I’ve recently been in correspondence with a young graduate student who has been dismayed to find out how much subjectivity can occur in her life when she is supposed to be a scientist, training in a hard, respected physical science. I think many people in general, who are overly impressed by science, as well as other people training in any sciences, will be interested in what I wrote to her. I noted:
It strikes me you’re getting a lot of advanced tutoring in real science. Ideal science is done by completely rational people, nobly searching for the truth, with no biases of any sort, and certainly no “lower emotional processes” affecting the quality of their reasoning. This makes being a scientist an extremely high prestige position, so naturally, since we are attached to our high prestige social positions, no one would want to admit that their practice of science is anything but that.
Then we come to real science, which is done by actual human beings. Real human beings have emotional brains that operate faster than their rational brains, have needs to succeed and be accepted, fears that they won’t succeed or be accepted, etc. To varying degrees real scientists work to overcome their emotional problems (with various degrees of success) and biases, and, in the long run, the need for replication and reproducibility in science tends to filter out results which really are due to the bias of particular individual investigators. But the “long run” can sometimes be generations or longer, not one journal issue to the next.
So yes, doing something parapsychological like ESP or PK involves using very delicate psychological faculties, and we don’t know anywhere near enough to control all the angles. Recognizing this is a step in maturity, knowing your own human qualities.
To give you an example of the human factor in science, one of my friends about 30 years ago was a graduate student in geology in a leading department. Now you don’t get a much “harder” science than geology, do you, all those hard, solid rocks? But he and I had some discussions about the psychological phenomenon of projection, the very powerful human ability to see what you believe, with no idea that you’re actually projecting your beliefs into something. So I mentioned that my wife, who loves geology, would often, on our hikes, say that we were looking at such and such a formation – and I couldn’t see it. What was apparently clear to her was a lot of lines running every which-a-way to me. She would regard me as ignorant, and I would tease her that maybe geologists were making all these things up. So my friend mentioned to his geology professors that perhaps they should do some studies to see just how objective and reliable geological classifications were — and they practically threw him out of the department! He learned to keep his mouth shut after that.
So, we tend to talk about the “hard” and “soft” sciences, physics versus sociology, e.g., but I prefer to talk about the hard and the easy sciences. Things like physics, chemistry, etc. are the easy sciences. It doesn’t matter what you had for breakfast the morning before you come into the lab, your relationship with your partner, etc., the same old things reliably happen in your experiments. Sciences like psychology or parapsychology are the really hard, difficult sciences because all these subtle things do matter, and, not only do we not know much about the specifics of that, we don’t want to know because we still cling to our feeling that we are superior, objective beings, scientists!
Welcome to reality. Tread carefully, especially around other human beings who are too invested in their objectivity.