A Skeptic's Handbook of Parapsychology

By Paul Kurtz | Go to book overview

14
The Role of Conjurers in Psi Research
JAMES RANDI

Science-fiction author Lester Del Rey is accustomed to declaring authoritatively on every subject from oenology to onomancy. He has been so bold as to have his business card imprinted with the single modifier "Expert." And I suspect he can support that claim upon demand.

We all have need of expert advice and assistance in our daily lives, on both a personal and a professional level. As highly trained and experienced as he is, I have known my dentist to step to the telephone and ask a distant colleague about some aspect of his craft—while I recline in his chair with a mouth full of tubes, cotton wads, and assorted bits of hardware. But I respect his need and his wisdom in reaching out for help in order to function more efficiently.

Consider: I doubt that many readers recognized the words oenology and onomancy, which I used above. To resolve that small problem, you can turn to a dictionary. You need not feel like a simpleton in order to do so. Very well educated and intelligent people have quite thick, comprehensive, and well-thumbed dictionaries available to them. Such reference tools—and the recognition that they are necessary—enable us to live and work effectively.

A little boy once went to the public library and asked the librarian for a book about penguins. He was given a book, took it away with him, and returned the next day. The librarian asked him if it had served his purpose. "This book," said the boy, "taught me more about penguins than I needed to know." Obviously, there is a need for discrimination in seeking out and accepting expertise. One need not know the life history of Henry Ford in order to adjust an Edsel carburetor. But without reference to the appropriate manual such an adjustment becomes hit or miss where it could be a straightforward procedure.

Parapsychologists are very much in need of a certain type of expert help. Involved in tests for ESP, precognition, psychokinesis, and other unlikely—but not impossible—abilities, they are frequently faced with human subjects who are sometimes able to deceive them by bypassing controls and outwitting understandably inexperienced and inexpert observers. The field is chock full of examples of this problem, and it is still an active factor in paranormal research.

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