Skeptical “Explanations” for Psi Phenomena

by Guy Lyon Playfair

One of the skeptics’ favourite tricks is to come up with a purely imaginary “explanation” for an apparently paranormal phenomenon.

While doing research for my book Twin Telepathy: The Psychic Connection, I kept coming across remarks like this one, from twin expert Dr. Nancy Segal as reported in Newsweek (November 23, 1987):

“She notes that researchers ‘never hear of cases where one twin is sure the other is lying dead in the gutter, and he isn’t.'”

She is right. I have asked every twin I have met if anything like this ever happened to them, and it hadn’t. So the reason why we never hear of such cases just could be that there aren’t and never have been any.

Another instance of this kind of revisionist spin-doctoring by skeptics turned up in The Lancet for December 15, 2001 in which Chris French, editor of the CSICOP-supported journal The Skeptic was allowed to get his oar into a report from the Netherlands on near-death experiences (NDEs) of hospital patients.

French could not very well deny that people do have such experiences, but he sought to minimise their significance by claiming that some such reports were simply false memories based on accounts they had read of the experiences of others. He didn’t produce any evidence to support this claim, of course.

Dr. Bruce Greyson (unlike skeptic French) has plenty of first-hand experience of his patients’ NDEs and points out in Vital Signs magazine (Vol. 21, no. 1, 2002) that the reality is just the opposite – NDEs are probably under-reported.

Some of his own patients, in follow-up interviews, told him that they had indeed had an NDE but had kept quiet about it at the time because they did not trust him at first and were afraid he would think they were crazy.

So if you’re a skeptic you need a physicalistic “explanation” for a psi phenomenon and you can’t find one, just make it up.