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).