Parapsychology: Science or Pseudoscience?

C

Chris

But - just to be helpful - it may help if you give a formal statement of those laws that you think would be broken by psi. If you write them out explicitly you may find that they are less of a problem than you thought.
 
Psi does violate some laws in physics. One of these is the Inverse-square law. In all circumstances observed in physics the strength of the signal must get weaker as the receiver travels further from the transmitter, but in parapsychology experiments and according to psychics this is not the case - psi can travel any distance without becoming weaker, and the distance having no influence on the results.
We don't know that.
The type of distances tested in parapsychology don't really allow for such a generalization.

Psychokinesis violates the law of conservation of energy etc.
Why?
 
Couldn't help but jump in here. I'm surprised at how weak this post was, just wanted to point out why in detail.

Psi does violate some laws in physics. One of these is the Inverse-square law. In all circumstances observed in physics the strength of the signal must get weaker as the receiver travels further from the transmitter, but in parapsychology experiments and according to psychics this is not the case - psi can travel any distance without becoming weaker, and the distance having no influence on the results. This is unheard of in physics.
There is no law of physics called "the" inverse-square law, i.e. no mandate that any particular laws of physics must be consistent with the inverse-square law - there are only laws of physics which happen to be consistent with this law. So, which of those laws, precisely, is being violated?

In other words, your statement is merely one of vague presupposition/assumption/induction, not an identification of any actual violation of any actual law of physics. Let's accept for argument's sake that all laws of physics known or accepted so far relating to signal strength do happen to involve an inverse-square relationship between distance and signal strength. OK, fine. So what? Which of these laws is being violated by any hypothetical new law(s) entailed by psi, which happen(s) not to involve an inverse-square relationship? Be specific!

Psychokinesis violates the law of conservation of energy etc.
More vagueness. In what way does it violate the law of conservation of energy?

Physicist Mario Bunge covers some of this:
Mario Bunge as quoted by Sewer Rat said:
Precognition violates the principle of antecedence ("causality"), according to which the effect does not happen before the cause.
Sorry, this doesn't cut it either. This is not a law of physics, it is a metaphysical assumption.

Mario Bunge as quoted by Sewer Rat said:
Psychokinesis violates the principle of conservation of energy
See above.

Mario Bunge as quoted by Sewer Rat said:
as well as the postulate that mind cannot act directly on matter.
Again, not a law of physics, but a metaphysical assumption.

Mario Bunge as quoted by Sewer Rat said:
(If it did no experimenter could trust his own readings of his instruments.)
Chris has responded to this perfectly already.

Mario Bunge as quoted by Sewer Rat said:
Telepathy and precognition are incompatible with the epistemological principle according to which the gaining of factual knowledge requires sense perception at some point.
Again, not a law of physics. Here Mario even acknowledges as much - that this is not a law of physics, but an epistemological principle - i.e. another philosophical assumption.

Mario Bunge as quoted by Sewer Rat said:
Parapsychology makes no use of any knowledge gained in other fields, such as physics and physiological psychology.
Absurd on its face. To take a couple of small examples, parapsychological experiments often make use of hardware RNGs, which were developed through knowledge gained in the field of physics, and of methods of measuring skin conductance which use knowledge from the field of physiological psychology.

Mario Bunge as quoted by Sewer Rat said:
Moreover, its hypotheses are inconsistent with some basic assumptions of factual science.
Again, I don't see any specific law of physics being violated here, merely a vague reference to inconsistent "assumptions".

Mario Bunge as quoted by Sewer Rat said:
In particular, the very idea of a disembodied mental entity is incompatible with physiological psychology
Still waiting for a specific violation of a specific law of physics; this remains hopelessly vague and remains based in assumptions...

Mario Bunge as quoted by Sewer Rat said:
and the claim that signals can be transmitted across space without fading with distance is inconsistent with physics.
See above. Still waiting for a specific violation of a specific law of physics on this one...

Mario Bunge as quoted by Sewer Rat said:
The claim that quantum mechanics allows for the possibility of mental power influencing randomizers — an alleged case of micro-PK — is ludicrous since that theory respects the said conservation principles, and it deals exclusively with physical things.
Still no word on how, specifically, micro-PK violates the law of conservation of energy...

There's simply nothing here.

Edited to add a note on there being no "mandatory" law of inverse-squares, only individual laws of physics which happen to follow it.
 
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[Jay's reply below is to Neil's I have news for you: "quantum field theory" isn't a law of physics]

You should share your news with theoretical physicist Sean Carroll. I'm sure he'll welcome your correction.
I couldn't see a response to this from Neil or anyone else, but perhaps I simply missed it/them. In any case, I'm interested in exploring this question of whether psi really does violate any existing laws of physics, and in that context, I have to point out that as best as I can tell, Jay, Neil is right, and that your response is inadequate as a refutation. Wikipedia defines quantum field theory as "a theoretical framework"; the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines quantum field theory as a "mathematical and conceptual framework"; the Encyclopedia of Britannica defines quantum field theory as a "body of physical principles".

