Outside the Gates of Science: Why It's Time for the Paranormal to Come in From the Cold.
As well as being an award-winning writer of science fiction, futurism, and popular science, Damien Broderick may already be known to readers of this journal as author of the nonfiction parapsychology book The Lotto Effect (1992). His latest foray into this domain is Outside the Gates of Science. As always when I pick up a book, I went straight to the Acknowledgments, where one can often informally discover the author's sources or influences. Here Broderick informs us that this is not intended to be a textbook and credits many key players in parapsychology for guiding him through parapsychology's "tornado of data, careful thinking, and disputatious opinion" (p. 313). Those guides who appeared in my opinion most prominently and influentially in the text were Ed May, Joe McMoneagle, and Stephan Schwartz, but there are many others, representing both U.S. and European parapsychology research.
Broderick's information seems to have come primarily from conversations with these key players, through emails and online discussion groups, and from books rather than from ploughing through original research reports. By this I don't mean to imply poor scholarship. Rather, Broderick uses the appropriate sources to take us on an entertaining journey through some of parapsychology's more colourful, sometimes mind-boggling episodes. The book does not pretend to be a systematic presentation of parapsychology's evidential database. In fact, Broderick seems already persuaded by these data, describing himself as a rationalist whose position on psi is "evidence-based acceptance" (p. 136).
Though it is not presented as such, the book in my view consists of three parts. In the first, Broderick gives us an immensely entertaining, colourful, occasionally humorous, sometimes irreverent picture of some significant episodes in parapsychology's recent history, his principal aim being to establish that there are some compelling examples of psi out there. Let us sample his humour. In response to creationist arguments that "Darwin's theory of evolution" is blasphemous, he states:
This disparagement of an immensely exfoliated set of related sciences by reducing it to One Dead White Male's Opinion reaches its absurd nadir in headlines such as "God vs. Darwin." Deft and catchy, but I would hope to see, at least once, a headline (it's rather too long, I know) proposing "Ancient Ignorant Guess vs. Darwin, Mendel, Crick and Watson, and the Human Genome Project." (pp. 18-19)
At the same time, he maintains a mildly critical stance and points out that telepathy, remote viewing, precognition, and psychokinesis are not yet repeatedly demonstrable phenomena (p. 310)--presumably this is why they still remain outside the gates of science. (I wonder if this assertion conflicts with his previously-stated "evidence-based acceptance" of psi--perhaps he is not yet completely off the fence.) This section includes an accessible description of the PEAR REG-PK studies; Russell Targ and Hal Puthoff's early remote viewing research with, among others, Pat Price; and a lengthy and fascinating account of the CIA's involvement in remote viewing research in the recently declassified Star Gate program headed up by Ed May and working with remote viewers including Joe McMoneagle. Following the closure of the government-funded Star Gate program, McMoneagle continues to work as a remote viewer, both privately and for television demonstrations, and again Broderick gives us some fascinating and impressive examples of this work. There is also a chapter entitled "watching Saddam from home" that gives an intriguing account of how Stephan Schwartz led a group of novice remote viewers to produce, on November 3, 2003 a "central consensus projection" of the circumstances of Saddam Hussein's arrest about 6 weeks later. Again putting on his skeptical hat, Broderick admits that it is difficult to establish how uniquely descriptive are characteristics such as "a large palm tree in the area" and that Hussein "will look like a homeless person," though some viewers produced more precisely accurate descriptors.
Of course the critical reader will protest that these examples are cherry-picked. But this would be to miss the point--the book is not trying to systematically document the evidence for remote viewing and the like but to show us some compelling cases that are so suggestive that the reader finds him or herself agreeing, "yes that is curious, but how does it work?" And that takes us into what I see as the second section of the book--theories of psi.
