Can ESP Affect Our Lives? ( 超感覺的知覺對我們的影響 )
Can ESP Affect Our Lives?
CAN we heal psychically? Cure illness through prayer? Spy on our enemies by means of ESP? See in our mind’s eye places we have never visited and know nothing about? Extrasensory perception–ESP-has long been the fodder of public fantasy and media exploitation. Countless books, movies and TV shows captivate audiences with beguiling tales of psychic phenomena and unexplained events. As we watch, we wonder, “Wow, what if that’s true?” There is also a less well-known side of ESP: serious research conducted by a few university laboratories and private foundations. But why so many critics and skeptics? Why isn’t the data any stronger? Is ESP simply wishful thinking, sloppy science, clever conjuring, or outright fraud? Is the public just being duped? Most people believe that ESP is all around us; most scientists assume that ESP does not–cannot–exist. If ESP is real, then it should be big news. Five scientists with experience in the field offer their varying views.
Dr. Barry Beyerstein of Simon Fraser University is a member of the Executive Council of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP). Barry claims that experimental results in ESP investigations support neither the hope nor the hype.
Dr. Dean Radin, an experimental psychologist who has conducted extensive research programs investigating psi phenomena, has been president of the Parapsychological Association three times. Dean says he is skeptical of skeptics.
Dr. Marilyn Schlitz, a leading investigator in parapsycholgy and ESP, is research director of the Institute of Noetic Sciences. Marilyn offers evidence from her own investigations of telepathy and psychic healing.
Dr. Charles Tart, the author of numerous books on parapsychology and the nature of consciousness, is a core faculty member of the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology. Charles seeks to combine careful science with spiritual understanding.
Dr. James Trefil, a professor of physics at George Mason University, is the author of numerous science books, such as 101 Things You Don’t Know About Science and No One Else Does Either. Jim applies common sense where it is often missing.
ROBERT: Marilyn, as a parapsychologist, you focus on the practical implications of paranormal phenomena. What are some of the ways in which ESP can affect our lives?
MARILYN: It may be a little premature to think about the actual application of parapsychological phenomena, since we’re still in the research-gathering stage. But some possible applications include healing. One idea is that the belief system or intention of the healer may influence a patient. Such healing can occur even at a distance and even when patients don’t know that “good thoughts” are being sent to them.
ROBERT: This is not just psychosomatic medicine, where the mind influences the body hormonally?
MARILYN: I think it’s a step beyond the notion of a placebo kind of effect. It would be some kind of distant intentionality effect on physical systems.
ROBERT: Define “distant intentionality.”
MARILYN: It’s the idea that one person’s thoughts may be able to influence another person’s physiology at a distance, without any normal sensory communication between the two. This type of claim is quite common; many healers in many different cultures believe they can heal people at a distance.
ROBERT: What are other areas where ESP may have practical value?
MARILYN: Crime detection, certainly; many police departments use psychics on a regular basis. Detectives will try anything to solve a case, and sometimes a psychic can help them come up with a novel explanation.
ROBERT: Barry, as a skeptic, do you think that the only way ESP affects our lives is by wasting our time and taking our money?
BARRY: I don’t put experimental parapsychologists in the same category as psychics who pester police departments and do waste their time. I have personal knowledge of one such case, and I’ve read about others, and I think that there’s more noise in the system, really, where the police are concerned. But first we have to establish whether ESP exists. And even if it does, parapsychologists will admit that the effect is so tiny that it probably wouldn’t have any practical effect in the real world.
ROBERT: But if there’s a tiny effect, doesn’t that significantly change our worldview?
BARRY: Absolutely. If ESP is there and can’t be explained by prosaic means, then it does change our worldview in significant ways. That’s why as skeptics we say that extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence. The existence of paranormal phenomena would be such a fundamental change in the scientific worldview that we have to make sure of the evidence before we take that leap.
