Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Visiting Scholar, Rhine Research Center
Although I had some previous correspondence with Renaud Evrard, I first met him at the Parapsychology Foundation’s 2008 conference “Utrecht II: Charting the Future of Parapsychology.” He is one of the most talented members of the new generation of workers in parapsychology. I have had the pleasure to collaborate with him in three papers, the last of which is in press in the journal History of Psychiatry.
Renaud is a clinical psychologist with a PhD from the University of Rouen, France. His thesis was about clinical approaches to exceptional experiences. He founded in 2009, with Thomas Rabeyron, the Center for Information, Research and Counseling on Exceptional Experiences . In addition, he has worked with Nikolaos Koumartzis to develop World of Parapsychology, a Web project to provide information about the field.
As well as his work bringing together clinical psychology and psychic experiences, Renaud has conducted research on the history of parapsychology, an interest that led us to collaborate. He is also interested in theoretical aspects of parapsychology and has been involved with the Institut Métapsychique International in Paris.
How did you get interested in parapsychology?
I entered the field of parapsychology in 2002, not because of personal experiences or environmental influences (although I respect people who did). I had already begun my studies in psychology for the dual purpose of understanding the human mind and practicing an altruistic job. By a combination of circumstances, I came across the book The Conscious Universe by Dean Radin (1997). But it was so far away from my professional vocation! I finally found Parapsychologie et psychanalyse [“Parapsychology and Psychoanalysis”] by Djohar Si Ahmed (1990), that led me to see the link with clinical psychology. Subsequently, it has been the clinical practice with Exceptional Experiences (ExE) which has become the thread running through my research.
Stricto sensu, I am not focused on parapsychology and I don’t see myself as a parapsychologist. For instance, I haven’t taken part in psi-testing as done by other researchers. Obviously, I try to do things right by developing a good general knowledge of the field, knowledge that I occasionally share. Similar to Hans Bender (1950-1951), I consider the dissemination of realistic information on the study of psi phenomena and its limitations to be a contribution to promotion of mental hygiene within the general population.
My “career” in parapsychology emerged from this questioning and was build over opportune meetings. I have to thank the parapsychological community that shows such qualities of humility and solidarity, aspects that, undeniably, factor into my attachment to this field, despite all its frustrations. No cult does it better! But, unlike cults, this community embraces such a range of various and opposite positions that everybody can find their way while keeping a critical approach.
I did my 3rd year of psychology study at the University of Montreal (Quebec, Canada) where I was lucky to find true parapsychological books, a legacy of the academic teaching of “psilogy” by Louis Bélanger (a student of Bender). He helped me overcome my shyness and meet people of quality. At the same time, the Institut Métapsychique International (IMI) in Paris was creating a student group (the GEIMI) to which I still belong, even though I completed my PhD in 2012.
What are your main interests in the field and how have you contributed to its development?
Back in France in 2004, thanks to the support of the GEIMI, I began to conduct academic research on “haunted people” (2005) and “teenagers and occultism” (2008). In return, I volunteered to help in a few tasks through which I obtained some appreciation from the parapsychological community. This is how I look at the grants and awards I received from Parapsychology Foundation and Parapsychological Association even though I hadn’t produced any significant contribution to the research. I discovered the valuable role of providing a connection between different parapsychological groups, as I acted almost as an ambassador when no one else was available to do so. I cultivated relationships with foreign groups (especially the IGPP, the WGFP, and the GfA in Germany), and began to familiarize myself with researchers from another era (the GERP, see Evrard, 2010c; or the metapsychics at the turn of the XXth century which attracts many researchers, see Evrard, 2009, 2011b). These efforts culminated in 2009 with the development, thanks to the help of Nikolaos Koumartzis from Greece, of theWoP.org (the World of Parapsychology), a website that is the result of an international survey on scientific parapsychology centers around the world. (It was finished in 2008, but it is in need of some update and a new domain name.)
