Category: Recent Publications


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

 The book commented on here is one of the most interesting historical studies of psychic phenomena I have read in recent years: Physics and Psychics: The Occult and the Sciences in Modern Britain  (Cambridge University Press, 2019. Pp. xvi + 403. $120.00). It is authored by Richard Noakes, PhD, Associate Professor of the History of Science and Technology at the University of Exeter. I have been following Richard’s interesting articles about Spiritualism and psychical research for the last few years, work published in journals such as History of Science, and Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science.

Richard Noakes

Richard Noakes

Noakes Physics abd Psychics

The book is described by the publisher as “the first systematic exploration of the intriguing connections between Victorian physical sciences and the study of the controversial phenomena broadly classified as psychic, occult and paranormal.” Different from other studies that emphasize psychological and philosophical dimensions of the topic (something that is not neglected in this book), in Physics and Psychics Richard explores connections with physics, including ideas such as brain waves and the ether.

Here is the table of contents.

Introduction
1. NEW IMPONDERABLES, NEW SCIENCES
Animal Magnetism as Physics
The Oddity of Od
Outdoing the Electric Telegraph
“Scientific Men” and Spiritualism
Extending the Boundaries of Physics
2. A SURVEY OF PHYSICAL-PSYCHICAL SCIENTISTS
Inventing Psychical Research
Identifying Physical-Psychical Scientists
Connecting Physical-Psychical Scientists
Gold Mines of Science, Handmaids to Faith
Changing Attitudes to Psychical Investigation
3. PSYCHICAL EFFECTS AND PHYSICAL THEORIES
Removing Scientific “Stumbling Blocks”
Challenging Materiality
3.3 Dim Analogies
Maxwellian Psychics
Doubts and Criticisms
4. PSYCHICAL INVESTIGATION AS EXPERIMENTAL PHYSICS
From Psychic Force to the Radiometer
Tying Mediums with Electricity
Magnetic Sense or Nonsense?
Physical as Psychical Laboratories
Wanting Opportunities?
5. EXPERTISE IN PHYSICS AND PSYCHICS
Scourging Spiritualists and Scientists
Tricky Instruments of Psychics
Tricky Instruments of Physics
Psychical Researchers and Conjurors
N-rays and Psychical Expertise
6. MODERNISING PHYSICS AND PSYCHICS
Busy Men
“Applied” Psychical Research
Lodge’s Etherial Body
Interpreting Lodge’s Physics and Psychics
Interwar Transitions
Conclusion
Bibliography
Index

Interview 

Can you give a brief summary of the book?

Physics and Psychics is a revisionist study of the physicists, chemists, astronomers, electrical engineers and other “physical” scientists that involved themselves with psychical research and related enquiries in the period approximately 1850-1930. A significant proportion of them are British (e.g., William Crookes and Oliver Lodge) but I do discuss the handful of non-British practitioners who were involved (e.g., Baron von Reichenbach and Karl Friedrich Zöllner). I use this material to show that the interests of physical scientists in psychical research and related enquiries was both more widespread and more complex than we have assumed. We might find this surprising given the strongly psychological nature of psychical phenomena – a quality that placed them outside the formal boundaries of the physical sciences. A significant number of physical scientists showed some kind of interest in psychical phenomena and this interest varied in strength and nature. They included Lodge who investigated a wide range of psychical phenomena for nearly sixty years and his teacher John Tyndall who, while deeply sceptical of spiritualist mediumship, still turned up to seances. My book explores the plethora of reasons why physical scientists got involved – intellectual, religious and moral – and argues that only a combination of reasons can explain the patterns of interest that we find. Another major preoccupation of my book is with the role of psychical research in extending (as opposed to impeding) the theoretical and experimental aspects of the physical sciences. Many of the characters that I study saw the study of telekinesis, telepathy, Reichenbach’s “odic” force and other phenomena as exciting but problematic ways of applying, extending and enriching their “physical” research.

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

I’m sorry to say that I don’t have any background in parapsychology, psychical research or related endeavour. I have approached the history of these endeavours as somebody trained in the sciences and the history and philosophy of science.

What motivated you to write this book?

The book’s origins are in the doctoral research that I did in the 1990s so I’ve lived with this project for over two decades! That research started life as an attempt to deepen our understanding of what led to the discovery of the subatomic particle, the electron, in 1897. This led me towards mainly British scientific investigations of some of the strangest and most spectacular phenomena of electricity (e.g., cathode rays) but also to scientific practitioners who shared interests in electrical physics and the strange phenomena of spiritualism and psychical research. My doctoral dissertation looked at only a fraction of these practitioners and what I did next was to extend this much further in terms of people, practices, theories and analytical approaches.

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

My book is important because it highlights the fruitful encounters between more strongly established and less well established forms of scientific enquiry. It reveals a period when these encounters could be fruitful and creative – when psychical enquiries benefited from theories and practices of physics, and when psychical phenomena posed some interesting puzzles for physics to solve. My book also gives us hope that future encounters may not be as antagonistic as we might expect. It’s a hope that is confirmed by what I’ve read in the parapsychological literature over the past few decades and what I’ve learned from talking to physicists such as Bernard Carr. I also hope that like all works of history mine challenges many assumptions about the past and the present, and in particular encourages a more open-minded view of scientific enquiry. We often hear that associations between physics and anything psychical, occult, etc., threaten physics, but not all physicists in the past have accepted this and maybe my book will encourage more of the current and future generations to follow suit.

*  *  * *  *

Here is a video of an interview about Physics and Psychics.

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

Christine Simmonds-Moore has published an interesting article entittled “Synesthesia and the Perception of Unseen Realities” (Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 2020, DOI: 10.1177/0022167820918691; available here).

In Interview with Christine Simmonds-Moore, Ph.D. - YouTube

Christine Simmonds-Moore

Here is the abstract:

“Exceptional experiences (ExE) incorporate a range of phenomena including subjective paranormal and transpersonal experiences. Synesthesia and synesthetic experiences are discussed as important variables in understanding the etiologies of ExE. The neural and psychological correlates of synesthetic experiences (associated with hyperconnectivity) are discussed in relation to ExE. It is argued that synesthetic processes enable both the detection and conscious perception of information from a range of sources that are usually unseen or inaccessible, including abstract, unlanguaged, preconscious, and potentially other nonlocal sources.”

She concludes:

“In summary, ExE might be understood as complicated synesthesias, which are composed of a unified inducer and a concurrent experience, lending qualia to experiences that are usually not experiencable. This may occur among those who experience synesthesia consistently and among those who are anomaly prone and experience synesthesia due to changes in the system (e.g., neural unmasking and neural plasticity via inhibitory processes that result from alterations in consciousness). Synesthetic processes may provide a concrete label for preconscious processing of internal and external sources of information that emerge via stronger interactions with qualia-rich areas of the brain (e.g., colors or forms). In turn, there is a more tangible or concrete code or usually unseen information, which may be misinterpreted as paranormal and have a mundane origin, or reflect genuine access to nonlocal or spiritual information. More research is needed to further explore how and when the synesthesias are implicated in different types of ExE.”

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

Here is a pioneering investigation of pagan spell casting:

Sonnex, C., Roe, C. A. and Roxburgh, E.C. (2020). Testing the Pagan Prescription: Using a Randomised Controlled Trial to Investigate Pagan Spell Casting as a Form of Noncontact Healing. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 26, 219-225. doi:10.1089/acm.2019.0279

Abstract

Objectives: This research investigates the healing practices of modern Paganism using a Randomised Controlled Trial (RCT). Paganism is a burgeoning belief system in the UK within which healing is a key aspect. However, Pagan spellcasting practices have received little attention from distance healing researchers. This study aims to address this gap in the literature.

