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No. 93: May-Jun 1994

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The Healing Of Rents In The Natural Order

J. Beloff, a prominent researcher in parapsychology has penned a thought-provoking essay in the current Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research. The phenomenon that stimulated Beloff's articles was what he called the "decline effect." Parapsychology has ever been plagued by the appearances of seemingly robust psychic phenomena, such as Rhine's initial ESP experiments with Zener cards. These phenomena would excite parapsychologists for several years, even decades, and then fade away. Writing in a historical vein, Beloff put it this way:

"...it soon transpired that a decline effect, for ESP no less than for PK, could persist across sessions and, ultimately, across an entire career. Nearly all the high-scorers eventually lost their ability. Even Pavel Stepanck, whose 10-year career as an ESP subject earned him a mention in the Guinness Book of Records, eventually ran out of steam. When, after a long break, he was retested recently by Dr Kappers in Amsterdam, he could produce only chance scores. I do not think it was loss of motivation or boredom in his case, as has sometimes been put forward as an explanation for the long-term decline effect, for it was Stepanek's great strength that he was constitutionally incapable of ever being bored! Nor can we take seriously Martin Gardner's attempt to explain how he might have relied throughout on trickery. If indeed he was a trickster, he should have steadily improved as he became more practiced. Whatever the explanation of these long-term declines, it must surely be something deep and pervasive."

Further, it seems that while "strong" parapsychological phenomena declined rapidly, the "weak" parapsychological phenomena persisted. Here, Beloff cites as "weak" phenomena those measured by R. Jahn's Princeton group, in which thousands of PK (psychokinesis) attempts consistently show small, but statistically significant positive effects over long periods of time.

Beloff sees two possible explanations for the decline effect:

  1. Each new strong parapsychological phenomenon consists only of a succession of deceptions and blunders, which under severe scrutiny soon fades away -- as with high ESP scorers using the venerable Zener cards. Beloff rejects this skeptical interpretation because of "its failure to offer any specific, plausible, normal counterexplanation to the various episodes that go to make up our history;" i.e., the long history of parapsychological research. [??]

  2. Instead, Beloff suggests that a paranormal phenomenon actually represents a "violation of the natural order." Nature, he says, reacts to these rents in the fabric of the cosmos by healing them just as our bodies heal wounds. The more robust the phenomenon, the more strenuously nature reacts, apparently almost completely ignoring the "weak" phenomena.

(Beloff, John; "Lessons of History," American Society for Psychical Research, Journal, 88:7, 1994.)

Comment. We could add to Beloff's list of phenomena: UFOs, the Loch Ness monster, crop circles, cold fusion, infinite-dilution results, the fifth force, windshield pitting, ancient astronauts, and polywater, to name a few. We predict that the scientific community will not countenance these "violations" of natural order any more than it welcomed Sheldrake's morphogenic fields!

From Science Frontiers #93, MAY-JUN 1994. 1994-2000 William R. Corliss