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

In the second blog in this series I reprint some early comments about the medium before she became an international figure (for the first one click here).

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Eusapia Palladino (1854-1918)

In the words of historian of Italian Spiritism and psychical research, physician Massimo Biondi, in her early days the medium lived in Naples but left for Rome following spiritist Achille Tanfani. “Later she met all the major exponents of Italian Spiritism and would spent at least twenty or twenty-five years of her life from one city to another, even abroad, to display her gifts” (M. Biondi, Tavoli e Medium: Storia dello Spiritismo in Italia. Rome: Gremese, 1988, p. 96).

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I am presenting here comments written by Italian spiritist Giovanni Damiani in 1872. Damiani, Biondi wrote to me in a recent email, was “a manager in an English bank (West of England and South Wales District Bank) and in the 1870s, when he openly declared his interest and belief in Spiritism, he was probably still working there. He began to have a strong interest in Spiritism in 1858, when he was 40. His first public action on the topics was – I think – in 1868, with a challenge to some critics of Spiritism.”

One of Damiani’s comments, where he called the medium “Sapia Padalino,” appeared in an article entitled “Spiritualism in Italy.-Mazzini a Spiritualist” (Human Nature,1872, 6, 220-224).

PALLADINO CA 1895

Eusapia Palladino, circa 1895

“I am happy to tell you that we have here in Naples a medium of most extraordinary and varied powers. Her name is Sapia Padalino, a poor girl of sixteen, without parents or friends. She is a medium for almost every kind of spiritual telegraphy known, one of which however is peculiarly her own, and consists in writing with her finger, and leaving behind marks as of a lead pencil, while no such article is in her possession, or even in the room. She will also take hold of the hand of the sitters, and cause the same phenomenon of leaving traces as of lead pencil under their fingers. In her presence discharges are heard as from pistols; lights are seen across the room like the  tail of a comet. She is a seer, a clairaudient, and an impressional medium. She is, however, far from being developed, and a few investigators sit with her three times a-week for the purpose of development. A peculiar and disagreeable bent of her mediumship, however, is the disappearance of objects from the room where the séances are held, and which causes often great inconvenience to the investigators. For instance, a gentleman is sent home in a cold night without his hat, another without his pocket-book containing money; a lady is robbed of her mantle; another lady has been deprived of her watch; the medium herself has her boots taken and carried away during the séance; and all this is done by one of the spirits, who boldly asserts his being John King . . . We are trying to wean that spirit of his disagreeable propensities, which . . . may cause suspicion of the honesty of the poor, simple medium. I do not doubt we shall soon have in Sapia a test-medium, that will convince thousands of the truth of spiritual intercourse” (pp. 222-223).

Biondi reminds us that the medium was 18 years old, not 16, as stated by Damiani.

Another communication from Damiani appeared in Human Nature for January 1873. I reprint it below taken from Light, where it was reprinted years later in its September 5, 1896 issue (“Pranks of undeveloped spirits.” Light, 1896, 16, 428-429). However, Damiani dated the communication November 24th, 1872.  Sapia was referred to as a poor girl who was obsessed by a group of low spirits “determined . . . to torture and drive her to despair.”

“The unpleasant phenomena began with a request from the circle that the spirits might bring in some material object through closed doors and windows. The request was immedi­ately complied with by our hearing an object fall upon the table. On striking a light we found a neatly made-up parcel, and on carefully unfolding it, we were much disgusted to find it containing—a dead rat! I mildly remonstrated with the spirits for the unpleasant joke, and told them to bring in future more genial objects. They said they would, and, at a subsequent sitting, some tawdry brass gilt trinkets were soon brought in (always with closed doors) as a present to the medium. At the next regular seance, they said they would show their power also by taking things out of the room, and sure enough, at the end of the séance, a new mantle belonging to a lady present had been abstracted, and has never been found since.”

“The next day poor Sapia brought a red mantle to the lady, asking if that was the mantle lost, and saying she had found it spread on her bed as she awoke that morning; but it was a different mantle, and remains still in Sapia’s possession. At another séance a member of the society, Signor Lainarra, had his new hat stolen by the spirits. He had to go home without his hat—not, however, before searching minutely the whole house for it; but it has never been recovered. The spirits next pilfered a watch and chain belonging to an ardent Spirit­ualist, Signora Commetti, who seemed distressed at the loss, as the watch and chain had belonged to her departed husband. This time, in a speech which I made as impressive and instructive for them as I could, I urged the spirits to return the property to the lady, as their mission here was to convince the sceptics, and not to distress the friends, of the spirit world. They promised they would, but not then; and when the lady reached home she found the watch and chain lying on her bed. A few days afterwards, however, both watch and chain were missed from before her eyes, and have never been found to this hour.”

“At the next séance I asked to speak to the spirits, and Sapia said she saw them muster all round our circle in great numbers. I again addressed them in a kind of sermon, explaining to them the law of progression, and how wrong it was thus to squander their time and ours, and give us such serious annoyance by abstracting our property; and that if they wanted to advance in a better sphere and be happier, they should be active in good works and not distress their fellow beings; they should repent their faults, and earnestly pray the Almighty for their deliver­ance from their present unhappy state. At the end of my speech, Sapia informed us that only one of the band seemed moved, and shed tears, while the others were dancing about and making horrible faces at me.”

“One of the most remarkable phenomena occurring through Sapia’s mediumship consists in noises, either as from the explosion of firearms in the room, or as from a large hammer striking the séance table. One evening, Signor Barone, an old Spiritualist and medium, felt alarmed at the concussion on the table so near his hands, and said aloud he had withdrawn them from the table in fear. A Spiritualist present observed that he had not the least apprehension of being hurt by the spirits, but he had no sooner said the words than he was struck with a very severe blow on his hand, the painful effects of which he felt for nearly a week. Sapia said she saw the spirits strike the table with an instrument like polished iron in the shape of a funnel or cone.”

“Their next trick was to throw to the ground from a table where they were standing five cages containing my pet canaries, and they did so by drawing a table-cover on which they rested. On hearing the crash we struck a light, and found the poor little things motionless, as if they were dead. They recovered a few minutes afterwards, and I cannot help thinking that they were mesmerised by the spirits, who, perhaps, felt compunction at hurting the poor little things.”

“Again, a séance was held at the house of another member of the society. A pet cat, seeing—or feeling, no doubt—the presence of ungenial beings, began loudly to mew. The sitters expressed their annoyance, and the spirits said they would soon quiet the beast, and the poor thing was found dead the next morning. At the same house the spirits broke a table almost shapelessly, and a large, expensive clock-shade. One day, at the house of Signor Lamarra, some object was missed, and he jocularly said to a friend who lives with him, ‘Ha! it must be Alessi’ (the chief of the band of low spirits who torment Sapia, and who, in life, had been a poisoning doctor) ‘who has stolen it!;’ Sapia knew nothing of this circumstance, but that same evening this spirit appeared to her whilst she was in bed, sur­rounded, as she said, with a sinister light, saying to her, ‘Tell those scurvy friends of yours, Lamarra and Co., that I am not going to stand their insults, ascribing to me that which I have not done. I have never been a thief, and if they say so again I will twist their necks, and yours too, if you do not speak more respectfully of me!’ Sapia says that as the spirit stamped the ground with his foot the whole room trembled, and all the objects standing on a chest of drawers against which the spirit leaned, moved and jingled most violently. She was, indeed, so frightened that she called the landlady where she lodged to her succour, and begged not to be left alone that night.”

“One evening Signor Lamarra, on entering his club, was set upon by two young lawyers of the Positivist school, who publicly ridiculed him for believing in spirits. He asked them if they had investigated Spiritualism. They said, No, but would he take them to the spirits? Lamarra boldly assented, and there and then they started for the medium’s lodgings. A dark séance was immediately held, and the light was scarcely put out when numerous very loud explosions, as from fire-arms, were heard in the room. This rather startled the new visitors; but they were still more surprised when blows were heard falling on the table as from a large hammer. The sceptics, however, charged their friends with producing these noises with some hidden machinery, at which Lamarra placed in the hands of the new visitors his own and those of the medium. The noises then ceased, but instead the affrighted voices of the non-believers were heard piteously asking for a light; for one of them had had his hair and beard pulled, and his face handled by a large, callous, ice-cold, perspiring hand; and the other was touched upon the head and face with an instrument in the shape of a club, cold and hard as iron. A light was struck, but nothing was perceived except the pale faces of the scoffing young lawyers, who do not like the subject being mentioned again. In this case, we must admit, the low intelligences did their business well.”

“Having tried every means to deliver this poor girl from her tormentors, the Naples society thought it better to suspend the séances for a time; and as the girl wanted employment, she was recommended to a nice place as a servant. In the night previous to her going to her new master’s the spirits appeared, and mockingly intimated to her that they would take care that she should not remain there. She expostulated with them, but they laughed and disappeared. She, however, did go, and was immediately set about cleaning a large drawing-room, her master, an old gentleman, being present. All at once a small table, in a part of the room opposite where Sapia was, began to move about. This much astonished her new master; but while he was wondering in bewilderment, an awful crash was heard, and a large shade and some china that were on a chiffonier some distance from the poor girl, had fallen to pieces. Frightened more than vexed at these strange occurrences, and believing them to be the work of Satan—whose escutcheon in Naples preserves still its ancient effulgency—Sapia’s master bid her im­mediately to leave the house, and the poor medium is again dependent on her friends and sympathisers.”

