Friday, March 1, 2013

Interview with Chris Carter on his book Science and the Afterlife Experience. Reflections on the survival vs the Super-ESP (or Super-Psi) hypotheses

This is my second interview with philosopher and writer Chris Carter. In this interview, Carter comments about the so-called Super-ESP or Super-Psi hypothesis, which is one of the main competing hypotheses of the survival hypothesis. I thank Chris for accepting again the interview. Enjoy.

1-Chris, in your previous book (Science and the Near-Death Experiences) you discuss the evidence for survival of consciousness based upon near-death experiences. In your lastest book (Science and the Afterlife Experience), you discuss other lines of evidence for survival like reincarnation and mediumship. According to your opinion, if we were forced to choose one single category of survival evidence to make the case for the afterlife,  does the best scientific evidence for survival come from NDEs, mediumship, apparitions of the dead or reincarnation research?

In my books I cover evidence from five very different lines of evidence, and all of them are impressive.  But the single most impressive line of evidence supporting survival comes from alleged communication from the deceased via talented human mediums.
There are several reasons for this:

s   First of all, the level of detailed information in the best communications is astonishing.  Not just facts unknown to anyone present which are later verified, but also, in the best cases, the communication is unmistakably from the perspective of the deceased, or serves purposes which are clearly those of the deceased, but which are contrary to those of the sitters. Furthermore, I document several cases in which the communicating entity displays aspects of the deceased persons’ personality, which are easily recognized by surviving friends and relatives, and are vivid enough to convince surviving friends and relatives that they are indeed communicating with the deceased.  Finally, in some of the most remarkable cases, high level skills are demonstrated – skills which the medium does not possess, but which required the deceased person communicating years of practice to acquire.

s   And second, in the best cases of mental mediumship, everything the medium says or writes is recorded.  In other words, the records are permanent and objective, and can be studied and analyzed by anyone at any time.  Unlike some of the other lines of evidence, the question of mistaken eye-witness testimony simply does not arise.

However, the evidence for survival does not come only from mediumship, but also from near-death experiences, death-bed visions, children who claim to remember previous lives, and from reports of apparitions.  All of these lines of evidence, all very different from each other, all point in the same direction.

2-In our previous interview, we discussed briefly about the problem of falsifiability of the transmision theory vs the production theory of consciousness. Some philosophically trained readers have complained that I didn't formulated my question correctly.  They suggest that, given your Popperian position on the philosophy of science,  the correct, straightforward question to you would be this: If the survival hypothesis is a scientific hypothesis, what empirical fact or "observational data", if found, would logically refute/falsify the survival hypothesis?

The celebrated philosopher of science Karl Popper was once asked a similar question, to which he replied, “I’ve thrown students out of lectures for asking more intelligent questions.”

Perhaps I’m being too harsh on some of your “philosophically trained readers.” But if they had read my original reply more closely, or if they had studied Popper’s ideas more carefully, they would not ask such a question.

The question assumes that the proposition “at least some human minds have survived past the point of biological death” is a scientific hypothesis: it is not.  It is a hypothetical statement regarding a possible fact, and not a hypothetical statement regarding a universal relationship between facts.

We need to be clear here on what we mean by “theory,” and what we mean by “fact.” For instance, gravity is a fact of nature, yet we have theories of how gravity works. Similarly, evolution appears to be a historical fact – after all, there is the fossil record. Yet we also have theories of how evolution works.

Scientific theories are not speculation about particular facts; they are tentative explanations about how certain facts fit together. When Isaac Newton proposed that a planet and the sun are attracted by a gravitational force that is directly proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them, he proposed a relation between masses and distances—a relation that of course became celebrated as the Newtonian theory of gravity.

