Parapsychology is the scientific study of paranormal events. Things like psychics, ghostly apparitions, Extra Sensory Perception, telepathy and similar phenomena. Mostly now moved to the fringe of science but it is important even now. Good Parapsychologists will have an understanding of how our brains work and modern science, and when faced with something extraordinary will rule out human error before reaching for the paranormal explanation. Edinburgh is lucky enough to have a Parapsychology department as part of the University that looks for psychological and physical explanations for paranormal phenomena. Notable parapsychologists in the UK include Caroline Watt at Edinburgh University and Chris French at the University of London. Caroline was kind enough to speak to us about the department during the Fringe, and Chris has spoken for us on a number of previous occasions.
Well done parapsychology shows that the actual answer to paranormal events can actually be much more interesting than the magical version. Sleep paralysis, for instance was thought in the past to be caused by demons, succubi, ghosts or aliens, but we now know that this a relatively common thing that many people experience at some point. Our conclusions about a ghost photograph will be coloured by whether we already believe in ghosts. The way that our brains distort our reality and our perception of events is infinitely fascinating.
We understand more and more about how our brains build models of reality and it is constantly being informed by our senses. However, new information is tested against what we think we already know and so new information can be interpreted wrongly or incompletely if our existing model is incorrect. The conclusions we reach as a result therefore will be wrong, or at the very least deficient in some way. Parapsychology looks at how we interpret these inputs and why so often we make bad conclusions about what we have experienced.