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By Brian Clegg. St. Martin’s Press. 320 pages. $25.99
Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Peter Parker as Spider-Man stops a speeding train by shooting out webs that attach to some trackside buildings.
The train continues for an improbable distance ; all the while the web material stretches without thinning, the attachment to the buildings remains intact, and Parker himself is not torn apart by the momentum of the speeding train.
It’s great theater, but we understand Newtonian physics well enough to know that such an event couldn’t happen in real life.
What we know of the human mind isn’t quite so complete. Neuroscience is well behind, so while we may settle for not having powers like the superheroes, we still may wish for some supernormal mental capabilities such as telepathy, telekinesis, precognition, remote viewing and the like.
Brian Clegg, a writer with a background in physics that includes a degree from Cambridge University, takes on this broad and poorly defined field to suggest how our understanding of the forces that might be involved can lead us to accept or reject the plausibility of these psi phenomena.
Unfortunately, for the true believers in psi, while anecdotes in support are abundant, most fail to consider how the vagaries of human memory, the nature of perception, and the regular perpetration of fraud have le d the scientific minded to reject or, at best, to be extremely skeptical of the entire field. As has been said elsewhere, the enthusiasts have no controls and those with controls have no enthusiasm.
However, in Clegg’s view, there are some potentially valid explanations for some psi phenomena that have not yet been fully explored.
What’s next? Some serious experimentation with rigorous design, plenty of controls, and the absence of the likes of Uri Geller, the television spoon bender.
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