Tuesday, November 21, 2017   10:48 PM

The Past Literature of Parapsychology: A Reading Guide: I.*

Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Research Fellow, Parapsychology Foundation

Many individuals involved in parapsychology today are not well read on the past literature of their field. Some are newcomers while others are not interested in historical studies but in conducting research on the phenomena and speculating about their importance. Nonetheless there are many benefits that current workers may obtain from the old literature. This includes a better understanding of the reason for and development of theories, methodologies, and controversies, the social factors that have influenced the field, and the persons involved in its development, including researchers, facilitators, mediums and psychics. In addition, the past literature of the field (somewhat different from its history), is particularly useful to develop hypothesis for research, not to mention putting current results in the context of previous findings and ideas.

Because this literature is not generally within the purview of parapsychologists, and others, I would like to present here some reading suggestions to help current workers in the field find information about the work of previous generations. These consist of various secondary sources that will be of help to locate the important primary literature of the field. Due to my interests in the field I will focus on information sources about developments between the late 19th century and the 1930s.


A good way to start is to check some of the old overviews of psychical research, which summarize much about research findings, theories, and controversies. Some examples are William Barrett’s (1911) Psychical Research (New York: Holt), Hereward Carrington’s (1930) The Story of Psychic Science (London; Rider), A.C. Holms’ (1927) The Facts of Psychic Science and Philosophy Collated and Discussed (Jamaica, NY: Occult Press), Frank Podmore’s (1897) Studies in Psychical Research (London: G.P. Putnam’s), Charles Richet’s (1922) Traité de Métapsychique (Paris: Félix Alcan; and the English translation of the second edition, (1923) Thirty Years of Psychical Research. New York: Macmillan), Emilio Servadio’s (1930) La Ricerca Psichica ([Psychical Research]. Rome: Cremonese); and René Sudre’s (1926) Introduction à la Métapsychique Humaine (Paris: Payot, 1926; and a later revised edition, Treatise on Parapsychology (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1960, original work published in French 1956).

An informative reference source is Fanny Moser’s (1935) treatise Der okkultismus: Tauschungen und Tatsachen (Occultism: Deception and Fact. 2 vols. Munich: Von Ernst Reinhardt). The book opens with discussions about positive and negative views about psychic phenomena, and some early investigations (e.g., the work of the London Dialectical Society, William Crookes, Cesare Lombroso, and the Society for Psychical Research). It also has a section about deception and facts in which Moser has chapters about the subconscious mind, sleep and dreams, and other psychological topics. Furthermore, this work has chapters about telepathy, clairvoyance, physical mediumship, and animal magnetism.

Also useful are book chapters such as Harvey J. Irwin and Caroline Watt’s (2007) “Origins of Parapsychological Research” (An Introduction to Parapsychology (5th ed.) Jefferson, NC: McFarland) and Nancy L. Zingrone and Carlos S. Alvarado’s (2016) “A Brief History of Psi Research” (In E.C May & S.B. Marwaha (Eds.), Extrasensory Perception: Support, Skepticism, and Science: Vol. 1: History, Controversy, and Research (pp. 35-79). Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger).

For years I have been publishing articles covering aspects of the old psychical research literature. Some of them include:

(1987). (Second author, with N.L. Zingrone). (1987). Historical aspects of parapsychological terminology. Journal of Parapsychology, 51, 49‑74.

(1989). ESP displacement effects: A review of pre-1940 concepts and qualitative observations. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 83, 227‑239.

(2001). (first author, with E. Coly, L. Coly, and N.L. Zingrone). Fifty years of supporting parapsychology: The Parapsychology Foundation (1951-2001). International Journal of Parapsychology, 12, 1-26.

(2009). Early and modern developments in the psychological approach to out-of-body experiences. In C. D. Murray (Ed.), Psychological Scientific Perspectives on Out-of-Body and Near-Death Experiences (pp. 1-22). New York: Nova Science.

(2012). Dream ESP studies before Maimonides: An overview, 1880s-1950s. Aquém e Além do Cerebro: Behind and Beyond the Brain (pp. 77-101). Porto, Portugal: Fundação Bial.

(2012). Psychic phenomena and the mind-body problem: Historical notes on a neglected conceptual tradition. In A. Moreira-Almeida and F.Santos (Eds.), Exploring Frontiers of the Mind-Brain Relationship (pp. 35-51). New York: Springer.

(2013). Mediumship and psychical research. In C. Moreman (Ed.), The Spiritualist Movement: Speaking with the Dead in America and Around the World (Vol. 2, pp. 127-144). Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger.

(2014). Mediumship, psychical research, dissociation, and the powers of the subconscious mind. Journal of Parapsychology, 78, 98–114.

(2014). Classic Text No. 98: ‘Visions of the Dying,’ by James H. Hyslop (1907). History of Psychiatry, 25, 237-252.

(2016). Psychic phenomena and the brain hemispheres: Some Nineteenth-Century publications. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 30, 559–585.

Many authors have published articles about other topics. A few examples are:

Evrard, R. (2017). Institut Métapsychique International. Psi Encyclopedia.

Evrard, R., & Rabeyron, T. (2012). Les psychanalystes et le transfert de pensée:Enjeux historiques et actuelles [Psychoanalysts and thought-transference: Historical and current issues]. L’Evolution Psychiatrique, 77, 589-598.

Gissurarson, L. R., & Haraldsson, E. (2001). History of parapsychology in Iceland. International Journal of Parapsychology, 12, 29-51.

Hacking, I. (1988). Telepathy: Origins of randomisation in experimental design. Isis, 79, 427-451.

Hunter, J. (2015). Anthropology and Psi Research. Psi Encyclopedia.

Machado, F.R. and Zangari, W., (2017). Psi Research in Brazil. Psi Encyclopedia

Matlock, J.G. (2017). Reincarnation Accounts Pre-1900. Psi Encyclopedia.

Nisbet, B. (1973). Table turning: A brief historical note mainly for the period 1848-1853. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 47, 96-106.

Parra, A. (1995). Parapsychology in Argentina: Brief history and future possibilities.
Journal of the Society for Psychical Research. 60, 214-228.

Rhine, J. B. (1977). History of experimental studies. In B. B. Wolman (Ed.), Handbook of
(pp. 25-47). New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.

