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A Modeling of the Core Argument for Psi


Parapsychology has yet to be taken seriously as a scientific field, primarily for a lack of real progress in establishing its findings, though I’m sure there are many serious researchers attempting to earn respectability for it, and the acceptance of their claims by the scientific community, and a look at history shows it has been this way from the beginning.

Parapsychology is an almost exclusively statistical field, and the whole of the data-set throughout the field’s more than 100 year history consists of little more than statistical quirks and seeming oddities, anomalies of statistical significance that to proponents of psi implies something of scientific importance…

…psi ability…The thing that will overturn the dominant paradigm of materialism…the science of the New Age…

The holy grails of psi-research are the development of an experimental protocol that can put parapsychology on the footing of an accredited science by producing reliable, consistent positive results no matter who is running the experiment or what they believe, and the development of a generally agreed upon theory of psi that would give them some idea of what they are actually looking for and how to find it.

The repeated failures of parapsychology to do these is consistent throughout and characteristic of its history.

I created the diagram below as a representation of the one of the arguments for psi by proponents, in the form of the Toulmin Model of informal argumentation, with a claim, or conclusion, supported by evidence, the premises, or reasons to accept the claim, connected by an inference, or chain of argument, itself supported by a warrant, the component of the argument that justifies the inference to a listener.

Needless to say, it is the inference, and its warrant, that are the main components of the argument that join evidence and claim…

…and it is the inference and warrant that are the most disputed by critics of paranormal claims, the chain of argument that psi proponents use to justify their claims, at least among themselves and to believers.

Nonetheless, that doesn’t stop them from trying…

Did you notice the circularity of the warrant? That’s because of psi’s negative definition, for even the best psi researchers are a little fuzzy on exactly what they’re trying to find, so they define it as something other than chance, other than sensory contact, other than, well, whatever they already know about.

Depending on how you phrase it, the warrant could be either of two logical fallacies, Begging the Question or Affirming the Consequent, with the entire argument being an Argument from Ignorance, and for a more thorough discussion on this, see Bob Carroll’s discussion of the Psi Assumption on the Skeptic’s Dictionary.

Parapsychologists often claim that their lack of replicable findings is due to underfunding, but funding for any research is obtained first by virtue of the momentum of prior results, not just by speculating on metaphysics as if it were science, or doing studies and making unsupported claims with no objectively repeatable results.

And without a useful predictive framework of hypotheses and conception of its main thesis, psi-research will remain dead in the water, and its data, as voluminous as it is, little more than statistical noise implying nothing outside of or beyond science.

Should paranormal research be funded?

In my view, if private institutions want to fund it, I say, “Have at it!” But it’s not something I’d want my government paying for with my tax dollars, especially after the Stargate debacle a couple of decades ago, which was not only an embarrassment but an enormous disappointment.

Michael Shermer — Remote Viewing Experiment


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