12 years of these experiments, the bottom-line result has odds against chance of a billion to one.
Roger's data suggests there is some form of global consciousness.
But how might it actually work? Biologist Rupert Sheldrake believes the answer lies in a hidden field generated by all living things.
He calls it a morphic field.
Fields are regions of influence.
It's easier to see what fields are with magnetic fields.
These balls are little magnets, and as I drop them onto the plate, the balls attract each other or repel each other.
They turn around, and so they all join up in patterns.
There's a self-organizing property in fields.
They're inherently integrative.
And what I'm suggesting is that there's another kind of field called morphic fields, which organize the bodies of animals and plants and organize the activities of brains and minds.
Rupert believes that morphic fields are what allow birds to fly in perfect formation, what guide the mass migrations of herd animals, and he also believes they are the reason we get that uncanny feeling when someone stares at us.
He has even run a series of experiments to try to prove that this sense is real.
Not looking.
You either look or you don't look in a random sequence of trials at somebody else, and they have to guess in each trial if they're being stared at or not.
Not looking.
The starer should concentrate their mind on the person they're looking at.
When I do it, I also think of the person's name.
I concentrate all my attention on them.
When I'm not looking at them, I look at the floor or I close my eyes, and I think of something completely different.
Not looking.
Something's going on, and although the effect's not big, it's consistent and it's repeated over large numbers of trials.
Rupert has gathered a body of evidence that shows people really do appear to know when they are being stared at.
For him, it supports the idea that our bodies are surrounded by morphic fields, an invisible extension of ourselves.
What I'm suggesting is that our minds work through extended fields that stretch out far beyond our heads into the world around us, linking us to other people and to our environment.
Many scientists dismiss Rupert's ideas, arguing that if morphic fields exist, we should have detected them by now.
But in a darkened lab in Sudbury, Ontario, this researcher believes he has and that he has evidence that thoughts can fly from one mind to another.
Every minute of every day, we are surrounded by an invisible force.
Our world is wrapped in a magnetic field.
For many creatures on Earth, life would be impossible without it.
Birds, sea turtles, and fish rely on this global magnetism to navigate.
Could our minds be using it, too? And is it, perhaps, the root of the sixth sense? Michael Persinger runs the neuroscience research group at Laurentian University in Canada.
The powerful effect of Earth's magnetic field on animals inspired him to investigate whether it could also influence us.
Animals can use the three-dimensional magnetic field of the Earth as a kind of navigation or homing device.
There's very good evidence for it.
The connection Michael suggests could exist between Earth's magnetic field and human brains is much more controversial.
The sixth sense is effectively the ability to detect information at a distance -- that's one of the definitions -- through mechanisms not known to date.
The critical question is, how is it done? The magnetic field of the Earth is basically the medium within which we were all exposed, all seven billion of us.
And that's what allows the potential exchange of information.
According to this theory, Earth's magnetic field is like an ocean rippling with waves.
Electrical activity from our brains can surf along on top of it, passing from one person to another.
It's a radical idea, but Michael has designed an elaborate experiment to put it to the test.
And whatever you do, don't drill into his head.
Trephining is outlawed in Canada.
His team placed two subjects, Mandy and Mark, in rooms 20 feet apart.
The rooms are acoustically and visually isolated from one another.
They are also completely shielded from Earth's magnetic field.
Michael replaces that with a precisely controlled magnetic field of his own design generated by electrical coils on this headband.
In this way, he can be sure that Mandy and Mark experience identical magnetic fields.
By producing the same complex configuration of a magnetic field in two different brains at a distance, you're basically imitating what happens in nature in the Earth's magnetic field.
I'm going to turn off the lights, and I'll be recording your E.
the entire time.
And we'll be able to see if, indeed, their brain activity is the same once they share the same magnetic field.
Over the course of the next 20 minutes, a light will flash at Mark several times while Mandy remains undisturbed in her darkened room.
Michael and his team monitor both of their brains' activity.
Three minutes in, the light begins to flash in Mark's room.
