I’ve just finished reading Lawrence LeShan’s book A New Science of the Paranormal: The Promise of Psychical Research. I’ve received the book for the review from its publisher, Quest Books. It went out in April this year.
I must say that I’ve never heard of Lawrence LeShan earlier although, based on the book, he was researching paranormal for several decades. He was born in 1920, he’s trained and published psychotherapist, and is the author of the best selling book How to Meditate: A Guide to Self-Discovery.
“A New Science of the Paranormal” consists of seven chapters and an appendix. Each chapter also includes one or two “case histories” – a paranormal case from Lawrence’s career or another famous case. The chapters in the book are:
- Psychic Research and the Consistency of the Universe.
- What Do We Know About Psychic Phenomena
- Normal and Paranormal Communication
- Designing a Science of Psychical Research
- Psi and Altered States of Consciousness
- The Next Step: Implications of the New Science
- What Dare I Hope
The Appendix in titled: “When is Uvani”.
Chapter 1 tells some history of psi research, the concepts, why is it difficult, including psychological factors. One tidbit is his current disapproval of connecting psi and quantum physics which has become so popular lately.
Chapter 2 describes the 4 things that were proven about paranormal research and 9 which are almost certain to be true.
Chapter 3 tries to compare normal and paranormal types of communication. He gets away from the “paranormal” terminology into cleaner one in order to better understand the differences and similarities between regular and “paranormal” communication types.
Chapter 4 begins what I think was the main goal in writing the book in the first place. Lawrence explains how science approaches different subjects and argues which approaches would be best for psychical research. He writes that he now believes that psi research should be approached not with more laboratory testing, like exact sciences, but like social sciences which employ other methods of research and deduction.
In Chapter 5 Lawrence describes how theories about “reality” shape the worldview and how the conflicts between observed phenomena and what we think about reality should be handled, in science. It is quite a philosophical chapter, in the good sense of the word.
Chapter 6 starts with some more psychological effects of psi events. How people reject them after they happen. This chapter also has a call to scientist to bring psi research into the mainstream science and also explains how to do this.
In Chapter 7 LeShan hopes that the acceptance of the existence of psi by the public will bring change to the way people think of the world and how they behave, to the better.
The Appendix is like a chapter by itself. In it LeShan tries to continue his design of the new science of the paranormal. He explains how we might try to overcome some difficulties with psi research by asking the right questions and thinking of it all in more abstract way, like in mathematics, for example.
The case histories after each chapter are very interesting and diverse. I’ve never heard of any of them although they all seem very compelling. They are all what a skeptic of psi would call “anecdotal” but again, one of the main points that Lawrence LeShan tries to pass in the book is that psi research should be taken out of the laboratory and the focus should be on these unique and very strong cases, which he calls “need-determined”. These are the cases where something “paranormal” happens because of a great need of some other person.
If you’re serious about psi research, consciousness and want to get a wider point of view on the various difficulties of this research and how to approach it, you should read “A New Science of the Paranormal”. It is quite different from many other books which are either too unscientific on one hand, or those which are heavy on statistics on another.
I think Leshan could also be a good guest for the Skeptiko podcast.
A member of our parapsychology forum , advised using FEC (Forward Error Correction) codes in psi experiments. This should help, in his opinion, create a more remarkable result out of psi test. Here’s an edited excerpt of his post (a little technical):
Most ESP tests show only a slight (but consistent) deviation from the expected results (e.g. in a test where the nominal chance of a hit is 50%, someone consistently scores 52%). In the long run, such an effect is statistically significant, but it is by no means “impressive” by human measures. BUT, consider these:
3. …So, instead of trying to apply ESP on “raw” tests (e.g. testing telepathy with Zener cards), and just comparing the results with the expected hits, why not make the objects (e.g. the Zener cards) code some digital data (the “message”), protected with a heavily redundant error-correction code (e.g. one that increases data size to 1500%, but only needs 10% of the transmitted, protected data to recover the original). As the “receiving” subject senses the cards, assuming that we are witnessing actual psychic ability, the received results will likely contain enough signal (that is, receptions produced by ESP, not by random chance, i.e. noise) to recover the original message.
If you’re not familiar with FEC, here’re a couple of real examples which I gave later in the forum. I studied some of it in university but it was quite a few years ago so I might not be 100% accurate, so beware.
A basic example would be a Compact Disc. You know that even if it has scratches in a moderate amount, the player will still play it will. This is since it can reconstruct the correct information using data that is still available (if there’s enough of it).
A more basic example of actual ECC would be transmitting everything 3 times. Then, if one of 3 is received with error it’ll still be able to select the right result (2 of 3). Of course, there are much better ways.
Since I liked his idea I decided to email Dr. Dean Radin, one of the leading parapsychologists today. His first reply on the topic was as follows: