To Daniel - On Science
Oct 12, 1995 02:32 PM
by Don DeGracia
<But why are psychololgists in general skeptical of even telepathy and ESP?
Why do we not find every university with parapsychology departments or at
least classes on parapsychology being taught in the psychology departments?>
These points are valid and well taken and their answers lie in a study of the
history of science, which I will not review here.
Most of what we are discussing here stems from the misconception that science is
somehow distinct from the rest of society. It simply is not. Scientists live in
the same world we all do. Thus, they are as influenced by the moods and
philosophical opinions of the times as everyone else is. Science is not some
idealized thing. It is a living institution poplulated by living people, people
subjected to the same failings we all are. But this said, as I've pointed out,
the hallmark of science is its self-correcting nature. At any moment in time
there may be all kinds of philosophical opinion layered around the science of
the day, but this is always only a temporay situation. As times and
philosophies change (often as the result of science moving on despite current
philosophies), so will the way that science is seen. What will not change
though is the method of testing ideas against reality.
<Why do we not find every university with parapsychology departments or at
least classes on parapsychology being taught in the psychology departments?>
Specifically, because the methods of parapsychology pioneered by Rhine are
garbage. I've read this stuff myself and think its a bunch of statistical
hogwash. Its one step below clinical research (which is pretty low on the
ladder of scientific credibility).
Furthermore, psychologists are discovering these things anyway with much more
reliable tools. Parapsychology was an attempt that was before its time. It was
a scientific abortion because though the attitude was there, convincing tools
were not. This is changing rapidly. LaBerge's work on lucid dreams is an
excellent example. Progress in other fields is oftern required before a
specific field can bloom. This was true of the science of genetics. Mendel was
unknown for 40 years in Europe before the time was ripe for the science to grow.
Likewise, the advent of chaos theory has given rise to a plethora of new
sciences, none of which could evolve until adequate tools (in this case the
mathematical theories embodying chaotic dynamics) were in place. It will be
likewise with the study of psychic phenomena. Now that reliable tools exist for
studying the dream state, it will be only a matter of time before this is
extended to other altered states of consciousness.
Furthermore, progress in neurology (the study of the function of the human
brain) is begining to shed light on much of what was traditionally considered
occult phenomena. John Algeo's article about Persinger missed this completely.
Persinger is only one of many very good scientists who are discovering that the
brain itself is no mere organ to be be eschewed but that it contains extremely
marvelous properties that indeed could allow it to be a vehicle for telepathy
and other such psychic phenomena.
So, Daniel, you have to take all this in a historical context and realize that
history moves on a different time scale than our individual lives. You or I may
know and accept the validity of psychic phenomena, but general acceptance on a
historical level is an altogether different matter.
<Are you aware of the uphill battle parapsycholgists are fighting today to
find funding in order to do just minimal amounts of research?>
Yes I am very up on this issue. And I accept it. Again, they do not deserve
the funding at this point. These are scarce resources. I don't know if you
aware what is happening to science funding in general now that the cold war is
over. Its an altogether different climate in the funding agencies and the money
will not flow like water as it did during the cold war.
Furthermore, I do not think psychic research is "big science". It can be done
very inexpensively, as I have published articles about elsewhere. I am
confident that the critical mass is growing and it is only a matter of time
before what used to be the purview of occultism becomes the subject matter of
<If you all know of new interest in these subjects and people willing to give
funding for research in parapsychology and related areas, please contact the
Parapsychology Association. Its members will be more than happy to take the
funds and try to devise scientific experiments concerning the intangible
As you can tell, I do not sympathize extensively with the PA. I feel they were
before there time and the present system should be left to whither. With
advances in brain science, chaos theory and a few other fields, parapsychology
as its presently known will be unnecessary.
<Reductionism is still alive and well within the scientific community>
Something I didn't address in my responce to John was this: what is wrong with
reductionism? You make it sound like a bad word. Do you have any *practical*
experience in reductionism? I do. I am a biochemist and use it every single
day on my job. And you know what? It works! Reductionism is simply an approach
to cause and effect that seeks to find the basic unit responsible for the
actions of a system. In the case of what I do, reductionsim lead chemisty to
the idea of atoms and molecules. These ideas have proven more fruitful than
anyone would have ever suspected. They have proven so fruitful that we can now
manipulate at will the chemical basis of life.
