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Elliot BenjaminElliot Benjamin is a philosopher, mathematician, musician, counselor, writer, with Ph.Ds in mathematics and psychology and the author of over 150 published articles in the fields of humanistic and transpersonal psychology, pure mathematics, mathematics education, spirituality & the awareness of cult dangers, art & mental disturbance, and progressive politics. He has also written a number of self-published books, such as: The Creative Artist, Mental Disturbance, and Mental Health. See also: www.benjamin-philosopher.com.

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PSI RESEARCH STATUS

A COMMENT ON A COMMENT

Elliot Benjamin

In Geoffrey Falk's recent Integral World essay The Salmon of Belief: Comments on the Status of Psi Research [1], he offers his usual knowledgeable, witty, skeptical, and highly internet informed perspective of the fallacy of mystical and/or psychic claims. Falk's essay is in response to Don Salmon and Jan Maslow's Integral World article The Challenge of Writing About Sri Aurobindo's Integral Psychology [2].

I must say that I have always found Falk's informative writings to be extremely stimulating, valuable, and often amusing, in spite of his frequent sarcastic detrimental statements about writers he does not approve of, including myself (see the Benjamin/Falk Integral World dialogue of articles following my 2006 article On Ken Wilber's Integral Institute: An Experiential Analysis [3]). I believe that Falk offers a crucial skeptical perspective in the quest for scientific truth, one that cannot be ignored, and it is in this context that I wish to point out some quotes which I find perplexing and interesting, in Falk's own style of responding to a writer's exact words. I welcome the opportunity to learn more, but I do request that if Falk decides to respond publicly to my present comment article, that he do so in a professional scholarly manner that does not include personal attacks on my previous philosophical writings, and that he focus upon the present quotes which I am referring to.

In Falk's usual witty and irreverent style he makes it quite clear that he does not place any stock in the writings of Dean Radin, author of the highly popular book: The Conscious Universe [4]), and that he has much respect for the writings of well known psi critic Ray Hyman [5]. Here are Falk's words in regard to Radin and Hyman:

“Whenever you find people quoting Dean Radin or the work of PEAR in a positive way, you don't actually even need to read any further to know that you're dealing with ones who can't tell shit from Shinola. (You can hardly go too far wrong in quoting Ray Hyman, so no points at all to them for getting that much right).“

What I find perplexing is that in Radin's book The Conscious Universe, in spite of Falk's disapproval of Radin's portrayal of the efficacy of psi research, there is a quote presented from an article of Ray Hyman, along with a quote from a fellow reviewer of psi research, Jessica Utts, both of which are also reproduced in the Salmon & Maslow article.

The Hyman quote pertains to the 1996 American Institute for Research study of formerly classified government supported psi research for the CIA at the request of the U.S. Congress. Here is the initial quote by Utts:

“The statistical results of the studies examined are far beyond what is expected by chance. Arguments that these results could be due to methodological flaws in the experiments are soundly refuted. Effects of similar magnitude to those in government-sponsored research...have been replicated at a number of laboratories across the world. Such consistency cannot be readily explained by claims of flaws or fraud...It is recommended that future experiments focus on understanding how this phenomenon works, and on how to make it as useful as possible. There is little benefit to continuing experiments designed to offer proof" ([4], [6]).

The quote I am referring to by fellow reviewer Hyman relates directly to this statement by Utts, and is as follows:

“The statistical departures from chance appear to be too large and consistent to be attributed to statistical flukes of any sort...I tend to agree with Professor Utts that real effects are occurring in these experiments. Something other than chance departures from the null hypothesis has occurred in these experiments.” [4], [7])

Hyman clarifies further that he does not believe that these statistical departures have by any means been explained as psi phenomena, in spite of the much more open perspective of Utts in this regard whom Hyman refers to as a believer in psi [5].

It is not my purpose in this comment to argue for or against the validity of psi phenomena. I am merely trying to understand the evidence presented, from both the psi advocates and the psi skeptics. According to Salmon and Maslow's evaluation of Hyman's further comments ([2], [5],[7]), they view Hyman as moving into a neutral stance towards this particular psi research, not venturing to say that psi has by any means been established, but acknowledging that the evidence for psi deserves to be taken seriously with further scientific study. Perhaps this is not contradictory to what Falk is conveying in his comment on the status of psi research. But when I see a quote from a highly acclaimed psi skeptic who is quite favorably acknowledged by Falk, stating that “real effects“ are occurring in this experiment, it does have the effect of making me at least “open“ to the possibility that there is something beyond fraud, stage magic, chance, poor controls, sloppy research, etc. to explain at least some occurrences of psi phenomena.

I certainly do not want to believe something because it has supposedly been scientifically demonstrated and then upon further investigation it is found to lack a sound research methodology. This is why I am comfortable placing myself in neutral territory at this time, in an agnostic perspective. I believe that a complete and significant scientific study of psi should involve quantitative as well as qualitative research methodologies, in complimentary research investigations [8]. As I believe Salmon & Maslow have effectively argued, in spite of various flaws in the research they cite as pointed out by Falk, psi phenomena deserves to be studied with a true scientific openness, from my perspective in both quantitative and qualitative research studies, to explain Ray Hyman's statement that “something“ is going on.

REFERENCES

1) Falk, G. (2008). The Salmon of Belief: Comments on the Status of Psi Research. Retrieved April 11, 2008 from http://www.integralworld.net

2) Salmon, D. & Maslow, J. (2008). The Challenge of Writing About Sri Aurobindo's Integral Psychology. Retrieved April 11, 2008 from http://www.integralworld.net

3) Benjamin, E. (2006). On Ken Wilber's Integral Institute: An Experiential Analysis. Retrieved April 11, 2008 from http://www. integralworld.net

4) Radin, D. (1997). The Conscious Universe. New York: Harper Collins.

5) Hyman, R (1995). The Evidence for Psychic Functioning Claims Vs. Reality. Retreived April 11, 2008, from http://www.skepdic.com

6) Utts, J. M. (1996). An Assessment of the Evidence for Psychic Functioning. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 10, 3-30.

7) Hyman, R. (1996). Evaluation of a Program on Anomalous Mental Phenomena. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 10, 31-58.

8) Camic, P.M., Rhodes, J.E, & Yardley, L. (2003). Qualitative Research in Psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.




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