Parapsychology literally means “beside psychology,” in the same way that “paramedic” means “beside medics” or “paramilitary” means beside the military.
Parapsychology was admitted as a science by the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1969 mainly through the advocacy and support of anthropologist Margaret Mead. The voting was very close, and some scientists believe it should not be considered a science at all, unlike mathematics, biology, physics or chemistry.
One of the main objections to its inclusion as a science is that parapsychology does not have a definite subject matter or scope of study. It deals with anything and everything beyond the traditional or orthodox sciences, from extrasensory perception to extraterrestrials.
Actually, I think there is a need for a science such as parapsychology to study systematically those events or areas of knowledge which have been completely ignored by the so-called traditional or accepted sciences.
Traditional western science has limited what should be considered real to what can be seen, heard, felt, tasted and smelled by our physical external senses, or those which can be detected by scientific instruments. Such a definition of what is real excludes a whole lot of phenomena or events which do not fall under such a narrow paradigm. As Shakespeare said in Hamlet: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
And so I believe that it is necessary to have a science that deals with things that lie beyond the scope of the physical sciences.
The other objection to the inclusion of parapsychology as a science is the alleged lack of methodology or system of studying its vast and ill-defined subject matter. It does not have its own instruments to prove the validity of the phenomena it is studying.
Again, this presupposes that paranormal phenomena are physical events which are capable of being detected by our senses or scientific instruments. This is putting the cart before the horse, or trying to fit extraordinary reality into ordinary scientific categories. As Charlie Brown said in the famous comic strip Peanuts: “You can’t solve new math problems with an old math mind.”
Out of sync
Extraordinary problems or events, such as paranormal phenomena, call for extraordinary approaches or solutions. It is as simple as that. But there are those who insist that we should use commonly accepted scientific methodology and instruments to investigate or explain non-ordinary events or phenomena. Somehow the two are out of sync.
By insisting that paranormal phenomena should be investigated by the same methodology and criteria used in physical things, such as repeatability and double-blind experiments, we may lose the chance to know the real truth behind unexplained phenomena. But such phenomena are unexplained only from the point of orthodox science, not from the point of other sciences, like quantum physics, neuroscience and, most importantly, the spiritual sciences.
Instead of using the traditional criteria used by orthodox science to determine the reality of an event or phenomena, we will have faster progress in this field, if we adopt the criteria proposed by the 18th-century philosopher, Voltaire. He said that a testimony is sufficient when it rests on:
“First, a great number of very sensible witnesses who agree in having seen well.
“Second, who are sane, bodily and mentally.
“Third, who unanimously agree.
“Fifth, who solemnly certify to the fact.”
As Richard S. Broughton, PhD pointed out in his book “Parapsychology, The Controversial Science”:
“There is no doubt that people have experiences that are apparently psychic in nature, and therefore parapsychology does have something to study. The question put to parapsychology as a science is, how are we to explain these experiences?
“If it proves that all normal explanations fail to explain the experiences adequately, then what do we have? Actually all we have at that point is an anomaly, something science at its present stage is unable to explain.