Thursday, September 01, 2005

In the beginning ...

I don't really want to spend lots of time writing a blog, but I am even less inclined to spend many hours a day answering emails that ask the same questions. So this site will become a depository for me to record my responses to frequently asked questions, and as an outlet for an occasional random thought or rant.

9 comments:

Mark Szlazak said...

Hello Dr. Radin,

I'm thrilled that your writing another book that gets us up to speed on developments in parapsychology and in skeptics arguments.

Also, I would like to know what your response is to skeptical comments about psi that basically say the trend with effects of say Ganzfeld-type or psychokinesis-type experiments show ever decreasing effect sizes with increasing sophistication in the controls of the experiments. If this is the case then skeptics say it's likely that the effects are mere artifacts and the trend will continue until there are no effects at all.

Also, another argument that skeptics use is the dependence of psi results on the types of experimenters that participate in the experiments ("experimenter effects"). This seems very fishy and I was wondering what is your response to this criticism.

Dean Radin said...

I discuss these topics in some detail in Entangled Minds.

Briefly, effect size declines occur in many research domains. In psi research the declines are likely due to shifts from proof-oriented to process-oriented research. The former studies are designed to optimize effect sizes, while the latter studies are designed to investigate parameters that modulate psi ability.

Experimenter expectancy effects are pervasive throughout science. They are especially noticable in the behavior, social and medical sciences, but they also occur in the so-called hard sciences, including physics. See, e.g. this article.

In general, armchair skeptics usually offer weak critiques that fail to pass the double-standard test. That is, if the criticism applies equally to conventional scientific domains, then the criticism aimed at psi research is invalid.

Mark Szlazak said...

Thanks that helps. OK, if there are any, what are the latest or best "skeptical" arguments against psi?

P.S. This blog isn't registering comments posted with each thread.

Dean Radin said...

The principle valid skeptical argument is that psi effects observed under laboratory conditions cannot be demonstrated with high confidence on demand. Meta-analyses suggest that the phenomena are independently repeatable, but in any given study it is not yet possible to provide a proof-positive recipe for success.

Those who hold a strong view that current scientific knowledge is more or less complete take this as evidence that psi does not exist, and that any evidence presented for psi is either flawed or an illusion.

Those who hold a more moderate (and humble) view, that science is a very recent invention in historical terms, take it as evidence that our understanding of the fabric of reality is not sufficiently comprehensive to fully explain these (and many other) natural phenomena.

My opinion is that psi will one day be explanable in rational, scientific terms. It's difficult to guess when this might occur, but given current accelerating trends in knowledge, I'd estimate that by 2020 we will have reliable demonstrations of some psi effects. To achieve this will require, among other things, some changes in current scientific epistemology.

Mark Szlazak said...

Parapsychology would bring changes to our current ontology and you mentioned accompanying changes to our epistemology. What changes to our theory of knowledge do you see arising from the scientific acceptance of psi?

Mark Szlazak said...

Your previous post said:
Experimenter expectancy effects are pervasive throughout science. They are especially noticable in the behavior, social and medical sciences, but they also occur in the so-called hard sciences, including physics. See, e.g. this article.

This article appears to indicate or is being used to indicate that theoretical bias is necessarily a "bad" thing in science. This may not be your stance but the article comes off that way. That is just too simplistic a picture of the situation and is probably based on myths about how science operates. In reversal, this myth seems to bias this paper but in "bad" or misleading ways. I would like to share with you a recent reading of mine that gives the reasons behind what I'm saying. Hilary Putnam's, The Collapse Of The Fact/Value Dichotomy, argues that fact/value dualism (not distinction like on different ends of the same spectrum) is a myth and that facts and values are entangled (yes, that's the word he uses) in science. He goes into the history of how this dichotomy arose in philosophy and the unfortunate effects it has had in understanding the scientific enterprise. In the concluding paragraph of a chapter he writes:

