Inviting Open-Minded Skepticism
of the Materialist View
I believe in science, and I am confident that a science that can boldly contemplate the origin of the universe, the nature of physical reality 10-33
seconds after the Big Bang, anthropic principles, quantum nonlocality, and parallel universes, can come to terms with the implications of parapsychological findings — whatever they may turn out to be….
True skepticism involves the suspension of belief, not disbelief. In this context, we would do well to recall the words of the great nineteenth century naturalist and skeptic, Thomas Huxley: “Sit down before fact like a little child, be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly to wherever and to whatever abysses nature leads or you shall learn nothing.”
— Charles Honorton, from his essay, “Rhetoric Over Substance: The Impoverished State of Skepticism“
In a recent essay for Integral World, “The Challenge of Writing about Sri Aurobindo’s Integral Psychology“, I described how my wife, Jan, and I attempted to show, in a book we co-authored on yoga psychology, that there is no fundamental conflict between the actual findings of contemporary science and the various so-called “metaphysical” phenomena associated with the yoga tradition — phenomena such as rebirth, direct mind-to-mind communication, etc. For those of you who haven’t seen that article, here is a brief recap. I’ve also attempted in the conclusion of this paper to bring out what was implicit in the previous essay: my understanding that the non-materialist aspects of yoga psychology are not only essential, but provide the foundation for a truly integral psychology.
Our ultimate aim in suggesting the compatibility between science and yoga is to encourage a greater willingness to seriously consider the yogic view — namely, that, as Sri Aurobindo writes, “Consciousness is the fundamental thing in the universe — it is the energy, the motion, the movement of consciousness that creates that universe and all that is in it.” We hoped that readers who were reluctant to consider a view they believed to be at odds with science might be more willing to explore it if they felt there was no conflict. For this reason, we include two chapters in our book challenging assumptions underlying the notion that materialism (or “physicalism,” as it is now referred to) is the fundamental basis of scientific endeavor. In the second of these chapters, we examine parapsychological (psi) research, the results of which seem to suggest the possibility of a reality that is compatible with a yogic vision. (Note, we do not claim that psi research proves this.)
Once we challenge the scientific basis for a physicalist view of reality, we unfold the vision of yoga psychology based largely on the work of Sri Aurobindo (many may not know that the term “integral psychology” [IP] was coined in 1935 by Dr. Indra Sen, a psychologist in residence at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry India, and that it was based on the work of Sri Aurobindo).
It is my belief that Ken Wilber is in error when he retrospectively characterizes Sri Aurobindo’s vision as “metaphysical,” (in Wilber’s lexicon, as far as I could determine, this means — in this context — that it is the product of intellectual speculation). Rather, I would suggest that Sri Aurobindo articulated what could be considered a truly post-metaphysical vision — such as that expressed in the great “post-modern” text, the Katha Upanishad (circa 800 BC) — which declares that spiritual truths can be neither established nor refuted by reason, but can be understood only by entering into what might now be called “post-metaphysical intuitive knowing” [gnosis, noesis, prajna, etc].
Jan and I believe that the post-metaphysical vision of yoga psychology — what we refer to as “the view from infinity” — is as the Katha Upanishad suggests, not a set of facts or ideas which can be viewed from a distance. It is rather what might be called a “way of knowing” quite different from the “objective” attitude of mind currently cultivated in our educational system (we refer to this as “seeing through the eyes of Infinity”). And we believe that it offers, at the very least, some powerful suggestions for developing a more fruitful scientific exploration of the nature of consciousness.
Taking “metaphysical” to mean intellectual speculation, it seems then that we already have a “post-metaphysical” spirituality in the form of the Indo-Tibetan tradition. What I think is really needed to further the scientific understanding of consciousness is a “post-metaphysical” science.
Physicist Paul Davies has written recently of the unspoken assumption on the part of many scientists that “laws of nature” are “immutable, absolute and universal”. It is here, rather than in the yoga tradition, that you find purely intellectual speculation regarding what Ken Wilber refers to as “eternal, timeless structures”. It is taking these “laws” to be ontological, objective realities that, in my estimation, reflects the error Wilber calls “the myth of the given”. Davies refers to this attitude toward laws of nature as a “faith-based belief system”.
Similar purely intellectual speculation underlies the assertions of those like philosopher Daniel Dennett and biologist Richard Dawkins who proclaim random (i.e. non-conscious, non-intelligent, chance) mutation and natural (i.e. non-conscious, purely physical) selection as the sole determinants of the evolutionary process. Again, such intellectual speculation undergirds the assertion of neuroscientists who proclaim that a correlation between brain processes and mental activities proves that mind is nothing more than the brain.
I would suggest that it is precisely because contemporary scientific thinking is so thoroughly permeated with such implicit metaphysical notions that things like the existence of consciousness and the thousands of experiments demonstrating psychic phenomena are so deeply puzzling to so many who subscribe to this “faith-based belief system”. The so-called “hard problem” of consciousness, for example, is only a problem within a materialistic framework. Seen “through the eyes of infinity” — that is, from a yogic vision — there is no problem.
On the other hand, the materialistic metaphysic so predominant in contemporary science has actually created a “hard problem” of matter. Rejecting the experienced qualities (“qualia“) of matter as secondary epiphenomena, physicalist metaphysicians leave us with a universe of abstract quantities, based on the seemingly paradoxical findings of quantum physics. However, according to physicist Ulrich Mohrhoff (see his website at www.anti-matters.org), the apparent paradoxes of quantum physics are only paradoxical within a (metaphysical) materialistic framework. In several brilliantly written articles, Mohrhoff shows that within a spiritual or “gnostic” (not intellectually metaphysical) framework, the seemingly paradoxical findings of quantum physics make complete sense. In Yoga Psychology and the Transformation of Consciousness, we offer one such gnostic (post-metaphysical) vision, in the form of the yogic psychology of Sri Aurobindo. We believe this vision offers a way of understanding the relationship between consciousness and matter, as well as the evolution of consciousness in the physical universe, that is deeply inspiring.
In our book, we invite the reader to “try on” the yogic vision, that is, to attempt to develop an intersubjective mind-set which we believe is more conducive than ordinary analytic thought for understanding the truly radical implications of the yogic view. And again, our hope is that a fair consideration of the parapsychological research might help to allay the concerns of the skeptical reader not only about psi phenomena, but about the yogic view, of which psi is an integral part (note here that we are not asking the reader to affirmatively ‘believe” anything, but simply to be willing to consider what may be for many a point of view different from their customary one).*********************
Shortly after my previous paper was published on Integral World, Geoffrey Falk responded with an article in which he presented a number of criticisms of parapsychology. These criticisms are based largely on writings of the members of the well-known skeptics organization, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (known as CSI-COP). Reading Geoffrey’s article inspired me to look more closely at the writings of such prominent CSI-COP skeptics as James Alcock, David Marks, Ray Hyman and Susan Blackmore.
Although I had done a great deal of reading on parapsychological research and the criticism of it by skeptics during the several years of working on the yoga psychology book, I was nevertheless surprised at a number of things my most recent research uncovered — especially regarding the strategies employed to discredit the field. For example, despite my sympathies with the plight of psi researchers, I’d been perplexed as to why none of them had responded to the various challenges put forth by magician James Randi — challenges offering anywhere from one thousand to one million dollars for a definitively successful experiment. I was stunned to discover that Randi never meant his challenge to be taken seriously, and had put it forth only as a publicity stunt! (as he is quoted as saying, “I always have an out”).
As a long time meditator familiar with the stringent requirements set forth in traditional yogic texts for developing paranormal abilities, (along with stern warnings as to the dangers of developing psi abilities), I have long been amazed that parapsychology researchers have been able to come up with any successful experiments at all. It seems to me a testament to the persistence of psi researchers that even hardened skeptics like Ray Hyman and Susan Blackmore have been compelled to acknowledge that “something” is going on in various experiments on telepathy, remote viewing and psychokinesis, that is inexplicable in conventional terms.
I’m going to answer each of the points Geoffrey made in his response to my article, but first I want to take a critical look at the credibility of the criticisms that have been leveled at parapsychology by leading critics such as Alcock, Marks, Hyman and Blackmore, as their credibility goes to the heart of Geoffrey’s comments. At the conclusion of this essay, I will address the issue of weak effects which continues to plague psi research — and which seems to me to be critical to the whole debate over psi phenomena. My guess is that if the size of the effects were anywhere as dramatic as their statistical validity, the whole debate would come to an abrupt halt, and a new era of scientific research would rapidly dawn. As I mentioned earlier, the reason for weak effects has been made clear in yogic texts for thousands of years, and the exposition of yoga psychology in our book explains in some detail both the basis for and obstacles to the accessibility of psi phenomena. I will also offer an experiment you can do for yourself that demonstrates why they are so difficult to access.
SOME CANDID ADMISSIONS BY SKEPTICS
“There certainly is a mystery here.”
Psychologist James Alcock, in his conclusion to a report analyzing the results of Robert Jahn’s and Helmut Schmidt’s experiments on psychokinesis
“At the time of writing  there are three claims in the ESP field which, in my opinion, deserve serious study: (1) that by thought alone humans can (barely) affect random number generators in computers; (2) that people under mild sensory deprivation can receive thoughts or images “projected” at them; and (3) that young children sometimes report the details of a previous life, which upon checking turn out to be accurate and which they could not have known about in any other way than reincarnation.”
Carl Sagan, “The Demon Haunted World”, P. 302
Using the standards applied to any other area of science, it is concluded that psychic functioning has been well established [by the CIA sponsored remote viewing experiments]…The statistical departures from chance appear to be too large and consistent to attribute to statistical flukes of any sort… I tend to agree with Professor Utts that real effects are occurring in these experiments. Something other than chance departures from the null hypothesis has occurred in these experiments… I want to state that I believe the SAIC experiments as well as the contemporary ganzfeld [German for ‘entire field’] experiments display methodological and statistical sophistication well above previous parapsychological research. Despite better controls and careful use of statistical inference, the investigators seem to be getting significant results that do not appear to derive from the more obvious flaws of previous research […This] does suggest that it might be worthwhile to allocate some resources toward seeing whether these findings can be independently replicated. If so, then it will be time to reassess if it is worth pursuing the task of determining if these effects do indeed reflect the operation of anomalous cognition.
