Other psychologists and academics are often surprised when I tell them that I'm willing to accept the possibility of psychic phenomena such as telepathy and pre-cognition. For many intellectuals, these things are seen as superstitious nonsense, remnants of an irrational view of the world which has been superseded by modern materialistic science. Here I will explain my reasons for believing that some "paranormal" phenomena are genuine—in particular, telepathy and pre-cognition, since these are the ones I feel there is most evidence for, and the ones I have experienced myself. (Other types of psychic phenomena—mediumship, ghosts, or faith healing—I’m more doubtful about.)
1. Philosophical Reasons. One of the main reasons why I believe in the possibility of some psychic phenomena is because I do not believe that we can, in William James’ phrase, "close our accounts" with reality. Many materialistic scientists operate on the assumption that our present vision of reality is fairly reliable and objective. They like to believe that the world as we perceive it roughly corresponds to the world as it is, and that there are no forces, phenomena, natural laws beyond those we are presently aware of. I believe this is foolish and arrogant. Every animal has a limited awareness of reality. Think of our awareness of reality compared to a sheep’s. We are aware of many phenomena and concepts which a sheep is not—the concept of death, or of the future and the past. And although we may have a more intense awareness of reality than other animals, it is extremely unlikely that our awareness is complete. One day living beings will exist who have a more intense awareness of reality than us, in the same way that we have a more intense awareness than other animals. I believe it is extremely likely that there are forces, energies, and phenomena in the universe beyond those which we can presently perceive and understand, or even detect. We may be aware of the effects of some of these phenomena, without being aware of the phenomena themselves. This may include phenomena or energies which generate—or would explain—telepathy and pre-cognition.
2. Consciousness. According to materialist scientists, consciousness is produced by brain activity, or is an epiphenomenon or illusion produced by cognitive activity. There is no hard evidence for this—it’s simply an assumption. After many years of intensive research, scientists are no closer to working out how the brain might give rise to consciousness, which has led some theorists to propose what might be described as the "radio model." It suggests that the function of the brain is not to produce consciousness, but to "receive" a consciousness which exists outside us. This theory sees consciousness as a fundamental property of the universe, which is potentially everywhere and in everything. The brain's function is to "pick up" consciousness around us and to "canalise" it into our own individual being. This is my preferred way of explaining consciousness. And this model is consistent with telepathy, since it suggests a fundamental connection between living beings—a shared network of consciousness through which information could be exchanged from unit to unit. The ‘radio’ model also fits with an argument which is often used in favour of the idea that consciousness is produced by the brain: damage to the brain would still affect or impair consciousness, just as damage to a radio would impair its broadcast of programmes.
3. Quantum Physics. Materialists sometimes say that phenomena such as telepathy cannot exist because they contravene the laws of physics. If they really existed, so they say, we would have to completely revise our understanding of how the universe functions. But while this may be true of macrocosmic, Newtonian physics (although even this is debatable), there is nothing about microcosmic quantum physics which excludes the possibility of telepathy, for instance. I don’t necessarily believe (as some theorists do) that telepathy can be explained in terms of quantum physics, but the vagaries of the quantum world are consistent with psychic phenomena. For example, there is the phenomenon of ‘quantum entanglement,’ whereby seemingly ‘separate’ particles are interconnected, reacting to each other’s movements, so that they can’t be treated as independent units but only as a part of a whole system. That suggests that, on the microcosmic level, all things are interconnected—which would also offer the possibility of an exchange of information via telepathy. (Of course, this could also be linked to the shared 'field' of consciousness I have just described. Perhaps this is what allows particles to be interconnected or 'entangled').
At the very least, quantum physics supports my first argument—that the world is infinitely more complex than it appears to our normal awareness, and there are phenomena in existence which we presently cannot understand, or even conceive of.
4. Empirical Evidence. There have been a large number of empirical studies which offer convincing evidence of telepathy and pre-cognition. For example, three years ago, the social psychologist Daryl Bem published the results of nine experiments, involving more than 1000 participants, eight of which showed significant statistical evidence for precognition and premonition (1). Since they were published in a highly respectable academic journal, Bem’s results caused a great deal of controversy, including a great deal of criticism from skeptics. However, Bem’s experiments have been successfully replicated a number of times (although other replications have been unsuccessful, and skeptics have emphasized these) (2).
This is just one study whose results are difficult to explain away—many other experiments have been carried out over the last few decades, with ever more stringent protocols (in response to the criticisms of sceptics), some with significant positive results. It is possible that some (perhaps even many) of these results could be explained away in terms of flawed methodology or fraud, but if you are open-minded to the possibility of phenomena such as telepathy and pre-cognition, then it’s easy to take them as evidence that ‘something’ is going on.
5. Personal Experience. Throughout my life, I’ve had a number of psychic experiences which I think were too significant to be explained as coincidence or chance. Most of these have been experiences of pre-cognition, usually in dreams. I don’t have space to describe them here but for some reason they have mostly involved the scores or events of football (soccer) and cricket matches, where in my dream I have read the score in the newspaper, or been watching the match as it came to an end. I don’t make a habit of dreaming about the scores of sports matches. In fact, I have only had such dreams a few times (at least dreams which I have remembered on waking.) In more than half the occasions, I have dreamt the correct scores.
6. Anecdotal evidence. Scientists are rightly mistrustful of anecdotal evidence, and I wouldn’t suggest that anecdotal evidence should be seen as ‘proof’ of anything. However, it can serve as a ‘supporting argument,’ in conjunction with other, more solid evidence. This is particularly the case with psychic phenomena, because there are such a vast number of reports of psychic experiences, which continue to be reported all the time. If psychic phenomena do not exist, it is difficult to explain why reports of telepathy, pre-cognition, and clairvoyance have been so remarkably common amongst people over centuries in different cultures.
7. Scepticism of the Skeptics. Without wishing to be personal, I often find myself distrusting the motives of the fervent materialists who spend their professional lives debunking paranormal phenomena. I certainly don’t mean that these people are corrupt, only that they have unconscious psychological motives. To be able to ‘explain’ human life and the world is a powerful human need. You can see this in religions, which provide a strong ‘narrative framework’ which makes sense of the individual’s position in the world, and their life. In my view, the materialist worldview provides the same function: it provides a narrative which makes sense of the world. As a result, materialists react in a very hostile way to any phenomena which contradicts this view of the world, just as religious people react in a hostile way to evidence against their beliefs. This creates ‘cognitive dissonance,’ and believers will go to almost any lengths to explain away contradictory evidence.
Perhaps there is an issue of control too. As the scientist/philosopher Francis Bacon wrote, "Knowledge is power." To be able to explain the world brings a satisfying feeling of control—to feel that nature is ‘under our thumb,’ that it is in thrall to us. To admit that there are phenomena which we can’t fully understand or explain, and that the world is stranger than we can conceive, weakens our power and control—which may be another reason why sceptics are reluctant to accept psychic phenomena.
So these are the reasons why I am inclined to accept the existence of telepathy and pre-cognition. I don’t think of myself as gullible or superstitious—I like to believe that I’m open-minded and rational. You may disagree—but hopefully my arguments will prompt you to examine your beliefs.
Steve Taylor, Ph.D. is a senior lecturer in psychology at Leeds Metropolitan University, UK. He is the author of The Fall: The Insanity of the Ego in Human History and Back to Sanity. www.stevenmtaylor.com
(1) Daryl Bem’s original paper: http://caps.ucsf.edu/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/bem2011.pdf
(2) For information on the replication of his studies, see http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2423692