Parapsychology Class at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology

I will be offering a basic parapsychology class online for the first time at ITP in the Winter quarter of 2011.  For those who are interested in a good reading list on parapsychology or an idea of what my course is like, I have included a shortened (leaving out stuff about writing standards for student papers and the like) version of the class syllabus.

I’ll also create short video about aspects of parapsychology on YouTube from time to time.  I expect to put the first one up later today and will post a second note about the URL when it’s up.

Syllabus, ITP PRES2073, Basic Parapsychology

Professor Tart

Copyright Charles T. Tart 2011

Winter 2011, ONLINE

– Shortened Version for non-ITP student readers –

Prerequisites: None for ITP students

Schedule: Asynchronous Online: Papers due Mondays,  online discussion rest of week

POSSIBLE CHANGES: As this is my first course taught on Angel Learning Systems, I may have to make some changes in this syllabus, but I hope not…..   -[some small modifications were made on 12/22/10]-

Every culture and every person within a culture is a “philosopher,” a “scientist,” a “theorist,” in that she has a worldview, a set of (hopefully somewhat integrated) beliefs as to what the world is like.  The “world” includes the physical world, their own selves, other people, and “otherworldly” aspects of reality. Your personal and cultural worldview automatically and habitually affects/constructs your thinking (and perception) in important ways, including what kinds of values and goals make “sense” and how you perceive things.  Some actions or ideas are not even seriously thought about, e.g., as they are “obviously” impossible.  And if “impossible’ events happen, considerable conflict may be experienced.

Transpersonal psychology was created partially as a reaction to the dominant worldview of our times, scientistic materialism.  [Note the differences between science and scientism, the words “scientific” and “scientistic”]  Scientism, more accurately described as an automated world view rather than a formal philosophy, as a psychological syndrome of Dismissive Materialism, affects all of us in many ways, even when we think we don’t believe it, or think we are in rebellion to it,  or think we have a firm grounding in some spiritual practice.  Dismissive Materialism sees human consciousness as nothing but the resultant of electrical and chemical interactions within the brain and nervous system.  So consciousness is not only exclusively generated and controlled by the brain and physical environment, it perishes absolutely when the brain dies.  From the dominant view of scientistic materialism, Dismissive Materialism, most of the ideas and experiences of concern to transpersonal psychologists are pre-scientific nonsense, primitive beliefs based on fear of injury and death, outmoded and nonsensical beliefs about “souls” and “spirits” and “energy” and similar things that any “rational” person dismisses.

One of the reasons for creating transpersonal psychology was the psychological observation that a completely materialistic worldview is not very satisfying to the human “spirit:” indeed many seem to sicken when they are caught within the materialistic world view.  But in being transpersonal psychologists, are we desperately hanging on to superstition and nonsense just to make ourselves feel better?  Good feelings first, to hell with truth?  A modern, (transpersonal) “opiate of the masses,” as Marx characterized religion?  Rejecting the truths of modern science out of fear they will undermine a comfortable belief system?  These are important questions each of us must personally answer, as well as deal with rationally and scientifically as transpersonally oriented professionals.

The central contentions of this course will be that, [a] using the best kind of rigorous science (scientific parapsychology, which must be distinguished from the vast mass of sloppy beliefs popularly put under the “parapsychology” and “New Age” labels), a total reduction of all human functioning to nothing but material brain function is factually wrong; that [b] no genuinely scientific theory that claims to be comprehensive can ignore facts it can’t account for; and [c] high quality scientific data gives support to a scientifically based view of consciousness that points in the direction of “spiritual” or transpersonal realities.  But, and this is a very important “but,” simply believing either in a materialistic or transpersonal worldview because of habit or feelings or cultural conditionings is common,  unscientific, contrary to many spiritual aspirations, and is a major disservice to the world and to our profession.  Some of what is labeled by such terms as “psychic,” or “spiritual” is indeed factually nonsensical and wrong, but there are vital realities mixed in.  Learning how to discriminate and how to wisely use what we know is essential.  No ITP graduate should be a fuzzy philosopher who doesn’t think clearly and rigorously, a sloppy scientist who doesn’t actually test her beliefs, or a slipshod theorist about reality who doesn’t recognize and deal with difficulties and contradictions.  And “believer” is not a positive term among the influential people in our society.

