Science and the Paranormal

  • Lawrence LeShan. A New Science of the Paranormal: The Promise of Psychical Research Quest Books. 2009.
  • Charles T. Tart The End of Materialism: How Evidence of the Paranormal is Bringing Science and Spirit Together. Noetic Books/New Harbinger Publications, 2009.
Back in the day, in the 1970s, I was very much taken with LeShan's arguments, and they fed into articles such as Doves are Just Middle Class Pigeons. Today they seem more like the precursors of some of the more troubling forms of postmodernism. His essential argument is that the notion of a single reality embracing the whole of nature, an idea derived from the enlightenment, is in some way false. LeShan does not here seem to be presupposing traditional Cartesian dualism, but something more complex.

In this book, LeShan argues for a science of spontaneous phenomena, rather than laboratory parapsychology, which he sees as going nowhere, and provides examples from the literature and his own experience of the type of experiences he thinks this new psychical research will examine. Critics are likely to point out that psychical researchers studied much of this material for decades in the years before J. B. Rhine, and there is no reason to believe that any new psychical research will make any further progress.

Tart's book is long on rant and cheap rhetorical tricks (see for example the ludicrous 'Western Creed' reproduced herein. I would expect any group of teenagers doing a philosophy GCSE to able to work out the logical errors in this. Short on evidence, mainly the same old stuff, and no sense of a continuing programme of productive research.

It is not at all clear that any claimed evidence for anomalous forms of cognition or other scientific anomalies could provide any argument for or against the existence of transcendent values. Only in the case of pure telepathy could one argue that they could provide evidence for non-physical realities. In the cases of clairvoyance, precognition and above all psychokinesis, which are claims of anomalistically acquiring information about or influencing the physical world, these imply processes interacting with the physical world, i.e. by definition physical processes, albeit perhaps otherly-physical processes. -- Peter Rogerson

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