Responding to the Debate – Psi Research at a Tipping Point

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Responding to the Debate – Psi Research at a Tipping Point

Created date

24 December 2010
Cassandra Vieten

So, I posted this article on my Huffington Post blog Friday morning and by Friday evening it had received nearly 1000 views and 250 comments. It spent several days in Huff Po's “Most Popular” section…

It’s been so interesting to read the comments – now nearly 900. I don’t think I’ve ever been flamed by so many strangers! But for the most part, I’m enjoying the debate.

People loved it when they correctly chose the running man in the guessing game at the beginning but many pointed out that the game seemed a little rigged – saying that people are in general more likely to choose an option with a human in it, or the third option, or something that is moving rather than static. As one reader pointed out, it was meant to be a thought experiment, not a rigorous psi test, but the critique is fair enough.

Other critiques were harsher – calling the post, my “claims,” and the entire concept of psi everything from silly to crazy to wishful thinking to one tweet sent to my personal account letting me know that I’m “no better than other religious fraudsters” and should be ashamed of myself. These comments were represented well by this one: “Hogwash. As I read this, I just felt like I was reading something by someone who does a lot of wishful thinking, but does not know what science is, and knows very little statistics and probability.” Ouch! Another said reading the first paragraph actually made them physically ill!

The vehemence with which people responded to the post has been fascinating – mostly falling into the categories of “pro” psi and skeptic. The “pro” responses were things like “psi definitely exists and there is no need to study it to prove it,” and the skeptical responses were basically, “this is crap, it always has been crap, and it always will be crap.” Neither of which I think forwards our understanding of our capabilities or the nature of reality.

If you read the post, you’ll see that my main “claim” is not that this one paper proves the existence of precognition or retrocausation. It’s the idea that “psi” should no longer be a taboo field of study. It deserves the same kind of rigorous examination, thoughtful inquiry, and critical debate that other topics receive.

There have already been (several months before publication) at least one quasi-replication and one reanalysis that claim to refute the Bem paper, some harsh critiques, and a thorough response from Bem, and some commentary. There will likely be more replications conducted, more critiques and responses, and more commentaries. This is all a good thing. However, unwavering faith in any perspective that does not allow itself to be disproven or modified by new data is not. It would be great if the debate could go beyond the same stagnant polarization and ad hominem attacks that have characterized it historically…

But I’ll put my cards on the table – given all that I’ve read – scientific studies yielding evidence both for and against, theories for and against, and data from the thousands of people I’ve surveyed and interviewed about their noetic (subjective) and psi experiences, combined with recent discoveries in serious physics that provide possible underlying theories - there are enough data to warrant a much closer look at experiences that seem to transcend the currently understood boundaries of time and space.

I think I agree with what English astronomer Sir Arthur Eddington said (in reference to the uncertainty principle in physics) in 1927: “something unknown is doing we don’t know what.” And whatever it is, I think like the Facebook relationship status: "it's complicated." My proposition here is that we work to figure out what. Let’s take the lid off of the box and use the power of science, reasoning and systematic observation to explore this realm of our human experience. Why? Because experiences of “psi,” real or imagined, have profound influences on people’s lives. Because it’s possible, in fact quite probable, that our current ideas about the structure and function of reality are probably not complete. And, because it’s totally fascinating – at least to me and, it appears, many others.


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