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Written by Jeff Wagg   

In this December 24, 2008 interview for the book The ESP Enigma: The Scientific Case for Psychic Phenomena, TIME magazine offers the following summary:

In her new book The ESP Enigma: The Scientific Case for Psychic Phenomena, former Harvard professor Diane Hennacy combines philosophy, physics, and empirical data to examine supernatural traits like telepathy (the ability to access someone else's consciousness), psychokinesis (the ability to use one's consciousness to affect external objects), clairvoyance (the ability to broaden one's consciousness to remote time and space) and precognition (the ability to see into the future).

So far, so good. Yes.. let's examine these things in a scientific fashion. The author, Diane Hennacy Powell is an MD and is associated with Harvard University. To be clear, I have not read the book, but if this interview is any indication, it will not be going on the shelf next to Flim Flam or Demon Haunted World.

Let's examine just one question from the interview which was conducted by MJ Stephey (in bold):

In your book you mention Abraham Lincoln as one of the more famous examples of precognitive dreaming.

Lincoln had a very vivid dream of walking around the White House and hearing all these people mourning and asking, "What's going on?" and then having someone tell him, "The president's dead." Then he saw his own corpse. He had this dream literally ten days before he was assassinated. He didn't tell anybody about it at first, but a few days before [his assassination], he told his wife and some friends. Of course, that's not true of all dreams. Some dreams actually are tapping into some other time and place, and there's real information in them. Others are just imagination. I think that's one of the reasons why psychics don't have 100% accuracy, sometimes it's just their imagination. What I'm interesting in is trying to discern what it is that makes those experiences so different.

Umm.. wow. So, evidence presented here for the veracity of this dream being pre-cognitive includes:

  • It was "very vivid"
  • It was 10 days before his assassination
  • He didn't tell anyone about it, except "his wife and some friends."

Compelled? I'm not, and yet the interviewer and the author both accept this as proof positive of precognitive dreaming. Hennacy then says "that's not true of all dreams," apparently referring to the concept that not all dreams are precognitive. Isn't that astonishing? The dream I had last night of driving my old 1980 Datsun 510 to the beach may not have been precognitive! Whew, I'm rather glad, because I folded that car in half in an accident in 1987. She goes on to say that "sometimes it's just (psychics') imagination." Ya think? And most damning of all is her final statement. If you're trying to discern what makes precognition different from imagination, why not apply some actual science? If there's any in the book, it is not clear from this interview.

I could tear apart this article line by line, but fortunately I don't have to: you can do it for yourself. Again, I have not read the book, it could be that it actually presents solid evidence for these phenomena, but if so, I should be expecting the author to apply for the Million Dollar Challenge any day now.

What are the reviewers saying? From Dr. Hennacy's own site:

The ESP Enigma is an unflinching examination of the puzzle of consciousness—how it's able to do things that, according to our textbooks, don't make sense. Refreshingly clear, scientifically accurate, up to date, and comprehensive, this book shatters conventional beliefs about the nature of the mind and reality itself.

—Dean Radin, Ph.D., Senior Scientist, Institute of Noetic Sciences, and author of The Conscious Universe and Entangled Minds

Oh, that Dean Radin. The one who supports the concept of global consciousness. And "replicated" Emoto's studies of water memory.

"Finally, scientists and laymen alike have a clear and compelling introduction to the controversial world of contemporary psychic and consciousness research. Dr. Powell's The ESP Enigma is destined to become a classic in the field."

-Gary E. Schwartz, Ph.D., Director, Laboratory for Advances in Consciousness and Health at the University of Arizona, and author, The Energy Healing Experiments

Gary Schwartz???

"The ESP Enigma will help open people's minds not only to accept what they can't explain but also to learn about what is already known about ESP. If we spent more time and money exploring our inner world, we would better understand the mysteries of life."

-Bernie Siegel, M.D., author of Love, Medicine & Miracles and 365 Prescriptions For The Soul

This "new age" guru sure isn't someone I'd want endorsing my popular science book.

Am I being too harsh? Should I just shut up until I've actually read the book? You decide, but honestly, even though I know that TIME is a popular news magazine and not a science journal, I'd expect a modicum more questioning than was presented here. This book appears to start from the premise that psychic powers exist, and despite the title, that is anything but science.