University of Tasmania
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Beyond beliefs : a philosophical examination of anomalous phenomena and explanation theory

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posted on 2023-05-26, 16:50 authored by Jenkins, Hannah Blanch
This thesis argues that the dominant assessment of the anomalous phenomena associated with psi requires re-evaluation, as hidden beliefs and explanatory assumptions about the body of evidence underlie the mainstream philosophical arguments regarding psi. A re-evaluation of pertinent issues with reference to contemporary explanatory concerns is therefore undertaken. The current state of discussion about psi is outlined. It is shown that there is tension between the apparent evidence for the phenomena and lack of a tenable explanation for the phenomena. The mainstream arguments in philosophy, which ascribe fraud as an explanation for psi, are critiqued. In generic form the arguments are shown to be a problematic inference to the best explanation. It is argued that if the assessment of the phenomena is to be a legitimate inference to the best explanation the outline of the evidence, the compilation of hypotheses and the process by which the 'best' is selected requires re-assessment. The process of re-evaluation is carried out in the rest of the thesis. The re-examination starts with an outline of the three types of evidence for psi. The discussion regarding potential explanation of the body of evidence for psi is shown to be similar to another problem in philosophy‚ÄövÑvÆthe hard problem of consciousness. The competing hypotheses are then divided into comparable-options in relation to psi theory: the Skeptic hypothesis, the Small Change Natural hypothesis, the Big Change Natural hypothesis and the Supernatural hypothesis. The unresolved debate about psi is thus transformed into a 'psi hypotheses discussion' which allows for more productive discourse regarding possible explanations of the phenomena. An argument is made that changing explanatory schemes have historically accounted for psi phenomena and it is shown that one of the hypotheses, the Supernatural hypothesis, is untenable. The remaining three hypotheses are examined in more detail in the second part of the thesis. A recent discussion between scientists and a philosopher regarding the potential to develop psi theory is used to show that when competing hypotheses for psi are debated, the contrary approaches to the data represent different research traditions. It is concluded that explanatory considerations regarding the various hypotheses require reassessment. It is shown that an outdated explanatory system (the covering law model) has most likely influenced the mainstream assessment of psi phenomena and that this assessment has informed the dominant Skeptic hypothesis. However, because covering law model has been superseded by new theories of scientific explanation, an argument is made that a reassessment of the competing hypotheses is warranted. An examination of the competing psi hypotheses in the light of three major contemporary explanation theories (causal, pragmatic and unificatory) is therefore undertaken. It is argued that the anomalous nature of psi usually prejudices the manner in which the explananda are presented. The psi explananda are therefore recast in terms acceptable to the contemporary explanation theories. Each competing psi hypothesis provides a possible explanation to the psi explananda. Then a comparison of the explanations is carried out using the precepts of each contemporary explanation theory as a guide to making an assessment of the competing explanations. It is concluded that it is important the three psi hypotheses continue to be explored in relation to progress in science, psi theory and issues of explanation in science. The main achievement of the thesis is to provide a new platform for productive dialogue between the competing hypotheses with explanatory concerns upfront.


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Copyright 2007 the Author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s). Thesis (PhD)--University of Tasmania, 2007. Includes bibliographical references

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