Rhine, L. E. (1971). The establishment of basic concepts and terminology in parapsychology. Journal of Parapsychology, 35, 34–56.

Rogo, D.S. (1988). Experimental parapsychology before 1900. Parapsychology Review, 19(4), 11-16.

Stokes, D. M. (2002). A history of the relationship between statistics and parapsychology. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 96, 15-73.

Other topics will be covered in later comments.

*Most of the information presented here appeared first in Alvarado, C.S. (2016-2017). The history of parapsychology: A brief bibliography. Mindfield, 8(3), 105-109; 9(1), 14-17. Mindfield is the bulletin of the Parapsychologicl Association.


Monday, October 23, 2017   7:50 AM

Review of Trends in Publications about “Consciousness Beyond the Brain”

Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Research Fellow, Parapsychology Foundation

An interesting article has been published in a psychiatry journal about topics related to this blog. Its title is: “Research on Experiences Related to the Possibility of Consciousness Beyond the Brain: A Bibliometric Analysis of Global Scientific Output,” by Jorge Cecílio Daher, Rodolfo Furlan Damiano, Alessandra Lamas Granero Lucchetti, Alexander Moreira-Almeida, and Giancarlo Lucchetti (Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 2017, 205, 37-47).


“This study aims to conduct a search of publications investigating experiences commonly associated with the possibility of the existence of a consciousness independent of the brain held on the main scientific databases (Pubmed, Web of Knowledge, PsycINFO, Science Direct, and Scopus). Of the 9065 articles retrieved, 1954 were included (598 near-death experiences, 223 out-of-body experiences, 56 end-of-life experiences, 224 possession, 244 memories suggestive of past lives, 565 mediumship, 44 others). Over the decades, there was an evident increase in the number of articles on all the areas of the field, with the exception of studies on mediumship that showed a decline during the late 20th century and subsequent rise in the early 21st century. Regarding the types of articles found, with the exception of past-life memories and end-of-life experiences (mostly original studies), publications were predominantly review articles. The articles were published in journals with an impact factor similar to other areas of science.”

In the discussion the authors state:

“Each area was discussed separately to promote a better understanding of each area of the field and its respective gaps. The NDE area yielded the most specific articles and, in absolute terms, had the largest number of cross-sectional and longitudinal studies. This area of the field, although recent, had greater scientific consolidation an more prospective studies, largely promoted by studies related to cardiology and intensive medicine and strong media interest . . .”

“The OBE area had articles in common with the NDE area, being a potential component of NDE, but was also studied as a spontaneous occurrence . . . Given the numerous studies in different areas, it can be concluded that this area of the field has a reasonable number of studies whose objective was not the assessment of the possibility of autonomy of consciousness in relation to the brain.”

“The possession area includes a large number of investigative articles of mental disorders and many eminently descriptive anthropological investigations. These studies, although investigating associated experiences, often do not investigate the issue of survival of the consciousness per se . . .”

“Regarding the mediumship area, we found a large number of case reports with mediums, analyzing a range of different manifestations such as the truthfulness of information or neurophysiological aspects . . . After the 2000s, investigations into mediums adopted more rigorous methodological criteria, with results that have yet to be fully accepted.”

“The reincarnation (past-life memories) area was associated with a substantial number of cross-sectional studies. This area is characterized predominantly by results obtained from reports by study participants and analysis of their truthfulness . . . There is also an extensive debate on whether these cases can be explained by fantasy, false memories, and hypnosis . . .”

“The ELEs [end-of-life experiences] area, although a relatively recent with fewer articles, showed greater growth in the past decade. This rise was likely attributed to the increase in studies on palliative care and spirituality . . . “

Sunday, August 27, 2017   6:22 PM

Online Information About the History of Parapsychology: The Psi Encyclopedia

Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Research Fellow, Parapsychology Foundation

In a two-part article about sources to find information about the history of parapsychology published in Mindfield, the online bulletin of the Parapsychological Association, I presented suggestions of many books and articles with useful information about the topic (The history of parapsychology: A brief bibliography. Mindfield, 2016, 8(3), 105-109; 2017, 9(1), 14-17). Here I would like present further information that has appeared in the Psi Encyclopedia.

The Psi Encyclopedia, an online project founded by the Society for Psychical Research, is edited by Robert McLuhan. Although it is still developing, the encyclopedia already has accumulated a good number of entries on various topics, as I have discussed before (click here, here, and here). Many of its entries offer useful information about the history of parapsychology, particularly as regards people in the field.

Many entries are devoted to psychical researchers. Examples of these are: John Beloff (by Melvyn Willin), Ernesto Bozzano (Carlos S. Alvarado), C.D. Broad (Stephen E. Braude), C.J. Ducasse (Stephen E. Braude), Gustave Geley (Renaud Evrard), Edmund Gurney (Andreas Sommer), Richard Hodgson (Michael Tymn), James Hyslop (Michael Tymn), William James (Carlos S. Alvarado), Andrew Lang (Melvyn Willin), Frederic W.H. Myers (Trevor Hamilton), Frank Podmore (Melvyn Willin), Charles Richet (Carlos S. Alvarado), and René Sudre (Renaud Evrard).

Mediums and psychics are also represented:

Marthe Béraud (Eva C.)
(by Benjamin Steigmann)

Rosemary Brown
(Melvyn Willin)

Uri Geller
(Guy Lyon Playfair)

Daniel Dunglas Home
(Stephen E. Braude)

Carlos Mirabelli
(Stephen Braude)

William Stainton Moses
(Michael Tymn)

Eusapia Palladino
(Carlos S. Alvarado, with material by R. McLuhan)

Leonora Piper
(Michael Tymn)

Henry Slade
(Stephen E. Braude)

Hélène Smith
(Everton de Oliveira Maraldi)

The encyclopedia also includes several cases from the old days of psychical research, among them: Borley Rectory (Melvyn Willin), Cheltenham Ghost (Robert McLuhan), Copenhagen Fire (Erlendur Haraldsson), The Cross-Correspondences (Trevor Hamilton), Raymond (Michael Tymn), Reincarnation Accounts Pre-1900 (James G. Matlock), and The Tedworth Drummer (John Newton).

