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From the Preface

[An ESP experiment] “immediately appeals to his [or her] unconscious readiness to witness a miracle, and to the hope, latent in all [people], that such a thing may yet be possible. Primitive superstition lies just below the surface of even the most tough-minded individuals, and it is precisely those who most fight…” 

C.G. Jung, 1952.

It is of natural science to investigate nature, impartially and without prejudice.

J.R. Smythies, 1967.

Anomaly

  • something that defies explanation – adds spice. Beyond spice, anomaly offers hope, the hope that something – whatever it may be – exists beyond the everyday. We humans live in hope eternally. But what exactly is an ‘anomaly’? I do not mean the kind of oddness or peculiarity in human behaviour that is everywhere to be seen. I am referring to things that really should not be so, the weird, the spooky, the face in the mirror that isn’t you. Anomalistic experiences are curious, strange, ‘funny peculiar’.  As we engage with the experience itself, we freely ruminate and craving to understand, we dig to discover something new. The goal here is to do precisely that, to dig below the surface of anomalistic experience, to take a close look at the psychology of the paranormal, to put psi ‘under the microscope’.  One should not be surprised if all is not as it seems and we can expect surprises aplenty here.

I approached the writing of this book with anticipation

wondering where the adventure might lead. I hoped it would lead towards new insights, explanatory theory and nuggets of new knowledge.

In the end, I reached an altogether unexpected conclusion…

How, you may well ask, can that be?  Surely, an ‘expert’ about psychology and the paranormal should already have reached an opinion one way or the other, a strong point of view?

Not so.

I genuinely have no idea where this new investigation will lead.I write as a zetetic.[1] I have a map and a set of place names[2],  but what exists at each place is uncertain. I last visited this field 20 years ago. Now, with ‘new eyes’ and new evidence, one’s understanding could be significantly different compared to 20 years ago.  Unlike previous visits, I am giving the psi hypothesis an initial probability of being a real, authentic and valid experience of 50%.

Please take a minute to consider your own current degree of belief in ESP.  Indicate your current belief with an arrow on the Belief Barometer below.[3]

My objective

is to cut a path through the vast, tangled jungle of publications with a machete that is sharp and decisive. With each new claim, one must reads, reflect, question, reflect some more, and ultimately decide at one particular moment the degree of plausibility that each specific claim possesses. Belief Barometers will be used to mark your and my degree of belief for each individual claim. The amount of variation in one’s degree of belief indicates a sensitivity to evidence.  If somebody simply says ‘0%’’ or ‘100%’ to absolutely everything, that surely indicates intransigence and intolerance of ambiguity.

One cannot profess definite explanations in advance because that would be blinkered. If we already KNEW the answers, we would cease to investigate, I would not be writing, and you would not be reading. The truth would already be out and we would be picking at the flesh of dead learning like vultures at a dead elephant.

No true zetetic starts from a fixed position. She/he suspends judgement while seeking and exploring with an open mind. In any science, all ideas are provisional, pending further investigation. Those who assert a fixed point of view before looking at the evidence break the ‘Golden Rule of Science’, which is to let conclusions follow the evidence.

Anomalistic psychology

includes the entire spectrum of conscious experience in all of its glorious splendour. By examining in-depth the evidence both pro and con any particular claim, one gains an entitlement to offer conclusions. Even then, the conclusions are tentative, pending further investigation by independent investigators. I am also minded to recall Heraclitus’ well-known dictum, “You cannot step into the same river twice, for other waters are continually flowing on.”  Having stepped into the paranormal river on a few occasions, it was each time a different river.

It is impossible here to include everything in Anomalistic Psychology. The selected exemplify phenomena that have received significant attention from researchers over the last 50 years.  Fun though they may be: Big Foot, the Loch Ness Monster, Clever Hans, mediums, Ouija boards, and stage mentalists didn’t make the cut. See them in the ‘red tops’ and on YouTube.

Returning to the world of psi

after a 20-year respite, I am curious to see what has changed. Anomalistic Psychology is now the battle-ground of psi (Luke, 2011) and there is a growing stockpile of sophisticated methods and findings that can be considered to be supportive of paranormal interpretation.

My return to the field is not without some amount of trepidation, for now I risk being the target for pot-shots from both sides!

However, a strongly partisan view is unhelpful to making any progress in this, or any other part, of science.  Progress requires a dialogue between advocates of differing positions. I wish to put down a marker that says: “Peace. Nobody won. Stop fighting.” That’s not to say there won’t be criticism; there must be, otherwise there can never be progress.

To establish a dialogue, I invited seven *stars* of the field to respond to my criticisms and questions: Daryl Bem, Susan Blackmore, Stanley Krippner, Dean Radin, Hal Puthoff, Rupert Sheldrake, and Adrian Parker. Warm thanks to one and all.

Evidence, critique, new theories

In this book, I present evidence, critique, and new theories. Whenever possible, I use verbatim quotations of advocates concerning specific claims. Nobody can ever legitimately say that a claim has been ‘disproved’; if the truth of a claim is undecided, it is only possible to say that it is neither confirmed nor disconfirmed.

Whatever one thinks, the world is always independent of how we might wish it to be. There is nothing wrong about believing in psi if one chooses to, and scientists have no place disparaging such beliefs. Belief in the paranormal is normal.

Sociologist Andrew Greeley (1991) put it this way:

“The paranormal is normal. Psychic and mystic experiences are frequent even in modern urban industrial society. The majority of the population has had some such experience, a substantial minority has had more than just an occasional experience, and a respectable proportion of the population has such experiences frequently. Any phenomenon with incidence as widespread as the paranormal deserves more careful and intensive research than it has received up to now….People who have paranormal experiences, even frequent such experiences, are not kooks. They are not sick, they are not deviants, they are not social misfits, they are not schizophrenics. In fact, they may be more emotionally healthy than those who do not have such experiences.” (Greeley 1975: 7)

Scientists should be agnostic about the ontological status of paranormal experience and examine the circumstances that constrain or facilitate exceptional experiences.  In approaching each claim, I maintain a zetetic viewpoint, neither believing nor disbelieving,  attending to the evidence. Only after one has completed a thorough survey of evidence is one entitled to an informed opinion. A zetetic must not be naïve, however.

Master zetetic, Marcello Truzzi (1987):

Marcellotruzzi

“The ground rules of science are conservative, and in so far as these place the burden of proof on the claimants and require stronger evidence the more extraordinary the claim, they are not neutral. But, we also need to remember, evidence always varies by degree, and inadequate evidence requires a tolerant reply which requests better evidence, not a dogmatic denial that behaves as though inadequate evidence were no evidence” (p. 73).

Astronomer, Carl Sagan (1995) also offers wise advice:

260px-Carl_Sagan_Planetary_Society

“It seems to me what is called for is an exquisite balance between two conflicting needs: the most skeptical scrutiny of all hypotheses that are served up to us and at the same time a great openness to new ideas. Obviously those two modes of thought are in some tension. But if you are able to exercise only one of these modes, whichever one it is, you’re in deep trouble.If you are only skeptical, then no new ideas make it through to you. You never learn anything new. You become a crotchety old person convinced that nonsense is ruling the world. (There is, of course, much data to support you.) But every now and then, maybe once in a hundred cases, a new idea turns out to be on the mark, valid and wonderful. If you are too much in the habit of being skeptical about everything, you are going to miss or resent it, and either way you will be standing in the way of understanding and progress. On the other hand, if you are open to the point of gullibility and have not an ounce of skeptical sense in you, then you cannot distinguish the useful as from the worthless ones.” (Sagan, 1995, p 25).

The first 20 years of the 21st century

brought many astonishing scientific discoveries: the first draft of the Human Genome, graphene, grid cells in the brain, the first self-replicating, synthetic bacterial cells, the Higgs boson, liquid water on Mars and gravitational waves. Not bad going in such a short time!  During this same period, Anomalistic Psychology has grown at an enormous pace with increased numbers of investigators and publications (Figure P2).  Disappointingly, however, new discoveries or theories are few and far between. If there has been one discovery, it might be stated thus: The science of anomalistic experience is more complex and obscure then most psychologists ever imagined. When we are at the beginning of new venture like this, we must not be deterred by having no real answer to two of the hardest questions in science: What is consciousness and what is it for? [5]

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One of the greatest scientific minds of the last century, Stephen Hawking, stated:

Stephen_Hawking.StarChild

“Science is beautiful when it makes simple explanations of phenomena or connections between different observations” (Sample, 2011).

It has also been said that advances in science come not from empiricism but from new theories.

Parapsychology, like its ‘big sister’ Psychology, has always been heavily empirical and short on theory. The rapid growth is indexed by multitudes of empirical studies in the absence of notable theoretical developments.

By becoming more theory-driven, the field of ‘Psychology + Parapsychology’ as an integrated whole seems likely to make faster progress.

It seems counterproductive to treat Parapsychology and Psychology as separate fields.

