Open Letter to Paranormalists: Limits of science, trust and responsibility

Tom Butler, 2017
(Revised November 2017)

Abstract

This is a letter to members of the paranormalist community discussing lessons learned, as Co-Director of the ATransC, about science, scientists and research. The letter includes a brief discussion identifying paranormalists, dominant theories about the nature of paranormal phenomena and important considerations for their study. The intent is to advise paranormalists about the need for discernment concerning the intention of those who would study these phenomena.

Do remember to read the Comments From the Media section at the end of this letter.

Introduction

Science is good. The science practiced by parapsychologists is not necessarily good. Much of it is done to prove paranormalists are delusional. You and I know that, to prove we are delusional, they must ignore or falsely represent our evidence.

Scientists are supposed to be our friends. Some are, but the majority consider the average paranormalist inferior in many ways … as second-class citizens that are not as smart, as well educated or as wise as people with a Ph.D. Most people calling themselves paranormalists are retired from unrelated careers and using the study of paranormal phenomena as a hobby. They are likely less informed about the actual nature of these phenomena than you, the practitioners and experiencers.

If you come away from reading this with nothing else, I pray that you remember these points. If you want to see these phenomena properly studied, if you want informed scientists to help you understand your experiences, if you want to see this field of study evolve into a well-understood science, then it is important that you know who to trust, who to believe and with whom it is safe to trust your phenomena.

It is important that you encourage the pretenders to go away so that real scientists will feel free to help.

About This Letter

While many of us look forward to the day a scientist will want to study our work, few of us realize the potential problems that can come from being studied. In simple terms, science is great, scientists are not always so great. It is for you to be aware of the differences, because many of those who have not been aware of the difference, have regretted ever volunteering to be research subjects.

To understand the science of paranormal phenomena, it is necessary to understand the phenomena. You may not agree with the model I use for this letter, but take time to think about it. If I did the work correctly, the model should be reasonably close to what you believe and where science is going, if not in detail, at least in principle.

The model is based on currently understood mainstream and parapsychological science. Unlike more widely accepted models, it is greatly informed by lessons learned from mediumship and Instrumental TransCommunication (ITC), especially Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP). It will evolve over time, but for now, I am sticking with it because I need a target of sorts toward which I can develop arguments and collect supporting data. I suggest you also pick a story about which you can learn to talk.

The Paranormalist Community

In the context of this letter, paranormalist are people who experience, study or have a more than casual interest in psychic ability (psi functioning, remote viewing, healing intention), healing intention (biofield healing, distant healing, healing prayer) and the phenomena related to survival of consciousness (mediumship, visual and audible ITC, hauntings).

The paranormalist community is actually several communities of interest that are in the same boat, so to speak, because they all seek to understand the same phenomena but with different intentions. A useful way to think of the paranormalist community is as an aggregate of communities of interest such as ghost hunters, experiencers seeking understanding of often disturbing experiences, grief management, investigators and academics working as parapsychologists.

Theories of Reality

Because it is important that you are clear about who believes what, the three dominant theories designed to explain the nature of reality are provided here. This is taken from the book, Your Immortal Self: (1)

The Physical Universe HypothesisPhysical-Universe

  • All that exists is the physical universe.
  • The universe has evolved from a singularity into what it is today.
  • Life has evolved on earth into what it is today.
  • Mind has evolved as a product of brain which is a product of evolution.
  • Memory is an artifact of mind.
  • When the brain dies, mind and memory cease to exist.
  • People have five senses: smell, sight, hearing, touch and taste.

To simplify conversation, people who think the Physical Universe Hypothesis is correct are described here as Normalists. Parapsychologists who lean toward the Physical Universe Hypothesis often work under the banner of Anomalistic Psychology, (2) which holds that reported paranormal experiences are actually ordinary-world experiences mistaken as paranormal. In effect, these parapsychologists are debunkers determined to find a normal explanation for all psi and survival-related phenomena.

These diagrams share a set of functions which are explained in Your Immortal Self. The functional areas represent the mostly unconscious thought process as I have modeled them based on First Sight Theory (3) and lessons learned from transcommunication. The functional areas are mostly the same for each theory because they are becoming more widely accepted by both mainstream and parapsychological thought.

The Super-Psi HypothesisSuper-Psi-Hypothesis

  • All that exists is the physical universe.
  • The universe may have evolved from a singularity into what it is today.
  • An as yet unidentified form of space called psi (psi field) permeates all of physical reality.
  • Life has evolved on earth into what it is today.
  • Mind exists in the psi field and continues beyond death of the brain as differentiated, residual energy.
  • Brain is a transmitter/receiver for mind.
  • Thought, memory and emotions are retained in the psi field.
  • People experience reality via five bodily senses that are informed by impressions from the psi field.

People who think the Super-Psi Hypothesis is correct are described here as Psi+ Normalists. Parapsychologists who lean toward the Super-Psi Hypothesis are increasingly working under the banner of Exceptional Experiences Psychology, (4) which holds that reported paranormal experiences may be ordinary-world experiences mistaken as paranormal but may also be evidence of psi. In effect, these parapsychologists are debunkers determined to find a normal or psi explanation for all psi and survival-related phenomena.

The Survival HypothesisTrans-Survival-Hypothesis

  • There is a greater reality of which the physical universe is an aspect.
  • An as yet unidentified form of space called psi permeates all of reality.
  • The psi field is an aspect of the greater reality.
  • Mind, with its thoughts, memories and emotions, has evolved in the greater reality and continues to exist beyond death of the brain.
  • For a lifetime, mind and brain are entangled to produce a physical-etheric link: a person.
  • During a lifetime, mind is expressed as consciousness (I think I am this) and a mostly unconscious etheric personality (I am this).
  • Unconscious mind is informed by the person’s five physical senses and psi signatures from the environment.
  • Unconscious mind expresses to conscious self an understanding of the environment as it is informed by worldview (memory, experience, human and personality instincts).

