Book Review: Entangled Minds: Extrasensory Experiences in a Quantum Reality, by Dean Radin

Wow. I’m always blown away after reading books about parapsychology. This is no exception.

Entangled Minds is almost like 3 books in one. It starts with a brief overview of what psi (i.e., phenomena like ESP and PK) is, with some examples, and an even briefer review of parapsychology’s relatively long history. Radin is constantly pointing out that parapsychology research has been endorsed and conducted by top-notch scientists, including a surprising number of Nobel laureates. This might be seen as overly defensive, but it is necessary, given the common “no real scientists believe in psi” criticism. On the contrary, my experience has shown that the most vocal opponents of parapsychology are magicians, armchair “scientists”, and other people with no scientific training. Radin points out that the most vocal proponents of psi, on the other hand, are the best that science has to offer.

The second part of the book is sort of a meta-analysis of meta-analyses of psi research. He goes over some of the major categories of psi research that have been conducted, such as dream studies (where one person tries to influence another person’s dreams at a distance), presentiment (reacting physiologically to, say, a shocking picture, a few seconds before seeing the randomly selected picture), global consciousness (e.g. random number generators all over the world acted strangely on September 11th, 2001), and lots more.

This part of the book should blow the mind of anyone not already familiar with the research. It gives me chills even though I am. Radin shows that the results found would be astronomically improbable if chance alone were operating. Since chance is ruled out, he meticulously goes through alternate explanations (a bias in publishing, fraud, shitty experimental designs, etc.) and either rules them out completely or shows that even if they played a role, they cannot explain the overall results. The take-home message is that things like telepathy, clairvoyance, and psychokinesis really do exist. Not only that, but they have been clearly demonstrated in laboratories all over the world.

The strange thing is, from what I can tell, parapsychology research is conducted much more carefully than most psychology research. The effects in parapsychology are proven to exist to a greater degree than many effects in psychology. And, no offense to psychology, but parapsychology has the potential for discoveries of much greater importance, both scientifically and practically. Yet parapsychology is shunned, receiving a minuscule amount of funding and mainstream attention, while psychology thrives. I guess this is motivated by the same fear of the unknown that (temporarily) kept Copernicus from telling people that the earth isn’t the center of the universe. But geeze…get over it.

Anyway…Radin does rely on quite a bit of math to get his points across, but it is not too deep and he explains it briefly beforehand. It should be easy to understand even for people with no knowledge of statistics. My only complaint is that most of the information was also included in Radin’s previous book, “The Conscious Universe”. The title of Entangled Minds implies that it will primarily be about the relationship between quantum physics and psi, but in reality most of the book is spent establishing that psi exists. The examples here are different and it is a good reference for “proof-oriented” psi research, but he really could have said “see my other book for proof, which I will now connect to the latest advancements in physics”.

When he does get on to the physics stuff though, it satisfies the purpose that the title implies. Quantum physics is spooky enough on its own. Particles can be everywhere at once (or nowhere) until they are observed. A particle can be correlated with the observation of another particle that is miles away, with no communication between them. The observation of a particle in the future can even seem to affect a particle in the past. All this is stuff that mainstream physicists know and accept.

Radin essentially takes what we know about particles and expands it to a larger scale, including, of course, us. His main argument is that every particle in the universe is “entangled” (i.e. able to have the spooky correlations above) with every other particle. There is more to it, but at the very least, this makes it possible for psi to exist without overturning everything we know about science.

It’s explained quite well, and he even manages to get across some very confusing quantum phenomena in a pretty intuitive manner (though I don’t think quantum physics will ever be entirely intuitive to our big classical brains). If I had to complain, though, I would point out that he leaves some things ambiguous. For example, at one point he seems to imply that our unconscious is “in tune” with the entire universe, but we tend to focus on things familiar to us (such as a distant family member in trouble) for psychological reasons. We essentially filter out everything except the important stuff. But then later, he implies that people who are frequently physically close in spacetime are “more entangled” with each other. So which is it? Are we equally entangled with everything, but able to psychologically focus on familiar things, or are things that are physically close more entangled? Both?

