Conference Abstracts 2009

The programme and abstracts from the 33rd International Conference held in Nottingham, Sept 2009.  

Programme

Introduction from Programme Chair
Bernard Carr
Following in Schrödinger's footsteps
Archie Roy & Tricia Robertson
The timeslip phenomenon
Ann Winsper
A conference experiment to win the National Lottery jackpot psychically
Mick O'Neill
The death and return of Jack the Lad
Tricia Robertson
The silent voice: Georgie Hyde Lees and Yeats's vision
Angela Packwood
Hyphenated culture, haunted people
Wendy Cousins
What is the point of psychical research?
Mary Rose Barrington
Luck beliefs, PMIR, psi and the sheep-goat effect
David Luke & Shelley Morin
More on paranormal belief and the conjunction fallacy
Paul Rogers, John Fisk & Dawn Wiltshire
Dreams and geomagnetic activity
Adrian Ryan
Motivation, belief and geomagnetic activity in a remote viewing task
Eugene Subbotsky & Adrian Ryan
Fractals, dowsing and sacred sites: emergent information in the visual environment
Paul Stevens
The ghost in the machine: an internet survey of haunting experiences
Caroline Watt & Richard Wiseman
Ghost photography
Richard Wiseman
An exploratory investigation into empathy and the precognition of emotional faces
Christine Simmonds-Moore
Irreducible mind: evidence is not enough
David Rousseau
Matter, mind and higher dimensions
Bernard Carr
Can Tertullian's theory of the soul offer anything for parapsychology?
Michael Potts & Amy Devanno
The psychic healing of cancer through Qigong
Miao Xingzhuang
Communicating the intangible: a phenomenological exploration of energy healing
Carl Williams & Diane Dutton
The animal connection: evaluating accounts of animal psi
Diane Dutton & Carl Williams
SYMPOSIUM: Anomalous experiences and qualitative research
Craig Murray (convenor)
The social psychology of anomalous experience
Fiona Campbell & Craig Murray
“We all had an experience in there together”: a discursive psychological analysis of collaborative paranormal accounts
Carrie Childs & Craig Murray
Interpreting the anomalous: finding meaning in OBEs and NDEs
David Wilde & Craig Murray

 

 

Introduction from SPR Programme Chair
 
Bernard Carr
 
Welcome to the 33rd International SPR Conference. This is the only second time the conference has been held at Nottingham, but the city has an important connection with psychical research since it is the home of two of the former editors of our Journal: Alan Gauld, who also supervised one of the first PhD students in the subject, and Zofia Weaver, who is currently overseeing the development of our website. The city also features the oldest pub in England, “Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem”, which is allegedly haunted!
 
This booklet contains the abstracts for the papers to be presented. Many thanks are due to Peter Johnson who - besides being conference organizer - has collated them and put them into the required format. The abstracts are given in the order of presentation, with the time of each talk being indicated on the programme sheet. Where there is more than one author, the first author is the presenter. The authors’ addresses are not included, but the university department where the work was carried out is indicated, if applicable.
 
Delegates at the SPR conference come from many backgrounds and represent a variety of different approaches to the subject, so this is reflected in the selection of talks. In particular, the speakers include both professional parapsychologists (interested in the experimental side) and field investigators (interested in the spontaneous side). The great strength of the SPR is that it incorporates both of these groups and brings them together at these conferences, although there are fewer experimental talks than usual this year. Note that the talks are grouped into 90-minute sessions, each focusing on a particular theme, so delegates who are not interested in every topic can take a short time off to explore Nottingham. .However, topics frequently recur, so they should not do so for long!
 
This year we have two invited talks. The after-dinner address on Saturday will be given by Trevor Hamilton, who has just published a splendid biography of Frederic Myers, this work being partly supported by a Perrott-Warrick grant. His talk will highlight some of the more personal aspects of Myers’s life, as well as his contribution to psychical research. There will also be a special session on Friday evening in which Zofia Weaver, Tom Ruffles and Julie Rousseau describe some of the exciting progress in the development of the SPR website. This has been one of the most important areas of the SPR’s activity in recent years and the session will provide a valuable opportunity for members to learn how to use these new facilities.
 
Finally I would like to thank the other members of the Programme Committee - Tony Cornell, Alan Gauld, Chris Roe and Donald West - for all the hard work they have put into selecting the papers and, where appropriate, improving them. As usual, there were more submissions than could be accepted for presentation, so I hope the people whose papers were rejected will not feel too disappointed. I must also, of course, thank the contributors themselves since, without them, there could be no conference.
 
 
Following in Schrödinger’s footsteps
 
Archie E. Roy & Tricia J. Robertson
 
Over 100 years has passed since a structured scientific approach has been taken in the examination of the survival question and paranormal phenomena in general. As no formal theories have been proposed and accepted in this matter the authors make an attempt to redress this situation. Of the many brilliant and eminent psychical researchers and great thinkers of the past we cite just three of their comments regarding this subject as an overture to our paper.
 
Death is one of two things. Either it is annihilation and the dead have no consciousness of anything or, as we are told, it is really a change: a migration of the soul from this place to another.
Socrates
 
Facts have sometimes started a theory; but until sagacity had conjectured, divined, guessed, surmised what they pointed to, the facts were a mob and not an army
Augustus de Morgan
 
I can see no other escape from this dilemma…that some of us should venture to embark on a synthesis of facts and theories, albeit with second - hand and incomplete knowledge of them and at the risk of making fools of themselves.
Erwin Schrödinger
 
The present authors attempt to follow in Schrödinger’s footsteps by addressing the facts produced by certain paranormal events and postulating two specific hypotheses which appear to account for the majority of the phenomena.
 
The Facts Hundreds of major paranormal phenomena cases have been researched, recorded and studied by psychical researchers of the calibre of Myers, Gurney, Lodge, Hodgson, Hyslop, Stevenson, Haraldsson, Gauld, Playfair, to name but a few. They have all devoted their talents, intelligence and time to field investigations involving haunts, mediums, dropins, obsession, possession, children recalling previous lives, again to name but a few of the varieties in the rich data–field that must ultimately enable us to solve the mystery of human personality.
 
The Theories   In this presentation we give two, the Minimum Archive Hypothesis (MAH) and the Minimum Survival hypothesis (MSH). Each contains four laws. They are:-
 
MAH:
  • A1 There is a moment by moment accurate scanning of each living person’s mental phenomena, brain and body states, the result of scanning being continuously filed in a non-physical archive.
  • A2 Under certain conditions a living person can experience downloading from a file in the archive, the material downloaded not necessarily coming from his or her own file.
  • A3 Because of the nature of the archival origin of the downloaded material and that of the human recipient, it habitually manifests in a dramatic mode, providing a “personation” of the file’s subject.
  •  A4 The subject’s archive file is updated whenever the “personation” of its human subject is in control of a living body.
MSH:    
  • S1 A psychon is a self conscious entity that can enter a human body some time after conception and survives the death of the body. 
  • S2 The psychon gathers experience and evolves during its occupation of the body or indeed any body it succeeds in occupying.
  • S3 After the death of the body, the psychon retains its incarnate memories, knowledge, reactions to experiences and consequent changes in itself formed during any incarnate life.
  • S4 Before, during and after its incarnation, or incarnations, the psychon may or may not, depending on its life experiences, be capable, psychically, of being in contact with other psychons whether they be incarnate or not.
 
 
The timeslip phenomenon
 
Ann R. Winsper
School of Psychology, Liverpool John Moores University
 
 
Since the famously debated Moberly-Jourdain time slip in the gardens at Versailles, there have been many reported cases of apparent time slips. The cause of these apparent slips in time has been discussed at length, but as yet no one definitive theory has emerged.
 
Retrocognition is a term used by some researchers to describe the time slip phenomenon, however I prefer to use the term ‘Time Slip’, as retrocognition implies a form of extrasensory perception whereby knowledge of a past event is obtained, and some cases cannot strictly meet this definition, either because the events perceived cannot be verified or because they do not appear to be accurate depictions of past events. There are also recorded experiences, one of which I have investigated, where there has been no apparent shift in the scene perceived by any of the participants, however one participant was apparently observed to move behind a building, and almost simultaneously reappear at the opposite corner of the building, a feat which it has since proved impossible to replicate.
 
Time slips and apparitional experiences seem to lie on a continuum, with the difference between a time slip and apparitional experience appearing to be that in the time slip the whole surroundings appear to shift, whereas in an apparitional experience only one element appears to be anomalous (whether this is human, animal or object).
 
People can have these time slip experiences whilst the people alongside them report nothing unusual at all, which initially would suggest that the phenomenon is simply hallucinatory. However, on investigation there does seem to be some level of anomalous information transfer, with people reporting details that they would not otherwise have known.
 
In a small number of cases the witnesses have purchased or been given objects during their time slip – in some cases the objects have proven to be physical objects that persist after the time slip has finished, at least one such object has been seen by the author. However in other cases the object cannot be found when the witness searches for it subsequent to the time slip episode.
 
Whilst time slips seem to occur anywhere at random, there is a particular street near to where the author lives where there have been multiple reports of time slips over the years.
 
I will present some of the many cases that have been reported to myself and discuss the similarities and differences between these cases. I will also discuss the theories that have been proposed to account for these experiences, and whether they can account for all apparent time slip experiences.
 
References
 
Iremonger, L. (1957). The Ghosts of Versailles. London: Faber and Faber.
MacKenzie, A. (1997). Adventures in Time. London: Athlone Press.
MacKenzie, A. (1974). Riddle of the Future. London: Arthur Barker Ltd.
Moberly, C. A. E.& Jourdain, E.F. (1911). An Adventure. London: Faber & Faber.
Randles, J. (2001). Time Storms. London: Piatkus.

