The New Age: Notes of a Fringe Watcher

By Martin Gardner | Go to book overview
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13 Wonders of Science

A man is a small thing, and the night is very large and full of wonders.
Lord Dunsany, The Laughter of the Gods

Parapsychologists and psi journalists are fond of an argument that goes like this: Orthodox science is making such colossal strides, putting forth such bizarre theories, that no one should hesitate to accept the reality of psi. It is a theme that pervades Arthur Koestler influential Roots of Coincidence. As parapsychology becomes "more rigorous, more statistical," Koestler writes on the very first page, theoretical physics becomes

more and more "occult," cheerfully breaking practically every previously sacrosanct "law of nature." Thus to some extent the accusation could even be reversed: parapsychology has laid itself open to the charge of scientific pedantry, quantum physics to the charge of leaning towards such "supernatural" concepts as negative mass and time flowing backwards.

One might call this a negative sort of rapprochement--negative in the sense that the unthinkable phenomena of ESP appear somewhat less preposterous in the light of the unthinkable propositions of physics.

It is true that modern science is making discoveries and formulating theories that contradict experience and boggle the mind, but this has always been the case. I suspect that most people are less boggled today by the wonders of science than they were boggled in the past by the notion that the earth rotates and goes around the sun. Indeed, all the evidence of the senses suggests that the earth is immovable and the heavens rotate. The centuries that elapsed before the Copernican theory became entrenched in the common beliefs of the civilized world--including the beliefs of Catholics and Protestants, who fought the theory as long as they could--testify to the cultural shock of such a monumental paradigm shift, to use Thomas Kuhn's fashionable phrase.

Today the public is much less bewildered by the paradoxes of relativity

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