Notice from Yale University

I plan to write a post about the Parapsychology Laboratory Records at the Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library at Duke University, and the fact that there is still so much there that is untapped. I couldn’t read it all, and of the hundreds of pages of notes I made to myself about things to follow-up, I couldn’t come close to looking into them all.

For instance, I made a note about a letter J. B. Rhine wrote to J. R. Angell, the president of Yale University. Rhine wrote that he was making a “tentative inquiry” about their Institute of Human Relations and the possibility of working together.  Angell wrote back that “Your extraordinary experimental observations have already attracted our attention and interest.”  And he said he was forwarding Rhine’s letter to the director of the Institute.

Yale physicist Dr. Henry Margenau (pictured above) wrote that effects they were studying were not brain waves or a new energy, and that they needed to strike out and find a new mode of explanation.  “Science cannot close its eye to those things that are not directly perceptible.”

I can’t tell you how many times I read letters to Rhine from scientists I never heard of, only to google them and learn that they had won a Nobel Prize, etc.  There was a lot of hostility in response to their experiments, but there was also a lot of interest.

Freeman Dyson

“If one believes, as I do, that ESP exists but is scientifically untestable, one must believe that the scope of science is limited.” – Freeman Dyson, in a Foreword to Extraordinary Knowing: Science, Skepticism, and the Inexplicable Powers of the Human Mind, by Elizabeth Lloyd Mayer, Ph.D.

I don’t know what to make of this quote by theoretical physicist and mathematician Freeman Dyson. Shouldn’t it be, “is scientifically untestable today,” (and I’d add perhaps) and that “the scope of science is limited today“?

Dyson says ESP is untestable because emotion is so inextricably tied to ESP that a controlled scientific experiment for ESP is forever out of our reach.  “The experiment necessarily excludes the human emotions that make ESP possible.”

Carl Sagan

From Carl Sagan’s book Demon-Haunted World:

“… there are three claims in the ESP field which, in my opinion, deserve serious study: (1) that by thought alone humans can (barely) affect random number generators in computers; (2) that people under mild sensory deprivation can receive thoughts or images “projected” at them; and (3) that young children sometimes report the details of a previous life, which upon checking turn out to be accurate and which they could not have known about in any way other than reincarnation.”

I was pretty surprised when someone pointed me to this quote.  Sagan was a known critic and a founding member of the skeptical organization now known as CSI (Committee for Skeptical Inquiry).  He was still skeptical and the next paragraph in the book confirms that.  He’s pretty sure an explanation will be found that will explain it all away, but he is reluctantly conceding that in these three cases there is something there that still needs to be explained.

Michio Kaku

I’ve been collecting quotes I like. This one comes from theoretical physicist Michio Kaku, and I got it from his book Physics of the Impossible.  He puts telepathy and psychokinesis in the category of things he describes as:  “impossible today, but do not violate the known laws of physics.  So they might be possible in this century, or perhaps the next, in modified form.”

I have to point out that I read Kaku’s book, and when he and Rhine talk about telepathy and psychokinesis, they are not talking about the same thing. They have a different understanding, and this can’t be taken, for instance, as validating the work of the Parapsychology Lab.  In fact, he has a section about their work where he points out problems (I have an answer to every issue he raises, and pretty much all of them are addressed in my book).  But having different ideas and theories is fine.  The point is he has an open mind.  I also saw him speak once and even when he completely disagrees about something he is gracious, and doesn’t feel the need to be hostile and condescending.  I like the guy.

Warren Weaver

One of my favorite statements about the experiments of the Duke Parapsychology Laboratory came from Warren Weaver. He was a famous scientist and mathematician and the Vice President of the Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research at the time. He got up at a conference at Dartmouth about consciousness and said:

“I had rather hoped that this would be introduced by one of my youngers and betters, but since no one else has, I’m going to mention what is obviously a controversial topic … I am in fact referring to that embarrassing, partially disreputable but nevertheless challenging body of phenomena known as extrasensory perception.”

“I would like to mention the fact that I find this whole field intellectually a very painful one. And I find it painful essentially for the following reasons: I cannot reject the evidence and I cannot accept the conclusions.”

I like what he said because it shows a lot of integrity. Most scientists were very quick (and relieved) to reject the lab’s results on the basis of things that are not true, like fraud, sloppy controls, etc.. But Warren Weaver went down to Duke and studied their work and concluded that those objections weren’t valid. He couldn’t accept telepathy, but he wasn’t going to dismiss their work unfairly either.