Editorial: Scientific method and this journal
In June, I attended the annual conference
of the Academy of Spirituality and Paranormal Studies Inc. at DeSales
University in Pennsylvania. Authorities in various fields of psychic
research presented persuasive cases for the reality, e.g.:- of the
“dead” communicating electronically, (the directors of the
American Association of Electronic Voice Phenomena); -of sensing the
future, (see the story below of an 1898 story Futility describing in detail the sinking of the Titanic giving almost the same name for the ship,
the Titan; of Near
Death Experiences with Dr Raymond Moody (the author of several
best-selling books on the subject. (There were fifteen lectures in
all.) The scholarship and university credentials of most of the
speakers were very impressive indeed. But was it science? What
scientific credibility could speakers claim in their fields?
This is a fundamental question for psychic research, and of course for this journal. We can read the Wikipedia article on Scientific Method <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_method> It begins, “Scientific method is a body of techniques for investigating phenomena and acquiring new knowledge, as well as for correcting and integrating previous knowledge. It is based on gathering observable, empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning, the collection of data through observation and experimentation, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses.” Sound psychic research works as far as possible within that framework., and the monumental work, Irreducible Mind, reviewed in our last issue, a benchmark in rigorous reasoning based on existing research, plainly works in that framework also.
Chris Bateman in his blog To what extent should we place our trust in science? notes with regard to psychic research,
Consider this comment by [a] psychologist ... from the University of Wales: 'If the result could have been through a trick, the experiment must be considered unsatisfactory proof of ESP, whether or not it is finally decided that such a trick was, in fact, used… [As a result,] it is wise to adopt initially the assumption that ESP is impossible, since there is a great weight of knowledge supporting this point of view.'
Bateman notes that this scholar is far from alone in this attitude, and remarks:
This is an odd state of affairs! We appear to have a scientist suggesting that it is better to believe that these results are a consequence of experimenter fraud than to change beliefs in respect of the published results.
Science is a subjective process with an objective goal. Genuine objectivity is beyond the reach of any individual scientist, or any community of scientists, as we are all human and subject to biases of many different kinds. The scientific endeavour achieves something that approximates to objectivity only over time. Scientific theories receive popular validation when they result in technology, or when sufficient time has passed for the most effective explanations to prove their worth (as we saw previously in the case of continental drift).
Trust in science is a metaphysical belief. I place a certain amount of trust in science, in so much as I believe that over time the scientific process approximates to its goals. But excessive trust in science is probably misplaced, because science is simply the name we place on the activities and knowledge of scientists. And scientists are people – hence the interpretation of the results reported by any scientist depends on how much people trust the scientists concerned. Read his whole article.
Psychic research of ESP, clairvoyance and psychokinesis, has been studied statistically under stringent laboratory conditions. And most at least of the speakers at our conference at DeSales would rigorously apply scientific method as commonly understood.
What about dreaming for the future? If we look at the video linked below, “Can premonitory dreams save us from tragedy?” we may be convinced that veridical dreaming for the future is possible. If we look at the excerpt from P.M.H. Atwater's book mentioned below about the 1898 book Futility it is hard to escape the thought that it unconsciously predicted the demise of the Titanic. If we read her book Future Memory we may well be even more convinced that the future can be known in advance. But is this science? We may trust the testimony of those who report these experiences, we may compare what is written in Futility and its Titan with what happened with the Titanic. Sceptics may disbelieve in the possibility of sensing the future, but we have trusted testimony that disagrees with the sceptics. Too often, sceptics, being human, judge from deep-seated prejuduce, and call it science.
