Category: Recent Publications


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

Some of you probably have heard about the Nineteenth-Century table turning studies of Agénor de Gasparin. This is the topic of one of my recent papers:

Table turning in the early 1850s: The séance reports of Agénor de Gasparin. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 2018, 32, 702-741.

Abstract

“The phenomena of table turning flourished during the 1850s, providing for many people a context for belief in spirit action, and for the development of explanations such as unconscious muscular movements and the exteriorization of nervous forces from the sitters. This paper consists of the presentation of excerpts from the classic study of these phenomena by Agénor de Gasparin, who reported his work on the subject in his book Des Tables Tournantes (1854, 2 volumes, translated into English in 1857). De Gasparin believed that unconscious muscular action could not explain the movements of tables, and postulated the emission of a force from the sitters around the table to account for the movements. I present a long excerpt from de Gasparin’s book in which he described the phenomena he obtained, preceded by a short review of interest in table phenomena in the 1850s, and followed by critiques showing the general skepticism about these phenomena during and after de Gasparin’s lifetime.”

Agenor de Gasparin 2

Agénor de Gasparin

 

De Gasparin Tables Tournantes

de Gasparin Science

 The purpose of my article is to remind current readers of de Gasparin’s influential work on table-turning, a phenomenon, and a social practice popular in some places during the 1850s. “While these séances have been discussed in various historical overview works . . . de Gasparin’s work does not seem to be well-known today . . . Furthermore, these studies deserve to be better-known because they were very influential at the time they appeared. Although there are many reports and discussions of table phenomena throughout the late Nineteenth Century and later . . . . , I focus my comments in most of this paper to material published in the 1850s. I extend the later discussion at the end of this paper to the reception of the work in later periods.”

MEDIUMSHIP/TABLE TURNING

Table tipping

 The paper is divided in four main sections. These are an overview of table-turning writings during the 1850s, a discussion of de Gasparin’s life and work, an excerpt from de Gasparin’s book reporting his seances, and a general discussion of critiques of his work and of his influence.

Roubaud Danse Tables

 

Table Turning and Table Talking: Containing Detailed Reports of an Infinite Variety of Experiments Performed in England, France, and Germany, with most marvellous results; also, minute directions to enable every one to practise them and the various explanations given of the phenomena, by the most distinguished Scientific Men of Europe ... Second Edition With Professor Faraday's Experiments and Explanation.

“Count Agénor Etiénne de Gasparin (18101871), was born in Orange, France, and later lived in Switzerland . . .  An obituarist referred to him as a noble and chivalrous man who showed “grace that charmed his adversaries as well as his friends” . . . He held various political appointments, such as a member of the Chamber of Deputies from Bastia (Corsica) in 1842. Furthermore, de Gasparin was interested and active in issues related to economics, history, politics, and religion. A biographer presented de Gasparin as a man always willing to fight for causes, such as the abolition of slavery.”

Borel Compte Agenor de Gasparin

de Gasparin L'Egalite

de Gasparin Uprising

On one occasion, de Gasparin and the sitters explored “divination” by the table. “On the 20th of September, then, we desired to put to the proof the pretended faculty of divination ascribed to the tables. For this purpose, we submitted to the one around which we were sitting, and which operated to admiration, the most elementary question assuredly, that can be proposed to a spirit. We placed three nuts in the pocket of one of the experimenters; the table, interrogated as to their number, promptly struck nine blows!”

Some attempts at table moving were made without the contact of the hands of the sitters. De Gasparin wrote: “Choosing a moment when the table was impelled by an energetic and truly spirited rotation, we all raised our hands at a given signal; then, maintaining them united by means of the little finger, and continuing to form the chain at about an inch above the table, we pursued our course, and, to our great surprise, the table also pursued its course, making thus three or four turns!”

On another occasion, the record reads: “Let us return to the demonstration par excellence—the elevation without contact. We began by accomplishing it three times. Then, as it was suggested that the presence of witnesses exercised a more certain influence over a small table than a large one, over five operators than ten, we caused a round table, made of spruce, to be brought in, and which the chain reduced by onehalf, sufficed to put in rotation. Whereupon, the hands being raised, and all contact having ceased, the table elevated itself perpendicularly seven times at our command.”

In the conclusion I stated:

“De Gasparin’s work was ignored by many, particularly by strong defenders of the unconscious movement explanation. While the reports could have been more detailed, something not common at the time, the critics ignored aspects of de Gasparin’s results inconsistent with unconscious movements and simple fraud explanations.”

“Several commentators on de Gasparin’s work—Delondre, Figuier, and Podmore—raised the issue of fraud. While this has to be considered, it is important to recognize that there was no actual evidence for such an explanation. But as a consequence of this situation, the work was not generally accepted, something quite common in the history of physical mediumship and other areas of psychical research.” 

“Regardless of evidential considerations, de Gasparin’s work was certainly important in many ways. He contributed to rescuing table turning from the casual discussions in the press and popular books, and from the “learned” attempts to reduce all phenomena related to tables to delusion and unconscious muscular movements. It is less clear, however, how influential he was on later studies of table movements . . .” Nonetheless, he clearly influenced Marc Thury, and William Crookes cited him later.

“This work presented important instances of tests attempting to counter objections empirically, and emphasizing phenomena inconsistent with the unconscious movement explanations of others. While a few conducted tests to see if they could support this hypothesis (e.g., Faraday 1853), many others just accepted the argument without empirical examination (e.g., Chevreul 1854).”

Image result for table turning

 

 

 

 

 

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

The authors of this article present the results of an online survey.

Future Directions in Meditation Research: Recommendations for Expanding the Field of Contemplative Science.

