Problems with Believing in Extrasensory Perception

Problems with Believing in Extrasensory Perception
The subject of extrasensory perception (ESP) often generates not only great
interest but also strong emotional responses. And when individuals feel strongly
about an issue, they sometimes fail to recognize the faulty reasoning underlying
their beliefs. Belief in ESP is particularly associated with illogical,
noncritical thinking. This exercise gives you a chance to practice your critical
thinking skills as they apply to ESP. Begin by studying the following types of
faulty reasoning:
1. Fallacy of positive instances: Noting and remembering events that confirm
personal expectations and beliefs (the “hits”) and ignoring nonsupportive
evidence (the “misses”). Remembering the time the palmist said you would receive
a call in the middle of the night (a “hit”) but ignoring that she also said that
you had three children (a “miss”).
2.Innumeracy: Failing to recognize chance occurrences for what they are owing to
a lack of training in statistics and probabilities. Unusual events are
misperceived as statistically impossible (such as predicting a president’s
illness), and extraordinary explanations, such as ESP, are seen as the logical
3.Willingness to suspend disbelief: Refusing to engage one’s normal critical
thinking skills because of a personal need for power and control. Although few
people would attribute a foreign country’s acquisition of top-secret information
to ESP, some of these same individuals would willingly believe that a psychic
could help them find their lost child.
4.The “vividness” problem: Human information processing and memory storage and
retrieval are often based on the initial “vividness” of the information. Sincere
personal testimonials, theatrical demonstrations, and detailed anecdotes easily
capture our attention and tend to be remembered better than rational, scientific
descriptions of events. This is the heart of most stories about extraterrestrial
Now decide which type of faulty reasoning best describes each of the following.
Although more than one type may be applicable, enter only one number beside each
report. Comparing your answers with your classmates’ and friends’ answers will
further sharpen your critical thinking skills.
________ John hadn’t thought of Paula, his old high school sweetheart, for
years. Yet one morning he woke up thinking about her. He was wondering what she
looked like and whether she was married now, when suddenly the phone rang. For
some strange reason, he felt sure the call was from Paula. He was right. John
now cites this call as evidence for his personal experience with extrasensory
________ A psychic visits a class in introductory psychology. He predicts that
out of this class of 23 students, 2 individuals will have birthdays on the same
day. When a tally of birthdays is taken, his prediction is supported and many
students leave class believing that the existence of ESP has been supported.
________ A National League baseball player dreams of hitting a bases-loaded
triple. Two months later, during the final game of the World Series, he gets
this exact triple and wins the game. He informs the media of his earlier dream
and the possibility that ESP exists.
________ A mother is sitting alone in her office at work and suddenly sees a
vivid image of her home on fire. She immediately calls home and awakens the
sitter, who excitedly reports smoke coming under the door. The sitter
successfully extinguishes the fire, and the mother later attributes her visual
images to ESP.