I’ve had plenty of personal experiences with it, have heard of many others’ experiences with it, and have read of scientific experiments in which it’s been verified (among other sources, there was https://www.amazon.com/world-psychic-research-Hereward-Carrington/dp/0498012999).
Skeptics rationalize away personal experiences, dismiss the ubiquity of other people’s experiences out of hand, by giving them the convenient label “anecdotal,” because they’re not scientific, and incorrectly believe that no tests in parapsychology ever have positive results.
Some truths are elusive, so truth seeking is hard and can’t be done adequately according to a strict formula (such as analyzing for proof or believing anything accepted by academia), denial-by-default is a bias (see the ‘Doubting Doubt’ essay in https://megasociety.org/noesis/197.pdf), and one should take into account everything, including the “anecdotal,” carefully judging the legitimacy of each story or item on a case-by-case basis using whatever faculties of judgment one has available, even if they’re not absolutely infallible and objective, and diligently weighing each evaluation against other evaluations that may lead to alternate conclusions. This is true open-minded truth-seeking.
And the reason we don’t hear of tests in which parapsychological phenomena have been verified is that psi is extremely taboo in the scientific community (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qw_O9Qiwqew). You’ll likely lose your career and all scientific credibility for exploring and affirming psychic phenomena. People tend to think that if something extraordinary and amazing of any nature were discovered by science, then the whole scientific community would be all over it and they’d hear about it, but that’s naive. The scientific community is made of humans who are flawed and prejudiced just like everyone else.
And if you find flaws in all the studies you hear that confirm parapsychological phenomena, consider that maybe you’re holding a higher standard for those tests than for other kinds of tests, or that the flaws you find only allow for possible methods of cheating, subconscious calculations, or accidents that are extremely unlikely, actually less likely than the possibility of a spiritual universe (or some other kind of universe that’s not incompatible with such results, as opposed to your current worldview which is). Of course, the problem is that the likelihood of such a universe is a subjective assessment and you probably judge it to be zero or near zero, but I think that’s due to certain biases, which I’ll get into below. Also consider that maybe the psi-affirming experiments you’ve heard of are only the ones that are flawed, because skeptics wouldn’t share and make popular particular experiments that they can’t debunk.
The underlying prejudice against psi is the result of a totally mechanistic, physicalist worldview, under which no likely explanation for psychism is possible. But the physicalist worldview is far from proven; it’s just an assumption people make, sort of an extrapolation, due to the efficacy of science and physical theory.
It’s also due to scientism, which is deeply embedded in modern culture and hence something we can’t see that we’re a part of, like a fish who doesn’t know it’s in water, as it relates to the fact that anything immaterial is immeasurable by material instruments, and is probably immodelable, and is therefore outside the purview of science.
It’s also due to a deep-seated aversion to believing in things we can’t see.
It’s also due to the desire to feel as if we fundamentally understand everything in the universe. We’re driven to understand, especially the mysterious, as mysteries bother us until we explain them, and rationalists are driven to understand things analytically and mechanically. It’s also popular to understand things according to the academic worldview, which includes physicalism, since academia is is seen as authoritative.
This underlying physicalist prejudice is the prime underlying reason for believing it’s irrational to believe in psychism, not anything evidence-based.
Another reason for not believing in psychism is that rationalists, and many people who are just particularly rational, are afraid to believe in anything that they can’t back up, such as by referring to some academic study, especially when it wouldn’t otherwise be accepted by their rational peers (who are probably all scientistic physicalists for the reasons explained above), and they’re especially afraid to believe in anything that wouldn’t be accepted by their rational peers regardless of how much evidence or reasoning they can back it up with. They’re afraid of potentially appearing as wrong, or worse, irrational, because that would reduce their value, credibility and social status or respect in the eyes of their peers. (Most of us want to spread our beliefs to others as much as possible, which is why we wouldn’t want to lose credibility. It’s obvious why we wouldn’t want to lose those other things.)
