Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Visiting Scholar, Rhine Research Center (http://rhine.org/)
I have always been fascinated by the individuals who have been involved in parapsychology, particularly in the old days. This includes such persons as Ernesto Bozzano, Hereward Carrington, James H. Hyslop, Frederic W.H. Myers, Charles Richet, Albert von Schrenck-Notzing, and several others. Much of the history of psychical research comes from their work, as well as their personalities and social dynamics, something that can be said as well of the individuals they studied, among them mediums.
Social history, as well as the studies of life histories from other fields, has reminded us that the lives of individuals have much to tell us about the development of any field. The autobiographies of those involved in a field are particularly valuable to reconstruct (or construct) the past provided one keeps in mind that the use of autobiographical materials has to be handled critically. It is important to use other materials to balance these deeply personal, and sometimes biased, views. But there is no question that these accounts can be very helpful for understanding the past not only for historians but also for anyone who has some interest in a particular topic or discipline. No one has contributed more to the compilation and publication of autobiographies in parapsychology than Dr. Rosemarie Pilkington, who I first met in 1983 at a Parapsychological Association Convention held at Farleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey.
Dr. Pilkington edited a collection of autobiographies entitled Men and Women of Parapsychology (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1987; reprinted as ESPRIT: Men and Women of Parapsychology, Personal Reflections, Volume 1 by Anomalist Books, 2010), and she revisits the topic in a second volume commented here, Men and Women of Parapsychology, Personal Reflections, Esprit, Volume 2 (San Antonio, TX: Anomalist Books, 2013 http://www.anomalistbooks.com/bookstore.cfm).
This second collection of autobiographical essays includes 21 chapters, of which one was an interview (LeShan) and another was part interview and part essay reconstructed from various sources (Roll). I am happy to say I have met all of the participants in this unique life-narrative document.
Here are the authors and the titles of the chapters:
Mary Rose Barrington: Beyond The Boggle Threshold: Confessions of a Macro-Addict
Eberhard Bauer: On the Magic Hill
William Braud: On Exceptions and the Attraction of the Unexplained Residua
Stephen Braude: My Career on the Margins
Richard S. Broughton: Don’t Hold Your Breath
Larry Dossey: Hooked on Healing: Adventures in Nonlocal Mind
Sally Rhine Feather: Continuing the Legacy
Erlendur Haraldsson: The Question of Appearance and Reality
Arthur Hastings: A Confluence of Streams
Stanley Krippner: My Parapsychological Odyssey
Lawrence LeShan: An Interview
Roger Nelson: Thirty Years and Counting
John Palmer: My Career in Parapsychology and Advice for Others
Guy Lyon Playfair: Adventures on the Night-Side
William G. Roll: A Lifetime of Searching
Serena Roney-Dougal: For the Love of Mind: Exploring Psyche
Stephan A. Schwartz: Explorations in the Infinite
Rex G. Stanford: Personal Reflections
Russell Targ: Why I Am Convinced of the Reality of Psychic Abilities, and Why You Should Be, Too
Charles T. Tart: The Parapsychological Side of My Career
Walter von Lucadou: The Paranormal is Normal But Quite Different
To have some common topics in these accounts Dr. Pilkington asked the participants in this project to include in their essays the following issues: 1) How they became interested and involved in parapsychology; 2) What they considered was their most important contribution to parapsychology; 3) What would they change about their lives or which of their beliefs were changed by their involvement in parapsychology; 4) Did they had any experience beyond belief? and 5) What advice would you they give to young individuals who want to work in the field?
In addition to her work as a compiler, Dr. Pilkington presents additional information. Each chapter is preceded by a short biography, and followed by lists of publications.
The book opens with a lucid preface by Dr. Nancy L. Zingrone, with whom I am also acquainted. As she says, the persons included in the book “take us into their lives, their work, and their hearts.” Dr. Zingrone continues:
“We are five-year-old Larry Dossey nonplussed by the work of a curandera who saves a calf from screwworms on his father’s farm. We are high energy graduate students Stanley Krippner and Arthur Hastings heading out on a road trip to investigate a poltergeist for J. B. Rhine. We are Water von Lucadou searching a little skeptically for his first book on parapsychology and finding Hans Driesch’s ‘Parapsychology – Science of the Occult.’ We are Serena Roney-Dougal in Dharmsala listening to the wisdom of the Dalai Lama, and Eberhard Bauer in Freiburg soaking up Hans Bender’s prodigious knowledge in weekly lectures to students and townsfolk. We are MIT undergraduate Charles Tart getting his first $100 grant from Eileen Garrett so he could conduct one of his first OBE experiments. We are Richard Broughton standing on the doorstep of the American Society for Psychical Research, taking a chance on a new path in life because of an article by Larry LeShan that Broughton had read in a journal while volunteering at an American school in Alexandria, Egypt. We are the beginning of all these personal journeys and then wandering over the research, the theory, the intellectual, scientific and academic accomplishments that followed these first moments.”
