What is Psychic Research?
Psychic research refers to attempts to investigate apparently paranormal phenomena – which raises the further question: what are paranormal phenomena? These have been defined as experiences suggesting ‘an interaction, information transfer or communication between a being and the environment or another being that cannot yet be explained by normal means.’ The crucial words here are ‘yet’ and ‘normal.’ What could not be explained by existing knowledge 500 years ago (and so would have then qualified as ‘paranormal’) may today have come within the compass of scientific understanding and so now count as ‘normal.’ Does this mean that one day nothing will be considered ‘paranormal’?
Serious scientific study of paranormal phenomena began in the latter part of the 19th century, with the British Society for Psychical Research leading the way, founded by a group of distinguished scientists, psychologists and philosophers in 1882, and still going strong today. Half of its Presidents over this period have been university professors of science or philosophy.
The range of phenomena investigated has been very wide, and includes (but is by no means limited to) hauntings and apparitions, extrasensory perception, premonitions, mental and physical mediumship, psychokinesis (the movement of objects by non-physical means), out-of–body experiences and near-death experiences, reincarnation and survival of physical death. Each of these areas has by now built up a huge amount of data and literature, much of it unknown by the general public, who tend to assume that psychical research is the preserve of cranks.
The scientific study of the paranormal can also be labelled ‘parapsychology’, and parapsychologists can now be found in a number of university psychology departments, doing controlled experimental research work – though it is debatable whether possible explanations of paranormal events will all have a psychological basis. Many believe that quantum physics may also have a role to play. Far more scientists, however, are antagonistic to the whole idea of the paranormal and display varying degrees of scepticism and dogmatic rejection, often to the point of refusing even to look at the vast body of evidence now available.
Spiritual England thanks the author of this page, Roger Straughan
Roger’s career has been spent teaching in schools, colleges and universities, culminating in his holding the post of Reader in Education at the University of Reading, UK.
Psychical questions have also been a life-long interest, and he is an active member of a number of societies and organisations concerned with psychical and spiritual matters. He has spoken at major conferences and has published journal articles and reviews on these subjects, and also on Conan Doyle. His latest book, A Study in Survival: Conan Doyle Solves the Final Problem (O Books, 2009) presents an original form of evidence for life after death.