if the ganzfield experiment is the leading edge we are still very far from any kind of satisfying evidence for psi, right?
As I see it, parapsychology research in general brings up more questions than answers. Still, the questions it brings up are quite intriguing. I must admit that I don’t feel confident in my understanding of any of this. I’ve never been involved in any kind of scientific research, I’ve never studied scientific methodology, and I’m entirely clueless about statistical analysis. Basically, I really don’t know what to make of much of it, but I am curious.
I’m sure that much of the criticisms are valid, but I appreciate the context that Hansen provides in his book. Hansen thinks that the paranormal by its very nature can’t be scientifically proven and will always be marginal, and he is critical of scientists such as Dean Radin. He isn’t saying that research can’t or shouldn’t be done, but rather it will never be accepted by mainstream sceintists. The budget for paranormal research and the numbers of profesionals involved is miniscule, and its amazing that any research at all is done. Paranormal research could only make any headway (whether in proving or disproving) if it actually had some funding which Hansen says will never happen.
So, Hansen’s criticism simultaneously points out the limits of the paranormal and the limits of mainstream science. To answer your question, yes, the limited evidence of paranormal research is disatsfying. But the limits of science in general are disatisfying to someone who wishes to find conclusive meaning about life.
There are reasons why paranormal research is still important. Relative to other scientific fields, very little research has been done on the paranormal, and very little of it done on a largescale. So, its not fair to judge a field that is still in its infancy. Even though there isn’t any scientific consensus about the paranormal, much has been learned from the research. Parapsychology reearchers have refined their methodologies over time. Its hard to control for something which has many unknown factors. They have to be more careful about their controls (partly because of potential deceipt and self-deception) than is necessary for most scientists. So, the refinements of methodology are helpful for all researchers in all fields. There is a history of inadequate methodology in parapsychology research, but to its credit these inadequacies are continuously being resolved. Its a slow process, though, since there is very little funding or institutionalized support. In some ways, research has shown more about what the paranormal isn’t than what it is.
One of the subjects I find the most interesting (in Hansen’s book) is the sociology of scientific knowledge (SSK). Scientists in this field study other scientists. Two interesting aspects are the problems with the replication of scientific experiments and experimenter effect (the corollary to the placebo effect which complicates the situation further). The research into the experimenter effect was pioneered by Rosenthal (who so happened to have some interest in parapsychology) who demonstrated that the bias of a researcher alters the results. He also studied teachers and how their expectations influence the success or failure of students. Interestingly, he also helped to develop the use of meta-analysis… maybe because of the problems he discovered with individual experiments. Experimenter effect can be controlled by double-blinds, and yet according to this paper double-blinds aren’t as commonly used as one would hope. Parapsychologists take double-blinds more seriously because of the increased complexity of experimenter effects. The problem with studying the paranormal is that it by definition challenges the very basis of the scientific paradigm, and that is why Hansen is so pessimistic about the future of parapsychology research.
BTW Hansen is especially critical of skpetics especially on the debunking end of the scale. In his book, he focuses on the enmeshed relationship between parapsychologists and skeptics, and brings up some important insights. His analysis of Martin Gardner is very detailed. At his site he has several online articles about skeptics:
CSICOP and the Skeptics: An Overview. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, Vol. 86, No. 1, January 1992, pp. 19-63.
The Elusive Agenda: Dissuading as Debunking in Ray Hyman’s The Elusive Quarry. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, Vol. 85, No. 2, April 1991, pp. 193-203.
Review of Quantum Leaps in the Wrong Direction by Charles M. Wynn and Arthur W. Wiggins. Journal of Parapsychology, Vol. 66, No. 3, September 2002, Pp. 321-324.
Review of The Encyclopedia of the Paranomal edited by Gordon Stein. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, Vol. 90, Nos. 3-4, July-October, 2000, pp. 181-189.
In case you’re interested, here is Hansen’s Website, and some Book Reviews: here, here, here (starting on p. 60), and here.
now even if we do decide to go along with the possibility that as radin says ” people sometimes get small amounts of specific information from a distance without the use of the ordinary senses. Psi effects do occur in the ganzfeld” – then the question becomes what do we think that means?
Good question. The meaning is where the rubber hits the road for us simply trying to make sense of it all. Whether its true or not, why should we care? And if true, what is its practical value? I don’t know what sense we can make of it. The possibility of it being true brings doubt to our normal sense of reality and the standard procedures of science. It very well might mean an entire paradigm shift within our society. But what do we think it means? I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me I think it means the world is a strange place. 🙂
what do you think this “evidence” would mean viz the above blogpost were it verifiable beyond doubt?
Basically, I don’t think that most of what you said is directly related to whether or not the paranormal exists, but you seem to think its directly related. Even if the evidence was irrefutable, it wouldn’t change the basic facts of growth and development, suffering and death. Also, there is no reason to assume that parnormal research would support idealistic metaphysics.
Its true that the paranormal can be interpreted in terms of the pre-rational, but it also can be interpreted in terms of the trans-ratioal. The trans-rational isn’t a clear category. In some ways, its beyond both rationality and pre-rationality. Its beyond in terms of development, but its also beyond in that it can temporarily suspend these previous modes. Yet, in other ways, it might be thought of as that which bridges the gap between the pre-rational and the rational as it transcends and includes both. However we look at it, I think it brings to question some fundamental divisions that rationality helped to create… such as internal and external. These divisions are still real to some degree, but the trans-rational complexifies the relationship between them.
I’m still figuring out how this all fits together. Hansen doesn’t speak about integral theory, and integral theory doesn’t speak much about parapsychology research. I’m trying to connect ideas here, but I don’t know how successful my attempt is. I genuinely have no clear conclusions at this point. I’m hoping that further discussion of enactivism will help me to integrate my thoughts.