Claim: A dog in Manchester could sense its owner's return by unknown means

Rory

Senior Member
In the early 90s Rupert Sheldrake spent some time investigating the possibility of telepathic/psychic connections between pets and their owners, with the most commonly cited case being that of Pamela Smart and her dog Jaytee, who Pamela's parents had often seen sitting by the window in anticipation of Pamela's return.

Sheldrake conducted around a hundred experiments and observations, including having volunteers randomly decide when Pamela should return home. He found a very large correlation between Pamela's setting off for home (or her decision to return) and Jaytee's positioning himself at the window, like so (from "experiments with randomly-selected return times") :

1590169484189.png

The above charts show the average percentage of time spent at the window by Jaytee during: the main period of Smart's absence (main period); during the 10 minutes prior to her setting off to come home (pre-return); and during the first 10 minutes of her homeward journey (return). (A includes data for all visits to the window while B excludes "irrelevant visits".)

In addition to having others decide when she would return home, Sheldrake also conducted observations where Smart went out "naturally" and chose her own time to return. He notes: "On average, Jaytee was at the window for the highest proportion of the time (65%) in the "return" period, when Smart was on her way home. He was at the window 31% of the time in the 10-minute "pre-return" period, and only 11% of the time during the main period of her absence."

Quite a few other experiments and observations were done, and they all showed a very clear tendency for Jaytee's visits to the window to increase substantially when his owner was on her way home. A paper detailing all this can be found here:

https://www.sheldrake.org/research/...-home-videotaped-experiments-and-observations

For me, it's difficult to find an explanation other than the proposal that some sort of 'psychic connection' existed between Smart and Jaytee. There was an attempt made to debunk these observations by Richard Wiseman, but having read about his methods and conclusions, it seems a rather lazy and problematic one, and the obvious objections - Jaytee picking up on signals from Smart's parents; routine; increased activity the longer Smart was away from home - all seem to have been controlled for and ruled out.

Thoughts?
 

qed

Senior Member
Paranormal: the assertion that something, that we don't experience in real life, is experienced in real life.

So don't be surprised when your dogs don't experience this behavior. Or you for that matter.

Why isn't talking considered a paranormal form of communication? Because it is real! Why is telepathy paranormal? Because we don't experience it. It would be nice if we did, but we just don't. And if we did, it would be called normal, not paranormal.

Alfred Rupert Sheldrake (born 28 June 1942) is an English author,[3] and researcher in the field of parapsychology,[4] who proposed the concept of morphic resonance, a conjecture which lacks mainstream acceptance and has been characterised as pseudoscience.

Morphic resonance is not accepted by the scientific community and Sheldrake's proposals relating to it have been widely criticised. Critics cite a lack of evidence for morphic resonance and inconsistencies between its tenets and data from genetics, embryology, neuroscience, and biochemistry. They also express concern that popular attention paid to Sheldrake's books and public appearances undermines the public's understanding of science.[
 
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qed

Senior Member
Only 12 experiments where performed with random times!

In a pre-planned series of 12 experiments with randomly selected return times, Jaytee was left at PS parents' flat and PS did not know in advance when she would be returning. Nor were her parents informed. In all these experiments, PS travelled in her own car.
@Rory Why, after 300 years of modern science, have physicists not worried or looked for the psychic force?
 
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Rory

Senior Member
I'm more thinking about the specific evidence related to these observations than general discussion about the paranormal, etc.
 

qed

Senior Member
Ok. Then first I would ask you to be a skeptic/Metabunker and attempt the first round debunk yourself.
 

Mechanik

Member
There was an attempt made to debunk these observations by Richard Wiseman, but having read about his methods and conclusions, it seems a rather lazy and problematic one, and the obvious objections - Jaytee picking up on signals from Smart's parents; routine; increased activity the longer Smart was away from home - all seem to have been controlled for and ruled out.

Thoughts?
My main thought is that this study is a classic example of confirmation bias. The author(s) were looking to prove a psychic link but their methodology doesn't appear to be designed very well. It's true that it sounds scientific, and even interesting, but I have a few issues with the study.

There is no data available. This means you cannot replicate the calculations, or explore other information that reside in the data. You must take the charts and numbers "as is" which could mean that there was some cherry-picking of data, or even conscious or unconscious bias in some aspects of the reporting.

