How transpersonal psychology and parapsychology differ

Most authors believe that the teachings and disciplines of parapsychology is a little more than a century old. Parapsychology is thought to have been developed from the foundations of mesmerism and spiritualism and was previously known as psychical research. Parapsychology includes telepathy, clairvoyance, psychokinesis, extrasensory perception (ESP), near-death experiences, out-of-body experiences, reincarnation, hauntings and poltergeists. Parapsychological research originally started when people attempted to scientifically investigate the performances of spiritualists and mediums. Approximately 75% of the general public believe that they have had a psychic experience, for example, telepathy, which is the ability to communicate using only the power of the mind. Although traditional parapsychologists tend to focus on extra-sensory perception, psychokinesis and apparitional phenomena there are parapsychologists who are interested in researching animal psi, reincarnation, near-death experiences and other area of parapsycholoical research (as cited in Henry, 2005).

Parapsychology usually focuses on psi, which is made up by telepathy, clairvoyance, psychokinesis and precognition. Rhine (1935) was the person who formed parapsychology using statistical methods which were being developed in psychology. His study consisted of zener cards which had 5 symbols on them, and therefore there was a 20% chance of success for the participant to guess the correct symbol. Rhine found some participants who scored consistently high, for example, Hubert Pearce scored 30% correctly on average over 17,250 trials, which is extremely significant. However, Rhine’s approach was criticised as well as praised, many critics claimed that the findings were the result of inadequate shuffling, errors in recording, uncontrollable sensory cues, optional stopping, fraud and suppression of null results. Rhine was able to deal with many of the criticisms and was still able to produce good results (as cited in Daniels, 2005).

Transpersonal psychology is “concerned with the study of humanity’s highest potential, and with the recognition, understanding and realization of unitive, spiritual and transcendent states of unconsciousness” (as cited in Lajoie & Shapiro, 1992). The term transpersonal means “beyond the person”, referring to the experiences or events in which our normal sense of self feels connected to a larger and more meaningful reality. The first person to use the term “transpersonal” was William James, who himself was influenced by the use of nitrous oxide. In addition to this the use of psychedelic drugs among the youth of America and Europe also contributed greatly to the development of transpersonal psychology. Transpersonal experiences can include memories of previous lives, unitive mystical states, paranormal experiences and more, many transpersonal psychologists believe that transpersonal psychology is connected to spiritualism, which is the ability to speak with spirits of the dead and is often linked with being able to to move objects and predict the future. The foundations of transpersonal psychology were developed by James, Burke, Jung, Assagioli, Maslow, The Human Potential Movement and Grof, all who have contributed some insight and understanding into the study and research of transpersonal psychology (as cited in Daniels, 2005). Transpersonal psychology first started with psychotherapy and has brought forth new approaches to healing and growth and has also highlighted issues on clinical implications (as cited in Cortright, 1997).

A strong belief which has been associated with parapsychology is that the mind is independent from the body. In a study by Tart (1968) a woman referred to as Miss Z claimed that she had had out-of-body experiences ever since she was a child, an out-of-body experience is an experience in which the person feels as if they have left their body and experience a floating feeling. In this particular study Tart suggested to Miss Z that she place a box on her beside table containing a series of random numbers and attempt to memorise the top number when she has an out-of-body experience. Tart found that Miss Z was successful in identifying a random 5 digit number which the researcher had put on her top shelf. However because Tart had also seen the number he failed to control and account for the chances of telepathy (as cited in Tart, 1998, Survival of Bodily Death). When Tart tried a similar experiment with Robert Monroe, the subject was never able to recall the random numbers successfully despite claiming extremely vivid out-of-body experiences (as cited in Tart 1998, Six studies of out-of-body experiences).

Many parapsychologist analysts have suggested that parapsychology has not produced any conclusive findings and explain these parapsychological findings as the result of fraudulent and flawed studies (as cited in Myers, 2006). It can also be suggested that people want to believe in paranormal phenomena to such an extent that they ignore the evidence that implies that it does not exist.

Stevenson investigated over 3000 cases over 40 years and conducted interviews and psychological tests on children who claimed that they were able to remember their past lives. Stevenson discovered distinct patterns and found particular behaviour traits which corresponded to the alleged previous personality (as cited in Stevenson, 2001).

Rollo May, a humanistic psychologist, challenged the theoretical foundations of transpersonal psychology and particularly questioned the lack of consideration given to the effects of the dark side of human nature. In addition to this, Ellis (1989) questioned the scientific position of transpersonal psychology and its link to religion and mysticism (as cited in Aanstoos, Serlin & Greening, 2000).

According to Daniels (2005) the methods included in carrying out transpersonal research include observation, which is the use of empirical methods where possible, theorising, which is an attempt to understand phenomena using models, testing, by confirming predictions with further evidence and finally sharing, by communicating the findings to the scientific community. Transpersonal methods also include the use of traditional experimental and statistical approaches as well as more experiential and qualitative approaches, such as ethnography (as cited in Daniels, 2005).

The methods for carrying out parapsychological research includes 4 types of methods, the first is ethnographic and observational methods which can be used through the use of first and second hand reports and interviews, the second is comparative methods, which are used through the use of surveys and comparative analyses, the third is experimental and psychophysiological methods, which include the use of ESP experiments, and the last type of method is experiential participant-observation. In a study by Roney-Dougal et al (2007) the researchers worked with yogis and Tibetan monks in India for 6 years and used a computerised task with culturally related images and clips to test precognition and clairvoyance, because there has been a long history of precognition and clairvoyance in yoga and Tibetan monks. Researchers found that ESP correlated positively with the accomplishment of meditation, however good scoring was only achievable after at least 20 years of intense meditation (as cited in Cardena, Lynn & Krippner, 2000).

