Human Exceptionalism

ESP to Be Validated in Major Psychology Journal

Oh my, the fur is going to fly on this one.  The NYT is reporting that “one of psychology’s most respected journals,” The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, will publish a paper validating the existence of extra sensory perception. From the story:

One of psychology’s most respected journals has agreed to publish a paper presenting what its author describes as strong evidence for extrasensory perception, the ability to sense future events. The paper describes nine unusual lab experiments performed over the past decade by its author, Daryl J. Bem, an emeritus professor at Cornell, testing the ability of college students to accurately sense random events, like whether a computer program will flash a photograph on the left or right side of its screen. The studies include more than 1,000 subjects…

This paper’s conclusions will be resisted at all costs because if it is true, it would challenge the purely materialistic paradigm which scientists insist must not be strayed from in explaining observable phenomena.

I believe that random ESP happens, but I don’t think it can be proved scientifically–precisely because it isn’t testable or falsifiable.  And, if it happens, I don’t think it is something we control, making it even less subject to scientific study.

But there is plenty of anecdotal evidence for ESP.  For example, over the years, I have had a few dreams come precisely true.  The one I am about to relate, I have no doubt, happened just as I will describe it.  Indeed, it was so startling, I remember the details forty-plus years later. This was a year or two after I graduated from high school:

At the start, people were chasing each other in speed boats.  Then, as dreams go, I was suddenly sitting on a low wall by the Alhambra High School gym.  I was with my best friend, Rick.  We were sitting next to each other, but sitting further apart than our usual social space custom.  That seemed a bit odd.  My head hurt.  I put my hand to where it hurt and there was a little blood.  I had a plain brown paper bag in my hand and I started to rip it apart, not in a furious way, but as if I was (what we used to call) spaced.  This tearing revealed a paperback book, the name of which I no longer recall, but was pretty big at the time because the movie had starred (as I recall) Jane Fonda.

End of dream. It seemed so odd to me that I would be at my old high school. but I quickly forgot about it.

A short time later, I went with Rick to the movies.  Before the movie, I bought a paperback book.  This was still the day of the double feature.  The first movie came and went.  The second movie was not good.  We began to talk about leaving.  Then, there was a scene of people chasing each other in speed boats.  I didn’t remember my dream, but sure had that old deja vu.

We walked out of the movie right after that scene and decided to go to our restaurant hangout.  This took us by our old high school.  I usually drove, and Rick often changed my car’s radio buttons so they all went to the same station.  He thought it was funny.  He drove this particular evening because he had purchased his first car, a used Mustang, of which he was quite proud.  So, I returned the favor and altered the buttons so they all played the same station.  As we drove by our old school, he tried to change the channel. “What the (explitive deleted)”, he said, and he  took his eye off the road.  BAM!  We crashed into a phone pole.  I hit my head on the padded dash, but not too hard because the lap seat belt (thank you, Ralph Nader!) caught me and kept me from going through the windshield.

We were shaken, but not seriously hurt.  Rick’s car was wrecked.  We went to a phone booth by the high school gym and called my dad to come help us.  We were sitting on a short wall waiting for him to come.  I began to get that Twilight Zone feeling when I noticed we were sitting an odd distance from each other.  My head hurt.  I felt the spot and there was blood on my hand.  I then had the odd feeling I had lived this before and began to absent mindedly tear the paper bag.  When I saw the name of the book my heart leaped into my throat! My dream came back in a flash.  And I told Rick that I had dreamed it before.  (He wasn’t amused.)  Interestingly, I didn’t dream (or didn’t remember) the cause of our being at the high school, sitting on the wall.  Only the aftermath.  (So what good was it?  Who knows? I am just reporting the facts.)

The above really happened, with the only potentially false memory being whether the book had been made into a movie starring Jane Fonda. But to a scientist, it didn’t really happen, or it is faulty memory, or I somehow took a less specific dream and added the details after the event. Whatever.

But if ESP is real, then I could well have had a dream that came true in very specific details. And it could well mean that human capacities–or existence–is far greater than anything understood–or accepted–in the philosophy of science.

So, there will be major push-back–which the Times notes, has already begun.  Some of it will be proper science–criticizing methods and conclusions.  And they may well be right.  I don’t have a dog in that fight. But the zeal that underlies the coming attacks will be about something far more encompassing than the usual scientific scrimmages.  It will be about a threatened world view.

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