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It’s An Open Question, Say Explorers Of The Inexplicable

August 8, 1987

EDINBURGH, Scotland (AP) _ Scientists who investigate such mysteries as psychic spoon-bending, mind- reading and things that go bump in the night wound up an international conference Saturday saying there’s something out there, but they aren’t sure what.

″There is now enough information from research to suggest that some odd things do happen, but there’s no cohesive theory as to why and how they happen,″ said American Professor Robert L. Morris of Edinburgh University.

Morris, 45, Britain’s first professor of parapsychology, said in an interview that his science deals with ″curious things that aren’t explained.″

″We don’t know what the outcome of the many investigations will be and if it turns out that psychic phenomena are merely the application of known physics and biology, and can be explained in ordinary terms, well, that’s fine,″ he said.

Morris, formerly of Syracuse University, New York, joined 140 other scientists in the field to discuss their work, in Edinburgh at the five-day, 30th annual conference of the Parapsychological Association.

A note of caution about believing fantastic stories was sounded by Dr. John Beloff, a retired Edinburgh University psychologist who organized the meeting with Morris.

″I consider that excessive credulity does far more harm than excessive incredulity,″ said Beloff.

In his address on the credibility of psychic claims, Beloff said there were fewer cases around of alleged psychic activity than there used to be.

He said Uri Geller, who gained fame with his claimed ability to bend spoons by thought alone, ″has taken a terrible battering and the mini-Gellers have become even scarcer.″

But from time to time, there were amazing claims, Beloff said. ″Our ancestors called them miracles or witchcraft but modern researchers should adopt a neutral term such as ’extreme phenomena,‴ he said.

If such extreme phenomena exist, it is intellectually dishonest as well as cowardly to discount them, Beloff said.

Morris said investigators of the paranormal have a handy short name for the apparently inexplicable. They call it psi, which rhymes with sigh.

Psi covers extrasensory perception or ESP, which is knowing things you couldn’t have known by the usual means, like sensing the death of a relative at the moment of death, or dreaming of a plane crash that happens next day.

″I know of an Edinbrugh woman who left her work suddenly because she felt something was wrong at home and on arriving there she found one of her children had been sent home from school ill,″ Morris said.

The power of mind over matter, like spoon-bending or rolling a string of winning combinations with dice by apparent will-power, is called psychokinesis or PK.

In a PK case cited by Alok Saklani of Garwhal University in Srinagar, India, a Himalayan shaman or faith-healer persuaded one group of wheat seeds to germinate more abundantly than another group, seemingly by concentrating her thoughts on them, and under test conditions.

Robert McConnell, a retired physicist at Pittsburgh University and the association’s first president, told The Associated Press: ″We don’t have any idea what we’re doing. All we know is that something occurs.″

McConnell said: ″Despite enormous interest among laymen, we need more recognition from the scientific establishment so we can get support, and I don’t mean just money. We have too much popular attraction and not enough willingness to examine the evidence.″

″Parapsychology is totally unrewarding financially, so we can’t attract enough of the most brilliant young men and women,″ McConnell said.

Asked if investigating the paranormal could have any result beyond advancing knowledge, McConnell responded: ″Psi has to do with the relation of consciousness to the physical world. Ultimately, I expect we will find relationships between people which are now regarded as impossible or absurd and once we have more intimate relationships, we might conceivably be able to overcome our desperate problems, like overpopulation and war.″