Neppe, V.M. Why parapsychology is amongst the
most important of the sciences. Australian J of Parapsychology. 2005; 5:1;
This essay won First
prize ( “Great Scholarship”) (2004 Worldwide; 2 winners worldwide)
Dr. Alexander Imich's 20th essay contest:
"Why Parapsychology is among the most important science".
Why parapsychology is amongst the most important of
Vernon M Neppe MD, PhD (Med), FRSSAf, FAPA,
FRCPC, FFPsych, MMed (Psych), Dip PsychM, FCPsych, DABPN
Director, Pacific Neuropsychiatric
(Adjunct ) Professor, Dept. of
St Louis University
St Louis, MO
me show in allegory how far our nature is enlightened or unenlightened. The
truth may be nothing but the shadows of images. If told this were an illusion,
would Man not fancy that the shadows he formerly saw were truer than the
objects now shown to him? He will take refuge in the shadows, which are clearer
to him than the truth.” (Plato,
1998 version of the original ancient Greek) (condensed)
with the full realization of my own inadequacies, that I examine the
implications for scientific endeavor of a subject that I believe to be of the
utmost importance, both philosophically and in possible practical application.
So much and yet so little is known: so much because a vast body of evidence has
accumulated over more than a century; and so little because of this knowledge
base’s limited ability to withstand critical scientific analysis. The
discipline is, of course, a subject originally with philosophical and
theological bases, a metaphysical concept and a religious exercise, that Max
Dessoir in 1889 termed the science of “parapsychology” (Hövelmann, 1987). Despite the American
Association for the Advancement of Science controversially making the official
body of this discipline, the Parapsychological Association, an Affiliate of
their Association in 1969, many mainstream scientists reject parapsychlogy and
its contributions out of hand. “If there were a tenth the evidence for any
other subject as there is for telepathy, I would accept it immediately, but
even if there were ten times more evidence for telepathy, I could never accept
it. ” (V. M. Neppe, 1973) Such prejudice amongst
scientists reflects the irrational scientific approach. The basic tenets of how
parapsychology functions are disputed by many in the more conventional
scientific community. To them, questions could always remain as to its basic
Parapsychologists continue trying to prove
the same phenomena over and over to satisfy the critics that so-called ESP (Pagenstecher, 1924) and PK (J. B. Rhine, 1943; L.
E. Rhine & Rhine, 1943) (or compositely “psi” (Wiesner & Thouless,
1942)) exist, or to argue the evidence on controversial areas
such as survival.
yet as far back as 1959, a doyen of psychology, Eysenck, argued that
if fraudulent experimentation is the answer to the positive evidence for ESP,
it implies that there is “a gigantic conspiracy involving some thirty
University departments all over the world and several hundred respectable
scientists in various fields” (Eysenck, 1958) We can feel comfortable there
is a place for such research.
is not the mission of this paper to attempt to prove that anomalous phenomena
exist. Nor do I aim to prove the extent of anomalous behavior (slight and
comprehensible within our worldview, or radical requiring profound perspective
changes). Like Eysenck, I strongly maintain that the summary dismissive
attitude of the major science dealing with the anomalous is incorrect and
inappropriate , and that the area not only deserves rigid scientific scrutiny,
but could contribute enormously to our knowledge base and methodology:
Parapsychology uses, where applicable, the conventional scientific methods and
scientific principles of deduction, induction, data examination, formulating
hypotheses, testing hypotheses and empiricism, and applying where applicable,
theoretical mathematical realities. It is a science that has accumulated solid
research data over a century. But that data has been subject to a scrutiny and
skepticism unparalleled in any other area of scientific endeavor.
Parapsychology could, ipso facto, be argued to be amongst the most important of
the sciences for the very reason that it evokes such emotional attention: its
research is not silent; it thunders through controversy because the
consequences of its ostensible findings are literally mind shattering. This is
because the domain of parapsychology
impacts, interfaces and extends to cosmological theories.
However, cosmological scientific data by
its very properties does not involve control of the experiments by humans.
Therefore, certain exact experiments cannot be replicated, either because the
situation of the experiment never again exists in that exact form, or because
the results require examination through the limited scientific instrument of
our conventional three dimensional space and one dimensional time universe.
Cosmologically, such results may reflect the Platonic shadow and not the whole
perspective of data extending beyond these four dimensions.