People who think the Survival Hypothesis is correct are described here as Dualists. Some Psi+ Normalists accept that mind is different from body. The distinction is that Dualists think mind preceded body and continues after the body in a sentient form. Psi+ Normalists think mind is a product of body and sentience ceases when the body dies. For them, all evidence of survival is just evidence of survived memory.

Experiencing Phenomena

It is true that paranormalists, mainly experiencers and practitioners, are occasionally guilty of making claims that simply do not make sense when the larger field of study is considered. From my experience, it is clear that this reporting error can be corrected with better understanding. Here are a few points that are true or as good as true, and which will help you speak intelligently about the phenomena:

  1. We, or an interested observer, provide the channel through which paranormal phenomena is produced.

The avatar model (5) seems to best describe what we know about our etheric-physical nature. The idea is that a person is the conscious self of an immortal etheric personality which becomes entangled with a human body at the moment of the human’s birth. The conscious self experiences a lifetime from the perspective of the human.

Personality and body consciousness share the mostly unconscious mental processes, including worldview. At first, conscious self is mostly influenced by the human’s instincts, but with maturity, gains control as it acquires new understanding. In this model, it is the understanding that is returned to the immortal, intelligent core.

There is an extensive explanation of this model in Your Immortal Self, (1)

and early essays under the Concepts tab of ethericstudies.org. Here, I will explain that all the functional areas in the Life Field with Avatar Diagram, (6) except the human body itself, are etheric. If you take a little time to contemplate the implications of this point, I think you will see that conscious self has experiences, and by convention, assigns physicality to experiences encountered from the avatar perspective.

Life-Field-Complex

In a very real sense, we create our world. It only exists as our mostly unconscious perceptual processes assign meaning to sensed environmental psi signals. Those psi signals come from our loved ones, our collective of fellow personalities, thoughtforms, our body’s self-image and our physical body’s five physical senses.

A model that is useful and may as well be correct is that a person is necessary for a psi influence to manifest in the physical. Put differently, we, or an interested observer, provide the channel for trans-etheric influences such as EVP, remote viewing, precipitation and haunting phenomena. This is especially meaningful in view of the next item.

  1. All mental activity is psi functioning.

If Item 1 is correct, we need to think of such phenomena as mental mediumship, remote viewing and precipitation as essentially the same process, just with different intent. If we are not our body, then we should think that we are our mind.

The greater reality (etheric) is a conceptual environment, meaning that, instead of physical objects, it is made of fields of influence. The field of influence of our life field is anything we turn our attention to such as a loved one or work. From the parapsychological perspective, our life field, decision process and influence are all psi.

  1. What we experience is always modified in our unconscious mind before we become aware of the information.

Always! Our experience in the ATransC has shown that a person tends to record EVP that confirms mostly unconsciously held beliefs. It is important here, to note that the psi signal which is the kernel for EVP formation is understood to be real. But since etheric space is conceptual, psi information is necessarily conceptual as well and must be embodied into objective terms. It is how that initial conceptual signal, say from a discarnate loved one, is embodied through our mental channel that determines the content of the message.

In a similar example, a Korean television crew came to our home to make a segment on EVP for their Korean audience. The reporter and crew became very excited during the on-camera playback of an EVP recording session. We had no idea why until they explained that we had recorded an appropriate response in their language. In that case, we believe the message had come through the trans-etheric channel provided by one of the Korean crew, and it was in that person’s language as expected since it passed through his worldview.

Mainstream and Parapsychological research is showing that our mostly unconscious mind acts as a filter to present only information to our conscious self that conforms to our expectations held in worldview. (7) (8) (9) We will sometimes not even notice information if it is something for which we have little interest because it will be discarded by our mind.

This science is still evolving, and these points are still only indicators. The message to us is that what we experience tends to agree with what we believe. We tend to more often have possibly genuine paranormal experience if we believe in the paranormal. Conversely, if we do not believe in the paranormal, we might not even notice such experiences.

  1. Cultural expectations tend to contaminate perception and subsequent effects.

One of the ways to recognize that a person’s worldview is involved in formation of physical phenomena is if the result sounds like something the person would normally say. For instance, if many individuals in a group of hauntings investigators are recording for EVP, the resulting messages can be expected to be couched in terms which are consistent with the way the individual practitioners think of the world. As such, more religious practitioners will tend to record more religiously influenced messages while people who believe in etheric stations will tend to record more references to those stations.

We must also be mindful of erroneous perception. I refer to the complex of ways in which we become delusional about paranormal phenomena as hyperlucidity. (10) Lucidity is used here to indicate the degree to which conscious self has become aware of mostly unconscious mind. That is the objective of mindfulness. Hyperlucidity is used here to identify situations in which the person thinks they are very lucid, but are in fact, fooling themselves by imagining they are aware of their unconscious mind. This can become evident when people mistakenly think they are hearing words from discarnate loved ones in EVP when there is only noise.

  1. Some of the experiences you think are paranormal can be explained in ordinary terms.

My experience is with Buck Fever: It is true that many a cow standing in front of a tree has been mistaken as a buck.

Research has shown that people who believe in paranormal phenomena are more apt to think a picture is paranormal then those who do not believe. This is true of all forms of phenomena. It does not mean there are no paranormal phenomena, only that some of us are not as discerning as we need to be.

This tendency to err on the side of paranormal is used by Anomalistic Psychologists to prove that all reported phenomena are errors in perception. Since established evidence of the existence of things paranormal is deliberately ignored, it can be difficult to know when reading Anomalistic Psychology research reports, that the intention is to debunk rather than to understand.

  1. Etheric space is nonlocal, meaning that everywhere is here.

Parapsychologists argue that the psi field is nonlocal, meaning that a psi influence is experienced everywhere at the same time. To my knowledge, parapsychologist retain the understanding that there is physical distance.  The difference is important. This item makes essentially the same argument, except to say that a psi influence is experienced everywhere at the same time because everywhere is the same place. There is no distance in the etheric.

The effect is that people in a different part of the physical world are in the same part of etheric space. When we record an EVP, the etheric personality producing the voice can be anywhere relative to our physical location. We can be in San Francisco, speaking over the phone with a person in New York while both of us are operating a recorder. Either one of us can provide the channel for an EVP on either recorder … at the same instant. The EVP could be initiated by the thoughts of anyone living or dead, anywhere in physical or etheric space. It is who we intend to contact that determines who we contact.

The same goes for haunted locations. The evidence thus far is that an EVP apparently initiated by a personality associated with a place does not mean that the personality is in the physical space. It only means we or an interested observer have provided a channel for a message from the intended personality.

This can also be said for faces in visual ITC phenomena. For instance, a face in a photographed orb only means that light, probably reflected from dust, produced sufficiently chaotic noise for transform phenomena to occur. Still in the flesh or not, the personality initiating the face is in etheric space, in that everywhere is here.

To make this clear, current understanding is that we contact the local ghost because we expect to. We see this effect when a mental medium brings information from a loved one. When this happens, there is no reason to think the loved one has rushed to the scene to make contact.

  1. Time is a practical necessity.

Process is sequential because the nature of the next event in a process is dependent on the nature of the preceding event. Each event is a concept which is created by the thinker/observer. I cannot argue if time exists, but I can argue that time may as well exist.

In the Implicit Cosmology, (11) there is a delay in perception between reception of a psi signal and presentation to conscious mind. Sensing a psi signal can produce a physiological change before the person become conscious of the event.

In psi research showing the presentiment effect, the apparent precognition of the nature of the next picture in a study is possibly explained as the person responding to this psi signal before the information comes to conscious awareness. (12)

Processes are modeled in the Implicit Cosmology as related fields which change in character as the process develops. Since these are psi signals and people are normally unconsciously aware of such signals, developing potential events will also be sensed by people. Many possible events might never develop into an actual event and potential events might merge as the moment for the event comes closer. If this model is correct, precognition might actually be the sensing of these potential events. That would help explain why some predictions never come to pass.

  1. Physical principles might resemble paranormal phenomena, but not necessarily account for those phenomena.

Electromagnetism, vibration, spatial direction, physical energy, holography and quantum mechanics are often used to describe, even explain paranormal phenomena. Using these physical world concepts is convenient as an analogy to describe phenomena, but it is important not to assume they actually explain phenomena. Making this mistake, especially references to energy and electromagnetism, has caused many researchers to investigate dead-end research questions.

Etheric space is conceptual in nature and the principles, forces and processes of physical space are objective. At best, they are a derivative of a psi influence. To my knowledge, the only etheric to physical influence that has objective support is the effect of stochastic amplification on small signals. Even there, the causative relationship has only been marginally empirically established.

Many of these points are the consequence of duality. If we are not our body, the implied consequence of our mind not being our body is that there must be a flow of information from our mostly unconscious mind to our conscious self. Put another way, if we accept that we existed before this lifetime and will continue to exist after, then we must also accept the idea that our intelligence creates our awareness (conscious self), but that our awareness is only a part of who we really are.

Our usual perspective is from inside of our head and looking at the world via our body’s eyes (body-centric). Think of that perspective as a video camera for our mind. When we sleep, that video camera is aimed at other aspects of our personal reality (more immortal self-centric). In the end, we are not our body. We are in an avatar relationship with our body.

To speak intelligently about the phenomena, it is necessary to understand that there are some well-established … if not facts, at least points which are arguably true, given the evidence. The most common red flag comment I hear is “We will never know for sure.” The reason we study these phenomena is because we think it is possible to know for sure. The study is producing understanding that, if not truth, may as well be truth, as it provides a solid foundation for further study.

What You Need to Know About Science

The natural order of things in a mature society is mutually beneficial exchange of informed guidance from scientists to the general public in return for financial support of higher education and research. The public is conditioned to trust scientists without question. In turn, scientists are trained to follow the scientific method, ethically and truthfully. They are also expected to assure useful information about research is made available to the public. (Here, I emphasize useful.)

A hypothesis is a statement of theory. For instance: Objects have an invisible force that attracts other objects. Corollaries of the hypothesis explore the so what of the hypothesis, for instance: The earth (object 1) has gravity (invisible force) that attracts objects (object 2). Research questions are designed to test the corollary, for instance: Will an object fall to the ground?

Once the question has been established, a series of events must take place for the work to be respected as actual scientific research:

  1. A literature review should be conducted and subject matter specialists consulted to determine what is already known about the question.

For paranormalist interested in survival-related phenomena, a review of the literature must include published studies about survival subjects such as EVP. A point I will make here is that much of the lay-literature is not considered in a proper literature review because it is neither peer-reviewed nor produced by a Ph.D.

  1. Assumptions should be stated which lead to the development of a step-by-step test procedure (the protocol). The protocol is designed to test the assumptions related to the question.
  2. The protocol should be closely followed while the results are recorded. Deviations from the protocol may possibly discredit the research.
  3. Concluding remarks should be based on the results coming from the protocol. The conclusion(s) should be limited to findings resulting from following the protocol.
  4. For the work to be considered research, a final report must be readied for peer review with the intention that it will eventually be published in a respected journal. At the least, it must be made available for others to review in the literature.Research reports should include a brief discussion of the literature and prior study supporting protocol design. This should include the foundation theory and important contending theories. The conclusions should also address whether or not, and how well, research results support the foundation theory. This is where the contending theories should be considered with an explanation as to whether they supported by the study, and if so, in what way.

Paranormalists may be academics, but most are laypeople, meaning they do not have an advanced college degree. Lay-paranormalists seldom have access to the library systems used by Ph.Ds. It has been my experience that few laypeople have access to parapsychological journals. (We subscribe to four journals at a cost of about $400 a year. Even so, I am not allowed full membership because I am not a Ph.D.)  To be available to the larger community, research reports should be written in terms understandable to a wide audience and made accessible via an Internet search.

  1. Based on research results, the hypothesis is reviewed for possible redefinition, probably leading to a new and improved research question.