ROBERT: Charles, in your book Body, Mind, Spirit, you’ve considered the potential effect on our lives of learning to use ESP. Do you believe that everyone has these abilities, and can we develop them?
CHARLES: If I say everyone has psychic abilities, that’s a matter of belief, because of course not everyone has been tested. But I see no reason not to assume that ESP is a fundamental human talent. It does need to be developed. As Barry [Beyerstein] mentioned, if we do have it, ESP is usually a very small-scale phenomenon. That’s why I wrote a book called Learning to Use ESP.
ROBERT: But can you learn to use ESP? Can you show developmental increase of ability over time with any kind of training?
CHARLES: My best guess is that we can, but there hasn’t been enough research on this. Our fundamental need is to get ESP ability up to where you can demonstrably use it at will.
ROBERT: But have you seen experiments in which there’s an increasing level of psychic performance?
ROBERT: Are these experiments replicable?
CHARLES: Very few people have even tried to replicate them under proper conditions. That’s why I say that the human ability to increase ESP skills is my best guess at this point, but I’m not going to come out and say it’s been proved yet.
ROBERT: Jim, in your many books, such as The Dark Side of the Universe and Are We Unique?, you scan the frontiers of science. Do you see ESP on the frontiers?
JIM: Not really–I see it as something that’s been around. If the effects are there, as everyone has said, they’re very small. But not even the small effects have been demonstrated to the satisfaction of the mainstream scientific community.
MARILYN: I’d like to address this question: Several people have mentioned the smallness of the effect. But it’s been well established in conventional medicine, for example, that the use of aspirin can prevent second heart attacks. The size of the effect in that study was very small, too, across a very large sample size, but they actually stopped the study prematurely, because they were depriving the control group of a viable treatment.
BARRY: Sure, but there’s a big difference. We understand what aspirin does; there’s a perfectly reasonable hypothesis arising from the molecular function of aspirin and how it affects the body.
ROBERT: Do you have to understand the molecular mechanism to recognize an experimental result?
BARRY: No, but in this particular case we have a theory, and the result was a predictable outcome of the theory. It turns out to be a small effect, so you do need a large sample size to achieve statistical significance.
ROBERT: But isn’t Marilyn [Schlitz] saying that small effects don’t necessarily mean small importance?
MARILYN: Just because ESP effects may be small doesn’t mean we can dismiss them. The same is true of many treatments given in conventional medicine. The goal, really, is to begin to harness all these things in such a way that they have better applicability.
ROBERT: Dean, in your book The Conscious Universe, you go after the skeptics pretty hard. Do you feel threatened by them?
DEAN: I’m skeptical about skeptics. Skepticism is truly a double-edged sword. It’s usually imagined hacking away at things that you wish to debunk. Many ESP cases are easy to debunk, because they’re just people fooling themselves. But you also need to cut in the other direction and take a very careful look at the skeptical tactics and rhetoric that are used to try to explain something away. I did so in my book, and I discovered that in many cases of parapsychological phenomena, skeptical arguments are flawed.
ROBERT: Let’s take a practical example. [Looking away] I have this feeling right now that Marilyn [Schlitz] is staring at me. We all have that feeling on occasion, such as when we stop at a red light and feel compelled to check whether the driver in the car next to us is looking at us. Is this just common psychology, or might there be some ESP lurking here?
DEAN: The only way to know for sure is to bring it into the laboratory.
ROBERT: Have you done that?
DEAN: I’ve tested staring in the lab; so has Marilyn. You can use conventional, well-understood, double-blind, randomized, controlled techniques to see whether or not people can actually tell when they’re being stared at–or whether their physiology changes as the result of being stared at.
DEAN: The result of some twenty studies shows that people, in general, are more aroused when they’re being stared at than when they’re not. But the arousal is unconscious, and we detect it by looking at autonomic measures.
