Category: Organizations and Groups


Carlos S. Alvarado, Research Fellow, Parapsychology Foundation

I would like to join Andreas Sommer in wishing the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) a happy 134th birthday. Writing in his Traité de Métapsychique (Paris: Félix Alcan, 1922, p. 37), famous physiologist Charles Richet stated that the “colossal work” of early SPR workers  provided the foundations for current psychical research.

The Society was founded in London on February 20, 1882. As Andreas wrote in the above-mentioned blog: “To historians of science and medicine, the Society’s history offers a veritable goldmine of opportunities to investigate some of the links between the sciences and the ‘occult’, which it might not be exaggerated to state have been written out of popular and disciplinary history.”

I have posted in another forum a short bibliography about the SPR, with emphasis on its early years. Below you will find parts of the “Objects of the Society,” as they appeared in the first volume of the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research (1882, 1, 3-6).

* * * *

“It has been widely felt that the present is an opportune time for making an organised and systematic attempt to investigate that large group of debatable phenomena designated by such terms as mesmeric, psychical, and Spiritualistic.”

“From the recorded testimony of many competent witnesses, past and present, including observations recently made by scientific men of eminence in various countries, there appears to be, amidst much illusion and deception, an important body of remarkable phenomena, which are prima facie inexplicable on any generally recognised hypothesis, and which, if incontestably established, would be of the highest possible value.”

“The task of examining such residual phenomena has often been undertaken by individual effort, but never hitherto by a scientific society organised on a sufficiently broad basis. As a preliminary step towards this end, a Conference, convened by Professor Barrett, was held in London, on January 6th, 1882, and a Society for Psychical Research was projected. The Society was definitely constituted on February 20th, 1882, and its Council, then appointed, have sketched out a programme of future work. The following subjects have been entrusted to special Committees:—”

“1. An examination of the nature and extent of any influence which may be exerted by one mind upon another, apart from any generally recognised mode of perception.”

“2. The study of hypnotism, and the forms of so-called mesmeric trance, with its alleged insensibility to pain; clairvoyance and other allied phenomena.”

“3. A critical revision of Reichenbach’s researches with certain organisations called “sensitive,” and an inquiry whether such organisations possess any power of perception beyond a highly exalted sensibility of the recognised sensory organs.”

“4. A careful investigation of any reports, resting on strong testimony, regarding apparitions at the moment of death or otherwise, or regarding disturbances in houses reputed to be haunted.”

“5. An inquiry into the various physical phenomena commonly called Spiritualistic; -with an attempt to discover their causes and general laws.”

“6. The collection and collation of existing materials bearing on the history of these subjects.”

“The aim of the Society will be to approach these various problems without prejudice or prepossession of any kind, and in the same spirit of exact and unimpassioned inquiry which has enabled Science to solve so many problems, once not less obscure nor less hotly debated. The founders of this Society fully recognise the exceptional difficulties which surround this branch of research; but they nevertheless hope that by patient and systematic effort some results of permanent value may be attained.”

“The Council desire to conduct their investigations as far as possible through private channels; and they invite communications from any person, whether intending to join the Society or not, who may be disposed to favour them with a record of experiences, or with suggestions for inquiry or experiment. Such communications will be treated, if
desired, as private and confidential.”

“Letters relating to particular classes of phenomena should be addressed to the Hon. Secs, of the respective Committees, as follows:—”

“(1) Committee on Thought-reading; Hon. Sec., Professor W. F. Barrett, 18, Belgrave Square, Monkstown, Dublin.”

“(2) Committee on Mesmerism; Hon. Sec., Dr. Wyld, 12, Great Cumberland Place, London, W.”

“(3) Committee on Reichenbach’s Experiments; Hon.Sec.,Walter H. Coffin, Esq., Junior Athenaeum Club, London, W.”

“(4) Committee on Apparitions, Haunted Houses, &c.; Hon. Sec., Hensleigh Wedgwood, Esq., 31, Queen Anne Street, London, W.”

“(5) Committee on Physical Phenomena; Hon. Sec., Dr. C. Lockhart Robertson, Hamam Chambers, 76, Jermyn Street, S.W.”

