X-Men and the Square Pair

Those of you familiar with Superheroes and villains are no doubt familiar with Magneto of the X-Men comic series. Magneto, born Erik Magnus Lensherr, is a member of the Brotherhood of Evil and is a mutant who can create and control electromagnetic fields. He has this nifty helmet he wears that amplifies the power of his thoughts. All in all he cuts a fairly dashing figure.

On any given day you’ll find Magneto psychically tossing large objects around. Is that Army tank threatening him? No problem. It just bounced off the side of a mountain two counties away. Need to escape across the river but there’s no bridge? No problem. He can mentally re-shape metal, turning that barge into a suspension bridge in a matter of seconds. Want to fly across country with your friends and take on the X-Men? How about a magnetic-powered aircraft fashioned out of old manhole covers? Well, you get the idea. It’s all pretty absurd. Or is it?

During the Cold War both our government and the Soviets conducted extensive experiments attempting to prove the existence of ESP and telekinesis. Telekinesis, by the way, is much more complex than poor Magneto’s ability – which is limited to moving or reshaping ferrous materials. After all, casinos known as “juice joints” did that for years – manipulating gaffed dice with electromagnets beneath the layout. Telekinesis is the ability to move objects by scientifically inexplicable means. In other words, The Amazing Randy can’t figure it out. Which gets me to the subject of Joseph Banks Rhine.

Joseph Banks Rhine was a Duke University professor who, after attending a lecture on the supernatural by Arthur Conan Doyle, began studies that helped develop parapsychology into a branch of science, looking upon it primarily as a branch of “abnormal psychology”. In the 1930’s he conducted ESP experiments on many subjects, some of whom demonstrated remarkable ability. In 1934, after several years of cautious research, he published the book “Extra Sensory Perception,” which has since been republished many times. But it is his study of what he referred to as psycho-kinesis – what we call telekinesis – that interests dice guys like me.

In his studies Rhine tested subjects on their ability to mentally influence the outcome of a roll of the dice. He set up three separate tests – one where the dice were thrown by hand in the traditional toss, one where they were thrown from a cup, and a third where they were thrown by a tossing machine.

In the first series the dice were tossed by hand by one of the researchers. The test was to see if the subject could influence the dice thinking about what we refer to as “uptown” numbers – numbers greater than seven. Of thirty-six possible combinations, fifteen are greater than seven. According to the laws of probability, out of 6744 throws the random goal should have been achieved 2810 times. In fact, it was achieved 3110 times. The average rate of scoring on target should have been 15 out of 36 throws over the entire test; in fact it was 16.5. Statistically, the odds against this being a random occurrence of chance are over a billion to one.

An English mathematician repeated the experiment using loaded dice designed to yield only 5 “uptown” numbers in 36 tosses. The results were somewhat less than before – 16.2 instead of 16.5 rolls influenced – but all the more impressive since the dice were weighted against those results.

Further tests demonstrated that when subjects were aiming for a particular number – say the double six – the results were even better. An analysis of a 200,000 throw book of rolls involving the co-operative effort of the test subject and an independent statistician yielded scores could not be attributed to “biased dice, wishful thinking, recording errors or any other realistic counter-hypothesis.”

In order to eliminate such opportunities to cheat, though, Rhine worked with a physicist from Pittsburgh to develop a machine which shook and threw the dice, photographed and filed the result without ever informing the subject of the test of the results. The only human input to the test was that the subject pushed a button to initiate each throw and thought about the target numbers he wished to roll. In tests of 170,000 throws again generated unlikely results that were over a billion to one proposition.

Finally, as a control experiment, Rhine conducted a second experiment where the machine had a self-starter which eliminated all human input. The results? They came out precisely according to the laws of chance. In other words, there appeared to be something at work other than random physics in the previous experiments.

With that said, is there any evidence that any of this stuff will work in the casino? Well, I’d have to say yes and no. Empirical evidence certainly does not exist. Yet how often have you “felt” like a number was about to roll and it did? How about the guy who tossed out a $100 hard four, then threw six in a row? What are the odds of that? Or the player who hops numbers and immediately brings them back? Is it ESP, psycho-kinesis, toss skill, or just plain luck? For the most part I’ll vote for the latter.

The mind is a funny thing. It remembers things it wants to be true and ignores things it doesn’t want to be true. Take the old superstition about the seven showing up after a stick change. The odds of that happening are one in six. The one time it happens, your mind latches onto the fact and says, “Aha! Told you so.” The five times it doesn’t happen your mind ignores it.

Stand at the dice table long enough and you’ll see just about anything you can imagine happen. Yes, I’ve seen skilled shooters set for and toss as many as 13 Horn numbers in a row. I’ve seen point shooters set and bullfrog six points in a row. I’ve personally tossed as many as 23 sixes in a single hand – including 9 in a row. Skill? Sure. Up to a point. But there’s also an element of luck involved. Shooters have long hands because the sevens come at the right time. Likewise, they have productive hands when the numbers they are betting come at the right time.

Should you trust in your skill? Absolutely. Like to visualize positive results? I think mental imagery can be a powerful tool in our game. Like all that positive energy at the table? It’s like chicken soup – it can’t hurt. Betting more because you are feeling lucky? Odds are those feelings will cost you money over the long run. Think if you can get everyone at the table to “Think Ten” you can throw it consistently? I think you’re going to have to prove that one to me. Meanwhile, I’ll stick with placing the six and eight.