(Side note: If it’s the 2nd possibility, it would be fun to test. Have two people in close physical proximity for a few hours, maybe separated by an opaque wall, with half of them being aware of it and half not. Later, pair them up for a ganzfeld or something. Would mere prior proximity improve performance? What about later proximity?)

If little issues like this can be worked out, and details filled in, Radin could be well on the way to providing what could be considered the holy grail of parapsychology: An actual theory of how it works, with testable predictions. Scientists could go beyond proving that psi exists, and move on to figuring out how it works. Perhaps they’ll even bypass the scientific bickering and move on to practical applications. Personally, I am getting sick of moving my physical body every time I wanna turn on a light. A psychic light switch would be so much nicer.

Anyway, I’ve gone on long enough. This book is well worth reading for anyone even remotely interested in science of any kind.

[Disclaimer] (in case future academic employers read this): I’m not directly involved in parapsychology. I’m not a believer in the subject matter of parapsychology, per se. I do believe in science and its methods, though, no matter what the topic of study. While there may be disagreement about what the results of parapsychology represent, anyone who reads and understands the literature would have to agree that something interesting is going on. I am not fully decided on whether I think that “something” is purely psychological, statistical, or paranormal, but any of these possibilities are fascinating and deserving of attention. [/Disclaimer]

Book Review: Sole Survivor, by Dean Koontz

I picked up this book for a few cents at a flea market, because I hadn’t read a Dean Koontz novel in a long time, but remembered liking the ones I read as a kid.

Sole Survivor is about a dude whose family was killed in a plane crash. On the one year anniversary of the crash, he finds that he’s being followed, and strange things are happening. The book starts out slow, but picks up in pace and scope, and is good light entertainment. I had fun reading it, but I’ll probably forget I ever saw it in a few weeks.

Koontz is an OK author, but I often find myself taken out of the story by excessively cheesy metaphors. Most of the ending of the book also violates the big “show, don’t tell” rule by having one mystery after another explained flashback-style. It would have been nice to have the climax of the book happen “on-camera”, so to speak. Maybe if there were less words wasted on describing how the wind is like a pack of wolves, there’d be room to have the characters actually participate in the plot.

Still, it ain’t a bad read.

Book Review: Stranger Than Fiction: True Stories, by Chuck Palahniuk

This is the first book that I listened to in audiobook format. That is, I downloaded an audio file of someone reading the book, and then listened to it on my iPod. I got it from Audible, which is a pretty cool site. The books are a lot cheaper than buying them physically, or even getting the same audio files from iTunes. And here’s a secret…follow this link and you get two books for free. You’re supposed to have bought a certain iPod accessory to get the offer, but it’s not like they check if you actually have it. I just signed up, got the two free books, then cancelled the account. Nice.

Anyway, Stranger Than Fiction is a collection of essays that Palahniuk has written for various sources. Thus, it’s sort of a mish-mash of random topics, some of which are fascinating, and others less so.

I enjoyed the autobiographical stuff the best. Much of it is about Fight Club, and the consequences of it being adapted into a popular movie. Palahniuk writes about how his jealousy of Brad Pitt’s lips caused him to invest in a lip pump (sort of like a penis pump, but to give you bigger lips instead of a longer schlong); how most of Fight Club is based on true stories that he and his friends experienced, and the weirdness of seeing people imitating actors imitating characters in a book imitating real people; how people get annoyed when he doesn’t reveal the location of real fight clubs. Funny stuff. There is also some material about writing itself. For me, it’s always fascinating to hear about what fiction writers think about writing itself, given how mysterious of a process writing fiction can be.

Less interesting, but still worth reading, are some of the other random topics. The worst offender was the overly long chapter about people who dedicate their lives to building castles. I like hearing about the people who do that, but I really didn’t need to hear the details on how to keep moister out of a concrete building.

Overall, it’s worth reading, to see a bit into the mind of a unique author like Palahniuk, and learn a bit about some of the fascinating people and situations he has encountered. Especially if you are a fan of his fictional work.

One last note, though…don’t get the audiobook version. It says “Unabridged Selections” in its title, which apparently does not mean you get the whole book. You get whole chapters (i.e. “selections”), but not all of them. I have no idea why two or three chapters were left out, but it sucks that I missed them.