Robert Anton Wilson, a prolific sci-fi author and editor for Playboy, is worth reading specifically for the fact that his work is a gateway to many off-the-wall ideas and perspectives. Dabbling in his books is like taking a slow-motion dive down an esoteric Wikipedia rabbit hole. It’s not surprising that he’s the one who introduced me to the concept of patapsychology.
Most people have heard of parapsychology (with an “r”), which is the study of things like hypnosis and telepathy. But patapsychology…probably no one aside from a few Robert Anton Wilson fans have ever come across this concept.
It jumped out to me in particular because it sounds so similar to pataphysics, a concept I’m more than a little familiar with. As the author of Apocryphal Pataphysics, I like to consider myself something of an expert in the subject. In brief, pataphysics is a “science” that purports to go beyond metaphysics. According to absurdist playwright Alfred Jarry, who founded pataphysics in France around 1890, pataphysics is “the science of imaginary solutions.” In practice, it’s a parody of science as well as a literary trope that validates extreme absurdities. A practical application to arise out of this is the “pataphor” — a type of extended metaphor that gives license to extend well into the realm of pure absurdity.
Unfortunately, patapsychology is no peer to pataphysics. While pataphysics is one the most inspiring literary inventions from the past century (and perhaps the most unhinged and absurd), patapsychology — as it has been developed up to this date — is nothing more than an exercise in deconstructive logic. It has an undertone of being grumpy and cynical, rather than lively and mind-expanding.
Still, there are two reasons I find the concept of patapsychology worth writing about: First, it’s a direct descendent of pataphysics, which makes it interesting to me (pataphysics was also a major influence on Dada, surrealism, and postmodernism). Second, the concept of patapsychology has potential. It’s virtually dead on the table now, but it could be resurrected and turned into something new and potentially exciting.
OK, So What Is Patapsychology?
Patapsychology, the science of things that you can see but you can’t believe.