The Journal of Parapsychology
Volume 66, No. 3, September 2002
QUANTUM LEAPS IN THE WRONG DIRECTION by Charles M. Wynn and Arthur W.
Wiggins, with cartoons by Sidney Harris. Washington, DC: Joseph Henry
Press, 2001. Pp. xiv + 226. $18.95 (paperback). ISBN 0-309-07309-X.
This book covers parapsychology, out-of-body experiences,
ghosts, near-death experiences, UFOs, creationism, and astrology.
The Journal of Parapsychology
is “popular”; there are no footnotes or endnotes, and the text rarely
acknowledges any recognized authorities. I suspected that the book
was aimed at a juvenile audience, but neither my local library nor the
Library of Congress classifies it that way.
The tone is deprecatory throughout, and 30 cartoons,
many of which are full page, reinforce the ridicule and derision.
The “Additional Reading” section (6 pages) lists no scientific journal
articles but includes debunking books by Houdini, Henry Gordon, James Randi,
Martin Gardner, Joe Nickell, and Michael Shermer. The chapter on
astrology begins with the bold heading, “Reading the Entrails of a Newly
The reader of this Journal may then wonder
why the book is being reviewed. Quantum Leaps is published
by Joseph Henry Press, an imprint of the National Academy Press, the publishing
arm of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). The NAS is chartered
by the U.S. federal government and provides advisory services to government
agencies. It is one of the most elite scientific bodies in the world;
only the very top scientists are elected to membership. The NAS imprimatur
carries enormous clout. Adding to the book’s apparent credibility
is a blurb on the back cover from Nobel laureate Leon Lederman and a glowing
review in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Normally, one would expect such a volume to be written
by well-qualified authors. Charles Wynn is a professor of chemistry
at Eastern Connecticut State University. Arthur Wiggins is a physicist
at Oakland Community College in Michigan. They apparently have no
credentials or specialized expertise that would qualify them to write the
book. Quite otherwise, for example, the authors assert: “The Rhines
used a 153 [sic] of cards designed by their colleague Carl [sic]
Zener” (p. 154) and that Rhine coined the term parapsychology (p. 154).
They also severely misdescribe blind-matching card tests (p. 155).
The book begins with a description of what the authors
believe to be the scientific method. Their presentation is simplistic
and uninformed by any scientific study of scientific processes (e.g., sociology
of science). No mention is given to sociologists’ “demarcation problem,”
that is, determining the difference between science and nonscience.
No anthropological, cross-cultural, or historical perspective is included.
One redeeming factor is that the entire volume can be viewed online free
of charge at the publisher’s Web site (though the process is cumbersome).
The topic of parapsychology is allotted 14 pages
of text, including the subheadings of “Dowsing” and “Nostradamus.”
Survival-related issues are allocated 21 pages. The index gives an
indication of the coverage. Robert Jahn is not included therein,
T. Lobsang Rampa is; random number generator is not, Mu is; DMILS (direct
mental interactions with living systems) is not, but apantomancy is.
The casual treatment subtly, but effectively, conveys
the message that these topics do not merit serious examination. The
publication and reception of this work say something profound about
the status of parapsychology. In fact, they should serve as a wakeup
call for the field.
From their beginnings, psychical researchers
have hoped for respectability and for acceptance by the scientific establishment.
This has not been achieved, quite the contrary. Parapsychology remains
an extremely marginal endeavor, and a very brief review of its current
status is in order (a more extended analysis is presented in Hansen, 2001).
After 95 years of continuous research, and countless
successful experiments, the academic position of parapsychology in the
United States is worse than any time in the last 40 years. The field
has been remarkably ineffective in establishing and maintaining viable
institutions that conduct scientific investigations, and there are no university
departments of parapsychology. The field’s scientific conferences
may attract 100 people, few of whom are known outside the discipline.
Skeptics’ groups draw hundreds of people to their
conventions, including Nobel laureates. The Committee for the Scientific
Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) is opening new offices
and establishing an ever-larger media presence. Its building program
flourishes. CSICOP’s membership includes Nobel laureates such as
Francis Crick, Murray Gell-Mann, Leon Lederman, Steven Weinberg, as well
as such luminaries as Marvin Minsky, Gerald Holton, Marilyn vos Savant,
and Stephen Jay Gould.
This is a wondrous state of affairs given the immense
popular interest in psychic phenomena and the fact that surveys show that
over half the adults in the United States have had paranormal experiences.
All this says something important about the
operation of psi. Parapsychology’s continuing marginality is no accident.
It is not due to a certain scientific ideology, nor is it a peculiarity
of Western culture. The hostility springs from far deeper sources.
The structure of society, and the processes of rationalization and disenchantment
(identified by Max Weber), inherently act in this fashion.
Anthropologist Michael Winkelman (1992) demonstrated
that a wide range of cultures visit low status on those who most directly
engage paranormal power. Parapsychologists have missed the significance
of Winkelman’s findings. The publication of Quantum Leaps
is not a fluke; rather it is an exceptionally clear manifestation of the
taint, stigma, and taboo surrounding the paranormal.
Weber’s rationalization process produces bureaucratic
institutions (e.g., those of government, industry, academe). But
Weber also understood that the advancement of rationalized society entailed
the marginalization or elimination of magic (i.e., paranormal power); in
other words, taboos must be enforced. Indeed, large bureaucracies
have rarely been hospitable to psi research, and when they have, it has
been only for limited periods of time. High-status persons within
those institutions are especially likely to be hostile.
Sociologist James McClenon (1984) confirmed that
elite scientists are some of the most antagonistic to parapsychology, despite
having little knowledge of it. Quantum Leaps is a case in
point. Scientists are rarely aware of the pressures influencing their
actions and beliefs. Social forces often operate with few people
being aware of them. Over 70 years ago
Journal of Parapsychology
Walter Franklin Prince’s classic work The Enchanted Boundary
(1930) documented many scientists’ irrational responses to paranormal claims.
These reactions are not to be explained by psychological abnormalities
but rather by social forces and by the nature of psi.
The publication of Quantum Leaps, however
unwelcome, should provoke the field to examine its position in relation
to larger social and historical forces, and to grasp the implications.
Typically, parapsychologists conceptualize psi as a capacity of human individuals.
This is not only limiting but also fundamentally wrong. The
very data of the field (e.g., experimenter effects, checker effects, divergence
problem) demonstrate the transpersonal nature of psi. Social forces
must be taken seriously, and they help explain not only the operation of
psi, but also the resistance to it.
Hansen, G. P. (2001). The Trickster and the Paranormal.
McClenon, J. (1984). Deviant Science: The Case of Parapsychology.
Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Prince, W. F. (1930). The Enchanted Boundary: Being A
Survey of Negative Reactions to Claims of Psychic Phenomena 1820-1930.
Boston: Boston Society for Psychic Research.
Winkelman, M. J. (1992). Shamans, Priests, and Witches:
A Cross-Cultural Study of Magico-Religious Practitioners. Arizona
State University Anthropological Research Papers No. 44. Tempe: Arizona
George P. Hansen
Princeton Arms North 1, Apt. 59
Cranbury, NJ 08512