Psychologist Ray Hyman, hired by the US Government to assess remote viewing experiments. (Note that he remains a skeptic — he can’t explain the results but doesn’t accept that they “prove” that psi — or “anomalous cognition” — has occurred.)
The disbeliever can refuse to look at the positive results. You may think I wouldn’t refuse, but I have to admit that when the Journal of Parapsychology arrives with reports of Helmut Schmidt’s positive findings I begin to feel uncomfortable and am quite apt to put it away ‘to read tomorrow.’…The disbeliever has to take notice of those positive results. I am thinking particularly of the results of Carl Sargent, Charles Honorton, Helmut Schmidt, and Robert Jahn [in experiments on telepathy, remote viewing and psychokinesis]. I suggest that if we think these can easily be dismissed then we are only deluding ourselves. One cannot offer simplistic counter-explanations and throw all these results away. I am not saying that these results may not, in the future, succumb to some normal explanation; they may well do so. But at the moment we do not have such an explanation.
Psychologist Susan Blackmore, from her 1987 Skeptical Inquirer article, “The Elusive Open Mind: Ten Years of Negative Research in Parapsychology”
“My own conclusion is biased by my own personal experience. I tried my first ganzfeld [telepathy] experiment in 1978, when the procedure was new…. Of course the new autoganzfeld results are even better. Why should I doubt them because of events in the past? The problem is that my personal experience conflicts with the successes I read about in the literature and I cannot ignore either side. The only honest reaction is to say, “I don’t know.”
Susan Blackmore, in her reply to “Do You Believe in Psychic Phenomena”, The Time Higher Education Supplement, April 5, 1996.
I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know!”
From Susan Blackmore’s 1986 autobiography, In Search of the Light: Adventures of a Parapsychologist, commenting on whether psi exists.
A LOOK AT THE LEADING “SKEPTIC” ORGANIZATION, CSICOP
Parapsychology is the only scientific discipline for which there is an organization whose sole purpose is to discredit it. The Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) was formed in 1976 at a meeting of the American Humanist Association. At its founding, its primary goal was stated to be the examination paranormal research in an “objective and impartial” manner, and to conduct its own research adhering to the highest level of scientific rigor and quality.
It turned out that the very first research CSICOP engaged in was to be its last. Conducting its own experiment on a quasi-astrological phenomenon dubbed by French psychologists Michel and Francoise Gauquelin as “the Mars Effect”, the CSICOP researchers were taken by surprise when they ended up with positive results. But those results never saw the light of day.
Astronomer Dennis Rawlins, a founding member of CSICOP and hard line “debunker,” criticized the membership for covering up these positive results, and was ejected from the council. Rawlins later wrote several articles describing how CSICOP members attempted to hide or even change the data in an attempt to refute Gauquelin’s findings. Chris Carter, in his book, Parapsychology and The Skeptics, summarizes the events as follows:
“The policy of no research has reduced the organization’s vulnerability to criticism, for as [parapsychologist] George Hansen remarked, ‘If CSICOP had continued to undertake is own research, scientist might again point out errors in its procedures and ambiguities in its interpretations. That could threaten CSICOP’s image of authority.’ In their review of the Mars Effect controversy, sociologists of science T.J. Inch and H.M. Collins concluded: ‘As regards the Committee itself, and similar scientific-vigilante organizations, there are lessons to be learned. The Committee’s main platform for attack upon parapsychology… has been the standard, or canonical, model of science. This is a strategy that can only be used in complete safety by organizations that do not engage in controversial science themselves…. The Committee’s new position is that it will continue to fight the battle from the platform of the canonical version of science — preserving the ideology as it does so — while sensibly keeping its own hands clean and avoiding the risks of doing any experimental science itself.”
SOME GENERAL CRITIQUES OF PSI-SKEPTICS
“Sociologists Harry Collins and Trevor Pinch made a study of the way in which parapsychology has been treated by its critics in the mainstream scientific journals. They found straight-forward statements of prejudice; pseudo-philosophic arguments to the effect that parapsychology ought to be rejected simply because it conflicts with accepted knowledge; accusations of fraud without evidence to support them; attempts to discredit scientific parapsychology by association with cult and fringe activities; and emotional dismissals based only on grounds that the consequences of its acceptance would be too horrible to contemplate; and they concluded that ordinary standards and procedures of scientific debate were being seriously violated.”
Cited by biologist Lyall Watson in his book, Supernature.
A few years ago, Ray Hyman wrote about the Ganzfeld: “The case for psychic functioning is better than it ever has been. I also have to admit that I do not have a ready explanation for these observed effects.” That was at the end of a long debate on whether or not the Ganzfeld proved telepathy. If it was about evidence, just plain and simple evidence, the debate would have been settled long ago. If this were any other field, which was not loaded with these metaphysical implications, the debate would have been settled on the evidence long ago, perhaps 1950…
Chris Carter, author of Parapsychology and the Skeptics, in an online Skeptico interview.
A LOOK AT INDIVIDUAL SKEPTICS
The “Amazing” James Randi (Randi is a professional magician using the title “amazing” in his performances).
Biologist Rupert Sheldrake provides an amusing example of Randi’s approach to debunking:
“The January 2000 issue of Dog World magazine included an article on a possible sixth sense in dogs, which discussed some of my research. In this article Randi was quoted as saying that in relation to canine ESP, ‘We at the JREF (James Randi Educational Foundation] have tested these claims. They fail.’ No details were given of these tests. I emailed James Randi to ask for details of this JREF research. He did not reply. He ignored a second request for information too.
“I then asked members of the JREF Scientific Advisory Board to help me find out more about this claim. They did indeed help by advising Randi to reply. In an email sent on February 6, 2000 he told me that the tests he referred to were not done at the JREF, but took place ‘years ago’ and were ‘informal’. They involved two dogs belonging to a friend of his that he observed over a two-week period. All records had been lost. He wrote, ‘I overstated my case for doubting the reality of dog ESP based on the small amount of data I obtained. It was rash and improper of me to do so’.”
“Randi also claimed to have debunked one of my experiments with the dog Jaytee, a part of which was shown on television. Jaytee went to the window to wait for his owner when she set off to come home, [but did not go to the window at any point prior to his owner beginning her journey home. Jaytee demonstrated the same behavior even when there was no predictable temporal pattern as to when his owner would begin her journey home; you can see the data sets at Sheldrake’s Skeptical Investigations website]. In Dog World, Randi stated, ‘viewing the entire tape, we see that the dog responded to every car that drove by, and to every person who walked by.’ This is simply not true, and Randi now admits that he has never seen the tape.”
Randi often publicizes a “challenge” to psychics, ranging from $1,000 to $1,000,000 for a convincing demonstration of psychic ability under controlled conditions. However, he often refuses to meet with challengers who take up his offer, or simply ignores them. When he does agree to a test, he has an elaborate “preliminary test” and has never let anyone get past the preliminary stage. In fact, according to Chris Carter, Randi has been quoted as saying “I always have an out.” Carter goes on to write, “Because of his many outrageous remarks, Randi has been the target of several expensive lawsuits, and in May 1991, Randi resigned from CSICOP in order to prevent it being named as a defendant in subsequent suits.”
Alcock, like fellow CSICOP member Hyman, has conducted very little paranormal research himself. He is known mostly for accusing parapsychologists of being motivated primarily by “religious” beliefs. When he does find positive psi results that he can’t refute, he simply asserts that the experiments are flawed because of the religious beliefs of the experimenter! Yale psychologist Irvin Child, in a review of several skeptics’ books, including one by Alcock, writes that they contained “nearly incredible falsification of the facts about the experiments.” [another one of the books Child reviewed was by C.E.M. Hansel who is referred to below]
James Alcock and Ray Hyman were hired by the United States government in 1987 to be the principal evaluators of psi research for a National Research Council (NRC) report on enhanced human performance. Their report came to a very negative conclusion regarding the research. When the background papers were examined, it turned out that, among other things, Alcock and Hyman had asked one of the evaluators (psychologist Robert Rosenthal of Harvard, considered one of the leading experts in scientific methodology) to withdraw his conclusions that were favorable to psi research — including his conclusion that the successful outcome of several ganzfeld ESP studies could not be attributed to chance.
Susan Blackmore, a British psychologist, started her career as a student at Oxford determined to become “a famous parapsychologist.” After her first study failed, she wrote in her diary, “I concluded that parapsychology is all a lot of rubbish and I should do something else!” Blackmore has been a vocal critic of psi ever since, frequently appearing on popular radio shows and in news magazines. She repeatedly states that “in ten years of research” she “found no evidence of psi.” This “ten years of research” claim was subjected to analysis by Rick Berger, who wrote his conclusions in a 1989 article for the Journal of Psychical Research. The abstract is quoted here (the full article is available online):
“A critical examination of Susan Blackmore’s psi experiment database was undertaken to assess the claims of consistent ‘no ESP’ across these studies. Many inconsistencies in the experimental reports were found, and their serious consequences are discussed. Discrepancies were found between the unpublished experimental reports and their published counterparts. “Flaws” were invoked to dismiss significant results while other flaws were ignored when studies produced non-significant results. Experiments that were admittedly flawed in the unpublished reports were mixed with supposedly unflawed studies and published without segregation, creating the impression of methodological soundness. Two instances in which study chronology was reordered were found. Overall, it is concluded that Blackmore’s claims that her database shows no evidence of psi are unfounded, because the vast majority of her studies were carelessly designed, executed, and reported, and, in Blackmore’s own assessment, individually flawed. As such, no conclusions should be drawn from this database.”
