Radin, D. (2020). Parapsychological Association 2019 Presidential Address Making Sense of Psi: Seven Pieces of the Puzzle. The Journal of Parapsychology, 84(1), 85-95.
A popular theme of annual presidential addresses to the Parapsychological Association (PA) and the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) is the attempt to make sense of psi. These addresses often assume that most of the audience is satisfied that the ontological question is settled in the affirmative, so the next questions that naturally arise are the what and why of psi?
I will address this theme in terms of a jigsaw puzzle that, when fully assembled someday, will present a coherent picture that provides a satisfactory answer to these age-old questions. The puzzle we are dealing with undoubtedly consists of thousands of pieces, of which to date we have only identified a few dozen, but perhaps we can make some sense of the tiny fraction of the whole picture that is already visible.
In the process of thinking about these puzzle pieces, I reread many of the presidential addresses, including a 1975 address to the SPR presented by University of Edinburgh’s John Beloff. One of the sentences in his talk that caught my eye was the following: “For reasons which I hope will become increasingly clear as I proceed, I see no prospect whatever of making sense of the paranormal in purely physical terms, however unorthodox” (Beloff, 1976, p. 176).
That sentence stood out to me, especially the last two words, because the concept of “purely physical” has evolved so much over the course of the 20th century–from matter, to energy, to information, to nonlocality, to dark matter and energy–that we are now presented with a degree of conceptual fluidity that many scientists in 1975 would have regarded as ridiculous fantasies. The rate of change among ideas that once seemed to rest on solid ground reminds us to remain humble in the face of the ever-expanding unknown, and to not dismiss the possibility that one day physics and psi may neatly converge.