Review: Supernormal by Dean Radin

Some people approach the topic of psychic phenomena from a standpoint of immoveable conviction. There are those who believe psi events happen, and no science or statistics would convince them otherwise. On the other side are those who believe such things do not happen, and no evidence from even the best quality research could convince them otherwise. It’s like politics. Minds seldom change. But that doesn’t mean they never do. Science progresses through study and replication and further studies, and the word “proof” is seldom used outside of mathematics. This book should interest readers who would like to assess the evidence with an open mind.

Having said that, I think it may be useful to preface this review with the author’s credentials, taken from http://www.deanradin.com/NewWeb/bio.html:

“Dean Radin, PhD, is Chief Scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS). Before joining the research staff at IONS in 2001, he held appointments at AT&T Bell Labs, Princeton University, University of Edinburgh, and SRI International. He is author or coauthor of over 250 technical and popular articles, three dozen book chapters, and three books including the award-winning The Conscious Universe (HarperOne, 1997), Entangled Minds (Simon & Schuster, 2006), and the 2014 Silver Nautilus Book Award winner, Supernormal (Random House).”

The author works hard to make statistical analysis and research methodology accessible to a reader without a background in those fields. Having spent the last ten years of my academic career helping first-year college students learn to comprehend the language of scholarly journals, I have mixed feelings about this “translation.” Would it have been better to teach his readers the terminology, or was paraphrasing it the right choice? I don’t know. Sometimes he tries too hard to funny, like a professor who attempts to lighten up his lectures with strained jokes, but that’s a minor issue. Overall, I found the book well-structured and thoroughly researched. (384 sources are listed in the back, exceeding the number of pages in the book.)

Supernormal is primarily about how scientists study psychic abilities, not about spectacular events, so anyone wanting to read amazing, colorful anecdotes won’t find them here. It’s not essentially about yoga, either, though it will have more meaning to a reader who has studied yoga philosophy, and Radin has some good quotations on that subject. In yoga, the siddhis are not, as I understand it, as important as simply achieving awareness and quieting the cravings and cluttered noise of the mind. The siddhis can happen, but they are not the purpose or goal of practicing yoga. Nonetheless, in Radin’s research and in studies by other scientists, subjects with a regular meditation practice performed significantly better in experiments testing clairvoyance, precognition, and other psi abilities, so there appears to be a correlation between meditation and being psychic. An impressive number of well-designed studies support this. (My own experience fits the pattern. When I began yoga and meditation at age twelve, I began to have precognitive intuitions and dreams.)

I’d recommend this book to a reader who wants to get “down in the weeds” in the labs where these studies are done and examine the designs, the methods, and the analyses without going to the original scholarly journals. It’s a solid summary of what’s been found so far. The questions raised about the nature of reality and the nature of mind and consciousness are intriguing. How did the future find a crack into my dream and appear in perfect detail? Some of Radin’s studies address the emotional aspect of psychic material. He set up one study using long-term couples with one partner who was ill as subjects, and included the emotional bond and loving intentions as part of the design. Why does this matter? As with any other sense, we may be constantly filtering out irrelevant information and focusing on what is salient. It’s only when we dream that a friend is about to die or hear a voice warning us of something dire for a loved one that we let the psi phenomena take central focus. Otherwise, our psychic sense’s input can be ignored as background noise, the way unimportant input from our hearing often is. Perhaps if we learned to tune into this sense and trusted that it was real, we might act with more awareness and wisdom.

Much of what happens in psi is small—a sense that something is about to happen, or that one is being stared at—so we pay no attention. Radin studies all of these phenomena in minute detail, even documenting patterns of brain activity. I could go on, but that would be a spoiler, if there can be such a thing in science.

Radin almost pulls the rug out from under himself when he drifts off into a page or two of speculation on unrelated phenomena such as UFOs and crop circles that the skeptics and debunkers (some who rail against his studies) have actually already done good job explaining. Even though he doesn’t say he believes in these things, and uses them as a take-off point for ruminations about reality, they have no natural connection with psi ability and probably don’t belong in in a book on that subject. (I suspect that editors sometimes don’t tell famous authors—whether they are novelists or established scientists—to “kill your darlings.”) Nonetheless, as a yoga teacher, a long-time consumer of the scholarly literature on psi research, an individual who has occasional psychic experiences, and of course as the author of a mystery series featuring a psychic, I found this to be a worthwhile read.

 

Recommended Readings: Psychic Science Redux

Nadia's_Psychic_Readings_01

Recently, I got an e-mail from a reader who was curious how I learned about various healing and psychic phenomena. I studied energy healing as part of my yoga therapy training years before I wrote my first book, and I visited a variety of healers and psychics (some gifted, some questionable) as part of my research. And of course, I read. Two years ago, when this blog was new and not many people had found it yet, I wrote about some of web sites, books and scholarly journals I’ve used as resources. This week, I’m bringing it back for new readers. The post is recycled below.

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After I taught a stress management workshop as part of one of my college courses, a young man came up and asked me if I knew anything about being psychic. (He must have been psychic to think to ask me.) He had recently started having precognitive dreams and wanted to learn more. These are some resources I recommended to him. If you read my books, you may also be curious.

I list references in the back of The Calling, including some of the articles and web sites used in the course Bernadette and Charlie teach. In the scene where Mae and Hubert read the about PEAR lab studies, I tried to give readers a sense of the solid scientific support there is for remote viewing and also remote influencing of what should be random events. (PEAR stands for Princeton Engineering Anomalies research.) The articles from the PEAR lab, and the ones on affecting the output of random event generators (REG) are a little dry, as scholarly articles can be, but the site can give you a summary of the work done there.

For more accessible reading on the subject, I suggest Rupert Sheldrake’s book The Sense of Being Stared At. The title refers to one of the topics he has studied in depth. Yes, we do feel it when we are being stared at.

A fun yet solid book exploring energy healing and the power of the mind to influence events is Afterwards You’re a Genius by Chip Brown. (Published in 1998, it’s now out of print, but used copies are available on Amazon.)Brown enrolls in an energy healing course, and fills in the science around the story through research and interviews. The title is a quote from Dean Radin, a scientist who studies such things as the ability of human intentions to influence REG machines and robots. His point was that when you first start studying wacky stuff, you’re a wacko, but afterwards,  when your work is accepted, you’re a genius.

I found a trove of fascinating stories on the web site The Archives of Scientists’ Transcendent Experiences. Scientists may not like to admit that a mystical or psychic event happened to them. This site served as a safe community for those who had such a story to share. It is currently inactive—no new posts—but readable.

The journal Explore is wonderful. I recommend subscribing if you are seriously interested in healing studies. I encourage you to sample the brilliant editorials of its editor Larry Dossey.

When he was editor at Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, the peer-reviewed journal I cite often in The Calling, I used to look forward to his editorials as the highlight of the journal. He unites science, poetry, and wit with a unique voice. He can integrate the most unlikely images into a coherent, thought-provoking essay.

I also recommend Dossey’s book the Power of Premonition.

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I’m currently reading a book which looks like promising addition to my list, Dr. Larry Dossey’s most recent work, One Mind. I’ll review it here when I’ve finished. Dean Radin’s Supernormal is waiting in my Nook, and when I get to it, I’ll share my thoughts on it as well.

Image from Wikimedia Commons, courtesy of Bohemian Baltimore