Another reason, which might be the same reason people have a deep-seated aversion to believing in things they can’t see, is a reflexive kind of self-protection. I’m not sure of the real nature of it, but believing in invisible or spiritual things is somehow threatening to a certain common type of mind.
I guess it’s because of what such things could lead to. Schizophrenia. Psychosis. Life-transforming religious experiences. Awakening and hence abolishment of the ego and hence also of the capacity or will to deal with everyday life. Seeing things one doesn’t want to see. Or maybe just a systemic breakdown of one’s narrowly defined analytical/logical system of belief/evaluation (not that pure logic itself is inadequate, but a lot of what people call logical thinking is full of subtle, limiting presuppositions. See https://myriachromat.wordpress.com/2018/04/13/notes-on-science-scientism-mysticism-religion-logic-physicalism-skepticism-etc/#Logic). Maybe it’s because if you believe one such thing, where does it stop? You might end up believing anything and everything, which would be chaos. It may even be possible that some people have been in darkness for so long that a little bit of light is painful to them.
While all or most of those reasons for self-protection may be valid concerns for a large group of people, it doesn’t make their usually arrogantly held beliefs/denials/view of the world (probably also with disdain for alternative viewpoints and beliefs and/or the people who hold them) correct.
Another reason people disbelieve in some psychic phenomena, such as fortune telling and past lives, is because of the copious amount of falsehoods there is to be found in the those areas. In fortune telling there are a lot of charlatans, and in past lives there are a lot of flaky people who say they remember pretty wacky stuff and everybody was Cleopatra (but actually, there are legitimate reasons many different people could have memories of being famous figures, explained here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e5skCbW4ZHE&t=502s). But this isn’t a valid reason to reject fortune telling or past lives as a whole, because, if you think about it, those charlatans and flakes would exist whether or not the underlying phenomena are actually valid. In fact, if they are, there’d actually be more charlatans and flakes surrounding them than if there weren’t, because those movements would sort of “piggy-back” off the popularity of the real phenomena.
Another reason people disbelieve in spiritual ideas is the fact that the main spiritualist ideation we have in Western society is Christianity, which is dogmatic, barbaric, fear-based, guilt-inducing, homicidal, genocidal, sexist, racist, anti-scientific, self-contradictory, antiquated, absolutist and simplistic in its metaphysical worldview, and war-mongering, spreading mainly via conquering nations. Granted, a few of these characteristics are merely biblical (the ideas of Christianity the cultural phenomenon are much fewer than and different from the ideas contained in the Holy Bible) and/or historical in nature.
It’s a religion so absurd that the only way it can maintain itself is by being passed down from generation to generation, via the indoctrination of the very young. Because this is the main source of ideation for anything spiritual in Western society, even people who aren’t religious per se consciously or unconsciously associate all things spiritual/metaphysical with religion, specifically with Christianity, and hence those things get branded as absurd accordingly.
I’ve had one psychic reading (which isn’t exactly fortune telling, but it’s closely related I guess) in my life, it was without charge (and no, it wasn’t to lure me into paying for another reading later; she apparently just did readings for free), and every bit of it was spot-on. You could say that’s due to the Barnum effect, but that would be an assumption, and one that denies that I have the intelligence/keenness to tell the difference. Or you could assume it was cold reading, but we had just met and I said very little and told her nothing about myself nor answered any questions (except “Would you like a reading?”), and this conversation was done online via text.
And I’ve heard multiple stories of facts from past life memories that the people “couldn’t have known” that were checked and verified. For example, one was a guy who remembered flying a plane in a war when it went down. From his memories they were able to pinpoint the area it went down at, and they found a buried warplane there that had been hitherto undiscovered. This was shown on TV. In another example, someone underwent hypnotic past life regression and remembered living in a certain house. She remembered the color and design of the wallpaper in, I think, a bathroom, and the investigator found the house, went to the bathroom and peeled away layers and layers of old wallpaper until he found that design.
