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Peter Bancel: Parapsychology needs a theoretical program

Published by View Parapsychological Association's profile Parapsychological Association on Monday, September 10, 2018

Peter A. Bancel
Institut Métapsychique International, Paris, France

Demanding exceptional evidence for exceptional claims is not just a scientific position. It is also a social one. To put it prosaically, it addresses the worry that I might waste my time on a wild goose chase, as well as the concern that I and my field may lose credibility in the eyes of other scientists and the public. The demand is a gatekeeper for vetting which extraordinary claims (or effects or data) should receive attention within a discipline. But how does a discipline or sub-field become accepted in the first place? This too melds scientific and social issues. Parapsychology has long had one foot in and one foot out of the house of Science. Why is this, and is it normal? Obviously, the interplay of theory and experiment plays a big role in establishing any field. But it is worth a look at how this happens. Among many examples, two stories from contemporary physics are instructive: Quasicrystals and Quantum Foundations. Both are cases where an anomaly developed into an accepted discipline when theory and experiment converged. In the first case, experiment led the way, and in the second it was theory. These stories convey very different timelines, but the same unsurprising message: a discipline is unlikely to flourish without both theoretical and evidential groundings. Parapsychology should, therefore, redouble its theoretical efforts, for theory is the weak leg. We have some start points but see mostly fog. How to proceed? Ironically, a good bet will be to mine recent results from Quantum foundations research, for there, questions of causality, consciousness and impossible effects that mirror many aspects of parapsychological science have been treated with great rigor and may be importable to psi theory. Several examples will be sketched to illustrate possibilities.


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