Design: This study utilised a randomised, double blind, delayed intervention design.

Settings/location: Research took place at the University of Northampton.

Subjects: 44 Participants (30 female, 14 male) were recruited using snowball sampling (mean age = 24.30; range = 18-55).

Procedure: Participants were randomly allocated to either Group A or B. Participants made written requests to the practitioner about changes they would like to see in their lives and provided a photograph and personal item to be used during the intervention. Participants attended meetings once a week during which they would take part in a guided body scan meditation before completing a quality of life measure. Healing practices were conducted for Group A between weeks one and two and for Group B between weeks two and three.

Outcome measure: Wellbeing was measured using the 26-item WHOQOL-BREF.

Results: MANOVA analysis showed a significant, positive change in general health from week one to week four (F = 4.02, p = .025, eta2 = .149). Separate ANOVAs of the four WHOQOL domains showed significant improvements across the study in the Physical and Psychological domains only, there was no significant group difference on any of the outcomes.

Conclusion: All participants showed an increase in health and wellbeing domains directly related to their spell requests. However, there are no group differences to suggest that the spell casting intervention was responsible.

 

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

Here are two recent dissertations about historical topics. Copies are freely available via Ethos (registration required).

Elsa Richardson. Extraordinary Powers of Perception: Second Sight in Victorian Culture, 1830-1910. [Unpublished doctoral dissertation]. Queen Mary, University of London, 2019

Abstract

In the mid-1890s the London based Society for Psychical Research dispatched researchers to the Scottish Highlands and Islands to investigate an extraordinary power of prophecy said to be peculiar to the residents of these remote regions. Described in Gaelic as the An-da-shealladh or ‘the two sights’, and given in English as ‘second sight’, the phenomenon was most commonly associated with the vision of future events: the death of neighbour, the arrival of strangers into the community, the success or failure of a fishing trip and so forth. The SPR were not the first to take an interest in this pre-visionary faculty, rather they joined a legion of scientists, travel writers, antiquarians, poets and artists who had made enquires into the topic from the end of the seventeenth century. This thesis examines the remarkably prominent position enjoyed by Scottish second sight in the Victorian popular imagination. In seeking to appreciate why a strange visionary ability was able to make claims upon the attention of the whole nation where other folk motifs were consigned to the realms of specialist interest only, this project charts its migration through a series of nineteenth-century cultural sites: mesmerism and phrenology, modern spiritualism and anthropology, romance literature and folklorism, and finally psychical research and Celtic mysticism. Binding these individual case studies together is a cast of shared actors – Walter Scott, Catherine Crowe, William Howitt, Marie Corelli, Andrew Lang and Ada Goodrich Freer – and a focus on their common investigative and creative cultures. My interest is with how the power of second sight, once defined as a supernatural occurrence tied to the geographically distant and mysterious Scottish Highlands, comes to be transformed by the close of the nineteenth century, into a supra-normal facet of the psyche, potentially accessible and exploitable by all.

ADA GOODRICH-FREER

Ada Goodrich-Freer

Andrew Lang 2

Andrew Lang

Robert Radaković, Beyond Faith and Reason: The Genesis of Psychical Research and the Search for the Paranormal Domain (1850-1914). [Unpublished doctoral dissertation]. Lancaster University, 2019.

Abstract

The late-Victorian period was characterised by rapid social, cultural, and intellectual changes, with all domains open to challenge from numerous and diverse directions. This thesis focusses on a short period in ‘the Age of Enlightenment’, from the mid-nineteenth century to 1914, during which many groups and individuals wanted to try to answer the ultimate questions about the nature of the universe and humanity’s place within it. For them, the well-established fields of science, religion, and philosophy each proved to be inadequate individual tools with which to attempt to answer these questions. Consequently, many members of the cultural and intellectual elite turned to the paranormal domain, within which they saw the potential to answer some of their fundamental questions. Psychical research was a nascent intellectual field that investigated strange phenomena which existed at the borders of orthodox thinking, sitting precariously between the acceptable and the unacceptable.

PSPR 1882-83 Vol 1

PSPR 1882 Officers Council

This thesis investigates the cultural, evidential, and sometimes personal motivations of the early paranormal researchers, all of which were members of the Society for Psychical Research, and some of the first theories developed by them. The thesis thus establishes the significance of paranormal research during this period. It discusses, in an intentionally eclectic way not done before, several of the key thinkers of the time. It posits a typology to help understanding of the period. This ‘paranormal domain’ represents a combination of an intellectual mindset, an investigative methodology, and a spiritual perspective, particular to the early psychical researchers of the SPR.

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

My book about physiologist Charles Richet was just published. Entitled Charles Richet: A Nobel Prize Winning Scientist’s Exploration of Psychic Phenomena (White Crow Books, 2019), it is a collection of my previously published essays about Richet’s interest in psychic phenomena (click here and here).

Richet portada

List of Chapters

Introduction

Chapter 1: Interest in Psychic Phenomena

Chapter 2: Richet’s Metapsychic Autobiography

Chapter 3: Early Ideas and Tests of Mental Suggestion

Chapter 4: Presenting Psychical Research to Psychology (1905)

Chapter 5: The Traité de Métapsychique (1922)

Chapter 6: Richet on “The Limits of Psychic and Metapsychic Science”

Appendix A: Richet on Leonora E. Piper

Appendix B: Observations of Moving Ectoplasm with Medium Marthe Béraud

Appendix C: On the Term Ectoplasm

Appendix D: Is there a Science of Metapsychics?

Appendix E: Bibliography About and by Charles Richet with Emphasis on Psychic Phenomena, compiled by Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, and Renaud Evrard, PhD

Appendix F: Bibliography About the History of Psychical Research

Acknowledgements

References

Notes

Index

Following on my interest in rescuing historical aspects of psychical research from oblivion, I present a six-chapter discussion of Richet’s work with mediums and psychics, and his conception of metapsychics, the name he used to refer to psychical research. The book is presented as a first step to obtain information about the subject, and one I acknowledge needs further and more detailed study.

Charles Richet 9

Charles Richet

The book opens with a chapter presenting an overview of Richet’s work that includes his conceptions about metapsychics, as well as his work on ESP (a term Richet did not use), mental and physical mediums, and his theoretical ideas, including his views about survival of death. Regarding theory, I wrote:

“Throughout his writings, Richet expressed dissatisfaction with the various explanations of psychic phenomena that were being put forward, including the hypothesis of discarnate agency . . .  Nonetheless, Richet presented several speculations over the years. One was the existence of a faculty of cognition that was purely human. In an early paper, he postulated that ESP messages impinged on the ‘unconscious faculties of intelligence’ . . . Other speculations were connected to the old idea, developed before Richet, that various concepts of biophysical forces explained psychic phenomena . . . Throughout his career Richet speculated on the possibility of unspecified vibrations as a way to explain the mental phenomena of psychical research. In an early statement he speculated about the existence of a force emanating from one person to another ‘such that the vibration of the thought of an individual influences the vibration of the thought of a nearby individual’ . . . He wrote in later years: ‘The sixth sense is that one which gives us knowledge of a vibration of reality, a vibration which our normal senses are unable to perceive’ . . .”

Richet Clairvoyance PSPR 1889

Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, 1889

Richet Annals Beraud 1905

Annals of Psychical Science, 1905

I present more information about Richet’s interests in a chapter in which I reprint an autobiographical essay about Richet’s interests in hypnosis and psychical research. The excerpt, translated from Richet’s Souvenirs d’un Physiologiste (Paris: J. Peyronnet, 1933), not only contributes information about Richet’s intellectual development, but also serves as an example of the limitations of autobiography to provide information about scientists.

