Tuesday, April 12, 2016   6:29 PM

Second Parapsychology Foundation Book Expo 2016

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

The Parapsychology Foundation has released information about their second Book Expo (the first was held on November 14, 2015; click here).

Here are the details.

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Course Description

The live sessions of the PF Book Expo 2016 will take place on the afternoons of Saturday, April 23rd, 2016 and Sunday, April 24th, 2016. Five authors will talk about their recent books, including the content, the goals, why they got involved in the process, what they learned along the way, and more, followed by a question and answer session involving the registrants. Two of the books are aimed at serious researchers in and students of parapsychology and anomalistic psychology who are interested in the methodology, theory and the various phenomena under study. Two bridge the gap between the interests of serious researchers and field investigators and the intelligent general reader. The fifth book is one that would be called a popular book, but as a very high quality representative of that genre, is written clearly and flows from the investigative point of view of a well-trained and open-minded journalist.

Guest lecturers at the Parapsychology Foundation Book Expo 2016 will be:

Dr. Jim Carpenter is a board certified clinical psychologist who formerly taught at the University of North Carolina and who remains in private practice. He received the 2012 Charles Honorton Integrative Contributions Award from the Parapsychological Association for his work over the years in the field and on his innovative First Sight theory and is a past-President of that same organization. Carpenter will talk about his recent bookFirst Sight: ESP and Parapsychology in Everyday Life;

Dr. Zofia Weaver is a linguist who is a past editor of the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, the co-author (with Mary Rose Barrington and Dr. Ian Stevenson) ofA World in a Grain of Sand: The Clairvoyance of Stefan Ossowieckipublished in 2005. She will talk about her book,Other Realities? The Enigma of Franek Kluski’s Mediumship;

Patricia Pearson, an investigative journalist who has written for The New Yorker, theNew York Times, theGuardian and the Daily Telegraph, among other publications, will discuss her most recent book,Opening Heaven’s Door: What the Dying are Trying to Say about Where They’re Going;

Dr. Stephen E. Braude, an emeritus Professor of Philosophy from the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, past-President of the Parapsychological Association, author of six previous books, and the editor of the Journal of Scientific Exploration, will discuss his most recent book, Crimes of Reason: On Mind, Nature and the Paranormal; and

Callum E. Cooper, a doctoral student and instructor at the University of Northampton, co-author of two previous books, a recipient of both the Alex B. Tanous Scholarship Award from the Alex Tanous Foundation for Scientific Research, and the Eileen J. Garrett Scholarship from the Parapsychology Foundation, will cover his recent book, Telephone Calls from the Dead that provides a new case collection of after death communication experiences.

The course is aimed at people interested in scientific parapsychology, in its theory, and phenomena, in mediumship and the experiences that both the dying and bereaved people encounter. You don’t need any particular level of education to enjoy the Expo, just curiosity about the topics.

The Parapsychology Foundation Book Expo series is the only place on the internet where you can get a “meet the author” experience for recommended academic and popular books on the topics of scientific parapsychology. So if you’re a student hoping to do research, a new researcher with an interest in the theory and the problems in persuading your colleagues, a field investigator interested in the phenomena of mediumship, death-bed experiences or after death communications, then the PF Book Expo 2016 is for you.

Each individual will have a PowerPoint that will be uploaded as a tutorial in WizIQ. Each live lecture will also be recorded and besides being available on WizIQ, will be edited and uploaded to the PF’s YouTube Channel.

By attending you will meet the authors of books we think are among the best published in recent years on their topics.

While the course doesn’t prepare registrants for any certification or exams, if you’re seriously interested in these topics, the PF Book Expo 2016 will point you towards some really good books that can help you in your quest to learn more!

And the PF?

The Parapsychology Foundation, located in New York City, is a not for profit organization that is celebrating its 65th year in operation this year, 2016. For the last 65 years the PF has provided a worldwide forum supporting the scientific exploration of psychic phenomena. The PF also maintains the Eileen J. Garrett Research Library in Greenport on Long Island. The PF’s online events on WizIQ, which include conferences like this one and the PF Forum: Advances in UK Parapsychology which was offered last May, are designed to further the education of individuals who are working in or interested in learning more about the scientific side of the field.