Imagine an area of scientific endeavor that is so important that it changed the
perspectives of other sciences. All sciences are important and all sciences use
similar methodology in that one is looking at possible information and trying
to test hypotheses to improve knowledge. Very often science involves deductive
and inductive reasoning, and often repetitive phases of these, like
verification or retesting, or new hypotheses occur as further information
maintain that parapsychology is one of the most important of all the areas of
scientific endeavor for five major reasons:
firstly, because its implications broaden our worldview at
minimum, and are so profound in its more radical framework;
secondly, because parapsychology allows the development of
cosmological theories and new scientific endeavors may develop as a
thirdly, because its methodology serves as a model for both
the physical and humanistic sciences to adopt;
fourthly, as an extension of the methodology issue, because,
the subjectivity approach in parapsychology extends its usefulness even further
in the social and medical sciences
and fifthly, partly a synthesis of the above, parapsychology
should be accepted as a major legitimate scientific endeavor as the
implications for findings are so fundamental, ubiquitous and versatile for
almost all our sciences: It is not a narrow endeavor. It potentally implies
extremely broad impacts on almost every other discipline.
of these five reasons would be sufficient to elevate it to such a lofty
The discussion below is not intended to provided cogent
proof of the area. The purpose is not to provide factual evidence or analyze
the strengths and weaknesses of specific research, but to allude to the scientific
methodology that has developed and can develop, and by so doing, demonstrate
the potential breakthrough attempts and potential implications of an ongoing
scientific area that has been, is being, and will be explored.
implications of parapsychology broaden our worldview
Imagine being at a single point in a three dimensional spatial box and being
able to obtain information in another remote area of this enormous box without
using any of our conventional sensors (e.g. seeing, hearing, any forms of
electronic communication). That metaphorical box could be our earth. If we are
able to replicate such apprehending of information by ostensibly paranormal
means, we would demonstrate contemporaneous ESP (extrasensory perception) (or
what I would prefer to call contemporaneous
anomalous cognition). This imaginary research could demonstrate the
extension of the nature of space either beyond or differently from our
perspective of three-dimensional spatial realities.
imagine, being able to manipulate other objects in that box or events occurring
remotely, ostensibly without using appropriate motor or known physical
apparatus (like electromagnetism or light waves). If sufficiently controlled
and replicated, we would demonstrate “psychokinetic” phenomena (PK) (J. B. Rhine, 1943; L.
E. Rhine, 1970; L. E. Rhine & Rhine, 1943) (or what I would prefer
to call contemporaneous anomalous
Imagine: Or imagine someone at a single point in
time being able to look forward towards the future or backwards at the past.
Imagine someone apprehending this information by means other than our usual
conventional physical senses or logic. Imagine demonstrations of this
experience being replicated repetitively by others. This imagine example is
different because it would potentially demonstrate the scientific veridicality
of precognition or retrocognition and would argue cogently
for a concept of time beyond our current point to point present concept in
which we do not even know what will happen a second in advance unless there are
sensorimotor or logical or electrical or other conventional physical or
psychological clues. Time to us, in our current world, is not even linear, it
is a series of discrete moments! Our imaginary events, moving across time,
would illustrate that movements along a linear or other dimension are occurring.
However, the conventional scientific
reality of parapsychological research is different. These imaginary events
appear to be rare. They are very difficult to apprehend or influence in the
conventional small worldly physical framework of our three dimensions of space
and one of time. We use a tiny portion of our one dimensional, unidirectional
“linear” time that we specifically call the “present”. That present does not
allow glimpses into the future except using logic and deductive reasoning. We
can make logical predictions and even have meaningful correct “guesses” of
spontaneous events, but we cannot easily quantitate such meaningful
coincidences. Such quantification and replication is a challenge for the
important scientific discipline of parapsychology, but when demonstrated, it
would extend our breadth of thinking in the sciences.
Using the examples above, with us at a
single point in the box, obtaining or manipulating contemporaneous information
elsewhere or even into the future or past, it could be that we could examine
time and space purely from within and yet somehow jump to another point in time
and space in that “box”. But we may not see the whole picture, just glimpses
and this may be what sometimes happens when we apprehend or influence information,
objects or events. This may imply an approach that still is radical in that it
defies conventional scientific endeavor, but it may still be explained within
the conventional fabric of laws that may require modification but not total
revamping. I call this the “mimimalistic
parapsychology” approach. (V.
