Sue’s back: #QEDcon 2016

opengraphI am still recovering from the pleasure of my first QED Conference, a very busy few days in Manchester. I was grateful to be invited to participate along with Prof Susan Blackmore and Hayley Stevens in the ‘Team Spirit’ panel about researching the paranormal, expertly chaired by Deborah Hyde (editor-in-chief of The Skeptic Magazine, and folklore afficionado). I was also delighted to get to speak on Investigating the Paranormal: 30 Years of KPU Research to a packed theatre of Greater Manchester Skeptics on the thursday night. That ‘eve of conference’ event was hosted by Geoff Whelan, who is also one of the energetic QED organisers – jings he must have been exhausted by the Sunday night, though he certainly didn’t show it! (I’ll be giving that talk again to Glasgow Skeptics on Monday 24th Oct, ICYMI).

wisemanchairI was also working with Richard Wiseman to set up his Quirkology ‘Mind Tricks’ exhibition (see pic for his ‘chair illusion’), and at every turn there was a QED helper or organiser  asking what they could do to help us. SO impressive. Before the event I had been a judge on The Skeptic Magazine’s Ockham Awards for outstanding skeptical achievement, and on gala night Deborah asked me to present the Award to the winning blog (the excellent Naturopathic Diaries) – v relieved I had changed into my posh shoes!

I was impressed by many things: the scale of the QED event (over 650 attendees), youthful demographic, superb organisation, and really helpful volunteers. As a parapsychologist, I wondered whether I would be regarded as a bit of an oddity, however everyone was very friendly and supportive.  I couldn’t help but compare it with the Society for Psychical Research conference, that I attended the previous month. That was of course very friendly too, but with far fewer delegates, and a much older demographic. QED felt a lot more vibrant. The Team Spirit panel was a lot of fun. My main contribution probably came when we considered whether belief in the paranormal would always persist. Perhaps controversially, I suggested that under certain circumstances, paranormal and superstitious beliefs might be adaptive. Obviously, it’s not at all adaptive to take pseudo ‘treatments’ for serious illnesses. However some paranormal beliefs might create beneficial self-fulfilling prophecies. For instance, someone who brings their lucky mascot to an exam may feel more confident, less nervous, and actually perform better. Also, research indicates that religious belief can have beneficial consequences for the believer – I think primarily because of the social support that can come from being part of a church.

Sue Blackmore spent 30 years investigating and writing on the paranormal and anomalous experiences such as NDEs and OBEs. Then, in 2000, Sue threw in the paranormal towel – she wrote about that decision for New Scientist, here. Sue then went on to focus on writing about memetics and consciousness.

sueqedHowever, Sue’s back! Her QED talk was on The New Science of Out-of-Body Experiences. Here’s a vimeo link to a talk she gave in Dec 2015 on the same topic. At QED, Sue began by recounting her own powerful OBE, which first got her interested in parapsychology. She then talked about early research on this topic. Sue explained how, after quite a hiatus, she has become interested again due to more recent research by Olaf Blanke and others. (The pic shows Sue illustrating in her QED presentation how one of these experiments works.) This research has identified the role of the right temporo-parietal junction in integrating and maintaining the sense of bodily awareness (for example, this paper). Some of this work has also (in news reports) been described as ‘creating’ an OBE using virtual reality techniques. However I think there’s a bit of a gulf between the ‘realer than real’ feeling reported by Sue and others who have experienced a spontaneous OBE, and the kind of bodily illusions elicited by providing false visual and sensory feedback. But clearly this ‘new science’ has something to say about OBEs, and OBE experiences have something to tell us about how the brain maintains a sense of bodily awareness and location. And this is what has excited Sue and has brought her almost full circle, to try to understand her first striking OBE. Welcome back Sue!



About Caroline Watt

Prof Caroline Watt is a founder member of the Koestler Parapsychology Unit.
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6 Responses to Sue’s back: #QEDcon 2016

  1. Bevis Beauvais says:

    Well, this is certainly encouraging and the good professor is to be admired for her courage and integrity. Having cleared the hurdle of cynicism and taken the leap of faith, other previously sceptical dogmatic psychologists are in a position to adopt a suitable attitude of humility in order to approach those esoteric communities and native cultures with centuries of continuous experience and request their assistance in the search for knowledge. In the meantime we can all learn much from physicist Thomas Campbell.


    • Bevis Beauvais says:

      Incidentally, the tweaking-gesture of greeting originally referred to and observed by the sharp-eyed may be interpreted symbolically as an act of deference from an errant sister of the faith to a forgiving and indulgent Papess from whom she seeks leave to return to the maternal fold and life giving sustenance of the Paravatican. Whether the event was encoded into Long Term or merely Short Term Mammary may be empirically ascertained in due course.

      Professor Wiseman’s interesting photographic perspective reveals a profound mystery attached to the Chair of Parapsychology: its dimensions are inversely proportional to the spiritual development of the aspirant seeking to scale its height and only the Chosen One may perch with the requisite grace and equipoise upon so majestic a seat and truly reflect its splendour. It is rumoured the professor possesses earlier photographs of the Amazing Randi struggling vainly to shin up one of its legs.


      • Bevis Beauvais says:

        When criticising alternative medicine it is important for us to recognise that there are many intelligent and well qualified people who consider both chemo- and radio- therapies to be pseudo treatments and their perceived success to be due to a combination of spontaneous remission, placebo, and of course deft and well resourced statistical manipulation and marketing. No intelligent and compassionate person likes the idea of vulnerable people being taken advantage of by predators and profiteers but large international corporations are just as capable of such immorality as individual quacks. It is of course wrong to give the seriously ill false hope but is equally wrong to give them false despair.

        In regard to scepticism towards the power (and in some cases the actual existence) of the mind in relation both to the paranormal and to the less controversial mysteries of hypnotism and the placebo effect, my article entitled ‘Mind Over Matter: placebos and self healing’ considers the case for breaking free of the materialist paradigm psychology has inherited from 17th century mechanics.

        Lastly, I’d like to point out that one of Professor Blakemore’s first tasks on returning to parapsychology should be to re-examine the way she quit the field just as the data from the Stargate Project turned up, and without bothering to read it.


  2. Pingback: QEDcon 2016 | Purely a figment of your imagination

  3. Pingback: QED – Part 5 | Passive Impressions

  4. Pingback: My first QED, and Naturopathic Diaries wins an Ockham Award - Naturopathic Diaries

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