Parapsychology and the ESP Controversy.
What is parapsychology and is it a valid science? These two questions are among the first asked when the topic of ESP is brought up. Parapsychology might simply be defined as the study of psychical phenomena, or more distinctly, “behavioral or personal exchanges with the environment which are extrasensorimotor—not dependent on the senses and muscles.” To be a little less obscure, parapsychology deals with cognition such as telepathy or foreseeing the future that is not based on any of the five senses. It also studies those experiences where physical movements of objects are not caused by any normal power or energy source, popularly termed mind over matter. Any mental psychical phenomenon, such as telepathy or precognition, is grouped under the general heading extrasensory perception (ESP), while any physical phenomenon, such as the inexplicable movement of an object, is labeled as psychokinesis (PK).
It may seem that these two divisions, ESP and PK, are arbitrary and have little connection. Why then are these two divisions the basic subject matter of parapsychology? Firstly, ESP and PK seem governed by similar laws or behavior principles. Secondly, we find that most gifted individuals who have any exceptional ESP ability usually possess PK also, and those who can produce PK can usually display ESP. Thus, these two enigmatic phenomena are intrinsically related. As far back as 1914.
Henry Holt, a student of psychical research, wrote of ESP and PK, “rare as are the persons manifesting either, yet generally, not always, a person manifesting one manifests the other.” It is generally accepted that ESP and PK will often be combined during a single experience. For example, a clock might stop running suddenly and the witness will immediately realize this to mean that a person known to him has died. Here PK, the stopping of the clock, is combined with the extrasensory knowledge that someone has died. Why ESP and PK are so linked is not known, although several theories have been advanced.
Parapsychology is very much a hybrid science since it really is a combination of both the behavioral and the physical sciences. ESP, which deals with perception, cognition, and consciousness, is clearly a psychological problem. PK, which must use some sort of energy, is within the province of physics. Because of this paradox, parapsychology has long been thought of as an interdisciplinary study.
In the last few years there has been a marked step-up in research activities and scientific acceptance of parapsychology. Opinion polls on the scientific credibility of parapsychology taken among psychologists have never been optimistic, although one recent poll among selected members of the American Psychological Association showed that over 90 percent believed the study of ESP was scientifically valid. Nevertheless, the percentage of those accepting the evidence for the phenomenon has been gauged to be much less according to polls published in 1938 and 1952. Recent opinion polls have shown that the step- up in parapsychological research has also affected its scientific credibility. For example, in 1969 the Parapsychological Association, an organization consisting only of recognized researchers in parapsychology, was overwhelmingly elected as a component scientific organization of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. This though some years before it had been deferred. Meanwhile, a poll taken by the staid British journal, New Scientist, showed that 97 percent of its readers considered ESP either proved or a possibility. A poll of United States academic institutions, made in 1972, revealed that over 80 percent of their psychology departments felt that parapsychology should be covered in undergraduate psychology courses. This reaction to parapsychology has had both its benefits and evils. Unfortunately, many persons interested in parapsychology are not aware that it has close to one hundred years of organized research behind it, and just as psychiatry has its Freud and physics its Heisenberg, so parapsychology has its pioneers. The work carried out over the last one hundred years is the basis upon which this book has been built.
One problem we must face with the current vogue in “pop” parapsychology is the confusion between parapsychology and the occult. Subjects such as numerology, astrology, palmistry, and others are systems of occultism which teach certain dogmas about the world or human life. Parapsychology has little to do with these systems, since it is, above all, an experimental science. That is, its facts and theories are based on empirical studies, experiments, or observations. However, it has not been ruled out that some peripheral element of ESP might not be an occasional factor in the aforementioned pseudosciences. Also many new “sciences” and studies have developed within recent years which have been almost arbitrarily lumped together with parapsychology. Primary perception in plants, acupuncture, Kirlian photography, and even Ufology have been considered to have intricate bearings on parapsychology. This may ultimately prove to be true, but nevertheless these studies are not, nor have they ever been, parapsychological studies inasmuch as they do not fundamentally study ESP or PK.
