Christian Jensen Romer, a veteran ghost hunter who has worked on TV and radio shows including Most Haunted and who writes an excellent blog, is giving a talk this Saturday as part of the Cheltenham Paranormal Festival.
CJ, as he is nicknamed, has some interesting tales to tell, so I dropped him an email to ask if he wouldn't mind being interviewed for A Bad Witch's Blog. However, it seemed the first question I sent him was trickier than I suspected. Wanting to get my terminology right, I asked whether he preferred to call himself a psychic researcher or a parapsychologist.
CJ replied: "I rarely call myself either of those things!"
He emailed me explaining: "The term 'parapsychology' was first coined by Rudolf Tischner back in 1924, but no one actually called themselves a parapsychologist back then - outside Germany at least.
"The term most used in the UK and North America in the Victorian era was 'psychical researcher'. This was another neologism; 'psychic' simply means 'of the mind', so a new word was coined, 'psychical', for exceptional powers of the mind.
"I once challenged a skeptics organisation that offered a small cash prize to anyone who could demonstrate psychic powers, and proceeded to do so - I just did some mental arithmetic, and then claimed the prize, pointing out that any mental process was a psychic power. They never paid up though!
"However, I do often point out that we all have incredible psychic powers - but I mean memory, analysis, comprehension, etc.
"Anyway, the correct term historically was psychical researcher, and the emphasis of the Society for Psychical Research (founded in 1882 - http://www.spr.ac.uk/ ) up till the 1940s was in looking at evidence for life after death ('post mortem survival' as they would say back then).
"In the 1950s JB Rhine moved away from survival research - the haunted house and the seance room - and starts what is usually seen as 'modern parapsychology' with work at Dule University, North Carolina. This was lab-based research and rather than focusing on spirits or similar; it was very much based on the idea of extra sensory perception (ESP). This lead to the psi hypothesis."
Psi - Ψ or ψ - is the 23rd character in the Greek alphabet and the first character in the word psyche - defined in the Compact Oxford English Dictionary as "The human soul, mind, or spirit". It has become used in psychology, psychiatry and parapsychology as a term relating to anything to do with the mind, its powers and related phenomena.
CJ explained that this has become used as a general blanket term for anomalous processes within the study of the paranormal and is connected with a vast number of topics under the umbrella of parapsychology, including ESP, psychokinesis, telepathy, clairvoyance, near-death experiences - basically anything where the mind is considered to play a role.
He said: "What is going on here is something that happened in many academic disciplines from the 1920s to 50s - the emphasis on quantitative assessment of things, based on the triumphs of physics over qualitative research methods. We see the same thing happening in archaeology - amateur historians writing on the past slowly being replaced by modern archeology with an emphasis on careful forensic investigation of ancient sites.
"This new wave of psychical researchers called themselves 'parapsychologists', and strongly emphasised the laboratory study of phenomena. So-called 'spontaneous cases', stuff that happens outside a lab setting, like religious experience, magic and ghost stories, were downplayed or ignored.
"So we have a bit of a split, between psychical researchers who (generally) favour the idea of life after death based on their reading of the evidence, and parapsychologists who believe perfectly natural, but unknown, powers of the human brain were involved in these things - the psi hypothesis. Both parties included plenty who believed neither; skeptics who believed ESP stood for 'error some place' and felt the supposed evidence for mediumistic contact with the dead etc could be much better explained by simple psychological factors.
"To this day there is a public perception that parapsychologists are all believers - just as the public seems surprised to find an atheist religious studies lecturer, but from the earliest days the SPR had a strong skeptical community.
"Today the problem is further complicated by yet another label, as many of the more skeptical parapsychologists refer to themselves as researchers in 'anomalous psychology' - but they publish often in the same handful of peer reviewed parapsychology journals. The most important in the UK is the Journal of the SPR, but it is also well worth reading the European Journal of Parapsychology - http://www.ejp.org/."
I think I'll just stick to calling CJ a ghost hunter. It sounds more fun.
And after he has finished his lecture gig at Cheltenham I hope to catch up with him for a proper interview.
The Cheltenham Paranormal Festival runs until 6 February. Christian Jensen Romer's talk, Confessions of a Ghosthunter, is on Saturday, 5 February at The Playhouse Theatre, Bath Road, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire GL53 7HG. Time: 7.30pm - 8.30pm. Tickets £3. Phone the theatre on 01242 522852. For full details of the festival visit the website http://www.cheltenhamparanormalfestival.com/
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