“(6) Literary Committee; Hon. Sees., Edmund Gurney, Esq., 26, Montpelier Square, S.W.; Frederic W, H. Myers Esq., Leckampton, Cambridge.”

* * * *

Those of you who are not familiar with the work of the early SPR researchers should study the above mentioned bibliography, as well as articles in the Proceedings of the SPR (PSPR), such as the following:

Barrett, W.F., Gurney, E., & Myers, F.W.H. (1882). First report on thought-reading. PSPR, 1, 13-34.

Barrett, W.F., Keep, A.P.P., Massey, C.C., Wedgwood, H., Podmore, F.,& Pease, E.R. (1883). First report of the Committee on Haunted Houses. PSPR, 1, 101-115.

Gurney, E. (1884). The stages of hypnotism. PSPR, 2, 61-72.

Guthrie, M., & Birchall, J. (1883). Record of experiments in thought-transference. PSPR, 1, 263-283.

Hodgson, R. (1892). A record of observations of certain phenomena of trance. PSPR, 8, 1-167.

Myers, F.W.H. (1892). The subliminal consciousness: Chapter I. General characteristics of subliminal messages. PSPR, 7, 298-327.

Podmore, F. (1889). Phantasms of the dead from another point of view. PSPR, 6, 229-313.

Sidgwick, H., Johnson, A., Myers, F.W.H., Podmore, F., & Sidgwick, E.M. (1894). Report on the Census of Hallucinations. PSPR, 10, 25-422.

PSPR Vol. 1

See also the important books:

Gurney, E., Myers, F.W.H., & Podmore, F. (1886). Phantasms of the Living (2 vols.). London: Trübner.

Myers, F.W.H. (1903). Human Personality and its Survival of Bodily Death (2 vols.) London: Longmans, Green.

Phantasms of the Living vol 2

There is, of course, more to SPR history than its early Nineteenth-century work. The contributions of the Society continued throughout the Twentieth century, and are still evident today.

 

Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Visiting Scholar, Rhine Research Center (http://Rhine.org)

Dr. William G. Roll

Dr. William G. Roll

For me the Psychical Research Foundation has always been synonymous with William G. Roll (1926-2012) and his work with poltergeists and other phenomena. I remember how excited I felt when I read issues of Theta, the PRF’s bulletin, during the 1970s. This was a different organization with a focus on survival of bodily death.

Dr. William G. Roll

Dr. William G. Roll

Bill, as he liked to be called, conducted research while he was at the PRF. He focused on poltergeists, hauntings, mediumship, among other topics. I particularly remember his book The Poltergeist, first published in 1972.

Roll The Poltergeist

If you go to http://www.psychicalresearchfoundation.com/ you will find a revamp of the PRFs website by Bryan Williams. The first paragraph of the welcoming page reads: “Established in 1961, the Psychical Research Foundation (PRF) is dedicated to research and education in the field of parapsychology, with particular emphasis on the exploration of the question of whether human personality or consciousness may survive after death. PRF research and educational activities have included studies, lectures, and publications on survival-related phenomena such as apparitional (ghost) experiences, hauntings, mediumship, and expanded states of consciousness such as out-of-body experiences and deep meditative states.”

Bryan J. Williams

Bryan J. Williams

The website has areas about the history of the organization, a topic discussed in an essay by Bill entitled “The Psychical Research Foundation: 1961-2010” (http://www.psychicalresearchfoundation.com/About.html). Other topics include media, published papers, and events.

Particularly interesting, and useful, is the presentation of scans from some articles published in Theta (http://www.psychicalresearchfoundation.com/Theta-Archive.html). As stated in the website: “First published as a bulletin in 1963, Theta has been the official journal of the Psychical Research Foundation, providing a forum for research and discussion on all types of phenomena related to the survival of personality or consciousness after death, including apparitional experiences, mediumistic communications, reincarnation memories, and reported cases of hauntings and poltergeists. Also covered within the scope of the journal were studies of altered states of consciousness which may suggest an extension of the mind beyond the physical body, such as out-of-body experiences and deep meditative states.”