PLoS ONE 13(11): e0205740. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0205740

by

Cassandra Vieten, Helane Wahbeh, B. Rael Cahn, Katherine MacLean, Mica Estrada, Paul Mills, Michael Murphy , Shauna Shapiro, Dean Radin, Zoran Josipovic, David E. Presti, Michael Sapiro, Jan Chozen Bays, Peter Russell, David Vago, Fred Travis, Roger Walsh, & Arnaud Delorme

Cassandra Vieten 2

Cassandra Vieten

Helané Wahbeh

Helané Wahbeh

Michael Murphy

Michael Murphy

david presti

David Presti

Arnaud Delorme

Arnaud Delorme

Abstract

“The science of meditation has grown tremendously in the last two decades. Most studies have focused on evaluating the clinical effectiveness of mindfulness-based interventions, neural and other physiological correlates of meditation, and individual cognitive and emotional aspects of meditation. Far less research has been conducted on more challenging domains to measure, such as group and relational, transpersonal and mystical, and difficult aspects of meditation; anomalous or extraordinary phenomena related to meditation; and post-conventional stages of development associated with meditation. However, these components of meditation may be crucial to people’s psychological and spiritual development, could represent important mediators and/or mechanisms by which meditation confers benefits, and could themselves be important outcomes of meditation practices. In addition, since large numbers of novices are being introduced to meditation, it is helpful to investigate experiences they may encounter that are not well understood. Over the last four years, a task force of meditation researchers and teachers met regularly to develop recommendations for expanding the current meditation research field to include these important yet often neglected topics. These meetings led to a cross-sectional online survey to investigate the prevalence of a wide range of experiences in 1120 meditators. Results show that the majority of respondents report having had many of these anomalous and extraordinary experiences. While some of the topics are potentially controversial, they can be subjected to rigorous scientific investigation. These arenas represent largely uncharted scientific terrain and provide excellent opportunities for both new and experienced researchers. We provide suggestions for future directions, with accompanying online materials to encourage such research.”

They concluded that “mystical and extraordinary experiences  are prevalent enough among meditators, and salient enough to those who have them, to warrant further scientific inquiry.” Some of the mystical experiences were feelings of peace and tranquility, feelings of joy, loss of usual sense of time, fusion of self with a larger whole, and feeling that “all is one.” Regarding these, and other experiences, it is said in the report that “the vast majority reporting having them “2–5 times” or “many times” for almost all items.”

Other experiences included alterations in vision and hearing, perception of nonphysical beings, a sense of collective energy, and ESP-type experiences. “Over half of the meditators in our sample reported experiencing clairvoyance or telepathy (perceiving information that could not have been known to them by any known physical means, but later turned out to be true) at least once. Not only that, but the majority also found the experience “somewhat pleasant” and “quite meaningful or important.”

“Discussions of the relationship between meditation practice and advanced capacities of meditators can be traced in written form back to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, published roughly two thousand years ago . . . Claims such as precognition, clairvoyance, telepathy, and mind-matter interactions are still controversial, although a growing body of literature suggests that some such claims could be supported by data . . . External physical phenomena, or objects moving by a non-physical force, physical objects appearing when they had not been there before, objects falling over, a light going out, psychokinesis (the supposed ability to move objects by mental attention or intention alone), or other physical manifestations that seemed to have no physical cause are also discussed in historical literature. Approximately one-third of the meditators in our sample endorsed having experienced something like this at least once.”

“Physical and perceptual sensations not apparently caused by the physical environment were experienced by the vast majority of our survey respondents, including: heat, cold, pressure, or tingling; seeing lights, visions, or images; lightness or heaviness, floating, out of body experiences, body parts disappearing, or feeling like the body changed in shape or size; hearing buzzing sounds, humming, or voices or music that were not in the physical environment. These are experiences that have rarely been examined in a scientific context, but were endorsed by 60–90% of our respondents.”

The authors also state: “It is important to note here again that there did not appear to be a substantially higher rate of psychological disorders in this sample than in the general population. While these experiences could be completely illusory, they also could point to aspects of human potential and reality that challenge prevailing paradigms. Western scientists may hesitate to entertain the possibility that one possible explanation for these perceptions of non-local aspects of consciousness are that they are ontologically real. In many meditative traditions, whether they are considered real or not, these experiences are discounted as potentially derailing. Patanjali and others have cautioned that focusing on such experiencing can be seductive, cause egocentricity, or become distractions . . . At the same time, there are views within some contemplative traditions that such experiences can be utilized with wisdom and compassion by experienced masters, and some highly respected practitioners of contemplative traditions have encouraged more research on such domains.”

Overall, the authors of this paper argue that, more than side effects, all these experiences “may be crucial to people’s psychological and spiritual development.” One hopes that their call for further scientific research in these areas is heard.

 

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

Blanco, S., Sambin, M., & Palmieri, A. (2017). Meaning making after a near-death experience: The relevance of intrapsychic and interpersonal dynamics. Death Studies, 27, 1-12.

This study aims to investigate the processes used by individuals to integrate a near-death experience (NDE) and to discuss the use of a meaning-making component to help people who have had such experiences. A psychotherapist interviewed six individuals who reported having had a NDE. Transcripts of the interviews were coded using an interpretative phenomenological analysis. The authors identified intrapsychic and interpersonal dynamics implicated in the individuals’ meaning-making processes, and the problems encountered during their integration of the experience. Meaning-based approaches are a feasible theoretical framework for shedding light on the NDE and providing support for people who have lived through them.

Chandradasa, M., Wijesinghe, C., Kuruppuarachchi, K. A. L. A., & Perera, M. (2017). Near-death experiences in a multi-religious hospital population in Sri Lanka. Journal of Religion and Health, 57, 1599-1605.

Near-death experiences (NDEs) are a wide range of experiences that occur in association with impending death. There are no published studies on NDEs in general hospital populations, and studies have been mainly conducted on critically ill patients. We assessed the prevalence of NDEs and its associations in a multi-religious population in a general hospital in Sri Lanka. A randomised sample of patients admitted to the Colombo North Teaching Hospital was assessed using the Greyson NDE scale and clinical assessment. Out of total 826 participants, NDEs were described by 3%. Compared to the NDE-negative participants, the NDE-positive group had a significantly higher mean for age and a ratio of men. Women reported deeper NDEs. Patients of theistic religions (Christianity, Islam and Hinduism) reported significantly more NDEs compared to patients from the non-theistic religious group (Buddhism). NDE-positive patient group had significantly higher reporting of a feeling ‘that they are about to die’, the presence of loss of consciousness and a higher percentage of internal medical patients. This is the first time that NDEs are assessed in a general hospital population and NDEs being reported from Sri Lanka. We also note for the first time that persons with theistic religious beliefs reported more NDEs than those with non-theistic religious beliefs. Medical professionals need to be aware of these phenomena to be able to give an empathic hearing to patients who have NDE.

