Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Eppur, si muove

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Eppur, si muove. Nevertheless, it does move.

That, supposedly, is what Galileo said (very quietly, one supposes) after the Inquisition forced him under threat of torture to recant his belief that the earth moves around the sun.

Eventually, of course, the scientific method was completely accepted and saw off any theological objections to its findings. We can all be thankful for that, not only because of the many life-improving inventions that were developed as a result of scientific research, but because it corrected a mis-application of metaphysics. The phenomena of this world, as perceived by the senses and tested through experiment, yield their secrets to science, not metaphysics and certainly not to religious dogma.

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But there is a class of borderline phenomena between the physical and the metaphysical, namely, what we call psychic or paranormal. Physical and (in many cases) measurable effects are produced, but there seems no physical cause or explanation.

You would think that science, with its claim to open-minded investigation and testing of hypotheses, would be intrigued by the paranormal. Not so. With a few honorable exceptions, scientists don't want to know. Don't want to admit there is anything to know. Orthodox science occupies the low ground that the Inquisition held in Galileo's time.

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Recently it was announced that a paper on extrasensory perception, including precognition -- knowledge of what hasn't happened yet -- would be published in the peer-reviewed scientific Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. As usual, that set the cat among the pigeons.
Prof Bem, of Cornell University, New York, said the results of nine experiments he had carried out on students over the past decade suggested humans could accurately predict random events.
His peer-reviewed work was described as "pure craziness" and "an embarrassment for the entire field" by scientists who allege it has serious flaws and that ESP is a myth.
Articles of this sort in the mainstream media are hard for the educated reader to make any sense out of, since they focus on the conclusions of the study while providing scant information about the experimental protocols, including how the findings were tested for statistical significance. For that matter, even the alleged "serious flaws" aren't specified. All you get is hot air, a controversy, which is what interests journalists. And of course most newspapers can't resist illustrating the story with a corny picture of a gypsy fortune teller, although the overwhelming majority of psychics, people who experience paranormal phenomena, and psychical researchers have nothing in common with so-called fortune tellers.

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Maybe this research did have methodological flaws, although for many skeptics, doing the research in the first place was the essential flaw.

Pieces like The Telegraph's, usually written by generalist reporters, give the impression that no scientific research has ever previously been conducted into the paranormal. A hundred and thirty years of serious psychical research might as well never have been undertaken, since few reporters or conventional scientists will waste their time reading about it.

The evidence for psychical phenomena (sometimes called psi) is overwhelming, but partly for that very reason, doesn't lend itself to easy summation. To get the true picture, you have to read not just a handful of accounts of experiments or descriptions of spontaneous experiences, but -- as with any other field of inquiry -- explore the subject in some depth. That takes time. And, say the perma-skeptics, what intelligent person would waste time on such obvious nonsense? Thus continues the perfect circle of ignorance.

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Occasionally someone asks me to recommend a single book that would convince an open-minded scientist of the reality of psi. I'm not sure that any one book can do such a thing, because even a book is limited in the number of examples it can offer, and any particular instance is open to theoretical objection, no matter how far-fetched. It's the sheer quantity of solid evidence that is the clincher.

For the scientist who wants to get a first, rational look at psychical research, I would recommend you push the boat off with Dean Radin's The Conscious Universe. Radin is a scientist and his tone is objective.

But, short of an overall change in the materialist assumptions of modern life, I don't expect psychical research to become any more respectable than it is now. Only some individuals will explore its findings to expand their understanding of the nature of life. To admit there are levels of consciousness and existence that are beyond the reach of the ordinary senses (while they can at times affect normal consciousness and the physical world) is just too uncomfortable a leap for most.

Eppur, si muove.

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I have just learned from Guy Lyon Playfair that he recently wrote a review with a similar theme. It can be found here.

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7 comments:

Marcus Marcellus said...

Wonderful writing.

DP111 said...

A majority of people are religious to some degree, and prayer is a form of psychic communication.

Rick Darby said...

Marcus,

Gosh, thank you.

DP111,

I am not sure what prayer is or how it works, only that it it is and it does. But calling it a form of psychic communication is reasonable.

DP111 said...

Rick wrote: am not sure what prayer is or how it works, only that it it is and it does. But calling it a form of psychic communication is reasonable

Neither am I sure. It is a mystery that we will never solve. Yet mankind since its very inception, has resorted to prayer, particularly in times of adversity. Why should or did this ever happen, unless there was something wired in our brains?

Even if prayer does not work in a scientifically proven sense, the very fact that prayer gives solace and courage to the individual to face the danger that could not be confronted by the individual on his own, and then in many instances defeat the indefeatable, shows that prayer does work - even in the scientific sense.

Thanks again, for raising issues that are never addressed, because of fear of ridicule.

BTW: A Happy New Year - just got that in before February.

DP111 said...

Question: Is "Courage" the same as "Bravery"?

Van Wijk said...

Great article, Rick. Have you ever read any Hans Holzer?

Rick Darby said...

I am delighted to find that some of my readers are interested in psychical research.

Van Wijk,

No, I've read about Hans Holzer in other books, but not read any of his own. I expect they are remarkable.