Unbelievable Opportunities, Innumerable Possibilities
Aristotle University of Thessaloniki
The scientific field of parapsychology has a history of more than a century. Many influential researchers have come and gone, thousands of experiments have been conducted around the world and a massive and valuable amount of data have already been produced. It is also a fact that dozens of specialized peer-reviewed journals have served (and are still serving) the field and related papers have been published in top-ranked mainstream scientific journals such as Science, Nature, Lancet, Psychological Bulletin, Foundations of Physics, Neuroscience Letters etc.
With such a research legacy, someone would expect the field to be well accepted worldwide and even more scientists engaged in it to be highly productive. Thinking purely scientific, the above two points are so deeply interconnected that we owe to face them as a unit.
There are many barriers that the field needs to overcome. So, the important question is how this can be done today.
Web 2.0 Can Boost The Field
Living in a new digital age is something harsh for many to deal with. Having in mind how difficult it is for the majority of today’s people to fully understand World Wide Web, the core of the new digital age, and its technologies it’ s even harder to understand and follow the evolution of the web to Web 2.0.
It was back in 1999 when Darcy DiNucci, a consultant on electronic information design, first talked about this new bread of web: “The Web we know now, which loads into a browser window in essentially static screenfuls, is only an embryo of the Web to come. The first glimmerings of Web 2.0 are beginning to appear […] The Web will be understood as a transport mechanism, the ether through which interactivity happens.” (DiNucci, 1999) Today, Web 2.0 consists of web applications that encourage interactive information sharing and collaboration on the World Wide Web.
Even if there is a lot of discussion of how we should call it (Laningham, 2007), everyone agrees that the web is evolving to something really promising with cutting edge technologies that offer unbelievable opportunities. Among those who can be benefited is definitely the international community of parapsychology.
Identifying the Problems
As 2010 is coming to an end, it is high time to focus on this new approach of handling the field’s problems that persist for decades now. It is not among the aims of this essay to write down all the issues that parapsychology still faces today but just use some of them to propose a new and technologically advanced approach.
There is a great issue regarding the language barriers between English-speaking and non-English speaking researchers around the globe (Alvarado, 1989). As C. S. Alvarado states, there were quite more “ideas’ exchange” between psychical researchers from different countries before the dominance of English which occurred around J. B. Rhine’s era. From then and on many non-English views are not fully integrated into “mainstream” parapsychology (e.g., in Irwin & Watt, 2007).
The latter results (in combination with other variables) to an even more complicated problem: there is limited connection between parapsychologists in neighboring (or even the same) countries and so limited collaboration between them too. Moreover, general public and “mainstream” scientists are often not aware of the research going on inside their country or a neighboring one. The problem is even bigger in Africa and Asia, where researchers are almost totally cut off from the international parapsychology community.
Another equally unfortunate issue is that even though the field has some great libraries to be proud of (like those of Parapsychology Foundation, Institut für Grenzgebiete der Psychologie und Psychohygiene and Institut Métapsychique International), most of them have very few visitors each year. A probable solution is the development of the digitalized Library of Exploratory Science (www.lexscien.org) that already changed the way researchers browse the literature, but this is not a general move. Similarly for conferences those who are interested in attending are much more than the actual attendees.
Last, it is really hard to stay up-to-date in this field. Parapsychology journals are not indexed at all (in general) and as a result the main source for researchers is books (mainly conference proceedings and collections of essays) and not articles as in other disciplines.
An Ideal Solution
These are some of the most important problems that parapsychology is trying to tackle for decades. Now, without being confined by the already known and well-discussed issues above try to imagine the ideal solutions.
Just think of the ideal parapsychology library: it must be available at all times to almost everyone around the world plus all its material to be translated at instance in dozens of different languages.
Moreover, visualize the perfect connection between the parapsychologists, general public and “mainstream” scientists around the world: a world map available to everyone with information about all the societies, institutes and groups conducting research on the field. And why not adding the ability to have it updated on a daily basis?
Even more, envision the ideal parapsychology conference with millions of possible attendees being able to participate without the need of a physical presence. Go even further and imagine dozens of lecturers giving speeches to a worldwide audience from different places around the world.
These are some of the tools that many parapsychologists would have welcomed to the field, as they can enhance the collective strength of parapsychological community. Unfortunately, they are not feasible due to the absence of the needed funding.
Let’s Get Real
For sure, it would be much easier if we had the help of innovative international companies or pioneer communities to develop the right solutions for us, as they have already produced many of the needed Web 2.0 technologies.
