21 February 2011


Stanley Krippner and Harris L. Friedman. Mysterious Minds: The Neurobiology of Psychics, Mediums and Other Extraordinary People. Praeger/ABC CLIO, 2010.

Neurobiology and the ability of modern technology to investigate the living human brain provide exciting new possibilities and it is no surprise that parapsychologists are now attempting to apply them to their own field, with mixed results.
While many of the papers in this book are of an technical nature they should be of interest to anyone with a serious involvement in parapsychology and portions should be accessible to the general reader. The editors provide an introduction and postscript.

In his foreword Allan Conde points out that mainstream psychological research not only is deficient in replication of results like parapsychology, but unlike the latter may actively discourage publication of replications, especially those which come to negative conclusions. While he concludes that science should treat parapsychology more liberally an alternative conclusion might be that we should treat the reports of findings in the whole field of psychology more critically.

It is perhaps unfortunate that the first actual article in the collection 'Quantum Theory, Neurobiology and Parapsychology' by William Roll and Bryan Williams is the only one which descends into pseudoscience when trying to argue that quantum effects can kick vases around rooms and move the furniture. They have simply misapplied quantum processes applicable to sub-atomic particles to macroscopic objects.

Caroline Watt and Harvey Irwin examine the laboratory evidence for psi and basically come to the conclusion that while it cannot be said to have been demonstrated in a way which could satisfy the scientific community it certainly cannot be ruled out and there is suggestive evidence. Adrian Parker comes to roughly the same conclusion about psychokinesis, but notes the absence of good quality documentation of alleged macro-PK. He seems intrigued by the ideas of Roger Penrose and Stuart Hameroff on the role of quantum processes in microtubules in the brain, however it should be noted that very few neuroscientists share their views.

The reader might be brought down to earth by the sceptical paper by James Alcock, which is substantially the same as in the other Krippner-Friedman collection I reviewed a week or so back.

Following these general papers, there are more specific reports on neurobiological studies on a variety of people and conditions, ranging from studies of the neurobiology of two Spiritist healers in Brazil, looking for possible PK in patients with frontal lobe brain damage, the neurobiology of mind altering drugs such as DMT and the possibility that the brain can spontaneously produce similar substances, to the study of neurobiology in anomalous personal experiences.

Though most of the contributers take moderate positions, one can still see that many are still motivated by the desire to liberate mind from the brain and to oppose physicalist monism. It may well be that only those with strong motivations from personal experience or prior religious or philosophical beliefs can be enthused enough to enter such a marginalised and "damned" topic. -- Reviewed by Peter Rogerson

No comments: