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

Since my last comment about the Psi Encyclopedia, an online project managed by Robert McLuhan and sponsored by the Society for Psychical Research, several more additions have been posted to this reference work.

Some of them are about specific phenomena and concepts:

Does Something Leave the Body? (OBE Historical Perspective) (by Carlos S. Alvarado)

Dreams and Past-Life Memory (by James G. Matlock)

Jim Matlock 2

James G. Matlock

Observational Theories of Psi (by Brian Millar)

Psychological Aspects of Poltergeist Cases (by Bryan Williams)

Sinclair Telepathy Experiments (by Karen Wehrstein)

Sinclair Mental Radio

There are also many entries about individuals who have worked in parapsychology, both in the past and in recent years. These include:

Tony Cornell (by John Fraser)

Arthur Conan Doyle (by Karen Wehrstein)

Arthur Conan Doyle

Arthur Conan Doyle

Hoyt Edge (by Michael Duggan)

Camille Flammarion (by Carlos S. Alvarado)

Camille Flammarion Posing

Camille Flammarion

Carl Jung (by Everton de Oliveira Maraldi and Maria de Fátima Fernandes)

William McDougall (by Karen Wehrstein)

William McDougall 2

William McDougall

John Palmer (by Michael Duggan)

Chris Roe (by Michael Duggan)

D. Scott Rogo (Callum E. Cooper)

D. Scott Rogo

D. Scott Rogo

 William Roll (by Karen Wehrstein)

Jessica Utts (by Michael Duggan)

Jessica Utts 4

Jessica Utts

Mario Varvoglis (by Michael Duggan)

In addition, there are entries about such varied topics as American Society for Psychical Research (James G. Matlock), Edgar Cayce (Karen Wehrstein), and Journal of Parapsychology (Carlos S. Alvarado).

Edgar Cayce

Edgar Cayce

At this point the Psi Encyclopedia has been in existence for a few years, having accomplished so much. Robert McLuhan’s efforts in putting hundreds of entries together has contributed greatly to the dissemination of information about parapsychology. But, the Psi Encyclopedia has matured as a online reference source for people already in the field and new to the field. It is now at a point in its development, it seems to me, that its potential for future usefulness to all its constituencies could be maximized by taking a more formal turn. Considering this, I would like to offer some suggestions for the future of the encyclopedia.

Similar to other reference works on other topics, Psi Encyclopedia could use an editorial board to help the editor balance the mix of entries towards making sure that important lines of research or areas of interest are represented in biographical entries, and in more general entries. Another important project would be to encourage a general review of already-published articles written by non-specialists in the field. By bringing in specialists possible mistakes and important omissions in some entries could be detected. One example of an entry that could benefit from this type of review is “Psi Research in North America”. The entry contends that experimental work began in the United States with J. B. Rhine’s work. The story of experimental psi research in North America is not complete without the work of the early ASPR members (e.g., Bowditch et al., [1886]. Report of the committee on thought-transference. Proceedings of the American Society for Psychical Research, 1, 106–112) and the work of such researchers as John E. Coover (Coover, J. E. [1918]. Experiments in psychical research at Leland Stanford Junior University. Stanford, CA: Stanford University) who published their research in this area long before J. B. Rhine ever thought of moving away from botany towards psychical research. Other examples could also be mentioned. 

Coover Experiments 2

Regarding omissions, some entries do not include important references, something that may well have been noticed by knowledgeable reviewers and well-read newcomers. Among the key references that are missing are: D.J. West’s Eleven Lourdes Miracles (New York: Helix Press, 1957) that should be in the entry Lourdes Cures); Olivier Leroy’s Levitation (London: Burns, Oates & Washbourne, 1928) that should be in the entry Religious Levitation), and Juliette-Alexandre Bisson’s Les phénomènes dits de materialisation (2nd ed., Paris: Félix Alcan, 1921) that should be in the entry Marthe Béraud (Eva C.).

Eleven Lourdes Miracles Cover

An editorial board that represents different areas and topics of parapsychology could also assist the editor to find additional authors to write more entries. McLuhan has worked consistently to increase the author pool, approaching some people in parapsychology for suggestions and following up, and of course, such projects are entirely dependent on the willingness to participate among the potential authors, no matter how dedicated the chief editor might be. But I believe that an editorial board could greatly expand McLuhan’s reach and make the job of finding and soliciting willing authors much easier.

An understandable bias prevalent in the Encyclopedia is its current reliance on English-language developments. As a mature reference, Psi Encyclopedia, needs to live up to its goals of representing the field as a whole. I have noticed that several articles about phenomena lack proper references to non-English-language sources. I have also noticed that 80% of the entries covering psychic researchers and authors of books and articles psychic phenomena are from English-speaking countries (80%). (An article in the encyclopedia about psychical research in Europe, and others about Brazil, France, and the Netherlands help to correct this situation.) Although biases are inevitable when few of those working on the encyclopedia are English-speakers with working knowledge of other languages, having an editorial board chosen for their content and language expertise can greatly enhance the completeness of the encyclopedia’s coverage of the field. 

Another suggestion: to improve the information value of the articles it is a good idea to craft the entries to follow a similar outline. Such instructions for the authors would need to include the flexibility to modify entries to accommodate differing needs. For example, all entries about specific researchers could have a basic biographical section about their lives and work unrelated to their psychic studies. Such a section would be useful even if it is brief. In addition, as is common in many encyclopedias, there could be a section at the end of all entries that presents relevant bibliography for the reader’s follow-up. Such a section should include basic sources of information about the topic in question, including general overviews of research and theory, or, in the case of individuals, deeper biographical and even autobiographical books and articles. Taken together with links to other related entries in the Psi Encyclopedia, such a section could extend the usefulness of the resource to students and teachers alike.

There are certainly many topics that have not yet been covered at all. Among these are those related to experimental work and to mediumship. While the coverage of past lives is broad and interesting, I wonder why there are 55 entries about various aspects of the topic when so many other important topics have no representation in the encyclopedia at all as of yet. I suppose this reflects the interests of some industrious frequent contributors who enthusiastically propose and complete entries of interest to themselves. I have been one of those who has proposed and completed entries on topics that are of interest to me. But, even though this imbalance is well-motivated and understandable, achieving a managed balance of topics and authors would be desirable, if only to inform the public that there are other important phenomena with multiple aspects, among them ESP and near-death experiences.

While there is room for improvement, it is important to recognize the extraordinary accomplishment Robert McLuhan has crafted for the field in such a short period of time. Without McLuhan’s energy and dedication to this project, the Psi Encyclopedia would not have taken such a central place on the map of reference sources in the field. As a work in progress, I believe that the encyclopedia will continue to evolve into a more complete and more useful reference work.