You can see a nice spike right there.
About five minutes later, the light flashes again.
Same intensity.
Actually, you can see the spikes even in this one.
Mandy's brain activity spiked right at the time mark saw the flashing light.
Now Dr.
Persinger's team need to know what Mandy experienced while she sat in the dark.
Well, at about three minutes in, in my left visual field of my left eye, I experienced a bright flash.
And it lasted very briefly, and it felt like it just sort of faded into the darkness again.
Later on at around six to eight minutes in, I had a flash in my right peripheral field.
When the light was flashing to one, producing all these changes, the other person's brain activity, even though they were in the dark, also changed.
The experiment seems to show that two brains in separate locations can share a single experience.
Human thoughts are not non-physical.
They are physical units of action potentials from the nerve itself.
Can they be transmitted across space? Under certain conditions, absolutely, and there's evidence for it.
If we have seven billion human brains all immersed in the magnetic field, which they are, then a change in one, if it's connected -- and we are 'cause the magnetic flux lines go right through us, right through our brains -- then a change in one could influence everyone.
Michael Persinger believes he has evidence for a primitive form of sixth sense -- an ability to share simple sensations with people who are far away from us.
But our senses may not just be able to travel across space.
They may be able to reach out across time and feel the future.
Science is full of ideas that seem hard to believe.
Take quantum mechanics.
In this strange world of subatomic physics, a particle can be in two places at once Until we look at it.
Most physicists will tell you where the particle ends up is just a roll of the dice.
But there's another theory.
My conscious mind could be controlling this subatomic world.
And the sixth sense could be what makes the universe tick.
Michio Kaku is a theoretical physicist.
As a pioneer of string theory, which proposes the world is actually nine-dimensional, he believes scientists need to keep an open mind about the sixth sense, no matter how strange it may sound.
We physicists are conservative revolutionaries in the sense that we have to be open to all sorts of crazy, bizarre phenomenon.
Who would have thought that there's something called radioactivity? Who would have thought that we would have quantum forces? So we have to be open to these things.
The most successful physical theory of all time is called quantum mechanics, the theory of the atom, because it's based on the idea of probabilities, that you don't really know where an electron is.
And electrons can exist, in some sense, in multiple states at the same time.
The fuzzy nature of subatomic particles might just provide a way to explain the sixth sense.
Erwin Schrodinger, one of the founders of quantum mechanics, designed a thought experiment to drive home the strange rules of his theory.
Let's say we put a cat and a vial of poison in a box.
We add an atom of radioactive uranium and a geiger counter.
If the uranium decays, it sets off the geiger counter, which then releases the poison and silently kills the cat.
Before we open the box and look, we can't actually know whether the uranium has decayed or not since radioactive decay is a probabilistic quantum event.
Here's the question.
Is the cat dead or alive? Well, according to quantum mechanics, the cat is neither dead nor alive but the sum of the two states.
Well, at that point, you say, "Well, that's nonsense.
"That's preposterous.
"How can you be both dead and alive simultaneously?" Schrodinger's cat was supposed to show that nothing in this universe is certain until someone makes a measurement.
But another pioneer of quantum mechanics, Eugene Wigner, believed it could teach us something else about the working of the universe -- that consciousness controls everything.
Wigner said, "Let's take it one step farther.
"If I, a human being, looks at the cat, "I am conscious.
Therefore, consciousness determines existence.
" At that point, Einstein went ballistic and said, "what? "You're saying that the fact that you are a conscious being determines the fact that the cat is alive?" The answer is yes, and Wigner made one more step.
And that is, "How do I know I'm alive?" You see, the cat and me, we're part of the same universe.
If I don't know the cat is alive or dead, I could also be dead at the same time and not even know it.
So, who determines that I'm alive? Well, Wigner's friend looks at me, I look at the cat, and we exist.
But then who looks at Wigner's friend? And there's an infinite chain of people looking at people looking at people until, finally, you hit cosmic consciousness.
