Longtime Skeptic now accepts parapsychology as a science

Chris French

Professor of Psychology at the University of London Chris French has a complex relationship with parapsychology (research on, for example, extrasensory perception or ESP). At one time he believed in it, then was, for four decades, a skeptic – but now he has come to A new approach to the question: How do we decide what is and is not “science”:

Before we can assess the scientific status of a discipline, we must first consider what philosophers of science call the problem of demarcation. What criteria should be applied to decide whether a discipline is a real science or not? It is a fascinating subject that has been the subject of discussion among philosophers of science for a very long time. A full discussion of this issue is well beyond the scope of this article. Suffice it to say that many commentators have ultimately concluded that it is simply not possible to conceive of a strict set of criteria that can be applied in such a way as to properly classify all true science as such and exclude every example of non-science. , including pseudosciences.

Does this mean that there is no difference between science and pseudoscience? No. While there is no definite dividing line between day and night, we can all agree that it is easy to find clear examples of each. Likewise, we can all agree that, say, physics and chemistry are clear examples of real science and astrology and homeopathy are great examples of pseudoscience. So how do we do this?

The best approach seems to be one that does not attempt to apply a definitive list of strict criteria, but rather accepts that there are certain “benchmarks” that characterize what we consider to be good science.

Chris French, “Why I now believe parapsychology is a science and not a pseudoscience” To The Skeptic (September 22, 2021)

French takes care to point out,

Science is above all a set of methods to try to acquire truthful knowledge. It is not an established set of “facts” that should never be questioned. Personally, I no longer believe in paranormal phenomena such as precognition, telepathy, clairvoyance and precognition. I could be wrong, of course, and maybe one day new evidence of a robust and reproducible paranormal phenomenon will be presented, which will cause me to change my mind. After almost a century and a half of systematic research, I am not holding my breath.

Chris French, “Why I now believe parapsychology is a science and not a pseudoscience” To The Skeptic (September 22, 2021)

From his current perspective, it can be assumed that if a researcher studying extrasensory perception follows strict and agreed upon guidelines, research simply cannot be ruled out if it does. Is find evidence for ESP. That is, fellow researchers can’t just say, “Well, if you had debunked it, that would be science. But because your research – carried out to agreed standards – supports it, so it is pseudoscience!

Inside the brain.  Concept of neurons and nervous system.
Neurons shoot.

This is the classic demarcation problem. “Science” should not mean garnering support for just one side of an issue. If so, science becomes a branch of propaganda.

Overall, a greater openness on this subject is a good development. Merely debunking all claims of paranormal experiences as “pseudoscience” could lead to the absence or misreading of certain verifiable facts about the mind-brain relationship.

We know for example that

➤ People with divided or largely absent brains may function normally.

➤ Some people suddenly gain clarity about life just before they die when their brain / body seems less able to support it than ever.

➤ Some near-death experiences include acquiring information when a person is known to be clinically dead.

A more correct account of many paranormal claims may turn out to be something like this: the mind, while dependent on the brain for its existence in our frame of reality, is not simply an exit from the brain. If the mind is not simply “what the brain does” (epiphenomenism), we can better understand some of the facts noted above and, in turn perhaps, many paranormal claims.

Epiphenomenism is fashionable in science. But there is certainly evidence to question it. And just being trendy doesn’t make the approach to a topic correct.

Perhaps this situation is similar to what happens with unidentified aerial phenomena (UAB or UFO). Decades ago Carl Sagan (1934-1996), denied at Harvard, was afraid of raising them, even though he believed them to be real. But now the Harvard astronomer Avi loeb, who thinks them so real, is free to talk about them.

That in itself doesn’t make Loeb correct or UFOs real. But at least we move beyond the simple-minded “science versus pseudoscience” melodrama that hinders real research.

You can also read: Your mind against your brain: ten things to know


UFOs that Carl Sagan was convinced of but couldn’t talk about. Sagan had been denied tenure at Harvard before, one sci-fi screenwriter recalls, and he couldn’t afford to take any more risks. Writer Bryce Zabel recalls an argument with Sagan over the matter in a parking lot 40 years ago, during the Voyager 2 flyby – which changed Zabel’s career.

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