Published in Physics Today, 45(7), 15, 1992
                 ((c) American Institute of Physics).


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Philip Anderson (October 1991, page 146), says 'within my competence
as a theorist, physics as it is practised, and specifically precise
mensuration, is not compatible with Jahn's claims' (that is, claims
of the existence of psychokinesis).  His idea is, no doubt, that, if
mind affected matter, this would disturb the results of laboratory
experiments.  An equivalent argument could be applied to chemistry,
and would lead one to the following: 'chemistry as it is practised
rests on the principle of the invariance of atoms, and so is
incompatible with the idea that elements can be transmuted'.  The
latter conclusion is not, I suspect, one whose truth Anderson would
be as eager to assert in the columns of Physics Today as the one,
quoted above, that he did assert.

Equally suspect is Anderson's second argument designed to persuade
his readers to disregard Jahn's results, that is his reference to
the use of Bayesian statistical methods.  I am willing to accept his
claim that the use of such methods would make Jahn's numbers much
less favourable.  But unfortunately the argument stops short at that
point; Anderson does not inform us what the result would be if
Bayesian methods were applied, and especially does not tell us the
answer to the crucial question: do Jahn's results remain significant
if this analysis is done, or not?  Why this reticence?

For Anderson, and for other sceptics, belief in the paranormal is
irrational.  But very often sceptics, in their uncritical attempts
to persuade others of their point of view, fall back on inadequate
arguments themselves.  Those examined above provide clear
illustrations of this fact.

What, then, about irrationality?  Is it irrational to assert that
under special conditions psychokinesis can occur, although most of
the time it does not?  No more irrational, I think, than to assert
that while for most people walking on a tightrope across a ravine is
an impossible task, it may nevertheless be possible under
sufficiently favourable conditions (such as suitable dedication,
training and concentration); again, I suggest, no more irrational
than to assert that while an amount of uranium of mass of the order
of a kilogram generates spontaneously an amount of heat requiring
sensitive instruments to detect at all, a suitably larger amount can
generate enough energy to provide power for a large city (further,
as has been noted by one of my collaborators, social anthropologist
and parapsychologist Marilyn Schlitz of the Mind Science Foundation,
San Antonio, Texas, there exist analogies that may be more directly
relevant in the field of social systems, an example being the way
under special conditions in a society particular ideas that
individuals have may spread widely, although in the vast majority of
cases the effects of individuals' ideas remain localised close to
their source).  Finally, is it really irrational or unscientific, as
some sceptics seem to think, to suggest that a relationship may
exist between Bell's non-local connections and telepathy? In this
regard, I wish to draw attention to the publication in a reputable
physics journal of a paper (B.D. Josephson and F. Pallikari-Viras,
Found. Phys. 21, 197-207, 1991) which gives a rational account of
how the two could be related, and of why the latter kind of coupling
should be possible in biosystems but not under the conditions of the
normal physics experiment.

I hope that some readers may by now have picked up a message that
sceptics might prefer that they did not pick up; that (i) psychic
phenomena may be both consistent with physics, and conceivable in
rational terms; and (ii), as a corollary of (i), that many of the
experiments on the paranormal may be measuring genuine phenomena,
which it should be the goal of science to try to understand.

Finally, I should like to recommend to readers not wanting to be
caught in a paradigm that may be outliving its relevance to our
understanding of the natural world, that they read David Bohm's
elegant discussion of his concept soma-significance (see The Search
for Meaning, ed. P. Pylkkaenen, Crucible, Wellingborough,
Northants., England, 1989, pp. 43-62).