Now theoretical statements, or scientific theories, have a certain logical asymmetry.  Consider the statement, “all swans are white.”  It relates two facts – a species of bird and its color, and it predicts that all swans that we see will be white.  It is therefore a (simple) scientific theory, and is capable of being tested.  But testing means only that we can prove it false, and not that we can prove it true.  For neither ten nor ten thousand white swans logically implies that the next swan we see will be white.  However, a single black swan logically proves the statement false.

As Popper pointed out on so many occasions, this means that our scientific theories forever remain hypotheses, conjectures, capable of being proven false, but never capable of being proven true.

Some will quibble here about the nature of testing: for instance, observations can be mistaken, and fraud is always possible.  We may wonder if the bird we see really is a swan, if photos have been doctored, if people have lied, and so forth.  But all of this is completely beside the point.  The point is, once we are convinced beyond all reasonable doubt that the black specimen before us is indeed biologically a swan, then the statement “all swans are white” is logically proven false.

The situation with factual hypotheses is very different.  Statements such as “I weigh between 70 and 72 kilograms” or “the earth is spherical” can be proven false, and can also be proven true beyond all reasonable doubt (it is generally agreed that only statements of logic and mathematics can be proven beyond all conceivable doubt).

However, some factual claims also have a logical asymmetry, but it is the reverse of the situation with theoretical claims.  Consider the factual statement “biological life exists somewhere else in the universe.”  In principle, this can be proven true with a single observation.  But unless we are granted god-like powers, we humans can never prove it false: even if we could scour the universe at near light-speed, we could never be entirely sure that life has not developed somewhere.

Now, the statement at least some human minds have survived bodily death is not itself falsifiable. After all, even if we had absolutely no evidence for survival, it could very well be that their consciousness survived the death of their bodies. We could say we have no evidence; but we could not rule out the possibility on logical or empirical grounds.

But the opposite statement, No human minds have survived bodily death most certainly is capable of being proven false by evidence. And it is important to remember that the falsification of a statement implies the truth of its negation, even if its negation is not directly falsifiable.

One final point: the criterion of falsifiability is a criterion of demarcation between scientific and non-scientific theories, and not a criterion of meaning, or of importance.  Scientific theories, factual statements, and philosophical ideas may all be important, or trivial.

3-Related with the previous question, some philosophical critics of the survival hypothesis argue that good scientific hypotheses must have predictive power in order to have explanatory force. They argue that the survival hypothesis is not scientific in this sense. In your opinion, has the survival hypothesis specific and novel predictive power? If not, in what does its explanatory force consist and in which sense it is a scientific hypothesis? If so, which specific bits of observational data follow deductively (or even probabilistically) from the hypothesis of survival?

First of all, the survival hypothesis in fact does have “predictive power.” It predicts that the consciousness humans now experience will continue after the death of their bodies.  This prediction is corroborated by the NDE, again and again.

But there are several issues raised here.  First of all, again, the survival hypothesis in the narrow form I stated earlier is not a scientific hypothesis, but a hypothetical statement of fact.

Second, I take issue with the statement “good scientific hypotheses must have predictive power in order to have explanatory force.”  Hypotheses must make predictions that are capable of being tested in order to be considered scientific hypotheses.  Progress is only possible in science if our theories are capable of being tested.  What exactly they explain is a separate issue.

Survival provides a simple and concise explanation for the data from near death experiences, death bed visions, children who remember previous lives, apparitions, and cases of seeming communication from the dead via human mediums.  If that’s not “explanatory force”, then I don’t know what is.

4-Related to the previous question, some critics have also posed a more specific open challenge to scientific survivalists: If the survival hypothesis has testable, predictive consequences (as some survivalists think), could you just mention three (3) fairly specific, non-trivial, novel deductive consequences of the survival hypothesis (that match fine-grained descriptions of the empirical data), where these consequences are not also deductive entailments of any known rival explanatory competitor (e.g. super-PSI)?
Again, I disagree with the premises of this question.  Survival is a straightforward inference from the data; the evidence for survival of human personality has been documented for thousands of years, and survival was always a simple and straightforward inference.   Explanations in terms of extra-sensory perception were proposed as alternatives to the inference of survival, starting in the late 19th century, mostly by those opposed to the idea of survival on ideological grounds. 