Kinsella, M. (2017). Near-death experiences and networked spirituality: The emergence of an afterlife movement. Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 85, 168–198.

Near-death experiences (NDEs) were first introduced to the public in 1975. Shortly thereafter, an entire field of near-death studies emerged that began outlining an NDE-based spirituality. This spirituality draws heavily upon an aspect of NDEs known as the “life review,” which involves the reliving or witnessing of significant autobiographical events, either from one’s own perspective or that of others. Near-death studies have contributed to the rise of what I have termed an “afterlife movement”: a loosely organized collective utilizing NDE narratives and practices modeled after the life review to transform behaviors and attitudes toward death, dying, and end-of-life care. By presenting findings from the first ethnography ever to be conducted on the sharing and study of NDE reports in group settings, this article describes this growing movement at the local level.

Lake, J. (2017). The evolution of a predisposition for the near-death experience: implications for non-local consciousness. Journal of Nonlocality, 5.

Near-death experiences (NDE) raise important questions about the nature of human consciousness, the relationship between brain function and consciousness, the perceptual information that is available to consciousness in moments before death, the role of physical and biological mechanisms associated with altered states of consciousness, and relationships between consciousness, space-time and phenomenal reality. Challenges posed by efforts to define the NDE, claims of anomalous experiences associated with NDEs, the problem of “timing” of NDEs with respect to brain function, recent findings from neuroscience are reviewed, along with emerging evidence for quantum models of consciousness that may help elucidate the nature of NDEs.

Lawrence, M. (2017). Near-death and other transpersonal experiences occurring during catastrophic events. American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Care, 34, 486-492.

The purpose of this article is to describe examples of near-death and other transpersonal experiences occurring during catastrophic events like floods, wars, bombings, and death camps. To date, researchers have limited their investigations of these transpersonal events to those occurring to seriously ill patients in hospitals, those dying from terminal illnesses, or to individuals experiencing a period of grief after the death of a loved one. Missing is awareness by first responders and emergency healthcare professionals about these transpersonal experiences and what to say to the individuals who have them. Some responders experience not only deaths of the victims they assist, but also deaths of their colleagues. Information about these transpersonal experiences can also be of comfort to them. The examples in this article include a near-death experience during the Vietnam War, an out-of-body experience after a bomb explosion during the Iraq War, a near-death visit to a woman imprisoned at Auschwitz, and two after-death communications, one from a person killed in Auschwitz and another from a soldier during World War I. Also included are interviews with two New York City policemen who were September 11, 2001 responders. It is hoped the information will provide knowledge of these experiences to those who care for those near death, or dying, or grieving because of catastrophic events, and encourage researchers to further investigate these experiences during disasters.

Martial, C., Charland-Verville, V., Cassol, H., Didone, V., Van der Linden, M., & Laureys, S. (2017). Intensity and memory characteristics of near-death experiences. Consciousness and Cognition, S1053-8100(16)30380-4. doi: 10.1016/j.concog.2017.06.018.

Memories of Near-Death Experiences (NDEs) seem to be very detailed and stable over time. At present, there is still no satisfactory explanation for the NDEs’ rich phenomenology. Here we compared phenomenological characteristics of NDE memories with the reported experience’s intensity. We included 152 individuals with a self-reported “classical” NDE (i.e. occurring in life-threatening conditions). All participants completed a mailed questionnaire that included a measure of phenomenological characteristics of memories (the Memory Characteristics Questionnaire; MCQ) and a measure of NDE’s intensity (the Greyson NDE scale). Greyson NDE scale total score was positively correlated with MCQ total score, suggesting that participants who described more intense NDEs also reported more phenomenological memory characteristics of NDE. Using MCQ items, our study also showed that NDE’s intensity is associated in particular with sensory details, personal importance and reactivation frequency variables.

Martial C, Cassol H, Antonopoulos G, Charlier T, Heros J, Donneau A-F, Charland-Verville V and Laureys S (2017) Temporality of features in near-death experience narratives. Frontiers of Human Neuroscences, 11:311. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2017.00311

Background: After an occurrence of a Near-Death Experience (NDE), Near-Death Experiencers (NDErs) usually report extremely rich and detailed narratives. Phenomenologically, a NDE can be described as a set of distinguishable features. Some authors have proposed regular patterns of NDEs, however, the actual temporality sequence of NDE core features remains a little explored area. Objectives: The aim of the present study was to investigate the frequency distribution of these features (globally and according to the position of features in narratives) as well as the most frequently reported temporality sequences of features. Methods: We collected 154 French freely expressed written NDE narratives (i.e., Greyson NDE scale total score ≥ 7/32). A text analysis was conducted on all narratives in order to infer temporal ordering and frequency distribution of NDE features. Results: Our analyses highlighted the following most frequently reported sequence of consecutive NDE features: Out-of-Body Experience, Experiencing a tunnel, Seeing a bright light, Feeling of peace. Yet, this sequence was encountered in a very limited number of NDErs. Conclusion: These findings may suggest that NDEs temporality sequences can vary across NDErs. Exploring associations and relationships among features encountered during NDEs may complete the rigorous definition and scientific comprehension of the phenomenon.

