Psychology talks in London

A Skeptic’s Guide to the Paranormal w/@chriscfrench
Oct 22 @ 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm

Ever since records began, in every known society, a substantial proportion of the population has reported unusual experiences, including seeing ghosts, feeling spiritual presence, psychic experience, near death experiences and UFO sitings, many of which could be labelled as “paranormal”.

Opinion polls show that the majority of the general public accepts that paranormal phenomena do occur.

Such widespread experience of and belief in the paranormal can only mean one of two things:

Either paranormal is real, in which case this should be accepted by the wider scientific community which currently rejects such claims; or else belief in and experience of paranormal phenomena can be fully explained with psychological reasoning.

Led by Pr. Chris French, this talk will provide an introduction to anomalistic psychology, the study of extraordinary phenomena of behaviour and experience. Dr. French will attempt to provide non-paranormal explanations for these types of experiences, by applying known psychological and physical factors.

This approach will be illustrated with examples relating to a range of paranormal phenomena.

French has authored or co-authored over 130 articles and chapters dealing with a wide variety of subjects in psychology, his work has been published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, the British Journal of Psychology and the British Journal of Clinical Psychology.

The Irrational Ape: How Critical Thinking can save the World
Oct 27 @ 3:00 pm – 4:30 pm
The Irrational Ape: How Critical Thinking can save the World @ Conway Hall

It may seem a big claim, but knowing how to think clearly and critically has literally helped save the world. In September 1983, at the height of the Cold War, the Soviet Union’s early warning system showed five US missiles heading towards the country. Stanislaw Petrov knew his duty: he was to inform Moscow that nuclear war had begun so that they could launch an immediate and devastating response. Instead, he made a call to say the system was faulty. He’d assessed the situation and reasoned that an error was more likely than such a limited attack.

We may not have to save the planet from nuclear annihilation, of course, but our ability to think critically has never been more important. In a world where fake news, mistrust of experts, prejudice and ignorance all too often hold sway, we can all too easily be misled over issues such as vaccinations, climate change or conspiracy theories. We live in an era where access to all the knowledge in the world is at our fingertips, yet that also means misinformation and falsehoods can spread further and faster than ever before.

In his book The Irrational Ape, David Robert Grimes shows how we can be lured into making critical mistakes or drawing false conclusions, and how to avoid such errors. Given the power of modern science and the way that movements can unite to protest a cause via social media, we are in dangerous times. But fortunately, we can learn from our mistakes, and by critical thinking and scientific method, we can discover how to apply these techniques to everything from deciding what insurance to buy to averting global disaster.

The Irrational Ape will be available on the day.

A Skeptic’s Guide to Aliens/w @chriscfrench
Nov 4 @ 7:00 pm – 9:30 pm

Are aliens really visiting our planet on a regular basis? Are people really being abducted by aliens and subjected to bizarre medical investigations? Even worse, are the aliens engaged upon a sinister cross-breeding project to produce human-alien hybrids?

This talk will cover psychological aspects of various types of alien contact claim, ranging from simple sightings of “unidentified flying objects” to alien abduction experiences. Along the way, we will review the history of UFOs within society and discuss the risks inherent in the “memory recovery” techniques employed by some ufologists.

It will be argued that all claims of alien contact can be plausibly accounted for in terms of known psychological phenomena such as sleep paralysis and false memories.

The Apology of Socrates – 2
Dec 2 @ 7:30 pm – 9:00 pm

The Apology of Socrates – 2

Plato’s account of the apology or defence offered by Socrates in his trial when charged with impiety and the corruption of youth in Athens is one of the great moments in philosophic literature in the west. It demonstrates the seriousness with which Socrates took his quest for wisdom – a search which even the threat of death could not prevent. The priority that the Platonic tradition gives to the care of the soul over and above all other human endeavours is encapsulated in Socrates exhortation, “O best of men, since you are an Athenian, of a city the greatest and the most celebrated for wisdom and strength, are you not ashamed of being attentive to the means of acquiring riches, glory and honour, in great abundance, but to bestow no care nor any consideration upon wisdom and truth, nor how your soul may subsist in the most excellent condition?” And perhaps we who live in a civilization which we consider to be marked by intelligence and strength should attend to that plea with greater thought than Socrates’ earlier judges. We will read and discuss the Apology over two sessions (this is the second session and we will start with a short summary of the first one, for those who are absent from the first session).

No previous experience of formal philosophy is required.

Entrance in free, but donations between £3-5 will be welcomed.

A PDF download of the extract we will be reading is available on our website together with further details of this and other Prometheus Trust’s activities: (the PDF is on the “London Monday Evenings” page

The psychology of conspiracy theories (w/ Dr. Dan Jolley @DrDanielJolley)
Dec 4 @ 7:30 pm – 8:30 pm

Conspiracy theories are associated with almost every significant social and political event, including the theory that the U.S. government orchestrated the 9/11 attacks, that the U.K Government murdered Diana, Princess of Wales, or that the pharmaceutical industry deliberately concealed the fact that the MMR vaccine causes Autism. Belief in these types of conspiracy theories is blooming in the 21st century; millions of people subscribe to them.

A basic understanding of logic, rationality, and probability tell us, however, that most of these conspiracy claims are probably false. So why then do so many people believe them? What makes them so attractive and compelling to people? And, anyway, what’s the problem, aren’t they just harmless fun?

In this talk, Dr Daniel Jolley will take you through the psychology of conspiracy theories. You will learn why people subscribe to conspiracy theories and discuss some of the misconceptions (including whether all conspiracy believers are paranoid!).  He will also uncover some of the potentially damaging consequences of conspiracy theories; maybe they are not just harmless after all, before discussing ongoing research into tools to combat the negative harm of conspiracism!

Dr Daniel Jolley is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Staffordshire University.  He is a Chartered Psychologist of the British Psychological Society, where he is a member of the Executive Committee of the Social Psychology Section.  Jolley’s main area of research is the psychology of conspiracy theories.  He is particularly interested in using experimental methods to examine the social consequences of exposure to conspiracy theories and has co-authored articles in outlets such as PLoSONE, the British Journal of Psychology and Political Psychology.  He blogs at and tweets @DrDanielJolley.


Talks are held on the first Wednesday of the month starting at 7:30 pm unless otherwise noted. We meet in the Star and Garter pub, 60 Old Woolwich Road, London SE10 9NY. The Star and Garter pub is close to many transport links and is approximately 7 minutes walk from Maze Hill Overground Station, or 10 minutes walk from the Cutty Sark DLR Station. Although the pub does not serve food, there are plenty of excellent restaurants in Greenwich, including several very nearby on Trafalgar Road. Attendance is free (unless otherwise stated) although a small donation to help cover expenses is appreciated. There is no need to book in advance (again, unless otherwise stated).

For further information, visit or contact Prof Chris French (email: [email protected]).

NB: You are strongly recommended to register (at no cost) with the “Psychology of the Paranormal” email list (run by Professor Chris French, Head of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit, Goldsmiths, University of London) to ensure that you are informed of any future changes to the programme as well as news of related events. You can also follow @chriscfrench on Twitter for announcements (including news of last-minute cancellations, changes of speaker, etc.).