Is Parapsychology a joke?


I was reading some articles on Turing today, trying to understand the Church-Turing hypothesis, and what a Turing machine, with varying degrees of failure, I thought some things were interesting, like how two people who worked on the Manchester One married and their son invented the world-wide-web, or how those weird letter things on websites that demonstrate that one is not an automated agent are called ‘reverse Turing tests’.

Anyhoo, as I read a bit about Turing, I went on the Babbage, who is said by Turing’s friend that the former had been influenced by the latter, just so happens, that Babbage, in turn was continuing work made by the likes of Leibniz and Pascal (among others), seeing old Leibniz in my reading, I thought to myself, “I cannot escape the philosophers!!”, while also reading about the Church-Turing Hypothesis, I also came across some stuff in the philosophy of mind, then I gravitated to the Churchlands (a pair of philosophers who advocate a view known as ‘eliminative materialism’, where folk psychology concepts must be revised in the light of neuroscientific research and findings), I found out they have a book about them, called “Conversations on Consciousness”, by a Susan Blackmore. I’ve not heard of Blackmore before, so let me check out her credentials. Sure thing, I thought. When I read that she has a PhD in Parapsychology, my face just dropped. I was struggling to understand these wonderful notions of a ‘head’ reading a finite strip of ‘tape’ and tests to establish whether computation is possible, and then, digress to learn about some of the philosophers and the nature of the mind, all very noble and interesting causes, then, PARAPSYCHOLOGY?!?!

Maybe I have assumed too much: the assumption that Parapsychology is a bullshit subject that misappropriates science as a naturalistic endeavour which by definition excludes the ‘para’ of parapsychology, and refers to ontologically and epistemologically queer entities, which (perhaps) fail Popperian desideratum for scientific knowledge. But hey, that’s just an a priori intuition based on the insights of analytic philosophy! This Ms. Blackmore seems an interesting character, she seems to be a skeptic, she seems to be an atheist/humanist. Anyhoo, lets talk about parapsychology.

What is Parapsychology?

I don’t want to look like I am outright dismissing parapsychology. Let us understand what such an endeavour entails. What is parapsychology?

Parapsychology is the understanding of psychological phenomena that pertains to the paranormal.

Lets assume we know what psychology is, and phenomena (hehe, Kant uses that word a lot), but what is paranormal?

The paranormal is any phenomenon which is anomalous

Okay, that doesn’t seem TOO bad. There are a lot of anomalous physical phenomena in the world that we have come to understand better, that is how revolution in science takes place! A well said example of this is how Special relativity accounts for certain things that Newtonian mechanics does not.

[Edit: Incomplete]


2 thoughts on “Is Parapsychology a joke?

  1. May I interrupt at this point? And ramble incessantly? 😉

    I believe that there is a certain need for parapsychology, irrespective of the quality of the research (although I believe much of it is carried out to a high standard).

    Many of the topics investigated by parapsychologists would never be attempted by regular psychologists or scientists in other fields, because their paradigm would exclude the possibility of there being anything to find. But science dies if one predicates paradigm above experiment.

    Parapsychologists run experiments; some of it is kooky stuff. But they have every right to do it, every right to call it science, and it is no more metaphysically outlandish than, say, evolutionary psychology or meme theory, which have the benefit of being compatible with the dominant scientific belief system (materialism), but which have very weak credentials.

    Parapsychology is often dismissed a priori as being quackery. But what does it say about the practice of science if there are areas of investigation that can be eliminated as illegitimate prior to examining experimental evidence? And the experimental evidence there is is fascinating, precisely because it often does not conform to expectations.

    I remain sceptical of all the science I see, but I don’t see any especial deficit in parapsychology compared to other speculative fields. None of us know where the next great paradigm-changing discovery will come from. To assume it would not come from the investigation of anomalous phenomenon seems a very strange conclusion indeed! 🙂

    Best wishes!

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