Bringing the ‘Para’ part back into mainstream Psychology helps to integrate the discipline. This book takes a step in that direction. Parapsychology and Psychology contain myriads of variables, A,B,C…N…X,Y,Z.  An established strategy for developing new research in Psychology and Parapsychology is for the investigator to identity ‘gaps’ in the field and to set about filling those gaps with correlational and experimental studies with almost every possible permutation and combination of variables.  The gap filling approach is one strategy for keeping productivity high but, often, it is at the expense of developing new theories. As already noted, the academic world is based on quantitative measures of performance[6] and the number of publications a researcher can claim matters. This drive towards publications leads to what I call ‘Polyfilla Science’.

Polyfilla Science

For every ‘hole’ investigators can fill, they are almost guaranteed a peer-reviewed publication. ‘Polyfilla Science’ exists on an industrial scale, keeping hundreds of thousands of scientists busily occupied in hot competition. The ‘winners’ of the Polyfilla competition are the ones who tick the highest number of boxes and harvest the most citations.[7]

‘Polyfilla Science’ can be represented as a multidimensional matrix of cells where the task of science is viewed as filling every last cell in the matrix (Figure P3).  This method of doing science is more akin to a fairground shooting gallery than to theory-driven science.  In the absence of theory, many researchers use a Polyfilla ‘shotgun’ by testing a dozen or more “hypotheses” in one shot. Popular though it is, ‘Polyfilla Science’ isn’t the only game in town, and a theory-driven approach is also available.  Theory is used to identify the principles behind questions that need answering in a process of confirmation and disconfirmation of predictions. When one considers the fact that there are one hundred thousand psychology majors in the US alone, all needing a research project, it is no wonder the Polyfilla approach is so popular.[8]

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The book is geared towards the needs of teachers, researchers and students interested in Anomalistic Experience, Parapsychology and Consciousness Studies.

In comparison to the scientific discoveries in other fields, Psychology or Parapsychology have made no world-changing discoveries in the last 50 years. By this, I mean discoveries that are worth telling your grandchildren. In my opinion, the lack of significant theoretical developments, and the Polyfilla Approach, are two of the main reasons for this lack of progress.  All this needs to change.

Avoiding the drunkard’s search

One must beware – and avoid – the drunkard’s search principle – searching only where it is easiest to look. You probably already know the parable:

A policeman sees a drunk man searching for something under a streetlight and asks what the drunk has lost. He says he lost his wallet and they both look under the streetlight together. After a few minutes the policeman asks if he is sure he lost it here, and the drunk replies, no, and that he lost it in the park. The policeman asks why he is searching here, and the drunk replies, “this is where the light is”.

lost_in_the_dark

We must look wherever psi could be found, not only where it is easiest to look.

The search for psi is a complex, winding trail of traps and pitfalls. When we observe evidence, we must not,  a priori, rule it out as subjective validation or confirmation bias. An openness to being wrong may cause uncomfortable feelings, but knowledge and truth are never givens. When we are lucky enough to discover something new, this is hard-won treasure.

I present here new theories in the spirit of open inquiry. There’s a saying that ‘today’s theories make tomorrow’s fish-n-chip paper’. Possibly, probably, these theories are wrong.  So be it. If possible, falsify my theories, throw them out, and develop better ones. By testing and falsifying existing theories, newer, better theories can be obtained and so on indefinitely. As I share thoughts and conclusions, the reader will be able to contest and challenge  and contrary evidence.

We’ve walked on the Moon and are heading to Mars, but we still don’t yet know the function of consciousness. One of the starting points must be to separate fact from fiction in anomalistic psychology.

Notes

[1] Zetetic from the Greek zçtçtikos, from zçteô [ζητέω (zéteó) — to seek] “to seek to proceed by inquiry”.

[2] [2] Tópos, the Greek name for “place” (τόπος); ‘topic’ in English.

[3] Belief Barometers appear throughout this book.

[4] The majority of so-called ‘skeptics’ are disbelievers and/or deniers who have adopted the label ‘skeptic’ for its more temperate connotations. The late Marcello Truzzi was one of two co-founding chairman of the leading US skeptical organisation CSICOP (the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal). Truzzi became disillusioned with the organization, saying they “tend to block honest inquiry, in my opinion… Most of them are not agnostic toward claims of the paranormal; they are out to knock them.” Using the title of ‘skeptic’, Truzzi claimed that this association of debunkers could claim an authority to which they were not entitled: “critics who take the negative rather than an agnostic position but still call themselves ‘skeptics’ are actually pseudo-skeptics and have, I believed, gained a false advantage by usurping that label.” Genuine or ‘classical’ skepticism is the zetetic view to suspend judgement and enter into a genuine inquiry that assumes any claim requires justification. Maintaining a zetetic position of open inquiry requires a steady hand and a critical mind. There is no room for naivety but a touch of Socratic irony may at times be helpful. A protracted correspondence between Martin Gardner and Marcello Truzzi , indicating their two contrasting viewpoints, has been published by Richards (2017).

[5] Nagel (2013) and Strawson (2006), among others, argue for the ancient philosophy of pan-psychism, in which all physical objects from atoms to the cosmos all have conscious experience.  Elsewhere, I have described Consciousness  as “a direct emergent property of cerebral activity” (Marks, 2019)..

[6] Numbers of publications, citations, grant monies, prizes, promotions and awards.

[7] One of the world’s most published and ambitious ‘Polyfilla’ psychologists told me a self-effacing story about the occasion he went for an interview at the University of Oxford. A member of the panel asked: “Dr X, you have a huge number of publications. But what does it all mean?” He didn’t know the answer and got rejected for the post.

[8] Polycell Multi-Purpose Polyfilla Ready Mixed, 1 Kg, i#1 best seller on Amazon.co.uk, 16 May 2019.

[9] The history of the field is adequately reviewed by others e.g. John Beloff (1993) or Caroline Watt (2017).

Vividness, Consciousness, and Mental Imagery: Making the Missing Links across Disciplines and Methods

Guest Editor: Amedeo D’Angiulli

https://www.mdpi.com/journal/brainsci/special_issues/Vividness_Consciousness_Imagery

All articles can be accessed freely online.

Marks, D.F. I Am Conscious, Therefore, I Am: Imagery, Affect, Action, and a
General Theory of Behavior. Brain Sci. 2019, 9(5), 107;
https://doi.org/10.3390/brainsci9050107.
Views: 2082, Downloads: 1277, Citations: 2, Altmetrics: 2
https://www.mdpi.com/2076-3425/9/5/107

Lefebvre, E.; D’Angiulli, A. Imagery-Mediated Verbal Learning Depends on
Vividness–Familiarity Interactions: The Possible Role of Dualistic Resting
State Network Activity Interference. Brain Sci. 2019, 9(6), 143;
https://doi.org/10.3390/brainsci9060143.
Views: 1537, Downloads: 645, Citations: 0, Altmetrics: 5
https://www.mdpi.com/2076-3425/9/6/143

Pinna, B.; Conti, L. The Limiting Case of Amodal Completion: The Phenomenal
Salience and the Role of Contrast Polarity. Brain Sci. 2019, 9(6), 149;
https://doi.org/10.3390/brainsci9060149.
Views: 1307, Downloads: 701, Citations: 2, Altmetrics: 1
https://www.mdpi.com/2076-3425/9/6/149

Craver-Lemley, C.; Reeves, A. Taste Modulator Influences Rare Case of
Color-Gustatory Synesthesia. Brain Sci. 2019, 9(8), 186;
https://doi.org/10.3390/brainsci9080186.
Views: 1041, Downloads: 907, Citations: 0, Altmetrics: 0
https://www.mdpi.com/2076-3425/9/8/186

Haustein, S.; Vellino, A.; D’Angiulli, A. Insights from a Bibliometric
Analysis of Vividness and Its Links with Consciousness and Mental Imagery.
Brain Sci. 2020, 10(1), 41;
https://doi.org/10.3390/brainsci10010041.
Views: 810, Downloads: 300, Citations: 0, Altmetrics: 1
https://www.mdpi.com/2076-3425/10/1/41

van der Helm, P.A. Dubious Claims about Simplicity and Likelihood: Comment on
Pinna and Conti (2019). Brain Sci. 2020, 10(1), 50;
https://doi.org/10.3390/brainsci10010050.
Views: 699, Downloads: 234, Citations: 1, Altmetrics: 0
https://www.mdpi.com/2076-3425/10/1/50

Pinna, B.; Conti, L. On the Role of Contrast Polarity: In Response to van der
Helm’s Comments. Brain Sci. 2020, 10(1), 54;
https://doi.org/10.3390/brainsci10010054.
Views: 657, Downloads: 243, Citations: 0, Altmetrics: 0
https://www.mdpi.com/2076-3425/10/1/54

Thorudottir, S.; Sigurdardottir, H.M.; Rice, G.E.; Kerry, S.J.; Robotham,
R.J.; Leff, A.P.; Starrfelt, R. The Architect Who Lost the Ability to
Imagine: The Cerebral Basis of Visual Imagery. Brain Sci. 2020, 10(2), 59;
https://doi.org/10.3390/brainsci10020059.
Views: 2817, Downloads: 972, Citations: 0, Altmetrics: 56
https://www.mdpi.com/2076-3425/10/2/59

Brain Sciences (ISSN 2076-3425) is a journal published by MDPI AG, Basel,
Switzerland

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A General Theory of Behaviour II: Restructured Hierarchy of Needs

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This second post on A General Theory of Behaviour (AGTB) incorporates an amended form of Abraham Maslow’s (1943) motivational needs hierarchy described by Douglas T. Kenrick and colleagues  to which AGTB has added the process of Type II homeostasis.