Richet Souvenirs

Another chapter is devoted to summarize one of Richet’s most celebrated publications, his article “La Suggestion Mentale et le Calcul des Probabilités” [Mental Suggestion and the Calculation of Probability], which appeared in the Revue Philosophique de la France et de l’Étranger (1884, 18, 609–674), an important academic French journal covering philosophy, social sciences and other topics that published articles pro and con psychic phenomena (click here). The article is generally remembered today for Richet’s use of probability calculations to assess the results of experimental tests of mental suggestion, a term he defined as 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.” Although I summarize this aspect of Richet’s work, I also took the opportunity to remind readers of forgotten aspects of the article. This included reanalyses of thought-transference studies conducted by members of the Society for Psychical Research, the use of motor automatism as an ESP response, some of the features of mental suggestion, and theoretical ideas.

I also wrote: “From the beginning of the paper Richet let his readers know of the controversial and improbable nature of mental suggestion. He said that the topic at hand was different from the ‘facts commonly admitted by science’ . . . The results of mental suggestion tests are ‘improbable facts; but their improbability is entirely relative; in the sense that none of them contradicts the known facts, acquired by science’ . . . In addition to warning his readers about the incredible nature of the phenomena, he cautioned them to keep in mind the ‘insufficience and impotence of current science’ . . . both to explain many facts of nature as well as mental suggestion.”

Richet and Linda Gazzera

Richet (left) and Italian medium Linda Gazzera

In two other chapters I reprinted excerpts of articles written by Richet that present much information about his attitudes towards metapsychics. One of them was a 1905 paper written as a presentation to a psychology congress, and the other was about what Richet referred to as “The Limits of Psychic and Metapsychic Science.” This consisted of attempts to explain mediumistic phenomena via the faculties of the unconscious mind using ideas such as the creation of mediumistic personalities and stories to accompany them. Of course, this does not mean that Richet did not believe in what others referred to as the supernormal.

This except about “limits” was taken from Richet’s best known metapsychic publication, his famous Traité de Métapsychique (Paris: Félix Alcan, 1922), or rather, from the English language translation of the second French edition, Thirty Years of Psychical Research (New York, Macmillan, 1923). One of my chapters is an overview of the first edition of the Traité.

Richet Traite de metapsychique 4

Today we remember this book as an overview of the early literature, as well as a statement of Richet’s beliefs regarding phenomena and explanations, the latter which Richet left for future developments. Then there were sections about phenomena, with many examples of cases and descriptions, and a general conclusion in which Richet strongly argued for the reality of most psychic phenomena and for the lack of explanations that satisfied him.

Furthermore, I wrote: “Richet’s insistence on the collection of facts, to the neglect of theories, made the book his personal manifesto of psychical research. He projected an image of metapsychics as a science, arguing for the existence of a field that had a subject matter and a right to exist. But as much as the book was a summary of facts, it was also Richet’s attempt to construct and promote the subject of metapsychics.”

Richet Notre sixieme sens

More than previous publications on the subject, in France the Traité became an exemplar for the discipline, and one that commanded an incredible amount of attention in the French popular and academic literature at the time, something that has not being realized in general by non-French students of the subject. In the chapter I explore some possible reasons for such prominence, which unfortunately was not enough to gain general acceptance for metapsychics.

In addition, I included various appendices in the book. One, designed for both general readers and those particularly interested in Richet is a bibliography of writings by and about Richet’s metapsychic interests, and one that is not exhaustive. I was assisted in compiling the sources presented by Dr. Renaud Evrard, who has specialized in the history of psychical research in France (click here). Another appendix, mainly to provide contextual information for general readers, is a bibliography of books and articles about the general history of psychical research with emphasis on pre-1940 developments.

Richet L'Avenir de la Premonition

Other appendices have information about Richet’s sittings with medium Leonora E. Piper and Marthe Béraud, and other topics of interest.

Like any writing project, this one could be expanded including other aspects of Richet’s metapsychic career. But it is my hope that these essays, brought to the attention of the general public in this book, will at least remind us of the work of an important pioneer whose search for truth, regardless of limitations, commands respect and admiration. As Richet wrote in his autobiography, cited in my second chapter: “I may be wrong, but the honor of being able to conduct such research gives some value to life”

Image result for charles richet

 

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

Here is a new article about mediumship.

Contribution to the Study of the Possession Trance Mediumship of Jane Roberts, by Paul F. Cunningham. Journal of Parapsychology, 2019, 83, 248-267.

Abstract

This article presents a new examination of the possession trance mediumship of Jane Roberts, the woman who channeled the purported discarnate entity called Seth between 1963 and Roberts’s mediumship has generally been overlooked by the parapsychological research community. The purpose of the present article is to fill this gap in the literature. This article presents a preliminary description of Jane Roberts’s mediumship for parapsychologists who may be unfamiliar with the case, including an account of Roberts’s personal life and mediumistic career. The relevance of Roberts’s mediumship for parapsychology is examined. A comparison with the Patience Worth case is presented and the paranormal character of the Roberts mediumship is evaluated.

Jane Roberts

Jane Roberts

According to the author:

“The challenge for psychology is to explain how Jane Roberts . . . could suddenly possess, in full-blown fashion with no apparent previous study or instruction and no gradual development, an ability to compose internally coherent philosophical, psychological, spiritual, and ethical material of a very high order of originality, conceptual sophistication, and intellectual rigor in long complex narratives, laying the material aside sometimes for weeks or months and then resuming without difficulty or review, with no period of fumbling and no declension in average quality, but with the same facility and power from start to finish, while in a possession trance (i.e., a “temporary alteration of consciousness, identity, and/or behavior” with “replacement by an alternate identity” attributed to a spiritual force or another person . . . A review of Jane Roberts’s background indicates that the causative factors of past experience and environment that psychologists are accustomed to look for to explain how she acquired such abilities and knowledge are not to be found.”

Furthermore: “Given the corroborating testimony of many witnesses, the high reliability of concurrent reporting methods, and the large number of Seth sessions conducted over the 21-year history of the phenomenon, the mediumship of Jane Roberts can be deemed to have authenticity (i.e., it actually happened as reported). The published record, however, does not directly indicate that anything concerning a paranormal interpretation of the Seth sessions is justified at this time. This conclusion is in agreement with what the Seth-Jane trance personality and Jane Roberts herself have repeatedly asserted.”

Cunningham concludes: “The challenge for parapsychology is to determine who Seth was, what his relationship to Jane Roberts was, and where the Seth Material came from. The source-of-psi problem in this context takes the form of how to establish proof of identity of an allegedly discarnate source when the medium is deceased and no longer available for study under controlled conditions in a laboratory or field setting . . .”

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

Over the years many philosophers have written about the implications of the data of psychical research to the issue of survival of death. Some modern ones include C.D. Broad, Stephen Braude, and C.J. Ducasse. Philosopher Michael Sudduth continues this tradition with his recent book A Philosophical Critique of Empirical Arguments for Postmortem Survival (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016).

Sudduth Philosophical Critique Survival

Michael (D. Phil., University of Oxford) describes himself in the Amazon page of his book as “a philosopher of religion with a background in analytic philosophy, Christian theology, and eastern philosophy and religion.” Furthermore, “his spiritual journey has led him from the Christian tradition to the Vaishnava bhakti traditions of India, the philosophy of Advaita Vedanta, and Zen Buddhism, each of which informs his approach to the Transcendent.” Michael is currently a Philosophy Lecturer at San Francisco State University (San Francisco, CA). Some of the courses he has taught are: The Buddhist Tradition, Ancient Philosophy, Medieval Philosophy, and Philosophical Analysis.

