Science and Psychic Phenomena: The Fall of the House of Skeptics

Science and Psychic Phenomena: The Fall of the House of Skeptics

by Chris Carter, Rupert Sheldrake

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A factual and conscientious argument against materialism’s vehement denial of psi phenomena

• Explores the scandalous history of parapsychology since the scientific revolution of the 17th century

• Provides reproducible evidence from scientific research that telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, and psychokinesis are real

• Shows that skepticism of psi phenomena is based more on a religion of materialism than on hard science

Reports of psychic abilities, such as telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, and psychokinesis, date back to the beginning of recorded human history in all cultures. Documented, reproducible evidence exists that these abilities are real, yet the mainstream scientific community has vehemently denied the existence of psi phenomena for centuries. The battle over the reality of psi has carried on in scientific academies, courtrooms, scholarly journals, newspapers, and radio stations and has included scandals, wild accusations, ruined reputations, as well as bizarre characters on both sides of the debate. If true evidence exists, why then is the study of psi phenomena--parapsychology--so controversial? And why has the controversy lasted for centuries?

Exploring the scandalous history of parapsychology and citing decades of research, Chris Carter shows that, contrary to mainstream belief, replicable evidence of psi phenomena exists. The controversy over parapsychology continues not because ESP and other abilities cannot be verified but because their existence challenges deeply held worldviews more strongly rooted in religious and philosophical beliefs than in hard science. Carter reveals how the doctrine of materialism--in which nothing matters but matter--has become an infallible article of faith for many scientists and philosophers, much like the convictions of religious fundamentalists. Consequently, the possibility of psychic abilities cannot be tolerated because their existence would refute materialism and contradict a deeply ingrained ideology. By outlining the origin of this passionate debate, Carter calls on all open-minded individuals to disregard the church of skepticism and reach their own conclusions by looking at the vast body of evidence.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781594777059
Publisher: Inner Traditions/Bear & Company
Publication date: 02/22/2012
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 320
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Chris Carter received his undergraduate and master’s degrees from the University of Oxford. The author of Science and the Near-Death Experience, Carter is originally from Canada and currently teaches internationally.
Chris Carter received his undergraduate and master’s degrees from the University of Oxford. He is the author of Science and Psychic Phenomena and Science and the Near-Death Experience. Originally from Canada, Carter currently teaches internationally.
Rupert Sheldrake is a biologist, a former research fellow of the Royal Society at Cambridge, a current fellow of the Institute of Noetic Sciences near San Francisco, and an academic director and visiting professor at the Graduate Institute in Connecticut. He received his Ph.D. in biochemistry from Cambridge University and was a fellow of Clare College, Cambridge University, where he carried out research on the development of plants and the ageing of cells. He is the author of more than eighty scientific papers and ten books, including Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home; Morphic Resonance; The Presence of the Past; Chaos, Creativity, and Cosmic Consciousness; The Rebirth of Nature; and Seven Experiences That Could Change the World. In 2019, Rupert Sheldrake was cited as one of the "100 Most Spiritually Influential Living People in the World" according to Watkins Mind Body Spirit magazine.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter Nine
The Roots of Disbelief

Say this about assertions that aliens have been, are or will soon be landing on Earth: at least a scenario like that of “Independence Day” would not violate any laws of nature. In contrast, claims in other fringe realms, such as telepathy and psychokinesis, are credible only if you ignore a couple or three centuries of established science.
--Sharon Begely, “Science on the Fringe,” Newsweek, July 1996

Remarks such as the one from Sharon Begely’s article are common in the skeptical literature. Such remarks are based on the assumption that the existence of psi phenomena is somehow incompatible with fundamental, well-established scientific principles. So, no matter what evidence the parapsychologists produce, the skeptics stoically maintain their denial and doggedly search for any possible counterexplanation. As we have seen, Ray Hyman has simply run out of plausible counterexplanations, yet he refuses to accept the latest results from a long line of experiments as conclusive. He seemed to consider himself the spokesperson for mainstream scientists when he wrote recently in the Skeptical Inquirer: “What seems clear is that the scientific community is not going to abandon its fundamental ideas about causality, time and other principles on the basis of a handful of experiments whose findings have yet to be shown to be replicable and lawful.” (At the time Hyman wrote this article [1996] the “handful of experiments” included 61 independent Ganzfeld experiments, 2,094 PK experiments using random event generators, and hundreds of other experiments involving tossing dice, dream research, and remote viewing.) Although surveys consistently show that most people either accept the reality of ESP or have had psychic experiences themselves, remarks such as this in the skeptical literature can give one the impression that all such phenomena are “scientifically impossible.”