 

 
A conference experiment to win the National Lottery jackpot psychically*
 
Mick O’Neill
 
This is a very short session involving a psychical experiment. Delegates will be asked to close their eyes and relax. Then, after a short period of positive thinking, they will be asked to psychically predict the winning numbers in Saturday’s National Lottery lotto draw. They should write down any numbers between one and forty-nine that come into their mind’s eye. Any total can be written and they may include repeated numbers. These numbers are then processed by a computer program which eliminates expected number bias and so produces a list of the numbers in order of popularity as chosen by the delegates. Tickets are then bought based on this list. About 30 one-pound tickets will be bought, dependent on the number of participants. It is free to take part, but any winnings will be shared amongst participants and the SPR. The experiment was first done at the 2001 SPR conference as part of Mick O’Neill’s bi-weekly on-going Psychic Lottery Project. That no longer continues but the tradition of the SPR conference attempts continues. Full instructions will be given before the experiment and an instruction sheet which includes a slip to be filled in with the predictions will be distributed.
 
The project was set up to try to find any correlations that suggest that lottery numbers could be predicted psychically. Then assuming that any such findings could be used to improve lottery chances, it was planned to try and win the lottery in that way. The project's overall aim is to find out whether and how it may be possible to use psi to predict lottery numbers. If it is, we plan to win the UK National Lottery twice!
 
The principal bases of the research are the work of Mark Zilberman (1995) and the PEAR precognitive Ganzfeld results (1989). Zilberman‘s research suggested that the number of people who win lottery prizes varies dependent on season, national events and most importantly, geomagnetic disturbance. Other factors considered by the project are lunar variations and the finding by James Spottiswoode (1997) that during a Local Sidereal time (LST) window around 13h 30m LST a much higher rate of success was found in thousands of psychical trials.
 
This is a free, easy and fun opportunity to test your psychic abilities with lottery prediction, help psychical research and possibly win a lot of money. Please take part.
 
References
 
Dunne B. J., Dobyns Y. H., Intner S. M. (1989). Precognitive Remote Perception III: Complete Binary Data Base with Analytical Refinements. Technical Note PEAR 89002, Princeton University.
Spottiswoode S J P, Apparent Association Between Effect Size in Free Response Anomalous Cognition Experiments and Local Sidereal Time. Journal of Scientific Exploration 1997 #2,109-122.
Zilberman M. S. (1995). Public Numerical Lotteries - An International Parapsychological Experiment Covering A Decade. JSPR, 60, 149-160
 
* Thanks are due to the SPR for support grants awarded to the project.
 
 
The death and return of Jack the Lad
 
Tricia J. Robertson
 
 
In January 2008, I had a telephone call from a lady, who was unknown to me, from the Leicester area in England. I reside in Scotland. She began the call by telling me that her son, aged 19, had recently died and that his funeral was the next day. She also said that after the funeral, she was going to “join” him as she could see no way forward with her life. She lived with her son; or rather the son lived with her.
 
I realised the implication immediately and that no amount of “proof of survival” from psychical research would have any impact on this distraught lady, although I probably tried to say something suitable while wildly trying to think on my feet. I then said “Please give me your telephone number and I promise that I will get someone to phone you back as soon as possible.” She did give me her number and when I put the phone down I thought “Well who am I going to try to get?” One medium that I had confidence in was Helen Cuthill from Carnoustie. I thought that the chances of her actually being at home were very slim, but I telephoned anyway. Fortunately she replied. I quickly asked her “Helen, could you please telephone this woman, who is distraught as her son has died.” She agreed and noted the telephone number. While she was writing the number she asked me “Did this woman lose a girl as well?” In fairly strong language I informed her that I had no idea as the woman was just off the phone and I did not know her. She then tried to describe the boy’s hair colour to me and again I urged her to phone the woman back, as did not know anything about that family.
 
About 40 minutes later I received a telephone call from Helen who informed me that she had a good conversation with the lady and that she was able to bring through information from her son. She also said that the woman was much relieved and much calmer than she had been. I asked Helen to make a list of the statements that she had given to the woman (as she had just given them). I have to say that she was reluctant to do so, but eventually agreed that she would do so. Within a week I had received her account of events.
 
The next evening which would be after the boy’s funeral, I hesitated to intrude, but I telephoned the woman to find out basically how she was. A fairly calm voice answered the telephone, as I said hello, how are you. She said “Your friend was wonderful and gave me the proof that I needed that my son is ok.” I then asked her if she would write down the statements that were made to her by Helen and post them to me right away. I pointed out that such an account may help other people in a similar position to herself. She agreed and did so.
 
This presentation will examine the crossed checked statements and try to assess them against chance. Although this presentation was not conducted under the strictest of research conditions, because of the nature of the telephone call, the majority of the statements made by the medium are very intriguing and cannot be reasonably attributed to chance.
 
 
The silent voice: Georgie Hyde Lees and Yeats’s vision.
 
Angela Packwood*
 
On 20th October 1917 William Butler Yeats married Bertha Georgie Hyde Lees at Harrow Road Register Office in the borough of Paddington. Exactly one week later Georgie (as she preferred to be called), began to engage in automatic writing; a practice that continued for thirty months, with 450 sittings and which produced 3,600 pages of writing. In 1920, when the automatic writing ended the couple began a new practice where Georgie, apparently asleep, spoke aloud her ‘messages’ and answered her husband’s questions.
 
This paper examines the context and content of the automatic writing produced by Georgie in the first years of her marriage to Yeats. It also explores the way in which this ‘channelled’ material was appropriated by Yeats to provide not only “metaphors for poetry”[1], but also as a basis for the occult mythography that he outlined in A Vision [2].
 
In relation to the context of the automatic writing I want to explore not simply the when and where of the sessions, but focus on the relationship between Georgie and Yeats in terms of their interest and expertise in the occult; paying particular attention to Yeats pre-occupation with communication with the spirit world.
 
Within the section on content I intend to look at the different ‘voices’ that communicated through Georgie; the communicators, instructors and frustrators. There are also differences in the genre of material produced that generate interesting questions relating to the possible causes of this mediumistic communication. Given the age difference between the two of them, Yeats was 52 and Georgie 25 when they married, some critics[3] have seen the writing as a clever and conscious ploy by a young wife to communicate with, and keep the interest of, a much older husband whom she believed had married her on the rebound following an extremely complex love affair with a mother and daughter – Maude and Iseult Gonne.
 
Lastly, though by no means of lesser importance I want to consider the contribution that this material made to the later – and some would argue – most important work of Yeats; a contribution that caused him to state that ‘Georgie’s ghosts have educated me’[4]. I shall look at the poetic uses, but I also want to consider the importance of the automatic script to the controversial and complex system of philosophy, psychology, history and ‘the judgement of the soul’[5] contained in A Vision.
 
A final discussion point which this paper will raise is that of ownership. Georgie Hyde Lees was adamant that her part in the automatic script should not become public knowledge. This led to Yeats use of the literary trope of the suddenly rediscovered ‘lost manuscript’ for the preface to the first edition of A Vision. However the second, much revised and edited version exposed the conceit and acknowledged Georgie’s part in the production of the ‘system’. Georgie was not at all pleased and for me this raises the question of why she would want her voice to be silent. It also foregrounds another issue; to whom does this material belong intellectually – the ‘spirits’; the medium or the querant – in this case a Nobel Laureate poet?
 
References
 
[1]Yeats, W.B. (1981) A Vision (8th edition)   London: Macmillan p.8
[2]Two editions of A Vision were published. The first by T. Werner Laurie and although it appeared on 15th   January 1926, the date on the frontispiece is 1925. The second, much revised edition appeared in 1937, published by Macmillan. It is this edition that is most widely available.
[3].See for example: Maddox, B. (1999) Yeats’s Ghosts: the Secret Life of W. B. Yeats New York: Harper Collins.
[4]W.B Yeats letter to Olivia Shakespear, December 27, 1930
[5]Yeats, W.B. (1981) A Vision (8th edition) London: Macmillan Book III.
 
 
 
Hypenated culture, haunted people
 
Wendy E. Cousins
Life and Health Sciences, University of Ulster
 
Previous authors (Braude, 2001; Dixon, 2001) have highlighted the intersection between radical politics and new modes of spiritual thought in their respective analyses of spiritualism and women’s rights in 19th century America, and theosophy and feminism in 19th and early 20th century England. A similar dynamic also existed in Ireland and the role that engagement with supernatural forces played in the Irish literary and political revival is of particular interest. Historian Roy Foster (1989) has argued that Anglo-Irish Protestants were especially susceptible to the spell of the otherworldly and that this fascination mirrored a sense of displacement, a loss of social and psychological integration, and an escapism motivated by the threat of a takeover by the Catholic middle classes. Others have been more succinct in defining this identity as “weirdness with a dash of hard-headed realism” (Newton, 2004) a very Irish facility of tolerating ambiguity and sustaining belief and disbelief at the same time.
 
Edith Somerville was a successful writer and in partnership with her cousin, Violet Martin, she produced the best-selling “Irish R.M.” collections of short stories and a number of critically acclaimed novels. A member of the County Cork Anglo-Irish aristocracy and devoted to country life, Edith was also an active campaigner for votes for women, President of the Munster Women’s Franchise League and a convinced spiritualist. Initially devastated after the early death of her cousin Violet, she attended a séance with a local medium and via automatic script received a communication:
 
“You and I have not finished our work. Dear, we shall. Be comforted. V.M.”
 
As a result Edith was encouraged to continue to write and publish as Somerville and Ross, believing that the two authors remained in contact through these supernatural means. She went on to have sittings with the best-known mediums of the day, including Hester Dowden, Eileen Garrett and Geraldine Cummins- enjoying a particularly close relationship with the last of these three great Anglo-Irish Automatists. The literary firm of Somerville and Ross remained in business for another 34 years (Cousins, 2008).
 
Edith Somerville's family also had a longstanding interest in psychical research. Her uncle, Sir Joscelyn Coghill, served as SPR Vice-President at the time of the Hodgson report on Madame Blavatsky, another uncle, Colonel Kendall Coghill, contributed to SPR Proceedings on the subjects of charms, cures and dream premonitions. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was also a distant relative. There was also a family friendship with SPR Presidents Arthur and Gerald Balfour that extended beyond psychical research and into the realms of politics. Both Balfour brothers served as Chief Secretary for Ireland and Edith’s family was also very much part of the Anglo-Irish political class. Her brother, Vice Admiral Boyle Somerville, served with the Admiralty Intelligence Department during World War I (a period coinciding with Arthur Balfour’s tenure as First Sea Lord) and was an expert on stone circles, ley lines, astronomy and chart-making as well as an authority on the Pacific Islands. He too had a keen interest in spiritualism, and practiced psychometry (Somerville & Ross, 1941).
 