For more information about Michael’s ideas and work see his Cup of Nirvana page and blogs.

Michael Sudduth

Michael Sudduth

Here is the table of contents of his book:

Introduction: The Classical Empirical Survival Debate

Exploring the Hypothesis of Personal Survival

Out-of-Body and Near-Death Experiences

Mediumistic Communications

Cases of the Reincarnation Type

Classical Explanatory Arguments for Survival

Bayesian Explanatory Arguments

Bayesian Defenses of the Survival Hypothesis

The Problem of Auxiliary Assumptions

Exotic Counter-Explanations

Conclusion: The Classical Arguments Defeated

Interview 

Can you give us a brief summary of the book?

The main objective of my book is to offer a critique of arguments for life after death. There are lots of arguments of this sort. I focus specifically on arguments based on data drawn from phenomena associated with near-death and out-of-body experiences, mediumship, and cases of the reincarnation type. I refer to these arguments as classical empirical arguments for survival.

Unlike other skeptical assessments of such arguments, my critique doesn’t challenge the alleged facts on which the arguments are based, nor do I argue that there is no life after death. Instead, I explore the kinds of assumptions the classical arguments require if they are to succeed in doing what their advocates claim on their behalf, namely, provide good evidence for survival. I argue that we have no good reason to accept these assumptions. Consequently, the classical arguments do not provide good evidence for personal survival.

That’s a general way of stating what I argue, but there are two more specific tiers of argument that make up the structure of my book. To understand these arguments, we should first be clear on what survivalists themselves have claimed about the case for survival. First, there’s an evidential probability claim: postmortem survival has a favorable net probability/plausibility based on the salient facts. In other words, survival is at least more probable than not, if not highly probable relative to the total evidence. Second, there’s an explanatory claim: survival provides the best explanation of the relevant facts. The two claims are interrelated because survivalists often assume that explanatory merit has evidential cash-value. They argue that survival is probable or very probable because it provides the best explanation of the data.

I argue that survivalists haven’t provided a good enough reason to believe either of the two main claims (in italics) above. Here it’s important to emphasize that I don’t argue that survival is not the best explanation of the data, nor that survival is improbable. I only argue that survivalists have failed to make good on their claims. Why? Because the arguments necessarily depend on assumptions that (1) we have no good reason to accept and (2) would be self-defeating to the case for survival, even if we accepted them.

What are these assumptions?

First, there are general assumptions about what the evidence for survival should look like. In the absence of such assumptions, there’s no plausible inference from features of the world to the claim that persons survive death. In much the same way, if I don’t know (or reasonably believe) what the evidence that Mr. X committed the crime should look like, I can’t plausibly regard any crime-scene fact as evidence that Mr. X committed the crime.

But second – and most fundamentally – there are fine-grained assumptions about what consciousness would probably be like if it should survive death. Without these assumptions, we could not say with any reasonable degree of assurance what would count as evidence for the survival of consciousness. These include assumptions about the memories, desires, intentions, and continuing perceptual and causal powers of surviving consciousness, as well as the conditions under which such powers can be exercised. I call these auxiliary assumptions since they’re not intrinsic to postulating the mere continuation of individual consciousness after death.

Since this is a crucial part of my argument, let me clarify. In postulating personal survival we’re postulating the persistence of consciousness and everything essential to individual consciousness. This includes whatever mental processes or content underwrites our sense of self. But this is logically consistent with the persistence of very little autobiographical memory or none at all. Nor is this a mere theoretical possibility. It’s precisely what happens in dream states, dissociative fugue, and other forms of amnesia. And what’s true of memory here is also true of our wider psychology – for example, our desires, intentions, personality traits, and skills. The content in consciousness is very fluid even over short periods of time, as are its behavioral manifestations. So, even if we suppose that postmortem consciousness is likely to exhibit the same general features antemortem consciousness exhibits, we really can’t say with any reasonable degree of assurance what we should expect survival evidence to look like in any particular case. We only get there by making further assumptions.

So simple survival does not logically entail (nor make probable) a surviving self that retains all the right stuff: the stock of memories, desires, intentions, and perceptual abilities and causal powers required for ongoing lifelike interactions with our world and that would justify identifying a person as the same as (or the continuation of) some previous personality. We need auxiliary assumptions to bulk up a generic or simple survival hypothesis (or theory) into a more conceptually robust hypothesis (or theory) that can plausibly account for the data.

I argue that simple survival – postulating the mere persistence of individual consciousness after death – explains nothing because there’s no fact about the world it would lead us to expect or not to expect. For example, simple survival doesn’t lead us to expect on-going veridical perceptions of our world, causal interactions with our world, or any of the individual memory and personality features the data allegedly exhibit and that survival is invoked to explain.

What’s needed is a robust survival hypothesis, but that’s problematic. There are lots of assumptions we can make about what surviving consciousness might be like. After all, as explained above, consciousness in our antemortem state is highly variable, even for the same person. But the assumptions we make about what postmortem consciousness will be like affects the extent to which the data are what we would expect if survival is true. That in turn affects the explanatory power of the survival hypothesis. At present there’s no rational basis for privileging survival assumptions that would lead us to expect the data, and no rational basis for favoring such assumptions over alternative assumptions – equally consistent with survival – that would not lead us to expect the data.

But also, there’s no sufficient reason for favoring the kinds of assumptions needed for a successful survival argument over the kinds of assumptions that would empower proposed counter-explanations of the data and thereby undermine survival arguments. For example, the assumptions that would empower living-agent psi explanations are no less reasonable than as those required for survival arguments. Survivalists will deny this parity, of course, but I’ve tried to show that this denial isn’t plausible.

It’s important to remember that the survival hypothesis will be the best explanation of the data only if it better explains the data than do alternative non-survival hypotheses. I argue that survival can’t explain the data without being bulked up, and it can’t be the best explanation of the data if it’s bulked up. Why the latter? Because the kinds of kinds of reasons survivalists adduce to rule out counter explanations also rule out a bulked-up survival hypothesis.

Let me illustrate the point. Take the standard two-tiered strategy to rule out the appeal to living-agent psychic functioning. On the one hand, survivalists like to point out that living-agent psi can’t account for persons possessing linguistic skills characteristic of a previous personality, the motivation for mediums to impersonate the deceased or confabulate communications with them, or – in cases of the reincarnation type – for persons possessing information about a previous personality in the form of memories. On the other hand, when a living-agent psi hypothesis is bulked up with assumptions drawn from psychology regarding motivational dynamics, dissociative phenomena, rare mnemonic gifts, and the sudden manifestation of linguistic skills not previously evidenced, then survivalists complain that these assumptions are ad hoc, introduce unnecessary complexity, or lack adequate independent support.

As I see it, survivalists either exploit the explanatory limitations that trivially apply to a simple version of the living-agent psi hypothesis or they object to the assumptions used to bulk up such a hypothesis so that it can explain the data. I show that these objections are equally applicable (if not more so) to the assumptions required for any robust survival hypothesis to explain the data.

