Skip to main content

Extra Sensory – Brian Clegg ***

As a subject, extra sensory perception, ESP, psi or whatever you want to call it hovers on the frivolous edges of science. And yet there certainly is something for science to investigate, whether it is an actual physical phenomena or the oddities of the human mind that make it susceptible to believing in such possibilities.
The editor of this site, Brian Clegg, has decided to take the scalpel of science to areas of the paranormal where an attempt has been made to make a controlled and scientific assessment, limiting himself to those areas that could have a scientific explanation, as opposed to those that rely on the supernatural. So we are talking about the likes of telepathy, telekinesis, clairvoyance and remote viewing.
I had always got the impression that the first to take a really scientific approach was Rhine in the 1930s – in reality it seems that athough these early investigators employed the trappings of science, a lot of the tools, particularly the controls and the maths were applied rather carelessly. What’s more this seems a common theme in much of the subsequent scientific exploration of mental powers.
All the way through, Clegg makes the book very approachable, using an introductory story to get into each chapter, looking at possible scientific explanations and exploring the attempts of academia to get to grips with everything from Uri Geller to bizarre experiments straight out of a David Cronenberg movie with half-ping pong balls taped over the subjects’ eyes. He opens up all the means of deception, whether accidental from misunderstanding statistics to explaining the tricks used by magicians and mentalists to give the appearance of having psi abilities.
The only reason I don’t give the book more stars is that there really isn’t a huge amount of science in it – which is hardly Clegg’s fault, it is just the nature of the subject. Inevitably his attempts to provide possible scientific explanations for the likes of telepathy are a little speculative, but overall this is a refreshing attempt that unusually for this subject treads the tightrope of proper scientific enquiry. It is neither the total denial of the ultra-skeptic who will not even consider any evidence (Clegg quotes Richard Dawkins saying ‘I am not interested in evidence’) and the feeble acceptance of any old rubbish made by those who never question whatever they are told by psychics. Good stuff.


Using these links earns us commission at no cost to you
Review by Peter Spitz
Please note, this title is written by the editor of the Popular Science website. Our review is still an honest opinion – and we could hardly omit the book – but do want to make the connection clear.


Popular posts from this blog

The World According to Physics - Jim Al-Khalili *****

There is a temptation on seeing this book to think it's another one of those physics titles that is thin on content, so they put it in an odd format small hardback and hope to win over those who don't usually buy science books. But that couldn't be further from the truth. In Jim Al-Khalili's The World According to Physics, we've got the best beginners' overview of what physics is all about that I've ever had the pleasure to read.

The language is straightforward and approachable. Rather than take the more common historical approach that builds up physics the way it was discovered, Al-Khalili starts with the 'three pillars' of physics: relativity, quantum theory and thermodynamics. In simple language with never an equation nor even a diagram in sight, the book lays out what physics is all about, what it has achieved and what it still needs to do.

That bit about no diagrams is an important indicator of how approachable the text is. Personally, I'm no…

Jim Al-Khalili - Four Way Interview

Jim Al-Khalili hosts The Life Scientific on BBC Radio 4 and has presented numerous BBC television documentaries. He is Professor of Theoretical Physics and Chair in the Public Engagement in Science at the University of Surrey, a New York Times bestselling author, and a fellow of the Royal Society. He is the author of numerous books, including Quantum: A Guide for the Perplexed; The House of Wisdom: How Arabic Science Saved Ancient Knowledge and Gave Us the Renaissance; and Life on the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology. The paperback of his novel Sunfall is published in March 2020 by Transworld. His latest book is The World According to Physics.

Why physics?

I fell in love with physics when I was 13 or 14, when I realised not only that I was pretty good at it at school – basically common sense and puzzle solving – but because it was the subject that answered the big questions I had started contemplating, like whether the stars in the night sky went on for ever, what they were ma…

Outbreaks and Epidemics - Meera Senthilingam ****

This book was written before the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, though it has been updated to include it: it's certainly not any kind of attempt to cash in, but rather a sober reflection on how outbreaks and epidemics work, what process the world has in place to deal with them and how a changing, globalised world has magnified risk.

If I'm honest, I'm not a great fan of medical books, but Meera Senthilingam gives an important introduction to disease outbreaks and epidemics, giving enough detail to make sense of them without ever being too technical for the general reader. This is careful journalism, which can sometimes come across as rather dry, but that's not necessarily a bad thing given the topic.

The book starts by plunging us into the beginnings of the 2003 SARS epidemic, then brings in COVID-19 (as of, by the look of it, around the start of March 2020) and measles before plunging back to smallpox and the origins of vaccination. There is a strong section on disea…