Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Visiting Scholar, Rhine Research Center
Dr. Nancy L. Zingrone, who obtained a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Edinburgh, has been working in parapsychology since the late 1970s. She has been involved in ESP experiments, survey work, and in education in the field. Nancy is a twice President of the Parapsychological Association (2000-2001, 2003-2004) and was a Research Fellow (1982-1985) and a Visiting Scholar (1986-1993) at the Institute for Parapsychology (now the Rhine Research Center). She is currently a Board member of the Rhine Research Center, and one of the Editors of the series, Advances in Parapsychological Research .
I first met Nancy in May of 1983 when we both attended the meeting of the Society for Scientific Exploration in Charlottesville, Virginia. A few months later I went to Durham, North Carolina to lecture at the then famous Summer Study Program at the Institute for Parapsychology (now the Rhine Research Center). By the fall of that year, we were “an item,” having become close friends who discussed parapsychology frequently and attended a number of conventions together. I remember our first joint paper, “Historical Aspects of Parapsychological Terminology,” presented at the 1985 convention of the Parapsychological Association and published in the Journal of Parapsychology in 1987. Our collaboration went on for years and then, twenty-four years ago today, I married her.
How did you get interested in parapsychology?
I had a friend in my freshman year of high school who had experiences, and through talking to her, I began to get interested in the experiences of other friends and of family members as well. I’d had a couple of pretty mild experiences of my own, some apparitional, some dream-based and that fueled the flame as well. My primary source of printed information was what I could buy in the revolving paperback book rack at the local pharmacy, mostly books on ghosts and apparitions, poltergeists, psychic experiences, and There is a River, the biography of Edgar Cayce. My paperback binge was soon balanced out by what I found in my little town’s public library. One of the librarians must have had a serious interest in the scientific side of parapsychology because the shelves were stocked with everything J. B. and Louisa Rhine, Gaither Pratt, and others had written up to that point (the mid-1960s) including Extrasensory Perception after Sixty Years and Parapsychology: Frontier Science of the Mind, among other titles.
In 1969 when I turned 18, I decided I was going to be a serious journalist. To do that I thought I needed to leave all that “psychic stuff” behind. So I gave my personal library away, took back all my library books, and headed off to college. After a semester each at two different schools (Butler University and Rockford College), followed by a move to Chicago and a stint as a “drop-out,” I landed at Mundelein College majoring in English. As luck would have it, though, when I finally made it to my sophomore year, I soured on journalism. I discovered that a member of the psychology faculty, John Bisaha, was teaching his first introductory course in scientific parapsychology, so I thought “what the heck,” and signed up. (A couple of years later Brenda Dunne of ICRL became one of John’s students too.)
That was that: Before the ink on my grade report was dry, I had changed my major to psychology, talked John Bisaha into becoming my advisor, and written letters to J. B. Rhine, the Parapsychology Foundation and the American Society for Psychical Research. Within a month I had subscribed to all the periodicals going, and started to rebuild my library.
I was 21 and I knew what I wanted to do. With some detours, some sacrifices, and a husband who is also my primary (and best) colleague in the field, I’m still here.
What are your main interests in the field and how have you contributed to its development?
I am mainly interested in the personality characteristics of individuals who have what seem to be psychic experiences and/or who have done well in laboratory tests of psi. Back when I was first starting out—as a Research Fellow at the old Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man (now called the Rhine Research Center)—I did mostly experimental research. I contributed to the “checker effect” literature with my colleague Debra H. Weiner, and was also among the first group doing Ganzfeld research at the Rhine. While studying at Duke University in the 1980s/early 1990s, I did quantitative historical work in parapsychology on publications and gender, and a historical review of power and passivity in the history of mediumship. The former netted a paper in the Journal of Parapsychology and the latter became presentation at the Parapsychology Foundation’s conference on Women and Parapsychology held in Dublin in 1991, and later a chapter in the Proceedings volume. I also taught in the Summer Study Program at the Rhine from 1984 through 1993 as well as in 2000.
Since then I have contributed to the field as a Board member and twice-President of the Parapsychological Association. Most of my career has been spent doing survey research on out-of-body and other psychic experiences, completing my own education, working in publishing in the field as an employee of the Parapsychology Foundation in the 2000s, with a brief stint as the Executive Editor of the International Journal of Parapsychology, and by providing publishing support services to folks working on books in the field.
Education in parapsychology has been a big passion for me over the years, usually taking the shape of teaching adult education courses, doing curriculum development work and otherwise providing mentorship where I could. I am now involved in all of these activities–research, writing/editing, and education–through my collaboration with my husband in our little consulting firm, through our attachment to the Rhine Education Center, and through our continued work as occasional volunteers for the Parapsychology Foundation.
