Archive for September, 2020


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

Psychologist David Vernon has just published an overview of parapsychology entitled Dark Cognition: Evidence for Psi and Its Implications for Consciousness (Routledge, 2020). David used to be the editor of the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, and is the author of Human Potential: Exploring Techniques Used to Enhance Human Performance (Routledge, 2009). He is currently Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Canterbury Christ Church University.

David Vernon

According to the publisher’s website: “David Vernon provides essential coverage of information and evidence for a variety of anomalous psi phenomena, calling for a paradigm shift in how we view consciousness: from seeing it as something solely reliant on the brain to something that is enigmatic, fundamental and all pervasive. The book examines the nature of psi research showing that, despite claims to the contrary, it is clearly a scientific endeavour . . . [that has] significant implications for our understanding of consciousness.”

Here is the table of contents.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Psi as science

3. Telepathy and scopaesthesia

4. Clairvoyance and remote viewing

5. Precognition

6. Psychokinesis

7. Fields of consciousness

8. Energy healing

9. Out of body experiences

10. Near death experiences

11. Post death phenomena

12. Implications for consciousness

Interview

Can you give a brief summary of the book? 

In this book I examine the nature of psi research showing that, despite claims to the contrary, it is clearly a scientific endeavour. Following this the book explores evidence from a range of topics, including, telepathy and scopaesthesia, clairvoyance and remote viewing, precognition, psychokinesis, fields of consciousness, energy healing, out of body experiences, near death experiences and post death phenomena. Each of these areas provide some interesting and useful results, clearly showing that something unusual is occurring. Though precisely what this is, or how and why such effects occur, remains at present an intriguing mystery. Importantly, the prevailing view of consciousness, as an emergent phenomenon of brain activity, completely fails to account for such findings. Hence, based on evidence outlined in the book, I argue that to understand consciousness a paradigm shift is needed. One that moves consciousness away from being solely reliant on the brain to a view of consciousness that is something more fundamental and all pervasive.  

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

I’m currently working as a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Canterbury Christ Church University in the UK. I have a background in cognitive neuroscience and have conducted research across a range of areas including memory, peak performance, electroencephalographic biofeedback and creativity. However, I’ve always had an interest in consciousness and psi and a few years ago decided to come out of the closet (scientifically speaking) and focus on these issues more fully and explicitly. I began by exploring the retroactive facilitation effects reported by Daryl Bem and since then have been exploring scopaesthesia, telepathy using virtual reality and morphic resonance effects. Given my interest I was also keen to get involved in the field and learn more which led me to become a Board Member of the Parapsychological Association and a Council Member of the Society for Psychical Research, which also involved me spending two years working as Editor of the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research.  

What motivated you to write this book? 

Following the principle of Docendo discimus, which generally means ‘by teaching we learn’, I decided to put together a final year option module on the undergraduate programme at my University that explored anomalous cognition. I wasn’t sure how popular this would be but I’m quite chuffed that it is now in its third year and I have about sixty final year undergraduates signed up. The contents of the book came from these lectures and it will now be the core text for the students on this module.   

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

I think the book will be an indispensable source of information and evidence for anyone wishing to obtain a good understanding of anomalous psi phenomena. However, more than this, the three pre-conceived ideas or beliefs that I’m always faced with when lecturing the undergraduates about this are: 

  1. Psi is pseudoscience and not scientific 
  2. There is no evidence for psi  
  3. So what. . . what does it matter?  

Hence, I wanted the book to clearly address these issues by showing that not only is psi research scientific but that it is often more robust and rigorous than other areas of psychology. That, when one takes the time to look, there is in fact a plethora of empirical support for a whole range of anomalous phenomena. And the implications of this are so important that it is likely to lead to a paradigm shift with regards to the way we think about consciousness.   

My hope is that it will stimulate the interest of anyone who reads it and open their minds to new possibilities. 

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

Another one of my articles was just published. This one is about nineteenth century ideas of mediumship, the unconscious mind, and dissociation. Here is the title and abstract:

Dissociation and the Unconscious Mind: Nineteenth-Century Perspectives on Mediumship.

Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol. 34, No. 3, pp. 537–596, 2020.

