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Debating Psychic Experience: Human Potential or Human Illusion? [Hardcover]

Ruth Richards , Stanley Krippner , Harris L. Friedman
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

2 Sep 2010
Despite ongoing and repeated attempts to prove or disprove the existence of parapsychological events, there are still no conclusive findings-and certainly no consensus across the worldwide community of scholars, scientists, and proponents of psychic phenomena. Still, there is no shortage of information about this fascinating topic to allow everyone to draw their own conclusions. This book has been expressly written to make each chapter and topic accessible to a general audience, despite containing a vast amount of theoretical material. The book is organized into two parts: in the first section, proponents of the validity of parapsychological data and critics who reject that validity state their respective positions. In the second part, each group responds to each others' statements in the form of a debate. Other experts from the United States as well as from Australia and Great Britain provide overviews and conclusions.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 236 pages
  • Publisher: Praeger Publishers Inc (2 Sep 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0313392617
  • ISBN-13: 978-0313392610
  • Product Dimensions: 24 x 15 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,734,477 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"Debating Psychic Experience deserves to become required reading for sociologists, historians of contemporary science, and anybody involved in any kind of psi research." - Skeptical Investigations "A fascinating read... Recommended." - Choice

About the Author

Stanley Krippner, PhD, is professor of psychology at Saybrook University in San Francisco, CA. He coedited Varieties of Anomalous Experience: Examining the Scientific Evidence and was the 2002 recipient of the American Psychological Association Award for Distinguished Contributions to the International Advancement of Psychology. Harris L. Friedman, PhD, is research professor of psychology at the University of Florida in Gainesville, FL. He edits The International Journal of Transpersonal Studies and has over 100 professional publications.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent survey of a fascinating subject 28 Mar 2011
Format:Hardcover
I found this to be a stimulating read. It's an excellent collection of essays by leading thinkers and writers on both sides of the controversy over psychic research.

Psi-researchers like Dean Radin and Rupert Sheldrake (the latter not, however, represented here) have no doubts that psi is a genuine phenomenon, while veteran sceptics like James Alcock and Ray Hyman have no doubts whatever that it isn't, and tend to think this should be obvious to any serious person. So despite their arguably robust research and penetrating arguments the parapsychologists often find themselves on the defensive.

Previous books of this kind have been rather gentlemanly affairs, with both sides showing a deference that belies the rather brutal nature of the intellectual conflict, and parapsychologists especially pulling their punches. Not here. This book crackles with tension, which makes it not just a bracing read, but gives a good sense of the depth and nature of the disagreements.

A general overview by editors Stanley Krippner and Harris L. Friedman is followed by a 'brief history of science and psychic phenomena' by Radin, then by Alcock and Hyman stating their positions. Alcock kicks off with a quotation from Alice about ' six impossible things before breakfast', underlining his conviction that psychic phenomena can't happen so they probably don't. Criticisms of lack of repeatability and methodological weaknesses seem to Alcock to be 'very reasonable', and if parapsychologists were truly interested in pursuing the truth then they should at least acknowledge this.
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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent survey of a fascinating subject 28 Mar 2011
By Robert McLuhan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I found this to be a stimulating read. It's an excellent collection of essays by leading thinkers and writers on both sides of the controversy over psychic research.

Psi-researchers like Dean Radin and Rupert Sheldrake (the latter not, however, represented here) have no doubts that psi is a genuine phenomenon, while veteran sceptics like James Alcock and Ray Hyman have no doubts whatever that it isn't, and tend to think this should be obvious to any serious person. So despite their arguably robust research and penetrating arguments the parapsychologists often find themselves on the defensive.

Previous books of this kind have been rather gentlemanly affairs, with both sides showing a deference that belies the rather brutal nature of the intellectual conflict, and parapsychologists especially pulling their punches. Not here. This book crackles with tension, which makes it not just a bracing read, but gives a good sense of the depth and nature of the disagreements.

A general overview by editors Stanley Krippner and Harris L. Friedman is followed by a 'brief history of science and psychic phenomena' by Radin, then by Alcock and Hyman stating their positions. Alcock kicks off with a quotation from Alice about ' six impossible things before breakfast', underlining his conviction that psychic phenomena can't happen so they probably don't. Criticisms of lack of repeatability and methodological weaknesses seem to Alcock to be 'very reasonable', and if parapsychologists were truly interested in pursuing the truth then they should at least acknowledge this. 'It reflects a triumph of hope over experience', he says, 'that so many have continued to devote themselves to parapsychological research over such long periods of time despite both the absence of theoretical or empirical progress and the continuing rejection by mainstream science'.

Hyman reprises the position he established during the 1980s, with claims of methodological flaws, unreliable meta-analyses, inconsistencies in data, etc. In this section there are also contributions by Chris French, who espouses a moderate brand of scepticism, and by Skeptic editor Michael Shermer, with a typically trivial account of how he bamboozled unsuspecting punters by pretending to be psychic for a day.