MARILYN: In real-world situations, are people just experiencing enhanced peripheral vision, not consciously aware that they’re seeing something out of the corner of their eye? The question can be answered only by going into a lab and reducing all conventional sensory inputs. Only then can we begin to look for some added x-factor that may increase our ability to detect someone looking at us. We’ve conducted two formal experiments, which we replicated twice. In all cases, we found a significant difference between the staring periods and the control periods.
ROBERT: What parameters do you check?
DEAN: We look at the EEG, the electrical activity of the cerebral cortex.
ROBERT: Alpha waves–the slow, rhythmic, electrical undulations characteristic of the resting brain?
ROBERT: So if I’m in a relaxed state, showing alpha waves, and someone is staring at me, what happens?
DEAN: Whenever your attention shifts, it desynchronizes your alpha waves, which means that these nice slow waves disappear. If this happens at the time as the person is doing the staring, then that’s an interesting indicator.
ROBERT: Marilyn, were you staring at me before?
MARILYN: I’m looking at you always, mate.
BARRY: She wasn’t before you said it. She looked at you when you said it.
ROBERT: Charles, are there any common personality characteristics for high ESP incidents?
CHARLES: No, I don’t think so. There’s been a fair amount of study on the personality correlates of people who score a little higher and a little lower. And they come out barely significant, but not very practical. One difference that’s especially interesting, even if the effect is small, is between people who believe in ESP versus people who don’t believe–something you find out before you test them for ESP.
ROBERT: You call them the sheep and the goats.
CHARLES: Right. The sheep are the believers; the goats are the nonbelievers. First, you categorize the believers and the nonbelievers, and then you give them what is essentially a multiple-choice test. When you score the results separately for the two groups, the believers–the sheep–tend to score significantly above chance, just as they were told to, and the goats often score significantly below chance. Now think about this for a minute. If I had a deck of ordinary playing cards, and asked you to guess red or black, we know you would get about fifty percent by chance. Even without statistics, if you got all fifty-two right, that would be extraordinary. How about if you got zero right? That would be just as extraordinary statistically. The goats score significantly below chance, and they feel good about it! They say, “See, there’s no such thing as ESP; here I got a lousy score on the test, and that proves I’m right.” But the only way someone can score significantly below chance is to use ESP unconsciously so that they know what the right card is and don’t guess it.
ROBERT: That sounds like after-the-fact rationalization, what we call a posteriori reasoning. What happens when you average the sheep and the goats all together?
CHARLES: But you don’t average them together. You make the distinction ahead of time; that’s the point. As a psychologist, I find this disparity fascinating. I’ve studied many ways in which we distort our perceptions of reality to support our belief systems, and here are people pulling off a small miracle in order to prove that there are no such things as miracles. It’s great!
ROBERT: Dean, do you find any common characteristics of high ESP incidents, other than the sheep-goat effect?
DEAN: Marilyn [Schlitz] has begun investigating the relationship between ESP and the nature of creativity. Among people who describe themselves as creative, there seems to be a high correlation with ESP. In telepathy tests among artists, writers, dancers, and musicians, creativity was a tested correlate, and it turned out that in these tests musicians had an effect size two to three times higher than the average person.
MARILYN: We did a study at the Julliard School in which we asked whether people–music, dance, and drama students–could detect images of a video clip being played in another room. All these student groups scored significantly higher than the general population, though the musicians scored the best. This study was then replicated in a PhD thesis at the University of Edinburgh.
ROBERT: Please describe a typical response–how was the study set up?
MARILYN: A person in one room would be watching a video clip from the musical The Wiz, a parody of The Wizard of Oz. Someone in another room would be under sensory isolation with Ping-Pong balls over the eyes and white noise fed into the ears, and knowing nothing at all about the video clip, they would describe a hot-air balloon, a black female nightclub performer, a lion, a wizard, a dog, the color yellow. What was playing on the video at that very moment, in the other room, was a scene of Diana Ross as Dorothy, with the scarecrow, the wizard, the tin man, and the lion, all walking across the Brooklyn Bridge with the cityscape of New York in the background.
