Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Research Fellow, Parapsychology Foundation
Dr. Everton de Oliveira Maraldi is a Brazilian psychologist who I first met in Brazil, and who I have also seen at conventions of the Parapsychological Association. He has a PhD in social psychology from the University of Sao Paulo (USP) and is currently a post doctoral researcher at the Institute of Psychology of the University of São Paulo. Everton won an award from the São Paulo Academy of Psychology for the best dissertation for 2013-2015 period. In addition, he is a Member of Inter Psi – Laboratory of Anomalistic Psychology and Psychosocial Processes at USP, and the coordinator of the Group of Studies of Alterations and Anomalies of Identity of Inter Psi.
Everton’s main areas of interest are the social psychology of religion, spirituality, religion and health, dissociation, trance and dissociation in religious context, the psychosocial self and its identity, and anomalous experiences in general. He has published psychological work with Brazilian mediums.
In addition, Everton is very interested in the history of psychical research. I worked with him in three articles about Swiss psychologist Théodore Flournoy. Two of these have been published (Alvarado, C.S., Maraldi E. de O., Machado, F.R., & Zangari, W. Théodore Flournoy’s contributions to psychical research. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 2014, 78, 149-168, click here; Maraldi E. de O., Alvarado, C.S., Zangari, W., & Machado, F. R. Dissociação, crença e criatividade: Uma introdução ao pensamento de Théodore Flournoy [Dissociation, belief and creativity: An introduction to Théodore Flournoy’s thought]. Memorandum: Memória e História em Psicologia, 2016, No. 30, 12-37), and another one has been submitted for publication (Maraldi and Alvarado, Théodore Flournoy and the construction of mediumistic romances).
How did you get interested in parapsychology?
I was raised in a very religious environment. My mother became a medium when I was only a kid. She was very influenced by spiritist and Umbanda beliefs about mediumship (Umbanda is a Brazilian religion derived from the syncretism of Catholicism, Spiritism, and Indigenous and African traditions). When I was 16-years-old, she founded a spiritist center and asked me to collaborate with her by delivering spiritist lectures. At that time, I became very interested in the philosophical aspects of Spiritism and started to read Allan Kardec’s writings, as well as the work of other spiritist and spiritualist writers, such as Léon Denis and Ernesto Bozzano. Bozzano, in particular, had a huge influence on me, because of his detailed discussion of the scientific evidence for survival after death. It was also at that time that I came to know the work of the Brazilian parapsychologist Hernani Guimarães Andrade, especially for his book Parapsicologia Experimental (Experimental Parapsychology).
When preparing for college, I decided to apply for psychology. I was still very influenced by the naïve and lay conception of psychology as the “science of the soul.” During the college years, I became more skeptical in relation to the Spiritist doctrine, mainly because of the influence of psychoanalytic ideas and interpretations concerning religious experiences. But my interest in parapsychology and the study of paranormal and spiritual experiences never disappeared. In 2007, I was invited by a friend to participate at one of the Inter Psi meetings. I instantly became fascinated with the groups’ ideas and rigorous approach to the study of paranormal phenomena, which contrasted with the ideological and religious perspectives of Oscar Quevedo (a famous Brazilian parapsychologist and Catholic priest) and Andrade (whose work was pretty much influenced by the spiritist doctrine).
At that time, the Inter Psi Laboratory of Anomalistic Psychology was based in the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo (now it is based in the Institute of Psychology, at the University of São Paulo). Founded by Wellington Zangari and Fatima Regina Machado, the group aims to study anomalous experiences from a scientific (psychological and social) perspective. Wellington and Fatima have always been open to the possibility of anomalous processes or phenomena; nevertheless, they argue for the importance of considering the available (psychological, biological, social) explanations first, before any speculation regarding the existence of paranormal processes. Their work has always been based on dialogue with the mainstream areas of science, such as social psychology and cognitive sciences, what was crucial to the establishment and “normalization” of this field of study in Brazil. I was then encouraged by prof. Wellington (now my post-doc supervisor) to follow a career in this area of research.
Today, I have a masters and a doctorate in Social Psychology, with a series of publications on dissociation, mediumship, and paranormal beliefs, all topics related to anomalistic psychology. More recently, I have been collaborating with other research centers as well, such as the ProSER (Program of Spirituality, Religion, and Health at the Institute of Psychiatry of the University of São Paulo) and the Brain, Belief, and Behavior research group at Coventry University, UK.
What are your main interests in the field and how have you contributed to its development?
My main areas of interest include the role of dissociative experiences in religious rituals and practices; cross-cultural and historical perspectives on dissociation and related phenomena (such as mediumship and possession); anomalous creative experiences (such as mediumistic painting and writing); implications of anomalous experiences to our understanding of self and identity; the psychological correlates of paranormal and religious beliefs and experiences; anomalous experiences and mental health. I am also interested in the psychological study of atheism and paranormal disbelief.
