Responsibility to Truth as the Heart of Science

A version of this essay will appear as Chapter 9 in Schwartz's book The Truth about TRUTH: How Science is Discovering that Accuracy and Integrity are Key to the Survival, Health, and Evolution of Everything, including Us (in preparation).


Responsibility to Truth as the Heart of Science:

Understanding self-deception in human cognition - the "Sganarelle" Syndrome - with applications to misinformed slander in certain psychics, sitters, skeptics, and scientists

Gary E. Schwartz, PhD
Laboratory for Advances in Consciousness and Health
Department of Psychology
University of Arizona

When Kepler found his long-cherished belief did not agree with the
most precise observation, he accepted the uncomfortable fact.
He preferred the hard truth to his dearest illusions; that is the heart of science.

Carl Sagan

If all the evidence, as you receive it, leads you to but one conclusion, don't believe it!
From Moliere's The Self-Deceived Husband

The important thing is not to stop questioning.
Albert Einstein


Introduction: Truth and the Heart of Science

Do human beings have a responsibility to truth?

Do all of us, as we live out our personal and collective lives, have a responsibility to be as accurate, fair, and humble as possible, especially when we draw conclusions that may have negative consequences for other people's lives?

Most mature and caring people would say, "of course." Moreover, if any group of individuals or profession has a responsibility to truth, it is the profession of science.

Unfortunately, even among people who have a strong intention to live truthful lives, some of these people can quite unknowingly - through a cognitive process psychologist's term "self-deception" - engage in the process of unconsciously distorting the truth.

Below we illustrate how self-deception can occur in everyday life, as illustrated in literature and also documented in experimental research. This is followed by samples of apparent unconscious distortion of the truth occurring in the context of mediumship science, especially in certain mediums and sitters.

Please note: It is not our intent to cause personal discomfort (or harm) to anyone or any profession. Our mission is to foster understanding and harmony, not anger.

Unfortunately, as Aldous Huxley put it:

"Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you mad."

The fact is, sometimes the truth is painful, and we must address it caringly with maturity, responsibility, and humility.

Though the samples shared here are taken from mediumship science, examples of self-deception are available from numerous areas within science and medicine, including physics, psychology, medicine, and healing.

As Carl Sagan said it, preferring "hard truth" to one's "dearest illusions" is the "heart of science."

Understanding Self-Deception in Literature: The Lesson from Sganarelle

Moliere's philosophical comedy, in French titled "Sganarelle, ou le Cocu Imaginaire" which is often translated as "Sganarelle, or the Self-Deceived Husband," dramatizes some of negative consequences of active self-deception in an amusing and enlightening manner.

In 1978, when the author was a Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at Yale University, he attended at least three performances of Albert Bermel's innovative translation of Moliere's Sqanarelle at the Yale Repertory Theatre. The performance was directed by the esteemed Andrei Serban, and the cast included Norma Brustein, the wife of Robert Brustein. Mr. Brustein subsequently went on to become the founding director of the American Repertory Theatre at Harvard University.

A summary of Moliere's plot, as well as a complete translation of the play, is available at Quoting from the website:

"The plot of Sganarelle is ingenious and plausible; every trifle becomes circumstantial evidence, and is received as conclusive proof both by the husband and wife. The dialogue is sprightly throughout, and the anxious desire of Sganarelle to kill his supposed injurer, whilst his cowardice prevents him from executing his valorous design, is extremely ludicrous. The chief aim of our author appears to have been to show how dangerous it is to judge with too much haste, especially in those circumstances where passion may either augment or diminish the view we take of certain objects."

In the translation of the play provided on this website, the last line uttered by Sganarelle is:

"Was there ever a man who had more cause to think himself victimized? You perceive that in such matters the strongest probability may create in the mind a wrong belief. Therefore remember, never to believe anything even if you should see everything."

In the more contemporary translation by Bermel that was performed at the Yale Repertory Theater, the last line was stated more pointedly and poetically:

"If all the evidence, as you receive it, leads you to but one conclusion, don't believe it!"

Schwartz recognized that the fundamental philosophy - and take-home message - of Moliere's Sganarelle was strikingly similar to the seminal experiments of Professor Loren Chapman and colleagues at the University of Wisconsin on the phenomenon termed "illusory correlates." Schwartz views research on illusory correlates to be of profound importance for psychology, science, and life.