I remember Theta with appreciation because some of my first papers were published in its pages. Among these were my articles “The Physical Detection of the Astral Body: An Historical Perspective” (1980) and “Recent OBE Detection Studies: A Review” (1982). Bryan has scanned some issues, including the first one in which Bill introduced the word “theta” in the context of survival of death. There are plans to keep scanning other issues in the future.

Here are examples of articles from the scanned issues of Theta:

Thouless, R. (1963). The Ciper Test of Survival. No. 2.

Symposium on “What Next in Survival Research? (1).” (1964). No. 4.

Tenhaeff, W.H.C. (1964). My Views on Survival. No. 6.

Parapsychology in Europe. (1965). No. 8.

Suggestions for exploratory investigations of mediums. (1966). No. 14.

Joines, W.T. (1968). Philadelphia haunting. No. 23.

Tart, C.T. (1969). Review of Celia Green’s Out-of-the Body Experiences. No. 25.

Roll, W.G. (1971). Psychical research in the seventies. No. 29-30.

Morris, R.L. (1971). Psychical Phenomena as Interdisciplinary Problem Areas. No. 32.

Osis, K. (1975). What Did the Dying See? No. 45.

Greyson, B. (1983). Increase in Psychic Phenomena Following Near-Death Experiences. Vol. 11.

Alvarado, C.S. (1983). Paranormal faces: The Bélmez case. Vol. 11.

Vaughan, A. (1986). Mediumistic Controls: Unconscious Personalities, or What? Vols. 13/14.

Grosso, M. (1987). Psi-related New Paradigm Thinking – A Few Vichian Suggestions. Vol. 15.

Roll, L.T.(1990). Clinical Interpretation of Possession: A Case Study. Vol. 16.

Jerry Conser is the organization’s current President. Both he and Bryan Williams hope to develop the PRF into a non-profit research organization. Our best wishes for this worthwhile project.

Carlos S. Alvarado, Ph.D., Visiting Scholar, Rhine Research Center (http://rhine.org)

Years back, between 1986 and 1993 I was a Visiting Scholar at the Institute for Parapsychology, housed within the Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man, in Durham, North Carolina. This was the previous name of what is known today as the Rhine Research Center (http://rhine.org), which in turn was a descendant of J.B. Rhine’s famous Parapsychology Laboratory at Duke University (for a short history see http://rhine.org/who-we-are/history.html). Now, in 2013, I have come back to North Carolina and I am again a Visiting Scholar at the RRC. Then, as now, my position is a volunteer position.

Rhine Research Center

Rhine Research Center

How is the place now after my years of absence? I would like to comment on that and, at the same time, present general information about the organization to my readers.

John Kruth

John Kruth

 The Rhine Research Center, or the Rhine, as many call the place, is a dynamic and fast growing organization. It is headed by John Kruth, the Executive Director, with the assistance of a group of dedicated volunteers who are involved in the practical aspects of the planning of various events and public relations, and in the management of the office, membership and library. The organization counts on a dedicated Board of Directors (http://rhine.org/who-we-are/staff/board-of-directors.html), over which Benton Bogle presides. The Board includes Dr. Sally Rhine Feather, daughter of J.B. and Louisa Rhine, who is not only active in many practical aspects of the Rhine, but also provides the organization with a unique focus. Among other things, she provides a connection with the past, but above all, is a constant reminder of the legacy her parents left to parapsychology.

Dr. Sally Rhine Feather

Dr. Sally Rhine Feather

Drs. J.B. and Louisa E. Rhine

Drs. J.B. and Louisa E. Rhine

One of the things I have discovered on my return is that John Kruth is taking the organization forward providing a balance between attention to the public and a commitment to the science of parapsychology. Considering the first, the Rhine is a membership organization that offers many services and benefits to its members. It has been pleasant to find that there is an active lecture series (which is livestreamed and recorded for members to watch later in the well-stocked Rhine website “media library”) that meets at facilities at Duke University. These lectures—organized by Dr. Feather and by Susan Freeman—bring speakers who discuss a great variety of topics, from the practical to the theoretical, from the experiential to the scientific study of the subject. Some speakers during 2013 have included Eben Alexander, Julia Assante, Joanne DiMaggio, Hoyt Edge, Michael Grosso, Mitchell Krucoff, Jerry Lazarus, Joe McMoneagle, Ed May, Nancy L. Zingrone, and yours truly.

