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No. 106: Jul-Aug 1996

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Slamming the door on parapsychology -- again

An exchange of letters in the April issue of Physics Today demonstrates that an influential portion of mainstream science (particularly physics) is firmly committed to reductionism and objectivism. Translation: this faction wants no part of parapsychology.

In the first letter, A.A. Berezin bravely proclaimed that science needs more rather than less research in parapsychology, citing specifically the work of H. Schmidt and R. Jahn. Further, he maintains that the major science journals should be open to high quality research in parapsychology. He wrote:

"One cannot exorcise unorthodox claims by repeating mantras that they are 'pseudoscience.'"

A second letter from S. Malin begins by noting that physics has undergone two major paradigm shifts during its history: (1) Aristotelian to Newtonian physics; and (2) Newtonian to contemporary physics. Additional shifts are likely, and the next one might well involve the relation of consciousness to the physical world. In support of his intuition, he quoted from E. Schroedinger's 1958 book Mind and Matter on the "principle of objectivation."

"By this I mean what is also frequently called the 'hypothesis of the real world' around us. I maintain that it amounts to a certain simplification which we adopt in order to master the infinitely intricate problem of nature. Without being aware of it and without being rigorously systematic about it, we exclude the Subject of Cognizance from the domain of nature that we endeavor to understand. We step with our own person back into the part of an onlooker who does not belong to the world, which by this very procedure becomes an objective world. [Our] science... is based on objectivation, whereby it has cut itself off from an adequate understanding of the Subject of Cognizance, of the mind. But I do believe that this is precisely the point where our present way of thinking does need to be amended, perhaps by a bit of bloodtransfusion from Eastern thought. This will not be easy, we must be aware of blunders -- blood-transfusion always needs great precaution to prevent clotting. We do not wish to lose the logical precision that our scientific thought has reached, and that is unparalleled anywhere at any epoch."

The third letter is from J.R. Dowling, who expresses the belief of many physicists in matters parapsychological.

"For the most part, the results of relevant experiments undertaken over the last four decades have not proved to be reproducible by independent experimenters. Accordingly, I really do not see the value of conducting yet more experiments."

Dowling feels that not only should parapsychological research be terminated but that the major physics journals should be closed to the subject.

(Berezin, Alexander A., et al; "More Spirited Debate on Physics, Parapsychology and Paradigms," Physics Today, 49: 15, April 1996)

Comment. "For the most part," Dowling says. If just parapsychological phenomenon is reproducible, a paradigm shift must ensue. But that seems too horrible to contemplate!

From Science Frontiers #106, JUL-AUG 1996. 1996-2000 William R. Corliss