Much skepticism exists around the subject of psychic phenomena,
and this is probably not a bad thing, given its very checkered
past. Fake mediums, bogus mind readers, magic tricks passed off
as the real thing. The list goes on.
Hence, the use of science should be welcomed in helping to verify
some of the psychic community’s claims.
However, this can also become unhealthy for several reasons, and
it is equally important to stand guard against these flaws. They
too are all too common.
(1) Biased scientists.
The sad fact is that the field of parapsychology, with extremely
rare exceptions, does NOT attract the finest minds or the best
scientists. It is extremely poorly funded, is almost impossible
to make a reputable career in, and is the source of endless
derision from the orthodox scientific community.
Hence, with the best will in the world, there is an implicit
pressure upon parapsychologists to validate their own existence.
In other words, at the end of the day, they have to find
something, somewhere. If their entire lives consisted of
disproving every possible psychic phenomenon that they were
presented with, they would soon be out of the profession from
sheer boredom or depressed spirits. From a personal standpoint,
why bother? Hence, most of them are believers to start with.
This is not to imply that they would fake results. However, we
must be aware that, by their very existence in this much maligned
field, there is an invisible pressure upon these people to
produce something to validate their own existence. Hence, this
sort of science is extremely difficult to maintain in a totally
Regular academic scientists are always under pressure to justify
their funding through their results. How much worse then for
scientists who, for the most part, have no funding, and who are
often the laughing stock of the scientific community?
For all of these reasons, the profession of psychic investigation
cannot and will not attract the very finest minds, at least not
at the present times. This is not intended to be an insult to
scientist involved in the field. It is just reality. The very
best will tend to gravitate towards fields where their genius
will be recognized, and not derided and scoffed at.
It is a pity, but that is just how the world works at present.
(2) The inadequacy of Science.
The scientific method has served mankind extremely well, but it
has its limits. It cannot do everything.
Hence, we must be wary of trying to apply scientific methods
where they may not work well at all. Such is the manner in which
science has been elevated to a religion in our world, this
statement might seem almost absurd.
Yet, there are clear instances where science cannot measure
anything. You cannot measure the emotions of love or anger with
scientific instruments. Yet, few would doubt that they exist.
You cannot use instruments to provide a printout of what somebody
is thinking. Yet, nobody would deny that they DO think, and they
very often think in words.
You cannot prove scientifically that there are NO toy airplanes
in orbit around the planet Saturn! It might sound absurd, but no
matter how much you search for them and fail to find them, you
CANNOT PROVE that they are not there! You can only say that you
have not found one YET, and that it is extremely unlikely that
they exist. You might be able to say that with 99.99999999%
certainty. But you can NEVER say it with 100% certainty.
Science cannot “prove” a negative.
Thus, in the realm of psychic phenomena, science cannot
categorically state that there is no such thing. You CANNOT PROVE
that ghosts do not exist, for instance. You can only say that, to
date, there has been no conclusive proof that they DO. That is
NOT the same as saying that they do NOT.
In addition, the scientific method itself has limitations that
psychic phenomena would definitely stretch. In science, something
has to be repeatable for it to have any validity. In other words,
other scientists have to be able to repeat your process and get
exactly the same results.
However, this is almost certainly doomed to failure in the
psychic realm. Imagine repeating your experiment in a haunted
house and DEMANDING that the ghost appear on cue, just because
you are performing the same experiment!
If, by its very nature, a phenomenon is extremely rare and
unpredictable in nature, it is very hard to use Science to say
much about it at all.
It is for this very reason that, initially, the theory that a
meteorite collision has caused the extinction of the dinosaurs
was met with hoots of laughter by the scientific community. it
was the very rarity of the event, and the fact that no evidence
could be found, that caused ridicule to be heaped upon the heads
of the theory’s proponents. Until, of course, the crater was
We now also know that the role of the experimenter can
drastically change the results of the experiment. This may
explain why certain famed psychics seem to have their skills
desert them in the cold harsh light of the scientific laboratory.
Yet, only a mediocre scientist would claim that because this is
the case, it proves that there were no psychic phenomena to begin
(3) Psychic Skeptics.
This may, in part, explain the James Randi effect. This is a
psychic investigator who is a total skeptic on the subject, and
who approaches the subject with this powerful ingrained bias. He
has issued a challenge to pay a large sum of money to anyone who
can demonstrate psychic powers to him in a scientifically
controlled environment. To date, he still has his money.
Now, part of the problem may be that, even if somebody is
genuinely psychic, the attitude of the investigator is
sufficiently negative to completely extinguish whatever psychic
abilities exist, as long as he is present. Again, a true
scientist of any quality cannot discount this possibility.
This is a purely human factor we are talking about, a function of
the human brain, and not a measurement of the boiling point of
water. Hence, it is entirely plausible that the negative
attitude of the scientist, plus the undue pressure that the
psychic is placed under as a result of it, could act to diminish
the very effect being measured.
However, the bias of people like Randi and the organization of
skeptics that calls itself Psicop, is worrying for another
reason. These are people who, while claiming to be scientists,
are actually approaching the entire subject with a preinclined
bias that has nothing to do with Science whatsoever.
They are skeptical, because they are skeptical. That’s all. They
are believers in “Disbelief”. It’s just the opposite end of the
spectrum of Belief. That’s all.
There is no scientific reason for it whatsoever. While they
pretend to be scientific, their approach is more akin to a
religious dogma; that of treating Science like a religion. It is
often called “Scientism” for this reason.
They might claim that there is no proof that psychic phenomena
exist. Yet, it can be stated with equal validity that there is
no proof that they do NOT. That is a totally equivalent
statement. As we have seen earlier, Science cannot PROVE a
negative statement. It can only talk about probabilities and
likelihood. And, as we have discussed, many psychic phenomena are
intrinsically rare or fragile in their very essence.
Like any good evangelical, these skeptics like Randi and Psicop
have a hidden agenda in “proving” that the world functions the
way they think it does. Frankly, a major motivation is FEAR. More
people than would like to admit it are terrified of the
possibility of psychic phenomena. What if someone really COULD
read your mind? Every dirty little secret. What if YOU too could
develop psychic powers?
What sort of world would THAT be?! Hardly the predictable,
ultra-conservative, clockwork “scientific” universe that these
people like to live in. For them, it’s a possibility too horrible
In summary then, we have to be very careful in being too
credulous in examining scientific phenomena, or in jumping to
believe the claims of the “professional” researchers in this
field. However, we have to also be wary of the skeptics who,
while purporting to be scientific, are frequently better viewed
as ideological zealots than even mediocre scientists.
Copyright 2006. Asoka Selvarajah. All Rights Reserved.
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