M. Neppe, 2003a). Physicists may be intrigued by the implications and attempt
to explain it using modified models of quantum physics, for example. In
essence, scientists may be able to accommodate such theorizing within the
natural laws of our current scientific base.
Nevertheless, before this theorizing
stage, comes the conventional methodology of replication of findings. This has
proven a major difficulty, even at this minimalistic level, although there are
areas where major experimental designs have demonstrated replicability and
extensions of hypotheses, with such results being generated world-wide by tens
of researchers and appropriately repeated. Areas such as remote viewing,
Ganzfeld research, and biological healing at the microscopic level, broadly
referred to as DMILS (Direct Mental Interaction in Living Systems or bio-PK),
micro-PK and the potentially more radical macro-PK (e.g. PK metal bending) are
examples of current promising forms of research. These areas have created new
fertile and provocative areas for research, making parapsychology an ongoing
modern science with new ideas and extended previous concepts.
of the components of psi research could be argued to be anomalous in the
context of our current materialistic world-view, but because of their
difficulty of replicating in lab situations, they may still be explained using
this world-view. Whereas these threaten that our carefully constructed materialistic
edifice may collapse, they do not entirely leave it shattered. We invoke,
instead, explanations ranging from statistical aberrations, to new theories of
quantum physics, or new perspectives on mathematics and dimensional physics, or
if none of these work conventional scientists can use the ultimate backhanded
compliment to parapsychologists, and explain results simply as the “result of
Imagine: Imagine this approach of minimalistic
parapsychology attempting to solve problems that do not quite fit into the
fabric of our physical world-view. Imagine results that were statistically
relevant and the research was untouchable. This
would require alterations or modifications of our basic laws of physics and
reality, but would still fit well into our fabric of natural law. However, this
is only if mimimalistic parapsychology was enough.
implications of parapsychology are profound in its more radical framework
It is extremely difficult to “perceive”
the full three-dimensional box from within the three dimensions itself: As a
parallel, it is easier to see the one side (two dimensions) of a three
dimensional box from the standpoint of being located at another point in our
three dimensional world, than having just a two dimensional fabric, and being
contained in it . Similarly, we would have enormous difficulty trying to
conceive of the whole three dimensional box if we were located in a two
dimensional mirror or TV tube, Using our conventional world, the observer in a
four dimensional (4D) space time universe would perceive a fifth dimension as
extra-dimensional. Yet an observer in that fifth dimension could potentially
more easily perceive the lower four dimensions because he would be observing
from without. Psi would become much easier as the whole picture would be seen.
Similarly, it may be that in order to look
outwards in time, we may need to “look in” to perceive a reality across past,
present and future, instead of discrete blips of the present. That look implies
seeing time not as a point in space, but made up of multiple points along at
least one dimension. That looking in can be done more easily from the outside
and this could imply a linear dimension of time available (moving from a point
in time to a line) at what should in our physical reality be a single moment in
Similarly, the three dimensions of space
in the box example could require a conceptual jump to another area of spatial
reality in order to apprehend or manipulate the multiple or complex information
or event sources. Examples could conceivably be the so-called
“cross-correspondences” and other alleged forms of communication with the dead.
This would imply a further dimensionality shift in space.
In our mythical box, we could imagine a
point out beyond that box. In order to see that whole box, the earth and the
cosmos, one needs a further dimension. Using similar reasoning for time as for
space, one may need a further dimension in time. This implies we could need a
fifth dimension to have cogent anomalous awareness of our four dimensional
world. But if a fifth dimension is possible, we could look from the outside
into those five dimensions. This implies a sixth dimension. We could look from
the outside again into the sixth dimension from the standpoint of a point that
is an extra dimension away. Logically, we can extend this observational theory
ad infinitum, producing an N-dimensional universe or cosmos of time and
space—what I describe as “N-dimensional
pluralism”. I have not commented here on the nature of this N-dimensional
framework, but such studies involve significant implications from and directed
towards parapsychological research. There would be enormous philosophical
implications and scientific endeavors that would need a whole new base to
extend beyond the limitations of the conventional 4-D earth based concepts. The implications are literally earth
These speculations imply extension beyond
our conventional 4 dimensional universes and clearly have radical implications.
