Interview of First Sight author James Carpenter in Mindfield: Bulletin of the Parapsychological Association

1. Succinctly describe your career in psi research and why did you get into it?

I have been involved in psi research since I went to Duke as an undergraduate in 1959 because of my interest in the Parapsychology Lab. I got involved helping with studies (as did others who were close friends, such as Bob Morris, Rex Stanford, Dave Rogers, and Chuck Honorton) and did an ESP study as my senior honor’s thesis under the direction of Kay Banham and Gaither Pratt. My very first interest in the field was stimulated by odd, apparently psychic experiences my mother had on and off during my childhood. These aroused both fascination and skepticism, the odd pair of motives shared by many parapsychologists. I read some of Rhine’s books and related material in high school, and I knew the field was important to me.

I began research with an interest in the contribution of psychological factors to psi performance. My day-job has been as a clinical psychologist (Ph, D., Ohio State), and I always thought the issues of emotion, cognition, motivation, etc. should be equally important in both fields. I studied the effects of the kinds of relationships between people involved in telepathy testing, then moved to studying the effect of moods. I became intrigued with the variability of psi scoring as independent from scoring direction, and did several studies aimed at predicting the extremity of psi scores. I also worked on ways of enhancing the information acquisition from psi testing protocols, and did a number of studies that attempted to retrieve hidden or future information with usable (hopefully perfect) accuracy. I also did some research trying to learn more about the interface between subliminal and extrasensory perception, and the effect on both of emotional and motivational factors. A long study examining how psi information can be implicitly expressed in interpersonal interaction led me to appreciate how pervasively, if subtly, active psi is. It also helped me know that psi is an ongoing and sometimes dramatic presence in my own experience.

 I began to serve on the board of directors of the Rhine Center some years ago, and then served two terms as president. There I was confronted with the difficulty of fund-raising, and the underlying problem of communicating the importance and integrity of our research. I grew frustrated with trying to talk with mainstream colleagues about some fascinating work going on in parapsychology, only to hit a puzzling wall of incomprehension over and over. This was in spite of my own sense that we were all using very similar methods and finding very similar patterns. The idea hit me that I might make a useful contribution if I could develop a common set of terms in which parapsychologists and mainstream psychologists could communicate and see more easily how much their work fit together. I thought this would take about a month and result in a neat, little paper. A couple of years later I had a book on theory: First Sight: ESP and Parapsychology in Everyday Life, 400-plus pages of fairly dense argument. So much for my own precognitive abilities. I still do hope that the theory I develop in that book will help us communicate better with the mainstream, and show how many substantive things we have already discovered, and how congruent it all is with mainstream work.

 2. How do you see the field now as compared to the beginning of your career?

I began by wondering if ESP and PK were real things (or, I would prefer to say, empirically useful constructs) and lingered in that uncertainty for quite a while. Now I think they are useful and important, and we have used them already to find out a lot about the world and human nature that science did not know about before. I think we are going to learn a whole lot more. I believe that using good theories (psychological, physical, biological) will aid our work enormously, and we should go ahead and try to build more and better theories. We have been dust-bowl empiricists long enough.

 3. Were you to start again, what would you focus on? Where do you think the field should go?

If I were to start again, I don’t think I would change a lot. My clinical training and work have helped me be sensitive to the importance of psychological factors in the expression of psi, and the importance of unconscious mental processes. The clinical experience has also helped me ponder deeply the issues that are raised by persons who believe they spontaneously experience psi, and often suffer from it. I haven’t written that book yet, but I want to.

4. Any regrets or other things you would like to add?

I would only add that it was a confirming experience to think through and write First Sight. I had to review and digest a lot of research and try to hold it up against my theory in the hope that it would organize the findings. This process was confirming because I found that it did! For many years I have conducted research and pondered the research of others with a sense that it was very interesting but also somewhat unruly and unpredictable. Now with what I think is a better theory, I have had the exciting experience of knowing ahead of time much better what the results will be of my own and others’ research. Now once I know what a study is measuring and how, I can predict pretty well what the results will be. Psi makes sense. It adds up. This is a new experience for me and a big relief. It seems clear to me that we are on the verge of learning more and more about how psi works.

 Reprinted with permission from Mindfield 5.3

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