The response to ZS has been very gratifying, and it looks like it will be a going concern. Though the vast majority of letters were positive in their endorsements, some raised criticisms of interest. Thus, several parapsychologists complained about the emphasis in the first issue on debunking bibliographies while several critics of the paranormal complained that ZS was too conciliatory and soft in its approach to extraordinary claims. Since our purpose is to strike some balance between camps with our only commitment to science and its proper degree of skepticism, criticism from both sides will probably continue and may really indicate that our purpose is being served reasonable well. This is not to say that all the criticisms have been unwarranted. For example, it was pointed out that we sometimes need to speak not only of "alleged phenomena" but also need to point out that some critical works are merely "attempted debunkings." Putting out this journal has proven a consciousness raising experience on many such subtle points of language, and future issues should reflect greater discernment by your editor.
Sadly, differences over what is appropriate for discussion in ZS has led to the resignation by Martin Gardner from our Board of Consulting Editors. His objection concerned the reasonableness of your editor's giving further serious scientific consideration -- in a future issue of ZS -- to the conjectures of Immanuel Velikovsky, theories which Mr. Gardner believes no longer can be taken seriously by scientists in light of the critical attention already given by respected physicists and astronomers almost all of whom have rejected these theories as preposterous. That is, Gardner views the scientific argument over Velikovsky now a closed matter that deserves no further legitimation by ZS as a scientifically credible debate. Though this editor is not a supporter of Dr. Velikovsky, he does not see the matter as closed because of reasonable criticism of the critics of Velikovsky that continues to be offered by his advocates. We will seriously miss Martin Gardner's valuable support of ZS and hope the future may find him willing to rejoin us. This may be a good place to again remind our readers that the editorial judgements found in ZS do not necessarily reflect the views of any of its consulting editors; in fact, such agreement would almost be impossible since they were selected because they differed on most of the issues about which ZS will be concerned.
It may be helpful to readers of ZS for us to explicate the meaning of some of the terminology we will regularly use in talking about extraordinary claims. To untangle some of the broadly divergent terminology, we suggest the following for consistent reference in ZS.
In general, extraordinary events are of two varieties: empirical and non-empirical. An example of the former might be a unicorn, while of the latter might be a mystical state. Such extraordinary events may be explained, respectively, by a set of empirical (scientific) or non-empirical (metaphysical) theories. For example, a unicorn might be explained as an unusual mutation of a horse. A mystical state may be the result of divine intervention. This leads to the following typology:
|Type of theory appropriate for the event
Thus, an abnormal event is an extraordinary event explained by an empirical theory. A paranormal event is an extraordinary event not yet explained by an empirical theory. (In general, scientists seek to transform extraordinary events from paranormal to merely abnormal ones.) The explanation of an extraordinary event by means of a non-empirical theory is what we usually term supernatural (Supernatural phenomena, as their proponents usually speak of them, do have explanations, but these are usually in terms of metaphysical causes like "the will of the gods" rather than any scientific causes). Finally, there may be extraordinary events that seem to have not even any non-empirical explanation, and are seemingly beyond any explanation," and this is the meaning of the term preternatural, a term rarely used today but once quite popular.
In practice, this analytic typology may become quite complicated because it is not uncommon for an empirical event (e.g., the winning of a battle) to be explained (at least by priests) as the result of a non-empirical intervention of the gods. Thus, there may be supernatural explanations for what others see as merely abnormal events. Similar combinations of mixing explanations and events are possible in other cases. Thus, one can have a supernatural event perceived as merely paranormal by someone who does not accept the non-empirical explanation. In general, science seeks to convert preternatural and supernatural events into merely paranormal events in the hope of eventually explaining them through an empirical theory that will make them merely abnormal. This typology has imperfections but brings some consistency (and, I hope, clarity) to a hodge-podge of current usages.
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