James Carpenter, the author of First Sight: ESP and Parapsychology in Everyday Life, recently assumed the duties of president of the Parapsychological Association. The Parapsychological Association is an international professional organization of scientists and scholars engaged in the study of psi (or ‘psychic’) experiences, such as telepathy, clairvoyance, psychokinesis, psychic healing, and precognition. The primary objective of the PA is to achieve a scientific understanding of these experiences, and the attributions people make about such experiences. The organization endorses no ideologies or beliefs other than the value of rigorous scientific and scholarly inquiry.
Carpenter’s nomination statement gives the flavor of his vision of the state of this field of study at the moment. It appears here:
It is a particular honor to be nominated to serve as president of the Parapsychological Association, because it is so exciting right now to be a parapsychologist. After a long period of being rather insular and virtually invisible for mainstream science, we seem to be entering into a new period of our development as a discipline. Our insular period has been good and necessary. We established our research centers, defined ourselves as scientists and scholars, developed our methods, criticized one another relentlessly and became more mature and savvy in the process. Our invisibility to the mainstream was caused partly by the eccentricity of our problems. We have searched for order and meaning where most scientists would not assume it to exist. It’s to our credit that we have found order, and are finding more all the time. But there has also grown up around us some subtle barriers that, like glass windows, we might not know exist until we press against them. The new period in our development that I am speaking of is marked by how much we are now pressing against them.
Now more and more, we are carrying our findings to the arena of mainstream science, offering them to be discussed, evaluated and developed. The subtle boundaries of academic apartheid we find in the process arise tacitly for most scientists, from their sense that our findings make no sense in light of their working principles – but for a few zealots our expulsion from the workshop of science has the quality of a religious cause.
Whatever the cause of the barriers, we are pushing against them. Some physicists among us are offering constructions of our phenomena that raise basic theoretical issues about how physical nature is put together. Some psychologists are carrying better and better data into the widely read venues of that field, requiring their assessment, while others (I try to be one) are offering ways to understand how “paranormal” processes fit right in with “normal” ones, and actually make them more intelligible. Some of our physicians are taking evidence about the physical power of intentionality into major medical centers and demanding attention, while biologists and neurobiologists are carrying parapsychological findings into their disciplines and showing that we cannot truly understand how living organisms function without taking account of the extrasomatic processes that are also at work. This is also true of our philosophers and anthropologists and psychotherapists who are carrying parapsychological findings and perspectives into their disciplines and requiring attention to them. We are carrying our work into many mainstream venues: journals, conferences, gatherings on the nature and study of consciousness. And beyond science, but surely circling back to it, we are putting forth more evidence that our phenomena are not only real, they can be applied (e.g., note the recent issue of the Journal of Parapsychology, where a report shows that real remuneration can come from the use of psi effects applied to the stock market).
We are a small group but we are getting more uppity, less intimidated, noisier. We need to join the larger workshop of science, and they need us and our phenomena as well, whether they know it or not, or like it or not.
As we push these boundaries, we could all feel rather separate. This is one reason we need the PA, to remind us that we are together and share a common mission right now, to bring into mainstream science the enrichment of work on parapsychological questions. Our annual conference, our publications and our other lines of communication can help us remember that we are working together and remind us of our hard-earned standards of working well, while sharing our latest efforts.
As we succeed in getting more attention, dangers arise. With attention comes scrutiny, some of it unfairly harsh and devotedly destructive. We will have to work together to achieve the best responses we can to the best criticisms. This will make us better, but if we don’t work together we will fail to make the best of it. Another danger may well arise from our practical success, if that continues. What kind of a world will it be if psi can be reliably applied? What ethical issues arise? We must begin to think about that, because for the time being few others are going to.