Lisette Coly, who will guide the proceedings on April 23rd and 24th, is the President of the Parapsychology Foundation, daughter of the previous President, Mrs. Eileen Coly, and granddaughter of PF Founder Irish American intellectual, entrepeneur, author and medium, Eileen J. Garrett. Dr. Carlos S. Alvarado and Dr. Nancy L. Zingrone, who will co-moderate the day’s events, are not only Research Fellows of the Parapsychology Foundation, but both two-time past Presidents of the Parapsychological Association, the international society for scientists and scholars who investigate what seem to be psychic phenomena from a variety of disciplinary perspectives.

To register (free): http://pflyceum.wiziq.com/course/151412-parapsychology-foundation-book-expo-2016

Course Schedule:

April 23

2:15-3:00pm Eastern time Opening

3:00-4:00pm Eastern time Jim Carpenter: First Sight

4:00-5:00pm Eastern time Zofia Weaver: Other Realities

5:00-6:00pm Eastern time Patricia Pearson: Opening Heaven’s Door

6:00 Closing

April 24

1:15-1:30pm Eastern time Opening

1:45-2:30pm Eastern time Steve Braude: Crimes of Reason

3:00-4:00pm Eastern time Cal Cooper: Telephone Calls from the Dead

4:00pm Eastern time Closing

Wednesday, March 30, 2016   2:27 PM

History of Parapsychology: IX: Ideas About Théodore Flournoy’s Classic Study of Mediumship

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

In the article commented here Nancy L. Zingrone and I focus on the reception of Swiss psychologist Théodore Flournoy’s most important work,Des Indes à la Planète Mars: “Note on the Reception of Théodore Flournoy’s Des Indes à la Planète Mars” (Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 2015,79, 156-164).

As stated in the introduction:

“The book is generally considered a classic of mediumship literature, and was devoted to the mediumship of Hélène Smith, the pseudonym of Catherine Élise Müller (1861–1929). Those who are familiar with the book . . . will be aware that Flournoy presented psychological analyses of the medium’s phenomena. These included her control Leopold, as well as communications about her presumed previous lives in India as a princess and in France as Marie Antoinette, and her travels to and descriptions of Mars, including the development of a Martian language. At the end of his book Flournoy refers to various psychological processes that he believed explained the manifestations, such as the effect of early traumatic events on dissociation, latent emotional tendencies, the suggestibility and auto-suggestibility surrounding mediums in general, and cryptomnesia.”

Des Indes made an impact soon after it was published. Flournoy’s case ‘became a key addition to the other paradigm cases of mediumship and multiple personality that defined the era’ (Taylor, 2009, p. 41). For those convinced of Flournoy’s arguments, the book soon became an exemplar of psychological explanations of mediumship. But for others Des Indes represented an unwarranted and hostile analysis of mediumship.”

Some comments about the book, which was translated into English, appeared in popular publications, such as newspapers and magazines. An example was an article in the North American Review by American philosopher and psychical researcher James H. Hyslop (1900). Who wrote: “Leopold, Marie Antoinette, and the Martian inhabitant ought to have given us some evidence of personal identity, as in the ‘communicators’ of the Piper case, if Mlle. Smith expects us to believe in spirits, and it is their absolute failure to satisfy this demand that justifies M. Flournoy’s sceptical position” (p. 745).

Many others praised the book in scholarly publications. As we wrote:

Des Indes, wrote anthropologist Giuseppe Serge (1841-1936) in his book Animismo e Spiritismo, should be seen as a model of research about phenomena supporting the belief of spiritists (Sergi, 1903, p. 54). In this author’s view, while Flournoy had not explained everything, he had explained much, and his approach provided a ‘starting point for research and analysis’ (p. 55).”

Praise also came from Frederic W.H. Myers. First in a review of the book published in the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, which was later incorporated in his Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death. “In his view Flournoy had confirmed his (Myers’s) belief that the action of the subliminal was a continuous process and not a mere sporadic action. Myers argued that it was to be expected that the subliminal mind presented such cases of ‘pseudo-possession,’ cases similar to the action of discarnate spirits. Most of his review of Des Indeswas incorporated later into his last work (Myers, 1903), in which it provided support for his conception of the subliminal mind. Here Myers referred to the case as his ‘culminant example of the free scope and dominant activity of the unassisted subliminal self’ ” (Myers, 1903, Vol. 2, p. 144).”