The authors of several entries present information of historical interest. This is the case of Ghost Hunting (John Fraser), Human Radiations (Carlos S. Alvarado), Photography and the Paranormal (Melvyn Willin), Precognition (Robert Rosenberg), and Psychometry (Mary Rose Barrington). The same may be said about entries covering organizations (Parapsychology Foundation, Carlos S. Alvarado; Society for Psychical Research, Donald West), and developments in various countries (Psi Research in Brazil, Fatima Regina Machado and Wellington Zangari; Psi Research in France, Renaud Evrard).

I have written summaries of various classic works for the encyclopedia. Those that have been published to date are Bozzano's 'Phénomènes Psychiques au Moment de la Mort' (Psychic Phenomena at the Moment of Death), Muldoon and Carrington's The Phenomena of Astral Projection (1951), Podmore’s 'Apparitions and Thought-Transference', Richet's 'La Suggestion Mentale', and Richet’s Traité de Métapsychique (Thirty Years of Psychical Research).

There are many topics relevant to the history of parapsychology that have not been included yet, which is understandable in a work in progress. But much is available now that will help current students of the field to get useful information about past developments.

Friday, December 9, 2016   11:29 PM

Muldoon and Carrington's The phenomena of Astral Projection (1951)

Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Research Fellow, Parapsychology Foundation

One of my most recent publications is an article about Sylvan J. Muldoon and Hereward’s Carrington’s The Phenomena of Astral Projection that appeared in the online encyclopedia of the Society for Psychical Research (The Phenomena of Astral Projection (1951). In R. McLuhan (Ed.), Psi Encyclopedia. London: Society for Psychical Research, 2016.) The book, a modern classic about what today is generally referred to as out-of-body experiences, was published in 1951 and consisted of discussions of the “doctrine of astral projection,” and of presentations of cases.

Today there are many books about out-of-body experiences, but this was not the case when The Phenomena of Astral Projection appeared. Muldoon and Carrington’s work became an important reference work that presented many cases.

As I wrote: “Muldoon and Carrington believe ‘astral projection’ implies that the mind is independent of the physical body, something that supports the idea of an etheric brain. This, they write, ‘certainly seems but a short step to the acceptance of an etheric body, separate and apart from the physical, which body we may inhabit at death, and which constitutes the vehicle of the mind in astral projections.’ ”

Muldoon and Carrington discussed evidence for the existence of a subtle body:

“First, there is the massive weight of human belief and testimony, from the earliest times to our own day, in all parts of the world, and among civilized and uncivilized peoples. Second, we have those cases of apparitions in which the phantom-form seems to exhibit a mind of its own—often imparting information unknown to the seer at the time, but afterwards verified. Third, we have those cases in which material effects are apparently produced by the phantom, or its image appears upon photographic plates. Fourth, we have instances of materialization, at séances… Fifth, we have cases of astral projection, in which the subject sees his own phantom body, and is occasionally seen by others. In these last instances especially, we have evidence that the phantom form possesses a mind of its own, separate and distinct from the physical brain and body, which latter may be seen resting upon the bed. The cumulative mass of such testimony is, we submit, most impressive, and gives us the right to believe that such a ‘spiritual body’ exists—as St. Paul long ago stated.”

The authors present many cases classified as those of deliberate projections, and those that took place while using drugs, in emotional conditions, as well as during accidents, various illnesses, sleep, and during physical activity, a topic I have discussed before.

One of the physical activity cases they presented was the following:

“I was conscious of rising higher and higher, with each gliding step, until I ‘levitated’ about the height of a one-storey building…I was dumbstruck to see ‘myself’ left behind some distance… Looking down at my physical body… I had a great pity for it… I was…fully conscious in my astral body…and saw the eyes in my physical body moving and scrutinizing ‘me’ with a look of wonderment… A moment later my consciousness suddenly shifted to my physical body and, looking through its eyes, endeavouring to figure out the situation, I saw my astral body in space… This occurred several times…”

They also had a chapter entitled “Projections at the Time of Death” in which they presented the testimony of people around deathbeds that saw lights, mista and subtle bodies come out of the body of the dying persons. There is also a chapter with cases in which spirits were seen.

Muldoon and Carrington felt that the cases they presented supported the idea of survival of death:

“The universe seems to be, at basis, rational and spiritual in nature, and there is assuredly a narrow gulf between these phenomena and death itself. As Myers expressed it years ago, ‘death is but the irrevocable projection of the spirit.’ In the one case it is temporary; in the other permanent. But death is no more ‘terrible’ and no more ‘miraculous’ than these projection phenomena, and we have seen that, in many of these cases, the experience proved so delightful that the subject did not want to return to earth life at all! The transition into the spiritual world proved both easy and pleasant, while the experience in that world was little less than ‘blissful.’ ”


Sunday, October 16, 2016   5:00 PM

Parapsychology and the Study of the Mind: Changing the Historical Record

Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Research Fellow, Parapsychology Foundation

In a recent article Chris Roe stated: “A powerful means of imposing scientific dogma is through textbooks, which do not passively and transparently describe a discipline, but instead actively circumscribe it. By the presence or absence of topics and by the way they are represented, the authors determine for the reader the boundaries of legitimate concern and appropriate practice. In this way the boundaries are policed and transmitted from generation to generation” (What are psychology students told about the current state of parapsychology? Mindfield, 2016, 7(3), 86-91, p. 86). I believe this has affected negatively views of the historical role of parapsychology in relation to psychology and psychiatry, as seen in the traditional historiography of these fields. In the rest of these comments I will discuss this issue, focusing, to a great extent, on some of the articles I have published during the last 15 years or so.

Unfortunately many historians have contributed to perpetuate the view that psychical research was not important to psychology or to psychiatry. An early example was Edwin G. Boring’s (1886-1968) highly influential A History of Experimental Psychology (2nd ed.). New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1950), a book that influenced most of our older teachers of psychology and that was a standard textbook for many years. In this book psychical research was considered to be at the periphery of psychology, and it was only mentioned in the book in notes at the end of a chapter (p. 502). The lack of importance of psychical research is also assumed by many other writers who do not even mention the field in their writings, among them Daniel Robinson in An Intellectual History of Psychology (3rd ed., Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1995).

