William Little's Book 'The Psychic Tourist'

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I'm had recently found a book at my local library by journalist William Little titled The Psychic Tourist, which is from 2009-2010 I think, at least according to his blog by the same name. He basically looks into psychic powers from a 'neutral' point of view, though it becomes apparent to me eventually that he's not as neutral at times as he appears, which is the impression I got after reading most of it. 

Interestingly, he speaks to various people, both proponents and skeptics, of psi, especially telepathy and mediumship, with many familiar names: Dean Radin, Brian Josephson, Richard Dawkins, Robert Todd Carroll etc. He also notably dedicates a small section to discussing mediums like Leonora Piper, who from my research comes across as very convincing. 

I might post a review of the books chapters if I can, but to give you an idea of his approach, Little seems to contradict his own thinking at times and give skeptical explanations that aren't that supported. On discussing Piper, he notes just how impressive she was, in that the scientists who tested her took lots of precautions to try and expose her but never succeeded. Even Piper apparently once said she wasn't certain she was a medium-she apparently said it may have been telepathy. But for whatever reason, Little says that 'perhaps the William James and the others who examined her simply heard what they wanted to hear'. 

It doesn't take a genius to realise that Little is contradicting himself here. He spent paragraphs emphasising how skeptical these scientists were and the precautions they took before finally admitting Piper may have some ability, and now he's saying they were gullible victims of confirmation bias? That doesn't add up. I'm still leaning towards Piper being possibly genuine. 

In another segment he interviews Derren Brown, and Brown describes the method fake psychics or mediums used in their readings, and how they'd either make broad statements or make specific ones that they'd then twist into a hit if it was a miss, such as saying 'it may not have happened recently, but you feel like it has.' It's rather ironic, considering he'd earlier said Piper's feats were far superior to anything Brown has accomplished. He goes on to describe examples of Browns psychological mind-reading tricks (not mentioning times where he has been accused of fakery of course, though this may have occurred after this book was written) and tries to apply them himself to a sitting, pretending to be a psychic. He doesn't actually convince the woman according to the interviews, but he takes the woman's open-minded response of 'you never know, you might be' as a sign she might? 

His interview with Dawkins is also suspect IMO. Dawkins comes across as suprisingly less aggressive than you'd expect, and Little praises him as 'more rational and open-minded than most would think' (a statement which plenty will agree hasn't aged well at all since 2010). Dawkins says he 'just wants empirical evidence' yet, like Sean Carroll, confesses he can't be bothered to do any further research beyond what he might get paid to do. 

Finally, he starts getting scientific about it, which always has me worried. He starts talking about how several physicists disagree with Dean Radin's argument that quantum entanglement could explain certain psi phenomena, as they say the brain is too 'hot and wet' for such phenomena to occur. Steve Taylor, IIRC, spoke about it more as an analogy, rather than a total explanation. Little even interviews Robert Todd Carroll of skepdic fame, who immediately began implying Radin is a fraud who cherry picks data. While I'll admit I'm not fond of Radin myself, again some of the things here haven't aged well, or have involved only limited research. 

The attitude Little expresses that 'some skeptics just want to help people' isn't very convincing to me (and also definitely hasn't aged well), especially since he doesn't mention any criticisms levelled at the skeptics, only the proponents or reported psychics. The main criticisms of the book I've found are the questionable depth of research Little actually did, and the conclusions he draws about the brain and the mind are based on debatable evidence or reasoning. Here is a commenter who pointed out this hypocrisy on Amazon:

Quote:However, Little is far too overawed by the `big hitters' in the sceptics' corner. He accepts everything that they say uncritically simply because of their position. This is a huge mistake and badly damages his credibility. After all he has spent the previous 150 pages warning against accepting what people say just because they seem trustworthy and decent! 

...As for Little's conclusion that the brain works 'like a malfunctioning computer' and is 'drip-feeding us false ideas to protect us from anxiety' this is lacking any empirical evidence, based on a terribly limited knowledge of neuroscience, involves cherry picking of statements and (I hope) misremembering what he has been told. 
Another reviewer, who has actually met Little apparently, also commented on Little's bias in blindly believing what self-professed skeptics say and taking their word as gospel. His critiques are excellent: 
Quote:What he chooses not to volunteer, or did not trouble himself to find out, is that sceptics also withhold reports of occasions when the results didn't go their way. To be as fair as Little pretends to be, you have to include the detail of both, or neither. For example, Little frequently quotes the beliefs of the sceptic Chris French as objective facts. Is he aware of Professor French's testing of medium Gordon Smith? No? That's because it was suppressed because Smith's results were in the region that were of either the "psychic" percentage, or fell within such a remotely small percentage of chance that it would be astonishing. I am not expressing my opinion in citing this report, I am referring to a published book.

