Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Research Fellow, Parapsychology Foundation

Dr. Caroline Watt, who was interviewed here before, has just published Parapsychology: A Beginner’s Guide.  The book, published by Oneworld, is part of their Beginner’s Guides which, according to the publisher,  “combine an original, inventive, and engaging approach with expert analysis on subjects ranging from art and history to religion and politics, and everything in-between.” So Parapsychology is one of many other books in the collection about topics such as ancient philosophy, the brain, climate change, evolution, feminism, Homer, nutrition, and World War II.

Caroline Watt 2

Dr. Caroline Watt

Watt Parapsychology

Here is the table of contents:

1 Introduction: The Roots of Parapsychology

Section 1: Testing Psychic Claimants

2 Macro-PK

3 Psychic Reading, Remote Viewing, and Telepathic Animals:

ESP Outside the Lab

4 Mediumship and Survival

Section 2: Anomalous Experiences

5 Out-of-Body Experiences

6 Near-Death Experiences

7 Hauntings and Apparitions

8 The Psychology of Psychic Experiences

Section 3: Laboratory Research

9 Telepathy and Clairvoyance in the Laboratory

10 Precognition in the Laboratory

11 Mental Influence in the Laboratory: Physical and Biological

12 Conclusion: Parapsychology’s Value

Appendix: How to Test for ESP and PK Ability

Further reading



Can you give us a brief summary of the book?

The introduction looks at how the roots of modern-day parapsychology can be traced back to the early days of psychical research and psychology. There are then three main sections. The first is about research testing psychic claimants (for instance, metal-benders and psychic readers). The second is about anomalous experiences (such as OBEs, hauntings and apparitions). These two topics teach us a lot about how to test controversial claims, and about mechanisms of sensation and perception. Having considered the evidential limitations of real-world psychic experiences and claimed abilities, the third section moves to laboratory research (telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, micro-PK, and DMILS), where I suggest the strongest evidence for psi may be found. The concluding chapter considers parapsychology’s value. To maximise readability, the book has no footnotes or detailed referencing. However, there is an appendix that provides materials and instruction on how to test one’s own psychic abilities, suggestions for further reading, and an index.

What is your background in parapsychology, and with the topic of the book specifically?

I joined Professor Robert Morris  as a research associate at Edinburgh University’s Koestler Parapsychology Unit in 1986. The KPU is based within the university’s department of psychology. So for 3 decades now I have been conducting and publishing research into the psychology and parapsychology of paranormal beliefs and experiences, as well as teaching undergraduate psychology students about this subject. Also in 2008 I designed and launched an online parapsychology course designed for the general public that still runs successfully twice per year. I particularly enjoy engaging with the public about parapsychology.

What motivated you to write this book?

As you might imagine, the KPU attracts quite a bit of public attention, and of course parapsychology is a controversial and often misunderstood area of research. So I have always considered an important part of my role to be communicating with the wider public about the science of the paranormal. Previously I co-authored An Introduction to Parapsychology (5th edition) with Harvey Irwin. However that is quite a densely referenced book, designed more as a textbook for scholars of the field. I felt there was a need for a more accessible but similarly even-handed treatment of the subject, that would serve as a general introduction, and Parapsychology: A Beginner’s Guide seeks to fulfil this purpose.

Why do you think your book is important and what do you hope to accomplish with it?

The Beginner’s Guide series (published by Oneworld) covers many different topics, and I believe that it is helpful for parapsychology to be represented in this list of topics. When someone picks up the Beginner’s Guide to Archaeology, or Lacan, or Volcanoes, they will see Parapsychology listed amongst the other titles. This may bring the field to a wider audience. I also hope that my depiction of parapsychology will demonstrate that the study of paranormal claims drives forward methodological and conceptual advances that reach far beyond parapsychology. Regarding this aim, I am thrilled that the book has been favourably endorsed by the distinguished behavioural researcher, Professor Robert Rosenthal, who of course stated that the ganzfeld debate benefitted science in general as well as parapsychology. Finally, I hope to dismiss any unfair preconceptions that the field is pseudo-scientific, and open minds to the idea that this is a valuable and exciting area of enquiry.