So, I am not saying reductionism is inherently good or bad. I am simply calling
you (or John Algeo for that matter) to task to explain why you think
reductionism is bad. If I may suggest the following idea: reductionism and
holism are a duality. Simply based on the idea of ying and yang, we know that
any duality contains a bit of its opposite. And as Buddha taught: seek the
middle way. So, the issue is not so much reductionsim verses holism. The idea
is to balance both points of view so as to have a balanced perspective. Both
approaches are valid, legitimate and real. To ignore one at the expence of the
other is simply ignorant.
A perfect example of lack of balance between holism and reductionism is large
scale chemisty and polution. The massive chemical factories that are the
foundation of our modern technological society were created in a purely
reductionistic mind-set, ignoring the holistic aspects of chemistry (which today
is called ecology). Thus, by having only half a viewpoint, a destructive system
was created. However, with the balancing forces of history, this entire
situation is coming back into balance as we realize both sides of the equation
are operating here.
I can assure you, creating a purely holistic system that ignores the
reductionistic side of the equation will be as equally unbalanced and
< For example, read the books by the psychologist Susan
Blackmore on out of body experiences and near-death experiences. She
denies the reality of these experiences and reduces them to something else:
physical processes in the brain; nothing gets out of the body; there is nothing
to get out of the body! This is reductionism, at its best.>
Blackmore's work is one cog in a vast wheel of exploration. If you can't keep a
grasp on this bigger picture, her ideas may appear bleak for people wanting to
believe in transcendental realities. Nonetheless, her contributions are valid
and worthwhile and will lead to things far beyond what she suspects just as
Wohlers synthesis of urea back in the 1840s lead chemistry to heights cmpletely
unimaginable back then.
<but I don't get the feeling that the scientific community and the power
within the scientific community is opening its arms to embrace the paranormal.>
In general it is not, but it doesn't matter. The signs of this embrace coming
eventually are everywhere. You can either see the writing on the wall or not.
At this stage, it doesn't matter if the scientific community at large accepts
the paranomral. The scientific community at large is a fat bloated system that
is about to be pruned as it needs to be. After a couple decades of pruning,
when all the dust settles, something more balanced should replace the present
Don't forget, the present system is the product of the cold war. It was created
and driven by a frenzied political mentality that showered it with money without
question or accountability. This lead scientists to become smug and fat. This
is all changing. Pick up any recent issue of Science and read the editorials.
The smarter scientists can smell it coming: society is gonna require
accountability and its not gonna mindlessly pich money to scientists anymore.
So, again, the present system is in trouble. It doesn't matter what the present
system thinks or believes because the tides of history are eroding it before our
very eyes. 20 years form now, things will be very differnt.
And if the handful of researchers such as myself and a few dozen others keep
quietly plodding along with our investigations into so-called "paranormal"
phenomena, then all the better. When the dust settles, we may have something to
show for our efforts.
< I'm sure Dr. Algeo will be happy to know that scientists are willing to give
up reductionism (ie. physical reductionism).>
Again, this is all very complex and involves historical forces way beyond my,
your or John Algoe's control. Its not some cute little pat thing that we can
smile upon because it suits our phiolosophical fancies or not.
What I am saying is that if the TS as a whole were more committed to the 3rd
objective of the Society, the TS itself would be in a much more creative and
constructive situation. Most of the views I've gotten here from our discussions
on THEOS-BUDS are woefully out of date and out of touch with what is presently
occuring. This only reflects how the TS as a whole has basically neglected its
original commitment to a scientific spirit, which is what attracted me to
Theosophical writings in the first place. And this being out of touch with the
"writing on the wall" is truely an unfortunate situation.
It would be ideal if there would come a day when Theosophy would dovetail and
fuse with science. The "writing on the wall" indicates that science is moving
in this direction. Its unfortunate that the TS is not. J.J. van Der Leeuw
wrote a book back in 1939 called "In Conquest Of Illusion" in which he foresaw
exactly what I am talking about. Nobody in the TS has taken his ideas seriously
even though history is going exactly in the fashion he saw it unfolding. And
there are myriad other signs too besides the writings of early Theosophists.
I'm not sure where the problem lies, but a significant part of it is the lack of
commitment on the part of the TS to live up to its 3rd stated objective of
promoting the study of the powers latent in man.
I will close now. Thank you for you time considering these ideas.
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