I have argued that even when the judgments of reasonableness are left tacit, such judgments are presupposed by scientific inquiry. (In­deed, judgments of coherence are essential even at the observational level: we have to decide which observations to trust, which scientists to trust--sometimes even which of our memories to trust.) I have argued that judgments of reasonableness can be objective, and I have argued that they have all of the typical properties of value judgments. In short, I have argued that my pragmatist teachers were right: "knowledge of facts presupposes knowledge of values." But the history of the philosophy of science in the last half century has largely been a history of attempts--some of which would be amusing, if the suspicion of the very idea of justifying a value judgment that underlies them were not so serious in its implications--to evade this issue. Apparently any fantasy--the fantasy of doing science using only deductive logic (Popper), the fantasy of vindicating induction deductively (Reichenbach), the fantasy of reducing science to a simple sampling algorithm (Carnap), the fantasy of selecting theories given a mysteriously available set of "true observation conditionals," or, alternatively, "settling for psychology" (both Quine ) --is regarded as preferable to rethinking the whole dogma (the last dogma of empiricism?) that facts are objective and values are subjective and "never the twain shall meet." That rethinking is what pragmatists have been calling for over a century. When will we stop evading the issue and give the pragmatist challenge the serious attention it deserves?


I hope this book may sheds more light on the issues for those that are interested.

Dean Radin said...

Is theoretical bias necessarily a "bad" thing in science? I'd say no, because expectation biases are inescapable. Even those who claim complete neutrality on a given topic are biased by cultural expectations, educational background, unconsciously held worldviews, etc.

What science has over say, religious dogma, is at least the promise of flexibility. One hopes that with sufficient creativity and curiosity that we can evolve towards increasingly comprehensive ways of understanding Nature.

Like Putnam, at heart I'm a pragmatist - what works best is as close to the "truth" as we're likely to know. Of course, words like "works" and "best" carry their own complexities, so even pragmatism is not as simple as it seems. But I think you get the gist.

I imagine some day highly advanced aliens might land on Earth and tell us the "truth" about Nature, as they understand it. These creatures will have evolved a refined science a million years beyond ours. Not a single word of their simplest explanations will be translatable into terms we can understand. Like trying to explain quantum theory to hamsters, the aliens will become frustrated by our compulsion to "know," so they'll resort to telling us fantasies that will make us feel good, and give us exercise wheels to give us the sense that we're actively engaged in important work.

Come to think of it, with all the fantasies one sees on the nightly news, and with the vast variety of exercise wheels constantly sold on TV, perhaps the aliens are already among us.

Mark Szlazak said...
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Mark Szlazak said...

What science has over say, religious dogma, is at least the promise of flexibility. One hopes that with sufficient creativity and curiosity that we can evolve towards increasingly comprehensive ways of understanding Nature.

Yes, it's more flexible because facts and values are entangled. For instance, Putnam is right about Popper and his falsificationist approach. It's simply not the whole story and epistemic values play a role. However, it's not all just epistemic values either and Putnam would agree. Approaches like Popper's or the verificationist's are essential as well. Popper's approach works for universal hypotheses and non-seperable universal theoretical systems as a whole (i.e, Duhem-Quine falsification). For existential hypotheses confirmationist/verificationist approaches can generally be used but I don't believe falsificationist ones can. As was mentioned, these approaches aren't the whole story. Epistemic values like coherence, simplicity, etc. are needed and their application is a case by case affair. Take for instance Einstein's own views. Einstein tells us that he arrived at the special theory of relativity by applying an empiricist critique to the notion of "simultaneity" and then he arrived at general relativity by seeking the "simplest" theory of gravity compatible with special relativity in the infinitesimal domain. Physicists accepting these two theories also regarded these topic specific arguments as compelling considerations in their favor. This is all very different from the approaches of religion.

Also, a big difference that I see between religious hypotheses and scientific ones are that religious explanations are virtually a dead-end to our progress and knowledge. What can you do with an explanation that says the reasons for such and such (e.g. biological complexity) is basically a miracle (like I.D. proponents)? There really is no useful explanation and it is required that scientists reject these in favour of naturalistic explanation. Otherwise, you have a knowledge blocker.