Finally, we mentioned the critiques of spiritists, among them French engineer Gabriel Delanne. He was “sceptical of the capabilities of the subconscious mind and considered Flournoy an ‘adversary of spiritism’ (Delanne, 1902, p. 463).

In the Revue Spirite another critic stated: “More changing that Proteus, more subtle than X-rays, more learned that a psychologist, the ‘Subconscious’ of M. Flournoy has all the skills, all the faculties, all knowledge. A child of the scientific imagination, gifted at birth with all talents by the wand of the ‘Glossolalia’ fairy, it has been created to respond to all the spiritist objections, and you can be assured that it will not abandon its mission” (Conscient, 1902, p. 187).

Overall the reception to Des Indes reflected the multiple conception of the mind existing at the time. For some psychologists it was an affirmation of the powers of non-conscious levels of the mind, and an incredible argument for spiritists, who felt threatened by Flournoy’s use of psychological ideas.

“Paying attention to the reception of Flournoy’s work both adds to our understanding of his research, and allows us to situate him in a wider historical context. By illustrating the complex way in which philosophers, physicians, and psychologists—from those skeptical of the notion of spirit agency and those who defended it—thought about mediumship and the subconscious mind, we can better understand the competing interests and theoretical views that were prevalent in the era . . . Knowledge of these issues may be useful to students of intellectual history and the history of science and medicine, as well as to current students of mediumship in their attempts to evaluate the reception of modern claims about the source of such ‘communications.’ ”


Conscient, H. (1902). La Société d’Études Psychiques de Genève. Revue Spirite: Journal d’Études Psychologiques, 45, 187.

Delanne, G. (1902). Recherches sur la Médiumnité. Paris: Librairie des Science Psychiques.

Hyslop, J.H. (1900). “From India to the Planet Mars.” North American Review, 171, 734–747.

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

Sergi, G. (1903). Animismo e Spiritismo. Turin: Fratelli Bocca.

Taylor, E. (2009). The Mystery of Personality: A History of Psychodynamic Theories. New York: Springer.





Saturday, February 20, 2016   6:23 PM

The Society for Psychical Research's 134th Birthday

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

We are glad to see that the Society for Psychical Research, founded in London on February 20, 1882, is still around after 134 years. The SPR, I am happy to say, is still very useful to workers in psychical research providing publications, conferences and funding.

Below you will find a short bibliography of works about the early period of the Society that I hope will help readers to obtain information about this important organization.

Alvarado, C. S. (2002). Dissociation in Britain during the late nineteenth century: The Society for Psychical Research, 1882-1900.Journal of Trauma and Dissociation, 3, 9-33

Bennett, E. T. (1903).The Society for Psychical Research: Its Rise & Progress & a Sketch of its Work. London: R. Brimley Johnson.

Cerullo, J. J. (1982). The Secularization of the Soul: Psychical Research in Modern Britain. Philadelphia: Institute for the Study of Human Issues. 

Gauld, A. (1968). The Founders of Psychical Research. London: Routledge & Paul.

Haynes, R. (1982). The Society for Psychical Research, 1882-1982: A History. London: Macdonald.

Nicol, F. (1972). The founders of the S.P.R. Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, 55, 341-367.

Rogo, D. S. (1987). The founders of the Society for Psychical Research: A retrospective look.Parapsychology Review, 18(4), 5-9.

Salter, W. H. (1948). The Society for Psychical Research: An Outline of its History. London: Society for Psychical Research.

Friday, January 22, 2016   10:17 PM

Parapsychology Foundation International Affiliates Conference

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

 The Parapsychology Foundation http://www.parapsychology.org (PF) announces a new online conference featuring five presentations about parapsychology in various countries. It will take place in January 23-24, 2016. For a more detailed schedule and to register (for free) go here.

If you can’t join the conference on the 23rd or 24th, not to worry; all presentations will be recorded and if you register, you will be able to revisit the presentations at your leisure.

