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Current Update as of May 04, 2003

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Edited by HENRY REED, Ph.D.

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Three on ESP

Three for ESP

What follows are brief summaries of three articles on state of ESP research. Although published a decade ago, the issues remain as described. Recent developoments in remote viewing and medical intuition seem to support the conclusion of the final article... Henry Reed

Parapsychology Is Too Scientific

Parapsychology has become too boring. It’s not getting anywhere in its trivial pursuit of more-reliable, but less-meaningful numbers. The problem is that it tries to be too scientific. That should read “scientific”— as in “quote, scientific, unquote.”

These quips are oversimplifications yet true to the spirit of a series of criticisms hurled at parapsychology by one of its leading members during his presidential address to the Parapsychology Association. Stephen Braude, of the Department of Philosophy, University of Maryland, recently shared candidly about the pitiful state of much parapsychological research. The occasion was the association’s annual convention. Surely to elicit a rebuttal, Dr. Braude observed that parapsychologists were a ‘pretentious” group, putting on scientific airs. He sympathized with his colleagues, recognizing that they were often under attack as fools for what they pursued in research; thus they emulated the formalities of science in an attempt to gain credibility. Yet that effort has not gained them much credibility and even less of an understanding of psi. This anomaly called psi requires an anomalous science, but parapsychologists tend to be rather conventional.

“Parapsychologists are squandering an opportunity to be on the cutting edge of scientific inquiry. They could be genuine trailblazers with respect to their data and methods. But, in fact. parapsychologists do not really operate on the frontiers of science; they are not the pioneers they often fancy themselves to be (and others expect them to be). Instead, they tend to be disappointingly unimaginative, shortsighted. and conventional. They follow meekly in the already misguided footsteps of traditional experimental psychology by slavishly conforming to methods canonized in physics... They strive to make their work technically crisp and fail to notice that it remains conceptually crude. I find this profoundly disheartening.”

Striving for respectability rather than striving for understanding and trying to be loyal to a method rather than to the demands of the subject matter have a high price. Psychology itself made the same mistake and parapsychology has followed suit. Wiring a yogi to an EEG may make an initial impression on observing scientists, but they will soon lose interest. In the meantime, we Haven’t really learned anything of significance about the inward path to God, which may require a different sort of careful observation than any EEG can provide.

“Rather than concede that psychic abilities, like most human abilities, may be best studied in real-life contexts where those abilities have genuine dynamic relevance, they attempt to study psi in artificial settings that. at best. are deeply significant only to the experimenter.”

The hypotheses found in the Edgar Cayce readings may be an area where Dr. Braude’s comments would also apply. Many of his ideas were presented to individuals facing specific crises. Self-study, application in one’s life, reflection upon results within the context of the Search for God Study Group, as well as in the context of professional relationships with on&s medical doctor are some real-life contexts that would be appropriate for testing his ideas. Braude argues that a good case study can be much more informative than a laboratory experiment. He advocates a naturalist’s approach, perusing and systematizing a wide range of observations. A.R.E.’s home-study research program, coupled with a systematic analysis of ease studies submitted by members, would appear to meet Braudc’s criteria for the kind of pioneering research into psychic abilities he thinks the field deserves.

Source: Stephen E. Braude, “Psi and the nature of abilities.” Journal of Parapsychology. September, 1992, Vol. 56. pp. 205-228.  

(Editor's note: Eleven years after this article was published, Dr. Braude emailed us this: "the articles (sadly)
are still timely. Some things change very slowly (or not at all)." braude@umbc.edu)

Psychologists Alerted to Important ESP Research

“We believe that the replication rates and the effect sizes achieved with this procedure are now sufficient to warrant bringing this body of data to the attention of the wider psychological community.”

With these words, Cornell University psychologist Daryl J. Bern and parapsychologist Charles Honorton (now deceased) make the newsworthy gesture of asserting that there is now a repeatable experiment demonstrating psi. Parapsychology has been hunting for such an experiment for close to 100 years. What is even more newsworthy about their claim is that the American Psychological Association is publishing it in one of their most reputable journals, where it is sure to stir debate.

