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No. 23: Sep-Oct 1982

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High Technology Experiments In Parapsychology

R.G. Jahn, who is Dean of the School of Engineering/Applied Science at Princeton, has written one of the most important papers on parapsychology in recent years. Not the least significant factor is its publication in a top technical journal. This alone will insure wide discussion and debate within the scientific establishment. Probably the key feature of the Princeton work is its "high technology" content. This long, highly technical article is replete with circuit diagrams, photos of shiny equipment, charts, and the complete panoply of modern scientific research. In the section on psychokinesis, we read about Fabry-Perot interferometers, dual thermistors, glow-discharge experiments, Gaussian analog devices, etc. (There is a companion section on remote viewing experimentation!) To round out this overview, the section on historical/philosophical background and the superb bibliography must be mentioned.

Although Jahn regards his work as only beginning, he does feel that the early results clearly show the existence of non-chance factors in psychokinesis and remote-viewing experiments. For example, interferometer fringes and straingauge readings seem to be changed by the application of "mental forces." But the experiments cannot always be replicated and subjects' abilities are ephemeral. The flavor of the Princeton findings are well put in these sentences from the summary paragraphs:

"...it appears that once the illegitimate research and invalid criticism have been set aside, the remaining accumulated evidence of psychic phenomena comprises an array of experimental observations, obtained under reasonable protocols in a variety of scholarly disciplines, which compound to a philosphical dilemma. On one hand, effects inexplicable in terms of established scientific theory, yet having numerous common characteristics, are frequently and widely observed; on the other hand, these effects have so far proven qualitatively and quantitatively irreplicable, in the strict scientific sense, and appear to be sensitive to a variety of psychological and environmental factors that are difficult to specify, let alone control. Under these circumstances, critical experimentation has been tedious and frustrating at best, and theoretical modeling still searches for vocabulary and concepts, well short of any useful formalisms."

(Jahn, Robert G.; "The Persistent Paradox of Psychic Phenomena: An Engineering Perspective," IEEE, Proceedings, 70:136, 1982.)

Comment. The quotation above could just as well apply to UFO research, some aspects of cryptozoology, and other anomaly research. Clear-cut, reproducible ESP experiments are as rare as captured UFOs and Sasquatches! One entire section of human experience seems to be -- well -- cagey, sneaky, and beyond logic. How far does this magic land extend, if it exists at all?

From Science Frontiers #23, SEP-OCT 1982. 1982-2000 William R. Corliss