Martial, C., Charland-Verville, V., Dehon, H., & Laureys, S. (2017). False memory susceptibility in coma survivors with and without a near-death experience. Psychological Research, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00426-017-0855-9

It has been postulated that memories of near-death experiences (NDEs) could be (at least in part) reconstructions based on experiencers’ (NDErs) previous knowledge and could be built as a result of the individual’s attempt to interpret the confusing experience. From the point of view of the experiencer, NDE memories are perceived as being unrivalled memories due to its associated rich phenomenology. However, the scientific literature devoted to the cognitive functioning of NDErs in general, and their memory performance in particular, is rather limited. This study examined NDErs’ susceptibility to false memories using the Deese–Roediger–McDermott (DRM) paradigm. We included 20 NDErs who reported having had their experience in the context of a life-threatening event (Greyson NDE scale total score ≥7/32) and 20 volunteers (matched for age, gender, education level, and time since brain insult) who reported a life-threatening event but without a NDE. Both groups were presented with DRM lists for a recall task during which they were asked to assign “Remember/Know/Guess” judgements to any recalled response. In addition, they were later asked to complete a post-recall test designed to obtain estimates of activation and monitoring of critical lures. Results demonstrated that NDErs and volunteers were equally likely to produce false memories, but that NDErs recalled them more frequently associated with compelling illusory recollection. Of particular interest, analyses of activation and monitoring estimates suggest that NDErs and volunteers groups were equally likely to think of critical lures, but source monitoring was less successful in NDErs compared to volunteers.

Moore, L., & Greyson, B. (2017). Characteristics of memories for near-death experiences. Consciousness and Cognition, 51, 116–124.

Near-death experiences are vivid, life-changing experiences occurring to people who come close to death. Because some of their features, such as enhanced cognition despite compromised brain function, challenge our understanding of the mind-brain relationship, the question arises whether near-death experiences are imagined rather than real events. We administered the Memory Characteristics Questionnaire to 122 survivors of a close brush with death who reported near-death experiences. Participants completed Memory Characteristics Questionnaires for three different memories: that of their near-death experience, that of a real event around the same time, and that of an event they had imagined around the same time. The Memory Characteristics Questionnaire score was higher for the memory of the near-death experience than for that of the real event, which in turn was higher than that of the imagined event. These data suggest that memories of near-death experiences are recalled as ‘‘realer” than real events or imagined events.

Royse, D., & Badger, K. (2017). Near-death experiences, posttraumatic growth, and life satisfaction among burn survivors. Social Work in Health Care, 56, 155-168.

Survivors of large burns may face positive and negative psychological after-effects from close-to-death injuries. This study is the first to examine their near-death experiences (NDEs) and posttraumatic growth (PTG) and life satisfaction afterwards. With an available sample of 92 burn survivors, half met the criteria for an NDE using an objective scale. Those who indicated religion was a source of strength and comfort had high scores on life satisfaction, PTG, and the NDE Scale. Individuals with larger burns reported greater PTG than those with smaller total body surface area burned (TBSA). There were no significant differences on life satisfaction, PTG, or NDEs when examined by gender or years since the burn injury. Elements of the NDE most frequently reported were: An altered sense of time, a sense of being out of the physical body, a feeling of peace, vivid sensations, and sense of being in an “other worldly” environment. Social workers and other health providers need to be comfortable helping burn survivors discuss any NDEs and process these through survivors’ spirituality and religious belief systems as they recover.

Tassell-Matamua, N., & Lindsay, N., Bennett, S., Valentine, H., & Pahina, J. (2017). Does learning about near-death experiences promote psycho-spiritual benefits in those who have not had a near-death experience? Journal of Spirituality and mental Health, 19, 95-115.

Research has revealed a consistent pattern of positive aftereffects in those who report a near-death experience [NDE]. Beneficial outcomes are also possible for those who have not had a NDE, but instead learn about them, although much of this research has been conducted on therapeutic populations. Using a sample of 143 participants randomly assigned to either an intervention or non-intervention group, we investigated whether learning about NDEs generated the same psycho-spiritual benefits having a NDE does. Results revealed significant changes in appreciation for life, spirituality, and appreciation for death, in the intervention group after learning about NDEs.

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

I had the pleasure of meeting David Presti in 2009 when I was affiliated to the Division of Perceptual Studies of the University of Virginia and he came to visit the group there. He organized the book discussed here, Mind Beyond Brain: Buddhism, Science, and the Paranormal (Columbia University Press, 2018).

david presti

David Presti

David sent me the following brief biography for this blog. He is teaching professor of neurobiology, psychology, and cognitive science at the University of California, Berkeley. David has a master’s degree in physics and a PhD in molecular biology, both from the California Institute of Technology, and a PhD in clinical psychology from the University of Oregon. For ten years he worked in the clinical treatment of substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder with military veterans at the VA Medical Center in San Francisco. And for the last 15 years he has been teaching neuroscience and dialoguing about science with Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns in India, Nepal, and Bhutan.  In addition to the book discussed here, he is the author of Foundational Concepts in Neuroscience: A Brain-Mind Odyssey (W.W. Norton, 2016).

presti mind beyond brain

Mind Beyond Brain: Buddhism, Science, and the Paranormal has essays by David, and other authors who are researchers at the above-mentioned Division of Perceptual Studies. In the book all of them challenge reductionistic concepts of the mind relating the topic of consciousness to Buddhism (mainly David), and via essays about parapsychological topics.

Here is the table of contents.

Table of Contents

Foreword (Geshe Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche)

Prologue: Deepening the dialogue (David Presti & Edward Kelly)

Chapter 1: Scientific revolution and the mind-matter relation (David Presti)

Chapter 2: Near-death experiences (Bruce Greyson)

Chapter 3: Reports of part-life memories (Jim Tucker)

Chapter 4: Mediums, apparitions, and deathbed experiences (Emily Williams Kelly)

Chapter 5: Paranormal phenomena, the siddhis, and an emerging path toward

reconciliation of science and spirituality (Edward Kelly)

Chapter 6: An expanded conception of mind (David Presti)

     Notes: (David Presti)

Interview

Can you give us a brief summary of the book?  

The book is about expanding an empirical science of mind and consciousness. It approaches this issue by looking at the historical trajectory of how we understand the relationship of mind and brain in modern science – and considers the successes and the limitations of the current approach. One way forward in expanding a science of mind is to take seriously empirical data for phenomena that are not accounted for within the current explanatory framework of biophysical science – that is, empirical data documenting certain paranormal or psi phenomena. This, of course, is no surprise to the folks who already consider the study of the paranormal to be a serious scientific endeavor. In this book we specifically consider aspects of near-death experiences, small children who spontaneously talk about having lived another life (cases of the reincarnation type), apparitions associated with death or other crises, studies of mediums, and laboratory investigations of certain psi phenomena. These empirical data are addressed in four chapters authored by investigators at the University of Virginia who are respected long-time researchers on these topics.

