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The Desk Defines Parapsychology
and almost everything else too
©03 The Media Desk
[NOTE: This article drove the Desk's spellchecker absolutely nuts.]
In its official obituary for Mrs. Desk, the Desk said it studied Parapsychology. Some time later, OK, actually it happened a couple of times, one of which was the day of the memorial service, but the other was yesterday and that is what prompted this examination of the topic.
The questioner also wanted to know how that was different from things like bigfoot (cryptozoology- although the Desk's friend didn't know the word for the science) or the search for ET (xenoanthropology, etc) or even religious studies (metaphysics, apologetics, etc.)
The Desk promised them a study of the matter in language that wouldn't prompt a migrain.
This is the result of that effort.
Just exactly what IS Parapsychology. And equally importantly, what is it NOT?
In its short story 'Dear Diary' the Desk introduces the diarist a 'xeno-parapsychologist' as one who:
"deals with the powers of alien races that don't fall neatly into standard science and even not-so-standard science."
Dear Diary, Web Published by The Media Desk- (c)2000 Levite
By Definition, Parapsychology revolves solely around psychological phenomena. And those, by their very nature, fall outside the realm of hard sciences like Biology and Chemistry. And really even outside the scope of mainstream Psychology. Even though certain aspects of Chemistry and Psychology can influence Parapsychological events.
Under that small umbrella, a traditional haunting is NOT something to be studied by a Parapsychologist. Yet almost everybody that wears that nametag in general circulation will at least read an account of a haunting, if not sit in the middle of a haunted house with a thermos of coffee waiting for the spirits to come out to play.
Neither is UFOs, the search for the Loch Ness Monster, and a lot of other pseudo-science. Nor is metaphysics and other mystical pursuits. Although a great number of those who are looking into those phenomena would consider at least some of what they do to be Parapsychology, once again, by the strict definition. They are not.
"That's about three quarters of paranormal research. Drinking lukewarm coffee, and watching. No fancy psi-energy detectors, no super sensitive microphones, nothing that you can put in a dish and run through a mass spectrometer. Just sitting and watching, and in my case, a forty-nine dollar camera around my neck."
Investigations, also by the Desk.
Now for a list of things that ARE without too much argument Parapsychology.
- ESP, Extra Sensory Perception, Psychical Research: Outdated blanket terms for everything listed below.
- Telepathy: Usually thought of as mind-reading it covers a much broader range of occurrences. Empathy is in there; the feeling of another's emotions without clues from things like body language or even pheromones. Also included would be aggressive abilities as in being able to project your thoughts into another person (Thought Transference). Mr. Spock's "Making suggestions" from the original Star Trek series. Most of the time the Telepathy talked about under this heading does not include physical contact. And there is a simple reason for that. Thought is an electrical-chemical process, if there is physical contact, there may be a more mundane explanation than pure mental powers, perhaps there is some sort of electrical connection between the parties (a human EEG machine if you will). Or the telepath is picking up chemical clues as to what is going on in the other's head.
- Telekinesis- also called Psychokinesis (PK), Teleportation: Moving objects without physical means. Also included is the 'spoon bending' phenomenon usually reserved for TV stunts which is most usually a hoax (more on hoaxes later). Teleportation involves the potential of moving said object through another solid object through either dematerialization or phase interference to allow one thing to pass through another. Such as materializing a tennis ball inside a closed paint can. No scientific proof of such powers exists, however, rumors and tall tales abound.
- Remote Viewing and Controlled Remote Viewing: The difference is between having a dream of the Grand Canyon, and willing yourself to dream of the overlook on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon at sunset. Except when some Remote Viewers do it, they are awake or in some sort of trance state, and able to describe in detail not only the Grand Canyon, they are able to read the license number of the tour bus in the parking lot, and be right about it! CRV has been demonstrated to have some reliability and has been researched by mainstream organizations.
- Clairvoyance: Currently refers to receiving information from outside sources with or without visual specifics. Listening to 'spirit voices' and that kind of thing. There are a whole range of subtopics such as clairaudience where the 'voice' speaks to them evidently without prompting. The Clairvoyant is usually referred to as a 'Medium'. In the larger sense, Channelers and their 'Spirit Guides', actually Trance Mediums, fall into this category.