“We have had Sapia mesmerised and thrown into a trance, in which state kinder spirits have spoken through her, who, interrogated, have told us these unpleasant phenomena would give way if we could induce Sapia to cultivate her mind. This we have tried to do with unremitting patience, but without avail, as she shows the greatest reluctance and impatience at being taught the elements of letters. We have done all in our power to remedy this evil, which deprives us of one of the best physical mediums in existence. Can any of your correspondents give any suggestion, that we might, by some new tactics, reclaim this remarkable medium, Sapia Padalino?”

Biondi informs me that the first mention of Palladino in an Italian publication was in Achille Tanfani’s Lo Spiritismo Dimostrato e Difeso (Rome: Tipografia di Ludovico Cecchini, 1872). Tanfani stated he saw in a séance with “Padalino” that a “table suddenly raised, transported by itself without touching the ground to the outer wall of the room” (p. 10).”

Other comments by Damiani appeared in The Spiritualist in 1873. See also one of my articles in which I discuss an autobiographical essay supposedly written by Palladino and information about the medium’s early development and personal life.

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

The first version of the long awaited project of the Society for Psychical Research, their Psi Encyclopedia, has recently been released. The project is edited by Robert McLuhan, with whom I have been in contact during my writing of several entries for this exciting project.

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Robert McLuhan

The following statement appears in the Encyclopedia’s “About” webpage:

“There is now a vast research literature that validates the existence of psi as an anomalous, fleeting and little understood aspect of human experience. Psi researchers believe that it has been demonstrated many times over, and in a variety of contexts. But this remains controversial . . . a vocal minority of sceptics – often active in sceptic organisations – campaign in books, articles and in the media against psi research, disparaging it as ‘pseudoscience’ and disputing its conclusions.”

“In recent years this conflict has spread to the Internet, notably the free encyclopedia Wikipedia, where editors hostile to ‘fringe science’ routinely edit articles on psi research to make them conform to their view. As a result, articles that were originally written by knowledgeable experts have become adulterated with misleading claims and assertions.”

“The Psi Encyclopedia is being created by the Society for Psychical Research, funded by a bequest, to provide a more informative view of psi research (also referred to as ‘psychical research’ and ‘parapsychology’), one that reflects the findings of experimenters and investigators. The project began in 2014 and at its launch in September 2016 offered some 110 entries written by around thirty authors and experts. Readers are asked to bear in mind that this is a work in progress, a multi-year project that will see numerous additions, changes and improvements . . .”

“Types of entry include: overview articles about generic topics (e.g., experimental parapsychology, mediumship research, near-death experiences); articles that explore aspects of those topics, key researchers, etc.; case studies of key experiments and investigations (children who remembered a past life, poltergeist disturbances, mediumship episodes, etc); lists (people, events, experiments).”

“Some case studies include pdf versions of the original research report from which they are drawn, giving readers the opportunity to understand the researchers’ methods and reasoning in greater detail.”

Among the entries included in the Psi Encyclopedia the reader will find those about:

Altered States of Consciousness and Psi

Dr. David Luke

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Dr. David Luke

John Beloff

Dr. Melvyn Willin

 Marthe Béraud (Eva C.)

Benjamin Seigmann

Creative Subjects in Ganzfeld

Dr. Hannah Jenkins

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Dr. Hannah Jenkins

Distressing Near-Death Experience

Nancy Evans Bush

Dreams and ESP

David Saunders

Experimental Parapsychology (Overview)

Dr. Richard Broughton

Eyewitness Testimony (Analysis)

Dr. Stephen Braude

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Dr. Stephen E. Braude

Forteana

Dr. Matthew Colborn

Frederic W.H. Myers

Trevor Hamilton

Uri Geller

Guy Lyon Playfair

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Guy Lyon Playfair

Ghost Hunting

John Fraser

Edmund Gurney

Dr. Andreas Sommer

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Dr. Andreas Sommer

Koestler Parapsychology Unit

Dr. Caroline Watt

Meditation and Psi

Dr. Serena Roney-Dougal

Near-Death Experience

Dr. Penny Sartori

Past Lives Memories Research (Overview)

Dr. Jim Tucker

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Dr. Jim Tucker

Psi Healing Research

Charmaine Sonnex

 Religious Levitation

Dr. Michael Potts

 Society for Psychical Research

Dr. Donald West

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Dr. Donald J. West

There is a list of contributors. In addition to those mentioned above, additional authors are:  Dr. Carlos S. Alvarado, Mary Rose Barrington, Dr. Etzel Cardeña, Dr. Barrie Colvin, Callum Cooper, Dr. Guy Hayward, Jack Hunter, Patricia Pearson, Dr. Dean Radin, and Michael Tymn.

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Dr. Etzel Cardeña

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Callum Cooper

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Patricia Pearson

I have written a few entries for the encyclopaedia. Here are those that have been posted:

Charles Richet

Ernesto Bozzano

Eusapia Palladino

Out-of-body experience (OBE)

Richet’s Traité de Métapsychique (Thirty Years of Psychical Research)

Théodore Flournoy

William James

Not all relevant topics are covered in the current version of the work. In fact there are no entries for important topics as ESP, mediumship (mental and physical), and psychokinesis, nor about methodology. Similarly, there is a need for more entries about developments on non-English speaking countries and about modern developments. This includes topics such as the use of physiological processes to express ESP, investigations involving measures of geomagnetism and siderial time, and the use of meta-analysis. The same may be said about entries about modern researchers known for the development of important lines of research, among them Daryl Bem, Charles Honorton, William G. Roll, Helmut Schmidt, and Ian Stevenson. But bear in mind that the editor is well aware of this and that, as stated above, this is work in progress. Eventually such topics, and many others, will be covered.

Perhaps future editions of this work will include more illustrations. Two excellent examples to follow are the use of photographs in the entries “Anthropology and Psi Research,” by Jack Hunter, and “Eminent People Interested in Psi,” by Etzel Cardeña. However, not all the entries lend themselves to be easily illustrated.

This is a good beginning for this important project. Robert McLuhan has done good work, and an immense amount of it at that. I have found him to be very helpful and easy to work with regarding the entries I have prepared. His efforts would be facilitated if the Psi Encyclopedia counted with an editorial board that would assist him to select future writers, topics, and would also be involved in evaluating the content of the entries.

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

The American Psychological Association has just published a textbook entitled Transcendent Mind: Rethinking the Science of Consciousness, by Imants Barušs  and Julia Mossbridge. Barušs is professor of psychology at King’s University College (Western University Canada), and Mossbridge is a cognitive neuroscientist and an experimental psychologist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences and a Visiting Scholar in Psychology at Northwestern University.

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Dr. Imants Barušs

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Dr. Julia Mossbridge

The authors defend the idea that consciousness is independent of the brain. According to the publisher’s description: “Imants Barušs and Julia Mossbridge utilize findings from special relativity and quantum mechanics, modern and ancient philosophers, and paranormal psychology to build a rigorous, detailed investigation into the origins and nature of human consciousness. Along the way, they examine the scientific literature on concepts including mediumship, out-of-body and near-death experiences, telekinesis, ‘apparent’ versus ‘deep time,’ and mind-to-mind communication, and introduce eye-opening ideas about our shared reality. The result is a revelatory tour of the ‘post-materialist’ world — and a roadmap for consciousness research in the twenty-first century.”

Interview

Can you give us a brief summary of the book?

Julia Mossbridge: This is a field guide for psychologists, neuroscientists, therapists and psychoanalysts who want to understand and examine the phenomena of consciousness without assuming a materialist viewpoint. We cover the basic arguments against the materialist assumption, then delve into evidence that has previously been ignored under this assumption. Based largely on that evidence, we propose a tentative model of consciousness and help lay groundwork for future work in the field.

What is your background in parapsychology, and with the topic of the book specifically?

JM: I am mostly focused on trying to understand presentiment and precognition in general. My background in time perception research, perceptual neuroscience, cognitive psychology, and psychophysics allows me to think about phenomena that are considered anomalous according to the materialist assumption, while at the same time allowing me to build a bridge for readers who may be just starting to become post-materialists.

Imants Barušs: I do not distinguish what I do that would fall under “parapsychology” from “psychology” in general. Nor do I use the term “parapsychology” to describe what I do. I think that making that distinction plays into a forced segregation of the subject matter of parapsychology from that of psychology. I do like to use the expression “anomaly” sometimes to refer to anything that does not fit conventional ways of thinking in any discipline, so I suppose this question would be a question about my background in anomalies research. The answer is that, since I was a child, I have been attracted to the unusual, to that which does not fit, because it makes me wonder and makes me want to try to understand it. More formally, I have studied beliefs about reality, EVP, ITC, past-life regression, the survival hypothesis, non-contact healing, and quantum theories of anomalous phenomena. I have a particular interest in transcendent states of consciousness and, most recently, the “cutting through” techniques of Dzogchen.

What motivated you to write this book?

