Physics and Psi

(Last Updated On: November 26, 2015)

Science Fact:

This post deals with physics and Psi — in this case, “Psi” is being used as an umbrella term covering ESP and PK, as explained below.

ESP, extrasensory perception, is a term adopted by Duke University psychologist J. B. Rhine and widely accepted, which he defined as reception of information not gained through the recognized physical senses but sensed with the mind.  Skeptical psychologist Ray Hyman referred to this effect as “anomalous mental phenomena”.  In both cases, the key point is that someone seems to receive information through means which cannot be explained using established scientific theories.

PK, psychokinesis, is a term credited to publisher Henry Holt, to mean the direct influence of mind on a physical system that cannot be entirely accounted for by the mediation of any known physical energy.

Scientists, by and large, do not believe that Psi phenomena, as defined above, exist. To them, physics and psi are incompatible. Of course, the crucial ingredient in the definitions of ESP and PK are that you can’t explain the phenomenon using science, so of course scientists won’t believe it!

This brings to mind one of Arthur C. Clarke’s “laws of prediction”, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”  So what happens if you happen to observe an event that seems to demonstrate Psi?

Science Speculation:

If you’re a scientist, you were trained to try to explain phenomena using the generally accepted principles of science;  but of course by definition Psi lies outside these principles.  Thus you are inclined to disbelieve that it is actually Psi, and look for other explanations: coincidence, hoax, self-deception by the experimenter, and if nothing else fails, that you yourself are deluded and that it really doesn’t exist.  So scientists are by and large skeptics, and sometimes their skepticism is so aggressive that it smacks of religious faith.

If you’re not a scientist, you may be willing to believe what scientists say and dismiss it without probing further.  But if you realize that scientists themselves are fallible, you may say to yourself, well, there are lots of things I don’t understand in this world — for example, what my spouse really means by thus-and-so, or how my iPhone works — so this might be just as true, I have no way of knowing.

One of the key objections that scientists make to Psi is that there is no accepted physical theory to explain how such things could happen.  So some people have tried to reach out and see whether science could be extended to embrace Psi-like events.
Nick Greaves – a UK amateur scientist, in the tradition of many great discoverers in the early years of science
Rupert Sheldrake – a UK biologist, parapsychologist and author
Jon Taylor – a parapsychologist in Valdelagrana, Spain
And of course Art Chester, a theoretical physicist!

What do you think?  Are physics and psi potentially compatible?


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