Where does the physical end and the metaphysical begin? This week's show is about scientists who use traditional methods to investigate untraditional questions. We start in Special Collections of the Stanford Libraries, with a brief history of para-psychology and spiritualism at Stanford, and continue with the story of three contemporary researchers who study psychic phenomena. Today's one-hour journey reveals some of the social aspects that come into play in the pursuit of scientific knowledge.
Host: Bonnie Swift Producer: Bonnie Swift Featured: Margaret Kimball, Robert Jahn, Brenda Dunne, Helen Longino and Dean Radin Music: Noah Burbank, Ambika, Jimi Hendrix, Thelonius Monk, and Frank Zappa and the Mothers
In the early 1900s Stanford had a special fellowship dedicated to ‘psychical’ research. Money was donated by Leland Stanford's younger brother, Thomas Welton. Besides money, Welton also sent his collection of ceremonious objects, mysterious items purported to have appeared, or been altered during seances.
The Thomas Weltons of the world have largely disappeared. At least from the academy... But not entirely. At the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Laboratories, or PEAR, decades of research, and thousands of experiments may have demonstrated evidence for the existence of psychic phenomena.
After PEAR decided it had found evidence of psychic phenomena, researchers needed to generate a theory for how the mind could influence the physical world. To do that they probed the nooks of physics, quantum mechanics and neuroscience. What happens when a body of evidence doesn't fit within a dominant framework? How are theories made?
As Shakespeare wrote, "There are more things under heaven and earth, then are dreamt of in your philosophies." It's a fitting quote for our last story, a consideration of what science can and can't answer. Institutions like PEAR expand our notion of what is science and what questions science should be asking.
Featuring: Helen Longino, Robert Jahn and Dean Radin
The Storytelling Project is supported by the Stanford Institute for Creativity and the Arts, the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education, Stanford Introductory Studies, Stanford Continuing Studies, and the Program in Writing and Rhetoric.