As well as her published works, during her long life Edith amassed 75 volumes of diaries, written between the years 1872-1948 and amounting to approximately 2 and three quarter million words. These are now held as part of the Somerville and Ross Collection at Queens University, Belfast. As well as providing biographical details of Edith’s own life, these diaries have served as material for explorations of Irish history, feminist theory and linguistics. Because of Edith Somerville’s life-long interest in the paranormal, they also serve as an exceptionally rich source of information for the psychical researcher.   The diaries include a significant amount of automatic writing and records of séances, including a sitting at Fishers Hill with Gerald Balfour, Mrs Sidgwick and Miss Johnson in 1921. There is also an account of Edith’s attendance at the 1934 inaugural meeting of “TheInternational Institute for Psychical Research” with Mercy Phillimore, J.Arthur Findlay and Nandor Fodor in attendance. As well as stories of the Somerville family ghosts, fairies and local folklore Edith also records her intrepid quest to track down a monstrous black beast said to be roaming the Cork countryside and striking fear into the inhabitants.
 
Like many of her contemporaries in the minority Anglo-Irish Protestant class, Edith Somerville was fascinated by the spiritualism prevalent within English popular culture yet also captivated by the older myths and the folklores of the Irish country people. Caught between the worlds of the rational Anglo-Saxon and the irrational Celt, with allegiances to both but fully belonging to neither, the Anglo-Irish exemplify many of the common characteristics of what. Hansen (2001) refers to as the Trickster archetype, an abstract constellation of qualities, personified in the form of an individual or a group, including “disruption, loss of status, boundary crossing, deception, violation of sexual mores and supernatural manifestations” (p 29). For Edith Somerville and her social circle, exploration in the Otherworlds could be seen as a manifestation of a sense of geographic and cultural dislocation but it was also an inventive way of integrating these paradoxes of identity and territory into a personally sustaining creative force. The supernatural provided the ultimate means to survival in very troubled times.
 
 
References
 
Braude, A. (2001) Radical Spirits: Spiritualism and Women’s Rights in Nineteenth Century America. Bloomington and Indianapolis:Indiana University Press.
Cousins, W.E. (2008) The Spirited Life of Edith Somerville. Paranormal Review, Issue 47, 11-15.
Dixon, J. (2001) Divine Feminine: Theosophy and Feminism in England. Baltimore and London: The John Hopkins University.
Hansen, G.P.(2001) The Trickster and the Paranormal. USA: Xlibris Corporation
Foster, R. (1989) `Protestant Magic: W.B. Yeats and the Spell of Irish History’, Proceedings of the British Academy 75, reprinted in Foster, R Paddy and Mr. Punch (1993). 
Newton, MK. (2004) Dracula: quintessential Irish Protestant Gothic Hero? http://maudnewton.com/blog/?p=4437
Somerville, E., & Ross, M. (1941). Notions in Garrison. London: Methuen.
 
 
What is the point of psychical research?
 
Mary Rose Barrington
 
 
The title of this paper is a brief and unfocussed version of a more complex inquiry; spelt out in full, the inquiry encompasses the following issues:
 
            What are the aims of psychical research?
            Can one reasonably expect any of those aims to be realised?
            What should we mean by progress in this field?
            What is the measure of success or failure in our endeavours?
            What is the answer, on the one hand to ignorant outsiders, and on the other hand, to our colleagues, who complain that in more than a century we have not got anywhere, and we are not getting anywhere? Where is that anywhere that the complainants think we should get? 
 
First of all, I draw attention to the words inscribed in our Journal, describing the proposed activities of the SPR.  The founders set out to examine the phenomena now generally known as paranormal.   They saw their remit as examining and reporting on their findings; this necessarily involved setting out their observations in an orderly manner, so taxonomy and classification are included in the task of examination. One can reasonably say that theorising on the findings is a natural outcome of the examination, but one large word is missing from statement of purpose – explanation. I think this was a wise omission. Explanation comes in various forms.
 
A. An explanation in terms of normal causality and current science; in other words, explaining away an effect that was at first light thought to be paranormal.   Psi-deniers are of course pleased and vindicated when some item gets struck off the paranormal menu by this sort of explanation. And not only psi-deniers. I have known members of the SPR whose instincts are so grounded in the gut feeling that there must be a natural explanation for everything that the elimination here and there of a discredited item is seemingly greeted with a rush of endorphins at the restoration of normality to its primacy   But this sort of triage is not the point of psychical research, any more than weeding is the point of gardening; it is just a necessary evil.
 
B. At the other end of the scale there are explanations that depend on theories (whether or not purporting to be scientific), theories more or less personal to the proponent, who is, of course delighted to share these ideas. There are a lot of those floating around, some more plausible than others; but these ideas can’t be regarded as explanations unless they can do at least one of the following, which I call the three keys to explanation:
                        (1)        explain how to produce a paranormal effect, or
                        (2)        explain how to predict when one is going to happen, or
                        (3)        explain exactly, not just vaguely, why neither of these procedures is possible.
 
C. Moving away from the extreme ends, a more interesting explanation is one that accepts the reality of paranormal phenomena - or most of it - and seeks show a compatibility with their interpretations of currently respected theoretical models of science.   As to this the non-scientist can only wait in the wings to see if one of the three keys can be established. 
 
How likely is it that an explanation of one sort or another will be forthcoming, and what would the world be like if this were to come about?   The paper will expand on these themes.
 



Luck beliefs, PMIR, psi and the sheep-goat effect
 
David Luke
School of Health and Social Care, University of Greenwich
 
Shelley Morin
Department of Psychology, Goldsmiths College, University of London
 
Given the growing evidence, such as that from psychophysiological psi research (e.g., Radin, 1997), that psi primarily functions unconsciously, then ordinary everyday psi that serves the needs of the person may merely “look like luck” (Broughton, 1991, p.193). A number of studies have found mixed but generally positive findings for the relationship between perceived personal luckiness and psi (for a review see Luke, 2007). The notion that perceived luckiness is related to psi, however, may be flawed by the lack of specific definitions of luck, given that it has multiple interpretations, so recent research has investigated different luck beliefs in relation to psi.
 
Luke, Delanoy and Shewood (2003) developed a Questionnaire of Beliefs about Luck (QBL) that measures differing beliefs along four non-orthogonal dimensions: Luck (luck is primarily controllable, but also internal, stable and non-random), Chance (luck is random, unpredictable, unstable and inert), Providence (luck is reliably managed by external higher beings or forces), and Fortune (luck is meant as a metaphor for life success rather than as a literal event). Using a non-intentional precognition test paradigm these luck beliefs were explored as predictors of psi in a series of three experiments (Luke, Delanoy & Sherwood, 2008; Luke, Roe & Davison, 2008). In addition, the experiments were designed to explore aspects of Stanford’s (e.g., 1990) ‘psi-mediated instrumental response’ (PMIR) model, within which the notion fits quite neatly that luckiness may ordinarily be used euphemistically to account for everyday unconscious psi. The PMIR model posits that psi primarily works unconsciously but that it does so in the service of the organism, such as in the avoidance of an impending accident, whereby such an event could easily be attributed to luck.
 
The basic set-up of the Luke et al. experiments is a computer programme where participants are asked to select one of four fractal images (mathematical patterns) based on quick aesthetic judgements, one of the images is then selected covertly by the computer, pseudo-randomly, as the unconscious precognition target. Participants perform 10 trials of this non-intentional psi task, and then perform a second task contingent upon their performance in the first task: Those participants scoring above chance on the psi task are directed towards a pleasant task and those scoring below chance are directed toward an unpleasant task, both of which are designed to escalate in pleasantness in direct proportion to the psi score. The pleasant task involved rating cartoon images, although in one version of the experiment erotic images were used instead. In one version of the experiment participants were randomly allocated to conditions either with or without the contingent task, finishing the experiment directly after the non-intentional psi task in the non-contingent condition. Each of the experiments, with a combined total of 157 participants, reported significant psi hitting, and furthermore a significant correlation between psi score and the Luck subscale of the QBL (r = .26) was found in Experiment 1, and with the Chance (r = 48) and Providence (r = .39) subscales in Experiment 2 (Luke, Delanoy & Sherwood, 2008; Luke, Roe & Davison, 2008). Experiment failed to find any relationship between psi score and the QBL subscales, however, but did find one with Openness to Experience (r = .46). Experiment 1 also explored belief in psi and found a weak but significant correlation with psi score (r = .22) in line with the sheep-goat effect (e.g., Palmer, 1971).
 
Exploring the PMIR model, one of the previous experiments had investigated the needs-serving function of psi by testing the hypothesis that having a reward/punishment task contingent upon psi score would be better than having no contingent, but found a non-significant effect in the opposite direction (Luke, Roe & Davison, 2008). It was noted, however, that finishing the psi task directly may have been more rewarding than performing the contingent task, thereby skewing the results, so the present experiment explored this by replicating the contingent/no contingent study but asked participants to rate the pleasantness of the experiment to determine whether performing the contingent task or finishing directly after the psi task was related to psi task performance. Furthermore, measures of luck beliefs (QBL), belief in psi, and Openness to Experience were explored as correlates of psi performance. As with the original contingent/no contingent experiment, participants were drawn from members of the public attending an exhibition, which in this case the keynote speaker discussed the psychology of luck. The research was advertised as a luck experiment and complete data was collected from 41 participants throughout the course of the day.
 