Aside from laboratory experiments, psychic research relies on case histories, and personal testimony, and the reliability of testimony has to be evaluated from case to case. I personally am perhaps too fond of recounting personal experiences, of the time a “dead” friend left a message on my computer screen, of scores of conversations through a medium with a “dead” saint, striking and spiritually persuasive synchronicities, intuitions and all. Why do I do it? Not to evoke a “fancy that!” but rather to evoke another look at reality. Is reality nothing but the present moment as accessed by our senses? If our understanding of the present moment is to be extended to take into account communications from the “dead”, synchronicities, intimations for the future, then we will make hypotheses, and we will challenge these hypotheses, and thus some sort of scientific endeavour is begun, accepting trustworthy testimony, even against the principles of some scientists.
authorities addressing us at our conference were:
Dr James E. Beichler, a specialist in paraphysics,
<http://www.answers.com/topic/paraphysics> that applies the discipline of physics to the study of the paranormal. Here are important paraphysics links. <http://members.aol.com/jebco1st/Paraphysics/newlinks.htm>
Tom and Lisa Butler, directors of the American Association of Electronic Voice Phenomena (AA-EVP) <http://aaevp.com/>, played recordings of short messages from the “dead” which had been detected on various types of electronic equipment.
Victor Zammit gives a readable and interesting summary
of the history of the study of these phenomena.
Amongst other presentations, a programme was described whereby Out of the Body Experiences were expedited as a research tool. The speaker represented the International Academy of Consciousness, founded by a Brazilian psychic researcher. Readers may be interested to inspect their website: http://www.iacworld.org/English/Sciences/Conscientiology/Default.asp
Some highlights from Network Review Spring 2007
About the Journal of the Scientific and Medical Network
[“Membership of the Network is open to university qualified scientists, doctors and other professionals. Student members must be studying towards a first degree engaged in full-time study”. “To request a membership application form, please contact: The Network Manager, The Scientific and Medical Network, PO Box 11, Moreton-in-Marsh, Glos. GL56 0ZF, England. Tel: +44 01608 652000 Fax 652001, email: email@example.com”]
“Why is the evidence.. for survival of physical death more widely known and accepted in the West? In addition why is the evidence treated by certain high-profile scientists as if it ranks with superstitions such as a belief in fairies and Santa Claus? The answer is that research has to struggle against four influential groups that, for different reasons, find it challenges their own interests and beliefs and represents a threat to their status and authority.”
1.2 One group is Established Science. “A cardinal rule in science is that you familiarise yourself with the evidence before making judgements on it. You don’t pretend to knowledge that you do not have, particularly when you are well aware that your views carry weight with both colleagues and lay people and are likely to be picked up by the media.” Eminent scientists are quoted who break the rule. “Many scientists claim that if psychic abilities exist and if the mind survives death (and is therefore non-physical) then many of the fundamental laws of science would have to be rewritten.” The problem for them “is that the presence of this dimension challenges the supremacy of material science. Instead of being the final authority on life and death and everything else, material science simply becomes the science of material things.
1.3 Another group is Parapsychology. This discipline largely created at Duke University by Professor William Macdougall and by J.B. Rhine in the 1930’s, has sought to bring psychical research out of the real world and into the laboratory in order to gain evidence likely to gain scientific acceptance. Hauntings, séances and mediumship.. were largely responsible for negative attitudes to the existence of psychic abilities.
1.4 Established Religion should in theory be among the strongest supporters of research into survival. Heresy was always seen as a threat to the power and the authority of the established church which insisted that the priesthood and the clergy were the only intermediaries between man and God, and the only arbiters on who deserved heaven and who deserved hell.
1.5 The General Public does not so much oppose research into survival as to avoid it. Death as we are frequently reminded these days, is a taboo subject.
2.1 Nancy Ellen Adams and Joel R. Primack, California. : The view from the centre of the universe. (pp.7-10)
“Most of us have grown up thinking that there is no basis for feeling central or even important to the physical cosmos. But with the new evidence it turns out that this perspective is just a prejudice. There is no geographical centre to our expanding universe, but intelligent creatures (including those on other worlds, if they exist) are cosmically special or central in multiple ways that derive directly from principles of physics and cosmology.”
2.2 “We and our planet are made almost entirely of stardust. A first step toward conceptualising our place in the cosmos is to understand what stardust is, how exceedingly rare it is, and how special that makes us in the context of the universe as a whole.” “We intelligent beings are at the centre of all possible sizes. How can there be a central size? In mathematics numbers go up infinitely in both directions, but in physics there is a largest size and a smallest size. The interplay of relativity and quantum mechanics sets the smallest size; general relativity tells us that there cant be more than a certain amount squeezed into a region of any given size.