The scientific method is really a system involving people, institutions and media. In simplistic terms, scientists develop and test theory, the results of which are passed to engineers who produce usable products for the public based on that research.

The scientific method must be adapted to each situation, but the common factor must be the intention to organize findings into an understandable form for the intended audience and making that information available to the public. In mainstream society, the population of scientists is great enough that it is reasonable for scientists to write just for other scientists without writing a version of the report for public reading. But in fact, they are failing an implicit contract requiring them to find a way to communicate with the public.

In many areas, media reporters acting as science writers have assumed the role of disseminating research results to the public. However, the paranormalist community is relatively small, and while some of us have assumed the science writer roll, an effective path of communication between scientists and lay people has not yet developed.

A final point about proper science concerns ethical treatment of research subjects. I address this later in this letter.

Qualified to Practice Science

It is understood that scientists hold a Ph.D. in the field to which they apply the scientific method. Yes, anyone can conduct science, but the system is designed to filter out all but academically trained people. I hold a BSEE and it is acceptable for me to say that I study a subject, but saying that I am researching a subject is not technically acceptable. The culture only allows people without a Ph.D. to be citizen scientists, presumably in service to a Ph.D. Mainstream culture is that well organized.

For Normalist, a degree in psychology is assumed to be sufficient to study paranormal phenomena because the study is seen as actually a study of mental problems. If you are a Psi+ Normalist, then a degree in psychology may apply to some study. For instance, a person’s point of view appears to have a lot to do with whether or not a person experiences phenomena, and if so, in what way.

If the nature of psi phenomena is being considered, a degree in physics might be most appropriate. There is also a need for substantial understanding of the applicable technology. For instance, an experiment to determine if psi produces an objective effect is a question of physical principles, psi interaction with the test equipment and the nature of the psi field. A psychologist is no more qualified to study those than is a plumber.

EVP has a physical effect but appears to have a mental component. It is thought to be related to survived personality, which itself, requires an unidentified form of space in which to survive. In the case of instrumental forms of transcommunication like EVP, both a psychology and a physical science degree is needed. In every case, an understanding of currently popular cosmologies is essential. Of course, studying EVP without understanding the idiosyncrasies of the audio devices is simply naive.

The question of who is qualified to study what, is fundamental to the issues addressed in this letter. In fact, I cannot name a Ph.D. in our community that I know to be qualified to study EVP without a multidisciplinary team. For the study of EVP, a retired professor of psychology, biology or philosophy has little academic standing. Yes, the retired professor may have superior reasoning skills and a good understanding of the scientific method. But, without well-qualified practitioners, technologists and metaphysicians on the team, research results must be reported in terms of a hobby or a personal study. According to the preferences of the academic community, such qualifications alone are certainly not sufficient for research.

The reason this is important is that parapsychologists are rather obsessive about conducting research that is seen as good science by mainstream scientists. Two of the problems they avoid are known as the File Draw Effect and Selective Reporting. To avoid these, all research should be candidly reported. My contention is that anyone working outside of their area of expertise is not conducting science and the file drawer problem does not apply. In fact, their work should never pass peer review if it is reported as science.

General Rules for Qualifications

Most parapsychologists seem to assume a Ph.D. in any subject is all that is required to study paranormal phenomena.  In fact, to study them under cloak of academic authority, that is, to study them as a person trained in college to study the particular subject, more specific skillsets are required.  In every case, an understanding of contemporary metaphysics is essential.

Here is a summary of qualifications I think are necessary if researchers are to have the authority to speak under cloak of a Ph.D.:

Physical Trans-Etheric Influence: The study of phenomena that involves a physical effect anyone might physically witness requires understanding of psychology, physics, applicable technology and prior art for that form of phenomena. This class includes such phenomena as Instrumental TransCommunication (ITC), both visual and audio (aka Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP)), apparitions if witnessed by many, movement of objects and healing intention.

Mental Trans-Etheric Influence: Phenomena that is only experienced by one person, or that must be reported by one person for others to be aware of the event, require understanding of psychology and prior art for that form of phenomena. It becomes a physical trans-etheric influence study if physical effects are reported, for which there is residual evidence. This class includes such phenomena as mental mediumship and automatic writing.

Study Related to Survival Phenomena: Any study that results in conclusions or comments about survival must include a team member who is well-versed in the Survival Hypothesis and implied cosmology.

Study of Paranormal Phenomena with Instruments: Whether or not the study involves a physical effect, if instruments are used, it is necessary for the study team to include a person who is knowledgeable about electronics and trained in ITC studies.

The reason for this comes from the study of EVP. Transform EVP is believed to be formed via stochastic amplification in a nonlinear, active region of a semiconducting device. This means that any electronic instrument with such a component is apt to be influenced by psi. At the same time, the instrument may only be able to display that influence as an unrelated change.

An example is a magnetic field detector which is designed to report changes in the magnetic environment of the detector as a change in magnetic field. A psi influence on the detector would display as a change in magnetism, when in fact, there might not have been a change in magnetism, but just the influence of intention on the detector. A person versed in the technology and the phenomena should be able to identify this possible ambiguity.

A second aspect of this is precedence. Most of the literature for many of these phenomena is in the form of anecdotal reports. While a Ph.D. might not find applicable information in a proper literature review, a well-informed practitioner should know that there is no precedence for changes in magnetic field in response to psi influence. While this does not mean there is none, an instrument signaling such a change should raise a red flag for researchers.

Pseudoscience

The study of the phenomena we are interested in is branded by skeptics and the mainstream academic community as pseudoscience, meaning false science. They argue that the existence of paranormal phenomena is not supported by known physical principles. Thus, arguing that such phenomena are being scientifically studied leads the average observer to think there is more to science than is possible.

Belief in pseudoscience is said to be a danger to society because it promotes science illiteracy. Such belief is thought to diminish the ability of citizens to distinguish between good science and bad science, as measured by mainstream academia.

