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

I am glad to present here an interview with Dr. John Palmer, who I first met in 1978. John was in charge of the Masters in Parapsychology Program at John F. Kennedy University, in Orinda California, where I had been accepted as a student.  When I was writing my thesis about a questionnaire study of out-of-body experiences under his supervision, I made a point to follow in my writing the reporting style of John’s article “A Community Mail Survey of Psychic Experiences” (Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 1979, 73, 221-251), a modern classic of surveys of psychic experiences.

Dr. John Palmer

Dr. John Palmer

John, a PhD in psychology from the University of Texas, is a twice PA President of the Parapsychological Association  for 1979 and 1992. He is currently Director of Research at the Rhine Research Center, where he is the editor of the Journal of Parapsychology. In addition to the above mentioned, and widely cited survey, John is known for ESP experimental work, for his work in parapsychological education, and for his discussion of conceptual issues, among them the issue of experimenter psi, and the distinction between psi as a descriptive term and a theoretical term.

As seen in the bibliography after the interview John has many publications. Some that I consider particularly important from the early days, other than the above-mentioned survey report, are his “Three Models of Psi Test Performance” (Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 1975, 69, 333-339), and his well-known review of the experimental ESP literature (“Extrasensory Perception: Research Findings” (In S. Krippner (Ed.), Advances in parapsychological research 2: Extrasensory perception (pp. 59-243). New York: Plenum, 1978).

In 2012 the Parapsychological Association granted John their Outstanding Career Award, a well deserved recognition. I had the great pleasure to present the Award during the banquet at that year’s convention, where I summarized some aspects of his career.

Interview

How did you get interested in parapsychology?

I found a book in my high school library by a French parapsychologist named René Sudre entitled Treatise on Parapsychology. It blew me away, partly because of my interest, even at that young age, in the philosophy of mind. I couldn’t understand (and still don’t understand) why other scientists were not paying attention to the subject. My plea in this regard was part of my Valedictorian speech at my high school graduation, which was devoted to parapsychology. The book has two main sections, one devoted mainly to physical mediumship research and the other mainly to the card guessing studies of Rhine and Soal. I was most impressed by the former section, but my professional interests gravitated to research more like that described in the latter section.

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

I am mainly interested in the psychology of psi as it manifests in the laboratory. This seems natural for me, as I was formally trained as an experimental psychologist (which reflects my interest in psychology per se) and the experimental methods in psychology and parapsychology are quite similar. Recently my main interest has been in dissociation, particularly as it manifests in ESP tests with a large motor component, the prototypical example of which would be one analogous to the Ouija Board. My general hypothesis is that a certain kind of dissociative state of consciousness is particularly psi-conducive.

None of my experiments have replicated well enough to lead me to believe that by themselves they have led to concrete advances in our knowledge about the psychology of psi. However, when combined with the research of others I think we can at least say that there is a high probability that the conglomerate is telling us something real about the psychology of psi. I think this comes across in Jim Carpenter’s writings about his First Sight model . I also have written several review articles and book chapters on various areas of psi research that have something to say about how such research should be interpreted. One that comes to mind outside my main area of interest is a critical review of research on out-of-body and near-death experiences.

Why do you think that parapsychology is important?

I think it is important because of what it tells us about what J. B. Rhine called the “nature of man” although I would rather say the “nature of mind”. Also, if psi ability could ever be made strong and reliable, its practical implications are mind boggling, in the sense that it would enormously increase our ability to acquire information (ESP) and make changes in the physical world (PK). This goes far beyond the limited number of applications we tend to focus on (e.g., healing, spying.) Of course, if we ever got close to achieving this level of psi, we would have to confront some very thorny ethical issues: Do we really want to go there?

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

I think we need to find a way to make psi effects stronger and more reliable, not only for application, but also because we need reliable data to test theoretical hypotheses, particularly nuanced ones. Even for non-nuanced ones, we needed, for example, a meta-analysis of a large number of studies to demonstrate the reality of the simple relationship between extraversion and ESP. This inefficiency is directly a result of the poor reliability of psi. Second, we need to fully confront our “elephant in the room,” namely experimenter psi. I am afraid this is going to require that the psi-conducive experimenters in the field (unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, I’m not one of them) to test themselves to find out “what makes them tick” psychically. Unfortunately, the psi-conducive experimenters are generally the most reluctant to address or in some cases accept the reality of experimenter psi, in many cases because they believe they are successful because of how they interact with their research subjects.

Can you mention some of your current projects?

