Parapsychology Journalism: The People, The Theory, The Science, The Skeptics
In the parapsychology literature that I have been reading, this question has come up again and again with plenty of speculation and no real answers. I don’t accept answers like “The world isn’t ready for it” because belief in psychic ability was quite common until the 18th century. In fact, the idea that psi doesn’t exist is a relatively new invention. This concept only came about with the rise of science and the industrial revolution. Newtonian physics at that time was simply amazing stuff; it explained in mathematical terms things that no one had imagined possible.
This led many to believe that the entire universe could be explained that way and for a long time, they were right. If we kept studying the universe long enough, we’d figure out everything important. This is refereed to as a materialist belief system. It holds that the universe can be thought of as a giant machine and if we keep taking it apart we can learn how it works. Much of the population still assumes that this is in effect. Everyone that is, except people who understand the concepts behind quantum physics.
In the materialist world view, psi doesn’t fit. Of course, not surprisingly, neither does quantum physics. In fact, the most popular quantum theories tend to minimize the incredible importance of two features of the quantum landscape: entanglement and the observer effect. The reason for this is rather obvious on the face of it: neither can be reduced to mathematics. And without mathematical models, no calculations can be made. To a physicist, that’s tantamount to saying something can’t be explained. Not surprisingly, these two features also explain the existence of psi.
The problem with the mathematics approach of course, is that it is inherently materialistic. It ultimately rests on the idea of an observer independent universe and as such, cannot explain the universe itself only bits and pieces of it.
Nowhere is this struggle more apparent than string theory, which became M theory, which isn’t quite a real theory. In point of uncomfortable fact, the design of it is such that it cannot make predictions that lead to experiments, making it a 30 year venture into the literal definition of pseudo-science. (Theories which cannot make testable predictions) While its development has been great for the field of mathematics, it has done very little for grand unification, its intended purpose.
It is hard for psi to gain mainstream acceptance if physicists cannot wrap their heads around the implications of entanglement and the observer effect because the rest of the world is looking to physics to define our view of the universe.
Make no mistake, a universe with entanglement and the observer effect is not a universe that will accept a materialistic definition. Entanglement for example, does not allow our current definition of dimensions to exist. If information is shared equally everywhere across the universe without regard to distance, which is what entanglement tells us, then a deeper reality is at play and dimensions are a mere artifice. (This is basically the Holographic Universe Theory.)
A materialistic viewpoint is likewise a mere fantasy in a universe where there is no such thing as an observer independent action. (That would be our universe I’m talking about. What we have is described as observer created.)
From here, it does not take much effort to see where the logjam resides. People who wish to regard themselves as sane and rational tend to take on a materialistic view of the world which then becomes part of their personality and which they defend. That’s essentially why we get all the ridicule; people are defending their belief in rationality.
The thinking goes like this: If the evidence for psi was true, then we would have to re-write the laws of physics. Therefore, we have to view any evidence for psi with extreme skepticism since it would make all these scientists who obviously know a lot of stuff wrong. I’ll believe the scientists before these parapsychology people. I’ve encountered this argument a lot in my conversations with skeptics.
This belief is so strong that they even question quantum physics. People who have been taught to think of the world in materialistic concepts are simply overwhelmed by the concepts they encounter. They cannot wrap their heads around the idea that everything they thought about existence was wrong. I’m somewhat sympathetic. That’s a tough hurdle.
Part of the problem that I have encountered many times is the viewpoint that if I believe that the evidence for psi is valid then anything I say is going to be questionable. There is no trust that I am telling the truth no matter how carefully I lay out the facts. If this seems to you to be a lot like arguing politics with a far right winger, I can say that having done both, they do appear to be very similar to me.
With people holding fast to this materialistic viewpoint the issue is no longer one of simply educating people, but in helping them unlearn a strongly held point of view. This is far more difficult because it entails a period of cognitive dissonance, which is where a deeply held belief comes up against contrary evidence. Getting people to confront their beliefs is usually extremely difficult and this would be no different.
Fortunately, I’m not ending this on a pessimistic note. Real science moves forward, however slowly. No matter how strongly held beliefs are, they cannot last indefinitely in the face of cold hard facts. As the evidence for psi mounts and more physicists question how the observer effect and entanglement fit into physics, we draw closer to a world where the necessary change in thinking can occur.