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Why It’s Time for the Paranormal to Come In from the Cold

by Damien Broderick

Pub Date: July 1st, 2007
ISBN: 978-1-56025-986-2

Australian science-fiction novelist and critic Broderick (Godplayers, 2005, etc.) tries to reconcile psychic phenomena with known science.

Even the most dogged materialist can’t dismiss all events involving apparent telepathy or prediction of the future as frauds or mass delusions. Yet several decades of attempts to scientifically explain the paranormal have found nothing convincing. Broderick, who has a Ph.D. in the comparative semiotics of science and literature, examines several hard-to-dismiss cases. He begins with the history of psychic research, with nods to the Duke University experiments of J.B. Rhine and a sidelong glance at the followers of Edgar Cayce at the Association for Research and Enlightenment. More interesting to Broderick are the U.S. and Soviet intelligence agencies’ efforts to harness psi phenomena; he quotes several former spooks about the CIA “Stargate” project, which achieved some astonishingly good results, though not quite reliable enough for intelligence work. But scientific tests of psychic abilities don’t trigger the evolutionary mechanisms that must have created those abilities to begin with, and therefore may not test what they’re trying to. An experimental subject in parapsychology has no real incentive to do well and typically shows diminishing results over time, a pattern consistent with boredom with the trivial tasks the subject is being asked to perform. Quantum theory is the currently fashionable mechanism for explaining mental phenomena, <\b>although how it relates to psi feats is not quite clear. Broderick argues eloquently that science must find some way to deal with evidently real psychic phenomena instead of dismissing them as “outside the gates.” He hurts his case, however, with unclear, sometimes impenetrable writing.

Hard to disagree with the author’s call for serious thinking about how to make scientific sense of paranormal testing results already on the books, but he too often loses the reader while pursuing secondary points.