Polls have consistently shown that about two-thirds of Americans believe in some sort of paranormal phenomenon. About two in five believe in ESP, about the same number who think ghosts are real. Also, just over half think that mind over matter can heal the body. There is another poll, the unscientific one I have taken of paranormal proponents I’ve spoken with over the years. This poll shows that zero percent of believers come to their position after a review of controlled studies employing the Scientific Method and peer review. Rather, it is based on personal experience, a cousin’s anecdote, or regular History Channel viewing.
Of course, the numbers have nothing to do with what is real. If 100 percent of those residing on a remote Pacific Island believe in the same Cargo Cult god, this unanimity of 1,000 worshippers will not equal one deity.
Some psychic promoters attempt to put a scientific spin on alleged extrasensory phenomenon. Author and parapsychologist Dean Radin is one of the more prominent using this approach. His overarching assertion is that, “Information can be obtained in ways that bypass the ordinary sensory system.” He calls this mysterious force “psi.” In presentations, he has never demonstrated that this force works and, in two books, has provided no evidence for its existence.
And while Radin uses graphs, charts, and statistical analysis, the applied mathematics veneer quickly gives way to the babble used by most psychics. He puts a lot of stock in studies, which would be admirable if they were conducted using solid research methods, sound statistics, and a following of the Scientific Method. However, these studies fail to explain how ESP or remote viewing could be falsified, and make no attempt to do so. Moreover, many of them rely on a preposterous ad hoc explanation to shoo away any failure. If people perform better than chance, this is considered proof of psychic ability. But if they perform at, or worse than chance, this is touted as proof that a separate psychic phenomenon is leading the test subject astray.
The numbers Radin presents can seem overwhelming (in terms of their volume and complexity, not in terms of their evidence). But this reveals the problem. Far better than an exhaustive book of graphs would be providing us with one prescient person who can correctly guess what word is scribbled on the note James Randi has in his vest pocket. Show me someone who can fool Penn and Teller by using genuine magic to move a cup across the stage and that will blow me away with more than Radin’s analyses of 1,000 studies.
Being unable to produce such a person, Radin gives us a complex statistical overview of tons of data. Any seeming anomaly is attributed to psi, which skeptics recognize as the appeal to ignorance. In this case, it’s a New Age god of the gaps argument, whereby any unexplained phenomenon proves that psi is responsible.
In classic pseudoscience tradition, Radin asserts the proof is coming someday. He insists that psi will eventually be explained as part of quantum mechanics. He anticipates people “pushing atoms around with their minds” and our bodies enjoying “mass mind healing” that will end disease and cure paraplegics.
He also anticipates miracles being verified, as we gain an understanding of how Jesus and Krishna used psi techniques to perform them. He also predicts we will see confirmation that mediums talk with the dead, although he failed to clarify if the deceased will finally talk back. He sees us being able to communicate telepathically with anyone, even our friend who now lives in another solar system, which will be possible due to psi’s contributions to the space program. The human mind will become as fast and capable as a supercomputer. Presumably a psychic will finally win the lottery, although the winnings will have to be split 200 million ways.
In his attempt to tie all this into quantum physics, he embraces the concept of entanglement as the key to understanding psychic phenomenon. Entanglement refers to connections between subatomic particles that persist regardless of them being separated by various distances. Radin therefore concludes that this must apply to all entities, be they microscopic, mammals, or moons. He wrote, “The fabric of reality is comprised of entangled threads that are consistent with the core of psi experience.” However, Skeptics Dictionary editor John Renish notes that, “Entanglement can be only of identical elementary particles”
Radin also misapplies the Uncertainty Principle, the idea that observing a particle will affect its behavior. He tries to project this notion onto every other entity in the universe. But the Uncertainty Principle only applies if the observation inputs energy into the system being observed. Put another way, viewing a comet through a telescope won’t cause it to veer off course. And thinking about a long-lost friend won’t prompt him to search you out on Instagram.
Just as astrologers have yet to find an exoplanet and Reiki practitioners have yet to discover any cures, parapsychologists like Radin have yet to make a contribution to neuroscience. Rather, they try to modernize what they consider the wisdom of the ancient mystics by misusing scientific terms and electronic equipment.