Some Thoughts on Parapsychology

Some Thoughts on Parapsychology

Posted on Jul 30th, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Explorer Marmalade
This is a response to Julian in his blog The Transformative Power of Development: A Three-Part Distinction.

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.

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Nicole : wakingdreamer

about 2 hours later

Nicole said

you make some really excellent points…

roaming around on the net I found this priceless Q and A:

Question of the Month

Q:    I’ve heard of “wormholes” and interdimensional portals in cemeteries that spirits can travel through to get from one cemetery to another. Is this true?

A:        Unfortunately, there is no true way as of yet to scientifically prove or disprove this theory. Theoretically folding time and space is possible, which is the subject we are up against here. It does seem plausible, but highly unlikely, however. The reason that I say that it is highly unlikely is because certain scientists have stated that there are infinite numbers of dimensions. If interdimensional travel were to take place, a certain segment of these dimensions that would connect one place to the other would have to be under ideal conditions to be able to fall into a synchronistic rhythm for any length of time. Theoretically, if this event were to actually happen, even if the dimensions were only one degree “in phase” (synchronized) with each of the others, it would make a minute allowance for particulate electromagnetic matter, such as ghosts, to move through the “gate.” This, coupled with the thought that a ghost maintains their persona, memories, etc. would then almost completely rule out the thought of interdimensional travel by a ghost. I say this because if a ghost is indeed a person – minus their physically manifested body – then they would have to have understood and performed interdimensional travel while they were alive in order for them to have the ability to do so after they have died. 

Marmalade : Gaia Child

about 9 hours later

Marmalade said

Nicole, let us not share that with Julian.  He’d really go bonkers over ghosts travelling through wormholes.  😉

Nicole : wakingdreamer

about 13 hours later

Nicole said

You won’t be surprised to know I had Julian in mind posting that! 🙂

1Vector3 : "Relentless Wisdom"

about 18 hours later

1Vector3 said

This is a no-no, but I have some comments/opinions/viewpoints before completing my reading of the entire blog – and I did not read Julian’s blog, either….. Will remedy these boooo-booooos as soooooon as I can.

My usual disclaimer: The sentences below are not presented as truth or facts, just my best opinions at this time. I seek not to correct or to disagree, but to stimulate clarity and discussion.

The scientific method itself deals with certain ontological objects (Beings, existents) in a certain reality. Paranormal stuff is from a different reality. Like Flatlander [remember the old metaphor of 2-d Beings/world] science can never “prove” the existence of a third dimension, it’s just an epistemologically nonesensical endeavor, when seen from that metaphor.

Not only is the reality different, but the epistemology is different. (Newtonian) science requires a certain subject-object relationship, and that relationship is not the one operating in paranormal phenomena. Thus, no possibility of meaningful interface, let alone “proof.”

[ I ignore here the complexity that the paranormal level of consciousness or epistemological functioning can include the normal in itself, but not vice-versa. ]

What the research CAN do is pile up enough anomalies (as per Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, and BTW I regard no one as educated if they have not read it) that mainstream science can no longer sweep these anomalies under the rug, and must acknowledge its own limits of explanation (actually, of scope of application.)

I forget what Ken Wilber says about this matter, but I think he disagrees with me, but not for any reasons you might guess. Somewhere in Integral Spirituality where he talks about the “Two-Truths Doctrine” and rejects it but I can’t recall why.

Also another point, mainstream science itself, the kind of research you refer to, is still Newtonian in paradigm. Now, how scientific is THAT? A bit behind the times, I would say. Thus, not at all the most comprehensively up-to-date scientific paradigm for assessing anything, especially the paranormal.

As I understand it, when viewed from the quantum-physical paradigm, the paranormal is simply normal, expressions of what is normal on the quantum level, which itself causes enough anomalies on the macro level that it eventually had to be dealt with and accepted.

In No Boundary Ken Wilber does a totally fabulous job of summarizing the implications of quantum physics, including its relationship to and implications for ordinary science, and repeating all that here would take up too much space, but it’s on pages 35-41 of the paperback. The book itself is a paradigm shifter I recommend to anyone who wants to expand their awareness. It’s not even woo-woo, it’s just common sense !!!

I am not qualified to judge, but I have heard that many if not most of the purported “New Age” reports of the implications of quantum physics for our daily lives, for our ordinary thinking, range from inferior to inaccurate, but KW’s report of the implications seems less sloppy, and less axe-to-grind, to my uneducated mind.

OK, thank you for indulging me, and I will go read up. I like being on Notifications of your blogs, oh magnificent orange-and-white Cat-Being from Another Dimension. You are definitely PARA (beyond) normal !!!! LOL !!!!

Blessings, OM Bastet

Marmalade : Gaia Child

1 day later

Marmalade said

Hey OM,

Sorry I didn’t respond right away.  I’ve been busy trying to respond to lots of discussions on Gaia.

Don’t worry about having not read the blog entirely.  Your comments fit in just fine.

Guess what?  I’ve never read Kuhn.  Ha!  🙂  I’m uneducated.  Yay! 

I like the idea of piling up the anomalies.  That is my basic viewpoint.  Parapsychology hasn’t “proven” anything, but it has provided some anomalies.  Eventually, if enough anomalies pile up, it will create a critical mass forcing a paradigm shift.  As I see it, parapsychology research is still in its infancy despite it being more than a century old.

About the Newtonian paradigm of mainstream science, I think that is very true.  The Newtonian paradigm has practical usefulness for research in most fields.  Since there isn’t much connection between most fields and post-Newtonian paradigms, my guess is that most research scientists don’t consider theoretical complexities of quantum physics.  Even paranormal research have mostly ignored theoretical issues and I doubt that many paranormal researchers are educated in quantum physics.  All of science has a whole lot of catching up to do.

I suspect that if convincing evidence of the paranormal is ever found, it will probably be in the field of physics.  Basically, mainstream scientists will only be convinced by evidence by mainstream science, and yet parapsychology isn’t considered mainstream and so its evidence isn’t acceptable.

I was thinking about Dawkins telling Radin that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”.  Radin pointed out that it depends on what one considers extraordinary, but there is a further problem with Dawkin’s statement.  Parapsychology gets very little funding and so is unable to do the largescale research that is necessary to produce “extraordinary” evidence, but its mainstream scientists such as Dawkins who argue that parapsychology doesn’t deserve funding because it doesn’t produce “extraordinary” evidence.  So, Dawkins’ statement is disingenuous because he really doesn’t want parapsychology to produce extraordinary evidence. 

It reminds me of CSICOP, the skeptical organization by various mainstream scientists (incuding Dawkins).  The problem with CSICOP is that it isn’t headed by scientists and the scientists who support it have no professional experience with parapsychology research.  CSICOP has no peer-reviewed journal and doesn’t support research even in disproving the paranormal.  Hansen says that CSICOP did do some research early on, but it ended up proving what they were trying to disprove and so they never did research again.  Worse still, they use their influence (via mainstream scientists) to keep parapsychologists from getting funding.

I am curious about the possible connection between parapsychology and quantum physics.  Lynne McTaggart speaks about the connection in her books, but as she isn’t a scientist I don’t know how biased her presentation might be. 

I’ve heard that there is nothing paranormal because its a false label.  If the paranormal exists, then its normal.  I agree with that as far as that goes… I really don’t care what one calls it.  Anyways, normality is kind of a relative concept.  I’m sure quantum physics seemed a bit paranormal to Newtonian scientists.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

1 day later

Nicole said

LOL! It’s all so terribly funny isn’t it?

your point about quantum physics is very important. i too think the key will be there, so when everyone else has “caught up” we will see a lot more…