What’s especially important to appreciate here is how the survivalist is often engaged in a (perhaps unconscious) logical sleight of hand that masks the self-defeating nature of his reasoning. Survivalists routinely contrast a simple survival hypothesis and a robust living-agent psi hypothesis to show that living-agent psi – unlike survival – is overly complex and relies on assumptions that are ad hoc or lack independent support. But when survivalists wish to focus on the explanatory advantages of the survival hypothesis, they contrast a simple living-agent psi hypothesis (which explains very little) and a robust interpretation of survival. And they usually don’t acknowledge the conceptual cost of achieving the alleged explanatory advantages. As a result, they miss how the kind of survival hypothesis that adequately accommodates the data requires assumptions that are at least as complex, ad hoc, and lacking in the way of independent support as those adopted by the defender of the living-agent psi hypothesis in the interest of accommodating the data.

So, contrary to how some reviewers of my book have presented my position, I do not claim that living-agent psi is a better an explanation of the data, only that survivalists are in a particularly poor position to argue that it’s not. And the same holds for other counter-explanations of the data.

I apply similar considerations to argue that classical empirical arguments for survival as far back as C.J. Ducasse fail to show that survival is more probable than not, much less highly probable. I develop this line of argument in considerable detail using different models of evidential probability used in confirmation theory (the logic of evidence assessment). All three forms of survival argument I consider converge on the same basic conceptual problem: the unjustified inclusion and exclusion of auxiliary assumptions required to underwrite what survivalists have wanted to say on behalf of the survival hypothesis.

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

I’m a philosopher by profession and academic training, with concentrations in epistemology, logic, metaphysics, and philosophy of religion. But I’ve had something of a life-long interest in anomalous phenomena, especially phenomena suggestive of survival, based on personal experiences and philosophical reflection.

I developed an interest in the work on survival by H.H. Price, C.D. Broad, and C.J. Ducasse after reading John Hick’s book Death and Eternal Life in graduate school at Oxford. When I started teaching philosophy and religion courses, I incorporated the topic of survival in a lot of my classes, eventually using it as a regular narrative in some of my classes for many years. During that time, I did the bulk of the research on the topical territory of my book.

While the book reading was helpful, I also benefited from a decade of conversations with parapsychologists and fellow philosophers who have worked and published on this topic. I’ve also joined parapsychologists on some field investigations over the years (with Loyd Auerbach, for example), and I’ve critically examined mediums firsthand. I’ve also personally experienced a broad range of ostensibly paranormal phenomena.

The first half of my academic career was devoted to applying developments in epistemology, logic, and philosophy of science in the exploration of questions in the justification religious belief and arguments for the existence of God. After my first book on this topic, I shifted my focus to life after death, philosophy of mind, and a broad range of issues in psychology.

I think my academic training in Anglo-American philosophy, together with an extensive educational and teaching background in Eastern and Western religious traditions, has enhanced my approach to the topic of survival. 

What motivated you to write this book? 

Three things.

First, it was the natural result of a decade-long inquiry during which time my views changed. I started as a survivalist who thought the arguments for survival were good. I became a survivalist who thought the arguments were defective upon closer scrutiny. I ended up concluding that the arguments were more defective than I initially thought, unable to accomplish what their proponents claim on their behalf. I’m no longer a survivalist – I neither affirm nor deny survival – though I remain open to future evidence persuading me. I suspect that evidence will come from cognitive neuroscience and technological developments in artificial intelligence, not parapsychology.

Second, following the lead of C.D. Broad and H.H. Price, I wanted to critically explore the conceptual aspects of reasoning about survival. The literature has emphasized the empirical dimensions of research, the so-called facts, but as is often the case it’s not the facts that divide people but the interpretation of the facts. I wanted to go right to that. That’s what philosophers do. We try to unearth the deeper strata of assumptions that drive a line of reasoning. This allows a more effective assessment of the coherence and plausibility of the underlying commitments and argumentation.

Third, and related to the above, I wanted to write a book that treated the topic with more logical rigor than has typically been the case in the literature over the past thirty years. Much of the literature, the bulk of it I’d say, is little more than a heap of facts and a hasty, if not opaque, inference to survival as being “probable” or “the best explanation.” Survivalists place far too much emphasis on how counter-explanations allegedly fail, but they’re deficient in showing how the survival hypothesis succeeds. Even the importance of this distinction is often not on their conceptual radar. As a philosopher, I’m interested in how we make good arguments and justify claims about evidence, probability, and the explanatory merit of hypotheses and theories. I’ve found the bulk of the literature at this juncture underwhelming at best.

It is unclear why survivalists have so frequently lacked logical rigor in their treatment of the topic. My charitable reading is that they’re calibrating their publications for popular consumption. That has its place of course, but it can become a liability, a conceptual bypass that sidesteps the crucial questions rather than advances the discussion with the appropriate critical scrutiny.

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

I think the importance of my book is its approach. It’s a new approach to long-standing, widely discussed arguments. And it provides a new analysis of why the classical empirical arguments for survival are defective. I hope this will encourage survivalists and non-survivalists alike to recalibrate their arguments in the light of my critique. That’s a good way to move the dialogue forward.

Outside academic philosophy, the bulk of the literature on survival since the latter part of the 1960s has been almost exclusively focused on presenting data (allegedly suggestive of survival), but the literature has neglected to adequately engage a variety of conceptual issues involved in evidence assessment and explanatory reasoning. As a result, there’s been a disconnect between the data and the kind of argument that’s required to justifiably maintain that the data are good evidence for survival. My book addresses this head on.

Otherwise put, I’m addressing architectural or structural issues in the reasoning about survival. What’s required for survival to be the best explanation of the data? What’s required to “rule out” out counter-explanations? What does it even mean to rule out counter-explanations? When are we reasonable to conclude that evidence makes a hypothesis probable? When highly probable? What kinds of assumptions are built into such reasoning?

To be sure, other books have provided useful informal explorations of some of these questions, but they’ve neglected to dial-in some of the crucial conceptual issues – for example, the role of auxiliary assumptions in hypothesis/theory testing and how this impacts the argument for survival.

But also, I’ve offered a rigorous formal treatment of the classical arguments for survival, something that Broad and Ducasse hinted at in their day. I’ve addressed the favorable probability claims made on behalf of survival by examining these claims through the lenses of the two most widely adopted models of evidential probability – Likelihoodism and Bayesianism. It’s somewhat surprising that survivalists haven’t already done this. After all, many of them rely on and invoke Bayesian principles – for example, referring to prior probabilities in trying to assess the total probability of survival relative to the evidence. And those who don’t invoke Bayesian principles typically rely on Likelihoodist principles, which provide a metric for determining when evidence favors one hypothesis over another.

Oddly, a few reviewers didn’t care for my deployment of the resources of confirmation theory, but they missed the implications of their own critique. As I show, it’s survivalists who tacitly or overtly rely on the assumptions that confirmation theory explicates and systematizes. The formal techniques of confirmation theory create no problems that aren’t already inherent in the informal assumptions about evidence. So if there’s a problem here, it’s a problem for survivalists who rely on Bayesian or Likelihoodist measures for assessing evidence. Naturally I agree that such assumptions make it difficult, if not impossible, for survivalists to justify their claims about the survival hypothesis. However, in the absence of arguments for survival that rely on different, more plausible assumptions about the nature of evidence and how we assess it, survivalist claims look more like wishes and hopes than the conclusions of serious argumentation.

I would also emphasize how my analysis provides results that are provocative and immune to the typical strategies survivalists deploy in defense of their arguments.

First, on my view, arguments for survival are challenged for reasons that have nothing to do with positions in philosophy of mind. This is important because survivalists routinely devote a lot of space to trying to debunk so-called materialist philosophies of mind. But neither my arguments nor their cogency depends on any particular position in philosophy of mind. For example, I argue that the classical arguments fail to show that survival is more probable than not, but without the assumption that materialism is true. In fact, my arguments work even if we assume that materialism is false.

