25 July 2008

Physiological correlates

copy of a letter to a Professor of Philosophy

When I see you I always worry about things I say which you seem to agree with, because I am afraid you see it as supporting some socially acceptable interpretation which I need to reject.

I said that getting a grant from Trinity College, Cambridge to do a postgraduate degree (meant to be a DPhil) at Oxford was not a solution to my problems (my appalling situation) and you appeared to agree. But I cannot think what you could have been agreeing with, as it seems unlikely that you accept, any more than anyone else did, or does, that I was in absolute and urgent need of (i) an institutional (hotel) environment and (ii) a Professorship, and was suffering severely without either.

Until I had the first of these, and probably also the second, there could be no question of my getting anything out of life or getting any positive feedback (‘interest’) out of anything I did, whatever it was. It was (and still is) just a question of endurance in crossing a desert, and trying not to let my energy level decline too fast. Over the decades things have improved slightly, at least to the extent that I can now beat my head against the wall of hostility by expressing my complaints openly.

I was not in a hotel environment while doing the D.Phil which turned into a B.Litt, and travelling a lot, and in such circumstances it was easier to do something rather dull. Of course people like to imagine that I found anything connected with psychical research ‘interesting’, but although the thesis topic had to be associated with that area, I saw it only as a way of working back towards a university career.

Even if I had succeeded in getting into one, I would still have gone ahead with the plan to set up a research institute, financed by the Coombe-Tennants and other SPR* connections, as a way of amplifying my activities. Organising experimental research on a large scale is something that would make me feel more functional and alive, because it uses more of my channel capacity, as is the giving of seminars and broadcasting.

* * * * *

The academic subjects most closely associated with ‘parapsychology’ seemed to be physiology and psychology. People at the SPR wanted me to do the thesis on ‘spontaneous cases’, discussing them on the same terms as they all did (evidential value, alternative explanations, etc.), but I did not see how that could lead back into an academic career; so I had to aim at psychology and physiology, bitterly regretting that I did not have degrees in either, since my time at school and at Queen Mary College had been, although through no wish of mine, so uselessly misspent.

Neither physiology nor psychology appealed to me as subjects in which to take degrees as they had relatively little informational content, and I would only have taken degrees in them after acquiring degrees in physics and chemistry. However, now I had to scrape the barrel of possibilities and the barrel was bare, although if I had taken degrees in physics and chemistry first, it would probably not have mattered whether or not I had followed that by taking degrees in physiology and psychology as well. But I might have done, as I had basically intended to acquire as many qualifications as possible and then see what were the best career opportunities arising.

Philosophy, of course, would also have been a possibility, but especially by the end of the three years, Professor Price was as much against the idea of my returning to an academic career as everyone else.

So in fact I wrote the thesis on physiological and psychological conditions of states in which ESP was reported to occur, although at the interview at Trinity I had to pretend that I was also going to be analysing spontaneous case material, and only as a side issue considering physiological correlates. There was clearly a great resistance to the idea of anything being done in that area, and the interviewers boggled in the usual way. ‘What could you possibly do about that? What physiological correlates could there be? What do you mean by that?’

* Society for Psychical Research