Friday, May 25, 2012

Review of Chris Carter's book, Science and Psychic Phenomena

The following is a review which I wrote of Chris Carter's Science and Psychic Phenomena: The Fall of the House of Skeptics (2012), on the Amazon website:

Chris Carter provides extensive evidence for the existence of awareness and sensitivity beyond what can be explained by conventional models of consciousness and physics.

His discussion and analysis of this evidence (and of those who have created experiments to attempt to demonstrate the existence of psychic phenomena) is fascinating in and of itself. Equally important, however, is his careful analysis of those who have attempted to deny the possibility of the existence of such phenomena. He provides substantial evidence which illustrates that these skeptics often employ double standards and in many cases appear to be motivated by their desire to assert their skeptical dogmas rather than to provide an honest assessment of the data.

He also provides evidence showing that many of the most ferocious critics do not conduct actual experiments themselves but confine themselves to attacking the experiments of others. In the cases in which skeptics have conducted experiments, Chris Carter shows that their results appear to confirm the existence of psychic phenomena. Even these results, however, do not change their minds but are publicly proclaimed to have reinforced the evidence against such phenomena!

Thus Chris Carter's book is important for (at least) two reasons: it provides extensive calm and deliberate analysis of the evidence supporting the existence of powers that go beyond the conventional "scientific" paradigm, and it also provides a fascinating look at the extent to which some skeptics will go to deny such a possibility, even to the point of what can only be seen as either self-delusion or deliberate dishonesty. 

Chris Carter's book provides the results of experiment after experiment which provide evidence that the hasty dismissal of the possibility of any form of psychic awareness in humans or animals is premature and ill-advised.  

Some of the results appear to be strong enough to qualify as actual "proof" that some such abilities exist, but one need not go that far -- it is sufficient to simply say that more research is warranted and that (in light of all these results) keeping an open mind on this subject is absolutely justified.

Also documented in Chris Carter's book is the extent to which skeptics and "debunkers" will go to deny the possibility of any abilities that do not fit within their worldview.  Of course, the existence of such abilities, which are difficult if not impossible to reconcile with the very foundations of the modern materialistic paradigm, would require a complete retooling of those foundations.  

If such powers are proven to exist, it would in fact suggest that some of the core tenets of that materialistic paradigm would have to be jettisoned altogether (such as the assertion that consciousness is a completely physical phenomenon, merely a byproduct of chemical and electrical interactions within the physical organ of the brain -- an assertion that Chris Carter challenges quite thoroughly in this essay, which I have also referenced in previous blog posts).  

This possibility is quite threatening to the "skeptic debunker" worldview, as it opens up the possibility of consciousness that is separate from the physical world -- with implications for the possibility of life after death, etc. -- and ultimately upends the entire materialistic "faith."  The threatening nature of these implications to this worldview probably explains the vehemence of the reaction by the defenders of that worldview against evidence showing the possibility that psychic phenomena (or "psi" for short) could exist.

Chris provides evidence of this angry and often irrational backlash by those who don't want to admit that further research is warranted, and of the regular double-standard that is employed to discredit any results that might show psi activity (no matter how well-constructed the experiment) and to inflate the importance of any results that appear to deny the possibility (no matter how small the sample or how problematic the methodology).

One of the most powerful quotations that Chris cites in the book is from a retired US Army colonel who was involved in a US Army Research Institute-sponsored investigation of psi phenomena (called the "EHP study" for "Enhanced Human Performance") and who was disgusted by the double-standard that he saw employed.  The colonel's lengthy critique of the biased study ends with these words:
What, then, are we to conclude about the EHP report? ... First, it is significant that a determined group of psi debunkers could find no "smoking gun" and no "plausible alternative" to the psi hypothesis. . . . Second, we should worry about the fact that the highest scientific court in the land [the National Research Council, a branch of the National Academy of Sciences], operated in such a biased and heavy-handed manner, and that there seems to be no channel for appeal or review of their work.  What, we may ask, are they afraid of?  Is protecting scientific orthodoxy so vital that they must deny evidence and suppress contrary opinion?  94 [ellipses in original].
This is a question one could ask about many subjects (such as the evidence that the timeline of ancient human civilization is quite different from the conventional paradigm taught in history classes from kindergarten to the university, or that contact across the Atlantic and Pacific with the Americas started thousands of years before Columbus). It is certainly appropriate to ask it in regards to psychic phenomena, as the Army colonel quoted above did.  

It is also interesting to consider the possibility that the answer to the colonel's question ("What, we may ask, are they afraid of?") might be the same in all of these apparently different fields (the field of psychic phenomena and the field of ancient human history).  In other words, is it possible that the answer will show that human beings are "something more" than some people want us to know?  That we have capabilities that some people would prefer we never knew we had?  Is it possible that feeding people the materialist fiction seems to some to be preferable, even if it is not the truth?  Why would some people want so badly to tell the general public, "don't get any ideas about humanity being anything but what we tell you it is"?

Aside from these extremely important and interesting questions, the research presented in Chris Carter's book resonates strongly with some other news items explored in previous blog posts here, such as the recent report of two herds of elephants traveling a great distance to mourn the death of their friend and benefactor Lawrence Anthony.  How did they know he had died?  

The evidence that animals may have awareness that is difficult to explain from a strictly physical or materialistic framework also resonates with the work of Rupert Sheldrake, who wrote the foreword to Chris Carter's book, and whose experiments (and the reaction of the skeptics) are discussed in the book (the graph above is based upon the results of one widely-reported series of experiments involving a dog in Manchester, England named "Jaytee," who appeared to demonstrate sensitivity to the return of his owner, even when she was driven to random places miles away and given signals to return at random times, being driven home in a variety of unfamiliar modes of transportation).

In sum, Chris Carter's book is an extremely interesting and well-presented analysis of a topic of great importance.  Highly recommended.