You are obviously intelligent enough to not have to have it pointed out to you that a "framework" or "body of physical principles" is not a law. So, in the interests of exploring this question of which, if any, existing laws of physics psi violates, Jay, can you stipulate which specific law(s) you think psi violates within the framework and body of QFT?
 
[Jay's reply below is to Neil's I have news for you: "quantum field theory" isn't a law of physics]



I couldn't see a response to this from Neil or anyone else, but perhaps I simply missed it/them. In any case, I'm interested in exploring this question of whether psi really does violate any existing laws of physics, and in that context, I have to point out that as best as I can tell, Jay, Neil is right, and that your response is inadequate as a refutation. Wikipedia defines quantum field theory as "a theoretical framework"; the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines quantum field theory as a "mathematical and conceptual framework"; the Encyclopedia of Britannica defines quantum field theory as a "body of physical principles".

You are obviously intelligent enough to not have to have it pointed out to you that a "framework" or "body of physical principles" is not a law. So, in the interests of exploring this question of which, if any, existing laws of physics psi violates, Jay, can you stipulate which specific law(s) you think psi violates within the framework and body of QFT?
Psi violates QFT, which means that there are no particles or forces in the Universe that could allow psi to exist. That's the best I can tell you. FFI (for further information), contact Sean Carroll. FFCB (for further confirmation bias), worry about whether I have refuted Neil's "point" that QFT is not a law.
 
Psi violates QFT, which means that there are no particles or forces in the Universe that could allow psi to exist. That's the best I can tell you. FFI (for further information), contact Sean Carroll. FFCB (for further confirmation bias), worry about whether I have refuted Neil's "point" that QFT is not a law.
Right ... The universe.... That thing we estimate we barely know the 4% of... Solid argument
 
Psi violates QFT, which means that there are no particles or forces in the Universe that could allow psi to exist.
Bucky said pretty much all that needs to be said, but I'll put in a response anyway:

I asked for (a) specific law(s) within the QFT framework or body of physical principles which psi violates. You failed to provide any. That's your first failing. But OK, we can let that slide and look at what you actually did respond with - maybe you have a substantive point anyway. But no, it turns out that you don't. Your response turns not on any violation of known laws, prescriptions, proscriptions, or otherwise of physics, but on the most tenuous of mere assumptions and presumptions. The list of these could go on and on, but here are a few that come immediately to mind:

  • That minds are reducible to physical brains, which in turn are reducible to physical mass and particles and the as-yet known physical forces affecting physical mass and particles.
  • That we have identified every possible such mechanism of force already.
  • That there are no forces of a category that we have not yet identified - e.g. that are physically irreducible and purely mental - or that, if there are, their presence and effects are such that they certainly would have obviously interfered with at least one physics experiment (despite the fact that physics experiments deal with... well, physical entities rather than mental ones) in such a way that we would have identified them by now.

Etc etc.

FFI (for further information), contact Sean Carroll.
Without wanting to be a jerk: the claims are yours; if you are unable to support them yourself and need external help, then by all means contact the man yourself for help. I have no need or desire to embark on an endeavour that I judge as fatally flawed from the outset.

But in any event, I did look the man up and read one of his blog posts which seems to deal on this theme: Telekinesis and Quantum Field Theory. Nothing in it changes anything I've written above.
 
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C

Chris

Psi violates QFT, which means that there are no particles or forces in the Universe that could allow psi to exist.
Psychical phenomena have never been explicable in terms of known physical laws. This isn't a new argument against psi. It's the oldest one in the book. But surely there's less excuse for relying on it now, than there was when the scientific investigation of the paranormal began, considering the complete revolution in physics that's taken place over the last century or so.
 
Bucky said pretty much all that needs to be said, but I'll put in a response anyway:

I asked for (a) specific law(s) within the QFT framework or body of physical principles which psi violates. You failed to provide any. That's your first failing. But OK, we can let that slide and look at what you actually did respond with - maybe you have a substantive point anyway. But no, it turns out that you don't. Your response turns not on any violation of known laws, prescriptions, proscriptions, or otherwise of physics, but on the most tenuous of mere assumptions and presumptions. The list of these could go on and on, but here are a few that come immediately to mind:

  • That minds are reducible to physical brains, which in turn are reducible to physical mass and particles and the as-yet known physical forces affecting physical mass and particles.
  • That we have identified every possible such mechanism of force already.
  • That there are no forces of a category that we have not yet identified - e.g. that are physically irreducible and purely mental - or that, if there are, their presence and effects are such that they certainly would have obviously interfered with at least one physics experiment (despite the fact that physics experiments deal with... well, physical entities rather than mental ones) in such a way that we would have identified them by now.