3.1 Robert A. Charman: Minds, Brains and Communication. (p.11-19)
“In his review of Ervin Lazslo’s Science and Akashic Field (Network, Spring 2006,p 43) Martin Lockley discusses the concept that minds may be connected entities, commenting that ‘Many EEG experiments prove both telepathic and telesomatic connections. If we interpret ‘telepathic’ and ‘telesomatic’in the usual anecdotal sense of conscious telepathic awareness of someone else’s thoughts and bodily sensations, as in Playfair’s (1) fascinating account of such experiences with identical twins, then this is not so. None of the subjects in either electroencephalographic (EEG) studies or functional magnetic resonance image (fMRI) studies, have ever reported any awareness of success or failure in ‘sending’ or ‘receiving’ information during a trial. Evidence that such a ‘transfer’ of information has occurred exists only in the frequency patterns of compared EEG traces and in fMRI colour coded, 3D images of the ‘receiver’ brain, indicating localised changes in brain activity not accountable by chance alone.”
The intricacies of the experiments cannot be described here. The supposed fact of ‘receiving’ in each case did not necessarily involve awareness; but changes in brain activity were detected, and mysteriously the change in brain activity sometimes preceded by a short interval the stimulus given to the ‘sending’ brain. (This phenomenon has been noticed in ESP card guessing experiments, where the percipient correctly guesses not yet chosen cards.)
4.1 Alister McGrath Oxford: The Twilight of Atheism (p.22)
“For intellectual historians, atheism is a superb example of a modern metanarrative – a totalising view of things, locked into the world view of the Enlightenment. So what happens when this same Enlightenment is charged by its post-modern critics with having fostered oppression and violence, and with having colluded with totalitarianism? When a new interest in spirituality surges through Western culture? When the cultural pressures that once made Atheism seem attractive are displaced by others that make it seem intolerant, unimaginative and disconnected from spiritual realities?”
5.1 Max Payne, Sheffield: The necessity of Spirituality p.24
“The recognition of the reality of spiritual experience may mark the boundary of physical science: it does not mark the boundary of scientific method. Here Max Payne considers the limitations of science and rational thought, pointing beyond them to the nature of spirituality.”
“Once the paranormal is admitted to exist, with its evidence of telepathy, out-of-the-body experiences, and near death experiences, then [there is] the question of what is the total field or dimension in which these separate minds exist. ‘Field’ and ‘dimension’ are question-begging terms, but no better alternatives are on offer. At this point certain key transpersonal experiences offer vital evidence. Mystical visions, various spiritual experiences all suggest that there is a wider field of cosmic consciousness in which our own human self-awareness is just a little, local, crystallised droplet.”
David Lorimer reviews Home with God Neale Donald Walsh
Hodder Mobius 2006 326 pp Thirteen pounds sterling. (p.50)
Home with God is volume 9 the final volume in the Conversations with God series. He quotes Walsh: “I have said that in the truest sense you are not on a journey. You already are where you want to go. But since you do not know this, your experience is that you ARE on a journey. So, you must make the journey to find out that the journey is not necessary. You must embark on a path to find out that the path begins and ends right where you are.”
“ 'Perspective creates perception.’ It follows from this that perception creates experience. This leads to the injunction: ‘see God in everyone and everything, and see everything as perfect.’A further implication is that ‘because you do not remember who you are, you do not treat others as they are.’ ‘Your journey is not an endless SEARCH for God, it is an endless EXPERIENCE of God.” This follows from the proposition that the physical world is designed to provide us with a context within which we can experience outwardly what we know inwardly. As Plotinus put it, ‘remembering is for those who have forgotten.’ Or here: ‘life is a process by which the soul turns knowing into experiencing, and when what you have known and experienced becomes a felt reality the process is complete.' ”
“Another theme is hope, defined as a statement of one’s highest desire. ‘Hope is thought made divine. Hope is the doorway to belief, belief is the doorway to knowing, knowing is the doorway to creation, and creation is the doorway to experience. Experience is the doorway to expression, expression is the doorway to becoming, becoming as the activity of all Life and the only function of God.' ”
[Excerpts quoted by Michael Cocks.]