In fact, Blackmore did obtain positive results in at least one experiment. Berger writes that,
“Betty Markwick, a statistician who is highly regarded by the skeptical community for her exposure of the manipulation of the Soal-Goldney data, recently reanalyzed Blackmore’s Tarot experimental data (Markwick, 1988). Using statistical methods that are valid considering the design of the experiment, Markwick found that the data for the first experiment remain significant.”
However, generally speaking, Berger concludes that
“Much of Blackmore’s work is considered flawed by her own self-assessment. Serious discrepancies were found between the unpublished dissertation experiments and subsequent published journal reports. The claim of “ten years of psi research” actually represents a series of hastily constructed, executed, and reported studies that were primarily conducted during a 2-year period….. Meanwhile, Blackmore is extremely vocal in decrying psi research in her writings, on television and radio, and before the skeptical advocacy group CSICOP (the Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal), citing her own work as the basis for her strong convictions.”
(The following is taken verbatim from the Skeptical Investigations website. See also “The Need for Open-Minded Skepticism” on Rupert Sheldrake’s website regarding Marks’ awkward attempts to explain away the positive results he got in a psi experiment. To see the other side, you can read Marks’ article on the CSICOP website).
“Although [Marks] claims that “I will never refuse to change if the evidence demands a change”, he has devised a formula for ensuring that such evidence is never forthcoming. If the evidence is positive, it is either ‘flawed’ or in need of ‘replication and further analysis’. If it is negative it is accepted uncritically. Marks appears impervious to positive evidence of any kind. For example, commenting on the several successful replications of the remote viewing experiments carried out by Harold Puthoff, Russell Targ and Edwin May (funded for several years by various U.S. government agencies) he dismisses them all as “flawed in a variety of ways”. In a chapter entitled ‘The Sloppiness Continues’, Marks mentions positive results of a remote viewing experiment reported by Marilyn Schlitz and Elmer Gruber. Admitting that this was a successful replication of the similar experiments of Targ and Puthoff, Marks gets off this particular hook by stating: ‘However, we do not know how many nonsignificant studies remain in the investigators’ file drawer. If it is a small handful, which seems likely, the… statistical significance simply melts away like snowflakes in the spring.’ He has no evidence that any such “file-drawer” studies exist. Marks has shown once again that when negative evidence is required to disprove a positive claim, he simply makes it up… In addition, the best positive evidence is simply not mentioned. Robert Morris noted that Marks and Kamman (1980) ‘disregard altogether the studies considered by those familiar with the field as providing the best evidence for psi’ and cite no evidence from parapsychology journals. Theirs, said Morris, was a ‘biased selection of material [which] cannot be regarded as an adequate review for assessment of psi research’.
I spent quite a bit of time looking over a number of online papers that Hyman has written. Of all the skeptics with whom I am familiar, Hyman has been most balanced and fair-minded. And yet, Hyman has actually been quite inconsistent in his apparent even-mindedness. In one article he will frankly confess his inability to find flaws in one or several psi experiments. Then you’ll find an article published a year later in which he pronounces parapsychology to be lacking even a single successful experiment, without mentioning his previous positive assessment. (Hyman’s cover up of the Rosenthal and Morris paper for the NRC, which was positive toward psi research, is mentioned above). I eventually realized it would require an entire paper just to adequately cover the shifts in Hyman’s stance. Fortunately, I found an excellent paper on Hyman’s tactics written by George Hansen, entitled “The Elusive Agenda: Dissuading as Debunking in Ray Hyman’s The Elusive Quarry”. Below is a section of that paper (the whole thing is available online):
“In some instances, Hyman has acknowledged that several long-term research programs have produced results for which no normal, reasonable explanation has been given. This was admitted for modern day research as well as for studies conducted over 100 years ago. Hyman has stated: ‘It is true that no one who has studied the reports of seances by Home or Crookes’s accounts of his tests on this medium has come up with plausible ways he could have cheated’ (Hyman, 1989, p. 286). Hyman thus admits that the Home mediumship was a true enigma for which no satisfactory scientific explanation has been given.
“Speaking of the best experiments of modern research (primarily Ganzfeld and RNG work), Hyman has acknowledged that the critics have not ‘demonstrated a plausible alternative’ (1989, p. 157). He admits that neither he nor other critics have provided a conventional explanation for the results. Yet he insists that other scientists need not pay attention. Indeed, he has admitted that he attempts to ‘justify withholding any attention to the claims for the paranormal on the part of orthodox science’ (Hyman, 1989, p. 206). This is a direct, candid admission of his agenda.”
ADDRESSING GEOFFREY FALK’S COMMENTS
First panel: A middle-aged man is sitting in an easy chair, reading a newspaper, his teenage son standing in front of him. The son says, “A parapsychologist”.
Second panel: The man looks up at his son, saying, “And what do you want to be when you grow up”
Here I will attempt to address Geoffrey’s specific critiques. (I’ve included some additional comments in response to Geoffrey’s remarks about scientific psychology in an endnote).
On Dean Radin
First, Geoffrey rather amusingly claims that anybody who speaks of Dean Radin or the PEAR (Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research) findings in a positive way obviously “can’t tell sh*t from shinola”. For the sake of those outside the US and Canada who may not be familiar with this expression, “shinola” is pronounced like “shine” + the “ola” in coca-cola (where I grew up, in Northern New Jersey, you would have been more likely to hear something a little less alliterative like, “boy, anybody who likes Dean Radin sure can’t tell his a** from his elbow”). I’ll have some comments on the PEAR studies later in this essay, but first, a passage from the postscript to Radin’s book, The Conscious Universe which I believe shows that he does in fact have the capacity to differentiate sh*t from shinola. Writing of the challenges of being a full-time parapsychologist, Radin remarks:
“On Monday, I’m accused of blasphemy by fundamentalists, who imagine that psi threatens their faith in revealed religious doctrine. On Tuesday, I’m accused of religious cultism by militant atheists, who imagine that psi threatens their faith in revealed scientific wisdom. On Wednesday, I am stalked by paranoid schizophrenics who insist that I get the FBI to stop controlling their thoughts. On Thursday, I submit research grants that are rejected because the referees are unaware that there is any legitimate evidence for psi. On Friday, I get a huge pile of correspondence from students requesting copies of everything I’ve ever written. On Saturday, I take calls from scientists who want to collaborate on research as long as I can guarantee that no one will discover their secret interest. On Sunday, I rest, and try to think of ways to get the paranoid schizophrenics to start stalking the fundamentalists instead of me.” (p. 300).
On a more serious note, the simplest thing I can suggest with regard to Radin’s credibility is to read — carefully, and with an open mind — his entire book, The Conscious Universe, and decide for yourself his shinola-discerning capacity. The following are a few comments on his book which may inspire you to take a look:
“If asked to nominate the most significant scientific event of 1997, I would cite the publication of this book.”
Brian Josephson, PhD., Nobel Laureate and Professor of Physics, Cambridge University, writing in the British newspaper, The Guardian in January, 1998. Click here to read about Nature’s review of the Conscious Universe, on Prof. Josephson’s site.
“This is the best survey of real evidence for the existence of psychic phenomena ever compiled. Clear, comprehensive, engaging, and convincing, it provides hard facts, not hazy opinions. It is a bastion of substance in a sea of credulous psi publications that separates the real science of parapsychology from the morass of channelers, telephone hot-line psychics, side-show telepathics and metaphysical healers that most of the population associates with psychic phenomena, and who have unfairly caused parapsychologists to become pariahs to their colleagues in the more conventional sciences.
Michael Epstein, Ph.D., Research Chemist, National Institute for Standards and Technologies, and former President, National Capitol Area Skeptics, in Journal of Scientific Exploration, 12 (3), 1998.
“Recently I was being interviewed by a young doctoral student working on a thesis dealing with ‘frontier science.’ After a year of interviewing most of the better-known parapsychologists and skeptics in this country, this informed, outside observer remained perplexed. His first question for me was, ‘I have read Dr. Radin’s book and I just can’t see why there is still any argument about your field. Why do the skeptics keep it up”‘ That same question is likely to spring to mind for any objective reader on finishing this book, or, more likely, on getting about halfway through it, since Radin provides his own answer to that question in the latter half. Unquestionably, The Conscious Universe is the most forceful presentation of the scientific evidence for psi phenomena to be seen in perhaps the last half century and there is very little ‘wiggle room’ left for the skeptics..”
Richard Broughton, Ph.D, psychologist, in his book review for the Scientific and Medical Network, which awarded The Conscious Universe its 1997 Book Award.
“Not only the best book on psychic phenomena I’ve read, but also the best primer on the scientific method.”
Douglas R. Keene, Ph.D., psychologist
“Well written … good summary of the arguments supporting the existence of ESP.”
J. Good, Ph.D., statistician, Nature [Click here to read about Nature‘s review of the Conscious Universe, on Prof. Josephson’s site. Good actually wrote a negative review of the book, which, according to Brian Josephson and others, had significant errors.)
I would add another reason for looking carefully at Radin’s book, particularly for those on the fence who are not familiar with scientific methodology. Douglas Keene, above, refers to The Conscious Universe as “the best primer on the scientific method”. Alcock, Hyman, Marks and others routinely hold parapsychological research to standards regarding methodology, replication and meta-analysis (as Robert Todd Carroll does in the articles Geoffrey cites) which are quite at odds with what occurs in other sciences. For example, the so-called “lack of replication” in psi-research is often cited as a “fatal flaw.” As Charles Honorton writes below (from his online article on skeptics, 1993), not only is this criterion not applied to other scientific research, it is not even true with regard to psi research:
“Unfortunately, replication research is neither strongly encouraged nor highly valued in mainstream science. A recent study of social and behavioral science journal editors’ attitudes toward publication of replication studies found a strong bias against publishing replications (Neuliep & Crandall, 1991). Other studies of behavioral science publication practices show similar biases against publication of studies that do not produce statistically significant results (Bozarth & Roberts, 1972; Sterling, 1959). In their survey of 1,334 articles from psychological journals, Bozarth and Roberts found that while 94 percent of the articles using statistical tests reported significant results, less than one percent involved replications. In contrast, parapsychologists have long recognized the importance of replications and of reporting nonsignificant results. The Parapsychological Association (PA) has had an official policy against selective reporting of “positive” results since 1975. The PA is, to the best of my knowledge, the only professional scientific organization that has adopted such a policy. If you examine the PA-affiliated journals and conference proceedings, you will find many replication attempts, both successful and unsuccessful.”
