Society for Scientific Exploration

EXPLORER

President’s Column

June 2009

 

Cheesecloth

 

Who is the SSE for?

 

A few years ago I was invited to speak at the Paranormal Research Forum, an organization in Denver that advertizes itself as "the nation's largest monthly gathering on any Paranormal matters." I spoke about psi research in general and specific experiments carried out by my students. The experiments involved sensing lovers on the other side of a brick wall, modifying randomly generated numbers and the reflection of light with intention, affecting seedling growth with anger, that sort of thing. The results were carried out in a laboratory and were statistically significant. I talked about how these results were consistent with our current understanding of the laws of physics.

 

Afterwards, a friend in the audience told me about some murmurings he heard around him. “Who the hell cares about the laws of physics? Break them!” “There are UFOs, crop circles, time travel, and he gets these tiny effects. So what?”

 

On the other side, there’s my friend from graduate school in applied physics who heard me talk about anomalies for years. If this stuff were real, he told me, it would be published in Physical Review and in Nature. Finally, in frustration at my not coming to my senses, he agreed to read Dean Radin’s Entangled Minds. After going through the chapters on historical examples of psi and anecdotes he nearly threw the book down in disgust. That’s not science, he told me. Finally he came to chapters on controlled studies, and while not enthralled, he grudgingly accepted there might be something there.

 

So where does the SSE fit in? Should we describe the science but not the experience?

 

My work in psi phenomena started from intellectual interest. During my last sabbatical – and before I was aware that there was an SSE – I encountered a quantum physicist, Alex Gersten (an SSE member) who had a room in his house full of books on research on psi. I was shocked at what I saw, and spent most of my sabbatical reading his books, and thinking about retrocausation. Either a lot of scientists made many, many stupid mistakes or there was something there. I was sure these phenomena were real. How sure? Would I bet my career on it?

 

I returned to Boulder and started to look into these phenomena with my students. As I later reported at the Paranormal Research Forum and elsewhere, we found statistically significant results. Given the overwhelming scientific literature on psi phenomena and the supporting examples from my own laboratory, I was sure that these phenomena were real. I would bet my career. Would I bet my life on the existence of psi? What if, somehow, through some strange quirk of statistics, the results were all due to some subtle systematic error...?

 

Last year, for my Edges of Science course I invited Paul Smith, a US military-trained remote viewer, to give a short workshop to my class. He carried a closed cardboard box into the room and told us to draw its contents. In my mind I saw a straight shaft, a wishbone-shaped object, and a metal wriggle, and I drew just those three shapes on a piece of paper. Then Paul pulled a potato masher out of the box. I had drawn each of its parts separately: the handle, the extension from it to the mashing head, and the head itself. As a class project for the rest of the semester, we used associative remote viewing to predict whether the stock market would go up or down on the following day. The class was correct seven out of seven times (and in private trials, many more times than that). I experienced in my own mind images of objects and pictures that were later shown to me. Psi is no longer just statistical for me. It is scientific, where “science” encompasses a rich, multi-level understanding. Would I bet my life on psi’s existence now? I don’t need to. Life and psi are already intertwined.

 

So is the SSE for people who experience or just for those who analyze? Do we appreciate life’s mysteries more by analyzing them? Or do we tie them into cheesecloth and squeeze them until all the juice is rung out of them? In the SSE our role is to take subjective experience and turn it into science, and keep the juice inside.