These intrusions into the study of psi (as all psychical phenomena are abbreviated) are not rare. Years ago hypnosis and multiple personality were considered parapsychological topics. This was primarily because of their unusualness. When more light was cast upon them, it became apparent that they had little to do with ESP or PK directly. They were categorized as psychical studies because to the popular occultism of the day these things were enigmas, and parapsychology became thought of as the study of anything unusual. The problem has become so acute that J. B. Rhine, recognized as the founder of modern experimental parapsychology, recently wrote an editorial on the subject, “Is Parapsychology Losing Its Way?” in the Journal of Parapsychology, one of the leading journals in the field. In his statement Rhine criticizes the popularization of parapsychology, arguing that this science is the study of ESP and PK exclusively and that even parapsychologists themselves have mistakenly widened its boundaries to include border areas of study such as acupuncture. While Rhine admits that these border areas might bear on the psi process, he argues that they cannot yet be considered within the proper bounds of psychical research. He blames this confusion on the mass media which link parapsychology with any controversial new study which bears any savor of occultism. However, Rhine also feels that “it must be admitted that parapsychologists themselves are not always in agreement about the boundaries of their field.”
This controversy has been touched upon to point out that, like any other science, parapsychology does have a mainstream core of research and topics as its mainstay, and that this core consists of ESP and PK. Nevertheless, the terms ESP and PK are, in fact, collective nouns encompassing a great many different types of phenomena (although they probably all share a similar etiology). The very term ESP, extrasensory perception, was coined by Rhine to include phenomena which had hitherto been labeled by various other names.
ESP, the first major division of psi, entails the study of the following phenomena: (1) telepathy, the transference of thought or feelings between minds; (2) clairvoyance, extrasensory knowledge about material objects or events not obtained from another animate mind; (3) precognition, extrasensory cognition of a future event; (4) retrocognition, extrasensory cognition of a past event; (5) mediumship, the study of the ESP ability of an individual which suggests that the source of information is from a discarnate (deceased) personality.
PK is a little more complex since its various forms are not so well defined. Generally, however, the following distinctions might be made: (1) telekinesis, the spontaneous movement of objects without contact or observable force or energy; (2) psychokinesis, the direct action of mind over material objects; (3) physical mediumship, the study of those individuals around whom PK habitually manifests or who can deliberately induce it; (4) poltergeists, habitual telekinetic disturbances confined to a specific location such as a home or a person; (5) paranormal healing, PK affecting biological functions prompting recovery from disease or biological damage.
As in any taxonomy, a few constituent topics cannot be clearly labeled as purely physical or mental, but hold rather a middle ground. These phenomena are those of apparitions, hauntings, and out-of-the-body (where a person feels he has left his body) experiences.
In using these terms it must be remembered that they are merely terms of convenience. The psi process seems to be a unitary process which only manifests, although in different forms, under certain conditions. For example, clairvoyance and precognition are basically the same process but occurring under different circumstances. In this case time is the mitigating determinator. Similarly, it is often hard to differentiate between these phenomena. If one receives an impression that an accident has occurred to a relative, at which time such an incident actually did occur, this would likely be an ESP experience. But is it a clairvoyant impression of a distant event, or is it telepathy from the individual involved? Likewise, if one predicts that dice are going to be thrown to land on a double six, is this precognition or did the subject use PK to influence the fall? Thus, telepathy, precognition, and so forth are really descriptive terms for what can be called the psi process. It is well known that those individuals who can do well on one form of ESP task usually can do well on others.
If these descriptions seem to be long and labored, it is necessary that, before plunging directly into the challenging world of parapsychology, we understand exactly what parapsychology is and what it is not. Now that we have defined parapsychology, we can grapple with the next problem: Is parapsychology a science?
Although the evidence for the existence of psi is massive, problems such as fraud, self-delusion, and the elusiveness of the phenomena themselves have all contributed to what can be called “the ESP controversy.” Several parapsychologists have written specifically on how parapsychology fits into our concept of what science is.
