Operator-Related Anomalies in a Random Mechanical Cascade

B. J. Dunne, R. D. Nelson, R. G. Jahn

Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544


Experiments with a "Random Mechanical Cascade" (RMC) apparatus have yielded anomalous results correlated with pre-stated intentions of human operators. Based upon a common statistical demonstration device, this machine allows 9000 polystyrene balls to drop through a matrix of 330 pegs, scattering them into 19 collecting bins with a populationdistribution that is approximately Gaussian. As the balls enter the bins, exact counts are accumulated photoelectrically, displayed as feedback for the operator, and recorded on-line. Operators attempt to shift the mean of the developing distributions to the right or left, relative to a concurrently generated baseline distribution. Of the 25 operators who have completed one or more experimental series with this device, four have achieved anomalous separations of their right and left efforts, and two others have displayed significant separations of either their right or left efforts from their baselines. The overall mean difference of right versus left efforts concatenated across the total data base of 87 series (3393 runs), has a probability against chance of <10-4, with 15% of the individual series significant at p <.05, and 63% conforming to the intended directions.

The concatenated results display a stark and curious asymmetry, in that virtually all of the right vs. left separation is provided by the left vs. baseline separation. This pattern also appears in the data of several individual operators, and is not attributable to any known physical asymmetry in the experimental system. In addition to the systematic asymmetric deviation of the distribution means, cumulative excesses in the variances of the left and right distributions relative to baseline are also observed, progressing to statistical probabilities of .003 in the left efforts, but only .2 in the right. More detailed study of the individual bin population patterns reveals that while most of the bins contribute to the overall mean shifts and variance changes, those on the outer portions are more influential than those near the center.

Operator achievements tend to compound marginally but systematically in cumulative deviation patterns characteristic of the particular individuals and, in several cases, similar to those produced by the same operators in microelectronic Random Event Generator (REG) experiments. Within these characteristic patterns of achievement, some operators also show sensitivities to secondary experimental parameters, such as instructed vs. volitional establishment of the intended directions, or the presence or absence of feedback displays. Other successful operators seem insensitive to such options.

Two major protocol variations have been explored, one employing remote operators, the other, multiple operators. In the former, operators with well-established performance in local experiments attempt to influence the bin distributions from remote locations up to several thousand miles from the laboratory. Significant results are again obtained that are quite similar to those of the local experiments, with the exception that the overall right and left distribution variances are smaller than those of the baseline. In the multiple operator experiments, early results show little resemblance to those achieved by the participating individuals alone.