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 07, 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

 

Sunday, December 27, 2015   8:43 PM

History of Parapsychology VIII. ESP Via Pulse Rates? Some 19th Century Observations

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

Several laboratory experiments have presented evidence to the effect that changes in some physiological measure correspond to a remote stimuli, suggesting ESP may manifest physiologically while the person is not aware of the process. In an article I published recently I discussed a generally forgotten nineteenth-century example of this.

Here is the reference and the abstract:

Carlos S. Alvarado (2015). Note on an Early Physiological Index of ESP: John E. Purdon’s Observations of Synchronous Pulse Rates.Journal of Scientific Exploration, 29, 109–123. (Available on request from the author:carlos@theazire.org)

Abstract

The purpose of this Note is to rescue from oblivion the nineteenth-century researches of physician John E. Purdon with measures of pulse rate synchrony between two persons. This was done using a sphygmograph, an instrument that measured pulse and provided graphic tracings on paper. According to Purdon, he found some persons reproduced the tracings of others in conditions that he considered to imply a telepathic transfer. Purdon speculated that one person produced emissions of nervous force that were propagated to others via the ether. While this research may be criticized from the point of view of modern research standards, it is presented here as an interesting and generally unknown early instrumental study of the concept of the detection of ESP via a physiological response.

“John Edward Blakeney Purdon was a physician who was born in Dublin in 1839. He was educated and trained in medicine at Trinity College, Dublin . . . Purdon lived in India serving as a surgeon in the British Army starting in 1865 . . . In 1881, when he made his first observations of synchronous pulse rates, he was in charge of a military hospital in Guernsey, the Channel Islands. After retiring from the Army in 1883, Purdon lived in the United States.”

The observations were done in informal ways. The first one took place in a hospital between a soldier and a woman separated by a wall. “During the ten days that my observations continued, I took many scores of traces with the sphygmograph finding the likenesses between the curve of Private W . . . and the young woman next door to be often remarkable. On one occasion I found that Private W . . . Private L . . . and myself were showing the same pattern almost exactly. That night our neighbour was eliminated as a disturbing cause, for she was laid up with a very bad sick headache . . .”

In another instance recorded in 1881: “I was taking the tracing of a young lady who was lying down with a menstrual headache, her hand being held by an older lady, her first cousin, when I suddenly saw the pulse curve change to that of the other, which I had more than once taken that morning. There could be no mistake about the resemblance, for the tracing of the other person was very characteristic and so familiar to me that such would have been a moral impossibility under the circumstances.”

Another example: “I was taking the tracing of a young lady who was lying down with a menstrual headache, her hand being held by an older lady, her first cousin, when I suddenly saw the pulse curve change to that of the other, which I had more than once taken that morning . . . I repeated the observation, taking the tracings of each woman repeatedly, and found more or less resemblance between the tracings of the elder and one side of the younger. . . . This relation had to do in my mind with the state of susceptibility to change, disturbance, or irritation of the nervous system of the younger, as depending upon the presence of the catamenia.”

I concluded the paper pointing out some problems with Purdon’s research when seen from the point of view of modern standards: “The evaluation of the results depended on visual inspection of the tracings, something that does not seem to have been done blindly. Furthermore, the reports lack information about checks on the proper functioning of the sphygmograph, potential artifacts related to how the instrument was attached to the arm, the position of the arm and its movements, and environmental stimuli that could have affected the tracings of both subjects.”

However, my interest to write this paper was not to present evidence for ESP via pulse rate change, but to acknowledge the pioneering efforts of Purdon.


 

Thursday, December 10, 2015   9:56 PM

History of Parapsychology VII. On First Volumes of Influential Journals About Psychic Phenomena

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

I recently published a review of the first volumes of three journals that were historically important in the study of psychic phenomena. The review article is entitled “On First Volumes and Beginnings in the Study of Psychic Phenomena: Varieties of Investigative Approaches” (Journal of Scientific Exploration, 2015, 29, 131-153; if you want a copy write to me at: carlos@theazire.org). The journals in question were:Revue Spirite: Journal d’Études Psychologiques, 1858, Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, 1882–1883, and theJournal of Parapsychology, 1937.

In my introduction I mentioned different research styles in the history of psychology, including, for example case studies and experiments. “A similar situation and the topic of this Essay Review is the different approaches in the study of psychic phenomena over time. The purpose of this Essay Review is to introduce to modern readers some of these approaches in the forms of summaries of the contents of three different journals from the past. These are comments about the first volumes of influential publications concerned with the study of psychic phenomena that are probably not familiar to current students of psychic phenomena.”