The "controls" are not what I would consider experimental controls. I would want to see the results of filming 100 days where PS did NOT go out at all. Where did JayTee spend his time on those days?

Randomization. The dozen experiments with randomized return times were not truly random, nor are PS's departure and return times random. They occur within fairly well-defined time periods. They did include some charts around time of day, but I find it curious that the charts only cover 30 trips. What about the other 70? Again, lack of data.

Correlation is not causation. Lots of correlation calculations here, but nothing on causation. Taking the article at face value, one can conclude that JayTee spent more time in front of the window prior to PS's return, but the article does not prove that he was psychic. There are too many other variables that are not controlled. For example, what did JayTee do when the parents were also out and PS returned first? What about the same test at the sister's house?

Lots of missing information and lack of rigor make this an interesting read, but not good enough for a peer-reviewed research paper.
 

Mendel

Active Member
The 12 random returns were in a fairly confined period of time. I didn't spot the raw data in the study. What I saw were the probabilities for the dog being expectant pre.return and during the return.

But you get the same probabilities if, say, the dog starts waiting at ~2h after departure, and then the return trip is randomly from 1:45 to 2:30: it'd be waiting pre-departure in 60% of the cases and during the return for most occasions. But the statistical summary would obscure that. So what we really want is a protocol that lists a) when the owner leaves the dog, b) at what times the dog displays expectant behaviour, c) when the random return is triggered, d) when the owner arrives back at the dog.
 

Rory

Senior Member
Yes, looking at the raw data is what I was thinking also. Maybe I will write to Sheldrake and ask him if it's availalable.

If the dog starts waiting at ~2h after departure, and then the return trip is randomly from 1:45 to 2:30: it'd be waiting pre-departure in 60% of the cases and during the return for most occasions.
This objection was put forward at the time, and is addressed in the paper linked.

Lots of missing information and lack of rigor make this an interesting read, but not good enough for a peer-reviewed research paper.
I think it's probably as complete and rigorous as most papers I've seen, and maybe moreso: Sheldrake includes quite a few mentions of things that don't tally with his hypothesis. Definitely needs all the typos sorting out though. :)
 

Mauro

New Member
Well, I'd note the two charts showed in the first post have got nice scientific-looking error bars, but only going in the positive direction....

Twelve 'random' experiments in all.. I guess the calculation of the probability of the dog waiting at the window at a specified time would explain away most of the reported 'effect'. The rest looks like noise interpreted as data, add confirmation bias, some cherrypicking.. And, importantly, any experiment, even the most rigorous one, even made by qualified scientists, is completely worthless if it cannot be replicated (and there are very good reasons for this). Google up N-rays for instance, for an interesting story of how scientists make mistakes as every human being does, but science has a way to correct itself and get rid of errors.
 
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Rory

Senior Member
We're getting off topic here, but that's just too juicy to resist:

What are these "papers I've seen" that were much more complete and rigorous?
 

Mendel

Active Member
What are these "papers I've seen" that were much more complete and rigorous?
A rigorous paper nowadays registers the study design before embarking on the study, and then carries it out. For example, you describe the number of random trials you're going to do, and how you're going to do them, before you do them, and then you report on how the trials went. If done honestly, it prevents unconscious bias: you can't cherry pick your results, or "keep going until we find something interesting", and you have to report failures that would otherwise go unreported.

I've looked in depth at the preliminary paper, and it doesn't have that quality to the described random trials: they look cherry-picked.
And if you assume fraud, as James Randi probably would, there's ample opportunity for it.

The paper you linked in the OP says this:
Article:
When these data were analyzed statistically, a linear regression of Jaytee's waiting times against PS's journey times showed that the times when Jaytee began waiting were very significantly (p<0.0001) related to the times that PS set off (Sheldrake & Smart, 1998).

The preliminary paper has the observational data in https://www.sheldrake.org/research/animal-powers/a-dog-that-seems-to-know-preliminary-investigations , and I've processed them.
Sheldrake Preliminary.png
Observations:
a) the outliers don't show the claimed correlation
b) the non-outlier data doesn't look closely correlated, it looks essentially random
c) the dog randomly displays unexplained amounts of precognition
d) if the waiting outset had a correlation to the arrival time, presumably Sheldrake would have stated that, but he didn't.

