30 April 2010

More about how to do research

What I last wrote about “B” reminded me of another indication of how much less effective in its methods the Hardy Centre was than us.

One day B brought in to the Department* a collection of reports of would-be religious experiences, and asked those present to see whether they could pick out the subjects with a psychiatric history. Only Charles was able to do this; nobody else could do it at all, and it did not appear that B or anyone else at the Hardy Centre would know how to do this.

The first time I told an academic about this some years ago, they said, “How can you tell?” (which ones are psychiatric). And I said it depended on being aware of psychological dimensions which were not recognised in modern psychology.

People often ask questions like this in relation to fields of research which one can see how to make progress in, as if anything one knows about them must be so simple and obvious that it can be explained to them in one sentence. Or, maybe, that it must be so subtle and complicated that nobody could understand it, including myself.

Actually, I had very extensive information about psychological dimensions which might be relevant, which I had acquired by surviving the psychological attacks on me in the course of my ‘education’, by absorbing the past history of the Society for Psychical Research and the life experience of Salter and Sir George, by reading old-fashioned psychology and modern psychiatry, and by interviewing the subjects who came into the SPR office to report experiences, including some who clearly were classifiably psychotic.

What is recognised in the personality tests of modern experimental psychology is very limited, the object being to recognise as the norm the psychology of a decentralised person with an IQ of 100. In order to extend the range of personality factors that could be taken into account, it would be necessary to set up new questionnaires from scratch, which would be very time and labour intensive. Most tests are not standardised for different levels of IQ, although some are standardised for different occupations.

It is not only the case that I had discovered a lot more about psychology than had been known previously, but also that modern experimental psychology had deliberately reduced its range, so that the potentially threatening parts of the most enlightened pre-1945 psychology were excluded. (Hence the name ‘Experimental Psychology’ to distinguish it from old-fashioned ‘Psychology’. )

* Oxford’s Department of Experimental Psychology