The recent Surviving Death documentary on Netflix is an interesting look at some of the evidence for the survival hypothesis in parapsychology. The first program in the series deals with Near-Death Experiences (NDEs). Accounts of NDEs are of interest to scientists, philosophers and others because of the possible insights they can provide into the nature of the mind-brain relationship. NDEs are also of interest because of their effects. NDEs are often profoundly transformative, having long-lasting and major effects on a persons attitudes and values. There is some research that shows that just learning about NDEs can bring psycho-spiritual benefits.
I have just had a paper published in the Journal of Near-Death studies in which I used a computational technique known as sentiment analysis to measure the sentiment polarity of the words with which people described their NDEs.
(Note: This article discusses Bayesian and Frequentist statistics and follows from this previous one). Parapsychology has played an important role in ensuring that psychology retains at least some focus on anomalous human experiences. These experiences are very common and if psychology is truly to be the science of behavior and mental processes then it needs to take account of them. In addition to posing legitimate questions to materialist reductionist orthodoxy, parapsychology has also made contributions to scientific methodology in areas like study design, statistical inference and meta-analysis.
I have been interested in parapsychology ever since picking up a copy of the excellent Eysenck and Sargent book – Explaining the Unexplained many years ago. It’s a bit dated now but still a great introduction for anyone interested in learning more about the topic.
Just like with data science there is sometimes confusion about what parapsychology is. Perhaps it’s easier to start with what it’s not. It’s not astrology, ghost busting, monster hunting, fortune telling or investigating UFO sightings though these are things that often come to mind when one thinks of the paranormal mainly because of the influence of television shows on the ‘paranormal’.