Robert Brier has convincingly argued that in order for a discipline to be scientific it need only follow certain procedures. That is, its main facts and theories can either be proved or disproved. Much of the occult is not science because it is based on set principles and tenets that can neither be experimentally demonstrated nor proved to be false. Parapsychology, on the other hand, can study and demonstrate ESP and PK by using certain procedures such as determining if a subject can correctly “guess” concealed targets more often than chance will allow. With such procedures available, certain theories can be postulated about ESP and then be either confirmed or nullified by experimentation. Because of this, and more importantly, because such experimentation has led to evidence for the existence of ESP and PK, parapsychology must be considered a scientific study.
Gardner Murphy, the eminent American psychologist, has also turned his attention to the problem of parapsychology as science. Murphy justly pointed out that, although unlike most sciences there is no repeatable experiment in psychical research (that is, an experiment that anyone can repeat at any time to demonstrate the existence of a reaction or phenomenon), there is evidence that certain conditions, if properly met, will help induce the appearance of psi. For example, there is now more than ample evidence that passivity in the subject will aid in the appearance of psi and, it might also be added, certain states such as hypnosis seem to help induce psi. Because psi does seem to have opaque but very real laws which govern it, it cannot be doubted that parapsychology is a scientific discipline. Murphy has added the following astute observations about the scientific validity of ESP:
Psychical research is not, and cannot be, a systematic world philosophy. It is a field of investigation . . .
Since psychical research aims not to become a cult, but a branch of science, many of the problems with which it deals overlap the problems of psychology, physiology, anthropology, and medicine. It is often difficult to tell whether a problem is a relevant one for the psychical researcher, or whether these other groups are adequate to the task.
Only when we are sure that normal psychology and physiology have failed to cover the situation can the psychical researcher say that he certainly belongs in the picture, and that he has an important area of investigation which the other scholars are not fully qualified to handle within the accepted scope of their disciplines.
Despite the fact that parapsychology is obviously a science and has achieved scientific credibility and recognition, there is still the problem of “the ESP controversy.” It must be kept in mind that psi is a relatively elusive phenomenon which only surfaces into consciousness when many conditions, mostly unknown, are met. Contrary to the picture promulgated by mass media, ESP is a very hard-to-control phenomena. There have been relatively few great ESP subjects, and even these usually could not control their ESP or PK, often losing the ability completely in time. In order to appreciate the enormous difficulties that parapsychologists have faced while amassing the data which will be presented in the course of this book, a discussion of the criticisms against the study of ESP will help the reader grasp why, even in the face of the evidence concerning ESP, precognition, mediumship, PK, healing, hauntings, and so forth, so many scientists are wary of the study of parapsychology and why it has had such a hard struggle for recognition.
For a recent survey, Champe Ransom has listed nine major criticisms which are commonly leveled at parapsychology and parapsychologists. These arguments will be cited and discussed as they are cataloged by Ransom. The
discussions, however, following each point do not stem from Ransom’s own discussions of them in his paper “Recent Criticisms of Parapsychology, A Review” (Journal: ASPR 65: 289-307).
The foremost problem in parapsychology is nonrepeatability. That is, there is no known experiment that will always demonstrate psi. This argument speaks for itself—because not everyone can prove psi to themselves experimentally and at leisure, many scientists are reluctant to accept ESP as a scientifically valid subject for study. Arguments that are cited in rebuttal by parapsychologists are that many phenomena of nature, such as ball lightning and volcanic eruptions, are not repeatable nor can they be isolated in a laboratory. Further, certain gifted ESP subjects have been able to produce the ESP effect time and time again, and it is now known that certain types of experiments have a high likelihood of being successful when carried out by different experimenters. In surveying the evidence on the effect of hypnosis on ESP, for example, the various experiments that have been run using hypnosis do seem to indicate that it will lead to success a good number of times. In fact, Charles Honorton and Stanley Krippner of the Maimonides Medical Center, in Brooklyn, New York, in assessing all experimental studies of ESP and hypnosis, have clearly shown the staggering success of the results when analyzed all together. The importance of this point is that while parapsychology has no repeatable experiment, certain experiments have been repeated successfully by different researchers. It might also be noted that many behavioral sciences do not have a repeatable experiment. Although it is obvious that schizophrenia exists, few experimental studies of schizophrenics themselves have offered confirmatory evidence about the etiology of the disorder. The eminent American psychologist, Carl Rogers, in an address to his students, once remarked that there is more empirical evidence for ESP than for any of psychology’s learning theories.