JM: Imants asked me to write it with him, and I jumped at the chance! I had been wanting to get over the defensiveness with which I used to approach my parapsychological work, and this was the perfect opportunity — to write a textbook to be published by APA Books, the biggest publisher in Psychology in the US.

IB: The study of consciousness has been stuck due to the inertial weight of the materialist paradigm. Julia and I thought that an introductory textbook about consciousness from a post-materialist perspective could help to move things along. I thought that was worth a try, so we wrote the book.

Why do you think your book is important and what do you hope to accomplish with it?

 

JM: As far as we know, it is the first APA psychology textbook written with a methodological focus that is not coming from the materialist assumption. I hope that a new generation of practitioners and researchers realize that a post-materialist viewpoint allows them to understand and embrace more of the phenomena that are being reported to them, and that they themselves are experiencing. Further, I hope that some researchers use the tools we describe in the book to launch whole new fields within consciousness research.

 

 

 

 

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.

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Dr. Chris Roe

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).

Boring History Experimental Psychology

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).

Applebaum Scientific Revolution

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).

Ellenberger The Discovery of the Unconscious

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Frederic W.H. Myers

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.

Crabtree From Mesmer to Freud

Plas Naissance

Taylor William james Consciousness

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.

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Dr. Régine Plas

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).

Marc Miale

Dr. Marc Micale

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.

History of Psychiatry December 2013

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:

Flournoy Des Indes a la Planete Mars

Flournoy From India 2

“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 ).

William James 4

Dr. William James

James Report Committee Mediumistic Phenomena PASPR 1886

W. James first report about Mrs. Piper, Proceedings of the American Society for Psychical Research, 1886

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.”

Leonora Piper 2

Mrs. Leonora E. Piper

 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).

Journal of the SPR Vol. 1

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).

Alfred Binet Alterations of Personality

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.

Pierre Janet 5

Dr. Pierre Janet

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).

Marvin Mediomania 2

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.

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

Over the years there have been some experiments in which ESP is presumed to be detected via a change in electroencephalographic activity. Here is a recently published study on the topic authored by William Giroldini, Luciano Pederzoli, Marco Bilucaglia, Patrizio Caini, Alessandro Ferrini, Simone Melloni, Elena Prati, and Patrizio Tressoldi, EEG correlates of social interaction at distance (version 5, F1000Research, 2016, 4:457, doi: 10.12688/f1000research.6755.5) (click here).

Abstract

“This study investigated EEG correlates of social interaction at distance between twenty-five pairs of participants who were not connected by any traditional channels of communication. Each session involved the application of 128 stimulations separated by intervals of random duration ranging from 4 to 6 seconds. One of the pair received a one-second stimulation from a light signal produced by an arrangement of red LEDs, and a simultaneous 500 Hz sinusoidal audio signal of the same length. The other member of the pair sat in an isolated sound-proof room, such that any sensory interaction between the pair was impossible. An analysis of the Event-Related Potentials associated with sensory stimulation using traditional averaging methods showed a distinct peak at approximately 300 ms, but only in the EEG activity of subjects who were directly stimulated. However, when a new algorithm was applied to the EEG activity based on the correlation between signals from all active electrodes, a weak but robust response was also detected in the EEG activity of the passive member of the pair, particularly within 9 – 10 Hz in the Alpha range. Using the Bootstrap method and the Monte Carlo emulation, this signal was found to be statistically significant.”

In the discussion the authors state that their results “lead us to believe that Receivers exhibit a weak response to the remote stimulus in the form of a small change in cerebral synchronization coinciding with the stimulus . . . This study is clearly explorative but it is in agreement with the results observed in three different experiments by Hinterberger (2008) who observed an increase in the ERPs in the Alpha (8–12 Hz) band only in the related pairs of participants. If further confirmed, these findings would be of huge scientific importance because they provide neurophysiological evidence of a connection – or social interaction – at distance.”

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

Eugène Osty was an important figure in French psychical research who distinguished himself in many areas, among them studies of ESP. The article discussed here, entitled “La Vision de Soi” ([Visions of the Self] Revue Métapsychique, 1930, No. 3, 185-197), is part of a long history of attempts to explain OBEs using psychological concepts such as hallucinations.

Eugene Osty

Eugène Osty (1874-1938)

In the introduction to the article Osty commented about the numerous reports published in the psychic literature of apparitions of living persons. These have been denominated in various ways–“apparitions, doublings, telepathic hallucinations, etc.,”– according to specific theoretical ideas. Osty thought these apparitions should be compared to cases of visions of the self.

He started with cases of autoscopy, an experience in which a person sees an apparition of themselves from the perspective of their physical body. Cases of this sort were described in previous publications in the French literature, among them Paul August Sollier’s  Les Phénomènes d’Autoscopie (Paris: Félix Alcan, 1903). Osty presented various cases and his discussions depended considerably on Sollier’s  influential book on the subject.

Paul Sollier 2

Paul August Sollier’s (1861-1933)

Sollier autoscopie

But Osty also presented cases in which the experiencer’s perceptions took place from a position in space out of the physical body, or out-of-body experiences, a term Osty did not use. These cases took place under anesthesia and heart trouble (two cases with the same individual), weakness produced by gripe, depression, and while reading (the last two cases taking place with the same person).

The case under anesthesia was reported to physiologist Charles Richet by M. L. L. Hymans in a letter dated 1928. As Hymans wrote describing the experience:

“While I was anesthesized, I had the sensation of waking up and feeling I was floating at the top of the room, from where I saw, with the greatest astonishment, the dentist caring for my body, and the anesthetist next to him. I saw my inanimate body as distinctly as any other object in the room. Everything gave me the impression of a living picture. It did not last but a few seconds. I lost consciousness again and I awoke on the chair with a very clear impression of what I had seen.”

Another case was reported to Osty by Mme. Nathalie Annenkof in 1930. She was in a cemetery sitting on the corner of her daughter’s tomb feeling sad and depressed. Next she started having feelings of lightness:

“My first impression was that my legs and arms did not weigh much, then the stomach and then the chest. Suddenly I found myself on top and aside of my body which I saw sitting on the edge of the grave. I saw my face tired. I even noticed that my coat was stained with dirt. And I had the feeling of hovering above my body in complete bliss. I had the sensation of a large and bright love of life, as if I lived thousands of lives at the same time, and a complete tranquility.”

“I could not move and did not feel the need to. But I could see, understand and feel an inner and happy life. My body looked like a rag, like an abandoned thing. I thought: “This is death.” And yet I had the joy of living.”

“I saw the cemetery caretaker approach my body, touch it, feel it, talk to me, and left running. He told me, later, that he had gone to ask for an ambulance, and that my hands and my face were beginning to get cold.”

“When I saw him leave, I realized that he believed me dead, and suddenly I was afraid. “It is death, I thought. How my husband will live without me?”

“But I felt so alive that I said to myself: “I must go back to my body.” I tried to come back and was afraid of not being able to.”

“I started feeling the weight, then the pain, the small discomforts which we are so accustomed to that we do not notice them anymore. Then came sadness and the desire to cry.”

Soon after she returned to her body. This lady also wrote that she had a similar experience two weeks later. This one took place while she was reading in bed.

Although Osty realized that in some cases the self was felt to be located in the physical body and at other times outside of it, he believed they were all of the same nature. Osty followed Sollier in the idea that loss of body sensitivity produced the feeling that the thinking self was exteriorized from the physical body. He wrote using Sollier’s ideas that visions of the self started with a bodily sensibility problem in which the person “does not feels very alive in his body as it is ordinarily.” This lack of sensibility, he wrote, could lead the person to perceive the body as a foreign thing, which in turn produced the feeling that the “thinking self is exteriorized in some degree.”

This illusion of exteriorization of the self was completed by means of the “objectification of the visual mental representation of the body; the phantasmal hallucination of the self can remain at the cenesthesic stage, but it can be tactile, auditive, visual . . .” This combined loss of sensibility with visual imagery.

In evaluating the ideas of Sollier in terms of the OBE cases he presented, Osty argued that the autoscopy cases had in common a “lessening of consciousness and as a consequence problems of sensibility.” This, he felt, was consistent with the observation that the OBE cases took place “during general anesthesia, or in syncopal or cataleptoid states, during numbness, while reading in bed, in a possible brief sleep.” Osty also argued for similarities between autoscopy and OBE cases in terms of features such as feelings of lighteness, well-being, and other things, but his comparisons were not systematic nor detailed.

Furthermore, Osty said he was aware of an important difference between the cases of Sollier and his own. In Sollier’s autoscopy reports “things take place as if the subjects saw with the ordinary use of their eyes the double of the bodies, which brought surprise or fear.” But in his cases “it was the doubles who saw the bodies.” The latter was a very event that led these persons to believe “themselves to be dead and among them two derived from these events  proof of the existence of a thinking principle capable of living without matter, and the firm conviction that their soul had lived for a time out of their bodies.”

Osty was not convinced about ideas about the soul, stating that both groups of cases were identical in nature, basically consisting of a “hallucination of the self  due to momentary problems of sensibility, of judgement and of imagination.” For him the joint work of sensibility problems and imagination explained the cases. The sensation of being out of the body was seen as an illusion, a confusion of the mind, and not as a real exteriorization.

