Is there a link between philosophy and parapsychology? Has any philosopher written about
paranormal phenomena without doing metaphysics? What's the meaning of "hyperlogic" and why isn't
it the same as "absurd"?
Parapsychology, unlike philosophy, is an empirical enquiry: it seeks by observation and experiment to
confirm or disconfirm certain anecdotally reported mental phenomena: chiefly, extra-sensory
perception, psychokinesis and the survival of consciousness after death. However, both the methods
and results of parapsychology should be of interest to philosophers.
Parapsychologists have had considerable difficulty producing results which satisfy prevailing
standards of scientific credibility. One response has been methodological innovation: arguing for
novel ways of judging the data which they produce. These innovations range from comparatively
modest devices such as meta-analysis, a statistical technique for extrapolating general results from
large quantities of independently produced, low-grade data, which has also found controversial
applications in medical research, to extreme positions challenging the universality of scientific
method. All such developments raise important questions for the philosophy of science.
If parapsychology should confirm some of its more startling hypotheses, this might be supposed to
have profound consequences for the philosophy of mind. In particular, evidence that the mind could
exist separately from the body, for example through 'astral projection' or by surviving death, would
suggest that physicalism, a popular thesis in the philosophy of mind which postulates the reduction of
all mind events to brain events, must be false. However, in the absence of any specific account of the
way such paranormal phenomena might work, it would seem premature to rule out their compatibility
with a sufficiently ingenious reduction of the mental to the physical.
Philosophers have written about paranormal phenomena throughout the history of the discipline.
Plato, for example, discusses divination in the Phaedrus(244-245) and Timaeus(71b-72c), and
elsewhere. Of course, the category of paranormal phenomena is a modern one, bounded as it is by
the explanatory capacities of modern science. Amongst twentieth century philosophers C. D. Broad is
a conspicuous figure — as Knightbridge Professor of Moral Philosophy at Cambridge and President
of the Society for Psychical Research he had a foot firmly planted in both disciplines, and published
widely on their connexions. For an introduction to more recent work you could consult the articles
'Paranormal phenomena' by Stephen E. Braude and 'Parapsychology' by Allen Stairs in the
Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophyor its abridgement.
I'm not sure if I understand your 'without doing metaphysics' proviso. I wonder whether you intend
'metaphysics' in the sense in which some booksellers use it, as a genteel euphemism for occult, 'new
age' and suchlike material, with which parapsychological works are typically shelved. Within
philosophy, 'metaphysics' refers to the more respectable (pace any surviving logical positivists), if
formidable, activity of seeking to determine the ultimate constituents of reality. This sort of enquiry is
typical conducted at too high a level of abstraction to be influenced by the findings of any empirical
science, parapsychology included.
As for 'hyperlogic', the term seems to have been popularized by the Australian cultural theorist Darren
Tofts to describe the radically non-linear or non-naturalistic techniques of twentieth century artists and
writers such as James Joyce, Marcel Duchamp, John Cage, Francis Bacon and Samuel Beckett. (It's
also the name of a Californian software company, but I assume that you weren't referring to them.)
Tofts construes 'hyperlogic' by analogy with 'hypertext', in which complex cross-referencing allows for
multiple, open-ended readings, and which, as the HT in HTML and HTTP, is the guiding principle
behind the web. 'It is a form of thinking based on association, on accident, on suggestion. It is exactly
the kind of logic usually implied by the term brainstorming.' [Darren Tofts 'Where are we at all? and
whenabouts in the name of space' at http://www.themodernword.com/joyce/joyce_paper_tofts.html,
see also his Parallax: Essays on Art, Culture and Technology(Sydney: Craftsman House, 2000)]
'Logic' is here understood not as it typically is in (analytic) philosophy, as a systematic theory of
inference, but in the much looser sense it carries in critical theory, as a general kind of narrative or
structural rationale. So, in transcending some of these looser constraints, 'hyperlogic' need not be
absurd, or at least not in a pejorative sense of 'absurd'.