The Evidence for Psi.
The first question which presents itself is why, given that there has been so much evidence for psi in all ages, and in all parts of the world, has it not been accepted that there is a powerful case on its behalf, which ought not to be dismissed out of hand?
Acceptance of psi has been blocked in a number of ways, chiefly by the influence of eighteenth-century rationalism, which has remained strong. David Hume laid down that a miracle constitutes a violation of the laws of nature - laws derived from the ‘firm and unalterable experience of mankind’.
As it came to be assumed that action at a distance, other than through the agency of some known force, and communication at a distance, other than through the known senses, were contrary to the laws of nature; they were put in the ‘miracle’ category, and dismissed as superstition. Extrasensory perception and psychokinesis (PK) did not happen, because they could not happen.
Historians of science have tried to show that this rejection of ESP and PK was based on a misunderstanding of Newton’s theory of gravity. Pope’s verdict, in his Epitaphs,
“Nature, and Nature’s laws lay hid in night:
God said, Let Newton be! and all was light”.
has been too uncritically accepted.
Nobody knew better that all was not light than Newton himself. He regarded it as inconceivable that ‘inanimate brute matter’ should act upon other matter without contact, unless something else, not material was responsible. That gravity should be innate, ‘so that one body may act upon another at a distance through a vacuum without the mediation of anything else’, he wrote to the Revd Richard Bentley, was ‘so great an absurdity that I believe no man who has in philosophical matters a competent faculty of thinking can ever fall for it’ - an opinion which encouraged Bentley in a sermon to assert that gravity must be a manifestation of divine energy. Newton’s theory was actually denounced by Leibniz as presupposing some ‘senseless occult quality’, unless Newton could point to some physical means by which the attraction was produced. Occult it remains to this day.
Gravity is accepted because it has to be - its effects are there for all to feel, and witness - and because, unexplained and inexplicable though it has remained, it obeys certain rules. Its effects can be quantified. So can those of magnetism, though its action at a distance has erratic features. Psi has remained an outlaw not because it is unexplained, often though that is used as an excuse for rejecting it, but because it cannot easily be pinned down for purposes of scientific measurement.
Half a century ago the ‘laws of nature’ were found wanting. The quantum physicists showed that their materialist basis had been fallacious. More than that, their new model introduced intimations of psi. The first came when it was discovered that nuclear particles sometimes seemed to be in two places at once. Psychical researchers had long known the phenomenon of bi-location (graphically illustrated in Goethe’s description of the occasion when he had met and talked to a friend in the street who, at the time, was sitting in Goethe’s living room). Particles, too, appeared to be able to move from one orbit to another without traversing the space in between, the phenomenon known to psychical researchers as teleportation, frequently featuring in accounts of poltergeist hauntings.
Quantum theory also took in communication at a distance, to Einstein’s alarm. He had accepted ‘Mach’s Principle’ that everything in the universe is interconnected (Bertrand Russell thought it ‘savoured of astrology’), but jibbed at the quantum physicists’ notion that ‘twin’ particles, if separated, would continue to act as if linked, because it implied telepathy. A few years after his death, the proposition was formally presented in mathematical form by J. S. Bell of the CERN Institute at Geneva. If two particles which have interacted are shot off in different directions, interference with the ‘spin’ of one will affect the ‘spin’ of the other, no matter how far apart they may be. The proposition has since been confirmed by tests.
It’s interpretation poses a major problem, Arthur Koestler observed in Janus, as it does seem to imply ‘a sort of “telepathy” between the particles’. Koestler was careful to point out that these discoveries do not mean that physics is about to provide an explanation for psi phenomena. Nevertheless the baffling paradoxes of physics ‘make the baffling phenomena of parapsychology appear a little less preposterous’. Although the analogies may prove to be treacherous, ‘it is encouraging to know that if the parapsychologist is out on a limb, the physicist is out on a tightrope’.
Most physicists still shy away from quantum theory’s implications, for the same reason as Einstein. They resent the way psychical researchers appear to be trying to extricate themselves from banishment by clinging to quantum’s soft underbelly, much as Ulysses and his comrades clung to the bellies of sheep to escape from the Cyclops’ cave. Some, however, have admitted that Hume’s ‘laws of nature’ argument against psi is dead, and ought to be buried. ‘The notion that certain things are impossible is tied to an assumption that the universe is made of real things, and that things are separated in a well-defined way’, Geoffrey Chew, Head of the Physics Department at the Lawrence Berkeley Institute in California, has stated in an interview on the relationship of psi to quantum physics; ‘all sorts of possibilities open up’. A few have gone further. ‘Relativistic quantum mechanics is a conceptual scheme’, Costa de Beauregard of the Poincaré Institute in Paris claimed after Bell’s theory was vindicated, ‘in which phenomena such as psychokinesis or telepathy, far from being irrational, should on the contrary be expected.’ Physicists who accept the evidence but decline to accept its implications argue that, so far, it is entirely based on a mathematical model of what happens at micro levels. This may have no counterpart in the macro world in which we live.
One possible exception - other than the reports of the psi phenomena themselves - is the way in which crystals develop.
Researchers hoping to obtain new crystals from solutions, much as ice crystallises from water, have found that it can be maddeningly difficult. Yet as soon as a crystal emerges for the first time, a chain reaction appears to start up. Crystals emerge elsewhere until the procedure seems simple. Nobody understands why. The explanation usually given is that microscopic dust particles are carried to other solutions, ‘infecting’ them - a typical example of the way in which implausible ‘natural’ explanations are accepted, rather than have the door left open for unexplained action at a distance.
An alternative hypothesis, which Rupert Sheldrake has presented in A New Science of Life, is the existence of ‘morphic resonance’, analogous to the sympathetic vibrations of stretched strings to the appropriate sound waves. Morphic resonance implies action at a distance without transmission of energy - in other words, psi. This heresy so disturbed the editor of Nature that he reacted after the manner of a Grand Inquisitor, denouncing the book as ‘the best candidate for burning for many years’, though he admitted that he no longer had the authority to order an auto-da-fé - an interesting reflection of the way in which Nature, once the most respected of scientific journals, has come to regard itself primarily as the Defender of the Faith: of scientism.
Publisher: White Crow Books
Published May 2018
Size: 5.5 x 8.25 inches