Thursday, 29 October 2009

Psychology professor interprets Hackney politicians

Professor Chris French, head of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit at Goldsmiths College in London has commented on the supernatural beliefs of Hackney's politicians.

The supernatural views of 21 Hackney politicians were published on Blood and Property earlier this week: Do Hackney Politicians believe in ghosts?

Question 1: The introduction to your work on the Goldsmith's website says paranormal experience is mainly due to "imperfections in human information-processing". But does culture play a role in this too? Are some cultures are more superstitious than others?

Chris French: Culture is extremely important in terms of providing a belief system within which unusual experiences can be interpreted. A prime example of this is cross-cultural differences in the interpretation of sleep paralysis experiences: The Waking Nightmare of Sleep Paralysis (Guardian October 5 2009)

Although all cultures, both historically and geographically, show quite high levels of paranormal belief and reports of paranormal experiences, the detailed content of those beliefs vary from culture to culture.

Question 2: How easy is it to get people to talk about this stuff and how honest do you think they are when they do?

Chris French: As indicated by the responses you received from Hackney politicians, some people are very willing to talk about their experiences, others very reluctant. Typically, that will depend upon such factors as whether the respondent feels they are likely to be believed or ridiculed. Because of my research interest, I am very much aware of the fact that unusual experiences are much more common amongst the "normal" population than most people realise. I am also keen to reassure people that such experiences can be explained in non-paranormal terms - our minds are capable of playing all sorts of tricks on us!

Question 3 To what extent is a belief in the supernatural significant in a political way?

Chris French: Supernatural beliefs do have significance for a number of issues that politicians may be asked to act upon. Probably top of the list would be belief in life-after-death. If you believe that we all have an immortal soul, this is bound to affect your views upon such issues as abortion, euthanasia, etc. Another important area is healthcare generally, with many politicians actively supporting the use of unproven alternative therapies based upon supernatural ideas.

Question 4: Do you think politicians should understand the supernatural views of their constituents - particularly if there are a lot of them who believe in supernatural phenomena?

Chris French: I think that it is essential that politicians have a good understanding of all aspects of the cultural background of their constituents. It is in their own interests to do so in order to avoid inadvertently offending someone's beliefs but also to be aware of dangerous belief systems that should be actively opposed (e.g., in the Victoria Climbié case).

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