Educating Parapsychologists

By Smith, Matthew D. | The Journal of Parapsychology, September 1999 | Go to article overview

Educating Parapsychologists


Smith, Matthew D., The Journal of Parapsychology


ABSTRACT: This paper considers a number of issues relating to education in parapsychology. It is suggested that the scarcity of active researchers in parapsychology is due to (a) the current lack of reliability and applicability of parapsychological research findings and (b) how parapsychological research is perceived by "mainstream" scientists. A brief overview of some of the educational opportunities in parapsychology currently available is presented. Suggestions for future developments in the education and training of researchers in parapsychology are made, with reference to the present situation in the United Kingdom and the role of the Koestler Chair of Parapsychology at the University of Edinburgh. It is argued that parapsychology is likely to thrive through the increased integration within larger disciplines (such as psychology) and by exploiting connections with other subdisciplines (such as consciousness studies and transpersonal psychology).

A central concern in any discipline is, or at least should be, the education of its future researchers. This is because the future of a discipline is largely dependent upon those future generations of individuals who choose to devote their time to its study. A discipline's future success depends upon what these individuals decide to study, how they decide to study it, how important their findings are, and how successful they are at disseminating these findings.

In a subject area such as parapsychology the issue of education is particularly acute. This is because there are relatively few active researchers and even fewer educational opportunities. At present, the American Psychological Association--probably the largest of the professional bodies in Psychology--boasts around 155,000 members. Meanwhile, the Parapsychological Association can only claim a little under 250 members (including student affiliates). While we may assume that a sizeable proportion of this number are currently, or have been, actively engaged in research, relatively few are involved in teaching parapsychology. Given that there appears to be few individuals involved in educating parapsychologists, there are few opportunities for potential researchers to receive the valuable guidance and experience they need if they are to devote a significant amount of their time to parapsychological research. If parapsychology is to flourish as a discipline, this is an issue that needs to be addressed.

In this paper, a number of issues surrounding the education of parapsychologists are considered. First, I will explore the question of why there are so few parapsychologists, and therefore so few educational opportunities. Following this, I will present a brief overview of some of the current educational opportunities that are available to aspiring researchers. Finally, I will aim to make a few suggestions in regard to prospects for future developments in the education and training of researchers in parapsychology.

WHY ARE THERE So FEW PARAPSYCHOLOGISTS?

One might argue that parapsychology has potential implications for so many other areas such as philosophy, psychology, and religion. If this were the case, why are there not more people researching the area? The study of parapsychological phenomena may cast light on the philosophy of science, the philosophy of mind, the nature of consciousness, and, at a more practical level, our relationship with the environment in which we live. These would all appear to be important contributions to the study of humankind, to which any self-respecting high-school or college graduate might deem worthy of devoting some time. Yet the number of full-time researchers in the field is probably less than the typical number of people employed in a single medium-sized McDonald's restaurant. I would have thought that the prospect of making important potential contributions to the world in which we live would lure countless students towards parapsychology (and away from employment with McDonald's) perhaps feeding their desire to make a real difference in the world (as opposed to feeding burgers and fries to people who are in a hurry). …

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