To be more specific, let’s examine the example of the ideal library. There are many online language libraries that someone can use in an automated way such as Yahoo Babel Fish, Google Translate, Applied Language, InterTran Services etc. By using them, the ideal library could have automated translations to dozens of different languages for its entire content. These are not precise translations, but they can make content understandable to non-English speaking visitors only few seconds after it is published.
Having in mind that the above tools can offer word-by-word and not context translations, there are many advanced online tools to promote volunteer editing of the automated translations. This can be done via an online collaborative scheme such as the Transposh project.
Moving on to the ideal connection between parapsychologists, general public and “mainstream” scientists, all the needed technologies exist in order to develop an online digital hub featuring a 3D rotating earth showing all the researchers and groups engaged in the field. This could be feasible by creating an easy-to-use and easy-to-update portal with pages for everyone in the field and available all the time to anyone around the world. The appropriate and technologically advanced tools are already there: such a portal would need a stable online platform for the website (such as the WordPress content management system), and a geo mapping online tool such as the ones offered by Google (Google Earth or Google Maps).
And regarding the ideal conference, this is even easier to be accomplished. It just needs a couple of low cost web cameras (preferably with high definition, but this is not an issue) and services like uStream.tv or Stickam.com to broadcast live the conference lectures around the world.
The interaction between lecturers and participants can be done live via already embedded features. To keep up-to-date all those who weren’t able to participate in the live event, a solution would be to upload videos of the speeches to an online service, such as YouTube or Google Videos, and share them with the world. Imagine something of the caliber of Utrecht II Conference (Roe, Kramer, & Coly, 2009) every year at the cheapest cost.
The First Glimmerings of Parapsychology 2.0
The question that remains is how can someone use all the above Web 2.0 technologies without funds. At the end, the greatest problem that the field has to tackle is the absence of funding. But this is not the point since all the above (and many more) are offered completely free to use, as many of them are open-source projects.
Bearing all the above in mind, what parapsychology probably needs is suitable people to implement such tools to serve it. The absence of funding can be balanced with scientists from the appropriate field: computer scientists (programmers, web developers etc.) to be deeply engaged in parapsychology and work side by side with well-recognized parapsychologists. Thus, all the opportunities that Web 2.0 can offer will gradually unfold.
A first glimmering of this collaboration (between a computer scientist and a parapsychologist) is theWoP.org, a very promising project that according to its founders can soon evolve to something similar to the “ideal connection” discussed above. (Evrard & Koumartzis, 2010)
The advanced technologies that consists Web 2.0 can help parapsychological community to overcome many of the persisting problems. Our focus for the years to come must be how we can take advantage of Web 2.0 in order to serve our needs and help parapsychology evolve to something more advanced, worldwide interconnected and productive: Parapsychology 2.0.
With this new “ally”, under-funding will essentially give its place to intellectual talents such as creativity and open-mind thinking. And let me say that talents like these are in plethora among scientists in our field.
Alvarado, C.S. (1989). The language barrier in parapsychology, Journal of Parapsychology, 53, 125–139.
Anderson, P. (2007). What is web 2.0? Ideas, technologies and implications for education (report), JISC Technology and Standards Watch, February 2007. Retrieved at October 20 from http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.108.9995&rep=rep1&type=pdf
DiNucci, D. (1999). Fragmented future, Print, 53(4), 32.
Ebner, M., Holzinger, A. & Maurer, H. (2007). Web 2.0 technology: Future interfaces for technology enhanced learning?, Lecture Notes in Computer Science 2007, 4556, 559–568. Retrieved at October 22 2010 from: http://www.springerlink.com/content/hrp354g32831g2qx/fulltext.pdf
Evrard, R. & Koumartzis, N. (2010, October). Towards a cross-cultural view of parapsychology, Paranthropology, 1(2).
Gibson, B. (2007). Enabling an accessible Web 2.0. ACM International Conference Proceeding Series, 225. Retrieved at October 15 2010 from: http://portal.acm.org/ft_gateway.cfm?id=1243442&type=pdf&coll=GUIDE&dl=GUIDE&CFID=108127027&CFTOKEN=66393173
Irwin, H.J., & Watt, C. (2007). An introduction to parapsychology. (5th Ed.) Jefferson City, NC: McFarland & Co.
Laningham, S. (2007). DeveloperWorks Interviews: Tim Berners-Lee, 2006-07-28. Retrieved at October 25 2010 from: http://www.ibm.com/developerworks/podcast/dwi/cm-int082206txt.html
Roe, C., Kramer, W., & Coly, L. (Eds, 2009). Utrecht II: Charting the future of parapsychology, held in Utrecht, the Netherlands in 2008, Utrecht: Parapsychology Foundation / HJBF.