- Precognition, Premonition, Prophecy: The difference is hard to explain but here's a shot at it. Premonition is basically 'déjà vu', you feel as though something has happened before and you think you know what is going to happen. Precognition is an awareness of what is going to happen next. Prophecy is knowing what is going to happen, and telling somebody, and it comes true. This information can be obtained through all manner of media, including 'time travel', 'spirit guides', 'visions', etc. Premonition is also associated with emotional feelings while Precognition speaks more of intellectual knowledge of future events. Prophecy has religious overtones as in the Revelation of St. John or Mystical implications like the quatrains of Nostradamus
- Mentalism: Using only the 'powers of their mind' to do various things such as mind reading, card picking, object location and identification. Covers many different Parapsychological categories. Used primarily by stage acts such as Kreskin, who is now in disrepute after a stunt backfired in Las Vegas last year. To his credit he is offering $50,000 to anyone who can prove he is a fraud. But in counterpoint, James Randi is offering One Million Dollars to anybody who can prove they are the real thing. To this date, neither has had to sign any checks.
- Out of Body Experience, Near Death Experience, Astral Projection, Soul Travel: Although they are not the same by definition, to those that have experienced them, it is hard to tell the difference. Out of Body Experiences resulting in Soul Travel are often related by those who have a Near Death incident, or are 'brought back' after being clinically dead. They often relate events and comments by those nearby but not in the same room, including phenomenal detail of events they could not have been aware of, since they were 'dead' at the time. Astral Projection or Soul Travel is practiced by those involved in the religious practices of Eckankar and others where the 'traveler' goes to other locations, sometimes hundreds of miles away or more, and observes or actively participates in events there. Different from CRV in that instead of simply observing, the Traveler believes they can interact. Advanced practitioners claim to be able to travel through time as well as space. Astal Projection involves the practitioner sending out a semi-solid body sometimes visible to those around it. Crisis Apparition is a type of Astral Projection sometimes spontaneously initiated by the victim of a catastrophe.
- Reincarnation: Although not exactly Parapsychology, when applied to cases like the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama (the second in command of Tibetan Buddhism) it doesn't seem to be anything else. The tests administered and the review process used would seem to negate any fraud there. The rebirth of a consciousness and thereby the Soul of a passed leader into a new body in at least these cases is hard to argue with. And if that isn't a subject for Parapsychology- what is?
- Spiritualism, Theosophy: Religious practice using mediums and their Spirit Guides. Has fallen into disrepute somewhat after several high profile cases of fraud several years ago. Currently those that follow Channelers could be called Spiritualists. Parapsychology usually avoids the religious overtones of its research, hence the reluctance to look into Reincarnation. However, the same argument could apply here as it does above.
- Poltergeist, Hauntings, Ghosts: While a Poltergiest (noisy spirit) is not a Haunting, and a Haunting may or may not involve a Ghost, they are about the second thing people think of when you use the word Parapsychology. The idea of being a ghostbuster has some appeal to anybody even remotely interested in the subject, but they all realize rather soon that while a very romantic notion, it is a virtual impossibility because the spooks simply do not cooperate.
- Sorcery, Witchcraft, Voodoo, Etc: Right on the edge of the line of what is and what is not Parapsychology. Again there are the religious overtones of Wicca and Santeria, but the interaction of the practitioner and the spirit world is there none the less. Which makes them a Medium, and that is on the list, chicken bones notwithstanding. The Malleus Maleficarum (the Hammer of the Witches), a book from the fifteenth century blurred the distinction between witchcraft and the following topic forever, and thusly brought demonology almost under the blanket of our topic.
- Demonology: Perhaps on the other side of that line. The Study of Demons and spirits regardless of their interaction with the living. Some of the descriptions of the various entities are actually hilarious, others compelling. All, however, are speculation. No Demon has ever appeared to fill out the forms for an official ID complete with picture and fingerprints and produced a valid passport issued in Hell.
