On Parapsychology

Is there something to claims of telepathy, mindreading, precognition, ESP? Is it real? There is an entire industry — actually probably multiple industries — that apparently exist to answer that question. In fact, they really care more about asking the question than answering it. If we can keep asking the question enough times, maybe the answer will turn out one day to be yes.

But science isn’t like buying scratch lottery tickets where eventually one will win. To anyone who has actually looked at the science, the writing has been on the wall for decades, and it spells no.

As a magician, I can have endless amounts of fun doing tricks that make it look like mindreading is happening. Although despite the fact that I enjoy tricking people for the sake of entertainment, I’m also deeply committed to what is real. “Real” is a problematic word. In my case, something is “really” happening. Except the thing which is really happening is that I’m lying. So it’s not enough for something eerie to be happening, there has to be an underpinning cause that we can understand and might call true.

Or as Arthur Reber and James Alcock point out in a recent Skeptical Inquirer article:

It is not a matter of rummaging around in arcane domains of theoretical physics for plausible models. It is more basic than that: parapsychology’s claims cannot be true. The entire field is bankrupt—and has been from the beginning. Each and every claim made by psi researchers violates fundamental principles of science and, hence, can have no ontological status.

The whole thing is really worth reading. It goes in depth to the problems with methodology and the field’s constant attempts at do-overs. Inventing new hypotheses and discarding them, hoping no one notices their failure to come up with anything coherent, so that they can come back again to ask the question although asking it for the first time.

Although it all boils down to this one delightful line:

In short, parapsychology cannot be true unless the rest of science isn’t.