Rather conscious of not blogging much in the past few weeks, which is partly due to holidaying, but also because of edits I'm doing on my book Randi's Prize. A publisher suggested I cut it down a bit, and he's right. Even though I struggled to keep it under 100,000 words it ballooned to over 120,000, and at the time I thought, what the hell - if that's what it takes to explain the issues. But readers aren't necessarily going to stick with it that long. So the trick is just to keep what's needed to make the points, and move on.
I think it's the same experience Chris Carter had when he published his book Parapsychology and the Skeptics - having to cut down the original, with the total projected to appear as three separate volumes. The problem we have is that this is just such a large subject - or rather several related subjects, and it's hard to know how to divvy it up without losing coherence.
But it goes a bit further than that. To illuminate sceptical approaches and arguments, I want to cover a range of different psychic phenomena. But in each case - mediums, psi experiments, out-of-body experiences, etc - I need first to introduce the subject, create a feel for what people experience and then describe what investigators say about it. That can take a while, as the issues are a bit complex. Only then can I start making comparisons that show how little the sceptics really understand. By that time, I've run out of space, and I need to move onto another subject, otherwise I won't keep readers' attention. But I still haven't started to put it into context and explain what it all means. Does psychism equate with survival of death? What are the issues?
The most recent draft had a longish chapter on this. But although I got quite into it - evolution, consciousness, mystical experience, hallucinogens, artificial intelligence, all that good stuff - it still wasn't enough. I could have written a whole other book. So now I've cut it out and just referred to the debate in a very general way in the last chapter.
That's where I'm a bit stuck - what final conclusions to draw. Not that I haven't got plenty to say, I'm just not sure what direction to go in. If I've managed to persuade readers that the whole enterprise of explaining away has failed, what then? Where do we go from there? Because deep down, the ideas that the Randis and Hymans and Blackmores articulate correspond to what an awful lot of intelligent people actually feel. If you tell them, sorry, they don't stand up, they can of course disagree, and chuck the book across the room, or not bother to buy it in the first place. But if you've carried them along with you, and they think you might just have a point, what sort of adjustments are they going to make?
This is something I think about a lot, and I don't think it's really been discussed that much. With most controversies, we don't necessarily have much of a personal stake. Does globalisation create prosperity or destroy communities? Is string theory true or false? Is climate change really happening? I don't mean that these things don't affect us on some level, but if we're having to investigate something it means we aren't really that involved - you wouldn't be asking the question about globalization if overseas competition had lost you your business, for instance. But this is a controversy where the outcome really could make a big difference to individuals. If you've gone for much of your life blithely believing the claims of leading scientists, that the paranormal is bunk, and you're confident that when you die that will be the end of it, and then you find there's just a smidgeon of a possibility that mediums are talking to real spirits after all - how are you going to react? Does it mean you've suddenly got to become religious or go all New Agey?
You could argue that there's no need to react, and it will just sink in naturally. But I'm not so sure - if a person has really grasped the point, a vaccuum has opened up. This is before we start to even imagine what a society could be like in which psychism is fully acknowledged, making survival of death that much more likely. How does it effect the relationship between the state and religion, and a raft of issues like abortion, euthanasia, stem cell research, which we get so steamed up about?
Of course I'm making assumptions about my persuasive skills that may turn out to be totally unmerited. In any case, a book like this will be read by people who already feel that its claims are probably true, and for whom the conclusions are self-evident. They won't need to make adjustments, because they are already there. But it would be a pity not to reach out beyond that audience. I like to feel that I could chip away a bit at the certainties of those people who do actually think that James Randi is the great expert on the subject - because he so obviously isn't. And if I succeed at all, I can't really duck the questions that follow.
There, got that off my chest. Now I have to go back and try to figure this thing out!