The Revue Spirite, produced by Allan Kardec, was an important resource in the spreading of Spiritism in France, and elsewhere. Most of the content of the Revue was devoted to mediumistic communications that were seen as authoritative as regards moral, philosophical and scientific issues. There was no attempt at external verification and many of the communications were not verifiable in principle. “In a two-page paper entitled ‘Utilité de Certaines Évocations Particulières’ (Utility of Some Particular Evocations . . .), it was stated that these messages were valuable because the spirits in question ‘have acquired a high degree of perfection’ . . . that allowed them to ‘penetrate the mysteries that exceed the vulgar reach of humanity. . .’ ”

The cases described in this volume were not original investigations, but accounts reprinted from popular sources. “Examples include ‘Visions’ . . . , ‘Le Revenant de Mademoiselle Clairon’ (The Ghost of Miss Clairon . . .), ‘L’Esprit Frappeur de Dibbelsdorf—Basse-Saxe’ (The Rapping Spirit of Dibbelsdorf—Lower Saxony), . . .), and ‘Phénomène d’Apparition’ (Apparition Phenomena, . . .).”

I argued, “to consider the content of the Revue, and Kardec’s work, as a scientific research program . . . begs the question of what science is. It is one thing to observe nature and develop hypotheses based on observed patterns, or to be tested by further observations or actual experimentation, and another thing to use communications through seances, which source is uncertain, as shown in this volume of theRevue, to get teachings and answers to questions about the nature of topics such as the workings of psychic phenomena and a variety of moral and philosophical issues. Similarly, it is one thing to report on non-evidential spirit communications and on cases of apparitions and other phenomena discussed in the press and other sources, and it is another to study these phenomena with attention to evidence.”

A very different approach was that found in the first volume of the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research. “ThePSPR was the main organ of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR), which was of basic importance for the development of parapsychology. Its work . . . systematized research into psychic phenomena in England, but it was also influential in other countries.”

Some of the authors in the first volume of the PSPR were William F. Barrett, Edmund Gurney, Frederic W. H. Myers, and Henry Sidgwick. “The first volume, containing four issues appearing in 1882 and 1883, was formed of papers reporting on the collection and analysis of evidence for psychic phenomena coming from accounts and from experiments. Some of these were . . . Barrett, Gurney, and Myers’ ‘First Report of the Committee on Thought-Reading’ (1882 . . .) . . .Barrett, Keep, Massey, Wedgwood, Podmore, and Pease’s ‘First Report of the Committee on ‘Haunted Houses’ ‘ (1882 . . .), and Barrett, Massey, Moses, Podmore, Gurney, and Myers’ ‘Report of the Literary Committee’ (1882 . . .). These, and other reports such as Barrett’s ‘On Some Phenomena Associated with Abnormal Conditions of Mind’ (1883 . . .) and Malcolm Guthrie and James Birchall’s ‘Record of Experiments in Thought-Transference, at Liverpool’ (1883 . . .), point to the empirical approach prevalent in the SPR even if such attempts seem methodologically crude by modern standards.”

Different from the Revue, the SPR had high evidential standards with cases. As stated in the “First Report of the Committee on ‘Haunted Houses’ ”, published in 1882: “In the first place, we . . . begin by tracing every story to the fountain-head. But we do not consider that every first-hand narration of the appearance of a ghost, even from a thoroughly trustworthy narrator, gives us adequate reason for attempting further investigation. On the contrary, our general principle is that the unsupported evidence of a single witness does not constitute sufficient ground for accepting an apparition as having a prima facie claim to objective reality. To distinguish any apparition from an ordinary hallucination . . . it must receive some independent evidence to corroborate it. And this corroboration may be of two kinds; we may have the consentient testimony of several witnesses; or there may be some point of external agreement and coincidence—unknown, as such, to the seer at the time—(e.g., the periodic appearance on a particular anniversary, or the recognition of a peculiar dress), to give to the vision an objective foundation.”

The volume also had the beginnings of an experimental tradition in the study of ESP, something that would be developed in later volumes. An example was “Records of Experiments on Thought-Transference, at Liverpool,” by Malcolm Guthrie and James Birchall (1883). Furthermore there were instructions about precautions to follow in conducting such experiments.

“While the PSPR included some reports of experiments (and this became more frequent in later volumes), this approach was not the main one taken by SPR researchers. But it was the research style predominant in theJournal of Parapsychology.” This is clear in the first volume of this publication, appearing in 1937. 