But many mainstream scientists do not hold this opinion. Two surveys of more than 500 scientists in one case and more than 1,000 in another were made in the 1970s. Both surveys found that the majority of respondents considered ESP “an established fact” or “a likely possibility”: 56 percent in one and 67 percent in the other. Yet if most scientists are open to the possibility of psi, how can we account for the following story?

Robert Jahn was dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science at Princeton University and a noted authority on aerospace engineering with a long record of work for NASA and the Department of Defense when he decided that certain parapsychological problems were worth investigating. Did his colleagues applaud his pioneering spirit? Not exactly. They as much as said he was crazy and a disgrace to science and the university. The university even convened an ad hoc committee to oversee his research--something unheard of for a scientist of his stature.

And yet not all scientists reacted this way, as Jahn pointed out in a 1983 address to the Parapsychology Association. Referring to his Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research program, he said, “We have had commentary on our program from no less than six Nobel laureates, two of whom categorically reject the topic, two of whom encouraged us to push on, and two of whom were categorically evasive. So much for unanimity of high scientific opinion.”

However, despite the willingness of many scientists to express favorable opinions toward psi research, parapsychology courses are not routinely taught at universities; there are only two labs conducting full-time psi research in the United States, and only a handful of such labs in the entire world. One explanation for this (and for Robert Jahn’s experience) is that skeptical opinions of psi seem more common among the administrative elite than among ordinary working scientists. Sociologist Dr. James McClenon surveyed the council and selected section committees of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in 1981. He found that these scientists were more skeptical of ESP than scientists in general, with just under 30 percent believing that ESP was “an established fact” or “a likely possibility.” Surveyed members in the social sciences (where parapsychology courses would normally be categorized) were even more skeptical (20 percent believers) than those in the natural sciences (30 percent believers). Worried about the reputation of their schools and labs, administrators seem far more reluctant to express favorable opinions of psi research than ordinary working scientists.

The skepticism of those who run the scientific establishment is surely one reason why, throughout its history, the resources devoted to psi research have been extremely meager. Psychologist Sybo Schouten compared the funding directed toward parapsychology over the one hundred years spanning 1882 to 1982 and found that it was approximately equal to the expenditures of two months of conventional psychological research in the United States in 1983. The other reason funding is difficult to come by is that many private and public funding agencies have no wish to be associated with what the skeptics call “pseudoscience.” Is it any wonder they feel this way? Not when scientific journals continue to publish hostile attacks on the scientific validity of parapsychology. For instance, the prominent journal Nature published the following in a commentary by skeptical psychologist David Marks:

Parascience has all the qualities of a magical system while wearing the mantle of science. Until any significant discoveries are made, science can justifiably ignore it, but it is important to say why: parascience is a pseudo-scientific system of untested beliefs steeped in illusion, error, and fraud.

Clearly then, many scientists find the claims of parapsychology disturbing. The existence of psi implies that the minds of people can sometimes communicate, perceive events, and influence objects without the use of the five ordinary senses or their limbs. Science in its present state cannot explain these phenomena. This in itself should not be a problem: there are plenty of other phenomena that science cannot currently explain, such as consciousness, the placebo effect, and the fact that the expansion of the universe appears to be accelerating. But is the existence of psi in conflict with well-established scientific principles?

Table of Contents

Foreword by Rupert Sheldrake


The Nature of the Controversy

1 Origins of the Debate
2 The Modern Critics
3 The Historical Evidence

Question I
Is There Conclusive Experimental Evidence for Psi?

4 The Early Years
5 Psychokinesis: Mind over Matter
6 Telepathy: Silent Communication
7 The Great Ganzfeld Debate
8 The Research of the Skeptics

Question II
Would the Existence of Psi Contradict Established Science?

9 The Roots of Disbelief
10 Modern Science versus Classical Science
11 The “Extraordinary Claims” of Parapsychology
12 Psi and Physics
13 Toward a New Worldview

Question III
Is Parapsychology a Science?

14 The Impoverished State of Skepticism
15 The Nature of Science
16 The Scientific Status of Parapsychology
17 Hume’s Argument Revisited
18 Paradigms and Parapsychology





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