Psychologist Larry Hedges of the University of Chicago, writes that the results even from the physical scientists
“may not be strikingly more consistent than those of social or behavior experiments…. About 45% of the reviews [of social and physical science[ exhibited statistically significant disagreements.” [Data is often discarded even in physics because] “the results involve some assumptions we do not wish to incorporate” [or] “the measurement is clearly inconsistent with other results which appear to be highly reliable”.
(As mentioned above, I will address the persistent problem of small or weak effects in psi research at the end of this paper.) It might also be interesting to note that the so-called “gold standard” of clinical research used in medicine — the randomized, controlled study — was developed by parapsychologists.
On J. B. Rhine
Geoffrey dismisses parapsychologist J. B. Rhine as a “fool” because he was said to have believed a horse was psychic, and that “persons [subjects in his experiments] who disliked him guessed wrong to spite him”. I followed Geoffrey’s links for the sources of this critique and could only find references to James Randi’s accounts of Rhine, which, like many of Randi’s other comments, are full of inaccuracies. There are a number of factual accounts of Rhine’s study of the horse in question, and as far as I could see, they all agreed that after a period of study, Rhine concluded not that the horse was psychic, but that it was responding to subtle cues from its trainer. Geoffrey’s second critique — that Rhine imagined subjects guessed wrong just to spite him — is, I believe, a distorted interpretation of an effect which has been found to be present in thousands of psi experiments. The effect is that research subjects (and scientists conducting psi research as well) who hold negative views about psi almost invariably do worse than those who hold positive views. As far as I can recall, it was Rhine’s contemporary, Gertrude Schmeidler, who first observed this and called it the “sheep-goat” effect.
To Geoffrey’s remarks on Rhine, I offer also the assessments of several highly respected scientists who gave positive accounts of Rhine’s work (Chris Carter, in his book, Parapsychology and the Skeptics, provides an excellent overview of the positive experimental evidence for Rhine’s studies.)
In 1937, Dr. Burton Camp, then president of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics, released a statement to the press that read:
“Dr. Rhine’s investigations have two aspects: experimental and statistical. On the experimental side mathematicians, of course, have nothing to say. On the statistical side, however, recent mathematical work has established the fact that, assuming that the experiments have been properly performed, the statistical analysis is essentially valid.”
In 1957, in response to charges against Rhine of fraud, psychologist H. J. Eysenck, then chairman of the psychology department at the University of London, wrote:
“Unless there is a gigantic conspiracy involving some thirty university departments all over the world, and several hundred highly respected scientists in various fields, many of them originally hostile to the claims of the psychical researchers, the only conclusion the unbiased observer can come to must be that there does exist a small number of people who obtain knowledge existing either in other people’s minds, or in the outer world, by means as yet unknown to science.”
Some scientists who found the implications of Rhine’s work personally distasteful, nonetheless had enough personal integrity to admit they couldn’t find fault with Rhine’s findings;
“Why do we not accept extra-sensory perception as a psychological fact” [Parapsychologist] Rhine has offered us enough evidence to have convinced us on almost any other issue… Personally, I do not accept ESP for a moment, because it does not make sense. My external criteria, both of physics and of physiology, say that ESP is not a fact despite the behavioral evidence that has been reported. I cannot see what other basis my colleagues have for rejecting it… Rhine may still turn out to be right, improbable as I think that is, and my own rejection of his views is — in the literal sense — prejudice.”
Psychologist Donald O. Hebb, The Role of Neurological Ideas in Psychology, Journal of Personality, p. 45, 1951
[In regard to the work of J. B. Rhine], we are asked to accept an interpretation that destroys the most fundamental ideas and principles on which modern science has been based; we are asked to give up the irreversibility of time, to accept an effect that shows no decay with distance and hence involves ‘communication’ without energy being involved. [However, having examined the data myself, I have] complete confidence in the scientific competence and personal integrity of Professor Rhine… I end by concluding I cannot explain away Professor Rhine’s evidence…. In any very long probability experiment there will occur highly remarkable runs of luck…. but I know of no analysis of Rhine data, based on such considerations, that makes it reasonable to believe that their success can be explained in this way.”
Former University of Wisconsin mathematics professor, Warren Weaver, 1963
Here are the comments of two scientists, who, like Hebb and Weaver, could not find any flaws in Rhine’s research, but nonetheless felt compelled to posit fraud — in the absence of any evidence of such — in order to explain away his findings:
“Believers in psychic phenomena [such as Rhine]… appear to have won a decisive victory and virtually silenced opposition… This victory is the result of careful experimentation and intelligent argumentation. Dozens of experimenters have obtained positive results in ESP experiments, and the mathematical procedures have been approved by leading statisticians… Against all this evidence, almost the only defense remaining to the skeptical scientist is ignorance, ignorance concerning the work itself and concerning its implications. The typical scientist contents himself with retaining… some criticism that at most applies to a small fraction of the published studies. But these findings (which challenge our very concepts of space and time) are — if valid — of enormous importance… so they ought not to be ignored.” [Price goes on, however, to conclude that, since he can find no scientific flaws in Rhine’s work, and since he knows ESP to be impossible, the only conclusion is that all the positive results came about because of fraud].
Dr. George Price, research associate at the Department of Medicine at the University of Minnesota, in a 1955 article in the journal Science.
C.E.M. Hansel (to whom Geoffrey referred in his comments on PEAR referenced below) was also unable to find any specific flaws in Rhine’s work, and, like Price, simply assumed there must have been fraud. But Hansel was more forthright than Price in making the accusation of fraud in the absence of any evidence. He wrote, “If the result could have been [emphasis added] through a trick, the experiment must be considered unsatisfactory proof of ESP, whether or not it is finally decided that such a trick was, in fact, used….[Therefore], it is wise to adopt initially the assumption that ESP is impossible, since there is a great weight of knowledge supporting this point of view.”
Response to Comments Regarding Specific Areas of Parapsychology
Geoffrey’s comments were drawn primarily from the SkepDic website of Robert Todd Carroll, formerly a philosophy professor at Sacramento City College in California (I did come across Professor Carroll’s website some years ago while doing research for our book). In response to my comments on remote viewing, Geoffrey cites this from Carroll:
[T]he later [Stargate, CIA remote-viewing] studies — done under the direction of [Utts’ erstwhile co-author, Edwin] May — which were better designed and controlled than the ones done by Targ and Puthoff, were [still] fatally flawed because May, the director of the program, was the sole judge of the accuracy of the reports and he conducted the experiments in secret (which made peer review and replication impossible). David Marks tried for years to get May to let him look at his data, but May wouldn’t allow it….
There were hundreds, maybe thousands of trials, where a remote viewer would draw something and give a verbal report of what he was seeing. It would be highly unusual if there weren’t some that would seem very accurate for the targets. Since it was never required for success that the drawing or report be exact, it is always possible that an ambiguous image will be seen as fitting a particular target especially if the judge knows what the target is! Furthermore, we have only May’s word for it that the very detailed descriptions that were spot on, were as he says they were. He hasn’t made his data public….
An analysis of the Targ and Puthoff experiments was done by Marks and he found that they systematically violated the rule about blind judging. Marks found substantial evidence that Targ and Puthoff cued their judges by including dates and references to previous experiments in the transcripts, “enabling the judges to successfully match the transcripts against the list of target sites.”
Several points may make clear why this is not a legitimate critique:
- Marks’ claim that he tried “for years” to get May to let him look at the data might carry some weight if the reader didn’t know that it was classified government data! Had Marks’ intentions been to know the truth, one might expect him to have made an attempt to look at the data once it was declassified. However, this attempt was not made. May writes, regarding the declassification of the experimental data, “The group [of critics] had access to everything; however, they looked at nothing… [One] colleague had access to the storage room in which these boxes [containing the data] were stored. NONE [emphasis in the original] of them had been opened.” (Broderick, p. 125). So Carroll is mistaken — May had made the data public.
- It’s not true that May was the only judge, and it is not true that they “systematically violated the rule about blind judging”. Damien Broderick, in “Outside the Gates of Science,” has a good and rather extensive account of the judging process in his chapter, “Seeing the Lions” (note immediately below, Broderick refers to “judging panels”).
- After the data was made public, psychologists David Marks and Richard Kamman claimed that clues inadvertently left in the transcripts had permitted judges a higher-than-chance opportunity to identify the correct locations. According to Broderick (p. 30), “Targ and Puthoff immediately scoured out all the clues they could find, resubmitted their transcripts to new judging panels — and still got significant results. [Marks and Kamman] took another look and found to their own satisfaction that enough clues and cues still remained to explain the non-chance results.” Perhaps this was an accurate finding, but given Marks’ history of what parapsychologists have come to refer to as “moving the goalposts”, it doesn’t seem likely.
- You may recall from above how Marks devised another foolproof method for never having to admit he’s wrong — when the results of a psi experiment are negative, he accepts them uncritically; when positive, he simply asserts the experiment is “flawed” or in need of “replication and further analysis”. In all the research I’ve done on psi and the critiques of psi, I can’t recall a single instance in which a skeptic looked at a psi experiment which had a negative result, and suggested the experiment might have been “flawed” or in need of “replication and further analysis” in order to determine whether there might have been a positive result had the methodology been improved. However, I have seen many instances of psi researchers challenging their own results. In fact, largely thanks to the skeptics, parapsychologists have been forced to develop what has become an impeccable methodology, and to anticipate criticisms before they were leveled.
- In the same article, Carroll acknowledges — without critical comment — that Hyman “agrees that the effect sizes in the SAIC [remote viewing] studies aren’t likely due to chance, file drawer effect or inappropriate statistical testing or inferences.” One has to decide who is the more credible voice — Hyman, who was hired by the government to analyze the remote viewing experiments, or Marks, who has repeatedly “moved the goalposts” when confronted with an effect size that is not “likely due to chance.”
