The following paper appeared in the December 2012 issue of the Journal of Parapsychology, and is presented with permission. This was a special issue devoted to visions of the future state of parapsychology 25 years hence. What will be the status of research on the furtive phenomena of extrasensory perception and mind/matter influence? I offer my own vision, informed by First Sight theory.
FORESIGHT, FIRST SIGHT
John Palmer has given us an intriguing test: Predict the state of parapsychology 25 years hence. It’s humbling that, in spite of our research, we cannot directly look there and report back the facts. My guesses are guided by my own point of view, which I call First Sight.
Where Will Research Be Going?
We will continue to be engaged in the three directions of research that have primarily occupied us for the last 25 years: questions involving the physics of consciousness, the psychology of psi, and the expression of psi in biological process. I expect that studies in all three areas will be more guided by theory than in the past.
Parapsychologist/physicists will apply new developments in quantum theory to psi processes (mainly PK) and will find new explanatory power. This will be exciting and
contentious, reputations will be risked and lost, bold new syntheses will be proposed and tested. Non- physicists will find it all fascinating and confusing. In short, things will be a lot as they are now, with a better accumulation of good ideas and a growing core of substantive findings.
Parapsychologist/psychologists will be working in several different directions, depending upon their favorite tools and areas. They will be more united than they are today by a conception of psi that holds that both ESP and PK are ongoing, unconscious processes that are expressed in implicit ways. Psi will be understood as continuously at work behind the scenes, as in presentiment responses and cognitive biasing effects, and a growing body of studies will be demonstrating this.
Neuroscientist/parapsychologists will be shedding new light on brain processes that are involved in implicit psi responses, just as they study other pre-experiential cognitive processes.
Cognitive/social/personality/parapsychologists will develop more elaborate and precise hypotheses about how psi information is expressed implicitly in perceptions, judgments, emotional responses, interpersonal interactions. They will look for psi at work in many places, and virtually always find it, and craft better and better ways to understand it. There will be false starts, quarrels and setbacks, but for the most part there will be genuine and steady progress.
Parapsychologists who are biologists and physicians will be conducting more studies on the direct expression of intention in different biological systems, in vivo and in vitro. Hypotheses will be more theory-based and discriminating, predicting negative and positive effects depending upon specified variables. A clearer case will be made for the relation of health and healing to psi processes under certain conditions. This work will still be plagued by savage skepticism on one hand, and romantic quasi-medicine on the other, but the solid core of fact in the center will be easier to see.
Parapsychologists who are interested in the survival of the mind after death will still be finding this question difficult to settle with scientific fact. Perhaps there will be substantive advances here too, but I cannot imagine them.
Relations with Other Fields of Science
Parapsychologists will still be a minority group within science, defined by their commitment to the idea that consciousness involves an extended reality beyond normal sensory exchange. Most scientists will still not take this idea very seriously, and those that do will still share a subgroup identity because of it.
At the same time, there will be a smaller proportion of work that will look purely parapsychological. Much more will be interdisciplinary. Work on the relation of the mind to physical systems will be more sophisticated in terms of the constructs of contemporary physics. Work on the neuropsychological substrate of psi processes will be embedded in the tools and ideas of neuropsychology. Work relating psi to personality variables, cognitive processes, social interaction, and abnormal psychology will be more consciously contextual in those mainstream fields. The hypothesis of psi will continue its intrusion into other fields of science, welcome and unwelcome. This intrusion will result in a greater proportion of psi-related papers being presented in the conferences and publications of mainstream fields. Since we will have more understanding of how psi works in the context of other processes (physical, neurological, cognitive, affective, social) research reports will reflect that interdisciplinary context. At times this will still lead to an accompanying chorus of skeptical criticism, but this criticism will be more sophisticated and respectful than it has been, more open to psi as an interesting possibility. Most scientists will still be happy doing without psi, but more of them will be paying attention to the possible importance of it.
The Parapsychology Association will still exist. I expect it will be larger, with an influx of younger scientists. The major publications in the field will still be active, primarily in electronic form. They will be supplemented by other journals with specialized interests in physics and consciousness, psi and healing, and psi and implicit psychological processes. Less technical and lightly refereed publications will continue to come and go in which psi will be associated with the psychology of happiness, with mind-altering drugs, with religious/mystical experience, with mediumship/channeling, and with alternative medical practices, new and old.
I expect that most of the currently active research centers in parapsychology will survive, but their activities will become increasingly educational. More of the serious research of the field will be going on in at least a handful of universities, and less in the explicitly parapsychological centers. The latter will become more skilled at popularizing research, and when they carry out research of their own it will be almost entirely in partnership with mainstream laboratories. Such partnership will be required by any private funding institutions that will be active then, like today’s Bial Foundation.
I expect that there will be an increase in psi research in the private sector, and in groups that have political agendas, governments and otherwise. This will be “proprietary psi,” and most of this work will not be available to the scientific community. As it dawns on more people that psi is real, and its working comes to be better understood, many will wish to apply it to the solution of practical problems, such as predicting economic trends, influencing elections, gaining power over others, healing illness, and countless other potential applications.
Parapsychology in a Post-parapsychological World
In the face of all these developments, parapsychology as a discipline that has always defined itself as being on the edge of things will fade into a new context in which psi phenomena will be studied by anyone who wishes to apply them. Scientists with a large part of their professional identities in parapsychology will become “old guard,” somewhat reactionary, decrying shifts in direction and conceptualization that they see as unwise or dangerous. They will have a paradigm to defend, and they will feel threatened and envious in the face of the appropriation of psi by the larger mass of humanity, to whom it has always belonged. Still, they will be experts in this burgeoning arena and will be a little further along than most in thinking about the implications of application. They will struggle to find a platform from which to offer some wisdom and perspective to a world that tries to cope with the conscious application of psi.