Abstract

“There is a long history of discussions of mediumship as related to dissociation and the unconscious mind during the nineteenth century. After an overview of relevant ideas and observations from the mesmeric, hypnosis, and spiritualistic literatures, I focus on the writings of Jules Baillarger, Alfred Binet, Paul Blocq, Théodore Flournoy, Jules Héricourt, William James, Pierre Janet, Ambroise August Liébeault, Frederic W. H. Myers, Julian Ochorowicz, Charles Richet, Hippolyte Taine, Paul Tascher, and Edouard von Hartmann. While some of their ideas reduced mediumship solely to intra-psychic processes, others considered as well veridical phenomena. The speculations of these individuals, involving personation, and different memory states, were part of a general interest in the unconscious mind, and in automatisms, hysteria, and hypnosis during the period in question. Similar ideas continued into the twentieth century.”

I wrote in the introduction that much of what I discuss is not cited by current students of dissociation and mediumship. Consequently, I hope to make this material “more available, and to provide some historical context to current ideas on the subject with additional references . . . Readers should be aware that most of the discussions about the topic during the nineteenth century were attempts to reduce mediumship to psychological, physiological, and medical ideas. In addition, much of what I discuss as examples of dissociation was not seen as such by believers in the spiritual interpretation of mediumship.”

Before I summarize the ideas of the individuals mentioned in the abstract I present a general introduction  to nineteenth century observations of dissociation. This has sections about trances and secondary personalities, and about mediumship.

Mediumship Morgan

One of the individuals discussed, French historian and critic Hippolyte Taine, wrote that “spiritist manifestations themselves put us on the path of discovery, showing us the coexistence at the same time, in the same individual, of two thoughts, two wills, two different actions, one of which is conscious, the other of which he is unaware of and which he attributes to invisible beings. The human brain is then a theatre in which different plays are performed at the same time . . . [There is a] a doubling of the self, the simultaneous presence of two series of parallel and independent ideas, two centers of action . . . juxtaposed in the same brain, each with its own work and each with different work, one on stage and the other behind the scenes, the second as complete as the first, since, alone and out of sight of each other, they build ideas followed and linked with phrases and related sentences which the other has no part of.” (H. Taine, (1878). De l’intelligence [About intelligence] (Vol. 1, 3rd rev. ed.). Hachette, pp. 16-17).

Hippolyte Taine - Wikipedia
Hippolyte Taine

While some, such as Jules Baillarger, Alfred Binet, and Pierre Janet, did not discuss veridical aspects of mediumship, others did. The latter included Théodore Flournoy, William James, and Frederic W. H. Myers.

Alfred Binet | Biography & Contributions | Britannica
Alfred Binet
File:Pierre Janet Marie Felix.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
Pierre Janet
William James | Life, Works, Influence, & Facts | Britannica
William James

I stated in the conclusion: “To a great extent discussions of nineteenth century mediumship in terms of dissociation, and the unconscious regions of the mind, were part of a common trend to reduce unusual phenomena to known concepts of medicine and psychology . . .” But there were different degrees of reductionism. Some, more consistent with the scientific establishment, only included dissociation (with manifestations such as changes of personality and state-specific memory), while others combined both dissociation and the supernormal.”

“Myers was an example of a student of mediumship who not only discussed dissociative aspects of mediums’ performances, but also believed there was evidence to accept that mediums produced veridical phenomena, such as information about sitters that could not be accounted for by conventional mechanisms. But he went beyond this. In his view the subliminal self-manifesting via dissociative means and other ways was the real self, and one that was not material, so it was the part that would survive bodily death . . . His ideas were controversial, not only for their emphasis on veridical cases, but because at the time many speculations about the unconscious emphasized pathological processes.”

Frederic William Henry Myers by William Clarke Wontner.jpg
Frederic W.H. Myers

Myers, however, was not typical, since most students of dissociation ignored the supernormal. “In fact this prejudice, a problem with which psychical researchers still have to contend with today, led to the rejection of work that had the potential of enlarging conceptions of dissociation.”

Although I emphasize the nineteenth century in the paper, in the conclusion I briefly present some example of twentieth century speculations. Among those interested in veridical mediumship I mention the writings of Théodore Flournoy, Traugott Konstantin Oesterreich, and Eleanor Sidgwick.