Fortunately there are indications in the last decades that the situation is changing. Perhaps this is related to the attention historians of science and medicine have payed to “marginal” disciplines and movements, some of whom argued that these movements, and the ideas that came from them, contributed to science and to culture at large. Although not all historians agree, many oppose the view that occult and mystical views were a factor that always hindered the development of science. In fact, the opposite has been argued, considering such topics as contributing factors to the development of science (see the overview of W. Applebaum, (2005). The Scientific Revolution and the Foundations of Modern Science. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press).

An important early work bringing such a perspective to psychic phenomena was Henri F. Ellenberger’s (1905-1993) The Discovery of the Unconscious (New York: Basic Books, 1970). Although the emphasis of the book was on the more conventional work of individuals such as Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), Pierre Janet (1859-1947), and Carl G. Jung (1875-1961), which led to the development of ideas about the unconscious mind and psychotherapy, Ellenberger gave a place to ideas coming from mesmerism, psychical research, and Spiritism affecting the study of the mind. Not only did he acknowledged the work of Frederic W.H. Myers (1843-1901), but he wrote: “Automatic writing, . . . was taken over by scientists as a method of exploring the unconscious . . . . A new subject, the medium, became available for experimental psychological investigations, out of which evolved a new model of the human mind’ (p. 85).

Later writers have argued for the importance of the study of psychic phenomena for the development of ideas about non-conscious activities of the mind, thus placing psychical research as a positive influence, not as a mere obstacle in the development of psychology as a science, or as an absurd field. Examples include Adam Crabtree’s From Mesmer to Freud (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1993), Régine Plas’ Naissance d’une Science Humaine (Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2000), and Eugene Taylor’s William James on Consciousness Beyond the Margin (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996), among others.

In her book Plas (2000) resists the image of psychic studies as an “infantile malady” or as an “amusing bizarreness” of some psychologists (p. 13). Interest in the “marvelous” (including psychic phenomena) shown by psychologists is presented by Plas as an influential force in French psychological studies, particularly in terms of the development of ideas about the unconscious mind.

Of course we have to acknowledge that not everyone accepts this view. But it is encouraging to see the above mentioned publications, and the fact that some mainstream historians argue that it would be a mistake to exclude psychic phenomena and other “marginal” topics from the canon, and that they “contributed mightily to the constitution of modern psychological medicine” (M.S. Micale, The modernist mind: A map. In M.S. Micale (Ed.), The Mind of Modernism: Medicine, Psychology, and the Cultural Arts in Europe and America, 1880–1940 (pp. 1-19), Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2004, p. 11).

In my own work, consisting of various articles, I have tried to provide information about some of these issues, hoping to influence psychologists and psychiatrists. I do not write to defend the existence of psychic phenomena, nor the validity of their research findings, my intention is rather to present psychical research as an agent of influence, of change, just as so many have written about the role of fields such as neurology or concepts such as materialism, on ideas about the mind. The way I see it the more that the practitioners and researchers in psychology and psychiatry see papers about psychical research in their journals about issues of historical relevance, the more they will get used to the “new” way of seeing these topics as part of the histories of psychology and psychiatry. In any case, at least they will be exposed to the topic, and to arguments defending the idea that psychical research is not an example of a peripheral or a useless pseudo-science.

With this purpose in mind in recent years I have published several papers in the Sage journal History of Psychiatry. These are contributions to a section of the journal called “Classic Text” devoted to presenting excerpts or whole articles or chapters relevant, in a broad way, to the history of psychiatry:

Alvarado, C.S. (2010). Classic text No. 84: ‘Divisions of personality and spiritism’ by Alfred Binet (1896). History of Psychiatry, 21, 487-500.

Alvarado, C.S. (2014a). Classic Text No. 98: ‘Visions of the Dying,’ by James H. Hyslop (1907). History of Psychiatry, 25, 237-252.

Alvarado, C.S. (2016). Classic Text No. 105: William James’ “Report of the Committee on Mediumistic Phenomena.” History of Psychiatry, 27, 85-100.

Alvarado, C.S. (2016). Classic Text No. 107: Joseph Maxwell on mediumistic personifications. History of Psychiatry, 27, 350-366.

Alvarado, C.S., & Zingrone, N.L. (2012). Classic Text No. 90: ‘The Pathology and Treatment of Mediomania’, by Frederic Rowland Marvin (1874). History of Psychiatry, 23, 229–244.

In the “Classic Text” section of the journal the reprinted text is presented with an introduction that provides contextual, biographical and other information that justifies the inclusion of such material in the journal. This is not limited to mental illness, but includes much more, such as general psychological topics, and topics of general cultural and social concern believed to be relevant to the study of the mind and behavior. The journal, edited by historian of psychiatry German Berrios, is also open to psychic phenomena. I have never noticed any prejudice against the topic, as judged by my submissions, which to this day have all been accepted. I have presented much information about psychical research in these contributions.

The point of some of my papers, including those published in other journals, has been to identify the psychical research writings of well-known psychologists (e.g., Alvarado, C.S. (2009). Ambroise August Liébeault and psychic phenomena. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 2009, 52, 111-121). In one of the articles I discussed, with three colleagues, the work of Swiss psychologist Théodore Flournoy (1854-1920), which included his study of medium Hélène Smith, as reported in his famous book Des Indes à la Planète Mars (translated as From India to the Planet Mars: A Study of a Case of Somnambulism. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1900; Alvarado, C.S., Maraldi, E. de O., Machado, F.R., & Zangari, W. (2014). Théodore Flournoy’s contributions to psychical research. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 2014, 78, 149-168). My colleagues and I wrote in this paper:

“His main contribution, both to psychology and to psychical research, was conceptual, and referred to the development of the concept of the capabilities of the unseen mind. This he did mainly through his study of Smith’s mediumship . . . , but also with a few other case studies . . . His contribution of the construction of this idea, while purely psychological, was developed and nurtured in the context of psychic investigations, as were the psychological ideas of Myers, and to some extent, those of others such as Janet and Richet . . . From the early days after the publication of Des Indes to more recent developments, Flournoy’s investigation of the Smith case has been cited by many to illustrate the capabilities of the subconscious mind for producing fictitious manifestations. It is an example of the vast influence that exemplary cases can have on the development of ideas and research, as seen both in psychology and in psychical research” (pp. 162-163).