ROBERT: But how many times did this kind of direct hit not occur?
MARILYN: Well, what we did then was to show that same video clip, with three decoys, to the recipient, who was asked to identify which one most closely matched their described imagery. We did this in a number of experimental trials, in such a way that you could use statistics to identify how likely the response was on the basis of chance alone. If the recipients were just guessing, we would expect that about a quarter of the time they would get it right; in fact, we found that fifty percent of the time they were able to correctly identify the target clip.
ROBERT: But how robust is that data?
MARILYN: Qualitatively, there were very striking matches between the recipients’ experience and the content of the actual target. Subjects were in this dreamlike state [induced by sensory isolation], as they described their imagery–
ROBERT: So they were in a dreamlike state? Charles, do you find more incidents of ESP during dreamlike states?
CHARLES: If you look at what happens in people’s ordinary experience, yes–a great deal comes from dreams or similar states of reverie. Experimental work conducted some years ago at the Maimonides Medical Center in New York monitored people sleeping in the laboratory who were woken up during periods of dreaming, while a sender in another room was trying to telepathically influence those dreams. Overall the results were quite significant, and some of the individual results were striking. We may talk about average effects being small, but occasionally we find extremely good psychic descriptions.
ROBERT: Barry, what is the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal–or, to those who love her, CSICOP? Why do you go after these hardworking parapsychologists and make their lives so difficult?
BARRY: It’s not a witch-hunt. CSICOP is a group of people with expertise in a wide variety of scientific, philosophical, and other academic disciplines who simply ask for the evidence and the analysis. Those whom we criticize obviously think we’re unfair. We think we’re only doing our job. We’re simply making sure that the evidence measures up, by our standards.
ROBERT: Let’s focus on healing, an area of Marilyn’s personal interest. Where do you look for transpersonal effects in the healing process? We’ve all heard stories of the power of therapeutic touch, such as the laying on of hands. Certainly many diverse religious groups invoke the power of prayer.
MARILYN: First of all, I must say that the skeptical community has been very helpful in these areas. There have been cases where skeptics have simulated a psychic surgeon doing an “operation” without any instruments–separating the skin, pulling out some kind of organ. Frequently these psychic surgeons are using some kind of false thumb filled with blood and tissues of animals, in some kind of a heavy dramatic ritual. In and of itself, this may not be wrong, because the shaman or the psychic surgeon is trying to harness the patient’s own belief system and this is their way of doing so.
ROBERT: But there’s nothing psychic or paranormal going on?
MARILYN: I can’t speak of all cases, but there are instances in which the psychic surgery is a fraud–which is a term I hate to use, because it implies evil intent. Certainly there’s nothing paranormal involved. On the other hand, we have interesting data when we come into the laboratory and look at the effects of distant prayer, intercessory prayer, on patient populations. There was a very nice study of coronary care patients, all of whom were getting conventional medical intervention. These patients were split into two groups. One was prayed for–at a distance–and one was not prayed for, without either group knowing what was happening. The people who were prayed for had far better, statistically meaningful medical outcomes, relative to the control group.
ROBERT: Pardon my naivete, but how do you direct your prayer to one group rather than another?
MARILYN: That’s one of the challenges. And there are others: Exactly what do we mean by prayer? And what do you do about the fact that some people in the control group are being prayed for by their families?
ROBERT: What do you tell the healers? Pray for the patients in room 302 but not in room 308?
MARILYN: The healers aren’t told anything about the control group; they just focus on the active group. At any rate, the experimental results seem supportive of an effect. In another project, we worked with patients with advanced AIDS. Again, we split them at random into two groups; each person knew he was participating in a study that involved distant prayer, but no one knew which group he was in. And again, the medical outcomes for the prayed-for group were statistically better than for the group that wasn’t prayed for.