Understanding Self-Deception in Science: Illusory Correlates

Illusory correlates are self-deceptions caused by unconsciously interpreting and remembering more strongly events that are perceived to be meaningful - that is, supporting one's emotional beliefs and expectations - and tending to dismiss and forget events that are inconsistent with one's beliefs. In the process, what is remembered is often distorted.

Professor Chapman documented how laymen and professionals alike, including journalists, physicians and even clinical psychologists, have the potential to unknowingly form "illusory correlates." Moreover, individuals can have their misperceptions seemingly confirmed by others similarly engaged in self-deception. In other words, groups of people can come together and create mutually deceptive illusory correlates.

One of the most striking findings discovered about illusory correlates is that once a given illusory conclusion is reached, some people will hold on to their illusions even in the face of clear cut evidence to the contrary. In fact, some people will go so far as to question the validity of the evidence rather than change their minds as a function of the evidence - i.e. change their beliefs as a function of the truth.

The lesson of illusory correlates is vividly reframed by the humbled Sganarelle: "If all the evidence, as you receive it, lead you to but one conclusion, don't believe it!"

What Schwartz terms "The Sganarelle Syndrome" is the process of individuals, or groups of individuals, as a result of strong emotional biases, reaching illusory conclusions that are unknowingly self-deceptive - meaning, people individually, and then collectively, construct a set of beliefs that are unknowingly distorted to various degrees. The distortions can range from mild misinterpretations to outright mis-remembering of information.

Distorting the Truth - Two Samples

Beginning in the spring of 2005, a small group of mediums and psychics began to collect and misinterpret certain events associated with the VERITAS Research Program* and cast them in a negative light. Two examples are listed here anonymously. As mentioned above, our purpose is not to embarrass the individuals involved, but rather to discuss the truth about the distortion of truth and its serious negative consequences, especially in science. Also, as mentioned above, this kind of behavior is not unique to psychic mediums.

The examples are listed as "distorted claims", "factual truths," and "unfortunate consequences".

Distorted Claim 1: One former research sitter, here termed Sitter 1, was spreading the rumor that Schwartz was charging $10,000 for research readings, often from grieving parents wishing to participate in activities of the Forever Family Foundation (see Moreover, two research mediums, here termed Mediums 1 and 2, were spreading the rumor (1) that their names were being used to seek this money, (2) that they disapproved of this specific fund raising, and (3) that they have never received any payments associated with this work. The insinuation was that Schwartz and his colleagues were engaged in unethical behavior toward grieving individuals as well as mediums who worked in the laboratory.

Factual Truths 1: On two occasions, an editor / journalist in one instance, and a lawyer in another, called Schwartz on behalf of their clients, requesting that his laboratory conduct research documenting specific claims of their clients concerning members of their deceased family. In both cases, the prospective clients / sitters were writing books about their experiences, and they wanted scientific evidence documenting their claims for their books. Moreover, they wanted to use the best mediums, have the research conducted in a convincing way, and they wanted the results completed in two to three months! Schwartz explained that given current funds and staffing, he could not promise to be able to address their questions for at least six months to a year. Moreover, he could not guarantee that the most distinguished, and expensive, of the mediums would be available for their research.

However, since their clients were doing this research for private purposes, and wanted the findings to be reported in their personal and commercial books, Schwartz explained that if they needed the research to be completed quickly, in two to three months, this would require that his research team - including research mediums who in their private lives charge very high fees per reading - do this research on weekends to complete their work. Dr. Schwartz explained that the cost to cover the medium's fees, the research coordinator's time, the research assistant's time, the transcriber's time, and so forth, would probably cost $5,000 to $10,000.

Neither set of clients chose to pursue this research; Dr. Schwartz was relieved, since this would have required extra time from his team's very busy lives.

Unfortunate Consequence 1: When Person 1 began spreading the rumor that Schwartz's unethical behavior involved the Forever Family Foundation, the Vice President of the Foundation wrote a firm letter to Person 1 stating clearly that her claims were fallacious, and that she should cease making them. Moreover, the editor / journalist wrote Schwartz a formal apology for inadvertently contributing to the spreading of the distorted, and ultimately false, accusation. Nonetheless, the rumor persisted, continuing to inflict harm to the reputation of the VERITAS Research Program*.

Distorted Claim 2: Two former research mediums, Mediums 1 and 2, began spreading the rumor that Schwartz was conducting mediumship research for personal financial gain, and that they did not know when they began this research that he would write books about their participation in research in the laboratory. Moreover, they were claiming that in the documents they signed, it promised that their participation would be kept confidential. The insinuation was that Schwartz and colleagues were engaged in unethical behavior toward them and the field of mediumship science.