Studying the phenomena can cost a mainstream scientist his or her career. Perhaps that is why it is mostly retired professors who are brave enough to study these phenomena. To be sure, it has historically been professional suicide for an academic to be associated with paranormal phenomena. We all should acknowledge that possible sacrifice.

As a mirror of mainstream science, skeptic Wikipedia editors have managed to make the online encyclopedia’s official policy that pseudoscience is a danger to society. The arbitration cases that set the classification standard for Pseudoscience, Fringe and Paranormal can be accessed via the Wikipedia Arbitration Essay. (13) As I experienced, it is now possible for skeptic editors can cause an editor to be banned for claiming a pseudoscience subject is a real science. An example is how I was banned from editing the Rupert Sheldrake article in Wikipedia.(14)

The idea that the study of paranormal phenomena is pseudoscience, and that pseudoscience is a danger to society, has made it more acceptable for the Federal Government to actively suppress unpopular science. (15) The Federal Government has already adopted the skeptic’s lead and officially maintains that belief in pseudoscience is a hazard to the public welfare. This is important to all of us, as because of this view, our ability to work with and study these phenomena is not guaranteed.

The case of Wilhelm Reich is a good example of what can happen when skeptics apply pressure on the government to act against someone promoting pseudoscience. (16) The short story is that Reich was put in jail for making claims about subtle energy which were deemed by the skeptics to be unsupportable and therefore pseudoscience. He also developed devices that might put the energy to work and claimed he could heal people of some diseases with the energy.

In fact, the actual jail time was because he ignored the charges, and apparently, his partner transported some of their material across state lines, which was seen as criminal contempt of court. The following is from the Wilhelm Reich Museum website:

While Reich appealed his sentence, the government carried out the destruction of orgone accumulators and literature. In Maine, several boxes of literature were burned, and accumulators and accumulator materials either destroyed or dismantled. In New York City, on August 23, 1956, the FDA supervised the burning of several tons of Reich’s publications in one of the city’s garbage incinerators…. This destruction of literature constitutes one of the most heinous examples of censorship in United States history. (16)

Reich died of heart failure while in prison, and I understand his research partner committed suicide shortly thereafter.

The only real protection we have from skeptics and skeptic-promoted suppression of our study is proper application of the scientific method. Belief without rational reason is why pseudoscience is seen as a public danger. In the view of mainstream culture, rational explanations about the nature of reality must only come from scientists. The point I will make below is that our parapsychologists are actually defeating our efforts to develop rational explanations about the nature of psi and survival-related phenomena.

Science and the Paranormalist Community

Most paranormalists see parapsychologists as our scientists. Yet, as I have explained here, parapsychologists are not a homogenous group diligently working to help us understand the nature of the phenomena we experience. In fact, most are actually anti-paranormal or at least anti-survival.

It should also be obvious that I speak as a Dualist. Your Immortal Self is essentially a book about survival, the nature of survival, available proof, and how it affects our life. This letter also applies to you if you consider yourself a Psi+ Normalist, as our best science indicates that the media, by which etheric concepts interface with the physical world, is psi, the psi field and the way in which a person expresses intention.

But old habits are hard to break. After most of a lifetime learning to see the world as a person (etheric personality entangled with a human body), it is almost impossible for people to imagine anything else. But consider this, if we are a nonphysical mind first and a human body second, then the proper way to interact with reality is from the perspective of that nonphysical mind. To be true to Psi+ Normalist or Dualist understanding, our point of view must be as an immortal self and not as a person.

Practicing Science

It is common to see paranormalist organizations announce that they are a scientific organization or that they plan to conduct research. Of the several dozen times I have seen this, to my knowledge, not one has actually done so. It is fair to say some have conducted studies, but most have only made a record of what was done without the expected protocol designed with controls. Conducting science can be a lot of work.

The parapsychological organizations are little help. They won’t even let people have full membership into their organizations unless they have a doctorate and a recommendation from a current member. The literature is mostly not available to non-academics and the literature that is, is too often written in terms intended for other academics familiar with the terminology of statistical analysis.

The academic-layperson partition I describe below might help make sense of the fact that many of these subjects must be studied by laypeople because our academic friends will not, at least not with good science. It is ultimately up to us, but we need to be better informed to do so.

Academic-Layperson Partition

Besides division by interests, the paranormalist community is divided by what I refer to as the academic-layperson partition. The partition has been created by those who claim intellectual authority based on their college degree and their subsequent reluctance to collaborate with people they (apparently) perceive to be of lesser intellect. The effect is that people who are trained in the scientific method too often try to conduct research without collaborating with people who are able to produce the phenomena and who have personal experience.

Trojan Horse Science

trojan-horseParanormalists are all in the same boat. Parapsychologists seek credibility, probably all of us want to understand these phenomena and the urge to commune with spirit is strong in anyone who has realized they might be more than their physical body. Like the blind men and the elephant parable I explain below, the elephant-paranormal is not to be described by examining just one part.

At the same time, we live in that proverbial glass house. The rest of society is watching us. They think we may be crazy. Anything any one of us does to support that belief casts doubt on all of us. While you might think what you do concerning things paranormal is your business alone, it is not. If it is public, it is all of our business.

That is why it is so important that you are able to recognize the difference between a parapsychologist that wants to help you understand and one that wants to prove you are delusional. That is also why I think it is a good idea to stop calling them parapsychologists. Call them what they are, Anomalistic Psychologist, Exceptional Experience Psychologist (psi researcher) or survival researcher. After all, if survival is real, any discipline based on psychology is probably not the right field of study … when practiced by itself.

I have come to think of people, organizations and websites, that represent themselves as pro-paranormal, even pro-survival, as Trojan Horses when they turn out to be anti-paranormal or survival. The parapsychological journals are full of such Trojan Horse articles. Anti-psi or survival researchers commonly attract participation from the public by seeming to be pro-paranormal.