The discussion in this book is framed in the context of the contemporary dialogue between Buddhism and science – specifically neuroscience, psychology, and physics – initiated and nurtured over the last 35 years by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Appreciating that the nature of reality and the nature of mind are among the deepest mysteries in modern science, and are also essential topics of Buddhist philosophical investigation, the Dalai Lama conjectured that a conversation between the complementary perspectives on mind and world represented by these two traditions might generate new ideas – insights that would hopefully benefit all parties in the dialogue, and perhaps, by extension, the larger community of humanity.

dalai lama

Dalai Lama

The conversation has evolved now for several decades and has contributed to interest among scientists – especially psychologists, cognitive scientists, neuroscientists, and other biomedical researchers and clinicians – in the study of how meditation practices impact physical and mental health, and on neural and physiological correlates of various aspects of meditation and mindfulness practices. However, a broader aspect of this conversation is the engagement of complementary worldviews. One, modern science, views the physical world as external to the human psyche and introduces mind/consciousness as a sort of afterthought, appearing only after conditions for its emergence have been created following billions of years of physical and biological evolution. The other, Buddhist philosophy and tradition, essentially begins with the premise that all we know is via our experience, and mind and world are likely to have a far more interdependent relation.

Topics such as those discussed in the present book, while of great interest to the community of Buddhist scholars, and of central importance to deepening our investigation and understanding of how mind and world relate, have been off-limits for discussion in any of the formal Buddhism-science dialogues to date. A variety of reasons are no doubt at play, including the belief held by many scientists that investigation of the paranormal is not a legitimate program of scientific endeavor, as well as a general lack of awareness in the scientific community of the scope of investigations that have been and are being conducted. The present book was inspired by a one-day conference hosted by an esteemed Tibetan teacher, Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, in which scientific and Buddhist perspectives on these topics were discussed.

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

I am a neuroscientist and university educator, working at the interface of biology, psychology, chemistry, and physics. I’ve been distantly following research in parapsychology for more than 40 years, and strengthened my connection with the field substantially 13 years ago, when I became part of a consciousness research group at the Esalen Institute that included a number of distinguished investigators in the field, and notably the researchers from the University of Virginia who would eventually contribute to the present book. This led to my spending part of a sabbatical semester in Virginia in 2009, further deepening my knowledge and connection with the field, and specifically with the topics that are major foci of discussion in the present book.

With respect to Buddhism, I have been following the contemporary engagement of Tibetan Buddhism with science for several decades. I met with the Dalai Lama in 2003 to discuss some of the questions that are addressed in this book. And I have been teaching neuroscience and dialoguing about science with Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns at monastic institutions in India, Bhutan, and Nepal for 15 years – part of a program to develop science education and collaborations with Tibetan Buddhist monastics. This educational program (Science for Monks & Nuns) was inspired by the Dalai Lama, in part to enlarge the community of scientifically knowledgeable discussants among those already highly proficient in Buddhist philosophy and practice.

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

As a scientist and educator, my intention is to expand the perspective we currently have on the evolving science of mind and consciousness, and I believe it is important to pursue many paths forward in this endeavor. Fostering a discussion of the empirical investigation of paranormal phenomena in the context of the ongoing dialogue between Buddhism and science is one such way. This may facilitate a deeper appreciation of how to engage the worldviews of not only Asian spiritual traditions such as Buddhism, but other spiritual and religious traditions as well, in productive conversation with the complementary worldview of modern science.

In this book, we have strived to present the material in a clear, concise, and scientifically rigorous manner – and also to ground the discussion within established frameworks of history and philosophy of science. The hope is to reach scientists and other interested individuals who are open-minded enough to read and think about this material with earnest curiosity.

My hope is that this will offer a contribution to expanding the way we think about the relationship of mind and reality in contemporary science. And this is not simply an interesting intellectual exercise – for how we define or conceptualize the nature of mind, and the nature of who we are with respect to the rest of what we consider to be reality, greatly impacts everything about how we behave in the world.

 

 

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

I just published a short article entitled “Eleanor M. Sidgwick (1845-1936)” (Journal of Parapsychology, 2018, 82, 127-131; available on request carlos@theazire.org). This is the first of several short articles about historical figures and topics that the editor of the journal, Etzel Cardeña, plans to include in future issues.

eleanor sidgwick 3

Eleanor M. Sidgwick

Here is the abstract:

Abstract

Eleanor M. Sidgwick was an important figure in the early history of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR). In later years she became known for her critiques of the evidence for physical mediumship, and for her systematic studies of apparitions of the dead and hauntings, premonitions, clairvoyance, and the mediumship of Leonora E. Piper. Sidgwick also made significant contributions to the study of spontaneous and experimental telepathy, the cross-correspondences, and book tests, or attempts to get spirit communicators to obtain veridical information from the content of a book.

I wrote at the beginning of the article: “Mrs. Eleanor Mildred Sidgwick was one of the most productive psychical researchers of the early Society for Psychical Research (SPR) . . . She was Treasurer, Vice-Principal, and Principal at Newnham College. Sidgwick married Henry Sidgwick in 1876, and shared with him deep interests in women’s education and in psychical research . . . Sidgwick was involved in psychical investigations before the SPR was founded. Together with some close associates, among them Edmund Gurney, Walter Leaf, Frederic W. H. Myers, and Henry Sidgwick, she had séances with several physical mediums during the 1870s . . . They included Annie Fairlamb, Anna Eva Fay, Kate Fox (then Mrs. Jencken), Mary Rosina Showers, and Catherine Wood. But the results of the séances were not in favor of the genuineness of the phenomena and led the group to a general feeling of skepticism.”

