Science Fiction & ‘Psionic’ Abilities
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been a big science fiction fan. After all, it’s what got me interested in science, and later, modern scientific skepticism.
As a science fiction fan, I’ve always thought that weird mental powers — known as ‘psionics,’ a sciency term for what we in the real world refer to as alleged psychic abilities — are just way cool, and my old concept (now long since outdated) of my science fiction setting Terra M (henceforth renamed Gods of Terra)used the idea as one of the major plot elements in the story lines.
So much for that for now…
I’m in the process of majorly rethinking my fictional universe, and as well as redoing the iconic characters of the setting, and also come up with the idea of brain-implanted alien artifacts called ‘hypershards’ to explain the powers of the setting’s evolved superhumans, hominids called Mirants.
These powers in so many fictional settings are so unlike the unproven abilities of real world psychics in that while sometimes subtle, they can also be unambiguously provable, sometimes ridiculously so. I suppose that this is one reason some of the real-world psychics who truly believe in their abilities take issue with being compared to the X-Men. After all, Professor X has to my knowledge never had any trouble using his telepathic abilities even under the most stringent conditions, no matter if a skeptic or believer was running the test, and few people in most comic book universes doubt the existence of such abilities precisely because they are so demonstrably provable.
Hmmm, sounds like sour grapes syndrome to me.
I think that SF psionics is cool because it has a strange sort of existential status, a superposition of being simultaneously both high-technology and low-technology. I’ll explain:
The low-tech aspect of SF psionics is the fact that you don’t always need advanced gadgetry to use it — You just concentrate, and stuff happens — depending on the setting of course. Some SF universes require their psionicists, or psions (SF psychics) to have some sort of material focus to help them center their concentration, ranging all the way from simple items like amulets or headbands made of crystal or weird metallic alloys (platinum-group metals are popular) to hyper-advanced ‘psychotronic’ machinery, often using reverse-engineered alien technology (I used a similar but modified idea for my hypershard-granted powers, which I call myria or myrionics).
The high-tech aspect, in addition to the some of the aforementioned gadgetry used to employ these abilities in some settings, is the fact that in many SF universes, these powers are relatively well-understood in terms of how they work and why, even if only according to the science of the setting. In these universes, psi is science, not pseudoscience.
Yes, it may be pseudoscience, but even as a skeptic it’s still fun to imagine. I’m a skeptic largely because I want to know the real explanations for what seems to be paranormal, not just accept on faith whatever psychics and believers assert without substantiation.
Trust me, I have looked at what passes for evidence of psi, and it’s curious, perhaps even suspicious, that the only supporting sources I could find are those entities dedicated to promoting it, like right here, and here. In my experience, the normal and natural have been tested countless times and always come up positive, and just the opposite has happened whenever the paranatural has been tested — It has consistently come up zero at best.
In an SF universe where the understanding of the laws of physics actually allows for it, there is usually a broad scientific consensus in those fields dealing with psi on a coherent theoretical basis for what it does and how it works, a situation most unlike the real world, where the paraphysical community still has nothing close to a general agreement on a workable, testable, evidentially supported theory of psi, despite a disappointing 130+years of investigation. The original pioneers of the field would not be pleased if they could see what passes for its ‘progress’ today.
Sigh…Yes, I know, there’s quantum mechanics, the most abused and misunderstood physical theory ever appropriated to support belief in woo, used for everything from ‘explaining’ telepathy to using science to ‘debunk’ reality. Sorry, but I still exist to write this post, even when you’re not looking at me. It’s curious that those who understand QM best, the majority of quantum physicists themselves, don’t advocate its validity in explaining psi. I wonder why…
Despite any wishes on my part, until psi can be demonstrated in independently replicated tests regardless of the attitudes or beliefs of the experimenters, it is likely to remain marginalized, even ridiculed, ever on the borderlands of science, and remain unlikely to ever ‘subvert the dominant paradigm.’