< Parapsychology

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I found an abundant glossary of parapsychology terms at --Magnus Manske

I'm still not entirely satisfied with the definition here..."the study of unexplained phenomena" to me implies that the phenomena themselves actually exist, and that we justdon't know what causes them. That is the issue in contention: scientists claim that the phenomena only exist in the minds of those who want to believe they exist. I can't think of a better definition offhand, though. --LDC

Doesn't the "psychology" part of the word indicate that it applies specifically to mental effects, such as telepathy, telekinesis, etc. but not to UFOs, alien abductions, hollow earths, or other weird beliefs?

Lee, I'd say that "phenomena" includes beliefs, nonveridical "experiences," and other phenomena that are not themselves paranormal. --LMS

My impression is that the term is usually restricted to paranormal occurrences. Hypnosis produces unverifiable experiences but psychic researchers don't seem to get interested unless there are stories of past-life memories or whatnot. Also, the Rhine Institute was at Duke University but was not connected to it; I don't know whether that's what the author is referring to. AMT.

Perhaps not stated well, but what I'm getting at is that things currently unexplained might not require any fundamental change in "science" if they were proved to occur. The idea of science that comes up in discussions of parapsychology just strikes me as vague and unexamined. A prehistoric fish is caught in a net off Africa and leads to no great restatement of biology, merely the observation that the species isn't dead yet. There's a good deal of criticism of parapsychological methods, of course. But that doesn't bear on the question of what mind-reading would mean if it did turn out to exist.

Again, the most recent revision by the anonymous reviser was not an improvement. The following was on the page:

Since these reported phenomena cannot be linked to generally-accepted physics, both skeptics and believers tend to claim that their existence would require some radical revision of existing theories.

"Cannot be linked to generally-accepted physics" is vague (I'm not sure what it means!) and certainly a lot worse than what it replaced. I'm reverting the text to this: "Typically, if we knew the phenomena were real, physicists and psychologists would have to revise their models of the universe radically." This is concise and accurate.

Moreover, to the best of my knowledge, the following is just false:

A parapsychological explanation therefore must exclude explanation by conventional means (e.g., coincidence, or auto-suggestion or fraud).

I believe that parapsychologists are interested in all sorts of explanations of the data, ordinary and extraordinary. --LMS

Tomorrow someone provides proof that ghosts exist. Exactly what finding of physics would be contradicted? What theory would be disconfirmed? The connection is vague, not the statement of the connection. The biologist's model of the universe at one time did not include the continued existence of supposedly extinct fish; now it does, but what else has changed?

I doubt that proof of ghosts would move physicists to re-examine all the formulae of quantum mechanics. Some of them might start wondering what particles ectoplasm was made of. The field of biology might seem a better candidate for radical revision, but I just don't know of any theory that would be overturned by the existence of ghosts; all I can think of are prescientific truisms like "Nobody lives forever."

What strikes me about this field of discussion is the unexamined notion of science that is constantly set against the parapsychological. Science doesn't have the burden of explaining everything.--AMT

Science certainly tries to provide an explanation for everything- look at the new fields applying science to human interaction, like psychology, anthropology. As for theories needing changing -it seems almost all would. Certainly conservation of energy and mass, particle physics (which doesn't just list what particles there are, but proves that those are the opnly ones possible.) -rmhermen


The existence of a gross phenomenon like a ghost would not prove the existence of a new particle nor would it contradict the idea of conservation of energy. Somebody jumps out of a plane with a parachute, and nobody claims that the result contradicts the usual calculations of the acceleration of falling bodies. Think in terms of a null hypothesis--what theory is being tested and disconfirmed by the existence of ghosts?

There is a question of whether ghosts, mind-reading, or precognition occur. This is not a scientific question, it's a question of fact. Then there's the question of what difference these things make if they do exist. The field of parapsychology is defined in a wooly fashion by the belief that such things just have to be outside the realm of scientific explanation, but nobody ever says how or why. True believers want it to be so and professional skeptics want to use the authority of science as a good reason for not believing. But this doesn't make any sense.

(Granted that a thorough investigation would seek to exclude conventional explanations, so L's statement that parapsychologists are interested in all forms of explanation is correct; but for something to count as a parapsychological explanation, it would by definition have to be outside the realm of the currently-conventional.)

The disconnection from ideas of science is the essential point. You prove the existence of ghosts and what do you know, scientifically? Damn little. Is this a reason for doubting the existence of ghosts? No. Is it a reason for claiming you've transcended science? No.--AMT

If a person falls with a parachute there path is completely described by the known laws of physics. However if someone dies and a ghost with mass exists it would have to violate mass conservation because no mass changes have ever been measured at death. It would also require new particles because "ghost particles" do not obey the laws of physics and new theories because present theories which account for all particles do not predict ghost particles. Likewise if a non-mass or energy ghost existed, the theories would be invalidated because they do not predict such. Like Newtonian physics is falsify by relativity. --rmhermen

As fascinating as this conversation is (really!), I can't help but think that it would be more fulfilling to spend your Wikipedia time actually adding content to the article... AMT's thesis is a nonstarter, and I wouldn't waste my time arguing with him/her. --LMS


rmhermen, I understand your point, but I think it's jumping to the same conclusion that discussions of this stuff usually jump to. I used the term "ghost" as though it were self-evident what a ghost is and you naturally follow the same folkloric path--they emanate from the body at death, they can pass through walls or whatever. But until you prove they exist, you can't really say much about how they exist. My discomfort here is about a definition of a field that states baldly than any parapsychological phenomenon would require drastic revision of existing scientific theories.

This is only true in a trivial sense: if the thing exists AND it turns out to answer to no scientific principles, then by definition it's parapsychological.

Parapsychology groups reports of mental and spiritual events on the presumption that they lie outside science, although the notion of science is almost never given the specificity you provided. The presumption is OK as a starting point, but it does not follow that these phenomena would fall outside science if they occurred. It doesn't even follow that they would probably fall outside science. All you can say is any possible connection to established scientific principles, and any possible refutation of established scientific principles, is not known. --AMT

If a ghost were not a ghost. Not really much of a starting point. --rmhermen

Larry, I just read your change to why some consider parapsychology to be pseudoscience. The notion that these studies have produced no real evidence seems to always be mentioned only tangentially. A parapsychologist might claim they are attempting to use observation to ascertain if a phenomena exists or not. How is this not scientific? It reminds me of James Randi's phony 1,000,000$ prize to anyone who can demonstrate magic, or any other "nonscientific" phenomena. If you can demonstrate it, its observable, and so conforms to the scientific method. he never has to give out a prize because it is always a "trick". scientists demean parapsychology because they consider it beneath study.