Does Psychic Ability Exist? Dr Caroline Watt and ‘Science of the Paranormal’

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As part of Innovative Learning Week 2015, Dr Caroline Watt is running several workshops to discuss whether or not psychic ability actually exists.  Through each session she is hoping to dispel the various stereotypes and myths that are consistently associated with the study of the paranormal, all the while maintaining a light-hearted and engaging approach to the fascinating subject.

The event was fully-booked in advance with a range of both staff and students attending, all curious as to what the workshop would actually entail.  On arrival, each participant was asked to write down an unusual fact about themselves on a piece of yellow paper without showing anyone, and then place this piece of paper into a bowl at the front of the room; the point of this exercise was to be revealed in due course.

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Dr Watt then provided a background into the origins of her department, the Koestler Parapsychology Unit, which was founded back in 1985 after husband and wife duo, Arthur and Cynthia Koestler, left a substantial sum of money in their wills to fund a ‘Chair of Parapsychology at a British University’.  Their hope was that this would help push for further study into ‘…the capacity attributed to some individuals to interact with their environment by means other than the recognised sensory and motor channels’, and due to its competence in this area, the money was allocated to the University of Edinburgh. The KPU looks at various aspects of the paranormal, including the existence of psychic ability and conceptions of parapsychology.

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The workshop then explained a bit about various tests of psychic ability employed by parapsychologists such as Zener Cards that have five distinct symbols on them that are to be hidden from the participant who needs to guess which one is in front of them.  Another test explained by Dr Watt was Altered States; this is where in a more relaxed setting, participants take a set amount of time to let their mind wander and think about whatever comes naturally to them, and then note this down on a sheet of paper to be analysed.

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Participants took an active role in this engaging workshop with a chance to practice pendulum-spinning as well as having a go at experiments such as guessing Zener Cards.  They also learned about the alarming misconceptions surrounding parapsychology such as those portrayed in the science fantasy film, Ghostbusters.

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To finish off the workshop, Dr Watt picked out three random facts on yellow pieces of paper, previously numbered to match the corresponding participant, and got the three authors to stand up and the rest of the room had to guess which one of the facts that were read out matched with which participant.  This highlighted that unconscious body language, among other things, can influence other people’s opinions of their peers.

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Overall, this creative workshop involved all the participants actively taking part throughout, and everyone seemed to respond very well to this.  Dr Watt’s enthusiasm was definitely apparent and for anyone with a slight interest in the paranormal, believers and sceptics alike, this is a brilliant workshop to attend.

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Written by Calum Mackie, ILW Student Ambassador

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