 

Modifying Maslow

Abraham Harold Maslow (April 1, 1908 – June 8, 1970) was best known for the foundation of humanistic psychology and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

A brief introduction to Maslow’s needs hierarchy  is here.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs was a landmark publication for its ability to account for so many aspects of behaviour. The first level of the original Maslow hierarchy – Immediate Physiological Needs – already incorporates homeostasis (Type I).

AGTB inserts Psychological Homeostasis (homeostasis Type II) to give the hierarchy more explanatory power.

In discussing the second level for “Safety Needs”, Maslow states:

“The safety needs.—If the physiological needs are relatively well gratified, there then emerges a new set of needs, which we may categorize roughly as the safety needs. All that has been said of the physiological needs is equally true, although in lesser degree, of these desires. The organism may equally well be wholly dominated by them. They may serve as the almost exclusive organizers of behaviour, recruiting all the capacities of the organism in their service, and we may then fairly describe the whole organism as a safety-seeking mechanism.” (p.376).

In describing this in detail, Maslow turned to the needs of children for a predictable, orderly world, a world which is reliable, safe and predictable:

“Another indication of the child’s need for safety is his preference for some kind of undisrupted routine or rhythm. He seems to want a predictable, orderly world. For instance, injustice, unfairness, or inconsistency in the parents seems to make a child feel anxious and unsafe. This attitude may be not so much because of the injustice per se or any particular pains involved, but rather because this treatment threatens to make the world look unreliable, or unsafe, or unpredictable. Young children seem to thrive better under a system which has at least a skeletal outline of rigidity, in which there is a schedule of a kind, some sort of routine, something that can be counted upon, not only for the present but also far into the future. Perhaps one could express this more accurately by saying that the child needs an organized world rather than an unorganized or unstructured one.”  (p. 377)

Maslow specifically links safety with ‘stability’:

“we can perceive the expressions of safety needs only in such phenomena as, for instance, the common preference for a job with tenure and protection, the desire for a savings account, and for insurance of various kinds (medical, dental, unemployment, disability, old age). Other broader aspects of the attempt to seek safety and stability in the world are seen in the very common preference for familiar rather than unfamiliar things, or for the known rather than the unknown.”(p. 379).

Maslow’s bracketing of safety with stability connects the needs pyramid with Type II homeostasis. It is noted that, in the amended pyramid, “Safety Needs” has been relabelled as “Self-Protection”. Thus all motives above level I are part and parcel of the striving for stability and equilibrium that is the function of homeostasis Type II. (Figure 1).

Screen Shot 2018-08-17 at 15.00.28Figure 1. The Hierarchy of Fundamental Human Needs. This figure integrates ideas from life-history development with Maslow’s needs hierarchy. This scheme adds reproductive goals, in the order they are likely to first appear developmentally. The model also depicts the later developing goal systems as overlapping with, rather than completely replacing, earlier developing systems. Once a goal system has developed, its activation is triggered whenever relevant environmental cues are salient. Type I homeostasis operates at level 1. All motives from self-protection at level 2 and above engage Type II homeostasis.  This figure is from Kenrick, Griskevicius, Neuberg and Schaller (2010).

Principle II (Needs Hierarchy)

The newly amended Hierarchy leads to Principle II (Needs Hierarchy) of AGTB, which states:

AGTB Principle II (Needs Hierarchy): In the hierarchy of needs, Physiological Homeostasis Type I is active at level I (Immediate Physiological Needs) and Psychological Homeostasis Type II is active at all higher levels from II (Self-Protection) to level VI (Parenting).

 As priorities shift from lower to higher in the hierarchy we see a progression in developmental priority as each individual matures.  In fact, it is possible to apply the motivational hierarchy at three different levels of analysis: evolutionary function, developmental sequencing, and current cognitive priority (the proximate level). In agreement with Douglas T. Kenrick et al. (2010), the basic foundational structure of Maslow’s pyramid, buttressed with a few architectural extensions, remains perfectly valid.  Need satisfaction is allowed to be a goal at more than one level simultaneously. In light of the amended pyramid, three auxiliary propositions are stated as follows:

Individuals unable to meet their immediate physiological needs at level I of the hierarchy are at a disadvantage in meeting needs at higher levels in the hierarchy. [Auxiliary Proposition, AP, 004].

People with unmet needs for self-protection (level 2) are at a disadvantage in meeting their needs for affiliation (level 3). [AP 005].

In general, people with higher than average unmet needs at any level (n) are at a disadvantage in meeting higher level needs at levels n+m. [AP 006].

The universality of Abraham Maslow’s original needs hierarchy is supported by a survey of well-being across 123 countries. Louis Tay and Ed Diener (2011) examined the fulfilment of needs and subjective well-being (SWB), including life evaluation, positive feelings, and negative feelings.[2] Need fulfilment was consistently associated with SWB across all world regions. Type II homeostasis defined within the General Theory provides a close fit to the natural striving of conscious organisms for security, stability and well-being, described in later chapters. The needs hierarchy amended by Douglas T. Kenrick et al. (2010) is expected to be a close fit to nature.

CONCLUSIONS:

  • Behaviour is at root an expression of Type II homeostasis. The ‘Reset Equilibrium Function’ (REF) operates in all conscious organisms with purpose, desire and intentionality.
  • When equilibrium is disturbed, the REF strives to reset psychological processes to equilibrium.
  • In the hierarchy of needs, Type I Homeostasis strives to satisfy Physiological Needs at level 1. Type II Homeostasis strives to satisfy all remaining developmental needs.

Reference

Kenrick, D. T., Griskevicius, V., Neuberg, S. L., & Schaller, M. (2010). Renovating the pyramid of needs: Contemporary extensions built upon ancient foundations. Perspectives on psychological science5(3), 292-314.

A General Theory of Behaviour I

The first in a 12-part series about A General Theory of Behaviour (AGTB). AGTB is a new theory of behaviour founded on the principle of ‘Psychological Homeostasis’. AGTB includes 20 principles and 80 associated propositions (AP).


 

I trace here the history of the theory of Psychological Homeostasis as a universal principle of behaviour.

This story begins in the fifth century BC with the Greek philosopher Hippocrates, the “Father of Medicine”, the vis medicatrix naturae, and the idea of the body as a natural healer of imbalances.

Fast forward 2.4 thousand years to the nineteenth century AD to the life and theories of Claude Bernard. Walter B Cannon coined the term ‘homeostasis’ for Bernard’s principle.

I extend the principle in A General Theory of Behaviour.


Claude Bernard

French physiologist Claude Bernard (1813-1878) was  a near contemporary of Charles Darwin (1809-1882). CB is recognised as the ‘Father of Modern Physiology and Experimental Medicine’, best known for his work on the pancreas and vasomotor system, and for discovering glycogen.

Yet, CB’s description of the milieu intérieur in living organisms is equally significant. It is also a dangerous idea –  a very dangerous idea. The principle states:

The stability of the internal environment is the condition for the free and independent life.”

So, who exactly was Claude Bernard?

Born in the quiet village of Saint-Julien, among the vineyards of the Beaujolais region of the Val de Saône in France, life here is slow but productive.  I visited Bernard’s home, which is part of a dedicated museum (LE MUSÉE CLAUDE BERNARD, see photos below). Every square centimetre of soil in this region is planted in vine.

The young Claude was fascinated by fine art, literature and philosophy: Delacroix, Victor Hugo and René Descartes. He wasn’t too much interested in the school curriculum and applied his talents to writing plays, such as a vaudeville comedy, La Rose du Rhône, and a five-act tragedy, Arthur de Bretagne.[1]

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To the disappointment of his parents and teachers, Bernard did not reach his full potential and disgraced himself by failing his bachelor’s degree. He left college without qualifications or any career aims.  He worked as an apprentice to a pharmacist in Lyon, but got fired.  Things were not going well.  However, encouraged by having a comedy performed in a local theatre, Bernard hoped to become a writer and moved to Paris.