So there are examples out there of the real things among all the charlatans and flakes that would be there whether the phenomena were valid or not.
Another reason people disbelieve in the spiritual is the existence of the word “supernatural.” Everything spiritual is categorized as being supernatural, and the supernatural is painted as being totally separate from, or even in violation of, the natural. But the truth is that everything is natural. It’s all one holistic reality with different types of phenomena, objects or substances, some of which are physical and some of which aren’t, which may exist on a gradient of sorts, perhaps a gradient of density, which may be analogous to the difference between solids, liquids and gases. I wrote more about that at https://myriachromat.wordpress.com/2017/02/15/on-the-term-supernatural/. A relevant philosophical view here is dual-aspect monism, also known as double-aspect theory: https://psychology.fandom.com/wiki/Dual-aspect_monism.
Another reason people disbelieve in the spiritual is that they don’t wish to be associated with or are otherwise turned off by the kinds of people who tend to believe in the spiritual, or by the things they believe that tend to get lumped in with the spiritual. This is also a reason people don’t believe in flying saucers, even though the evidence for them is abundant (see https://myriachromat.wordpress.com/2017/02/04/on-the-subject-of-aliens-and-their-crafts/). I’ve noticed it’s true that most spiritualists are so open-minded their brains fell out. There’s also a statistical correlation between schizophrenia and mysticism. It doesn’t mean spiritualism is wholly wrong, it just means that most people err on one of two sides: overly skeptical or overly credulous (to simplify it a bit; there’s also rationalism versus gut thinking or winging it, trusting the establishment verses independent thinking, and other factors. I talk about rationalism, skepticism and scientism here, here and here).
In the case of schizophrenia correlating with mysticism, it could just be because schizophrenics more easily believe extraordinary things, or it could be because our monkey brains aren’t really designed to truly understand spiritual reality, or at least not with the analytic framework or attitude we’re trained to adopt in modern society or perhaps ever since the acquisition of language.
Regarding the rationalizing away of personal experiences I mentioned above, some people use the tools of knowledge of various cognitive biases to do this (and not to mention to discredit other people’s personal experiences as well). While those cognitive biases probably exist, they’re applied presumptuously, as if it must have been some cognitive bias or another just because it conceivably could be. Sometimes it’s a real stretch of the imagination, and every time it prevents one from trusting themselves, and stifles heart-based thinking, which is tragic and unwholesome. One such cognitive bias people assume must have happened, particularly regarding an abundance of synchronicities, is confirmation bias. I wrote about that here: https://myriachromat.wordpress.com/2018/04/13/notes-on-science-scientism-mysticism-religion-logic-physicalism-skepticism-etc/#Bias and https://myriachromat.wordpress.com/2020/10/30/how-many-coincidences-are-enough/.
Other tools of rationalization of one’s own experiences people use are things like the subconscious mind doing incredible calculations/deductions or acts of perception. As I mentioned regarding scientific experiments affirming psychism, while you can’t prove that the subconscious mind can’t do those things, some of the assumptions are so outlandish that it’s less likely than the possibility that spiritualism is true or that your worldview is false in some other way. The same goes for some of those other tools of rationalizing away experiences.
One thing to note is that we don’t fundamentally understand anything in physics. Meaning that, for any physical force, object, principle or whatever, you can ask why that thing is the way it is, and you might get answers in terms of more fundamental things, and you may ask why those more fundamental things are the way they are, and you may get answers to those, but eventually you’ll hit a place where we have no idea why anything that everything else is based on is the way it is. It’s just taken for granted because we measure it, or because it’s a part of a physical model that allows us to predict and manipulate such measurements.
And such base ideas are not really very many levels down. For example, we can model gravity’s behavior, but we have no idea why it exists. We can explain it as curvature in spacetime (and this explanation is dubious as I explain in https://myriachromat.wordpress.com/2020/10/29/space-doesnt-exist/ and briefly explain somewhere in https://myriachromat.wordpress.com/2022/01/23/kants-phenomena-and-noumena/), but then we have no idea why mass curves spacetime, nor do we know why the gravitational constant has the value it does. Some people have theories explaining gravity which may or may not be feasible, but then we still don’t know why mass even exists. You can explain it with the Higgs particle, which is part of the Standard Model, but then why does the Standard Model apply instead of some totally different model? Or for that matter, why quantum field theory or general relativity rather than totally different mechanics? Why does the universe even work mechanically, in a way easily modeled and predicted by a mathematical framework? We don’t even know why anything exists, let alone why it exists in the particular way it does.
So this foundationalism that people hold where they think they fundamentally understand the universe, and anything that contradicts that understanding or can’t be explained within it is farcical, is baseless. See Feynman’s brilliant answer to why magnets work at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wMFPe-DwULM for a little bit more sense of this anti-foundationalism of understanding that I’m talking about.
If there were an underlying, non-mechanistic, magical spiritual reality in addition to or giving rise to the material reality we see, it would probably appear to science exactly as the stochasticity behind quantum mechanics, so the efficacy of physical theory is no indication of physicalism.
To be honest, something like ghosts (another thing which there is a ubiquity of people’s experiences with—it’s common to hear of people who were staunch disbelievers, and must have dismissed some other people’s experiences, until they witnessed one for themselves, and there have been photographs of what are clearly ghosts that experts have analyzed and deemed to be unmodified) might not appear as patterns of quantum-random events, but rather exceptions to the laws of physics, but we never know that the laws of physics are absolutely correct or even as all-encompassing as we suppose they are. As Popperianism holds, you can’t prove a physical theory correct, only incorrect. They’re generalized as being universal or absolute by induction from a few observations of a few different kinds, often only under specific and/or controlled conditions, and we’ve yet to come across a ghost in a lab, at least one that stays there long enough for us to scientifically study it.
Extrasensory perception, on the other hand, may be expressed in the brain as the effects of coordinated quantum randomness and quantum amplification. It’s theorized that the brain operates on the edge of chaos, and in any chaotic system minute perturbations can cause large-scale effects via the butterfly effect. Quantum-random events should be such perturbations. I’ve also read of a discovery that quantum-scale events actually do have an effect on the neurological level, but I don’t have a reference. This is probably also how mind/soul/consciousness interacts with the brain in general, or rather, it’s the nexus between the mechanical aspect of the person and the non-mechanistic, substantive aspect.
It’s also possible that ghosts and other paranormal/spiritual phenomena/objects may be physically expressed as coordinated quantum randomness, given that, under quantum theory, virtually anything can potentially happen, even if the more surprising things are exceedingly unlikely if you assume no underlying rhyme and reason behind quantum randomness. See https://noosphere.princeton.edu/ for evidence of uncanny coordination of quantum-random events in relation to collective changes in consciousness.
It’s also possible that the laws of physics aren’t as all-encompassing as we like to think they are and paranormal phenomena are simply out of scope, and/or the assumed reducibility of the the macroscopic to the microscopic (which seems to be the seat of most physical-theoretical definition/limitation) isn’t fully warranted so there’s some degree to which “anything goes” on macroscopic scales. I wrote a lot more on the limitations of physical theory at https://myriachromat.wordpress.com/2018/04/13/notes-on-science-scientism-mysticism-religion-logic-physicalism-skepticism-etc/#SVSS.
And observation, which causes quantum wavefunction collapse (and thus makes reality choose one outcome over another) is ill-defined in physics. While it’s widely believed not to actually require actual conscious observation but rather interference from anything, if I remember what I read right, there’s an infinite regress problem where, whatever interference happens within a system to collapse the wavefunction, the entire system (the previous system plus the interfering system) from the outside could still be an uncollapsed wavefunction, and if something from the outside of that system collapses it by interfering with it, then the entire system including that something from outside could still be uncollapsed from an even more outside view, etc. It’s possible that the buck truly does stop at conscious observation, on a macroscopic scale, because if consciousness itself were inside a superposition, each possible state of consciousness would observe itself and its surroundings as being in one state. I think this may be a case in which the assumed reducibility of the macroscopic to the microscopic isn’t fully warranted as mentioned earlier.
