Students are gaining critical thinking and analytical skills in a new psychology class this fall examining topics such as psychic spies, ghosts and fortunetellers.
Parapsychology: Science or Pseudoscience is a course that helps students answer questions about paranormal experiences, said Timothy Barth, professor of psychology.
Barth said he is not a paranormal investigator, nor does he have an inclination to become one. However, he has spoken to paranormal groups, and some local ghost hunters have incorporated the fourth hypothesis, a scientific method developed by Barth and former TCU professor of psychology Donald Dansereau, into their investigations.
The fourth hypothesis serves as a guide, which gives students a scientific approach to follow during the process of deciding whether certain activities have merit. As part of the class, students use the method to evaluate a visit to a haunted location, a magician, a clergyman or a fortuneteller, Barth said.
Tess Gillespie, a junior psychology major in Barth’s class, visited Psychic Eye Visions in Fort Worth, where she strode past store shelves lined with crystals, witch figurines, incense and Jesus sculptures before having a psychic gaze into her future.
About five minutes into the session, which included palm, aura and tarot reading, a cross and a medicine stick flew from a wall onto the floor. Gillespie and the psychic then arose to gawk at the items sprawled on the floor.
Later, as soothing music and the aroma of incense wafted through the building, Gillespie said she stood while the psychic struck a gong and peered into her aura.
“[The psychic] said in January, in the beginning of next year, there’s going to be a major shift in my life,” she said. “He said it’s going to be for the better.”
The experience was fun, Gillespie said. Although there were some generalizations, other things were so specific it was almost scary, she said.
“I’m on the fence about it,” she said. “Being in the class has really taught me how to look at it clearly. You really think about how he knows everything.”
Ty Phillips, vice president of the Texas Parapsychology Society, said the fourth hypothesis serves as a guide map. It takes into account elements such as memory, perception, the power of suggestion, natural phenomena, chance and hoaxes.
“Hoaxes are still out there, but when you come to the fourth hypothesis, you look at that [to see if] there might be something paranormal going on,” he said. “Most people would automatically point to ghosts, but for anyone who studies parapsychology, both ESP and telekinesis could be legitimate explanations.”
Phillips said he has had several experiences at Miss Molly’s Hotel in the Fort Worth Stockyards that have made him consider the fourth hypothesis.
One such incident occurred during an investigation of the hotel conducted with TexPart Paranormal, a nonprofit group that researches and examines claims of paranormal activity. Phillips said he witnessed the doorknob of a closed door to room number three, Miss Amelia’s Room, turn and open itself, even though no one was inside the room.
“These experiences and these beliefs are very common. That’s an important thing to keep in mind,” Barth said. “Science should take a more open mind to it.”