Archive for July, 2018


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

Over the years I have written several articles about Charles Richet’s psychical research, among them a general overview of his work on the subject, and an analysis of his Traité de Métapsychique (1922). My last published discussion of Richet is an article in which I translated and reprinted a chapter from one of his books in which he presented an autobiographical essay of his involvement with the subject. Here is the reference and the abstract:

Charles Richet 10

Charles Richet

“Fragments of a Life in Psychical Research: The Case of Charles Richet” (Journal of Scientific Exploration, 2018, 32, 55–78; PDF available on request: carlos@theazire.org).

Abstract

“In this paper I present a translation of an autobiographical essay French physiologist Charles Richet wrote about his involvement in psychical research in his Souvenirs d’un Physiologiste (1933). In the essay Richet presented an outline of aspects of his psychic career, including: Early interest in hypnosis and hypnotic lucidity, encounters with gifted individuals such as Eusapia Palladino and Stephan Ossowiecki, contact with the Society for Psychical Research, his Traité de Métapsychique (1922) and his lack of belief in survival of death. Richet’s account will be of particular interest for those who are not acquainted with his career. However, the essay is succinct and lacks important events that need to be supplemented with other sources of information. An examination of this autobiographical essay illustrates the limitations of autobiographies to reconstruct the past, but also provides an opportunity to discuss aspects of Richet’s psychical research.”

Richet Souvenirs

I wrote: “One of the purposes of the present article is to present information about Richet’s interest in psychic phenomena via his own, admittedly brief, account. It is my impression that most contemporary workers in parapsychology, although aware of Richet’s existence, know little about his actual work. Being short, and personal, the excerpt presented below may be of more relevance to workers in parapsychology than the more academic writings cited above. The reprint of the excerpt is also an opportunity to give Richet a voice never heard before in English, since the excerpt in question originally was published in French.”

Richet and Linda Gazzera

Richet (on the left) in séance with Italian Materialization Medium Linda Gazzera

I wrote:

“Richet was part of this movement, particularly strong in France, that explored the existence and range of non-conscious human functioning and that included both conventional and unconventional phenomena . . . This is seen in his writings about personality changes in hypnosis, unconscious movements, and the induction of trance at a distance . . .”

“An important early contribution, and a classic of Nineteenth-Century ESP literature, was Richet’s [1884] article about mental suggestion, or the “influence that an individual’s thought exerts over a specific sense, without an appreciable exterior phenomenon on our senses, over the thought of a nearby individual”. . . This included transmission of thoughts and images, as well as other effects such as the induction of trance at a distance. In the paper, Richet described his use of statistical analyses in several guessing tasks with various targets, as well as discussions of conceptual ideas such as the unconscious nature of the process . . . In later papers Richet continued testing various gifted individuals . . . and included observations of Polish psychic Stephan Ossowiecki (1877-1944) . . .”

Stefan Ossowiecki 2

Stefan Ossowiecki

“There were also many experiences with various mediums and psychics. Examples were séances with Eusapia Palladino (1854–1918 . . .) and Leonora E. Piper (1857–1950 . . .). Richet’s . . . materialization séances with medium Marthe Béraud are well-known, an episode that generated many controversies . . . Here both full and partial materializations were observed . . .”

Eva C 8

Marthe Béraud

The best known of his works was the highly influential Traité de Métapsychique [1922] . . . where instead of psychical research he used the term “métapsychique” (metapsychics), a word he had suggested before . . . In the Traité, and elsewhere, Richet frequently expressed hope that future developments in science would allow us to understand psychic phenomena. His popularization and discussion of psychical research not only continued in other books . . . but also in articles in non-psychic journals . . . and in newspapers . . . In addition to the  above mentioned examples, Richet’s articles in psychic journals included topics such as statistical analyses of ESP tests . . . , recurrent doubts in the study of psychic phenomena . . . , the decimal indexing of psychic literature . . . , xenoglossy . . . , an ancient case of near-death experience . . . , premonitions . . . , and survival of death . . .”