Second, I show that survival arguments fail even if we don’t treat survival as antecedently improbable. Some prominent survivalists claim that critics of survival stack the deck by assigning a very low initial probability to the survival hypothesis. I don’t do that. For example, I show that the classical arguments will still fail to show that survival is more probable than not, even if we begin with the generous assumption that survival is as probable as not.

Third, survival arguments fail even if rival non-survival explanations are antecedently improbable. This is significant because some survivalists think rival explanations of the data can be reasonably invoked only if we assume that such explanations are initially plausible or even more plausible than survival. Or, at any rate, that such counter-explanations couldn’t pose a serious challenge to survival arguments unless we invested them with initial plausibility. This is not true. For example, I argue that the appeal to living-agent psi can challenge survival arguments even if this exotic counter-explanation strains credulity and is antecedently very improbable.

Finally, I show that classical explanatory survival arguments are self-defeating. They must show that survival explains the data, and that rival explanations do not explain the data as well as the survival hypothesis does. But, as explained above, I show that survivalists typically rule out counter-explanations for reasons that equally apply to any formulation of a survival hypothesis or theory that has a ghost of chance of explaining anything at all.

As I said above, when I set out to write my book, it was my hope that I would provide an analysis and set of arguments that would advance the survival debate, perhaps only a smidgeon. To that prospect I think I must say at present what C.D. Broad said about survival: “one can only wait and see, or alternatively (which is no less likely) wait and not see.”

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

Animal magnetism continues to be a topic of historical research. Here are some articles on the subject published between 2015 and 2019.

Animal Magnetism

Alvarado, C.S. (2019). Classic text No. 119: Jules Bernard Luys on magnetic pathology. History of Psychiatry, 30, 359–374. (Available from the author: carlos@theazire.org)

In the mesmeric movement, one of the phenomena cited to defend the existence of magnetic and nervous forces was the visual perception of them in the form of luminous emanations from people, or effluvia. This Classic Text is an 1892 article by French neurologist, Jules Bernard Luys (1828–97), about the observation of such effluvia by hypnotized individuals. Interestingly, the luminous phenomena perceived from mentally diseased individuals and from healthy ones had particular properties. Luys’s interest in this and other unorthodox phenomena were consistent with ideas of animal magnetism in the late neo-mesmeric movement, as well as with some physicalistic conceptions of hypnosis and the nervous system held at the time.

Jules Bernard Luys 2

Jules Bernard Luys

Brückner, B. (2016). Animal magnetism, psychiatry and subjective experience in Nineteenth-Century Germany: Friedrich Krauß and his Nothschrei. Medical History, 60, 19–36.

Friedrich Krauß (1791–1868) is the author of Nothschreieines Magnetisch-Vergifteten [Cry of Distress by a Victim of Magnetic Poisoning] (1852), which has been considered one of the most comprehensive self-narratives of madness published in the German language. In this 1018-page work Krauß documents his acute fears of ‘mesmerist’ influence and persecution, his detainment in an Antwerp asylum and his encounter with various illustrious physicians across Europe. Though in many ways comparable to other prominent nineteenth-century first-person accounts (eg. John Thomas Perceval’s 1838 Narrative of the Treatment Experienced by a Gentle manor Daniel Paul Schreber’s 1903 Memoirs of my Nervous Illness), Krauß’s story has received comparatively little scholarly attention. This is especially the case in the English-speaking world. In this article I reconstruct Krauß’s biography by emphasising his relationship with physicians and his under-explored stay at the asylum. I then investigate the ways in which Krauß appropriated nascent theories about ‘animal magnetism’ to cope with his disturbing experiences. Finally, I address Krauß’s recently discovered calligraphic oeuvre, which bears traces of his typical fears all the while showcasing his artistic skills. By moving away from the predominantly clinical perspective that has characterised earlier studies, this article reveals how Friedrich Krauß sought to make sense of his experience by selectively appropriating both orthodox and non-orthodox forms of medical knowledge. In so doing, it highlights the mutual interaction of discourses ‘from above’ and ‘from below’ as well as the influence of broader cultural forces on conceptions of self and illness during that seminal period.

Crabtree, A. (2019). 1784: The Marquis de Puységur and the psychological turn in the west. Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 55, 119-215. (Request reprint from author adamcrabtree@rogers.com)

In 1970 Henri Ellenberger called attention to the previously unrecognized importance of Franz Anton Mesmer’s “animal magnetism” in the rise of psychodynamic psychology in the West. This article takes the next step of tracing the course of events that led to Puységur’s discovery of magnetic somnambulism and describing the tumultuous social and political climate into which it was introduced in 1784. Beginning from the secret and private publication of his first Mémoires, only a few copies of which remain today, the original core of his discovery is identified and the subsequent development of its implications are examined. Puysègur was initiated into his investigations by Mesmer’s system of physical healing, which bears some resemblance to the traditional healing approaches of the East. But Puységur took Mesmer’s ideas in an unexpected direction. In doing so, he accomplished a turn toward the psychological that remains one of the distinguishing features of Western culture.

Puysegur Memoires

Donaldson, I.M.L. (2017). Antoine de Lavoisier’s role in designing a single-blind trial to assess whether “animal magnetism” exists. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 110, 163-167.

“In 1784, a Royal Commission was appointed in Paris to examine the claims made by Anton Mesmer and his associates that there existed a fluid – the so-called Animal Magnetism, which permeated all living creatures – manipulation of which could relieve or cure all human maladies . . . In the course of the investigation, which eventually proved to the Commissioners’ complete satisfaction that the effects produced by the manipulations of the magnetisers were not due to any physical force, the Commission devised the first known experiments using blind comparisons to compare the effects of two treatments.” This paper examines the contributions of Antoine Lavoisier to these studies.

Image result for antoine lavoisier

Antoine Lavoisier

Gainot, B. (2018). Des baquets sous les Tropiques: À propos de la diffusion du magnétisme animal à Saint-Domingue en 1784 [The baquets in the Tropics: On the dissemination of animal magnetism in Santo Domingo]. Annales Historiques de la Révolution Française, No. 391, 81-104. (Request reprint from the author bgainot@orange.fr)

The export of mesmerism out of metropolitan territory is very limited, but it had a great success, a few weeks after the arrival of Antoine Hyacinte Chastenet de Puysegur in the great town of the northern part of the colony of Saint-Domingue, Le Cap Français, in June 1784. This episode is especially known after the hostile testimony, of Moreau de Saint-Mery. The lists of the members of Philadelphes, however, are often the same than those of the members of the Society of Universal Harmonie in Le Cap. So, magnetism and learning sociability are the same expression of a creolising white-consciousness, which self-modelled on the fashions of the metropolitan culture, though different. This social phenomenon will be developed mainly in the great northern town, the other sources coming from the same background. Black slaves and free-coloured people are not directly concerned. The usual testimony of Moreau de Saint-Méry, who gives mesmerism equivalent to voodoo must be kept in perspective.

Häfner, S. (2017). Justinus Kerner and mesmerism. European Psychiatry, 41, S685–S686.

The aim of this study is to evaluate the influence of Franz Anton Mesmer (1734–1815) on Kerner’s way of treating patients . . . Kerner was very much influenced by Mesmer and left volumes of psycho-pathological case histories that helped to prepare a way for a medicine more psychotherapeutically founded.

