Parapsychology is the psychological study of psychic experiences. Parapsychologists are concerned with experiences of telepathy, precognition, clairvoyance, psychokinesis, near-death experiences, reincarnation and apparitional experiences, all of which are associated with paranormal phenomena. The discipline initially was categorized as a type of “psychical research” but was not formally associated with psychology until the 1930s.

In the most ancient of texts, mention is made of what we now call visions, spiritual experiences, and ecstatic experiences. The oral traditions, origin myths, and rituals of various cultures have shed light on the idea that extra-sensory perception is real–and can exist apart from hallucination, imagination, or delusion. Since the early 20th century, the discipline of parapsychology has continued to question established scientific theories. For this reason, it has been considered something of an anomaly that has shifted scientific paradigms. Parapsychology challenges the age-old idea that reality is empirical and should be studied only on rational terms; in other words, that objective reality and “subjective” (one’s own) experience of reality are clear-cut, mutually-exclusive aspects of existence. Naturally, the theories and practice of parapsychology have caused considerable controversy. Parapsychological theory does not deny that objective reality and subjective experiences are separate; rather, it suggests that a spectrum of experience exists in which “objective” and “subjective” are both part, and the distinction between them might not be as firmly defined as the rational empiricists consider it to be.

Despite the numerous professional associations and scientific publications that have formed on behalf of parapsychological research and collaboration, parapsychology is considered unscientific by some researchers and academics–in fact, many believe that its assumptions are not testable by the scientific method and therefore cannot be considered a science. The term “pseudoscience” has been used in reference to parapsychology, largely because of the discipline’s fundamental ideas. Some researchers of other disciplines have spoken out against claims made by parapsychologists, arguing that any “evidence” found by way of parapsychological research must have been the result of flawed methodology. Regardless of ongoing criticism during the past century, the discipline of parapsychology has undergone many leaps and bounds in terms of its scientific discoveries. Studies concerning psi experience have taken place at major industrial labs [1]. A number of these studies have resulted in evidence that serves to legitimize parapsychology as a scientific discipline.

The discipline of parapsychology has been shaped by a number of influential scholars and practitioners including William James, the American psychologist and philosopher who is considered to be one of psychology’s forefathers; and the psychologist Carl Jung, whose doctoral dissertation concerned the experience of mediumistic trances, who broke away from Sigmund Frued, his research partner of many years, due to disagreements about the existence of the occult and its relevance to the study of psychology [2]. Other notable figures include Margaret Mead, the student and research partner of anthropologist Franz Boas, whose study of female growth and development in Samoa prompted a shift in the paradigms about sexuality and childhood that had dominated American society; and Carlos Castaneda, the controversial anthropologist and author of The Teachings of Don Juan, A Separate Reality, The Art of Dreaming, and subsequent publications concerning his alleged training as the apprentice of Don Juan, a Mexican shaman.

Parapsychology Organizations

There are a number of foundations, professional associations, and publications concerning parapsychological research, including the Parapsychological Association, a nation-wide, non-profit professional organization of scientists and academics with interests in psychical (also called psi) phenomena and experiences [3]; and the Parapsychology Foundation, a not-for-profit that supports scientific study of psychic phenomena by hosting a global forum and outreach program. The foundation also offers grants and is the publisher of the International Journal of Parapsychology [4].


[1] Radin, Dean. PhD. The Conscious Universe: The Scientific Truth of Psychic Phenomena. San Francisco: Harper Collins. 1997.?[2] Daniels, Michael. Transpersonal Psychology Review, Vol. 2, No. 3, 17-31. (1998) [Preprint Version] Note: A revised and updated version of this paper appears as a chapter in Daniels, M. (2005). Shadow, Self, Spirit: Essays in Transpersonal Psychology. Exeter: Imprint Academic.
[3] Parapsychological Association: About the Parapsychological Association.[4] Parapsychology Foundation, Inc.: About the Parapsychology Foundation.

Article researched and created by Kelsey Wambold, © 2012

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