These ideas imply that any mathematicians, physicists, chemists, physicians,
psychologists and any other scientists heavily committed to a monistic one
brain/ one body / physicalistic view would have to change their whole fabric of
thinking. They would have to unthink
thoughts they have thought before! This is what I call the “radical parapsychological approach”
M. Neppe, 2003a). It is radical as the implications force
scientists to radically modify their worldview. Such radicality is even
uncomfortable for many parapsychological researchers, possibly because their
tenuous attempts at scientific respectability may be more distanced as
established scientific knowledge becomes even more threatened.
Imagine this world of
new science that was very different and required radical parapsychology. The
whole fabric of our current perception and world-view would change. Imagine an
awareness of more than four dimensions of space and time and even an
N-dimensional cosmology or reality. Again, the impacts for science are radical.
Reaching to ostensibly deeper dimensions, if true, has radical implications for
theories that explain all events, including life, as purely
(bio)physicochemical. These are examples of ideas that have a cosmological nature.
These cannot be tested using our broader physical three-dimensional space
universe as a base as they would require radical new hypotheses, which are
outside this realm. Clearly, future directions in parapsychological research
may assist in supporting theoretical frameworks about our nature in the cosmos.
Such theories in their turn may provide better heuristic frameworks for the
future of parapsychological research. Conversely, if we were able to find a
philosophical paradigm that did not conflict with any of the conventional
sciences, we would have advanced enormously in our potential progress towards
understanding the cosmos and we would be ready to radically advance our
scientific knowledge in other sciences as well. There are certainly levels to the
Imagine: Imagine apparently knowing
events that happened in, for example, an operating room while in a coma. This
requires radical alterations of conventional thinking in relation to memory.
This shakes the entire basis for the physicalistic
presupposition as the only basis for reality. If such events happen, even
if rare, and these can, indeed, be demonstrated to be proven, then we need to
re-look at our whole idea of everything being physical. Even such non-survival
of bodily death experiences may be radical in their hypothetical needs. But such experiences can be tested because they
still significantly impact on our 4 dimensional realm.
Imagine: Imagine now going beyond easily testing
hypotheses in our 4-D realm. Imagine if there were scientifically overwhelming
data for survival of bodily death. A century of psychical research has focused
on the survival after bodily death issue and particularly communication.
Imagine that survival of the human personality after bodily death had
demonstrable, cogent scientific evidence.
Survival of the
human personality after bodily death is certainly a radical concept even in
parapsychological research, so much so that many have steered away from it to
the more basic ESP and PK research variants. However, there is accumulating
challenging and sometimes even cogent data, particularly given information from
scientifically based proxy sitter mediumistic communications, hypnotic
regression, reincarnation research, new approaches to xenoglossy, to
cross-correspondences, to so-called near-death experiences and also (to a
lesser extent) even to out of body experiences and occasionally to ectoplasmic
encompass the most parsimonious approach, the so-called “super-ESP” hypothesis (so named by Hornell Hart) (Gauld,
1961; Hart, 1958, 1959)
has been invoked. But this hypothesis in and of itself, still involves the
“radical parapsychological approach” as it implies by its very definition that
there are no known limits to psi on the part of the living. By so doing it
attempts to exclude most elements of survival, but it is radical in that it
requires extension across time, space, simultaneous events and sometimes
acquisition of information not known to anyone. And moreover, there are alleged
survival cases that cannot even be explained by super ESP. (V.
M. Neppe, 1973). But these areas are ostensibly not
replicable. Certainly many scientists would argue that such events as the very
nature of survival of the human personality are not easily demonstrable in a
lab situation. This may well be true. It is extremely difficult. Research here becomes cosmological and goes
beyond our 4 –D verification realm.
this does not diminish down the relevance
of such endeavors. All sciences are relevant; and all sciences are consequently
important. And when data acquired has radical implications for science, and
scientific method is adopted, though the results may be inexplicable in our
conventional 4-D worldview, such truth is overwhelmingly relevant. As an
example, the implications of survival communication are philosophically remarkable,
for example: death as an extinction would be an illusory concept; human
entities would survive physical death; these individuals would retain at least
some knowledge of their physical experiences; and the 'dead' would, under
appropriate conditions, be able to communicate with the living. Possibly, the
information would suggest that individuals could continue to learn after
physical death. And the furthest, even more radical stretch in terms of Occam’s
razor —the law of parsimony—would be the reincarnation hypotheses.
