ESSAYS AND BOOK SUMMARIES ON EMPIRICAL REALITY


Parapsychology in Retrospect by R. A. McConnell


 

Parapsychology in Retrospect: My Search for the Unicorn
1987, 238 pages, 6" x 9", ISBN: 0-9610232-4-4, $20.00

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R. A. McConnell, author, editor and publisher, tells what he learned and did in his first forty years of parapsychological research in the Physics and Biological Sciences Departments at the University of Pittsburgh.

Part I.
The first seven chapters of this book, are titled "Light." The remainder are titled "Shadow." Chapter 1 is a lecture dedicated in gratitude to the Department of Biological Sciences and to the University of Pittsburgh by Professor McConnell, and delivered to departmental colleagues and other friends, 17 May 1984, on the occasion of his appointment as Research Professor Emeritus.

Chapter 2 "Probing the Elephant of Scientific Opinion" describes the worldwide distribution to more than 20 geographical areas of 4833 gift copies of the author's books (Encounters with Parapsychology, Parapsychology and Self-deception in Science, and Introduction to Parapsychology in the Context of Science), to libraries (2891 copies) and persons (1942 copies), with and without preceding offers. Recipients included foreign members of the Society for Neuroscience, editorial advisors to brain science journals, Nobel laureates residing in the USA, Fellows of the Royal Society of London, U.S. college libraries, and U.S. secondary school libraries.

Chapter 3 is introduced as follows:

"For forty years I have wandered in the wilderness of parapsychological data. When in January 1985 we completed the main analysis of the falling-dice experiment reported in the next chapter, for the first time in my mind, hope was replaced by an inner certainty that the phenomena of parapsychology will some day be understood by the method of science. Beyond that, I could now believe, as I had long suspected, that psi occasionally affects the outcome of ordinary scientific experiments.

Criticisms of the psychokinetic experiment reported in Chapter 4 were invited from more than 500 scientists and scholars. The interest or lack of interest shown is reported and commented upon. In separate chapter appendixes, I present critical correspondence concerning the Chapter 4 experiment with two eminent physicists, Luis W. Alvarez and John S. Bell.

Chapter 4 titled "The Anomalous Fall of Dice" by R.A. McConnell and T.K. Clark is formally presented on pages 56-88. The authors' co-experimenter in the gathering of data was Dr. Margaret L Anderson. This research was financially supported by the A.W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust. The abstract of this experiment follows:

"Five hundred, self-selected college students each separately donated one hour of his or her time to investigate the so-called psychokinetic effect in which the fall of gambling dice is supposedly influenced directly by the wishing of the player. The students were given the task of releasing by remote control six wooden dice while wishing those dice to tumble individually toward one side or the other of a scaled playing table.

"The faces of each die were marked in the usual manner with one to six circular spots. The direction of desired motion depended upon each upcoming die face. For the first six of twelve releases, the student was asked to wish the dice with low faces (1, 2, and 3) to go to the low coordinate side of the table and dice with high faces (4, 5, and 6) to go to the high side. In the remaining six releases, the student was asked to reverse the direction of wishing

Starting instructions were given by audio magnetic tape. The dice-releasing process was controlled by release-counting relays and monitored by a motion-picture camera, which recorded the dice throughout their time of travel. The field of the camera included a serially numbered card showing the student's name, a time-of-day clock, a high-speed elapsed-time clock, an automatically advanced display of both the release number and the wishing instructions, and a spherical mirror image of the entire room.

Each student was supervised by one of two experimenters, A or M. After hearing the instruction tape, the student was given the choice of having the experimenter present in the room or absent from it while the dice were being released.

Before statistical analysis, the effect of wishing for faces 4, 5, and 6 was reversed by reflecting their transverse coordinates across the grand mean of the experiment using the equation
Y' = 78 - Y. In this way, all nonpsychophysical effects were cancelled.

Analyses of variance were based upon the release means, thereby ensuring independence and normality of the dependent variable

Overall, the data showed statistical significance for Releases and for session Halves by Releases. When the data were broken down into experimenter groups, significant interactions were found between M-present and M-absent, and between M-absent and A-absent

The overall ANOVA was verified by independent re-analysis of the data, starting with the motion-picture film and ending with a different ANOVA computer program. As an additional precaution, the smallest, single group probability (p = .0008), which came from less than 20% of the subjects, was independently verified by hand calculator using the raw data on magnetic tape.

Because of the controls employed, only one conclusion is believed to be possible. Either the outcome of the experiment represents a rare chance event, or the behavior of the dice was directly affected by the conscious thinking of the subjects and/or experimenters.

Moreover, the analyses suggest that different experimenters can affect the fall of dice differently even when those experimenters are absent from the dice room.