Another example is William James (1842-1910), who of course has been widely discussed by others. A colleague and I discussed William James as another example of how psychical research contributed to the study of dissociation (Alvarado, C.S., & Krippner, S. (2010). Nineteenth century pioneers in the study of dissociation: William James and psychical research. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 2010, 17, 19-43., but in some studies accepting the existence of the supernormal. “Unlike Janet and others, James did not use dissociation to explain mediumship and other phenomena in the sense of reducing everything to suggestion and the workings of a secondary consciousness. Instead he adapted ideas, such as Myers’, that assumed the existence of a secondary consciousness and that were not only relevant to pathology, but to the supernormal and the transcendental. James’ acceptance of the supernormal in the case of Mrs. Piper represents a break with Janet and other conventional explorers of dissociation. It was in fact a plea to study and accept the possibility that dissociation and consciousness in general could transcend bodily limitations . . .” (p. 37 ). 

More recently I reprinted most of James’ initial study of medium Leonora E. Piper: Classic Text No. 107: ‘Report of the Committee on Mediumistic Phenomena,’ by William James (1886)” (History of Psychiatry, 2016, 27, 85-100. As stated in the abstract:

“The purpose of this Classic Text is to present an excerpt of an article about the topic that William James . . . published in 1886 in the Proceedings of the American Society for Psychical Research about American medium Leonora E. Piper (1857–1950). The article, an indication of late nineteenth-century interactions between dissociation studies and psychical research, was the first report of research with Mrs Piper, a widely investigated medium of great importance for the development of mediumship studies. In addition to studying the case as a dissociative experience, James explored the possibility that Piper’s mentation contained verifiable information suggestive of ‘supernormal’ knowledge. Consequently, James provides an example of a topic neglected in historical studies, the ideas of those who combined conventional dissociation studies with psychical research.”

In my first paper exploring the contributions of psychical research to psychology I focused on the work early members of the Society for Psychical Research conducted regarding dissociation. Because I wanted to inform contemporary dissociation researchers, I sent the paper to dissociation journal (Dissociation in Britain during the late nineteenth century: The Society for Psychical Research, 1882-1900. Journal of Trauma and Dissociation, 3, 9-33). In the paper I focused on work about mediumship and hypnosis, and summarized aspects of Myers’ contributions. I concluded that “it is far too simplistic in historical terms to dismiss psychical research as pseudoscientific or as an example of irrational or plainly wrong ideas that have been superseded as psychiatry and psychology have advanced and have become more scientific. Apart from the fact that psychical research deserves serious consideration, we need to realize that in the context of nineteenth-century developments this field made important contributions to the study of dissociation and to the development of the idea of a secondary self . . . Such considerations remind us that much of our current understanding of the history of dissociation has been itself ‘dissociated’ in the sense of becoming separated from aspects of its origins” (p. 28). 

I continued to explore dissociation in other articles. In one I focused on French psychologist Alfred Binet (1857-1911) and his discussion of mediumship to illustrate that, similarly to hypnosis and various cases apparently showing the existence of a secondary consciousness, this phenomenon was used in the psychological discourse of the nineteenth-century to argue for the existence of dissociation as a psychological process (Alvarado, C.S. (2010). Classic text No. 84: ‘Divisions of personality and spiritism’ by Alfred Binet (1896). History of Psychiatry, 2010, 21, 487-500).

Mediumship, I wrote in an essay published in the Brazilian psychiatry journal Revista de Psiquiatria Clínica with other colleagues, provided the context for the development of various ideas about the subconscious mind (Alvarado, C.S., Machado, F.R., Zangari, W, & Zingrone, N.L. (2007). Perspectivas históricas da influência da mediunidade na construção de idéias psicológicas e psiquiátricas [Historical perspectives of the influence of mediumship on the construction of psychological and psychiatric ideas]. Revista de Psiquiatria Clínica, 2007, 34 (supp.1), 42-53). Mediums, and others such as the hypnotized, “became part of a small group of special individuals who led students of the mind to see invisible regions of the psyche. This . . . had implications for dissociation and for diagnostic matters” (p. 50). An example was the work of Pierre Janet, who did not accept the parapsychological aspects of mediumship, but used the phenomena (and the writings of Myers) to support the concept of dissociation and secondary personalities.

In some papers published in History of Psychiatry, I, and other colleagues, discussed pathological diagnoses informed by mediumship (Alvarado, C.S., & Zingrone, N.L. (2012). Classic Text No. 90: ‘The Pathology and Treatment of Mediomania’, by Frederic Rowland Marvin (1874). History of Psychiatry, 23, 229–244; Le Maléfan, P. Evrard, R., & Alvarado, C.S. Spiritist delusions and spiritism in the nosography of French psychiatry (1850-1950). History of Psychiatry, 2013, 24, 477-491).

Interestingly, and complicating the issue, there were also several formulations of the relationship between dissociation, the subconscious mind and mediumship, as discussed in another of my papers: Alvarado, C.S. Mediumship, psychical research, dissociation, and the powers of the subconscious mind. Journal of Parapsychology, 2014, 78, 98–114. I wrote in the conclusion of this paper:

“Although most medical men held a closed model of the mind (and of dissociation) in which the phenomena were explained mostly by internal resources and a few external influences such as suggestion, few accepted a more open model of mind, such as the one some psychical researchers upheld based on powers that extend sensory and motor capacities beyond the confines of the body. Nonetheless, and as seen in the writings of some such as James . . . . , these psychic or supernormal concepts were part of the same general interest in understanding the mind and its myriad of layers as the more accepted ideas of individuals such as Janet . . . Interestingly, these ideas about the powers or capabilities of the subconscious mind were also connected in some cases to pathology. This was not only the case with those, like Janet . . . reduced everything to intrapsychic concepts, but also with those like Lombroso . . . and Morselli . . . who admitted the existence of the supernormal as a process related to pathologies such as hysteria. But most of the persons discussed here did not write about pathology” (p. 108).

