No. 93: May-Jun 1994
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:
(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!
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