The extra-chance scoring patterns of this repeated-trial experiment, bear no recognized relation to the serrated decline of success that is sometimes found in synchronism with test-and-rest data-gathering patterns. The dual wishing task of this experiment has made possible both the elimination of adventitious physical causation and the demonstration of dice effects presumably caused by, but not conforming to, the conscious wishing of subjects and/or experimenters. This may imply a conceptually new class of psychokinesis.

Chapter 5 (1) briefly summarizes my 39 years of contact with call-in psychics needing help and (2) describes how the clergy of organized religion are often, if not usually, either psychics or mystics.

Chapter 6 describes how Neal Miller, a member of the National Academy of Sciences and quondam president of the American Psychological Association, probably, but unknowingly, performed psychokinetic experiments on rats while attempting to replicate work by Leo DiCara. To quote Miller, "To make a long story short, we began to feel as though we were wandering at midnight through a haunted forest with strange unknown things rustling past us in the dark."

DiCara's experiments seemed to imply operant learning of autonomic function. To understand the strong feelings engendered by his work, one must recognize that the question of autonomic control goes beyond curing the sick. A whole philosophy of life was at stake: nature versus nurture--the question of the perfectability of man by education. It was a great relief to many, therefore, when order was restored to the world of learning ten years later and the genie was (supposedly) returned to its bottle by an 80 page study of the DiCara-Miller anomalies in which L.E. Roberts concluded "…all successful operant learning of autonomic function in curarized rats must have involved manipulational mistakes in the conditioning process."

Chapter 7 deals primarily with the work of Elmer and Alyce Green at the Menninger Foundation on the biofeedback facilitation of autonomic training and the work of J.G. and H.H. Watkins on ego-state therapy and multiple personality.

Your author suspects that medical treatments as diverse as biofeedback, hypnosis, acupuncture, and progressive relaxation, along with disorders classified as psychosomatic, dissociative, and autonomic, all involve psychokinesis by the therapist or by the patient, and that this idea will ultimately unify what is now called "behavioral medicine."

Part II of this book. The following excerpts from its Introduction set the stage:

"In this book I try to do two things: (1) convey my understanding of parapsychology as an infant science in an irrational world, and (2) display in various ways what may be the most general and over-arching principle of human behavior: namely, that we are all mentally ill.

"For the near future, the recognition and acceptance of this fact is, I believe, more important than the advancement of parapsychology. Unless, by an effort of the will, we attain sanity in this historical instant, there will be no future for any of us. My reasons for this belief are illuminated in my final chapter.

"We are all ill in that, both individually and collectively, we systematically engage in behavior that is maladaptive for our survival. Our present mode of circumscribed thinking may have been appropriate for each in his own ecological niche, but the cultural eco-system is crumbling. For survival, we must acquire a constant peripheral awareness of our every-day self deceptions and must unceasingly re-examine our articles of faith.

"We are in an evolutionary transition from unconscious to conscious beings. This is a crucial interval while we have gained the power to destroy ourselves but do not yet understand our spiritual nature. Can we change soon enough? That is the challenge."

Chapters 8 - 11 reveals the darker side of parapsychology and have the common theme: self deception. The reader must decide, "Who is self-deceived?"

Chapter 12, titled "Forces of Darkness: Psychic Policemen," is an in-depth study of opposition to parapsychology under the leadership of an organization incorporated as The Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP). This chapter illuminates the scope of the opposition to parapsychology by scientists (as distinct from opposition by fundamentalist Christians).

This compact 26-page survey covers the history of CSICOP, its legal status, financial success, objectives, tactics, leaders, internal disagreements, running dogs, distinguished Fellows, official journal (The Skeptical Inquirer, whose subscriber list has doubled in ten years to 50,000 as of 1999), its cooperating publisher, Prometheus Books, and its local and international affiliated organizations. Included is a summary of the content and style of the first ten years of The Skeptical Inquirer, showing violations of its proclaimed intellectual principles.

I discuss CSICOP's confounding of popular superstition with parapsychology and its response to the best parapsychological experiments.

I summarize an invited lecture I gave in an anti-parapsychology course at the University of Pittsburgh taught by a deeply religious and locally active member of CSICOP.

Included in this chapter is a summary of Yale Psychology Professor I.L. Child's 1985 study (from the American Psychological Association's American Psychologist, 40,1219-1230) of the systematic misrepresentation in five psychology books of the Maimonides Hospital ESP dream research

In Chapter 13, under the title "A wild card against the ace of spades," I give a five-year update (as of 1987) on the near future of mankind. New material: Corporation merger madness. Marijuana is now the largest cash crop in California. A documentation of the technical impracticality of the Strategic Defense Initiative. Will AIDS resolve the African population problem? To be saleable, vicarious sex and violence must be just a little more daring than yesterday. Will the scientific study of the human mind destroy the glue that holds the Jewish people together? The destruction of the Himalayan watershed as a predictor of Third World mass starvation. Exporting jobs will destroy our middle class. The worldwide TV celebration of starvation in Ethiopia. President Reagan's population policy at Mexico City. The vulnerability of a computer-managed economy.

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