The PF has released the following information about the event:

The Parapsychology Foundation is celebrating its 65th year in operation this year. Dedicated to providing support for students and researchers in the field of scientific and academic parapsychology, the PF decided to launch the Parapsychology Foundation Online Academy on WizIQ with its first online International Affiliates Conference. For unprecedented access to this elite group of scientists and researchers, join us for this conference by clicking the link above!

The Parapsychology Foundation International Affiliates program was inaugurated in 2000 and includes 27 extraordinary individuals from 26 different countries around the world. For this inaugural event, five international affiliates will talk about institutional, educational and research developments in their own countries over the last 40 years.

Here are the International Affiliates who will be speaking at the conference:

• Dr. Alejandro Parra, the PF International Affiliate for Argentina, is a clinical psychologist in Buenos Aires, the director of the Instituto de Psicología Paranormal, and a past President of the Parapsychological Association.

• Hideyuki Kokubo, the PF International Affiliate for Japan, is the editor and director of the Journal of the International Society for Life Information, the Journal of the Japanese Society for Parapsychology, and the Journal of Mind-Body Science, as well as the director of the International Research Institute in Chiba, and a researcher at the Bio-Emission Laboratory of Meiji University.

• Dr. Chris Roe, the PF International Affiliate for England, is Professor of Research at the University of Nottingham and the Director of its Centre for the Study of Anomalous Psychological Processes, past and current President of the Parapsychological Association, and the editor of the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research.

• Dr. Mario Varvoglis is the PF International Affiliate for France, the Director of the Institut Métapsychique International in Paris, a past-President of the Parapsychological Association and the author of La Rationalité de l’Irrationnel, an analysis of contemporary psi research and its social and theoretical implications.

• Dr. Wellington Zangari and Dr. Fátima Regina Machado are joint PF International Affiliates for Brazil. Dr. Zangari is Professor of the Social Psychology of Religion at the University of São Paulo, Dr. Machado is a Postdoctoral Fellow in Psychology at the Pontifical Catholic University also in São Paulo, and both are founders of Interpsi: Laboratory of Anomalistic Psychology and Psychosocial Processes at the University of São Paulo.

In addition, Lisette Coly, the President of the Parapsychology Foundation, and PF Research Fellows Dr. Carlos S. Alvarado and Dr. Nancy L. Zingrone will conduct the opening and closing sessions for the conference, focusing on the breadth of the PF International Affiliate program, its goals and accomplishments, and, in the closing session, on such upcoming activities as the Parapsychology Foundation Online Academy that will debut later in the spring of 2016 on WizIQ.

To register for free go here (click enroll now).

Thursday, January 7, 2016   8:30 PM

ParaMooc2016: New Series of Lectures About Parapsychology

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

Those of you who have followed this blog may be aware of the parapsychology MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) Nancy L. Zingrone and I organized in 2015 (click here). We are now organizing the ParaMOOC2016. This is the joint effort of our organization The AZIRE  and the Parapsychology Foundation (PF), which is well-known in the field for its long history of supporting parapsychology via conferences, grants, and in other ways (click here for information about the PF).

The 2016 MOOC is being organized following our previous thinking, that, in addition to the few currently available introductory and popular information offerings about parapsychology on the Web, there is a need to present high level scientific and scholarly discussions of parapsychological topics to inform the general public and interested others. These discussions are presented by individuals with recognized academic credentials (doctoral degrees), and with research experience.

The ParaMooc2016 was approved by the administration of the WizIQ learning platform this morning and Nancy has been uploading the schedule as we know it at the moment, as well as welcoming the dozen students who have already signed up. WizIQ is the social media teaching platform that we and the Parapsychology Foundation are using in our online teaching/online conference activities. The benefit of getting approval is that the course is marketed by WizIQ to it’s 500,000 or so teachers, and 4.5 million students already using the system worldwide. Because of the system’s reach we are hoping to get the word out about the scientific side of the field to as many newcomers as we did in last year’s MOOC.