Even more so,
proof of some form of life after death would also have enormous impact on our
conventional science. They are the “dollars” in the “mint”. And that would mean
that the mint exists. The “mint” here would imply that laws are apparent which
contradict, or which occur outside the range of, our physical laws of space,
time and even mass. Many scientists would find this terrible: They would have
to unthink what they had learnt before. Or maybe, they would have to at least
realize the limitations of their thoughts in the 4-D realm.
Additionally, because parapsychology
allows the development of cosmological theories, there are new scientific
endeavors that may develop; and parapsychology potentally impacts extremely
broadly on almost every other discipline and would require recognition of a
whole new body of scientific theory.
Conventional scientific endeavors look at
the results in the framework of the four dimensions (4D) of our physical
realm—three space and one time. They cannot go beyond and need not go beyond.
However, beyond these four dimensions, there are significant difficulties to
apply our physicalistic presuppositions and methodologies to explain everything
or prove anything. When time, instead of being a single very transient point
becomes linear extending backwards or forwards suddenly one has a whole new
perspective of looking at the world. One has to invoke cosmological theories
and hypotheses and this contradicts the scientific convention of replicability.
Does non-replicability or inconsistent
replicability disqualify parapsychology as a science, never mind as one of the
most important of the sciences? The answer is a decisive “No!” There are areas of accepted science that are not replicable
or not easily proven. To “replicate”, the possibility of replication is needed.
Only phenomena controlled or produced by Man can be replicated. Many phenomena
cannot be replicated. But replicability does not apply to certain events
because they do not appear more than once in that exact form. One cannot
replicate creation or the big bang or past events as illustrated by previous
evolution. For that matter, theoretical physicists cannot “prove” 10 or 11 or 26 dimensional string
theories: Whereas there is support for string theory in that it fits the data,
as yet there is no evidence that it is a better theory: For example, M-theory
is an extension of string theory but does not yet even have any equations, and
the equations (which haven't been found yet) would have infinitely many
solutions so that they could not define reality. In this context, "it is
truly 'vapourphysics', and all that supports it is mathematical elegance."
(Josephson, 2004) However, these limitations, be they replicability or lack or
equations, do not negate these areas as being "sciences". To quote another physicist, Stephen Hawking:
“We have no idea how the world really is. All we do is build up models which seem to
prove our theories." (Boslough, 1985)
we cannot exactly replicate spontaneously anomalous events, because even if
they recurred, they would never be exactly the same because events, time,
space, physics and psychology, all necessarily change from moment to moment.
And these are key confounders in parapsychological research: Invariably, the
situations in parapsychological research may show minor differences, and
because the results relate to rare though quantifiable events, such differences
become highly clinically and statistically relevant, such that the research
situation becomes different and not repeatable. Confounders and variables
include progression of time in seconds, sidereal time, time of day, geomagnetic
variations, so-called “experimenter effects”, cognitive, affective, conative
and physical conditions of the subjects, percipients, agents and observers, as
well as the macro- and micro- environments.
Moreover, parapsychology, by its very
nature, implies if not more than our conventional four dimensions in the
radical model, then certainly a different perspective of the four dimensions in
the mimimalistic model. We cannot easily measure information in the context of
the conventional worldview because that worldview is being modified. This is
what transforms many aspects of parapsychology into a special kind of
cosmological science. The cosmological does not need replication and often
cannot be replicated in our four dimensional reality. All we may see are the
Platonic “shadows” intruding our 4-D world.
elements intruding beyond our conventional four dimensions would involve
cosmological proofs. We cannot generally prove the cosmological, as such proof
would require the current 4-D realm as endpoint, and that 4-D shadow may not
accurately reflect dimensions beyond our current four.
shadow is enough. This is the dollar in the mint and we see only a 4-D shadow
of the extra-dimensional elements. There may potentially be thousands of
examples of excellent spontaneous data shadows in psi research, but that is
actually not necessary. We know that the single dollar note can prove the
existence of the mint. But that dollar note has to be so incontrovertible as
the implications may be enormous, as the existence of the place it was produced
(the mint) would be proven. This is why in parapsychological research, statistical
probability values of P<0. 05 are not realistic, even though that would be
accepted in psychology and medicine. The parapsychologist sometimes may
generate P values of one in a thousand or even one in a million. Then the
dollar has certainly served its purpose. But many times because of the
spontaneity of the phenomena, and the absence of a controlled or comparative
naturalistic framework, statistical quantification is meaningless.
