Sunday, April 22, 2018   3:36 AM

Flournoy’s From India to the Planet Mars Revisited

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

In an article I co-authored with Everton de Oliveira Maraldi we reprinted the last chapter of Swiss psychologist Théodore Flournoy’s From India to the Planet Mars (1900) in the journal History of Psychiatry (“Classic Text No. 113: Final chapter, From India to the Planet Mars: A Study of a Case of Somnambulism with Glossolalia, by Théodore Flournoy (1900).” History of Psychiatry, 2018, 29, 110-125). Flournoy’s book is generally recognized as a classic of both psychology and psychical research.

Here is the abstract.

“Among the many attempts to explain mediumship psychologically at the turn of the century were the efforts of Swiss psychologist Théodore Flournoy (1854–1920). In his well-known book Des Indes à la Planète Mars (1900), translated as From India to the Planet Mars (1900), Flournoy analysed the mediumistic productions of medium Hélène Smith (1861–1929), consisting of accounts of previous lives in France and in India, and material about planet Mars. Flournoy explained the phenomena as a function of cryptomnesia, suggestive influences, and subconscious creativity, analyses that influenced both psychology and psychical research. The purpose of this Classic Text is to reprint the conclusion of Flournoy’s study, whose ideas were developed in the context of psychological attention to mediumship and secondary personalities.”

Hélène Smith was the pseudonym of Catherine Élise Müller. “Hélène claimed to be the reincarnation of an Indian princess of the fifteenth century called Simandini, and also of Marie Antoinette, queen of France at the end of the seventeenth century. Furthermore, she claimed to travel spiritually to the planet Mars, from where she presented information, through drawings, descriptions and automatic writings, about the lifestyle of the Martians and the language they allegedly used.”

Regarding the medium, we wrote:

“Hélène’s mother as well as her grandmother also reported visions and experiences of presentiment, while one of her brothers ‘it appears, could easily have become a good medium’ . . . Additionally, Flournoy pointed to the fact that Hélène was ‘more or less visionary from her childhood’ . . . and spiritist practices only exploited, moulded and directed her predispositions through specific suggestions and doctrinal beliefs.”

Our introduction to Flournoy’s chapter placed the topic in historical context. We considered such topics as the psychology of mediumship and aspects of Flournoy’s career. We wrote, Flournoy “summarizes the main psychological findings of his study with Hélène Smith, and discusses the limitations and strengths of his investigation. He acknowledges the importance of future studies on the neurophysiological basis of mediumship, and discusses the implications of mediumistic phenomena to nosology and psychopathology, as well as to the study of supernormal faculties or processes.”

Flournoy wrote in the chapter we present in the article:

“From the psychological point of view, the case of Mlle. Smith, although too complex to be reduced to a single formula, is explicable grosso modo by some recognized principle, the successive or concurrent action of which has engendered her multiple phenomena. There is, in the first place, the influence, so often verified, of emotional shocks and of certain psychic traumatisms upon mental dissociation. By means of these the birth of hypnoid states may become the germ either of secondary personalities more or less strongly marked . . . or of somnambulistic romances . . .”

“We must also take into consideration the enormous suggestibility and auto-suggestibility of mediums, which render them so sensitive to all the influences of spiritistic reunions, and are so favorable to the play of those brilliant subliminal creations in which, occasionally, the doctrinal ideas of the surrounding environment are reflected together with the latent emotional tendencies of the medium herself . . .”

“And, finally, we must note the phenomena of cryptomnesia, the awakening and setting to work of forgotten memories, which easily account for the elements of truth contained in the great preceding constructions and in the incarnations or casual visions of Mlle. Smith in the course of her seances. But besides this general explanation how many points of detail there are which remain obscure!”

Flournoy’s book was praised at the time by such figures as F.W.H. Myers and Théodule Ribot, who were students of the capabilities of the human mind and its hidden regions. Others, including several believers in survival of death, were highly critical of Flournoy’s arguments. Today the book is considered a classic example of the studies of the creative functions of the subconscious mind.

We also stated:

“Flournoy’s ideas on the subconscious mind took advantage of the psychiatric and psychological knowledge available at the time, and were applied to the understanding of the so-called mediumistic phenomena that, in turn, expanded and complemented the available theories in the light of mediumistic processes. In this scenario, Hélène Smith played an important role, highlighting the influence that exemplary cases may have on the development of ideas and research programs, especially for the emerging field of multiple personalities, dissociation and hypnosis, deeply interconnected with the spiritualist beliefs of the time . . .

Sunday, April 22, 2018   3:27 AM

Precognition Discussed in a Psychology Journal

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

A recent issue of the journal Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, and Practice has discussions of precognition by various authors. The discussion opens with an editorial by Erik Woody and Steven Jay Lynn (“Perspectives on Precognition.” Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, and Practice, 2018, 5, 1–2). They write:

“The balance of this issue consists of five articles addressing what has variously been termed precognition, precognitive ability, and retrocausal or retroactive influences . . . In the first article, Schooler, Baumgart, and Franklin (2018) address how to strike the most appropriate and productive relation between Sagan’s “seemingly contradictory attitudes,” drawing an important distinction between entertaining versus endorsing anomalous phenomena like precognition. In the second article, Mossbridge and Radin (2018b) present a comprehensive review of existing empirical research on precognition, making the case that this body of work warrants scientists being open to this possibility despite its “bizarre or counterintuitive” qualities. The next two articles, by Schwarzkopf (2018) and by Houran, Lange, and Hooper (2018), are invited critiques of Mossbridge and Radin’s (2018b) review, applying the “most ruthless skeptical scrutiny” in pointing out what these critics believe are crucial conceptual and methodological flaws in the research. A response from Mossbridge and Radin (2018a) follows these critiques.”

The editorial was followed by Jonathan W. Schooler, Stephen Baumgart, and Michael Franklin’s “Entertaining Without Endorsing: The Case for the Scientific Investigation of Anomalous Cognition” (2018, 5, 63–77. Here is the abstract:

“Empirical reports in mainstream journals that human cognition extends in ways that challenge the current boundaries of science (anomalous cognition) has been viewed with dismay by many who see it as evidence that science is broken. Here the authors make the case for the value of conducting and publishing well-designed studies investigating anomalous cognition. They distinguish between the criteria that justify entertaining the possibility of anomalous cognition from those required to endorse it as a bona fide phenomenon. In evaluating these 2 distinct thresholds, the authors draw on Bayes’s theorem to argue that scientists may reasonably differ in their appraisals of the likelihood that anomalous cognition is possible. Although individual scientists may usefully vary in the criteria that they hold both for entertaining and endorsing anomalous cognition, we provide arguments for why researchers should consider adopting a liberal criterion for entertaining anomalous cognition while maintaining a very strict criterion for the outright endorsement of its existence. Grounded in an understanding of the justifiability of disparate views on the topic, the authors encourage humility on both the part of those who present evidence in support of anomalous cognition and those who dispute the merit of its investigation.”

The target article, by Julia Mossbridge and Dean Radin, was “Precognition as a Form of Prospection: A Review of the Evidence” (2018, 5, 78–93). Abstract:

“Prospection, the act of attempting to foresee one’s future, is generally assumed to be based on conscious and nonconscious inferences from past experiences and anticipation of future possibilities. Most scientists consider the idea that prospection may also involve influences from the future to be flatly impossible due to violation of common sense or constraints based on one or more physical laws. We present several classes of empirical evidence challenging this common assumption. If this line of evidence can be successfully and independently replicated using preregistered designs and analyses, then the consequences for the interpretation of experimental results from any empirical domain would be profound.”

This is followed by two critiques of Mossbridge and Radin’s paper, and by their reply.

D. Samuel Schwarzkopf, “On the Plausibility of Scientific Hypotheses: Commentary on Mossbridge and Radin (2018)” (2018, 5, 94–97).

“Mossbridge and Radin reviewed psychological and physiological experiments that purportedly show time-reversed effects. I discuss why these claims are not plausible. I conclude that scientists should generally consider the plausibility of the hypotheses they test.”

James Houran, Rense Lange, and Dan Hooper “Cross-Examining the Case for Precognition: Comment on Mossbridge and Radin (2018) ‘ (2018, 5, 98–109).

“Based on a review and meta-analyses of empirical literature in parapsychology, Mossbridge and Radin (2018) argued for anomalous replicable effects that suggest the possibility of precognitive ability or retrocausal phenomena. However, these conclusions are refuted on statistical and theoretical grounds—the touted effects are neither meaningful, interpretable, nor even convincingly replicable. Moreover, contrary to assertions otherwise, the possibility of authentic retrocausation is discredited by modern theories in physics. Accordingly, Mossbridge and Radin’s interpretations are discussed in terms of misattribution biases that serve anxiolytic functions when individuals confront ambiguity, with potential reinforcement from perceptual–personality variables such as paranormal belief. Finally, we argue that research in human consciousness should be multidisciplinary, and notably, leverage informed investigators in the physical sciences to advance truly valid and cumulative theory building.”

Julia A. Mossbridge and Dean Radin, ‘Plausibility, Statistical Interpretations, Physical Mechanisms and a New Outlook: Response to Commentaries on a Precognition Review” (2018, 5, 110–116).

“We address what we consider to be the main points of disagreement by showing that (a) scientific plausibility (or lack thereof) is a weak argument in the face of empirical data, (b) the statistical methods we used were sound according to at least one of several possible statistical positions, and (c) the potential physical mechanisms underlying precognition could include quantum biological phenomena. We close with a discussion of what we believe is an unfortunate but currently dominant tendency to focus on reducing Type-I statistical errors without balancing that approach by also paying attention to the potential for Type-II errors.”

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