Skip to main content

Extra Sensory – Brian Clegg ****

As a subject, extra sensory perception, ESP, psi or whatever you want to call it hovers on the frivolous edges of science. And yet there certainly is something for science to investigate, whether it is an actual physical phenomena or the oddities of the human mind that make it susceptible to believing in such possibilities.
The editor of this site, Brian Clegg, has decided to take the scalpel of science to areas of the paranormal where an attempt has been made to make a controlled and scientific assessment, limiting himself to those areas that could have a scientific explanation, as opposed to those that rely on the supernatural. So we are talking about the likes of telepathy, telekinesis, clairvoyance and remote viewing.
I had always got the impression that the first to take a really scientific approach was Rhine in the 1930s – in reality it seems that athough these early investigators employed the trappings of science, a lot of the tools, particularly the controls and the maths were applied rather carelessly. What’s more this seems a common theme in much of the subsequent scientific exploration of mental powers.
All the way through, Clegg makes the book very approachable, using an introductory story to get into each chapter, looking at possible scientific explanations and exploring the attempts of academia to get to grips with everything from Uri Geller to bizarre experiments straight out of a David Cronenberg movie with half-ping pong balls taped over the subjects’ eyes. He opens up all the means of deception, whether accidental from misunderstanding statistics to explaining the tricks used by magicians and mentalists to give the appearance of having psi abilities.
The only reason I don’t give the book more stars is that there really isn’t a huge amount of science in it – which is hardly Clegg’s fault, it is just the nature of the subject. Inevitably his attempts to provide possible scientific explanations for the likes of telepathy are a little speculative, but overall this is a refreshing attempt that unusually for this subject treads the tightrope of proper scientific enquiry. It is neither the total denial of the ultra-skeptic who will not even consider any evidence (Clegg quotes Richard Dawkins saying ‘I am not interested in evidence’) and the feeble acceptance of any old rubbish made by those who never question whatever they are told by psychics. Good stuff.
Hardback:  
Kindle:  
Review by Peter Spitz
Please note, this title is written by the editor of the Popular Science website. Our review is still an honest opinion – and we could hardly omit the book – but do want to make the connection clear.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Einstein's Greatest Mistake - David Bodanis ****

Books on Einstein and his work are not exactly thin on the ground. There's even been more than one book before with a title centring on Einstein's mistake or mistakes. So to make a new title worthwhile it has do something different - and David Bodanis certainly achieves this with Einstein's Greatest Mistake. If I'm honest, the book isn't the greatest on the science or the history - but what it does superbly is tell a story. The question we have to answer is why that justifies considering this to be a good book.
I would compare Einstein's Greatest Mistake with the movie Lincoln -  it is, in effect, a biopic in book form with all the glory and flaws that can bring. Compared with a good biography, a biopic will distort the truth and emphasise parts of the story that aren't significant because they make for a good screen scene. But I would much rather someone watched the movie than never found out anything about Lincoln - and similarly I'd much rather someon…

Four Way Interview - Tom Cabot

Tom Cabot is a London-based book editor and designer with a background in experimental psychology, natural science and graphic design. He founded the London-based packaging company, Ketchup, and has produced and illustrated many books for the British Film Institute, Penguin and the Royal Institute of British Architects. Tom has held a lifelong passion to explain science graphically and inclusively ... ever since being blown away by Ray and Charles Eames’ Powers of Ten at an early age. His first book is Eureka, an infographic guide to science.

Why infographics?
For me infographics provided a way to present heavy-lifting science in an alluring and playful, but ultimately illuminating, way. And I love visualising data and making it as attractive as the ideas are.  The novelty of the presentation hopefully gets the reader to look afresh. I love the idea of luring in readers who might normally be put off by drier, more monotone science – people who left science behind at 16. I wanted the boo…

A Tale of Seven Scientists - Eric Scerri ***

Scientists sometimes tell us we're in a post-philosophy world. For example, Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow in The Grand Design bluntly say that that philosophy is 'dead' - no longer required, as science can do its job far better. However, other scientists recognise the benefits of philosophy, particularly when it is applied to their own discipline. One such is Eric Scerri, probably the world's greatest expert on the periodic table, who in this challenging book sets out to modify the philosophical models of scientific progress.

I ought to say straight away that A Tale of Seven Scientists sits somewhere on the cusp between popular science and a heavy duty academic title. For reasons that will become clear, I could only give it three stars if rating it as popular science, but it deserves more if we don't worry too much about it being widely accessible.

One minor problem with accessibility is that I've never read a book that took so long to get started. First t…