When explanations in terms of ESP were proven false by the data – such as the data from the so-called proxy sittings, which eliminated the idea that ESP between medium and sitters could explain the results – the hypothesis was not abandoned.  On the contrary, it was supplemented with various ad hoc auxiliary assumptions in order to render it unfalsifiable.  In other words, it was turned into an ideological excuse to not accept the data that proves materialism false.

Extra-sensory perception, super or otherwise, utterly fails to explain several features of the best cases, as documented in my book Science and the Afterlife Experience.

Finally, Gary Schwartz at the University of Arizona performed a test of the predictive consequences of survival versus super-ESP.  He first performed some preliminary measurements of correlation between the brains of medium and sitter before and during a reading.  He would have them chat for 5 or 10 minutes prior to the reading, and measure correlations of brain activities.  On the super-ESP hypothesis, one would then expect that as the medium starts the reading, he would be more focused on the sitter, so as to extract information from the sitter’s brain (subconsciously or otherwise).  On the survivalist hypothesis, the medium is turning his attention away from the sitter to the communicating spirits, and so one would expect brain correlation between sitter and medium to decrease.  The latter was observed.

5-Philosophers of science discuss the problems related with the explanatory virtues vs epistemic values when choosing among competing explanations for a given set of data. For example, sometimes two competing hypotheses have the same explanatory power, but they differ in others aspects like simplicity, internal and external coherence, systematicity, conceptual cost and so forth which favours one hypothesis over the other.  In this sense, philosophical critics have posed another challenge to scientific survivalism:  Can you explain how you arrive at judgments concerning the evidential probability of survival based on attributions of the alleged explanatory power of the survival hypothesis and/or the failure of competing hypotheses to deliver the explanatory goods? 

First of all, there are very few historical examples of two competing scientific hypotheses making the same predictions, and I can think of only two examples.  In both cases it was eventually shown that the two theories were identical, but were expressed using different mathematics. (The most famous example is from the early years of quantum mechanics.  Schrodinger’s wave equation and Heisenberg’s matrix mechanics were competing theories that made identical predictions. Schrodinger later showed that they were equivalent).   So, this scenario is mostly an invention of philosophers, not something scientists actually encounter

And again, I disagree with the premises of this question.  Although some philosophers of science may discuss the problems related with the “explanatory virtues versus epistemic values” when choosing among competing explanations for a given set of data, no working scientists engage in such nonsense.

For a theory to be scientific, it must be capable of being tested.  So, if we are dealing with two competing scientific theories – say Newton’s and Einstein’s theories of gravity – we should be able to devise a test which will refute at least one of them.  Such a test was in fact performed by the Eddington expedition during a solar eclipse, and the data provided was in agreement with Einstein’s theory, and contrary to Newton’s.

On the other hand, if we are dealing with a non-testable – that is, a philosophic – theory, then our evaluation criteria are different.  We need to ask:

1)     Does it solve the problem?
2)     If so, does it do so simply, or in a complicated and contrived manner?
3)     And finally, is it consistent with other beliefs which we have good reason to consider true?
For the philosophic statement “all human minds survive death” we can answer “yes” to all three questions.  For explanations in terms of super-ESP, only the answer to the first question is “yes.” 

6-The critics also say that scientific survivalists have never presented a positive argument for survival of consciousness. All of what they do  (so argue the critics) is to mask the massive difficulty of presenting such positive case appealing to two questionable strategies:  a) to present a bunch of apparently anomalous data, and b) to label traditional criticisms against the competing explanatory competitors which allegedly fail to account for the data. What do you think of this criticism? Is it possible to provide a positive argument for survival of consciousness which is not limited to the above two strategies alone?

