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Controlled Experiment

The experiment looked so easy; except for one factor.

This fictional story has been repurposed from the November 1978 issue of OMNI Magazine. 

Standing alone on the podium, in the glare of the camera lights, the old man spoke wearily: "I have called this press conference to announce my resignation from the American Psionic Institute." The audience of scientists and reporters buzzed excitedly. "As cofounder of this organization, I am reluctant to leave it; but my continued presence here can only cast a cloud of doubt over honest men's work. For recently, in my zeal to demonstrate the existence of psychic phenomena, I committed the one unpardonable sin in science: I deliberately manipulated an experiment to yield the desired results.”

"A few weeks ago, I implanted in the brains of rats electrodes that, when energized by a random-number generator, produce highly pleasurable sensations in the animals. My objective: to see if the rats could through telekinesis–mind over matter–influence the generator to give more than the expected, chance number of stimulations."

“I reported almost immediate success––clear evidence of psychic ability! But then… then some of my colleagues, puzzled by the excessive attention I was paying to my apparatus, watched, concealed, as I manipulated the equipment to deliver additional stimulations to the rats." The old man sighed. "Why did I cheat? I don't know. In fact, until my colleagues confronted me with the evidence, I was barely aware of my actions.”

"Perhaps after a lifetime of honest research with, at best, ambiguous results to show for it, I subconsciously decided to help the experiment along just a little, in order to encourage my colleagues and to impress the skeptics.”

“In any case, I'm sorry for the embarrassment I've caused the Institute. And now I shall entrust my work to abler, more trustworthy men. In particular, I'm gratified that Dr. John Cole has promised to continue my research with the random stimulator.”

"Good luck, John. I know you won't lose control as I did."

Image via Life

Alone in the laboratory, strapped down in a cage, the rats squealed in ecstasy as the machine directed repeated stimulations through the electrodes implanted in their brains. More! the rats' minds shouted. More! More! But the machine ignored their demands; it continued to grant the creatures brief moments in paradise according to its own mechanical caprice. Then the rats tensed. The man! The man was coming! Seconds later, Dr. Cole unlocked the door to the laboratory and entered. Walking over to the experimental apparatus, he inspected the electronic counter hopefully. He was disappointed to see that in the past hour the rats had received no stimulations beyond chance expectation. Good thing he was on board.

Peering into the cage at the tiny creatures, he sighed. "Do something, you deadbeats! Do something!” At that moment, the rats concentrated mightily. From their minds, at the speed of thought, sprang tendrils of mental energy. Reaching deep into the recesses of Cole's mind, the tendrils touched, probed, twisted. More! the rats' minds shouted. More! More! Unconsciously, Cole turned a dial on the random-number generator. The stimulations were no longer random; they came faster and faster. Even in their heightened ecstasy the rats sensed that this man was not the same one they had...touched...earlier. But still, he was a man, not a machine, and could be manipulated. They squealed in delight. They were in control again.

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