Two primary texts will be used, as well as possible occasional assigned readings, viz. Charles Tart’s The End of Materialism) and Dean Radin’s The Conscious Universe: The Scientific Truth of Psychic Phenomena[1]. Both authors are leading parapsychologists.  The course will consist of various micro-lectures by the instructor, extensive reading in the two textbooks, and online discussions based on the readings and on students’ personal knowledge and experience. Because of the large amount of material we need to survey to get an adequate conceptual and scientific overview, there will be little, if any, experiential work.  The reading and paper assignments are given below.  Further, multiple commenting on student papers in a collegial way will increase the intensity of the learning experience.

Lectures and Discussion:

A typical undergraduate class combines a textbook about the subject with lectures from the instructor on the subject.  Since I’m the author of our primary textbook in this course, The End of Materialism, that book is my systematic set of lectures on the material.  I will give many “micro-lectures” expanding on various aspects of parapsychology during the course of the class, especially in discussing various issues brought up in student papers.  We’re a graduate school, of course, so as is typical of the best graduate schools, the student is assumed to be self-disciplined to keep up with the reading and so bring informed discussions/writings to the class.

Paper Assignments: A 500-1,000 word paper dealing with (a) the reading materials for the week, and/or (b) previous class discussion is due each week, beginning with the second week.  NOTE I WILL BE PUTTING SELECTIONS FROM THESE PAPERS INTO OUR GROUP DISCUSSION SPACE, INVITING COMMENTS, SO DON’T WRITE ABOUT PERSONAL MATERIAL YOU WOULD NOT WANT YOUR OTHER CLASSMATES TO KNOW ABOUT.  But note also that by taking the class, you agree that the contents of students’ papers and comments on them ARE CONFIDENTIAL within the class and instructor.  DO NOT quote from these papers or abstract of summarize in enough detail that a person might be identified to any place or persons outside the class without first getting written permission from each writer involved.  You practice professional level confidentiality here as if you were a counselor or therapist.  See later material in this syllabus about confidentiality and courtesy.

Your paper should be uploaded to the Discussion Forum for our class on Angel by Monday of each week.  Note then that all of your paper is readable and commentable on by the other class students, which is fine.  This brings a broader range of knowledge to bear on the ideas expressed in each paper, as well as providing training for your future role as an instructor.  I will later highlight what I think are some particularly provocative points in your papers and invite others to specifically comment on them, but I will undoubtedly miss things which are important or exciting to you.  By reading each others’ papers, we serve as instructors to each other, I am not the sole teacher of this material.

Note that for reading on screen, I much prefer to have things in Comic Sans Serif, 12 points, it’s easier on my old eyes than most other fonts and sizes.  That’s the font this document is in.

I’m still working out the details of how we do this discussion since Angel is a new platform for me to work on.

Personal Experiences and Feelings:

I will respect your personal experiences in these papers, as should other students commenting on them, but may provide critical intellectual feedback on content and style as part of my educational responsibility.

Not Book Reports: Grapple with the Ideas:

Your papers should not be “book reports,” on the order of “…the chapter said A, B, C, D… and the discussion covered M, N, O,… etc.”  I already know you can write book reports.  Nor should they be just emotional reactions, “I was offended by X, I loved Y….”  In each paper I want you to work with one or two points from readings and lectures that stimulate you and show me you’re thinking about them, working with them, relating them to other things you know, exploring *why* you have an emotional reaction to them if you have one, etc.  Grapple with the material.

Another thing you may do in these weekly papers is raise important questions about the material of the textbooks or discussion.  By important I mean not just space filling questions of what is A, what is B, etc., but material you have thought about, tried to figure out on your own but not reached a satisfactory answer, etc.  You can even question my authority on specific issues if you feel you can make a good case:  I will be greatly disappointed if you go away from any of my courses thinking I know everything!  These kind of thought-provoking questions can provoke useful answers from me and/or your fellow students.  The latter responses are especially important, as it’s not just me who knows something about this subject, the cumulative life-experience of the class is very big!

Note that one of the reasons for these papers is to give you practice in professional level writing.  Thus, parallel to the ITP rule for the major paper that shows competence for advancing to the PhD level, you should carefully proof your papers for grammar and spelling or other composition errors before posting them.  If a paper has more than 5 such errors, the first time it will be turned back with instructions to rewrite it.  After that such papers will be marked unacceptable.

The last paper of the course should be a 1,000-3,000 word “What have I learned in this course” type paper.

Late turning in of assignments is strongly discouraged – I may require extra papers from you if you do this.  Similarly, ITP policy is to strongly discourage Incomplete grades, so don’t be late!

Auditing Policy:  Auditors are not allowed unless they plan to read the material in all weeks.  People who just drop in occasionally are disruptive to the group spirit of the class.  Also, auditors, if any, and Significant Others do not have the privilege of writing papers for the instructor or other students to read and comment on.

