The Psychology of the Psychic, 2nd edition, by David Marks. Prometheus Books.

When David Marks and Richard Kammann published the first edition of this book in 1980, it rapidly became a standard source for all interested in psychic phenomena. It combined a thorough critical appraisal of paranormal claims with a study of the mind of the typical “believer”. Especially, it offered a comprehensive exposé of Uri Geller, based on close observation on many occasions. The authors were at that time in the psychology department of the University of Otago. Later, after the untimely death of Kammann, Marks was instrumental in launching New Zealand Skeptics, for which achievement he is our first, and so far only, Honorary Member.

Over a professional career spanning three decades Marks has contributed widely both to academic psychology and to practical topics such as the giving up of smoking. This is in addition to his long-time work on the paranormal, the subject of this book. Where many others who should have known better were persuaded, his persistence and patience exposed the emptiness of many claims. Now professor at the City University, London, he has revised and brought the book up to date. He writes persuasively of the “tingles” and “tangles” of parapsychology – “tingles” are those feelings we get when something apparently paranormal suddenly confronts us, “tangles” are what parapsychologists get into when they try to study these phenomena in the controlled conditions of the laboratory.

Six chapters, five mostly unchanged from the first edition, deal exhaustively with Uri Geller. The sixth traces the ups and downs of his reputation since then. Two decades have done nothing to change the author’s opinion that Geller has no psychic power, but is an accomplished conjuror and showman. He wonders whether, some day, Geller may make a public admission of this, so lifting from his shoulders the albatross of “The Great Psychic Lie”.

Two chapters on remote viewing are reprinted from edition one, followed by three covering subsequent research in this area, including the “psychic spying” attempted during Cold War days. Again, conclusions are as before. A related topic, the Ganzfeld, has been held up for years as the best, and most convincing evidence, for ESP. Thorough investigations by Marks and others has “left this claim…in tatters”.

Chapters on “Psychic Staring” and “Psychic Pets” consider some of the ideas of Rupert Sheldrake, “this latter-day Dr Who”. Marks finds no validity in either.

So far, this accounts for two-thirds of the book, what so many believe about the paranormal, and why they shouldn’t. The rest attempts to answer the questions, why they believe, and why they are so resistant to acceptance of contrary evidence. The author looks at coincidences and oddmatches, self-perpetuating beliefs and superstition.

Like many who have spent years looking for well-authenticated paranormal events, Marks has changed during the time of his researches; starting as “part believer”, progressing through “skeptic” to “disbeliever”, but always “keeping the door open” for what might make him change his mind.

As well as two appendices and an index, the book has an extensive bibliography. Every skeptic should have a copy, and press non-skeptical friends to read it.

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