The MIT Dahn Yoga Brain Respiration Experiment: Part IV


The test was clearly a failure, the kids bombed. The only time they succeeded was when the opportunity—and temptation—for cheating was available. It was not just that they couldn’t read the colors inside the envelopes—though the KIBS people claimed they could in Korea, and all sides agreed to the experimental protocol—but they could not read the cards when all three kids were blindfolded, taking away the opportunity for cuing.

All evidence, therefore, rationally points to the simplest explanation: HSP is false and the kids cheat. They might cheat with the best of intentions, but it’s still cheating. In other words, with this evidence, it would be irrational to increase your believe that brain respiration is real. It is rational, however, to decrease your belief in it.


Before the test, I emailed James Randi, a well known expert in designing tests of psychic phenomena. Randi has for years held out the “Million Dollar Challenge”, which will pay to the individual who can demonstrate, under test conditions, any psychic ability, what is now over one million U.S.A. dollars.

My email to Randi was unsolicited (he didn’t know me, but I called him a “hero” of mine), so I only gave a sketch of my request. He did not get back to me until the test was over, at which time I emailed him again, briefly outlining what had happened. At no time did I not mean for my sketch to be a complete report of what occurred. But Randi, without my knowledge, published my email on his popular site, and added interstitial comments, taking me to task for deviating from the protocol and allowing the non-scheduled blindfold trials after the main trial had failed.

He said, “Matt, sympathetic as I am to your situation, you let the kids run away with the situation. That doesn’t happen when I get going on such a test.” Well, Randi is an old man and curmudgeonly, and certainly has had more experience than I ever will, so I accept his criticisms gracefully.

I want to stress that had Randi asked for permission to publish my email, I probably would have given it, but I would have liked the opportunity to be more explicit about what happened. I have had no further communication with Randi since, except that I mailed his educational foundation library a copy of my book (also unsolicited).

It is important also to note that Randi had written negative commentary on Ilchi Lee prior to receiving my email. I didn’t know about these posts until afterwards, but my favorite is the one explaining the $4000 cost of a small metal turtle that Dahn Yoga followers could purchase and place by the side of their bed to “increase energy flow.”

What happened next was this: some member of Dahn Yoga found Randi’s post of my email and told Dr S. Lee. Sung was furious that I could have published something without his prior knowledge. But the first time I learned that Randi had published my email was from Sung. I told him this, and also said I didn’t care that Randi had posted it, and reminded Sung of our agreement that either of us could publish what we wanted.

Sung stop talking to me and starting communicating with me via email, mostly to dispute my conclusions about the experiment’s results. I suggested to Sung that if the kids truly get as good as they say they can get, that they contact Randi to win that million bucks. This received an emphatic no.

I also suggested that, if I was right, and brain respiration was false, then KIBS was doing the kids harm by encouraging their cheating and subjecting them to stressful situations that they might not understand. This warning fell, as it’s said, on deaf ears.


A reporter, either present at the MIT trial, or who had heard about it contacted Cornell’s Public Relations department. The reporter was concerned because there were rumors that Dahn Yoga was a cult. I did not know about these accusations before the experiment.

I was subsequently contacted by Lorie Anderson, who runs this site, which compiled evidence of Dahn Yoga’s less laudatory practices.

I assured Miss Anderson, and my boss, that we ran the MIT experiment unofficially, and that we did not involve Cornell’s name except to give our affiliations for the record. Sung also assured the Public Relations department and our boss of the same
thing. This was accepted.

But it was further discovered by officials at Cornell that Sung was running and planning experimental medical trials which used Dahn Yoga as a treatment. His interactions with the Cornell hierarchy became more acrimonious and he, about two months after the MIT experiment, resigned from the Cornell faculty.

Before he left, I tried patching things up with Sung and told him I thought brain respiration was false and why didn’t he? We went back and forth, but I finally said, “Let’s boil it all down to this turtle” (mentioned above). I asked, “Do you really and truly believe it does what it says it does? If so, then you’re a true believer; if not, then you’re willing to accept negative evidence.” He started, “Well, there are things about energy…” and I stopped him. I said, “Okay, you do believe. Let’s leave it at that.”

We shook hands and he left.