I do not think I have given a significant scientific contribution to the development of anomalistic psychology or parapsychology (at least not yet!). But I am proud to have participated (along with Wellington, Fatima, and other Inter Psi members) in the establishment and expansion of this field of study in Brazil, as well as in the development of a psychosocial perspective towards anomalous experiences. I have dedicated many of my publications to a discussion of the life histories, meanings and belief systems of the experiencers (such as mediums), as well as the sociocultural and religious context in which they are immersed. These aspects are not only “alternative explanations” for anomalous experiences (such conception would constitute a reduction of these experiences to psychological and social processes). Even if we consider that anomalous phenomena (such as telepathy) are ontologically valid, the variables mentioned above would still be necessary to understand the way these experiences occur in (and affect) people’s lives. It is essential to consider not only the phenomenon per se but also the individual and his / her biographical and social contexts. And this is something I frequently emphasize in my work.
Why do you think that parapsychology is important?
I consider parapsychology as the study of phenomena that, if demonstrated as valid, apparently lie on the frontiers of scientific knowledge. Without parapsychology, one could never seriously explore the possibility of other forms of human perception or unusual and far-reaching potentials such as psychokinesis and precognition. But this is a secondary function. Actually, parapsychology is important for investigating curious (and sometimes dramatic) experiences that people report very often, but for which they do not always have a satisfactory and rational explanation.
Parapsychology did not begin with the collection of certain statistical anomalies; It started, in fact, from people’s accounts of their paranormal experiences. The first reason why we study parapsychological phenomena is that people sometimes transform their lives based on them, for better or worse. These events do not seem to be random natural processes. They convey meanings, symbols, and are differently molded by individuals and cultures. They may occur as part of common situations, but usually, they are deeply rooted in our fears, our dreams, our needs and the emotional and affective bonds we establish with other people. These experiences may also have implications for psychotherapy and psychiatric and diagnostic criteria.
In your view, what are the main problems in parapsychology today as a scientific field?
I think one of the great problems of parapsychology is the difficulty in finding a consistent theory about parapsychological phenomena. There are many hypotheses and theoretical models available, but there is also much diversity regarding results, and the data do not always support a given theoretical model. In what concerns the field of mediumship studies, I would say that the greatest challenge is to find a way to differentiate the survival hypothesis from the super-psi hypothesis (if there is any convincing way to do so). Both perspectives are precarious, in my opinion. The super-psi hypothesis assumes almost unlimited powers that go far beyond what experimental research has sometimes held about psi phenomena. The biggest problem with the survival hypothesis resides in its religious and cultural implications. Survival researchers do not always consider that their views of life after death are biased toward the concept of personal survival. The spirits of the deceased are not the only metaphysical explanation of mediumistic phenomena. In Brazilian culture, for example, some mediumistic groups believe in Orixás or other entities that are not dead people. There are a plethora of beliefs about metaphysical entities or spiritual forces, and many different doctrines in various places around the world describe a spiritual world.
These religious and esoteric groups would probably think that their interpretation of such spiritual dimension is better (or more accurate) than other available explanations. Who decides which belief system is to be preferred? How to handle all the multiple and contrasting possibilities experimentally? How can be we sure, scientifically, that it is the spirit of a deceased person, instead of other invisible or incorporeal beings? Does the veridical and accurate information provided by mediums suffice for these specific purposes?
Can you mention some of your current projects?
I recently had a paper accepted for publication in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease reviewing Brazilian studies on dissociation and dissociative disorders and analyzing them from a cross-cultural perspective. The aim of the article is to discuss Brazilian research on the topic of dissociation, highlighting its contributions to the understanding of dissociative experiences in nonclinical populations (including mediums and other religious participants), as well as for the validity and relevance of dissociative disorders in the contexts of psychiatry, psychology, and psychotherapy.
I am currently working on a series of studies (including longitudinal data) evaluating the correlations between dissociative experiences, childhood trauma, explicit and implicit paranormal beliefs, reports of spiritual/paranormal experiences and social desirability (acknowledgments to São Paulo Research Foundation, FAPESP grant number 2015/05255-2).
I am also collaborating in many other studies with other colleagues, such as a systematic review of the adverse effects of meditation, and a paper on the contributions of Théodore Flournoy, a pioneer of scientific psychology, to the study of mediumship and dissociative experiences.
MARALDI, E. O.; ZANGARI, W. Evidências de validade da Escala de Experiências Dissociativas (DES) em uma amostra não clínica. Avaliação Psicológica, v. 15, p. 93-104, 2016.
MARALDI, E. O.; ALVARADO, C. ; ZANGARI, W. ; MACHADO, Fátima Regina. Dissociação, crença e criatividade: uma introdução ao pensamento de Théodore Flournoy. Memorandum: Memória e História em Psicologia, No. 30: v. 30, p. 12, 2016.
MACHADO, Fátima Regina ; ZANGARI, W. ; MARALDI, E. O. ; MARTINS, L. B. ; SHIMABUCURO, A. H. . Contribuições da psicologia para a compreensão das relações entre a espiritualidade, a religiosidade e as experiências anômalas. Clareira – Revista de Filosofia da Região Amazônica, v. 3, p. 2, 2016.
