A Skeptic's Handbook of Parapsychology

By Paul Kurtz | Go to book overview

21
Is Parapsychology a Science?
PAUL KURTZ

The "Paranormal"

An observer of the current scene cannot help but be struck by the emergence of a bizarre new "paranormal world-view." How widely held this view is, whether it has penetrated science proper or is simply part of the popular passing fancy, is difficult to ascertain.

Many of those who are attracted to a paranormal universe express an anti‐ scientific, even occult, approach. Others insist that their hypotheses have been "confirmed in the scientific laboratory." All seem to agree that existing scientific systems of thought do not allow for the paranormal and that these systems must be supplemented or overturned. The chief obstacle to the acceptance of paranormal truths is usually said to be skeptical scientists who dogmatically resist unconventional explanations. The "scientific establishment," we are told, is afraid to allow free inquiry because it would threaten its own position and bias. New Galileos are waiting in the wings, but again they are suppressed by the establishment and labeled "pseudoscientific." Yet it is said that by rejecting the paranormal we are resisting a new paradigm of the universe (à la Thomas Kuhn) that will prevail in the future.

Unfortunately, the meaning of the term paranormal is often unclear. Literally, it refers to that which is "beside" or "beyond" the normal range of data or experience. Sometimes "the paranormal" is used as an equivalent of "the bizarre," "the mysterious," or "the unexpected." Some use it to refer to phenomena that have no known natural causes and that transcend normal experience and logic. The term here has been used synonymously with "the supernormal," "the supernatural," or "the miraculous." These definitions, of course, leave little room for science. They mark a limit to our knowing. Granted there

____________________
This chapter is based on a talk delivered at the Smithsonian Institution on April 19, 1978, in a debate with J. B. Rhine.An earlier version was published in the Skeptical Inquirer, Winter 1978.

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