Together with other authors mentioned above, I have been arguing for a more complete history of psychology and psychiatry. That is, one which represents better the past by recovering from the historical record research and ideas that have been neglected by many representatives of the traditional historiography of these fields. This includes other phenomena and issues not emphasized here, such as the study of hallucinations, hypnosis, eyewitness testimony, institutional developments, and other things. While we should not forget that the past of these disciplines was influenced by multiple aspects, and not only by psychical research, interest in the psychic or supernormal was a factor affecting positively some past inquiries about the mind.

*This is a slightly changed version of an article first published in Mindfield, the newsletter of the Parapsychological Association. It has been reprinted here with permission of its editor.


Tuesday, April 12, 2016   6:29 PM

Second Parapsychology Foundation Book Expo 2016

Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Research Fellow, Parapsychology Foundation

The Parapsychology Foundation has released information about their second Book Expo (the first was held on November 14, 2015; click here).

Here are the details.

* * *

Course Description

The live sessions of the PF Book Expo 2016 will take place on the afternoons of Saturday, April 23rd, 2016 and Sunday, April 24th, 2016. Five authors will talk about their recent books, including the content, the goals, why they got involved in the process, what they learned along the way, and more, followed by a question and answer session involving the registrants. Two of the books are aimed at serious researchers in and students of parapsychology and anomalistic psychology who are interested in the methodology, theory and the various phenomena under study. Two bridge the gap between the interests of serious researchers and field investigators and the intelligent general reader. The fifth book is one that would be called a popular book, but as a very high quality representative of that genre, is written clearly and flows from the investigative point of view of a well-trained and open-minded journalist.

Guest lecturers at the Parapsychology Foundation Book Expo 2016 will be:

Dr. Jim Carpenter is a board certified clinical psychologist who formerly taught at the University of North Carolina and who remains in private practice. He received the 2012 Charles Honorton Integrative Contributions Award from the Parapsychological Association for his work over the years in the field and on his innovative First Sight theory and is a past-President of that same organization. Carpenter will talk about his recent bookFirst Sight: ESP and Parapsychology in Everyday Life;

Dr. Zofia Weaver is a linguist who is a past editor of the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, the co-author (with Mary Rose Barrington and Dr. Ian Stevenson) ofA World in a Grain of Sand: The Clairvoyance of Stefan Ossowieckipublished in 2005. She will talk about her book,Other Realities? The Enigma of Franek Kluski’s Mediumship;

Patricia Pearson, an investigative journalist who has written for The New Yorker, theNew York Times, theGuardian and the Daily Telegraph, among other publications, will discuss her most recent book,Opening Heaven’s Door: What the Dying are Trying to Say about Where They’re Going;

Dr. Stephen E. Braude, an emeritus Professor of Philosophy from the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, past-President of the Parapsychological Association, author of six previous books, and the editor of the Journal of Scientific Exploration, will discuss his most recent book, Crimes of Reason: On Mind, Nature and the Paranormal; and

Callum E. Cooper, a doctoral student and instructor at the University of Northampton, co-author of two previous books, a recipient of both the Alex B. Tanous Scholarship Award from the Alex Tanous Foundation for Scientific Research, and the Eileen J. Garrett Scholarship from the Parapsychology Foundation, will cover his recent book, Telephone Calls from the Dead that provides a new case collection of after death communication experiences.

The course is aimed at people interested in scientific parapsychology, in its theory, and phenomena, in mediumship and the experiences that both the dying and bereaved people encounter. You don’t need any particular level of education to enjoy the Expo, just curiosity about the topics.

The Parapsychology Foundation Book Expo series is the only place on the internet where you can get a “meet the author” experience for recommended academic and popular books on the topics of scientific parapsychology. So if you’re a student hoping to do research, a new researcher with an interest in the theory and the problems in persuading your colleagues, a field investigator interested in the phenomena of mediumship, death-bed experiences or after death communications, then the PF Book Expo 2016 is for you.

Each individual will have a PowerPoint that will be uploaded as a tutorial in WizIQ. Each live lecture will also be recorded and besides being available on WizIQ, will be edited and uploaded to the PF’s YouTube Channel.

By attending you will meet the authors of books we think are among the best published in recent years on their topics.

While the course doesn’t prepare registrants for any certification or exams, if you’re seriously interested in these topics, the PF Book Expo 2016 will point you towards some really good books that can help you in your quest to learn more!

And the PF?

The Parapsychology Foundation, located in New York City, is a not for profit organization that is celebrating its 65th year in operation this year, 2016. For the last 65 years the PF has provided a worldwide forum supporting the scientific exploration of psychic phenomena. The PF also maintains the Eileen J. Garrett Research Library in Greenport on Long Island. The PF’s online events on WizIQ, which include conferences like this one and the PF Forum: Advances in UK Parapsychology which was offered last May, are designed to further the education of individuals who are working in or interested in learning more about the scientific side of the field.

Lisette Coly, who will guide the proceedings on April 23rd and 24th, is the President of the Parapsychology Foundation, daughter of the previous President, Mrs. Eileen Coly, and granddaughter of PF Founder Irish American intellectual, entrepeneur, author and medium, Eileen J. Garrett. Dr. Carlos S. Alvarado and Dr. Nancy L. Zingrone, who will co-moderate the day’s events, are not only Research Fellows of the Parapsychology Foundation, but both two-time past Presidents of the Parapsychological Association, the international society for scientists and scholars who investigate what seem to be psychic phenomena from a variety of disciplinary perspectives.

To register (free): http://pflyceum.wiziq.com/course/151412-parapsychology-foundation-book-expo-2016

Course Schedule:

April 23

2:15-3:00pm Eastern time Opening

3:00-4:00pm Eastern time Jim Carpenter: First Sight

4:00-5:00pm Eastern time Zofia Weaver: Other Realities

5:00-6:00pm Eastern time Patricia Pearson: Opening Heaven’s Door

6:00 Closing

April 24

1:15-1:30pm Eastern time Opening

1:45-2:30pm Eastern time Steve Braude: Crimes of Reason

3:00-4:00pm Eastern time Cal Cooper: Telephone Calls from the Dead

4:00pm Eastern time Closing

Wednesday, March 30, 2016   2:27 PM

History of Parapsychology: IX: Ideas About Théodore Flournoy’s Classic Study of Mediumship

Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Research Fellow, Parapsychology Foundation

In the article commented here Nancy L. Zingrone and I focus on the reception of Swiss psychologist Théodore Flournoy’s most important work,Des Indes à la Planète Mars: “Note on the Reception of Théodore Flournoy’s Des Indes à la Planète Mars” (Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 2015,79, 156-164).

