What is parapsychology?

Parapsychology is a branch of psychology that studies paranormal and psychic phenomena which includes: telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, psychokinesis, near-death experiences, synchronicities, reincarnation, apparitional experiences, and other paranormal claims.

Parapsychologists study the same phenomena that haunt people throughout history. Some scientists doubt these phenomena exist because they are not replicable in laboratory experiments.

Science rests on observation. Parapsychologists have observed numerous psychic or preternatural events but cannot explain them using contemporary science. They believe something beyond nature exists and that a spiritual realm where souls dwell after death.

Society for Psychical Research

The Society for Psychical Research (SPR) was founded in London in 1882 to study these phenomena. Its members included scientists, scholars, educators, writers, and philosophers. The society published its first journal in 1883. Its early publications documented apparitions (ghosts), hauntings, telepathy, clairvoyance, clairaudience (hearing voices from beyond), psychometry (divining facts about an object’s history through contact with it), post-mortem appearances of the dead, out-of-body experiences (OBE; seeing one’s self outside one’s body), near-death experiences (NDE; visions of dying persons), poltergeists (noisy ghosts believed to be mischievous spirits), reincarnation, mediumistic communications with discarnate entities, trance channeling (possession by spirits), and other paranormal phenomena.

Publications related to this topic included reports of clairvoyance, including trance clairvoyance, in which the percipient saw visions while unconscious or semiconscious; daylight clairvoyance, in which the percipient had visions at any time; and crystal gazing, in which the percipient used an unaided crystal ball to see distant persons or scenes.

The influence of spiritualism declined in England after World War I, although it was revived in the 1930s. The SPR published its journal concluding in 2002. The society’s “Proceedings” (1882-1940) are an important source of information on the history of psychical research. Its membership lists provide biographical details about many early psychical researchers. Many volumes in its library are available for viewing at Cambridge University Library.