Justinus Kerner

Justinus Kerner

Laerda, D.C.O. (2018). Saberes ocultos no Brasil Império e arte da cura pelo magnetismo animal e a busca pela legitimidade [Hidden knowledge in the Brazil Empire: the art of healing through animal magnetism and the search for legitimacy]. História e Cultura, 7, 91-119. (For a reprint write to the author: daniellelacerda@yahoo.com.br)

The principles and practice of animal magnetism were consolidated in France a few years before the French Revolution took place. Amid controversy and a growing number of adepts, animal magnetism surpasses the barriers of time and space frontiers, arriving in Brazil in the first decades of the nineteenth century through the French immigrant Leopold Gamard. The purpose of this work was to understand Gamard’s attempts to legitimize animal magnetism as a curative practice before medical scientific institutions and public opinion in the imperial court. In order to do so, we examined popular scientific journals and newspapers in an attempt to combine fragments to reconstruct Leopold Gamard’s intriguing trajectory and helped to weave the fabric of social relations in the construction of representations and appropriations of the practice of animal magnetism as an alternative for healing diseases.

Manson, D.K. (2017). Science with a soul: James Freeman Clarke and the promise of mesmerism. Studies in Religion / SciencesReligieuses, 47, 246-262.

From the 1840s through to the end of his life in 1888, James Freeman Clarke’s influence permeated newspapers, churches, and lecture halls in Boston. A graduate of Harvard Divinity School, Clarke was an educated and active participant in his community and a respected voice amongst Boston intellectuals. At a time when sciences of the mind were rapidly expanding, Clarke neither ceded authority nor turned a blind eye. Instead, he studied emerging psychologies himself, approaching them as ways to enhance his understanding of the human being—body, soul, and spirit. In his private writings, including journals and letters, Clarke discusses his applications of experimental science, and he appears especially enthusiastic about mesmerism. However, from the pulpit and the lectern, Clarke was almost silent on the topic. This article examines Clarke’s private letters, journals, and sermon notes, accessed in the archives at the Massachusetts Historical Society, for evidence of the role mesmerism played in Clarke’s religious ideology, specifically his concept of man’s physical and spiritual constitution. For Clarke, mesmerism allowed an intimate incorporation of the body with theology, for through it the body became a conduit to the soul and to individual character. Clarke’s interest in and practice of mesmerism reveals it as an underground force that not only shaped his thoughts and theology, but also influenced a number of fellow theologians and intellectuals during the mid-nineteenth century.

Morabito, C. (2019). Rethinking mesmerism and its dissemination in the 19th century: At the intersection between philosophy, medicine and psychology. Medicina nei Secoli: Arte e Scienza, 1, 71-92. (Reprint available from the author: morabito.carmela@fastwebnet.it)

The thought and work of Anton Mesmer had a great dissemination in the last decades of the XVIII century and all along the XIX, a dissemination that differed in its theoretical and practical valences in line with the peculiar cultural, social and political contexts of the main European countries. On the basis of a new science of the mind social reforms were invoked, ranging from education to ethics and to the treatment of mental disorders, obviously passing through the questioning of the legal and political organization of the various States. A new physiology justified and at the same time required to replace with the scientific knowledge the basic ideological and social assumptions upon which the whole society was based, from schools to prisons and asylums. But does it really was scientific knowledge? And who had the last word on this problem, a problem that was in the first place epistemological but had also enormous social implications?

Vallejo, M.S. (2015). Magnetizadores, ilusionistas y médicos. Una aproximación a la historia del hipnotismo en México (1880-1900). Trashumante: Revista Americana de Historia Social 5, 200-219.

The purpose of this article is to present a historical reconstruction of the use of hypnosis by physicians in Mexico City during 1880-1900. In addition to discussing how hypnotism was studied and used by these professionals, an attempt is made to show that in the publications of physicians there is a dialog between an academic discipline and other users of hypnosis, mainly theatrical illusionists.  Particular attention is paid to the performances of two hypnotists that visited Mexico at the end of the 19th century.

Image result for animal magnetism

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

I have met the editor of the book commented here, Dr. Gerhard Mayer, in conventions and have had email correspondence with him. He obtained a PhD in psychology from the University of Freiburg with a dissertation about how adolescents view movies about occult topics. Currently he works at the Institut für Grenzgebiete der Psychologie und Psychohygiene on cultural aspects of frontier fields, including parapsychology, shamanism, altered states of consciousness and astrology.

Gerhard Mayer 2

Gerhard Mayer

The book he has edited, N Equals 1: Single Case Studies in Anomalistics (Zurich: Lit, 2019, 397 pp.; click here; to order from the publisher click here), is a unique compilation of papers about the use of single case studies of various types of unexplained phenomena. Such as crop circles, hauntings, poltergeists, recurrent apparitions of the living, and UFOs. I am glad to be one of the authors in the book.

Mayer N Equals 1

Here is the table of contents:

Stephen E. Braude: Foreword

Steve Braude 4

Stephen E. Braude

Part I: General Considerations

Gerhard Mayer & Michael Schetsche: Introduction – Research Logic, Models, and Particularities

Carlos S. Alvarado: The Place of Spontaneous Cases in Parapsychology

Part II: Single Case Studies in Anomalistics

Gerhard Mayer & Michael Schetsche: Introduction: Single Case Studies in Anomalistics

Michael Schetsche

Michael Schetsche

Gerhard Mayer & Michael Schetsche: RSPK Investigations

Gerhard Mayer & Michael Schetsche: Cryptozoology & Crop Circle Research: Two Further Fields of Investigation at a Glance

Andreas Anton: UFO Research

Part III: Historical Case Studies

Michael Nahm: Historical Perspective: Justinus Kerner’s Case Study Into the “Prison Spook” in Weinsberg and Spooky Actions at a Distance in 1835–1836

Gerd H. Hövelmann, Carlos S. Alvarado, Massimo Biondi & Friedrike Schriever: The Case History as an Exemplar: The Recurrent Apparitions of Emélie Sagée

Gerd Hovelmann 2

Gerd H. Hövelmann

Gerd H. Hövelmann

Gerhard Mayer: The Bélmez Faces: An Investigation of a Supposedly Strong Case

Gerhard Mayer: The Authority Strikes Back: Considerations About the Allegedly Fraudulent “Chopper” Poltergeist Case

Part IV: Contemporary Case Studies

Gerhard Mayer: Case Report of the Investigation of a Strange Photographic Anomaly

Gerhard Mayer & Jürgen Kornmeier: Mysterious Objects in Pictures Taken by a Wildlife Camera: The Pitfalls of Perception

Jürgen Kornmeier

Gerhard Mayer: The “Castle Hotel” Case – Becoming a Haunting Myth and a “Lost Place”: An Investigation Report

Manuela v. Lucadou & Sarah Pohl: Dead Monks Walking: Methods and Experiences from the Parapsychological Counseling Centre (Freiburg/Germany) for Dealing with Poltergeist Phenomena

Renaud Evrard: The “Amnéville RSPK Case“: An Illustration of Social Elusiveness?

Renaud Evrard4

Renaud Evrard

Acknowledgements

About the Contributors

Interview

Can you give us a brief summary of the book?

This volume, N equals 1. Single Case Studies in Anomalistics, is intended to give an overview of the methodological peculiarities of anomalistic field research. Single case studies have a long tradition in the field of parapsychology and anomalistics research. Although case studies do not usually provide hard evidence for the existence of paranormal effects, they demonstrate the dynamics of occurrence of such extraordinary phenomena and experiences in the living world. On the basis of historical and current case studies, certain specific psychosocial dynamics and problems in this interesting and challenging field of research are presented and discussed.