Factual Truths 2: Both mediums were aware that Schwartz historically published books on his scientific research in his scientific career. Medium 1 was featured in his first mediumship book, THE AFTERLIFE EXPERIMENTS and she proudly advertised her association with the laboratory on her website for years (she no longer emphasizes her prior association with the laboratory on her website). Medium 2 not only knew of the THE AFTERLIFE EXPERIMENTS book, but she played an instrumental role in inspiring Schwartz to write THE TRUTH ABOUT MEDIUM book.

In an email Schwartz wrote to her indicating his thoughts about writing a short book that featured her participation, she replied "If you write a book that finally publishes the test we have done over the years that includes L, G and yes J, then I will write you an endorsement." (Medium 2 subsequently decided not to follow through with an endorsement). Medium 2 also used to advertise her association with the laboratory on her website.

In addition, the confidential clause indicates that the person can request that their participation not be kept confidential, and that their association with the research be communicated. Both mediums had requested, in numerous contexts, that Schwartz use their name in public forums - including television, newspaper articles, and lectures.Despite detailed communication between lawyers representing the two mediums and Schwartz explaining the facts (e.g., about writing books and confidentiality), evidence indicates that the mediums in question persist in stating their belief that they had no idea that Schwartz would us their names in his books describing the research they had willingly participated. Their persistence casts a cloud over the reputation of the VERITAS Research Program*.

These two examples are a representative sample illustrating obvious discrepancies between the actual facts involving the Human Energy Systems Laboratory versus the purported claims made by specific mediums and sitters. How are these obvious and damaging discrepancies to be explained?

Presuming that the facts as described are indeed genuine (they are), the question arises, are these select mediums and sitters deliberately lying about the facts?

Or, is it possible that they are inadvertently fooling themselves, creating a set of "self-illusions" stimulated in part by their emotional feelings?

Are we witnessing a prototypic case of self-deception in mediums and sitters?

Illusory correlates and associated self-deceptions are most likely to occur in individuals who have strong emotional feelings, whose ideas are shaped strongly by their emotions and intuitions, who are sensitive about themselves and their work, and who are not focused on facts - meaning, they place more emphasis on their feelings and perceptions than external evidence that might corroborate (or disconfirm) their beliefs.

It is possible to hypothesize that a potential occupational hazard of psychic mediums may be that when they harbor strong feelings, particularly negative feelings, about a particular matter, that they may err on the side of trusting their emotions at the expense of facts.

Moreover, it is possible to hypothesize that sitters who associate closely with mediums may have the potential to suffer similar consequences.

Schwartz and colleagues focus on facts, not feelings. When asked, for example, whether they are trying to prove the existence of survival of consciousness, he replies, "Absolutely not. What we are trying to do is give survival of consciousness, if it exists, the opportunity to prove itself."

The lab's motto is "If it is real, it will be revealed, and if it is fake, we'll find the mistake."

Science is about not only about the search for truth, but being responsible to truth - which in this case means accuracy of reporting and interpreting facts. This requires caution as well as humility.

For a number of years at Yale, Schwartz used to end some of his lectures with Sganarelle's strong statement about "all the evidence." He recently decided to return to speaking about the lesson of Sganarelle, so that the negative consequences of what he terms the Sganarelle Syndrome can be recognized and minimized.

As the last sentence of the summary of the plot cited above states, and we paraphrase slightly here:

"Our chief aim in discussing the Sganarelle Syndrome is to show how dangerous it is to judge with too much haste, especially in those circumstances where passion may either augment or diminish the view we take of certain objects."

The VERITAS Research Program* has been historically concerned with discovering the truth about the survival of consciousness and the continuity of life. We deeply appreciate the gifts and efforts of research mediums as we address these questions together, and we hold great gratitude for the research sitters who collaborate in this research.

We hold no ill will toward anyone, including those who inadvertently cast dispersions on this area of research. And no one is perfect; including scientists (we make mistakes, too). The question of life after death is too important to allow personal issues to interfere with the greater responsibility to seek - and honor - the truth. This is our focus.

The VERITAS Research Program* website, including the section titled "The TRUTH" is devoted to this mission.

As Carl Sagan reminds, this is the "heart of science."

* NOTE: The VERITAS Research Program was closed and replaced by a broader program, The Sophia Project.