MARALDI, E. O.; ZANGARI, W. . ‘Em transe’: um estudo quali-quantitativo sobre o papel das experiências dissociativas e somatoformes nas crenças e rituais religiosos. Boletim Academia Paulista de Psicologia, v. 35, p. 382-408, 2015.
MARALDI, E. O.. Medium or author? A preliminary model relating dissociation, paranormal belief systems and self-esteem. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, v. 78.1, p. 1-24, 2014.
ALVARADO, C. ; MARALDI, E. O. ; ZANGARI, W. ; MACHADO, Fátima Regina . Théodore Flournoy’s contributions to Psychical Research. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, v. 78, p. 916, 2014.
MARALDI, E. O.. Resenha do livro ‘Hallucinations’ (A mente assombrada) de Oliver Sacks. Boletim – Academia Paulista de Psicologia, v. 33, p. 497-501, 2013.
MARALDI, E. O.; KRIPPNER, S. ; EVRARD, R. . Une approche biopsychosociale de la dissociation créative: remarques sur un cas de peinture médiumnique. Bulletin Métapsychique, v. 15, p. 7-8, 2013.
MARALDI, E. O.; KRIPPNER, S. . A Biopsychosocial Approach to Creative Dissociation: remarks on a case of mediumiistic painting. NeuroQuantology, v. 11, p. 544-572, 2013.
MARALDI, E. O.; ZANGARI, W. . Individual and group dialectics in the study of mediumship: a psychosocial perspective. The Paranormal Review, v. 66, p. 14-18, 2013.
MARALDI, E. O.; ZANGARI, W. . Funções projetivas e terapêuticas das práticas dissociativas em contexto religioso. Boletim – Academia Paulista de Psicologia, v. 32, p. 424-452, 2012.
MARALDI, E. O.. Resenha do livro ‘Religion for Atheists’ de Alain de Botton. Boletim – Academia Paulista de Psicologia, v. 32, p. 497-501, 2012.
MARALDI, E. O.. Jung e as experiências mediúnicas. Junguiana (Sao Paulo), v. 29, p. 39-49, 2011.
MARALDI, E. O.; ZANGARI, W. ; MACHADO, Fátima Regina . A Psicologia das Crenças Paranormais: Uma Revisão Crítica. Boletim – Academia Paulista de Psicologia, v. 31, p. 394-421, 2011.
MARALDI, E. O.; MACHADO, Fátima Regina ; ZANGARI, W. . Importance of Psychosocial Approach for a Comprehensive Understanding of Mediumship. Journal of Scientific Exploration, v. 24, p. 181-196, 2010.
ZANGARI, W. ; MARALDI, E. O. . Psicologia da Mediunidade: do intrapsíquico ao psicossocial. Boletim – Academia Paulista de Psicologia, v. 77, p. 233-252, 2009.
ZANGARI, W. ; MACHADO, Fátima Regina ; MARALDI, E. O. ; MARTINS, L. B. . Extraordinary religious / anomalous cases from Brazil and the Fortean approach. In: Jack Hunter. (Org.). Damned facts: Fortean essays on religion, folklore and the paranormal. 1ed.Konia, Cyprus (Grécia): Aporetic Press, 2016, v. 1, p. 41-53.
MARALDI, E. O.; ZANGARI, W. ; MACHADO, Fátima Regina . Estudio de la sobrevivencia: consideraciones metodologicas y epistemologicas. In: Alejandro Parra. (Org.). Ojos invisibles – La cruzada por la conquista del espíritu: Una neurociencia de las experiencias paranormales. 1ed.Buenos Aires: Antigua, 2015, v. 1, p. 115-142.
MARALDI, E. O.; ZANGARI, W. ; MACHADO, Fátima Regina ; KRIPPNER, S. . Anomalous mental and physical phenomena of Brazilian mediums: a review of the scientific literature. In: Jack Hunter; David Luke. (Org.). Talking with the spirits: Ethnographies from between the worlds. 1ed.Brisbane (Australia): Daily Grail Publishing, 2014, v. 1, p. 259-301.
ZANGARI, W. ; MARALDI, E. O. ; MARTINS, L. B. ; MACHADO, Fátima Regina . Estados Alterados de Consciência e Religião. In: João Décio Passos e Frank Usarski. (Org.). Compêndio de Ciência da Religião. 1ed.São Paulo: Paulinas / Paulus, 2013, v. , p. 423-435.
MARALDI, E. O.; ZANGARI, W. ; MACHADO, Fátima Regina . Mediumnidad en Brasil: aspectos históricos e investigación científica. E-Boletín Psi: Boletín Electrônico del Instituto de Psicologia Paranormal, Argentina, 10 set. 2015.
MARALDI, E. O.. El caso del medium Chico Xavier: una interpretación psicológica. E-Boletín Psi – Boletín Electrônico del Instituto de Psicologia Paranormal, 15 jan. 2013.
MARALDI, E. O.. Un estudio exploratorio sobre la mediumnidad y la identidad psicosocial. E-Boletín Psi – Boletín Electrônico del Instituto de Psicologia Paranormal, , v. 4.