Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Skeptics, Believers, Public Parapsychology and Anomalistic Psychology

I've linked and discussed several times, on parasychology and academia, posts on the blog Public Parapsychology. I'll continue to do so, but would also point the reader to that blog for futher perusal. I've linked to Public Parapsychology in the sidebar.

Two posts attract my attention. The first is a list of academic journals focused on or otherwise publishing on parapsychology.

The second is a discussion of anomalistic psychology. Public Parasychology defines it as:

In simplest terms, parapsychology is the scientific and scholarly study of certain unusual events associated with human experience. Anomalistic psychology is the scientific and scholarly study of unusual beliefs or experiences.

Anomalistic psychologists attempt to explain paranormal beliefs and paranormal experiences in terms of known psychological and physical factors. Such research is directed towards understanding the bizarre experiences that many people have without assuming that there is anything paranormal involved. In my opinion, the best kind of research in anomalistic psychology also avoids assuming that there is not anything paranormal involved. In such research, the reality of psi has little or no direct relevance to hypotheses under study.
In turn, Public Parapsychology points to the Goldsmiths University of London, it's Research Unit in this field, and its definition of the topic

Anomalistic psychology may be defined as the study of extraordinary phenomena of behaviour and experience, including (but not restricted to) those which are often labeled "paranormal". It is directed towards understanding bizarre experiences that many people have without assuming a priori that there is anything paranormal involved. It entails attempting to explain paranormal and related beliefs and ostensibly paranormal experiences in terms of known psychological and physical factors.

While psychology, neurology, and other scientific disciplines are rich with explanatory models for human experiences of many kinds, these models are rarely extrapolated to attempt to explain strange and unusual experiences. The paranormal is here defined as "alleged phenomena that cannot be accounted for in terms of conventional scientific theories", although it is recognised that new discoveries in physics, biology, and other sciences may be of relevance in understanding anomalous experiences.

It is notable that Public Parapsychology sees this field as working in tandem with parapsychology, while the Goldsmiths department would probably be less open to that approach (it publishes The Skeptic journal). Yet the two co-exist and can see a similar mission. I find much of this echoing my mission here with the Spooky Paradigm. In particular, the Goldsmiths department notes the "multidisciplinary" nature of the field, from a behavioral perspective.

The definition of the paranormal adopted by those working in this area typically goes beyond the core phenomena of ESP, PK, and life after death, and includes such topics as belief in astrology, UFOs, dowsing, the Bermuda triangle, and so on. It should be noted that the aims of anomalistic psychology would still be valid even if the existence of paranormal forces were to be established beyond doubt because there is little question that most paranormal claims can be plausibly explained in non-paranormal terms.
I would probably widen that definition, at least for the worldview and principles of the Spooky Paradigm, to all sorts of areas. But this in part is due to my interest in culture, rather than understanding cognition or individual "anomalous" experiences.

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