You may find it distasteful to call out Trojan Horses. I do. So, consider opening a discussion about them on a discussion board such as the ATransC Idea Exchange at atransc.org/forum/. At least there, you can get a second opinion and perhaps work with others to find a way to neutralize bad players without making a public spectacle or without leaving the problem for the next person to become a victim.

Good Science … Bad Science

Yes, I am obsessing about this, but I want to make sure I only need to write this essay once.

Consider all the theories: Good science means considering all contending theories; at least the major ones. We are concerned with “is it normal mistaken as paranormal?” and “If it is paranormal, is it evidence of survival?”

If good research indicates a reported EVP is not paranormal, it is necessary to either report an indeterminate outcome or explain with good science and logic why it is not. Saying a reported EVP, collected in a light/sound/EMF shielded chamber and correctly heard by several blinded listeners, is just illusion or stray radio waves is only acceptable if an alternative mechanism is identified. Else, it is not science.

Witness reports are not science: Anyone can sit in on a séance or witness a paranormal event and tell others about it. Doing so is not being a scientist. It is only being a witness. A walkabout in a reportedly haunted house does not make science. Reporting about it does not make science.

In field studies, good science means having a protocol defining what will be done in the walkabout. There should be proper controls such as control recorders and cameras. If there is a walkabout, the space should be locked down. Following the protocol should produce a detailed report which considers the collected data and explore alternative explanations. At a minimum, a survey of historical documents, resident questionnaires and a record of environmental conditions are required. And then it is science only if the report is submitted to a review of subject matter specialists and made available to the public in an easily accessible way.

If part of the credibility is the fact that the report has been reviewed by subject-matter specialists (peers), the specialists need to be identified along with the qualifications that make them a specialist for that review. In my opinion, that is vetting, rather than peer review.

This is an important point. Reports about walkabouts or séances for the popular press or blogs is good and useful, but not if it is expressed as science. A Ph.D. sitting in on a few séances and writing a first-person account is not science. This is especially true if it is done under cloak of academic authority.

Be the adult: Please don’t take this the wrong way. It is good to have fun with things paranormal. If you are not reverent toward your neighbors now, don’t be reverent toward them on the other side. Have fun, but you still have to do the work. Sloppy work signals sloppy thinking. You will notice that Ph.Ds. try to act academic. They play the part of the learned ones, even if it is in a fake it until you convince everyone sort of way. That is actually a good way to be because it fosters exactly that behavior in the actors and those around them.

Mature behavior can be characterized as being pragmatic, discerning, practicing suspended judgment and mindfulness. Learn the meaning of these terms and seek to make them your own. See the Glossary at ethericstudies.org/glossary-of-terms/.

Peer review: The claim made by the parapsychological organizations, that they publish peer-reviewed journals, is misleading. My apologies to certain editors, but secret peer review is just a way for good ol’ boys and girls to give a wink and nod to poorly conceived articles. I have seen too many articles written by people who are not trained or even well informed about the subject published in supposedly peer-reviewed journals. It is bad enough that such articles are written under inappropriate cloak of authority. It compounds the offense when the articles are supposed to have been judged by qualified peers.

Don’t make that mistake. If you are presenting an article as a study or research report, make sure you ask people outside of your circle of influence to look over the work beforehand. Find a friend willing to irritate you.

Remember that there is a difference between a review of the quality of communication and a review off sensibility of the content. Quality of communication, such as grammar and clarity of meaning, requires no disclosure of reviewer qualifications. Claiming the article is peer-reviewed is saying that you are not the only one making the point. That gives the article additional intellectual authority, and in effect, the reviewers are co-claimants. As such, their qualifications are nearly as important as yours and need to be disclosed.

Note my comments above about vetting above in Witness reports are not science.

Ethics: Mainstream science conducting research involving living test subjects are obliged to have some kind of ethic board overview. The Parapsychological Association (17) has published a good ethics guideline which addresses the need to inform human test subject about the study. Under the subheading of Treatment of Participants, it is written that “Participants should be treated with respect, concern for their welfare, and recognition of their own needs which are being subserved by participation in a study.”

As with peer review, the parapsychological organizations have not shown the willingness to oversee ethical practices of its members. As a professional organization, membership should include submission to such oversight. That they are not, suggests unethical treatment of research subjects, and misinformation about the actual objective of studies, is a systemic problem. This leaves us with the need to manage the ethical considerations ourselves before we agree to be a test subject.

If a Normalist or a Psi+ Normalist asks you to participate as a practitioner in a research project or study, make sure you have a written agreement signed by the scientist and witnessed by a friend. It is best that you ask someone outside of your circle of influence to review the agreement. The agreement should include the research question, how the questions will be tested (protocol) and how the results will be reported.

An effort to form a Practitioner Advocacy panel for the purpose of representing the lay-person community to the academic community is stalled due to lack of interest. The ATransC is willing to support this effort, should there be more interest. (18)

Of course, you expect to be treated fairly and with respect, but your most important concern should be how the conclusions are written. Remember I said that Anomalistic Psychologists deliberately ignore evidence of paranormal phenomena. To make their point, they must find ways to conduct research with practitioners that will show the practitioner is delusional or cheating. From experience, there is a good possibility that, even if you produce phenomena under controlled conditions, the resulting report will be written to suggest that you did not or in some way may have been cheating. For instance, there might be ten words acknowledging the phenomena and a hundred words explaining it away.

In one example, a recent study of séances resulted in an aggressive, public character assassination of the practitioner based on rumors of prior bad acts, even though phenomena were recorded. (19) The only protection you have against such treatment is group support, witnesses and a line item in the contract clearly stating that you have final approval of the report, or at the very least, that the report will only include reference to the actual data collected during the protocol.

The golden standard for research ethics is The Belmont Report(20) I have digested the recommendations in the Arrogance of Scientific Authority Commentary(19) The main points of the report are:

Respect for persons: “To show lack of respect for an autonomous agent is to repudiate that person’s considered judgments, to deny an individual the freedom to act on those considered judgments, or to withhold information necessary to make a considered judgment, when there are no compelling reasons to do so.”