What is NOT Parapsychology -
- UFOs: The biggest single area, and perhaps the most controversial. UFO's have been reported for centuries using various terms. And indeed, some say the Biblical Prophet Ezekiel's visions describe a UFO and even the Patriarch Job could have had an encounter with one. Flying Saucers, Rods, the triangle seen over Phoenix, and other objects and lights are all contained in this folder. And the folder, by definition, is not in the Parapsychology filing cabinet.
- Cryptozoology, Cryptobiology: Another huge area, and again, the most controversial, depending on who you argue with. There's not even any agreement on the terminology for this one. However, it could be thought of as follows. Cryptozoology is the study of big critters; Bigfoot, Nessie, New Jersey Devil, etc. (maybe even Dinosaurs if you want to go that far) While Cryptobiology is the study of abnormal biological processes which might produce such oddities. But again, while neat and interesting, the Yeti need a vet, not a Parapsychologist.
- Metaphysics, Apologetics, Philosophy: Right on that blurry line. St Thomas Aquinas was the master of the first two subjects, and he was a Theologian. Plato dealt in Philosophy. We'll leave it at that.
- Mystics, Fakirs, Shaman: Again with the line. Some Yogi's can do amazing thing. There is no end to the stories of what they can do. However, is it religious discipline and no small bit of stage magic, or is it actually a Power from the Other Side? OK, sure, you can study it under Parapsychology, but don't be surprised at the funny looks you'll get. But then again, if you're studying Parapsychology, you're already used to funny looks.
- Illusionists, Stage Magicians: Sure, Houdini was something worthy of study, and he was into all sorts of strange stuff true. But there was only one Harry Houdini. The modern illusionist and TV magician uses more sleight of hand and trick lighting than anything remotely like real Magic. Face it: If you saw it on TV or in Atlantic City, it was a trick.
- Ancient Civilizations: OK, yeah- Sumeria, Egypt, the Maya, they are all fascinating. They had rituals and magic practices and all that. They had spirits and demons and seers. Egypt alone had two thousand named gods. But that is the realm of Archeology and Anthropology. Sorry.
- Phenomenology: Most people have never heard of it. And that's a good thing. What it really is is the exasperating study of things like coincidence and synchronicity and dumb luck and happenstance and odd chance until you come up with something meaningful. They chew on statistics and percentages and other long strings of numbers until their eyes get blurry, then they proclaim that everything happens for a reason, or that it doesn't happen for a reason. Either way, it is NOT Parapsychology unless they are trying to claim you somehow Willed it to happen or the Spirits told you it would. But then- it wouldn't be luck and chance would it?
- Mental Illness, Autism, etc.: We no longer believe evil spirits cause mental illness. But there is still a thriving business in Mexico and elsewhere doing Exorcisms on people, for a price. Looking at the Exorcist that works by the hour might be, looking at his 'patient' probably isn't, Parapsychology.
- Pet Psychics: Parapsychology? No. Hoax, Wishful thinking, good guessers, Frauds... probably. P. T. Barnum would be proud.
Now a bit about deliberate Hoaxery. Out and Out FRAUDS. Shysters. And the like.
Oh yeah. They are out there by the score.
Some get on TV, others think they are good enough to fool those that are seriously researching this stuff. And for awhile they get away with it. Then some sharpie figures out the gag and blows the whistle on them. James Randi has made a career out of exposing phony mediums.
As long as people don't know what is really out there, and they are afraid of it, there will be those willing to act the huckster, exploit that fact and separate the gullible or the ignorant from their money. For an example, see above entries for discussion of Pet Psychics.
For the Desk's take on all this, we'll simply say this.
The Desk has been around a long time. It has investigated many things. It has seen a lot as well. Can it explain it all and remain in the mundane world. No. It's not even going to try. Is it willing, however, to attribute most things that happen to the paranormal, no. Most likely the truth is somewhere in between.
Which is just fine by the Desk.
Besides, if even only a tiny percentage of these things are real even on very few occasions, it makes the world a whole lot more interesting that if None were Ever True or Possible.
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