Fringe Science: Testing precognition

“Let me see your palm. Hmm…interesting. Someone from your past will return to you this year. And you will have some conflict at work, but you will eventually find a balance and strong financial stability.” It’s the classic psychic experience: vague information, a conflict to overcome, and an eventual happy ending (that will be $50, please). While it’s easy to poke fun at the psychic experience, researchers over the past decade have weaved together a different picture of precognitive abilities—gaining direct knowledge of the future via extrasensory means.

In 2004, Dr. Dean Radin from the Institute of Noetic Sciences published a paper in the Journal of Scientific Exploration explicating how over a 10-year span he utilized galvanic skin response sensors (sensors capable of measuring emotional arousal by detecting electrical activity on the skin) to investigate precognition.

Using this technology, Dr. Radin subjected 109 participants to multiple trials involving exposure to randomly selected calm images, like a ball, or more erotic or violent emotional images. Research in cognitive neuroscience had demonstrated that individuals exposed to emotional images have increased galvanic skin responses than those who are exposed to calm images. Based on these findings, Dr. Radin hypothesized that if precognition is a valid phenomenon, one might see an increase in galvanic skin responses for emotional images before they appeared to the participant; he alternatively hypothesized that no increase would be seen for calm images.

Results from the experiment confirmed Dr. Radin’s hypothesis. These results suggest that people know what is going to happen before it actually does—a precognitive claim that cannot be explained by contemporary understandings of time.

As a result of the controversy produced by Dr. Radin’s paper, researchers wanted to ensure the effect could be reproduced. Dr. Dick Bierman of the University of Amsterdam attempted the task, and successfully replicated the findings on multiple occasions throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Other scientists pursued research projects aiming to corroborate Dr. Radin’s findings by studying additional physiological measures, in effect creating converging lines of evidence. In 2004, Dr. Rollin McCarty and his colleagues published a paper in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine that investigated Dr. Radin’s experimental paradigm to see whether heart rates reacted similarly to galvanic skin response sensors when presented with emotional or calm images. Based on past physiology research, Dr. McCarty and his team expected heart rate activity to be lower in the emotional image condition than the calm image condition, even before the images were presented to the 26 participants. Results of the experiment supported this hypothesis and corroborate Dr. Radin’s research, suggesting that the heart reacts similarly to galvanic skin activity insofar as it appears to be capable of detecting “spooky” information that can orient the body to future events.

While these experiments highlight the possible validity of precognition, the research program is still very new, with many questions still unanswered. Though some studies suggest the body can unconsciously “see” into the future, few studies provide persuasive evidence for the validity of higher-order precognition (knowing specific events beforehand). Before this research will be taken seriously, mechanistic theories must be developed to explain how information from the future travels to the present, and how the body interprets this information.

In the meantime, enjoy your neighborhood psychic, but take their predictions with a grain of salt.

Co-op students hit by recession

When he decided to enroll in the Professional Experience Year program, Xavier Snelgrove never imagined that he would be laid off. But Snelgrove is one of the unlucky few U of T students who have lost their PEY jobs thanks to the recession.

“Money was a little worrying,” said Snelgrove, a third-year engineering student. “I’d been intending to pay my way through the next two years with the PEY salary.” Administrators at the PEY centre can’t guarantee that students in the program will find or keep a job, though Snelgrove noted that they were helpful after his lay-off, giving him a stack of printouts for other jobs.

The PEY program offers students in Engineering, Computer Science, Pharmacology, and Toxicology the opportunity to go on work terms of 12 to 16 months. Companies pay the students directly, with annual salaries ranging from $28,000 to $66,000.

“Roughly 60 percent of engineering students who do PEY come back with offers [for jobs after graduation],” said Jose Pereira, director of the program. Those who do return to their original employers after graduating typically receive a 20 to 25 per cent higher salary than non-PEY students, making it an attractive program, he said.

But the recession has thrown a wrench in some plans. “Over the last four years, roughly four to six students [per year] are affected by a merger, a downsizing, or a plant closure,” said Pereira. “This year, those numbers have gone up.”

To date, 16 students have been let go. Most have either found alternative employment opportunities through the PEY centre, or have returned to classes. While the number of layoffs has tripled, the majority of over 600 PEY students haven’t been affected.

