Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Everyone's a scientist (now)

When it comes to psi, "science" has an opinion. According to "science" psi doesn't exist. If you don't believe it, try and find a single scientific paper that says otherwise. This is what "skeptics" will tell you if you if you bring up the subject. To be clear, it is only fair to point out that "skeptics" seriously corrupt the meaning of the word by applying it to themselves. According to Merriam-Webster's, a skeptic is "a person who questions or doubts something". Originally, it meant only a person who was thoughtful or who "looked into" things. On the surface, it does seem fair to say that skeptics doubt things. The problem is, they only doubt things that fall into certain categories. Their selectivity ruins the value of the word. Doubt, generically applied, could be looked at as a trait in common with the dispassion that is so valuable in an investigator or a scientist.

Skeptics, or at least the people who choose to identify themselves this way, not only avoid dispassionate attachment to their positions, but they don't appear to have ever seriously considered their positions in the light of criticism. This is to say that when confronted with criticism, it is not evaluated with dispassion or what the ancient Greeks once called "skepticism." They can be fiercely critical of any statement supportive of paranormal phenomenon (psi), but will often shun examining their position in any depth at all. A favorite and rather strange statement frequently heard in these debates is "It's not science!" It is strange because whether something is or is not science is irrelevant to whether something is or is not real. Additionally, to say that an entire field of scientific study--parapsychology--isn't "science" also makes no sense. By definition, it is. The people who write papers in the field are scientists. They have doctoral or post-doctoral degrees, they publish in peer-reviewed journals, and some of them, like Brian Josephson, have won the Nobel Prize in scientific categories.

"Science" is "...knowledge about or study of the natural world based on facts learned through experiments and observation." One could argue that parapsychology does not concern itself with the natural world, but it cannot be argued seriously that their experiments and observations do not take place in the natural world. It may be that they attempt to study aspects of the physical natural environment that suggest a non-physical environment as well, but this hardly qualifies it as a non-science.

I'm writing this partly in response to the numerous frustrating conversations I have seen or participated in recently in various forums. The fact is that as soon as anything related to psi comes up, hecklers from the "skeptic" crowd drown out all attempts at conversation. They probably don't see themselves as hecklers. To them, they are merely asking reasonable questions "Prove it!" and making reasonable statements "Psi is not science". I've decided that it is too much effort to try and play their game by their rules. After all, when they ask for papers and papers are produced, they normally do not read them. So far I have had a few acknowledge that they started but did not finish a couple and that really isn't enough. They ask for evidence, such as it is (how much can be given over the Internet that is truly evidential?) it is given, and then they make complaints unrelated to the items presented. It is like a bad magic trick: You say hello, and they say what's that behind you? While you look the other way, they rearrange the contents of your pockets.

So, I'm tired of that, at least for today. So what I am going to do instead is talk about the things I want to discuss here. My goal is to exercise some restraint and ignore all unoriginal posts from skeptics. All this means is that if they come up with things that look like they came off the common sheet of anti-psi propaganda they all seem to read from, it will be ignored. Examples of this are:

Skeptic statement:"That was debunked by [insert name]"
Answer: Probably not. Every time I've looked these up, they turn out to be a bunch of wishful thinking. There will indeed be an article that claims that it has debunked something or other, but on reading they fall apart. In many of these, I have found powerful counter-papers that, unlike the so-called "debunking" are not littered with supposition and imaginary facts. Therefore, as a true skeptic myself (in the original sense of the word) I must accept that these debunking claims are far more likely to be false than true.

Skeptic statement:"That isn't scientific!"
Answer:See above. This statement, and every scrap of everything offered to justify it cannot change its inherent falsity.

Skeptic statement:"Psi isn't repeatable. If it can't be repeated (on demand) it can't be proved"
Answer: While it has proven to be difficult to repeat on demand with individuals, it has also proven to be relatively simple to reproduce on demand in large studies involving multiple subjects. It has also been shown that psi can be repeatable by specific individuals within certain ranges of time, that is, that psi events occur at a regular rate even if exact timing is difficult to predict.

Skeptic statement:"Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence"
Answer: While I disagree with this principle on the basis that something either is evidence or isn't, I also disagree with the implication that extraordinary proof in this case is absent. To the contrary, there is a wealth of it. The work of Dr. Ian Stevenson, Dr. Brian Josephson, Dr. Dean Radin and Dr. Rupert Sheldrake are just a few scientists who have accumulated quite a lot of what could fairly be described as extraordinary evidence.

Skeptic statement: "There isn't one piece of evidence that psi is real!"
Answer: This comes down to how one defines "evidence". I've noticed that every time a description is asked of a skeptic and then the request for that kind of evidence is satisfied, they exercise some real ingenuity figuring out a new definition of evidence that must now be satisfied. In this way, parapsychology experiments may now be among the most heavily controlled against fraud in the world, and possibly the least likely place to find it in any of the sciences.

Skeptic statement: "To report an NDE, the patient cannot have died, therefore, the NDE report is a brain-based fantasy and the patient was never dead."
Answer: This is a kind of statement I see frequently on NDE threads. The fact is that NDEs also involve veridical OBE experiences that argue strongly for a separation between brain and mind, making all "brain-based hallucination" statements rather off base. Every time I've seen the veridical OBE information presented, it has been either completely ignored on the other side, or has been scoffed at in what is to my eyes a highly scoff-worthy manner in its own right.

Lastly, why is it that in normal life the people who are constantly invoking the white knight champion of "science" are not always scientists themselves? I know there are scientists out there, that some of them have a skeptical interest in psi, and that these people sometimes post to the Internet, but I also know that not every self-identified skeptic is also a scientist. Why then, these appeals to science? An irony is that they make these appeals sometimes in the face of pro-psi comments that are sometimes made by people who are in fact professional scientists.

I hope with this post to get back to more interesting subjects.



  1. Dear Andrew,
    Sounds like you are coming to the same conclusions that Alex Tsakiris is getting to recently at I suppose that this is because what people think is too often derived from what they love. Naively we think the opposite: that our love depends on what we take as true. We think that way especially when we are young, but this is before our loves are formulated and solidified. I just hope we can regain the ability to see clearly even when we are older! Your dreams are certainly forcing you to see much more than you first expected!

    Looks like you will just have to get on with the observations, the participations, and the science!


  2. Very much so. No skeptic/critic would believe me when I say this, but sometimes I feel the way I imagine James Randi or Richard Wiseman would have felt if they had been inundated with the kind of experiences I have had. How would they reconcile such events with their egos? When these happened to me, it was not a matter of just turning on a dime and changing all of my cherished concepts. I was forced, like a dog dragged unwilling by a leash, to go places I did not want to be. Now that I have arrived in what can be likened to a pleasant garden I never knew existed, I remain highly aware of the unpleasant city around me. The new information has certainly broadened my horizons and it is interesting but I also know that many are openly hostile to it. This may make me overly cautious--another statement that would boggle the sensibilities of any proper skeptic!