JIM: I have a long experience of hearing such accounts, and when they’re described they always sound like this, but when you start getting under the hood, the devil is in the details. You get down there and find that there are subtleties in the way these experiments were designed, or in the statistical analysis, that make them much less powerful.
ROBERT: I’d be a little concerned about giving people a false sense of security: if they thought that the power of prayer was going to replace normal medical treatment, it could have deleterious consequences.
MARILYN: You’re absolutely right. In studies conducted at Duke Medical Center, all the patients got conventional allopathic medical treatment. Prayer was just used as a booster.
ROBERT: Can you pray for this show?
MARILYN: I am intending highly for this show’s success, trust me. In the Duke study, the group who received the distant prayer–the distant intentionality–apparently were differentially benefited. The problem is that we don’t know how to define the internal states or make them operational. Is the healer-sender praying? Intending? Meditating? Are there stronger effects in one kind of conscious state than in another? These are empirical questions; they can be tested down the road.
ROBERT: Dean, there was a time when the CIA was involved in psychic research for intelligence reasons. Can you tell us about that?
DEAN: Before 1995 I couldn’t have; the work was classified until then. But, yes, there’s something like a twenty-year history of CIA funding, with two objectives: one, to find out whether the rumors about psychic experiments being done in the Russia or China were true and, if so, were they a national security threat; and two, if ESP is real, then how do we improve its utilization for intelligence gathering and how do we find people who can do it? On the threat assessment side, the answer was that we didn’t have much to worry about–not because there wasn’t anything to ESP, but because no one knew anything more about ESP than we did.
ROBERT: Can ESP be useful for national security?
DEAN: The answer appears to be yes, but probably no more so than in a few exceptional cases of psychic detective work. For example, there might be a spy satellite picture of something that the National Security Council couldn’t identify but was concerned about. A psychic would be asked to describe it.
ROBERT: How would the psychics locate the target? Would they be given longitude and latitude?
DEAN: We don’t know how they locate it. They’re just told that there’s an important target and they’re supposed to provide information about it. Then they do whatever they do–draw a sketch or describe it verbally. Obviously the intelligence community doesn’t rely on psychics, because that would be just stupid. Instead, they take all of the human intelligence and the satellite intelligence and see if the psychic information fits in.
ROBERT: Some people might think that if the CIA was funding experiments in ESP, then there really is nothing to it.
DEAN: I have more faith in our government than that.
CHARLES: There was a rumor going around years ago that the Russians were using telepathic bombardment to make our national leaders act stupidly, but we showed that we didn’t need any help on that score.
ROBERT: There was a world chess championship in which Viktor Korchnoi blamed his loss on the Russians’ having planted a psychic in the audience to influence him.
CHARLES: Seriously, I’ve seen the same data Dean has. I was a consultant on the CIA projects. Sometimes the remote viewing worked extremely well. Of course you’d never use it as a sole source of intelligence, but at times it could make a wonderful supplemental source. Now, there is a concern here we need to address. Though many of us think that ESP is real and sometimes works strongly, that doesn’t mean you should start basing your life decisions on apparent psychic information. You have to use your intelligence. Even Mohammed said, “Trust in God, but tie up your camel.”
DEAN: That admonition goes for any application of psychic phenomena, whether currently in use or just being speculated about. At this point, ESP should be called in only when there’s no other form of information, or healing, or whatever, available–when you have nothing to lose by trying it. I have high confidence that what we see in the lab is evidence of some kind of ESP–some kind of psychic perception that, in principle at least, can have some benefit.
ROBERT: Dean [Radin], Marilyn [Schlitz], Charles [Tart], you’re all sheep, in that you believe in the existence of paranormal phenomena. Have any of you ever tested positive for ESP?
CHARLES: I’ve occasionally been tested positive. But I don’t usually say that I believe. I do say that I’ve assessed the scientific evidence and have reached a conclusion on that basis.
MARILYN: I follow Charles.
DEAN: I feel the same way. My belief is based on empiricism. I always run myself on my own experiments, and sometimes I do pretty well.
