|A New Science of the Paranormal: The Promise of Psychical Research
by Lawrence LeShan
Theosophical Publishing House: Quest Books, Wheaton, IL. USA. 2009. 978 0835608770. Paperback. 133pp. £12.99.
Lawrence LeShan, U.S. psychologist and parapsychologist, already has twenty books to his credit. Perhaps the best known of these is The Medium, the Mystic and the Physicist, with its intriguing collection of paragraphs where the reader is challenged to identify either a mystic or a physicist as the author.
One of the great challenges of psychical research or parapsychology, or psi for short, is to gain general acceptance from mainstream science. There is widespread official scepticism (yet quite a few scientists may privately give their assent), even though a considerable number of features have been definitely proven, while there is another group where the particulars may plausibly be regarded as almost certainly true, but about which small doubts linger.
There are, of course, broadly, two types of phenomena. Firstly, large meaningful events, e.g. deathbed apparitions, precognitions, hauntings, based on ‘first person’ reports. These have been labelled ‘need-determined’. Secondly, there are the data produced in controlled laboratory experiments, under controlled conditions usually subject to statistical analysis. These have been termed “”flaw-determined”, and can be described as “third-person” reports. The first category cases are the most interesting, but instances of the second type are needed to gain scientific respectability.
LeShan steadily develops his science of the paranormal, stressing the need clearly to separate fact from theory, clarifying the meaning of “impossible”, discussing the characteristics of communication , and linking psi with altered stats of consciousness.
He argues that different areas of reality require different models of understanding. For instance, it makes no sense to talk about the temperature of the electron. If an electron is fired at a surface with two slits, it will pass through both simultaneously; which is nonsense at the usual level of reality.
A new science of the paranormal must incorporate the fact that psi cannot rely solely on laboratory tests for its validity, but must take account of the uniquely personal features of psi experiences. After all, various branches of science, e.g. geology, proceed without laboratory tests. LeShan also cites psychoanalysis here. The book is also enhanced by interesting case studies at the end of each chapter.
From a Christian point of view, of course, while psi can be helpful in counteracting a materialistic outlook, the important realm is the spiritual. LeShan does not overlook this, but his purpose is focused on the psychical. And while the psychical may be a distraction from the spiritual (as recognized in various spiritual traditions), yet it can be, and has been, a stepping-stone towards the spiritual in many cases.
As a major purpose of the Fellowship is to understand and evaluate all types of extraordinary human experiences, any solidly based study that can shed light on psi should be welcomed.
LeShan argues that the issue is not merely academic, but in light of the need to improve human behaviour and our treatment of the planet, greater awareness of the reality of psi can have major political consequences. Of course from a Christian viewpoint, this does not go far enough, but it can be a major step in the right direction. St Augustine remarked once: “There are no miracles which violate the laws of nature. There are only events which violate our limited knowledge of the laws of nature”. This excellent book clarifies and vindicates that statement.