Neighbouring universities have noticed a slight decline in jobs as well. “The number of rescinded jobs was significantly higher than what would normally occur, but the problem was not widespread,” said Olaf Naese, a representative from the University of Western Ontario engineering co-op program. He added, “As of Jan. 29, 94.4 per cent of our co-ops who were to be on a work term for the winter had found employment. That compares to 96.3 per cent at the same time a year ago.”

Pereira insisted that PEY students have mostly been sheltered from the recession. “Even though they’ve cut back their workforce, they are not hitting the PEY students.” Pereira emphasized that employers are still eager to secure young talent. Furthermore, he expects available positions will outnumber students in the program by August.

“All of our students will go through this again,” said Pereira. “Recessions are part of the cycle. Those that get to work with us during this particular period are getting more value than those that don’t.”

Snelgrove has since found employment at another company and will earn his non-academic credit by the end of the year. Despite the layoff, he remains positive about his PEY experience. “I’m definitely a much better programmer for it,” he said. “It was my first real intensive professional programming experience, and it was in a language I had never used before. Now I have a new job where I’m learning new things.”

Squeezing light to the limit

University of Toronto physicists recently discovered a unique property of quantum physics—the ability to squeeze light to the farthest limit possible. This new research could make way for more precise measurements, advance computer technology, and change how information is processed.

In quantum experiments, light is used to measure variables. However, light also has a defined quantum boundary known as the shot-noise limit. Below this shot-noise level, there is another attainable frontier known as the limit set by the uncertainty principle. The act of squeezing involves passing through the shot-noise limit, reaching the uncertainty principle limit.

At the forefront of experimental science lies a measuring device employed in different research fields. The precision of measuring small changes is defined by its quantum uncertainty. U of T PhD graduate student Krister Shalm notes: “We can ‘squeeze’ this quantum uncertainty to a smaller value for one measurement with the sacrifice of another variable such as speed.” Shalm, Rob Adamson, and Professor Aephraim Steinberg of U of T’s Department of Physics and Centre for Quantum Information and Quantum Control published their work in a recent issue of Nature.

Light, just like matter, is quantized and comes in the form of photons. Frequently, investigators use sources that produce single photons, attempting to squeeze these states. Shalm’s paper posits that, for the first time, triphoton states have been used instead of single photon states.

“If we place three photons that are identical in every aspect except their polarization (or orientation) in an optical fibre, then it is impossible to distinguish between the three and we now call the system a triphoton,” explains Shalm. The system now has its own grouped polarization properties. This type of uniformity is the same property used in modern MRI machines.

The authors then squeezed this unique state to more precisely measure the triphoton’s polarization. As previously thought, these actions passed the shot-noise limit and eventually reached the Heisenberg limit, where squeezing has no effect on the uncertainty of the system. “What’s interesting is that if we squeeze past this limit the uncertainty actually begins to increase,” says Shalm.

This observation is unexplainable if the polarization surface is thought of as the classical flat disk. Instead, the physicists described the surface as spherical. “The uncertainty of these triphotons can be thought of as a balloon on a sphere,” explains Shalm. “As we squeeze the balloon, it initially compresses and the uncertainty is reduced.” He goes on to say that although the uncertainty is reduced in one direction, the balloon starts to wrap around the sphere in the other direction. “The balloon inevitably reaches all the way around increasing the uncertainty of the polarization.”

Furthermore, since the state is triphotonic, “over-squeezing” the system leads to a symmetrical spread of the uncertainty into three equally spaced balloons around the sphere. “These complex quantum states of light can then be represented with a simple spherical map,” notes Shalm.

This research will not only advance the field of quantum physics but other scientific disciplines that concern precise measurements. Specifically, production of super-powered processors and circuit boards found inside computers will be much more efficient.

“Eventually, instead of increasing the power of normal single photon states, these squeezed triphoton states of relatively low intensity can be used much more effectively in circuit boards, cryptography and quantum computing,” says Shalm.

UTSC siblings face deportation

Two UTSC students are about to find out where the future will take them.

Steve and Trisha Sherman received deportation orders three weeks ago to return to Guyana. Citizenship and Immigration Canada has denied the two asylum in Canada under the Immigration and Refugee Board Act.

The two have been ordered to leave the country by this Wednesday.

Trisha, a political science student, is in her last year of studies and planned to graduate in May. Steve is in his third year of environmental studies.

“At this point, we’re feeling defeated. We’re packing our bags and putting everything in the hands of a supreme being,” said Steve.

