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"OH WATERS, TEEM WITH MEDICINE TO KEEP MY BODY SAFE FROM HARM, SO THAT I MAY LONG SEE THE SUN." - Rig Veda
Earlier this year, Daryl Bem, a Professor at Cornel University, published a paper on Psi phenomena (also known as psychic phenomena). Bem's Paper was published in the premier journal of social-personality psychology, theJournal of Personality and Social Psychology (JPSP). In the paper, Bem presents results from eight experiments where he finds evidence for precognition(conscious cognitive awareness of future events) and premonition(affective apprehension about future negative events).
What did Bem find? Well, he found that people were better at remembering words that they were about to learn than they were words that they wouldn't learn (precognition). He also found evidence that people tended to avoid neutral pictures that were followed by a subliminal negative stimulus prime (premonition). There you have it, the first experimental studies of psi phenomena!
I actually don't believe that the psi findings damage our field either, because other fields are full of unexplained effects. Take the notion of quantum entanglements in physics for instance (forgive my public high school physics education): Physicists readily admit that particles that become separate interact in ways that can't be explained by traditional understandings of time and space. Despite this lack of explanation, physics seems to be doing just fine as a science. Like physicists, maybe psychologists should come to terms with the fact that we won't always know why something happens.
Leibnitz raised the question almost 300 years ago with his analogy of the mill. Imagine that you can blow the mill up in size such that all components are magnified and you can walk among them. All you find are individual mechanical components, a wheel here, a spindle there. By looking at the parts of the mill you cannot deduce its function. The physical brain can also be broken into parts and their interactions examined. We now understand neurons and how they fire and a bit about neurotransmitters and so forth. But somehow the mental properties are indivisible and can’t be described in terms of neuronal firings. They need to be understood in another vocabulary.
The world is not flat. Before this truth was realized, people use to wonder what happened when you got to the end of the earth-- did you fall off? Once we knew the earth was round, the new perspective, made us see how the old questions were silly. New questions also seem silly many times until a new perspective is accepted. I think we will get over the idea of free will and and accept we are a special kind of machine, one with a moral agency which comes from living in social groups. This perspective will make us ask new kinds of questions.