Kuhnexus: database of the best cases of paradigm challenging phenomena

Collection and classification of the best-in-class paradigm-challenging cases, to form a basis and reference for research and theory building.  Includes development of a suitable classification system and case quality criteria.  The project is led by David Rousseau, Chairman of the Research Activities Committee and Director of the Centre for Fundamental & Anomalies Research (C-FAR).

Trying to understand the natural world is like trying to solve a giant jigsaw puzzle without having seen the picture. Much of the puzzle has been assembled, and a strong picture is emerging. However, there are some loose puzzle pieces which seem to be particularly difficult to place. These pieces are important, as they indicate key shortcomings in our understanding of the overall picture.

For more than a hundred years, psychical researchers have done great work collecting up these special puzzle pieces. Each piece corresponds to a type of anomaly, e.g. telepathy, crisis apparitions or spoon bending, and each anomaly is supported by many cases and/or experiments documented over the years. However, the literature has become so vast that it is virtually impossible for any one person to master it all. Much of it is only available in specialist libraries. The quality is varied, much is controversial, and sometimes the strongest cases, which cannot be easily dismissed, are simply ignored, and so slip from view. Familiar cases are often known only in summarised form, with significant details contained in the original reports now lost to most readers. It is very difficult to find all the good, relevant evidence relating to a particular investigative tack.

All this constrains our progress towards understanding the implications of these anomalies. It is hard for people to become involved in the field, and those who do, often focus on a single class of anomalies for practical reasons. What’s needed is an easy way for people to find out about the entire range of anomalous things that seem to happen, and how good the evidence is for each of those things. Only then will we be able to construct a framework within which each anomaly will find a place, and which will allow us to view the problem as a whole. This is an essential first step towards understanding how these anomalies come about.

Of course, many books of case collections have been published over the years, but these have limited use. Practical considerations limit their length and exhaustiveness. They cannot be extended to include new cases, and they cannot be updated with new material, or critical arguments for or against the case. The unavoidable selection of one case over another tends to reflect the research interests or interpretational framework of the compiler. Eventually they become as inaccessible as the cases they highlight.

However, modern technology provides us with great new tools for solving these problems: the database, and the internet. Databases can store far more cases than could be published in any book. Readers can sort and sift cases based on their own keywords or criteria, group cases together in different ways, and find previously unnoticed correlations between cases. For example, one could easily locate the best apport cases, whether associated with séances, poltergeists, jotts, metal-bending children or UFOs. Databases can be accessed over the internet, which means they can be widely used. And because they are easy to update, they remain current and relevant. The SPR’s Online Library is a good example of a database that has made the SPR's publications far more accessible and useful.

For this reason, we have set up a project to create a database that will contain the most important evidence for each kind of anomaly that seems to occur. We will concentrate on those anomalies that seem to pose a significant challenge to orthodox explanations. Since these are the anomalies that have the potential to trigger a paradigm shift, we dub them Kuhnia, in honour of Thomas Kuhn, and the database will be called The Kuhnexus. Significant challenges to orthodoxy include more that just psi phenomena, and we will include such Kuhnia as ball lighting, acupuncture, brain plasticity, Penrose crystals, etc.

There are many things that can make a case important. The obvious one is its evidentiality, which is useful for people asking how confident we are that a specific type of anomaly occurs. Beyond that, though, there are cases that are important for their implications, or for what they tell us about the variability or characteristics of a phenomenon. There is also significance in features that are common to different types of cases. By creating a database of cases, which can be sorted or filtered in different ways, different readers will be able to focus on cases that are most relevant to their specific interests.

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