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Critical Evaluation of Psi-related Theories Essay


Introduction

Just as it is being the case with providing a definition to just about anything, the qualitative essence of the way in which researchers define the phenomenon of psi (clairvoyance, telepathy, precognition, psycho-kinesis) largely depend onto the subtleties of researchers’ personal worldview.

In its turn, this explains why as of today, there is no universally accepted definition as to what the phenomenon of psi actually stands for. For example, according to Radin (2006), psi experience is something that “… lies beyond the range of phenomena presently accepted by most scientists” (p. 10).

It is needless to mention, of course, that such definition implies psi’s potential objectiveness. In their book, Zusne and Jones (1989) provide us with more methodologically appropriate definition of psi. According to the authors, psi is essentially the assumption that: “…one’s thought, words, or actions can achieve specific physical effects in a manner not governed by the principles of ordinary transmission of energy or information” (p. 13).

Nevertheless, it is namely Irwin’s (2009) definition of psi, which appears to be the most insightful, as it promotes perfectly scientific outlook onto phenomenon: “Paranormal belief (psi) is defined on a working basis as a proposition that has not been empirically attested to the satisfaction of the scientific establishment but is generated within the nonscientific community…” (p. 17).

While keeping Irwin’s definition in mind, we would like to provide readers with even more logically substantiated explanation of psi as psychological and socio-political phenomenon. Apparently, the very existence of psi-related discourse, serves as an undeniable indication of the fact that ordinary people, who believe in psi, and parapsychologists that promote psi as something rather objectively defined, are simply not being aware of the most fundamental laws of nature – pure and simple.

In our paper, we will aim to promote the validity of such our thesis even further by outlining hypothesises/theories that refer to psi experiences as the by-product of people’s unconsciousness, on one hand, and the hypothesises/theories that treat psi as the proof of people conscious thoughts’ ‘materialness’, on another. We will also seek to add an additional soundness to the legitimacy of our thesis-related argumentation by reflecting upon the insights that we expect to gain, while conducting this research.

Unconscious-psi theories

In the same book from which we have already quoted, Irwin had made a perfectly good point while stating that among scientists that deal with the issue of psi, it is namely psychologists and anthropologists who appear being the most skeptical in their attitudes towards hypothetical objectiveness of a phenomenon: “Their (anthropologists’) interest focuses on the social and cultural function that such beliefs serve… their (psychologists’) work has proceeded on the assumption that such beliefs (psi) are basically misguided and maladaptive” (p. 7).

What is common about how anthropologists and psychologists tackle psi is the fact that they assume that the idea of extrasensory perception has nothing to do with objectively existing reality and that it simply serves the purpose of easing up people’s unconscious anxieties (psychological approach) or reflects the cognitive subtleties of people’s sense of rationale, extrapolated by their gender, class and racial affiliation (anthropological approach).

In other words, the application of both approaches to dealing with psi is being suggestive of phenomenon’s essentially ideal (metaphysical) essence, which in its turn points out to the fact that the roots of psi experiences and practices reside deep in the workings of people’s unconsciousness.

Therefore, when it comes to highlighting theories that provide evidence for the unconscious psi, it would only be natural to refer to Irwin’s framework of these theories’ classification. According to the author, psychology and anthropology-related theories of psi can be generally outlined as follows:

1) Social Marginality Theory. The proponents of this theory suggest that the strength of people’s belief in the objectivity of paranormal practices/experiences correlates with the extent of their intellectual and consequentially social marginalization, which in its turn, explains why it is impossible to address the phenomenon by utilizing the method of scientific inquiry.

In his study, one of the earliest advocates of Social Marginality Theory, Wuthnow (1976) provides us with the insight onto theory’s conceptual premise: “Marginal persons tend to be dissatisfied with their lot and therefore resort to psi as a means of coping with or escaping from their frustrations” (p. 162). It is understood, of course, that marginal populations’ strive towards psi is being of rather unconscious nature.

2) Worldview Theory. According to this theory, people’s tendency to believe in psi cannot be thought of as ‘thing in itself’, because this tendency is being essentially the extrapolation of their irrational perception of surrounding realities, which in its turn, defines the qualitative properties of their political or religious worldviews.

