Every year during The Amazing Meeting, the James Randi Educational Foundation allows someone who claims to have supernatural powers the chance to win $1,000,000 right then and there by proving his or her skills. There’s a large audience watching the experiment, even though the only person who believes in the claimant’s powers is the claimant.
But it’s not purely for shits and giggles. There’s actually a rigorous process leading up to the big event, involving both sides agreeing on what the experiment will be and what it would take for the supernatural powers to be “proven.”
The first hurdle to overcome was to make sure that the subjects of the test, those who were to be on the receiving end of Mr. Wang’s powers, were ultimately unaware when or if Mr. Wang was sending his power. At first the idea was to set an aluminium partition on a table, with a subject on one side and Mr. Wang on the other. There would be two holes in the partition through which the subject could extend their hands, coming to rest inside two boxes. Mr. Wang could then ‘work’ on either the left or right hand, sending his energy through the box, without the subject knowing.
In our first meeting with Mr. Wang on Thursday, we realised that he found this arrangement unacceptable as he claimed that the power or energy would travel from his right hand, through the box, into the the left hand of the subject and keep going out the other side into the right box! Banachek, Jamy, Chip, Mr. Wang and I, all walked around the room for sometime with our hands on chins, voicing ideas, arguing the merits of each, going back to the drawing board and so on. Then the idea came up that the screen or partition (by which time was agreed could be made from cardboard) be at an angle so the energy would miss the other hand of the subject as it was being projected. We also toyed for a long time with the idea that Mr. Wang and a ”placebo clamant”, ie. someone with no special powers, would approach the subject at the same time, one working on the right hand, the other on the left. These ideas bounced around the room for the next couple of hours as we changed this and that, drew diagrams, and argued the small points.
This all goes to remind us all of how complex and involved these preliminary tests can be, especially when you consider that we are also constructing a live performance for an audience. But the overriding consideration during the whole process was to ensure that Mr. Wang was in agreement and comfortable with what we were suggesting. He, like any other claimant at this stage of the planning, had the right to veto what we put forward. I must say that we found Mr. Wang to be very helpful and polite throughout and was understanding of what we were trying to achieve.
It’s a really fascinating glimpse into what goes into designing a science experiment, with the input of the person who will be tested, all with a million dollars on the line.
It certainly throws cold water on the theory that the whole Million Dollar Challenge is rigged by JREF to prevent anyone from winning.
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