PSEUDOSCIENCE AND THE PARANORMAL

A Critical Examination of the Evidence

Terence Hines

Prometheus Books, New York, 1988.


Professor Hines crams in a huge amount of useful stuff in a survey ranging from psychoanalysis to psychic surgery. There are a great many references to psychological research on experiences like hallucinations:

"more than 70 percent of a sample of 375 college students had at some time experienced an auditory hallucination of hearing voices while they were awake. Such hallucinations may readily be mistaken for ghosts or taken as evidence of the paranormal by those experiencing them. This is especially true since the high frequency of these waking hallucinations is not a well-known finding." (p.61)

Hines mentions his own research into so-called psi phenomena, measuring reaction-time, a more sensitive variable than accuracy of response. The experiments yielded no sign that ESP was speeding up the process of reaching correct decisions.

In books of this kind, there is no shortage of comedy material, and we find a good example in this story about Wilhem Fliess (inventor of biorhythms) and his close friend Sigmund Freud. Fliess treated people for what he termed the nasal reflex neurosis. The nose was a secondary sexual organ, and treatment involved a range of nasal manoeuvres: cocaine, cauterization or surgery.

"Surgical skills and procedures in the late 1800s were not all they are now. Nor, apparently, was Fliess what one might call a master surgeon. When he removed a bone from Emma Eckstein's [patient of Freud and Fliess] nose, he left several feet of gauze in the wound. Not surprisingly, this resulted in nasal hemorrhages. Freud… came to an astonishing conclusion about the nature of these hemorrhages. They were [he wrote] symbolic representations of Emma's sexual 'longing' for Freud and an attempt by her to seduce him." (p.116)

What is worth dwelling on here, when one can stop giggling, is how the preference for the symbolic can obscure the prosaic. This crops up across the board in paranormal writings, in postmodernist ruminations, and even, it seems, in some biological theorizing, as in Brian Goodwin's peculiar digging around for myths and metaphors.

What's postmodernism got to do with it? Discussing the notorious Don Juan hoax by Carlos Castenada, Hines quotes a Castenada defender, Shelburne, who wrote:

"the issue of whether it [Castenada's experience] literally happened or not makes no fundamental difference to the truth of the account." (p.278)

This kind of remark is all too common in postmodern relativist circles, and contributes to the uncritical acceptance of cranks and quacks by people who should know better. (Harumph!)

Lastly, a question to anyone out there intrigued by ancient wisdom. On mummification, Hines says:

"Advanced as they were, the ancient Egyptians had little knowledge of the brain's function. They viewed the brain as an organ of little importance… Thus, when the body was mummified, the brain was pulled out bit by bit through the nose [more nasal manoeuvres], using long tweezers, and thrown away… So much for bringing back pharoah, complete with his memories." (p.214)

The question is, did any ancient cultures realize what the brain was for, and if not, what does this say for their insights into the mind and body?



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PSYCHOLOGY OF BELIEF AND SUPERSTITION



Paul Taylor 2001