The Journal of Parapsychology (JP) came from Joseph Banks Rhine research group at Duke University and represented an experimental and quantitative research tradition. “According to my count of types of paper in the first volume, excluding correspondence and notes, there were 16 experimental reports, 4 editorials, 3 reviews of specific topics, 3 summaries and reviews of specific experiments, and 3 discussions of statistical issues.”

“Examples of experiments include ESP studies such as J. G. Pratt’s . . . ‘Clairvoyant Blind Matching’ . . . , J. L. Woodruff and R. W. George’s ‘Experiments in Extra-Sensory Perception’ . . . , Lucien Warner’s ‘The Role of Luck in ESP Data’ . . . , and Vernon Sharp and C. C. Clark’s ‘Group Tests for Extra-Sensory Perception’ . . . The experimental approach was not limited to proving the existence of ESP. TheJP carried interesting experiments to study ESP in relation to other variables, such as J. B. Rhine’s ‘The Effect of Distance in ESP Tests’ . . . , Margaret H. Pegram’s ‘Some Psychological Relations of Extra-Sensory Perception’ . . . , and Edmond P. Gibson’s ‘A Study of Comparative Performance in Several ESP Procedures’ . . . In addition, several studies were reported about ESP tests with special participants.”

In conclusion: “The journals discussed here . . . had to carve out their own territory, so to speak, when they started. TheRevue appeared in a context in which mesmerism was better known, a movement that was not always open to spiritism . . . Similarly, to some extent thePSPR and the JP represented ‘new’ beginnings in terms of spiritualism and psychical research, respectively. However, it would be wrong to reduce everything to breaks and discontinuities. In fairness, the issue was more one of general trends, and it is important to recognize that there were clear conceptual and methodological connections between the movements.”

“While different, the three journals presented in their pages material showing empirical attempts to study psychic phenomena, even though they represent different research styles. Of the three approaches—the teaching of the spirits, the analyses of testimony, and the conducting of experiments—only the last two are still pursued in parapsychology. In fact, I doubt that today many parapsychologists . . . will consider the use of mediumistically obtained teachings as a reliable approach to study psychic phenomena, although one may argue that it may be useful to generate hypotheses that may be put to test by other means. But leaving aside modern standards and practices, we must admit that Kardec saw his work as empirical, different from faith, an attempt to collect information from the natural world, albeit from an unusual source.”

“Different from the above, the PSPR and the JP, not to mention other journals . . . , emphasized cases and experiments as the means to generate knowledge for psychical research. Later developments within the SPR and the Duke group, as articulated in the PSPR and the JP, significantly affected the study of psychic phenomena, transforming it into a more systematic endeavor . . .”
 

Friday, December 04, 2015   9:33 PM

History of Parapsychology VI. Early Examples of Psi from the Living Explanations of Mediumship

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

One of my last published articles, written with colleagues Michael Nahm and Andreas Sommer, is a historical note about early nineteenth-century examples of explanations of mediumistic phenomena via the psychic powers of the living medium.

Here is the reference and abstract:

* * *

Alvarado, C.S., Nahm, M., & Sommer, A. (2012). Notes on early interpretations of mediumship. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 26, 855-865.

Abstract

The purpose of this note is to dispel the notion that ideas of human agency to account for the veridical mental phenomena of mediums began with persons associated with the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) in England, or with certain later individuals. In fact, the appearance of these ideas preceded the founding of the Society in 1882. Examples of earlier writers who discussed these ideas include Carl Gustav Carus, Edward W. Cox, Justinus Kerner, Asa Mahan, André-Saturnin Morin, Maximilian Perty, B.W. Richmond, and Edward C. Rogers. In contrast to the speculation by later SPR authors and others, the concepts that appeared in the old literature often involved belief in physical forces.

* * *

Here is an example of the ideas mentioned in the paper: “The well-known American clairvoyant Andrew Jackson Davis (1826-1910) believed in different agencies . . . In his book The Present Age and Inner Life (1853) Davis wrote that ‘owing to the extraordinary attributes of man’s mind, many experiences are by some individuals regarded as spiritually originated; which in truth, are only caused by the natural laws of our being . . . .’ Davis believed that 40% of the phenomena were due to discarnate spirits. The remaining possibilities included a variety of medical explanations, with 18% being accounted for by what would later be referred to as the psychic powers of the living.”

Another example: “The German zoologist Maximilian Perty (1804-1884) was another critic of belief in spirit communication in mediumship . . . Perty argued that the “guides” of somnambulistic mediums, often assuming the appearance of deceased loved ones, were usually dramatized personifications from the somnambulist’s own psyche . . . Rather than suggesting evidence of spirit identity, Perty held that supernormal knowledge emerging in “spirit guides” was due to the somnambulist’s own unconscious clairvoyance or “magic excitation.”