“They’re amazing, giving people; some of the best people I’ve known. Ever since they came to Canada they’ve been working really hard to give back to the community,” said Cheryl Brooks, a friend of Steve’s. She said the Shermans often tutor and volunteer at hospitals.

The Sherman family arrived in Canada in 2002 on a visitor visa. After their immigration request was denied, the parents and younger sister returned to Guyana. As minors, Steve and Trish applied for refugee status.

The family’s background is Indo-Guyanese, who make up 43.5 per cent of the Guyanese population as of 2002, mostly descendants of indentured labourers from India. The upper classes of the community are often subject to persecution and gang violence from Afro-Guyanese, the second largest ethnic group, forming 30.2 per cent of the population.

“When they were kids sometimes they’d be followed home, threatened, have stones thrown at them,” said Brooks. “Their family has been targeted. Businesses in their area owned by Indo-Guyanese would be destroyed.”

The two have been living with their grandparents, who are Canadian citizens.

Last weekend, they were granted a hearing where they presented a 500-signature petition, newspaper articles about the ongoing persecution as well as letters from family, friends, employers, and school officials. The two have spoken with Members of Parliament and attempted to get U of T administration involved. The group No One is Illegal, who supports Canadian refugees regardless of legal status, had planned a rally for last Thursday until the two pulled out.

The appeal was denied yesterday. Their lawyer is now taking the case to federal courts on the basis of a misunderstanding by CIC.

“If they don’t hear anything or get a negative response, they’ll leave Wednesday,” said Brooks. “But if they get a deferral, they’ll stay for as long as the deferral entitles them.”

The Shermans had hoped to stay until May 2 to finish the school year. They were paying domestic tuition fees as they presented a refugee claim.

“I know there are cases in the past where university students have been given more time,” said Steve. “I feel our university isn’t doing enough. It’s been difficult to get in touch with people.”

As of this morning, they have lost the possibility of a 50 per cent refund for dropping courses and paid full tuition for the rest of the semester.

“They are telling us that we’ve already paid our tuition. And they’ve told us that we won’t get a full reimbursement, that it will go according to the reimbursements schedule they have. They offered us no flexibility,” said Steve.

University officials could not be contacted for comment.


Many of us have heard that our body is made up of two-thirds water, that we should drink eight glasses of water a day, and that by the time we’re thirsty, we’re already dehydrated. While the first statement is true, a lot of what we believe to be common knowledge about dehydration is actually myth.

The daily water intake required varies from person to person. It depends on one’s size, diet, and lifestyle. According to M.D. Heinz Valtin, in order to figure out your requirement you should weigh yourself several days in a row at the same time to determine whether your weight stays fairly constant. If there is a difference of one pound between one day and the next, your water intake the day before was insufficient. Drink a pint of juice or water every morning and continue the experiment to see what fluid intake maintains your weight, keeping the same diet patterns. On average, eight glasses of water or two litres equals the amount the average adult loses through respiration, sweat, and urination. Food and other beverages also count towards replenishing these two litres. In terms of lifestyle, physical activity will affect an individual’s water requirement. R.D. Leslie Bonci, director of sports nutrition in the Medical Center at the University of Pittsburgh explains, “Exercise blunts your thirst mechanism. You lose fluid so rapidly that the brain can’t respond in time.” It’s recommended that people hydrate themselves prior to going to the gym. Bonci says, “It takes 60 minutes for liquid to travel from your gut to your muscles.” In terms of exercise, humans lose salts via sweat, so sports drinks like Gatorade are a wiser alternative.

While thirst is a sign that we are mildly dehydrated, the thirstier we become is not an indication that we are becoming increasingly dehydrated. Also, thirst is not immediately relieved even once we’ve replenished our systems. Studies indicate that by the time we are thirsty, we are two to three per cent dehydrated, but we can satiate this thirst by drinking one per cent of our body’s weight in fluid. For the most part, thirst is a pretty reliable indication of hydration status, and if ignored can result in dire consequences.

Contrary to popular belief, caffeinated beverages are not dehydrating. Research has indicated that the diuretic effects of coffee and tea are negligible, and that caffeinated drinks will hydrate you—just not as efficiently as decaffeinated alternatives. Drinking one cup of coffee will give you two-thirds the equivalent of one cup of water. Lawrence Armstrong, professor of kinesiology at the University of Connecticut says, “Caffeinated beverages do not dehydrate you when consumed in moderation, that is, five cups of less per day of coffee, tea, or cola. Any fluids you ingest will help keep your cells saturated, including juice, iced tea, or soda.”