In the paper Osty admitted that there were complications. In some cases of OBEs the experiencer did not see only their own physical body, but sometimes saw other individuals and the surroundings. This led to the modification of Sollier’s initial idea, which accounted only for the hallucination of the self. He suggested that the hallucination in question could have been informed by sensory perceptions of what was taking place around them. That is, the person could have seen or heard without conscious awareness things in the scene where the OBE took place that were incorporated in the hallucinatory experience as, for example, the presence of other individuals, such as the anesthetist in Hyman’s experience.

Osty also wondered, invoking the concept of telepathic hallucinations develop before him, if “paranormal knowledge” could also provide information that could be incorporated in the hallucinations of the self. He asked: “Is it not logical . . .  to think that the human psychism may at any favorable occasion manifest its properties of knowing without the use of the senses ordinarily used . . . ” He speculated that the same subconscious elaboration processes seen in dreams and in imagination could combine with paranormal information to inform the veridical content of OBEs. But in essence, these experiences were “creations of the imagination,” “marvelous illusions.”

As mentioned before, the idea that OBEs were hallucinations was discussed before Osty published his paper in 1930. But a more general context is that of psychological and physiological aspects of hallucinations, such as a discussion of “ecstatic affections” in which withdrawal from perceptions and active imagination were seen as the causal agents (Prichard, J. C. (1837) A Treatise on Insanity and other Disorders Affecting the Mind. Philadelphia: Haswell, Barrington, and Haswell, 1837).

Prichard Treatise Insanity

While my purpose in writing this note is limited to remind current students of OBEs about Osty’s views, it is interesting to see that in recent times others have discussed autoscopy and OBEs under the assumption that they are the same hallucinatory phenomenon with slightly different features, but proposing a different etiology from Osty’s (e.g., Blanke, O.,  and Mohr, C. (2005) Out-of-body experience, heautoscopy, and autoscopic hallucination of neurological origin. Implications for neurocognitive mechanisms of corporeal awareness and self consciousness. Brain Research Reviews 50, 184-199).

These comments first appeared as: Eugène Osty on Out-of-Body Experiences [Letter to the editor]. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 2016,  80, 121-124. Its writing was funded by the Society for Psychical Research.

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

Dr. Alan Gauld, a retired Reader in Psychology (University of Nottingham), is well known in parapsychology for his discussions of various topics, among them survival of death, poltergeists, and the history of psychical research. Regarding the latter, he is the author of The Founders of Psychical Research (1968), a book that influenced me, and that to this day remains what I believe is the best discussion of the early work of the workers at the London-based Society for Psychical Research, such as Frederic W.H. Myers and Edmund Gurney.

Alan Gauld 4

Dr. Alan Gauld

 Gauld Founders 2

 Gauld Cornell Poltergeists

 Gauld Mediumship and Survival

 Although I had corresponded with Alan before, I believe I first met him in a conference hosted by the Society for Psychical Research in Bournemouth in 1994. It was great meeting someone whose work I had admired and followed closely for years. In the last decade, as I started to write about historical aspects of dissociation, and hypnosis in general, I have had occasion to cite Alan’s A History of Hypnotism (1992) repeatedly, a work that, like his other books, has become a standard.

Gauld History Hypnotism

Alan is a past president of the Society for Psychical Research. He was granted the Outstanding Career Award by the Parapsychological Association, and the Myers Memorial Medal by the Society for Psychical Research.

Interview

 How did you get interested in parapsychology?

So far as I can remember my interest in things psychic began when I was about six. It originated not from any precocious interest in science, philosophy or religion, but probably from watching an early Walt Disney cartoon in which Mickey Mouse and his friends, as ghost hunters, were given a somewhat trying time by a group of ‘lonesome ghosts’ in search of amusement. Intrigued, perhaps, by these mischievous spooks (as I recall, their antics also figured now and again in Mickey Mouse Weekly) I not long after ventured with various friends of about my own age on an excursion to a reputedly haunted building nearby. It was a largish place, still under construction, and my part in the enterprise finished when I climbed several feet up some scaffolding, fell off and cut my head.

The undignified end to my first psychic investigation did not, however, quash my interest in the subject, although during the ensuing war years that interest was somewhat distracted by the London ‘blitz.’ After the war it emerged again in somewhat more serious form, encouraged by the fact that my mother had a longstanding interest in such matters (and had something of a reputation herself for possessing ‘psychic’ gifts). The consequence was that during the post-war years I acquired and read various old and new books on the subject, proposed (successfully) before the school debating society ”that this house believes in ghosts,” and retained my interest during my military service. In my first week at Cambridge, in 1952, I sought out the secretary of the Cambridge University SPR and signed up.

Membership made a huge difference to the extent and nature of my involvement in the subject. The CUSPR (founded in 1906, but now alas extinct) arranged regular lectures by well-known psychical researchers, many of whom I got to know (several lived in Cambridge), and organized experiments and investigations. My interest was heightened when, on one of these investigations in my first year, I experienced some rather odd happenings in a wonderfully atmospheric old house near Sudbury, and wrote the case up in the student newspaper, Varsity. During the next few years I encountered various other curious phenomena, joined the main SPR, and became convinced that there were matters here not readily susceptible of any ordinary explanation. By the time I left Cambridge for Nottingham in 1962 I had become a member of the SPR’s Council.

What are your main interests in the field and how have you contributed to its development?

I have dabbled at one time or another in most aspects of parapsychology, but my principal interests have been in spontaneous cases, and in the problems of physical and mental mediumship. My publications have often had an historical slant, though I have tried to bring out their relevance to current issues. But as to my contributions (if any) to the development of the field, I can hardly assess them. Perhaps, despite their flaws, I have been to an extent a ground-breaker. I was (so far as I know) the first to go through, sort, and make use of the correspondence, diaries and papers of F.W.H. Myers (then in the hands of his granddaughters), the first to produce what was in effect a short monograph on ’drop in’ communicators, and the first to apply cluster analysis to a large collection of cases of hauntings and poltergeists. I have also been something of a delver into obscure historical cases and old authors, little-known but worthy of resurrection. I have much enjoyed all these activities, but how far they may have amounted to a contribution of any significance to the development of the subject I would not presume to say.

Why do you think parapsychology is important?

I have to confess that I have never worried much about the general importance of parapsychology. Mostly I have just asked myself is this that or the other ‘parapsychological’ phenomenon interesting, and does it interest me? For as long as I can remember I have been (perhaps unduly) fascinated by all sorts – too many sorts! – of mysteries, not utterly insoluble metaphysical mysteries, but mysteries, be they historical, criminal, cryptozoological, astronomical, cosmological, palaeontological, archaeological or whatever, on which it seems at least possible that further factual evidence or factual considerations may throw new light. That is just my turn of mind. And of course among these assorted enigmas parapsychological ones have had a prominent place.

I certainly believe, as I said before, that among the phenomena loosely lumped together as ‘parapsychological’ are some for which there is evidence not easily wished away by any facile ordinary explanation – this is what makes them so intriguing and makes them potentially important. But before one can properly assess their actual importance one needs to know far more about their nature, causes and origins than has so far been unearthed. For instance it is often claimed or supposed that if ‘psychic’ phenomena really occur they would be outside the scope of physical explanation and that a purely ‘materialist’ view of the world would accordingly be put out of court. That would be important. Yet the concept of the physical is itself very difficult to define or delimit and has changed a lot over the centuries as physics has advanced. And today’s physics seems pregnant with further impending change – we can feel the infant kicking, but we can’t yet properly determine its size and coming strength. Under these circumstances can we really assert with any great confidence that physical science or a science descended from today’s physical science could never adequately accommodate parapsychology? It is interesting to speculate on these matters, but premature to pronounce on their ultimate importance.

In your view what are the main problems in parapsychology today as a scientific field?

Among such problems an important one is the powerful influence of what has been called ‘scientism’ in and around the upper echelons of science. Scientism consists in a resolute belief that the orthodox concepts and methods of science, particularly physical science, are, or will turn out to be, adequate to handle all the problems of natural knowledge and the philosophy of science. It is not infrequently to be found allied with a strongly anti-religious secularism. Supporters of scientism, who are usually not reticent in expressing their opinions, tend to take a pretty hostile attitude towards parapsychology, though commonly without any detailed knowledge of the subject. Perhaps they suspect it of providing hope and comfort for deluded religious believers. Perhaps indeed they fear (mistakenly in my view) that if parapsychological phenomena turned out to be genuine, their own cherished materialistic worldview would necessarily be scuppered.

For whatever reasons, supporters of scientism, or persons with inclinations that way, seem rather often to attain positions from which they can make life difficult for would- be parapsychologists. They are to be found on committees that award research grants and offer places to research students, on appointments boards, on the editorial boards of academic publishers, and among the referees consulted by leading academic publishers. And if by any chance a reputable academic journal actually publishes an article detailing apparently positive results in a parapsychological experiment it is not unknown for hostile forces to gang up on the author(s) in a manner suggestive to some (though I am sure unjustly) of organised vigilantism. Persons thinking of applying for an academic post in a psychology or even a philosophy department might do well to keep quiet about any interest they may have in parapsychology – heads of departments, whatever their personal views, might well fear that if their departments became known for supporting or sustaining parapsychology they might lose favour with vital grant-giving bodies.

