The Paranormal Equation, by Dr. James D. Stein, PhD (Softcover, 2012)|
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Reviewer: Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.
As I started reading this book, I could see that reading it would be a
pleasure. Dr. Stein writes in an engaging, thoughtful, intellectually honest
manner. A key factor in whether I enjoy a book is whether the author earns
my trust. Dr. Stein earned it almost right away, and I think that was due to
his laying a proper foundation for the rest of the book.
While I personally find equations helpful, many people find their eyes glaze
over instead. If you're not particularly mathematical, don't worry about the
"equation" part of the title. Dr. Stein doesn't bombard the reader with
mathematics. In fact, he barely uses any mathematics and where he does he
tells the reader it's OK to skip to where the text says "X" (X being
wherever it picks up after the math presently being discussed).
Stein is a generation older than I, but we both spent our early years in
Illinois. We were both runts in our youth, but I used natural methods and
"imaging" to reach six feet in height while he used growth hormones to reach
5'9". In my case, it seems paranormal that I "thought myself" into growing to my
present height because I come from short people. It's truly anomalous that I am
anywhere near this height.
We are both quants, but I use and have demonstrated some of the
"unexplained by science" abilities about which he is doubtful. I won't go
into those here, as the point of this fascinating book isn't to pooh-pooh
the paranormal. Nor is it to promote them.
The general theme of this book is to look at inexplicable phenomena from
scientific perspective. Such a perspective will necessarily invalidate much
of the literature (such that it is) on these phenomena. The invalidation
arises because most of the conclusions bandied about are based on logical
fallacies, false claims, and general hucksterism. That does not, as he is
careful to point out, mean that all paranormal phenomena are bunk. But it
does help us get a clearer picture of what's going on.
Entire classes of the paranormal defy basic logic. For example,
horoscopes. If you think about the basic premise, you realize it makes no
sense. The constellations upon which horoscopes are based are simply
groupings of stars that are visible with the naked eye, and they only
loosely, if that, resemble what they are named after. And there's no
particular reason those constellations have to be what they are. They are
mere fabrication, and one can easily draw up an entirely different set of
Another fact that horoscope addicts overlook is that the stars look very
different from different vantage points on earth. Someone in Australia will
see a different night sky from someone in Alaska. Making horoscopes (and the
astrology they are based on) even more ludicrous, the stars move and have
actually changed their relative positions since the constellations were
first named. The ancient Greeks did not see the same star patterns that a
horoscope reader in Duluth, MN will see today.
Then we can start asking questions that arise from even a fifth grader's
knowledge of the universe. What about the billions of unseen galaxies, each
containing billions of stars? Why would only this statistically
insignificant number of stars determine our futures?
Another irrational "field of study" is numerology. This also defies
logic. Dr. Stein provides a well-constructed discussion of this, and it's so
compelling that even the most ardent believer in numerology will either see
it's wrong or willingly cling to ignorance and delusion. I don't say that to
belittle those who believe in numerology, only to those who still cling to
it after reading a rational analysis of it.
Dr. Stein makes some less compelling arguments against some other areas
of the paranormal, but I think his point with these is that we are still
waiting for someone to prove these as real using the standard tests of
science. He is careful to point out that there's a difference between being
disproven and not having been proved.
He also discusses the various factors involved in proving and disproving.
That discussion alone would be life-changing for many a reader, and in a
very positive way.
I liked his comments on remote viewing, something I've never understood
as real because, for one thing, it violates a few fundamental laws of
physics. And it makes assumptions that aren't required for accepting such
things as precognition.
It might have been good for Dr. Stein to expand his analysis of
precognition. I'm not sure if he dismisses it as mere chance, or classifies
it in a more affirmative way. Mere chance has not been my experience. I
think precognition happens far more than mere chance would permit.
For example, you might have a vision of a car accident, in vivid detail,
just as you are falling asleep. The next day, you see it start to unfold
exactly (as you recall) as you had seen in your precognitive vision of the
event. But because you were warned by a premonition, you swerve in time to
avoid the head-on collision you had visualized in your premonition.
Is this paranormal? Perhaps there's a "normal" explanation for it.
Probably, it's along a route you travel regularly and so the cars that would
be involved are ones you have seen. Recently, there's been a pattern of
increasing risk factors. The human brain is a pattern-matching predictive
machine; this is not disputable. So based on the trend, your mind develops a
picture of an accident. And you see this as a warning, maybe even as ESP. So
as you approach that intersection where the vision of an accident took
place, you are extra alert. So extra alert, that you break the chain of
events that would have produced the collision.
But maybe it really is a paranormal glimpse into the future, instead of
occurring per my explanation. I think Dr. Stein would agree that we really
can't say for sure one way or the other, but probability analysis would push
us strongly toward the "normal" explanation.
Now, that example wasn't in the book. I wrote it to illustrate an aspect
of the kind of thinking Dr. Stein brings to the examination of the
paranormal. There are other aspects, too. And he brings these to bear on the
subject of how to distinguish between the unknown and the supernatural.
So where does the "equation" part fit in? Earlier, I said Dr. Stein
barely uses any equations. As Dr. Stein notes, we can describe the known
through equations. Then there are the unknown and the unknowable. If the
paranormal are knowable, then we should be able to describe them
mathematically. But the phenomena he analyzes aren't amenable to this kind
This isn't just some academic jawboning. Mathematics is a way of
thinking. A good foundational mathematical background through pre-calculus
is, IMO, essential for accurately interpreting and understanding the world
With algebra, we are able to compare relationships between quantities.
With geometry, we can compare relationships between shapes. With
trigonometry, we can compare relative angles and distances. All of these
tools allow us to understand proportions. The way we express that
understanding is with equations. This is why my fellow engineers and fellow
MBAs are perfectly happy writing out equations to make a point in a social
discussion. However, one can understand and even express these relationships
without writing equations.
Of course, if no such relationships exist between an alleged paranormal
property and the known universe then it's a pretty tenuous idea that the
paranormal property is real. I think this is what Dr. Stein is driving at,
throughout the book. It's a good point, and one that he expresses well.
Toward the end of the book, he identifies some paranormal properties that
are reasonably good candidates for validation by equation. I won't spoil the
surprise by naming them here.
This book consists of 12 chapters in 211 pages. It also has a thoughtful
preface and enlightening introduction that together prepare the reader to
enjoy what follows. It has 8 pages of notes, a short bibliography, and an