Some consciousness that's ethereal, that envelops the Universe, which looks at us and says, "Aha, the cat is alive.
" Wigner believed that consciousness is an inextricable part of reality, that nothing really happens in the physical world unless a conscious mind observes it.
Most physicists regard cosmic consciousness as an intriguing idea that will never be provable.
But in Princeton, New Jersey, Roger Nelson may have some solid evidence.
In the vast array of data collected by his global consciousness project, one date stands out above all others.
We explored the data around 9/11 because there were changes.
This shows a little more than a week around 9/11.
Here, right in the middle, is September 11th, and this little block respects the time when the first plane hit to the time when the last building fell.
On that fateful day, Roger's global network recorded random-number data second by second.
Here, we already have some activity that doesn't really look normal, and at this point, which is 4:30 in the morning, the data really changed and took off in a way that I think is highly significant.
This is an aberration in the random walk, and it happens to be centered on 9/11, and it happens that in order to be centered on 9/11, it started before the first plane hit.
We don't have an explanation for that.
and only time the global consciousness network responded to an event before it actually began.
Roger believes it shows human consciousness does not just react to major events -- it is an inextricable part of them.
But the nature of that connection is still unclear.
One of the really hard questions that we're dealing with is how it works.
Is it a global consciousness that we can sort of imagine but we can't perceive directly? Is it a global consciousness having a premonition? And we honestly cannot say what of those things it could be.
Is this the first evidence of cosmic consciousness? Something that's part of the very fabric of the Universe? This man believes it is.
He claims he has evidence that each one of us has an extraordinary mental power to predict the future.
The future is always out there Just beyond our reach.
The question is, can we ever perceive it before it becomes the present? We've all had gut feelings that something is about to happen.
Now researchers claim to have proof that those feelings are more than superstition.
They could be coming from your sixth sense.
Dean Radin, a senior scientist at the Institute for Noetic Science, is a leading voice in the study of the sixth sense.
Most people at one time or another have an experience that they might call an intuitive hunch or a gut feeling.
A prototypical case is driving down the road and you're coming to an intersection, and you just get a bad feeling, so you slow down.
Something feels spooky.
And a truck goes through the red light and would've hit you broadside if you had not slowed down.
But what is that? Sometimes it's coincidence.
Sometimes people make up things.
The presentiment experiment is a way of seeing whether or not, in principle, that sometimes it's actually because you're getting your future -- your future experience.
You put your arm up.
Dean has developed a scientific method to test whether people can really anticipate events in the future -- an ability he calls presentiment.
Today, he's working with a volunteer, Janet.
Okay, have fun.
He has asked her to look at a series of images on a computer monitor while he records her body's physiological responses.
What she looks at are a randomized series of photos -- some bland, some emotionally charged.
Dean charts Janet's skin conductors, a measure of her stress level, against the types of images she was seeing.
What Dean and any other psychological research should expect to find is a sharp change in the response right after an emotionally jarring image.
But that's not what he finds.
This line shows where the actual picture shows up.
So if this picture shows up here, you would think that there shouldn't be any difference in the overall average of the emotional pictures and overall average of the calm pictures.
But when she sees an emotional picture, there's a bump up.
So, now we go backwards in time five seconds before, and we can see that from that moment that if it's going to be an emotional picture, she's already becoming emotional as compared to the calm.
This difference is what I call a presentiment response.
According to Dean's research, Janet's body is responding to the pictures five seconds before she sees them.
It's the same effect he's found in hundreds of trials over the past 30 years.
All of his subjects show this presentiment response.
It appears as though the information is leaking backwards in time.
What this experiment suggests is that there's some kind of anticipatory effect that's five seconds.
We don't know what the limit is.
If our minds really can see into the future How can we explain it scientifically? In the 1860s, during the time of the American Civil War, physicist James Clerk Maxwell in England worked out the entire theory of light and electromagnetism.
What Maxwell showed is that light, this mysterious thing that pervades our Universe, is actually a wave.
So we now know that light is nothing but a wave of electricity and magnetism oscillating together.