Nevertheless, genuine and strong examples would serve only to strengthen the
overall position by their excellent value per
se, but if refuted would not disprove psi experience. Parapsychology
remains different from and very unusual in its approach to both the
conventional statistical method and the impossibilities of replication because
of the requirements of going beyond the non-cosmological physicalistic 4-D
cosmological theories would be excellent scientifically. But alas, that it is
very difficult. That is a major challenge for scientific parapsychological
research. But, conversely, we cannot generally disprove cosmological theories
either. However, inability to prove or disprove is a limitation that occurs in
the other areas of scientific endeavor listed above, such as string theory in physics,
and is not limited to parapsychology.
And so we cannot
easily move away from the almost tautological stumbling block to
parapsychological research: ostensibly anomalous, possibly non-physical
perception, manipulations and experiences are examined through the screen of
physical evidence: We attempt to marshal evidence for non-physical perception
in a negative way because findings must make contact with physically verifiable
evidence if results are to be meaningful to conventional scientists using the
basic methods of scientific reasoning, deduction and induction, in an empirical
implications remain profound. Just to illustrate the extent of impacts such
theorizing would have on science, consider a basic example: If time is different
dimensionally, this has enormous implications. Such basic relationships as
special relativity, energy and mass as in e=mc2 are modified because
speed of light is relative to a constant time period. If time is contracted or
expanded or non-existent in some realms, it is a new confounder and fundamental
theories need to be modified to include this, or at least to imply their
limitations in 4-D reality only.
The methodology of parapsychology
methodology of parapsychology serves as a model for both the physical and
humanistic sciences to adopt. There
are two major contributions of parapsychology to methodology namely the “no
holds barred approach” and the “detailed phenomenological” approach.
Parapsychology uses what I call the “no
holds barred approach”. It goes flat out to ensure the greatest rigidity and
scrutiny of the data.
Imagine: Imagine a need
for developing a methodology in science that is so rigid that it takes into
account variables that scientific endeavors usually ignore. This approach means
every source of possible physical and psychological leakage has been eliminated
or controlled or accounted for. This way the scientist can be certain he is
discussing anomalous experiences. This implies the utmost care to establish
that both afferent (sensory or perceptual or any other form of communication)
and efferent (motor, executive or mechanistic) information transfer is
eliminated. This means that we can conclude, if the research quantitatively
demonstrates it, that so-called ESP can be the only explanation at the afferent
level, and that so-called PK can be the only explanation at the efferent level.
Such research generally involves the minimalist parapsychological approach, so
it is possible to quantitatively use our 4-D realm. Examples, of such
methodological advancements include random number generation to ensure complete
randomness, computer generated targets to apparently ensure that human
influence may be diminished (except, of course, this may not be so in psi
research!), automated recordings to exclude recording errors critical in rare
events, Faraday cages to exclude any sensory leakage or motor communications,
noting in detail the psychological and physical states of all researchers
including even the attitudes of the subjects ( e.g. the percipients, the
agents, any volunteers and control subjects), the experimenters and any
observers and anyone else who may be involved (as supposedly they all could
influence the experiment and its outcome and when rare events are being
measured everything needs controlling).
approaches research with enormous scrutiny: What kind of technology is
being used? What factors such as weather and events are happening? What
controls are done for the times of the day? Even measures of sidereal time may
be relevant. Additionally, the most astute statistical techniques are used and
probability values are set far higher than in any other area of scientific
endeavor. The parapsychologist need not imagine
these: He/She can be proud that this is one of the significant ongoing
contributions of parapsychology to science. To
train any scientist properly, in any discipline, I believe they should know
parapsychological scientific method. Yet this is not generally taught even
in the social sciences, or in medicine, where such lacks of controls and
non-use of proper methodology may be highly relevant and negate or distort
Parapsychology might not have advanced as
rapidly as it could have over the past century, and yet it has made great
strides in rigidity of methodology and statistical analysis and awareness of
confounding variables. In the future, we may see entirely different approaches
from experts within parapsychology and across to other disciplines.