Beneficence: “Persons are treated in an ethical manner not only by respecting their decisions and protecting them from harm, but also by making efforts to secure their well-being.”

Justice: “Who ought to receive the benefits of research and bear its burdens? This is a question of justice, in the sense of ‘fairness in distribution’ or ‘what is deserved.’ An injustice occurs when some benefit to which a person is entitled is denied without good reason or when some burden is imposed unduly.”

Practitioners also have ethical responsibilities. When making a public comment about another paranormalist (any person, really), it is important to remember that the consequences of the comments may have ethical and legal consequences. In the commentary, Ethics as a Personal Code for Mindfulness(21) I have recommended that you develop a personal code of ethics to help you develop mindfulness. It is the least you can do as a citizen of this community.

Personal responsibility is an issue in the paranormalist community. I have witnessed too many people and organizations relentlessly attack individual practitioners because they question the truthfulness of the demonstrated phenomena. In fact, the accusations were based on what I have come to think of as the trapdoor defense. In that, people who do not know enough about the phenomena, the situation or the metaphysics, make accusations such as “There must have been a trap door” about what is demonstrably valid phenomena. I have seen one Spiritualist group join into a sort of accusation feeding frenzy against a well-known medium, a grief management group attack another medium without proof and academics discount phenomena based on supposition.

Blind People and an Elephant

Do you remember the Blind Men and an Elephant Parable? In it, blind men were tasked with describing an elephant based on the body part near which they stood. As you might expect, the elephant was variously described as a tree, wall, spear, even a snake. The point of the parable is that one cannot know what is being studied by only studying a part.

In a very practical sense, Normalists, Psi+ Normalists and Dualists are as blind people examining the elephant-paranormal. Errors resulting from this lack of collaboration are exasperated by the academic-layperson partition. It is further compounded by the tendency of laypeople to assume academics have subject matter understanding that does not exist.

Concluding Comments

This is a long letter, but I think you will see that we can all benefit by being aware of the many considerations listed here. It is mostly about science, but there is much here about our community and culture. It is ultimately about citizenship.

There is probably no source of information for how many paranormalists this letter applies to. For discussion, if there are 10,000 paranormalists, maybe twenty will read all of this letter. If you think this information is useful, consider mentioning it to your friends.

You need not reference this letter. It is written under the Creative Commons License for free reuse with attribution. Feel free to republish it, or use parts, but above all learn your rights and who to trust. Help your friends do the same. It is time for our community to develop a common code of ethics.

Comments from the Media

The Skeptic’s Boot website has posted a pretty comprehensive review of this letter titled: Science is not the enemy: A Response to “Limits of science, trust and responsibility.” (22) It has a derisive tone but is useful for learning an alternative point of view. Much of what author Robert Lea has to say is clearly from the self-image held by mainstream science. Some comments, such as his denial that anomalistic psychology deliberately ignores the possibility of psi or survival, are simply knee-jerk denials. Yet, the author of “What is Anomalistic Psychology?”(2) defines paranormal as:

“Alleged phenomena that cannot be accounted for in terms of conventional scientific theories.” He explains that “Anomalistic psychology may be defined as the study of extraordinary phenomena of behavior and experience, including (but not restricted to) those which are often labeled ‘paranormal.’ It is directed towards understanding bizarre experiences that many people have without assuming a priori that there is anything paranormal involved. It entails attempting to explain paranormal and related beliefs and ostensibly paranormal experiences in terms of known psychological and physical factors.

References

  1. Butler, Tom. Your Immortal Self, Exploring the Mindful Way. AA-EVP Publishing. 2016. ISBN 978-0-9727493-8-1. ethericstudies.org/immortal_self/.
  2. “What is Anomalistic Psychology?” Goldsmiths, University of London. 2015. gold.ac.uk/apru/what/.
  3. Carpenter, James. “First Sight: A Model and A Theory of Psi.” James Carpenter. drjimcarpenter.com/about/documents/FirstSightformindfield.pdf.
  4. Simmonds-Moore, Christine. “What is Exceptional Psychology?” Journal of Parapsychology. No. 76 supplement, Pages 54-57. 2012.
  5. Butler, Tom. “Personality-Centric Perspective.” Etheric Studies. 2014. ethericstudies.org/personality-centric-perspective/.
  6. Butler, Tom. “Life Field.” Etheric Studies. 2014. ethericstudies.org/life-field/.
  7. Carpenter, James C, Ph.D. First Sight: ESP and Parapsychology in Everyday Life. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. 2012. ISBN 978-1-4422-1392-0 (ebook). drjimcarpenter.com/about/documents/FirstSightformindfield.pdf.
  8. “Decision-making May Be Surprisingly Unconscious Activity.” Science Daily. Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. 2008. sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080414145705.htm.
  9. Bargh, John A. “Our Unconscious Mind.” Scientific American. Volume 310. 2015.
  10. Butler, Tom. “How We Think.” Etheric Studies. 2014. ethericstudies.org/how-we-think/.
  11. Butler, Tom. “Implicit Cosmology.” Etheric Studies. 2015. ethericstudies.org/organizing-principles/.
  12. Ventola, Annalisa. “A Brain Response to a Future Event?” Public Parapsychology. 2007. publicparapsychology.blogspot.com/2007/11/brain-response-to-future-event.html.
  13. Butler, Tom. “Wikipedia Arbitration.” Etheric Studies. 2016. ethericstudies.org/wikipedia-arbitration/.
  14. “User Talk:Tom Butler.” Wikipedia. 2014. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User_talk:Tom_Butler#Arbitration_Enforcement
  15. Science and Engineering Indicator 2006, “Chapter 7: Science and Technology: Public Attitudes and Understanding.” National Science Foundation. 2006. wayback.archive-it.org/5902/20150818094952/http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind06/c7/c7s2.htm.
  16. “Biography of Wilhelm Reich.” The Wilhelm Reich Infant Trust. 2011. wilhelmreichtrust.org/biography.html.
  17. “Ethical and Professional Standards for Parapsychologists: Aspirational Guidelines.” Paraphychological Association. 2005. parapsych.org/section/42/ethical_and_professional_standards.aspx.
  18. Butler, Tom. “Practitioner Advocacy Panel.” Etheric Studies. 2016. ethericstudies.org/practitioner-advocacy-panel/.
  19. Butler, Tom. “The Arrogance of Scientific Authority.” Etheric Studies Essays. 2015. ethericstudies.org/arrogance-of-science/.
  20. “The Belmont Report: Office of the Secretary, Ethical Principles and Guidelines for the Protection of Human Subjects of Research.” The National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research. 1979. hhs.gov/ohrp/humansubjects/guidance/belmont.html.
  21. Butler, Tom. “Ethics as a Personal Code for Mindfulness.” Etheric Studies. 2016. ethericstudies.org/code-of-ethics/.
  22. Lea, Robert. “Science is not the enemy: A Response to ‘Limits of science, trust and responsibility.’” Skeptic’s Boot. 14 March 2017. skepticsboot.blogspot.co.uk/2017/03/science-is-not-enemy-response-to-limits.html