The second, and perhaps most serious, problem facing parapsychologists is that of fraud. It must be admitted that fraud has been uncovered in much parapsychological work, both in the laboratory and in the investigation of spontaneous phenomena such as poltergeists. The case of the Jones boys is one famous case in point. Glyn and Ieuan were two Welsh teen-agers who were unusually gifted with ESP. In 1955 they came to the attention of the British parapsychologist and mathematician, S. G. Soal, who set out to investigate their abilities. During these experiments one boy would try to send to the other, via ESP, the picture or symbol printed on a card. These experiments were carried out under Soal’s personal supervision while the boys were in the same room, in different rooms, out of doors, separated by several feet, and so forth. When the experiments were well in progress, the boys were so successful that on one occasion they were able to succeed twenty-five times in a row on a simple type of ESP test. Yet afterward, during a less rigorously controlled test, the boys were caught by the investigators using a rather crude code. Since the boys would alternately send one of five pictures over and over again, it isn’t hard to give a little shuffle or grunt to signify certain targets. If animal pictures are used, a sniff could signify a lion, shifting in the seat a zebra, and so on. This is not to say the boys had always used such a code. In fact, this is probably not the case, but it is a well-known fact that gifted psychics will often cheat to produce results as well as produce genuine psi. Nonetheless, the ESP critic does have good cause to argue that, if a subject cheats, as did the Jones boys on one occasion, it is likely that cheating had been going on all the time. This argument is hard to counter and many cases that had a high likelihood of being genuine have been marred by the disclosure of occasional fraud.
Parapsychologists themselves have from time to time been caught faking their results, and, although all sciences have these unfortunate incidents, parapsychology seems particularly prone to charges of experimenter fraud. The following expose is representative. An Indian parapsychologist claimed to have achieved significant ESP results. The American parapsychologist, J. G. Pratt, went to India to supervise and recheck the results. During the original experiments the subjects had to guess which one of five geometric symbols was printed on a card. Pratt discovered, when analyzing the score sheets, that the experimenter had failed to fill in a certain target. It was rather damningly clear that blanks had been deliberately left on the score sheets and later filled in with the correct answers to make the results look conclusively to be ESP. Later all the evidence was published as an expose in the Journal of Parapsychology.
Fraud does not have to be actually discovered to be an objection to the existence of ESP. Some critics such as George Price, in an article in Science August 1955, and C. E. M. Hansel, in his notorious ESP: A Scientific Evaluation, have used the miracle versus deceit argument. Briefly this means that it is easier to believe that deceit occurred during an experiment than to believe that a miracle (ESP) occurred. If an experiment has a loophole through which either the experimenter or the subject could have cheated, then the critic can validly assume that he did. Few experiments in any science are perfect, but this argument is valid. Parapsychologists are the first to admit that unless all normal explanations can be ruled out, we are not entitled to believe that ESP did occur during an experiment or observation. In Cumberlandism, for instance, an object is hidden. The subject comes into the room, takes the hand of the person who hid the object, and immediately uncovers it. This art is named after Stuart Cumberland, a thought reader of the Victorian era who was a practitioner of this ability. At the time this was thought to be ESP, but it is now known that the subject is being consciously or unconsciously guided to the object by his ability to read the muscle pressure of the hider’s hand or by noting slight visual cues offered him by various onlookers. All such cuing must be ruled out before ESP can be accepted. Similarly, any possibility of fraud must also be dismissed before presenting a study to a skeptic as evidence of ESP.
Of course there are rebuttals to this, and it should be pointed out that when fraud is uncovered it is usually by parapsychologists themselves. Modem parapsychology uses automatic devices to shuffle cards, record responses and guesses, and even uses computer analysis of the results. All this makes simple fakery much more difficult than it was during parapsychology’s infancy. The most telling argument, though, against the fraud hypothesis has been offered by R. A. McConnell in an address, “ESP and Credibility in Science,” delivered at Carnegie-Mellon University and subsequently published in The American Psychologist (vol. XXIV: 531-38). In this address Dr. McConnell points out that so many independent scientists have confirmed the existence of ESP that the critic would have to postulate a worldwide conspiracy of an unbelievable magnitude among scientists. To add to this powerful point, it might be added that this conspiracy would have had to have been self-promulgated by parapsychologists (and other outsiders who have also confirmed the ESP effect) for a hundred years. This conspiracy would have had to include such scientists as the Nobel prizewinning physiologist Charles Richet, the physicist Lord Rayleigh (John William Strutt), and the famous psychologist William James among many others. George Price seems to have seen the unworkability of his views and has since retracted his famous Science article.
