The term “parapsychology” and terms used to describe the experiences and phenomena it studies have caused great debate within the field.
In 2018, Dean Radin, then president of the Parapsychological Association (PA), penned an article in Mindfield (the PA’s newsletter) titled, “Toward a New PA for the 21st Century,” in which he proposes a new name for the field. In 2021, a counterargument, written by Paul Smith, titled “What’s in a Name? A Lot Actually,” was published in the Journal of Parapsychology (you can watch a video presentation here).
Motivated by these two papers and other recent personal correspondence about the future direction of the field, on March 5, 2022, I moderated the PA’s Psi Agora Table Talk, In Defense of Parapsychology to examine the pros and cons of rebranding the field vs. defending the current terminology.
My clear preference is to protect parapsychology’s name, language, and history.
At the end of the talk, I presented an action plan to help overcome the current stigma attached to the terminology, which includes: a self-reevaluation of the field, the development, and deployment of open-access, multidisciplinary educational programs, a rapid response system to counter poor journalism and inaccurate information, and creating a more diverse, public-facing presence.
As part of this plan, I propose that a discussion concerning the scope of topics studied by parapsychology is warranted. Parapsychology currently investigates psi (precognition, telepathy, clairvoyance, and psychokinesis) and topics relating to post-mortem survival (afterlife research). While the study of psi phenomena and experiences may be acceptable to some mainstream researchers, I propose taking a lesson from J.B. Rhine and rehoming afterlife topics. Many aspects of afterlife research are, for many, often inseparable from culture and religion and may still be too controversial, thus hindering wider acceptance of the field.
In what turned out to be one of the more lively parts of the discussion, I argued that the PA is perfectly positioned to drive this effort because of its:
- Status as the professional organization for parapsychology
- Long history (established in 1957)
- Unquie makeup of professional academic members
- Active affiliation with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
My hope for this event was that it might inspire other PA members to make the defense of the field an active priority for the organization.
You can view all the sides here.