Report on SPR Conference, September 2009

This year’s 33rd International SPR Conference, held at Nottingham on 4-6 September, was extremely successful. Housed on the astonishing Jubilee Campus of Nottingham University (site of the old Raleigh cycle factory), the eighty-plus delegates could marvel at the leading-edge architecture and hear stimulating papers on a wide range of topics.

This annual get-together is always an ideal opportunity to share ideas over an intensive couple of days in a pleasant environment, and participants took full advantage of it.

Michael Potts (USA) Proceedings were opened by Bernard Carr, chair of the Programme Committee, with a request to delegates to raise a hand if this was their first SPR conference, and perhaps half did so. A large proportion of the audience, and a number of the speakers, came from outside the UK, justifying the ‘International’ in the conference’s full title. The overwhelming feeling was of a vigorous and vibrant research community, demonstrating the SPR’s continuing relevance to the subject.

The sheer number of papers on offer was impressive – over twenty, dealing with the theoretical, the historical and the experimental, and rounded off with a symposium focusing on qualitative research. The conference abstracts can be found elsewhere on the SPR website, but to highlight a few impressions, some things were particularly striking.

Given the number of timeslip reports coming from there, Liverpool must rank as one of the most paranormal cities in the country, and using a radio programme to elicit such a large number of accounts suggests that spontaneous case researchers are missing potentially useful evidence by not being proactive enough. Several talks demonstrated that the internet is a powerful conduit for communication with the public, and tool for research.

Alas we are still waiting for Mick O’Neill (who ably oversaw the technical side of the conference and must have lost a few pounds running up and down the steep stairs with the microphone during question time) to make us all rich from his annual experiment to try to win the National Lottery using psychic abilities. And one gets the impression that physicists investigating higher dimensions are inspired by Spinal Tap (“mine goes up to 11”). Overall the speakers generated a large number of questions, and general discussion, both after presentations and in any available non-sleeping time, was lively. Trevor Hamilton's talk on Myers

There was an opportunity in a formal session to discuss the SPR’s website, how it is structured, the interactions we have with members and the public, and future plans. In addition to the conference papers, Trevor Hamilton gave a superbly illustrated after-dinner talk on Frederic Myers, based on his new book, Immortal Longings. Judging by the appreciative comments afterwards, it inspired a renewed interest among some delegates in the early history of the Society. Melvyn Willin as troubadour

But it wasn’t all work, oh no. The bar stayed open until 1am, demonstrating what a wild (and noisy when they get their hands on the table football) bunch off-duty parapsychologists can be. But a special word has to be reserved for Melvyn Willin who, bravely dressed in his troubadour outfit complete with a fetching pair of tights, finished off the banquet – in more ways than one – with a specially-composed song featuring SPR personnel. The writs are in the post.

Melvyn and SPR librarian Karen Patel also ran a successful book stall on Saturday. Thanks are due to them, to the Programme Committee which as Bookstall at SPR Conferenceever did a tremendous job in pulling together an excellent series of papers, and to the presenters themselves of course, but special thanks must go to the organiser Peter Johnson as well as to Eleanor O’Keeffe in the office, who made sure proceedings ran smoothly, and ensured a very successful, and thoroughly enjoyable, conference. For those who were not able to attend but would still like to hear presentations, recordings are available; please get in touch via the website.


By Tom Ruffles

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