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Why scientists are skeptics about psychic phenomena


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#1 Christiano

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Posted 04 February 2009 - 01:38 PM

Theory. The deeper reason scientists remain unconvinced of psi is that there is no theory for how psi works [modus operandi]. Until psi pro­ponents can elucidate how thoughts generated by neurons in the senders brain can pass through the skull and into the brain of the receiver, skepticism is the appropriate response, as it was for continental drift sans plate tectonics. Until psi finds its Darwin, it will continue to drift on the fringes of science.

WHY SCIENTISTS ARE SKEPTICS ABOUT PSYCHIC PHENOMENA

In the first half of the 19th century the theory of evolution was mired in conjecture until Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace compiled a body of evidence and posited a mechanism natural selectionfor powering the evolutionary machine.

The theory of continental drift, proposed in 1915 by Alfred Wegener, was not accepted by most scientists until the 1960s, with the discovery of midoceanic ridges, geomagnetic patterns corresponding to continental plate movement, and plate tec­tonics as the driving motor.

Data and theory. Evidence and mechanism. These are the twin pillars of sound science. Without data and evidence, there is nothing for a theory or mechanism to explain. Without a theory and mechanism, data and evidence drift aimlessly on a boundless sea.

For more than a century, claims have been made for the existence of psi, or psychic phe­nomena. In the late 19th century organizations such as the Soci­ety for Psychical Research were begun to employ rigorous sci­entific methods in the study of psi, and they had world-class sci­entists in support, including none other than Wallace (Darwin was skeptical). In the 20th century psi periodically appeared in serious academic research programs, from Joseph B. Rhines ex­periments at Duke University in the 1930s to Daryl J. Bems re­search at Cornell University in the 1990s.

In January 1994, for example, Bem and his late University of Edinburgh parapsychologist colleague Charles Honorton published Does Psi Exist? Replicable Evidence for an Anom­alous Process of Information Transfer in the prestigious review journal Psychological Bulletin. Conducting a meta-analysis of dozens of published experiments, the authors concluded that the replication rates and effect sizes achieved by one particular experimental method, the ganzfeld procedure, are now sufficient to warrant bringing this body of data to the attention of the wider psychological community. (A meta-analysis is a statisti­cal technique that combines the results from studies to look for an overall effect, even if the results from the individual studies are insignificant; the ganzfeld procedure places the receiver in a room with Ping-Pong ball halves over the eyes and headphones over the ears playing white noise and the sender in another room psychically transmitting visual images.)

Despite the evidence for psi (subjects had a hit rate of 35 per­cent, when 25 percent was predicted by chance), Bem and Hon­orton lamented that most academic psychologists do not yet accept the existence of psi, anomalous processes of information or energy transfer (such as telepathy or other forms of ex­trasensory perception) that are currently unexplained in terms of known physical or biological mechanisms.

Why don't scientists accept psi? Bem has a stellar reputation as a rigorous experimentalist and has presented statistically sig­nificant results. Arent scientists supposed to be open to chang­ing their minds when presented with new data and evidence? The reason for skepticism is that we need replicable data and a viable theory, both of which are missing in psi research.

Data. The meta-analysis and ganzfeld techniques have been challenged. Ray Hyman of the University of Oregon determined that there were inconsistencies in the experimental procedures used in different ganzfeld experiments (which were lumped to­gether in Bems meta-analysis as if they used the same proce­dures). He also pointed out flaws in the target randomization process (the sequence in which the visual targets were sent to the receiver), resulting in a target-selection bias. Richard Wise-man of the University of Hertfordshire in England conducted a meta-analysis of 30 more ganzfeld experiments and found no evidence for psi, concluding that psi data are nonreplicable.

Theory. The deeper reason scientists remain unconvinced of psi is that there is no theory for how psi works [modus operandi]. Until psi pro­ponents can elucidate how thoughts generated by neurons in the senders brain can pass through the skull and into the brain of the receiver, skepticism is the appropriate response, as it was for continental drift sans plate tectonics. Until psi finds its Darwin, it will continue to drift on the fringes of science.


From: http://www.skeptical...ticism/id2.html

#2 cotton08

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Posted 04 February 2009 - 02:30 PM

they don't know why a person falls in love with one person but not the next, either, but it happens.