Overload Contingency: A graduate course should ideally really not have more than 8-10 students in it, to allow the instructor to give adequate individual attention to each student’s work.  But it’s hard to turn away students who want and need to know this material when there are so few opportunities to get decent information on parapsychology.  So if more than 10 or so students enroll, the paper assignments may be modified so you will still turn in papers each week and get comments from fellow students, but the instructor will not always comment on them.

Attendance: Our class weeks are sequenced for optimal learning, and the discussions online are an important part of that learning and integration process, so please read the material and turn in your papers for all weeks. I don’t fully understand this feature yet, but note that there is a part of Angel Learning System keeping track of what you do and when you do it!  (Those of you old enough will wonder if Big Brother is watching  you…..[grin])  Life does interfere at times, though, so if you should miss a week, please study and reflect on the assigned readings and keep up with the regular writing assignments.  You can miss one week in a quarter with no problem as long as your regular writing assignments are completed in a timely way, but if you miss more than one week, you should write an extra paper in addition to the one due for that missed week, commenting on the readings assigned for that class, for each class you miss.  Please indicate at the top of this paper that it’s a makeup for a particular week (which week?) you missed. These papers must be turned in before the end of the quarter.  If more than two weeks are missed and not satisfactorily made up, ITP policy is that you cannot receive credit for the class.

Makeup Classes:  One advantage of the online format is that I can keep up with the class even if I’m traveling, so my usual notes for in-person classes about makeup classes if I’m traveling don’t apply here.

Office Hours: Another advantage of the online format is that you can email me any time.  I’m usually pretty good about replying within a day or two.  To discuss more complex issues with me, we can arrange in advance, by email, a telephone call or a Skype (with video if you have it) conversation.  I prefer weekday afternoons for this.  My email is  As I haven’t mastered Angel yet – indeed I think it’s a Devil sometimes! – direct email to me at the above eddress is preferable to sending it thru Angel.

Goals, Structure and Objectives of the Course: The objectives of this course are, (1) on the academic level, to familiarize the student with the nature of basic parapsychological phenomena and their implications as a foundation for transpersonal psychology,  (2) on the professional level, to sensitize the student to recognize the occurrence of parapsychological phenomena in everyday life and their implications for affecting peoples’ views of reality, and, (3) on the personal level, to foster sensitivity to parapsychological events and so be able to discern more appropriate and mindful styles of reaction to them.  The goals and learning outcomes of this course are that each student should be able to intelligently orally discuss and write about the above three objectives.

Student Disabilities:  If you need accommodations for a disability, please write me before the course or by the end of the first class.

Abbreviations:  Radin = The Conscious Universe, The Scientific Truth of Psychic Phenomena; and EoM = Tart, The End of Materialism

Wk Date Turn In Topic Chapters to Read
1 Jan 10 Introduction to parapsychology as a science; Western Creed exercise
2 Jan 17 1st paper History, psychical research, parapsychology EOM: From first material thru Ch 1 -The Problem: Spiritual Seeking in a World that Thinks It’s All Nonsense

Radin-What is psi?; Experience; Replication

3 Jan 24 2nd paper Extrasensory Perception (ESP) EOM: Ch 2 – How Do We Know? Ch 3 – Not Knowing; and Ch 3 -Starting from the Human World: A Psychic Coup d’état?

Radin-Meta-analysis; Telepathy; Perception at a distance

4 Jan 31 3rd paper Postmortem survival: CTT just returned from East Coast conference on same EOM: Ch 5 -Extended Aspects of Mind: The Big Five; and Ch 6 -Telepathy

Radin-Field consciousness; Seeing psi; Metaphysics

5 Feb


4th paper Precognition EOM: Ch 7 -Clairvoyance, Remote Viewing; and Ch 8 -Precognition

Radin-Perception through time

6 Feb 14 5th paper Psychokinesis (PK) EOM: Ch 9 -Psychokinesis; and Ch 10 -Psychic Healing

Radin-Mind-matter interaction

7 Feb 21 6th paper Healing EOM: Ch 11 -Postcognition; and

Ch 12 -OBEs

Radin-Mental interactions with living organisms

8 Feb 28 7th paper Ghosts, hauntings, poltergeists EOM: Ch 13 -NDEs; and Ch 14 -Postmortem Survival
9 Mar


8th paper Applied psi EOM: Ch 15 -Mediumship; and

Ch 16 -Reincarnation

Radin-Psi in the casino; Applications

Targ R. & Tart, C (1985). Pure clairvoyance and the necessity of feedback.  Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 79, 485-492[2].   Available on

10 Mar 14 9th paper: What have I learned? Tying up loose ends EOM: Chs 17, 18, 19, 20 – and On the Scientific Foundations of Transpersonal Psychology (on under Articles Online

Radin-Theory; Implications

Note: I may occasionally put brief videos on the web for you to watch – I’ll let you know by email if and when this happens.