The third major argument against ESP is that the statistics used to evaluate tests are invalid. As is well known, many ESP tests are really games where the subject tries to guess correctly above what coincidence would dictate. If an individual attempts to guess under which of three walnut shells a pea is hidden, over a long period of time he will consistently be correct one-third of the time. There is certainly nothing unusual about that. But what if the subject consistently guesses correctly two-thirds of the time? Statistics tell us that this cannot happen by chance.
There are standard mathematical models used to judge when a series of guesses is more than merely chance, and of course, parapsychologists use these models in their work. According to statistics 20 to 1 odds are suggestive of more than chance. In ESP and PK research, odds of 100 to 1 are usually accepted as evidence of psi. Despite the fact that all sciences use these models, one critic has written that “. . . the parapsychologists are forced to rely on the shaky evidence of statistical significances.” Some critics, such as G. Spencer Brown, have argued that the entire scheme of statistics is arbitrary and faulty, so that the statistics used in parapsychology are still suspect. This may be so, but if it is then parapsychology is in good company, since experimental psychology, sociology, and other behavioral sciences use the same methods. As for calling the statistical evidence shaky, some experiments with gifted psychics have achieved odds of millions to one. It should also be noted that this criticism is itself hackneyed. As far back as 1937 when the ESP controversy was first erupting due to the Rhine experiments at Duke University, the American Institute of Mathematical Statistics issued a statement to the effect that the statistics used to evaluate ESP were completely valid and that if one wished to debate the ESP issue it could not be done on mathematical grounds.
However, there are certain statistical flukes that might mistakenly appear to be ESP results. As any poker player knows, chance can produce some rather weird results. Another problem is that of statistical artifacts. Parapsychology today often uses an experiment using a one-half probability. For example, a subject might have to guess either red or green as the color of a concealed card. If twenty people run the same test, ten will probably get better than chance results. Of these ten, five may confirm the above chance scores. Of these, two will succeed on a third trial and perhaps one will succeed a fourth time. By pure chance, then, one subject will have run a test and will have confirmed it three times. If one takes all the results together, it would be clearly shown that only fickle chance was at work. It is sometimes argued that something of this sort, on a much more sophisticated scale, might be going on in experimental parapsychology.
At this point, it must be pointed out that this argument, like most other criticisms, applies only to one part of parapsychology—laboratory ESP. Critics often tend to think that parapsychology consists merely of a few diligent scientists running statistical tests in a laboratory. The total scope of parapsychology must also include its backbone—the spontaneous occurrences of ESP in day-to-day living: well-authenticated cases of hauntings and apparitions; spectacular cases of people who have willed objects to move in sealed containers; and other exciting areas of investigation to which statistical controversies are totally irrelevant.
These three arguments then are the main valid objections to scientific ESP and PK research. They are termed valid because, despite the fact that they have been adequately answered, the points raised are serious ones and should be taken into consideration by anyone trying to make an impartial evaluation of parapsychology.
There are, however, some invalid and demonstrably incorrect arguments that are often leveled against parapsychology and parapsychologists which Ransom cites and which will be briefly dealt with. Again, any comments on these charges are not taken from Ransom’s own evaluations.
The first of these invalid criticisms is that ESP is a priori impossible. This rigid argument is similar to that of George Price to whom ESP was a miracle which would necessitate the breaking of natural law. Ergo, it just could not be. This argument goes against everything that modem science stands for, the unbiased pursuit of truth and fact, authenticated by empirical observation and experimentation. There is no room for dogma in science. Another fault inherent in this argument is that it presupposes that our knowledge of psychology, physics, and biology is total and complete. This is hardly the case, since several recognized sciences have fundamental problems which are still a mystery to them. Psychology still has not fathomed the primary cause or causes of mental illness, and astronomy has little concrete idea what those mysterious quasars are. Physicists are hard put to explain the actions of certain subatomic particles. Because of these and many others, it is rather ludicrous to say that psi is impossible because it breaks the laws that govern certain sciences of which we have incomplete or even little understanding. This reasoning is a subterfuge at best. If parapsychology is but an infant science, her sister sciences are hardly more than adolescents.
