The latest Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe is out! We had the chance to interview Marilyn Schlitz of the Noetic Institute, a foundation that studies consciousness. Marilyn was very nice and well-spoken, and she is most definitely of the “believer” mode of thought concerning the existance of psi-powers. We talked about the Ganzfeld experiments, commonly considered the best evidence thus far for psi-stuff. There are a lot of problems with the experiments, including issues with the methodology (such as possible sensory leakage) as well as a lot of confusion over how to interpret the data. Many different experiments were performed with varying degrees of scientific rigor and differing results — genius and all-around awesome guy Ray Hyman performed a meta-analysis on the data and found evidence of psi severely lacking, while the True Believers examined the same data and came to the opposite conclusion. Ray noted that everything is so muddled that it appears too easy for a researcher to let prior bias (either for or against) get in the way of finding the truth.
Marilyn brought up Dean RadinÃ‚ on the show, who has jumped to some pretty out there conclusions as to the possible future applications of this psi research. While everyone is still going back and forth over whether or not the Ganzfeld experiments showed even a miniscule amount of ESP, Radin is fantasizing about a future population of mind readers where lying is a thing of the past and we all fly around on rainbows. Okay, I made up the thing about rainbows, but I haven’t read all his books yet so he may have said that at some point.
The thing is, talking to Marilyn really drove home for me the point that not all psi believers are as obviously off the deep end like Radin. Hell, maybe one day I’ll talk with Radin and see that he, too, comes across like a perfectly sensible person. Often, we skeptics read through the books and studies of believers of pseudoscience and use our knowledge of science and common sense to see that they are clearly wrong. But we can easily miss how smooth these guys are in person and how compelling they can sound to a less informed audience. We also need to realize that we’re not always fighting the lies told by hucksters and frauds taking money off the gullible — we’re also fighting regular human beings who are looking at things from a different perspective and fervently believe what they are saying. This doesn’t make them less wrong, but it does sometimes make them more difficult to combat.
Anyway, I highly recommend you check out the links in this post. Listen to the podcast interview if you can, as it really helps to hear how the “other side” thinks. Also, be sure to visit Bob Carroll’s excellent Skeptic’s Dictionary to get some key insight into the debate surrounding Ganzfeld.
Podcast quote of the week (episode #39), uttered by Mr. Perry DeAngelis and referring to my vegetarianism:
The number of years [Rebecca] will live is directly proportional to the horror of her life.