What’s in a Name? A Lot, Actually | Paul H. Smith

A field of research and practice is largely defined by its terms. Parapsychology is no exception. In this presentation, the speaker considers recent calls to change some long-standing terms in the field, primarily “parapsychology” itself and “extrasensory perception”.

Initially, it is specified the desiderata that psi researchers should expect in terms that they want to use in identifying the nature of their field and the phenomena they explore, then the presenter discusses some of the reasons the changes in question were proposed, including an exploration of some of the goals and motivations for those proposed changes.

Afterwards, the speaker presents counterarguments against these reasons, along with justification for preserving the current terminology, and argue that, though well intended, the strategies and alternatives presented do not achieve the intended goals. The presenter defends the two terms that are under pressure, explaining why they remain the best candidates to use. One undisclosed motivation for such changes may be what he calls “Parapsychology’s Stockholm Syndrome.” Borrowed from the concept of “identity with the aggressor” manifested by captives of terrorists or other abusers, where such captives often come to embrace the agendas and causes of–and identify with–their captors, he suggests that some of the motivation for such name changes is our own desire to “fit in” with mainstream science, which for so long has tried to dismiss and marginalize the field of scientific parapsychology.

He argues that, rather than rebranding or renaming, we should as a field instead fight for our terminology, defending it from attacks, whether direct or indirect from “aggressors” in mainstream science or from dedicated skeptics. How to go about this, the speaker leaves for later discussion.

Presented at the “62nd Annual Convention of the Parapsychological Association” on July 4, 2019, Paris, France; program chaired by Ramses D’Leon. Download the Abstracts at https://www.parapsych.org/articles/37/483/2019_pa_convention_abstracts_of.aspx

The Parapsychological Association is an international professional organization of scientists and scholars engaged in the study of psi (or ‘psychic’) experiences, such as telepathy, clairvoyance, psychokinesis, psychic healing, and precognition. The primary objective of the PA is to achieve a scientific understanding of these experiences.

A longer version of this convention video, including the Q&A period, is available to PA members-only at parapsych.org. There is a level of PA membership for everyone interested in the scientific and scholarly advancement of parapsychology. Learn more at: https://www.parapsych.org/join_the_pa.aspx

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Published on February 6, 2020