Results of the current study found a higher than chance mean psi score of 2.8 (where MCE = 2.5), as predicted, yet this was not significant (t(40) = 1.19, p = .24, two-tailed). As previously, scores in the no contingent condition (mean = 2.9, N = 20) were higher than in the contingent condition (mean = 2.7, N = 21), but again the difference was not significant (t(39) = .357, p = .72, two-tailed), however participants in the no contingent condition rated the task as more pleasant (mean = 8.7) than the those in the contingent condition (mean = 6.5), with the difference being significant (t(37) = 3.56, p = .001, two-tailed), thereby providing an explanation of the counter-hypothesized contingent condition trend in this and the Luke, Roe and Davison (2008) study: Generally, participants preferred to finish the study directly rather than perform the contingent task, making the psi score trends discovered consistent with the PMIR model. As in previous studies there was a positive relationship between subjective task pleasantness and psi score overall, although not quite reaching significance in the present study (r [38] = .27, p = .092, two-tailed). Furthermore, there was a significant positive correlation between psi score and belief in psi (rs [40] = .49, p = .001) confirming previous sheep-goat effects found with this particular test paradigm (Luke, Delanoy & Sherwood, 2008) and elsewhere, however there were no significant correlations found between any of the QBL subscales nor the Openness to Experience measure. Results are discussed in relation to previous findings and suggestions for further research are made.
 
References
 
Broughton, R. (1991). Parapsychology: The controversial science. New York: Ballantine.
Luke, D.P., Delanoy, D., & Sherwood. (2003). Questionnaire of beliefs about luck.
Unpublished instrument, The University of Northampton, UK.
Luke, D. P., Delanoy, D., & Sherwood. S. J. (2008). Psi may look like luck: Perceived luckiness
and beliefs about luck in relation to precognition. Journal of the Society for Psychical
Research,72 (4), 193-207.
Luke, D. P., Roe, C., & Davison, J. (2008). Testing for forced-choice precognition using a
hidden task: Two replications. Journal of Parapsychology, 72, 133-154.
Palmer, J. (1971). Scoring in ESP tests as a function of ESP. Part I: The sheep-goat effect.
Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 65, 373-408.
Radin, D. I. (1997). Unconscious perception of future emotions: An experiment in presentiment.
Journal of Scientific Exploration, 11, 163–180.
Stanford, R.G. (1974). An experimentally testable model for spontaneous psi events: I.
Extrasensory events. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 68, 34-57.



More on paranormal belief and the conjunction fallacy
 
Paul Rogers, John Fisk & Dawn Wiltshire.
School of Psychology, University of Central Lancashire
 
 
Previous research suggests paranormal believers are particularly poor at judging probability. In one study Rogers, Davis and Fisk (2007) found paranormal believers were especially prone to misperceiving two co-occurring (i.e. conjunct) events as being more likely than either single (i.e. constituent) event alone and thus, that they were particularly susceptible to the ‘conjunction fallacy’ (Tversky & Kahneman, 1982) although contrary to expectations, this was less pronounced when one constituent was portrayed as an ostensibly paranormal event. One potential limitation of Rogers et al’s study is that the single/constituent events within their paranormal versus non-paranormal scenarios differed markedly in content and thus, that the former may have had greater ‘surprise differentials’ than the latter (cf. Fisk, 2004). A second potential limitation is that several scenarios incorporated sequential - rather than truly co-occurring - constituent events. The current study attempts to overcome these methodological limitations by presenting paranormal believers and non-believers with sixteen conjunction scenarios in which event content is essentially the same except for one key paranormal vs. non-paranormal difference (e.g. disclosure of an unknown inheritance occurs via a spiritual medium vs. lawyer). Further, half the scenarios incorporate two constituent events which are truly co-occurring, whilst half incorporate constituent events which are temporally disjointed. Preliminary analyses suggest believers made more conjunction errors than non-believers thereby supporting Rogers et al (2007). Further, whilst all participants made more conjunction errors for paranormal over non-paranormal events, a greater number of errors were made for non-paranormal events that were truly co-occurring. Findings are discussed in relation to believers’ susceptibility to misunderstanding probability and thus to the cognitive deficits model of paranormal belief (French & Wilson, 2007; Irwin & Watt, 2007).
 
 
References
 
Fisk, J., E. (2004). Conjunction fallacy. In R., F. Pohl (ed.). Cognitive illusions: A handbook
on fallacies and biases in thinking, judgement and memory. Hove: Psychology Press.
French, C., C. & Wilson, K. (2007). Cognitive factors underlying paranormal beliefs and
experiences. In S. Della Sala (ed.) Tall Tales: Popular myths about the mind and brain (pp. 3-22). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Irwin, H.J. & Watt, C., A. (2007). An introduction to parapsychology (5th ed.) Jefferson, NC:
McFarland.
Rogers, P., Davis, T. & Fisk, J. (2009). Paranormal belief and susceptibility to the
conjunction fallacy, Applied Cognitive Psychology, 23, 524-542.
Tversky, A. & Kahneman, D. (1982). Judgements of and by representativeness. In D.
Kahneman, P. Slovic & A. Tversky (1982) Judgement under uncertainty: Heuristics and biases (pp. 84-98). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Dreams and geomagnetic activity
 
Adrian Ryan
 
Lipnicki (2009) reported an association between geomagnetic activity (GMA) and dream bizarreness. Using a database of 18,212 dream reports from www.dreambank.net, and employing length of dream report as a proxy for dream bizarreness, I confirmed Lipnicki’s finding: dreams during periods of high GMA had significantly shorter reports than those during periods of low GMA (p = 0.03). The overall correlation between report length and the daily index of GMA (∑Kp) was r = -0.02 p = 0.005. The correlation for each dreamer is tabulated below.
 
Dreamer
N
r
p (2-tailed)
Detlev von Uslar
6073
-0.06
0.000002
Barb Sanders – series 1
3085
0.00
n.s.
Kenneth
2021
-0.01
n.s.
Norman
1235
-0.07
0.01
Emma
1165
0.06
0.04
Barb Sanders – series 2
1138
0.00
n.s.
Pegasus
1092
0.00
n.s.
Dorothea
807
0.05
n.s.
Alta
406
0.00
n.s.
Merri
315
0.03
n.s.
‘The Natural Scientist’
234
0.05
n.s.
Phil
220
-0.02
n.s.
Arlie
212
0.04
n.s.
Melora
209
0.16
0.02
ALL
18212
-0.02
0.005
 
The mixture of negative, positive and zero correlations, and the significant but small overall correlation is reminiscent of the findings reported for the association of free-response ESP trials and global GMA. One explanation for this pattern is that geomagnetic pulsations may be implicated.   The seasonal profile of dream report length is similar to that for pulsations in the 0.2-0.5 Hz range, lending support to this hypothesis. This suggests that dreaming and extrasensory perception utilise the same process, and lends support to the hypothesis (Ryan, 2008) that ESP performance is related to geomagnetic pulsations.
 
References
 
Lipnicki, D. (2009) An association between geomagnetic activity and dream bizarreness. Medical Hypotheses, Volume 73, Issue 1, Pages 115-117.
Ryan, A. (2008). New insights into the links between ESP and geomagnetic activity. Journal of the Society    for Scientific Exploration., Volume 22, Number 3, Pages 335-358.



 
 
Motivation, belief and geomagnetic activity in a remote viewing task
 
Eugene Subbotsky & Adrian Ryan
 
Our study aimed at exploring the effect of motivation, belief and geomagnetic activity in a remote viewing task. Participants were students at Lancaster University. Each participant completed one trial and the study comprised a total of 50 trials.
 
Participants were randomly assigned to either a reward or no-reward group by a method that ensured equal numbers in each group. The motivation of participants in the reward group was manipulated by promising a reward of £80 to those who achieved a hit; this was in addition to a payment of £4 made to all participants for their time. Participants were played a narrative recorded on CD, which gave a background of the remote viewing technique, explained the procedure, and took the participants through an exercise to clear their mind of any mental activity they were currently experiencing. Using the “Stimulus – Response” method described in May (2006), the participants then attempted to remote view a photograph that they would see in their near future.   They created drawings and/or written notes of their impressions, which the experimenter then compared to five photographs chosen randomly by computer, assigning each a rating between 0 and 100 to indicate the degree of similarity. We used the database of target photographs described by May et al (1999) and May (2007). During the judging, participants completed the Australian Sheep-Goat Scale (Thalbourne and Dean, 1993). After ratings for all five photographs had been entered into the computer and saved to disk, the computer randomly selected one of the five photographs as the target and this was displayed to the participant.
 
The plan was to compare participants’ performance with local measurements of geomagnetic activity, from readings taken from a magnetometer in continuous operation at Lancaster University (see http://www.dcs.lancs.ac.uk/iono/samnet/). The direction that participants were facing was recorded to enable future analysis of this variable. The hypotheses to be tested were:
 
(1)   Participants promised a reward score better than those in the no-reward group.
(2)   Belief in the paranormal correlates positively with success.
(3)   Local geomagnetic activity in the 0.2-0.5 Hz band correlates positively with success.
(4)   Local geomagnetic activity in the 0.025-0.1 Hz band correlates negatively with success.
 
In the context of the last two points, see Ryan (2008) for a discussion of the possible association of geomagnetic activity with ESP performance. 
 
We obtained the following results:
 
All participants: N = 50, ES = 0.27, p = 0.0887.
No-reward group: N = 25, ES = 0.53, p = 0.0040.
Reward group: N = 25, ES = -0.09, p = 0.6713.
 
Results of belief and geomagnetic activity analyses will be presented at the conference.
References
 
May, E. C. (2006) Anomalous Cognition: Two Protocols for Data Collection and Analysis. (Unpublished manuscript).
May, E. C. (2007) Advances in anomalous cognition analysis: A judge-free and accurate confidence-calling technique. Proceeding of Presented Papers: The 50th Annual Convention of the Parapsychological Association.
May, E. C., Faith, L. V., Blackman, M., Bourgeois, B., Kerr, N., & Woods, L. (1999). A target pool and database for anomalous cognition experiments. Proceeding of Presented Papers: The 40th Annual Convention of the Parapsychological Association.
Ryan, A. (2008). New insights into the links between ESP and geomagnetic activity. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 22, 335-358.
Thalbourne, M. A. & Dean, P. S. (1993) A new instrument for measuring the sheep-goat variable: its psychometric properties and factor structure. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 59, 172-186.