Registration is definitely open. Just create a free account by using your Facebook log-in or creating a new one that’s just for the WizIQ system, then click this link: http://the-azire.wiziq.com/course/139659-parapsychology-research-and-education-paramooc2016.  The MOOC is free and live presentations are scheduled at 2:00pm Eastern time for the majority of the speakers. The presentations will be recorded and available soon after (usually within 24 hours). Later on, as we finish uploading the edited versions of the lectures from last year’s MOOC on our YouTube Channel, Parapsychology Online, we will start editing and loading up the lectures from this year.

While the ParaMOOC2016 schedule may still change, we have received confirmation for the participation of such persons as Drs. Bernard Carr, Arnaud Delorme, William Everist, Renaud Evrard, Erlendur Haraldsson, Janice Holden, David Luke, Antonia Mills, Ginette Nachman, Serena Roney-Dougal, Stefan Schmidt, and Patrizio Tressoldi. A few others may join us soon.

Some of the topics discussed include hyperdimensional and quantum theory ideas related to psychic phenomena, clinical perspectives of psychic experiences, and studies of recollections of previous lives, near-death experiences, mind-body medicine, distant intentions, the psychophysiology of mediumship, meditation and psi, and apparitions.

The complete (so far) information on the course is available on the enrollment link, so feel free to click just to check out the information at this link: http://the-azire.wiziq.com/course/139659-parapsychology-research-and-education-paramooc2016


Sunday, December 27, 2015   8:43 PM

History of Parapsychology VIII. ESP Via Pulse Rates? Some 19th Century Observations

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

Several laboratory experiments have presented evidence to the effect that changes in some physiological measure correspond to a remote stimuli, suggesting ESP may manifest physiologically while the person is not aware of the process. In an article I published recently I discussed a generally forgotten nineteenth-century example of this.

Here is the reference and the abstract:

Carlos S. Alvarado (2015). Note on an Early Physiological Index of ESP: John E. Purdon’s Observations of Synchronous Pulse Rates.Journal of Scientific Exploration, 29, 109–123. (Available on request from the author:carlos@theazire.org)


The purpose of this Note is to rescue from oblivion the nineteenth-century researches of physician John E. Purdon with measures of pulse rate synchrony between two persons. This was done using a sphygmograph, an instrument that measured pulse and provided graphic tracings on paper. According to Purdon, he found some persons reproduced the tracings of others in conditions that he considered to imply a telepathic transfer. Purdon speculated that one person produced emissions of nervous force that were propagated to others via the ether. While this research may be criticized from the point of view of modern research standards, it is presented here as an interesting and generally unknown early instrumental study of the concept of the detection of ESP via a physiological response.

“John Edward Blakeney Purdon was a physician who was born in Dublin in 1839. He was educated and trained in medicine at Trinity College, Dublin . . . Purdon lived in India serving as a surgeon in the British Army starting in 1865 . . . In 1881, when he made his first observations of synchronous pulse rates, he was in charge of a military hospital in Guernsey, the Channel Islands. After retiring from the Army in 1883, Purdon lived in the United States.”

The observations were done in informal ways. The first one took place in a hospital between a soldier and a woman separated by a wall. “During the ten days that my observations continued, I took many scores of traces with the sphygmograph finding the likenesses between the curve of Private W . . . and the young woman next door to be often remarkable. On one occasion I found that Private W . . . Private L . . . and myself were showing the same pattern almost exactly. That night our neighbour was eliminated as a disturbing cause, for she was laid up with a very bad sick headache . . .”

In another instance recorded in 1881: “I was taking the tracing of a young lady who was lying down with a menstrual headache, her hand being held by an older lady, her first cousin, when I suddenly saw the pulse curve change to that of the other, which I had more than once taken that morning. There could be no mistake about the resemblance, for the tracing of the other person was very characteristic and so familiar to me that such would have been a moral impossibility under the circumstances.”

Another example: “I was taking the tracing of a young lady who was lying down with a menstrual headache, her hand being held by an older lady, her first cousin, when I suddenly saw the pulse curve change to that of the other, which I had more than once taken that morning . . . I repeated the observation, taking the tracings of each woman repeatedly, and found more or less resemblance between the tracings of the elder and one side of the younger. . . . This relation had to do in my mind with the state of susceptibility to change, disturbance, or irritation of the nervous system of the younger, as depending upon the presence of the catamenia.”