Think of a dancer waving this gigantic flag.
The hand motion comes first, and then the wave starts to unfurl.
But let me let you in on a dirty little secret.
There is a second solution to Maxwell's equation that has haunted physics for the last 150 years.
There are also these bizarre advanced waves -- solutions that allow you to see the future.
In the advanced wave solution, the flag moves before the dancer's hand.
Information travels from the future to the present.
So, could this alternate solution to one of the basic laws of physics explain Dean Radin's results? In the 1950s, genius physicist Richard Feynman realized that advanced wave solutions were actually mathematical clues that a new form of matter existed -- antimatter.
What looks like matter traveling backwards in time is actually antimatter acting perfectly normal.
Matter going backwards in time is the same as antimatter going forwards in time.
We thought that maybe, just maybe, it might be possible to see the future, communicate with our descendents from the present time.
But here comes Feynman, who says, "no.
" Feynman won a nobel prize for this work.
But Dean Radin isn't convinced that advanced waves rippling backwards in time from the future can be written off entirely.
In modern physics, now we at least have a plausibility argument, where we can no longer say that the physical world makes it impossible.
We know that it is possible.
So the challenge now is to say, "Well, how do we connect this missing gap?" Advances in theoretical physics are one way.
But there is another -- more evidence.
This researcher could be the man who finally convinces the world that the sixth sense is real.
Scientists have been searching for evidence of the sixth sense for well over a century.
If it exists, it can't be as strong as the other five senses.
Otherwise, we wouldn't still be arguing about it.
But if we can prove that the sixth sense is real, it won't matter how weak it is.
It would turn modern science on its head.
Daryl Bem has had a long and successful career as a Professor of Psychology at Cornell University.
Now he, too, has turned his focus to the sixth sense.
I wanted to do work on precognition or premonition because it just boggles the mind to think that the future can affect the past.
Daryl has spent the last eight years testing this very question.
A person is shown two curtains and are told that behind one of the curtains will be a picture and behind the other is a blank wall.
And their task is to pick the curtain that has the picture behind it.
Just like Dean Radin, Daryl is trying to see whether people can anticipate future events.
The computer waits until they've made their selection, and then, without cheating by looking at what they did, it flips a coin.
Most of the time, their success rate is 50/50.
In other words, they're guessing.
But when and only when the computer shows erotic images, subjects can predict what's behind the curtain a small but statistically significant beating of the odds.
Daryl believes this ability to sense erotic opportunities in the future has developed over millions of years.
It was shaped by evolution to give individuals an edge in finding mates.
Evolution rides on reproductive advantage -- the ability to seek out and have sexual opportunities.
So it makes sense evolutionarily to think that precognition or something like it would certainly serve reproductive advantage and survival advantage.
If he's right, Daryl has revealed a completely unexpected aspect of human nature.
Time may not flow neatly in one direction.
And humans, being evolutionary survivors, have learned to use that to their advantage.
I call it "Feeling the future" because it tries to get in the fact that the future is able to affect both your thoughts -- cognition -- and your emotions.
When it was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Daryl's article caught worldwide attention.
Sixth-sense research, long on the fringes of science, is moving ever closer to the mainstream.
There's more sixth-sense stuff around than we are maybe willing to acknowledge because we are processing much more information on a continuous basis than we are aware of.
It's clearly physical, it's tied to small amounts of energy, and it tells us that there's a connection between us and our world around us that we haven't previously fathomed.
We're at the point where we can show that we have anomalous findings.
And what do we mean by anomalous? It means it doesn't fit into the current structure of how we conceptualize physical reality.
We're looking at the edge of what's known.
I think we can say with high confidence that in the realm of psychic phenomena, something interesting is happening.
Is there a sixth sense? That's not even the right question to ask anymore.
Mainstream brain research has already uncovered previously unknown sensory pathways.
But whether our thoughts can join a global mind or whether we can sense the future, we only have fragments of evidence so far.
In the end, we will find the answers because they're all Right here.