6 thoughts on “Open Letter to Paranormalists: Limits of science, trust and responsibility

  1. Tom,

    I totally agree with the observations presented in this open letter, as well as the recommendations.
    It is a pity that something like this needs to be said, but, it does., so I’m glad you did.

    I do believe however that scientist will, slowly but inevitably, come around.

    “Baby steps” in the proper direction are being taken, as illustrated by fringe reports like this (to pick just one interesting example)

    https://www.academia.edu/30884885/Psychophysical_interactions_with_a_double-slit_interference_pattern

    Perhaps not to directly acknowledge something like ITC, but at the very least, that something non-physical is out there.

    Putting it in engineering terms that are specially significant to ITC, we humans have, in my opinion, a strong tendency the resist change, but once the “potential peak” is finally overcome, the change occurs rather abruptly. I believe Science is currently on the way up the potential wall getting really close to the peak, and the crisis is near. Soon we’ll be “avalanching down” the next “potential well” so to speak, and what scientist will discuss will no longer be whether we survive death or will be able to keep in touch with the living ones, but “the next round of open questions” such as, “why most of us can’t we remember past lives” or “what part of our experiences stick with us after we’re dead”.

  2. Thanks for taking the time to reads the letter and for the encouraging words.

    Actually, the double-slit study you referenced is purely a psi study with no direct survival implications. It appears to be a different way to study the effect of intention on random processes, one of Radin’s primary interests. And therein lies the problem. If the report left you with the impression it supported survival concepts, then it was not clearly written … or, we are so desperately looking for support from science that we are inclined to see support where there is none.

    In fact, Radin has been a leading proponent of the application of quantum mechanics to psi research. A growing number of paranormalists have become convinced that mind is explained as a quantum phenomena, and is therefore proven to be paranormal. Time and again, I have been shown, by someone, how articles about quantum mysticism explain or proves survival of consciousness beyond physical death. In fact, it is all speculation, and from my study, paranormal phenomena is more likely only quantum-like.

    We also need to make a distinction between survived memory and survived personality. Most parapsychologists, that turn to quantum theory, are talking about survived memory. Even the term “personality” is a problem. I see survived memory termed as survived personality when I am pretty sure the writer is not talking about your immortal personality, just the personality characteristics retained in your memory.

    Part of my point of this letter is that scientists need to learn how to communicate their concepts. A sentence like “At the prespecified lag of -3s, the composite z score was z = -2.76, es = -0.62 +/- 0.22, p = 0.006. ” from that report you referenced cannot be considered actual communication to anyone this side of the academic-layperson partition. I doubt enough of his peers had sufficient comprehension of the report to make it useful.

  3. OK, you made a good point. I was indeed just happy to see *anything* that looked like supporting us. But you are right, if new research outgrows Physicalism but ends up on another view that still denies survival, or fails to really get it, then is not really good, just differently bad.

    You are right about the abuse of quantum (miss)-understanding (*1) as a new magic-wand often used to pseudo-explain any consciousness related stuff. There”s plenty of that in Facebook. I’ve always considered quantum indeterminacy as mainly an expression of the incompleteness of quantum formalism (*2) , much more than a direct observable of some fundamental characteristic of nature, let alone one that can be exploited to explain the mind or the soul.

    And you are also right that more often that not, most scientist get caught up in their own jargon (such as formalism), which is the right way to talk to each other, just as I write source code and discuss that with peer programmers, but then forget to translate that into what we programmers would call a “deliverable”.
    In other words, that formalism is part of the *process* (and like you mentioned, even a small circle of scientist in-the-know can even understand that), but the end result, the one that becomes useful, have to be in plain terms (*3)

    And you also made a very good point about the *fundamental* difference between “our” survival and the survival of something related to us, such as our memories.

    (*1) Richard Feynman once famously said that nobody understands quantum mechanics, and I think he is still right.

    (*2) There is a paper by Einstein Podolsky and Rose, so famous that it has its own acronym: “EPR”, that first proposed that QM was incomplete, and I believe they are still right.

    (*3) Incidentally, I’ve read some QM books written not by physics teachers, but the pioneers themselves, like Bohr, Schroedinger and De Broglie, and they’ve shown (to me at least) that any subject, not matter how technical and even odd, can be explained in simple terms. In fact, I consider that I *only* got to see some of the QM concepts after reading them, not the College textbooks that they first throw at me, which where all plain Alien-talk to me.

  4. “plain Alien-talk” is good. 🙂

    From a conversation with another person, I had to realize that people mistake the absence of disagreement as the presence of agreement. The fact that a theory like quantum mechanics does not specifically discount survival of sentient personality does not mean it supports survival.

    Certainly, quantum mechanics may eventually be the magic wand to explain survival, but not until the theorizers understand more about what they are trying to explain.

    But in the end, it comes down to the “full stop” engineer’s question, “So, what can you do with it?”

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