Re: Parapsychology

From: HARNAD Stevan (
Date: Wed Apr 24 1996 - 17:34:36 BST

> From: "Naden, Christopher" <>
> Date: Sat, 20 Apr 1996 13:05:02 +0100 (BST)
> A lecturer attached to Duke University, J.B. Rhine
> published a series of papers regarding his results
> over a 25-year period...
> This level of deviance from the laws of chance occured against chances
> of over a billion to one...
> An english mathematitian repeated the test...
> Further tests demonstrated...
> In order to eliminate such counter-hypotheses Rhine worked with
> a physicist from Pittsburgh to develop a machine...
> In tests of 170,000 throws he achieved less likely...
> These tests were done strictly according to the methods of lunch, and
> returned results which seem to indicate that there is some other causal
> force than the laws of physics. What price Parapsychology?
> [1] Rhine, L.E., 'Mind over Matter', Macmillan, London, 1970
> [2] Knowles, E.A.G., 'Reports on an Experiment Concerning Mind over
> Matter', Journal of Parapsychology, 13: 186, 1949
> [3] Reeves, M.P., 'The Psychokinetic Effect: a Study', Journal of
> Parapsychology, 76, 1943
> [4] Pratt, J.G., 'Lawfulness of the Position Effects in the Gibson Cup
> Series', Journal of Parapsychology, 243, 1946
> [5] McConnell, R.A. 'Wishing with Dice', Journal of Experimental
> Psychology 50: 269, 1955

First, look at the dates of the sources you have cited (the Rhine is
a re-issue of older work): they are all from decades ago. What has
happened since? Exactly the same thing as has been happening with
evidence for parapsychology for over 150 years: People have been unable
to repeat, hence unable to build upon, the findings, so parapsychology
is still trying (and failing) to show in a reliable, repeatable way that
there's anything there at all, other than error, chance or fraud.

That's precisely NOT the way to get lunch! If your lunch depended on the
reliability and repeatability of these effects, you wouldn't be eating
too often, I'm afraid, and that's just the point.

Every new generation that comes up against the possibility of psychic
effects always reacts the same way: They feel the research has not been
given a fair shake by the establishment. Some of these well-intentioned
neophytes even go so far as to try to do research on it themselves -- and
some of them succeed in getting effects, at least for a while -- until
it turns out, as it always has until now, that the effects were just
chance or error, and cannot be repeated.

Reading and citing the literature can't resolve this, because in most
other areas of psychology there is (usually) nothing wrong with citing
50 year old studies, because anyone can repeat them now as an
undergraduate project, and decades of work have been successfully built
on them, with the foundation still holding (in some cases not: but
then the foundation collapses and the early studies are cited no more).
With parapsychology, the foundation keeps trying to rebuild itself with
every generation. Only those who have seen it rise a bit and then
tumble, then rise again only to tumble again, know that the literature
you are citing with so much confidence is not a reliable one at all.

But if you don't believe me, spend a few years trying to find evidence
for psychic effects; I'm not saying it'll be a good use of your time,
but at least you will not have taken it on faith from me...

But as to challenging the laws of physics with this peek-a-boo
here-today-gone-tomorrow stuff: Do you really think it is ready to take
on the centuries of solid, repeatable work in physics? work that is
incomparably more solid then even the repeatable (but mostly trivial)
results of ordinary psychology? Work on which all the technology around
you has been built. (This is not to praise technology, just to attest
to the solidity of physics: all that, while parapsychologists are still
turning cards, tossing dice, and reckoning the odds, which always end
up petering out, sooner or later.)

If I were a physicist, I would hardly feel threatened by the "findings"
of J.B. Rhine. I wouldn't be ready to admit the power of mind over
matter on the basis of evidence as feeble and evanescent as that...

Chrs, Stevan

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