I have no current projects but will soon begin a study in which I will use subliminal auditory feedback of hits to attempt to improve performance of 5 promising participants from a previous study on an ESP task modeled after the Ouija board (although the theme this time will be map dowsing).

 

Selected Publications

Books and Monographs

Palmer, J. A., Honorton, C., & Utts, J. (1989). Reply to the National Research Council study on parapsychology. Research Triangle Park, NC: The Parapsychological Association.

Edge, H. L., Morris, R. L., Palmer, J., & Rush, J. H. (1986). Foundations of parapsychology: Exploring the boundaries of human capability. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Palmer, J. A. (1985). An evaluative report on the current status of parapsychology.  Contract DAJA 45-84-M-0405. U.S. Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences, Alexandria, VA.

Book Chapters

Palmer, J. (2009). Out-of-body and near-death experiences as evidence for externalization or survival. In C. D. Murray (Ed.), Scientific psychological perspectives on out-of-body and near-death experiences (pp. xx-xx). New York: Nova Science Publishers.

Neppe, V. M., & Palmer, J. (2004).   Subjective anomalous events:  Perspectives for the future, voices from the past.  In M. A. Thalbourne & L. Storm (Eds.), Parapsychology in the twenty-first century:  Essays on the future of psychical research (pp. 242-271).  Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

Palmer, J. (1995). Toward a general theory of survival. In L. Coly & J. D. S. McMahon (Eds.), Parapsychology and thanatology: Proceedings of an international conference held in Boston, Massachusetts, November 6-7, 1993 (pp. 1-32). New York: Parapsychology Foundation.

Palmer, J. (1993). The psi controversy. In K. R. Rao (Ed.), Charles Honorton and the impoverished state of skepticism: Essays on a parapsychological pioneer (pp. 177-189). Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

Palmer, J. (1993). Confronting the experimenter effect. In L. Coly & J. D. S. McMahon (Eds.), Psi research methodology: A re-examination: Proceedings of an international conference held in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, October 29-30, 1988 (pp. 44-64). New York: Parapsychology Foundation.

Palmer, J. (1986). Criticisms of parapsychology: Some common elements. In B. Shapin & L. Coly (Eds.), Current trends in psi research: Proceedings of an international conference held in New Orleans, Louisiana, August 13-14, 1984 (pp. 255-276). New York: Parapsychology Foundation.

Palmer, J. (1982). ESP research findings: 1976-1978. In S. Krippner (Ed.), Advances in parapsychological research 3 (pp. 41-82). New York: Plenum.

Palmer, J. (1982). Review of J. B. Rhine’s ESP research. In K. R. Rao (Ed.), J. B.. Rhine: On the frontiers of science (pp. 37-52). Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

Palmer, J. (1978). Extrasensory perception: Research findings. In S. Krippner (Ed.), Advances in parapsychological research 2: Extrasensory perception (pp. 59-243). New York: Plenum.

Palmer, J. (1978). ESP and out-of-body experience: An experimental approach. In D. S. Rogo (Ed.), Mind beyond the body: The mystery of ESP projection (pp. 193-217). New York: Penguin Books.

Palmer, J. (1977). Attitudes and personality traits in experimental ESP research. In B. B. Wolman (Ed.), Handbook of parapsychology (pp. 175-201). New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.

Journal Articles

Palmer, J. (2011).  Motor automatisms as a vehicle of ESP expression. Journal of Parapsychology, 75, 45-60.

Palmer, J. (2009).  Decision augmentation in a computer guessing task. Journal of Parapsychology, 73, 119-135.

Palmer, J., Simmonds-Moore, C. A., & Baumann, S.  (2006). Geomagnetic fields and the relationship between human intentionality and the hemolysis of red blood cells. Journal of Parapsychology, 70, 275-301.

Palmer, J., & Neppe, V. M. (2004). Exploratory analyses of refined predictors of subjective ESP experiences and temporal lobe dysfunction in a neuropsychiatric population. European Journal of Parapsychology, 19, 44-65.

Palmer, J. (2003). ESP in the ganzfeld: Analysis of a debate.  Journal of Consciousness Studies, 10 (6-7), 51-68.

Palmer, J., & Neppe, V. M. (2003). A controlled analysis of subjective paranormal experiences in temporal lobe dysfunction in a neuropsychiatric population. Journal of Parapsychology,  67, 75-97.

Palmer, J. (2001). A mail survey of Ouija board users in North America. International Journal of Parapsychology, 12, 67-93.