The areas of parapsychological scientific
methodology are also extremely broad ranging from direct analytical research
plus enormously large and very complex statistical analyses; to case studies
including the personal and transcultural, as well as field investigations and
analyses of beliefs and practices in different ethnic groups, to the
theoretical model including phenomenology and mathematical modeling, to
conventional experimental and laboratory research. This versatility allows
broader applications of the range of this science.
methodology serves as a model for both the physical and humanistic sciences to
adopt; and a related extension of this is the “detailed phenomenological
approach”. This is referrred to as the subjectivity approach in parapsychology
and it extends its usefulness even further in the social and medical sciences
of the major theoretical changes that have occurred is the awareness that one
cannot scientifically “prove” most spontaneous psi experiences. This means the
rise of subjective analyses and this allows for a whole new perspective on
Imagine: Imagine an entirely different
approach. An approach to subjectivity, not trying to prove that psi phenomena
indeed exist, but looking at subjective paranormal experience. This approach
extends the fabric of phenomenology and the methodology of science to
understand that detailed elaborations are necessary to fully differentiate
phenomena. Again, we need not imagine
as this work has been performed at least at the pioneering level: The
subjective psi approach is what I have emphasized in detail in both my Masters (V.
M. Neppe, 1979) and Doctoral research work (V.M.
Neppe, 1981), as well as numerous publications [e.g.
Neppe, 1983a, 1983b; V. M. Neppe, 1983c; V.M. Neppe, 1993, 1999; V. M. Neppe,
2002, 2003b; Palmer & Neppe, 2003)] and presentations. (V.
M. Neppe, 2003a, 2003b)
Moreover, this work is
ongoing and continues.
This theoretical shift from
objectification to the subjective approach effectively impinges on not only
that psychological portion of parapsychology that I call Anomalistic Psychology but also on what I have called Parapsichiatry—the discipline impinging
on questions of psychopathology and anomalous brain function. (Vernon
M. Neppe, 1982) My term “Subjective Paranormal (Psi) Experience” (SPE) is applied to
analyze reported paranormal events through their “subjective” experiences. (V.M.
Neppe, 1990) This allows a more non-prejudicial
interpretation of these phenomena, and of research of a possibly anomalous
kind—ESP and PK (V.M.
Neppe, 1985) But effectively it allows such SPEs to
be analyzed in the same context as anomalous cognitive brain phenomena such as
“hallucinations”, “flashbacks” and “déjà vu” or curious other-body distortions.
In all these experiences, the distinguishing characteristic is their external
non-validation and their subjective nature. But experimental and control groups
can be developed based on the presence or absence of a cluster of criteria such
as quality and quantity of SPEs. This approach can allow analyses of specific aspects
of brain physiology, anatomy or symptoms, or analyze some psychological
function, such as personality or attitudes. Patients with normal or abnormal
brain functioning can be analyzed for such SPEs, just as they are for
hallucinations or delusions, which are other kinds of subjective experiences (Vernon
M. Neppe, 1982; V.M. Neppe & Ewart
Smith, 1982). Again, this is a significant
contribution to the sciences because it makes parapsychology not only relevant
for what is potentially objectifiable or what may change worldviews and in
terms of stringent control methodology, but it adds an extra important future
tier to the humanistic and social sciences by subjective quantification,
classification and phenomenology. Moreover, detailed phenomenological analyses
and classification of events may compare and analyze similar experiences.
The human sciences can learn from the
classificatory systems developed for parapsychology. For example, I have
proposed a multi-axial classification, trying to describe and characterize the
events around the anomaly and the extent of the anomaly and its certainty, the
degree of verifiability and the correlating symptoms (V.M.
Neppe, 1985). This is not only important from the perspective
of phenomenological research, but what’s relevant is being able to demonstrate
link-ups with various areas of the brain. In this regard, this area allows a
special approach to analyzing brain function such as temporal lobe and disease
in both normal and abnormal. Moreover, it impacts on the medical sciences for
example, by analyzing patients with complex partial seizures. It also has
enormous implications for psychology ranging from potentially examining
attitudes (like sheep and goats), to personality quantification to measurements
of physiological variables. Finally, it also feeds back to locating appropriate
research subjects in parapsychological research as well as other research.
Moreover, this subjective approach can
diminish the threatening elements of parapsychology substantially. It is more
credible: By contrast, an objectively researched psi event necessarily
constitutes a threat to the universality of currently accepted scientific
theories, introducing entirely different philosophical frameworks.
Finally, in part a
synthesis of the above, parapsychology should be accepted as a major legitimate
scientific endeavor because it potentially impacts extremely broadly on almost
every other discipline and so has generalisable properties to other sciences..