After receiving advice from a respected critic, Bernard had a change of heart and enrolled at medical school. At medical school he was romantically attracted to a young woman, a patient from one of the wards, but his approaches were rebuffed, leading him to write sadly and prophetically: “I think I would never be destined to be happy in love.”[2]

After his romantic rebuff, Bernard threw himself into his work and meets the leading physiologist, François Magendie, and becomes his assistant. He works hard for Magendie’s but receives another knock-back in 1844 when he fails the competition at the Faculty of Medicine and is barred from practicing as a physician. Having no means of support he thinks of returning to Saint-Julien to tend the vines as a ‘country doctor’ but, encouraged by others, he turns his attention to full-time basic physiological research – a move that changes the history of medicine. Then, out of the blue…along comes Fanny.

In 1845 Bernard marries Marie Françoise “Fanny” Martin for her dowry. This sounds cold and calculating, but this is how it was sometimes done way back then. This pragmatic if unromantic arrangement enabled Bernard to continue his physiological experiments. From this point Bernard’s career takes an upward turn.

Bernard’s Discoveries

In 1855, Bernard isolates and names glycogen. He learns how glycogen in the liver maintains the blood glucose levels at near constant level with a process that is termed today ‘homeostasis’. For lazier scientists, this would have been a large enough laurel to rest upon, supping on wine from your very own vineyard.  Not Claude Bernard. In 1864 Emperor Louis Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie invite Bernard to stay at Compiegne Castle where Bernard makes a real impression, standing out in the French intelligentsia of architects, engineers, artists and philosophers.  The Emperor offers Bernard a laboratory at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle and opens doors to the most important people of the day.  Claude Bernard has arrived.

While recuperating from an illness at Saint-Julien in 1865, Bernard writes a classic text, The Introduction To Experimental Medicine, where he states: “There are physicians who are fanatical about the effects of the drugs they prescribe. They do not accept critical comments which are based upon experiments. They say you can only prescribe drugs which you believe in, and they think that prescribing a drug to a patient you doubt about shows a lack of medical ethics. I don’t accept this way of thinking, it means deceiving oneself and deceiving others.”[4] Seventy years before Karl Popper, Claude Bernard is asserting the principle of falsification.

As a scientist, Bernard is the complete package. He “embraces both theory and experimental practice “and associates “all the terms of the experimental method in solidarity with one another”. As Bernard writes: “Experimental ideas are very often born by chance and on the occasion of an fortuitous observation…the theory is only the scientific idea controlled by experience (…), in the aspiration of the mind towards the unknown“, a proposal that has a contemporary flavour.[5]

In his Lessons of Phenomena of Life in Animals and Plants Bernard (1878-79) writes: “…there are in fact two environments, one milieu which is outside the body and an inner milieu, in which the components of living tissues are embedded. The real existence of the animal doesn’t take place in the external world but inside the liquid medium of circulating organic fluid. This fluid is the expression of all local nutrition and the source and mouth of elementary exchange.

Claude Bernard dies a national hero, with full honours, the first state funeral granted to any scientist in France. The Université Claude-Bernard Lyon 1 is named in his honour, one of the three public universities of Lyon, and specializes in science, technology and health. ‘Rue Claude Bernard’ is located in the Latin Quarter of Paris and, in Lyon, the ‘Quay Claude Bernard ’ is located by the Rhone River.[6]

Walter B Cannon’s term ‘Homeostasis’

Walter_Bradford_Cannon_1934

We turn to Bernard’s concept of the milieu intérior. Here the story gets interesting…

For several decades Claude Bernard’s ‘dangerous idea’ [7], the milieu intérior, was put on the back burner because nobody quite knew what to do with it. In the early Twentieth Century it was taken up by J.S. Haldane, C.S Sherrington, J. Barcroft  and a few others.[8]

In 1926 the concept gained currency when Harvard physiologist Walter B Cannon coined the term homeostasis.  In Cannon’s view, his book The Wisdom of the Body had presented a modern interpretation of vis medicatrix naturae, the healing power of nature posited by Hippocrates. Cannon believed he had shown how the automatic function of homeostasis freed the brain for the more intellectual functions of intelligence, imagination and insight.

At this point, the homeostasis story picks up apace. Add to the mix of Bernard and Cannon, spice the pot with the work of Wiener (1948), Von Bertalanffy (1968) and season it with the work of the evolutionary biologists and we have a ‘stew’ to die for. As the contents of the pot bubble and coalesce, we sense that homeostasis is not only advantageous for any living system, but it could even be the defining characteristic of life itself.[9]

A Universal Principle of Behaviour

At every level of existence, from the cell to the organism, from the individual to the population, and from the local ecosystem to the entire planet, homeostasis is a drive towards stability, security and adaptation to change. In an infinite variety of forms, omnipresent in living beings, is an inbuilt function with the sole purpose of striving for equilibrium, not only in the milieu intérieur but in the milieu extérieur also.

We take a gigantic leap…but that’s why we are here – even if we feel we are at the edge of a cliff – we must go for it…

On the other side of Bernard’s scientific coin, we imagine we find the following:

“The stability of the external environment is the condition for the free and independent life.” 

By changing a single word ‘internal’ to its antonym ‘exterior’, a whole new theoretical perspective for the Science of Behaviour is created. Voila – “A General Theory of Behaviour”.[10]  Striving for balance and equilibrium is the guiding force in all we – and all other conscious beings –  do, think and feel.  This newly defined homeostasis deserves a descriptive name: I call it the “Reset Equilibrium Function” or REF.

The principle is a universal one in the natural world.  The planet operates with one binding principle, ‘Gaia’.  The Gaia hypothesis holds that living organisms interact with their surroundings on Earth to form synergistic and self-regulatingcomplex system that helps to maintain and perpetuate the conditions for life on the planet ( James Lovelock). In microcosm, human behaviour is a synergistic, self-regulating, complex system of homeostasis.

All organisms automatically regulate essential physiological functions by homeostasis and it is a matter of everyday observation that drives are maintained in equilibrium by comportment, e.g. eating, drinking, fornicating, sleeping, excreting, etc. This type of homeostasis has been established since the time of Bernard. Far more than this, and as a matter of routine, without any special reflection in most instances, all conscious beings reconcile discrepancies among their thoughts, behaviours, and feelings and in the differences with those with whom they have social relationships. Conscious organisms strive to achieve their goals while maximizing cohesion and cooperation with both kith and kin and, at the same time, striving to take away or to minimize the suffering and pain of others. [AP 001].

The goal is to minimize all forms of eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation and tooth-and-claw competition and to live in a culture where the thriving of all is in the self-interest of every individual.  The idea has been described by Antonio Damasio thus: “cultural instruments first developed in relation to the homeostatic needs of individuals and of groups as small as nuclear families and tribes. The extension to wider human circles was not and could not have been contemplated. Within wider human circles, cultural groups, countries, even geopolitical blocs, often operate as individual organisms, not as parts of one larger organism, subject to a single homeostatic control. Each uses the respective homeostatic controls to defend the interests of its organism” (Damasio, 2018, p. 32).[11]

Whether we are aware of it or not, the REF is omnipresent, wherever we go and whatever we are doing. The process is not something we normally focus attention on, the process through which our behavioural systems are perpetually striving to maintain balance, safety and stability in our physical and social surroundings. Competing drives, conflicts, and inconsistencies all can pull the flow of events ‘off balance’, triggering this innate striving to restore equilibrium. The majority of people for the majority of time strive to calm and quieten local disturbances of equilibrium rather than to exacerbate them. [AP 002]. It is not a battle that we can always win; there is always the possibility of instability, error, calamity or catastrophe even. There are abundant links to other theories inside and outside of Psychology. Piaget’s notion of equilibration was concerned with the attempt to balance psychological schemas when new information is encountered. In equilibration, children accommodate new information by changing their psychological schemas in a process of assimilation. This same idea applies to other psychological domains when there is a departure from a set range of equilibrium.  Advocates of Buddhist philosophy, for example, the Dalai Lama, have identified a need for inner peace.[12]

Body and mind continuously regulate and control many domains and levels simultaneously, with multiple adjustments to voluntary and involuntary behaviour guided by two types of homeostasis: Type I – inwardly striving or physiological homeostasis, H[Φ], and Type II – outwardly striving or psychological homeostasis, H[Ψ]. Physiological regulation involves drives such as hunger, thirst, sex, elimination and sleep.  Influenced by Cannon, Clark Hull (1943)[13] suggested a drive theory of regulatory mechanisms in which an organism can only rest when it is in a state of equilibrium. When a need such as hunger or thirst develops, the organism engages in need-satisfying behaviour.  However, ‘drive’ can be mental as well as physical so that misery, fear and worry – often lumped together as ‘stress’ – create a state of unrest that prevents calmness, relaxation and sleep. Whenever we feel unrest, there is a need to ‘press the reset button’ and restore equilibrium. The ‘Reset Equilibrium Function’ (REF) operates across all behavioural systems and processes of relevance to the Science of Psychology.

