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The Paranormal Equation

Book Review of: The Paranormal Equation

A New Scientific Perspective on Remote Viewing, Clairvoyance, and Other Inexplicable Phenomena /p>

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Review of The Paranormal Equation, by Dr. James D. Stein, PhD (Softcover, 2012)

(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you want a hardcopy)


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 constellations.

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 of description.

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 around you.

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 index.


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