The Susan Blackmore example:Giving Up the Ghosts: End of a Personal Quest
"At last. I've done it. I've thrown in the towel, kicked the habit, and gone on the (psychic) wagon. After thirty years I have escaped from a fearsome addiction.
Come to think of it I'm not sure I've gone cold turkey yet. Only last month I was at my last psychical research conference. Only days ago did I empty out the last of those meticulously organized filing cabinets, fighting a little voice that warned: "Don't do it--you might want to read that again" as a great wave of relief swept it away with the thought "You've given up!" Paper after paper on ESP, psychokinesis, psychic pets, aromatherapy, and haunted houses hit the recycling sack. If the cold turkey does strike, the dustbin men will have taken away my fix.
Actually I feel slightly sad. Thirty years ago I had the dramatic out-of-body experience that convinced me of the reality of psychic phenomena--and launched me on a crusade to show all those closed-minded scientists that consciousness could reach beyond the body and death was not the end. Just a few years of careful experiments changed all that. I found no psychic phenomena--only wishful thinking, self-deception, experimental error, and even an occasional fraud. I became a skeptic.
So why didn't I just give up then? There are lots of bad reasons. Admitting you are wrong is always hard--even though it's a skill that every scientists has to learn (or are some scientists always right?) But it does get easier with practice and I no longer fear having to change my mind. Starting again as a baby in a new field is a daunting prospect. So is losing all the status and power of being an expert. I have to confess I enjoy my hard-won knowledge. Yes, I have read Michael Faraday's 1853 report on table tipping, and the first 1930's studies in parapsychology, and the latest arguments over meta-analysis of computer-controlled ESP experiments, not to mention the infamous Scole report (New Scientist, January 22, 2000). Should I feel obliged to keep using this knowledge if I can? No. Enough is enough. None of it ever gets anywhere. That's good enough reason for leaving.
But perhaps the real reason is that I am just too tired--tired, above all, of working to maintain an open mind. I couldn't dismiss all those extraordinary claims out of hand. After all, they just might be true, and if they were true then whole swatches of science would have to be rewritten.
Another psychic claimant turns up. I must devise more experiments, take his claims seriously. He fails--again. I see a picture of Cherie Blair wearing her "bio-electric shield." It matters that people pay high prices for fake gadgets. I run the tests. The shields don't work. No one wants to know, for negative results aren't news. A man explains to me how alien abductors implanted something in the roof of his mouth. Tests show it's just a filling--but it might have been....
No, I don't have to think that way any longer. And when the psychics and clairvoyants and New Agers shout at me (as they do), "The trouble with all you scientists is you don't have an open mind," I won't be upset. I won't argue. I won't rush out and do yet more experiments just in case. I'll smile sweetly and say, "I don't do that anymore." --Susan Blakmore, Skeptical Inquirer, March/April 2001, pg. 25
Sue Blackmore is a freelance writer, lecturer and broadcaster, and a Visiting Lecturer at the University of the West of England, Bristol. She has a degree in psychology and physiology from Oxford University (1973) and a PhD in parapsychology from the University of Surrey (1980). Her research interests include memes and the theory of memetics, evolutionary theory, consciousness, and meditation. She no longer works on the paranormal. http://www.susanblackmore.co.uk/
"I'm not a skeptic because I want to believe, I'm a skeptic because I want to know." --Michael Shermer