#3 Retro

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Posted 04 February 2009 - 08:22 PM

I'd say it is accepted enough that the CIA and military use remote viewing as one of the tools in it's arsenal. Apparently they understand enough to be able to teach people how to do it.

Obviously Russian scientists believe in it because they spent a great deal of effort designing psyonic devices to amplify telepathic abilities.


There are actually many more scientists that have studied and do believe in it than 'the mainstream' is willing to admit. The mainstream is made up the uncreative bookworms. I am an electrical engineer, for example. In my field, I have found that there are those that can simply 'do the job' and those that understand 'why' they are doing it. And when they understand why, they are more likely to find creative solutions rather than copying and pasting what they read in a textbook. I view 'the mainstream' as the copy and pasters. When you ask them for an explanation for their observations, they pull out a textbook and copy the paragraphs to you.

#4 OMPRDave

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Posted 05 February 2009 - 10:18 PM

I honestly believe scientists won't take any paranormal research seriously until the mainstream media stops making is so fantastic. It's hard to look professional while the guys who host tv shows are faking evidence and making a circus sideshow of things. i understand that many people love paranormal topics and such, but there has to come a time when the BS stops and we drop all the silly superstitious innuendos and profiteering off unproven nonsense.
"There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance - that principle is contempt prior to investigation." Herbert Spencer

#5 Retro

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Posted 05 February 2009 - 10:26 PM

That doesn't make the 'mainstream scientific community' sound very professional, now does it? I don't recall science fiction ever stopping scientists. Well, maybe the scientists that cheated their way through college. I have found, to my disappointment, that there are some really stupid people with impressive sounding careers. I work around a lot of people that I just have to wonder how they managed to get the job.

This probably sounds snobby, but I personally don't care about what the 'mainstream' thinks. They are never the pioneers, and always the followers. They laugh at every suggestion because it is different than what they think they know. But they are quick to jump on the gravy train once the pioneer forges the path to the future.

Edited by Retro, 05 February 2009 - 10:28 PM.


#6 PhenomInvestigator

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Posted 15 March 2009 - 04:20 PM

What is being said here may or may not be true of all science. As a discipline many scientsts are quite interested in quirky things. It is quite difficult to lump everyone working in the various fields into a single group thus categorically judging them.

I have worked in the scientific community in various roles for many decades. By dad was in fact a rocket scientist with an impressive resume as well. I do truly understand this community and its mindset. I have worked in research parapsychology for a very long time. While there are varities of personalites and certainly many agendas in play some of which have been generally touched on these threads, it bears repeating that there are many in the scientific community with genuine interest in the topics discussed here.

There are valid reasons however that most of these individuals are uncomfortable coming forward and supporting them, not the least of which is professional standing. I know many respected members of the scientific community that are personally interested but cannot afford to make their interests known publically - and this is truly unfortunate. The real culprit here is dogman and politics in the scientific establishment. This is the same problem many leading-edge researchers face in getting published in mainstream scientific (not unreview, I am specifically speaking here of peer-review) journals. And of course funding is always as issue. As one respected parapsychologist Dr. Julie Beschel remarked recently, the funding is very sparse in parapsychology research, and I completely agree with her. Add to that our field is one of the smallest in head count worldwide and yet we produce some of the best research and one has to ask why it is so difficult to get the message out. The answer is incredibly simple: too much noise. Too much disinformation, too many agendas within the scientific community, too much at risk from too many quarters.

What is needed is a complete shift and a remotivation of the scientific community. We need to come to a poitn naturally where it becomes incredibly and undeniably clear that the classic materialist, positivist models that have served science for the past several centuries do not in fact describe things in the 21st century. We must come to the point where it becomes clear that the mind/body conundrum is unsolveable in a materialist context. We must in a phrase, lose the baggage of traditionalism and responsibly replace it with brave new thinkers well-trained in scientific processes and methods (which work very well btw not only for physical science quanta but equally well for social science qualia). Only then will we begin to get the attention (and more important funding) needed to proceed.