I had heard he went out to Arizona to work in a new facility Ilchi Lee was building to develop brain respiration in America. As far as I know, he hasn’t contacted anybody at Cornell since he left; I haven’t heard from him either.

Next: what’s new

Part I, II, III, IV, V


  1. JH

    An unfortunate ending. Is it possible to rewrite it?

    Before he left, I … told him I thought brain respiration was false and why didn’t he? … “Well, there are things about energy…”
    Looks like that pride might have stood in the way of the friendship.

  2. JH

    oops, forgot to end my blockquote.

  3. harold

    I think that the lesson of this story is that it is honorable to travel along the narrow path, with a sense of humor, and an open mind.
    Do not become a debunker and do not sell your soul.

  4. Bernie

    It seems that pointing out that the “emperor is not wearing any clothes” is an activity fraught with peril and scant appreciation. What was that saying about “suckers being born…”
    As for Randi — his reactions seem driven more by protecting his franchise than by uncovering charlatans.
    Was your trip productive in other ways?

  5. Joy

    My take is similar, excellent points from Bernie, JH and Harold.
    On Sung Lee,
    You stopped him in mid climb down, leaving him no alternative than to admit his folly. In fact, you were maybe unwittingly rubbing salt into the wound by showing no interest in his answer by your interruption.
    Your stopping him mid climb down was no doubt because you were cross with his denial; in some ways he was not upholding his side of the bargain, but any reasonable person ought to have come back at a later date and admitted folly. Unfortunately, if the folly defines how a person lives or is part of their ethos, this is something that may never happen. Like any type of adictive behaviour or denial, it’s often bigger than any friendship. What does the person stand to lose from admitting?
    Sometimes the depth of investment is not immediately obvious. Looking at his behaviour this way helps both parties, I think. I am relieved to hear that this yoga is not being given conventional status or being entertained by a university of medicine. I would be surprised if they would countenance his take on the physiological effects of head shaking or head tapping.

    On the other hand, in the case of Mr Randy, here is a clear case of professional jealousy. His feeble criticism was both irrelevant and not aimed at being helpful. You are on his patch.
    “This town ain’t big enough for the both of us”. I’d take it as a compliment that your hero saw fit to pick silly holes in the content of your email and compare yourself to him! His responses were squirmy, that’s a technical term! Couched in a style as if to imply that let your mistakes be a lesson to others.
    It matters not really that you allowed the additional guesses with the blind folds, it did not affect the results. If you hadn’t, it would have been yet another reason for complaint. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Who cares? It’s missing the point.

  6. Mike B

    I read the link you provided to Randi’s post, and I think his criticisms were fair, and rather than being cross, he seemed pressed for time, and was actually wanting more information.

    Don’t get too upset over it, I think you did a fiine job given the circumstances.

    I guess the part that intrigues me more than anything else was the cheering crowd. What, they’ve never been to a magic show before? Surely the Harvard/MIT types in the crowd have seen a Copperfield special on TV. 🙂

  7. Mike B

    One other point…why do you charactarize the test as “…a failure, the kids bombed.”

    I would only consider the test a failure only if the results were inconclusive. Clearly not the case here!

  8. Somebody touched on this subject in a prior comment but it looks like I won’t
    find that one until I’ve posted this one.

    My concern is why did you tell the kids the results of their guesses during the test?
    If you wanted a complete unbiased data set you should not have allowed for the
    excuse of 1st test results influencing subsequent tests.

    Note. I read the previous posts day by day and did not have any objections so I
    am not claiming anything better than hindsight. My question is did you think of
    requiring all 12 guesses from each kid before revealing results?

  9. Apology to braddles.
    This gettin old stuff is for the birds. I didn’t say anything different and was
    wordier doing it.

  10. Mark Dawson

    Randi was correct with his criticism of altering protocols as all “psychics” work on the principle that people will remember the hits and forget the misses. Its the same principle that makes us recall phonecalls from people we have just thought about while forgetting the numerous occasions when they don’t call after thinking of them.

    By letting the kids do a second blindfolded test allows the possiblity of them cheating to attain several positive results an a more positive memory of events in the audiences minds.

    Also I am sure that since the test you have been accused of being closed-minded yet once again it is the true-believer (Sung Lee) who is closed-minded to the possiblity that they are wrong.

