Academic journal article The Journal of Parapsychology

Conversation Analysis and Parapsychology: Experimenter-Subject Interaction in Ganzfeld Experiments

Academic journal article The Journal of Parapsychology

Conversation Analysis and Parapsychology: Experimenter-Subject Interaction in Ganzfeld Experiments

Article excerpt

Conversation analysis (hereafter CA) is a formal, qualitative method for the analysis of naturally occurring interaction. It developed out of the pioneering studies of Harvey Sacks and his colleagues Emanual Schegloff and Gail Jefferson, and is now widely acknowledged as the pre-eminent method for analyzing the socially organized, tacit sense-making activities through which participants in all kinds of verbal interaction produce intelligible, meaningful conduct. CA seeks to show how turns in interaction collectively form highly regular patterns: sequences of interactions. These sequences are taken to be the site in which interpersonal activities are managed collaboratively by participants. (1) While CA shares many concerns with pragmatics, speech act theories, and sociolinguistics, it emerged initially to address substantive concerns in sociology. In this it can be said to stand at the intersection of sociology and linguistics. It has implications for psychology, too: cognitive scientists working in artificial intelligence and human-computer interaction have drawn extensively from CA findings about the organization of everyday interaction in the design of speech based interactive computer systems (Luff, Gilbert, & Frohlich, 1990). In the past fifteen years, it has become extremely influential in radical developments in European social psychology, such as discourse analysis, discursive psychology, and rhetorical psychology (Edwards & Potter, 1992; Potter & Wetherell, 1987; Widdicombe & Wooffitt, 1995). But why should CA be relevant to parapsychologists? Why should parapsychologists be interested in a social scientific method for analyzing the orderly properties of how people conduct interaction through talk? To make a case for the relevance of conversation analysis, we will discuss some findings from ganzfeld research, and then go on to consider the extent to which the ganzfeld procedure relies on verbal interaction.

INTERACTION IN PARAPSYCHOLOGY LABORATORY SETTINGS: THE CASE OF THE GANZFELD PROCEDURE

Ganzfeld ESP experiments have consistently reported significant results (Bem & Honorton, 1994; Radin, 1997). Indeed, some more recent experimental results suggest that the auto-ganzfeld method allows the prediction of significant results (Parker, 1998), and therefore offers the possibility of a replicable demonstration of anomalous communication (see also Bierman, 1995; Broughton & Alexander, 1995; Morris et al., 1995; Schlitz & Honorton, 1992). However, there is still disagreement within the parapsychological community regarding the ultimate status of the ganzfeld method (Milton, 1999; Schmiedler & Edge, 1999; Storm, 2000; Storm & Ertel, 2002). One major concern is that the ganzfeld methodology does not in every instance produce significant results.

In the light of the promising yet variable performance of the ganzfeld method, attention has turned to the psychological characteristics of the successful/unsuccessful experiment subjects. Evidence suggests that certain personality or psychological characteristics, such as a predisposition to believe in paranormal phenomena, a history and expectation of personal achievement, or tendencies towards extraversion, may be associated with successful ganzfeld trials (for example, Honorton, 1997; Parker et al., 1998; Schlitz & Honorton, 1992). There is strong evidence, then, that psychological factors have an impact on anomalous communication in ganzfeld conditions.

However, there has been little systematic investigation of the research into the social relationship between the experimenter and the subject, especially during the experimental procedure. This is a curious omission, for three reasons. First, experimental evidence from ganzfeld and other psi experiments suggests that broadly "positive" experimenters who believe in psi obtain better results than "negative" experimenters who do hot (Honorton, Ramsey, & Cabibbo, 1975; Watt, 2002; Wiseman & Schlitz, 1997). …

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