The short, and perhaps surprising, answer is no, in my opinion as someone who once owned a digital weighing balance with .0001 gram readability and had purchased it new specifically for that research purpose. A longer answer follows.
(Photo: common digital balance, not a microbalance. Source: Wikimedia Commons.)
The physicist and skeptic Robert L. Park opined in two of his books that a microbalance or ultramicrobalance could be an adequate test instrument to prove quite easily the validity of telekinesis (Park 2000, 199; 2008, 139). To quote him:
Other skeptics repeated Dr. Park's position as a rallying point and it made its way into the online Wikipedia article for "Psychokinesis" (Wikipedia, 2012) and The Skeptic's Dictionary in more than one entry (Carroll, 2012 ). This article will be a rebuttal to Dr. Park's comments and hopefully an educational aid regarding the limitations of digital weighing balances for anyone thinking of buying and using one to test for alleged psychic powers.
I was a member of Tampa Bay Skeptics in Florida for 15 years from 1993 until 2008 when I ended my membership on amicable terms. During the 1990s and until 2001, unbeknownst to the organization's leadership and the rest of the world, I secretly operated a full-scale telekinesis laboratory in Florida for commercial research and development purposes. It was a one-man operation. In the Fall 1993 issue of Tampa Bay Skeptics Report, however, I did at least disclose that I was doing PK research on my own privately (Conrad, 1993). Photos of my laboratory when it was in operation can be found online today.
The first major instrument I purchased for my lab was a Denver Instrument brand analytical balance from the scientific equipment supplier Cole-Parmer. It had readability of .0001 gram, or 1/10,000 gram. This was technically not a semi-microbalance, microbalance, or ultramicrobalance (also spelled ultra microbalance), which have greater sensitivities of .00001 gram (1/100,000 gram) and above, but as you shall see, the same and even more stringent conditions for use apply.
My balance came with a removable draft shield, also generally called a weighing chamber, situated on top of the weighing module. Additionally, the keypad-display module could be detached and placed remotely from the weighing module by means of a plug-in cable. The weighing module had a built in sight level. These features are why I chose that model, which cost about US $2,000. The flat, circular weighing pan had a single post centered underneath with a threaded tip that screwed into a matching hole, thus allowing it to be removed for cleaning. Other balances use different methods to attached the pan, which may be square instead of circular.
Now, to the question "Would a digital balance make a good telekinesis detector?"
There are four problems with using a digital weighing balance as a catch-all detector of alleged telekinetic power:
One. All electronic balances are engineered for one precise purpose: to detect applied force from a vertical downward direction perpendicular to the level weighing pan, with that force being the gravitational pull of the object placed on it, measured as weight. Balances are not engineered to detect forces very well that are applied from diagonal and horizontal directions; however, some diagonal forces are likely to be detected proportionately the closer the angle is to vertical.
To be used fully as engineered, then, a claimant would either have to lie face down on an above-ground cushioned platform or bend the upper body and head forward and over the balance while standing or crouching and look down directly at the weighing pan, while at the same time receiving nerve signals of stress and possibly pain to the brain from the uncomfortable and unusual body position — hardly a real-world test.
Gravity has an effect on head and brain circulation relative to a person's body position (Singer 2011). Bending over while standing or crouching causes physiological changes as blood pressure lowers and the center of gravity shifts in the body.
NASA found that the brain has a built-in model of gravity that has difficulty adapting if gravitational effects on the body are not what one is normally accustomed to experiencing (NASA, 2002).
In my research, attempting some innovation, I removed the draft shield and pan and screwed in a straight metal rod so that the test subject could have a target at eye level while seated in front of it. Doing so did not improve the instrument's response.
A balance is not designed to detect a bending or tipping-over motion. Some balances may have a holder accessory for attaching an angled test tube or other small container, but the device's internal electronics then compensate for the off-centered load.
Two. All digital balances have at least one built-in electronic filter. It will usually also have physical filters, such as rubber supports and air disturbance protection (draft shield).
My analytical balance had several settings of electronic filtering available. This filter causes the weighing pan to ignore brief transitory waves and vibrations from seismic, structural, sonic, and other unknown sources. There are also false reading issues involving changes in air density, temperature, etc. that require filtering. Without the filter, the zero reading would constantly drift. The more sensitive the balance, the greater the filtering required.
So, when you see a "zero" reading on a balance, know that there is actually a time-based ignoring of tiny brief forces of unknown origin and quantity that are not registering as measurements. Filtering circuitry information is considered proprietary by balance manufacturers, as the field is competitive.
Three. Sensitive balances have a draft shield that covers the weighing pan. A draft shield is typically a cylindrical or box-like compartment with windows and one or more doors that open. My balance had the latter type. Pictured here is not my balance, but one of a similar style with regard to the draft shield. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons.)
On some models the shield can be removed in its entirety and on others it or parts of it are permanently attached. A very sensitive balance may use a small, windowless, stainless steel container into which the tiny sample to be weighed is placed.
Proper use of an ultramicrobalance may require clean room conditions, including special clothing and eyewear, where all aspects of the air in the environment are constantly monitored. Even the moisture in the air generated by exhaled breath falling on the weighing pan could cause a false reading.
