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Examining Skeptics

 

The Limitations and Failings of Dogmatic Criticism


I am attacked by two very opposite sects - the scientists and the know-nothings. Both laugh at me - calling me “the frogs’ dancing-master.” Yet I know that I have discovered one of the greatest forces in nature. - Luigi Galvani, Italian physicist (1737-1798)


Skepticism, meaning doubt, is one of the hallmarks of the scientific approach. Skepticism sharpens the critical thought required to sift the wheat from the chaff, and it forces experimental methods, measurements, and ideas to pass through an extremely fine sieve before they are accepted into the “scientific worldview.” A little critical thinking applied to many of the claims of New Age devotees reveals why many scientists are dubious of psi phenomena. Science requires substantial amounts of repeatable, trustworthy evidence before taking claims of unexpected effects seriously. Depending on the claim, providing sufficient evidence can take years, decades, or half-centuries of painstaking, detailed work. Learning how to create this evidence requires long training and experience in conventional disciplines like experimental design, analysis and statistics.

Conducting research on controversial topics like psi requires all this plus an appreciation for interpersonal dynamics, politics, aesthetics, philosophy, and physics, combined with intellectual clarity and a strong creative streak to help break the bounds of conventional thinking.

However, the same scientific mind-set that thrives on high precision and critical thinking is also extremely adept at forming clever rationalizations that get in the way of progress. In extreme cases, these rationalizations have prevented psi research from taking place at all. Ironically, the very same skeptics who have attempted to block psi research through the use of rhetoric and ridicule have also been responsible for perpetuating the many popular myths associated with psychic phenomena. If serious scientists are prevented from investigating claims of psi out of fear for their reputations, then who is left to conduct these investigations? Extreme skeptics? No, because the fact is that most extremists do not conduct research, they specialize in criticism. Extreme believers? No, because they are usually not interested in conducting rigorous scientific studies.

The word “extreme” is important to keep in mind. Most scientists seriously interested in psi are far more skeptical about claims of psychic phenomena than most people realize.

Why it is necessary to spend any time at all on the criticisms of psi research when we can ... demonstrate that there are valid experimental effects in search of answers? One answer is that very few are aware that the standard skeptical arguments have been addressed in exquisite detail, and they no longer hold up. Another is that the tactics of the extreme skeptics have been more than merely annoying. The professional skeptics’ aggressive public labeling of parapsychology as a “pseudoscience,” implying fraud or incompetence on the part of the researchers, has been instrumental in preventing this research from taking place at all.

Most of the commonly repeated skeptical reactions to psi research are extreme views, driven by the belief that psi is impossible. The effect of repeatedly seeing skeptical dismissals of the research, in college textbooks and in prominent scientific journals, has diminished mainstream academic interest in this topic. However, informed opinions, even among skeptics, shows that virtually all of the past skeptical arguments against psi have dissolved in the face of overwhelming positive evidence, or they are based on incredibly distorted versions of the actual research.

Abstracted from The Conscious Universe: The Scientific Truth of Psychic Phenomena by Dean I. Radin

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