I quickly suffered from overexposure. For an ordinary undergraduate work on the “psychological approaches of haunted people” (2005), I was invited to top-radio or TV-shows (but declined for TV), and attracted the attention of paranormal extremists: on the one hand, some people mocked my pseudo-erudition, and on the other hand, my “thesis” was lauded even though it was not a “thesis.” From 2006 to 2008, I took on the difficult exercise of discussing ExE testimonies in live broadcasts on Sud Radio; I even started a blog that attracted the wrath of pseudo-skeptics; then I learned discretion. Newcomers have to be better prepared to answer this siren call. This overexposure was emotionally challenging and professionally dangerous, with some pseudo-skeptics making it their mission to stop me from pursuing any career, and unethical journalists presenting themselves as people suffering from their ExE to “steal” an interview from me for their “strange” column in the summer lull. The consequences of this exposure was not all bad, because I once received great advice from a public servant who was a fan of the paranormal show on Sud Radio!
Surprisingly, the lesson I have learned is that parapsychology requires a kind of “schizophrenia.” It was necessary to separate my two different areas of activity in order to minimize their cross-interference. I understood why Richet, Maxwell, Geley, Chauvin, Dessoir, and many others have used pseudonyms. Chauvin even went so far to publish under his real name a critical preface to a book written by Pierre Duval, his pseudonym in parapsychology (Evrard, 2010b). But the multiplication of identities can go further…
Anyway, I then refocused on my academic interests and find a way to continue my counseling practice with people living with ExEs. Based on the model of the IGPP’s counseling service, in which I had the opportunity to do an internship, I co-founded, in 2007 with Thomas Rabeyron, the Service of Orientation and Support for People Sensitive to Exceptional Experiences (SOS-PSEE) inside the IMI. This practice was rewarding but produced a lot of troubles as well. For example, combining a center of parapsychological research with a counseling service introduces a bias into the numerous requests for help. This is one of the reasons why we co-founded in 2009 the Center for Information, Research, and Counseling on Exceptional Experiences (CIRCEE), an independent counseling and research group. In addition, as a young psychologist, I had to complete my training in psychopathology and found a job in adult psychiatry in the city of my birth in 2009, where I still work.
At the time that I undertook my thesis which focused on this clinical practice with ExE and was supervised by Pascal Le Maléfan, in France another “clinical” but non-psychopathological discourse on “extraordinary experiences” was developing that was in line with John Mack’s approach. This led me to affirm my position as a clinician, even if this made me appear to be a reductionist by those who are fascinated by ExE but have not been presented by them within their own clinical practices. I was able to publish a lot of articles in psychological, psychoanalytical, and psychiatric forums, where such a thing had seemed very hard to do before (Evrard, 2010d, 2011a, 2012, 2013a, 2013b; Evrard & Le Maléfan, 2010; Evrard & Rabeyron, 2012b). The end of this marginality may coincide with the publication of my book, Madness and Paranormal (“Folie et Paranormal”, in press). But French publishers, mirroring a public seeking the sensational, are still overcautious and refuse to publish translations of such academic works as the Varieties of Anomalous Experiences.
My other channels of entry into parapsychology are historical and theoretical aspects of the field. During my visits to IMI in 2007, I discovered many treasures in their archives. I began to explore them by focusing on some figures, institutions, journals, or key moments (Alvarado & Evrard, 2012; Evrard, 2010a, 2010b, 2011b; Evrard & Rabeyron, 2012a; Le Maléfan, Evrard, & Alvarado, in press; Rabeyron & Evrard, 2012;). I was lucky enough to meet several descendants of the pioneers of metapsychics who have helped me travel through time. Above all, despite my lack of formal training, I was welcomed and supported by the community of historians of heterodox psychology, to whom I owe much. I recently found a publisher for a book compiling my historical investigations.
