A New Science of the Paranormal: The Promise of Psychical Research

A New Science of the Paranormal: The Promise of Psychical Research

Lawrence LeShan
Wheaton: Quest Books, 2009. vii + 133 pages, paper, $14.95.

Over the past hundred years, psychic researchers have amassed a large and growing body of evidence supporting the existence of paranormal phenomena, also known as psi. In this book, veteran parapsychologist Lawrence LeShan says that this accumulation of data now enables us to consider the following statements as fact: (1) people often demonstrate knowledge of specific things that could not have been acquired through ordinary sense perception; (2) telepathy seems to operate effectively without regard to distance; (3) emotional bonds between participants greatly facilitate the effectiveness of telepathic communication; and (4) many people become uptight when hearing about psi.

It should come as no surprise that the category of people who become uneasy at the mere mention of paranormal phenomena includes a large number of scientists, because the facts of psi do not fit neatly into their established worldview. But like it or not, we live in a scientific age, in which the views of scientists often carry more weight in the public mind than the proclamations of politicians or religious leaders. As LeShan points out, the irony is that "psi is officially and publicly declared to be impossible in the sciences at the same time that a large percentage of individual scientists believe in it." He cites instances in which scientists refused to publish the results of their psi research for fear of damaging their professional reputations and careers.

Much of A New Science of the Paranormal is addressed to psi researchers, but this book should prove fascinating to the layperson as well. LeShan is openly critical of some of the methods and attitudes of his colleagues, but he suggests a number of ways of gaining greater acceptance for their work among both scientists and the public at large. For instance, he urges parapsychologists to drop the notion that all scientific research has to be done in the laboratory. As LeShan writes, "we are primarily here dealing with consciousness, and consciousness is not quantifiable." Consequently he advises his colleagues not to be thrown off course by skeptics who dismiss certain forms of evidence for psi as "anecdotal"—meaning that these events only happened once and are thus not "repeatable." While many repeatable laboratory experiments have been conducted to prove the existence of psi—the card-guessing experiments devised by the pioneering parapsychologist J. B. Rhine are one well-known type—other forms of paranormal phenomena do not lend themselves to observation in a controlled setting. If Susan gets a sudden feeling that her grandmother is dying and later finds out that her grandmother passed away at that exact time, the fact that this is not a repeatable experiment doesn't diminish the reality of what happened. As LeShan stresses, this is true in other sciences as well: "you are not going to get a repeatable experiment in astronomy, history, or oceanography."

As a result, LeShan believes that his colleagues should not waste time "trying to prove the existence of psi" but instead "get on with studying its properties." The amount of evidence in support of psi is already overwhelming, and has been for some time. If close-minded scientists refuse to accept the data, that is their problem. Simply providing more of the same is not going to change their minds.

The author also urges parapsychologists to stop acting apologetic and feeling inferior to scientists in other fields: "our standards of research—under the intense pressure and rejection that has long been directed against us—are as high and often higher than those of the 'hard' sciences such as physics and chemistry."

LeShan concludes with this bit of tough love: "The best way to get psi research accepted by our culture at large is first to have it accepted by mainline science. And the best way to have it accepted by mainline science is for psi researchers to start acting like scientists and not like poor relations."

Anybody interested in paranormal research should find this book informative and refreshing. Dr. LeShan offers some fresh ideas about the direction that psi research might take in order to gain greater acceptance for its findings.

David P. Bruce

The reviewer is a long-time member of the Theosophical Society, for which he serves as director of education.