We concluded:

“The material discussed in this note could be extended. It shows that explanations of veridical elements arising from the living medium rather than from discarnate influence preceded the founding of the SPR. . . Nonetheless, the early ideas were often not exactly equivalent to those held by SPR workers and later writers engaged in controversies . . . and discussions of the so-called hypothetical construct referred to as super ESP . . . Instead early ideas were frequently associated with unorthodox concepts of force not discussed by the SPR workers who wrote about mental mediumship . . . In addition, although earlier writers knew about such processes as those akin to unconscious cerebration, the SPR (and later) workers laid more emphasis on less physiological conceptions of subconscious processes that had a wider scope.”
 

Monday, November 30, 2015   10:59 PM

History of Parapsychology V. The Revue Philosophique de la France et de l’Étranger

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

One of my papers about historical topics, authored with Renaud Evrard, is about discussions of psychic phenomena in nineteenth-century issues of a French journal. It is entitled “Nineteenth Century Psychical Research in Mainstream Journals: TheRevue Philosophique de la France et de l’Étranger” (Journal of Scientific Exploration, 2013, 27, 655-689; for a PDF reprint write to me at: carlos@theazire.org). Here is the abstract:

“While there were several psychical research journals during the nineteenth century many interesting discussions about psychic phenomena took place as well in a variety of intellectual reviews and scholarly and scientific journals of various disciplines. One such example was the French journal Revue Philosophique de la France et de l’Étranger, founded in 1876 by Théodule Ribot. Reflecting the various interests of psychologists during the nineteenth century, many topics were discussed in the Revue, among them hypnotic phenomena as well as mental suggestion and mediumship. The journal provided an important forum for French discussions in psychology and in the social sciences in general that helped the development of those disciplines. The same may be said about psychic phenomena, which were discussed in the pages of the journal by authors such as Émile Boirac, Victor Egger, Théodore Flournoy, Jules Héricourt, Pierre Janet, Leon Marillier, Julian Ochorowicz, Charles Richet, and Albert Ruault. We present summaries of some of these writings which we hope will bring some of this material to the attention of non-French readers.”

As we wrote about the Revue: “The first volume . . . included articles by such noted figures as Paul Janet (1823-1899), George H. Lewes (1817-1878), John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), Herbert Spencer (1820-1903), Hippolyte Taine (1828-1893), Eduard Von Hartmann (1842-1906), and Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920) . . . French historian of psychology Serge Nicolas has argued that . . . the journal was a contributing factor in the development of nineteenth century empirical psychology . . . An important aspect of it was that the Revue was a forum for work on abnormal psychology and hypnotic phenomena that contributed to the development of the concepts of the subconscious mind and of dissociation.”

We discussed various topics related to psychic phenomena, among them mental suggestion. This included Charles Richet’s classic 1884 paper “La Suggestion Mentale et le Calcul des Probabilités” [Mental Suggestion and the Calculation of Probabilities], as well as Pierre Janet’s two papers appearing in 1886 about the induction of trance at a distance with the famous Léonie Leboulanger. We wrote: “Janet’s papers were very influential in late nineteenth century psychical research, cited by many inside and outside France . . . This work . . . opened the door to the publication of similar cases in theRevue by other authors . . .”

There were also summaries of articles about mediumship, the effects of drugs and medicine from a distance, panoramic memory, and criticism. TheRevue also brought information about non-French work in the form of book reviews, articles and notes. “Frederic W. H. Myers authored two notes on veridical hallucinations . . . aspects of the work of the Society for Psychical Research were reviewed in a discussion of Gurney, Myers and Podmore’sPhantasms of the Living(1886). . . and in a note about the Society’s further work on hallucinations. . .There were also short summaries of the content of the Proceedings of the Society.”

We concluded: “Depending on the reader’s interest the material reviewed here will have different purposes. Those interested in the reality of psychic phenomena will use these materials to assess the evidential value of the old work. In contrast, those interested in the historical aspects of psychical research will see these papers and book reviews as examples of important primary sources for the study of nineteenth century psychical research. From either perspective—and perhaps from the perspective of those interested in both views—there is no question that the Revue is an important information source for the study of nineteenth century psychical research, particularly in France.”

 

Sunday, November 22, 2015   2:00 PM

History of Parapsychology IV: G. Stanley Hall as a Critic of Psychical Research

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

It is well known that many of the early psychologists were negative about the existence of psychic phenomena, preferring to explain them via conventional principles such as fraud, suggestion, hallucination, and other ideas. Individuals such as Alfred Binet, Joseph Jastrow, and Hugo Münsterberg are examples of this tradition. In a paper I recently published I discuss a prominent example of this, namely the work of American psychologist G. Stanley Hall.

