Magical Thinking and Parapsychology
One characterization of parapsychological research points to the diametrically opposite views held by parapsychologists and their critics of the rate of success of the former group in demonstrating the reality of "psi." While parapsychologists assert that no further demonstrations are needed, their critics are still asking, "Where is the definitive experiment?" Arguments and counterarguments about the repeatability of experiments, fraud, the nature of the decline effect, the influence of the experimenter on the experimental results, and the need for a congenial atmosphere for psi demonstrations to succeed have been repeated many times but without leading to any resolution of these issues. There have been several well-known exchanges in scientific journals between prominent representatives of the sciences on the one side and parapsychologists on the other. The best-known exchange consists of an article by G. R. Price and a series of replies and comments that appeared in 1955 and 1956 in Science (Bridgman 1956; Meehl and Scriven 1956; Price 1955, 1956; Rhine 1956a, 1956b; Soal 1956). This exchange presents all the classic arguments for and against parapsychology, and it is as up to date today as it was in the 1950s. Similar, more recent exchanges that cover much of the same ground as well as new and additional points are those initiated in an article by Persi Diaconis on the statistical aspects of ESP (see Chapter 24 of this volume and Diaconis 1978a, 1978b; Puthoff and Targ 1978; Tart 1978) and in one on ESP and credibility in science by R. A. McConnell (McConnell 1969, 1978; Moss and Butler 1978a, 1978b). It is abundantly clear from these exchanges that, after all the logical, psychological, and scientific arguments have been traded, the parties to the argument part without their beliefs having been affected one iota. It appears that the problem lies not in a resolution of the objective issues but in an entirely different area.
The parapsychological experiment is in form and essence like any experiment in psychology. The crucial difference lies in the variables that, in a stimulus-organism-response system, are presumed to operate within the organ