Fractals, dowsing and sacred sites: emergent information in the visual environment *
 
Paul Stevens
Department of Psychology, Bournemouth University
 
Some theorists like suggest that, for a given environment (or species), the underlying constraints in the way that environment develops (in terms of the growth and development of the component species and their interaction with each other and with the land) can be described according to a fractal geometry i.e., having patterns that repeat at different scales. This “self-similarity” of patterns at differing scales can be quantified by a parameter called the fractal dimension (D), essentially a non-integral value that relates to the number of self-similar pieces that an object can be “broken into” at different scales.
 
This may sound relatively uninteresting to parapsychologists but the relevance comes from putting two different areas of this research together. First of all, D can be calculated for real-life landscapes, and appears to relate to human preference for those landscapes. Two separate studies (Hagerhall, Purcell & Taylor, 2004; Cheung & Wells, 2004) calculated D for the silhouette outline between the landscape and the sky, finding a significant positive correlation between this and people's preference for that image. Secondly, research by Krummel et al (1987) showed that the fractal dimension of the silhouette outline also relates to some interesting, non-visual properties: high-D landscapes are “healthier” in terms of biodiversity (a measure of the variety of life, plant and animal, within a given area). So we have two convergent findings:
 
1. Humans prefer scenes which...
}
contain visual features having higher fractal dimension
2. Healthy (biodiverse) landscapes...
                                                       
The conclusion seems to be that humans, from different cultures and in the absence of any in-depth knowledge about ecology or biology, have an inherent preference for healthy landscapes. Not only prefer, but find them physiologically relaxing and psychologically restorative (Ulrich et al, 1991). This process appears to function at a level before cognition, integrated into the very structure of our sensory systems. In terms of parapsychology, this represents a de facto process of information acquisition that, although it occurs via a conventional sensory pathway, could in some situations give the appearance of (or possibly act as an adjunct to) an extrasensory ability.
 
One such situation is that of dowsing for underground water (or minerals, or buried archaeological sites). The dowsing response usually makes use of some technique (e.g., a suspended pendulum held at arm's length) that brings ideomotor actions such as muscular tremors to conscious awareness, essentially giving simple physiological feedback. Despite many anecdotal claims for its efficacy (and its use by commercial companies), controlled experiments have given inconsistent results. However, many of the controlled studies – be they looking at responses to buried water pipes (Randi, 1979), changes in magnetic field (Jack, 1978) or some other variable – tend not to be naturalistic i.e., they occur out of context in an attempt to isolate the presumed necessary component. If, however, the dowsing response is an indirect one wherein the dowser is responding to something in the scene that correlates with the presence of the target, then such an extraction would necessarily fail. For example, a dowser looking for water may actually be responding to the fractal visual characteristics of the scene, an emergent property that relates to the amount and diversity of vegetation, which in turn relates to a number of factors including the presence of a long-term water supply. This is a similar suggestion to that of Rawcliffe (1952), who suggested that a dowser may be unconsciously noting the colour of soil and vegetation, slight differences in growth of plants, etc. to produce the dowsing response through a process of inference. The key difference here is that the fractal dimension from a specific scene will be based on globalinformation about the landscape as a whole; responding to this aspect of the scene could allow the dowser to have a success rate statistically higher than would be expected from the information apparent in that scene.
 
* This research is supported by a Fundação Bial fellowship (#71/08)
 
Another situation is where humans interpret specific sites as being sacred. While such sites may exist for historical or event-related reasons, it is often unclear as to why specific sites have acquired the label, and whether the concept of “sacred” even translates well from culture to culture (Hubert, 1994, p.11). What is clear is that sites can be held sacred simultaneously by people with incompatible belief systems and that such a classification can endure for long periods of time. Devereux (1997) suggests that sacred sites “may be those which yield greater information than secular ones; locations where information is received more effectively by the unconscious mind”. This ties in well both with the notion of fractal dimension and with the current literature on “restorative” environments that reduce attentional fatigue and which are “effortlessly engaging” (Hartig & Staats, 2003). It would seem worthwhile to look at sacred sites from a fractal perspective.
 
But if fractal dimension does have such an effect, how might this work? A clue may be found in the ecopsychology literature: preferred sites tend to be those which are restorative. As preference relates to higher fractal dimension, this implies that the latter will be linked to similar physiological responses as is found with restorative environments, namely lowered physiological arousal levels (Ulrich et al, 1991). This would make sense: a low-arousal state certainly improves ideomotor responses (Wegner, Ansfield & Pilloff, 1998) so might create or enhance a dowsing response; it may also contribute towards the sense of “inner peace” described by many when talking about sacred places (Mazumdar & Mazumdar, 2004). Looking explicitly at changes in physiological arousal in response to the differing fractal dimensions and different scene categories might thus help us to better understand the underlying principles of human responses to dowsing and sacred sites.
 
References
 
Cheung, K.C. & Wells, N.M. (2004). The Natural Environment & Human Well-Being: Insights from Fractal Composition Analysis? Harmonic and Fractal Image Analysis 1, 76 – 82
Devereux, P. (1997). The archaeology of consciousness. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 11, 527-538
Hagerhall, C.M., Purcell, T. & Taylor, R. (2004). Fractal dimension of landscape silhouette outlines as a predictor of landscape preference. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 24, 247-255
Hartig, T. & Staats, H. (2003). Guest editors' introduction: restorative environments. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 23, 103-107.
Hubert, J. (1994). Sacred beliefs and beliefs of sacredness. In: D.L. Carmichael, J. Hubert, B. Reeves & A. Schanche (eds), Sacred Sites, Sacred Places. London: Routledge, p.9-19.
Jack, W. H. (1978). Dowsing for the presence or absence of an electromagnetic field. New England Journal of Parapsychology, 1, 16-22.
Krummel, J.R., Gardner, R.H., Sugihara, G., O'Neill, R.V. & Coleman, P.R. (1987). Landscape Patterns in a Disturbed Environment. Oikos, 48, 321-324
Mazumdar, S. & Mazumdar, S.(2004). Religion and place attachment: a study of sacred places. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 24, 385-397
Randi, J. (1979). A controlled test of dowsing abilities. The Skeptical Inquirer, 4, 16-20.
Rawcliffe, D. H. (1959). Occult and Supernatural Phenomena. New York: Dover
Ulrich, R.S. (1983). Aesthetic and affective response to natural environment. In: I. Altman & J.F. Wohlwill (eds.), Behavior and the Natural Environment: Human Behavior and Environment – Advances in Theory and Research Volume 6. New York: Plenum Press, pp. 85-126.
Ulrich, R.S., Simons, R.F., Losito B.D., Fiorito, E., Mile, M.A. & Zelson, M. (1991). Stress recovery during exposure to natural and urban environments. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 11, 201-230.
Wegner, D.M., Ansfield, M. & Pilloff, D. (1998). The putt and the pendulum: ironic effects of the mental control of action, Psychological Science, 9, 196-199



The ghost in the machine: an internet survey of haunting experiences
 
Caroline Watt
Department of Psychology, University of Edinburgh
 
Richard Wiseman
Psychology Department, University of Hertfordshire
 
 
 
As part of an event for the 2009 Edinburgh International Science Festival, we conducted an online survey of ghostly experiences. The survey was publicised through the press and broadcast media, inviting members of the public to visit the event website and complete the online questionnaire. The survey included a personality questionnaire, items about respondents’ viewing of paranormal TV programming, and a series of questions about their ghostly experiences – defined as ‘an experience that you believe might have been caused by the spirit of a deceased person or animal’. Respondents were asked what kind of ghost they had experienced (man, woman, dog, cat, uncertain, other), in which sensory modalities the ghost was experienced, and whether the experience included movements of objects and erratic functioning of apparatus. Respondents indicated their circumstances when they experienced the ghost (its location relative to their body, and their state of consciousness during the experience). Finally, they were asked whether their experience was solitary, or if it had been shared with others.
 
3276 individuals responded, 58% female and 42% male. Of these, 60% said they had experienced a ghost on one or more occasions. This incidence is relatively high compared to the figure of around 10% from previous surveys, perhaps because the current sample is self-selecting. The most common experience was of the ghost of a man (33%), followed by ‘uncertain’ (30%), a woman (25%), and only 2.3% had experienced the ghost of a dog, or a cat (1.8%). 18% of individuals were in an alert mental state when they had their ghostly experience, compared to 29% engaged in an automatic or daily routine activity, and 45% in a relaxed state. This is consistent with previous surveys showing that apparitional experiences more often occur when individuals are in a mild altered state of consciousness. 57% of the experiences occurred in the visual sensory modality, 45% were asensory (a sense of a presence), 35% auditory, 23% tactile, and 13% olfactory. 20% of respondents indicated that their experience involved an apparently anomalous object movement, and 15% involved unusual functioning of apparatus. In many cases, the experiences involved more than one sensory modality, again consistent with previous surveys.
 
The presentation will give more details on these and other results of the survey, including the personality of respondents, and their viewing habits for paranormal TV programming. We will also report on a follow-up investigation into the surprising finding that 40% of experients reported that their experience had been shared with others. 



 
 
Ghost photography *
 
Richard Wiseman
Psychology Department, University of Hertfordshire
 
 
Since the birth of photography fierce debates have raged about images appearing to depict ghosts and spirit-forms, with proponents convinced that they represent proof of life after death and sceptics searching for more rational explanations. Most of these debates have centred on a small number of images. In April 2009, I headed up a team of researchers who aimed to collect together a large number of previously unseen ‘ghostly’ photographs as assess their evidence value for the existence of life after death. 
 
A public appeal for images was reported by the international media, and resulted in almost one thousand submissions. About 90% of the photographs could be easily explained and involved, for example, ‘orbs’ caused by the camera flash reflecting off tiny dust particles, ‘mists’ formed by condensed breath in front of the lens, and ‘ghosts’ that were inadvertently created by long exposures. However, the remaining 10% of submissions deserved further investigation.
 
Around a hundred of the most puzzling photographs were posted on a project website, and thousands of people commented on them. These pictures were subjected to considerable scrutiny, often involving professional photographers, experts in digital manipulation and some on-site investigations. In this talk I will present a summary of these investigations, showing both images that appear to have a rational explanation and those that still remain something of a puzzle.
 
 
* This project was carried out with the invaluable assistance of Dr Caroline Watt, Gordon Rutter, and the Edinburgh International Science Festival.