G. Stanley Hall

The paper, “G. Stanley Hall on ‘Mystic or Borderline Phenomena’ “(Journal of Scientific Exploration, 2014, 28, 75–93; available from the author: carlos@theazire.org) was not meant to be a detailed overview of Hall’s critical work, but an introduction to a little known paper of his about psychic phenomena. Here is the abstract:

“G. Stanley Hall (1844–1924) was one the most prominent of the early American psychologists and an outspoken skeptic about the existence of psychic phenomena. This article presents a reprint of one of his critiques on the topic, a little-known paper entitled ‘Mystic or Borderline Phenomena’ published in 1909 in the Proceedings of the Southern California Teacher’s Association. Hall commented on some phenomena of physical mediumship, as well as on apparitions, telepathy, and mental healing. In his view all could be explained via conventional ways such as trickery and the workings of the unconscious mind. The paper is reprinted with an introduction and annotations providing biographical information about Hall and additional information and clarification of the points he made in the paper. It is argued that Hall’s paper represents an instance of boundary-work common at the beginning of organized psychology, representing an attempt to give authority to the discipline over fields such as psychical research.”

I argue in the paper: “In addition to Hall’s unquestionable importance for the development and history of American psychology, I had several . . . reasons to choose this article. The paper is a good summary of Hall’s negative views about psychic phenomena and psychical research and represents the opinion of other psychologists at the time . . . Hall’s paper is an example of the attempts of many early psychologists to separate their emerging field from psychical research . . . I am also presenting Hall’s paper as a reminder of the importance of remembering critics and criticism in our discussions and understanding of the past developments of psychical research. This is because many historical articles published by workers in the field tend to focus on proponents of, or on defenses of, the ‘reality’ of psychic phenomena.”

Unfortunately Hall misrepresented psychical researchers several times in his paper. For example, he assumed they needed to know something about topics such as hallucinations and hypnotism. But Hall knew better than this, as he had read Gurney, Myers and Podmore’s Phantasms of the Living (1886) and he knew about Myers writings which covered much of abnormal psychology. In fact, I believe that Hall could have learned much about these topics from the psychical researchers.

Hall’s paper was also not fair to psychical researchers when he wrote: “There is almost nothing tricks cannot do, aided by skill and practice. There are many codes: for instance, reading cards can be done by two confederates, one of whom catches the heart rhythm as the toe or a crossed leg moves, and counts off the suit and the card, marking the beginning of the count by any rustle or noise of the foot, hem, sniffle, or any other sign, which the observers never detect. Probably hundreds of these tricks are well known and are found in the copious literature on this subject . . . My contention is that every investigator should know what are the resources of sleight of hand.”

But as I comment in my article: “Here, as in other writings, and in other parts of the article, Hall presents his comments without acknowledging that psychical researchers were aware of the issue of fraud and of techniques of fraud from the beginning of the movement . . . Hall had a tendency to offer advice and issue recommendations under the apparent assumption that his points had not been considered before. While this may have been true among some, such as members of the general public . . . , it did not apply to most psychical researchers.”

Consequently Hall’s writings need to be critically assessed.

On Hall’s contributions to psychology see:

Arnett, J. J. (2006). G. Stanley Hall’s Adolescence: Brilliance and nonsense. History of Psychology, 9, 186–197.

Bringmann, W. G. (1992). G. Stanley Hall and the history of psychology. American Psychologist, 47, 281–290.

Hogan, J. D. (2003). G. Stanley Hall: Educator, organizer, and pioneer. In In G. A. Kimble & M. Wertheimer (Eds.),Portraits of Pioneers in Psychology(Volume 5, pp. 19–36), Mahwa, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum; Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Hulse, S. H., & Green, B. F. (Eds.) (1986). One Hundred Years of Psychological Research in America: G. Stanley Hall and the Johns Hopkins Tradition. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University.

Rosenzwig, S. (1992). Freud, Jung, and Hall the King-Maker: The Historic Expedition to America (1909), with G. Stanley Hall as Host and William James as Guest. St. Louis, MO: Rana House Press.

Ross, D. (1972). G . Stanley Hall: The Psychologist as Prophet. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Sokal, M. M. (1990). G. Stanley Hall and the institutional character of psychology at Clark 1889–1920.Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 26, 114–124.

