Looking from the Outside

Stephen E Braude. The Gold Leaf Lady and Other Parapsychological Investigations. University of Chicago Press, 2007.

Damien Broderick. Outside the Gates of Science. Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2007.

Marilyn Isabelle Schmidt. Remote Viewing: A Theoretical Investigation of the State of the Art. Fenestra Books, 2007.

Harry Stapp. Mindful Universe: Quantum Mechanics and the Participating Observer. Springer, 2007.

Damien Broderick, who is a science and science fiction writer with a PhD in the comparative semiotics of science and literature, looks at some of the evidence for the paranormal. Despite his subtitle the coverage is rather narrower than The Paranormal in general, being mainly devoted to remote viewing and the various attempts by the US intelligence and military communities to exploit this alleged ability for various obscure purposes.
 
Though Broderick finds the evidence for ESP and RV personally convincing, he is well aware of the many problems associated with it. These include the lack of any real theoretical framework. Broderick gives examples of various approaches using quantum mechanics, but notes that even some in the field of parapsychology argue that these are often based on very heterodox readings of QM, and in some cases complete misunderstanding. It should be noted that even a theoretician as strongly inclined to link quantum mechanics with consciousness as does Stapp, avoids getting into any argument about ESP etc.
 
Other problems include the lack of clear consistent public evidence, and the fact that several of the people involved are, to put it mildly, rather eccentric. Though he quotes with apparent approval the claims of people like Stephan Schwartz and Joe McMoneagle to have established various psychic achievements, he has also to acknowledge flaws. Schwartz and colleagues claim to have correctly remotely-viewed the last hiding place of Saddam Hussein, but this is of course an after-the-event assessment by Schwartz, and to no great surprise the original documentation which could establish whether this was true or not cannot be made available for some obscure reason.
 
What published predictions for the future have been made all turn out either to be wrong, while those for events still in the future reflect rather banal science fiction. None of the real dramas of the last twenty years feature. For those who wish to pursue the evidence for the phenomena of remote viewing further there is a good set of abstracts in Dr Schmidt’s thesis for her PhD from the California Institute of Human Sciences, which appears to exist to promote the New Age beliefs of its founder Dr Hiroshi Motoyama. You would of course, need to consult the originals to get anywhere with this, and to search out evidence for more critical studies.
 
If you want a break from remote viewing there is always good old fashioned macro-PK and physical mediumship, as presented by Steven Braude. If Braude was a little more publicity savvy he might have entitled his book something like The Search for the Real Harry Potter for this is in effect what it is. The Lady of the title is a woman who produces what looks like gold leaf on her skin, which turns out to be not uncommon industrial brass. If you are waiting to be presented for the evidence to back up this claim keep waiting, for the only time the leaves appear under Braude’s observations are from under her shirt, and when she turns her head away from the cameras. This allegedly illiterate woman also produces scripts from Nostradamus.
 
Braude is not completely uncritical, he is deeply critical of Joe Nuzum, a professional magician hailed by Alexadern Imich and Berthold Eric Schwartz as the greatest current psychic, and incurs their considerable displeasure for doing so. He meets a police officer who tells him how photographs leak onto his body or the bedclothes or whatever, Braude and his colleagues can see nothing. Despite this he continues to insist that the Gold Leaf Lady and another PK agent around whom nothing much happens must be genuine. He also defends Daniel Home, Eusapia Palladino and Ted Serios and engages in the customary rants against the sceptics.
 
Of course he may have a point, as some of the latter can be notably careless. He also charges sceptics with concentrating on weaker cases which is also often true, though it must also be said that definitions of Strong Cases tend to shift with fashion, and unless the sceptic has memorised the entire corpus of the literature of psychical research they are likely to come off badly in public debates, as they probably would with Creationists, Flat Earthers and Holocaust deniers. Of course Braude and other paranormalists have their own games, for example in the discussion of Eusapia’s famous Naples séances they fail to point out of the trio of allegedly sceptical investigators, one, Carrington was to have a career as a charlantesque pop psychologist and paranormalist, and other, Fielding, was in love with a younger, prettier, physical medium.
 
Braude of course goes beyond the classical arguments about PK to argue that it can have some massive consequences, maybe our good and bad luck is caused by our own and others PK. Even that his not enough for Braude who is prepared to add ghosties and possibly even the mean old boggarts into the stew. Not only that, but PK doesn’t involve anything so messy as expending lots of energy, or involving complex processes. No it just involves wishing “in the right conditions” like waving a magic wand. Like they do at Hogwarts!
 
Braude admits that all of this makes things rather complicated, but it makes things even worse than he realises, because if people can use PK, it might be easier to use it to completely mess with the electrical and chemical activity in others’ brains and baffle their senses so they see things which never happened. Equally perhaps that doesn't involve PK at all.
 
Broderick argues that in some cases sceptics refusal to accept psi is equivalent to the scientific community refusing to accept that Roger Banister ran a mile in under four minutes, because it was impossible and inventing all sorts of ad hoc excuses to argue against it. Of course no such thing did or would have happened, because Bannister’s achievement took place in full public view, under critical scrutiny and has been repeated in similar conditions many times since.
 
A better analogy, would be a set of notarised statements made by a couple of former Olympic athletes, a top coach, a couple of Nobel prize winning medics and a minister of religion, that they had seen Joe Bloggs run a two minute mile. Bloggs is asked to repeat this amazing feat in full public glare at athletics meeting after athletics meeting, but never gets better than the five or six minutes run of a reasonably fit person. There are no recordings of his alleged super runs, and those concerned claim Bloggs cannot run fast when there are sceptics present, when he is being filmed or whatever.
 
Perhaps various members of the Two Minute Mile Investigation Committee report that other people have been seen performing the feat, but none of them can ever repeat it in a genuine public display. Various excuses are given; some even taken fifteen minutes, huffing and puffing, to complete the mile, which proves they must be genuine because this is an example of the well known meta-athletics phenomenon of ‘athletics missing’! We would be left with the puzzle of why apparently sane and rational people have reported these meta-athletic phenomena and interpretation would be a matter of personal faith in the absence of indisputable confirmation. |P.R.|
 

No comments: