[ExI] Psi (no need to read this post you already knowwhatitsays)

Max More 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.
Strategic Philosopher
The Proactionary Project
Extropy Institute Founder
max at maxmore.com

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