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Physics and Psychics [Kindle Edition]

Victor J. Stenger
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

The astonishing discoveries made by modern physics - imploding black holes, ghost-like quarks, and the odd rules governing quantum mechanics - have transformed our image of the physical world. A growing number of writers assert that such discoveries also demonstrate the existence of a nonphysical, spiritual world, a world that permits a wide variety of paranormal and psychic phenomena.

What exactly has physics shown us? Is there a world that transcends the sphere of the senses? Millions throughout history have thought so, but the existence of such a world is still accepted on faith alone. The tools of science have revealed no proof of spirits, ghosts, or supernatural phenomena.

Physics and Psychics critically examines theories of a transcendent reality in terms of all that is currently known about matter at its most fundamental level. Victor J. Stenger gives a provocative, often amusing history of psychic research and occult beliefs, offering a convincing rebuttal to those who attempt to link physics to mystical truths. Stenger examines a number of well-known paranormal claims and shows how they can be explained without resorting to supernatural or psychic hypotheses. Discussing quantum theory and relativity, he demonstrates that these concepts actually invalidate paranormal claims and that there is no scientific basis for a universe other than one composed of observable matter.

The human species has always lived under the assumption that supernatural forces determine destiny. Can our lives retain meaning when this assumption seems unfounded? Writes Stenger: "The supernatural has been a yoke on the neck of humanity since we first began to think and dream. The tools of science provide the wherewithal to be guided not by 'a world beyond the senses' but by the power of the intellect; hence, they have given us 'freedom to live and act according to the fullest knowledge about the world'." Stenger's vivid depiction of physics research provides a fitting culmination to this powerful book.


Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A particle physicist at the University of Hawaii, Stenger sets forth a purely materialist, reductionist view of the universe. The transcendent--gods, spirits, religious or mystical experiences--is delusory, in his reckoning. He further maintains that paranormal phenomena such as precognition or mind-over-matter are due to fraud, hallucination, error or a will to believe. Whether he is discussing ESP, poltergeists, UFOs, or out-of-body or near-death experiences, he ignores, misrepresents or skims over evidence that would contradict his thesis, while maintaining an aura of detached objectivity. Claiming that religious or supernatural beliefs may be programmed into our DNA because they once had survival value, Stenger rejects the holism of New Age Thinkers and physicists, disputing their claim that instantaneous connections link events across space and time.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Stenger is an elementary particle physicist, an atheist, a skeptic, and an ardent defender of the scientific method. He uses the principle of Occam's razor (the simplest explanation is the best) and the test of the predictive value of a model to show how little evidence there is for paranormal claims, including religious beliefs, as well as ESP, astrology, and spirit channeling. Some of Stenger's ideas are controversial even among scientists, and he tends to explain all human qualities by just saying they are an evolutionary advantage. However, this book provides an interesting overview of both skeptical and credulous physics and much material for discussion. A good purchase for undergraduate science collections.
- Amy Brunvand, Fort Lewis Coll., Durango, Col.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • File Size: 3235 KB
  • Print Length: 323 pages
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books (April 30, 1990)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0036FUA4C
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #608,115 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

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24 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Voice of Reason March 24, 2002
Format:Hardcover
There is a disturbing new trend in "popular science" to justify New Age and mystical beliefs using misinterpreted scientific ideas. Most experimental physicists are content to ignore this trend and continue in their research, regardless of how people choose to interpret it. Others are careless enough to make ambiguous statements about physics and the nature of reality that add fuel to the fire of pseudoscience. Victor Stenger is a refreshing voice of reason, with a solid background as a respected experimental physicist.

First of all, Dr. Stenger is not attacking parapsychology. Rather, he is defending science from those who try to corrupt it by putting parapsychology on the same level, or use scientific ideas to support unscientific theories. Science, specifically physics, has a rigorous standard of evidence and experimental verifiability under controlled conditions. Any theory that claims to be scientific must meet these standards to justify that claim. Psychic powers, and the other supernatural phenomena addressed in this book, have never met these standards.