...Another weakness of Little's book is that he makes a lot of assumptions about what "believers" in the paranormal actually do believe. In stark contrast to Little's dogmatics insistence that anyone who has any belief in any aspect of the paranormal, let alone practitioners of psychic and mediumistic work, must have a set pattern of beliefs, be wholly governed by these beliefs, must be irrational, and ignorant of scientific progress. If he had been more thorough in his research, he would have found that a good percentage of "believers" actually have an active interest in science, and that many more have a decent general understanding of the topic. Including the witches he eventually dismisses as more or less delusional, on the grounds that some believe they have seen ghosts. I accept that belief and disbelief in the existence of ghosts varies from person to person, and that is completely fine. My objection to his statement is two-fold. The first is his insistence that the witches saw ghosts solely because they wanted to, an assumption he extrapolates to everyone else who believes that they have seen a ghost. He appears to have forgotten that most people who believe that they have seen a ghost (irrespective of whatever phenomena they witnessed or imagined) actually didn't want to see a ghost. He also appears to be oblivious of the fact that most people, irrespective of prior conditioning, did not believe in ghosts until they became convinced that they saw one...

...As William Little admits, at his readings, instead of taking the readings as is, and checking them objectively against reality, he instead played an imaginative game with them. He was fully justified in stating where those pychics got it wrong, and it would have been useful if he'd attempted to find out more about those psychics. Although Little did mention a few things psychics got right, he completely overlooked them in his final analysis. Another unfortunate oversight is that he did not think to also visit a few mediums for a sitting. I make this point because he ultimately dismisses them all as fake without even having a proper sitting with a medium, and without citing any of the evidence that may be considered as legitimately supporting that some mediums practice honestly.

Be sceptical or a believer as you feel is appropriate, but have the decency to consider the evidence from both sides objectively and in context - and don't simply swallow the extremist opinions (of a believer or a sceptic) and then pass them of as objective facts from balanced research. Especially when it is very clear that you haven't really grasped what you claim to be appraising.

I applaud that reviewer for voicing my thoughts exactly. At no point in the book does Little question anything the skeptics say. He admittedly has a chip on his shoulder, since his mother and sister became convinced they couldn't meet with each other due to an astrological chart. Little even, towards the end, starts making neurological claims (that he doesn't provide citations for) about how precognition and clairvoyance is just the brain 'subtley processing information it unknowingly already accessed' as an explanation for intuitive hunches, and it's just the brain superimposing knowledge we already had of something onto a current or near-future situation (but naturally this doesn't apply to all cases, and doesn't apply to mediumship). And as the aforementioned reviewers pointed out, neuroscience clearly isn't his expertise. 

He's been on a few interviews apparently, but hasn't done anything notable since 2011. I'm happy to see though that I'm not alone in being disappointed with his book, as it gets several average to poor reviews overall on both Amazon and GoodReads.
(This post was last modified: 2020-09-07, 01:17 PM by OmniVersalNexus.)
Aren't your posts supposed to go into that one dedicated thread? Anyway I've reported the OP so it be moved.

Why waste time reading a book such as this instead of the material on this site?

 As for Piper's claim that it was all telepathy this is documented in the Psi Encyclopedia:


Quote:I did not make any such statement as that published in the New York Herald to the effect that spirits of the departed do not control me. . . . My opinion is to-day as it was eighteen years ago. Spirits of the departed may have controlled me and they may not. I confess that I do not know. I have not changed... I make no change in my relations.


That pretty much damns the book as far as I'm concerned. 

As for quantum explanations defeated by the "warm and wet" argument, it's 2020 and with Life on the Edge by two materialists describing the possibility of quantum biology we're largely passed that. See also the 2014 confirmation of one of Orch-OR's predictions, which  one of its authors - Stuart Hammeroff - believes is compatible with Psi and the Afterlife.
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell


(This post was last modified: 2020-09-07, 09:25 PM by Sciborg_S_Patel.)
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(2020-09-07, 09:23 PM)Sciborg_S_Patel Wrote: Aren't your posts supposed to go into that one dedicated thread? Anyway I've reported the OP so it be moved.

In my view as a moderator, the one dedicated thread (mega thread) was for Omni's threads/posts which reduce to "Please help me refute this skeptical argument or talking point which worries and concerns me". I am not convinced that this thread fits that bill. It opens with more of an extended and balanced book review, although, admittedly, Omni does present one "worry": "Finally, he starts getting scientific about it, which always has me worried."

Nevertheless, this is not enough, in my view, to require that the post be moved to Omni's mega thread. What I've done instead, given that, as Omni acknowledges, the book tends towards a skeptical perspective, is to move it to the SvP forum. I hope that this can be seen as a reasonable compromise.
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