Re: Parapsychology

From: Harnad, Stevan (
Date: Wed Feb 22 1995 - 18:19:25 GMT

> From: "Maguire, Nick" <>
> Date: Wed, 22 Feb 1995 16:15:51 GMT
> the conclusion that many natural scientists have come to since the
> advent of quantum mechanics is that the only certainty in science is
> that nothing will be reduced to absolutely certain, explainable units.

Hi Nick, I'm afraid that's not a very representative view; any more than
"everything's relative" is the upshot of the Theory of Relativity.

We already knew that certainty was only available for mathematical
truths (which are true on pain of contradiction), and that everything
else is only probably true, as provisionally supported by evidence.
Quantum mechanics has not changed that. The uncertainty at the heart of
quantum mechanics (about the exact position and momentum of elementary
particles) has little to do with the kinds of uncertainties at
issue here, which is about macroscopic psychic effects rather than
microscopic physical ones.

> science should not be in any way deified, and that phenomena that
> cannot be reduced to a satisfactory level of explanation should not be
> written off 'because science says so'.

I certainly wouldn't disagree. As I said, science is just systematised
common sense, no more, no less. But our concern about the underdog
shouldn't lead us into groundless credulity either...

> The scientific philosopher Lakatos talks of integrated 'research
> programmes' being useful (progressive), rather than isolated theories.
> Is there such a programme in this area? He also says that
> no programme can be expected to cope with all anomolies, but if it is
> in a progressive phase, it is appropriate to ignore such anomolies.
> Maybe there is just not yet enough good quality data in this area to
> support a 'hard core' of theory that can begin to explain phenomena;
> or then again maybe there is nothing to explain.

Once you read the assigned readings you'll see that this is precisely
the problem with parapsychology: It never manages to get a stage where
the phenomena have been established and we move on to building a theory.
It is not a matter of a growing theory that ignores a few anomalies.
There is no theory. There are ONLY anomalies, trying over again to
demonstrate that they are not just anomalies... Chrs, S

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Tue Feb 13 2001 - 16:23:14 GMT