13 February 2013

Causes of absenteeism in a bootlace factory

text of a letter

You said that you found our questionnaire on out-of-the-body experiences (OBEs) ‘inspirational’. Please do not imagine that I myself found it so, when Charles McCreery and I did the projects on OBEs. The projects were just the best method I had available at the time of working towards a university appointment and a professorship as soon as possible.

You may object that it was a very bad method of trying to work towards it, but my position was determined by the impossibility of getting support from my college (Somerville) for any way of getting back into a career path, for example by taking another degree in any of a wide variety of subjects as quickly as possible.

So I was lucky to find that there was a way of getting a postgraduate grant from Trinity College, Cambridge, which did not depend on support from my college, in an area of research that was new to me.

It is true that I saw the possibility of further research by me on OBEs (unbiased by the prevailing ideology) on a much larger scale as leading eventually to significant theoretical advances on important and totally ignored issues. However, doing work on the restricted scale that was possible in bad circumstances was of no greater interest to me than would have been research, on the same scale and in the same circumstances, on ‘Causes of absenteeism in a bootlace factory’.

Research of extreme theoretical importance remains possible in this area, but this is only going to happen in a future which we need to be given help in working towards. The potential importance of the research is probably the reason for OBEs having been so totally ignored before I started to make my appeals for them. It is probably also the reason why Charles and I have been deprived of any source of finance to carry on further work, while money has been lavished (relatively speaking) on people who already have academic status and salary and who can be relied upon only to do research which will not risk challenging the prevailing ideology.

Although I was, and still am, represented as having some peculiar ‘interest’ in hallucinatory experiences, it was in fact the case that my only motive for doing small-scale work in bad circumstances was to increase my claim on academic career progression with the implied improvement of circumstances.

The theoretical importance of an area of research does not make it any more rewarding (or less damaging) to do boring and tedious work in that area, without even the hotel environment and other circumstances provided by a university career that could make life worth living.

After doing the research for which I got a BLitt, and eventually a DPhil, which I had hoped would give me an entrée to some academic career path, leading as soon as possible to a professorship, I found I was actually as devoid of opportunity as before.

I was not supposed to mind if I was as outcast and destitute as before, after attempting to establish a position for myself by doing research in previously unrecognised fields. Only those who already had academic status and salary would be permitted to do work in the new fields. I and any associates I had would be left without status or income; the years of hard labour having resulted in no reward, being as totally abortive as had been the decades of work in schools and universities which had been supposed to give one access to a university career.

So society threw me out again, as badly off as if I had never been to school or college at all, admittedly now with contacts among the establishment population who could have supported me but who unfortunately had made a universal decision not to do so.

An outlaw is defined as ‘a person who has broken the law, especially who remains at large’. I remained at large, having committed sedition; hence I was an outlaw. I was neither a drugged zombie nor a wage slave, so all the more beyond the pale.

Dr McCreery, in spite of the DPhil gained by his supervised research on OBEs, found himself unable to obtain funding for further research, or an academic appointment well-paid enough to relieve the pressures of survival sufficiently for him even to make progress with writing a book based on his DPhil work. Such a book would include more discussion of individual cases and future possibilities for research than had been possible in the thesis.

We are still appealing for financial support to make possible at least this level of productivity. Dr McCreery could now proceed with the editing and publication of this and other books if he were provided with funding of at least £100,000 per annum.

As the new fields of research developed, in universities in North America and elsewhere, we hoped that Dr McCreery might also become eligible for research grants and appointments. But with no financial support at all, he could only lose ground to academics with status and salary, who were able to publish books and papers at a much greater rate, so that they became the leading ‘experts’ in the field, although their work was far less analytical and free from prejudice than his had been.

People like to talk as though, provided you stay physically alive, you are competing on equal terms with salaried academics enjoying the facilities provided by their universities.

The figure of £100,000 per annum to finance Dr McCreery’s work has to be seen in the context of his having to pay for all the facilities, staff etc. which are provided for those having university appointments. Some years ago we worked out that the average Oxford University research department was spending about £100,000 a year to support each of its research workers. There has been inflation since then, so £100,000 is probably an underestimate and much more could be done with £200,000 per annum.