Richet Traite de metapsychique 4

Richet Notre sixieme sens

Richet L'Avenir de la Premonition

“Richet did much to support psychical research in various forums of conventional science. He opened the door to, and defended the importance of, psychical research in the international congresses of psychology . . . He was also one of the founders of a very important French journal, the Annales des Sciences Psychiques, first published in 1891, where not only French but also authors from other countries discussed psychic phenomena . . . Furthermore, Richet was a supporter of the Institut Métapsychique International since its beginnings.”

Annales des Sciences Psychiques 1891

Annales 1905

The article also illustrates the limitations of autobiographies as historical documents. An analysis of the essay considering Richet’s publications about psychic topics shows occasional omissions of important information and incorrect recollection of facts. “Autobiographies, like history in general, are reconstructions of the past, but reconstructions based on one person’s perspective and motivations, on their priorities at the moment of ordering the recollections of a lifetime. The latter is particularly an issue.” Nonetheless, “when used together with other sources of information . . . [autobiographies] are not only informative, but illuminating of a time period.”

Richet 2

Older Charles Richet

 

 

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

Although I have not personally met Dr. Damien Broderick, I have corresponded with him and I have followed his previous writings in parapsychology, mainly his high quality books Outside the Gates of Science: Why It’s Time for the Paranormal to Come In From The Cold (Thunder’s Mouth, 2007), and  Evidence for Psi: Thirteen Empirical Research Reports (edited with Ben Goertzel; McFarland, 2015). I commented on this last book in a previous blog.

Damien Broderick 2

Damien Broderick

Broderick Outside Gates of Science

Broderick Evidence for Psi

Damien is a well-known and critically acclaimed Australian writer about science fiction and other topics who has published numerous books. The one featured here, Psience Fiction: The Paranormal in Science Fiction Literature (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2018) is the best book about psychic phenomena in the science fiction literature.

Broderick Psience Fiction

Here is the table of contents:

Preface

Introduction

  1. 1935 Donald Macpherson (George Humphrey), Go Home, Unicorn
  1. 1935 Olaf Stapledon, Odd John
  1. 1939/51 E. E. Smith, History of Civilization [runner-up special Hugo 1941/2016]
  1. 1940/46 A E van Vogt, Slan [special Hugo 1941/2016]
  1. 1949/52 James Blish, Jack of Eagles
  1. 1949/66 James H Schmitz, The Witches of Karres
  1. 1952 Alfred Bester, The Demolished Man [1st Hugo]
  1. 1952 Zenna Henderson, The People stories
  1. 1952 J. T. McIntosh, The ESP Worlds
  1. 1953 Theodore Sturgeon, More than Human,
  1. 1953-54/56 Mark Clifton and Frank Riley, They’d Rather Be Right, [2nd Hugo]
  1. 1953/58 Mark Clifton, “What Thin Partitions” to “Remembrance and Reflection”
  1. 1954 Wilson Tucker, Wild Talent
  1. 1955 James H Schmitz, The Ties of Earth
  1. 1955 John Wyndham, The Chrysalids/Re-Birth
  1. 1956 R A Heinlein, Time for the Stars
  1. 1956 Frank M Robinson, The Power & Waiting
  1. 1956 George O. Smith, Highways in Hiding
  1. 1956-57 Alfred Bester, The Stars My Destination
  1. 1958 Lan Wright, A Man Called Destiny
  1. 1958— Marion Zimmer Bradley, Darkover series
  1. 1958 Jack Vance, “Parapsyche” & “The Miracle Workers” & “Telek”
  1. 1959/61 “Mark Phillips” [Randall Garrett and Laurence M. Janifer],

Brain Twister [“That Sweet Little Old Lady”]

Impossibles [“Out Like a Light”]

Supermind [“Occasion for Disaster”]

  1. Stories I:

1949 Katherine MacLean, “Defense Mechanism”

1950: C.M. Kornbluth, “The Mindworm”;

