What is Parapsychology?
Parapsychology is the scientific study of psychic ability. It lies at the intersection between psychology and physics. Psychic ability includes phenomena such as extra sensory perception (ESP), precognition, telekinesis and the survival of bodily death. It is usually referred to by the shorthand term “psi” (pronounced “sigh”). There are many organizations that promote scientific inquiry into psychic ability, including the Society for Psychical Research, the Parapsychological Association, the Institute for Noetic Sciences and the Rhine Research Center and the Rhine Education Center. There are also smaller organizations that are beginning to look toward the serious study of parapsychology.
When did the inquiry into psychic ability begin?
The first recorded case of precognitive dreaming was documented in Ancient Egypt around 3000 BC. The earliest known scientific investigation into ESP occurred during the Renaissance, when Leonardo da Vinci wrote extensively on his theories regarding psychokinetic powers. In 1882, the year that the Society for Psychical Research was founded, William James then adopted the word "Psychical Research." As a consequence, JB Rhine then adopted the German phrases and created the English version of the term that is used today. However, in the modern day, there is a division on who really was at the forefront of parapsychology.
Whilst most people consider that JB Rhine was the father of parapsychology as we understand it today, there is a great deal of conjecture surrounding this claim. Perhaps as an accepted aspect of science, this could be true. However, it is also claimed that the term parapsychology was coined in 1889 by the philosopher Max Dessoir as the German "parapsychologie. This was then adopted by JB Rhine who coined the phrase Parapsychology that we use now. We also know that psychical investigation existed before the Rhine when the SPR was founded in 1882 by a group of scientific researchers.
The first known reference to "para-" comes from Aristotle, who wrote in his Metaphysics book that there were four causes which could be called para-, meaning beyond what was usual or ordinary. These included things like lightning being caused by thunderbolts striking the earth; earthquakes occurring when tectonic plates shift beneath the surface of the Earth; and dreams coming true because they occur during sleep.
Modern Roots Of Parapsychology
The historical roots actually go back further than one would expect. The modern scientific pursuits of parapsychology started with JB Rhine at Duke University in the 1930s. Rhine and his colleagues began to study ESP and tried to field it as a science, which was in dispute then and is still in dispute now. However, one cannot refute the contributions made to science and the understanding of our place in the world.
Who studies parapsychology?
Pioneers of the past, such as William James, Alfred Russell Wallace, William Sedgewick, Fredrick Myers and even Carl Jung, were perhaps the first respected scientists and researchers into paranormal or parapsychological phenomena. Then we have JB Rhine who helped to make the field of parapsychology a serious science.
The field of parapsychology has faced so much controversy and there are very few modern day parapsychologists. It is suggested that throughout the world, there are as little as 200 parapsychologists. Many universities that used to run parapsychology degree courses have now fallen by the wayside. Perhaps the reason for this is not only the lack of funding, but also the lack of respect in the science community and the inability to make it a lucrative endeavor. For the most part, parapsychologists normally have a foundation in the field of psychology and then go on to specialize in parapsychology or one of its associated disciplines. The field of Psi is now beginning to gain popularity once more, even in the face of skeptical opposition.
Who does research in this area?
The paranormal has become a massive growing industry, but along with this growth has come far more ignorance, creating problems like any other industry borne from ignorance and greed. There is now a greater thirst to try and understand that which seems to be out of the realm of natural law. And despite being inundated with paranormal TV shows, more and more people are not subscribing to them as being a definitive explanation for paranormal phenomena, and instead question the overzealous theatrics of the paranormal. Modern day Psi pioneers are trying to bring more understanding to the phenomenon by blending the elements of scientific principles with sound research. Prominent individuals in this field include Rupert Sheldrake, Dean Radin, Loyd Auerbach, Carlos Alvarado, Nancy Zingrone, Cal Cooper, and other notable names.