Friday, November 13, 2015   9:31 PM

History of Parapsychology III: Frederic W. H. Myers

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

I published an article about Frederic W.H. Myers entitled “Vignettes on Frederic W.H. Myers” (Paranormal Review, 2014, No. 70, 3-13). As said in the first paragraph:

“Frederic W.H. Myers, a researcher of great importance for the history of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR), and for the history of parapsychology in general, was one of the most interesting and complex figures of nineteenth-century psychical research. His work has been discussed in recent times by several authors [such as Emily Kelly and Trevor Hamilton] . . . In contrast to these works, in this paper I do not attempt to present a cohesive picture or study of Myers. Instead I present several somewhat disconnected notes about Myers’ life and work, some of which have been compiled from little known sources, that I hope will interest those readers of the Review who are fascinated with his work and with the period in which he worked.”

Frederic W.H. Myers

I included sections in the paper entitled: Impressions and Behaviors, Travels, Discussing Myers in America, Discussions of Myers in France, Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death in the United States and in France, and Elected SPR President.

In France Charles Richet wrote about Myers in his book The Natural History of a Savant (1927):

“What I admired most in Myers was his scrupulous scientific probity. Although he had an excellent memory, he would take exact notes of all the circumstances of any experiment. His courtesy, his charm, his learning, were set off by a delicate sense of humor, which made his conversation delightful. He was a man of the world, in his manners far removed from those savants who wrap themselves in their specialty like bears in their fur . . . .”

It is interesting to know about Myers’ activities in countries such as France and the United States. “Some of Myers’s travels to France were in connection to the international psychology congresses. The first one, held at Paris in 1889, included psychical research in its programme . . . In this congress we find Myers participating in discussions about hallucinations and hypnotism with other attending the congress . . . In the 1900 congress, also held in France, Myers . . . presented a paper about the mediumship of Mrs Rosalie Thompson . . .”

I also presented in the article seldom discussed aspects of Myers’ visit to the United States and how his work was received there. “In the United States Myers participated in a psychic congress held in Chicago. A report published inThe Dialread: ‘ ‘Psychical Science’ was the subject of a Congress some of whose sessions must have made the judicious grieve. It was given dignity by the presence and frequent participation of Mr. Frederic W.H. Myers, and, we need hardly add, proved the popular success of the week’ . . . During this congress, held during August of 1893, Myers presented papers about ‘The Subliminal Self,’ and ‘The Evidence for Man’s Survival after Death’ . . . While he was in the States Myers said that he had seances with Mrs. Piper . . .”

Many authors in the United States commented about Myers, among them Clark Bell, Hereward Carrington, William James, Joseph Jastrow, Rufus Osgood Mason, Morton Prince, and Boris Sidis. Some comments referred to Myers’Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death (HP, 1903), such as the following positive and negative views:

“Physician Rufus Osgood Mason (1903) wrote a two part review of HP in theNew York Times. The systematic approach of Myers, Mason believed, made the work an ‘epoch-making book’ . . . The review ended arguing that pioneers in science—such as Galileo, Newton, Franklin, Morse, and Darwin—were rejected at first, and so we should expect the same in the case of Myers . . . A different perspective was presented by skeptical philosopher I. Woodbridge Riley (1905). PlacingHP in the context of the ‘new thought’ literature, he stated that the future would tell if ‘this pioneer of the subliminal was not a mere squatter, whose holdings are bound to grow narrower with the advance of the legitimate psychologist and physiologist’ . . . He clearly believed there were normal explanations for many of the phenomena described by Myers . . .”

There were also mixed reactions from France. “Pierre Janet . . . regarded Human Personality as a work presenting ‘exaggerated generalizations and adventurous hypotheses,’ but also ‘remarkable descriptions and useful indications’ . . . Another French writer, philosopher Émile Boutroux (1908), believed Myers contributed precise observations to the study of the subliminal mind. But he was skeptical of Myers’ use of gradations and similarities between phenomena to make his points.”

I ended the article—by no means an exhaustive review of Myers—citing Richet, “who considered Myers the harbinger of a new science. Richet believed that Myers’s ‘name will not perish, his work is indestructible’ and ‘will be placed at the top of this future psychology which perhaps will eclipse all other human knowledge.’ ”


 

Thursday, November 12, 2015   7:58 PM

History of Parapsychology II: Théodore Flournoy

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

One of the most interesting early figures in the psychological study of mediumship and other phenomena was Swiss psychologist Théodore Flournoy (1854-1920). In my last published paper, with several colleagues, we reviewed his main psychical research-related work: Carlos S. Alvarado, Everton de Oliveira Maraldi, Fatima Regina Machado, and Wellington Zangari, “Théodore Flournoy’s Contributions to Psychical Research” (Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 2014,78, 149-168; available from the first author: carlos@theazire.org).