I concluded the paper pointing out some problems with Purdon’s research when seen from the point of view of modern standards: “The evaluation of the results depended on visual inspection of the tracings, something that does not seem to have been done blindly. Furthermore, the reports lack information about checks on the proper functioning of the sphygmograph, potential artifacts related to how the instrument was attached to the arm, the position of the arm and its movements, and environmental stimuli that could have affected the tracings of both subjects.”

However, my interest to write this paper was not to present evidence for ESP via pulse rate change, but to acknowledge the pioneering efforts of Purdon.


Thursday, December 10, 2015   9:56 PM

History of Parapsychology VII. On First Volumes of Influential Journals About Psychic Phenomena

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

I recently published a review of the first volumes of three journals that were historically important in the study of psychic phenomena. The review article is entitled “On First Volumes and Beginnings in the Study of Psychic Phenomena: Varieties of Investigative Approaches” (Journal of Scientific Exploration, 2015, 29, 131-153; if you want a copy write to me at: carlos@theazire.org). The journals in question were:Revue Spirite: Journal d’Études Psychologiques, 1858, Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, 1882–1883, and theJournal of Parapsychology, 1937.

In my introduction I mentioned different research styles in the history of psychology, including, for example case studies and experiments. “A similar situation and the topic of this Essay Review is the different approaches in the study of psychic phenomena over time. The purpose of this Essay Review is to introduce to modern readers some of these approaches in the forms of summaries of the contents of three different journals from the past. These are comments about the first volumes of influential publications concerned with the study of psychic phenomena that are probably not familiar to current students of psychic phenomena.”

The Revue Spirite, produced by Allan Kardec, was an important resource in the spreading of Spiritism in France, and elsewhere. Most of the content of the Revue was devoted to mediumistic communications that were seen as authoritative as regards moral, philosophical and scientific issues. There was no attempt at external verification and many of the communications were not verifiable in principle. “In a two-page paper entitled ‘Utilité de Certaines Évocations Particulières’ (Utility of Some Particular Evocations . . .), it was stated that these messages were valuable because the spirits in question ‘have acquired a high degree of perfection’ . . . that allowed them to ‘penetrate the mysteries that exceed the vulgar reach of humanity. . .’ ”

The cases described in this volume were not original investigations, but accounts reprinted from popular sources. “Examples include ‘Visions’ . . . , ‘Le Revenant de Mademoiselle Clairon’ (The Ghost of Miss Clairon . . .), ‘L’Esprit Frappeur de Dibbelsdorf—Basse-Saxe’ (The Rapping Spirit of Dibbelsdorf—Lower Saxony), . . .), and ‘Phénomène d’Apparition’ (Apparition Phenomena, . . .).”

I argued, “to consider the content of the Revue, and Kardec’s work, as a scientific research program . . . begs the question of what science is. It is one thing to observe nature and develop hypotheses based on observed patterns, or to be tested by further observations or actual experimentation, and another thing to use communications through seances, which source is uncertain, as shown in this volume of theRevue, to get teachings and answers to questions about the nature of topics such as the workings of psychic phenomena and a variety of moral and philosophical issues. Similarly, it is one thing to report on non-evidential spirit communications and on cases of apparitions and other phenomena discussed in the press and other sources, and it is another to study these phenomena with attention to evidence.”

A very different approach was that found in the first volume of the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research. “ThePSPR was the main organ of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR), which was of basic importance for the development of parapsychology. Its work . . . systematized research into psychic phenomena in England, but it was also influential in other countries.”

Some of the authors in the first volume of the PSPR were William F. Barrett, Edmund Gurney, Frederic W. H. Myers, and Henry Sidgwick. “The first volume, containing four issues appearing in 1882 and 1883, was formed of papers reporting on the collection and analysis of evidence for psychic phenomena coming from accounts and from experiments. Some of these were . . . Barrett, Gurney, and Myers’ ‘First Report of the Committee on Thought-Reading’ (1882 . . .) . . .Barrett, Keep, Massey, Wedgwood, Podmore, and Pease’s ‘First Report of the Committee on ‘Haunted Houses’ ‘ (1882 . . .), and Barrett, Massey, Moses, Podmore, Gurney, and Myers’ ‘Report of the Literary Committee’ (1882 . . .). These, and other reports such as Barrett’s ‘On Some Phenomena Associated with Abnormal Conditions of Mind’ (1883 . . .) and Malcolm Guthrie and James Birchall’s ‘Record of Experiments in Thought-Transference, at Liverpool’ (1883 . . .), point to the empirical approach prevalent in the SPR even if such attempts seem methodologically crude by modern standards.”

