Exploring the Limits of Science and Beyond – Research Strategy and Status – 1994

Research Item

ABSTRACT: This paper offers a perspective or map of para-psychological research that focuses on the shifting boundary between answerable and unanswerable questions. The scientific method is based on accepting the simplest, most testable hypothesis consistent with available data and moving to more complex hypotheses only when compelled by data. J. B. Rhine’s decision to defer study of survival of death and focus on psi effects by experimental subjects is consistent with this principle. After four decades of research on subjects’ characteristics and responses to test conditions, the data compelled acceptance of the more complex hypothesis of psi mediated experimenter effects. The hypothesis of goal-oriented psi experimenter effects, which views an entire experiment as one complex random event with .05 as the a prior probability of success, appears to be at the outer limit of testable hypotheses at present and will greatly alter para-psychological research if it is verified. The lack of correlation between sample size and significance level in meta-analyses of RNG and ganzfeld studies provides tentative support for this hypothesis, and the results of majority-vote studies provide stronger evidence. Many more complex hypotheses cannot be directly tested at present. Researchers can and should investigate the effects on peoples’ lives of anomalous experiences and belief systems even when the underlying reality of the experiences or beliefs cannot be directly tested. Available data indicate that beliefs about possible paranormal experiences or religion that are beyond the limit of scientifically testable hypotheses can have beneficial effects on peoples’ well-being and health.


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