April 23, 2014

Book Review: The Hundredth Monkey And Other Paradigms Of The Paranormal

Kendrick Frazier, editor of the book, has this to say in his Introduction piece: "This newest collection of essays and articles from the Skeptical Inquirer examines important issues and tensions at the intersection of science and popular belief. Forty-three articles by noted scientists, psychologists, philosophers, writers, and other scholars and investigators explore virtually every aspect of paranormal and fringe-science beliefs and claims." This perfectly encapsulates the contents of this impressive 400-page book.

Published in 1991, this book is the third collection to come out from the always reliable pages of the Skeptical Inquirer. The other two are Paranormal Borderlands of science (1981) and Science Confronts the Paranormal (1986). These are must-have books for folks who wish to educate themselves on how to separate science from pseudo-science and on how to use skepticism in digesting doubtful or seemingly irrational pieces of information that come their way.

The title of the book was taken from one of the articles, The Hundredth Monkey Phenomenon, a well-researched piece by Ron Amundson which took apart a "group consciousness" claim concerning monkeys in several islands in Japan. This is one of the best exposes in the collection.

The opening essay is an impressive piece by the great Carl Sagan about the burden and meaning of skepticism. In it, Mr. Sagan writes "Skepticism is dangerous. That's exactly its function, in my view. It is the business of skepticism to be dangerous. And that's why there is a great reluctance to teach it in the schools. That's why you don't find a general fluency in skepticism in the media. On the other hand, how will we negotiate a very perilous future if we don't have the elementary intellectual tools to ask searching questions of those nominally in charge, especially in a democracy."

The succeeding articles are just as impressive. They cover a lot of controversial and popular themes like alien visitations/abductions, firewalking, spontaneous combustion deaths, graphology, astrology, and homeopathy.

Informative and always exciting, this book makes for an interesting read. The only possible drawback of reading this book concerns the fact that it was published over two decades ago. With that said, there's always the possibility that some of the information it contains are outdated. So it might be a great idea if the reader does a little bit of fact-checking if he/she deems it necessary.

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