The problem with a draft shield or weighing container in telekinesis research is that the test for alleged telekinetic power then presupposes that the claimant possesses and can utilize the additional PK ability of teleporting, "phasing," or quantum tunneling telekinetic energy unaffectedly through one or more solid physical barriers before it acts on the solid physical target causing it to move.
The presence of a nonlocal solid physical barrier in a telekinesis test between the claimant and target, as opposed to using fully an open-air environment, means that the test is for two psychic powers, not one, in my opinion. (For a failed test of a Chinese female psychic attempting to teleport pills out of a bottle while the bottle was situated on a semi-microbalance, see Kokubo 2008.)
Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research (PEAR) laboratory researchers in their 1988 paper describing tests with a "Random Mechanical Cascade apparatus" (Dunne, et al. 1988, 157) stated that positioned in front of the device, which dropped 9,000 plastic balls into slots, was "clear acrylic," but apart from a photograph taken at an angle, there was no further discussion of the barrier in the paper's text, such as how thick and old it was, whether it was being degraded over time by scratching from the balls or exposure to ultraviolet light, and what effect such a barrier might have had on the transmissibility of alleged mental influence in their experiments.
In fact, the words "barrier," "window," "partition," and "sheet" did not even appear in the paper. The researchers did claim, however, successful results with remote influencers who caused a deviation from normal ball dropping distribution into the slots at a distance of "several thousand miles from the laboratory."
It is a logical fallacy of generalization to assume that because alleged psychokinetic energy or thought commands can unaffectedly pass through the human skull, which is just one part of a complex brain-mind system in which there are connected sensory organs outside of the skull, that all nonlocal solid physical barriers can similarly be easily passable.
It is equally a fallacy to assume that there can be no PK at all because the skull and exterior skin would get damaged.
Perhaps an alleged PKer, hypothetically being a gifted evolutionary transitional individual, possesses the controllable or uncontrollable ability to enlarge consciousness or subconsciousness momentarily in a directed manner, whereafter amazing feats are possible or occur spontaneously (for a related concept, research the "extended mind thesis").
The fact that your brain and mind are interpreting these words using your eyes proves that the skull-barrier argument, like the skull itself, has holes in it.
Four. Question: If the digital display on a balance did register a change of reading during a test, even just one digit, how would you know that the alleged TK energy seemingly applying a force on the surface of the pan by the claimant was not caused instead by PK energy going deeper inside the instrument resulting in a brief glitch in the circuitry?
One test example: Let us say that instead of using the bare weighing pan as a mental target, a claimant says that he or she can psychokinetically change the mass of a physical object placed on the weighing pan and therefore change its weight as indicated by a change in the reading.
If the result is an apparent success and repeatable, it must also be considered by the researchers that the change in reading could have been a deeper PK-caused glitch — unless of course the change in weight in the object was permanent and testable on other balances.
Changing an object's weight permanently by a process of mental teleportation or transmutation of atoms or subatomic particles would be a PK test that a digital balance would be ideal for ("PK" being an umbrella term covering all the various mind-over-matter abilities), but it would not be a test strictly for telekinesis; that is, causing that same object as a whole to move a micro or macro amount by a distant mentally applied force or distant mentally applied thought action that resulted in the close-up creation and application of force.
In conclusion, a digital balance of any sensitivity would not make a good catch-all detector of alleged telekinetic power, especially micro-telekinesis, which an effect that might be filtered out by the balance's internal electronics. It is best suited for very specific claims involving a vertical downward application of telekinetic force on the weighing pan, vertical levitation of an object, and psychokinetic teleportation (through the solid barrier of a draft shield or weighing chamber) and transmutation effects, and only if these effects are prolonged enough to register a reading.
In Hollywood, portrayals of telekinesis are all encompassing. In the real world, it has yet to be determined for certain to the satisfaction of mainstream science if telekinesis even exists, let alone know what its properties and capabilities are, especially with regard to barrier transmissibility.
Any test of alleged telekinetic power by one or a group of claimants or test participants using any type of digital balance must take into consideration the limitations of the particular instrument used and make full disclosure of them to the claimant and participants beforehand and in subsequent published reporting so that the results can be judged fairly and replicated by others if warranted.
I once wrote in a published article in the newsletter of a skeptics organization that the announcement of positive findings in psychokinesis research "should come from the skeptical community rather than the pro-paranormal side" (Conrad 1993). I still believe that. (Update: to clarify, unless the research work in question has secrecy limitations imposed on it, such as by a government or business agreement. Additional update February 1, 2016: Since making that statement in 1993, the professional skeptical community has undergone a departure of thousands of open-minded skeptics, judging by the declining circulation numbers of the Skeptical Inquirer, over the global warming data controversy, leaving behind a majority core of closed-minded pathological skeptics, in my opinion, and I therefore would be open to considering other means of release of breakthrough news in this field.)
James A. Conrad is co-author of "Filmmaker's Dictionary" (2000) with Emmy Award-winning producer Ralph S. Singleton and an American psychokinesis researcher with full-scale laboratory experience. His website is jamesaconrad.com.
How to cite this page:
Conrad, James A. October 15, 2012. Would a digital balance make a good telekinesis detector? Available online at http://jamesaconrad.com/TK/digital-balance.html; accessed [month] [day], [year].