N Equals 1 contains 15 chapters written by different authors on the subject of single case studies. Although the focus is on poltergeist cases, other fields of anomalistics are also addressed such as UFOs, cryptozoology, or allegedly photographic anomalies.

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

I have been working at the Institut für Grenzgebiete der Psychologie und Psychohygiene  in Freiburg/Germany since 1996. During my studies in psychology, I was interested in qualitative research approaches because they offer a greater proximity to everyday life and a different view of the phenomena under investigation. This is particularly important for parapsychology and anomalistics because paranormal effects in the laboratory rarely occur spectacularly. Furthermore, they seem to have nothing to do with such phenomena and extraordinary experiences made in, and reported from the living environment. Careful examination of single cases can provide information about contextual conditions of their occurrence and give input for improving experimental research and theory building. I have had the opportunity to be part of the examination of several single case studies in the field. Some reports found their way into the book.

What motivated you to write this book?

The first edition mainly consisted of texts by my colleague Michael Schetsche and me. Since that time, I expanded the research with new as well as old cases to represent specific topics, such as  the role of mass media or the social dynamics. During my translation of the German text, I became interested in going deeper into the reconstruction of some historical cases such as the famous one about the Bélmez faces. This volume, accordingly revised, is a considerably extended version of a German edition published in 2011. I wanted to enrich the book with the work of other authors on this topic. And I wanted to reach a larger readership by publishing it in English.

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

Single case studies in parapsychology and anomalistics have only been seen as illustrative or anecdotal. In recent years, the value of single case studies for gaining knowledge about anomalistic phenomena and the conditions under which they occur has been increasingly recognized with a wider acceptance of qualitative research methods in general. The book is intended to provide a building block for the appreciation of this type of research as an equivalent complement to laboratory research. In addition, the case reports clarify methodological peculiarities that involve field investigations in anomalistics. Furthermore, contemporary and historical case material is presented to English-speaking readers for the first time in this detailed form. Last but not least, the case studies and methodological considerations presented in this volume are intended to correct the publicly dominant picture of what a scientific investigation of paranormal phenomena looks like, which much of the time is characterized by so-called paranormal investigations by amateur ghost hunters.

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

Those of you who follow my work know of my interest in neo-mesmerism, or the late mesmeric movement popular during the last quarter of the Nineteenth-Century, and even later (click here, and here ). In the article discussed here I focus on a fascinating figure from France, neurologist Jules Bernard Luys.

Jules Bernard Luys

Jules Bernard Luys

Alvarado, C.S. (2019). Classic text No. 119: Jules Bernard Luys on magnetic pathology. History of Psychiatry, 30, 359–374. (a PDF version of this article is available on request: Carlos@theazire.org)

Abstract

“In the mesmeric movement, one of the phenomena cited to defend the existence of magnetic and nervous forces was the visual perception of them in the form of luminous emanations from people, or effluvia. This Classic Text is an 1892 article by French neurologist, Jules Bernard Luys (1828–97), about the observation of such effluvia by hypnotized individuals. Interestingly, the luminous phenomena perceived from mentally diseased individuals and from healthy ones had particular properties. Luys’s interest in this and other unorthodox phenomena were consistent with ideas of animal magnetism in the late neo-mesmeric movement, as well as with some physicalistic conceptions of hypnosis and the nervous system held at the time.”

In addition to Luys, some of the figures that participated in the French neo-mesmeric movement were Alexandre Baréty (1844–1918), Émile Boirac (1851–1917), Albert de Rochas (1837–1914), and Hector Durville (1849–1923). “For example, Baréty defended the existence of a neuritic (neurique) force that originated ‘probably from the nervous system, which circulates along the nerves or radiates out of them … and is susceptible of producing certain sensitive, motor and psychic modifications on other human bodies.’ ”

Barety Magnetisme Animal

 

de rochas Forces Non Definies

Durville Traite Experimental Magnetisme Jules Bernard Luys (1828–1897) was a well-known French neurologist who worked at La Charité, an important hospital in Paris. His work was highly regarded. For example, his book Recherches sur le Système Cérébro-Spinal, sa Structure, ses Fonctions et ses Maladies (1865) was awarded a prize by the Académie des Sciences. In a addition to a great number of articles in medical journals he also published other books about neurology: Iconographie Photographique des Centres Nerveux (2 vols, 1873), Études de Physiologie et de Pathologie Cérébrale (1874), and Leçons sur la Structure et les Maladies du Système Nerveux (1875). His work was rewarded with the titles of Knight and Officer in the Légion d’Honneur, and by his election to the Académie de Médicine.

In later years Luys was interested in hypnosis, as seen in his Hypnotisme Expérimental: Les Émotions dans l’État d’Hypnotisme et l’Action à Distance de Substances Médicamenteuses ou Toxiques (Experimental Hypnotism: Emotions During the State of Hypnotism and the Action of Medical and Toxic Substances at a Distance, 1890). In his later research period Luys was interested in the action of medicines and drugs at a distance, as well as in the magnetic force of the mesmerists, claiming that he had patients that could see the magnetic force while hypnotized, and that he had been able to capture the elusive force on photographic plates. Unfortunately, this work was not well received by the medical establishment. As I stated in the paper: “These studies were not received as well as Luys’s previous physiological research had been. In fact, it was even said that because of this work Luys lost some of his scientific reputation.”

Luys Hypnotisme

Luys Esther

Esther, One of Luys’ Hypnotic Subjects

In my paper I reprint an article Luys published in 1892 entitled “De la Visibilité par les Sujets en État Hypnotique des Effluves Dégagés par les Êtres Vivants” (On the Visibility to Subjects in the Hypnotic State of Effluvia Emitted by Human Beings published in Annales de Psychiatrie et d’Hypnologie dans leurs Rapports avec la Psychologie et la Médicine Légale, 1892, 2, 321–323). “The phenomena described by Luys were in the mesmeric tradition. It may be argued that they also belonged to ideas about the aura, or the perception of various luminous shapes around the human body reported by non-hypnotized individuals such as mediums, psychics and others, a topic discussed frequently over the years. The aura, according to some writers, reflected the mental and physiological state of the person around whom it was seen, an idea also espoused by Luys.”

Luys Annales

Part of Luys’ article read as follows:

“Not only do hypnotized subjects have the attribute of seeing the magneto-electric effluvia which emerge from physical devices . . . but they can also . . . recognize the effluvia that are released from the eyes, ears, nostrils and the lips of living beings – [and can] distinguish them, those on the right side and those on the left side, putting the blue colour on the left and red on the right. Thus they distinguish in the human body and in animals a half which corresponds to the north pole, and another half which corresponds to the south pole of a magnetic bar or of a magneto-electric apparatus . . .”

“The hypnotized subject, whose eyes have been prepared and verified by the assistance of . . . ophthalmoscopic examination . . . can thus be employed as a real living reagent to recognize the differences in the coloration of the effluvia on the left side and those on the right side. In healthy, well men, the irradiated effluvia of the eye and the organs of the senses of the left side appear with a very intense blue coloration – those on the right side with a red carmine coloration. The intensity of the emitted effluvia seems to indicate the maximum energy of the nervous forces – indeed:”

“In hemiplegics, the effluvia irradiated from the eye of the paralysed side are very weak.”

“In chronic tabetics, very markedly weakened, the intensity of the effluvium is greatly diminished on both sides.”

“In neuropaths and in hysterics of both sexes, the red coloration of the effluvia of the right eye becomes violet; this is a diagnostic sign which in certain cases has allowed me to detect states of latent hysteria, and the eyes of these subjects appear incapable of moving upwards until they can form a red color. The effluvia of the ears, nostrils and lips maintain their red coloration.”