Stevens, P., 2009. Fractals, dowsing and sacred sites: emergent information in the visual environment. In: Society for Psychical Research 33rd International Conference, 4-6 September 2009, University of Nottingham. (Unpublished)
Full text not available from this repository.
Some theorists like suggest that, for a given environment (or species), the underlying constraints in the way that environment develops (in terms of the growth and development of the component species and their interaction with each other and with the land) can be described according to a fractal geometry i.e., having patterns that repeat at different scales. This “self-similarity” of patterns at differing scales can be quantified by a parameter called the fractal dimension (D), essentially a non-integral value that relates to the number of self-similar pieces that an object can be “broken into” at different scales. This may sound relatively uninteresting to parapsychologists but the relevance comes from putting two different areas of this research together. First of all, D can be calculated for real-life landscapes, and appears to relate to human preference for those landscapes. Two separate studies (Hagerhall, Purcell & Taylor, 2004; Cheung & Wells, 2004) calculated D for the silhouette outline between the landscape and the sky, finding a significant positive correlation between this and people's preference for that image. Secondly, research by Krummel et al (1987) showed that the fractal dimension of the silhouette outline also relates to some interesting, non-visual properties: high-D landscapes are “healthier” in terms of biodiversity (a measure of the variety of life, plant and animal, within a given area). So we have two convergent findings: 1. Humans prefer scenes which... } contain visual features having higher fractal dimension 2. Healthy (biodiverse) landscapes... The conclusion seems to be that humans, from different cultures and in the absence of any in-depth knowledge about ecology or biology, have an inherent preference for healthy landscapes. Not only prefer, but find them physiologically relaxing and psychologically restorative (Ulrich et al, 1991). This process appears to function at a level before cognition, integrated into the very structure of our sensory systems. In terms of parapsychology, this represents a de facto process of information acquisition that, although it occurs via a conventional sensory pathway, could in some situations give the appearance of (or possibly act as an adjunct to) an extrasensory ability. One such situation is that of dowsing for underground water (or minerals, or buried archaeological sites). The dowsing response usually makes use of some technique (e.g., a suspended pendulum held at arm's length) that brings ideomotor actions such as muscular tremors to conscious awareness, essentially giving simple physiological feedback. Despite many anecdotal claims for its efficacy (and its use by commercial companies), controlled experiments have given inconsistent results. However, many of the controlled studies – be they looking at responses to buried water pipes (Randi, 1979), changes in magnetic field (Jack, 1978) or some other variable – tend not to be naturalistic i.e., they occur out of context in an attempt to isolate the presumed necessary component. If, however, the dowsing response is an indirect one wherein the dowser is responding to something in the scene that correlates with the presence of the target, then such an extraction would necessarily fail. For example, a dowser looking for water may actually be responding to the fractal visual characteristics of the scene, an emergent property that relates to the amount and diversity of vegetation, which in turn relates to a number of factors including the presence of a long-term water supply. This is a similar suggestion to that of Rawcliffe (1952), who suggested that a dowser may be unconsciously noting the colour of soil and vegetation, slight differences in growth of plants, etc. to produce the dowsing response through a process of inference. The key difference here is that the fractal dimension from a specific scene will be based on global information about the landscape as a whole; responding to this aspect of the scene could allow the dowser to have a success rate statistically higher than would be expected from the information apparent in that scene. Another situation is where humans interpret specific sites as being sacred. While such sites may exist for historical or event-related reasons, it is often unclear as to why specific sites have acquired the label, and whether the concept of “sacred” even translates well from culture to culture (Hubert, 1994, p.11). What is clear is that sites can be held sacred simultaneously by people with incompatible belief systems and that such a classification can endure for long periods of time. Devereux (1997) suggests that sacred sites “may be those which yield greater information than secular ones; locations where information is received more effectively by the unconscious mind”. This ties in well both with the notion of fractal dimension and with the current literature on “restorative” environments that reduce attentional fatigue and which are “effortlessly engaging” (Hartig & Staats, 2003). It would seem worthwhile to look at sacred sites from a fractal perspective. But if fractal dimension does have such an effect, how might this work? A clue may be found in the ecopsychology literature: preferred sites tend to be those which are restorative. As preference relates to higher fractal dimension, this implies that the latter will be linked to similar physiological responses as is found with restorative environments, namely lowered physiological arousal levels (Ulrich et al, 1991). This would make sense: a low-arousal state certainly improves ideomotor responses (Wegner, Ansfield & Pilloff, 1998) so might create or enhance a dowsing response; it may also contribute towards the sense of “inner peace” described by many when talking about sacred places (Mazumdar & Mazumdar, 2004). Looking explicitly at changes in physiological arousal in response to the differing fractal dimensions and different scene categories might thus help us to better understand the underlying principles of human responses to dowsing and sacred sites.
|Item Type:||Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)|
|Group:||School of Design, Engineering & Computing > Psychology Research Group|
|Deposited By:||Dr Paul Stevens LEFT|
|Deposited On:||30 Sep 2009 19:13|
|Last Modified:||07 Mar 2013 15:15|
|Repository Staff Only -|
|BU Staff Only -|
|Help Guide -||Editing Your Items in BURO|