Transpersonal psychology and Parapsychology overlap in many ways, for example many research areas and types of experiences come both under Transpersonal Psychology and Parapsychology, for example lucid dreaming, which is being aware that you are dreaming and sometimes even controlling your dreams, near-death experiences, out-of-body experiences, past life memories, experiences of alien contact or abduction, psychokinetic phenomena, auras and subtle energy, experiences of angels, possession, prophecy and precognition, sense of presence, witchcraft and magic, reincarnation experiences, spiritual healing, telepathy, clairvoyance and more. In many cultures the paranormal has always been linked to religion or spirituality, for example oracles, magic, hauntings, possession and supernatural powers (as cited in Daniels, 2005).

Brown (2000) classified exceptional human experiences into five major categories, mystical experiences, psychic experience, encounter-type experiences, death-related experiences and exceptional normal experiences, these topic areas are found both in transpersonal psychology and parapsychology, however the research questions asked, different approaches and the methods used are quite different (as cited in Brown, 2000). For example, if there was a case of a near-death experience, transpersonal psychology and parapsychology would investigate different questions, parapsychology would be interested in the investigation of whether the human personality can survive physical death, on the other hand transpersonal psychology would want to investigate the possible transformational effects which may have occurred in the person (as cited in Daniels, 2005).

The methodologies used by parapsychologists and transpersonal psychologists are also quite different, whilst parapsychologists are more interested in collecting data which is able to be verified with objectivity, paranormal psychologists are mainly interested in the phenomenological interpretation, with no primary interest in data which can be verified with objectivity. The difference between parapsychology and transpersonal psychology are that one is more humanistic and the other is more experimental, whilst transpersonal psychologists are more interested in the meaning and in personal importance, parapsychologists are more interested in information and statistical importance. According to Ken Wilber’s Quadrant Model, transpersonal psychology is mainly an interior-individual discipline, for example, in the study of a near-death experience, transpersonal psychology would be interested in the phenomenological aspects of the near-death experience; transpersonal psychology may also be an interior-collective discipline and may also be interested in the different ways near-death experiences are perceived in different cultures. Parapsychology on the other hand is described as a primarily exterior-individual experimental subject area in which abnormalities are tested against data which can be verified (as cited in Daniels, 2005).

It has often been considered that parapsychological research may be able to open up the possibilities of the existence of realities which may not be able to be explained through a strictly objective view, therefore in this way parapsychology can offer support to the transpersonal perspective. Tart (2004) suggested that parapsychologists have generally ignored the spiritual characteristics and implications of their research, and have done this to achieve some form of positive acknowledgement from the scientific community, and that because of the emphasis placed on the methods of parapsychology, transpersonal psychologists will ignore these methods as they reduce the importance of meaning. Tart also suggested that transpersonal psychology needs parapsychology so that it will remain meaningful but gain a more strict and scientific base for its findings and that parapsychology needs transpersonal psychology to help identify the meaning and significance in its data (as cited in Daniels, 2005).

There has always been and mostly probably will always be controversy over what is real and what is not. The study of transpersonal psychology and parapsychology has highlighted some important questions for the human race, such as are there parts of the brain that if activated can predict the future or move objects or communicate without speaking; the study and research of these two disciplines has aided the development and understanding of the unconsciousness. Most people will meet at least one person who has had some kind of exceptional experience, whether its a dream of their brother falling ill, or a vision or feeling of the death of a loved one, the study of parapsychology and transpersonal psychology allows researchers to investigate these types of experiences and maybe some day provide verifiable evidence for them. In these modern times parapsychology and transpersonal psychology are not well known by the general public, and are thought of as ways to entertain people by using tarot cards to predict the future, however there is some research that despite being heavily investigated upon has not been found to be false.

DD Home came to the U.K. In 1935 and conducted seances, which is known as the attempt to communicate with spirits, Home would perform these seances in broad daylight and people would witness the playing of instruments by spirits, as claimed by Home. Home was also seen to levitate 6 feet off the ground and was once seen by a number of people to have levitated and flown out of one window and come inside another. Home was accused of fraud but was never caught despite performing these seances a number of times, he was also investigated by many eminent scientists but nothing related to fraud was found (as cited in Lamont, 1999).

Parapsychology and transpersonal psychology have helped improve the research methods used in psychology, it is only by testing our methods that we can learn to improve them. Hyman and Horoton both published meta-analysis of the Ganzfield Techinque studies, Hyman (1935) found that more than half of the studies had significant findings but suggested that these findings may be the result of methodological and statistical defects. Horoton (1935) found similar results to Hyman but did not believe that the flaws suggested by Hyman could be applied to his meta-analysis findings. Hyman and Horoton then had a conversation with each other about their meta-analyses and later developed ways to improve the procedures of the Ganzfield technique. In the past, psychical researchers led psychology into paying attention to studying difficult research area such as the unconsciousness and today so much research has been conducted on the conscious, unconscious and subconscious. Transpersonal psychology and parapsychology needs to continue investigating its interesting research topics in order for research to build and improved ways of conducting studies to be developed (as cited in Watt, 2005).

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