Mysterious Minds: The Neurobiology of Psychics, Mediums, and Other Extraordinary People

Mysterious Minds: The Neurobiology of Psychics, Mediums, and Other Extraordinary People

Mysterious Minds: The Neurobiology of Psychics, Mediums, and Other Extraordinary People

Mysterious Minds: The Neurobiology of Psychics, Mediums, and Other Extraordinary People

Synopsis

An introduction to the scientific study of psychics and mediums- those who are frauds, those who are psychotic, and those whose claims seem to defy easy dismissal.

Excerpt

“The great field for new discoveries,” said a scientific friend to me the other day, “is
always the unclassified residuum.” Round about the accredited and orderly facts of
every science there ever floats a sort of dust-cloud of exceptional observations, of
occurrences minute and irregular and seldom met with, which it always proves eas
ier to ignore than to attend to. The ideal of every science is that of a closed and com
pleted system of truth. The charm of most sciences to their more passive disciples
consists in their appearing, in fact, to wear just this ideal form
.

(William James, 1896/1956, p. 229)

Anomalous psychological phenomena, psi among them, are certainly part of the dust cloud that surrounds the science of psychology. Unfortunately, psychology is hardly an orderly science, but more like a nebula composed of fashions, trends, and borrowed pieces from other sciences (see Kuhn, 1962). Nevertheless, those who investigate such phenomena are held to the highest standards possible by both friends and critics. Indeed, most serious observers agree that careful investigations into psi phenomena exhibit typical levels of rigor that equal or surpass the expectations of ordinary psychological research.

This in mind, it is a curious fact that the field of psi research is so regularly criticized on the grounds that its experimental findings are not, in the long run, replicable. This, of course, is a valid concern, as explained so well in the chapter by Alcock. Critics, or more properly “counteradvocates,” use this argument to dismiss even the most dramatic results of single experiments as well as temporary runs of strikingly successful experiments. It is worth noting, however, that ordinary psychological research is not itself held to this standard. In fact, we have no idea what the replication rate of ordinary psychological research would be if replications were actually carried out and the results published on a regular basis, as they are in psi research.

Despite the high value placed on experimental replications by research methods texts, the American Psychological Association in fact discourages the publication of replication research, to say nothing of its even greater reluctance to publish reports of failed replications (Modgil and Modgil, 1986). One is reminded of the years of supportive findings published on the topic of chemical memory transference in flatworms during the 1950s and 1960s, all of which started with Thompson and McConnell in 1955. It was eventually discovered that these findings were mostly if not completely the products of statistical false positives (so-called alpha errors), but none of the many failed efforts at replication found their way to press. It is said that . . .

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