Mrs. Sidgwick contributed to many areas of psychical research, as seen in the following papers published in the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research:

 (1885). Notes on the evidence collected by the Society, for phantasms of the dead. 3, 69–150.

sidgwick phantasms of the dead (1886). Results of a personal investigation into the physical phenomena of Spiritualism: With some critical remarks on the evidence for the genuineness of such phenomena.4, 45–74.

(1888). On the evidence for premonitions. 5, 288–354.

 (1891). On the evidence for clairvoyance. 7, 30–99.

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 (1891). On spirit photographs: A reply to Mr. A. R. Wallace. 7, 268–289.

 (1910). Cross-correspondences between Mrs. Piper and other automatists. 24, 170–200.

 (1915). A contribution to the study of the psychology of Mrs. Piper’s trance phenomena. 28, 1–657.

 (1921). An examination of book-tests obtained in sittings with Mrs Leonard. 31, 241–400. 

 (1923). Phantasms of the living: An examination and analysis of cases of telepathy between living persons printed in the “Journal” of the Society for Psychical Research since the publication of the book “Phantasms of the Living,” by Gurney, Myers, and Podmore, in 1886. 33, 23–429.

sidgwick phantasms of the living 

 (1924). On hindrances and complications in telepathic communication. 34, 28–69.

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

Sidgwick, Professor [H.], Sidgwick, Mrs. H., & Smith, G. A. (1889). Experiments in thought-transference. 6, 128–170.

Sidgwick was well-known as a critic, as seen in her writings about physical mediumship. But she also showed throughout her life a capacity to evaluate immense amounts of data looking for patterns in the data and to assess their evidential quality. Examples of these were her Nineteenth-Century papers about apparitions of the dead (1886), premonitions (1888), and clairvoyance (1891).

Her 1915 study of records regarding the mediumship of Leonora E. Piper is a classic of the early literature of psychological studies of mediumship. I wrote: “Some of the chapters of this study were about spirit controls and their relation to the medium; language, memories, and association of ideas by the spirit controls; aspects of various spirit communicators (such as difficulties in communicating and symbolic statements), and relations between Piper’s different states of consciousness. She concluded about the medium’s trance that it was ‘probably a state of self-induced hypnosis in which her hypnotic self personates different characters either consciously and deliberately, or unconsciously’ . . . but with telepathically acquired information.”

sidgwick piper trance phenomena 2

Regarding telepathic experiences: “Sidgwick herself contributed to knowledge about the process in an analyses of its “hindrances and complications” as shown in percipient’s impressions (Sidgwick, 1924). She wrote: ‘I have now, I think, sufficiently shown that there are obstacles or at any rate difficulties in the way of telepathic transmission which easily may, and in fact often do, interfere with the process, and prevent a “message” being received as the sender intended. Apart from difficulties on the agent’s own side, and even when a message has apparently safely reached some part of the percipient’s mind, it may fail to pass successfully from that to the normal waking consciousness. And this not only because the impression is sometimes too feeble to prevail, but because as transmitted to the normal consciousness the latter may fail to interpret it. And the difficulties may be aggravated by differences in the results, according as different modes of externalisation—different methods of transferring the subliminal impression to the normal consciousness—are used, and even by deliberate invention in the subliminal mind.’ ”

If this was not enough, Sidgwick was also active behind the scenes of the SPR as an organizer and as an editor of publications. Her life and contributions, both to psychical research and the education of women, deserve a full-length biography. At present, we can get much information about her in Alice Johnson’s “Mrs Henry Sidgwick’s Work in Psychical Research (Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, 1936, 44, 53–93), and in Ethel Sidgwick’s, Mrs. Henry Sidgwick: A Memoir (London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1938).

eleanor sidgwick 4

 

On William Stainton Moses

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

One of my last published papers is “Note on the Intellectual Work of William Stainton Moses” (Journal of Scientific Exploration, 2018, 32, 596–603; available here). Here is the abstract:

STAINTON MOSES

William Stainton Moses

Abstract

Most discussions about William Stainton Moses have focused on his mediumship. This note is a reminder that, in addition to mediumship, such as the spirit communication recorded in Spirit Teachings (1883), he contributed in other ways to the study of psychic phenomena, including studies of direct writing, materializations, and spirit photography. Furthermore, Moses wrote about apparitions of the living and out-of-body experiences, and veridical mediumistic communications, and criticized the writings of others, among them physiologist William B. Carpenter. A consideration of this and other neglected aspects of Moses’ work, enlarges our view of his contributions to Nineteenth-Century British Spiritualism and psychical research.

William Carpenter

William B. Carpente

I wrote: “In [a] . . .  long paper, Moses (1876–1877) presented discussions and classifications of cases of what he referred to as the “Trans-Corporeal Action of Spirit.” This included various cases of out-of-body experiences and of apparitions of the living. Moses wrote that the cases he presented here were scattered and in need of “classification and arrangement” . . . In Psychography: A Treatise on One of the Objective Forms of Psychic or Spiritual Phenomena, Moses (1878) reviewed the evidence for the phenomenon of direct writing obtained via mediums. He presented examples of cases attested by the senses (vision, hearing), cases presenting writing in languages unknown by the medium, and cases obtained in conditions preventing the previous preparation of writing to fake the phenomenon. In Moses’ view, psychography was only one of many phenomena ‘which testify to the existence of a soul in man, and to its independent action beyond his physical body; an earnest of its survival and independent life when released by death from its earthly prison-house’ ” . . . Another book was Spirit Identity, in which Moses (1879) studied veridical mediumistic communications. This included personal experiences, and communications recorded by others. The author concluded: ‘Intelligence is perpetuated after the body is dead’. . . , and that the “human spirit after its separation from the body loses none of its individuality.”

Moses Psychography

Moses Spirit Identity

Moses also published in the spiritualist magazine Light a long article unique in the 19th Century literature of materialization phenomena. The article appeared in 56 installments and covered many mediums and topics, an excellent source to conduct research on the subject.

Moses Materialization Light 1885

Page from materialization multipart article published in Light

In addition to his contributions as a medium, Moses also left us a rich bibliographical legacy that will be of help to those interested in the aspects of the spiritualistic literature he surveyed.