 
An exploratory investigation into empathy and the precognition of emotional faces
 
C. A.  Simmonds-Moore
Department of Psychology, Liverpool Hope University
 
 
Emotions may play an important role in the psi process (c.f. Broughton, 2006) as indexed by spontaneous cases (e.g., L. E. Rhine, 1953,1961; Sannwald, 1963) and experimental research (Dalkvist & Westerlund,1998; Ramakers, 2008; Watt, 1996). With this in mind, the seven human emotions (as expressed in Ekman & Freisen’s Pictures of Facial Affect, 1976) were employed as targets in a forced choice computerised precognition experiment. It was hypothesised that the hit rates for identifying future emotional faces would exceed mean chance expectation. In addition, given that biological emotions differ in terms of their biological/evolutionary ‘relevance’ (e.g., the human amygdala responds most efficiently toward emotional events which are associated with survival and reacts more to emotions of surprise and fear and the presence of blood than those of sadness and happiness; see Whalen, 1998), we sought to compare the hit rates across the 7 different types of human emotion across all experimental trials. In addition, the relationship between the social cognitive variable empathy and precognition of emotional faces was also explored. Despite higher empathy among self defined psychics (Dziobek, Rogers, Fleck, Hassenstab, Gold, Wolf, & Convit, 2005) and a subjective similarity between being ‘empathic’ and being ‘psychic’, the relationship between empathy and ESP (in particular of emotions) has been relatively unexplored in the literature (c.f. Donovan, 1998). As such, it was hypothesized that a psychometric measure of empathy would correlate with the number of correctly detected future emotions.
 
Staff, students and colleagues of the experimenter were recruited to take part in this investigation at Liverpool Hope University. Each participant filled out a paper and pencil measure of empathy (The Empathy Quotient; Lawrence, Shaw, Baker, Baron-Cohen, & David, 2004) and then took part in a short computerized test for precognition. This consisted of completing a series of 35 precognitive “trials” per person. Each trial comprised of being presented with a random order of 7 emotional faces (from Ekman & Freisen’s Pictures of Facial Affect, 1976). Following a prompt, participants were asked to select which face they felt would be selected by the computer in the future. Guess rates were compared to chance. In addition, response rates for each of the different emotional faces were compared with one another. Scoring on the Empathy quotient was correlated with overall psi performance. Finally, the relationship between handedness and psi was also explored.
 
 
 
 
Irreducible mind: evidence is not enough
 
David Rousseau *
Centre for Fundamental and Anomalies Research (C-FAR)
 
 
“It is not scientific discoveries that have created the important difficulties for dualist views, and no empirical evidence could do anything to rescue such views.”
(Cockburn 1989)
 
The question of whether consciousness survives bodily death has been a central concern of the SPR since its inception, and an impressive body of evidence apparently relevant to survival has been amassed (Myers 1903, Hart 1959, Gauld 1982, Braude 2003, and Fontana 2005 give important overviews). 
 
However, evidence only has meaning within an interpretive framework (Quine 1968), and a framework that allows for survival requires commitment to some form of substance dualism. But dualism is widely regarded as deeply problematical, perhaps even incoherent (Heil 2004 p. 16,  Oderberg 2005 p. 70 n. 1). As a consequence, most philosophers insist that human nature must be, somehow, completely explicable in physicalistic terms, even though no-one can see how to make this work. As, for example, the philosopher of mind John Heil (2004) admits,
 
“…consciousness is deeply mysterious on anyone’s view. We have no idea how to accommodate consciousness to the material world, no idea how to explain the phenomenon of consciousness.” 
 
On an assumption of physicalism, not only consciousness but all the key aspects of human nature such as identity, personhood, persistence, free will, morality etc are utterly mysterious. 
 
So, we have an impasse. If dualism is assumed, the resulting interpretive framework appears to be incoherent, but if physicalism is right it appears to be impotent. There are four main ways forward from here. They are: (a) keep faith with Physicalism and wait for key progress (see Rosenberg 2009 for a recent expression of confidence in this strategy), or (b) call the problem insoluble or at least beyond our abilities to solve, as for instance advocated by Colin McGinn (1996), or (c) claim that, as a brute fact, physical matter has mental properties at the fundamental level, as in e.g. the panprotopsychism of Hameroff (2003), or (d) re-evaluate dualism and see whether it can be revived in some modified form. Are the arguments against dualism really so decisive? Much has changed in science and philosophy since Descartes kicked off the modern debate over 350 years ago. Perhaps in the light of a current perspective the dualist way could be shown to be a live option after all.
 
Such a reconsideration will be the subject of my talk. There are around twenty significant objections to dualism, but most revisionist commentators (and fair-minded opponents of dualism) have only dealt with a few (for representative examples, see Griffin 1997, Dilley 2004,Lowe, 2008,  and especially Lycan 2008).
 
In my presentation, I will review the metaphysical objections to dualism, discuss how strong they are, and show to what extent they can plausibly be weakened or overcome. I will argue that the metaphysical objections are weaker than many philosophers acknowledge, but that they cannot be entirely dismissed. The upshot is that although it is possible to open up the metaphysical possibility that people have souls, metaphysical considerations do constrain what can be true about the actual nature of souls. This a priori picture of the soul constrains and guides the way in which empirical evidence for the existence and nature of the souls can be interpreted.
Attempts that try to defend the existence of the soul in terms outside these constraints stand no chance of surviving scrutiny in any philosophical or scientific debate. Within these constraints, however, the existence of the soul is a live option and a rich vein of philosophical/scientific exploration is opened up.
 

This presentation includes aspects of my PhD research project at the University of Wales, Lampeter. I am grateful to the SPR for their financial support and other help.

 
References
 
Braude, S. (2003). Immortal remains : the evidence for life after death. Lanham Md.: Rowman & Littlefield.
Cockburn, D. (1989). People and the paranormal. In A. Berger (Ed.), Perspectives on death and dying : cross-cultural and multi-disciplinary views. Philadelphia: Charles Press.
Dilley, F. B. (2004). Taking consciousness seriously: A defense of Cartesian dualism. International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, 55(3), 135-153.
Fontana, D. (2005). Is there an afterlife? Ropley, Hants UK: O Books.
Gauld, A. (1982). Mediumship and survival : a century of investigations. London: Heinemann.
Griffin, D. (1997). Parapsychology, philosophy, and spirituality : a postmodern exploration. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Hameroff, S. (2003). Whitehead and Quantum Computation in the Brain: Panprotopsychism Meets the Physics of Fundamental Spacetime Geometry. In M. Weber (Ed.), Whitehead Process Network Compendium.
Hart, H. (1959). The enigma of survival : the case for and against the after life. London: Rider.
Heil, J. (2004). Philosophy of mind : a contemporary introduction (2nd ed.). New York: Routledge.
Lowe, E. J. (2008). Personal Agency: The Metaphysics of Mind and Action. OUP Oxford.
Lycan, W. G. (2008). Giving dualism its due. Australasian Journal of Philosophy.
McGinn, C. (1996). Problems in Philosophy: The Limits of Inquiry. The Philosophical Quarterly., 46(182), 117.
Myers, F. (1903). Human personality and its survival of bodily death. (Vols. 1-2). London: Longmans Green.
Oderberg, D. (2005). Hylemorphic dualism. In E. Paul, F. D. Miller, & J. Paul (Eds.), Personal Identity (pp. 70-99). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Quine, W. V. (1968). Ontological Relativity. The Journal of Philosophy, 65(7), 185-212.
Rosenberg, R. N. (2009). Consciousness, Coma, and Brain Death--2009. Journal of the American Medical Association, 301(11), 1172-1174.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 



Matter, mind and higher dimensions
 
Bernard Carr
School of Mathematical Sciences, Queen Mary University of London
 
 
The notion that there could be extra dimensions beyond the three revealed by our physical senses – and that ordinary physical reality could be a pale reflection of some deeper higher-dimensional reality – has a long history. It has been proposed both by physicists trying to explain certain aspects of the material world and by philosophers proposing a new model of mind. In this paper I will argue that these two higher-dimensional spaces should be identified, thereby providing an extension of physics which incorporates both normal and paranormal mental phenomena. The talk places some of the ideas described in my recent Proceedings article [1] in a broader historical context.
 
As regards the physicists’ higher dimensions, it is well known that Einstein showed that the world is 4-dimensional, with time being the 4th dimension. However, besides the four “external” dimensions of spacetime, there could also be extra “internal” dimensions whose existence provides a geometrical interpretation of various non-gravitational interactions. This approach was pioneered in the 1920s by Kaluza and Klein, who showed that a 5th dimension can provide a unified description of gravity and electromagnetism, providing it is wrapped so small that it cannot be seen. Subsequently, it was discovered that there are other subatomic interactions and recent unification theories suggest that these can be explained by invoking yet more wrapped-up dimensions. For example, the currently popular M-theory suggests there could be seven and – in one particular variant – some of the extra dimensions are extended, so that the physical world is viewed as a 4-dimensional “brane” in a higher-dimensional “bulk” [2].
 
As regards the philosophers’ higher dimensions, this proposal was particularly popular around the time of the founding of the SPR, with various spiritualistic phenomena being interpreted as intrusions from a 4th dimension [3-5]. This approach went out of vogue with the advent of relativity theory, because Einstein’s 4th dimension did not seem appropriate for such exotic purposes. But in the 1950s the idea of mind as some form of higher-dimensional space was revived, partly to describe the relationship between physical space and phenomenal space in normal perception [6] and partly to explain paranormal perception [7-8]. These proposals did not explicitly connect with parallel developments in physics, although some theorists did invoke higher-dimensional extensions of special relativity to explain certain forms of psychic connectedness [9-12].
 
My own approach combines these two higher-dimensional proposals by invoking a “Universal Structure”, which can be interpreted as a higher-dimensional information space. This space has a hierarchical structure (related to brane theory) and incorporates both matter and mind. It is claimed that the model resolves well-known philosophical problems concerning the relationship between matter and mind, elucidates the nature of time, and provides an ontological framework for the interpretation of phenomena such as apparitions, OBEs, NDEs and dreams. It also expands our understanding of the physical world, this being to the lowest member of the posited hierarchy. The paradigm shares features of other recent proposals [13-15].
 
