Prolific British science writer Clegg (Gravity: How the Weakest Force in the Universe Shaped Our Lives, 2012) takes ESP seriously but resists the temptation to add to the prolific genre that appeals to enthusiasts (“Of course, there are charlatans, BUT…”).
Actions such as clairvoyance or telekinesis must obey physical laws. The author finds none that apply, but believers often propose mysterious forces unknown to science, and Clegg does not deny the possibility. Establishment scientists have been investigating ESP for more than a century. Clegg delivers a detailed account of figures from J.B Rhine (1930s) and Russell Targ and Harold Puthoff (1970s), whose work was supported by the CIA. He does not neglect colorful figures such as Uri Geller, who, even though his feats flabbergast every lay observer and too many scientists, was no magician; professional performers can duplicate his tricks. Genuinely distressed, Clegg points out that ESP researchers have been sloppy about including controls and keeping an eye on subjects to prevent cheating; they routinely announce positive results, which are never dramatic (such as moving an object) but statistical (guessing more cards than expected), and other researchers attempting to duplicate them always fail. In a surprisingly optimistic conclusion, the author writes that some phenomena, particularly telepathy and remote viewing, may have a basis in reality and suggests experimental approaches with rigorous controls to prevent both subject and experimenter from cheating.
Clegg accomplishes the impressive feat of persuading readers that ESP might exist, while delivering a delightfully astute examination of the current evidence, which remains frustratingly feeble.