I’ve been inspired to write a couple of articles on ESP after reading a passage from Brian O’Leary’s The Second Coming of Science: an Intimate Report on the New Science¹.
O’Leary is an outstanding example of a new-paradigm scientist. This is how he describes himself; he was once “a typical ‘left-brained’ academic — rationalistic, reductionistic, deterministic, materialistic — and I felt I had the universe and its laws mastered. Serving on the physics faculty at Princeton University I lived a comfortable life and was well accepted by my peers. Yet for all that I felt alienated. Cut off from life. I felt no joy about the science I was doing”.
Then something happened which completely turned his life around. “In the spring of 1979, during a weekend ‘human potential’ workshop. I temporarily let go of my rigid thinking. As a result, my hard-earned scientific belief system was irreversibly shaken. In one of the final processes of the workshop, sitting opposite a total stranger who gave me only the name of a man, his age and his town of residence. I was asked to tune in psychically on this man. While the scientist-skeptic within me chattered ‘poppycock!’ I found myself somehow slipping into a state that could best be termed ‘trancelike’, and immediately conjured up an image of this person. Then I described him as a meteorologist-journalist who liked to hang out on the west coast of Maui and who had lost his wife by death.
“All of that ‘poppycock’ turned out to be true. Lacking the conventional sensory and informational means of arriving at such an accurate description, I was dumbfounded. My actions appeared to violate the precepts of Western science — my science — which had largely formed my sense of reality and security. Without knowing it, I had just participated in a successful ‘remote viewing’ experience — a kind of clairvoyant process known through the ages by psychics, mystics and, lately parapsychologists”.
I found this very interesting, for I had had an almost identical experience around the time of my conversion to a spirituality worldview. When something has happened to you personally, the scepticism of others doesn’t matter; you know it for a fact.
Let’s have a look at two such sceptics. The new-paradigm scientist Rupert Sheldrake reports a conversation with Richard Dawkins in front of a TV camera. “Dawkins then said that in a romantic spirit he himself would like to believe in telepathy, but there just wasn’t any evidence for it. He dismissed all research on the subject out of hand, without going into any detail. He said that if it really occurred, it would ‘turn the laws of physics upside down’, and added, ‘Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence’ ”. Sheldrake’s reply was the same as what mine would have been: “This depends on what you regard as extraordinary”².
We can obviously expect prejudice like this from the closed mind of Dawkins. Sam Harris is a more interesting case. He is well known as one of the Four Horsemen group of prominent and influential New Atheists, and the author of The End of Faith. He was a co-founder and CEO of Project Reason, a foundation for spreading scientific knowledge and secular values in society (which I think no longer exists). Despite all this, he is the author of Waking Up: Searching for Spirituality Without Religion. That surprising title intrigued me, so I decided to take a look.
On the whole it is disappointing, the emphasis in the title is obviously on the word searching — Harris doesn’t seem to have found spirituality, and remains on the whole sceptical. It’s nevertheless an interesting read. However, on the subject of ESP he says: “While I remain open to evidence of psi phenomena — clairvoyance, telepathy, and so forth — the fact that they haven’t been conclusively demonstrated in the lab is a very strong indication that they do not exist”³.
It makes you wonder what evidence would be needed to persuade these sceptics. Obviously what is needed is a direct, personal experience, as in the example of O’Leary above. As I said, when something has happened to you, the theories and scepticism of others don’t matter; you know it for a fact.
I’m not going to go over the whole history of the evidence for ESP. One highly significant example is that the American military once pumped a lot of money into a Remote Viewing project. Would they really have done that if it weren’t successful? I suggest, that if the American military had good results and believed in Remote Viewing, then that is pretty good evidence.
Two of the best known of these psychic spies are Joe McMoneagle and Pat Price. Dean Radin gives an account of one especially impressive operation:
“Why was this topic supported for two decades…? For one very simple reason: remote viewing works — sometimes… When conventional investigation and intelligence techniques were at a loss to provide critical information on sensitive missions, sometimes remote viewing worked spectacularly.
