|What is parapsychology (and what is it not?)|
|Parapsychology is a scientific
discipline which has as its subject matter the study of telepathy,
clairvoyance, precognition and psychokinesis (i.e., so-called
"psychic phenomena"). Telepathy
is paranormal knowledge of the mental content of another person; that is,
knowledge of thoughts, feelings and sensations which do not involve the
usual senses. Clairvoyance is paranormal
knowledge of some objective event not necessarily involving another mind. Precognition
is paranormal knowledge of future events - knowing the future before it
happens, provided that we could not have figured out or inferred what was
to happen, and provided chance or coincidence was not involved. Psychokinesis
(PK) is mentally affecting some physical system; the layman knows this as
the "mind-over-matter" effect.
Telepathy, clairvoyance, and precognition are usually known to the layman
as extrasensory perception or ESP phenomena. Parapsychology is another
name for the discipline which studies these sorts of phenomena.
Parapsychologists have two basic approaches to their subject matter. One is to study spontaneous occurrences of ESP and PK -- cases which occur in everyday life and which people bring to our attention. These cases are usually quite dramatic, very compelling and convincing to the persons experiencing them, and are useful in suggesting leads about the conditions under which psychic phenomena occur. Scientifically, though, they are not very convincing. They cannot be used as good evidence because too many factors are uncontrolled and unknown; there are too many uncertainties. The other approach is to attempt to study psychic phenomena in the laboratory. Here, under well-controlled conditions, uncertainties may be eliminated and valid conclusions may be reached about the existence and nature of these phenomena.
What parapsychology is NOT:
Contrary to popular belief, parapsychology is not the study of UFOs (unidentified flying objects), mysterious creatures (like Bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster), or anything that is unexplained or mysterious.
Why would anyone want to become seriously involved in the study of parapsychology or psychic phenomena?
(1) The phenomena of parapsychology are interesting; the phenomena themselves are unusual and exciting.
(2) Studying parapsychology in the hope of understanding or explaining the phenomena in a basic research sense. Science is concerned with understanding the phenomena and laws of the universe. Psychic phenomena represent some of the currently unexplained processes of the universe, and as such, deserve to be studied. The evidence for their existence is too great to permit us to ignore these processes, these facts. However, although we have demonstrated their existence, there still exist many gaps in our knowledge or understanding of their functioning. Para— scientists are trying to understand the conditions under which these psychic events occur, the laws and mechanisms according to which they operate. We’re not total ly ignorant about those laws. We are gradually learning about the physical, physiological, and psychological conditions which increase or decrease the likelihood of psychic events.
(3) The hope that we may
eventually learn enough about them to be able to apply them practically
and usefully. There may be no area of human concern which is untouched
by the implications of work in parapsychology.
The public has always been fairly acceptant of parapsychology, while the scientific community has been more reluctant. It’s interesting, though, that both groups are similar in that they tend to make blanket judgments of the area.
There’s a tendency to either accept everything or reject everything, to be over-credulous or over-skeptical. Of course, the more sensible strategy — for public and scientist alike — would be to carefully examine each separate case. However, this is difficult to do. It requires effort, and often neither the layperson nor the scientist is sufficiently informed about the nature of the evidence to make these considered judgments. The situation is aggravated by a large number of books and magazines now on the market which encourage the blanket acceptance or blanket rejection strategy.
Fortunately, there are laypersons and scientists who take the trouble to sift through the available information and make informed decisions. It is to these people that we can attribute the increasing degree of acceptance of psychical phenomena today. There are several indications that parapsychology is being taken more seriously. Three of the most important indications of acceptance are academic study, grant support and recognition by scientific organizations. Academically, full-credit courses in the area of parapsychology are being offered at an increasing number of colleges and universities. It is possible to obtain masters and doctoral degrees in psychology or physics with specialization in parapsychology.
In 1969, the Parapsychological Association (the major international professional association of parapsychologists) was accepted as an affiliate member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (America’s major scientific organization). Symposia on parapsychological topics have been presented during many years since then at the AAAS annual conventions. A number of government grants have been awarded for parapsychological research (some sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Mental Health, NASA and others).
Research has also been sponsored by grants from private foundations and
other organizations. These are all promising signs that individuals are
becoming increasingly aware of the importance of scientific research in
this area. Funding continues to be crucial to any advances in the area,
since there are so few researchers and centers for research in
parapsychology and so little monetary support at present.
The major American psi journals are as follows: The Journal of Parapsychology and the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research. Major foreign journals include the following: the (British) Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, and the European Journal of Parapsychology. Your librarian should be able to help you locate the publishers of these journals if you can’t find them in public or university libraries in your area. more parapsychological journals and references
Some recommended reference books are as follows: The Conscious Universe (by Dean Radin), Parapsychology: The Controversial Science (by Richard Broughton), The Handbook of Parapsychology (edited by Benjamin B. Wolman), Psychic Exploration (edited by E. Mitchell and J. White), and Advances in Parapsychological Research (edited by S. Krippner). more recommended books
I would like to become a parapsychologist. How would you recommend I train myself for this occupation? Are there opportunities for graduate study in parapsychology?
The best suggestion is that you train yourself in some conventional nonparapsychological discipline, such as physics or psychology or biology. Become very familiar with the methods of scientific investigation, with research techniques and research methodology. The scientific method is a powerful and self-correcting tool which will allow you to avoid self-delusion and allow you to discriminate sound evidence from nonsense in this very complicated field.
An advanced degree in an established discipline will establish your credibility and also allow you to do other work should you decide not to continue in parapsychology. We must warn you that there are very few full-time employment opportunities in the field. But there are some. And it’s also possible to do part-time psi research along with your conventional work. In fact, most parapsychologists divide their time between psi research and their regular teaching and research duties. Some accredited universities offer courses or degrees in parapsychology.
A good way to become a parapsychologist is to subscribe to and carefully read the technical journals of the field, attend parapsychology conferences and conventions, meet and visit the laboratories of the major researchers, then begin conducting your own psi investigations. Attending special workshops, seminars, and course offerings are also useful. Some labs offer summer training programs in which one can rapidly become involved in psi research projects. For example, the Rhine Research Center in Durham, North Carolina offers a Summer Study Program in parapsychology each year. The website of the Parapsychological Association also is a good resource.
Explore more psi phenomena with the Psi Explorer CD-ROM