Academic journal article The Journal of Parapsychology

Moving on from the Paranormal Belief Scale: A Final Reply to Tobacyk

Academic journal article The Journal of Parapsychology

Moving on from the Paranormal Belief Scale: A Final Reply to Tobacyk

Article excerpt

Tobacyk (1995) has presented a spirited, thought-provoking, and constructive reply to my paper on the Paranormal Belief Scale (PBS) (Lawrence, 1995). His reply shows perfectly how critical dialogue can lead to significant and constructive suggestions for future research and can help to bring out problematic issues relevant to the enhancement of our understanding of complex areas of research. Also, it is clear to me from his reply that there are many areas where Tobacyk and I are in agreement. Generally, we seem to agree that we need an improvement to the PBS and that the PBS has a number of problems that only future research will be able to clear up, although we differ over just how severe these problems are. More importantly I think, both our papers have made substantive contributions on the topic of how new research in this area might proceed. In what follows I stick closely to the substance of Tobacyk's reply, dealing primarily with those areas where we disagree, before concluding my critical efforts with some final comments.


Problems of Defining "Paranormal"

Although I agree with much that Tobacyk says about the problems of defining paranormal, Tobacyk picks up on a subtlety in Irwin's definition (the use of the word or rather than and) and goes on to show that Irwin's definition of paranormal is therefore really not as restrictive as Broad's. If one sticks to the letter of Irwin's definition, then Tobacyk has a point: Paranormal Irwin-style may be little different from paranormal Broad-style. Given this subtlety, perhaps I need to give my own definition. Something is paranormal if it is "in principle physically impossible and outside the range of human capabilities as presently conceived by conventional scientists." I prefer this more restrictive definition not so much because I want it to restrict certain phenomena, but because I believe it is important for our research to be humanly relevant. I do not have space enough to go into detail, however; instead, I think the problem of defining the paranormal needs sustained critical discussion. (That will need another paper!)

We both acknowledge that the Extraordinary Life Forms subscale is not paranormal (it is, to paraphrase Tobacyk, paranormal by association). Instead, Tobacyk makes much of what I don't say about Traditional Religious Belief and Superstition. In fact, I say little about the paranormal status of traditional religious belief and superstition because my thoughts on the paranormal status of these beliefs are equivocal. I can see reasons why religious beliefs might be regarded as paranormal, but I also see reasons why calling religious beliefs paranormal might be problematic (e.g., religion depends strongly upon socially organized faith, whereas paranormal beliefs depend much more on personal human experience). As for superstition, there have been two ways of defining it in the past. First, superstition has been defined, mostly by academics, in such a way that it is identical with paranormal belief (e.g., Planer, 1988). Second, superstition has been defined, mostly in folklore, as referring more specifically to certain events and occurrences that have certain socially signified meanings (i.e., black cats are unlucky, one should throw salt over one's shoulder if one spills salt). If one adopts the first definition, then all one needs to do is decide whether the PBS is the PBS or the SBS (Superstitious Beliefs Scale). This is hardly a substantive contribution. If one adopts the second definition, then arguably superstition ceases to be paranormal. To say that black cats are unlucky is not to say that humans are possessed of some unknown capability to be unlucky in the presence of black cats. To conclude, I think that Tobacyk's reply establishes the need to discuss problems of definition as an integral part of empirical research and not as a separate component of purely philosophical or conceptual interest.

Adequacy of the PBS Factor Analysis

My discussion of the adequacy of the PBS factor analytic evidence essentially centers around three things: (1) problems of factor selection, (2) problems of factor rotation, and (3) evidence for fewer factors from my scree slope analysis. …

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