The book includes persons with different backgrounds. There are several psychologists (Braud, Feather, Palmer), as well as a physicist (Targ), a lawyer (Barrington), a philosopher (Braude), a physician (Dossey), and a journalist (Playfair). All, without exception, have made significant contributions from various points of view, among them research, editing, public relations, and teaching.
In addition the essays include contributions of people for whom English is their second language, a fact that is very important for our understanding of collective human experience beyond the Anglo-American context. Examples are Eberhard Bauer, Erlendur Haraldsson, and Walter von Lucadou.
To get an idea of the advice some of these individuals give to newcomers to parapsychology I randomly selected five essays (you should know that I selected the essays using a random number generator I found in the web). These are their words of wisdom:
Mary Rose Barrington: “… start reading a lot about the history of the paranormal . . . And don’t dismiss amazing feats of the paranormal because nothing like that has come your way.”
Larry Dossey: “Attend to your inner life. Without a deep psychospiritual foundation, everything you do professionally in this field will be mostly an intellectual exercise that may not sustain you.”
Arthur Hastings: “Don’t clash swords with skeptics (leave their religion alone). And don’t go it alone (connect with colleagues).”
Stanley Krippner: “. . . one of my suggestions for neophytes in the field is to obtain a solid grounding in a discipline in which they can earn a living, and use that as a springboard for their entry into psi research.”
John Palmer: “. . . you should plan to get an advanced degree, at least a Masters and preferably a Doctorate degree . . . Choose as your major the field that you find most interesting and congenial based on your experience in the introductory course.”
In addition to these statements the essays contain much that can provide guidance. The life-course of the individuals featured here may give all sort of suggestions and guidance as to how to get into parapsychology, if that is your interest.
For those of us in parapsychology inevitably the reading of these essays brings home a consideration and reflection about our own careers, and the passage of time. Regarding the latter I remember how a few of us (Emily Kelly, Michael Thalbourne, Carolee Werner, Nancy Zingrone,) used to refer ourselves as the young generation in parapsychology, particularly during a meeting of the Society for Scientific Exploration held in Charlottesville, Virgina in 1983. Several generations have come since then, unfortunately formed of very small groups of people with the commitment (and possibility) to stay in parapsychology.
Furthermore, I cannot help but remember the first time I met some of the persons writing in this volume. I met John Palmer—teacher, mentor, and friend—in 1978 at Orinda, California, when I arrived there to be a student in John F. Kennedy University’s masters parapsychology program. It was a source of great satisfaction to me when I read that he included me in his list of students he helped to educate in parapsychology.
I can also remember when I first saw some of the persons featured in this volume at Parapsychological Association conventions. For me, a few of them were somewhat legendary figures, because I had been reading their published work with no opportunity for personnal contact nor further information (remember this was before the internet). An example was Dr. Stanley Krippner. But so were Drs. William G. Roll and Charles T. Tart, all featured in this volume. I am glad that I was at the last convention of the Parapsychological Association in 2012 where we had a session honoring Dr. Krippner and that I organized and chaired several presentations in honor of Dr. William G. Roll’s memory at that same convention.
Dr. Pilkington has contributed much to the field by bringing these autobiographical materials together. Similar to the first volume, she continues here to remind us of the personal face of parapsychology. The field, like any other human activity, is not only research, methodology, theory, and publications, but a dynamic gestalt of wishes, aspirations, human courage and perseverance, not to mention difficulties and disappointments. Pilkington’s presentation, and her authors’, help the reader to unveil the different levels on and themes to which all these people contributed to parapsychology.
I am hoping Dr. Pilkington will continue editing these important volumes and that we will see soon the third volume. Among the persons who could be included in the next volume — some of whom may have declined to participate in the current one — are: Daryl Bem (USA), Dick Bierman (Holland), Jim Carpenter (USA), Brunilde Cassoli (Italy), Yvonne Dupplessis (France), Bruce Greyson (USA), Alan Gauld (UK), Hans Gerding (Holland), Dora Ivnisky (Argentina), Nils Jacobson (Sweden), S. David Kahn (USA), H. Kanthamani (India, living in USA), Ed Kelly (USA), Emily Kelly (USA), Joe McMoneagle (USA), Bertrand Méheust (France), Peter Mulacz (Austria), Soji Otani (Japan), Adrian Parker (UK, living in Sweden), K. Ramakrishna Rao (India), Bruno Severi (Italy), Djohar Si Ahmed (France), Sybo Schouten (Holland), Jerry Solfvin (USA), William T. Joines (USA), and Robert Van de Castle (USA). And what about Dr. Pilkington herself? As for me I am happy to say I am still too young to be included in the next volume, maybe in volume four or five . . . .
The book may be ordered from various vendors among them the publisher, Anomalist Books (http://www.anomalistbooks.com/bookstore.cfm).