1952 Walter Miller, Jr., “Command Performance”

1953 Isaac Asimov, “Belief”

1953 Algis Budrys, “Riya’s Foundling”

1955 Cordwainer Smith, “The Game of Rat and Dragon”

1956 Brian W. Aldiss, “Psyclops”

1956 J. T. McIntosh, “Empath”

1957 Poul Anderson, “Journeys End”

  1. 1962 Arthur Sellings, Telepath
  1. 1962/63 Keith Woodcott aka John Brunner, “Crack of Doom”/The Psionic Menace
  1. 1964 John Brunner, Telepathist / The Whole Man
  1. 1967-75 Dan Morgan, The Sixth Perception series:

The New Minds (1967);

The Several Minds (1969);

Mind Trap (1970);

The Country of the Mind (1975)

  1. 1967 Richard Cowper, Breakthrough
  1. 1968— Anne McCaffrey, Talents Universe
  1. 1969 Philip K. Dick, Ubik (etc)
  1. 1969 Colin Wilson, The Philosopher’s Stone
  1. 1970 Joanna Russ, And Chaos Died
  1. 1971 Lester del Rey, Pstalemate
  1. 1972 Robert Silverberg, Dying Inside
  1. 1975 Katherine MacLean, Missing Man
  1. 1975 Robert Silverberg, The Stochastic Man
  1. 1976 Octavia Butler, Mind of My Mind
  1. 1982 Joan D. Vinge, Psion
  1. 1987 Lucius Shepard, Life During Wartime
  1. 2011 Carrie Vaughn, After the Golden Age
  1. 2016 Connie Willis, Crosstalk
  1. Two Novels by Psychics (1978, 1999)
  1. Stories II:

1961 Poul Anderson, “Night Piece”

1971 Robert Silverberg, “Something Wild is Loose”

1978 C. J. Cherryh, “Cassandra” [Hugo for best short story]

1991 Brian M. Stableford, “The Oedipus Effect”

Conclusion

Appendix 1–  A Brief Guide to Paranormal Research

Appendix 2 – Psi and Afterlife in Psience Fiction

Interview

Can you give us a brief summary of the book?  

Here is a summary from the publisher: 

“Science fiction has often been considered the literature of futuristic technology: fantastic warfare among the stars or ruinous apocalypses on Earth. The last century, however, saw through John W. Campbell the introduction of “psience fiction,” which explores themes of mind powers—telepathy, precognition of the future, teleportation, etc.—and symbolic machines that react to such forces. The author surveys this long-ignored literary shift through a series of influential novels and short stories published between the 1930s and the present. This discussion is framed by the sudden surge of interest in parapsychology and its absorption not only into the SF genre, but also into the real world through military experiments such as the Star Gate Program.”

What is your background in parapsychology, and with the topic of the book specifically?  

I grew up as a pious Catholic working class kid in Australia during the 1950s, and to the horror of my parents became infatuated with gaudy science fiction comics and magazines. The more sophisticated magazines (but often still quite garish) were not easily found in Australia back then, but a factory worker living across the street allowed me to borrow his copies of the British New Worlds and Science Fantasy, and the premier US zines Astounding and Galaxy. What most captivated me was the range of psi-inflected tales in the early to mid-1950s: stories closer to magic, really, than to science, like Star Wars decades later.

Several elements attracted me, especially a frequent emphasis on quirky intelligent characters, often despised but gifted with unusual abilities such as telepathy, precognition, clairvoyance and teleportation. I knew this was all wild fiction, but it let my imagination soar freely. Imagine my astonishment when my mother one day brought home from the library (I was a sickly kid) a copy of J.B. Rhine’s The Reach of the Mind. What! This man was a scientist and yet he claimed that psi abilities were real! I started testing it alone or with my younger siblings, and had some hair-raising successes.

Then conventional attitudes kicked in, and I decided psi was just a story-telling device after all. I went to university to study literature and philosophy, and was introduced to Len Kane, the former teacher of a uni friend, a clinical psychologist a few years older than us with an interest in psi. In 1970, after I’d started work in journalism, I read an article in Analog (the spruced-up version of what had once been called, with vulgar brashness, Astounding) describing a repeated-guessing, majority-vote approach to telepathy that had worked in the lab, although only just.