Bem, D. J., Palmer, J., & Broughton, R. S. (2001). Updating the ganzfeld database: A victim of its own success? Journal of Parapsychology, 65, 207-218.

Palmer, J. (2000). Covert psi in computer solitaire. Journal of Parapsychology, 64, 195-211.

Palmer, J. (1997). Hit-contingent response biases in Helmut Schmidt’s automated precognition experiments. Journal of Parapsychology, 61, 135-141.

Palmer, J. (1997). The challenge of experimenter psi. European Journal of Parapsychology, 13, 110-122.

Palmer, J. (1996). External psi influence on ESP task performance. Journal of Parapsychology,  60, 193-210.

Palmer, J. (1996). Evaluation of a conventional interpretation of Helmut Schmidt’s automated precognition experiments. Journal of Parapsychology, 60, 149-170.

Palmer, J. (1994). Explorations with the Perceptual ESP Test. Journal of Parapsychology, 58, 115-147.

Kanthamani, H., & Palmer, J. (1993). A ganzfeld experiment with “subliminal sending”. Journal of Parapsychology, 57, 241-257.

Palmer, J. (1992). From survival to transcendence: Reflections on psi as anomalous. Journal of Parapsychology, 56, 229-254.

Palmer, J. (1992). Effect of a threatening stimulus on the Perceptual ESP Test: A partial replication. Journal of Parapsychology, 56, 189-204.

Palmer, J., & Johnson, M. (1991). Defensiveness and brain-hemisphere stimulation in a perceptually mediated ESP task. Journal of Parapsychology, 55, 329-348.

Palmer, J. (1988). Conceptualizing the psi controversy. Parapsychology Rreview, 19(l), 1-5.

Palmer, J. (1987). Dulling Occam’s Razor: The role of coherence in assessing scientific knowledge claims. European Journal of Parapsychology, 7, 73-82.

Rao, K. R., & Palmer, J. (1987). The anomaly called psi: Recent research and criticism. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 10, 539-555.

Palmer, J. (1987). Have we established psi? Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 81, 111-123.

Palmer, J. (1986). Progressive skepticism: A critical approach to the psi controversy. Journal of Parapsychology, 50, 29-42.

Palmer, J. (1983). Sensory contamination of free-response ESP targets: The greasy fingers hypothesis. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 77, 101-113.

Palmer, J., & van der Velden, l. (1983). ESP and hypnotic imagination: A group free-response study. European Journal of Parapsychology, 4, 413-434.

Palmer, J., Tart, C. T., & Redington, D. (1979). Delayed PK with Matthew Manning: Preliminary indications and failure to confirm. European Journal of Parapsychology, 4, 413-434.

Palmer, J., Khamashta, K., & Israelson, K. (1979). An ESP ganzfeld experiment with Transcendental Meditators. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 73, 333-348.

Tart, C. T., Palmer, J., & Redington, D. (1979). Effects of immediate feedback on ESP performance over short time periods. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 73, 291-301.

Palmer, J. (1979). A community mail survey of psychic experiences. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 73, 221-251.

Palmer, J. (1978). The out-of-body experience: A psychological theory. Parapsychology Review, 9(5), 19-22.

Palmer, J., Bogart, D. N., Jones, S. M., & Tart, C. T. (1977). Scoring patterns in an ESP ganzfeld experiment. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 71, 122-145.

Stevenson, I., Palmer, J., & Stanford, R. G. (1977). An authenticity rating scale for reports of spontaneous cases. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 71,  273-288.

Palmer, J., Tart, C. T., & Redington, D. (1976). A large-sample classroom ESP card-guessing experiment. European Journal of Parapsychology, 1(3), 40-56.

Palmer, J. (1975). Three models of psi test performance. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 69, 333-339.

Stanford, R.G., & Palmer, J. (1975). Free-response ESP performance and occipital alpha rhythms. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 69, 235-243.

Palmer, J., & Lieberman, R. (1975). The influence of psychological set on ESP and out-of-body experiences. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 69, 235-243.

Palmer, J., & Vassar, C. (1974). ESP and out-of-body experiences: An exploratory study. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 68, 257-280.

Palmer, J. (1974): A case of RSPK involving a ten-year-old boy: The Powhatan poltergeist. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 68, 1-33.

Palmer, J. (1972). Scoring in ESP tests as a function of belief in ESP. Part II. Beyond the sheep-goat effect. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 66, 1-26.

Palmer, J. (1971). Scoring in ESP tests as a function of belief in ESP. Part I. The sheep-goat effect. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 65, 373-408.