Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Polite Skeptic Interview: Dean Radin

Dean Radin is a big name in parapsychology.  He's been Senior Scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences for almost a decade, where subjects ranging from physics to meditation to subtle energy are studied.  

Originally following his ambitions into being a concert violinist, he later placed his focus on science, earning a BSEE in electrical engineering, a master's degree in electrical engineering, and a doctorate degree in educational psychology.  To read a his scholarly papers, check out Google Scholar

Radin has also written two books for lay audiences: The Conscious Universe: The Scientific Truth of Psychic Phenomena, and Entangled Minds: Extrasensory Experiences in a Quantum Reality, with 4.3 and 4.2 out of 5 stars at Amazon.com, respectively.

If you're looking for an educated, intelligent and experienced voice on the side of paranormal belief, look no further. I emailed him a couple of weeks ago, requesting an interview.  His reply was so brief, and so simple, I didn't immediately realize he had said anything at all.

"Ok."

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The Polite Skeptic: As I understand, you believe that the mainstream scientific acceptance of certain paranormal abilities/systems is  inevitable.  What's your estimation of how long we would have to wait for that, and how much progress have you seen?
Dean Radin: Between 10 and 50 years. In the 30 or so years I've been involved in the field I've seen the state of the art in scientific terms steadily (and slowly) increasing, but the state of skepticism is essentially static.  In addition, we now have some skeptics admitting that if this were any other area of research, the phenomena would have already been accepted. (see this link). This is a major shift because past "professional" skeptics were loath to admit any progress at all.

What do you think such a mainstreaming would look like?  How do you think it would affect, for example, schools, jobs, or technology, in the short term, and in the long term?

In both the short and long term, I suspect it wouldn't change much of anything, at least not in a very dramatic way. Perhaps the biggest change would be that more scholars and scientists would be thinking about these topics, and in a more open way, but that said, the nature of "the field" would be quite different from what we see today, so it isn't clear to me how schools, jobs, etc. might change.

Do you find that, working with such controversial subject matter, you have to be excessively careful in your experimental setups, more so than, say, someone studying pathogens?
Yes. 

Setting aside statistics and experiments, what's the most interesting personal anecdote you have regarding psi and the paranormal?
I got into this field not because of personal experiences or anecdotes, but because of curiosity. While I've had a few interesting experiences, I don't regard them as special or even all that interesting to anyone else. 

Have you heard of Matthew Smith, the skeptical psychologist who decided he would try to become a psychic?  What are your thoughts on a project like that?
Yes, I know Matthew. I think it's a fine idea, although as far as I can tell to "become a psychic" for real, meaning one is now verifiably able to do psychic things, then one has to start with some genuine talent and openness. If you try to fake it you're not going to accomplish much other than perhaps learn a few mentalist tricks. In Matthew's case I don't know if he has the starting talent, but I do wish him all the best.

Do you think that the supernatural, as far as it may exist, is an important part of physics/reality?  In other words, do you think that the world could function essentially the way it does without a supernatural component?
Supernatural refers to objects or events beyond the natural, in which case by definition it is not part of physics or our reality. If you meant the so-called "paranormal," then that's quite a different question. I think the world would function very well without the supernatural, because within the world I live in I regard everything that happens as natural. If psi happens, and I believe the data shows it does, then it is natural. It's just not understood very well (along with a zillion other things that are also not well understood yet).

How often do you see a stubborn skeptic converted by your data, or converted at all?
Depends on what is meant by stubborn. If it means a belief based on an unquestioned faith in existing theories, then I have not found that data influences that type of person at all. If it means a skeptical but open mind that requires substantial data to change one's beliefs, then yes, sitting down with such a skeptic long enough to calmly explain the nature of the data available today will influence their prior beliefs.

In the video linked here, remote viewers believe they have found artificial structures on Mars, as well as intelligent activity.  What are your thoughts on this?  Is this a valid use for the skill?
It's an interesting exercise, but I much prefer controlled experiments where information can be clearly verified, otherwise the information gained is just an entertaining story.

Anything else you wanted to say?
No, thank you.
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Dean Radin's: homepage, blogFacebookWikipedia page,

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