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Our future, our universe, and other weighty topics

Friday, October 2, 2015

Sweeping Under the Rug So Many Observations

My previous post was a science fiction story called The Ocean Deniers of Centralia that told the tale of an extraterrestrial planet that was inhabited only by a small kingdom (Centralia) at the center of a great continent that made up most of the planet. The scientists in the kingdom made assumptions about nature based on their limited experience, dogmatically concluding that the whole planet was as dry as their kingdom, and that water never existed in large bodies. But over a period of more than a century, explorers would occasionally report some utterly anomalous experiences – experiences involving encounters with distant oceans and seas (bodies of water which, according to the dogmatic assumptions of Centralian scientists, should not exist). These anomalous reports were totally rejected by the scientists of Centralia, who dismissed the people reporting the experiences as frauds, liars, fools or people suffering from hallucinations.

The story is an allegory. The scientists of Centralia represent typical scientists of modern academia. The explorers reporting the anomalous experiences represent those who have reported various types of paranormal experiences. For well over 150 years, humans have reported very anomalous experiences. Such reports have included apparition sightings, experiences with ESP, near-death experiences, experiences with seances and mediums, sightings of UFOs, photographs of orbs, premonitions of disaster that some came true, precognitive dreams, and a wide variety of other phenomena that include various types of remarkable spiritual experiences. The person who has one of these experiences often feels as if he is coming into contact with some great previously undiscovered reality, and may often feel like some explorer who has encountered some great ocean or sea that is unknown to the vast majority of his countrymen.

But despite the fact that such experiences have been reported for such a long time by such a large number of people, these experiences have been entirely rejected by most mainstream scientists. They have dismissed the people having such experiences as frauds, fools, liars, or people having hallucinations. The modern-day scientists who dismisses all this evidence (delivered by so many witnesses over such a long period) is quite similar to the scientists of Centralia in my story, who refused to accept reports of distant seas and a distant ocean despite abundant testimony. Just as the scientists of Centralia became overconfident in my story -- assuming all of the reality on their planet was like the dry, dusty reality they understood – many scientists on our planet have become overconfident and dogmatic, proclaiming that reality consists only of a material reality like that they are familiar with, and precluding (without any sound basis for such an exclusion) the possibility of a vast unknown spiritual reality as important as our known material reality.

The professor responds to a report of the paranormal

In my story the scientists of Centralia do more than just refuse to believe eyewitness testimony – they also refuse to believe photographic evidence. Does this part of the story break the allegory? Not at all. Our modern scientists refuse to accept some evidence for the paranormal that is either photographic or as good as photographic, in the sense of being something much more than just anecdotal. Our scientists typically refuse to accept innumerable photographs and videos of anomalous lights or UFOs in the sky; they ignore photos that often appear to show what looks either like apparitions or ghostly mists; they pay no attention to huge crop circles that suddenly appear, with some very hard-to-explain characteristics; and our scientists generally pay no attention to countless very dramatic photos of anomalous orbs in the sky and indoors, which often show orbs with bright colors, or orbs making extremely dramatic motions, or orbs appearing in great dramatic colorful swarms. 

Our modern scientists also typically dismiss and belittle laboratory experiments for ESP which have repeatedly been very successful, which have met all the standards of good experimental science, and which produced results so dramatic that they cannot be explained as being due to coincidence (results that confirm a great abundance of anecdotal reports of ESP, such as those gathered so systematically by Louisa Rhine). In trying to explain away such evidence, our scientists sometimes invent ridiculous “swamp gas” types of explanations similar to the goofy explanation made in my story by one of the Centralian scientists (the one who tried to explain a photo of an ocean as being a photo of clouds).

How can we understand this strange refusal of so many scientists to give the paranormal the objective consideration it deserves? We can only understand this by considering sociological factors. Scientific academia is very much a clannish subculture, and particular subcultures have their group norms and group taboos (for example, wearing a Yankees baseball cap is taboo among Red Sox fans, and wearing pink flowery shirts is taboo in biker gangs). The paranormal has become a group taboo in scientific academia, just like making certain types of statements about gays or abortion are group taboos within particular political groups. Any member of a subculture who flaunts that subculture's group norms and group taboos is subject to severe sanctions by other members of that group, which work to enforce group conformity. Call it the iron hand of peer pressure.

There is a fascinating new article on BBC.com about anomalous abilities of blind people to apparently detect objects they cannot see. The article includes a video of a blind man walking down a hall filled with obstacles, and not bumping into anything (the man claims to have seen nothing). This article is calling this ability “blindsight,” and as long as that term is used the ability may attract some interest among scientists. But sooner or later someone will probably start saying, “This is actually clairvoyance, it's paranormal.” Then probably scientists will stop paying much attention to it, using their perennial excuse that “things like that can't happen.”

Yes, it is just as if we are living in the benighted kingdom of Centralia depicted in my story, where the “official party line” of a small overconfident elite somehow drowns out a large body of compelling evidence conflicting with that dogma. I'm not a cartoonist, but I can imagine an editorial-style cartoon that might illustrate how mainstream scientists typically handle reports of the paranormal. The cartoon would show two scientists next to a rug. One scientist would be holding a page prominently marked, “Latest evidence of the paranormal.” That scientist would be smiling, and would say to his fellow scientist, “Don't worry, we'll just sweep this under the rug once again.” To the left of the scientists, we would see that there was a bump in the middle of the rug.

And that bump in the rug would be as tall as an NBA basketball player.