ROBERT: And other times?
DEAN: And other times I don’t. But statistically, over time, probably in the positive direction.
ROBERT: Barry, what do you make of this?
BARRY: I’ve done the same thing. I have some devices in my laboratory, off in one corner, where I’ve tested myself many, many times. I also run my students through, every time I teach a large course. And I have people visit my lab because they think they have psychic ability, and I run them on the machine. So far, the laws of chance are not in any great danger, as far as my experience is concerned.
ROBERT: At best, ESP seems to be a very weak phenomenon. What mechanisms could generate such a weak phenomenon?
DEAN: It’s not clear that ESP is so weak. When we consider experimental psychology in general, which is essentially what this research is, we always find that effects in the laboratory are much weaker than they are in the real world. Why? Because we force a control. We put constraints on the experimental design in order to be able to make a scientific assessment. So I’m not disturbed by the fact that we get relatively small effects in the lab. It actually bolsters my expectation that once in a while some of the spectacular things that people say have happened in their lives might be real. Occurrences in the real world are always much richer than what we see in the lab.
ROBERT: One can imagine mechanisms for telepathy, such as strange brain emanations or quantum mechanical effects. Even clairvoyance, where one is apprehending information at a distance, could be subject to fields of some sort. But how in the world could precognition work? By what conceivable mechanisms can we know the future? It seems so contrary to everything we understand.
CHARLES: I think that’s very exciting. It reminds us that we haven’t been at science very long–that we don’t know much about the universe. I have a conservative approach to science; I believe that data comes first. If your theory doesn’t fit the data, that just means your theory is inadequate. You don’t throw away data because your theories can’t handle them. The data for ESP are overwhelming, in my estimation. There are thousands of studies out there now. It happens, even though I don’t understand why.
ROBERT: Dean, why are psychic experiences so compelling for the people who claim to have them?
DEAN: That’s an interesting question, because we often think we’re dealing only with the very small phenomena we see in the laboratory. But there’s something called the luminosity of the experience–it’s a sense of transcendence. The psychic effect is bigger than you are, and it’s so compelling that it changes people’s perceptions and drives them to wonder why. This has persisted for thousands of years.
BARRY: Well, my explanation for that is that people could well think they had a psychic experience and be mistaken, but the mere fact that they believed it would cause a tremendous emotional reaction.
ROBERT: Don’t we find these transcendent feelings rather common in epileptic seizures?
BARRY: Epileptic seizures, drug effects, certain kinds of migraine headaches–there are all kinds of things that can produce illusions or hallucinations of transcendence. Direct electrical stimulation of the brain [the temporal lobe] exposed for neurosurgery can induce transcendent experiences. So can magnetic fields. Transcendent experiences are triggered by activating specific circuits in the brain’s limbic system.
ROBERT: Charles, as a transpersonal psychologist, what do you think are the clinical implications of ESP experiences?
CHARLES: We’re very culture-bound in the way we look at ESP experiences. In certain societies, if you started hearing voices, you might go to the wise people, who would say, “You have the talent to become a shaman; we’ll train you.” If you start hearing voices in our society, our wise people–psychiatrists–will give you the conventional explanation that, basically, you’re crazy. Our healers will say, “Take this drug and the voices will go away.” If our society has got it right–if hearing voices is always imaginary and pathological–then treating such a person for insanity is appropriate.
ROBERT: Hearing voices is a neurological condition.
CHARLES: It might be a neurological condition, right. Or it might be that this person has some kind of telepathic ability working and once in a while hears someone else’s thoughts.
ROBERT: How could you distinguish between the two? How could you ever prove your telepathic hypothesis?