With point c), it should be clear that if there was precognition, it should be consistent, but it's not. Sometimes the dog starts waiting 10 minutes earlier, sometimes 5 minutes late.

With point d), it's clear that Sheldrake abandons the hypothesis "dog know when owner will arrive home" in favor of "dog knows when owner sets out" because that allows him more leeway in fudging an explanation: if the dog is early, well then the owner intended to set out early, but didn't actually do it, and that allows him to sidestep half of the deviations that occur, and also account for the fact that sometimes the dog waits for a rather long time.
The latter point especially woudl ruin the hypothesis "dog knows when owner will return", because if the dog knew, why would it wait early? But the same objection applies here, if the dog knows how long the owner will travel, why would it wait early?

Wiseman, Smith and Milton actually debunked the dog:
Article:
Abstract

In his book, Seven Experiments That Could Change The World , Rupert Sheldrake suggested that the public carry out experiments to test whether pets can psychically detect when their owners are returning home. The first of these tests was undertaken by an Austrian television company and involved an owner in the northwest of England, Pam Smart (PS) and her dog (Jaytee). The test appeared remarkably successful and seemed to show Jaytee responding when PS set off to return home from a remote location.

Rupert Sheldrake and PS asked the authors if they would like to carry out their own investigation into Jaytee's abilities. This paper outlines various ‘normal’ explanations that might account for the phenomenon and presents an experimental design that minimizes these possibilities. The paper then details the procedure and results of four experiments. Analysis of the data did not support the hypothesis that Jaytee could psychically detect when his owner was returning home. Finally, the paper discusses a possible reason for the difference in results of these studies and those carried out by the Austrian television company.

Using pre-determined criteria, the dog failed the experiment, and Sheldrake can only sustain his hypothesis by figuring post-hoc explanations for the data that does not fit in https://www.sheldrake.org/research/animal-powers/commentary-on-wiseman-smith-and-milton :
1. he proposes dog behaviour indicators that were not part of the experimental design "they considered only one of the possible signals and ignored others"
2. he proposes dog distraction sources that were not controlled for: "Jaytee's attention might have been attracted to incidents outdoors that were not visible in the narrow field of view of the camera"
3. he proposes that his hypothesis is incorrectly stated: "In fact, she tells me that as time went on she could not help thinking about going home, with thoughts like 'It won't be long now'" -- instead of the owner starting the journey, the dog now reacts to the owner thinking about coming home
4. he confirms that the experiment shows "normal" results: "The data of Wiseman et al. show the same pattern of response as my own", but rejects the author's conclusion.

Through all of this, Sheldrake's claim evolves:
1. Dog knows when owner will come home
-- precognition (not actually claimed by Sheldrake in these papers)
2. Dog knows when owner travels home -- ESP (claimed correlation of journey times and waiting behaviour
3. Dog knows when owner sets out for journey home -- ESP/telepathy (ad-hoc explanation why the dog appears to show precognition and not just ESP), not controlled for in any experiment
4. Dog knows when owner thinks about coming home -- telepathy (claimed in an attempt to refute Wiseman/Smith/Milton)

Sheldrake claims whatever fits his argument, and his claim always pertains to something that has not actually been controlled for in these observations.

He keeps failing to prove the claim that he ultimately uses to explain the observations.


The analysis graphs of the random trials with the beep are even more confusing:
Article:
Data for all Jaytee's visits to the window, including irrelevant visits, are indicated by circles, and data from which irrelevant visits have been excluded are indicated by squares. The beep window is indicated by a line with two arrowheads, and this represents the period during which P.S could have received the signal to come home.

Some graphs exclude data by unspecified criteria. They only relate the dog's behaviour to a "beep window" and omit the time of day. "The abcissa [shows] the series of 10-minute periods defined in relation to the time at which P.S was beeped to come home" is incorrect, as that's clearly not how the 0 is defined.