by Greg Stone
Greg Stone began his college studies in physics, but ended up graduating with a degree in psychology (University of Colorado). He also studied at Chicago Theological Seminary at the University of Chicago. He believes his personal love for both science and spiritual matters mirrors a trend in society toward a greater understanding of the connectedness of the two disciplines. Greg Stone's book is entitled "Under the Tree" which is a novel set in the world of the near-death experience. He has also written a new essay on Buddhism and reincarnation called "The Buddhist Paradox." Read all his other fascinating essays on his website at www.visitunderthetree.com.
Background on Susan Blackmore
Before you read Greg Stone's excellent critique of skeptic Susan Blackmore's theory of the NDE, you may want to first read a brief description of Susan Blackmore's hypothesis. She is the author of several books including: Dying to Live, In Search of the Light, and her latest, The Meme Machine. Blackmore has more information at her website. See http://www.susanblackmore.co.uk/ and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Susan_Blackmore
Prologue to Critique
Discussions about the near-death experience and the idea that consciousness separates from the body are frequently challenged by skeptics who ask: “Didn't you know Susan Blackmore proved, scientifically, that NDE's are hallucinations caused by brain activity?”
When I first heard such claims, I rushed out and purchased Dying to Live, Blackmore's work on the near-death experience. After reading the book, however, I was left wondering what it was skeptics had read. Dying to Live not only failed to provide scientific support for a “brain only” hypothesis, it contained only conjecture and speculation.
Near Death Experiences of Children:
2 Interview with Near Death
with Near Death Researcher
Strange but True TV programme.
Chris Robinson dreams for the future and he dreams in symbols.
He had a series of dreams about a RAF base, Stanmore Park, near London. The symbols in the dreams suggested a bomb attack by terrorists. The Log Book there records how he phoned about his premonitions. A month later a bomb went off. Two people were questioned.
Dan Eldon was a news photographer killed by Somali mob. Chris had warned his mother of the danger for him a month before.
He had a series of dreams about an airfield, rockets aeroplanes explosions in the sky. He saw parachutes.. there was going to be a plane crash, but that the pilots would be safe. Went to the airshow in person, Fairford in Glostershire, “Two Russian planes collided, pilots ejected and were safe.”
An apparent prediction of the sinking of the Titanic.
An apparent prediction of the sinking of
the Titanic is
described by P.M.H. Atwater in Future Memory: “The novel Futility, and 1898 creation of Morgan
Robertson, detailed the sinking of an unsinkable
ship by the name of Titan, the largest ship afloat. This imaginary
ship collided with an iceberg during April, resulting in a high loss of
life because the Titan
carried too few lifeboats. Fourteen years later the real ship Titanic recreated what happened in the novel with
uncanny similarities: the two ships had almost identical names, both
were designated unsinkable, both were touted as the largest ships at
sea, both collided with icebergs in April, both suffered high human
losses because of too-few lifeboats.. plus both had strikingly similar floor plans
and technical descriptions.” (p.22)
Okay, I admit that I didn't really interview Sir William Crookes, one of the leading scientists of the late 1800s. However, the words are his. I simply took his words and put my questions to the verbiage in his 1904 book.
In 1861, Crookes discovered the element thalium. He later invented the spinthariscope, and the Crookes tube, a high-vacuum tube which contributed to the discovery of the X-ray. Knighted in 1897 for his scientific work, he was not someone to be easily duped or to fabricate strange stories. In fact, Crookes undertook psychical research with the intent of demonstrating that mediums were all charlatans. He opined that the increased employment of scientific methods would drive the “worthless residuum of spiritualism” into the unknown limbo of magic and necromancy. This "interview" has to do with his investigation of the medium D. D. Home (pronounced Hoom). What was Sir William's verdict on Home? If you are interested in finding out, go to http://metgat.zaadz.com/blog [Scroll down, if need be.]