Reset Equilibrium Function (REF)

The Reset Equilibrium Function (or ‘REF’) is the principle of homeostasis in psychological processes and behaviour. We employ systems theory with cyclical negative feedback loops as a central feature. Feedback loops in Cybernetics and Control Theory mirror homeostasis within Biology and Neuroscience. Claude Bernard’s ‘milieu intérnal’, Cannon’s (1932) ‘homeostasis’, Wiener’s (1948) Cybernetics and von Bertalanffy’s (1968) general systems theory all converge toward the ubiquitous role of feedback in self-regulating systems. Psychologists have employed control theory as a conceptual tool for large areas of Psychology (e.g. Carver and Scheier, 1982)[14] and, notably, one objective of control theory has been to provide a “Unified Theory of Human Behaviour”[15].

AGTB describes systems of homeostasis in networks of interconnected processes with values that are reset by the REF. This idea is founded on principles in Biology, Engineering and Cybenetics which have compelling isomorphisms with phenomena in Psychology.

The Reset Equilibrium Function extends the reach of homeostasis to a general control function that automatically restores psychological processes to equilibrium and stability. The REF is triggered when any processes within a system strays outside of its set range. The REF is innate and can exist only in conscious organisms, which all have Type I and II homeostasis. Non-conscious organisms have one type of homeostasis (Type I).  Figure 1.1 shows Type II homeostasis in a system of four processes, each with its own set range, making a series of resets. Any set of processes such as the four in Figure 1.1 is a sub-set of thousands of interconnected processes responsible for coding, communicating and controlling inside the body and the brain. Any process can be connected to hundreds or thousands of others in one huge lattice structure. Potentially any single one of these processes can push any other process out of its set range requiring it to reset. When any process resets, a ‘domino-effect’ is possible when other interconnected processes require a reset also. The two types of homeostasis work in synergy. Psychological and physiological processes operate in tandem to maximize equilibrium for each particular set of functions. [AP 003].

Many examples of the REF featured in AGTB have a similar structure to that shown in Figure 1.1. However, there is no restriction on the number of participating processes or interconnected networks.[16]

FIG 1.1.pngFigure 1. The Reset Equilibrium Function (REF) in a system with four interconnected processes (A-D). Whenever one or more processes exits its set range, the REF returns each process to its set range. The configuration of 4 processes is for expositional convenience. Any number of processes, forming a network of lattice structures, may participate in complex behaviours.

 My main objective here is to demonstrate that the REF is relevant to numerous psychological functions. These include functions where frequent reset is a condition for stability, e.g. cognition, affect, chronic stress, and subjective well-being, and also where out-of-control behavior, such as addiction or insomnia, is in need of correction. For all psychological functions, conscious awareness of the state of equilibrium being preserved is not necessary, e.g. subjective well-being. However, when there is goal to change behavior, conscious awareness of the goal and full engagement of resources are necessary preconditions for purposeful striving, e.g. addiction to alcohol.

Principle 1: Purpose, Desire and Intentionality

In Psychology, biological approaches automatically fall under the suspicion that material reductionism is required. This suspicion is widespread among psychologists who are anti-reductive. With good reason, mind and behaviour are viewed as having properties that extend beyond ‘cogs and flywheels’ or other physico-chemical energy exchanges. We do not doubt the basic ‘clockwork’ model of homeostasis is the dominant one; witness the frequent use of the domestic heating thermostat as the prototypical example of homeostasis in Biology, Physiology and Psychology textbooks.  However, the ‘clockwork’ approach is a simplistic caricature and the idea that behaviour is reducible to physico-chemical reactions is robustly rejected:

Principle I (Agency): The voluntary behaviour of conscious organisms is guided by  universal striving for equilibrium with purpose, desire and intentionality.[17]

Following G.E.M. Anscombe, we assert that agents act intentionally if they know what they are doing, i.e. they are aware of the purpose of the act and the reasons for doing it.[18] Type 2 homeostasis, which is associated with the REF, falls into this category.  In arguing that homeostasis (Type II)  is intentional and purposeful, we adopt two non-reductionist principles, holism and critical realism.  In applying the General Theory it is never necessary to assume that mental processes and behaviours are reducible to physico-chemical reactions. We only require that the mind/body system as a whole can be studied using objective methods. Von Bertalanffy (1968) sums up the issue thus:

“We cannot reduce the biological, behavioural, and social levels to the lowest level, that of the constructs and laws of physics. We can, however, find constructs and possibly laws within the individual levels. The world is, as Aldous Huxley once put it, like a Neapolitan ice cream cake where the levels-the physical, the biological, the social and the moral universe-represent the chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla layers. We cannot reduce strawberry to chocolate – the most we can say is that possibly in the last resort, all is vanilla, all mind or spirit. The unifying principle is that we find organizational levels. The mechanistic world view, taking the play of physical particles as ultimate reality, found its expression in a civilization which glorifies physical technology that has led eventually to the catastrophes of our time. Possibly the model of the world as a great organization can help to reinforce the sense of reverence for the living which we have almost lost in the last sanguinary decades of human history.” (Von Bertalanffy, 1968, p. 49).  Bene dictum.

There are connections and overlaps with other theories of motivation.  For example, there is almost complete convergence between the General Theory and Stevan E Hofoll’s Conservation of Resources (COR) theory, which holds the basic tenet that “Individuals (and groups) strive to obtain, retain, foster, and protect those things they centrally value.”.[19] Principle I (Agency) concerning the universal striving for equilibrium requires the basic COR tenet to be true or equilibrium could never be attained.

References

[1] Arthur I, Duke of Brittany (born 1187, died 1203?) captured in battle by John, King of England, at Mirebeau-en-Poitou in 1202, imprisoned and murdered by John, is featured in Shakespeare’s play The Life and Death of King John. See: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Arthur-I.

[2] Claude Bernard: http://www.claude-bernard.co.uk/page27.htm

[3] La vie de Cl Bernard Chapitre II, Christian Furia, La Gazette, p. 4: http://bit.ly/2GImpvS

[4] The gullibility of French physicians and patients continues to the present day with many doctors prescribing homeopathic remedies to their patients, fully convinced of their efficacy.

[5] See Jean Bastin, La Gazette, Les lapins de Claude Bernard,  p.3: bit.ly/2GImpvS

[6] Bernard’s research included cutting open conscious animals under curare, or slowly “cooking” animals in ovens for his studies on thermoregulation. Unhappy with her husband and his work, Bernard’s wife Fanny divorced him, taking away his two daughters, who grew up to hate him. Bernard’s alleged vivisection of the family dog did not much help his case. Fanny became a leading antivivisectionist, setting up rescue shelters for dogs. See: Franco, N. H. (2013). Animal experiments in biomedical research: a historical perspective. Animals3(1), 238-273.

[7] I borrow this description from J Scott Turner (who borrowed it from Daniel Dennett).

[8] Gross, C. G. (1998) Claude Bernard and the constancy of the internal environment. Neuroscientist 4: 380-385.

[9] Homeostasis enables purposeful striving towards equilibrium between all members of the ecosystem. In continuously changing environmental conditions, all life forms can co-exist in an ever-renewing state of balance.

[10] Allusions to social equilibrium appear in Pareto’s General Sociology and in the Epilogue of Cannon’s The Wisdom of the Body. To the best of this author’s knowledge, the idea of ‘Psychological Homeostasis’ has not previously been systematically formulated. Donald E Williams and J. Kevin Thompson in 1993 discussed the possibility of a set-point hypothesis for Psychology but it was not fully developed: Williams, D. E., & Thompson, J. K. (1993). Biology and behavior: A set-point hypothesis of psychological functioning. Behavior Modification17(1), 43-57.

[11] Damasio, Antonio (2018). The Strange Order of Things: Life, Feeling, and the Making of Cultures (p. 32). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.

[12] The Dalai Lama at the opening day of a Convention for Global Peace at the Government Degree College in Dharamsala, HP, India on December 2, 2017. http://bitly.ws/yC2

[13] Hull, C. L. (1943). Principles of behavior. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.

[14] Carver, C. S., & Scheier, M. F. (1982). Control theory: A useful conceptual framework for personality–social, clinical, and health Psychology. Psychological bulletin92(1), 111.

[15] Grinker, R. R. (1967). Normality viewed as a system. Archives of general psychiatry17(3), 320-324.

[16] Here we must represent homeostatic networks in two dimensions. In nature they exist in four-dimensions with the inclusion of time.

[17] As Turner (2017) states: “All homeostasis involves a kind of wanting, an actual desire to attain a particular state, and the ability to create that state” (p. xxx).

[18] Anscombe, G. E. M. (1963). Intention (second edition). Oxford, United Kingdom: Blackwell.

[19] Hobfoll, S. E., Halbesleben, J., Neveu, J. P., & Westman, M. (2018). Conservation of Resources in the Organizational Context: The Reality of Resources and Their Consequences. Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior.

