When I first got my book, “Scientific Perspectives on Pseudoscience and the Paranormal: Readings for General Psychology,” by Timothy J. Lawson, I was so intrigued and interested to hop right in and start reading the book. From the title, I assumed the book would be all about the cool aspects about the paranormal world, such as ghosts, demons, and witches. I should have realized, since the title itself says ‘scientific perspectives’, that this book wouldn’t be discussing topics such as those in a positive light.
The book begins with a preface describing how the modern decade has been filled with claims about people being able to defy the current sciences that we know today. The author then continues to explain the purpose of the book, which arose from the concern of how much involvement pseudoscience is having in the field of psychology. This book was written to give psychology students a general idea of what psychologists think and feel about paranormal phenomena and pseudoscience. The meat of the book itself is a collection of independent journal articles written by psychologists, where they talk about their own scientific perspectives on issues and modern myths.
My favorite part of the book was a chapter called “What’s That I Smell? The Claims of Aromatherapy” by Lynn McCutcheon. From reading the lecture notes prior, I already had a partial understanding of the claims of aromatherapy, but this chapter really went into greater detail. It begins by defining aromatherapy and discussing their claims to cure depression, poor memory, fear wounds, motion sickness, asthma, wrinkles, etc. It talks about how scientists already knew how scents could influence memories, but the claims that aroma-therapists make are so beyond that. The author then continues to point out the problems with such claims., beginning with a topic known as “confused causation”. She talks about how aroma-therapists say to take a warm bath infused with aromatic oil to relieve stress. Then she questions, was it the oil, the bath, or a combination of both that relives stress? She discusses various examples of confused causation that have been studied. She points out other claims by aroma-therapists such as smell is the more direct route to the brain, natural oils are better than synthetic ones, essential oils can help your memory, and scientists are doing a lot of research on essential oils. I really enjoyed this chapter because she highly critiqued aromatherapy with sarcasm, which was slightly entertaining. While she discussed the problems with aromatherapy, our lectures described what certain oils can do for you, such as for stress it says too relax, eat better, exercise, and also use a few drops of oil. Tying it back to McCutcheon’s theory of “confused causation,” would it be the relaxing, the exercise, the improved diet, or the oils that reduced stress?
This book was a great read because I constantly am thinking about the material I learned outside of class. When my boss at work burns oil at work, is it making me relaxed or does it just smell awesome? Every time my friend reads me about her psychic palm reading, do I believe her or tell her that her psychic was using “cold reading”? Every time a new product comes out with extraordinary claims, do I believe it or convince others that it is just a form of pseudoscience. All around us there are so many events and phenomena to question, and thanks to this book I have a background of how to think about these extreme claims and myths.