This is exactly the reason why the majority of psi-believers appear to be irrationally minded individuals, known for their affiliation with a variety of psi-unrelated but similarly unconventional socio-political movements. For example, after having conducted a study over the sample of 129 Australian introductory psychology students, Svensen, White and Caird (1992) came to conclusion that the factor of some students’ affiliation with New Age philosophy positively correlated with their tendency to believe in psi.

In its turn, their affiliation with psi and New Age philosophy, served them as a substitute for religion: “Support was found for… the contention that paranormal beliefs serve as religious substitutes” (p. 446). Thus, the proponents of Worldview Theory imply that people’s association with psi is an attribute of their genetically/environmentally predetermined worldviews.

3) Cognitive Deficit Theory. The advocates of this particular theory suggest that the strength of people’s belief in the objectivity of paranormal experiences/practices is being negatively related to the extent of their educational attainment.

After having conducted a study over the sample of 660 individuals, consisting of representatives of general population, students and university professors, Otis and Alcock (1982) summarized study’s findings as follows: “University professors were found to be significantly more skeptical than students and members of the general public regarding belief in extraordinary phenomena” (p. 77).

The higher is particular individual’s rate of IQ, the less likely are the chances for him or her to profess beliefs in the realness of psi. What it means is that one’s affiliation with psi practices/experiences is being indicative of such individual’s lessened social value.

4) Psychodynamic Functions Theory. According to the proponents of this theory, people’s belief in psi serves them as the tool of self-actualization within the intellectual boundaries of what they consider an ideologically/religiously/politically oppressive society. As one of most well known endorsers of this theory Tobacyk (1995) had pointed out: “Psi-related beliefs/belief systems frequently become the central organizing dynamisms of both individual personalities and socio-cultural movements” (p. 29).

In other worlds, just as it is being the case with previously outlined theories, Psychodynamic Functions Theory implies psi-related phenomena as a sublimation of people’s unconscious desire to think of universe’s mechanics as such that make ‘better’ and ‘more humane’ sense, which would endow these people with the sensation of emotional comfortableness.

Conscious-psi theories

As we have shown earlier, the unconscious-psi theories treat the discussed subject matter from essentially psychological perspective, while implying that under no circumstances should psi-related practices and experiences be referred to as being reflective of conscious mind’s actual workings. Nevertheless, there are also a few parapsychological theories that address the phenomenon of psi from qualitatively different perspective.

The foremost conceptual premise, upon which the proponents of conscious-psi theories base their line of argumentation, can be articulated as follows: since there is no fully convincing proof as to psi being of essentially ideal (metaphysical) nature, it is not utterly unreasonable to assume that psi practices/experiences may indeed provide researchers with the insight into human mind’s hidden capacities.

Given the fact that, during the course of recent decades, Eastern exotics became especially popular with Western ‘sophisticates’, known for their affiliation with the New Age movement, it comes as no particular surprise that the advocates of conscious-psi tend to make references to Eastern philosophy as such that contains proofs to the validity of their assumption that one’s mind can exist and operate independently of his or her body.

In its turn, this leads parapsychologists to believe that, as Radin had put it: “The fundamental issues (of consciousness) remain as mysterious today as they did five thousand years ago” (p. 5). The arguments, to which parapsychologists refer, in order to substantiate their view of consciousness as something rather material, can be summarized as follows:

  1. There is experimental evidence as to the fact that one’s mind can affect the course of events and the qualitative subtleties of physical objects.
  2. The conventional framework of a scientific inquiry cannot be utilized to address the issue of psi, because there are no good reasons to assume that such an inquiry is being methodologically and conceptually flawless.
  3. The mainstream science is being inheritably biased against just about any kind of a phenomenon, the essence of which cannot be explained within the framework of such science’s methodological apparatus.

