A Skeptic's Handbook of Parapsychology

By Paul Kurtz | Go to book overview

22
Parapsychology: Science or Pseudoscience?
ANTONY FLEW

I

One thing has to be said with emphasis at the start: The case of parapsychology is quite different from most of the other paranormal claims falling within the scope of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of the Claims of the Paranormal. 1 It is quite different, that is to say, from the factitious, but richly profitable mysteries of the Bermuda Triangle and the Chariots of the Gods, from astrological prediction, from the extraterrestrial identification of Unidentified Flying Objects, and from most of the other affairs dealt with so faithfully in that committee's useful and entertaining journal, the Skeptical Inquirer. 2 The crucial difference from these other cases mentioned is that there either we know from the beginning that it is all bunkum, or else we can come to know this very soon after serious and honest investigation has begun.

Thus the moment someone concerned to discover what's what, rather than to produce a best-selling real-life mystery, began to probe the Bermuda Triangle story it became apparent that there was no sufficient reason to believe that more ships and aircraft vanish without trace in that area than anywhere else with comparable traffic densities and comparable natural hazards. Again, there just is no good reason to believe that there have been any close encounters of the third kind; nor indeed of the first or second either. The truth here is that the content of visions, dreams, and misperceptions is always in part a function of the wishes, beliefs, and expectations of the subject. So the Chinese, under the old emperors, used to dream dreams of dragons and Confucian officials; but not of Red Guards, chanting doubleplus good Chairman Mao-think. So too Bernadette Soubirous in her nineteenth-century French village had a vision of the Blessed Virgin, as represented in pictures and images in her local church; but not of

____________________
First published in Science, Pseudoscience, and Society, edited by Marsha Hanen, Margaret J. Osler, and Robert G. Weyan ( Waterloo, Ontario: Calgary Institute of Humanities and Wilfred Laurier University, 1980). © 1980 by University of Southern California.Reprinted with permission.

-519-

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