Frankly, I have no idea what this means.  Anyone who reads my work can see that I do much more than “present a bunch of apparently anomalous data.  As for the statement in part b, I find it utterly incomprehensible.   

7-In your book, you argue that one major objection to the super-PSI hypothesis as an explanation of the best cases suggestive of survival is that the evidence for the existence of PSI of the required power and range to explain the best cases is practically non-existent (so, the burden of proof is on the advocates of super-ESP to provide such evidence).  However, some recent defenders of the super-PSI hypothesis have challenged that objection and have argued that the examples of super-PSI (that is, of forms of PSI of the required extraordinary power and range) are precisely the cases suggestive of survival.  According to these critics, the super-PSI hypothesis is precisely and fundamentally the exclusive appeal to efficacious living agent psi to explain ostensible evidences for survival. What do you think of this reply by the defenders of the super-PSI hypothesis?

First of all, I use the term “Super-ESP,” not super-PSI.  Psi includes not just extra-sensory perception, but also psychokinesis, and since I do not discuss physical mediums, any discussion of psychokinesis is irrelevant.  We need to be clear that we are talking here about perception, extra-sensory, super, or otherwise.

Now, actually, what I said in my book was this:  “Evidence for the existence of ESP of the required power and range is practically nonexistent. Defenders of the super-ESP hypothesis are hard-pressed to find any such examples – outside of cases of apparent communication from the deceased.”  And so defenders of the super-PSI hypothesis have not challenged that objection, but have simply agreed with my statement.

The fact that they cannot find any such cases demonstrates the purely ad hoc nature of the super-ESP “explanation,” because of the utter lack of any independent evidence for super-ESP. If super-ESP as an explanation is to be scientific, then it would predict the demonstration of such wide-ranging, virtually-unlimited powers in instances in which we are not dealing with evidence of apparent survival.

If the function of super-ESP is the use of its virtually unlimited powers by the subconscious mind to surreptitiously protect us from the fear of death by fabricating elaborate evidence that seems in every respect exactly as if the deceased are visiting or communicating, then why dont we have evidence of our subconscious minds employing these vast powers to protect us from the actual threat of imminent death? That would at least provide a more plausible evolutionary reason for the existence of these vast powers.

Instead of offering any such evidence, these “recent defenders of the Super-ESP hypothesis” simply agree that there is no independent evidence, apart from the cases apparently offering prima facie evidence of survival.  This means that their “argument” is not an argument at all; rather, it is nothing more than the purely dogmatic assertion that cases of evidence for survival must be cases of super-ESP, period.

The fact that they cannot come up with any such independent evidence shows that what they propose is pseudo-science, pure and simple.

Consider the evidence that I present in the form of reports of apparitions of the deceased.  Some of these reports involved witnesses simultaneously seeing the apparition, from perspectives which were correct for each witness.  One “skeptic” Henry Gordon, magician, newspaper columnist, and member of CSICOP, tried to explain this by saying that people sometimes hallucinate in groups. Gordon wrote, “The fact is, once again, that studies have shown that collective hallucinations do take place. And the power of suggestion is the explanation.”

Gordon provided no references. In researching my chapter on apparitions I combed through the entire PsychInfo database, from 1887 to the time of writing, and could find only one article on collective hallucinations. It appeared in the Royal Naval Medical Service Journal in 1942, and it described the experiences of the shipwrecked survivors of a torpedoed ship in Arctic waters. Out of the hundreds of men who managed to make it to rafts and lifeboats, only thirty-six survived, and two of these died shortly after being rescued. The men were without food and water for three days before help arrived.  These men told a horrific story of hunger, thirst exhaustion, and despair, in which at times some of the men did seem to hallucinate ships in the distance, and the hallucination seemed to spread to some, but not all, of the other men in the boats.  It seems preposterous to argue that the hallucinations experienced by these desperate and miserable men – which seemed to spread to some of those around them by the power of suggestion – could throw any light whatsoever on most reports of collectively perceived apparitions.