Etc etc.



Without wanting to be a jerk: the claims are yours; if you are unable to support them yourself and need external help, then by all means contact the man yourself for help. I have no need or desire to embark on an endeavour that I judge as fatally flawed from the outset.

But in any event, I did look the man up and read one of his blog posts which seems to deal on this theme: Telekinesis and Quantum Field Theory. Nothing in it changes anything I've written above.
Laird,

All Sean did was make an assumption about a mechanism for psi and then refute that assumption. Obviously it is possible that the initial assumption could be wrong. Ideas such as mine that are based on quantum computational models are not refuted by what Sean stated. In fact, I don't know who seriously even thinks of psi as some sort of force.

And regarding inverse square laws or conservation of energy laws, again these make the assumption of a force or a "mental radio" type of mechanism.

Aside from the fact that most signals don't fall off at an inverse square in the real world for various reasons (keep in mind that scientists though sending wireless signals across the Atlantic was impossible for somewhat similar reasons), the overall experimental evidence does not, in my opinion, support any type of "signal" mechanism.

Exchange of quantum information does not require a signal, so the inverse square objection does not apply, nor would any Special Relativistic objection. Exchange of quantum information requires no energy, so conservation of energy does not apply either.

Further, I am not too inclined to trust Sean Carroll for anything other than straight mainstream physics. He has a talk about God as a hypothesis that was horrible and he likes the many worlds interpretation of quantum theory because of mathematical parsimony. Nevermind the fact that MWI has never been axiomitized, and the attempts so far have been hideous and complex. Mathematical parsimony my arse! And never mind the still unsolved basis problem, or the discreteness problem. Sean should stick to the discovery channel type of stuff which he is good at.
 
Psychical phenomena have never been explicable in terms of known physical laws. This isn't a new argument against psi. It's the oldest one in the book. But surely there's less excuse for relying on it now, than there was when the scientific investigation of the paranormal began, considering the complete revolution in physics that's taken place over the last century or so.
Even if psi violated quantum theory, that isnt a refutation of it.

Think about this for a second. Quantum theory is being used to say that psi is impossible when the phenomena of quantum theory violated the known laws of physics at the time.
 
I actually would like to address a few points here for the benefit of others.

Jay said:
Any hypothesis that violated the known laws of physics would have a very, very low prior. Arguably any such hypothesis would be paranormal.
If this were true, then I guess quantum theory would have qualified as "paranormal" since it violated the known laws of physics at the time. Quantum theory violated the known laws of physics, so it would then have had a "very, very low prior," but with the benefit of hindsight, it is quite obvious that a low prior cannot be used to rule something out.

Jay said:
If something has a low probability, it probably doesn't exist. That's what having a low probability means.
So since quantum theory violated the known laws of physics at the time, and since he previously said that "Any hypothesis that violated the known laws of physics would have a very, very low prior," then previous to additional experimental confirmation, quantum theory would have a low prior probability and therefore it probably wouldn't exist according to this. However, it is obvious that QM is true, and again that we cannot use a low prior to rule something out.

Jay said:
The question isn't really answerable as posed. But what was the prior probability that something resembling quantum theory would emerge as the answer to then-unsolved problems in physics, pretty high, I would think.
There were a few responses regarding my statement that major discoveries by definition have a low prior probability (in this case it was about quantum theory), and therefore a low prior cannot be used to rule it out. This should be obvious that this directly contradicts the first quote in this post where he said that "Any hypothesis that violated the known laws of physics would have a very, very low prior."

In fact, Einstein was part of a paper written on quantum theory about the EPR paradox, and it was essentially an a priori attempt to say that quantum theory was incomplete because of the impossibility of the non-local correlations (in other words, they felt the prior probability was extremely low). However, it took many decades for experimental confirmation, regardless of how unlikely it was thought to be.

So the bottom line is that truly new discoveries, such as quantum theory or general or special relativity, by definition have low prior probabilities. If they did not, they would not be truly new discoveries. And using the examples of quantum theory and relativity theories, it should be obvious that having a low prior probability cannot be used to rule it out as an option. It doesn't make it true, either, but here it was being used essentially refute the psi hypothesis.

In fact, that new discoveries have low prior probabilities is actually part of what makes it good science and gives it strength. If a new theory can make a prediction that has a very low prior according to the current theories, and then these predictions are experimentally corroborated, it gives strong evidence in favor of the new theory over the old theory since it was so unlikely that such a thing could occur according to the current theories (the more unlikely, the less likely it was due to auxiliary assumptions).
 
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