Regarding theoretical aspects, I’m attracted to them despite my doubts about the evidence of psi processes that has been accumulated so far. I read a lot about Jung and Pauli’s model, the Model of Pragmatic Information, Generalized Quantum Theory, and some other theories. I appreciated much George Hansen’s work (2001) on the Trickster archetype, which illuminates both psi phenomena and the people around them. However, my limited knowledge in physics and philosophy does not allow me to go beyond my intuitions.
Why do you think that parapsychology is important?
I think that parapsychology raises a very original question about some unusual phenomena known under the umbrella term of “psi”. This question is not more important than those that arise from other issues in mainstream disciplines, but it is also not less important. Thus, when you see that so few researchers are correctly doing research on psi, that so few people are unselfish supporters of the researchers, that so few credits are invested in this area … and, on the other side, that there is such an amount of deniers, counter-advocates, and ignorant people who claim to have a scientific opinion on parapsychology, it’s enough to shock any scientific spirit. To what are all these people reacting? Why this path is forbidden? A natural curiosity led me to seek a balanced approach: more pragmatic science and less second-hand opinions. When I realized that this field was not only quite unexplored, but also rich and fertile, I no longer wanted to leave it and run back to drier and more common lands.
In your view, what are the main problems in parapsychology today as a scientific field?
Everyone speaks about the problems of this field, either to pretend that they can be solved in the next 25 years, or to announce for the umpteenth time, the demise of parapsychology. I prefer to focus on the good aspects:
- Unlike other parasciences, parapsychology has access to experimental research. Then, there is almost nothing that parapsychologists can’t test, from the paradox of Schrödinger’s cat to consciousness’ induced restoration of time symmetry… Any scientist could only rejoice of being able to challenge such interesting issues.
- Unlike other parasciences, parapsychology has access to theoretical models that can be tested. The dialogue between data and ideas is very important in general science, but it’s even more important when working on non-dogmatic and still-under-construction models. It allows parapsychologists to get out of the position of the “subject supposed to know”, finally sharing with authentic zeteticians the following motto: “I do not pretend to know, but I’m studying it”. Again, this is something seen as virtuous in the scientific process.
Despite all this, parapsychology can’t be reduced to the experimental assessment of the psi hypothesis. This field is based on the high prevalence of exceptional experiences in all countries and at all times. Thus parapsychology is a transdisciplinary field that can be approached through humanities (anthropology, sociology, psychology, history, etc.) and has interactions with many other disciplines (anomalistic psychology, psychology of religion, ethnopsychiatry, etc.). So it is always legitimate to study this area even if the “psi hypothesis” finally proves to be an illusion.
Can you mention some of your current projects?
Locally, I’m trying to improve general knowledge of parapsychology and related fields. The clinical approach to exceptional experiences and the history of French heterodox psychology are my main channels. But this knowledge is also disseminated through art exhibitions, protection and promotion of IMI’s heritage, translation of foreign papers and books, education for the general public, counseling scholars and students, networking with researchers worldwide… In short, through the development of a French culture of metapsychics.
If I have time and money for other projects, I will be happy to…
- do postdoctoral research within the IGPP on psychological and physiological differences between various people who have exceptional experiences;
- develop a questionnaire to correlate characteristics associated with the Trickster archetype to transliminality and exceptional experiences proneness;
- establish an international publishing house with Nikolaos Koumartzis to facilitate the publication and the promotion of academic parapsychology; and
- create a clinical training program through CIRCEE for those who wish to include people living with ExEs in their clinical practices.
Dr Hubert Larcher (1975) once defined metapsychics as a field at the crossroads of psychology, psychopathology, and parapsychology. This resonates with my life (I recently published an anthology of Dr Hubert Larcher’s works, through the Editions de l’Institut Métapsychique International, see Larcher, 2013). But how to do all of that at once?
Alvarado, C.S., & Evrard, R. (2012). The psychic sciences in France: Historical notes on the Annales des Sciences Psychiques. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 26, 117-140.
Bender, H. (1950-1951). Der Okkultismus als Problem der Psychohygiene. Neue Wissenschaft, 1(3), 34-42.
