The Science Behind Psychic Phenomena According to a Dean at Princeton
Are psychic phenomena similar to electromagnetic processes or entropy? Former Dean of Engineering at Princeton University Robert G. Jahn explores these parallels, as well as other potential explanations for scientific phenomena in his article, The Persistent Paradox of Psychic Phenomena: An Engineering Perspective.
First, he compares psychic phenomena to electromagnetic processes. He claims that these occurrences are often attributed with wavelike properties, but admits that any scientific tests that attempted to confirm certain quantitative wave properties associated with psychic phenomena, such as diffraction, interference, and polarization, have been inconclusive. However, the two processes seem to have more subjective properties in common, such as the "decline effect." This refers to the tendency in psychic experimentation for the subject to perform well at the beginning of the experiment, then to decline in accuracy over time, and then improve just before the experiment ends. Jahn claims that this could be considered analogous to the signatures of electromagnetic processes. "The point in suggesting such analogies is not to endorse direct physical correspondence between electromagnetic and psychic processes, but rather to speculate whether the human mind may tend to perceive and assess phenomena in the two domains in certain similar fundamental ways," he said.
He also discussed the relationship of psychic phenomena to random natural processes, such as entropy. He characterizes consciousness as an ordering of a world that is inherently random, and asserts that, in this sense, these phenomena should cause us to "suggest modifications of the concept of an isolated physical system," as consciousness can be said to reverse entropy to some degree. He then goes on to claim that certain psychic events, such as healing or communication with plants or animals, can be interpreted as a logical reversal of this process. Just as our consciousness exerts some kind of entropy-reversing power on the environment, so nature can exert some power on the consciousness of those with extrasensory powers.
He acknowledges that there is little compelling scientific evidence for psychic phenomena, as confirming experiments have not been reliably replicated. But he claims that this may be the result of the inquiry being in its infancy. "In many respects the growth pattern of this field resembles that of the natural sciences in their earliest days, or perhaps even more the incubation of classical psychology, in terms of the absence of replicable basic experiments and useful theoretical models, the low level of financial support and internal professional coordination, and the low credibility in the academic establishment and public sectors. Also like those fields, the survival and early growth of psychic research can largely be attributed to the efforts of a few scholars of sufficient conviction, stature, and courage to withstand the rejection of the orthodox communities." The comparison to psychology is the most intriguing one, since even now psychologists and neuroscientists alike find it difficult to quantify and standardize the elusive concepts in the field.
Alternatively, he also suggests that psychic phenomena may well be unquantifiable, that attempting to study it through the scientific method may be comparable to attempting to create a piece of art in a lab. "There should be little quarrel that the creative processes of artistic, musical, or literary composition, or of lofty philosophical thought in general, are not usually facilitated by rigid constraints or by the presence of a body of unsympathetic observers. The importance of favorable ambiance and mood for such efforts is intuitively and demonstrably clear, and little creative achievement is likely to occur in overly sterile or hostile environments."
He characterizes the relationship between psychic phenomena and scientific inquiry most poetically here: "The world of psychic phenomena might be likened to a vast, fog-shrouded swamp, wherein are reported to dwell a bewildering array of bizarre phenomenological creatures, all foreign to our normal perceptual and analytical catalogs."