A Skeptic's Handbook of Parapsychology

By Paul Kurtz | Go to book overview

17
Parapsychology and Its Critics
DOUGLAS M. STOKES

This chapter will examine the irrational and "extrarational" factors underlying the acceptance and rejection of parapsychological phenomena. It will also examine the rational arguments in favor of belief and skepticism. The terms "paranormal phenomena" and "parapsychological phenomena" will be restricted to denote only ESP, psychokinesis (PK), and any phenomena suggestive of the survival of some portion of the human mind or personality beyond the death of the physical body.


"Irrational" and "Extrarational" Factors
Underlying Belief and Skepticism

That belief in paranormal phenomena is occasionally generated by less than totally rational thought processes should come as a surprise to no one. Consider for instance the banner headline in the April 17, 1984, issue of The Sun, an American supermarket tabloid: "Priests and psychics confirm . . . GIRL AGE 4 MADE PREGNANT BY GHOST"; and the May 22, 1984, headline of the tabloid Weekly World News, also found in supermarkets: "Mental supermen locked in duel—then . . . FAMED PSYCHICS HEAD EXPLODES." The latter story was accompanied by a rather gruesome photo from the science-fiction movie Scanners. If anyone believes these stories (and I think we can safely exempt the writers of this material from this charge), that belief is probably not engendered by a hard-headed critical examination of the facts or a careful examination of alternative explanations.

Yet prejudice and closed-minded thought processes are not confined to believers in psychic phenomena. Consider for instance the following quotations of two eminent scientists, the psychologist Donald Hebb and the physicist Hermann von Helmholtz, both taken from Collins and Pinch (1979, 244). First Hebb:

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