Monday, July 10, 2006

A critique of anti-psi skeptics

HT: J. D. Walters. This is an article saying the critics of psychic phenomena (the CSICOPs) are not the impartial investigators they claim to be. I know that Jim Lippard, who supports the conclusions of these skeptical investigators, has also been critical of their excesses, so I would be interested in his response to this paper.


Blue Devil Knight said...

An interesting article. It reminds me that in college, I got involved (briefly) with a couple of local skeptical groups. They were quite annoying, as their favorite activity was sitting around making fun of people by name-calling. They weren't very interested in having this called into question.

Skeptical societies that sponsor public lectures are very useful, though.

Lippard said...

Radin has some valid points of criticism against some skeptics, but I disagree with his overall assessment of the evidence.

Radin was collecting huge amounts of data through his "psi arcade", and I thought he was confident that he would be developing psi applications, but it looks like he's now giving lectures to followers of Ramtha instead of working in academia. That's a pity.

Lippard said...

BTW, for some comments on PEAR's work that I'd like to see Radin address, see Mark Chu-Carroll's Good Math, Bad Math blog, where he's got two posts on PEAR, here and here.

Don said...

Have you all seen Chris Carter's "Parapsychology and the Skeptics?" Rather than defending parapsychology by describing the research of the parapsychologists, he focuses on skeptics who have devoted their lives to debunking psi. I have followed the skeptics for decades, and read widely in preparation for a section on psi in a book on yoga psychology my wife and I wrote.

I thought I was fairly familiar with the literature of the skeptics. However, I was quite surprised to see the extent to which most of the leading skeptics have admitted the validity of a number of psi studies. To give only a few examples, Richard Wiseman has said there is no doubt that the evidence is solid on remote viewing. After a 40+ page paper attacking the work on psychokinesis done by the PEAR group at Princeton, leading psi debunker James Alcock concluded, "There certainly is a mystery here". Alcock was one of the leading editors of the PSIWARS issue of the Journal of Consciousness Studies. In his essay in that journal, he cited physicist Stanley Jeffers failure to replicate the PEAR work in the course of 2 experiments. A few months after the JCS PSIWARS edition came out, Jeffers conducted another experiment in Germany that got positive results. Susan Blackmore, who repeatedly cites her "10 years of negative results" as a parapsychology researcher, turns out to have done hardly more than 2 years and gotten a number of positive results. And I did't know the extent to which the "amazing" Randi has lied - he even has quite openly told people in regard to his (now defunct) "million dollar challenge", "I always have a way out" (or some such phrase, I think that's what it was). Even some of the most ardent critics of J B Rhine's work admitted more than 50 years ago there were numerous studies of his they couldn't refute.

The problem is people don't seem to be able to keep in mind that "psi" is a psychological ability which is far rarer than expertise in quantum physics, more difficult to call up on demand than whatever skill it might require to be a grandmaster in chess or the top neurosurgeon in the world. As far as being "unscientific", nobel laureate Brian Josephson has put forth a perfectly reasonable, logical suggestion that the so-called "laws of nature" (or more properly put, observed patterns which form the basis for further scientific hypothesizing and theory-making) as now understood may simply be a special case. If the panpsychists (or panentheists, as Hartshorne referred to them) have any merit to their view, then it may be that "mind" or "consciousness" of some kind is implicit in all matter, but does not have any causal effect on the behavior of the physical world in non-living entities. It is only as the nervous system grows more complex (in reptiles, mammals and primates, for example) that consciousness is more explicitly active and can have a direct effect on matter (as in mind-body interactions). This at first blush sounds like "dualism" but it is actually almost the opposite (it's not idealism of any kind either). But that would take longer than a brief comment.