To summarize, this book is not anti-supernatural, it is just pro-science. Dr. Stenger does an excellent job of showing that supernatural phenomena are not scientifically established, and probably never will be, or they would have been experimentally verified a long time ago. If you choose to believe in the supernatural, feel free, but don't try to justify your beliefs scientifically.
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22 of 43 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Informative but Unconvincing February 10, 1998
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
This book is good in that it identifies problems in understanding the paranormal in terms related to physics, especially relativity and quantum physics. The author indicates that the new world of quantum mechanics and relativity makes it improbable that the paranormal is real, even more so than the world of Newtonian physics. I personally do not agree with that conclusion. Quantum mechanics and relativity have demonstrated that the real world may be different than commonly assumed, however the author has suddenly concluded that all paranormal phenomena is fraud, delusion, you name it, anything but a possibility that it is true, and thus is making the same mistake as those who were so convinced that Newtonian mechanics was the final world that they refused to consider anything else. In my opinion I am very skeptical that all paranormal phenomena is fraudulent, resulting from wishful thinking, delusion, etc. There is just a bigger world out there than we have imagined and which remains to be explained.
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0 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Stenger is a noted cosmic ray physicist who religiously believes in the physics model known as materialism. Not content with attacking psychic phenomena, he has also attacked god in newer books of his. He appears to be totally unaware of the assumptions, approximations and limitations of key aspects of physics on which current physics models are based. Ironically, I not only was able to solve some of the psychic phenomena, but was also able to solve some of the cosmic ray physics issues that had troubled him, namely the nature of the muon and other leptons and how super-high-energy cosmic rays can travel clear across the universe before striking the Earth's atmosphere. It's simple, they start off as high-energy neutrons that decay into super-high-energy protons when they reach the Earth. They do not travel as charged particles. What amazes me is how many physicists limit their thinking to such an extent that they cannot even solve problems in their own field. The mere fact that they see these mysterious phenomena in their own fields should open their minds to other possibilities. I must admit that I did not believe in psychic phenomena either for many years, but I spotted the flaws in physics as early as my freshman year at MIT... back in 1956. It was only when I chanced to read books about psychic phenomena when I was between engineering jobs in 1971 that my eyes and mind were open to the so-called 'paranormal'.
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3 of 13 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Standard Debunking tricks June 30, 2010
By RV
Format:Hardcover
The common debunking tactic is to CLAIM there is no scientific evidence for any paranormal phenomena which is simply flatly wrong, to put it kindly. This is the usual claim in which someone, the supposed debunker, merely assets no data exists and that after more than a century of research. Data does exist. It shows there is a small but statistically significant effect which is weak, poorly understood but real. The fact that, as the critics demand, Psi cannot generally be always reproduced as a stunningly large effect on demand and that it does not behave as reliably as say particle physics is meaningless and becomes a false and disingenuous comparison.

In particular, Mr. Stenger is selective and misleading regarding his claims of the Targ-Puthof remote viewing experiments. He asserts the data is meaningless because a judge COULD have used a potential cue to assign which blind session went with which remote viewing sessions. That assumes that the judges would even try to use "cues" to match sessions with data and ignores the fact that the matching is done by looking at the drawings and descriptions of the targets, not in effect trying to cheat by looking for cues. Mr. Stenger also fails to mention that after that criticism, Targ and Puthoff removed any conceivable cues that might have been in the viewers transcripts and let new judges blindly match the results. The new judges matched the sessions exactly as the original judges thus proving that the criticism, used to "debunk" remote viewing was groundless.

Of course what they never talk about is the mind boggling improbability of doing a blind remote viewing session of a unique target out of a potential infinite pool of targets and getting data that just nails the description of the target.
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More About the Author

Victor J. Stenger grew up in a Catholic working-class neighborhood in Bayonne, New Jersey. His father was a Lithuanian immigrant, his mother the daughter of Hungarian immigrants. He attended public schools and received a bachelor's of science degree in electrical engineering from Newark College of Engineering (now New Jersey Institute of Technology) in 1956. While at NCE, he was editor of the student newspaper and received several journalism awards.

Moving to Los Angeles on a Hughes Aircraft Company fellowship, Dr. Stenger received a master's of science degree in physics from UCLA in 1959 and a PhD in physics in 1963. He then took a position on the faculty of the University of Hawaii, retiring to Colorado in 2000. He currently is emeritus professor of physics at the University of Hawaii and adjunct professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado. Dr. Stenger is a fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and a research fellow of the Center for Inquiry. Dr. Stenger has also held visiting positions on the faculties of the University of Heidelberg in Germany, Oxford in England (twice), and has been a visiting researcher at Rutherford Laboratory in England, the National Nuclear Physics Laboratory in Frascati, Italy, and the University of Florence in Italy.

His research career spanned the period of great progress in elementary particle physics that ultimately led to the current standard model. He participated in experiments that helped establish the properties of strange particles, quarks, gluons, and neutrinos. He also helped pioneer the emerging fields of very high-energy gamma-ray and neutrino astronomy. In his last project before retiring, Dr. Stenger collaborated on the underground experiment in Japan that in 1998 showed for the first time that the neutrino has mass. The Japanese leader of this experiment shared the 2002 Nobel Prize for this work.

Victor Stenger has had a parallel career as an author of critically well-received popular-level books that interface between physics and cosmology and philosophy, religion, and pseudoscience. These include: Not by Design: The Origin of the Universe (1988); Physics and Psychics: The Search for a World beyond the Senses (1990); The Unconscious Quantum: Metaphysics in Modern Physics and Cosmology (1995); Timeless Reality: Symmetry, Simplicity, and Multiple Universes (2000); Has Science Found God? The Latest Results in the Search for Purpose in the Universe (2003); The Comprehensible Cosmos: Where Do the Laws of Physics Come From? (2006); God: The Failed Hypothesis--How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist (2007); Quantum Gods: Creation, Chaos, and the Search for Cosmic Consciousness (2009); The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason (2009); The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning: Why the Universe is Not Designed for Us (2011); God and the Folly of Faith: The Incompatibility of Science and Religion (2012). God: The Failed Hypothesis made the New York Times Best Seller List in March 2007.

Vic and his wife, Phylliss, have been happily married since 1962 and have two children and four grandchildren. They now live in Lafayette, Colorado. They travel the world as often as they can.

Dr. Stenger maintains a website where much of his writing can be found, at http://www.colorado.edu/philosophy/vstenger.

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