In other words, Gordon could offer no independent evidence that people hallucinate in groups, apart from cases indicating, prima facie, that apparitions were collectively perceived.

The same is true of many modern conspiracy theories.  Some people today think the moon landings were faked in a film studio, initially during the Nixon administration; that the supporting evidence was fabricated; that hundreds of highly respected scientists, engineers, and other witnesses were bribed, or threatened.  But there is no evidence that such a wide-ranging conspiracy has ever been successful for any period of time, and the evidence that we do have – such as the failure of the Watergate cover-up only a few years later – indicates that even much simpler conspiracies quickly fall apart when examined.

So, to sum up, to argue that “the examples of super-PSI (that is, of forms of PSI of the required extraordinary power and range) are precisely the cases suggestive of survival” is analogous to arguing that “the evidence that the moon landings were faked is precisely the evidence that the moon landings occurred.”

 8-The critics have argued that a hidden assumption of the above objection against super-PSI is the thesis that (in words of Robert Almeder)  it is necessary to have “some evidence of the causes cited in offering an explanation", so in order to appeal to super-PSI as an alternative explanation for cases of survival, we need to have independent evidence of the existence of super-PSI. But the critics say that, on parity of reasoning, if the hidden assumption mentioned is right, then we cannot appeal to discarnate persons to explain observational data suggestive of survival unless we have independent, empirical reasons to suppose that such discarnate entities exist. What do you think of this objection?

Nothing at all.  In my books I present evidence for survival from five different lines of evidence: near-death experiences, death bed visions, children who claim to remember previous lives, apparitions, and communication from the deceased via human mediums.  These five lines of evidence, all gathered independently, and all very different from each other, all point in the same direction.  They most certainly provide “independent, empirical reasons.”

9-Other critics have argued that the survivalist hypothesis is committed to a kind or degree of PSI that is indistinguishable from what is required by the super-PSI hypothesis. So, for example, if  we suppose that a discarnate spirit is levitating a 30-lb table, we must minimally attribute to him PK powers sufficient for bringing about this effect. But we would  have to postulate no more than this to account for a living agent levitating the  same table. Therefore, at least regarding the extension to which PSI is involved, the super-PSI hypothesis is indistinguishable from the PSI required by the survivalist hypothesis. 

With regard to PK, this question is not relevant to my work; as I said earlier, I do not deal with physical mediumship, only mental mediumship.  However, in my book I argue that the question is not so much a problem of degree of ESP required; something different in kind from extra-sensory perception is required to explain the best cases.

10-The defenders of the super-PSI hypothesis also argue that, given that the extension to which PSI is involved in both hypotheses is equivalent and given that the survivalist hypothesis is more complex (because it postulates not only the existence PSI, but the existence of discarnate spirits too), the proper use of Ockam's razor suggests that the super-PSI hypothesis should be preferred because it is simpler. What do you think of this objection?

As I demonstrate in my book, and as many now admit, there is nothing at all simple about the super-ESP theory. As philosopher Carl Becker wrote, “Its ad hoc contortions to fit the data deprive it of all simplicity and elegance.”

I also argue in my book that the line of reasoning above involves a misunderstanding of Occam’s writing. William of Occam famously wrote Do not multiply entities unnecessarily”—or in other words, do not add unnecessary causal factors to explanations. If inertia and gravity are sufficient to explain the orbits of the planets, do not add invisible angels.  And if your theory of planetary orbits is contradicted by the data, then do not add the actions of invisible angels to “explain” the discrepancy between your theory and the data.  The only sense in which simplicity is of value in scientific explanations is the sense that we refrain from adding untestable ad hoc auxiliary assumptions to our theories in order to immunize them from the data that prove them false, and that is precisely the sense in which super-ESP violates the principle of simplicity.

