Parapsychology in higher ed

Catherine Watt, of the Koestler Parapsychology Unit at the University of Edinburgh, claims that teaching students how to study paranormal phenomena is “great…for stimulating critical thinking.” 


7 thoughts on “Parapsychology in higher ed

  1. Isn’t this what learning physics, chemistry and biology effectively does anyway?
    Why teach students on studying “paranormal” phenomena, when science teaches you how to study ALL phenomena?
    In my opinion, this is a useless exercise in pseudoscience.

  2. Intriguing. I had no idea there were “a number of parapsychology research groups situated within higher education institutions” as the last link reports.
    Personally I think either 1) there’s nothing to parapsychological claims, or 2) there’s no way for us to detect and measure parapsychological phenomena; but what would be interesting to me is studies of people who genuinely believe they’ve had parapsychological experiences or have special “powers.”
    I figure that what goes on in their heads could possibly be replicated in others with our super-secret psychotronic weapons!

  3. I’m in agreement with M. Anon…physics, chem, etc should be teaching this already.
    Now, an interesting lab would be to try to apply scientific method to religion…could get messy…

  4. You can play a drinking game to all the fallacies in that article and end up on the verge of liver failure by the end. Just to pick a random example:
    “Let’s start with research. Polls show that around 50% of the population report some kind of paranormal belief, and of these, around 50% have had what they interpret as a paranormal experience. So these beliefs and experiences are quite common – clearly psychologists and parapsychologists should play a role in trying to understand them.”
    Aside from the rather blatant argumentum ad populum (maybe we should take all those sightings of Elvis more seriously too), you have a serious strawman fallacy in the subtext here. Cognitive scientists already study inductive inference, pattern recognition and heuristics that lead to erroneous conclusions (e.g., confirmation bias). In other words, we already are making an attempt to understand the psychological phenomena associated with “psi”. Meanwhile parapsychology has had around half a century and millions of dollars to contribute something to this, and has failed rather decisively. The “research” has long exceeded it’s expiration date and it’s time to pull the plug.

  5. I’m all for what she suggests IF rigorous scientific methodology was actually used to studying the topic. If taught this way it would get a lot of students in the door and they would learn about how paranormal claims are not substantiated by science. This would be much like Dewey very wisely suggested we interact with students–find out their interests and use what they want to know about as the means to teach the skills in question.
    My guess is that this would only work for a couple of terms though before word got round that all the class ended up doing was debunking paranormal claims. As we can tell from all the cable channels that began on serious topics and end up having to hock ghoststories and paranormal phenomenon to maintain the ratings they need, it is this woo stuff that seems to get most people excited. She could have a good jumping off point here though.

  6. The Psychologist, the official publication of the British Psychological Society, ran a special issue on the Koestler unit and parapsychology about a year back. Deeply disturbing, but unfortunately this kind of woo-woo is gaining ground in the UK at the moment.
    On the upside, at my univ (York) the Psych department wouldn’t let them in, so they’re in Sociology.

  7. It is actually quite refreshing to know that there are people actually looking into the boundaries of what is real. There is a load of research that proposes that most religious and mystical experiences might be just a product of activity on specific areas of the temporal lobes. Parapsychology could then play an interesting role for neuroscientists interested in this area of research by studying and making these experiences repeatable. There are enough psychologists already.

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