Another argument that is now invalid is that the experimental designs used by parapsychologists in running their tests are faulty, since recording errors and sensory cues could explain the results, and that when these conditions are improved, no results are forthcoming. This is erroneous for several reasons. First of all, parapsychologists are more than aware of these possible sources of error in their experiments and routinely check for them. Also, many experiments today are recorded automatically, and there are examples of “perfect” experiments where the tightening of controls has not canceled any psi effects.
There are three additional arguments which, although they might contain a ray of validity, are nonetheless irrelevant to the central issue of whether parapsychology is a science. The first of these is that psi has not been fitted into a theoretical framework, nor has it shown any relevance to the rest of science. The latter part of this point is mere value judgment and as such is not a valid objection. Several theoretical frameworks have been offered for psi, but these are admittedly speculative. That a certain study does not offer frameworks has little to do with its scientific acumen. Frameworks gradually arise as organized facts and data are amassed. Because parapsychology is a young science, many feel that it is not yet time for such frameworks to be seriously proposed. As the parapsychologist Ian Stevenson has humorously noted, “. . . parapsychologists have no really satisfactory theory of extrasensory perception to market even to available buyers.” Nevertheless, this still does not invalidate the scientific credibility of psychical research. Perhaps it is to its credit that hard-core parapsychology is more concerned with fact than theory.
Other objections are that parapsychologists are not in agreement among themselves as to the quality of their own evidence (which is a problem inherent in any science), and that parapsychologists are biased in favor of the existence of psi. (To which one might respond that biologists are now biased in favor of evolution.) Several nonparapsychologists have entered into the field and have been amazed to discover not only that they could achieve psychic results, but also were quite talented at it. One need only read the barest amount of the rich history of psychical research to discover that many of the most famous parapsychologists were initially skeptics who only ventured into the study of psi after breaking through their own bias. Only after much travail did they ultimately become convinced of psi and realized that it offered a bold new world of exploration. One historical case is that of the criminologist, Cesare Lombroso. Lombroso resisted the notion of psi until he was publicly challenged to investigate the matter, and, although he consented grudgingly, he could not in all intellectual honesty refuse. Overcoming his bias he attended some experiments and seances and ended up championing the cause which he had so shunned a short time before. Lombroso’s case is not unique historically. Several nonparapsychologists have similarly reported successful ESP experiments and have also reported a multitude of personal experiences.
Although these arguments were accumulated by Ransom in 1971, they showed little change from a similar survey made in 1956 which touched upon the very same objections. In a paper delivered at the Ciba Symposium on ESP, J. Fraser Nicol, a noted historian of parapsychology, pointed to four main criticisms of parapsychology: its apparent irrelevance to other sciences; nonrepeatability; disagreements by parapsychologists on the quality of the evidence; and that claims made by parapsychologists are often unsupported by the evidence. This last argument was also listed by Ransom in 1971. If one is historically minded, he might wish to read an amusing book, The Enchanted Boundary by W. F. Prince, published in 1930, which is a survey of criticisms of psychical research. The arguments dating back to the 1890s are little different from the ones offered today.
All this material points to a seeming paradox, for although there has been little change in the charges made against parapsychology over its one hundred years, there has been a growing acceptance of it by the scientific community. Why has there been no change in the arguments against parapsychology, yet growing acceptance of it? What are the real reasons for the resistance to accepting ESP research?