Theodore Flournoy

Théodore Flournoy

Here is the abstract:

“In this paper we review the main contributions of Swiss psychologist Théodore Flournoy (1854–1920) to psychical research. Flournoy always advocated the scientific study of psychic phenomena as an important area that should not be ignored. After a short discussion of Flournoy’s attitudes to psychic phenomena we focus on his main work, his study of Hélène Smith (1861–1929) published in Des Indes à la Planète Mars (1900), in which he summarized communications about previous lives in France and India, as well as those coming from the planet Mars, which Flournoy attributed to subconscious abilities involving imagination and cryptomnesia. In addition, we review his other investigations of mental mediums, observations of physical mediums, and writings about telepathy and precognition. We argue that Flournoy’s work with mental mediums made him a significant contributor to the study of the capabilities of the subconscious mind, work that was important to the theoretical concerns of both dynamic psychology and psychical research.”

The paper is divided in the following sections: Biographical Sketch, Early Studies in Psychology, The Psychical Research Context, General Attitude to Psychic Phenomena, Study of and Speculations about Hélène Smith, Other Investigations of Mental Mediumship, Observations of Physical Mediums, and Telepathy and Precognition.

While many in psychology and in other fields rejected psychic phenomena, others studied the topic seriously and defended their reality, as seen in the early work of the Society for Psychical Research, including figures such as Frederic W.H. Myers. We wrote in the paper “that Flournoy was similar to Myers in that he argued that some phenomena, particularly mediumship, had conventional explanations based on the workings of the subconscious mind, but that other manifestations required the acceptance of some supernormal principle. There were, of course, important differences between the two men’s thinking. But for our purpose we want to argue that Flournoy’s work illustrates the interaction of psychical research and the study of the subconscious mind in early psychology.”

Flournoy’s best known work was his analysis of the mediumship of Hélène Smith, the pseudonym of Catherine Élise Müller (1861-1929), who presented “subliminal romances” about life on planet Mars, and previous lives in India and France. As was to be expected, the descriptions of Mars, and the creation of a Martian language, attracted much attention at the time, and even to our days.

As we discussed Flournoy interpreted the phenomena mainly as the result of the medium’s subconscious creations: “To Flournoy the subconscious activity was the expression of a natural and spontaneous creativity . . . Interestingly, Flournoy stated . . . that he believed he had ‘perceived a little telekinesis and telepathy’ in some of his séances with Smith . . . But he did not document this in detail and basically presented it as an impression.”

We had sections in the paper about Flournoy’s writings about telepathy and precognition and his observations of physical mediums. Among the latter were Eusapia Palladino and Stanislawa Tomczyk, who convinced him of the reality of their phenomena.

Among other topics we summarized a little known survey of mediums conducted by Flournoy begun in 1898. We wrote:

“He sent questions to members of the Société d’Études Psychiques de Geneva and received 72 replies, 23 from men and 49 from women. Among other topics, those questions were about when and under what circumstances the respondent realized that he or she possessed mediumistic faculties, how these experiences changed over time, observations of mediumistic faculties in other people and in the medium’s family, and the influence of physical, medical or moral conditions upon mediumship. In this study, unique for its time, Flournoy studied the medium from a psychological and social perspective instead of an exclusively parapsychological one.”

Interestingly, Flournoy accepted that the content of some mediumistic communications were veridical, but he believed that their presentation as coming from spirits was a dramatization of the medium’s subconscious mind.

We conclude stating that Flournoy’s main contributions to psychical research were conceptual, namely showing the dramatic capabilities of the subconscious mind. “Flournoy’s psychological contributions have been acknowledged by some historians of psychology. The influential historian of ideas concerning the unconscious mind, Henri F. Ellenberger, referred to Flournoy’s study of Hélène Smith as a ‘great step forward for dynamic psychiatry’ . . . Shamdasani . . . has noted that Flournoy’s ideas about the subconscious mind were an alternative to Freud’s theories in the early twentieth century, one that emphasized the more creative and constructive aspects of the unconscious.”

Flournoy was “an important representative both of early psychology and of psychical research, and particularly of the interactions of the two fields.” His work “is a reminder that some ideas and studies of early psychology took place in the context of interest in and research on psychic phenomena.”

 

 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015   1:21 AM

History of Parapsychology: I. Mediumship, Dissociation and the Subconscious Mind

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

In this series of blogs I plan to summarize some of the articles I have published in recent years anout the history of psychical research and related matters. The latter includes mesmerism, and spiritualism, among other topics.

