Mind Over Matter?

John L. Randall. Psychokinesis: A Study of Paranormal Forces Through the Ages. Souvenir Press, 1982.

After describing some alleged feats of mind-over-matter by ancient or primitive peoples, the author begins Chapter 3 by saying: 'Western civilization as we know it is largely the result of the confluence of three ancient cultures: those of the Jews, the Greeks and the Romans. Most of our presentday attitudes can be traced directly to one or other of the three'. This seems a promising start to the process of setting reports of psychic phenomena into their historical, religious and social contexts. Alas, there is no follow-up to this useful idea. All we get, chapter after chapter, is credulity, credulity and yet more credulity.
The author reviews historical reports of paranormal events, especially those attributed to various saints, such as Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila and Joseph of Copertino. Of such reports he admits that most of them can be dismissed as pious myths, as many of them were not written down until long after the alleged occurrences. However, he insists that a few of the accounts cannot easily be dismissed. Obviously, there is generally not much point in arguing over things which are supposed to have happened hundreds of years ago and Randall rightly devotes much of the book to the period since the beginning of serious attempts to investigate reports of paranormal phenomena using scientific methods.

Unfortunately his account of recent research is hardly unbiased. Investigators who return negative verdicts on alleged paranormal feats are accused of unfairness or 'dirty tricks'. Some of these sceptics are dealt with by not mentioning them at all! John Taylor is mentioned and noted as endorsing Uri Geller's paranormal metal-bending as genuine. Yes, but didn't Taylor later change his mind? How does Randall deal with this? He doesn't! Taylor's later book, Science and the Supernatural(Granada, 1980) is not mentioned. In the Preface to this book Taylor writes that”…error and deceit became more and more relevant for me in understanding the supernatural as my work proceeded“.

There are quite a few other curious omissions along these lines and they greatly detract from the usefulness of this book as a serious review of apparently paranormal phenomena and the investigation of them. The final chapters, on non-Euclidean geometries (the fourth dimension and all that) and quantum theory discuss a number of points which are of interest to philosophers but they do not appear to point to any new practica1 methods for investigating the paranormal. -- John Harney. Magonia 11, 1982.

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