As stated in the introduction:

“The book is generally considered a classic of mediumship literature, and was devoted to the mediumship of Hélène Smith, the pseudonym of Catherine Élise Müller (1861–1929). Those who are familiar with the book . . . will be aware that Flournoy presented psychological analyses of the medium’s phenomena. These included her control Leopold, as well as communications about her presumed previous lives in India as a princess and in France as Marie Antoinette, and her travels to and descriptions of Mars, including the development of a Martian language. At the end of his book Flournoy refers to various psychological processes that he believed explained the manifestations, such as the effect of early traumatic events on dissociation, latent emotional tendencies, the suggestibility and auto-suggestibility surrounding mediums in general, and cryptomnesia.”

Des Indes made an impact soon after it was published. Flournoy’s case ‘became a key addition to the other paradigm cases of mediumship and multiple personality that defined the era’ (Taylor, 2009, p. 41). For those convinced of Flournoy’s arguments, the book soon became an exemplar of psychological explanations of mediumship. But for others Des Indes represented an unwarranted and hostile analysis of mediumship.”

Some comments about the book, which was translated into English, appeared in popular publications, such as newspapers and magazines. An example was an article in the North American Review by American philosopher and psychical researcher James H. Hyslop (1900). Who wrote: “Leopold, Marie Antoinette, and the Martian inhabitant ought to have given us some evidence of personal identity, as in the ‘communicators’ of the Piper case, if Mlle. Smith expects us to believe in spirits, and it is their absolute failure to satisfy this demand that justifies M. Flournoy’s sceptical position” (p. 745).

Many others praised the book in scholarly publications. As we wrote:

Des Indes, wrote anthropologist Giuseppe Serge (1841-1936) in his book Animismo e Spiritismo, should be seen as a model of research about phenomena supporting the belief of spiritists (Sergi, 1903, p. 54). In this author’s view, while Flournoy had not explained everything, he had explained much, and his approach provided a ‘starting point for research and analysis’ (p. 55).”

Praise also came from Frederic W.H. Myers. First in a review of the book published in the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, which was later incorporated in his Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death. “In his view Flournoy had confirmed his (Myers’s) belief that the action of the subliminal was a continuous process and not a mere sporadic action. Myers argued that it was to be expected that the subliminal mind presented such cases of ‘pseudo-possession,’ cases similar to the action of discarnate spirits. Most of his review of Des Indeswas incorporated later into his last work (Myers, 1903), in which it provided support for his conception of the subliminal mind. Here Myers referred to the case as his ‘culminant example of the free scope and dominant activity of the unassisted subliminal self’ ” (Myers, 1903, Vol. 2, p. 144).”

Finally, we mentioned the critiques of spiritists, among them French engineer Gabriel Delanne. He was “sceptical of the capabilities of the subconscious mind and considered Flournoy an ‘adversary of spiritism’ (Delanne, 1902, p. 463).

In the Revue Spirite another critic stated: “More changing that Proteus, more subtle than X-rays, more learned that a psychologist, the ‘Subconscious’ of M. Flournoy has all the skills, all the faculties, all knowledge. A child of the scientific imagination, gifted at birth with all talents by the wand of the ‘Glossolalia’ fairy, it has been created to respond to all the spiritist objections, and you can be assured that it will not abandon its mission” (Conscient, 1902, p. 187).

Overall the reception to Des Indes reflected the multiple conception of the mind existing at the time. For some psychologists it was an affirmation of the powers of non-conscious levels of the mind, and an incredible argument for spiritists, who felt threatened by Flournoy’s use of psychological ideas.

“Paying attention to the reception of Flournoy’s work both adds to our understanding of his research, and allows us to situate him in a wider historical context. By illustrating the complex way in which philosophers, physicians, and psychologists—from those skeptical of the notion of spirit agency and those who defended it—thought about mediumship and the subconscious mind, we can better understand the competing interests and theoretical views that were prevalent in the era . . . Knowledge of these issues may be useful to students of intellectual history and the history of science and medicine, as well as to current students of mediumship in their attempts to evaluate the reception of modern claims about the source of such ‘communications.’ ”


Conscient, H. (1902). La Société d’Études Psychiques de Genève. Revue Spirite: Journal d’Études Psychologiques, 45, 187.

Delanne, G. (1902). Recherches sur la Médiumnité. Paris: Librairie des Science Psychiques.

Hyslop, J.H. (1900). “From India to the Planet Mars.” North American Review, 171, 734–747.

Myers, F.W.H. (1903). Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death (2 vols). London: Longmans, Green.

Sergi, G. (1903). Animismo e Spiritismo. Turin: Fratelli Bocca.

Taylor, E. (2009). The Mystery of Personality: A History of Psychodynamic Theories. New York: Springer.





Saturday, February 20, 2016   6:23 PM

The Society for Psychical Research's 134th Birthday

Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Research Fellow, Parapsychology Foundation

We are glad to see that the Society for Psychical Research, founded in London on February 20, 1882, is still around after 134 years. The SPR, I am happy to say, is still very useful to workers in psychical research providing publications, conferences and funding.

Below you will find a short bibliography of works about the early period of the Society that I hope will help readers to obtain information about this important organization.

Alvarado, C. S. (2002). Dissociation in Britain during the late nineteenth century: The Society for Psychical Research, 1882-1900.Journal of Trauma and Dissociation, 3, 9-33

Bennett, E. T. (1903).The Society for Psychical Research: Its Rise & Progress & a Sketch of its Work. London: R. Brimley Johnson.

Cerullo, J. J. (1982). The Secularization of the Soul: Psychical Research in Modern Britain. Philadelphia: Institute for the Study of Human Issues. 

Gauld, A. (1968). The Founders of Psychical Research. London: Routledge & Paul.

Haynes, R. (1982). The Society for Psychical Research, 1882-1982: A History. London: Macdonald.