 
 
 
 
 
References
 
 [1] Carr, B.J. (2008). “Worlds Apart? Can Psychical Research Bridge the Gulf between Matter and Mind?”, Proc SPR 59, 1-96.   
 [2] Randall, L. (2005) Warped Passages. Unravelling the Universe’s Hidden Dimensions. New York: Allen Lane.
 [3] Zollner, J.C.F. (1880) Transcendental Physics. London: W.H.Harrison.
 [4] Abbott, E.A. (1983) Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions. Reprint of 1888 text. New York: Barnes & Noble.
 [5] Hinton, C.H. (1980) Speculations on the Fourth Dimension: Selected Writings of C.H.Hinton, ed.   R.Rucker. New York: Dover.
 [6] Smythies, J.R. (1956) Analysis of Perception. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
 [7] Price, H.H. (1955) Survival and the idea of another world. Proc SPR 50, 1-25.
 [8] Broad, C.D. (1953) Religion, Philosophy & Psychical Research. New York: Harcourt, Brace.
 [9] Whiteman, J.H.M. (1977) Parapsychology and physics. In Handbook of Parapsychology. ed. B. Wolman, pp 730-756, New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.
[10] Targ, R., Puthoff, H.E. and May, E.C. (1979) Direct perception of remote geographic locations. In Mind at Large, ed. C.T. Tart, H.E. Puthoff & R. Targ, pp 78-106. New York: Praeger.
[11] Rauscher, E.A. (1983) The physics of psychic phenomena in space and time Part II: Multidimensional geometric models. Psi Research 2, 93-120.
[12] Ramon, C. and Rauscher, E.A. (1980) Superluminal transformations in complex Minkowski space. Foundations of Physics 10, 661-669.
[13] Ralphs, J. (1992). Exploring the Fourth Dimension. London: Quantum.
[14] Beichler, J.E. (1999) The five-dimensional continuum approach to a unified field theory. Yggdrasil: Journal of Paraphysics 2, 101-203.
[15] Marshall, P.D. (2001) Transforming the world into experience: An idealist experiment. Journal of Consciousness Studies 8, 59-76.
 
 
 



 
 
 
Can Tertullian’s theory of the soul offer anything useful for parapsychology?
 
Michael Potts *
Department of Philosophy, Methodist University, Fayetteville, USA
 
Amy Devanno **
 
 
Like scientists in other fields, parapsychologists are influenced by metaphysical commitments, especially at the level of theory. Some contemporary parapsychologists, such as John Beloff and (with caveats) Charles Tart, are attracted to Cartesian dualism. They believe that the evidence from psi supports the view that human beings are composed of two substances, mind and body, that interact. This “mind,” “consciousness,” or “soul” may survive the death of the physical body. Other parapsychologists, such as Dean Radin, have monistic metaphysical tendencies, and believe that the data from psi support a version of panpsychism, the idea that mind is the fundamental constituent of reality.
 
But where does that leave individuals who believe that embodiment is an essential part of human nature? Some key twentieth century philosophers, both in the analytic tradition (Ludwig Wittgenstein, Gilbert Ryle) and in the phenomenological tradition (especially Maurice Merleau-Ponty), have developed powerful critiques of Cartesian dualism. In particular, Merleau-Ponty has argued that the lived body of our everyday experience is not some entity separate from the “self,” but is our “self” acting in the world. A person rising from bed would more naturally think that she is rising from bed, rather than thinking that her body is rising from bed.
 
In addition, some traditional Jews, Christians, and Muslims believe that human beings require the body to be persons, especially given belief in bodily resurrection. Although they often believe in some kind of soul, they do not identify the soul with the person; thus, a disembodied soul is, at best, a temporary state before an individual receives a new body. The evidence from psi seems to contradict this view, positing powers of the mind that go beyond space (telepathy, clairvoyance, and psychokinesis) and time (precognition). These powers, in turn, suggest to dualist parapsychologists that there exists a nonmaterial soul that operates outside of the usual spatio-temporal framework and might not be spatio-temporally localizable. In addition, many parapsychologists who accept the evidence for survival (mediumship studies, apparitions, death bed visions, NDEs) believe that such evidence supports an individual’s continued existence after death as a disembodied soul alone. Without further options, these traditionalists will likely reject the findings of parapsychology.
 
The ancient Christian writer Tertullian (160-220) offers an alternative interpretation of both the soul and what today would be called psi phenomena. Following the Stoics, he believes the soul is corporeal, “a body” (corpus) that physically interacts with the fleshly body. The soul is “somatoform,” to use Carol Zaleski’s terminology; that is, it is in the shape of a human body, a kind of “mirror image” of a person’s fleshly body. The soul has arms, legs, sense organs, and an “organ of thought;” to put it in contemporary terms, the soul has an analogue to the brain. With this internal organic structure, the soul senses, thinks, and emotes—and can continue to do these things after the fleshly body dies.
 
Tertullian interprets psi experience to support his theory. He accepts a natural power of “divination,” or to use parapsychological terminology, “precognition.” Tertullian believes that all people have this capacity, although they only use it intermittently. He argues that precognition is caused by the soul being physically moved by something from the outside and such movement is evidence that the soul is corporeal.
 
Since the soul is corporeal, it has three spatial dimensions and is spatio-temporally locatable. But most individuals cannot see disembodied souls because these souls are “airy” or “transparent.” However, Tertullian knew a Christian woman who had not only telepathic powers but a capacity for visions. In one vision, she saw an apparition, a soul, which appeared as an image of a human body, but was “airy” or semi-transparent. Tertullian later argues that out-of-body experiences require a corporeal soul, since he believes that only a body can have experiences. Death bed visions are another way that the soul can peer into the afterlife. An epistemological argument Tertullian presents is that without a body no one would be able to identify a soul as this particular individual (a point echoed recently by Charles Tart).
 
We do not argue that the particulars of Tertullian’s view of the soul are valid. But we believe that a study of Tertullian is useful for parapsychology in at least three ways. First, Tertullian reveals again how the data from psi can be interpreted to fit different metaphysical viewpoints. Since current theories of psi are strongly underdetermined by the evidence, it can be useful for parapsychologists to examine older writers to discover helpful conceptual resources.
 
Second, Tertullian shows that even in ancient times individuals struggled with reconciling the data from psi with the human experience of being embodied. If embodiment is essential in some way to human identity, what shall we do with psi? Tertullian at least tries to provide an answer.
 
Finally, Tertullian’s general approach to the soul suggests that traditional believers in the great monotheistic religions may be able to find ways to reconcile the data from psi with their theological presuppositions. Perhaps between death and resurrection, the soul is a body of some kind, or perhaps it takes on a temporary body similar to the astral body of some Eastern traditions. Long after Tertullian, in the Middle Ages, Dante and others again developed the idea of a somatoform soul, this time by modifying Thomistic philosophy. We hope that those who believe, whether for scientific, philosophical, or theological reasons, that embodiment is essential for personal identity and that a disembodied soul is untenable will make new attempts to develop a theory that fits the data from psi.



The psychical healing of cancer through Qigong
 
Miao Xingzhuang*
Sociology Institutes, Guangzhou Academy of Social Sciences, China.
 
 
Qigong is a kind of psychical exercise. Through the special psychical exercise, people can enhance their health and heal illness. Nowadays, cancer is still a disease that cannot be healed completely through a conventional medical treatment. The reason is that people haven’t found the real origin of cancer. Here, a hypothesis is proposed to explain cancer in the Qigong perspective, and introduce the way to treat cancer through Qigong. Three cases of Qigong treatment of Cancer were supplied.
 
According to the theory of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), inside the body, there is a network of main and collateral paths (Jing-luo), and a kind of matter or energy flows along these paths, the matter or energy is called Qi, ancient Chinese believe it is the source of vitality. Smooth and unobstructed paths is the precondition of healthiness, because it’s the precondition that Qi can flow freely through it.
 
The Qi not only exists in human body, it exists in all creatures, including animals. When an organism died, the body rotted soon, but the Qi inside the body can separate from the body and survive independently for a period, it contains energy and matter, and a similar structure is also kept. In fact, it is maybe the soul or spirit of creature. Once the survived Qi of the dead organisms comes into people’s body, the invaded Qi will block the body’s network of paths, the Qi of his own can no longer flow freely. Some time later, the body will fall ill.
 
The hypothesis is that cancer is caused by the invasion of the survived Qi from out. The invaded Qi has its own structure and power, it is not compatible with the structure of the body, it imposes an extra force on the genes in the cell nucleolus, this extra force can cause gene mutation, and thus, the normal cells turn to cancer cells.
 
Because cancer is caused by the invasion of survived Qi from outside, medicines can do little to the survived Qi, but there are two ways to deal with it. If these ways combined with conventional therapy, most cancer may be healed completely.
 
The first way is that some experienced Qigong practicers use their psychical power to help the cancer patient, to clean the invaded Qi inside the patient’s body, then the cancer may be defeated. But for most Qigong practitioners, the method they usually use to cure is to emit Qi to the patient, this power is limited and the effect may not very well, for the Qi inside the body of the Qigong master is limited, so he cannot do this kind of therapy for very long time. If the Qigong practitioners use their psychical power absorb invaded Qi out of the patient’s body, the effect will be very significant. For this method doesn’t consume the Qigong master’s Qi, so the treatment can persist for long time and the effect is well.
 
The second way is to do the psychical exercise of Qigong by the cancer patient himself, but, for a new practicer, the power usually increases slowly, and the effect may not very significant.
 
The author has three cases of treatment. Of course, these three cases may be only occasional, so the author wants to have an opportunity to do more experiments under scientific study design and strict control, to test the effect of Qigong treatment of cancer.