It was not always this bad. My experience of university psychology departments goes back to the 1950s, and although I never hid my parapsychological interests, and indeed offered final year special options, and supervised final year practical projects in parapsychology and in hypnosis, I cannot recall ever having encountered any serious hostility (discounting of course occasional jokes at my expense). And I remember feeling, probably around the 1970s – say 1977, when Benjamin Wolman’s massive Handbook of Parapsychology was published (by a well-respected academic publisher) – that parapsychology might before too long ‘make it’ as an academic subject. Around that time there were quite a few well-known parapsychologists in university departments and equivalent institutions. Money seemed to be available for research students undertaking PhDs in parapsychology (I was once spontaneously approached by a representative of a leading British grant-giving body, who told me that they would be happy to consider applications from such students). Interesting work was under way – Ian Stevenson and Charles Honorton were well into their ground-breaking research programmes.

But now? Well, things are not that good, though they are not altogether bad. There are still able young people interested in parapsychology, some at universities. But clearly what is currently most needed is money to reinvigorate and sustain the subject. In its early days it was largely supported by wealthy and well-educated private persons who were themselves much involved in the ongoing work. More recently a small number of very rich individuals have helped with substantial funding, mostly to particular investigators. But now we must ask – for in these hard days precious few government grants are likely to be given to projects that bring no electoral benefits – where are today’s friendly billionaires? My experience of billionaires is small, but I can’t imagine that many of them nowadays are likely to bankroll enterprises that are, if not exactly other-worldly, certainly not worldly. It therefore rests with us to find funds, seek support for relevant societies, rouse interest where we can, and keep the subject in active being, until better times dawn or we can bring them to pass.

Can you mention some of your current projects?

At the moment I am trying to pick up the threads of a project I was working on a few years ago but had to suspend in favour of other things. It involves looking into some early investigations of mental mediumship.

Selected Bibliography

Books

The Founders of Psychical Research. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1968.

(With A.D. Cornell) Poltergeists. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1979.

Mediumship and Survival. London: Heinemann, 1982.

A History of Hypnotism.  Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Articles and Chapters

A Cambridge apparition.   Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 1955, 38, 89-31.

(With A.D. Cornell) A Fenland poltergeist.   Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 1960, 40, 343-35.

The ‘super-ESP’ hypothesis.   Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, 1961, 53,220-246.   (Albert E. Hunt Memorial Lecture.)

(With A.D. Cornell) The geophysical theory of poltergeists.   Journal of the Society for   Psychical Research, 1961, 41, 129-147.

Frederic Myers and ‘Phyllis’. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 1964, 42, 316-323.

Mr. Hall and the SPR. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 1965, 43, 53-62.

Could a machine perceive? British Journal of the Philosophy of Science, 1966, 17,  44-58.

(With G.M. Stephenson) Some experiments relating to Bartlett’s theory of remembering. British Journal of Psychology, 1967, 58, 39-49.

The Emmanuel House Ghost. Emmanuel College Magazine, 1967, 49, 11-15.

(With A.D. Cornell) A ‘ghost’ on TV. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 1969, 45, 14-17.

(With J.D. Shotter) The defense of empirical psychology. American Psychologist, 1971, 26, 460-466.

Professor C.D. Broad, 1887-1971 – a biographical sketch. Journal of the Society for   Psychical Research, 1971, 46, 103-107.

A series of ‘drop in’ communicators. Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, 1971, 54, 273-340.

The haunting of Abbey House, Cambridge. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research,1972, 46, 109-121.

The domain of psychology. Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 1972, 25, 93-100.

(With C, Lamb and A.D. Cornell) An East Midlands poltergeist. Journal of the Society for   Psychical Research, 1973, 47, 1-20, 139-155.

ESP and attempts to explain it. In S.C. Thakur (ed.) Philosophy and Psychical Research. London:  Allen and Unwin, 1976, pp. 17-45.

Discarnate survival. In B.B. Wolman (ed.)  Handbook of Parapsychology. New York:  Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1977,   pp. 577-630.

Psychical Research in Cambridge from the seventeenth century to the present. Journal of the  Society for Psychical Research, 1978, 49, 925-937.

Parapsychology,   In W.E.C. Gillham (ed.), Psychology for Today. Revised edn., London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1981, pp. 210-226.

Andrew Lang as psychical researcher. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 1983, 52, 161-176.

Ghosts in the Machine. In S, Nash (ed.) Science and Complexity. London: Science Reviews Ltd., 1985, pp. 65-73.

Recollections of E.J. Dingwall. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 1987, 54, 230-237.

Reflections on Mesmeric Analgesia. British Journal of Experimental and Clinical Hypnosis, 1988, 5, 17-24.

History of Hypnotism. In L.M. Heap (ed.) Hypnotism:  Current Clinical, Experimental and   Forensic Perspectives. London: Croom Helm, 1988, pp. 12-24.

Cognitive psychology, entrapment, and the philosophy of mind. In J.R. Smythies and  J. Beloff (eds.)  The Case for Dualism. Charlottesville, VA:  The University Press of Virginia, 1989, pp. 187-253.

Mesmeric analgesia and surgery: A reply to Spanos and Chaves. British Journal of   Experimental and Clinical Hypnosis, 1990, 7, 171-174.

The early history of hypnotic skin marking and blistering. British Journal of Experimental   and Clinical Hypnosis, 1990, 7, 139-152.

Hypnosis, somnambulism and double consciousness. British Journal of Experimental and Clinical Hypnosis, 1992, 9, 69-76.

Reply to Spanos and Jones.  Contemporary Hypnosis, 1992, 9, 81-83.

The function of a society for psychical research at the present time. Proceedings of the   Society for Psychical Research, 1993, 57, 253-273. (Presidential Address to the Society for Psychical Research.)

(With H.P. Wilkinson) Geomagnetism and anomalous experiences, 1868-1980. Proceedings  of the Society for Psychical Research, 1993, 57, 275-310.

A series of ‘drop in’ communicators. Supplementary information. Proceedings of the   Society for Psychical Research, 1993, 57, 311-316.

Experiences in physical circles. Psi Researcher 1994, 14, 3-7.

Notes on the career of the somnambule Léonie. Journal of the Society for Psychical   Research, 1996, 61, 141-151.

Joseph Delboeuf (1831-1896): A forerunner of modern ideas on hypnosis. Contemporary   Hypnosis, 1997, 14, 216-225.

Discussion commentary: Clearing the decks again? Contemporary Hypnosis, 1999, 16, 146-149.

A case of ostensible mesmeric clairvoyance from the 1840s and a sequel. International     Journal of Parapsychology, 2001, 11, 153-161.

(With Peter A. McCue)  Edgehill and Souter Fell:  A critical examination of two English ‘phantom army’ cases.  Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 2005, 69, 78-94.

Memory. In E.F. Kelly, E.W. Kelly, A. Crabtree, A. Gauld, M. Grosso and B. Greyson, Irreducible Mind. Lanham, MD:  Rowman & Littlefield, 2007, pp. 241-300.

Henry Sidgwick, theism and psychical research. In P. Bucolo, R. Crisp and B. Schultz (eds.), Henry Sidgwick, Happiness and Religion, Department of Human Sciences, University of Catania, 2007, pp.160-259.

Reflections on the life and work of Ian Stevenson. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 2008, 22, 18-35.

(Obituary of) Tony Cornell. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 2010, 74, 207-213.

Two cases from the lost years of Mrs. Piper.  Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 2014, 78, 65-84.

All Our Past is Not in English

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

The world is a vast place, composed of many cultures and languages. Yet some of us still limit our views to English-language sources of information, a topic I discussed some years back in terms of parapsychology (The Language Barrier in Parapsychology. Journal of Parapsychology, 1989, 53, 125‑139; abstract). In that article I outlined some implications for ignoring material published in other languages.

Here I would like to make an obvious point about the history of the field, a topic with a considerable bibliography (click here, here, here, and here).  If we focus only on English-language publications we will have an incomplete view of the historical development of parapsychology. Unfortunately this is precisely what we find in many accounts of the development of the field published in English, particularly those written by parapsychologists. Most of these accounts are based on English-language sources.

Further examples are the history sections of almost all general books about parapsychology published in English in the last decade. I recently read an article that should be published soon about the development of experimental parapsychology that, with a single exception, was based solely on work published by English-language workers. But what about developments coming from places such as France, Italy and Germany? For example, there should be mention of work by such individuals as René Warcollier. If an author is going to limit his or her work in this way they should at least state so, that is, they should present their work as an overview of English-language publications, and not as a more general work.

Rene Warcollier

René Warcollier

The same problem is present in reviews of the work conducted with mediums such as Eusapia Palladino. Very few writers covering this medium in English-language publications mention, and even less, discuss, the work published by Jules Courtier and Enrico Morselli (click here and here), in French and Italian, respectively. Those who write about this topic have the right to select their materials, but it is unfortunate that no qualifications are presented.

