Sunday, May 08, 2005

The Case for Psi (Part 3)

Here it gets interesting (I hope); at least we're both addressing specific issues about what constitutes "proof" for psi.


Hi Andy,

Thanks for the reply. You bring up an important point about defining what is and isn't psi. The problem as I see it is that the
pseudo-skeptics have also fallen into the trap of dismissing EVERYTHING as coincidence.

I remember another time with mentalist T.A. Waters when he described Martin Gardner's book, "The Wreck of the Titanic Foretold?" In it, the author discusses a novella written 14 years before the Titanic sank in which many of the details (in some cases quite specific ones) seemed to line up uncannily with the actual event. As T.A. described it, Gardner's book consists of a lot of, "Sure, the ship in the novel was called 'Titan' and the real ship was called 'Titanic.' So what, the company that built it used these types of names." "Sure, they both stuck an iceberg on the starboard side near midnight. Big deal, a lot of ships hit icebergs in those days." "Sure..." In other words, Gardner never set down how many coincidences would constitute proof of precognition on the part of the writer. He simply started with the notion that precognition is bunk, therefore every coincidence needs to be explained away.

Check this site for a typical analysis of the book. I'm not trying to lay down any judgements about this specific case, just citing it as an example of a particularly pernicious type of quasi-scientific argument used by debunkers. How do you argue when someone says, "Extraordinary coincidences do happen, and that's all this is."

If you put ten monkeys in front of ten typewriters they'll eventually type "King Lear," but if one of them does this in the first twenty-four hours, there's something going on other than random coincidence. To cite a more common type of story, if Mary has a dream in which her friend Tom falls off a highway overpass and is killed by a Red BMW and the next day Tom falls off a highway overpass and is killed by a Red BMW, there's no way Mary will accept some pseudo-skeptic's argument that this is only the random fluctuations of chance. Nor is there any chance of replicating the experiment; it happened, Tom's dead, and Mary now knows without a doubt that psi exists and that it is somehow possible to receive information from what we perceive to be the future.

Obviously, barring another 9/11, the Global Consciousness Project will never be able to replicate the effect they saw immediately preceding that horror. But if they run the experiment for long enough and never see such an effect again, wouldn't that constitute a high degree of evidence (forget about "proof" for a moment) for a global consciousness? I think you underestimate and insult the intelligence of the scientists running the project when you claim they're somehow unaware that statistical anomolies crop up naturally in the "real" world. Also, I think you're falling into the same trap that other skeptics fall into; namely, you never define the point at which you will accept the evidence. In other words, even if the effect is big enough, and anomolous enough (ie. it syncs up with a major global event like 9/11), a pseudo-skeptic will always plead "coincidence" and avoid a paranormal explanation.

The questions you cite, while compelling, are separate from whether the effect exists and can be demonstrated in the lab. In the case of Russell's Remote Viewing research (and, I believe, Honorton's), they expected a 1 in 4 hit rate, or 25%, and they consistently scored over 30%. This was replicated repeatedly, even after Ray Hyman examined the research (in Edinburgh) and suggested ways to tighten the controls. Every researcher I know has also discovered that certain people are more gifted than others (I'm not only talking about Uri Geller and Steve "Banachek" Shaw here) and consistently score much higher.

Again, it's an easy cop-out for a "skeptic" to say, "Sure, he drew a tower and an oval and a grid pattern, and the Target was a bridge next to an oval swimming pool next to a water tower, but that could just be a coincidence." I mean, come on!

I think you're wrong about peer-reviewed journals, for the reasons cited above. None of them would want to risk their reputation on studies which will be instantly "debunked" by a vocal "skeptical" establishment. They were burned on Cold Fusion years ago (even though the Department of Energy has reopened the Cold Fusion question), and they avoid borderland science like the plague. There's a boatload of controlled, replicated research. Skeptics yowl "fraud or flawed" and the results often don't even get a chance to move through the peer-review process.

And an EEG doesn't prove you dream; it just proves that your brainwaves vary while you sleep. If most people didn't dream (or didn't think they did), the oddballs who remembered their dreams would be considered kooks -- EEG or not. And people who claimed their dreams had meaning would really be exiled to the edge of the village.

When and if the scientific establishment accepts the reality of psi (and I believe one day they will), then it's up to others to figure out how it works, why it works, and why it works differently in different circumstances. You mentioned quantum mechanics; to my limited understanding (and listening to Russell and Bernie, who understand physics and quantum mechanics better than I), the notion that the Laws of Physics might be less strict than we've been led to believe is a major premise of many of our current models. Perhaps as we improve our theoretical understanding of the structure of consciousness and that of the Universe (which I believe are one and the same), the notion of psi will seem not merely plausible, but necessary. Your guess is as good as mine.


COMING UP: The really truly final last response from Andy, plus my wrap-up.

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