The “invisible angels” of super-ESP are all the untestable ad hoc auxiliary assumptions that it must make to fit the data that refute the simpler forms of the theory.  In that sense then, it is a gross violation of the principle of parsimony in the use of hypotheses, and so violates the only sense in which simplicity is of value in scientific explanations. 

Any scientist who defended a pet theory by dreaming up ad hoc excuses why he cannot accept falsification of his theory by the data would be rightly condemned for practicing pseudo-science.

11-In your book, you mention another objection to super-PSI. You state that ESP usually operates between people who share some emotional connection, or who are otherwise linked in some way. But in the proxy cases discussed in your book, the link was extremely tenuous; in the drop-in cases, for example, there was apparently no link at all. However, critics say that we don't know that psi usually operates like that all instances (perhaps it is the case in laboratory or in other paradigmatic cases of psi, but there is not evidence that it is always the case), and so it is a weak objection against the super-PSI hypothesis.

All of the anecdotal and laboratory evidence of which I am aware indicates that ESP operates in a much stronger manner between people who are linked in some way.  The anecdotal evidence from history is given in a complete chapter in my first book, Science and Psychic Phenomena.  As for experimental evidence, Dalton (1997) and Broughton and Alexander (1997) found that Ganzfeld telepathy results were much better when tests were done between people who knew each other well.  Sheldrake (2012) in tests of telephone telepathy found that the success rate with unfamiliar callers was near chance level, but with familiar callers it was about twice the chance level.

And by the way, this makes perfect sense if the purpose of ESP is to aid in the struggle of social animals and humans for survival.  Otherwise, it makes no sense.

These considerations led to tests of the idea that ESP between sitters and mediums could explain the data.  The fact that the proxy sittings – sittings with mediums in which the sitter did not know anything about the deceased except their name – were every bit as successful as ordinary sittings falsifies this theory.  Yet the ESP theory was not rejected, merely extended with the complex, ad hoc assumptions of super-ESP, tacked on whenever required, in order to explain survival data in terms of ESP.

Since the evidence indicates that ESP works far better between those who are linked in some way, the burden of evidence is on proponents of super-ESP to show that this is not the case.

12-Another reply by super-PSI advocates against the above objection is that survivalists assumes a fairly rigid border on the set of paradigmatic cases of psi. Suppose we're facing data that would require deviating from what we know about psi, if we were to explain them in terms of psi.  From this viewpoint, one can look at cases that deviate in one of two ways, either as being an entirely different sort of phenomenon (as the survivalist maintains) or as being an instance that demands expanding the scope of paradigmatic cases of living agent psi (as super-PSI defenders mantain). In this case,  it's a lot harder to decide on this matter than the survivalist do, and they seem to be largely unconscious of the problem here.

If this is the “main argument,” it is testimony to the desperation of their case that they must resort to such sophistry dressed up in fancy sounding language.

In the first place, along with Popper, I utterly reject the notion of inductive logic; there is only deduction, and, as Hume showed, induction cannot be rationally justified.  Neither ten nor ten thousand white swans logically imply that the next swan we see will be white (nor do such observations allow the calculation of any probabilities to that effect).  But a single black swan proves deductively that the white swan conjecture is false.  At most, the white swan theory is a conjecture that is accepted tentatively pending possible falsification.  It is not accepted with any sort of probability.

Second, I do not rely on any “epistemic weight of fit with background knowledge for determinations of epistemic probability.  What I do is ask if a given explanation is consistent with the facts, and also with other things we have good reasons to think are true.  I do not use incoherent expressions such as “epistemic weight of fit” or “epistemic probability,” and frankly, I do not have much respect for philosophers who write like this.  Philosophers who write clearly are not afraid of being understood.

In my work I present the evidence that provides a prima facie case for survival; demonstrate that alternative explanations, to the extent that they are testable, have been proven false; and then argue that to the extent these alternative explanations are not testable (such as elaborate fraud scenarios, or super-ESP) they are pseudo-scientific excuses for refusing to accept an otherwise straightforward inference from the evidence.

