2/17/2016 – Vampires, Werewolves, and Psychics, Oh My!
Vampires, werewolves, zombies, psychics—all have been popular in books over the years. Now a fellow writer is working on a novel with an otherwise normal protagonist who gains awareness of his extrasensory abilities.
Shades of J.B. Rhine. My critique group buddies know I am no fan of fantasy. My eyes glaze over at the first paragraph, but where does extrasensory perception, ESP or parapsychology as it’s known to its friends, stand? Fantasy or science? Being skeptical of all things psychical, I’m not sure how to take my friend’s writing. In the words of Hercule Poirot, I believe, this has given me furiously to think. What is going on in the world of extrasensory perception?
The Rhine Research Center at Duke University still exists, but its name and its mission have evolved over the years. It began in 1927 when Joseph B. and Louisa Rhine joined William McDougall to work in the area of psychical research at Duke University. By 1935 Rhine’s experiments had shown sufficient promise to justify the creation of a special unit, the Duke Parapsychology Laboratory. Now in the 21st century, the Rhine Institute continues the mission and work of its founder J.B. Rhine with a broadened scope focusing on the study of consciousness.
Okay, but still I don’t see anyone using his ESP in any credible way. So I went back online and on the Psychology Today website came across an essay by Steve Taylor, Ph.D., senior lecturer in psychology at Leeds Beckett University. He gives seven reasons why he is willing to accept the possibility of psychic phenomena such as telepathy and pre-cognition. He feels there is the most evidence for these two, and he has experienced them himself. He’s more doubtful about mediumship, ghosts or faith healing, to which I say, “Good.” Here are his seven reasons, and I think he’s made some good points. They are intriguing and each one could be the basis for a good story.
1. Philosophical. Every species has its own unique awareness of reality. Isn’t it likely that forces, energies, and phenomena in the universe exist beyond those we can presently perceive, understand, or detect?
2. Consciousness. After many years of intensive research, scientists are no closer to working out how the brain might give rise to consciousness, leading some theorists to propose a “radio model.” In this theory. the brain does not prooduce consciousness, but “receives” a consciousness which exists outside us. This theory sees consciousness as a fundamental property of the universe, potentially everywhere and in everything. The brain “picks up” consciousness around us and “canalises” it into our own individual being. This model is consistent with telepathy, since it suggests a fundamental connection between living beings—a shared network of consciousness through which information can be exchanged from unit to unit.
3. Quantum Physics. Nothing about microcosmic quantum physics excludes the possibility of telepathy. The vagaries of the quantum world are consistent with psychic phenomena. In the phenomenon of ‘quantum entanglement,’ for example, seemingly ‘separate’ particles are interconnected, reacting to each other’s movements, so that they can’t be treated as independent units but only as a part of a whole system. This suggests that, on the microcosmic level, all things are interconnected and offers the possibility of an exchange of information via telepathy.
Quantum physics also supports his first argument—that the world is infinitely more complex than it appears to our normal awareness, and there are phenomena in existence which we presently cannot understand, or even conceive of.
4. Empirical Evidence. A large number of empirical studies offer convincing evidence of telepathy and pre-cognition. For example, the social psychologist Daryl Bem published in a highly respectable academic journal, the results of nine experiments, involving more than 1000 participants, eight of which showed significant statistical evidence for precognition and premonition. Bem’s results caused a great deal of controversy and criticism, but they have been successfully replicated a number of times although skeptics emphasize the unsuccessful replications.
5. Personal Experience. Throughout his life, Taylor has had a number of psychic experiences which he thinks were too significant to be explained as coincidence or chance.
6. Anecdotal evidence. Anecdotal evidence isn’t proof, but it can serve as a ‘supporting argument’ with other, more solid evidence. This is particularly true of psychic phenomena. A vast number of reports of psychic experiences continue to be reported all the time.
7. Skepticism of the Skeptics. Why do fervent materialists spend their professional lives debunking paranormal phenomena? Could they have unconscious psychological motives? To be able to ‘explain’ human life and the world is a powerful human need. You can see this in religions. To admit there are phenomena we can’t fully understand or explain, and that the world is stranger than we can conceive, weakens our power and control—which may be one reason why skeptics are reluctant to accept psychic phenomena.
So those are Taylor’s reasons, much abbreviated here, but I do think he has a point. In fact, seven of them. So I guess I’ll read my friend’s novel now with an open mind.