Carlos S. Alvarado, Ph.D., Visiting Scholar, Rhine Research Center (http://Rhine.org)
For the first and second parts part of this blog click on the titles below:
Another problem is the common practice of seeing our history through an Anglo-American lens. Over the years I have encountered parapsychologists whose view of the past is generally limited to American and British developments published in English, forgetting the contributions of many other groups. One only has to see some of the writings of parapsychologists whose main language is English to realize that they generally ignore developments that have been published in other languages.
A considerable amount of the work of such individuals as Ernesto Bozzano (1862-1943), Gustave Geley (1868-1924), Cesare Lombroso (1835-1909), and Joseph Maxwell (1858-1938) has been published in languages other than English and tends to be neglected. Some argue that they do not know the relevant languages, but few seem interested in taking steps to solve the problem. In addition to learning languages, we can always collaborate with colleagues with knowledge of the necessary languages, something I have done in the past. Unfortunately, and as has been my experience in the United States, sometimes the problem seems to go beyond languages, as seen in lack of knowledge of European works translated into English. This suggests that the problem is not only one of a language barrier, but that there are wider cultural problems here that affect the writings of parapsychologists.
Not knowing what has been published in other languages reduces our knowledge of the history of parapsychology, and produces incomplete, if not provincial, views of history. It also condemns us to follow particularly American, British, or other perspectives of the past, forgetting that, while there are international commonalities, there are also differences that arise from different cultures, and that those collective differences, together with the similarities, are what form our history. Works about developments in non-English-speaking countries written by historians (and rarely by parapsychologists) will assist us in spreading the information necessary to correct this situation.
We may get some inspiration from the field of world history. This has been described by one of its representatives, Patrick Manning, in his book Navigating World History (2003), as historical work attempting to “portray the crossing of boundaries and the linking of systems in the human past” (p. 3).
Although no one would put in doubt the historical importance of developments from English-speaking countries it is important to bear in mind that those developments may be seen somewhat differently from the perspective of those who live and work in different countries. The SPR, to give an example, was known and was influential in France. Some of this work, such as that authored by Myers, was cited and translated in the Annales Des Sciences Psychiques (e.g., Myers, 1897-1900). While Myers was known in France, his ideas seemed to have been less influential there than in England and in the English-speaking-world in general. The point here is that one cannot assume the universal equivalence of specific national events or contributions.
The situation is similar in the history of psychology. For example, Adrian C. Brock (2006, p. 3) has stated in his anthology Internationalizing the History of Psychology that American psychologists sometimes assume that behaviorism was international, forgetting that most of its impact was felt in the United States. Following this trend of thought we may ask such questions as the nature of J.B. Rhine’s influence in countries other than England and the United States (for example, see Parra, 2010).
Although Rhine was influential in, say, Europe, the influence was not as intense as that felt in the United States. Some Europeans conducted research following Rhine’s experimental procedures as did René Warcollier (1955) in France. But this type of research did not develop as much as it did in the United States where a community of researchers formed around Rhine, where a journal was founded, and where the research transcended parapsychological circles through critical examinations by psychologists (Mauskopf & McVaugh, 1980). In addition, it is clear from the content of the well-known 1953 parapsychology congress held at Utrecht that, by that time, the parapsychological world had not become Rhinean. In fact, there were many who centered their work on theory, philosophy, and spontaneous cases (Alvarado, 2009).
Alvarado, C.S. (2009). Alvarado, C.S. (2009). Discussing parapsychology at Utrecht: The First International Conference of Parapsychological Studies. In C.A. Roe, W. Kramer & L. Coly (Eds.), Utrecht II: Charting the Future of Parapsychology (PP. 245-288). New York: Parapsychology Foundation / The Netherlands: Het Johan Borgmanfonds Foundation.
Brock, A.C. (2006). Introduction. In A.C. Brock (Ed.), Internationalizing the History of Psychology (pp. 1-15). New York: New York University Press.
Manning, P. (2003). Navigating World History: Historians Create a Global Past. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Mauskopf, S. H., & McVaugh, M. R. (1980). The Elusive Science: Origins of Experimental Psychical Research. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Myers, F.W.H. (1897-1900). De la conscience subliminale. Annales des Sciences Psychiques, 7, 276-301; 8, 170-185, 196-227; 9, 152-172, 225-236, 290-319; 10, 36-52, 96-118, 332-348.
Parra, A. (2010). J. B. Rhine y su impacto en la parapsicología experimental hispano-parlante. Psychologia Latina, 1, 121-128.
Warcollier, R. (1955). Le problème des écarts négatifs en ESP: Emploi d’un test de barrage. Revue Métapsychique, 1(1), 15-24.
Note: *This is an excerpt from a previously published article: Distortions of the past. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 2012, 26, 147–168.