Enrico Morselli 4

Enrico Morselli

These works tend to emphasize developments in the English-language world—such as the work of the Society for Psychical Research and of J.B. Rhine and associates—to the neglect of developments in other countries. No one would deny the importance of this work. What I decry here is that reliance on these sources produces an incomplete view of the development of the discipline. But what is worse is that some seem to have accepted these incomplete views as the whole canon, and feel no need even to qualify the obvious incompleteness of their writings.

PSPR Vol. 1

An example of such distortion is that it is sometimes assumed that what was very important in a country was equally important all around. It may be questioned, to give two examples, that the important work of Frederic W.H. Myers and of J.B. Rhine had the same impact in places other than the UK and the US.

Myers Human Personality 2

 

Although there are a few translations available of the work of important figures of the past, they represent but a small percentage of their production. This is the case of the work of individuals such as Ernesto Bozzano, Théodore Flournoy, Charles Richet, and Albert von Schrenck-Notzing. A recent review of the work of Flournoy shows that a general perspective of his work can only be obtained consulting his writings in French.

Theodore Flournoy 3

Théodore Flournoy

It is interesting to see that students of physical mediumship writing in English tend to ignore  Albert von Schrenck-Notzing’s German writings, such as Physikalische Phaenomene des Mediumismus (Munich: Ernst Reinhardt, 1920; see also the French translation).

Schrenck-Notzing

Albert von Schrenck-Notzing

Fortunately in recent years there has been an increase in the number of publications in English about developments in France, Germany, and other countries. Most of these works have been produced by historians, not by workers in parapsychology, and includes studies such as LaChapelle’s Investigating the Supernatural: From Spiritism and Occultism to Psychical Research and Metapsychics in France, 18531931 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011) and Wolffram’s The Stepchildren of Science: Psychical Research and Parapsychology in Germany, c. 1870-1939 (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2009). But the fact remains that many parapsychologists and other students of psychic phenomena are willfully ignorant of the past of their discipline in places other than the United Kingdom and the Unites States.

Lachapelle Investigating the Supernatural

Wolffram Stepchildren of Science

The solution, of course is not simple. In addition to the study of other languages, we could encourage the translation of works. I did this for the theoretical section of a paper by French researcher Albert de Rochas. But there are other things that will help.

One of them is the consultation of multi-lingual bibliographies. Two examples are those compiled by George Zorab (Bibliography of Parapsychology. New York: Parapsychology Foundation, 1957) and Adam Crabtree (Animal Magnetism, Early Hypnotism, and Psychical Research, 1766-1925: An Annotated Bibliography. White Plains, NY: Kraus International, 1988). Unfortunately, there are not many of these works available today.

Zorab Bibliography

Crabtree Animal Magnetism

We could also encourage publications of relevant material. In my capacity of Associate Editor in the Journal of Scientific Exploration I have invited the publication of various articles (which are refereed) covering the work of specific researchers from European countries (such as L. Gasperini,  Ernesto Bozzano: An Italian spiritualist and psychical researcherJournal of Scientific Exploration, 2012, 25, 755–773), and reviews of important relevant books from the old days of psychical research.

Over the years I have been trying to do more than complain. I have written several articles about specific topics, mainly summarizing various European publications. This includes aspects of the work of Italian Ernesto Bozzano and the content of the French journal Annales des Sciences Psychiques. Other work I have published includes:

Annales des Sciences Psychiques 1916 (2015). (with N.L. Zingrone). Note on the reception of Théodore Flournoy’s Des Indes à le Planète Mars. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 79, 156-164.

(2013). (with R. Evrard). Nineteenth century psychical research in mainstream journals: The Revue Philosophique de la France et de l’Étranger. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 27, 655-689.

Revue Philosophique 1876b

(2009). Modern animal magnetism: The work of Alexandre Baréty, Émile Boirac, and Julian Ochorowicz. Australian Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 37, 1-15.

Barety Magnetisme Animal

(2009). Late nineteenth and early twentieth century discussions of animal magnetism. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 57, 366-381.

(2008). Note on Charles Richet’s “La Suggestion Mentale et le Calcul des Probabilités” (1884). Journal of Scientific Exploration, 22, 543-548.

To improve the situation it is essential that English speakers realize they not only need more knowledge about the history of their field in other countries, but that they also have a responsibility to disseminate a more complete and representative historical view of parapsychology in their writings. One thing that they could do is to consult colleagues known to have such knowledge. In the past I have been helped with German materials by persons such as Eberhard Bauer, Gerd H. Hövelmann, and Andreas Sommer. Massimo Biondi has been invaluable with his knowledge of Italian developments. I am glad to acknowledge their assistance publicly.

Eberhard Bauer

Eberhard Bauer

Massimo Biondi 3

Dr. Massimo Biondi

Another way to improve the situation is to collaborate with such individuals, as I have done on occasion. Examples of this are: Alvarado, C.S., Biondi, M.,  & Kramer, W. Historical notes on psychic phenomena in specialised journals (European Journal of Parapsychology, 2006, 21, 58-87); and Alvarado, C.S., Nahm, M., & Sommer, A.  Notes on early interpretations of mediumship. (Journal of Scientific Exploration, 2012, 26, 855-865).

But for the situation to improve we need to be aware there is a problem, and that we can do something about it. This needs to include an expanded vision of history as more than an Anglo-American perspective. Once this is realized, it will be possible to expand our views, including the idea of different cultures and ways of thinking, something related to the topic discussed here.

Map

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

PF logo 2

The Parapsychology Foundation, directed by Lisette Coly, has set up a YouTube Channel that has several videos of lectures and other events they have sponsored.

Lisette Coly

Lisette Coly with bust of Eileen Garrett

Some of the videos are:

About the PF

PF Library Visit

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PF Library

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PF Library

PF Perspective Lectures

Global Consciousness?, by Roger Nelson

Roger Nelson

Dr. Roger Nelson

 Dueling Psychics: Edgar Cayce & Eileen J. Garrett, by Sidney Kirkpatrick

 Emotions and ESP, by Richard Broughton

Taking Spirit Seriously, by Charles T. Tart

Charley Tart

Dr. Charles T. Tart

Classic Lyceum Lectures (lectures on various topics)

What is Parapsychology, by Carlos S. Alvarado

So You Want to be a Parapsychologist?, by Carlos S. Alvarado, Dr. Michaeleen Maher, Dr. Robert L. Morris, Dr. Rex G. Stanford and Dr. Nancy L. Zingrone

Part 1        Part 2

Rex Stanford

Dr. Rex Stanford

Nancy Zingrone 3

Dr. Nancy L. Zingrone

How To Sit with a Medium, by Tony Cornell

 Parapsychology International Affiliates Conference

Moderator: Nancy L. Zingrone, PhD

Opening Session, Lisette Coly and Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD

Parapsychology in Brazil: The History from the 1970s Till Today, by Fátima Machado and Wellington Zangari

Fatima 2015

Dr. Fatima R. Machado

Wellington Zangari 3

Dr. Wellington Zangari

Parapsychology Research and Education in the UK by Chris Roe, PhD

Parapsychological Research in Japan since the 1970s by Hideyuki Kokubo

 Research in Parapsychology in Argentina (1980-2015) by Alejandro Parra, PhD

alejandro_parra

Dr. Alejandro Parra

 Parapsychology Foundation Book Expo 2015

Parapsychology Foundation Book Expo 2015 Logo

 Opening, Lisette Coly

 Parapsychology: A Handbook for the 21st Century, by Etzel Cardeña, PhD

 Cardena et al Parapsychology

 The Witch of Lime Street, by David Jaher

 Jaher Witch of Lime Street

Beyond Physicalism, by Edward F. Kelly, PhD

Kelly Beyond Physicalism

 Aldous Huxley’s Hands, by Allene Symons

Symons Aldous Huxley's Hands

Return to Life, by Jim Tucker, M.D.

 Tucker Return to Life

 Extrasensory Perception, by Edward C. May, PhD

May Extrasensory

 Final Session, by Lisette Coly

ParaMOOC 2016

(several other videos of this course will be posted soon)

 Opening Session

Recent Work About the History of Parapsychology: An Overview, by Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD

 Anastasia Damalas, Goncalo Veiga, and Nancy L. Zingrone, all PF staff, are currently preparing other videos to be uploaded to YouTube. So subscribe to the channel or check it regularly to see additions.

Anastasia Damalas

Anastasia Damalas, PF staff and daughter of Lisette Coly.

For information about the PF past history check their website and this article.

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

It has always been a pleasure to see Dr. Elizabeth Roxburgh at conventions, and to see her papers about mediums and clinical issues related to psychic experiences. I particularly enjoyed one of her early papers, co-authored with Chris Roe, ““A Survey of Dissociation, Boundary-Thinness and Psychological Wellbeing in Spiritualist Mental Mediumship” (Journal of Parapsychology, 2011, 7, 279-299). This is an important contribution to the new era of psychological studies of mediumship, a study that was part of her PhD thesis at the University of Northampton.

Elizabeth Roxburgh 4

Dr. Elizabeth Roxburgh

Elizabeth is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Northampton, where she conducts research, teaches, supervises doctoral students, and is course leader for the BSc (Hons) Psychology and Counselling degree. My last personal contact with her was when she came to the US to participate in a forum organized by the Parapsychology Foundation in 2015,  “Recent Advances in UK Parapsychology.” In addition to Elizabeth, this included the participation of Professor Chris Roe, Callum Cooper, Rachel Evenden, and David Saunders.

