Academic journal article The Journal of Parapsychology

Hans in Luck: The Currency of Evidence in Parapsychology

Academic journal article The Journal of Parapsychology

Hans in Luck: The Currency of Evidence in Parapsychology

Article excerpt

WALTER V. LUCADOU [1]

ABSTRACT: Personal as well as scientific evidence that leads to the conviction that paranormal phenomena exist is often based on personal experiences. It is important to formulate criteria that constitute personal or scientific evidence. In this article, the author discusses 2 models, a classical and a nonclassical, of how to produce evidence, each leading to different experimental paradigms. The usual classical criteria for scientific evidence are effect oriented. Experimental results of parapsychology seem unable to fulfill these requirements. One gets the impression that an erosion of evidence rather than an accumulation of evidence is taking place in parapsychology. This results in a discrepancy between personal and scientific evidence. A person who reports a paranormal experience gets the impression that the scientific description of it is inadequate and that the relevant aspects of the experiences are given away. This is called the Hans-in-luck-syndrome. The nonclassical model for scientific evidence is development oriented instead of effect oriented. It takes into account the inherent entanglement of psychophysical systems and the fact that such systems have their own history. In such systems, evidence cannot simply be accumulated because the conditions that produce evidence change during the development of the system.

In this article, I define evidence as a direct, intuitive certainty or clear recognition that something exists beyond any doubt because of given empirical data or theoretical considerations. Thus, evidence is an example of so-called "qualia," which cannot be considered as true or false; it is completely subjective, like emotions, for example. It can be described as an insurmountable constraint or force that leads to a firm conviction. Furthermore, evidence is irreversible. If something has become evident for someone, it cannot be denied anymore. For instance, if someone has understood the proof of Pythagoras's theorem, she or he cannot doubt it anymore. Nevertheless, it is necessary to distinguish between personal and scientific evidence. In principle, scientific evidence is based on personal evidence because each member of the scientific community must use her or own evidence to accept a scientific finding. But scientific evidence is usually regarded as more substantial than personal. This has to do with th e fact that scientific evidence is the result of a sometimes long-lasting historical process to which many individual scientists have made their contribution. However, the history of scientific errors shows that it is not always useful to give too much preference to scientific evidence.

Personal evidence is event-dependent at a specific time in a person's life. In most cases, it occurs at a specific and certain moment. An example is the experience that Hans Berger, the inventor of electroencephalography (EEG), had in 1893, when he was a student of astronomy. The experience inspired him to study the interaction between mental phenomena and physiological processes. Riding a horse on the narrow edge of a steep ravine, Berger fell into the path of a mounted battery and came to lie almost beneath the wheel of one of the horsedrawn guns. The battery came to a stop just in time, and he escaped injury. In the evening of the same day, Berger received a telegram from his father asking about his well-being, the only time in his life that he had received such a query. This inquiry resulted from Berger's sister having told her parents that she knew for a fact her brother had been involved in an accident. Berger (1940) later wrote, "This is a case of spontaneous telepathy in which at a time of mortal dan ger, and as I contemplated certain death, I transmitted my thoughts, while my sister, who was particularly close to me, acted as the receiver" (p. 6).

This is a good example of how personal evidence may yield scientific evidence. However, as we know after 70 years, electrical potentials of the brain cannot be an explanation of what Berger considered as telepathy: There is abundant evidence that electrical brain potentials exist, but the evidence for telepathy is still in question. …

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