This line of parapshychological argumentation in favor of psi objectivity helps us to understand the conceptual premises behind theories of conscious-psi, which are being based upon the assumption of mind’s materialness, to a higher or lesser extent. The most important of these theories can be generalized as follows:

  1. Field Theory. According to the proponents of this theory, it is methodologically inappropriate to think of mind’s workings only within the context of brain’s physiological functioning. Such suggestion had led the enthusiasts of this particular theory to believe in the existence of vaguely defined ‘semantic field’, which in its turn implies the existence of mind/soul as body-independent entity. As Hardy (1999) had put it: “(Mind) is a lattice of semantic constellations… generated by the interplay of experience, genetic constraints and cultural context” (p. 75). As it appears from an earlier provided quotation, Field Theory is best described as pretentiously sophisticate but essentially meaningless.
  2. Multidimensional Theory. In order to legitimize their view of psi as consciousness-based phenomenon, the promoters of this particular theory refer to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, which makes provisions for the simultaneous existence of spatially multidimensional realms. For example, according to Persinger (1979), the phenomenon of telepathy can be explained by mind’s ability to emit and to receive informational signals via the medium of a geomagnetic field, which author believes is being extended throughout the overall multidimensional matrix of the universe.
  3. Weak Quantum Theory. The main conceptual premise of quantum mechanics is the so-called ‘principle of complementarity’, which refers to situations when two mutually exclusive theories can be applied to describe the essence of the same physical phenomenon. Within the context of quantum mechanics, elementary particles can be simultaneously referred to as physical objects and as emanations of electromagnetic wave. Thus, the enthusiasts of Weak Quantum Theory refer to the principle of complementarity as such that establishes objective preconditions for the physicality of psi to be assumed as something theoretically proven.

For example, according to Josephson (2002), the metaphysical essence of a thought is nothing but just the matter of a perspective, from which we choose to assess it – when being assessed from qualitatively different perspective; there are good chances for the workings of one’s consciousness to be defined as essentially material. In its turn, this promotes consciousness-based outlook onto phenomenon of psi.

Analytical part/Conclusion

The earlier conducted brief review of most important theories, concerned with the phenomenon of psi, points out to an undeniable fact that, unlike what it is the case with unconscious-psi theories, conscious-psi theories can be best referred to as being based upon their promoters’ wishful thinking/intuitive insights – hence, scientifically unsubstantiated.

While pointing out to the main conceptual fallacy of parapsychology, Blackmore (1996) states: “Parapsychology… is trying to prove that consciousness really does have power; that our minds really can reach out and ‘do’ things, not only within our own bodies but beyond them as well” (Susanblackmore.co.uk).

What parapsychologists appear to have a hard time understanding is the fact that consciousness is not material. For example, in order for us to be able to obtain information about an elementary particle (atom), we would have to receive an informational signal from this particle (quantum of light). Nevertheless, after having emitted such informational signal, this particle assumes a different qualitative state – by obtaining information about the particle, we alter particle’s original essence.

The reason for this is simple – informational mediums (such as light) are always physical. Information is nothing but specifically structured matter: black paint on book’s white pages, magnetization of a recording tape, etc. What it means is that information (consciousness) cannot exist as ‘thing in itself’ – it is being ‘recorded’ onto a material medium, which is not ‘information’ itself.

Therefore, consciousness is not material – one’s brain does not produce thoughts in a way that one’s liver produces amino acids. What it means is that such parapsychological/religious notions as ‘immortality of a soul’ or ‘the objectiveness of psi experiences’ are essentially fictious.

Once, there is no brain, there can be no consciousness/soul – pure and simple. Despite the fact that to some people, the earlier statement might sound not utterly comforting, it does not make it less scientifically substantiated. After all, it is namely scientific answers to life’s dilemmas that hold ontological/practical value – everything else is nothing but pseudo-scientific speculations and insinuations.

In its turn, this explains why, unlike what it was the case with representatives of ‘hard’ sciences, throughout the course of a century, the advocates of conscious-psi (parapsychologists) had failed at substantiating the validity of even a single of their ‘insights’. As it was rightly pointed out by Blackmore in her book 2004 book Consciousness: an introduction: “There probably are no paranormal phenomena. In spite of a century and a half of increasingly sophisticated research… no conclusive evidence has been found.

However, we may safely conclude this much: if psi exists it is an extremely weak effect” (p. 302). Therefore, we can only agree with Cline (2002), who implied that parapsychology, concerned with exploring the effects of conscious-psi, could be referred to as anything but science proper: “If parapsychology really is a science, then it cannot exist disconnected from the rest of the scientific community” (About.com).

