Commentary, Philosophy, Psychology

That Gold Leaf Lady

Stephen Braude is no stranger to controversy. Braude is a professor of philosophy who has investigated paranormal phenomena for over thirty years. In the preface to his new book, The Gold Leaf Lady and Other Parapsychological Investigations, he relates what happens when a philosopher who has previously limited his research to language, time, and logic turns to investigating parapsychology:

Some philosophers I expected to be open-minded and intellectually honest instead behaved with surprising rigidity and cowardice. I clearly knew the evidence and issues much better than they did, but they condescendingly pretended to know this material well enough to ridicule my interest in it.… I had really thought that as philosophers—as people presumably devoted to the pursuit of wisdom and truth—my colleagues would actually be willing to admit their ignorance and be curious to learn more. I genuinely believed they’d be excited to discover that certain relevant bits of received wisdom might be mistaken.

Fortunately, at least some revelations were more encouraging. Several philosophers whom I thought would be inflexible or disinterested surprised me with their honesty, courage, and open-mindedness. And some reactions I’ve never fully understood. One famous philosopher (I won’t say who) said to me, “Well if someone has to do this I’m glad it’s you.” I think that was meant as a compliment, but it’s obviously open to multiple interpretations.

We posted an excerpt from Braude’s book at the beginning of the month and it’s been interesting to see those same kinds of reactions played out in the blogosphere:
Jason Kuznicki at Positive Liberty took us to task, opining that “university presses … have certain responsibilities, including above all scientific rigor.” (Gosh, thanks for the reminder.) To his credit, though, he engaged with his critics and has perhaps gained a more complete sense of what rigor requires.
One of those critics was Michael Prescott, who posted a defense of the book on his self-named blog. Taking the other side of the issue is biologist P.Z. Myers, blogging on Pharyngula, who for some reason mixes in a discussion of bottled water with his shoot-from-the-hip criticism.
Reading the excerpt from The Gold Leaf Lady and Other Parapsychological Investigations is no substitute for reading the whole book, but it’s a place to start. Just don’t make up your mind too fast. Braude brings skepticism to his observations of phenomena purported to be paranormal, but he also brings a willingness to put his fundamental scientific beliefs to the test.