First Sight is a model of the mind, and a theory of the kinds of hypothetical processes that parapsychologists study – call them Psi. I am the author of First Sight (drawing upon the contributions of many others), and I divide it into these two parts because I hope to sketch a framework that is sensible and scientifically useful, even if not directly testable (the model part). Additionally, I contribute some testable ideas about how psi works – ideas that are consistent with the rest of what psychologists are learning about how the mind produces experience and behavior out of a ground of unconscious processes (the theory part).
The terms I propose for parapsychology come from the model, hopefully in a coherent way. I think the following constructs are useful in accounting for some aspects of how the mind works in producing experience and behavior out of unconscious processes: Meaning, Intention, Prehension, Weight, Direction and Somatosensory. Meaning means what we ordinarily take it to mean, and Intention refers to the goals that someone is aiming to realize. Intentions can be unconscious, and these are especially important in the functioning of psi. Prehension means “to grasp,” and is used here both in the receptive sense (to know about) and the active or expressive sense (to seize, grab hold of), and it can be both conscious and unconscious. Weight means that the mind unconsciously senses that something prehended is important or unimportant to some degree, in light of one’s intentions in the context of the situation at the moment. Direction can be either positive or negative, and means that something that is prehended is either included or excluded (i.e. avoided) in experience and behavior. If something that is prehended is heavily weighted, its contribution (either positive or negative) will be strong and potentially obvious. If lightly weighted, its contribution will be negligible. Somatosensory refers to that sphere made up of all the things that impinge in some way upon the physical organism with its sensory systems. Extra-somatosensory refers to the universe beyond that ken.
What makes these ideas apply to parapsychology as well as to, say, the formation of perceptions out of unconscious sensory stimulations, is the assumption that the unconscious mind is in touch with (prehends) reality beyond the somatosensory sphere.
The basic operational constructs of parapsychology have always referred to hypothetical relations much more than to things. Extrasensory Perception means that an organism is producing something like a perception that refers to something beyond what is available to the senses, such as correctly guessing the content of a picture sealed inside an envelope. Psychokinesis means that an organism is somehow producing an action in physical processes that are beyond the sphere of ordinary physical influence, such as making a pendulum move without touching it. The terms posit meaningful relations between organism and event – albeit relations that everyday experience does not often provide.
First Sight theory rewords these things in a way that clearly refers them back to the model and theory in which I intend them to function.
Extrasensory Perception becomes Receptive Extrasomatic Prehension – REP.
Psychokinesis becomes Expressive Extrasomatic Prehension – EEP, which is what someone might utter upon seeing an instance of it.
Precognition is rendered as Receptive Antecedent Extrasomatic Prehension – RAEP.
And so on. We can describe other kinds of relation between organism and the wide extrasomatic world that we might wish to posit similarly, by further specifying the object of the relation. For example, Postcognition, or clairvoyance of things in the past is termed Receptive Posterior Extrasomatic Prehension – RPEP. Sensing the secret thoughts of another person (Telepathy), is Receptive Extrasomatic Prehension – REP, again, of another’s experience. Having a willed effect upon the feelings or behavior of another person is Expressive Extrasomatic Prehension – EEP – of another’s experience or behavior. Psychic healing is EEP on some disease process. We can also extend these terms to ordinary acts of perception and action. For example, seeing my monitor as I type is RIP, Receptive Intrasomatic Prehension, and typing a word I intend to type is EIP, Expressive Intrasomatic Prehension.
Are studies done on EEP and REP and RAEP any better than those done on ESP or Anomalous Cognition, or ψΓ? Who knows which of our nominated terms may matter a whit as our science unfolds? My offerings may be helpful if it proves to be true, as I believe, that our work will benefit from seeking some theoretical grounding and coherence, and First Sight has some potential for providing that.
These terms have the virtue of pointing us directly toward some of the key questions our theory and research must try to answer. What determines the positive or negative receptive prehension of some piece of extrasomatic reality (what makes for psi hitting vs. psi missing)? What considerations enter into the relative weight assigned to some extrasomatic meaning (how strong an expression of psi will there be)? How can we estimate, if not directly measure, the unconscious intentions that we propose are used to assign weight and direction? When will a person’s experience contain an REP, as opposed to evoking an EEP (experience an allusion to some distant meaning, vs. evoking an expression in some outer event, such as a banging sound in a wall)?
Parapsychologists have moved in two different directions when trying to improve their basic terms, make them more useful, and make our enterprise more palatable for mainstream scientists. One is to try to rid them of any implicit presumptions. We often bring the word anomalous in here, since it means the proposed relation is simply unexpected and unexplained, and does not imply that it refers to minds, or human intentions, or even to anything real at all. This helps us to stay on friendly terms with scientists who do not find the constructs of mind or intention helpful and certainly do not believe that these “things” can interact with the world in any directly causal way. It may also help us talk in some clinically useful way with persons who make odd and troublesome attributions about their experience, such as those covered by the psychiatric construct of Schizotypy.
But does it really help with the scientists? It is very close to entirely empty to say only that some apparent relation is unexplained. As scientists we are trying hard to explain things, so such terms would hopefully become quickly obsolete. Then we will have the same problem of trying to come up with something more substantive. And does it help those friendly relations? Using basic terms that merely point to our ignorance is not exciting to anyone, scientist or not.
The other direction we often take is trying to come up with definitions that seem more in accord with Physics, which sits at the top of the dominance hierarchy of the social structure of science. If our relations can be dressed in terms of entropy or the equations of quantum mechanics, then we should have a warm place at the table. We have some fine physicists who are working at this, and I enthusiastically support them. I am especially impressed by the long line of research carried out by the IONS team, culminating in the double-slit experiment. However, as we pursue this direction we want to make sure that our assertions really make sense in light of the body of constructs physicists find to be workably true. If not really, we will seem foolish.
In one of Aesop’s fables, the homely jackdaw grows tired of his lowly station in life and finds some cast-off peacock feathers. He weaves them into his own grey coat and then boldly struts about the glamorous company of the peacocks. They are not stupid birds, and quickly spot the deception. They peck him horribly and send him on his way. Then battered, he returns to the jackdaws, but they now resent his arrogance and reject him as well. Like many of Aesop’s fables, this one says that you must be really, really clever if you wish to improve your lot in life. The powerful guard their power, and gaining more of it is difficult business.
I think that we do have unconscious, extrasomatic relations with the wide world, they are real and beg for our understanding. I prefer constructs that presume that they are real, and that relate them to some overarching conceptual framework that ties in nicely with at least one big chunk of mainstream science – cognitive science, that is. It assumes that our prehensions extend beyond our sensory ken, and that they are personal, meaningful, and intentional, and almost entirely unconscious. Rather than trying to directly prove any of this, we are saying, essentially: “Trust me. This will turn out to be useful. The proof will be in the pudding.” Then we get on with the work in the kitchen. Almost everyone likes good pudding.
Appeared in MindField