I was struck by the realization that this approach might be used to create a real-world psi application based on getting messages from the future—controlled precognition! I rushed to where Len had a post at an interstate university, and we built a monstrous noisy machine in the lab that recorded our guesses at a future string—a target which, naturally, was generated by a horse race some days hence. The first time we tried it, we got the right horse. This was probably the most electrifying and delightful experience of my life. We planned repetitions, anticipating our Nobel Prize. But it didn’t work the second time, or the third time… Just a coincidence on the initial test? Or had some psychological barrier or unconscious angst blocked our psi after that first shock?

I went back to old publications where somewhat similar approaches to psi application had been reported. Some were successful in just the way I expected; others were apparently failures. I taught myself enough statistics to reanalyze these early results and in quite a number of cases found that the experimenters had simply failed to compensate for guessing biases. Using internal controls (essentially, tabulating how frequently a certain symbol was chosen when it was randomly chosen as the target, compared with its score when it was not target), I was able to recover correct results from famous, allegedly debunked experiments with huge numbers of participants (such as the Zenith radio tests in the 1930s). I ran a rather over-ambitious newspaper precognition test, and obtained some provocative results.

Meanwhile, I had started writing science fiction and selling it both in Australia and the US. In 1980, I published a novel titled The Dreaming Dragons that was selected as one of the 100 best since Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. The following year I flew for the first time to the US, and spent several days with the Rhine researchers in Durham. Eventually I wrote a popular science study of psi in general and my results after obtaining three quarters of a billion guesses at a major Australian lottery. Many years later I revised and expanded my treatment of such data in Knowing the Unknowable, which is full of charts and numbers. It failed to sell a million copies, alas.

What motivated you to write this book? 

All of the above is the background to my continuing interest in psi phenomena, enhanced when I had the good fortune to be invited to join a closed online list of psi experts. Few of them agree with each other over the metaphysics of psi—how it works, what it is for (in evolutionary terms, for example), what its relationship is to consciousness and philosopher David Chalmers’ “Hard Problem.” I summarized a lot of this in Outside the Gates of Science, which was quite well received by the psi community and even persuaded Dr. Ben Goertzel, a brilliant polymathic AI researcher, that there actually is something in these preposterous claims. That led to Ben’s and my co-editing a hefty book from McFarland, Evidence for Psi. Somewhere during all this I’d done a PhD in critical literary theory (and published 70 books), and I realized that it might be worth going back to those stories about psi that had so enthralled me when I was 12 or 14, and look at the impact of psi research on science fiction and of science fiction on parapsychology. That became Psience Fiction, a term I borrowed from an English reviewer of Alfred Bester’s spectacular psi-futurist novel The Stars My Destination  from the late 1950s.

But why did I do it? Because I still love science fiction and remain endlessly curious about psi, and I wanted to put them together across the last century or so and see what the result looked like. It was a lot of fun.

Why do you think your book is important and what do you hope to accomplish with it?  

Well, psi is obviously important yet still often ignored or disparaged by scientists who have never bothered to investigate its evidence tracks. Meanwhile, science fiction in the previous century engaged with serious work on atomic power (and weapons), space flight, telecommunications, genomics, etc. Its most influential editor, John W. Campbell, of Astounding/Analog fame, was obsessed with psi in the mid-century. What could have happened that apparently caused its core audience to lose interest, especially at the very moment that real-world psi research was being funded by the US government, other nations, and some major corporations? I think my book is the first to approach this topic seriously and not with its tongue snidely in its cheek.

But I don’t wish to be solemn—I hope your blog readers will find it intriguing and amusing, as I did writing it.

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

Dr. K. Ramakrishna Rao, from India, has been in parapsychology for many decades. I first met him at the Institute for Parapsychology (now Rhine Research Center) in the 1980s. He is well known as a philosopher, psychologist and parapsychologist, and was recently awarded the National Fellowship of the Indian Council of Philosophical Research, to work on a project entitled “The Bhagavad Gita: A Psychological Profile.”