Dr. Ed May and Joe McMoneagle at the Rhine Research Center

Dr. Ed May and Joe McMoneagle at the Rhine Research Center

Rhine Research Center Library

Rhine Research Center Library

The Rhine also maintains the Alex Tanous Library. In recent days I have indulged myself in its collection, checking many of its titles pertaining to one of my main interests, the old psychical research literature. This includes books by such authors as Ernesto Bozzano, Hereward Carrington, William J. Crawford, Camille Flammarion, James H. Hyslop, Oliver Lodge, Charles Richet, and many others.

Journal of Parapsychology

Journal of Parapsychology

Following the tradition established before the Rhine received its new name, the organization publishes the well-known Journal of Parapsychology, a journal that started publication in 1937 and has consistently been one of the main scientific and scholarly journals in the field. This publication is edited by Dr. John Palmer, who is a prominent researcher in parapsychology. In addition, another publication, designed for the general public, is the Rhine Newsletter, edited by Jennifer Moore.

John Palmer

John Palmer

The Rhine also sponsors various discussion groups. These include: The Rhine Book Club (to discuss recently published books), the Psychic Experiences Group (to discuss personal psychic experiences), and the Remote Viewing Group.

I have greatly enjoyed two other meetings. One of them, organized by Kruth, is a weekly meeting discussing recent new, research, and publications related to parapsychology. Recent discussions have been highly informative, keeping those of us who attend aware of current developments. For example in a recent meeting in which I summarized the content of a parapsychology bulletin from Argentina, we ended up talking about aspects of the field in that country as well as in Brazil. There is also a monthly research meeting, organized by Dr. Palmer, the purpose of which is the presentation of research projects and the discussion of scholarly work of different sorts.

Educational Activities at the Rhine Research Center

Educational Activities at the Rhine Research Center

Dr. Nancy L. Zingrone

Dr. Nancy L. Zingrone

Some of the previously mentioned lectures and meetings serve to fulfil the role of public education in parapsychology, a major concern of the Rhine. More formally, the Rhine Education Center has been organized to provide online courses. Currently an online introduction to parapsychology is being taught by Dr. Nancy L. Zingrone (http://www.rhineeducationcenter.org/edu/). Some of the topics covered are ESP, psychokinesis, and out-of-body and near-death experiences. Plans are underway to expand the course offerings to other topics, including methodological approaches to the study of psychic phenomena.

Dr. William T. Joines

Dr. William T. Joines

The Rhine has by no means forgotten its scientific legacy and goal. Currently there are several projects in progress, as you can see in the Rhine’s website (http://rhine.org/what-we-do/current-research.html). The first report of a very exciting and pioneering line of research coming from the Rhine Bio-Energy Lab was published recently. The report, entitled “Electromagnetic Emission from Humans During Focused Intent,” was authored by William Joines, Steven Baumann (deceased), and John Kruth (Journal of Parapsychology, 2012). In this project the researchers measured infrared and ultraviolet emissions (photons per seconds). The results showed that “light-sensitive equipment can detect energies from some healers and meditators who are able to intentionally project this energy.”

As the first Visiting Scholar under the new administration, I am free to do my own work in any way I want. I have many projects going on consisting of articles I hope to send soon for publication to scholarly journals. One project is a presentation new cases of out-of-body experiences, and an analysis of published examples, in which the physical body was reported to be active in some way (such as moving and talking). Others are articles of historical interest, among them a discussion of possible future investigations into the life and work of Ernesto Bozzano, and aspects of the work of Cesare Lombroso.

It has been exciting for me to come back to my old turf, and, even more, to a place where a love of scientific and scholarly research in parapsychology is openly cultivated. As I can attest from personal experience during the last few years it is rare to find places like the Rhine where such work is not only encouraged, but it is discussed and supported by a community of scientifically-minded individuals.