Improbability and Impossibility in Nature

The Science of the Impossible

When the sun, moon and earth all fall into alignment, something improbable happens – a solar eclipse. A solar eclipse in improbable but it is not impossible, because it actually can happen. Not very often, of course, but on a few rare, predictable occasions. On average a solar eclipse occurs in any particular location only once every 375 years.

This example indicates the need to keep an open mind because there are phenomena in Nature that are rare and some that were once thought impossible, but have later been observed or made to happen. French philosopher Auguste Comte wrote about the stars that: “We can never learn their internal constitution, nor, in regard to some of them, how heat is absorbed by their atmosphere.” Comte said of the planets: “We can never know anything of their chemical or mineralogical structure; and, much less, that of organized beings living on their surface.”

Yet William Hyde Wollaston and Joseph von Fraunhofer independently discovered that the spectrum of the Sun contained a great many dark lines which, by 1859 had been shown to be atomic absorption lines. Each chemical element present in the Sun could be identified by analysing the lines, making it possible to discover what a star is made of.

 

616px-Solar_eclipse_1999_4_NR.jpg

Another example is teleportation.

Teleportation

This word was coined by Charles Fort in his book Lo! and was subsequently copied by legions of science fiction writers including the “transporter” in Star Trek. Thanks to entanglement, physicists have achieved teleportation  Particles that are entangled behave as if they are linked together no matter how wide the distance is between them. If you change the “spin” of one entangled electron, the spin of the twin electron will also change.

Entangled particles therefore  “teleport” information. In 2002 a theoretical way of entangling  large molecules, was described. “Classical teleportation” even occurs when a beam of rubidium atoms disappear in one place and reappear in another. This method transmits all the information about the atoms through a fibre optic cable so that they can be “reconstructed” elsewhere.

Yet entangled particles, it can be argued, are part and parcel of ‘one thing’ and teleportation may not be valid in this context. If by unfortunate accident somebody severs a finger from their hand, the finger is still a part of their hand. A severed finger can survive for 12 hours or more in a warm environment and up to a couple of days if refrigerated. It can be re-attached to the hand by reconnecting the arteries and restoring the blood flow. So the finger and the hand remain a part of one body.

Precognition

Julia Mossbridge and Dean Radin (2018) review the evidence for precognition or ‘prospection’  in a recent paper  http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/cns0000121 As they point out, scientists generally consider prospection involving influences from the future to be ‘flatly impossible’. They present empirical evidence challenging the assumption. If this evidence can be replicated using preregistered designs and analyses, then the consequences would be profound.   Such replication studies are keenly awaited.

My review of the literature shortly to be published suggests that we may be waiting in vain if we are looking for evidence inside the laboratory.

Impossible Today, Possible Tomorrow?

The paranormal is the investigation of phenomena that are thought, on current knowledge, to be IMPOSSIBLE.  Yet some of those very things may be possible in the future. The question is which ones?

The field of the paranormal has changed enormously in the last half-century with a massive growth in numbers of investigators and publications on extra-sensory perception, psychokinesis, precognition and homeopathic medicine (Figure 1).

Screen Shot 2018-11-23 at 12.21.34

FIGURE 1. Growth in numbers of research publications about specific topics within the paranormal in 20-year periods, 1960-2019.

What is Here

The ‘Anomalist Psychology’,  ‘Paranormal’ and ‘Coincidence’ sections of this blog site present authentic, first-person accounts of anomalistic phenomena and their often compelling nature along with laboratory studies, research syntheses, and critical analyses.

This blog site covers the entire field of Anomalistic Psychology – ESP, psychokinesis, precognition, ganzfeld, dissociative states, out-of-the-body experiences, near-death experiences, hypnotic trance,  and their relevance to theories of consciousness.  Many of the same psychological processes are involved in these different areas, i.e. the will to believe, magical thinking, subjective validation, confirmation bias, expectation and placebo effects, and many more.

The blog site is supported by a new book, Psychology and the Paranormal, to be published in 2020.

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Some of the most common obstacles in teaching students in this field are: readiness to believe almost anything without sound reasons, misunderstanding of laws of chance and probability, lack of statistical sophistication or understanding of scientific methodology. The critical tools necessary for scientific appraisal of the paranormal are not generally available.

On the surface paranormal phenomena all appear to defy rational explanation. The blog encourages readers to acquire the critical skills to appraise scientific claims for the paranormal.  After reading both ‘sides of the story’, readers should be in a position to express informed opinions and have the tools and methods for critical thinking about the paranormal and scientific claims more generally.

The blog is geared to the needs of teachers, researchers and students interested in Anomalistic Experience, Parapsychology and Consciousness. These are exciting, challenging and fun areas on the fringes of mainstream science.

The Requirement of Impartiality

Here I do not take a fixed believing, sceptical or disbelieving stance on the paranormal. I offer a neutral gaze which seeks the evidence both pro and con. This approach keeps the door open to whatever conclusions the evidence leads.

The best evidence from studies and meta-analyses across a wide range of areas are reviewed. A particular focus will be studies from the post-2000 period up to and including 2019 as other books adequately review the history of the field (e.g. Caroline Watt: Parapsychology. A Beginner’s Guide).

There are instances where the evidence is so strong that I have changed my own position over recent years. For half of my life I was a dyed-in-the-wool ‘skeptic’ or, to put it more plainly, a disbeliever. That situation changed. I steadfastly maintain the neutrality of the dispassionate scientist, neither believing nor disbelieving, attending to the evidence. I hope that other ‘skeptics’ will strive to keep their minds untainted by prejudice and show the moral courage to go where the evidence takes them.

I humbly encourage every reader to avoid being ‘intellectually whipped’ into any fixed view of the truth. Comfortable though it may be to have a fixed view, that view could well be misplaced, and, unwittingly, lead into a cul-de-sac.

Be aware of the streetlight effect or drunkard’s search principle, the bias that occurs when we search only where it is easiest to look:

A policeman sees a drunk man searching for something under a streetlight and asks what the drunk has lost. He says he lost his keys and they both look under the streetlight together. After a few minutes the policeman asks if he is sure he lost them here, and the drunk replies, no, and that he lost them in the park. The policeman asks why he is searching here, and the drunk replies, “this is where the light is”.

F1.large.jpgLooking where it is easiest to look

We must learn to look where the evidence is, not where it is easiest to look.

This blog provides critical analysis and motivation to challenge, defend and justify scientific claims of the paranormal.

If the evidence is there to guide you, changing your mind is a strength not a weakness.

Let’s stop acting like the drunk who is looking where the light is brightest; let’s look with sobriety in the cold daylight where there might be something significant to be discovered.

Polyfilla Science

Screen Shot 2019-11-04 at 19.50.03.pngGap Filling

Like any other science, Psychology contain myriads of variables, A,B,C…N…X,Y,Z.  An established strategy for developing new research is for the investigator to identity ‘gaps’ in the field and to set about filling those gaps with correlational and experimental studies. The latter involve almost every possible permutation and combination of variables.

The gap filling approach is one strategy for keeping productivity high but, often, it is at the expense of developing new theories. There are more than 5 million publications listed by Google Scholar that address a gap in the literature. Another five million address theoretical integration.

Guaranteed Results

The academic world is based on quantitative measures of performance and the number of publications a researcher can claim matters [1]. This drive towards publications leads to what I call ‘Polyfilla Science’. You’ve used it, I’ve used it, everybody’s used it. It does the job perfectly well.  For every ‘hole’ investigators fill, they are almost guaranteed a peer-reviewed publication. ‘Polyfilla Science’ exists on an industrial scale, keeping hundreds of thousands of scientists busily occupied in hot competition. The ‘winners’ of the Polyfilla competition are the ones who tick the highest number of boxes and harvest the most citations.[2]

‘Polyfilla Science’ can be represented as a multidimensional matrix of cells where the task of science is viewed as filling every last cell in the matrix (see Figure).  This method of doing science is more akin to a fairground shooting gallery than to theory-driven science.  In the absence of theory, many researchers use a Polyfilla ‘shotgun’ by testing a dozen or more “hypotheses” in one shot. Popular though it is, ‘Polyfilla Science’ isn’t the only game in town, and a theory-driven approach is also available.  Theory is used to identify the principles behind questions that need answering in a process of confirmation and disconfirmation of predictions. When one considers the fact that there are one hundred thousand psychology majors in the US alone, all needing a research project, it is no wonder the Polyfilla approach is so popular.

Never-ending Process

It doesn’t matter how may gaps and holes you plug, new ones always appear.

In comparison to the scientific discoveries in other fields, Psychology has made no world-changing discoveries in the last 50 years. By this, I mean discoveries that are worth telling your grandchildren. In my opinion, the lack of significant theoretical developments, and the Polyfilla Approach, are two of the main reasons for this lack of progress.  All this needs to change.

[1] Numbers of publications, citations, grant monies, prizes, promotions and awards.

