Is this shameless self promotion on my part, bragging about my degree? Well, sure it is! I worked my ass off to get this PhD, and I’m damn proud of it. Why post this now? There are some articles circulating on social media sites debating whether or not one needs ‘fancy letters’ after one’s name in order to be a published expert on the paranormal. Before I go any further, my degree is not in the ‘paranormal’ because, as I will elucidate, there ARE NO DEGREES IN THE PARANORMAL. My degree is in Spanish literature, culture and language with a minor in Portuguese. My degree, however, did prepare me to conduct research into survival of consciousness, but first things first.
1) There are no ‘experts’ on the paranormal. What makes an expert? Usually a degree in your field (yup, those fancy letters again), articles in peer reviewed journals, the respect of your colleagues, and a solid reputation in academic or institutional circles. In other words, a community of your peers decides whether or not you’re an expert. The study of the paranormal at the moment lacks a rigorous curriculum of study with experts in the field. There is no formal degree in the paranormal. The closest you can get is the University of Arizona, the University of Virginia and the University of Edinburgh. Those universities have “divisions,” usually housed within the Psychology Department, that explore such anomalies as ESP, transpersonal awareness, survival of consciousness, the study of mediumship and reincarnation. You can’t obtain a “degree” in the paranormal; you have to get the PhD within the department of psychology or psychiatry first, and that requires taking a ton of basic, academic courses in the discipline. You are not, when you graduate, an “expert” in the paranormal, but a trained psychologist whose research interests delve into the so-called ‘paranormal.’
2) You can be well respected in paranormal community outside of higher education, but you give something up. What do you give up? The respect of academia and the larger culture, which still recognizes education and degrees as necessary for expertise in a subject. Are there idiotic professors with fancy letters after their name? OF COURSE. There are people who can find ways to earn a PhD without any original or interesting thinking on their part. It is entirely possible to spend several years slavishly imitating whatever your professors tell you just so you can get that degree, and once you have it, you can endlessly repeat what others have told you and never really accomplish anything of value. That is true in every, single profession. Letters after your name do not make you talented, original or your work worth reading. But it does mean this: You worked hard for something you wanted. You took years’ worth of courses, you read hundreds of books, you wrote countless papers, your had to research your topic at 3:00 AM in the all-night section of your university library, you gave up your social life while you studied for oral comprehensive exams, you almost passed out from exhaustion writing your 500 page dissertation . . . I could go on and on. If you received your PhD from a legitimate institution of higher learning, then there were blood, sweat and tears involved.
3) Any degree from a college or university should mean that you know how to conduct research and think critically. THIS IS IMPORTANT. Since there is no formal degree in parapsychology that I am aware of, there is a HUGE benefit to a BA, MA and/or PhD in another field. You learn how to approach a topic critically and you understand what is necessary to conduct formal research. You read and read and read and read and read everything you can get your hands on. You know all about the Society for Psychical Research and can name most of the founding members. You are a member of the ASPR. There are many things you can do right now to improve your level of expertise in the paranormal, with or without a degree. If you want to take your education into your own hands, go for it. However, if you are not actively conducting research and reading the ‘paranormal canon’ of great works, then you will end up going in circles with the weirdness of what you’re experiencing on investigations. You need a theory. In order to come up with a theory, or various theories, you need to educate yourself first.
4) Look, nobody needs a degree to investigate a haunted site. I get that. Nobody needs to read in order to collect a million audio clips. Nobody needs to study the history of a place or catch up on quantum theory in order to do a Ghost Box session. Here is the problem with all this investigating without studying: you will amass hundreds, thousands, of audio clips, photos, video clips and so on without any kind of supporting theory to explain it. You will end up a collector of random bits of information without telling your audience what it might mean on a larger, philosophical level. You need History, Science, Philosophy, Psychology, Sociology and the Humanities to understand the enormity of what you are stumbling across in the dark. It’s important what you are all doing; IT IS TOO IMPORTANT TO DO AS A HOBBY. You need commitment, you need to read, you need to think. I don’t care if you have a fancy degree, but you do need an education.
I do care that you find answers for us all, answers that are not repetitive, vainglorious or frivolous. Dive down into the meaning of the mystery, however you can, and share what you find with the rest of us.
That’s what truly matters.
–Kirsten A. Thorne, PhD
Yale University, 1992