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

Here is a new survey of exceptional experiences.

Helané Wahbeh, Dean Radin, Julia Mossbridge, Cassandra Vieten, and Arnaud Delorme, Exceptional Experiences Reported by Scientists and Engineers. Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing, 2018, 14(5), 329-341. doi: 10.1016/j.explore.2018.05.002. Epub 2018 Aug 2. (First author’s email wahbehh@ohsu.edu)

Helané Wahbeh

Helané Wahbeh

Dean Radin 4

Dean Radin

Julia Mossbridge 7

Julia Mossbridge

Cassandra Vieten

Cassandra Vieten

Arnaud Delorme

Arnaud Delorme

Abstract

CONTEXT: Throughout history people have reported exceptional experiences that appear to transcend the everyday boundaries of space and time, such as perceiving someone’s thoughts from a distance. Because such experiences are associated with superstition, and some violate currently accepted materialist conventions, one might assume that scientists and engineers would be much less likely to report instances of these experiences than the general population. OBJECTIVES: To evaluate 1) the prevalence of exceptional human experiences (EHEs), 2) the level of paranormal belief, 3) the relationship between them, and 4) potential predictors of EHEs in three groups. PARTICIPANTS: Potential volunteers were randomly selected to receive invitations for an anonymous survey. MAIN MEASURES: Data were collected on 25 different types of EHEs, demographics, religious or spiritual affiliations, paranormal beliefs, mental health, and personality traits. Group differences were analyzed with chi-square tests and analysis of variance, and predictors were evaluated with a general linear model. RESULTS: 94.0% of the general population (n = 283), 93.2% of scientists and engineers (n = 175), and 99.3% of enthusiasts (n = 441) endorsed at least one EHE (X2(2) = 21.1, p < 0.0005). Paranormal belief was highest in EHE enthusiasts, followed by scientists and the general population F(2,769) = 116.2, p < 0.0005). Belief was positively correlated with experience (r = 0.61, p < 0.0005). An exploratory general linear model showed that variables such as mental health, personality, impact and family history predict the endorsement and frequency of EHEs. This study indicates that EHEs occur frequently in both the general population and in scientists and engineers.

 

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

Polish psychologist and philosopher Julian Ochorowicz (1850-1917), who also contributed to psychical research, is the topic of this recently published article: Karolina Maria Hess, The Idea of Ideoplasty and Occult Phenomena in the Theoretical and Empirical Research of Julian Ochorowicz (Preternature, 2018, 7, 239-274; for reprints write to the author: karolinamariahess@gmail.com).

Julian Ochorowicz 3

Julian Ochorowicz

Here is the abstract:

Julian Leopold Ochorowicz (1850–1917) was a psychologist, philosopher, and inventor, as well as a photographer, journalist, and poet. As a positivist, he postulated strict research methods in science and treated psychology as a field of study to which the tools of natural sciences can be applied. Ochorowicz’s interest in occult phenomena, which for him were not supernatural but just unexplained and misinterpreted qualities of the human body and mind, in time grew to be the most intriguing topic of his work. Ochorowicz wanted to experimentally examine medium-related and other occult phenomena, which he associated with hypnotic states. He used the term “ideoplasty” for a class of phenomena that he deemed theoretically possible, whereby psychic energy is transformed into material excretions. Ideoplasty was a part of his wider conception of transformations of energy (e.g., of power into motion), which combined his theoretical attitude in psychology and his technical inventions.

Ochorowicz Suggestion mentale

Ochorowicz Mains Tomczyk

Work with Medium Stanislawa Tomczyk

The author concluded: “Ochorowicz knew that by choosing to devote himself to the study of a topic such as mediumic phenomena, he was risking criticisms both from other scientists and from the public opinion. Indeed, his interests and research, which was conducted already after he obtained his habilitation, did not advance Ochorowicz’s academic career . . . Nonetheless, Ochorowicz, convinced that the phenomena he observed actually existed, decided to describe everything in the greatest detail, even if the observations could seem implausible . . . The example of Julian Ochorowicz shows how nuanced and complex the relations in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century were between scientific knowledge and the field of phenomena characterized as occult or paranormal. Ochorowicz’s hypothesis went against the tendency that would later prove to provide a better experimental and theoretic model of reality; he endeavored to describe psychological phenomena directly with physical concepts, but it cannot be denied that his motivation was purely and properly scientific.”

Ochorowicz with Stanislawa Tomczyk Levitating Scissors

Ochorowicz with Stanislawa Tomczyk Levitating Scissors

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

Here is a new study of synesthesia in relation to many other experiences such as schizotypy, well-being, and psychic phenomena:

Simmonds-Moore, C. A., Alvarado, C. S., & Zingrone, N. L. (2018, September 17). A Survey
Exploring Synesthetic Experiences: Exceptional Experiences, Schizotypy, and Psychological Well-Being. Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, and Practice. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/cns0000165

Christine Simmonds-Moore 2

Christine Simmonds-Moore

Abstract

We used an online survey to investigate the relations among synesthesia, schizotypy, exceptional experiences (ExEs), and well-being. Participants (N 1,628 [listwise N 767]; male 619, female 1,064) completed a Synesthesia Experience Questionnaire (SEQ), a general question about synesthetic experiences (Hartmann, 1991), the Anomalous Experience Subscale (AES) of the Anomalous Experience Inventory (Gallagher, Kumar, & Pekala, 1994), questions about parapsychological experiences, a multidimensional measure of schizotypy (Oxford-Liverpool Inventory for Feelings and Experiences Short [O-LIFE Short]; Mason, Linney, & Claridge, 2005), and the Satisfaction with Life Scale (SWLS; Diener, Emmons, Larsen, & Griffin, 1985). Cronbach’s alphas for these measures ranged from .63 to .90 in our data set. Approximately half (54.4%) of the sample reported 1 or more synesthetic experiences, although the rate was much lower for synesthesias experienced on a consistent basis (3.1%). The SEQ was highly internally reliable and correlated positively with the AES, number of parapsychological experiences, and unusual experiences, and negatively with introvertive anhedonia. The SEQ was not directly related to the SWLS. Unusual experiences and synesthesia were the strongest predictors of the AES and parapsychological experiences in multiple regression models. A cluster analysis of schizotypy found 4 clusters of schizotypy, including 1 cluster reflecting healthy schizotypy, 1 reflecting high schizotypy, 1 reflecting low schizotypy, and 1 reflecting negative schizotypy. We compared clusters in terms of the SWLS, ExEs, and the SEQ and found significant differences for all variables and higher scores for healthy compared with high schizotypy on all variables. We discuss the complex relations among synesthesia, schizotypy, and well-being.