CHARLES: You could test it. At the very least, you could allow the possibility that the voices are ESP. But suppose you are telepathic, what are you going to do with it? Are you going to let your ego swell up because this voice tells you you’re wonderful? Are you going to do crazy things because you get bad advice from the voices? We still have a clinical responsibility to help people deal in a sane, mature way with this phenomenon. But it’s important not to invalidate it to begin with. I’ve talked to many people who had what seemed to be garden-variety psychic experiences, but because they thought ESP was impossible they assumed they were crazy–and they suffered needlessly for lack of an adequate framework.
ROBERT: You’ve been one of the leaders in studying altered states of consciousness and how they may relate to ESP or different worldviews. But since altered states are illusions, how can they possibly help us understand reality?
CHARLES: Altered states are illusions? How do you know that what we’re doing now isn’t an illusion? You’re starting out with a value judgment. As a scientist, I want to know the data. If a person comes to me in a certain state of consciousness, I want to assess how that consciousness functions, what it’s good for, what it’s bad for. We can’t have just one state, somehow superior to all others. Some altered states of consciousness are better for some things. For instance, being in love is an altered state of consciousness. Not a terribly good state for balancing your checkbook, but for interpersonal relationships there’s a lot to be said for it.
ROBERT: Are people in love more receptive to ESP than people who aren’t?
CHARLES: There’s some suggestive evidence, but not much research, so I don’t know.
ROBERT: Can you find enough people in love to construct a database?
CHARLES: We could find lots of people in love, but can we find enough parapsychologists who have the resources to test them? People shouldn’t get the idea that parapsychology is a big research enterprise. It’s minuscule.
ROBERT: Why is that?
CHARLES: One year I had a twenty-thousand-dollar grant, which made me one of the richest parapsychologists in the world. This is absolutely trivial by ordinary scientific standards. The people who run the funding agencies generally think there’s no such thing as ESP, so they won’t waste money giving out grants.
ROBERT: Sounds like a conspiracy.
CHARLES: No, I don’t think it’s a conspiracy so much as general cultural conditioning. You don’t put your money into things you don’t think are worthwhile.
DEAN: There’s another reason as well. One of the reasons the government-funded ESP programs were top-secret for so many years had nothing to do with the objective itself but with what they called “the giggle factor.” People in a position of authority are afraid of jeopardizing that position by saying, “Maybe I’ll give a little funding to this area.” It says a lot about the politics and sociology of how science is done. Charles is right: there are only about twenty to forty people around the world who are looking into parapsychology from a scientific point of view.
ROBERT: That’s a very small number.
DEAN: It’s an extremely small number. One of the nice things, though, is that we all know each other and what’s going on in the field.
ROBERT: Do you have to use the Internet, or can you just, well, “communicate”?
DEAN: We use the best method available, which right now is the Internet.
MARILYN: What’s exciting to me is that we have so many more questions than answers, even about something as fundamental as the brain. We can’t debate the fact that we have a brain, but we know very little about how the brain operates. Why should we exclude the possibility that people’s experiences for centuries and centuries may have some legitimacy?
ROBERT: I’m not sure we know very little about how the brain operates.
BARRY: For centuries and centuries, people thought the world was flat, too. There are lots of things in the world that appear to be different from what they are.
MARILYN: That’s just my point. There’s data now being compiled implying a broader worldview, one in which consciousness is much more engaged in the universe than the materialist model would predict. I think that we human beings are deeply embedded in the world. And these data suggest that somehow our consciousnesses can reach out beyond our brains and touch the world.
ROBERT: Marilyn, what data can you come up with in the next few years that would convince Jim [Trefil] and Barry [Beyerstein] that ESP research is worth pursuing seriously?
MARILYN: It has to do more with relationship-building than with anything else. We need to develop enough trust and respect among smart and busy scientists so that they stop for a few moments and take seriously the data that currently exist. We don’t need to collect more data; we need to communicate with each other. The data need to be shared among people with different disciplinary perspectives, who may begin to build the theoretical framework we’re seeking.
ROBERT: If what you’re saying is true, if your current evidence is as compelling as you think, you should want to spend millions of dollars promoting and developing it.