The complete irony, as I have written many other places, is that parapsychology research is actually leading the way. It is one of few branches of science that is actually trying to unify and integrate physics and psychology, quantative and qualitative measures in other words, to understand in a holistic way what the universe is really all about and what it means to be in it.
Anomalous Phenomena is Unexplained not ImpossiblePsi is Subtle not AbsoluteAnything is possible, it's all a matter of Probability---------------------

#7 hippityhoohaa

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Posted 04 April 2009 - 01:45 AM

What I find fascinating with all this talk about psychic phenomena and science is that I have yet to see any experiment that I can independently reproduce that gives rise to any "supernatural" phenomena. Be it Thomas Campbell mixing genuine science with some crazy pseudoscience or any other so called PhD physicist that was "afraid to come forward" with his/her work. You'd think that beneath it all, somewhere, somehow, we'd be able to see just one piece of evidence. But no experiment can be reproduced independently, what does that tell you?

#8 Entity

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Posted 04 April 2009 - 11:56 AM

You'd think that beneath it all, somewhere, somehow, we'd be able to see just one piece of evidence. But no experiment can be reproduced independently, what does that tell you?

Probably nothing. It could mean that people are trying to recreate things with the wrong parametres.

#9 hippityhoohaa

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Posted 04 April 2009 - 12:07 PM

Probably nothing. It could mean that people are trying to recreate things with the wrong parametres.


Yes it could, or it could not. Funny how no one seems to get the parameters right with this sort of stuff though, yet they do with everything else that's been proven.

#10 chestnut

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Posted 04 April 2009 - 12:13 PM

I did graduate study on a man named Henry Sidgwick, who was a philosophy professor at Cambridge in the late 19th century. He was one of the co-founders of the Society for Psychical Research.

He pretty much devoted his life's work to trying to find proof of life after death, and he and his colleagues from the SPR debunked all sorts of things, found normal, rational explanations for a lot of so-called supernatural activity, revealed a lot of "mediums" as frauds, etc. He approached the study of paranormal activity from a very scientific, skeptical viewpoint. Some of his associates were much more willing to leap on the believer bandwagon than he was, so he provided a good counterbalance for them.

At any rate, Sidgwick never did find anything that he considered irrefutable proof of life after death, and he went to his grave still not really believing anything one way or the other.

However, even he admitted that he had encountered many things that he truly could not explain by rational, scientific methods. He couldn't PROVE the existence of life after death, but he also admitted that he still couldn't DISPROVE it either.

So I guess it's one of those things that we're going to be struggling with for a long time.

#11 Entity

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Posted 04 April 2009 - 12:16 PM

Yes it could, or it could not. Funny how no one seems to get the parameters right with this sort of stuff though, yet they do with everything else that's been proven.

:Wall: If you were too sure of your own conviction, why a statement "could or could not", you should be able to make a definitive statement right?

#12 Vampchick21

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Posted 04 April 2009 - 12:19 PM

Probably nothing. It could mean that people are trying to recreate things with the wrong parametres.


Yes it could, or it could not. Funny how no one seems to get the parameters right with this sort of stuff though, yet they do with everything else that's been proven.



And how long did it take to arrive at the 'proven' conclusion for everything else?

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#13 hippityhoohaa

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Posted 04 April 2009 - 10:01 PM

If you were too sure of your own conviction, why a statement "could or could not", you should be able to make a definitive statement right?


I'm not sure at all, however I just find it fascinating that some people are when there's no verifiable, reproducible, falsifiable evidence.

And how long did it take to arrive at the 'proven' conclusion for everything else?


A long time, after lots of peer review, debate, induction, deduction etc. The thing is, is that the hypotheses that later became theories had reproducible evidence backing them up so that other scientists could replicate the phenomena, and therefore critically analyze it. I have not seen any evidence of supernatural phenomena coming from paranormal research that can be reproduced and critically analyzed, and therefore it doesn't even begin the long process of scientific debate.

Edited by hippityhoohaa, 04 April 2009 - 10:02 PM.


#14 Entity

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Posted 04 April 2009 - 10:51 PM

I'm not sure at all, however I just find it fascinating that some people are when there's no verifiable, reproducible, falsifiable evidence.
cally analyzed, and therefore it doesn't even begin the long process of scientific debate.

Phew, you are not sure of yourself and your own methods and here you are challenging people, isn't that a bit premature? Or ironic?

#15 hippityhoohaa

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Posted 05 April 2009 - 01:05 AM

Entity, are we entering into a rhetorical debate, or would you care to address something more specific that you don't agree with?




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