Why is parapsychology so controversial?
on Friday, February 11, 2011
Last Updated: Tuesday, November 24, 2015
Parapsychology has remained controversial, even with substantial, persuasive, and scientifically palatable results, for four main reasons:
First, the media and much of the public often confuse parapsychology with sensational, unscientific beliefs and stories about "the paranormal." This widespread confusion has led many scientists to simply dismiss the field as being unworthy of serious study, and thus they think it is not worth their time to examine the existing evidence.
In addition, thoroughly understanding the nature of the existing evidence in parapsychology is not easy. While the meta-analytic results are both substantial and persuasive, meta-analysis requires specialized knowledge to understand that form of evidence. For people who are not familiar with statistics, or who don't trust it (which is usually a sign of misunderstanding), the evidence will not seem very persuasive. Those same people may then go looking for the big stuff, the psi-in-your-face, self-evident proofs, and they will find enormous amounts of anecdotal evidence but almost no scientifically credible data. They may then view lengthy discussions, such as the one in this FAQ, as proof that no one really knows what is going on, and that scientists are still basically waffling and indecisive about this topic.
Our response is simple: The scientific evidence for some forms of psi is extremely persuasive. By the same standards used to establish proof in other areas of science, we can say with high confidence that psi does exist, and we are beginning to learn a little about it, and why people develop this gift.
Second, even if someone wanted to study the evidence, much of the persuasive work is published in limited circulation professional journals. In the past, these were only found in a few university libraries, with scholars needing to request reprints and technical reports from individual authors (a cumbersome process at best). Fortunately, this situation has recently changed. There is now a subscription-based online library which includes all of the journals and proceedings ever published for the Society for Psychical Research, the Journal of Parapsychology, the European Journal of Parapsychology, the Journal of Scientific Exploration, Research in Parapsychology, and Psi Researcher - Paranormal Review. It also has some books available. Best of all, the database can be searched to pull up particular words, topics, or names. It is available at www.lexscien.org/lexscien/index.jsp (See Where can I get more information?)
Third, some people are afraid that psi might be true. For example, fear about psi arises for the following reasons:
- It is associated with diabolic forces, magic and witchcraft.
- It suggests the loss of normal ego boundaries.
- People might be able to read your mind and know that you secretly (or unconsciously) harbor sexual and aggressive thoughts, or worse.
- If you talk about it, people might think you're crazy.
- If you think you experience psi, maybe you are crazy.
- Your parents provided negative reinforcement for your any demonstrations of psychic ability (or past lives) when you were a child.
- Thinking about psi leads to a medieval superstitious mentality, which will in turn support a rising tide of dangerous, primitive thinking.
- With ESP, you might learn things that you do not want to know about yourself or other people -- i.e., accidents that are about to happen, and things you would rather not be responsible for knowing about.
- Psi might interfere with the normal human process of ego separation and development. Therefore, we have devised subtle strategies for cultural inhibition.
- If you are telepathic, how will you distinguish other people's thoughts from your own? Perhaps this will lead to mental illness.
- Many people have a self-destructive streak to their personality. What damage would result if psi were used in the service of this factor? Psychiatrist Jule Eisenbud wrote about this in his book Parapsychology and the Unconscious.
- If psi exists, how many of my other cherished beliefs will I have to give up?
- If psi exists, does that mean that a psychic could watch me while I am using bathroom facilities?
- If psi exists, then perhaps I cannot wall myself off so easily from the pain and suffering in the world.
- With mind-matter interaction, you might have to take more responsibility for what happens--whether to you, others, or the world around you.
(Most of the above list provided courtesy of Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove, Director of the Intuition Network)
Fourth, as noted by Dean Radin in a talk for Google, there is a real taboo in academia about studying the paranormal. Many researchers are afraid to work or publish in the field for fear of ostracism by their colleagues. Some may even be demoted in their departments or lose their chance for tenure if they publically speak up about their interest--even if they are only reflecting the feelings of the public majority. To put it bluntly, their reputation and careers are at stake.
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