Julie Milton’s review of 78 psi experiments
Geoffrey then challenges a statement in my paper which I took from Dean Radin’s book, in which Radin was reporting the conclusion of British psychologist Julie Milton regarding 78 experiments, in which the overall effects “were found to be highly positive, with odds against chance of 10 million to 1.”
Again, Geoffrey quotes Carroll, and again Carroll relies on Marks. This is Carroll’s critique of Radin’s report of Milton’s review:
“only two of the studies had proper safeguards for the crucial protocol of ‘avoiding giving cues to judges and keeping the experimenter blind to the identity of the target in telepathy and clairvoyance’….Nor does Radin mention that 26% of the studies failed to provide adequate safeguards regarding the person transcribing the subject’s descriptions being blind to the target’s identity and that this was associated with a significantly higher effect size than the studies that contained this safeguard…. “
There are a couple of problems with Carroll’s critique. First, Carroll has limited his comments to remote-viewing experiments, and the 78 experiments Milton reviewed were not just on remote viewing — they included experiments investigating telepathy and psychokinesis as well. Carroll does not address these latter types of experiments. Secondly, these criticisms don’t apply to most of the experiments Milton reviewed. The background one needs to know here is that here were two groups of remote-viewing experiments — one performed by SAIC the other by SRI. Carroll is here referring to the SAIC studies, but in fact, Milton had excluded the SAIC studies her review, thus making Carroll’s comments irrelevant to her review. (One might find these comments somewhat reminiscent of Marks’ “moving the goal posts” tactic.)
The PEAR psychokinesis experiments
Geoffrey’s next comment is a criticism of Jahn and Dunne‘s psychokinesis experiments conducted at Princeton University (known as the work of the PEAR group, short for Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research). For this criticism, he cites the comments of C.E.M. Hansel. Hansel, you’ll recall, is the one who could not find any flaws in Rhine’s work, and therefore assumed (without offering any evidence to support it) that the results could only have been obtained by means of fraud. I don’t have the means to distinguish between Hansel’s claim (that only 71 experiments were successful and 261 were failures) and Radin’s very different assessment (that 1,262 independent experiments were performed with odds against chance of 4,000 to 1). However, I would acknowledge that George Hansen, a parapsychologist, along with Jessica Utts (the statistician who gave a positive assessment of the government remote viewing experiments) did write a highly critical article on the PEAR experiments published in the Journal of Parapsychology. (the JOP regularly publishes articles critical of parapsychology. CSICOPS’s journal, the Skeptical Inquirer, rarely presents a fair account of both sides of an issue). Clearly, there are arguments for both sides regarding the validity of the PEAR experiments (remember, Jan and I are not asking anyone to “believe” in psi; simply to be willing to acknowledge there are valid reasons for at the very least, considering positive as well as negative views of psi).
Here’s some more interesting and variable findings on psychokinesis studies: Princeton University mathematician York Dobyns claimed that the PEAR experiments up to 1996 — that’s 7 years after Hansel published his critique — closely replicate the preceding three decades of PK (psychokinesis studies). Radin claims that 70 other investigators around the world got even better results. On the other hand, James Alcock, in the 2003 Journal of Consciousness Studies special issue, “Psi Wars”, doesn’t accept either Dobyns’ or Radin’s conclusions. In Radin’s post-2003 book, Entangled Minds, he claims (I haven’t seen the book yet) to have answered each one of Alcock’s Psi Wars points. (It’s interesting, perhaps, to note that arch-skeptic Carl Sagan accepted the possibility of psychokinesis — “barely” as he put it; see reference at the beginning of this essay.)
Chris Carter cites an overview done by Dean Radin and Diane Ferrari examining 148 PK studies conducted between 1935 and 1987, “involving over 2,500 subjects attempting to influence more than 2.5 million dice throws. For each study they calculated a 50 percent equivalent hit rate. The overall hit rate for the control studies (that is, no influence intended) was 50.02 percent; for the experimental studies, it was 51.2 percent (Hyman inaccurately quoted the 50.02 percent number as being for the experimental studies).” Carter comments that this was “obviously a very weak effect, but for a sample of this size, the odds against these results occurring by chance are more than a billion to one.” Radin published another review, along with psychologist Roger Nelson, in the reputable journal Physics Review. According to Carter (p. 46) they found 832 PK studies conducted by 68 different investigators between 1959 and 1987. These experiments all involved the use of truly random event generators… or else electronic pseudo-random number generators.. [The results] showed an overall hit rate of about 51 percent, when 50 percent was expected by chance. Because of the size of the data base, the odds against chance were beyond a trillion to one.” They examined the quality of the experiments, and found “that the replication rate is as good as that found in exemplary experiments in psychology and physics.”
Geoffrey cites the claim of Ray Hyman and John McCrone that the PEAR results were primarily due to one operator. Chris Carter and Radin both claim that the PEAR results were not primarily due to “one operator” and that genuine randomness had been achieved. According to Broderick, “Operator 10 [was not] the only one who could perform these statistical miracles. The really intriguing news was that PEAR found similar effects emerging form the trials of many of their unpaid, anonymous subjects. ‘More than 30 other operators have performed this same experiment…. Some achieve much like [Operator 10].”
I’m looking forward to reading Radin’s Entangled Minds to see his comments on Jeffer’s failure to replicate the PEAR experiments. As I mentioned above and explain further below, if the yogic texts are correct with regard to the requirements for reliable demonstration of psi, it’s truly amazing that there’s been even one successful parapsychology experiment, much less at least dozens that skeptics like Ray Hyman and Susan Blackmore acknowledge are “inexplicable”.
[Note — I just got Radin’s book and it turns out that after the 2003 Journal of Consciousness Studies issue on “Psi Wars” was published (the issue in which Alcock reported Jeffers failed to replicate the PEAR PK studies), Jeffers co-authored another study in which “he reported a repeatable, significant PK effect”].
Close-minded belief vs open-minded skepticism
Finally, before going on to some reflections on the weak effects in psi experiments, I’d like to address the following comment by Geoffrey:
(Referring to the totality of his critique) “Will any of the above dent Salmon and Maslow’s ‘open-minded’ confidence that psi phenomena have already been ‘reliably demonstrat[ed]’ to exist, even in long-ago debunked and “fatally flawed” experiments” Of course not.”
Before answering his question, I want to be clear that Jan and I do not ask our readers — neither the readers of our yoga psychology book, nor the readers of this article — to have “open-minded confidence” that psi-phenomena have been “reliably demonstrated to exist”. (Note also that the comments above, at the very least, should cast serious doubt on the assertion that the experiments were debunked and indicate that Carroll was mistaken in calling them “fatally flawed.”)
We personally think that psi has been reliably demonstrated, but we are not asking the reader to accept our view. We are only asking that the reader take the step that Ray Hyman, Susan Blackmore and other well-known skeptics have taken — that is, to consider that something inexplicable is happening in parapsychology experiments, and to be willing, along with Blackmore, to say “I don’t know” with regard to the existence of psi phenomena. We invite the reader to take this step in the interest of (1) considering (not believing) that there may be no fundamental conflict between the findings of science and the spiritual view of the yoga tradition; and (2) being willing to “try on” the yoga view as it relates to cosmology, biological evolution, human history, etc. Since we are not asking the reader to “believe” anything, the question of whether we believe or not is, I think, irrelevant.
The Problem of Weak Effects in PSI Research
“There is statistical evidence (for what it’s worth) that indicates (however tentatively) that some very weak psi effects are present.”
Robert Todd Carroll
The philosopher Gabriel Marcel was lecturing to a group of American Logical Positivists on grace and transcendence. They kept telling him to speak more clearly and to “say what he meant.” Finally Marcel paused and then said, “I guess I can’t explain it to you. But if I had a piano here, I could play it.”*********
Consider again the trajectory of skeptics’ attacks on parapsychology over the past century. From the late 1800s up to the 1950s and 1960s, the main accusation was that any positive results must have been the result of fraud. Implicitly, critics like C.E.M. Hansel, George Price and others were acknowledging they could not find any flaws in the research of Rhine and others and therefore conjured up ways in which fraud could have occurred.
By 1937, a few years after Rhine began applying statistics to psi research, mathematician Burton Camp (nearly) put to rest the skeptics’ attempts to discredit parapsychology by means of attacking the statistics. They’ve continued to use this approach, but even the most intransigent, such as Ray Hyman and James Alcock, have been forced to admit that “something other than chance departures from the null hypothesis” are occurring in at least some psi experiments, and that at the very least, “there is a mystery here”.
The skeptics have also tried to focus on methodological flaws, but the parapsychologists kept refining their methodology until by the 1990s, skeptics had to admit that “the case for psychic functioning is better than it has ever been”. They’ve tried attacking the failure to replicate, but then, as with physicist Jeffers, psi researchers were eventually able to conduct a successful replication. Sometimes (as with accusations of fraud) the skeptics have made things up out of thin air, like this statement from Scientific American mathematics writer Martin Gardner:
How can the public know that for fifty years skeptical psychologists have been trying their best to replicate classic psi experiments, and with notable unsuccess” [sic] It is this fact more than any other that has led to parapsychology’s perpetual stagnation. Positive evidence keeps coming from a tiny group of enthusiasts, while negative evidence keeps coming from a much larger group of skeptics.
As parapsychologist Charles Honorton observes, “Gardner does not attempt to document this assertion, nor could he. It is pure fiction. Look for the skeptics’ experiments and see what you find.” Apart from Susan Blackmore and Richard Wiseman, there are almost no prominent skeptics who actually conduct experiments, and these two have gotten positive results. Susan Blackmore, despite her claims of failure, actually did get significant results in her psi research. Richard Wiseman has been claiming for more than 5 years that he got different results from Rupert Sheldrake in testing whether a dog could tell by “extra-sensory” means when his owner has begun her journey home However, just this past April, he finally admitted that he did get the same results as Sheldrake (though he interprets them differently).