“For example, in September 1979 the National Security Council asked one of the most consistently accurate army remote viewers, a chief warrant officer named Joe McMoneagle, to ‘see’ inside a large building somewhere in northern Russia. A spy satellite photo had shown some suspicious heavy-construction activity around the building, which was about a hundred yards from a large body of water. But the National Security Council had no idea what was going on inside, and it wanted to know. Without showing McMoneagle the photo, and giving him only the map coordinates of the building, the officers in charge of the text asked for his impressions. McMoneagle described a cold location, with large buildings and smokestacks near a large body of water. This was roughly correct, so he was shown the spy photo and asked what was inside the building. McMoneagle sensed that the interior was a very large, noisy, active working area… In a later session, he sensed that a large submarine was apparently under construction in one part of the building. But it was too big, much larger than any submarine that either the Americans or the Russians had…
“When these results were described to members of the National Security Council, they figured that McMoneagle must be wrong, because he would be describing the largest, strangest submarine in existence, and it was supposedly being constructed in a building a hundred yards from the water. Furthermore, other intelligence sources knew absolutely nothing about it. Still, because McMoneagle had gained a reputation for accuracy in previous tasks, they asked him to view the future to find out when this supposed submarine would be launched. McMoneagle scanned the future, month by month, ‘watching’ the future construction via remote viewing, and sensed that about four months later the Russians would blast a channel from the building to the water and launch the sub.
“Sure enough, about four months later, in January 1980, spy-satellite photos showed that the largest submarine ever observed was traveling through an artificial channel from the building to the body of water…
“Scores of generals, admirals, and political leaders who had been briefed on psi results like this came away with the knowledge that remote viewing was real. This knowledge remained highly classified because remote viewing provided a strategic advantage for intelligence work…
“Scientists who had worked on these highly classified programs, including myself, were frustrated to know firsthand the reality of high-performance psi phenomena and yet we had no way of publicly responding to skeptics. Nothing could be said about the fact that the U. S. Army had supported a secret team of remote viewers, that those viewers had participated in hundreds of remote-viewing missions, and the DIA, CIA, Customs Service, Drug Enforcement Administration, FBI, and Secret Service had all relied on the remote-viewing team for more than a decade, sometimes with startling results”.
This account can be found in a book called The Conscious Universe⁴. I find it impressive and convincing, unless of course you think that Radin just made the whole thing up. Interestingly, Sam Harris actually references this book, saying: “Researchers who study these things allege that the data are there and that proof of psi can be seen in departures from randomness that occur over thousands of experimental trials”. Well, obviously sometimes things do happen against the odds, so such experiments may not be considered definitive proof. Yet he fails to mention evidence like the above account, saying “I have yet to see a case in which evidence for such abilities was presented in a credible way”. (Perhaps he didn’t read the whole book?) Well, if he needs to see in person the evidence for such abilities, he should spend more time in parapsychology laboratories. I suggest that he would be more than willing to accept without being present the work of others which supports his worldview. Why not accept Dean Radin’s account?
In Radin’s book there is also a fascinating chapter called A Field Guide to Skepticism, obviously a psychological analysis of this phenomenon, which I highly recommend. In it he quotes the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard: “There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true”. This is, of course, what materialists constantly have to do, in order to preserve their worldview.
Returning now to Richard Dawkins’ claim that the reality of ESP would “turn the laws of physics upside down”, so what? That’s how the scientific method works. There is a consensus which is accepted until repeated anomalies appear, so that the old paradigm can no longer be sustained. Then the ‘laws’ need to be changed. That is what needs to happen now in regard to ESP. The problem is that atheistic materialist scientists won’t accept what needs to happen to change the rules.
I’ll conclude by mentioning an editorial in New Scientist from several years ago (not on the subject of parapsychology, but the quotes are appropriate)⁵. The title was “We deny the inexplicable at our peril”. Here are some selected quotes:
- “It’s the evidence that counts, not our prejudices, even when that means overturning what we thought were fundamental ideas”.
- “Scepticism needs to be tempered with open-mindedness. Unexpected and inexplicable experimental observations sometimes lead to significant breakthroughs”.
- “Musings that they are ‘probably wrong’ or that there ‘must be a mistake somewhere’ will get us nowhere”.
- “Sometimes organised scepticism needs to be shaken out of its comfort zone”.
Indeed it does!
1. North Atlantic Books, 1992. The quote is from the Foreword, Pix-x
2. The Science Delusion, Coronet, 2012, p256
3. Black Swan, 2015, the quote is on p170
4. HarperOne, 1997, pp 214–216
5. issue 2783, October 23rd 2010