Thus, the fact that as time goes by, more and more people seem to become preoccupied with exploring the soundness of a variety of psi-related practices, cannot possibly be referred to as an indication of parapsychology beginning to attain academic legitimacy.

On the contrary – the increasing popularity of psi among Westerners simply points out to the fact that Western societies grow exponentially marginalized, which in its turn, confirms the validity of Social Marginality Theory’s insights, in regards to how it addresses the phenomenon of psi.

Just as it was the case with intellectually corrupted Romans in 3rd-5th centuries A.D., who were willing to adopt Christianity simply because this religion sounded ‘exotic’ enough to their ears, today’s intellectually corrupted Westerners, such as Radin, promote the full objectiveness of psi experiences/practices, simply because they believe that the phenomenon of psi radiates the aura of ‘progressiveness’. We think that such our conclusion correlates with paper’s initial hypothesis perfectly well.

References

Blackmore, S. (1996). Why psi tells us nothing about consciousness. Susanblackmore.co.uk. Retrieved from:

Blackmore, S. (2004). Consciousness: An introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Carroll, R. (2003). The skeptic’s dictionary: A collection of strange beliefs, amusing deceptions, and dangerous delusions. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Cline, A. (2002). Dynamic theories: Why parapsychology is a pseudoscience, not a science. About.com. Web.

Emmons, C.& Sobal, J. (1981). Paranormal beliefs: Functional alternatives to mainstream religion? Review of Religious Research, 22(4), 301-312.

Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. New York: Harper Collins/Basic Books.

Glucklich, A. (1997). The end of magic. New York: Oxford University Press.

Hardy, C. (2000). Psi as a multilevel process: Semantic fields theory. Journal of Parapsychology, 64(2), 73-94.

Henry, J. (2005). Parapsychology: Research on exceptional experiences. New York: Taylor & Francis Routledge.

Irwin, H. (2009). The psychology of paranormal belief: A researcher’s handbook. Hertfordshire: University of Hertfordshire Press.

Josephson, B.D. (2002). Beyond quantum theory: A realist psycho-biological interpretation of reality revisited. Biosystems, 64, 43–45.

Kelly, L. (2004). The skeptic’s guide to the paranormal. Crows Nest: NSW Allen & Unwin.

Lett, J. (1991). Interpretive anthropology, metaphysics, and the paranormal. Journal of Anthropological Research, 47(3), 305-329.

Otis, L. & Alcock, J. E. (1982). Factors affecting extraordinary belief. The Journal of Social Psychology, 118, 77-85.

Persinger, M.A. (1987). Spontaneous telepathic experiences from phantasms of the living and low global geomagnetic activity. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 81(10), 23-36.

Pinch, T. (1979). Normal explanations of the paranormal: The demarcation problem and fraud in parapsychology. Social Studies of Science, 9(3), 329- 348.

Price, G. (1955). Science and the supernatural. Science, New Series, 122(3165), 359-367.

Radin, D. (2006). Entangled minds: Extrasensory experiences in a quantum reality. New York: Pocket Books.

Roberts, R. & Groome, D. (2001). Parapsychology: The science of unusual experience. London, New York: Hodder & Stoughton.

Shewmaker, K. & Berenda, C. (1962). Science and the problem of psi. Philosophy of Science, 29(2),195-203.

Stoeber, M. (1996). Critical reflections on the paranormal. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Svensen S.G., White, K.D. & Caird, D. (1992). Replications and resolutions: Dualistic belief, personality, religiosity, and paranormal belief in Australian students. The Journal of Psychology, 726(4), 445-447.

Tobacyk, J. (1995). What is the correct dimensionality of paranormal beliefs? A reply to Lawrence’s critique of the paranormal belief scale. Journal of Parapsychology, 59(1), 27-46.

Wuthnow, R. (1976). Astrology and marginality. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 15(2), 157-168.

Zusne, L. & Jones, W. (1989). Anomalistic psychology: A study of magical thinking. New Jersey, Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum & Associates.

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