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Some Reasons for Not Taking Parapsychology Very Seriously*

  • Ian Hacking (a1)

Stephen Braude, a philosopher, believes that scientists, scholars and intellectuals ignore the wide range of evidence for psychic phenomena. They dismiss what is known and refuse to inquire further. He uses strong words such as “intellectual dishonesty and cowardice.” He means me and probably you. He made these allegations in his second book on parapsychology, The Limits of Influence, which is subtitled Psychokinesis and the Philosophy of Science. It was published in 1986. The editor of Dialogue thought that the charges had not been adequately discussed, and that the appearance of a paperbound edition would be a good occasion to treat them seriously.

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1 For a primarily Cambridge-based account of the social and spiritual concerns of the founders, of the role of physicists and their ether in the very idea of telepathy and of the contributions by the philosophers, see Wynne, Brian, “Natural Knowledge and Social Context: Cambridge Physicists and the Luminiferous Ether,” in Science in Context: Readings in the Sociology of Science, edited by Barnes, B. and Edge, D. (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1982), pp. 212–31.

2 For Richet, randomness and other historical connections between psychic research and statistics mentioned in the next paragraph see Hacking, Ian, “Telepathy: Origins of Randomization in Experimental Design,” Isis, 79 (1988): 427–51.

3 Braude, Stephen E., First Person Plural: Multiple Personality and the Philosophy of Mind (London: Routledge, 1991). Reviewed by Ian Hacking, London Review of Books, June 11, 1992, pp. 21–22.

4 Galison, Peter, How Experiments End (Chicago and London: Chicago University Press, 1987), pp. 19, 274, and see index, “Golden events.” Galison observes how research in high-energy physics was divided between the statistical approach, starting with scintillators, and the photographic golden-event approach, using cloud and then bubble chambers.

5 Lombroso-Ferraro, G., “Introduction,” Criminal Man According to the Classification of Cesare Lombroso (New York, 1911), p. xxv.

6 Broad, C. D., Lectures on Psychical Research (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1962).

* Braude, Stephen E., The Limits of Influence: Psychokinesis and the Philosophy of Science (paperbound edition, London and New York: Routledge, 1990; first edition, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986), xiv + 311 pp. Page references are to this work. Braude's earlier book on the topic is ESP and Psychokinesis: A Philosophical Examination (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1980).

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Dialogue: Canadian Philosophical Review / Revue canadienne de philosophie
  • ISSN: 0012-2173
  • EISSN: 1759-0949
  • URL: /core/journals/dialogue-canadian-philosophical-review-revue-canadienne-de-philosophie
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