(It’s possible that I totally butchered the above, since I’m not a physicist and I have a bad memory, but something like the gist of the above is true.)
Furthermore, it’s possible that belief/expectation influences the way the wavefunctions collapse. See https://www.fourmilab.ch/rpkp/martial.html for evidence, and possibly more at https://www.fourmilab.ch/rpkp/.
“At the quantum level our universe can be seen as an indeterminate place, predictable in a statistical way only when you employ large enough numbers. Between that universe and a relatively predictable one where the passage of a single planet can be timed to a picosecond, other forces come into play. For the in-between universe where we find our daily lives, that which you believe is a dominant force. Your beliefs order the unfolding of daily events. If enough of us believe, a new thing can be made to exist. Belief structure creates a filter through which chaos is sifted into order.” -Frank Herbert, Heretics of Dune. (Granted it’s fiction, but it may very well be astute fiction.)
(Admittedly, while this idea allows for mind over matter in general and explains one particular part of spirituality, namely the principle that “if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will move mountains,” and also could conceivably explain the law of attraction, it can’t explain a lot of spiritualistic things such as, for example, ghosts or ESP. However, it’s not necessarily all-encompassing of reasons behind quantum-random events, even though it might appear to be so at first take. And I suppose, either way, under this model phenomena like ESP and ghosts could just be patterns that are found in our reality whether one expects them or not, for whatever unknown reasons, no differently from how green grass appears as a common pattern in our reality.
Well, it’s a little different since we understand well why there’s grass, but of course we don’t understand it “all the way down” to some foundation, for reasons explained earlier in this essay, and either way maybe it’s incidental that we don’t understand some things like ghosts or ESP, with there being plenty of potential for learning, as opposed to there being no possible explanation. Although one major difference may be that an understanding of things such as ghosts and ESP would rest on non-physical, non-mechanistic principles, and that requires underlying reasons for quantum-random events other than the above principle. But, as we said, the above model/principle isn’t necessarily all-encompassing of such reasons.)
Another thought is that, since classical physics is basically just quantum behavior as observed in aggregate, it’s possible that everything is fundamentally non-mechanistic (yet not meaninglessly random), and the only reason reality appears to have a mechanical aspect is that we/our bodies live on an extremely large scale of existence. After all, there are trillions of cells in a human body with trillions of atoms in each cell. That’s a colossally large number of units, and as such it doesn’t seem like a reasonable place to set a default, normal scale of existence/observation (though admittedly classical mechanics still applies at much smaller scales than us).
But maybe that particular idea is actually infeasible; I’m speaking somewhat outside of my level of understanding of physics here. Particularly, the idea that reality is basically totally non-mechanistic only follows from the idea that classical physics is quantum physics observed in aggregate if all quantum behavior is stochastic, which I don’t know, and also I’m not sure I named what’s an aggregate observation of what exactly correctly.
These possibilities may seem like presumptuous/wishful thinking or God of the gaps theories, but only if you don’t take into consideration my above points regarding experimental evidence, your own personal experiences, and the ubiquity of other people’s parapsychological and paranormal experiences. In that light, these possibilities only serve to show that the laws of physics do not contradict parapsychological and paranormal phenomena, and therefore a space is made for other argumentation for the paranormal, parapsychological, spiritual and whatever.
Also, why should the universe be as limited and mundane/mechanical as possible instead of as full, rich, and mysterious/magical as possible by default? The base assumption there is just up to one’s own predilections. And if you think a universe as full and rich as possible violates Occam’s razor, see https://myriachromat.wordpress.com/2018/04/13/notes-on-science-scientism-mysticism-religion-logic-physicalism-skepticism-etc/#Occam.