Different from the Revue, the SPR had high evidential standards with cases. As stated in the “First Report of the Committee on ‘Haunted Houses’ ”, published in 1882: “In the first place, we . . . begin by tracing every story to the fountain-head. But we do not consider that every first-hand narration of the appearance of a ghost, even from a thoroughly trustworthy narrator, gives us adequate reason for attempting further investigation. On the contrary, our general principle is that the unsupported evidence of a single witness does not constitute sufficient ground for accepting an apparition as having a prima facie claim to objective reality. To distinguish any apparition from an ordinary hallucination . . . it must receive some independent evidence to corroborate it. And this corroboration may be of two kinds; we may have the consentient testimony of several witnesses; or there may be some point of external agreement and coincidence—unknown, as such, to the seer at the time—(e.g., the periodic appearance on a particular anniversary, or the recognition of a peculiar dress), to give to the vision an objective foundation.”

The volume also had the beginnings of an experimental tradition in the study of ESP, something that would be developed in later volumes. An example was “Records of Experiments on Thought-Transference, at Liverpool,” by Malcolm Guthrie and James Birchall (1883). Furthermore there were instructions about precautions to follow in conducting such experiments.

“While the PSPR included some reports of experiments (and this became more frequent in later volumes), this approach was not the main one taken by SPR researchers. But it was the research style predominant in theJournal of Parapsychology.” This is clear in the first volume of this publication, appearing in 1937. 

The Journal of Parapsychology (JP) came from Joseph Banks Rhine research group at Duke University and represented an experimental and quantitative research tradition. “According to my count of types of paper in the first volume, excluding correspondence and notes, there were 16 experimental reports, 4 editorials, 3 reviews of specific topics, 3 summaries and reviews of specific experiments, and 3 discussions of statistical issues.”

“Examples of experiments include ESP studies such as J. G. Pratt’s . . . ‘Clairvoyant Blind Matching’ . . . , J. L. Woodruff and R. W. George’s ‘Experiments in Extra-Sensory Perception’ . . . , Lucien Warner’s ‘The Role of Luck in ESP Data’ . . . , and Vernon Sharp and C. C. Clark’s ‘Group Tests for Extra-Sensory Perception’ . . . The experimental approach was not limited to proving the existence of ESP. TheJP carried interesting experiments to study ESP in relation to other variables, such as J. B. Rhine’s ‘The Effect of Distance in ESP Tests’ . . . , Margaret H. Pegram’s ‘Some Psychological Relations of Extra-Sensory Perception’ . . . , and Edmond P. Gibson’s ‘A Study of Comparative Performance in Several ESP Procedures’ . . . In addition, several studies were reported about ESP tests with special participants.”

In conclusion: “The journals discussed here . . . had to carve out their own territory, so to speak, when they started. TheRevue appeared in a context in which mesmerism was better known, a movement that was not always open to spiritism . . . Similarly, to some extent thePSPR and the JP represented ‘new’ beginnings in terms of spiritualism and psychical research, respectively. However, it would be wrong to reduce everything to breaks and discontinuities. In fairness, the issue was more one of general trends, and it is important to recognize that there were clear conceptual and methodological connections between the movements.”

“While different, the three journals presented in their pages material showing empirical attempts to study psychic phenomena, even though they represent different research styles. Of the three approaches—the teaching of the spirits, the analyses of testimony, and the conducting of experiments—only the last two are still pursued in parapsychology. In fact, I doubt that today many parapsychologists . . . will consider the use of mediumistically obtained teachings as a reliable approach to study psychic phenomena, although one may argue that it may be useful to generate hypotheses that may be put to test by other means. But leaving aside modern standards and practices, we must admit that Kardec saw his work as empirical, different from faith, an attempt to collect information from the natural world, albeit from an unusual source.”

