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Title: The intellectual background and potential significance of F.W.H Myers work in psychology and parapsychology
Author: Cook, Emily Frazer William
ISNI:       0000 0004 2680 7195
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 1993
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Parapsychology, or psychical research, continues to be viewed by many scientists and laypeople as a pursuit characterized by occult beliefs and pseudoscientific approaches, despite the longstanding efforts of its leaders to operate within the framework of modern scientific methods. This thesis represents an attempt, by examining the 19th-century origins of psychical research, both to understand more fully the reasons for the continued rejection of parapsychology as science and also to define the aim of parapsychology and its potential role in or contribution to modern science in general and psychology in particular. Modern science progressed by rejecting the concept of mental, or "spiritual", causality as a vestige of super-naturalistic, teleological thinking. Scientific psychology was built on the foundation of this rejection of mental causality as an inherently unscientific notion, and as a result psychologists abandoned the field's most basic theoretical problems. Psychical research developed explicitly as an attempt to keep alive, and to develop empirical approaches to, fundamental questions about the nature of mind and its relationship to physical processes, at a time when most psychologists were abandoning such questions as metaphysical or religious problems outside the scope of scientific inquiry. Part I attempts to demonstrate that scientific psychology had its roots in the assumption that mind is a secondary phenomenon derived from matter. In particular, it examines ideas about the relationship of mind and matter in the writings of 11 scientists who were influential in the development of scientific psychology during its formative period, the last half of the 19th century. The essential failure of such scientists to address empirically the problem of the relationship between mental and physical phenomena only further entrenched, and did nothing to resolve, the rift between mind and matter that had led to the rejection of dualism by modern scientists. Part II examines the aims and purposes of 19thcentury psychical research, as represented by its primary spokesman, Frederic W. H. Myers. In contrast to most other scientists, Myers believed that empirical research on the mind-matter problem is not only possible but is the primary task of and challenge to scientific psychology. Chapters in Part II examine the basic purposes and principles behind Myers's work, the theoretical framework and model of mind that he proposed for psychology, and the phenomena and empirical studies that he thought would be most useful in attacking psychology's basic problems. Scientists and others who reject parapsychology do so because they believe that parapsychology represents a reversion to super-naturalistic thinking and would thus undermine the foundations of modern science. Parapsychology, however, undermines not science but the longstanding assumption behind modern science and scientific psychology that mental causality is a supernatural, not scientific, concept. In attempting to examine the assumption that matter is the primary, and mind a secondary, derivative, characteristic of nature, parapsychology reminds scientists that science is most fundamentally a method and not a particular set of assumptions. Myers's primary belief was that that method could be used to push our understanding of mind-matter relations beyond both dualism and materialism toward some new, more comprehensive conception.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available