MARILYN: I’d be happy to spend millions of dollars on it. If there are any donors out there who want to contribute, we’re ready.
ROBERT: But why doesn’t this happen? Why no recognition, no appreciation? There’s obviously no skeptics’ conspiracy. I don’t think Jim and Barry, for example, even met before today.
JIM: One thing that should be pointed out is that this isn’t a complaint only about parapsychology. The entire federal funding system does very poorly in supporting high-risk research.
JIM: That’s because the guy who’s in charge of giving out the money wants to be able to say, at the end of the year, “I had x number of papers published; this is what I spent, and this is what I got for it.” Supporting high-risk research means taking a big gamble–not just ESP but any high-risk science. For example, SETI, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, has been in and out of funding for decades for the very same reason.
DEAN: Another reason it’s been very difficult to get funding is because people in positions to make those decisions have only the popular conception of what it is I do. When they hear the terms “parapsychology” or “ESP,” they immediately turn off and won’t even read the materials. But on virtually every occasion when I’ve had a chance to sit down with someone in my lab, run the experiments, and explain how they’re analyzed, the person goes away thinking that this research is at least interesting and probably deserves some funding.
ROBERT: So, what happens now?
DEAN: Parapsychologists have to go out and meet people, educating physicists about what we do.
ROBERT: You need politics in ESP, just as you do in other avenues of life.
DEAN: You have to be a good salesman in any area of science.
ROBERT: OK, we fast forward for a prediction. One hundred years from now, will ESP have any accepted applications?
MARILYN: No question, yes.
CHARLES: In healing, definitely.
JIM: I doubt it very much.
BARRY: There will be people who believe it as firmly then as now, and the effects will be as small and trivial then as now.
DEAN: I have trouble predicting next Tuesday, but if I had to guess I would say, yes, there will be real applications of ESP.
ROBERT: CONCLUDING COMMENT
I DON’T think we’ve convinced anyone not to visit fortune-tellers or call up the psychics, but perhaps we’ve cast a critical eye on those who would convert your hope into their dollars. ESP and psychic phenomena can make great entertainment; we think, “What if?” So enjoy the stories, but give your eye a critical glint; learn to distinguish science fact from media fiction. Although I reject the vast majority of ESP claims, I cannot discard them all. And while I strongly support skeptics disabusing the public of psychic fantasies, I also support serious parapsychologists continuing their investigations. I follow their research and enjoy their thinking. “Don’t give in!” I cheer from the sidelines. “Pursue the dream!” The issue is vital–because if ESP does exist, if we ever admit the presence of anything nonphysical, our view of the world changes. Time and space dissolve and we redefine the human condition. But separate what you know from what you hope to get closer to truth.
Dean Radin notes that
“Marilyn [Schlitz] has begun investigating the relationship between ESP and the nature of creativity. Among people who describe themselves as creative, there seems to be a high correlation with ESP. In telepathy tests among artists, writers, dancers, and musicians, creativity was a tested correlate, and it turned out that in these tests musicians had an effect size two to three times higher than the average person.”
Marilyn Schlitz notes that
“We did a study at the Julliard School in which we asked whether people–music, dance, and drama students–could detect images of a video clip being played in another room. All these student groups scored significantly higher than the general population, though the musicians scored the best. This study was then replicated in a PhD thesis at the University of Edinburgh.”
In case readers were wondering why on earth a website dedicated to increasing industrial design competitiveness and enhancing cultural creativity was posting articles on ESP, this should provide the answer.
— Bevin Chu
Explanation: Can ESP Affect Our Lives?
Illustration(s): Barry Beyerstein, Dean Radin, Marilyn Schlitz, Charles Tart, James Trefil, Robert Lawrence Kuhn
Author(s): Dr. Robert Lawrence Kuhn
Affiliation: CLOSER TO TRUTH (CTT)
Publication Date: N/A
Original Language: English
Editor: Bevin Chu, Registered Architect