Science is defined by Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary as “knowledge covering general truths of the operation of general laws, concerned with the physical world, obtained and tested through scientific method”. In other words, science can be seen as the study of the natural world in order to create laws on how it works, by means of a method that is objective, measurable and allows for falsifiability. If a proposal or theory is tested in a way that violates one (or multiple) of these ideals then it could be regarded as pseudoscientific. The word ‘pseudoscience’ translates as meaning false or fake science, a term used to ridicule research or to describe research that tries to give the impression that it is scientific but fundamentally is not. It also is a term commonly associated with research into the paranormal.
However not all research into the paranormal is pseudoscientific. This may be hard to think but it is much easier when you think that pseudoscience refers to the method of study rather than what is actually being studied. Research into the paranormal can be classified in two ways: Anomalistic psychology and Parapsychology. Anomalistic psychology adheres to the scientific method and scientists in this field often presume that the paranormal probably doesn’t exist, but it is tested to see whether it does or whether alternative explanations can be formed. On the other hand, Parapsychologists often hold a strong belief and naturally only seek to find evidence that supports their claims (French, C. 2008). It is the Parapsychologist methods that I regard as pseudoscientific. You may think that there isn’t an issue with believing in an idea (I agree), but this is often the cause of their downfall due to the solid uncompromising view that is held. For example, it is often this overwhelming belief that leads to a lack of falsifiability. When a parapsychologist is confronted by uncongenial results, they often disregard such data and imply unscientific statements such as “the paranormal beings/energy felt scepticism and the presence of non-believers and consequently did not appear”. Therefore we can no longer falsify the proposed theory due to an unobservable and immeasurable entity, completely shattering the ideals of the scientific method and confirming the pseudoscientific nature of this individuals research that was solely based on belief.
Also when we look at the hypotheses of pseudoscientific research it is often clear that they defy Ockham’s razor. This principle has been widely used in science from Einstein’s theory of special relativity to quantum mechanics. This principle is attributed to friar William of Ockham and states that ‘entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily’ – the aim of the game is simplicity. In science this means that we do not admit more causes than what is necessary to explain the appearance/event, and if there are two opposing ideas with the same conclusion the simpler one is better. The way that pseudoscientific research and the paranormal disobey these guidelines is by implying far too many assumptions. Take the formation of crop circles for example, if we believe they are made by extra terrestrials then we have to 1) assume that life exists elsewhere, 2) they have much more advanced technology and can therefore travel across space, 3) have discovered earth and 4) wish to make contact on Earth without ever being seen but leave an imprint from the bottom of their space craft. However an alternative explanation could simply assume that 1) humans have grass bending equipment and 2) humans can be mischievous, which we know both to be true. Therefore the sheer number of assumptions that are necessary make it difficult to accept the hypotheses proposed by these types of research, especially when much clearer, more logically based theories exist.
If you think that this blog was all about shattering your dreams and destroying any mystery that was ever held in your imagination, don’t worry, I leave with a more cheerful notion (merely to inspire further thought). Arthur C. Clarke made a very valid point when regarding fantasy and the paranormal; he suggested that “magic is science that we are yet to understand”. This rings true when you think back at all the massive technological advances were people have looked on in awe just as if they were witnessing a magicians signature trick. If a person from only a couple of decades ago was planted into the modern day they may classify quite a lot of what we take for granted as being ‘magical’. Therefore it could be that a lot of research into the paranormal, such as extra sensory perception (ESP), is branded as pseudoscientific simply because our understanding has not yet reached a capacity great enough to clarify and measure these effects, not that these phenomena don’t exist.