I’d like to think that our research has contributed significantly to the understanding of the psychological correlates of the out-of-body experience, although sometimes I despair of people actually ever having read any of that work. I also like to think that I personally have contributed in a minor way to the expansion of the boundaries of the field to include the three disciplines of sociology, history and rhetoric of science.
Why do you think that parapsychology is important?
Clearly the field has been unfairly cast by the mainstream as an enterprise that is not worth funding and that can be dismissed without any actual knowledge of its findings or history. I find that to be not only an injustice but also a challenge for creative attempts to solve that problem. There are a variety of deep issues that need to be reconsidered in science and the humanities when the fullness of the findings of scientific parapsychology are taken into account, the most fundamental of which are our entanglement with others, and our relationships to ourselves as physical beings and to time. In my opinion, the “real” nature of what it means to be human requires an understanding of the phenomena we study.
Only slightly less important are the relationships of our findings to those of mainstream psychology and physics. The relationship with psychology is deeply complex but perhaps most important is the understanding of what looks like psychic functioning but is not (to steal a phrase from the late great Professor Bob Morris). Social and perceptual psychology, attribution theory and neuroscience seem particularly important points of contact. As for physics, there we are talking about the fundamental nature of the universe and attempting to determine what mechanisms or series of physical relationships may, first, allow psychic functioning to happen, and second, to become either part of our conscious awareness or manifest in the world.
In your view, what are the main problems in parapsychology today as a scientific field?
As always our level of professionalization is primary. First, there is the weight of the organized skeptical community and its willingness to be the uninformed gatekeepers at the door to the academy, reducing to almost nil our ability to obtain university jobs, proper levels of funding, and otherwise do our work in the kind of environment mainstream scientists and scholars routinely enjoy.
Second, there is the problem that in order to do parapsychology as a scientist or an academic you have to do something else too, which splits the focus and may mean that individual scientists or scholars are less educated or adept in one or the other of the paths they follow. The relationships between scientific parapsychology and mainstream science and scholarship suffer because of that split focus as well.
Third, there is the problem that without a presence in the academy there is a lack of shared educational experiences among those who study parapsychology. So many people do excellent work in the field in an exceedingly narrow area and have infinitely less knowledge of the history, depth or breadth of scientific parapsychology than they ought to have. That knowledge deficit complicates the field quite a lot more than one would think.
Physicists and psychologists benefit from an educational trajectory that includes undergraduate and graduate work at the overview level of their disciplines. They are able to bring that foundational knowledge to their more mature, more topically-narrowed thinking/research/writing. Scientific parapsychologists have to educate themselves, and there are precious few opportunities to do that in an effective way. The differing levels of education make scientific discourse in the field difficult. This is true even when you’re in a room full of the top people in the field because of the differing levels of knowledge of, and training in, our own field. The lack of common foundational knowledge may also impede experimental and theoretical creativity. And in the current political climate that surrounds our field—and by that I mean the politics of science itself—, the educational problem is a difficult one to solve.
Can you mention some of your current projects?
Currently I’m engaged in teaching adult education courses at the Rhine Education Center, in expanding two YouTube playlists, one called “Primer: Educational Resources in Scientific Parapsychology” and the other called “Lectures on Scientific Parapsychology.” Much of what I do is focused on helping independent learners in our field get the “good stuff” and not get lost in all the drek out there that passes for parapsychology.
I am also writing chapters with colleagues for the new version of the old Handbook of Parapsychology and working on a website that will collect new data on out-of-body experiences, apparitions, and shared death experiences. The research projects are being conducted with my husband. Aspects of the OBE project were funded some years ago by both the Parapsychological Association and the Perrot-Warrick fund, the apparitions project by the Society for Psychical Research, and the shared death experiences project was funded recently by IANDs. We hope to start data collection on all three in the upcoming months.
In addition, I am working on the expansion of the educational project of my husband’s and my consulting company, The AZIRE, which stands for “The Alvarado Zingrone Institute for Research and Education.” The AZIRE exists virtually and is embodied in courses we teach through the social media/teaching platform www.WizIQ.com, through our Moodle installation, theazire.org/moodle, and through The AZIRE Learning Center in the virtual world, Second Life.
(2012). (Second author, with C.S. Alvarado). Classic Text No. 90: ‘The Pathology and Treatment of Mediomania’, by Frederic Rowland Marvin (1874). History of Psychiatry, 23, 229–244.
(2010) (First author, with Alvarado, C.S., & Cardeña, E.) Out-of-body experiences, physical body activity and posture: Responses from a survey conducted in Scotland. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 198, 163-165.
(2010) (Second author, with C.S. Alvarado). Variables relacionadas con experiencias parapsicológicas: La absorción y los sueños [Variables related to parapsychological experiences: Absorption and dreams]. Ciencias de la Conducta, 25, 115-137.
