Parapsychology: the choice between cultural bias and an open mind

Letter published in Physics World, October 2000, p. 20

David Fisher (July 2000, p. 22) rejects parapsychology on the basis of difficulty in replicating positive results in the field. This is insufficient reason to reject its claims: consider the case of astronomy, which also deals with phenomena that cannot be generated on demand or predicted in advance. Criteria for judging claims must be adapted to the characteristics of the phenomena under consideration.

In the case of parapsychology, there is the complication of the prevailing 'cultural bias' against the subject. Bias seeks primarily to rationalise a belief, rather to arrive at the truth: arguments are selected in accord with whether they point in the desired direction or not. Rationalisation is not a self-critical process and is not what science is about. It is prone to surface when certain ideas are considered intrinsically bad; and so we find editors, referees and self-appointed proselytisers all supposedly, in their various ways, 'protecting' science from 'false beliefs in the paranormal', but in so doing in reality presenting a biased picture to the scientific community, perpetuating the cultural bias as a result. The Cambridge Conference that Fisher refers to achieved significant successes in the direction of opening minds.

At the conference, I detailed the progress I and my colleagues have made in relating paranormal phenomena to phenomena currently accepted by science. We know from the laser that it is possible under certain circumstances, even at room temperature, for quantum entanglement and coherence to override decoherence effects. We propose that biosystems have learnt to 'manage' some form of quantum entanglement, i.e. to acquire some control over what entangled states will emerge, and how such emergent states will behave. Under sufficient control, such states could act as non-local 'message boards' with which particular biological agents could connect, and then manipulate as appropriate. This scenario captures at least some aspects of the claimed ESP phenomenon, and suggests that paranormal phenomena deserve more serious consideration by science than is the case presently.


Brian D. Josephson
Department of Physics
University of Cambridge