Interview

How did you get interested in parapsychology?

It all began when I was about 10. I awoke one night and I saw a sparkle of white light and felt my hair being tugged. My family and I were staying with some friends at the time and my mum said it might have been the two daughters messing around with some matches. However, I wasn’t convinced (the light looked nothing like the spark of a match as it was much brighter and quite large), and when I got home, I kept on talking about it to my mum and she eventually said that the family in the house thought that there was a spirit there as they had felt its presence literally and unusual things had happened in the house (particularly in the room I was staying in…thanks for that!).

Whilst growing up I put this experience to one side and haven’t had any similar experiences since. I then did my undergraduate degree in psychology in 1997 at Staffordshire University and worked for the NHS for a number of years as an assistant clinical psychologist in various different mental health contexts. It was here that I came across the medical model and the belief that experiences, such as seeing visions, hearing voices, and sensing the presence of the deceased were considered symptoms of a ‘mental disorder’ and labelled as ‘hallucinations’. I quickly became very critical of this view for a number of reasons and decided that I wanted to investigate unusual experiences from a less reductionist perspective. I had always been fascinated by ‘parapsychology’ and think the first book I read on the subject was in fact called ‘In search of the light: The adventures of a parapsychologist’ by Susan Blackmore, who at the time was interested in NDEs. She talked about devoting her life to the field of parapsychology and the adventures she got up to at the Rhine Research Center (an institute for parapsychological research in North Carolina). So, in 2003, off I went to the Rhine Research Center after receiving a scholarship from the Parapsychological Association to attend the Rhine summer study program. It was there that I had an introduction to all the different research that had been conducted in the area of parapsychology (and where I first met Christine Simmonds-Moore and Nicola Holt; Nicola was also on the program at the time and is incidentally my birthday twin!).

In 2005 I left the NHS and clinical psychology (I was training to become a clinical psychologist) and a few months later saw a bursary advertised to do a PhD on the psychology and phenomenology of mediumship at the University of Northampton (where Nicola Holt was working at the time) under the supervision of Professor Chris Roe and Professor Deborah Delanoy. I was successful in receiving this bursary (I always felt this was ‘meant to be’!) and began my doctoral research in early 2006 at the Centre for the Study of Anomalous Psychological Processes in the Psychology Division at the University of Northampton, and was awarded my PhD in 2010.

I was fortunate to secure an academic position at the University of Northampton on completion of my PhD and I am now a Senior Lecturer in Psychology where I specialise in teaching and supervising research on the phenomenology of anomalous experiences, mental health, counselling, and qualitative research methods. I am a BACP Registered counsellor, teach on the MSc in Counselling (a practitioner training program) and was recently appointed as course leader for the BSc Psychology and Counselling degree. I am also a current Board member of the Parapsychological Association and member of their Anomalous Experiences Committee.

What are your main interests in the field and how have you contributed to its development?

My research interests are broad but stem from a passion to develop a scientific understanding of anomalous, spiritual and transpersonal experiences through careful application of a range of interdisciplinary methodologies. I am particularly fascinated by the growing field of ‘clinical parapsychology’ (exploring mental health and anomalous experiences) and its applied focus given that many individuals have had anomalous experiences (AEs) or believe in such phenomena. Some also report having existential questions after their experience or experience psychological distress and do not know where to seek support or are concerned that they will be labelled ‘mad’. I believe that there is a need to research the actual impact or interpretation of these experiences and I am interested in how individuals make sense of their experiences. Therefore, the research approaches that I have used thus far have been mainly qualitative and have taken experiences at face value without trying to prove that ‘paranormal phenomena’ exist. Rather my aims have been to increase our understanding of these experiences as psychological, social, and cultural events. This was demonstrated at the Qualitative Research in Mental Conference, Chania, Crete, in 2014 (and again in 2016) where I chaired a Symposium of four qualitative research papers on ‘Making Sense of Anomalous Experiences’.

Mediums are of interest to ‘clinical parapsychologists’ as their experiences could be interpreted as symptoms of a ‘mental disorder’ by Western psychiatry, so for my doctoral research I was particularly interested in what we can learn from this group of individuals that might be useful for people who become distressed by hearing voices or seeing visions. I was also interested in how some individuals who hear voices come to label these experiences as instances of mediumistic communication. In addition, mediums seem to experience a hidden or alternate reality that exists beyond ordinary sense experience which has implications for the study of consciousness; for example, they claim to have access to information not ordinarily available to them, they experience physical sensations that were associated with the deceased personality (such as bodily aches and pains, sensed changes in height, weight or posture), and they report spirit guides suggesting a personality process that expands or extends the limits of everyday consciousness as conventionally understood.

I began the research with participant observation of a mediumship training course at the Arthur Findlay College, Stanstead Hall, home of the Spiritualist National Union, which really helped increase my knowledge of the culture surrounding mediumship and the language used. I was also able to gain first-hand insights into the experiential components of mediumship which helped when thinking of questions to ask in my interview study. As the late Rhea White said:  ‘In doing research on a particular aspect of human life you should begin, not with a research protocol or hypothesis but with exploratory investigations of the research population itself. Only when you have steeped yourself in their empirical world can you possibly be in a position to devise hypotheses and a research design’ (White, 1997, p. 101).

A survey conducted as part of my research compared Spiritualist mediums with non-medium Spiritualists on a range of wellbeing and personality measures and found that mediums scored better on psychological wellbeing and lower on psychological distress. Consequently, there is no evidence to suggest that mediums experience negative mental health; in fact, they seem to have better psychological wellbeing than comparable others. Likewise, when compared with population norms from a sample of patients (experiencing hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, or depression) mediums scored more positively on both wellbeing and psychological distress. There were no significant differences between mediums and non-mediums on measures of dissociation, fantasy-proneness or boundary-thinness. In exploratory analyses mediums scored significantly higher than non-mediums on measures of Openness to Experience, Neuroticism, and Extraversion, but no significant differences were found for Agreeableness or Conscientiousness (Roxburgh & Roe, 2011).

In follow-up interviews using interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA), mediums emphasized the importance of childhood anomalous experiences and mediumistic experiences within the family context as explanations for how they became practising mediums. Some mediums also spoke about how important mediumship and Spiritualism was in helping them to construct a personal experiential framework for making sense of initially distressing experiences, which reflects the importance of connecting with a community that shares the same belief system. Particular importance seemed to be placed on controlling the communication process, setting boundaries, and not allowing mediumship to interfere with daily life (Roxburgh & Roe, 2014). Mediums contemplated that spirit guides may not be real entities but aspects of themselves and spoke about preparatory practices they use to communicate with spirits such as mental detachment, meditation, and making a demand for a positive outcome (Roxburgh & Roe, 2013).

Within a few months of completing my PhD, I was awarded a research bursary from the Bial Foundation, Portugal to investigate the prevalence and phenomenology of synchronicity experiences in the therapy setting. This research found that 44% of a random sample of 226 therapists had experienced synchronicity in the therapeutic setting (Roxburgh, Ridgway, & Roe, 2015) and that synchronicity experiences are perceived as useful harbingers of information about the therapeutic process, as well as being a means of overcoming communication difficulties (Roxburgh, Ridgway, & Roe, 2016).

In 2012, I was asked to participate in the third meeting of experts on clinical parapsychology (alongside Isabel Clarke, Renaud Evrard, Thomas Rabeyron, and Wim Kramer) that was hosted by the Institut Métapsychique International in Paris, April 2012. This meeting focused on clinical practices with people who have had anomalous experiences and was co-organized by The Institute for Frontier Areas of Psychology and Mental Health, Germany and a Dutch foundation, Het Johan Borgman Fonds. An outcome of this meeting was that I developed ideas for future research, and was successful in winning another research bursary from the Bial Foundation to investigate the counselling experiences of clients who report anomalous experiences (e.g., sensing the presence of the deceased after bereavement, spiritual crisis, near-death experiences) and the training needs of therapists who might work with such clients (counsellors and clinical psychologists).

In addition, I also became involved with the UK Spiritual Crisis Network (SCN), which is a charity organisation that accepts that some people understand mental health issues as a spiritual awakening or profound personal transformation, and was invited to talk about the latest research on anomalous experiences and mental health at their 2nd annual conference ‘Mending the Gap: Global collaboration towards a more humanistic understanding of mental health and anomalous experiences’. I also gave a presentation on clinical parapsychology in 2015 as part of the WizIQ web-based series ‘Parapsychology Foundation Forum: Recent Advances in UK Parapsychology’ and have been asked to give a keynote presentation on anomalous experiences and mental health at a conference entitled ‘Psychotherapies Across Time, Space, and Cultures’ at the University of Glasgow in April 2017.

