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History of the Paranormal, Psychic Phenomena

The Society for Psychical Research (SPR) was founded in London in 1882. The formation of the SPR was the first systematic effort to organize scientists and scholars for a critical and sustained investigation of paranormal phenomena. The early membership of the SPR included philosophers, scholars, scientists, educators and politicians, such as Henry Sidgwick, Arthur Balfour, William Crookes, Rufus Osgood Mason and Charles Richet.The SPR classified its subjects of study into several areas: telepathy, hypnotism, Reichenbach’s phenomena, apparitions, haunts, and the physical aspects of Spiritualism such as table-tilting and the appearance of matter from unknown sources, otherwise known as materialization. One of the first collaborative efforts of the SPR was its Census of Hallucinations, which researched apparitional experiences and hallucinations in the sane. The census was the Society’s first attempt at a statistical evaluation of paranormal phenomena, and the resulting publication in 1886, Phantasms of the Living is still widely referenced in parapsychological literature today. The SPR became the model for similar societies in other European countries and the United States during the late 19th century. Largely due to the support of psychologist William James, the American Society for Psychical Research (ASPR) opened its doors in New York City in 1885.Today, the SPR and ASPR continue the investigation of psi phenomena. The SPR’s purpose, stated in every issue of its Journal, is “to examine without prejudice or prepossession and in a scientific spirit those faculties of man, real or supposed, which appear to be inexplicable on any generally recognized hypothesis. In 1911, Stanford University became the first academic institution in the United States to study extrasensory perception (ESP) and psychokinesis (PK) in a laboratory setting. The effort was headed by psychologist John Edgar Coover. In 1930, Duke University became the second major U.S. academic institution to engage in the critical study of ESP and psychokinesis in the laboratory. Under the guidance of psychologist William McDougall, and with the help of others in the department—including psychologists Karl Zener, Joseph B. Rhine, and Louisa E. Rhine—laboratory ESP experiments using volunteer subjects from the undergraduate student body began. As opposed to the approaches of psychical research, which generally sought qualitative evidence for paranormal phenomena, the experiments at Duke University proffered a quantitative, statistical approach using cards and dice. As a consequence of the ESP experiments at Duke, standard laboratory procedures for the testing of ESP developed and came to be adopted by interested researchers throughout the world.The publication of J.B. Rhine’s book, New Frontiers of the Mind (1937) brought the laboratory’s findings to the general public. In his book, Rhine popularized the word “parapsychology,” which psychologist Max Dessoir had coined over 40 years earlier, to describe the research conducted at Duke. Rhine also founded an autonomous Parapsychology Laboratory within Duke and started the Journal of Parapsychology, which he co-edited with McDougall.The parapsychology experiments at Duke evoked much criticism from academic psychologists who challenged the concepts and evidence of ESP. Rhine and his colleagues attempted to address these criticisms through new experiments, articles, and books, and summarized the state of the criticism along with their responses in the book Extra-Sensory Perception After Sixty Years.The administration of Duke grew less sympathetic to parapsychology, and after Rhine’s retirement in 1965 parapsychological links with the university were broken. Rhine later established the Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man (FRNM) and the Institute for Parapsychology as a successor to the Duke laboratory. In 1995, the centenary of Rhine’s birth, the FRNM was renamed the Rhine Research Center. Today, the Rhine Research Center is a parapsychology research unit, stating that it “aims to improve the human condition by creating a scientific understanding of those abilities and sensitivities that appear to transcend the ordinary limits of space and time.” The Parapsychological Association (PA) was created in Durham, North Carolina, on June 19, 1957. Its formation was proposed by J. B. Rhine at a workshop on parapsychology which was held at the Parapsychology Laboratory of Duke University. Rhine proposed that the group form itself into the nucleus of an international professional society in parapsychology. The aim of the organization, as stated in its Constitution, became “to advance parapsychology as a science, to disseminate knowledge of the field, and to integrate the findings with those of other branches of science”. Under the direction of anthropologist Margaret Mead, the Parapsychological Association took a large step in advancing the field of parapsychology in 1969 when it became affiliated with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the largest general scientific society in the world. In 1979, physicist John A. Wheeler argued that parapsychology is pseudoscientific, and that the affiliation of the PA to the AAAS needed to be reconsidered. His challenge to parapsychology’s AAAS affiliation was unsuccessful. Today, the PA consists of about three hundred full, associate, and affiliated members worldwide and maintains its affiliation with the AAAS.The annual AAAS convention provides a forum where parapsychologists can present their research to scientists from other fields and advance parapsychology in the context of the AAAS’s lobbying on national science policy. Since the 1970s, contemporary parapsychological research has waned considerably in the United States. Early research was considered inconclusive, and parapsychologists were faced with strong opposition from their academic colleagues. Some effects thought to be paranormal, for example, the effects of Kirlian photography, disappeared under more stringent controls, leaving those avenues of research at dead-ends.Many university laboratories in the United States have closed, citing a lack of acceptance by mainstream science as the reason, leaving the bulk of parapsychology confined to private institutions funded by private sources. After 28 years of research, Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Laboratory (PEAR) closed in 2007. Two universities in the United States still have academic parapsychology laboratories: the Division of Perceptual Studies, a unit at the University of Virginia‘s Department of Psychiatric Medicine, studies the possibility of survival of consciousness after bodily death; the University of Arizona‘s Veritas Laboratory conducts laboratory investigations of mediums. Several private institutions, including the Institute of Noetic Sciences, conduct and promote parapsychological research. Britain leads parapsychological study in Europe, with privately funded laboratories at the universities of Edinburgh, Northampton, and Liverpool Hope, among others. The Parapsychological Association states that the presently available, cumulative statistical database for experiments studying some parapsychological effects provides strong, scientifically credible evidence for these effects. This includes presentiment, ESP, and mind-matter interaction. The Association states that an increasing number of parapsychologists are moving beyond proof-oriented research, because they believe experimental success has already been established, and instead looking at more detailed factors to better understand the phenomena.Parapsychological research has also been augmented by other sub-disciplines of psychology. These related fields include transpersonal psychology, which studies transcendent or spiritual aspects of the human mind, and anomalistic psychology, which examines paranormal beliefs and subjective anomalous experiences in traditional psychological terms.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parapsychology

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