Required Textbooks:

Radin, D. (1997).  The Conscious Universe:  The Scientific Truth of Psychic Phenomena.  San Francisco: Harper.  Later softcover editions are fine.

Tart, C. T. (2009).  The End of Materialism.  Oakland, California: New Harbinger.

Recommended, but not Required Books:

Kelly, E. F., Kelly, E. W., Crabtree, A., Gauld, A., Grosso, M. & Greyson, B. (2006).  Irreducible Mind: Toward a Psychology for the 21st Century.  Blue Ridge Summit, PA: Rowman and Littlefield.  Indispensable reference book as to the many reasons why Dismissive Materialism is inadequate.

Radin, D. (2006).  Entangled Minds: Extrasensory Experiences in a Quantum Reality.  New York: Pocket Books (Simon & Schuster).

Tart, C. T. (Ed.). (1997).  Body Mind and Spirit: Exploring the Parapsychology of Spirituality. Charlottesville, Virginia: Hampton Roads Press.  An anthology I edited with leading parapsychologists speculating on the meaning of parapsychological findings, has many ideas I didn’t have time to cover in The End of Materialism.

Clarifications: What my Parapsychology Course Is and Isn’t

Charles T. Tart

In a school with a recognition that learning and growth involves emotional, bodily and spiritual, as well as intellectual, creative and community  processes, there is sometimes confusion over what is expected and appropriate in a particular course.  This note is to clarify this matter for my course on Basic Parapsychology, in the hope of maximizing learning and minimizing misunderstandings and inappropriate expectations.

Basic Parapsychology is a course that is almost exclusively intellectual in terms of readings and classroom lecture and discussion, although most students bring their own personal previous experiences of psychic events to bear on their understanding of the material.  Students are not required to experience any parapsychological phenomena as part of the course work, and any suggestions about what might be interesting to try in this regard should be evaluated by you in terms of your personal needs, understanding, and boundaries.

The course work contains some exciting ideas for personal growth,  but the course is not intended to be or represented as a form of therapy, spiritual growth, or emotional process work, although I certainly hope that the intellectual content of the course may sometimes contribute to your personal growth.  I state these limitations here because, among other things, I am a scientist and educator, not a psychotherapist, psychic, or spiritual teacher.

I do not intend to denigrate nor disregard individual experiential, emotional or spiritual knowledge, resources, growth challenges or problems.  I respect and honor your personal process!  Indeed when your individual knowledge of this sort is relevant to expanding or clarifying the conceptual or experiential material we discuss, it is welcome and enriching, both in class discussions and papers.  I would also suggest that, like me, you regard what you think you already know about these matters as your best guess at this time, but be open to thinking about options and learning more.

I also ask you to consider and honor the following points, adapted from standards of personal responsibility that were used by Professor Jill Mellick (now retired from ITP) in her classes at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology.  While they are phrased for courses deliberately involving fairly powerful emotional and growth work, they are relevant in the context of all ITP courses.

ª       Be aware of the context in which you are experiencing your own growth, both personal and intellectual. This is a class; while I hope it will be beneficial to you personally as well as academically, the class is not individual or group therapy.

ª       Please set clear protective boundaries for yourself.  Some of the topics or exercises in this class may evoke personal issues with which you need/want to deal.  You are welcome to clarify these issues in your papers or class discussion if they are relevant to the class, and you might reach new understandings through doing so.  But remember that the class is not an appropriate context in which to actually work through your personal issues.  Such issues are best worked through with a qualified psychotherapist or spiritual teacher.

ª       Please respect your own material and the limitations of your peers.  In class discussions and experiential exercises you are often including your personal history, implicitly if not explicitly.  In the case of conflictual, emotional, unresolved material, respect yourself by sharing only material which is reasonably well resolved or which you are comfortable not having resolved.  A statement that an area under discussion is very difficult for you may be a useful contribution, but don’t bring it up if it’s too difficult for you to handle in the intellectual context of the class.

ª       Please respect your own privacy and the overall purpose of the class.  Share only material you are willing to have become part of current and later class discussions.  Note too that in spite of the following point, privacy of your discussion contributions cannot be guaranteed.

