P. W. Bridgman
The recent article by G. R. Price in Science [122, 359 (26 Aug. 1955)] entitled "Science and the Supernatural" directs renewed attention to a situation that doubtless has given many people, including myself, a feeling of discomfort, to say the least. My own attitude was expressible in a paraphrase of Price's quotation from Hume to the effect that he would be unwilling to accept such phenomena as those claimed for extrasensory perception (ESP) unless he could be convinced that their genuineness would be less miraculous than the occurrence of fraud somewhere.
My own attitude did not seize on the possibility of fraud, although it seems to me that Hume's position is irrefutable; it seized, rather, on the way in which contemporary arguments for ESP depend on considerations of probability. I felt somewhat vaguely that I would rather think that my understanding of probability is faulty than believe in the genuineness of ESP. My scruples against the use of probability arguments had nothing to do with the details of the calculation of the enormous numbers that represent the odds against the scores obtained in ESP tests. I was willing to take the word of the many technically competent persons involved that the grinding of the machinery by which these numbers were obtained had been according to Hoyle. My scruples went much deeper and were concerned with the logic of the application of probability concepts to concrete events.
Reprinted from Science 123 ( 1956) No. 3184, pp. 15-17, by permission of the editor.