Science or Magic

James E. Alcock. Parapsychology, Science or Magic: A Psychological Perspective. Pergamon, 1981. [Foundations and Philosophy of Science and Technology series]

A sceptical critique of parapsychology by a member of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal. After a hesitant start in which Alcock deals with the reasons for the belief in psi and spontaneous cases in a most inadequate matter emphasising trivial examples the author comes into his own in discussion of the psychology of experience and judgement, and in a critique of experimental parapsychology.

Alcock quotes criticisms of pseudoscience:
  1. subjectivist theory of knowledge, with aspects available only to the initiated.
  2. modest formal background, with only rare involvement in logic and mathematics;
  3. fund of 'knowledge' contains untestable or false hypotheses which are in conflict with a large body of knowledge;
  4. methods are neither checkable by alternate methods nor justifiable in terms of well-confirmed theories;
  5. there is tle borrowing or overlap wth neighbouring fields of knowledge;
  6. no specific background of relatively confirmed theories
  7. unchanging body of beliefs
  8. world view admitting elusive immaterial entities.
He argues with some cogency that parapsychology fits many If not all these criteria. He also points out that lack of replication n-Ialsrf rable 'theories', no consensus as to which phenomena are valid, unpredictable occurances, and no real theoretical progress in the last hundred years.
Despite the cogency of these criticisms, a number of features of Alcock's approach (and the general CSICOP approach) are of concern. As much as any 'anti-materialist' they wish to subject the universe to metaphysical tests. Their critiques extend well beyond parapsychology, into any Interpretation of physics which they perceive as irrational (they clearly find aspects of quantum physics and cosmology disturbing), and the tone of moral crusader creeps in repeatedly.
Part of the sceptics dilemma seems to come from being unable to distinguish between anomalous experience and the interpretation put upon them. In his exasperation at the often absurd views of parapsychologists, the author too easily dismisses anomalous experiences, and often falls Into an old-fashioned kind of rationalism. -- Peter Rogerson. Magonia 18, January 1985.


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