There is one skeptic criticism, though, which is I believe is valid and bears some examination — namely, that the best psi research, even when it is positive and has been replicated, gets for the most part only fairly weak results. This tends to be the case even when meta-analysis shows the odds against chance to be more than a billion to one. I think this shortcoming is especially worth considering because I firmly believe that once it is understood why strong psi effects are so difficult to obtain, most of the skeptics’ objections will be easily set aside, and in fact, seen to be irrelevant.
If telepathy, remote viewing, psychokinesis or precognition were stably existing, objective phenomena, unaffected by the vicissitudes of human mental and emotional states, then one would expect to be able to perform experiments in which strong effects could be obtained on a regular, reliable basis. But if, as psi researchers have come increasingly to believe since the 1960s — and yogic texts have indicated for over 2000 years — the demonstration of psi effects involves an ability which is extraordinarily rare and difficult to develop, it makes perfect sense that the vast majority of subjects either wouldn’t be able to produce the phenomenon at all, or could do so only in a relatively weak, haphazard, and difficult-to-replicate fashion.
Statistics professors often explain the usefulness of large-scale statistical analysis for detecting unusual abilities, by examining the frequency with which professional baseball players can hit a home run. Take, for example, Mickey Mantle (or for you young-uns, Reggie Jackson) vs. Joe (or Joelle) Sixpack. Now, set aside Mickey and Reggie for a moment and test a thousand, no, a million, hey, try 100 million people in about the same shape as your average Joe(lle) Sixpack. Well, you could run billions of trials on 100 million subjects and it’s conceivable that you wouldn’t find not a single one who could hit a home run. Would you then conclude it has been conclusively proven that any claims of home run phenomena were a fraud, and denounce those who continue to believe in the possibility of a home run as being motivated by superstitious beliefs in superhuman prowess?
Of course not, because you know that Mickey Mantle, Reggie Jackson, and hundreds of others have hit home runs in major league games. But, at least according to yogic texts (such as Patanjali’s Yoga-Sutras, chapter 3), the ability to reliably demonstrate psychic abilities is much, much more difficult than hitting a home run in a major league baseball game. In fact, it appears that it may even be more difficult than hitting a home run every time at bat for the lifetime of a baseball player.
But you don’t need to spend years studying the yogic texts to get a sense of how difficult this may be. Geoffrey misquoted me as recommending some loosely defined state of “unbroken awareness”. Actually, I had attempted to give a very brief, oversimplified description of an exercise which, if practiced sincerely, could give some sense of the enormous difficulty of sustaining the state of mind which yogic texts claim is conducive to the development of extra-sensory perception.
You don’t have to believe in anything. You can try this for yourself.
Here’s the exercise in somewhat more detail: Get a stopwatch, and see if you can maintain the following state of witnessing for 5 seconds. You may or may not find you’re able to it for 5 seconds, but unless you’ve practiced some form of witnessing meditation for at least a year, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to maintain the state for more than a minute. After trying it for 5 seconds, try it for 10 seconds, 30 seconds, 1 minute, then 5 minutes. Notice how you almost continuously slip back into identifying with arising thoughts rather than remaining the neutral witness of them. Then try it for 10 minutes…
Sit quietly with your eyes focused on a neutral (not overly distracting) object. Start by focusing on the sensations of breathing, feeling the flow of air as you breathe in and out. This will help focus your attention. Do this for about 60 seconds.
Now, let go of your focus on the breath. Try as hard as you can for about 10 seconds to stop thinking — that is, try to have no verbal thoughts”
Most likely, you will only be able to stop your thoughts for 1 or 2 seconds, if at all. Try again — now for about 30 seconds — to stay strenuously focused on the task of trying to stop thinking…
Pause for a moment… Take about 10 seconds to relax… Try once more to keep all your attention focused on the task of attempting to stop thinking. This time, while you’re engaged in this effort, notice that various thoughts, feelings and images continue to arise in your awareness. Your main aim now is to remain mindful of the fact that these thoughts, feelings and images come into your mind without requiring any conscious effort on your part.
Once you have some sense of the experience that most of the content of your mind arises on its own — without conscious effort — go on to the next step:
Do nothing. Thoughts, feelings, images, sensations will continue to arise and pass through your mind. Let them come and go, recognizing that “you” — the conscious “you” — are not calling them forth or controlling them in any way. To the extent the content of the mind is allowed to simply “be,” there may arise a momentary sense that there is no “doer” or “thinker.”
Back in the mid-1990s, Alan Wallace, founder of The Samata Project at UC Santa Barbara’s Institute for Consciousness Studies, traveled to North India with Greg Simpson, a neuropsychologist from Albert Einstein Medical College, to study the brain waves of Buddhist monks who had undergone rigorous mind-training on a daily basis for many years. Wallace and Simpson took with them a machine which could record 48 channels of EEG data, and hooked the monks up to it. As a result, they discovered a rather complex EEG pattern which correlated with subjective reports of the monks’ attainment of what is known in classical Buddhist practice as a state of “samata.” Wallace told a group at a meditation workshop I attended in 1996, that he and Simpson had found several Buddhist monks who were able to maintain a state of samata for as long as four or five hours.
In chapter 4 of his book, Hidden Dimensions: The Unification of Physics and Consciousness, Wallace describes the samata state like this:
“Metaphorically, one must rest in a ‘space of awareness’ that is larger than the ‘space of one’s own psyche.’ Whatever arises within the psyche is observed closely and with discerning intelligence, but without modifying, censoring, or editing it in any way. This is an extraordinarily demanding endeavor, and it is pursued in close collaboration with an experienced and accomplished mentor who is well versed in such practice…. One of the names for the meditative practice I am describing here is ‘settling the mind in its natural state,’ which implies a radical deconstruction of the ways we habitually classify, evaluate, and interpret experience. The Buddhist hypothesis in this regard is that it is possible to so profoundly settle the mind that virtually all thoughts and other mental constructs eventually become dormant. The result is not a trancelike, vegetative, or comatose state. On the contrary, it is a luminous, discerningly intelligent awareness in which the physical senses are withdrawn and the normal activities of the mind have subsided.
The Samata Project is the first attempt to create a long-term Olympic-like training program for the development of contemplative skills. Participants in the project undergo rigorous training for up to 10 hours a day over a period of one year. In an interview describing his plans for the project, Wallace said he expects participants to develop the capacity for sustaining a state of samata over long periods of time — and in accord with the yogic texts, he said he also expects to find significantly stronger psi effects than have been so far obtained by most parapsychological research. For those seriously interested in knowing what capacities of the human mind may lie beyond the ordinary, I imagine the fruits of this project will be of great interest.
If you find that you’re able to sustain a state of samata for 4 or 5 hours, please write to Jan and me at email@example.com. (Or, if you can’t do this, but are just interested in the further implications of “trying on” the vision of yoga psychology, please write to us.) We hope to be posting, in the not too distant future, some further reflections on taking integral yoga psychology beyond “Wilber-V” at www.yoga-psychology.com.
Some implications of taking integral psychology beyond “Wilber-V”: Trying on the ‘view from infinity’
“Consciousness is” the fundamental thing in existence — it is the energy, the motion, the movement of consciousness that creates the universe and all that is in it — not only the macrocosm but the microcosm is nothing but consciousness arranging itself. For instance, when consciousness in its movement or rather a certain stress of movement forgets itself in the action it becomes an apparently “unconscious” energy; when it forgets itself in the form it becomes the electron, the atom, the material object. In reality it is still consciousness that works in the energy and determines the form and the evolution of form.
“When it wants to liberate itself, slowly, evolutionarily, out of Matter, but still in the form, it emerges as life, as animal, as [human] and it can go on evolving itself still further out of its involution and become something more than mere man…”
Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga, p. 237.
Without having to “believe” anything, let’s see for a moment what it might be like to “try on” the yogic view.
Even among physicists and philosophers of science who believe that consciousness may not be merely an epiphenomenon of matter, most would agree with physicist Arthur Zajonc that quantum physics in itself does not tell us anything fundamental about the nature of consciousness. According to Zajonc:
Physics, chemistry, and neuroscience provide accounts for the mechanism of consciousness but say nothing about the experience of consciousness itself… Every science, if it would move beyond purely formal mathematical relationships, must incorporate qualities [i.e., subjective experience] into itself. All meaning inheres in qualities. The qualitative connects the formal treatment with experience… If our interest ultimately is consciousness, then we will require a means of investigation that is able to include the full range of conscious experience, and not merely a reduced set of variables easily amenable to quantification.
However, physicist Freeman Dyson, in speculating on the implications of some of the more startling discoveries in quantum physics, says (though there is nothing in contemporary physics that “proves” this) “[a]toms are weird stuff, behaving like active agents rather than inert substances. They make unpredictable choices between alternative possibilities according to the laws of quantum mechanics. It appears that mind, as manifested by the capacity to make choices, is to some extent inherent in every atom.”
Similarly, with regard to psi, even if there were easily replicable experiments with strong effects, it wouldn’t necessarily “prove” anything about the nature of consciousness. However, it might make it easier to give serious consideration to the possibility that, as Sri Aurobindo writes, “Consciousness is the fundamental thing in the universe”.
If it is true that mind operates beyond the confines of the physical in ways we have previously thought to be impossible (as with telepathy and remote viewing); that mind is not the result of matter, but may act as a causal influence on the material world (as with psychokinesis); and that mind is present even in the atom (as Freeman Dyson suggests) then it is conceivable mind exists throughout the universe, and that mind or consciousness of some kind — existed “prior to” the emergence of the physical universe (logically, if not temporally).
To list just a few of the elements of the yogic vision such a view would allow for:
- The so-called “laws” or regularities of nature — rather than having arisen purely by chance, could be seen as a purposeful means for creating stability in the material universe in order to allow for the orderly manifestation of a previously unmanifest consciousness into a world of form. What we’ve called “chance” may come to be seen as a suprarational action of an intelligence greater than mind; which manifests in matter as an interaction between apparent regularities or “laws” of nature and apparently “chance” circumstances; which manifests in animals as instinct; in contemporary humans as intuition; and which may one day manifest in its fullness as a “supramental” consciousness.
- As a corollary to this, from the yogic view, it seems our understanding of the laws of nature would have to change. But this doesn’t necessarily mean the “overthrow” of several centuries of science, potentially plunging” us into a new dark age — as many skeptics/debunkers fear. The “laws of nature” that have been developed in regard to the physical or material universe may come to be seen as a special case: that is, under certain conditions — i.e., when consciousness is essentially “asleep” (or “hidden”, or almost entirely “involved”), matter acts in one way. As consciousness “evolves” or starts to wake up, and as the physical matter associated with that consciousness (or more accurately, manifesting — or itself a reflection of — that consciousness) becomes more complex, the laws change, becoming more plastic, more variable, less subject to the confines of material space and time. It seems that a more sophisticated and less physical-bound science would not necessarily have any great difficulty providing an integration of the behavior of matter when the consciousness associated with it is asleep (which corresponds to our current “laws of nature”) and the behavior of matter when the consciousness associated with it is more awakened (which might correlate with a future, broader understanding of the laws/habits/patterns of nature”). (The book, Irreducible Mind, by Edward Kelly, has an excellent description of Frederick Myer’s evolutionary theory of consciousness which relates quite directly to this issue of “laws” of nature).
- Evolution might be seen to have the “purpose” perhaps the playful purpose — of expressing that initially unmanifest or hidden consciousness in increasingly complex forms (this would make sense of “emergent” phenomena such as life and mind)
- Our individual lives might be seen to have a “purpose” — perhaps the awakening to an awareness that who we truly are is a particular focus of the hidden Consciousness, and then a conscious opening to the force (shakti) behind the evolutionary process, choosing to allow it to transform us — physically, emotionally and mentally — that a still fuller expression of the unmanifest consciousness may manifest in and through us.
- Our aspirations and ideals might be seen — not simply as complex forms of adaptation for the sake of survival — but as reflections of a subliminal awareness of a capacity to express a greater consciousness beyond the mind (supramental).
- Conversely, our greed, hatred, and ignorance might be understood — not as an expression of our fundamental nature — but as the expression of a stage of evolution in which large portions of our consciousness are still largely hidden or asleep, leading us to misperceive others as separate, competing “selves” rather than as infinitely varied expressions of One causal consciousness.
- Society itself might be understood to be a vehicle for the collective expression of a greater consciousness. As with the individual, even the greatest apparent evil in society might be understood as the inevitable expression of the individuals within that society who are as yet unawakened to their true nature, ignorantly taking themselves to be separate and competing entities rather than evolving, collective expression of the greater consciousness.
In our book on yoga psychology, Jan and I attempted to carry out the experiment of “trying on” the full yogic version of the above possibilities — what we call “the view from infinity” — that is, simply seeing what it would be like to see things. everything through a yogic lens. We attempt to draw out the implications this view may have for the understanding of cosmology, biological evolution, psychology, as well as personal and social transformation. Our experiment is based largely on the work of Sri Aurobindo and his colleague Mira Alfassa, who we believe present a profound and compelling vision of yoga psychology, one that is truly “post-metaphysical” in the sense of being beyond intellectual speculation, yet subject to contemplative, intersubjective, empirical validation. We believe that their work may one day serve to help us come to terms with the implications of parapsychology, and ultimately, with the implications of a view which “sees” the entire world, every aspect of our experience, emerging out of, existing within, and constituted of an infinite Consciousness.
And now, in full, the Honorton quote with which I began this essay:
I believe in science, and I am confident that a science that can boldly contemplate the origin of the universe, the nature of physical reality 10-33 seconds after the Big Bang, anthropic principles, quantum nonlocality, and parallel universes, can come to terms with the implications of parapsychological findings–whatever they may turn out to be. There is no danger for science in honestly confronting these issues; it can only be enriched by doing so. But there is a danger for science in encouraging self-appointed protectors who engage in polemical campaigns that distort and misrepresent serious research efforts. Such campaigns are not only counterproductive, they threaten to corrupt the spirit and function of science and raise doubts about its credibility. The distorted history, logical contradictions, and factual omissions exhibited in the arguments of the three critics [Ray Hyman, James Alcock and James Randi] represent neither scholarly criticism nor skepticism, but rather counteradvocacy masquerading as skepticism. True skepticism involves the suspension of belief, not disbelief. In this context, we would do well to recall the words of the great nineteenth century naturalist and skeptic, Thomas Huxley: “Sit down before fact like a little child, be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly to wherever and to whatever abysses nature leads or you shall learn nothing.”
Charles Honorton, from his essay, “Rhetoric Over Substance: The Impoverished State of Skepticism“
 Up until the mid to late 1990s, Ken Wilber had been very cautious about describing non-material phenomena like “chakras” and “subtle energies”. With “Wilber-V”, he claims to have developed a “post-metaphysical” spiritual vision, one which reinterpreted many non-material claims of various spiritual traditions in a manner Wilber felt was more compatible with contemporary scientific views. However, he attempts to justify writing about parapsychological phenomena, reincarnation and other things that challenge the prevailing materialist view by positing the existence of things like subtle matter, (which he claims to be new ideas, but which have, in fact, always been part of the yoga tradition), he and thus appears to have arrived, in a rather circuitous manner, at ideas which are almost indistinguishable from the ones he was trying to re-interpret.
It seems a more direct approach would be to start out by acknowledging (as psi research has shown for more than 60 years) that there are non-material phenomena which contemporary science has difficulty accounting for, and then look to the yoga tradition for what it has to offer in terms of an integral psychology that is both consistent with the findings of science, and incorporates non-physical phenomena.
One of the difficulties I have encountered in attempting to address what I see as problems with Wilber-V — as I understand it — is that he uses the term “metaphysical” in at least two quite distinct ways, without always making clear which usage he is employing when. He sometimes uses the term “metaphysical,” as it is understood in New Age circles, simply to mean anything non-physical. At other times, he uses it in a way consistent with its general meaning in Western philosophy, referring to intellectual speculations about ontological issues such as the nature of time, space, causality, consciousness, etc.
While the yoga tradition has always acknowledged non-physical realities, it has never — contrary to Wilber’s assertion — considered intellectual speculation to be a legitimate means of resolving ontological issues. (It has never, for example, posited purely “objectively” existing subtle planes, and has been questioning “the myth of the given” for at least 3000 years prior to the birth of “post-modernism”. Sri Aurobindo does not present “consciousness as the fundamental thing in the universe” as an “idea” or “intellectual speculation” but as at best a “pointer” toward a form of contemplative knowing (“gnosis” or “noesis”) which is at present not widely recognized as legitimate but in any case, is not in Wilber’s sense “metaphysical”.
The Indo-Tibetan tradition does not take planes of reality to be “eternal and timeless.” Modernity did not invent the demand for “objective evidence” (unless you take “objective” to mean something purely physical, absolutely devoid of consciousness, for which there is not — and cannot be — any scientific evidence pro or con, because the generally accepted scientific method cannot yet even detect the presence or absence of consciousness).
I think the yoga tradition has much to offer contemporary thought regarding a supra-intellectual means of understanding these issues. In sustained state of samata, it may be possible to “see” the inseparable but infinitely varied ways in which subject and object, consciousness and (subtle or gross) matter are related. This relationship (or “plane” — to use somewhat misleading 19th century Theosophical language) is not, according to the yoga tradition, something timeless or eternal, nor is it a purely “given” or “objective” phenomenon.
 In attempting to describe the various problems with “Wilber-V”, I came to realize it was difficult do so in a clear fashion. It seems to me that, much like the psi skeptics who keep “moving the goalposts,”Wilber tends to respond to criticism by redefining his terms. For example, when criticized for including “non-physical” phenomena, he reinterprets them in a physicalist manner. Then when taken to task by others for not including non-physical phenomena, he reinterprets terms he previously used to make them more compatible with the traditional yogic view.
 Geoffrey also made a few brief comments about psychology as a science. The more I’ve thought about his comments, the more it seems I would need to write a paper instead of an endnote to respond to them. At some point (hopefully in the not-too-distant future), I will try to write a paper on yoga psychology and the future of scientific psychology. Meanwhile, here’s a pretty good site for getting an overview of the history of scientific psychology: www.phillweb.net/topics/human/mind/mindphil.htm.)
Two points in response to Geoffrey — he asks the question, when did psychology become a science, and refers to the “hyper-imaginative babblings” of Freud and Jung. Actually, Freud and Jung were psychiatrists, not psychologists (and Freud was trained as a neurologist). Second, Geoffrey takes issue with Ronald Melzack‘s critique of scientific psychology (see below) and puts forth “evolutionary psychology” [EP] as an obvious and ideal framework for an all-inclusive psychology. He then takes me to task for quoting Steven Pinker without mentioning EP.
Scientific psychology is generally thought to have begun in Europe with the founding of Wilhelm Wundt‘s laboratory in Leipzig, Germany in 1879. The 1890 publication of William James‘ “The Principles of Psychology” is thought by some to mark the birth of American scientific psychology. James’ theory of functionalism — which has evolutionary thinking at its core — was one of the more predominant psychological theories of the time (actually, Darwinian thinking was at the core of much of Freud’s thought as well). Throughout most of the last 125 or so years of scientific psychology, evolution has always been taken into account.
“Evolutionary psychology,” however, is another matter. Its parent, E.O. Wilson‘s sociobiology, was so ridiculed that it eventually died, only to be reborn as “evolutionary psychology.” It presents an extremely reductionist view of human psychology, and is thought by many leading scientific psychologists to be crude at best, hardly more worthwhile than its parent, sociobiology (I’m speaking here of ontological reductionism, which a significant number of philosophers of science consider suspect, rather than methodological reductionism, which is almost universally accepted).. This is true despite the fact that Pinker and Dawkins think so highly of it. To my knowledge, all of scientific psychology takes into account the facts of evolution. But doing that doesn’t make all psychologists proponents of evolutionary psychology! (I realize that EP has been an immensely popular fad in the last several years, and you can find dozens of positive evaluations in a quick web search; but even hundreds of comments on the web don’t equal scientific respectability).
