If you want an idea of the extent to which many scientists have today come to hold a certain kind of outlook on the world– how they have come to identify with a certain matrix of intelligibility and set parameter of discourse that guarantees they will be recognized as “scientists” rather than “pseudo-scientists”– one only need analyze some of the discourse surrounding parapsychology or anomalistic psychology. The fact is, as the researcher Dean Radin points out, in the video below, research into psi is taboo amongst scientists, no matter how controlled one’s experiments are, or how rigorous one’s methodology is. It is not advisable for one to pursue research into anomalous experiences and paranormal phenomenon if one desires to make a living as a researcher.
Like the attitudes of more traditional social scientists towards feminist writers and autoethnographers, this is a similar case of marginalizing what goes against the grain. Researchers of psi are deemed “pseudo-scientists”, but– and this is important– as Ben Goertzel points out, this accusation is often thrown at persons such as Radin without careful consideration of the data gathered by these scientists. They are maverick, not because they are unscientific (despite the accusation of pseudo-science), or because their methodologies are not sound and their experiments not controlled and repeatable; no, it’s because they are talking about psi! The problem is that these (“pseudo”)scientists are talking about something that is incompatible with the world view that has sunk deep into the bones of many scientists today. These parapsychologists aren’t heretics for reasons that have really to do with the scientific method (see here), but with the fact that psi phenomenon are incompatible with the kind of world many scientists have come to construe and feel at home in. They are heretics in the religious sense of the word. As Goertzel explains:
“[A]s a scientist with 25 years professional experience in multiple scientific disciplines, the work of these individuals is absolutely not pseudoscience, and would be better characterized as “frontier science.” Yes, their work is controversial and in some respects speculative. But it is based on carefully gathered experimental data, analyzed thoroughly by thoughtful and educated people. It might prove wrong in the end, but it’s not pseudoscience.”
As James K. A. Smith points out, behind ‘the veneer of a “value-free” education concerned with providing skills, knowledge, and information,’ lies still an outlook and feel for the world (Smith 2009: 26).
Like Goertzel, my overall attitude toward psi is likewise “one of guarded positivity”. As he explains:
“[B]ased on fairly carefully reviewing the scientific evidence, I think psi almost surely does exist, though it’s a strange and finicky phenomenon and nobody really understands it very well yet. Obviously there are a lot of fakers out there pretending to have psychic powers that they don’t actually have, but this doesn’t weaken the scientific data about psi, any more than myths about bug-eyed aliens weaken the evidence that humans went to the moon.”
When it comes to children’s memories of past lives, various NDE phenomenon, and experimentally demonstrated instances of ESP (see here for a Goertzel’s brief run through of one such experiment; also, watch the Radin lecture embedded below; oh, and check out this book), I can only conclude that something is going on. We just don’t have the theoretical model with which we can adequately explain it (will we ever? I wonder).
See this article for Goertzel’s story of how he came to the conclusion (in a data driven manner) that some sort of psi phenomenon almost certainly exists: “Paranormal Phenomena, Nonlocal Mind, Reincarnation Machines – How I Came to Accept the Paranormal”.
And for how he is trying to work out a theory to make sense of this all, see: “Speculations Toward a Precise Model of Morphic Fields” and “Morphic Pilot Theory: Toward an Extension of Quantum Physics that Better Explains Psi Phenomena”.
J. K. A. Smith, 2009 Desiring the Kingdom