ª       Please respect your peers’ privacy.  If a classmate shares important personal material, please do not talk about it to anyone outside the class unless (a) it is intellectually or compassionately useful to do so AND (b) you can disguise the identity of the person sufficiently so that they cannot be recognized.  If in doubt about your ability to adequately disguise the identity of the person from others who may know them, don’t mention the material.   To put it another way, avoid gossip or story telling that may hurt someone else.  Of course if you think a classmate is at serious risk and is not receiving professional help outside the classroom (such as being in therapy), do notify appropriate administrative authorities who may be able to help.

ª       Please recognize and respect your own and others’ capacities.  If a certain part of the discussion or an experiential exercise looks as if it will be too difficult for you emotionally, please inform me (no explanation is needed) that you don’t want to take part in that part of the discussion or participate in that exercise.  If much of the class causes this kind of problem, of course, we should discuss whether you should be in the course.

This note is meant to create an atmosphere conducive to learning, not the final word on human life, so please take it in that spirit.  Class discussion of these considerations is appropriate.

Writing Comments on Classmates’ Papers

After class one night, someone asked me what kind of comments she should write on classmates’ papers.

This was an interesting question, for in more than 10 years of having students do this, nobody ever asked me anything like this, and it never occurred to me to say anything….    😉

I suppose that’s partly because I was educated in an old style in which you learned how to be a teacher by, as it were, osmosis.  Nobody ever instructed us on how to teach, even in graduate school, but implicitly assumed that we’d all been exposed to good, middling and poor teachers in our educational career and we had hopefully picked up the qualities of the good teachers by osmosis or imitation or something….   In retrospect, I see that system doesn’t always work, although there’s a lot to be said for it….

So here’s some first-level comments on how to write comments.

Imagine yourself in the role of instructor, and these are your students.  You’re likely to be in that role officially in a few years, so this is good practice.

What do you want to do as an instructor?

You want your students to learn the material, and learn it as well as possible.

A most basic level of learning is simply remembering what was said in class and what was in the readings, but by graduate school level we can generally assume people have mastered that skill.  We want a deeper level of learning, where they can think about the material in both a critical and an expansive way.  That’s what I look for when I read a paper: is the writer thinking about, grappling with some aspects of the material?  Are they understanding it better as a result?  Or if they are puzzled by some of the material, are they puzzled in a more sophisticated manner as a result of grappling with it because they have a more specific understanding of what does not make sense to them?

Part of helping students learn is encouraging them when they are doing so.  Thus when I see a student is seriously working with the material I usually write some sort of encouraging comment(s) to that effect.  If I see real interest in some aspect of the material, I may give some directions to sources the student could get more info from.  Sometimes I may just say some version of “Right on!” or, say, writing something briefly about my own interest in that particular topic, a kind of teacher-student bonding.

Another part of helping students is giving them feedback about standards.  We’re learning to be professionals.  If a paper has been printed out with a worn ribbon, e.g., and is hard to read, that’s discourteous and unprofessional and I will make comments about that.  Same deal with spelling (an “SP” beside misspelled words) and grammatical errors(“a “GR”), or typos that indicate the paper was not proofed after being written.  I don’t like to tell someone that they are being sloppy, vague, unprofessional, etc., but it’s part of my job as an instructor.  You should be the same way.  You’re not being genuinely friendly to a classmate if you let them get by with low quality, unprofessional behavior, it’s going to hurt their future career.

One other point to stress.   As mentioned earlier, your papers should not be “book reports,” on the order of “…the chapter said A, B, C, D… and the lecture covered M, N, O,… etc.”  I already know you can write book reports.  Nor should they be just emotional reactions, “I was offended by X, I didn’t like Y….”  I want you to work with one or two points from readings and lectures and experiential practices and show me you’re thinking about them, working with them, relating them to other things you know, exploring *why* you have an emotional reaction to them, etc.

OK, write away!  Hope this helps.

Info on Consciousness, Parapsychology, Transpersonal:

If you go to my primary web page, , you can sign up to receive occasional (as few as once a month, as often as several times a week) studentnotices, email notices from me about interesting developments on consciousness, parapsychology, transpersonal psychology, and the like, conferences about them, etc.  This is open to anyone who thinks I may recommend interesting stuff, not just ITP students, even though it’s named Studentnotices, so feel free to pass this info on to anyone you think might be interested.  You may also find some of the reprints on my web site of interest, or the writings on my blog (accessed from the above web site) of interest.

[1] It’s your responsibility to obtain these books somewhere.

[2] APA style is very important at ITP, the quicker you learn to write that way, the better.  There might or might not be an error in this reference…..

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