I enjoy networking and sharing ideas about parapsychology and I am interested in international collaboration. In August 2011, I presented two papers at the 54th annual convention of the Parapsychological Association (PA) in Curitiba, Brazil. Following this conference, I won (in collaboration with Professor Chris Roe) a Santander grant which enabled us to visit colleagues (Wellington Zangari, Fatima Machado, Everton Maraldi) at the University of São Paulo in May 2014 to discuss mutual areas of research interest and just recently Everton visited the University of Northampton alongside colleagues from the Brain, Belief, and Behaviour research group from Coventry University. In 2015 I also attended the ‘First Transpersonal Research Colloquium: Gathering Our Research Community Together’ in Milan where I had the opportunity to engage in dialogue with researchers worldwide (delegates are participating from Austria, Canada, China, Greece, Germany, Israel, Macedonia, South Africa, Spain, UK and the USA!) on training related to research methods and procedures applicable to the study of parapsychology and transpersonal psychology.

I am currently disseminating my research in the area of clinical parapsychology to students on the BSc in Psychology and Counselling programme as well as the MSc in Counselling programme at the University of Northampton. I am also currently supervising two PhD students: Charmaine Sonnex is studying the ‘Effects of Pagan healing practices on health and wellbeing’ and Louise King is exploring ‘A transpersonal understanding of spiritual experiences in individuals with epilepsy’

Why do you think that parapsychology is important?

As parapsychology could be considered within the umbrella of the vast topic of psychology, all the reasons why it is important to study psychology could also apply to parapsychology!  Parapsychology can tell us a lot about human nature, our potential, how we interact with others, our experiences and beliefs, and the nature of reality and consciousness. As we are essentially biological, psychological, spiritual, social, and cultural beings it is also important that parapsychology reflects this in its interdisciplinary approach to research. We also have a responsibility to try to establish a scientific understanding for the phenomena that people experience and to help people make sense of their experiences. This is particularly important given that surveys have consistently shown that a high proportion of the general population believe in or experience AEs. For example, Dr. Simon Dein, in a paper entitled ‘Mental Health and the Paranormal’ published in the International Journal of Transpersonal Studies in 2012, cites surveys conducted across the world in which over half the general population have reported at least one AE. AEs can occur at anytime in an individual’s life but have often been reported after negative life events. Common reactions include fear, anxiety, distress but it is also important to acknowledge that some people do find them comforting and positive or have existential questions after the experience. Interestingly, research within the field of clinical psychology has found that it is not necessarily the AE itself that has an impact on whether or not the person experiences distress, but rather how they appraise such experiences, their perceived levels of social support, and whether or not there are opportunities to reduce stigma in a context that normalises and validates the experience (Brett, Heriot-Maitland, McGuire, & Peters, 2014; Heriot-Maitland et al., 2012; Roxburgh & Roe, 2014; Taylor & Murray, 2012). However, most health care professionals in mainstream services tend to ignore the spiritual or transcendent aspects of people’s AEs or worse interpret them within a pathological framework. Therefore, I think (clinical) parapsychology has a role to play in trying to understand what might help someone to process the experience and make sense of it.

In your view, what are the main problems in parapsychology today as a scientific field?

I think the main problems stem from ignorance, arrogance, prejudice, and a reductionist and materialist view by some members of the scientific community, alongside sensationalist and incorrect portrayal of parapsychology within the media. This has resulted in a lack of funding and resources to undertake parapsychological research as well as researchers and academics finding it difficult to undertake parapsychological research for fear of the potential repercussions. Schouten’s (1993) estimation, that the total amount of human and financial resources that has been dedicated to the study of parapsychology since 1882 is about the same as two months’ worth of research in mainstream psychology, is often cited to emphasise the challenges that have been faced in this respect!

Can you mention some of your current projects?

I recently completed a Bial Foundation funded project on counselling for anomalous experiences which involved three qualitative studies. The first study explored the counselling experiences of clients who report AEs in therapy and is due to be published this year in Counselling and Psychotherapy Research, the journal of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), which has over 40,000 members. The title of the paper ‘“Most people think you’re a fruit loop”: Clients’ experiences of seeking support for anomalous experiences’ (is a participant’s words not ours!) sums up how clients felt when they sought support for AEs. The second study explored the experiences of therapists who had worked with clients reporting AEs to better understand how AEs are addressed in therapy. This paper is entitled ‘“They daren’t tell people”: Therapists’ experiences of working with clients who report anomalous experiences’ and has been published in the European Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy (in a special edition entitled ‘What is paranormal: Some implications for the psychological therapies?). The third study investigated the needs of students undertaking training to become therapists and the paper ‘“It’s about having exposure to this”: Investigating the training needs of therapists in relation to the issue of anomalous experiences’ is currently under review.

The implications of this research are that 1) individuals who believe they have had AEs may not seek support for fear of being dismissed or pathologised, 2) findings emphasise the importance of reaching a ‘shared explanation’ which addresses differences in beliefs (spiritual and cultural) about the causes of AEs and mental health issues, 3) therapists should explore the meaning of AEs to help clients make sense of their experiences and to identify any precipitating factors involved, and 4) there is a need for training opportunities on the topic of AEs, greater awareness of where to refer or signpost individuals to, and access to accurate and balanced information about AEs.

In terms of my next project I am hoping to undertake further research on mediumship in collaboration with colleagues in Brazil. I am also planning to explore the concept of the ‘Highly Sensitive Person’ (high sensory processing sensitivity) with a couple of qualitative studies but also some experimental research. Watch this space!

 Publications

Journals

Roxburgh, E. C., & Evenden, R. E. (in press). “Most people think you’re a fruit loop”: Clients’ experiences of seeking support for anomalous experiences. Counselling and Psychotherapy Research.

Roxburgh, E. C., & Evenden, R. E. (2016). “They daren’t tell people”: Therapists experiences of working with clients who report anomalous experiences [Special Issue]. European Journal of Psychotherapy and Counselling, 18, 123-141.

Roxburgh, E. C., Ridgway, S., & Roe, C. (2016). Synchronicity in the therapeutic setting: A survey of practitioners. Counselling and Psychotherapy Research, 16, 44-53.

Roxburgh, E. C., Ridgway, S., & Roe, C. (2015). Exploring the meaning in meaningful coincidences: An interpretative phenomenological analysis of synchronicity in therapy [Special Issue]. European Journal of Psychotherapy and Counselling, 17, 144-161.

Roe, C. A., Sonnex, C. and Roxburgh, E. C. (2015). Noncontact healing: What does the research tell us? European Journal of Integral Medicine. 7(6), p. 687. 1876-3820.

Roe, C. A., Sonnex, C., & Roxburgh, E. C. (2015).  Two meta-analyses of noncontact healing studies. EXPLORE: The Journal of Science and Healing, 11, 11-23.

Grivell, T., Clegg, H., & Roxburgh, E, C. (2014). An interpretative phenomenological analysis of identity in the therian community. Identity: An International Journal of Theory and Research, 14, 2, 113-135.

Roxburgh, E. C., & Roe, C. A. (2014).  Reframing voices and visions using a spiritual model:  An interpretative phenomenological analysis of anomalous experiences in mediumship. Mental Health, Religion, & Culture, 17, 6, 641-653.

Roxburgh, E. C., & Roe, C. A. (2013). “Say from whence you owe this strange intelligence”: Investigating explanatory systems of spiritualist mental mediumship using interpretative phenomenological analysis. International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, 32(1), 27-42.

Roxburgh, E. C., & Roe, C. A. (2011). A survey of dissociation, boundary-thinness and psychological wellbeing in Spiritualist mental mediumship. Journal of Parapsychology, 7, 279-299.

Roxburgh, E. C., & Roe, C. A. (2009). Thematic analysis of mediums’ experiences [Letter to Editor]. Journal of Scientific Exploration. 23, 348-351.

Roxburgh, E. C. (2007). Book review [Familiar voices: Corroborative evidence of life after death by Tom Cross]. Paranormal Review, 42, 33-34.

Roxburgh, E. C. (2006). Mediumship, spirit awareness and developing your potential: A personal view of Course 20 at the Arthur Findlay College. Paranormal Review, 40, 18-23.

Roxburgh, E. C. (2006). Gwen Tate Lecture: Mediumship and how it works. Paranormal Review, 3, 24-26.

Roxburgh, E. C. (2006). The 49th SPR Study Day: 1905-2005: 100 years of progress? Paranormal Review, 38, 21-25.

Book Chapters

Roxburgh, E. C., & Roe, C. A. (2014). A mixed methods approach to mediumship research. In A. J. Rock (Ed.), The Survival Hypothesis: Essays on Mediumship (pp. 220-234). NC: McFarland.

Roe, C. A., & Roxburgh, E. C. (2014). Non-parapsychological explanations of mediumship. In A. J. Rock (Ed.), The Survival Hypothesis: Essays on Mediumship (pp. 65-78) NC: McFarland.

Roe, C. A., & Roxburgh, E. C. (2013). An overview of cold reading strategies. In C. M. Moreman (Ed.), The Spiritualist Movement: Speaking with the Dead in America and Around the World (pp.177-203). California: Praeger Publishers.

Roxburgh, E. C., & Roe, C. A. (2013). Exploring the meaning of mental mediumship from the mediums’ perspective. In C. M. Moreman (Ed.), The Spiritualist Movement: Speaking with the Dead in America and Around the World (pp. 53-67). California: Praeger Publishers.