CAN THERE be any concurrence between psychic phenomena and science? Most scientists would say not - but Fred Frohock, professor of political science at Syracuse University, believes that we should not be too hasty in assuming an irreconcilable gulf between subjective and objective, spiritual and material, the experiential and rational dimensions.
The subtitle of Lives of the Psychics is a better reflection of its content. Frohock aims to "introduce and evaluate a set of disparate arguments on the supernatural, and to enliven these arguments with events that may or may not have happened in the way that they are described by those on either side of the divide over experiences beyond the conventional boundaries of nature". If that sounds heavy - well, some of it is. This is an academic enquiry into the seeming disjunction between two quite different worlds.
Books on the philosophy of science are hardly bedtime reading. But the theory is enriched both by historical accounts and interviews with psychics about assorted phenomena, from healing to prophecy to out-of-body and near-death experiences. Some of these are quite fascinating. How, though, can they be tested scientifically?
Frohock discusses the theoretical and practical problems of investigating psychic phenomena, both ESP (clairvoyance, telepathy) and psychokinesis (PK): the ability to affect the physical world through the power of the mind. The theoretical problems include our limited scientific understanding of consciousness and perception. Practically, how do you set up controlled experiments to test psychic powers so that "the relevant variables are isolated and effects are attributable to causal influences, not extraneous events"? How can we know for sure whether someone identifying the wavy lines on classic Zener cards is using ESP to "read" them, or PK to influence the supposedly random selection of cards?
Then there's the difficulty of setting up falsifying tests - essential, since Popper, in any enquiry worthy of the term "scientific". …