Communicating the intangible: A phenomenological exploration of energy healing
 
Carl Williams & Diane Dutton
Department of Psychology, Liverpool Hope University
 
 
The field of “energy medicine” is showing high levels of growth in the west in spite of the controversial nature of “psychic” or “subtle energy”. Critics assume that the concept of “energy” signals a return to outdated premodern vitalistic notions. Proponents of energy medicine contend that techniques such as Thought Field Therapy (TFT) and Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) have been shown to be particularly efficacious in treating phobias, post traumatic stress and influencing physiological processes (e.g. Callahan, 2001). Typically these therapies involve using finger tapping on purported acupuncture points to release blocked energies while attention is focused on psychological or physical symptoms. Counteradvocates (e.g. Pignotti, 2007) argue that these techniques have not been tested adequately and take a-priori positions on the philosophical impossibility of energy medicine. We suggest that the indeterminate and intersubjective nature of the therapeutic process in these encounters may be best captured through phenomenological approaches which ground experience in embodiment (e.g. Shapiro, 1985).   Drawing on the approach Csordas (1997) has used with charismatic healers we explore the interactions between such an energy therapist and his clients, examining somatic modes of attention, delineating the techniques used, identifying the conceptual frameworks underpinning these and describing the pragmatic and imaginative manoeuvres involved in energy therapy.
 
References
 
Callahan, R. J. (2001) Raising and lowering heart rate variability (HRV): Some clinical findings of Thought Field Therapy. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 57, 1175-1186.
Csordas, T. J. (1997) The Sacred Self. A cultural Phenomenology of Charismatic Healing. London: University of California Press.
Pignotti, M. (2007) Thought field therapy: A former insider’s experience. Research on Social Work Practice, 17, 392-407.
Shapiro, K. J. (1985) Bodily reflective modes: A phenomenological analysis method for psychology. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press



The animal connection: Evaluating accounts of animal psi
 
Diane Dutton & Carl Williams
Department of Psychology, Liverpool Hope University
 
 
Although rarely studied in modern-day parapsychology, animal psi research provides a unique context in which to examine explanatory frameworks concerning the nature and function of psi. Although subject to similar methodological challenges as research on human psi, understanding animal psi requires an additional layer of interpretation in discerning the meaning of animal behaviour, motivation and emotion. Central to this process of interpretation is the human-animal relationship. We compare a spectrum of approaches to animal psi, from experimental efforts to isolate psi from the human-animal relationship, to the claims of lay animal ‘communicators’ who conceptualise psi as an expression of a natural connection between humans and animals. We argue that the evidence from these different perspectives emphasises the dynamic, spontaneous and intersubjective nature of psi, which is more likely to be elicited within the context of close human-animal relationships.
 
 



Anomalous experiences and qualitative research
 
Craig Murray
School of Health and Medicine, Lancaster University
 
 
People have experiences that may be called anomalous or paranormal: they report parapsychological phenomena, such as telepathy and ESP; they claim mystical or transcendental experiences; and they interact with non-human entities, such as spirits. These are not uncommon experiences: a recent Ipsos/MORI representative survey of the UK population commissioned by the Anomalous Experiences Research Unit at the University of York revealed that 11% of the sample claimed telepathic experiences, 13% claimed general extra sensory phenomena, 10% reported contact with the dead and 12% claimed a mystical experience. These findings are broadly commensurate with studies of the incidence of anomalous experiences across Europe and the US.
 
Traditionally within psychology, it has been assumed that the key task is to identify the determining factors that lead people to believe erroneously that they have experienced anomalous or paranormal phenomena. In recent years, however, there has developed an alternative perspective, in which the analytic goal is not to ‘explain away’ participants’ claims or experiences, nor to corroborate them, but to understand in more detail their significance as psychological, social and cultural events. This is because it is believed that the serious study of anomalous or paranormal experiences can cast light on issues such as consciousness, self, spirituality and human communication. Research in this area has focused on anomalous experiences, which certainly do occur, and has set aside the reality of ostensibly paranormal processes that are said to underpin them.
 
The aim of this symposium is to examine qualitative work on a variety of anomalous experiences, highlight in particular the methodological issues such work raises, and to make links with other areas of psychology, the social sciences, and disciplines beyond these boundaries. This includes work which attempts to understand paranormal attributions using a discursive psychological and conversation analytical framework, as well as work in which it is argued that anomalous experience can only be fully understood by examining the meanings which such experiences have for those concerned, and the contexts in which they occur.
 
The symposium brings together leading researchers in qualitative research and anomalistic psychology. This introduction will include an overview of the normalcy of these experiences, and the implications of this for the kind of everyday social and psychological processes qualitative psychologists study. Part of the argument here will be that analysis of these forms of experiences can tell us about social and psychological processes even if it transpires that they are ultimately explained by reference to already known processes/mechanisms. That is, we advocate a policy of ontological independence, in that research should be intellectually credible regardless of the existence of psi/anomalous communication. A second crucial aspect of the argument to be presented here is that research should investigate aspects of anomalous experiences while at the same time connecting with and contributing to other areas of qualitative research in psychology and other disciplines.
 



The social psychology of anomalous experience*
 
 
Fiona Campbell
Psychological Sciences, Manchester University
 
Craig D. Murray
School of Health and Medicine, Lancaster University
 
 
This presentation will focus on the observation of collaborative paranormal attributions made in a sitter group’s meetings. One sitter group met regularly in an attempt to contact a group created, fictional character to gain possible anomalous experiences (see Batcheldor, 1966; 1984, Owen, 1974). This group provided an audiovisual record of their meetings and these formed the data to be analysed in the present study. The ways in which these group members gathered in a sitter group environment to experience possible anomalous phenomena together, discuss experiences and negotiate them, was of research interest.
 
Data analysis drew on Discursive Psychology and Conversation Analysis which explore discourse as a form of social action, and how facts can be examined for their construction and the displays of acceptance of these through conversation (Potter, 1996).
 
Some 23 events emerged during three transcribed sittings, each of which lasted between 55 minutes and 1 hour 10 minutes. Thirty-two excerpts were identified as relevant for analysis. Of particular interest within these excerpts were the continuous re-occurrences of particular conversational techniques and the occasions when such techniques were deviated from. These excerpts were analysed discursively, to examine the conversational and discursive practices via which group members attributed events as paranormal or not.
 
The group used several methods of collaboration in discussing and deciding upon the outcome of a claimed event. These included how it was highlighted and discussed, how alliances were formed and arguments created, including use of ridicule of others and subversion, how a lack of a requested event was managed, and how the discussion of a possible event was brought to a close, if indeed it was at all.
 
The study made no attempt to prove or disprove the occurrences of paranormal phenomena, but rather sought to understand how such claimed experiences are understood and discussed within a group. It is argued that the features of the data identified have implications for understanding how people collectively make paranormal attributions. The use of the qualitative methods of Discursive Psychology and Conversation Analysis elaborate how events become to be ‘worked up’ as paranormal or not. The implications for accounts of spontaneous cases involving multiple witnesses is discussed.
 
 
* With thanks to the SPR for generous funding to cover MPhil University fees



‘We all had an experience in there together’: a discursive psychological analysis of collaborative paranormal accounts
 
Carrie Childs
Department of Social Sciences, Loughborough University
 
Craig D. Murray
School of Health and Medicine, Lancaster University
 
 
 
This is a study of verbal accounts of paranormal investigators. The focus of analysis is upon the rhetorical organization of event descriptions in order to highlight the inherent problems associated with current understandings of reports of spontaneous cases. Drawing upon a corpus of interviews conducted with six investigation group members, analysis was conducted using DP (discursive psychology), with an examination of the ways in which accounts were presented and the effects of describing events in particular ways. Conversation analysis (CA) was recruited in order to ground analytical claims in the turn-by-turn interaction between speakers. Analysis revealed how speakers collectively worked to infer the paranormal status of events while avoiding explicitly labelling experiences as ‘paranormal’. By focussing upon the collaborative construction of event descriptions and the importance of the context in which accounts are elicited, the current work has implications for the way in which parapsychologists currently utilize and understand accounts of spontaneous cases.
 



Interpreting the anomalous: finding meaning in OBEs and NDEs
 
David J. Wilde
Psychological Sciences,University of Manchester
 
Craig D. Murray
 School of Health and Medicine, Lancaster University
 
Most of modern parapsychological research has been focused on issues concerning either the veridicality of ostensibly paranormal phenomena, or to determine more precisely the underlying process by which these phenomena may manifest themselves. This research agenda has produced a wealth of very creditable studies of a mostly nomothetic nature using laboratory experiments and/or questionnaire surveys. Yet, traditionally, there exists a third strand of exploration in this field of study–phenomenological research–which in recent times has been somewhat overlooked, and, one might say, to the detriment of understanding the psychological life of the person have having such experiences. Furthermore, where phenomenologically-related research has been carried out, it has often been reported without recourse to its theoretical or epistemological roots.
 
In an attempt to redress these criticisms, the authors introduce Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) as a relatively new qualitative method for investigating parapsychological experiences. Theoretically and philosophically, IPA is a founded on a blend of phenomenology, hermeneutics and symbolic interactionism. IPA is phenomenological in that it seeks to obtain and honour a person’s experiences, understandings, perceptions and accounts. There is no attempt to construct an objective truth about an experience; rather IPA is more concerned with the subjective account and meaning of the experience. IPA also employs hermeneutics of meaning-recollection in attempting to view a participant’s experience through their eyes while concurrently trying to maintain a critical distance.
 
In this paper, the authors argue that, with its focus on describing and interpreting the process, intricacy and novelty of personal experience, IPA appears ideally suited as a method of qualitative investigation to address important fundamental research questions posed by modern day parapsychology; for instance, the need for a closer examination of the longitudinal after-effects of such experiences, the nature of those after-effects, and the temporal, social and psychological factors that may impinge on how the individual integrates these experiences, and in particular, the effect on their sense of self or identity.
 
In closing, the authors present several examples of how they have used IPA to explore the relatively common phenomena of Out-of-Body and Near-Death Experiences; both of which are often exceptional events that are richly a part of the experient’s life and as such the experient will cognize about them, talk about them and, as previous research has shown, their behaviour can be affected by the event.
 
Pragmatically, by examining the experience and meaning of these life events, interpretative phenomenological research findings can better furnish psychologists and health care professionals to understand their clients’ experiences and to help them with any potential personality transformations or psycho-spiritual crises that may arise after the event.