I was asked to read and review the latest book from Wiltshire-based Science and Sci-Fi author Brian Clegg, ‘Extra Sensory: The Science and Pseudoscience of Telepathy and Other Powers of the Mind’ (find details on the Authors website here), and having just finished the book I can only say that it was an absolute joy to read. In this book Clegg doesn’t simply do what would be easiest and dismiss powers of the mind like remote viewing, ESP or Telekinesis as impossible as so many people would. Instead he really examines the evidence and the historic experiments conducted into these alleged extra senses, getting into the nitty-gritty, to see if there really is anything of worth.
I started the book with some trepidation because although I was told by the author that the book took ‘a balanced skeptical view of psi phenomena, rather than the usual totally-pro or totally-anti approach‘ I was still skeptical and thought the book would be too pro or too anti – I was proven wrong. There are few books that strike a truly balanced, informed, fair-yet-reasoned approach to the subject being researched, but Clegg has managed just that with Extra Sensory and I have learnt so much while reading it.
The book covers everything you might need to know about the scientific effort to test ESP; the role magicians can and do play in the scientific research of such powers, the fact that we do all have more than Five senses naturally (e.g the ability to sense heat when near the source), and the scientific research conducted – from Joseph Banks Rhine to Ganzfield, Abner Shimoney right through to the very recent trials of one Daryl Bem. Extra Sensory explores all of the research and results, maintaining a fair-yet-rational approach while doing so, and reasonably concludes that positive results in such trials seem to be caused by bad methodology, massaging of statistics or cherry picking, or bad controls being put in place (or not put in place at all!)
The thing I enjoyed most about the book was the way in which Clegg didn’t just make these assertions in a dismissive or patronising manner, but actually helped to build up a bigger picture for the reader by laying out all the necessary information. In the end I found I was picking out the flaws in the research being written about before I even reached the criticisms. Also, unlike a lot of skeptical people I have encountered, Clegg points out that past failures are by no means a reason to not continue to test these alleged abilities.
Early on in the book Clegg also explores how the ability to communicate with people using our minds, or viewing something remotely (if such abilities do exist) could genuinely have their roots in Quantum Mechanics. I surprised myself when I read this part of the book because I had the usual skeptics reaction to the use of the word ‘Quantum’ and assumed it was being used to champion a “woo” idea through the use of something that sounded science-y, yet as I read on I realised that simply wasn’t the case here, and Clegg was making some very valid points. Many psychics do misuse the word Quantum to support the argument for their alleged abilities, and I will happily now be able to suggest they read Extra Sensory.
I would recommend this book to anyone with a passing interest is telekinesis, ESP, remote viewing, clairvoyance, precognition, psychokinesis and other powers of the mind. If you’re interested in the work of people like James Randi and Derren Brown I think you’ll learn a lot from this enjoyable read. Extra Sensory isn’t as in depth as other books that cover the work of particular researchers mentioned, but Extra Sensory provides a great overview of a complicated subject while not being too vague or dismissive (though I did find the chapters on Quantum Mechanics to be quite heavy reading). It is a wonderful book that I think will be enjoyed by those who know both a lot or a little about extra sensory abilities… but you probably knew I was going to say that.