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Thursday, January 6, 2011

How close are we to seeing the end of science’s “psi taboo”?

How close are we to seeing the end of science’s “psi taboo”, and a more open attitude towards the so-called paranormal? Dean Radin has long argued that a breakthrough is about to occur in science, and that concepts such as ESP, clairvoyance, precognition and telekinesis will soon become accepted as legitimate and “real” objects of scientific investigation. I am not so sure, and the reacton to an academic article soon to be published this year in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, have circulated widely among psychological researchers in recent weeks and “has generated a mixture of amusement and scorn”, according to an article in the New York Times.

The paper is authored by Cornell University professor Daryl J. Bem, and entitled Feeling the Future: Experimental Evidence for Anomalous Retroactive Influences on Cognition and Affect. It outlines results for experiments which attempt to gauge whether future events influence the mind before they actually happen. In one of the experiments. Bem gave 100 college students a memory test before they categoried a list of words (categorizing assist memory). The experiment found the students were significantly more likely to remember words that they practised later. The conclusion presented in the paper is as follows.

The results show that practising a set of words after the recall test does, in fact, reach back in time to facilitate the recall of those words.

In fact the article states that the publication of the paper is “provoking outrage” and “mortifying scientists”. Ray Hyman, an emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Oregon and longtime critic of ESP research, was quoted as sying the following.

"It's craziness, pure craziness. I can't believe a major journal is allowing this work in… I think it's just an embarrassment for the entire field… I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that it was an elaborate joke."

The paper describes nine unusual lab experiments performed over the past decade by its author, Daryl Bem, an emeritus professor at Cornell, testing the ability of college students to accurately sense random events.

One test, for example, asked subjects to predict whether a computer program would flash a photograph on the left or right side of its screen.

The article makes an oft-quoted stance, stating that “claims that defy almost every law of science are by definition extraordinary and thus require extraordinary evidence.” Following this line of thinking, Laura King, a psychologist at the University of Missouri and an editor at the journal, said that: “The problem was that this paper was treated like any other… And it wasn’t.”

This is obvious circular logic. The term “extraordinary", like “paranormal”, establishes a self-limiting argument, at least as far as some of the phenomena being studied in parapsychology is concerned. As far as I am concerned, having spent years personally exploring the human psyche first-hand, there is nothing non-normal about consciousness extending beyond the brain, and beyond the present moment and into the past and future. Nor do I consider it “extraordinary” that thoughts pass between minds, intermingling and affecting pairs or groups of people (as I argued in Extraordinary Mind). The label “paranormal” becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s a way of immediately excluding data and ideas, an a priori dismissal. It’s a little like the Chinese calling all people of non-Chinese ethnicity waiguoren (lit. outside country people), regardless of whether they were born in China or not. There’s no chance of being included.

I have often stated that all information that is written, spoken or visually presented by human beings contains an implicit projection of thought which lies behind it. This subtle information is unconsciously embedded in the consciousness field which “surrounds” the information being presented. When you read, hear or see that information you are being influenced or “messaged" by the consciousness field of that invisible “intention”. However it is possible to tap into that consciousness field and make that intention transparent. It’s part of what I call “conscious transparency”. In the case of the New York Times article, it is important to see that the writer is predisposed towards a skeptical mindset, and that this influences the way the information is presented. The article thus distorts the picture regarding science and its relationship to psi phenomena. At the very least we should be excited by the fact that the journal published the article at all. The “psi taboo” has a very powerful hold on the scientific community. But it is not a complete stranglehold.

Charles Judd, the editor of The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology Charles  is a psychologist at the University of Colorado. He explained that the paper was peer reviewed by four “very trusted” reviewers. Notably, all four decided the paper was worthy of publication, having met very high standards.

Notably, the journal is also publishing a rebuttal of the paper, with other scientists criticising its methods and claims. This is precisely what science, and genuine skepticism, should be doing. The fact that some scientists are “outraged” that a psi-related investigation is being given the same opportunities for assessment as “normal” science, shows clearly that while all scientific claims are treated equally, some are more equal than others.

The publication of Daryl Bem’s paper allows us to simultaneously see science at its most open and closed.

But who knows, maybe this publication is part of the future speaking.


  1. That's okay - most people are not looking to academia for cutting edge science anymore. The world is moving way to fast.

  2. You are certainly right, Nancy, that for people at an individual level it is unnecessary - in fact, unwise - to look to academia to lead in this kind of area. However it does matter for broader society, as power is wielded by these institutions, and they directly affect government policy and in turn educational curricula. In the meantime, however, we can explore these domains at a personal level. Just don't expect to be validated by anyone else!

  3. It must be hard to remain positive in that environment.

  4. Harder than you'll ever know, Nancy! However I remain on the outside, having been repeatedly rejected by academic institutions for full-time work. There's a price to pay for being open about this stuff. However, I have always had the conviction that if you just be true to yourself, then you will be rewarded in the long run. In the short to medium run though, you just might get your butt kicked!

  5. Whatever the comments, as you say it's highly significant that the article was at least published - and Bem managed to carry out the research while tenured at Cornell. There must be a critical mass building up - hang in there, Marcus!

  6. i agree with simonbuc that it is truly significant that the article was published! and from cornell!!!

    having walked on the edge/outside of things in my own life, i particularly relate to your comment that if one just stays true to self, the reward will be there - in my own case, that alone has been the reward, all along that edge.....

    great post!