As several of the critical arguments reveal, resistance to psi is often more emotional than scientific or logical. Science naturally resists innovation and abhors anomaly if these breakthroughs or events are not consistent with the current vogue of scientific thinking. In 1962 a scientific commentator and theorist, Thomas Kuhn, rocked the establishment with a little book entitled The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Basing his views on the history of science, Kuhn argued that scientific progress is not a slow evolutionary process, but a much more dynamic practice. Organized science reacts against any strikingly different observation or anomaly. These new observations grow and grow and finally organize themselves into an entirely new framework which ultimately overthrows the old paradigm and replaces it with a new one. A scientific revolution has then taken place. As Max Planck once noted, young scientists grow up with this new paradigm and accept it as a matter of course. ESP was strikingly daring to the psychologists of 1934 when Rhine’s Extrasensory Perception was published, but today’s psychologists have grown up with ESP research staring them in the face. Kuhn also notes that a scientific revolution is not necessarily precipitated by bare facts, but rather occurs when the scientific community itself seems ready for a change, be it for scientific, philosophical, or cultural reasons.
Kuhn’s observations, which have not gone unchallenged, do throw a clear light on parapsychology and its critics. Robert Thouless, a British psychologist and parapsychologist, has specifically commented on Kuhn’s writing and its bearing on the ESP problem in the following extract from his book, From Anecdote to Experiment in Psychical Research:
“Kuhn’s theory of scientific revolutions contains many illuminations of the problems of parapsychology; among others it suggests why we should expect to have critics . . . and why they will not be convinced merely by increased weight of experimental evidence. He points out that practitioners of normal science have always tended to resist new theories because these seem to throw doubt on what they are doing and on what they have already done. He also suggests that this resistance to change by normal science has its own value in emphasizing the fact of anomaly when a new finding does not fit normal expectations. But this resistance has always led a number of the practitioners of normal science to refuse to recognize the necessity for conceptual change. They will not indeed abandon an old paradigm until a new paradigm is ready to take its place. We are, in parapsychology, far from the situation of being able to formulate a new paradigm. So we must expect incredulity to persist among our critics, and not expect that this incredulity will be overcome by mere increase of experimental evidence obtained under new conditions of stringency.”
The science of today is a remnant of what can be called Victorian materialism, when science was seen as an alternative to, or even a foe of, religion. The science of today is still enmeshed in that tradition, or at least many interpret it that way. To those of this old school of thought the idea that one mind can directly influence another mind or can influence physical objects must indeed be shocking if not actually blasphemous. Yet, our new generation of scientists is growing up in a scientific community where talk of ESP and mind over matter are commonplace. They are growing up with these new but now not so strange facts, and are not so biased against them.*
Because of the nature of scientific changes (according to Kuhn), Thouless hints that the facts of ESP and PK will gradually be consolidated into science when some bold young explorer offers a new framework for science which will incorporate the facts of psychic science, or rather offers a more acceptable framework for psi. As Thouless prophetically states of this inevitability and of the current function of the parapsychological community, “. . .we should not be tempted to see ourselves as the Einstein of parapsychology, but rather as having the task of preparing his way by increasing knowledge of the field.” Although it is likely that the Kuhn-Thouless view is the main component and instigator of the ESP controversy, there still are major practical problems which have negatively colored ESP. Speaking in 1968 at the Institute for Parapsychology of the Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man (FRNM)—the old Duke Parapsychology Laboratory—-J. B. Rhine, its founder, cited the fact that we can only study ESP scientifically by using methods of investigation dictated to us by other sciences. However, we are not entitled to believe that ESP will so conform. Because psi is so elusive, a basically unconscious process, and perhaps even a physical process, the psychological approach may actually be a deterrent to the study of psi. This, too, must be kept in mind, though many parapsychologists would disagree with Rhine on this issue.
After diligently wading through the foregoing arguments, the reader might be tempted to throw up his hands and ask, “How can we separate fact from fiction about psychical phenomena?” The next several chapters will deal with the fundamental core of parapsychology—psychical phenomena itself. The evidence and findings are picked from a century of organized research. For despite its problems and controversies, there have been thousands upon thousands of studies offering evidence for everything from telepathy to haunted houses to alleged communications from the dead. The best evidence for these phenomena will be presented and will usually represent the major cases and studies that have been considered the core findings and thoughts about psychical research and psychical phenomena.
“Parapsychology and the ESP Controversy” is an extract from Parapsychology: A Century of Enquiry by D. Scott Rogo, published by White Crow Books and available from Amazon and other book sellers.