  11. SteveBrooklineMA

    Fascinating story! I doubt Randi appreciates the stress that these kids were under. It’s easy for him to say he wouldn’t have allowed the latter blindfold test, but he wasn’t there. The kids had already failed the crucial part of the test. What was the harm in providing them some relief?

    In fact, showing that were able to pass the second blindfold test eliminated the possible excuse that they failed the envelope test due to fatigue from first blindfold test. I’m sure someone would have come up with that excuse.

  12. bgc

    I think some of the earlier posters are being a bit unfair to Randi. I doubt he is being professionally jealous. True,he should have requested explicit permission before publishing the email, but this may just have been misunderstanding on his part.

    His point about not changing the protocol is good though. In this sort of thing you need to agree on a definite experimental protocol and stick to it. Changing it on a whim, even if the intent is to save someone’s feelings, allows a shifting of the ground so that an unscrupulous subject can suddenly be operating under favourable conditions or the audience can be conned into thinking something is working when it isn’t. Always stick to the protocol. After all, it was carefully designed for a purpose.

    The situation that developed with Dr. Sung Lee is sad, but I think everyone reading your series anticipated something of the sort – it is almost impossible to undermine these sorts of strongly held beliefs with experimental evidence; the strong believer almost always finds some rationalisation even if it involves the most bizarre logical contortions. Historically the responses of hard-core members of end-of-the-world cults to the failure of apocalyptic predictions are good examples of this.

    It’s impossible not to feel sorry for the children. As you note they are being uneccessarily exposed to stressful situations where they feel obliged to please the adults even though they must know or on some level suspect they are cheating. And if they convince themselves they are not cheating then they will believe they can do things they can’t. The result will be that they will have a disillusioning and bitter awakening or that they will waste a lot of time and energy – possibly much of their life – on a chimera.

  13. Roger

    I sympathize with your struggle, as I am from a culture that embraces the type of cult-driven beliefs you attempted to expose (in my case fundamentalist christian beliefs). There is no winner; in my case I am exiled from familial belief system. I felt relief when you escaped the “aura”, as I did! Keep doing what you do, I’m sure you know how important it is, but you don’t get enough acknowledgement for that!

    Best regards
    Roger Dueck
    Earth Scientist
    Calgary, Alberta

  14. So you lost a friend and got berated on a silly blog. You may very well have averted a pernicious form of child abuse. No good deed goes unpunished, I suppose.

    I for one applaud your actions. Maybe you could have done more, maybe less, but the key thing is you put a sorry activity to shame, which is where it belonged.

    We can’t always predict the outcomes of our actions. The best we can do sometimes is to do the honorable, ethical thing and trust Providence to sort out the details afterwards.

  15. Rich

    In Part I you said,

    Then came my big warning. I explained what happens when people who believe strongly in psychic powers are presented with positive evidence that the powers are false. They refuse to acknowledge that evidence. They dismiss it, explain it away, insist it is flawed, or a fluke. In no way do they lessen their belief in the power; if anything, their belief strengthens.

    They also blame others for the failure.

    No surprise then.

  16. Bernie

    To be clear about my comments on Randi: You can approach such investigative enterprises in the spirit of collaboration and support or competitiveness and negativity. My read of Matt’s comments is that Randi displayed the latter issuing a public and largely unmerited put-down even if technically what he said is correct. I would have thought that a more positive and collegial approach would have been far more productive if the ultimate goal is to expose charlatans and fraudster or to simply identify the limits of our powers of perception.
    OTOH, my comments were probably a bit harsh, given that I have no other data on Randi.

  17. Joy

    Absolutely, I hadn’t seen this man before although he looked familiar when I saw video of him. I can confirm that he is exactly as the emails suggest. What could be termed politely as an unfortunate manner. Here’s a clip of him showing up an audience member. With his attitude he is unlikely in most cases to make people believe HIM more than the psychic. I found myself sympathising with Maurine!
    If the man is right, he doesn’t have to be rude.

  18. Bernie

    Thanks for the helpful video. I must say I did not find him too unpleasant, except for the unmannerly and dismissive tossing of the transcript. He does appear to be pompous, however, and that fits with Matt’s vignette.

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