13- The information provided by mediums is in many instances contradictory about basic and key aspects of the afterlife or the spiritual world. For example, some mediums have provided information supportive of reincarnation, but many others have denied it or been skeptical about it. So, a contemporary medium like August Goforht, in a interview in Skeptiko commented "I have a huge library of books written by mediums and spiritualists that go back almost a couple hundred years. I noticed not a single one mentioned reincarnation". If reincarnation is a fact and mediums are largely reliable about the conditions of the spiritual world, one would expect a wider agreement about the reality of reincarnation coming from legitimate mediums and reliable afterlife communications. What do you think of the reliability of spiritualism in general and how do you explain the apparent disagreement about reincarnation?"

If at least some of the communications via mediums are what they appear to be, then we should expect some communicators to be more reliable or knowledgeable witnesses than others, just as some people are more reliable or knowledgeable about certain matters here on earth.  And the best communicators do not claim to be infallible.

I have come across several cases of communication in which the idea of reincarnation is discussed.  The fact that some communicators do not remark on this is not evidence that it does not occur – absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

Reincarnation is an idea that many people find unpalatable.  I understand this, as many have no desire to be reborn, to go through all the trials of growing up again.  But the communications, or at least the ones I consider most reliable, tell us that we humans do not reincarnate dozens or hundreds of times, but only as long as we need to; in most cases, only three or four times.

The best evidence for reincarnation is not messages to that effect from mediums, but rather children who claim to remember previous lives.  The previous personalities in these cases usually seem to have a sense of unfinished business about their lives.  We need to remember that a high proportion of these previous lives came to a sudden and violent end, often at an early age.

 14-According to Frederic Myers, through repeated incarnations as plants, insects, human beings etc. we are evolving continuously and eventually we will trascend the realm of earthly matter. So, we are "gods in training". Does Myers' view imply a sort of theological polytheism in which we are, at least eventually, gods? 

 No, not really.  I put those three words “gods in training” in italics for a reason.  If some people find the expression blasphemous, then we can easily substitute expressions such as “highly advanced beings.”  Some argue that we are all on a long journey to eventually become what men once called gods.

15-Would you like to add something else to end the interview? 

Yes, I would like to stress that the super-ESP hypothesis is simply an elaborate excuse to not accept the most straightforward inference from the data, an inference that has been made since time immemorial.    To the extent that it is testable, it is easily proven false; to the extent that it renders itself untestable with elaborate ad hoc assumptions, it is ideology, anti-empirical dogmatism, pure and simple.

We can compare super-ESP to the theory put forth by the defense lawyers working on the famous OJ Simpson murder trial.  The forensic evidence clearly showed that their client was guilty, so the defense team created an elaborate conspiracy theory involving several police detectives and the Los Angeles police forensic office.  Whenever their “theory” was contradicted by the evidence, they simply dreamed up an even more elaborate conspiracy theory.

Alternative explanations for the survival data fall into two categories: elaborate fraud scenarios, and elaborate theories of super-ESP combined with subconscious fraud.  There is not a shred of supporting evidence for either.  They are nothing more than mere logical possibilities that can never be proven false with 100% certainty.  The burden of providing evidence is not on supporters of the most straightforward inference from the data to show that these logical possibilities are not true, any more than the burden of evidence is on those who think men have walked on the moon to prove beyond all doubt that the moon landings were not faked. 


Broughton, RS., and Alexander, CM (1997).  “Autoganzfeld II. An attempted replication of the PRL research.” Journal of Parapsychology, 61, 209-226.

Dalton, K. (1997) “Exploring the Links: creativity and psi in the ganzfeld.” Proceedings of the Parapsychological Association 40th Annual Convention, 119-131.

Sheldrake, R. (2012).  The Science Delusion.  London: Coronet.

Schwartz, G. (2003). The Afterlife Experiments.  New York: Atria.