One of these papers is “Mediumship, Psychical Research, Dissociation, and the Powers of the Subconscious Mind” (Journal of Parapsychology, 2014,78, 98–114). It is an overview of ideas about the aforementioned topics from the old days of psychical research. Here is the abstract:

“Since the 19th century many psychiatrists and psychologists have considered mediumship to be related to the subconscious mind and to dissociative processes produced mainly by internal conventional processes of the medium’s mind. However, some psychologists and psychical researchers active between the last decades of the 19th century and the 1920s expressed a different view. Individuals such as Théodore Flournoy, Cesare Lombroso, Enrico Morselli, Frederic W. H. Myers, Julian Ochorowicz, Charles Richet, Eleanor Sidgwick, and Eduard von Hartmann, argued that some mediums combined dissociation with supernormal phenomena such as knowledge acquired without the use of the senses, and the production of physical effects seemingly beyond the normal bodily capabilities. Depending on the theorist, other issues such as pathology and discarnate agency were also part of the discussions. The supernormal was never accepted by science at large and today is rarely mentioned in the dissociation literature. But ideas related to the supernormal were part of this literature. A complete history of dissociation, and of the subconscious mind, should include consideration of this body of work.”

Eduard von Hartmann

The article has sections entitled: Mediumship in Context: Spiritualism, Psychical Research, and Psychiatry; The Influential Writings of Frederic W. H. Myers and Eduard Von Hartmann; Speculations on the Mediumship of Leonora E. Piper; Speculations on the Mediumship of Eusapia Palladino; and Further Speculations on Mediumship. I discuss in the article several theoreticians generally neglected in the English-language literature of mediumship such as Joseph Maxwell, Enrico Morselli, William Mackenzie, Julian Ochorowicz, René Sudre, and Eduard von Hartmann.

Many discussions centered on medium Leonora E. Piper. While some were survival-oriented, others were not. These included the speculations of English classical scholar and banker Walter Leaf, English educator Eleanor Sidgwick, and German philosopher Traugott Konstantin Oesterreich.

Leonora E. Piper

Leaf “argued that in the medium’s ‘abnormal state there is a quite exceptional power of reading the contents of the minds of sitters; but that this power is far from complete’ . . . The thought transference process suggested by Leaf was one related to sitters’ subconscious minds, that is, content not consciously recollected at the time of the séance.This gave the impression that a spirit was communicating. Sidgwick argued that telepathy could provide the ‘material necessary to successful personation’ . . . This assumed that a dissociative process (the trance and the personation accompanying it) could incorporate telepathic information.” “Oesterreich suggested that Mrs. Piper’s veridical communications involved ‘an elaboration by the creative imagination of Mrs. Piper’s telepathically-acquired knowledge and by her telepathic faculty working in conjunction with the minds of others’ . . . ”

Regarding Palladino I summarized the ideas of Italian psychiatrist Enrico Morselli, presented in his 1908 bookPsicologia e “Spiritismo”: “According to Morselli . . . the low intellectual content of these effects [physical phenomena] was indicative of psychological disaggregation (or separation of mental processes) because the medium’s ‘inferior personality’ . . . manifested at a low intellectual level.” Morselli believed “that she could project a biopsychic force from her body, a force that could join with other forces coming from the other persons in the mediumistic circle . . . This force could be imprinted with the ‘oniric or subconscious thought of the medium’ . . . , which constituted the principle guiding telekinesis and shaping materializations. Morselli . . . believed that the subconscious thought and will of the medium directed the phenomena . . . However, their uniformity and repetitive nature suggested to him that Palladino had ‘fixed ideas,’ or delusional dominant ideas affecting both actions and thought. These ideas probably helped the production of the phenomena by her subconscious mind and also suggested hysteria . . .”

In conclusion, I wrote that “ideas of the supernormal as regards dissociation and the subconscious were not integrated into the psychology and psychiatry of the times discussed in 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 . . .” Furthermore, I argued that discussions of the functions of the subconscious mind “are incomplete without consideration of the psychical research perspective.”

“In the period discussed here, psychical researchers considered that the functions of the subconscious went beyond memory, pathology, creativity, and imagination. In the case of mediumship, psychical researchers extended current ideas about dissociation (in this case trance and personation) by adding the supernormal to the equation.”

“It is my hope that the material discussed in this paper will remind current students of mediumship of aspects of a past forgotten by many. Furthermore, I hope that my writings and those of others will influence the general historiography of psychiatry and psychology . . . Currently most of this work refers to the ‘closed’ model of the mind and of dissociation . . . But to limit historical analysis in this way produces an incomplete picture of the past, the details of which are ignored or dismissed by many historians as well as by psychiatrists and psychologists.”

 

 

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