Dr. William D. Carey
American Association for the Advancement of Science
1776 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20036
Quite innocently I found myself drawn into a controversy at the session on Science and Consciousness at the meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Houston Monday morning, January 8. I had been asked to talk on the relation between quantum mechanics and consciousness. I discovered to my dismay after the program had been cast in concrete that Eugene Wigner and I, two people from the world of physics, were being put together on a panel with several parapsychologists. What is more, one of them and many of the audience were ready to call on the most extreme ideas out of physics. I am writing as a concerned member of the AAAS and as a former member of the board of directors and as a former president of the American Physical Society to ask that a five man committee of review be appointed by the board of directors and the council jointly to review the work of the section of parapsychology of the AAAS to determine:
(a) Whether this field of investigation by now has produced any “battle tested result”;
(b) To report on the advantage gained in fund raising by workers in the field of parapsychology by their association with the AAAS;
(c) To report on the effect of this association on the public image of the AAAS;
(d) To advise whether this section should be left “as is,” suspended until the field has produced some “battle tested” results or deleted outright from the AAAS.
I know that the views of our late and beloved Margaret Mead were strong in getting parapsychology admitted to the AAAS. I was present at the meeting where it happened. The opinion that I had and many others had was overridden by the permissiveness of the time. The words might not have been used, but the idea was there of that old phrase, “Marry him to reform him.” Now the decade of permissiveness has passed.
Moreover, in the quantum theory of observation, my own present field of endeavor, I find honest work almost overwhelmed by the buzz of absolutely crazy ideas put forth with the aim of establishing a link between quantum mechanics and parapsychology—as if there were any such thing as “parapsychology.” A young person who wants to work in this field does so at his risk. He runs the danger of earning, not reputation, but snickers. In this sense the association of “parapsychology” with the AAAS puts a strain on the progress of an important field of investigation. That is the origin of my concern and the reason I appeal to you for your good offices in setting up the “Committee for the Review of Parapsychology in the AAAS.”
More background for this letter will be found in Appendices A and B of the attached paper, “Not consciousness, but the distinction between the probe and the probed, as central to the elemental quantum act of observation.”
“We have enough charlatanism in this country today without needing a scientific organization to prostitute itself to it. The AAAS has to make up its mind whether it is seeking popularity or whether it is strictly a scientific organization.” Admiral Hyman G. Rickover has just this minute telephoned to back my position on making a clean break between the AAAS and parapsychology and authorizes me to quote him so.
Many thanks for your consideration.
John Archibald Wheeler
Center for Theoretical Physics
The University of Texas at Austin
May 17, 1979