[2] One of the world’s most published and ambitious ‘Polyfilla’ psychologists told me a self-effacing story about the occasion he went for an interview at the University of Oxford. A member of the panel asked: “Dr X, you have a huge number of publications. But what does it all mean?” He didn’t know the answer and got rejected for the post.

[3] Polycell Multi-Purpose Polyfilla Ready Mixed, 1 Kg, i#1 best seller on Amazon.co.uk, 16 May 2019.

 

Post-Traumatic Growth

Post-Traumatic Growth 

Experiences of life disruption, threat, distress, or adversity can lead to positively evaluated “growth” (Tedeschi and Calhoun, 1995). It has been observed for centuries that benefit finding and posttraumatic growth (PTG) can follow the occurrence of traumatic events including accidents, warfare, death of a loved one, and cancer diagnosis and treatment (Stanton, 2010).

Benefit finding and growth represent a fundamental restorative principle of homeostasis that is continually active towards the achievement of stability, equilibrium and well-being. Adaptation to any life-threatening illness, such as cancer, is facilitated by homeostasis systems that include the drive to find meaning, exert mastery or control over the experience, and bolster self-esteem. Growth and benefit-finding are frequently reported by cancer survivors as they gain awareness of their illness, its treatment and prognosis.

Measurement of PTG

The theoretical model of PTG proposed by Tedeschi and Calhoun suggests growth occurs in different ways.  Developing new relationships, finding new appreciation for life, new meanings in life, discovering personal strength, experiencing spiritual change, and realizing new opportunities are all possibilities. The experiences of benefit finding and growth are undeniable. The methods and measurements used for their study, however, raise more questions than answers.

Among cancer populations, reported prevalence rates of perceived PTG range from 53 to 90% and vary according to the type of cancer, time since diagnosis, heterogeneity and ethnicity of the sample, choice of measurement, and many personal factors (Coroiu et al., 2016). Posttraumatic growth is measured using scales such as “The Posttraumatic Growth Inventory” (PTGI), a 21-item measure of positive change following a traumatic or stressful event (Tedeschi and Calhoun, 1996). Respondents rate the degree to which positive change had occurred in their life “as a result of having cancer.” A total PTGI score and five subscale scores (New Possibilities, Relating to Others, Personal Strength, Spiritual Change, and Appreciation of Life) are calculated.

What the Critics Say

Critics have been less than enthusiastic about measuring PGI in this manner. James Coyne and Howard Tennen (2010) argue that: “Every PTG scale asks participants to rate how much they have changed on each scale item as the result of the crisis they faced. Thus, a respondent must: (a) evaluate her/his current standing on the dimension described in the item, e.g., a sense of closeness to others; (b) recall her/his previous standing on the same dimension; (c) compare the current and previous standings; (d) assess the degree of change; and (e) determine how much of that change can be attributed to the stressful encounter. Psychological science, which purportedly guides positive psychology, tells us that people cannot accurately generate or manipulate the information required to faithfully report trauma- or stress-related growth (or to report benefits) that results from threatening encounters…The psychological literature demonstrates consistently that people are unable to recollect personal change accurately” (Coyne and Tennen, 2010, p. 23).

The five steps a-e certainly are a tall order, and it seems highly doubtful that anybody could achieve them with any accuracy. It seems naïve to analyse numbers that research participants place on scales from the PTGI as though they are valid indices of ‘post-traumatic growth’ when no attempt is made to validate these measures.  In spite of these criticisms, many studies have been conducted using the PTGI scale.

Quack Science 

Quite rightly, Coyne and Tennen (2010) have damned the flawed methods and measures concerning PTG: “We are at a loss to explain why positive psychology investigators continue to endorse the flawed conceptualization and measurement of personal growth following adversity. Despite Peterson’s …warning that the credibility of positive psychology’s claim to science demands close attention to the evidence, post-traumatic growth—a construct that has now generated hundreds of articles—continues to be studied with flawed methods and a disregard for the evidence generated by psychological science. It is this same pattern of disregard that has encouraged extravagant claims regarding the health benefits of positive psychological states among individuals living with cancer” (p. 24).

As long as psychologists use shoddy methods, invalid measures and draw quack conclusions, they will not be taken seriously by outsiders.

Based on a section of: David F Marks et al. (2018) Health Psychology. Theory, Research & Practice (5th ed.) SAGE Publications Ltd.

Psychology – Science or Delusion?

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‘Mass Delusion’

Psychology is full of theories, not ‘General Theories’, but ‘Mini-Theories’ or ‘Models’.  Most Mini-Theories/Models are wrong.  Unfortunately these incorrect theories and models often persist in everyday practice. This happens because Psychologists are reluctant to give up their theories. These incorrect theories then act like ‘mass delusions’, which can have consequences for others, especially students and patients.

Academic Psychology suffers from ‘delusions of grandeur’. It is as if an entire academic discipline is manifesting a chronic disorder – a kind of  ‘Scientific Psychosis’.   Psychologists claim that Psychology is a Science but there is no objective evidence to support it.  In fact, the evidence suggests the exact opposite.

Aping Science

The ability to ape proper science is not in doubt. Laboratories, experiments and grants, thousands of journals, books, institutes and universities all espouse Psychology as a Science.  Many psychologists even wear white lab coats and poke around in animals’ brains. The ability to mimic genuine scientists like Physicists or Biologists, however, does not make Psychology a science. It actually makes a mockery of science.

There are many reasons why this is the case. I mention here two:

1) Psychology does not meet even the most essential criterion for an authentic science – quantitative  measurement along ratio scales.

2) Unlike all the true natural sciences, Psychology lacks a general theory. A general theory is held by the majority of scientists working in the field.

The shared belief of the vast majority of psychologists that they are scientists, when all of the evidence suggests that this can’t be true,  is a form of professional ‘mass hysteria’.  Psychologists share a belief system of scientific delusion, thought disorder and conceptual confusion. They then impose their beliefs, not only on one another, but on their students and their patients.

Students and Patients

Many students and patients are having none of it.  They refuse to be suckered in by the claim.  But they have to be courageous enough to come out of the closet and say it. If they dare to say it in an essay or exam, then they’d better be prepared for a grade C, D, E or F.

Researchers have found that  “medical students think their psychology lectures are “soft and fluffy”students think psychology is less important than the other natural scienceschildren rate psychological questions as easier than chemistry or biology questions; and expert testimony supporting an insanity defence is seen as less convincing when delivered by a psychologist than a psychiatrist.”

On a few rare occasions, established psychologists have expressed their doubts about the scientific credentials of Psychology. For example, Jan Smedslund wrote about: “Why Psychology Cannot be an Empirical Science.” There is increasing evidence that many patients are skeptical about Psychology also.

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Folie Imposée

Folie à deux (“madness of two”) occurs when delusional beliefs are transmitted from one individual to another.  When one dominant person imposes their delusional beliefs on another, it is folie imposée. In this case, the second person probably would never have become deluded if left to themselves. The second person is expected ultimately to reject the delusion of the first person, due to disproof of the delusional assumptions, and protest. This protest, however, will fall upon deaf ears.

The situation I describe is far from hypothetical.  It exists day in, day out, for millions of patients. One particular patient group are those labeled with ‘Medically Unexplained Symptoms’ (MUS).  Within this group is a particular group of patients with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (“ME”) and/or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (“CFS”).

Delusional thinking certainly can hurt and embarrass the individuals having the delusion (Psychologists and Psychiatrists). It can also be imposed upon others, for example, people in their care (Patients). To the help-seeking Patient, the Psychologist (or Psychiatrist) is an expert who follows the rules of Science. The Science informs the aetiology, diagnosis, and treatment of the Patient.

Treating Patients with ME/CFS

I consider here how many psychologists in the UK treat people labeled with ME/CFS. This treatment comes with the full backing of NICE (currently under review).

Psychological treatment for patients labeled with ME/CFS is based on a Psychological Theory of the illness. This theory is highly contested and has caused major controversies that has divided Patients from Psychologists and Psychiatrists.

The main Psychological Theory of ME/CFS asserts that ‘maladaptive’ cognitions and behaviours perpetuate the fatigue and impairment of individuals with ME/CFS (Wessely, David, Butler and Chalder, 1989). These authors represent the two main professions concerned with psychological illness, Psychology and Psychiatry.  They state: “It is essential to agree jointly on an acceptable model, because people need to understand their illness. The cognitive – behavioural model …can explain the continuation of symptoms in many patients.” This is where the imposition of the therapist’s model snaps in. “The process is therefore a transfer of responsibility from the doctor, in terms of his duty to diagnose, to the patient, confirming his or her duty to participate in the process of rehabilitation in collaboration with the doctor, physiotherapist, family and others.” (p. 26).

Although the Psychological Theory is contested by many scientists, patients and patient organisations who assume that their symptoms have an organic basis, i.e. a Physical Theory.