The theories chapters begin with an accessible introduction to quantum mechanics. As a science writer, Broderick clearly is on familiar territory here, and he does a good job (so far as I am qualified to tell, which is just as an interested nonspecialist) of introducing the reader to some of the counter-intuitive and rather strange aspects of quantum physics. He does this with some humor, noting critically that "quantum theory has been turned by some enthusiasts of the paranormal into a sort of surrogate for magical chanting or invocation" (p. 179). Comparing this "addlement" to the nitrogen narcosis that careless divers can experience, once known as "raptures of the deep," he calls this "in its new age or astro-babble forms, raptures of the shallow" (p. 179, Broderick's italics). Nevertheless, it is here in the realm of new physics that Broderick sees potential connections between psi phenomena and possible theoretical explanations for these. Although he acknowledges the problems of applying quantum ideas to Newtonian systems such as the human brain, Broderick clearly sees this as the best way to bring parapsychology in from its cold position outside science's gates. He takes some time not only to indulge in his own quantum speculations but also to elucidate some of parapsychology's leading quantum theories of psi, for instance Evan Harris Walker's, that focus on the role of the observer (and feedback) in psi phenomena.
In the final third of the book, Broderick considers what psi might be for. Here he asks any as-yet-unconvinced reader to "come along for the ride anyway" (p. 215), to enjoy some sci-fi-like speculation as to what psi would be like if it actually existed. What would its purpose be? How would it manifest in our lives? And to what uses might it be put in the distant future? Again this is Broderick on his home territory as a futurist. Here he introduces us to nonphysical theories of psi (which might have more properly come in the theories chapters rather than the future speculations part of the book), including Walter von Lucadou's Model of Pragmatic Information (which takes a system theoretical approach) and Rex Stanford's influential Psi-Mediated Instrumental Response (PMIR) model (which one could view as an evolutionary theory of nonintentional psi). However, the glossary definition Broderick provides for PMIR is a gross oversimplification, reducing the elaborate model to "a variant conceptualization of PK" (p. 326). In this part of the book Broderick begins to take flights of fancy--as he promised--and considers the implications of possible evidence of global consciousness (based on Roger Nelson's EGG project), and--intriguingly--of an aesthetic dimension to psi (based on some recent but apparently unpublished work by Suitbert Ertel).
This, I feel, is the weakest section of the book, principally because I think here Broderick is indulging his personal fascination with futurism. But in my view, the here and now of psi is fascinating and puzzling enough. If Broderick's principal goal is to suggest that quantum mechanics or some other breed of advanced physics might help provide the key to unlocking the gates of science, he might have done better to elaborate on that theme rather than to follow what seem like tangential future speculations in this final section of the book.
I have some other reservations about the book. It is particularly frustrating that Broderick does not usually provide the sources for his quotes and data, so we have to trust his interpretation of what he has read and discussed. Similarly, the notes pages are rather scanty, and the bibliography is limited. Furthermore, sometimes in the playful and irreverent tone that Broderick adopts he may err on the side of inaccuracy or offence. For instance, he alleges that the teenaged Rex Stanford "channeled extraterrestrial messages in a mediumistic trance" (p. 41), a statement that Stanford says is "entirely false" (R. G. Stanford, personal communication, August 28, 2007).
Outside the Gates of Science is much more than a collection of jaunty anecdotes and quantum speculations. It is a thoughtful and thought-provoking book. It takes the reader through some complicated territory, and does so in a thoroughly entertaining way. (There are occasional nuggets of gossip on which to nibble, but I will not divulge these here.) The book is written from the perspective of an "outsider" to parapsychology, and as such it has a wonderfully fresh feel to it. So Broderick takes time to question and illustrate some basic points that perhaps more jaded parapsychologists have long ago begun to take for granted. For instance, early psychical researchers are depicted as "storytellers," later Rhinean-influenced lab researchers as "bean counters"--Broderick admits this is rather glib terminology, but it succinctly captures for the newcomer to parapsychology the contrasting approaches to this field. Finally, despite sometimes seeming to be undecided about the strength of the evidence for psi, Broderick gives one the impression that he wants psi to be real. It is in the final section of the book, where he is speculating on a universe with psi, that he seems most alive and passionate. After all, as this book shows, psi makes the universe a much more interesting place.
BRODERICK, D. (1992). The Lotto Effect: Towards a technology of the paranormal. Hawthorn, AU: Hudson.
I am grateful to Professor Etzel Cardena for his helpful comments on this review.
Koestler Parapsychology Unit
University of Edinburgh
7 George Square
Edinburgh EH8 9JZ, UK
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|Publication:||The Journal of Parapsychology|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2006|
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