For some time I’ve had James Carpenter’s First Sight: ESP and Parapsychology in Everyday Life sitting on my reading list, but with multiple projects (and setbacks) happening I haven’t yet had time to sit down with it properly. But I thought that I should at least mention it here, as I’m sure many Grailers would find it of interest. The book’s PR promises no less than “a new model for understanding” anomalous abilities, such as those studied in parapsychology. Now there’s not shortage of theorists out there in parapsychology, throwing out all sorts of ideas – but Carpenter is no crazy amateur. He’s been involved in parapsychology research for many decades, and you only need to look at those who have commented on his book to know that he’s got the attention of the field. Dean Radin labels First Sight as a “refreshingly novel approach to understanding psychic phenomena”, Daryl Bem notes that the evidence Carpenter “marshals in defense of this thesis is persuasive and serves to unify many phenomena associated with psychic functioning”, and Stanley Krippner says it is “a model of the mind that is both innovative and compelling”.
I’ve embedded a video above of Carpenter describing the First Sight theory, but for those unable to view it, here’s a short passage in which he outlines the theory using the analogy of lightning:
Consider physical lightning bolts. For thousands of years they were just about all that people knew about electricity. They were unpredictable, awesome, terrifying and beautiful. The ancients thought that when they erupted, the dormant sky had become suddenly and fiercely alive. Now we understand that lightning is one expression of electricity, and electricity is actually everywhere. Electric charge is a basic constituent of every atom. It helps make up the stuff of our bodies, it connects each synaptic chain. It tells your heart when to beat. As we came to understand electricity we mastered it. Now you hold a domesticated lightning bolt in your hand when you use your cell phone. In a few moments you can use it to speak to someone in Beijing or Adelaide or Buenos Aires. The awesome anomaly is not anomalous at all and we have tamed it.
The lightning bolts that we call paranormal experiences are also surprising and beautiful and disturbing. They shake the ground of solid reality. They seem different and anomalous. According to First Sight theory, they are not really anomalous either.
This book is about a radically new way of thinking about these things. It presents a revolutionary understanding of how each of us fits within the world and how we are put together within ourselves. A lot of evidence suggests that the theory is true. In light of this, much of what we normally assume will need to be changed.
First Sight theory proposes that, like electricity, psychic experience is actually going on all the time. Also like electricity, it is almost always out of sight in its functioning. Occasionally, it will be expressed in obvious ways, like lightning bolts, but normally it is unconscious. What is it for? According to the theory, it is the leading edge of the unconscious processes that the mind uses to construct all its experience and all its behavior. Because it traffics with things that have not reached the physical senses, it is our first line of engagement with the world, our first outpost of information. This is why the theory reconstrues what has been called second sight and calls it First Sight.