[ExI] Psi (no need to read this post you already knowwhatitsays)
max at maxmore.com
Fri Jan 8 08:40:31 UTC 2010
Damien: I know how frustrating it must be for you to discuss the psi
topic on this list. It must be how I often feel when I suggest that
maybe climate models are perhaps not highly reliable guides to the
present and future...
I would be delighted if psi phenomena turned out to be real. For one
thing, it would annoy John Clark, who is holding his reflexive
rationalism a little too tightly and not allowing it to breath.
(John, quite often I enjoy your sharp, brutal expressions of sanity,
but on this topic I think you're being overly curt and quick.) For
another thing, it would shake up physics and expand our horizons and
potentially open new avenues to enhancement.
So, I have nothing intrinsically against it. The sources of my strong
resistance to accepting claims of real psi phenomena are mainly (a)
that it seems to conflict with our best-established knowledge [which,
of course, is not an ultimate reason for dismissal], and (b) my past
experience with this topic, both in my personal experience and my
(now long past, it's true) extensive reading on the topic.
My attraction to the idea of paranormal powers would be obvious to
anyone who knew me in the mid to late 1970s. I spent quite a bit of
time trying to develop psychic abilities when I was about 11 to 14. I
read many books, practiced quite a few exercises and magic rituals,
tried out several groups (including dowsers, Kabbalists,
Transcendental Meditators (who were then promoting the ability to
develop "sidhi's" or special powers like invisibility, levitation,
and walking through walls), and the Rosicrucians. At the time, I
lacked the intellectual tool kit for structured critical thinking,
yet I soon saw reasons for doubting each and every claim. Others
insisted that I was good at dowsing underground water paths, even
though it was obvious that no evidence existed to support the claim.
For a while (when I was 12, possibly 13), I convinced myself that I
could make a weight-on-a-string swing by the power of my mind, but I
eventually realized it my unconscious and very slight movements -- as
shown by my inability to cause swinging if the top of the string
wasn't connected to my finger... etc.
That is, my own experience in both practice and reading revealed the
sheer amount of crap out that went under the psi banner. (A search
for "psychic" under Books at Amazon shows that all this crap is still
there.) As for specific critiques, I don't remember many to cite at
the moment. One that I do recall is John Sladek's book, The New Apocrypha.
>By "negative trials" I assume you mean something like "runs of trials
>with outcomes that were not significantly different from mean chance
>expectation." By "not reported" I assume you mean "deceptively hidden or
Actually, no, that's not (only or mostly) what I mean -- although
that is certainly possible and seems to have happened repeatedly in
the past. There's a general publication bias against negative
results. It's a problem in numerous fields of study. People getting
negative results are less likely to write them up carefully and
submit them. Publications are less likely to publish them.
Still, thanks for your comments and pointers on this issue. It's good
see some attention to the problem of silent evidence. I don't buy
what I just read on that without more follow-up, but it's an encouraging sign.
It maybe that my resistance to claims of psi phenomena are just sour
grapes, since in my own life I've never observed the slightest hint
of psychic events or abilities.
However, past experience makes me extremely reluctant to devote
significant time to looking at new evidence (esp. when so much
previous new evidence ended up looking bad). That doesn't mean I am
certain psi phenomena are all false.
I would like your book on the topic, Damien. But, given my past
experience and the apparently minor nature of claimed results, it's
just not likely that it's going to be a top priority. I know that's
annoying and frustrating, but I hope you can understand why I see it
that way (and, I suspect, quite a few other people on this list).
If it turns out that psychic phenomena really don't exist, it will be
disappointing, but perhaps technology can allow us to convincingly
fake it or simulate it (no, this isn't an invitation to mention Chinese Rooms).
I hope this post is reasonably coherent. Natasha has already got out
of bed and gently told me off for staying up so late.
Max More, Ph.D.
The Proactionary Project
Extropy Institute Founder
max at maxmore.com
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