K. Ramakrishna Rao 2

K. Ramakrishna Rao

In the past, Dr. Rao has held many high level positions. He is currently Chancellor at the Gandhi Institute of Technology and Management. In addition to being Vice-Chancellor of Andhra University, he was an Advisor on Higher Education to the Government of Andhra Pradesh, and Vice-Chairman of Andhra Pradesh State Planning Board. Furthermore, for several years he was the Executive Director of the Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man (founded by J.B. Rhine).

In parapsychology Dr. Rao is known for his many ESP experiments, most of which have appeared over the years in the Journal of Parapsychology. But he has also published books, and edited anthologies of papers on the subject: Psi Cognition (Tenali: Tagore Publishing House,  1957); Experimental Parapsychology: A Review and Interpretation (Springfield: Charles C Thomas, 1966); Mystic Awareness: Four Lectures on the Paranormal (Mysore: Mysore University Press, 1972);  Experimental Studies of the Differential Effect in Life Setting (with P. Sailaja; Parapsychological Monograph. No. 13. New York: Parapsychology Foundation. 1973); J.B. Rhine: On the Frontiers of Science. (Editor). Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland. 1982); Case Studies in Parapsychology. (Editor). Jefferson, NC.: McFarland, 1986); Charles Honorton and the Impoverished State of Skepticism: Essays on a Parapsychological Pioneer. (Editor). NC: McFarland, 1994); Basic Research in Parapsychology (2nd ed., Jefferson, NC: McFarland,. 2001); and Cognitive Anomalies: Consciousness and Yoga (New Delhi: Center for Studies in Civilizations and Matrix Publishers, 2011).

Rao Experimental Parapsychology

Rao Basic Research in Parapsychology

Books on other psychological topics include Cultivating Consciousness: Enhancing Human Potential, Wellness, and Healing (Editor, Westport, CT: Praeger. 1993); Consciousness Studies: Cross-Cultural Perspectives (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2002); Towards a Spiritual Psychology (edited with Sonali Bhatt Marwaha; New Delhi: Samvad, 2005); Handbook of Indian Psychology (edited with  A.C. Paranjpe & A.K. Dalal; New Delhi: Cambridge University Press, 2008); Cultivating Consciousness: An East-West Journey (D.K. Printworld, 2013); Psychology in the Indian Tradition (with A.C Paranjpe; New Delhi; Heidelberg: Springer, 2016); Gandhi’s Dharma (Oxford University Press, 2017); Foundations of Yoga Psychology (Singapore: Springer Nature, 2017); Colonial Syndrome, The Videshi Mindset in Modern India (DK Printworld, 2018); and Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra: A Psychological Study (DK Printworld, 2018).

Rao Cultivating Consciousness

Rao Foundations 2

The book commented on in the interview that follows, The Elements of Parapsychology (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2017) is the latest of Dr. Rao’s discussions of parapsychology.

Rao Elements

Table of contents

1—Background and Beginnings
2—Concepts and Methods
3—Accumulating Evidence
4—Problems of Replication and Application
5—­Process-Oriented Research
6—The Problem of ­Psi-Missing
7—The Experimenter Effect
8—Explanatory Quagmire
9—The Unsettled State: Postscript to Sixty
Years in Parapsychology

Interview

Can you give us a brief summary of the book?

The Elements of Parapsychology is a concise and yet a comprehensive introduction to psychic phenomena. Though coextensive with recorded human history, these phenomena remained for long a mystery and a matter of faith rather than a subject of serious scientific study. However, about a century and half ago, they caught the attention of scientists, who since attempted sporadically to investigate them.