(2009) (First author, with C.S. Alvarado). Pleasurable Western adult near-death experiences: Features, circumstances and incidence. In J.M. Holden, B. Greyson, & D. James (Eds.), The Handbook of Near-Death Experiences (pp. 17-40). Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger.
(2009) (First author, with C.S. Alvarado, and N. Agee). Psychological correlates of aura vision: Psychic experiences, dissociation, absorption, and synaesthesia-like experiences. Australian Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 37, 131-168.
(2008) (First author with C.S. Alvarado) Out-of-body experiences and headaches: A research note. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 72, 107-110.
(2008) (Second author, with C.S. Alvarado). Ian Stevenson and the modern study of ESP experiences. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 22, 44-53.
(2007-2008) (Second author, with C.S. Alvarado). Interrelationships of psychic experiences, dream recall and lucid dreams in a survey with Spanish participants. Imagination, Cognition and Personality, 27, 63-69.
(2007) (Fourth author, with C.S. Alvarado, F.R. Machado, W. Zangari,& N.L. Zingrone). 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, 34 (supp.1), 42-53.
(2004) (Second author with C.S. Alvarado). Experiencias parapsicológicas, absorción y sueños: Un estudio con estudiantes de psicología de Puerto Rico [Parapsychological experiences, absorption and dreams: A study with psychology students from Puerto Rico ]. In F.E. da Silva (Ed.), II Encontro Psi: Refletindo sobre o Futuro da Parapsicologia [II Psi Encounter: Reflexions on the Future of Parapsychology] (pp. 82-91). Curitiba , Brazil : Campus Universitario Bezerra de Menezes, Faculdades Integradas “Espírita.”
(2001). Controversy and the problems of parapsychology. Journal of Parapsychology, 66, 3-30.
(2001) (fourth author, with C. S. Alvarado, E. Coly, and L. Coly). Fifty years of supporting parapsychology: The Parapsychology Foundation (1951-2001). International Journal of Parapsychology, 12, 1-26.
(1998-99). (Second author, with C. S. Alvarado & K. S. Dalton). Out-of-body experiences: Alterations of consciousness and the Five-Factor Model of personality. Imagination, Cognition and Personality, 18, 297-317.
(1998-99). (First author, with C. S. Alvarado & K. Dalton). Psi experiences and the “Big Five”: Relating the NEO-PI-R to the experience claims of experimental subjects. European Journal of Parapsychology, 14, 31-51.
(1998). (First editor, with M.J. Schlitz, C.S. Alvarado and J. Milton). Research in Parapsychology 1993. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press.
(1998) (Second author, with C. S. Alvarado). Anomalías de interacción con el ambiente: El estudio de los fenómenos parapsicológicos. Revista Puertorriqueña de Psicología, 11, 99-147.
(1997-1998) (Second author, with C. S. Alvarado). Factors related to the depth of near-death experiences: Testing the “embellishment over time” hypothesis. Imagination, Cognition and Personality, 17, 339-344.
(1997) (Second author, with C. S. Alvarado). Experiencias disociativas y sueños: Relación con frecuencia de recuerdo de sueños, sueños lúcidos y sueños vívidos [In Spanish: Dissociative experiences and dreams: Relationship with the frequency of dream recall, lucid dreams and vivid dreams]. Ciencias de la Conducta, 12, 17-43.
(1997) (Second author, with C. S. Alvarado). Relación entre la experiencia fuera del cuerpo y la absorción: Estudios con participantes Puertorriqueños y Norteamericanos [In Spanish: Relationship between out-of-body experiences and absorption: Studies with Puerto Rican and American participants]. Revista Argentina de Psicología Paranormal, 8, 249-261.
(1994). Images of women as mediums: Power, pathology and passivity in the writings of Frederic Marvin and Cesare Lombroso. In L. Coly & R.A. White (Ed.), Women and Parapsychology (pp. 90-121). New York: Parapsychology Foundation.
(1989) (Second author, with D. H. Weiner). In the eye of the beholder: Further research on the Checker Effect. Journal of Parapsychology, 53, 203-231.
(1989) (Second author, with C. S. Alvarado) William McDougall, Lamarckism, and psychical research. American Psychologist, 44, 446-447.
(1988) Authorship and gender in American parapsychology journals. Journal of Parapsychology, 52, 321-343.
(1988) (Second author, with C. S. Alvarado). Los síntomas de la histeria: Observaciones clínicas durante el siglo 19. Archivo Latinoamericano de Historia de la Psicología y Ciencias Afines, 1, 11-21.
(1987) (Second author, with C. S. Alvarado). Historical aspects of parapsychological terminology. Journal of Parapsychology, 51, 49-74.
(1986) (Second author, with D. H. Weiner). The Checker Effect revisited. Journal of Parapsychology, 50, 155-161.