Unlike other beverages, drinking a lot of water, within limits, won’t cause any harm. In fact, it can help prevent kidney stones in people who are susceptible, ease constipation, aid weight loss, and also alleviate water retention in addition to the multitude of the other roles it plays in sustaining human life.

Surprise! You’re elected

French Club president Antonin Mongeau was furious when he got voted off the Clubs Committee. Now, because his replacement didn’t actually want the spot, his seat will remain vacant this semester.

The committee, which gives recognition and funds to UTSU clubs, has three spots for club executives. The committee was re-struck after the Fall by-elections last Friday and UTSU board members voted on the three spots.

VP campus life Athmika Punja, who chairs the committee, nominated Natalie Orellana for a seat. Though Orellana was not present at the meeting, she won over Mongeau.

Punja told The Varsity on Jan 31, “I sent out the call-out […] only two days before the meeting, and [Orellana] got back to me really quickly and said that she couldn’t make it on Thursday but she really wanted to be part of it. I guess it was sort of my duty to nominate her.”

In fact, Punja sent an email to Orellana on the day of the meeting, less than an hour before it was due to start, saying that there was a spot available on the Clubs Committee and inviting her to join. Orellana, president of the Current Affairs Exchange Forum, did not know what the Clubs Committee was.

Punja said that Orellana should have known about the committee from clubs training, which is mandatory for all club leaders.

“At that time it had only been Antonin and Jimmy Lu, so when I sent out the call-out, I saw it as an opportunity to fill that last seat. When I sent out the call-out, I didn’t expect that there would be a big change in the Clubs Committee, the outcome did surprise me.”

Punja’s email to Orellana did not mention the vote. Orellana replied that she could not come to the meeting and asked for more information about the committee. “I can’t today, but maybe next time you guys have a meeting I could come,” she wrote.

Punja told it differently. “The e-mail that I got from [Orellana] said she did [want to join the committee], she just couldn’t make the first meeting.” Later, Punja revised her statement, saying, “I got that she was interested from her email, so I nominated her.”

Punja replied saying that she would add her to “the list,” and that she should make it to the next meeting. By the time Orellana saw this message, she was already a member of the committee, but didn’t know it: “I didn’t assume that I was committing myself to something. There was nothing about voting or whatever.”

“She’s said she doesn’t want to be on it, but we’ve pretty much made all the decisions so far. I guess it’s going to be two people again.”

Mongeau said the vote was done hastily to remove him from the board for political reasons. Punja admitted that she voted against the French Club president, accusing him of being out of order during meetings.

UTSU execs denied that the vote was politically inspired, and repeated that committees are re-struck after by-elections every year. According to UTSU bylaws, committees are supposed to be re-struck in November.

“I only got the directions to re-strike the committee from Adnan [Najmi, VP internal],” said Punja. “I didn’t find out until Tuesday, the meeting was on Friday.” She said she had not checked the bylaws for the rules. “He [Adnan] is the policy guy, I obviously took his word for it.”

Home-court advantage

Fans, alumni, and professors alike packed the Athletic Centre Sports Gym this weekend to watch the Varsity Blues men’s basketball team battle the number-three Ottawa Gee-Gees and number-one Carleton Ravens.

As part of “White Out Weekend,” much of the crowd wore white in support of the Blues’ playoff bid. Even U of T President David Naylor, adorned in a tailored white shirt, cheered on the team at Friday night’s game against Ottawa. “I wish I could come out more often, but I think it’s great to see so many students out and a lot of alumni out tonight,” said Naylor. “Here we are giving the number three team in the country, a very strong game […] It’s fantastic.”

What began as a strong game resulted in a 80-72 loss to Ottawa. Despite being the team’s first home loss of the season, a general optimistic attitude permeated the entire court. While the crowd was decked in white, the Blues were unwilling to wave the white flag.

“We played the third best team in the country without our starting point guard [Nick Magalas], so we did okay,” said Blues head coach Mike Katz. “I thought our guys played really hard, and they tried their best, and the result wasn’t all that terrible. But [Ottawa is] a good team and we just got to keep going. I was proud of our team.”

The Blues lit up the court in the first quarter, outscoring Ottawa 25-19. They shot 55 per cent from the floor, going 3-4 from behind the arc. Guard Rob Paris scored two of the three-pointers, ultimately tallying 18 points in the game. While the team’s momentum began to dwindle in the second quarter, the Blues maintained a three-point lead going into the half.

