ESP Today

Dean Radin. Entangled Minds: Extrasensory Experiences in a Quantum Reality. Paraview Pocket Books, 2006.
Sally Rhine Feather and Michael Schmicker. The Gift: ESP, The Extraordinary Experiences of Ordinary People. St Martin's, 2006.
These books are evidence of perhaps a growing interest in ESP and suchlike topics, perhaps driven by some recent TV exposure.

Radin's book reports on some recent experiments in parapsychology, some actually reported in mainstream scientific journals, which, if they are reported and analysed accurately here, would seem to start to swing the pendulum back in favour of something akin to 'ESP' and even stranger claims. These include experiments in which Radin argues show that if one person sits and directs thoughts at another in a far room, then the pattern of electrical activity in the receiver's brain, begins to resemble that in the sender.

One set of experiments appear to suggest that people start to react to an emotive picture before it is shown. So far so good, and perhaps we can agree with Radin that the human brain is such a complex, mysterious thing that it can get involved with all that quantum weirdness that mainstream physicists go on about, while usually assuring us that this in no way provides evidence for the paranormal. But then Radin goes on to say that the same anticipation effect is shown by earthworms, and yours truly hits the boggle barrier with a loud bump.

Another set of claims revolve around random number generators that display some sort of anomaly around the time of major population-engrossing events. Now I must confess that as I am not a mathematician I have no idea what Radin is talking about here, or whether it means anything or not. So I just concentrate on the idea of world-engrossing events, such as the death and funeial of Princess Diana or 9/11 or "new years celebrations, natural disasters, sports events, outbreaks of war, outbreaks of peace, tragic death of celebrities .." and (wait for it) "massive meditations" (do we get a whiff of a hidden Transcendental Meditation agenda here?).

If major sports events are added to this list, why not pop concerts, political rallies, and religious festivals? It's a wide list. Radin counts 185 such events "which had been tested and double checked", but thousands of such events must have taken place in the last few years. The list is just too long and vague to be of value. Nevertheless there should be a prediction here. These anomalies will be stronger on the day that Nelson Mandela dies than on the day the Duke of Edinburgh dies. Both of these events are likely to happen within the next 10 years, so Magonia's doddering old editors will probably be around to record the event.

Let us try another tack: if earthworms can display ESP and precognition, then a good quality PC should be able to also. Try running a patterned series of numbers through thousands of computers linked together on the Internet, and run random numbers on a series of shielded stand-alone PCs. If the random numbers on the stand-alones start reproducing the set pattern on the massive parallel computer, then something very interesting will have been demonstrated. PC's shouldn't get tired, bored, or annoyed by sceptics so this may well be the road to tread.

If this statistical stuff goes over your head, there is the collection of memorates from the archives of Dr Feather and her mother Louisa Rhine, they being the daughter and wife of the famous Joseph B Rhine. Of course, the problem with collections of narratives such as these is that they are never going to convince anyone who is not already a believer.

No actual evidence as opposed to assertion is presented, and even as given, the sceptically minded will argue that each of these cases could have "normal" causes, and will note the role of coincidence, faulty memory, a tendency to report things as they "ought" to have happened rather than what did actually happen etc. Believers will counter with arguments of the "they can't all be mistaken" variety, and there is no meeting ground.

There is, of course, even assuming that the statistical anomalies reported by Radin and the extraordinary coincidences reported by Feather occurred exactly as reported, no actual reason to believe they have a common cause, or that they are evidence of a single entity which might be called "ESP" or psi. -- Reviewed by Peter Rogerson, from Magonia 94, January 2007.

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