The experiment that is receiving this special attention is the “Ganzfeld” (meaning “entire field”), named for the homogeneous visual field created over the psi-viewer’s eyes by wearing “Ping~Pong”® ball halves bathed in a soft, red light in an otherwise sensorily deprived room. Relaxing in the Ganzfeld stimulates visual imagery, especially psychic imagery when a person in another room is trying to “send” pictures to the viewer. There have been many published reports in the parapsychological literature concerning the psi effectiveness of the Ganzfeld procedure.

The occasion of this new report. prepared for the general psychological community, is that in some recent studies Honorton successfully met all but one of a new set of special criteria for proving psi. These criteria had been laid out in collaboration with Ray Hyman, one of the few vocal skeptics of parapsychology whom psi researchers take seriously. They involved better controls to insure that there was no sensory contact between sender and receiver, and several improvements in statistics and in reporting procedures. In six years of research, until his lab was closed because of lack of funds, Honorton completed eleven studies with 241 subjects using the more stringent criteria as well as an automated testing and evaluation procedure. It was the overall success of these experiments that prompted this new report.

The authors noted that besides meeting the test of statistical significance, the size of the psi effect was in itself notable. The size of the effect is a measure of how far away from chance levels was the viewer s accuracy rate. The psi effect in these studies, to use a well-known basis of comparison, was from three to four times as strong as the effect of taking aspirin on reducing heart attacks among doctors. This Harvard study received much publicity when the researchers terminated the study early because they felt that the results were so strong it was unethical to continue giving placebos to the participating doctors when it was so clear that their taking aspirin would have a life-preserving effect.

The authors hope that other psychological labs will attempt to replicate the Ganzfeld work. That type of replication, across several different labs, is the one remaining criterion this work has yet to achieve. In concluding comments about this replicability, they stress the importance of future researchers creating a warm social ambience” among the participants. a subtle factor that may well play a deciding role in the results. The importance of this atmospheric effect may well lead to some interesting debate and research in the future.

Source: “Does psi exist? Replicable evidence for an anomalous process of information transfer.” Psychological Bulletin, 199x

What's Needed for Scientific Recognition of Parapsychology?

“What more does the scientific establishment require to accord parapsychology full recognition?” Alexander Imich offered a prize for the best essay answering this question. The winner was Susan Blackmore, a British parapsychologist known for her criticisms of psychical research.

Parapsychology is at a crossroads in its life. On the one hand, it has amassed an enormous stockpile of research demonstrating the reality of psi, the psychic factor. On the other hand, what few parapsychology labs we have are beginning to close down for lack of funding. Psychical science is threatened with extinction.

Dr. Blackmore points out that parapsychology doesn’t lack scientific recognition. She argues that there really is no scientific “establishment” which can grant or refuse scientific status to an enterprise; there are only individual scientists and the activities they pursue. Parapsychologists participate in these activities. In scientific journals they publish papers that receive peer review and publish articles in other journals and magazines as well. There is media coverage of psychical research. Parapsychologists have professional organizations and participate in conventions. All these activities allow for the dissemination of information and the critical review of parapsychologists’ work. In these respects parapsychology functions as a science.

There is but one endowed chair in parapsychology, at Edinburgh University, and no department of parapsychology at any university. This exclusion from academic acceptance Black— more relates to the lack of funding for psychical research. This lack is the critical ingredient in any kind of meaningful recognition of parapsychology.

When she analyses the criteria which funding agencies use for deciding what research is to receive money, she concludes that novelty and practicality are the key ingredients. In short, will the research lead to findings that will make a difference? Parapsychological research, she claims, fails miserably on both counts. The research done today is basically the same as that done decades ago. Nothing changes, really. Furthermore, no one has shown that an ESP effect has any practical significance. Although the implications of ESP are enormous, they remain simply potential implications—nothing that makes any real difference.

In contrast, research into other areas of extraordinary human consciousness has made significant progress, moving from the fringe into the mainstream. Two of the examples she cites are lucid dreaming and the effects of meditation. When researchers learned they could train dreamers to signal their awareness of the dreaming process by controlled eye movements, lucid dreaming gained new stature in the laboratory. Similarly, as researchers found they could observe side effects and by-products of meditation, funding poured in from many directions and supercharged the pace of further research.

If and when parapsychologists find not simply the repeatable experiment but an effect that makes a difference in the lives of people or in how scientists conduct their experiments, then psychical research can expect the kind of financial recognition it seeks.

Source: “Psi in science.” Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, April, 1991, Vol. 57, No. 823, pp. 404-411.

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