IGPP Biennial Report 2012-2013

IGPP Cover

Published March 2014.

An organisation’s annual – or biennial – report might sound a bit dry, but the IGPP is not your average organisation.  Das Institut für Grenzgebiete der Psychologie und Psychohygiene, or in English the Institute for Frontier Areas of Psychology and Mental Health, based in Freiburg, Germany, was set up by psychology professor Hans Bender in 1950 to research a wide variety of scientific anomalies.  As Dieter Vaitl, the IGPP’s current director, notes in the preface, its remit extends beyond what is normally understood as the range of parapsychology to include the scientific study of ‘hitherto poorly understood phenomena and anomalies at the frontiers of knowledge’ in disciplines as diverse as ‘physics, biology, medicine, psychology, or social sciences.’  This approach, he points out, has implications for the conduct of mainstream science as well as the border areas which are the Institute’s focus.

Subjects addressed by IGPP include ‘conditions of altered states of consciousness, extraordinary human experiences, mind-matter interactions as well as their social, cultural and historical context’ within the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences.  It takes a neutral stance regarding the phenomena it examines, and guards its institutional independence.  To safeguard standards it has scientific advisory board to evaluate research and performance.

It is extremely well funded by a private foundation; to give some idea of the scale of its operation (its accounts are not included in the Report), in addition to its core activities it was able to finance the Bender Institute of Neuroimaging (BION) at Giessen, where Professor Vaitl is based, to the tune of €3.5 million.  BION has a separate section at the end, but it only describes the work of one (‘Altered States of Consciousness – Meditation Research) of the ten research groups operating there.  That seems to suggest a lot of activity is being paid for by IGPP but not considered to fall within the scope of its Report.

This apparent dilution of IGPP’s original aims caused Professor Adrian Parker, in a letter in the April 2013 issue of the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, to bemoan, among other things, the substantial loss of Freiburg funds ‘mainly to promote pain research at Giessen.’  The dispute between Parker and Freiburg is tartly referred to in the IGPP Report with the comment on what it describes as Parker’s ‘misleading claims on the recent history of psychical research in Germany’ that, ‘In a detailed commentary, all these erroneous claims are refuted.’  Despite this transfer of funds, when the Report claims IGPP to still be ‘the world’s largest institution of its kind,’ you can be sure that this is not an idle boast.

Its staff certainly appear to be busy, with departments devoted to: theory and data analysis; empirical and analytical psychophysics; clinical and physiological psychology; empirical cultural and social research; cultural and historical studies, archives and library; and counselling and information.  The number of projects is impressive, from concepts of mind-matter relations, work on aspects of quantum theory, time perception, psychophysics, paranormal experiences in the GDR, mediumship and crime, parapsychology under National Socialism, the occult in art and photography, to name but a few.

The counselling programme for people who claim to have suffered distress from ‘exceptional experiences’ sounds particularly useful, as are the data gathered from survey work with such experients.  The library and archives are still growing, with significant acquisitions and heavy usage.  IGPP has published some older German-language journals online and it issues the interdisciplinary journal Mind and Matter.

The Report concludes with an extensive list of management structures and employees in the various departments, and a list, covering more than eleven closely-printed pages, of publications by IGPP personnel.  It all indicates the importance of the Institute as a centre for research, and its work deserves to be better known outside Germany.  The Report is worth studying by those interested in parapsychology, psychical research, exceptional experiences and allied fields as an example of how valuable work can be done, if sufficient resources are available.  Copies in both German and English are available free by writing to Eberhard Bauer at bauer[at]igpp.de.

IGPP has a bilingual website which can be found here: http://www.igpp.de/

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