A Skeptic's Handbook of Parapsychology

By Paul Kurtz | Go to book overview

23
Parapsychology As a "Spiritual" Science
JAMES E. ALCOCK

Parapsychology, once the despised outcast of a materialistically-oriented orthodoxy, may now claim pride of place among the spiritual sciences, for it was parapsychology which pioneered the exploration of the world beyond the senses.

J. L. Randall, Parapsychology and the Nature of Life

Whether in séance parlors, in "haunted" houses, in simple laboratories using decks of cards and rolling dice, or in sophisticated research centers employing equipment of the atomic age, the search for psychic ("psi") forces has been under way, in the name of science, for more than a century. The quest to demonstrate the reality of these putative forces which are said to lie beyond the realm of ordinary nature, at least insofar as it is known by modern science, has not been an easy one. Yet, despite the slings and arrows of sometimes outrageous criticism, many men and women have dedicated themselves over the years to the pursuit of psi and to the task of attempting to convince skeptical scientists of the necessity of taking the psi hypothesis seriously.

Many, too, are the people who have come and gone who have claimed to possess psychic powers. From those who can allegedly predict the future or influence delicate processes at the subatomic level to those who are supposedly able to project their thoughts onto photographic film or to bend forks and spoons by sheer will-power, from "healers" who can apparently demonstrate their psychic powers by retarding the growth of laboratory fungi to people whose minds can ostensibly leave and subsequently return to their bodies, the psychic claimants have offered a vision of an extraordinary world where the power of the mind can overcome the material limitations imposed by flesh and blood, atoms and molecules, space and time. Many such claims are sensational and unworthy of any serious attention, being more at home in the pages of the National Enquirer than in the journals of science. Yet there exists a substantial corpus of experimental work that has been executed with considerable care and with dedication to the traditions and canons of scientific methodology and that is claimed by para

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