Vercoulen et al. (1998) developed a model of ME/CFS based on the Psychological Theory. However, Song and Jason (2005) suggested that the Psychological Theory was inaccurate for individuals with ME/CFS. In spite of the evidence against it, the Psychological Theory continues as the basis for cognitive behavioural and graded exercise therapies (GET) offered to individuals with ME/CFS. One reason for the continued use of an unsupported Psychological Theory is the PACE Trial, a lesson in how not to do proper science. Like most research, this trial was organised by a team and, in this case, the majority of principle investigators were Psychiatrists. This trial has been described as “one of the biggest medical scandals of the 21st century.”

New Approach Needed

In spite of the lack of empirical support, the Psychological Theory of ME/CFS lives on. ME/CFS patients are subjected to CBT and GET.  Patients and patient organisations protest about the treatments and are opposed to the Psychological Theory.  Perhaps Psychologists need to turn the Psychological Theory of unhelpful beliefs upon themselves.  If  ME/CFS has a physical (e.g. immunological) cause, then once the cause has been established, patients will have the chance of an effective treatment and decent care and  support.

The problems that exist for Psychologists’ treatment of patients with MUS and ME/CFS exist more generally across the discipline. A totally new approach is necessary.  Instead of tinkering with the problems at a cosmetic level by papering over the cracks, there is a need for root-and-branch change of a radical kind. The measurement problem must be addressed and there is a need for a general theory.   A new General Theory of Behaviour takes a step in that direction.

Psychology as a Natural Science. Part II: Theory

Psychology begins by identifying, observing and taking measures of natural phenomena that can be investigated experimentally and then modelling the findings using theories. Identification of natural phenomena requires terminology and definitions to refer to the same set of psychological processes. Unfortunately, as noted by others, scholars often use such terms in diverse and idiosyncratic ways which has led to a state of “conceptual and definitional chaos” (Buck, 1990, p. 330). Different phenomena and different schools working from different foundations share little or no common theoretical concepts, experimental techniques, or phenomenal entities to work on. This lack of consensus has led to a multitude of empirical papers reporting data as ‘facts’ and near-random fact-gathering has becomes a mainstream activity in Psychology.

Theories, such as Reference Point Theory (Marks, 1972, described in the previous article) provide models for understanding basic processes in thinking, emotion, and behaviour. No theory exists in a vacuum. Theories are like plants grown from seed in a well-designed, ornamental garden. The garden has a structure, a harmonious pattern of colours, textures and patterns, replicated over years of planning and pruning, pleasing to the eye and lasting through all seasons and weather. Illuminated by theory, information is beautiful. Examples of such ‘scientific gardens’ abound in other natural sciences: Evolutionary theory and Mendelian genetics in Biology; Uniformitarianism in Geology; bonding, reaction, valence, molecular orbitals, orbital interactions and molecule activation in Chemistry; Newtonian mechanics, conservation of energy, dynamics, electromagnetism, general relativity and quantum theory in physics. These theories are evidenced by millions of corroborating observations by scientists in these disciplines. To date, Psychology has produced many disparate findings, but few generally accepted theories or laws, and there is consequently hardly any accretion of knowledge.

Psychology has been considered a natural science since the eighteenth century (Hatfield, 1995). Yet in the twentieth century, there was a ‘fall from grace’, for reasons that remain obscure. Perhaps it was the rapid progress of all of the other sciences leaving Psychology to pale in comparison. Philosopher of science, Thomas Kuhn, did not consider that his concept of a scientific ‘paradigm’ as a standard, perspective, or set of ideas, could be applied to any existing social science including Psychology.

A necessary condition for Psychology to be considered a natural science is the existence of an explanatory principle for psychological phenomena across the board that is capable of unifying the discipline.

Paradigms

The construct of ‘scientific paradigms’ was introduced by Thomas Kuhn (1968). The General Theory of Behaviour (Marks, 2018) is based on the classical ideas of balance and equilibrium. Galen (CE 129–200), the early Roman physician, followed the Hippocratic tradition with hygieia (health) or euexia (soundness) as a balance between the four bodily humours of black bile, yellow bile, phlegm and blood. Galen believed that the body’s ‘constitution’, ‘temperament’ or ‘state’ could be put out of equilibrium by excessive heat, cold, dryness or wetness. Such imbalances might be caused by fatigue, insomnia, distress, anxiety, or by food residues resulting from eating the wrong quantity or quality of food. Human moods are viewed as a consequence of imbalances in one of the four bodily fluids. Imbalances of humour corresponded to particular temperaments (blood—sanguine, black bile—melancholic, yellow bile—choleric, and phlegm—phlegmatic). The Theory of Humours was related to the four elements: earth, fire, water and air. It is remarkable that some common beliefs and expressions today are linked to Greek and Roman thought of 2,000-plus years ago.

The idea that there are universal processes of body and mind to restore balance remains as much a principle in contemporary thought as in Classical times. We talk of a person ‘losing equilibrium’, being ‘well balanced’, ‘stable’, or ‘unbalanced’ or ‘unstable’ and so forth, all of which hark back to the idea of keeping oneself in balance. When applied to behaviour, the terms ‘equilibrium’ and ‘balance’ are analogous to the same terms used in mechanics. An object is said to be in a state of mechanical equilibrium when it is stable with equal forces on top and underneath, and when two objects are weighed against each other are said to be ‘in balance’ when the weights on the two sides of the balance are equal.

The related concepts of balance, equilibrium and homeostasis are occasionally used in personality theory (e.g. Stagner, 1951) and in work psychology (e.g. the family/work balance; Aryee, Srinivas & Tan, 2005) but only rarely found in other areas of Psychology. Maslow’s (1943) ‘hierarchy of needs’ assumed a foundation of basic biological needs for air, food, water, sex, sleep, homeostasis and excretion. As need satisfaction moves upwards towards the top of the pyramid, a person becomes more ‘satisfied’, eventually reaching a pinnacle of ‘self-actualization’, which Maslow defined as the epitome of need satisfaction. In asserting that homeostasis is a need, Maslow makes an insightful discovery. We can assume that the need for equilibrium, balance and stability is as fundamental a human need as any other. Internal or external conditions that change the state of an individual, group or population away from equilibrium or balance are normally described as ‘stress’. The concepts of equilibrium, homeostasis and stress are important for the Reset Equilibrium Function proposed in the General Theory.

In Physiology homeostasis is a regulating property wherein the stability of the internal environment is actively maintained. The term was coined by Walter B. Cannon in 1932 in his classic text, The Wisdom of the Body:

“The constant conditions which are maintained in the body might be termed equilibria. That word, however, has come to have fairly exact meaning as applied to relatively simple physico-chemical states, in closed systems, where known forces are balanced. The coordinated physiological processes which maintain most of the steady states in the organism are so complex and so peculiar to living beings – involving, as they may, the brain and nerves, the heart, lungs, kidneys and spleen, all working cooperatively – that I have suggested a special designation for these states, homeostasis. The word does not imply something set and immobile, a stagnation. It means a condition – a condition which may vary, but which is relatively constant.” (Cannon, 1932/1963, p. 24).

“The constant conditions which are maintained in the body might be termed equilibria. That word, however, has come to have fairly exact meaning as applied to relatively simple physico-chemical states, in closed systems, where known forces are balanced. The coordinated physiological processes which maintain most of the steady states in the organism are so complex and so peculiar to living beings – involving, as they may, the brain and nerves, the heart, lungs, kidneys and spleen, all working cooperatively – that I have suggested a special designation for these states, homeostasis. The word does not imply something set and immobile, a stagnation. It means a condition – a condition which may vary, but which is relatively constant.” (Cannon, 1932/1963, p. 24).

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Homeostasis regulates the function of cells, tissues and organs using organised negative feedback systems. Examples at an organismic level include regulation of core body temperature and the levels of pH, sodium, potassium and calcium, glucose, water, carbon dioxide and oxygen in the body. This core principle of Physiology is of equal importance, I wish to argue, for Psychology. Moreover, if a path towards unity across sciences is to be found, then homeostasis provides one valuable stepping stone.

It is argued that a healthy and happy person is a person who is functioning in equilibrium across internal and external domains. To use a colloquial expression, they are a person who ‘has their act together’. A condition of near-perfect well-being, balance and equilibrium is only rarely and momentarily achieved. Many sources of chronic stress including poor work-life balance, social jet lag caused by chronobiological asynchronies, relative poverty, and perceived or real imbalances in wealth, justice and equality, or what has been termed “The Spirit Level’ (Wilkinson & Pickett, 2009)all continuously conspire to make dyshomeostasis a new norm.

When dyshomeostasis occurs, people suffer negative affect, unmet needs such as hunger, thirst, insomnia, and possibly cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome or diabetes (Marks, 2015, 2016). Homeostasis, or its lack, is an organizing principle of broad generality throughout the psychological universe of thought, feeling and action. Improved understanding of ‘Psychological homeostasis’ will contribute towards the prevention and treatments of ill-health and dis-ease.