Unexplained Abilities and Extended Minds
THE SIXTH SENSE AND THE SEVENTH SENSE
Of all the terms used to describe such phenomena as telepathy, sixth sense seems to me a better starting point than any of the others. This has a more positive meaning than “ESP” or “the paranormal” in that it implies a kind of sensory system over and above the known senses, but a sense just the same. As a sense, it is rooted in time and place; it is biological, not supernatural. It extends beyond the body, though how it works is still unknown.
An even better term is seventh sense. Biologists working on the electrical and magnetic senses of animals have already claimed the sixth sense. Some species of eels, for example, generate electrical fields around themselves through which they sense objects in their environment, even in the dark (electromagnetic senses). Sharks and rays detect, with astonishing sensitivity, the body electricity of potential prey. Various species of migratory fish and birds have a magnetic sense, a biological compass that enables them to respond to Earth’s magnetic field.
There are also a variety of other senses that could lay claim to being a sixth sense, including the heat-sensing organs of rattlesnakes and related species, which enable them to focus heat and track down prey by a kind of thermographic technique. Web-weaving spiders have a vibrational sense through which they can detect what is happening in their webs and even communicate with one another through a kind of vibratory telegraph.
The term seventh sense expresses the idea that telepathy, the sense of being stared at, and premonitions seem to be in a different category both from the five normal senses and also from so-called sixth senses based on known physical principles.
The first and most fundamental kind of evidence for the seventh sense is personal experience. And there are many such experiences. Most people have sometimes felt that they were being stared at from behind, or thought about someone who then telephoned. Yet all these billions of personal experiences of seemingly unexplained phenomena are conventionally dismissed within institutional science as “anecdotal.”
What does this actually mean? The word anecdote comes from the Greek roots an = “not” and ekdotos = “published,” meaning “not published.” Thus an anecdote is an unpublished story.
Courts of law take anecdotal evidence seriously, and people are often convicted or acquitted, thanks to it. Some fields of research--for example, medicine--rely heavily on anecdotes, but when the stories are published they literally cease to be anecdotes; they are promoted to the rank of case histories. Such case histories form the essential foundation of experience on which further research can be built. To brush aside what people have actually experienced is not to be scientific, but unscientific. Science is founded on the empirical method, that is to say, on experience and observation. Experiences and observations are the starting point for science, and it is unscientific to disregard or exclude them.
Isaac Newton’s insights about gravitation started from observations of such everyday phenomena as apples falling to earth and the recognition of a relationship between the moon and the tides. Almost all of Charles Darwin’s evidence for natural selection came from the achievements of plant and animal breeders, and he drew heavily on the experience of practical people. My favorite book of Darwin’s is The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication, first published in 1868. It is full of information he collected from naturalists, explorers, colonial administrators, missionaries, and others with whom he corresponded, all over the world. He studied publications like Poultry Chronicle and The Gooseberry Grower’s Register. He grew fifty-four varieties of gooseberry himself. He was interested in the observations of cat and rabbit fanciers, horse and dog breeders, beekeepers, farmers, fruit growers, gardeners, and other people experienced with animals and plants. He joined two of the London pigeon clubs, kept all the breeds he could obtain, and visited leading fanciers to see their birds.
In a similar way, people’s personal experiences form the essential starting point for research on the reach and powers of the mind. The founders of psychic research in the 1880s started by carrying out largescale surveys of people’s seemingly psychic experiences as well as investigating whether they could be explained in conventional scientific terms. They pioneered the use of statistics in order to examine whether coincidence could provide a plausible explanation for the experiences they were studying. They also developed “blind” experimental techniques, and psychic research was one of the first fields of scientific inquiry where such techniques were routinely used.
But despite an impressive accumulation of evidence, psychic research has never been widely accepted within institutional science. It has been kept on the margins as a result of the dominance of the materialist philosophy, according to which all mental activity is nothing but brain activity, confined to the inside of the head. This philosophy creates powerful taboos against anything that does not fit in with its assumptions. From a materialist point of view, psychic phenomena are “paranormal,” and hence outside the limits of science. As a result they have largely been ignored within universities and scientific institutions. In spite of the dedicated work of the small band of psychic researchers and parapsychologists, this field of investigation is still the Cinderella of the sciences.