The last essay in this section, titled 'persistent denial: a century of denying the evidence' is by Chris Carter, a writer who in recent books has taken the argument to the sceptics. Carter underlines the logical weakness of many of their arguments and exposes the ideological element in the controversy. He characterizes debunking sceptics - justifiably, in my opinion - as 'heirs of the Enlightenment, guardians of rationality who must at all costs discredit any dangerous backsliding into superstition', essentially acting as defenders of the materialist faith. He offers detailed criticisms both of Alcock and Hyman, tackling their arguments head on, and also makes a fierce attack on the debunking activities of British psychologist Richard Wiseman, particularly with regard to the now notorious affair over Jaytee 'the psychic dog', first investigated by Rupert Sheldrake.

In the second section the contributors all offer rebuttals, and this is where the sparks fly. Parapsychologists are used to criticism, and fending off attacks is part of their job description. Sceptics strangely are not, and often seem often hurt and bewildered by criticism. Carter's essay clearly struck a nerve with Alcock and Hyman, who heatedly complained they had been misunderstood and misrepresented. Readers will make what they will of the claims on both sides, but if nothing else, it's instructive to see how much more comfortable sceptics are at dishing out criticism than answering it.

A third section contains an essay by Richard Wiseman which offers some quite cogent criticisms of parapsychology as a discipline - together with some throwaway, and grossly misleading, claims about the alleged failure of early psychic research - for all of which, alas, the necessary comeback is lacking from this volume. From the other end of the spectrum there is an interesting and provocative essay by Stephan A. Schwartz, who sees psi-sceptics as bedfellows of creationists and climate-change sceptics, as related 'denier-movements'. The volume ends with short pro and anti postscripts by sci-fi writer Damien Broderick and psychologist and memory expert Elizabeth Loftus.

In summary, this is an excellent resource by some of the leading players in the field, and which gives a good snapshot of where the controversy now stands. A must for anyone who is serious about getting to grips with this fascinating subject.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bringing the psi debate to the classroom 16 April 2011
By Sauropod - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Debating Psychic Experience, edited by Stanley Krippner and Harris L. Friedman, is a serious give-and-take between skeptics and parapsychologists (or those sympathetic to parapsychology) aimed at a scholarly audience. The contributors are Dean Radin, James E. Alcock, Ray Hyman, Christopher C. French, Michael Shermer, Chris Carter, Richard S. Wiseman, Stephan A. Schwartz, Damien Broderick, and Elizabeth Loftus.

I admit that I approach this subject with a strong bias in favor of psi, based partly on years of reading about the subject and partly on some unusual personal experiences. From my (hardly neutral) perspective, the pro-psi side comes off far better than the anti-psi advocates. Skeptic Ray Hyman in particular struck me as thin-skinned, uncharitable in his interpretation of opposing arguments, and determined to split hairs. Michael Shermer, as always, seems like a bit of a lightweight, recycling his adventures as a "psychic for a day," which have no relevance to properly controlled lab studies. James Alcock seems to believe that psi is simply "impossible," or if it's not, it ought to be. Meanwhile parapsychologist Dean Radin discusses the growing sophistication of psi research, and Chris Carter assails the skeptical fortresses with gusto. Between them, the pro-parapsychology contributors cite hundreds of experiments involving thousands of individual trials adding up to strong - I would say conclusive - evidence that psi is a real, albeit subtle, factor in human experience.

Will the average reader come away with this impression? I'm not sure. Though the book is intended to be a balanced presentation of both sides of the issue, the skeptics dominate in terms of page count. I count ten essays critical of parapsychology versus five essays sympathetic to parapsychology (with three more-or-less neutral essays contributed by Damien Broderick and the editors).

Although I wish the pro-parapsychology side had been given equal space with the skeptics, I still found Debating Psychic Experience to be a worthwhile , illuminating -- and often surprisingly entertaining -- read. Perhaps the best thing about the book is that it is clearly aimed at an academic audience. I hope it finds the intelligent and fair-minded readership it deserves.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive 28 Sep 2011
By S. Alexander Hardison - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book is a very comprehensive guide to the present scientific positions on psi and the raging debate between the advocates and counter-advocates of the psi theory. I highly recommend this to any interested parties. I thought the parapsychologists did an excellent job of debating and at times showing evidence that some of the assertions the skeptics made were at fault. Chris Carter's chapters were especially enjoyable. I also liked the reply Dean Radin and Carter made to the skeptics about their contributed chapters in part 2 of the book. The skeptical chapters, with the exception of the contributions made by Hyman and Chris French (to an extent), were surprisingly weak with their claims -especially Shermers. Nontheless, I found the collective work very enjoyable and insightful as to the current state of psychical research. I recommend this to any scholar or investigator of paranormal claims.
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