Evrard, R. (2005). Approches psychologiques de la personne hantée. Mémoire de Master 1 de Psychologie clinique, Université Louis Pasteur, Strasbourg.
Evrard, R. (2008). Adolescence et occultisme: Vers une mise en perspective différentielle. Mémoire pour le Master 2 Recherche « Psychopathologie et études psychanalytiques », Université Louis Pasteur, Strasbourg.
Evrard, R. (2009). René Sudre (1880-1968): The metapsychist’s quill. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 73, 207-222.
Evrard, R. (2010a). Contribution à l’histoire de la parapsychologie en France 1935-1968, l’ère du réalisme fantastique. The Missing Links, 1(2), 35-56.
Evrard, R. (2010b). Obituary: Rémy Chauvin (1913-2009). Journal of Scientific Exploration, 24, 299-303.
Evrard, R. (2010c). Parapsychology in France after May 1968: a history of the GERP. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 24, 283-294.
Evrard, R. (2010d). Psychiser le Maître absolu : solutions pubertaires par le paranormal. Adolescence, 28(4), n°74, 841-854.
Evrard, R. (2011a). Les expériences réputées psychotiques dans la population générale: Essai de problématisation. Annales Médico-Psychologiques, 169, 282-287.
Evrard, R. (2011b). Pierre Curie, a foot in parapsychology? Mindfield, 3(3), 14-18.
Evrard, R. (2012). Clinical practice of anomalous experiences: Roots and paradigms. In C.D. Murray (Ed.), Mental Health and Anomalous Experience (pp. 89-106). New York : Nova Science.
Evrard, R. (2013a). Psychopathologie et expériences exceptionnelles: Une revue de la littérature. L’Evolution Psychiatrique, 78, 155-176.
Evrard, R. (2013b). Répercussions psychologiques des « souvenirs » de la mort propre: Une critique des travaux du Dr Pim van Lommel. Etudes sur la mort, n°143, « La thanatopraxie », 143-156.
Evrard, R. (in press). Folie et Paranormal. Vers une clinique des expériences exceptionnelles. Rennes : Presses Universitaires de Rennes.
Evrard, R., & Le Maléfan, P. (2010). Pression des nouvelles mentalités sur le DSM – le cas des problèmes religieux ou spirituels. L’Evolution Psychiatrique, 75, 549-563.
Evrard, R., & Rabeyron, T. (2012). Les psychanalystes et le transfert de pensée: Enjeux historiques et actuels. L’Evolution Psychiatrique, 77, 589-598.
Evrard, R., Rabeyron, T. (2012). Risquer la psychose:Objections faites au syndrome de psychose atténuée. Psychiatrie, Sciences Humaines et Neurosciences, 10(2), 45-67.
Hansen, G. (2001). The Trickster and the Paranormal. Philadelphia: Xlibris Books.
Larcher, H. (1975). Existe-t-il une approche scientifique de la parapsychologie? In J.-L. Victor (Ed.), L’univers de la parapsychologie et de l’ésotérisme. Romorantin: Martinsart.
Larcher, H. (2013). L’Odyssée de la Conscience. Anthologie d’études sur la mort, la mystique et le paranormal par le Dr Hubert Larcher. (R. Evrard, Ed.) Paris: Editions de l’Institut Métapsychique International.
Le Maléfan, P., Evrard, R., & Alvarado, C.S. (in press). Spiritist delusions and spiritism in the nosography of French psychiatry (1850-1950). History of Psychiatry, 25.
Rabeyron, T., & Evrard, R. (2012). Perspectives historiques et contemporaines sur l’occulte dans la correspondance Freud-Ferenczi. Researches in psychoanalysis, n°13, 98-111.
Radin, D. (1997). The Conscious Universe: The Scientific Truth of Psychic Phenomena. San Francisco, CA: Harper Edge.
Si Ahmed, D. (1990). Parapsychologie et psychanalyse. Paris : Dunod.