Traugott Konstantin Oesterreich
Tom Ruffles: Alice Johnson, Eric Dingwall, and their copy of Tertium Quid
Eleanor M. Sidgwick

I concluded: “We need to keep in mind that, in addition to dissociation, and the general workings of the unconscious mind, there are probably several other factors influencing mediumship . . . In the meantime, we would do well to remember that the ideas presented in this article belong to the various attempts—be they from psychical research, psychiatry, psychology, or Spiritualism—to explore the human mind empirically. For psychological science, ideas about mediumship were one more strand supporting the development of concepts about secondary mental states, what William James . . . referred to as the ‘hidden self.’ ”

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

Steve Braude just published a new book, Dangerous Pursuits: Mediumship, Mind, and Music (Anomalist Books, 2020). I have known Steve for many years, I think we met some time in the 1980s in one of the conventions of the Parapsychological Association. Those of you that do not know him, may want to read the statement about him in Amazon: “Stephen E. Braude is Emeritus Professor and former Chair of Philosophy at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, and Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Scientific Exploration. Prof. Braude is the recipient of numerous grants, fellowships, and awards, including Research Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the BIAL Foundation in Portugal, as well as the Distinguished Achievement Award from the International Society for the Study of Dissociation, and the F.W.H. Myers Memorial Medal from the Society for Psychical Research. He has published six other books and more than 100 book chapters and essays in philosophical and scientific journals.”

Stephen E. Braude

Stephen E. Braude

Braude Dangerous Pursuits

Steve offers readers here a collection of essays on various matters, among them the fear of psi, the mediumship of D.D. Home, Carlos Mirabelli, and Kai Mugge, and critiques of terminology in parapsychology and the concept of super-psi. He writes in the preface: “The title of this collection, Dangerous Pursuits, is a wry allusion to my obstacle-strewn career path over the past several decades—to the vindictive hostility, ridicule, and condescension I’ve encountered (both inside and outside the academy) for my decision to look carefully at the data and theoretical issues of parapsychology. I’ve discussed elsewhere how that career decision affected me professionally, and I needn’t review the details again here. I’ll just note that pursuing the paranormal in an academic environment is not for the timid, no matter how responsibly and carefully it’s conducted. And it certainly won’t put one on a fast track to professional success or prominence—that is, unless one becomes a vocal skeptic (or debunker).”

Here is the table of contents:

Preface

1.The Fear of Psi

2. Investigations of the Felix Experimental Group

3. Follow-Up Investigation of the Felix Circle

4. The Mediumship of Carlos Mirabelli

5. A Case Study in Shoddy Skepticism

6. Reflections on Super Psi

7. Making Sense of Mental Mediumship

8. Can the Deceased Have a Perceptual Point of View?

9. A Grumpy Guide to Parapsychology’s Terminological Blunders

10. A Peircing Examination of the Paranormal

11. Multiple Personality and the Structure of the Self

12. The Language of Jazz Improvisation

Interview

Can you give a brief summary of the book?

Dangerous Pursuits is a collection of mostly-related essays, similar in some respects to my book that preceded it: Crimes of Reason. What the two books have in common is that (for the most part) they’re updates and revisions (hopefully substantially improved versions!) of material I’ve produced over several decades. So both books provided me with an opportunity to make what I feel are some important theoretical and empirical points in their most compelling and complete forms. This is one of the benefits of being a chronologically-challenged and seasoned (if not overcooked) psi researcher. I’ve had the multiple luxuries of hindsight, additional time to reflect and to refine my views, and (maybe most important) publishers allowing me the opportunity for this kind of do-over. If (as I believe) the material matters, then it also matters to get things right, and especially in the case of Dangerous Pursuits, to strip away some professional jargon and make some of the material more widely accessible than it was originally.    

However Dangerous Pursuits covers different topics from Crimes of Reason. The new book’s focus is on mediumship, both mental and physical, and it concentrates heavily on several issues: (1) The fear of psi, among both researchers and laypersons, along with the all too common dishonest and cowardly responses to it, (2) the difficulty (if not impossibility) of plausibly assigning any limits to the range, sophistication, refinement, or magnitude of psi functioning, and (3) the difficulty (if not impossibility) of ruling out living-agent psi in cases suggesting postmortem survival. Along the way I spend considerable time surveying some very interesting examples of ostensible physical mediumship, including the cases of D.D. Home, Carlos Mirabelli, and my extended hands-on study of Kai Mügge and the Felix Circle. The Mügge case, by the way, afforded me the opportunity to get deeply into the weeds about how to handle and evaluate a case combining apparently genuine and impressive PK with undoubted fraud. And for dessert, I add an essay on jazz improvisation. 

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

I’ve been particularly interested in, and have investigated, mediumship and macro-PK since the late 1970s. But the best way to answer this question is to quote shamelessly from my answer to a similar question the last time you interviewed me.