Research has little to no funding
One of the greatest problems facing Psi researchers is the little to no funding for serious research into psychic phenomena. This is because parapsychology faces intense skepticism, partly due to the fact that parapsychology does not seem to be deemed as an acceptable science. Most research is carried out with the majority of funding coming from the researchers themselves. Many organizations don’t consider this research to be important to furthering humanity. Therefore, it is a never ending uphill struggle for serious research into parapsychology. As a consequence, you have the field falling into a state of deep misunderstanding, with most individuals believing that paranormal investigation is parapsychology. It could not be further from the truth. The misunderstanding is actually quite dangerous, not only for the field of Psi, but for those who have a desire to truly educate themselves about it.
Skepticism and Parapsychology.
Parapsychology has faced a great deal of skepticism from the wider scientific community. The basis for the argument is that all the research conducted into psychic phenomena fails when the experiments are replicated. Therefore, without qualitative evidence of replication, there is no basis for science within the field of parapsychology. However, the truth is, of course, very different. There are many experiments that have been replicated time and time again and meta analysis of these experiments is readily available for research. One such example was exemplified in the book ‘Psi Wars’ by Craig Weiler, while Daryl Bem's experiments into precognition caused a massive stir and bore the brunt of the fire and brimstone from the skeptical camps.
Daryl Bem, professor emeritus at Cornell University, created a series of experiments titled Feeling the Future: Experimental Evidence for Anomalous Retroactive Influences on Cognition and Affect. The premise of the study was to prove the existence of precognitive experiences and thus prove the reality of ESP. It must be noted that Bem never had funding for his experiments and instead paid his subjects out of his own pocket. After some time, Bem decided to publish his findings based on the result of his experimentation to prove the existence of Psi. Normally, something like this would not create as much uproar as it did, primarily because the paper was published in highly respected psychology journals. But it caused a mass uproar in the scientific community.
Noted skeptics Richard Wiseman and Chris French refuted these claims and French published the failed replication of the experiments in the Guardian newspaper. However, what was claimed as failure was indeed not quite as cut and dry. The meta-analysis of combined 90 Psi experiments would actually refute Wiseman and French's claim of failure.
The changing face of parapsychology, and its future
So, where does this leave parapsychology now and in the future? Fortunately, interest is growing in this field, and the attempts of skeptics to hinder its progress has not stopped it. More and more people who want access to a more professional line of study into the paranormal and the wider application of Psi, are finding new education routes. Despite the fact that funding for research has dwindled and no comprehensive education in the field exists. Noted parapsychologists have moved beyond the confines of university to educate the public; a new paradigm for parapsychology.
The New Parapsychology Paradigm
The new paradigm enables parapsychologists and organizations to influence more progression in this expansive field, and negates the need for approval by formal educational establishments. This does not mean, however, that formal education no longer has a role. On the contrary. It is hoped that serious research will become the forefront of traditional academia once more. Nevertheless, some organizations are moving forward with academic type education in the field of parapsychology in order to try and advance the field once more. The Rhine Research Center, for example, which has a long-established pedigree in parapsychological research, is moving forward in educating those who are interested in the field. Courses at the Rhine have attracted serious researchers, and are taught by noted names as Loyd Auerbach, John Kruth and many others.
The AZIRE organization (Alvarado Institute For Research and Education), founded by Dr Carlos Alvarado and his wife Nancy Zingrone, educates the public on parapsychology with a real academic flavor. Dr Alvarado passed in 2021 but his legacy lives on. Most noted for his research into early historical parapsychology and out of the body experiences, Dr Alvarado was a pioneer in the field of education which, no doubt, will continue on in the coming years, with his wife Nancy carrying on the work.
The Koestler Parapsychology Unit at the University of Edinburgh has become a world renowned center for parapsychology education outside the confines of university. It is run by Professor Caroline Watt and her team of lecturers and research colleagues. The name is synonymous with modern day parapsychology and is right up there with the likes of the historical Rhine Institute.
The future seems bright for parapsychology and though there are some universities that offer parapsychology as an aspect of a degree course in psychology or psychotherapy, there is no doubt that private education is moving forward. One can only hope that funding becomes readily available to help further research into parapsychology for future generations.