More Questions than Answers

John Beloff. The Relentless Question; Reflections on the Paranormal. MacFarland, 1990.

A book summing up the mature reflections and experiences of Britain’s elder statesman of parapsychology would have been of considerable interest. Unfortunately this book is not it: it is yet another non-book, a collection of previously published material, some nearly thirty years old. At least the editors have avoided the tiresome repetition found in the Hyman work reviewed previously, and Beloff provides updating footnotes. He also provides a rather unrevealing autobiographical introduction, which nowhere tells us exactly how he became interested in the paranormal.

Beloff seems to be one of those parapsychologists who is constantly lowering the 'boggle threshold', almost to the point where nothing is excluded. As BeloH admits to no great success in his own experiments nor any spectacular paranormal experiences, this belief must be based on what other people tell him, which seems indeed to be the case. What emerges here is Beloff's respect for the 'great scientists' who are assumed to be truthful, insightful, objective, accurate reporters (unless they are sceptics, of course) who could not be victims of the wily proles.

Rejecting both theism and materialism (that old-fashioned bugbear of the inter-war intellectuals) Belff often comes close to endorsing a magical view of the world. At other times he seems to endorse a philosophical dualism which simply ignores much neurology, for example. Memory is assumed to lie in the brain not because of philosophical speculation, but because brain damage affects memory. and different types of brain damage affect different aspects of memory. Brain damage can fundamentally alter character. Dualist have to address that with empirical studies if they are to be taken seriously.

Of course, sceptics should not assume it all must be nonsense. If there was a new Eusapio or DD Home who could perform miracles while being videoed from a range of camera angles, then some of the questions Beloff raises might be answered. -- Peter Rogerson, from Magonia 39, April 1991.

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