Re: Parapsychology

From: Harnad, Stevan (
Date: Thu Feb 16 1995 - 18:23:20 GMT

I kind of lean toward Rich's reply to Craig.

craig> From: "Roberts, Craig" <>
craig> Date: Thu, 16 Feb 1995 16:37:01 GMT
craig> Things occur which are outside
craig> the realm of Human perceptual capabilities with us being like a fly
craig> on a TV screen.

Perhaps; or perhaps not. This is clearly a tantalizing thing to
contemplate, but what makes you so sure it's so? (Remember the laughing
gas: being convinced of the truth of the truth or significance of
something is not the same as that something being true or significant.)

In the parapsychology debate we are discussing the EVIDENCE that there
are such things. It won't do to say it is just biassed or scientistic to
insist on the evidence: What if something was really at stake here: The
life of someone you care about, your own survival, gettinj something to
eat tomorrow: Do you have a strong enough basis for betting on the
paranormal rather than science if your life depended on it? (I suspect
not; well, if not, why take it all less seriously than that when your
life DOESN'T depend on it?)

craig> Science is not everything and cannot explain everything. Science,
craig> admittedly has aided our progression but it has brought about trouble
craig> which essentially wipes out it's progress in one easy move.

Really? You'd throw out antibiotics and insulin because of nuclear
weapons and air pollution? A lot of tuberculotics and diabetics wouldn't
agree with you...

craig> If Theory
craig> A, Theory B and Theory C can all independently give outcome X, then
craig> we are nowhere near the truth.

We are nearer than if there is no predictive theory at all, or a
nonpredictive theory...

craig> Science can stifle debate on a
craig> certain topic if people stubbornly stick to their views regardless of
craig> others

What is "science"? Saddam Hussein can stifle debate, but who/what is
"science"? Scientists? They're usually the ones ENCOURAGING the debates,
not stifling them...

craig> The Statistical Significance Debate. Why is this problem solely
craig> attached to anomalous actions like those under the title of
craig> Parapsychology and nothing else - Why aren't all results from all
craig> Psychological Studies down to chance.

I discussed this in class, actually: All psychological results COULD be
the results of chance, but only if for every published report at the 5%
significance level there nineteen more that were not significant and not
published. Because it's repeatability that makes the effects real. If
gravity only happened on Tuesdays, sometimes, maybe, it wouldn't be part
of a universal law. If that doesn't convince you, consider antibiotics:
If they only cured infection randomly, at about the same rate infection
gets better on its own, antibiotics would not be medicines.

Well, unfortunately, parapsychological effects are like that: They only
happen sometimes, here, there, nothing reliable that you can count on,
and, in the long run, if that's all there was to it, it would mean they
were just chance coincidences, and those who specialised in them would
not be building something; there would be nothing to build on. It would
be just grabbing the coat-tails of the latest coincidence (or
misinterpretation, or error, or fraud, or self-fulfilling prophecy,

Chrs, Stevan

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