A systematic study of these phenomena as a scientific pursuit began with the work of J.B. Rhine at Duke University under the tutelage of William McDougall, one of the leading psychologists at the time. The first output of this effort resulted in the publication of a research monograph Extra-Sensory Perception by Rhine in 1934, followed by Extra-Sensory Perception After Sixty Years (ESP-60) in 1940, a review of relevant research and the controversies surrounding it until then. I have about fifty years ago published my Experimental Parapsychology which meant to be a supplement to ESP-60.

Notwithstanding the life long struggle to win scientific credibility for and acceptance of the existence of extrasensory abilities by J.B. Rhine and his wife Louisa E. Rhine and those who followed them, the subject continues to be controversial. The reason is not lack of sufficient empirical and experimental evidence but the fact that the phenomena pose a theoretical challenge to the worldview incorporated in science in general. Therefore, what is needed is not more research and data to prove the existence of psychic phenomena but reasonable understanding of their theoretical base, its methods of study, concepts and controversies.

The Elements of Parapsychology is an updated overview of the subject, its problems and prospects.

What is your background in parapsychology, and with the topic of the book specifically?

I have been involved in parapsychology since 1953 when I was a graduate student. I wrote my M.A. (Hons.) dissertation with focus on parapsychology. I published my first book in 1957 under the title Psi Cognition. J.B. Rhine wrote the Foreword. With that small beginning our association continued for decades. I headed Rhine’s Institute for Parapsychology and the Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man (FRNM) for nearly two decades. I was associated with the Journal of Parapsychology, mostly as its Editor, for an equal number of years. My most recent contribution is the book Cognitive Anomalies, Consciousness and Yoga.

What motivated you to write this book?

To share my current thoughts. I was greatly benefitted by the incisive comments of Robert Franklin which helped to greatly improve the quality of the contents.

Why do you think your book is important and what do you hope to accomplish with it?

I hope the book would serve as an useful introduction for anyone interested in parapsychology. It could also serve as a textbook for first level courses in parapsychology.

 

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

Adrian Ryan discusses the issue of open data in parapsychology. His article is entitled “Open Data in Parapsychology: Introducing Psi Open Data” (Journal of Parapsychology, 2018, 82, 65-76: author’s email: adrian.ryan@greyheron1.plus.com).

Here is the abstract of the article:

“Open data in science brings important benefits, most notably the potential to accelerate scientific discovery, and the ability for the community to verify research findings. In addition to exploring these benefits, this paper considers concerns that some researchers may have about the approach. Publishing strategies, copyright and database right considerations, confidentiality, preparation of data for publication, and the citation of datasets are also discussed, as is the importance of journal policy. The second section of the paper presents Psi Open Data (https://open-data.spr.ac.uk), an open repository for parapsychology and psychical research data recently launched by the Society for Psychical Research. The repository is constructed using DKAN, an open source open data platform with a full suite of cataloging, publishing, and visualization features. It allows administrator users to upload research datasets, and any visitor to search for and download datasets. Various aspects of the repository are described: data structures, metadata, data classification, preview, and download facilities. Researchers are encouraged to support the repository by contributing datasets from both current and previous work.”

The author writes:

“Open data can accelerate the rate of discovery in the following ways:

•Enabling researchers to explore questions not envisioned by the original investigators, and to address old questions in new ways, through re-use of data.

•Enabling meta-analyses, and the creation of new datasets by combining multiple data sources.

•Making possible the testing of alternative hypotheses, and the use of different methods of analysis; sharing of data encourages diversity of analysis and opinion.

Another key benefit of open data is transparency. Open data allows the community to identify errors in the research record through the reproduction of research findings, thereby preventing wasteful allocation of resources exploring research avenues founded upon erroneous conclusions.”

It is stated at  the end of the article:

“Researchers who support the aims of the initiative are encouraged to contribute datasets. The best time to prepare data for publication is throughout the process of creating it, and while preparing the associated research report for publication, not at some later time when a request for the data is received. The effort to prepare data for open data practices is relatively small if the data are collected and managed with data sharing in mind. As well as datasets from current projects, old datasets are valuable and researchers are also encouraged to submit these. Datasets placed in the repository will continue to benefit generations of researchers long into the future.”