The authors stated in the conclusion: “We documented a high rate of synesthesia, depending on how we defined synesthesia. When synesthesia was judged present when it occurs “at least once,” 54.3% of participants reported synesthesia. Because the question refers to a general description of synesthetic tendencies, it may be subject to interpretation. However, because it is possible to have a “one off” experience, our finding implies that a complete account of synesthesias should not be restricted to a definition based entirely on a consistent response to an inducing stimulus.”

“We found support for a not-uncommon tendency to experience synesthetic phenomena, and we replicated findings that some experiences of synesthesia are more common than others. We also determined that synesthesia shares variance with positive schizotypy (unusual experiences) and with ExEs [exceptional experiences], when defined broadly, and traditional parapsychological experiences. Regression analyses supported the potential contributing roles of both unusual experiences and synesthesia in the etiology of ExEs.”

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

Another of my articles was recently posted in the Psi Encyclopedia. Its title is Mediumship and Pathology. Here is the abstract:

“From its beginnings in the mid-nineteenth century, mediumship was considered by some scientists and medical professionals to be a pathological phenomenon, explicable in terms of nervous and psychological disturbance. Others viewed the paranormal elements of mediumship as genuine while holding an underlying pathology to be the cause. This article describes a range of such views held during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.”

Most of these ideas are not widely supported today.

As seen in the abstract, I focused my discussion of two groups: those who saw mediumship as pathology, with no veridical manifestations, and those who conceptualizaed it as paranormal, but also pathological.

The first group included individuals such as Philibert Burlet, William Hammond, Frederic R. Marvin, Pierre Janet, and Joseph Lévy-Valensy.

American physician Frederic R. Marvin wrote about mediumship in his The Philosophy of Spiritualism and the Pathology and Treatment of Mediomania (1874).  In this short book Marvin wrote: “Like other disorders mediomania is a member of a family from which it is not easily alienated. Hysteria, chorea, utromania, and mediomania are all in one group, and though not always attended by the same causes they are very closely related.”

Image result for marvin the philosophy spiritualism

Reflecting 19th century ideas of uterine pathology, Marvin stated: “Tilt the organ a little forward — introvert it, and immediately the patient forsakes her home, embraces some strange and ultra ism — Mormonism, Mesmerism, Fourierism, Socialism, oftener Spiritualism. She becomes possessed by the idea that she has some startling mission in the world.”

I wrote about the French clinician Pierre Janet: “For Janet, most mediums were victims of a nervous crisis, ‘neuropaths, when they are not obvious hysterics’. He wrote: ‘The movement of tables begins only when women or children, that is to say, people prone to nervous accidents [symptoms] put their hands… around a table’. Mediumship was related to a pathological state that could eventually become hysterical, although Janet held mediumship to be a symptom rather than a cause.” Janet stated these ideas in his classic work L’Automatisme Psychologique (1889).

Pierre Janet 5

Pierre Janet

Janet L'Automatisme Psychologique 1889

Interestingly, there were also believers in mediumship, particularly physical mediumship, who believed that real phenomena and pathology coexisted, and were linked. Examples include Francis Gerry Fairfield, Cesare Lombroso, and Enrico Morselli.

I wrote about Fairfield: “Although he had no medical training, his observations of mediums led him to believe that psychic phenomena were related to nervous system lesions . . . and that these lesions developed ‘a peculiar sensory and motor aura’ (atmosphere), which, entering into ‘intimate molecular relations and contact with surrounding objects’ led to phenomena such as clairvoyance, table-tipping, rappings, and the like . . . Fairfield believed that this aura related to disorders of the nervous system.”

Fairfield Ten Years

“In his 1908 book Psicologia e ‘Spiritismo,’ Morselli . . . saw Palladino, and all mediums, as victims of disease, which he termed a metahysterical condition’ . . . Mediums, he believed, ‘if not seriously impaired in their physio-psychic constitution, are always, in some way, affected during the exercise of their faculty by a functional disorder of the nervous system.’ ”

Enrico Morselli 4

Enrico Morselli

Enrico Morselli Psicologia e Spiritismo

The latter group of theoreticians represent ideas that deserve more historical exploration. A case in point is the work of Lombroso.

In the article I mention some critiques of these ideas and point point that recent research has not supported those views. I also present a bibliography of historical studies, such as:

Alvarado, C.S., & Biondi, M. (2017). Classic Text No. 110: Cesare Lombroso on mediumship and pathology. History of Psychiatry, 28, 225–241; Alvarado, C.S., & Zingrone, N.L. (2012). Classic Text No. 90: ‘The Pathology and Treatment of Mediomania’, by Frederic Rowland Marvin (1874). History of Psychiatry, 23, 229–244; Brancaccio, M.T. (2014). Enrico Morselli’s Psychology and ‘Spiritism’: Psychiatry, psychology and psychical research in Italy in the decades around 1900. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 48, 75–84; Le Maléfan, P. (1999). Folie et Spiritisme: Histoire du discourse psychopathologique sur la pratique du Spiritisme, ses abords et aes avatars (18501950). Paris: L’Hartmattan; Moreira-Almeida A., Almeida, A. A. S., & Lotufo Neto, F. (2005). History of spiritist madness in Brazil. History of Psychiatry, 16, 5–25; and Owen, A. (1990). The darkened room: Women, power and Spiritualism in late Victorian England. Philadel­phia: University of Pennsylvania Press.