Nicol, F. (1972). The founders of the S.P.R. Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, 55, 341-367.

Rogo, D. S. (1987). The founders of the Society for Psychical Research: A retrospective look.Parapsychology Review, 18(4), 5-9.

Salter, W. H. (1948). The Society for Psychical Research: An Outline of its History. London: Society for Psychical Research.

Friday, January 22, 2016   10:17 PM

Parapsychology Foundation International Affiliates Conference

Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Research Fellow, Parapsychology Foundation

 The Parapsychology Foundation http://www.parapsychology.org (PF) announces a new online conference featuring five presentations about parapsychology in various countries. It will take place in January 23-24, 2016. For a more detailed schedule and to register (for free) go here.

If you can’t join the conference on the 23rd or 24th, not to worry; all presentations will be recorded and if you register, you will be able to revisit the presentations at your leisure.

The PF has released the following information about the event:

The Parapsychology Foundation is celebrating its 65th year in operation this year. Dedicated to providing support for students and researchers in the field of scientific and academic parapsychology, the PF decided to launch the Parapsychology Foundation Online Academy on WizIQ with its first online International Affiliates Conference. For unprecedented access to this elite group of scientists and researchers, join us for this conference by clicking the link above!

The Parapsychology Foundation International Affiliates program was inaugurated in 2000 and includes 27 extraordinary individuals from 26 different countries around the world. For this inaugural event, five international affiliates will talk about institutional, educational and research developments in their own countries over the last 40 years.

Here are the International Affiliates who will be speaking at the conference:

• Dr. Alejandro Parra, the PF International Affiliate for Argentina, is a clinical psychologist in Buenos Aires, the director of the Instituto de Psicología Paranormal, and a past President of the Parapsychological Association.

• Hideyuki Kokubo, the PF International Affiliate for Japan, is the editor and director of the Journal of the International Society for Life Information, the Journal of the Japanese Society for Parapsychology, and the Journal of Mind-Body Science, as well as the director of the International Research Institute in Chiba, and a researcher at the Bio-Emission Laboratory of Meiji University.

• Dr. Chris Roe, the PF International Affiliate for England, is Professor of Research at the University of Nottingham and the Director of its Centre for the Study of Anomalous Psychological Processes, past and current President of the Parapsychological Association, and the editor of the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research.

• Dr. Mario Varvoglis is the PF International Affiliate for France, the Director of the Institut Métapsychique International in Paris, a past-President of the Parapsychological Association and the author of La Rationalité de l’Irrationnel, an analysis of contemporary psi research and its social and theoretical implications.

• Dr. Wellington Zangari and Dr. Fátima Regina Machado are joint PF International Affiliates for Brazil. Dr. Zangari is Professor of the Social Psychology of Religion at the University of São Paulo, Dr. Machado is a Postdoctoral Fellow in Psychology at the Pontifical Catholic University also in São Paulo, and both are founders of Interpsi: Laboratory of Anomalistic Psychology and Psychosocial Processes at the University of São Paulo.

In addition, Lisette Coly, the President of the Parapsychology Foundation, and PF Research Fellows Dr. Carlos S. Alvarado and Dr. Nancy L. Zingrone will conduct the opening and closing sessions for the conference, focusing on the breadth of the PF International Affiliate program, its goals and accomplishments, and, in the closing session, on such upcoming activities as the Parapsychology Foundation Online Academy that will debut later in the spring of 2016 on WizIQ.

To register for free go here (click enroll now).

Thursday, January 7, 2016   8:30 PM

ParaMooc2016: New Series of Lectures About Parapsychology

Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Research Fellow, Parapsychology Foundation

Those of you who have followed this blog may be aware of the parapsychology MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) Nancy L. Zingrone and I organized in 2015 (click here). We are now organizing the ParaMOOC2016. This is the joint effort of our organization The AZIRE  and the Parapsychology Foundation (PF), which is well-known in the field for its long history of supporting parapsychology via conferences, grants, and in other ways (click here for information about the PF).

The 2016 MOOC is being organized following our previous thinking, that, in addition to the few currently available introductory and popular information offerings about parapsychology on the Web, there is a need to present high level scientific and scholarly discussions of parapsychological topics to inform the general public and interested others. These discussions are presented by individuals with recognized academic credentials (doctoral degrees), and with research experience.

The ParaMooc2016 was approved by the administration of the WizIQ learning platform this morning and Nancy has been uploading the schedule as we know it at the moment, as well as welcoming the dozen students who have already signed up. WizIQ is the social media teaching platform that we and the Parapsychology Foundation are using in our online teaching/online conference activities. The benefit of getting approval is that the course is marketed by WizIQ to it’s 500,000 or so teachers, and 4.5 million students already using the system worldwide. Because of the system’s reach we are hoping to get the word out about the scientific side of the field to as many newcomers as we did in last year’s MOOC.

Registration is definitely open. Just create a free account by using your Facebook log-in or creating a new one that’s just for the WizIQ system, then click this link: http://the-azire.wiziq.com/course/139659-parapsychology-research-and-education-paramooc2016.  The MOOC is free and live presentations are scheduled at 2:00pm Eastern time for the majority of the speakers. The presentations will be recorded and available soon after (usually within 24 hours). Later on, as we finish uploading the edited versions of the lectures from last year’s MOOC on our YouTube Channel, Parapsychology Online, we will start editing and loading up the lectures from this year.

While the ParaMOOC2016 schedule may still change, we have received confirmation for the participation of such persons as Drs. Bernard Carr, Arnaud Delorme, William Everist, Renaud Evrard, Erlendur Haraldsson, Janice Holden, David Luke, Antonia Mills, Ginette Nachman, Serena Roney-Dougal, Stefan Schmidt, and Patrizio Tressoldi. A few others may join us soon.

Some of the topics discussed include hyperdimensional and quantum theory ideas related to psychic phenomena, clinical perspectives of psychic experiences, and studies of recollections of previous lives, near-death experiences, mind-body medicine, distant intentions, the psychophysiology of mediumship, meditation and psi, and apparitions.

The complete (so far) information on the course is available on the enrollment link, so feel free to click just to check out the information at this link: http://the-azire.wiziq.com/course/139659-parapsychology-research-and-education-paramooc2016


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