The Way of Science

UNIT 1

Study of Paranormal: Science and Pseudoscience

Have you ever had a feeling that something unusual is about to happen? Have you ever felt the presence of a spirit? Have you ever heard the telephone ring and known it was your old friend (who you haven't heard from for years)? Have you ever thought that you have psychic abilities, or had a paranormal experience? Are any of these things "real" or are they all coincidences? We will watch a video on paranormal phenomena in class. While you are watching the video, take notes so that you can answer the following questions:
  1. What are the different types of psychic phenomena? Give a brief description of each one.

  2. Pick one example from the following list, and describe how it is viewed as evidence supporting psychic (paranormal) phenomena:
    Greta Alexander - psychic from lightening experience
    David Booth - precognition
    Dean Krafts - laying on of hands
    Dorothy Rhea - psychic detective

Assignments for Classes 3 - 5

We will continue our study of paranormal phenomena by looking at the life of an interesting person named Uri Geller. Check out what he thinks of himself and his psychic abilities on his home page at www.uri-geller.com. What extraordinary abilities does Geller claim to have? Make a list of them, and we will discuss them in class.

Read the following articles, taking notes as you read.
  1. Sarfatti, J. 1974. Off the Beat: Geller Performs for Physicists. Science News 106, 46.

  2. Targ, R. and Puthoff, H. 1974. Information Transmission Under Conditions of Sensory Shielding. Nature 251: 602-604. Also, see Figure 2 on page 605.

(You can link to the Targ and Puthoff article from Uri Geller's home page. Click on the button for "Research into Uri's Powers" at the bottom of the page, then click on "Nature paper on Remote Perception at SRI", or go directly to http://www.uri-geller.com/content/research/sria.htm)

It is extremely important to do the reading assignments before class. This course relies on class discussions. You will not be able to take part in the discussion if you haven't done the reading. If you haven't done the reading, you may even be asked to leave!

Take notes as you read, and write down the answers to the following questions. We will collect them at the end of the class for grading.

Questions on "Off the Beat: Geller Performs for Physicists":

  1. Dr. Sarfatti writes about the Birkbeck tests. What are the qualifications of each of the six people [Hasted, Bohm, Sarfatti, Clarke, Cleaver, and Koestler] as observers?

  2. What happened at Birkbeck?

  3. What were Sarfatti's conclusions about Geller's abilities? How convinced is he that Geller demonstrated psychic powers?
Bohm and Hasted summarized their work on Geller as follows:
We feel if similar tests are made later, enough instances of this kind will probably accumulate, so that there will be no room for reasonable doubt that some new process is involved here, which cannot be accounted for or explained in terms of the present laws of physics. Indeed we already feel that we have gone some distance toward this point.
Physicist, John Taylor, said the following:
The Geller effect-of metal bending-is clearly not brought about by fraud. It is so exceptional that it presents a crucial challenge to modern science, and could even destroy the latter if no explanation becomes available.
[Both quotes are taken from Geller's autobiography My Story (Praeger, NY, 1975, pp.88-89).]

Questions for Class

  1. What is meant by "scientific laws"? What is the difference between law, theory and hypothesis, as these terms are narrowly defined by scientists? How do these three concepts differ from "fact", as that word is used by careful scientists?

  2. Look up these terms on p. 2 of Science and Creationism, then write out definitions for them in your own words.

Questions on "Information Transmission Under Condition of Sensory Shielding"

The strongest evidence for Geller's psychic abilities is from this paper. Read it very carefully and answer the following questions.
  1. Publishing in science:
    • What kind of a journal (popular, technical, etc.) is Nature? Go to the Danforth Library and browse through a recent copy or two on the periodical shelves, or browse on-line at http://www.nature.com. At what audience is Nature aimed?
    • Who decides what gets published in Nature? To help you answer this question, here is a quote from the journal's "Guide to Authors":
      Manuscripts are selected for publication according to editorial assessment of their suitability and reports from independent referees.
      The complete Guide to Authors can be found at http://www.nature.com/nature/submit/gta/index.html
    • What are "referees"?
    • By what process does a manuscript get published in a peer-reviewed journal like Nature?

  2. Control in Science:
    • What do Targ and Puthoff mean by the phrase "conducted our experiments with sufficient control"?
    • What is a controlled experiment?
    • What is "control" in an experiment?
    • What is a "double-blind" experiment?

  3. 13 Drawings:
    Targ and Puthoff conducted three tests. The first was thirteen drawing experiments conducted over 7 days. Use the link in the Nature paper to see the table summarizing the 13 experiments, and then answer following questions.
    • Were any data excluded? Why is this very important question?
    • In Experiments 5-7, no response was given by Geller. What was different in these cases?
    • What were the results? Were they good, bad, or ambiguous? How were the results judged? Who did the judging?

  4. 100 Targets:
    The second test, 100 targets, was conducted to investigate the "person-to-person link".
    • Describe the "100 targets" test.
    • Who prepared the targets?
    • What were the results? We will discuss the "shyness" effect in class.

  5. Die-in-the-Box:
    The third test was the "die-in-the-box" test.
    • Why did Targ and Puthoff do a second test in addition to the first test involving 100 targets?
    • Describe the die-in-the-box test. How successful was Geller in this test? What is the probability that Geller was right due to "guessing" the number on the face of the die?

  6. Conclusion:
    Did Targ and Puthoff believe that Geller was demonstrating extraordinary abilities?

Review Questions:

What have you learned about science? Be sure to be able to summarize the general concepts we have discussed:
  • credentials
  • first-hand and second-hand evidence
  • peer-review
  • control in experiment and controlled experiment
  • double-blind experiment
  • fact, law, hypothesis and theory as used in science
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© copyright 2005, Michael Wirth and Sachiko Howard, New England College