At last, I've done it. I've thrown in the towel,
kicked the habit and gone on the wagon. After thirty years, I have escaped
from a fearsome addiction.
To be truthful, I'm not really sure I've gone
cold turkey yet. Only last month I was at a psychical research conference.
Only days ago, I emptied the last of those meticulously organised filing
cabinets, fighting the little voice that warned: "Don't do it, you
might want to read that again" with a stronger one that urged: "You've
given up!" as I threw paper after paper on ESP, psychokinesis, psychic
pets, aromatherapy and haunted houses into the recycling sack. If cold
turkey does strike, the dustbin men will have taken away my fix.
Come to think of it, I feel slightly sad. It
was just over thirty years ago that I had the dramatic out-of-body experience
that convinced me of the reality of psychic phenomena and launched me
on a crusade to show those closed-minded scientists that consciousness
could reach beyond the body and that death was not the end. Just a few
years of careful experiments changed all that. I found no psychic phenomena
- only wishful thinking, self-deception, experimental error and, occasionally,
fraud. I became a sceptic.
So why didnt I give up then? There are
lots of bad reasons. Admitting you are wrong is always hard, even though
it's a skill every scientist needs to learn. And starting again as a baby
in a new field is a daunting prospect. So is losing all the status and
power of being an expert. I have to confess I enjoyed my hard-won knowledge.
Yes, I have read Michael Faraday's 1853 report on table tipping, and the
first 1930s studies in parapsychology, and the latest arguments over meta-analysis
of computer-controlled ESP experiments, not to mention the infamous Scole
report (Feedback, New Scientist, 22 January). Should I feel obliged
to keep using this knowledge if I can? No. Enough is enough. None of it
ever gets anywhere. That's a good enough reason for leaving.
But perhaps the real reason is that I am just
too tired - and tired above all of working to maintain an open mind. I
couldnt dismiss all those extraordinary claims out of hand. After
all, they might just be true, and if they were then swathes of science
would have to be rewritten.
Another "psychic" turns up. I must
devise more experiments, take these claims seriously. They fail - again.
A man explains to me how alien abductors implanted something in his mouth.
Tests show it's just a filling, but it might have been
No, I dont have to think that way. And
when the psychics and clairvoyants and New Agers shout at me, as they
do: "The trouble with all you scientists is you don't have an open
mind", I won't be upset. I won't argue. I won't rush off and perform
yet more experiments just in case. I'll simply smile sweetly and say:
"I don't do that any more."