   What corrupted me initially was a table-tilting session in my home while I was in graduate school during the mid 1960s. It impressed me profoundly, but I was both sensible and cowardly enough to conceal this fact from my mentors, finish my PhD, get a job, establish a decent reputation doing mainstream work in philosophical logic and the philosophy of time, and finally get tenure. I realized then that if I was an honest intellect I needed to confront my table-tilting experience, and learn as much as I could about parapsychology and what other philosophers (including some major figures) have had to say about it. So it wouldn’t be quite right to trace my interest back to those days in grad school, because I really put the whole subject out of mind until years later, when–liberated by tenure–I had the freedom to reflect on that earlier experience and immerse myself in the literature.

   When I started to study the evidence for psi, I dealt first with just the laboratory evidence (since I was still in the grip of the illusion that it was the strongest and most persuasive evidence available). The result of that effort was my book ESP and Psychokinesis. By the time that was done, I’d already starting absorbing the evidence from physical and mental mediumship and realized how much better it was than even many parapsychologists realized. That’s why I dealt with macro-PK and physical mediumship in my next book, The Limits of Influence. From there I moved on to mental mediumship and started to consider what I wanted to say about the topic of survival. But I knew also that people suffering from multiple personality disorder (now called dissociative identity disorder) behaved in ways that in many respects resembled the behavior of mental mediums. So I realized I couldn’t do a responsible job of confronting the evidence for survival without knowing more about the relevant areas of abnormal psychology and psychopathology. So I took a philosophically rewarding detour, studied the history of hypnosis and psychiatry, and became very familiar with MPD research and those conducting the research. This detour also allowed me to grapple further with some important issues in the philosophy of mind which I’d begun addressing in my first book (in particular, the failures of mechanistic analyses of the mental). Eventually, all this work led to my writing my book on multiplicity and dissociation, First Person Plural. By that time, I was sufficiently challenged chronologically for a book on survival to be more than appropriate, and I eventually wrote Immortal Remains.

Then I decided to write a kind of memoir, describing my most interesting–but not necessarily my most successful–PK investigations. That resulted in my book The Gold Leaf Lady. After that, I produced my first collection of essays, with revised and updated versions of several papers I’ve considered to be among my best, and supplemented with a couple of new essays written specifically for that volume. And that opus was Crimes of Reason. Now, as a semi-retired person (I’m still busy as Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Scientific Exploration), I still chase macro-PK cases when I can drum up the financial support.

What motivated you to write this book?

After Crimes of Reason was written, I thought I was all booked out–done with big projects. But after a while, I realized that I was unsatisfied with what I’d left in print about a bunch of other topics. Years of thinking about those topics had made me see how I’d missed certain subtleties, or neglected points I now see as important, or how I could have made certain arguments more compelling and clear. That’s what led to Dangerous Pursuits, and so now I feel again that I’m all booked out–unless I write a projected opus on how cats spend their time.

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

For one thing, I hope to expand the audience for the material. The essays originally appeared either in specialist academic venues or journals that only hard-core students of serious psi research are likely to read. And I believe the issues I confront are not only important for our understanding of the world we live in, but inherently fascinating and often mind-boggling. For example, it’s hard not to be captivated by first-hand accounts of Carlos Mirabelli apparently materializing, in bright light, fully-formed human figures, which attending physicians determine to be functioning human organisms, but which then melt into the floor or dissolve in the physicians’ grasp.

Many psi researchers recoil at this kind of material and oppose it with what they know (or should know) to be poorly-reasoned arguments about the alleged unreliability of human testimony or the possibility of mass hallucination or hypnosis. I argue in the book that these lame responses are familiar manifestations of the fear of psi, and specifically, the fear that we might have to accept something close to the “magical” world view embraced by many so-called “primitive” or undeveloped cultures. It’s a view according to which we might have to really deal with things such as hexing or the “evil eye”, and in which our vagrant thoughts might have lethal or malevolent consequences. We might really have to worry about being responsible for a range of calamities for which we’d much rather be mere bystanders. These issues are what’s really at stake when you start thinking clearly and honestly about the implications of the data–all the data, and not just straitjacketed manifestations of psi in formal experiments. Now that I think of it, perhaps that’s the unifying thread in Dangerous Pursuits

I’d just like to add that, thanks to Carlos, I now realize I omitted an important category from the new book’s index: sex & chutney. (See Chapter 9).