The Heresies of Freeman Dyson

If for some unfathomable reason this engaging Times profile - which focuses on his late-in-life career as a global warming skeptic - is your first sustained encounter with the mind of Freeman Dyson, I highly recommend browsing at length in the NYRB's archive, or else buying the essay collection drawn from its pages, and from earlier publications. (I haven't read it, but I should note that a friend swears by The Starship and the Canoe, a dual biography of the space-besotted Dyson and his treedwelling son George.) You'll find that the climate-change debate isn't the only place where he tiptoes beyond the scientific current consensus. For instance, here's an excerpt from Dyson's review (behind the subscriber firewall) of a book on ESP:

... The hypothesis that paranormal are real but lie outside the limits of science is supported by a great mass of evidence. The evidence has been collected by the Society for Psychical Research in Britain and by similar organizations in other countries. The journal of the London society is full of stories of remarkable events in which ordinary people appear to possess paranormal abilities. The evidence of entirely anecdotal. It has nothing to do with science, since it cannot be reproduced under controlled conditions. But the evidence is there. The members of the society took great trouble to interview firsthand witnesses as soon as possible after the events, and to document the stories carefully. One fact that emerges clearly from the stories is that paranormal events occur, if they occur at all, only when people are under stress and experiencing strong emotion. This fact would immediately explain why paranormal phenomena are not observable under the conditions of a well-controlled scientific experiment. Strong emotion and stress are inherently incompatible with controlled scientific procedures ...

As heresy goes, this seems to me to be a step beyond doubting the scientific rigor of An Inconvenient Truth.

Ross Douthat is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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