Although some say that good things come in threes, bad things happened to the Blues in the third. They turned the ball over eight times out of their 19 total, propelling the Gee-Gees to a 61-50 lead. While four of the players scored in double-figures in the game, the team only mustered 11 points in the futile third quarter. Even Blues player of the game Ahmed Nazmi, who tallied an impressive game-high 22 points and nine rebounds, was unable to get a basket during those lifeless 10 minutes.

The team fought back in the fourth, outscoring Ottawa 22-19. But it was too little, too late. Plagued by turnovers and poor shooting from the line, the Blues succumbed to the Gee-Gees, 80-72. Yet the crowd remained boisterous up until the final buzzer.

“I think the fans recognize that Ottawa is a very strong team, much stronger than any of the other opponents we’ve played at home,” explained U of T Modern Jewish History professor and avid basketball fan, Frank Bialystok. “The atmosphere was supportive and strong, and not at all defeatist.”

In only his third start of the season, point guard Anthony DeGiorgio offered insight into what went wrong. “We came out flat in the third quarter and against a team like Ottawa, if we’re going to beat them, we have to play forty minutes,” he said. “We have to play the whole game really well.” For his part, DeGiorgio tallied five rebounds and 10 points, five of which came during his very impressive opening quarter.

While Blues forward Nazmi led both teams in points and rebounds, he modestly deflected praise, focusing on his team’s progress. “Basketball is funny in that it’s the collective, it’s the sum of the individual effort,” he said. “I’m humbled that I was able to step up today, and the trick is to keep that going, and hopefully, we can all do that together. And when we gel together, we can count on more winning.”

The Blues couldn’t count on another win in their following game, falling to the Carleton Ravens 74-54. Yet there’s still something to cheer about: The Blues remain in third-place in the OUA East. With only three games left of the regular season, they are a lock for the playoffs, and it’s almost guareenteed they’ll play at home during the first round. And if there’s one thing that’s been learned this past weekend, it’s that win or lose, with the crowd behind them, the Blues have the advantage.

Potty for primates

Before I even meet Shawn Lehman, I get a clue to his lighter side from the door to his office. More specifically, the dozen comics pasted all over, ranging from single-panel gags to Calvin and Hobbes. Lehman, an anthropology professor, is one of ten finalists for the TVO Best Lecturer Competition. U of T has four profs in the finals.

Lehman brings to mind a cowboy. Something about the tall man in faded jeans recall cattle wranglers from an old Spaghetti Western.

But while Lehman has spent some time in the Wild West—Calgary—he wrangles a different beast. As his students know, Lehman loves to study primates.

It was a big jump. “I was a football player,” he says. “The first time I was on this campus was to play in the Vanier cup in 1985 with the University of Calgary Dinos.” He cracks a grin. “I didn’t think a lot about school, but I did think a lot about football.” Through serendipitous contacts and amazing professors, Lehman ended up in anthropology.

“I love my job,” Lehman pronounces with a hint of a smile. “People talk about ‘doing the job’, but I am the job. This is who I am.”

He grows animated as he launches into stories of his adventures. “One time I was walking in the jungle in Guyana in South America, and I reached the end of this long trail of white sand. I was writing in my notebook as I turned around to head back, and I noticed a huge jaguar print in the sand.”

“And I remember thinking ‘Oh there’s a lot of jaguars, that’s a healthy ecosystem.’ But then I looked at the next print, and I noticed,” Shawn chuckles. “I noticed that it was on top of my boot print.”

He shakes his head a little in recollection. “It turns out that for the last 400 metres or so this enormous jaguar had been walking right behind me. It could have killed me in an instant, but it was just curious.”

Lehman, it seems, has a talent for attracting curiosity. He was nominated for Best Lecturer by students in his first-year Intro to Anthropology course.

“I don’t want to give dry, boring examples,” says Lehman. “If I can render a complex idea down to one silly story, then people will remember it.”

“When you sit down for a test, it’s like this giant eraser wipes your brain clean of all the dry facts, but you’ll still remember the funny stories.”

Though he’s a well-travelled researcher, Lehman admits that there are still some things he hasn’t managed to do: “I’ve always wanted to dress up in a gorilla suit when I’m doing the primate lecture.”

“But all the gorilla suits are one-size-fits-all, and I’m too tall,” he laughs. “But one day I will wear a gorilla suit to class.”