J.E. Kennedy sent me a brief essay putting his remarks about parapsychology into a fuller context. I want to thank him for continuing to participate in this discussion.
Here are his latest remarks, which I found very interesting and thought-provoking.
I’ve been periodically looking at the comments on this blog and am pleased to see that some people have been looking at my papers. However, the larger context for my ideas appears to not be widely known outside of those actively doing work in parapsychology.
The field of parapsychology has become divided into two relatively distinct camps. One group believes that the current research strategies in experimental parapsychology are making progress. According to this view, the skepticism of most scientists is based on irrational biases and ignorance of the research, and should be overcome with continuation of the same type of research. Carter’s book is based on this position.
The other camp believes that parapsychology will not be successful if it continues the same strategies. The people in this camp generally worked in and followed parapsychology for over 20 years and started by doing experiments with high expectations of success. This perspective sees the rate of success in experiments and the acceptance of the field today as not noticeably different than in the 1940s. All the supposed research findings and hundreds of experiments have not been able to produce more reliable, convincing results. Major obstacles to reliable psi effects are not yet understood and different research strategies are needed. People associated with these ideas include Rhea White, Walter von Lucadou, George Hansen, Dick Bierman, Brian Millar, Ramakrishna Rao, and myself (J.E. Kennedy). When people reach this point, they usually take one of two paths. One path explores the possibility that psi effects are limited by a principle of nature or physics, often having to do with something like temporal paradoxes. The other path is to investigate the question “What does psi do?”
I took the latter path. In about 1990 I became active in parapsychology again after spending a decade doing other things. I focused on two independent questions (1) why is psi so elusive and (2) what does psi do? For the question of what does psi do, a colleague and I began a research project that started with in-depth, open-ended interviews with 30 people who had paranormal experiences. The interviews focused on the question “what effect did the experience(s) have?” The findings of these interviews were basically the same as expressed on this blog. The most common response was something like “Well, you know when it happened, there wasn’t a profound effect or meaning. But now that I look back, I see that it made me become more interested in the non-material aspects of life.” They would usually go on to describe changes that would be categorized as spirituality.
Based on the interviews, we developed a questionnaire that included the most common themes and gave it to 120 other people who had experiences. The questionnaires more quantitatively verified the spiritual and related positive aspects of paranormal experiences (http://jeksite.org/psi/jaspr95a.pdf). Of course, in some cases the experiences were immediately profound, like saving a person’s life. I once had an experience with immediate huge benefits. But, these cases are a small minority and are very effective at inspiring spiritual interests. When I looked back on the experience for me, I realized that it seemed to be contrived to be a dramatic experience that affected my worldview (described in http://jeksite.org/psi/jaspr00.pdf).
After 40 years of work in experimental parapsychology, Rhea White (now deceased) similarly pursued the question of what are the effects of psi and came to similar conclusions. She broke away from experimental parapsychology and started a new organization and journal (http://www.ehe.org/display/splash.html). She came to believe that experimental parapsychology was a misguided attempt to control and dominate psi, and that we should take a much more humble approach of learning from psi.
For me, the two seemingly independent questions (why is psi elusive and what does psi do) converged. Experimental parapsychology is based on the attempt to control psi and ultimately develop practical applications. Most of the books by proponents have a section on the development of psi technology. But if practical applications are developed, the first uses will be to try to obtain dominance for business and the military. It is no accident that the greatest and longest funding for psi research was for developing military applications. But, if the primary function of psi is to inspire non-material spirituality, then the attempts to use psi for business and military dominance severely conflict with the basic nature of psi. If psi becomes another technology for making money, it will lose the mysterious properties that make it inspire spirituality. Such money-making and military applications are the ultimate goal of experimental parapsychology and the primary hope for attracting big research funds.
However, if psi is a principle of nature for inspiring non-material spirituality, then the optimal effects would be sometimes strong, but defiantly erratic when attempts are made to control and subdue psi for potential self-serving material purposes.
I encourage readers to keep these ideas in mind as you read about research in parapsychology and consider your own experiences. Determine for yourself how well these ideas fit the phenomena. These ideas are pretty far out for those with the basically materialistic worldview of experimental research (including parapsychology). But, if you ask the fundamental question “what does psi do” and then follow the data, this is where it leads.
I’ll end with a couple of quotes from psi researchers. Russell Targ, physicist and co-developer of remote viewing at SRI, developed a remote viewing application to predict the commodities market. The first experiment produced 9 out of 9 hits, and it is reported that someone actually invested in this case and made $120,000. A second experiment produced 8 out of 9 hits. Then a third experiment was done. As Targ later described it: “I then sought for replication to take advantage of this mechanical psi machine we had created and I got eight out of nine failures. That has really stopped my personal psi investigation for a couple of years while I have tried to meditate on what the problem is here.”
Robert Jahn, professor of engineering at Princeton who managed the PEAR lab, conducted RNG studies for years that produced significant results. When a large replication was attempted, the overall planned analyses were not significant, but there were reported to be striking evidence of psi in internal effects that were somewhat similar to what had been found before. Jahn summarized the situation as: “At the end of the day, we are confronted with an archive of irregular, irrational, yet undismissable data that testifies, almost impishly, to our enduring lack of comprehension of the basic nature of these phenomena.”
These are examples of how the engineering efforts to control psi have turned out—and it has been this way for over 60 years. (References for these cases and other relevant information are in http://jeksite.org/psi/jp03.pdf. A paper discussing the purpose of psi is at http://jeksite.org/psi/jaspr04.pdf.)