Regarding the beginnings of scientific psychology: there is a surprising amount of basic scientific work done as far back as the late 1800s which is still considered relevant. If you’ve ever spoken of having a “learning curve” with regard to learning something new, you’ve been influenced by Ebbinghaus‘ theories which were developed around the time of the birth of scientific psychology. The introspectionists like Thorndike, whose research methodology is generally thought to have been discredited, were not the only psychologists doing research at the time. The psychophysicists, developmental psychologists, students of motivation, learning, perception, memory, etc. all contributed to the scientific knowledge of the time. John Watson, the behaviorist, may have set back the study of the mind with his call for a purely behaviorist science, but at least some of the learning principles of Watson, and even Skinner, still hold up.
George Miller heralded the cognitive “revolution” with his “The Magic Number Seven Plus or Minus Two” article in 1959 (an article on the number of things most people can generally hold in working memory). Meanwhile in the past 40 years, a great deal of neuroscience has been incorporated into the work of scientific psychology, and computer modeling has made possible many advances as well.
Having given this very brief historical overview, I still don’t find anything lacking in Ronald Melzack‘s critique of psychology (Melzack developed a pain rating scale which is widely used both in pain clinics and pain research; there’s a nice short wikipedia entry on him). He wrote in 1989, “The field of psychology is in a state of crisis. We are no closer now to understanding the most fundamental problems of psychology than we were when psychology became a science a hundred years ago… some neuroscience and computer technology have been stirred in with the old psychological ingredients, but there have been no important conceptual advances… We are adrift… in a sea of facts and practically drowning in them. We desperately need new concepts, new approaches.”
Nine years earlier, psychologist Seymour Epstein wrote about the problems of psychology in The American Psychologist, saying: “Psychological research is rapidly approaching a crisis as the result of extremely inefficient procedures for establishing replicable generalizations. The traditional solution of attempting to obtain a high degree of control in the laboratory is often ineffective because much human behavior is so sensitive to incidental sources of stimulation that adequate control cannot be achieved…. Not only are experimental findings often difficult to replicate when there are the slightest alterations in conditions, but even attempts at exact replications frequently fail.” This seemed to me to still have been pretty much the state of affairs when I was conducting psychological research as a graduate student in the late 1990s.
In 1999, developmental psychologist Jerome Kagan (I think he was still a professor at Harvard at the time, though I’m not sure) reiterated Melzack’s point, saying that not only does psychology lack an overarching paradigm, but it is so full of conflicting views that there is hardly anything more than a few trivial facts about learning and perception about which more than a handful of psychologists would agree.
Charles Honorton, in his 1993 essay “The Impoverished State of Skepticism”, notes that Ray Hyman and James Alcock frequently refer to parapsychology as being a failure after more than 100 years of research. He goes on to say, “Is psychology a ‘failed’ science? If we were to apply the ‘century of failure’ arguments of Hyman and Alcock to academic psychology, we might well conclude that psychology has failed in its mission: after a hundred years of relatively well-funded research, vigorous controversies continue over such basic phenomena as memory, learning, and perception. The simple act of human facial recognition, for example, remains a mystery and is currently a hot research topic in cognitive psychology.”
Regarding contemporary cognitive science, philosopher Jerry Fodor comments, “Our best cognitive science is the psychology of perception, and (see just below) it may well be that perceptual processes are largely modular, hence computationally local. Whereas, plausibly, the globality of cognition shows up clearest in the psychology of common sense. Uncoincidentally, as things now stand, we don’t have a theory of the psychology of common sense that would survive serious scrutiny by an intelligent five-year-old.” (see www.lrb.co.uk/v20/n02/fodo01_.html).
As Douglas Hofstader has recently pointed out, among the “basic phenomena” which cognitive science has yet to get a hold of, “the question what is a concept could be said to lie at the crux of cognitive science and yet concepts still lack a firm scientific basis”. Neuroscientist Michael Gazzaniga admitted that in a textbook on cognitive science of over 1,000 pages, nothing was mentioned on the topic of thinking (that is, actual critical and creative thinking as opposed to simple problem solving, concept formation, etc, which often show up in cognitive science texts). And according to Edward Kelly, in his book, Irreducible Mind (2006), “even former leaders of the ‘cognitive revolution’ such as Jerome Bruner, Noam Chomsky, George Miller, and Ulric Neisser have publicly voiced disappointment in its results.”
I think these critiques are worth noting because, if one day the “paranormal” becomes “normal”, and “mind” and “matter” are both understood — as they are in yoga psychology — to be different forms of one conscious-energy (“chit-shakti”), then a new expanded psychology will be born which will far transcend the discoveries of the last 125+ years. Jan and I tried to give an overview of what this psychology might look like in our Yoga Psychology and the Transformation of Consciousness. However, we did not make much of an attempt to tie the vision of yoga psychology with specific developments in cognitive science, though I think we succeeded in showing that yoga psychology does not conflict with the findings (as opposed to physicalist interpretations) of cognitive science. Kelly has done an admirable job of linking scientific psychology with a truly post-metaphysical (that is, non-speculative) vision in his Irreducible Mind and I highly recommend it.
As Kelly puts it in the introduction to his book, “[Noam] Chomsky for example, pointed out that empirical regularities known to 19th century chemistry could not be explained by the physics of the day, but did not simply disappear on that account; rather, physics eventually had to expand in order to accommodate the facts of chemistry. Similarly, he argued, we should not settle for specious ‘reduction’ of an inadequate psychology to present-day neurophysiology, but should instead seek ‘unification’ of an independently justified level of psychological description and theory with an adequately complete and clear conception of the relevant physical properties of the body and brain — but only if and when we get such a conception. For in Chomsky’s view, shared by many modern physicists, advances in physics from Newton’s discovery of universal gravitation to 20th century developments in quantum mechanics and relativity theory have undermined the classical and commonsense conceptions of matter to such an extent that reducibility of mind to matter is anything but straightforward, and hardly a foregone conclusion.”
The philosopher Jerry Fodor has some wonderful observations regarding evolutionary psychology (and his observations, to my knowledge, are in line with what a majority of psychologists think about EP):
“Thus we now have titles such as Evolution of Desire: Strategies of Human Mating, Ever Since Adam and Eve: The Evolution of Human Sexuality, and The Dangerous Passion: Why Jealousy Is as Necessary as Love and Sex. In the wake of neo-Darwinism, science appears to be descending to the level of soap opera. Another book in this category, The Natural History of Rape, describes rape as “a natural, biological phenomenon that is a product of the human evolutionary heritage”, akin to “the leopard’s spots and the giraffe’s elongated neck”. Not long ago a Princeton University professor published an article defending bestiality, insisting that “sex across the species barrier… ceases to be an offence to our status and dignity as human beings.”
And in the wake of Columbia disaster, in an article in the Science Times reflecting on the fact that we are moved more by the deaths of individuals than by statistics, we were assured that “emotions, developed to enhance the species’ survival, keeping early humans one step in front of hungry lions, sometimes mislead in the modern world.” Welcome to brave new world of evolutionary psychology!
Regarding Steven Pinker‘s book, How the Mind Works, Fodor comments: “A lot of the fun of Pinker’s book is his attempt to deduce human psychology from the assumption that our minds are adaptations for transmitting our genes. His last chapters are devoted to this and they range very broadly; including, so help me, one on the meaning of life. Pinker would like to convince us that the predictions that the selfish-gene theory makes about how our minds must be organised are independently plausible. But this project doesn’t fare well. Prima facie, the picture of the mind, indeed of human nature in general, that psychological Darwinism suggest is preposterous; a sort of jumped up, down-market version of original sin.”
 For a comprehensive, up-to-date survey of the tactics of the various hard-core skeptics, see Chris Carter‘s excellent book, Parapsychology and the Skeptics). I also want to thank Jessica Parker for bringing to my attention this article: http://www.skepticalinvestigations.org. The authors of the article makes mention of their “favorite resource for invalid criticisms”, Robert Todd Carroll‘s Skeptic’s Dictionary (that’s the SkepDic website referred to several times in Geoffrey’s response to my first essay). Search for the particularly wonderful comments by Marcello Truzzi.
 Here is a wonderful summary of the debunkers’ trick of “moving the goalposts” (from http://www.discord.org/~lippard/stupid-skeptic-tricks.txt)
1.) RAISING THE BAR (Or IMPOSSIBLE PERFECTION): This trick consists of demanding a new, higher and more difficult standard of evidence whenever it looks as if a skeptic’s opponent is going to satisfy an old one. Often the skeptic doesn’t make it clear exactly what the standards are in the first place. This can be especially effective if the skeptic can keep his opponent from noticing that he is continually changing his standard of evidence. That way, his opponent will eventually give up in exasperation or disgust. Perhaps best of all, if his opponent complains, the skeptic can tag him as a whiner or a sore loser.
Skeptic: I am willing to consider the psi hypothesis if you will only show me some sound evidence.
Opponent: There are many thousands of documented reports of incidents that seem to involve psi.
S: That is only anecdotal evidence. You must give me laboratory evidence.
0: Researchers A-Z have conducted experiments that produced results which favor the psi hypothesis.
S: Those experiments are not acceptable because of flaws X,Y and Z.
0: Researchers B-H and T-W have conducted experiments producing positive results which did not have flaws X,Y and Z.
S: The positive results are not far enough above chance levels to be truly interesting.
0: Researchers C-F and U-V produced results well above chance levels.
S: Their results were achieved through meta-analysis, which is a highly questionable technique.
O: Meta-analysis is a well-accepted method commonly used in psychology and sociology.
S: Psychology and sociology are social sciences, and their methods can’t be considered as reliable as those of hard sciences such as physics and chemistry.
Etc., etc. ad nauseum.