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.
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.