Thursday, January 6, 2011

And speaking of bullshit . . .

In a further sign of the downfall of civilization as we know it, the New York Times reports today that a leading scholarly journal in psychology is preparing to publish a paper purporting to find evidence of ESP.
The conclusive experiment was that 53% of the time, undergraduates were able to correctly anticipate behind which of two randomly chosen, concealed boxes on a computer screen a dirty picture would appear. (Non-dirty pictures yielded a showing no better than chance.)

What I want to know is why ESP phenomena always manifest themselves in ways that occur only ever so slightly greater than chance. Surely any perceptual ability worth its name would be a lot better than that. (I'd even settle for 75%, though 100% doesn't seem unreasonable to ask for.)

If ESP exists, it sure is lousy.

The other characteristic of ESP is that it always seems to be of remarkably useless practical consequence. When I was researching my book about animal cognition (rapturously greeted by animal lovers everywhere and widely available in discerning second-hand bookstores), I read with increasingly dropping jaw the accounts of "animal communicators" who would speak telepathically with your pet (for a modest fee) and report its innermost thoughts. It always turned out that dogs and cats had, quite remarkably, thoroughly mastered (at least in their innermost thoughts) all of the shallowest rhetorical tropes and cliches of New Age self-help books ("She's in a constant state of stress and it's depressing her immune system," reported one communicator, of a house cat she telephathically interviewed).