05 October 2011

Oxford’s Professorship in Psychology

There follows the text of a letter of application which I made for a Psychology Professorship at Oxford University last year.

The ‘notes on my CV’ referred to will be posted separately.

I would draw attention in particular to the last paragraph, which for these purposes I have put in bold.

I hereby appeal to anyone in a position to provide finance for it, to consider this as an application for funding to set up a department of psychology under my direction.

I am applying for the Professorship of Psychology being offered by the Department of Experimental Psychology in association with Magdalen College, as advertised in the University Gazette, and attach my CV, which includes the contact details of three referees, together with notes on my CV and a testimonial from the late Professor H J Eysenck.

As my position is an anomalous one, I would be grateful if you could read the notes on my CV, as they give information about how I came to be in this position. As you will see, my CV is one that was prepared to go with an application for an appointment in philosophy, rather than psychology. I cannot in fact comply with all the ‘essential’ criteria listed on the website. However, I can comply with some of them. You will note on my CV that I have carried out research in psychology. It was pioneering research which broke new ground in various areas, but for which I received little recognition (more overseas than in this country) and no funding after the initial (very minimal) funding had lapsed. I also have decades of administrative and fund-raising experience.

I am in fact capable of carrying out research, teaching, and administration in areas in which I do not have paper qualifications, owing to my own ability to learn new topics very fast and very thoroughly in any situation in which I need to learn them.

For realistic information about my life, abilities, and situation, please see the Preface ‘How this Book came to be Written’ to my book The Lost Cause, a copy of which I am sending to you under separate cover. (This is the book version of my Oxford D.Phil thesis on causation entitled Causation and the Mind-Body Problem.)

I apologise for the anomalies in my application: these arise from the extreme social misplacement which has resulted from my ruined education. There is no recognition of the predicament of the exiled academic. I am making this application in spite of being above the normal age for a Professorship because the process of recovering from a ruined education is extremely slow, in fact there is no provision for it to be possible at all. There was a time lag of decades before the work which I had done in exile from an academic career led to my being offered testimonials from senior academics who were willing to act as my referees, and this still did not lead to my reinstatement in a normal academic career.

After still further delay, one of the areas of work which I had initiated (lucid dreaming) came to be recognised as a suitable topic for doctorates in both philosophy and experimental psychology. I still did not have funding for the expenses of research including a research assistant, without which I could not have done a DPhil in experimental psychology, so I applied instead to do one in philosophy.

The enclosed notes can give little impression of what I would have achieved by now if I had had a normal life, i.e. one that was normal for a person like me. As it is, they are a statement of how efficiently the expression of my abilities has been prevented by the society in which I have been living. Academics advising me have often said, ‘Don’t say anything about your ability, only about what you have done’, and ‘Don’t mention your unofficial teaching and research.’ But society can prevent one from doing anything officially, i.e. within a normal academic position. Is what one does outside its auspices, in an attempt to regain reinstatement, automatically to be regarded as disqualified from consideration?

Since I have had to work outside of a normal university context in attempting to establish a claim to reinstatement, it is difficult for me to give any academic referees at all. Nevertheless I give such as I can, and it should be considered remarkable that I have managed to acquire any at all. At one time I was sent a portfolio of testimonials from North American academics, who had worked on lucid dreams in some of the ways suggested in my book Lucid Dreams, similar to the testimonial from Professor Harry Hunt which appears on page xxxviii of my book The Lost Cause. However, these never did me any good and I have mislaid them, so it would be a lot of work to find out the present addresses of those concerned.

I give the referees I do, as best I can, because it should be regarded as amazing, and highly creditable, that I am able to give any at all. However I expect that my referees will observe the usual conventions that (a) one’s case is not to be considered highly anomalous and in need of redress, that (b) only work done by the holders of official academic positions counts as academic, and that (c) there is supposed to be no such thing as ability which is transferable from one field of intellectual activity to another. Therefore they can do no more than damn me with faint praise for the few pieces of work which I have been able to do within the restrictive parameters of what is regarded as ‘relevant’.

Finally, I should like to make a statement. It may be that you reject this application out of hand, on the basis that it does not meet the ‘essential requirements’, or that I otherwise fail to fit the University’s idea of what a psychology professor ought to be like. However, it is my belief that if the University really wanted to contribute to the advancement of psychology, rather than merely occupy a prestigious role in what has developed under the label of ‘academic psychology’, it would take this application very seriously indeed.