What is more striking is that the dog never appears to be late, and early much of the time, in a situation where even the owner does not know when a beep will occur. So now Sheldrake has ruled out telepathy and ESP! The dog now displays precognition of when a random beep will occur, an event that is completely unrelated to their owner's activity or state of mind. It has evolved from the 4 claims I outlined before to reject all of them and circles back to precognition of something else:
5. Dog knows in advance when owner will be prompted to come home -- precognition of something unrelated to the dog and unknown to the owner
And that doesn't even explain why the dog has so often reacted "late" in the preliminary data!

If you can explain what Sheldrake's claim actually is, and how the experiment sets out to prove exactly that claim, and if you can restore trust in Sheldrake not omitting data that he deems "irrelevant" (or him simply sitting outside the house and beeping the owner when the dog appears in the window), then maybe you would have a rigorous study. What you have here is a series of inexplicable observations with ad-hoc explanations that shift in response to the observations. He does not field a hypothesis with predictive power, and when Wiseman, Smith and Milton do it for him and the experiment fails, he rejects it.

This isn't a rigorous study, it's selected observational data with related musings and graphs.
 
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deirdre

Senior Member
With point c), it should be clear that if there was precognition, it should be consistent, but it's not. Sometimes the dog starts waiting 10 minutes earlier, sometimes 5 minutes late.
while I don't think this particular 'study' proves anything (for lots of reasons), this idea isn't true. My dog most often would stand up and look out the window when she heard my car pull in the driveway, (maybe more when I stopped at the mailbox)...as I turned in i would see her looking out...but there were plenty of times she wouldn't and yet when I walked in the door she was right there in the room laying on the chair looking at me, wagging her tail. and even if she was asleep and didn't hear the mailbox she'd certainly hear the car as it got closer or the car door as I slammed it shut.

Dogs aren't robots.
 

Mendel

Active Member
Dogs aren't robots.
My point is this:
image.jpeg
Every data point above the red line is the dog engaging in waiting behaviour before the owner started out on their journey.
But it's so irregular that there is no way to tell how much precognition the dog is supposed to have. Your dog reacts to your car pulling into the driveway often enough that you know she can sense that. But from this data, it's unclear what the dog is reacting to if it is reacting to anything precognitively.
 

deirdre

Senior Member
Every data point above the red line is the dog engaging in waiting behaviour before the owner started out on their journey.
that's because PS was waiting for the beep, since they had prearranged windows where i'm assuming she was supposed to leave immediately on the beep. so maybe he sensed her expecting the beep..expecting to have to leave immediately :) kinda funny PS is the pavlovian subject in these experiments though! at least it makes the study amusing, if not in any way accurate or informative.
 

Mendel

Active Member
that's because PS was waiting for the beep
That data is from the diary that the owner kept.
Article:
From May 1994 to February 1995, William and Muriel Smart, PS's parents, kept notes on the time at which Jaytee went to the window apparently to wait for PS. They were familiar with his characteristic waiting behaviour and were used to noticing when he went to wait for PS. As usual, they disregarded times he went to the window to bark at passing cats, or for other obvious reasons, and noted down the time at which he seemed to them to be showing his characteristic anticipatory behaviour. The time at which Jaytee seemed to begin to wait for PS was written down at once, before PS returned, and hence before Mr and Mrs Smart knew when she had in fact set off to come home.
From May 1 to July 6 1994, PS kept a record of where she was coming from, her means of transport and her time of arrival at home. From July 7 onwards she also recorded the time at which she set off to come home.

This shows that at times when the parents did not expect PS back, the dog's behaviour would not be noted.

Do we know for the beep trials whether the parents knew when the "beep window" was?
 
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deirdre

Senior Member
That data is from the diary that the owner kept.
My mistake. either way, when/if you start thinking about going home and when you actually start to physically drive home are 2 different things.

although I don't believe animals have precognition. I think it's telepathy. so really it all depends on what she is thinking (or not thinking) and when.
my cat is definitely telepathic. although she doesn't sit in a window waiting for me to come home.. that would be pathetic to a cat :)
 
One of our cats appears to wait in the front window of the house for us to come home, if both of us go out. He's always in the window when we get home.

My theory is that he recognizes the sound of our car in some distinct manner than isn't apparent to humans. He doesn't wait there, as we know that from our pet camera. He does seem to go into the window whenever a Mazda SUV drives by and we are also not home.
 
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