Its implications for generalization of its findings are because the methodology
and consequences are so fundamental. This makes the findings ubiquitous and
versatile for almost all our sciences: Parapsychology is not a narrow endeavor.
A medical example illustrates how the
perspectives are different allowing broadening of attitudes as phenomena are
often narrowly perceived from within the framework of one’s scientific
training: A person describes finding himself outside his body such that he
“could see his physical body from the outside, and could not move it,” He would
be described by the parapsychologist as having had an “out-of-body experience.”
The psychiatrist could record the experience as pathological “ego-splitting
with sleep paralysis” (V.M. Neppe & Ewart Smith, 1982). Both these specialists have described a single experience
within the perspective of their discipline. From the parapsychological
standpoint, frequent “out-of-body experiences” would be described as normal;
the psychiatrist may delve deeper into such frequent episodes: He will generally
regard this as a ‘symptom' of underlying abnormality and may explain
ego-boundary disturbance possibly as due to a defense against anxiety. Thus,
basic terminology in psychiatry often labels SPEs psychopathologically using an
all-encompassing medical model. Parapsychological education reconciles these
poles. Science should educate psychiatrists.
Similarly, psychologists and
neurophysiologists will extend their perspectives, for example, on
consciousness research, memory and perception. Biologists may understand more
about perceiving and responding to our world. Physicists will appreciate space,
time, energy, mass and information transfer differently. And health care
professionals, and social scientists particularly, can apply the basic
approaches to parapsychology to their disciplines, allowing us to re-establish
diagnostic nomenclature, narrow what is regarded as abnormal, and appreciate
that ostensibly double blind studies may be subject to influences of outcome
that were previously unappreciated. .
Once parapsychology becomes part of a routine teaching curriculum in other
scientific endeavors such as psychiatry and undergraduate psychology, the
potential for others to research their disciplines will increase by an order of
magnitude because appreciation of the limits of human potential could change
So why is parapsychology amongst the most
important of the sciences?
It is because parapsychology has
significant implications for modifying or totally altering our worldview and
philosophical perspectives and has developed a methodological infrastructure,
both objectively and using subjective experiences, that allows its application
to many other scientific areas.
What may currently be lacking, however, is
a pragmatic direction. How can parapsychology be applied to better the
sciences? Such a question will be answered in its due course: I could posit
many hypothetical applications, but only solid funding and dedicated research
will demonstrate the utility of parapsychology in understanding and applying
its data to practical life. We need to see to visualize. We need to hear to
appreciate sound; we smell to protect us from burning; and ultimately, our
prescience may assist in understanding our world. We will appreciate
commonalities and differences.
The reaction of many modern day
parapsychologists has been to move toward the minimalisitic parapsychological
approach. Exploration of anomalous or ostensibly anomalous phenomena explained
potentially as an extension of physics (“paraphysics”), or more literally an
extension of psychology (“parapsychology”), is less threatening in broader
science. Some parapsychologists regard themselves as more likely to join the
community of scientists that way.
to ignore the broader frameworks of super-ESP and, even more so, of survival,
they are in danger of throwing the baby out with the bath water. The
iconoclasts try directly to marry the physics connection and the extension of
psychology instead of moving away. And yet even at that minimalist level, the
implications of parapsychological research are enormous and when keeping the
“baby” and moving to the area of radical parapsychology, the implications are
profound. Add in the methodological contributions at an experimental level, and
the phenomenological elements of subjective paranormal experience, and
parapsychology’s essential role in teaching such methodology and broadening
understanding in the social and medical sciences, and parapsychology indeed
joins the ranks amongst the most important of the sciences.
should recognize Arthur Koestler’s remarks:
“Innovation is a two-fold threat to
academic mediocrities: it endangers their oracular authority; and it evokes the
deeper fear that their whole laboriously constructed intellectual edifice may
We began this paper and end it with Plato.
We should understand our limitations:
“Behold human beings living in an
underground den…like ourselves…they see only their shadows and the shadows of
one another which the fire throws on the opposite wall of the cave. (Plato,
1998 version of the original ancient Greek). Is it possible that what the shadow Man
sees is his physical reality alone? This is what the discipline of
parapsychology sets out to establish. This is what makes it such a prime
science— and one of the foremost areas of scientific endeavor.
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