“Different from the above, the PSPR and the JP, not to mention other journals . . . , emphasized cases and experiments as the means to generate knowledge for psychical research. Later developments within the SPR and the Duke group, as articulated in the PSPR and the JP, significantly affected the study of psychic phenomena, transforming it into a more systematic endeavor . . .”

Friday, December 4, 2015   9:33 PM

History of Parapsychology VI. Early Examples of Psi from the Living Explanations of Mediumship

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

One of my last published articles, written with colleagues Michael Nahm and Andreas Sommer, is a historical note about early nineteenth-century examples of explanations of mediumistic phenomena via the psychic powers of the living medium.

Here is the reference and abstract:

* * *

Alvarado, C.S., Nahm, M., & Sommer, A. (2012). Notes on early interpretations of mediumship. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 26, 855-865.


The purpose of this note is to dispel the notion that ideas of human agency to account for the veridical mental phenomena of mediums began with persons associated with the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) in England, or with certain later individuals. In fact, the appearance of these ideas preceded the founding of the Society in 1882. Examples of earlier writers who discussed these ideas include Carl Gustav Carus, Edward W. Cox, Justinus Kerner, Asa Mahan, André-Saturnin Morin, Maximilian Perty, B.W. Richmond, and Edward C. Rogers. In contrast to the speculation by later SPR authors and others, the concepts that appeared in the old literature often involved belief in physical forces.

* * *

Here is an example of the ideas mentioned in the paper: “The well-known American clairvoyant Andrew Jackson Davis (1826-1910) believed in different agencies . . . In his book The Present Age and Inner Life (1853) Davis wrote that ‘owing to the extraordinary attributes of man’s mind, many experiences are by some individuals regarded as spiritually originated; which in truth, are only caused by the natural laws of our being . . . .’ Davis believed that 40% of the phenomena were due to discarnate spirits. The remaining possibilities included a variety of medical explanations, with 18% being accounted for by what would later be referred to as the psychic powers of the living.”

Another example: “The German zoologist Maximilian Perty (1804-1884) was another critic of belief in spirit communication in mediumship . . . Perty argued that the “guides” of somnambulistic mediums, often assuming the appearance of deceased loved ones, were usually dramatized personifications from the somnambulist’s own psyche . . . Rather than suggesting evidence of spirit identity, Perty held that supernormal knowledge emerging in “spirit guides” was due to the somnambulist’s own unconscious clairvoyance or “magic excitation.”

We concluded:

“The material discussed in this note could be extended. It shows that explanations of veridical elements arising from the living medium rather than from discarnate influence preceded the founding of the SPR. . . Nonetheless, the early ideas were often not exactly equivalent to those held by SPR workers and later writers engaged in controversies . . . and discussions of the so-called hypothetical construct referred to as super ESP . . . Instead early ideas were frequently associated with unorthodox concepts of force not discussed by the SPR workers who wrote about mental mediumship . . . In addition, although earlier writers knew about such processes as those akin to unconscious cerebration, the SPR (and later) workers laid more emphasis on less physiological conceptions of subconscious processes that had a wider scope.”

Monday, November 30, 2015   10:59 PM

History of Parapsychology V. The Revue Philosophique de la France et de l’Étranger

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

One of my papers about historical topics, authored with Renaud Evrard, is about discussions of psychic phenomena in nineteenth-century issues of a French journal. It is entitled “Nineteenth Century Psychical Research in Mainstream Journals: TheRevue Philosophique de la France et de l’Étranger” (Journal of Scientific Exploration, 2013, 27, 655-689; for a PDF reprint write to me at: carlos@theazire.org). Here is the abstract:

“While there were several psychical research journals during the nineteenth century many interesting discussions about psychic phenomena took place as well in a variety of intellectual reviews and scholarly and scientific journals of various disciplines. One such example was the French journal Revue Philosophique de la France et de l’Étranger, founded in 1876 by Théodule Ribot. Reflecting the various interests of psychologists during the nineteenth century, many topics were discussed in the Revue, among them hypnotic phenomena as well as mental suggestion and mediumship. The journal provided an important forum for French discussions in psychology and in the social sciences in general that helped the development of those disciplines. The same may be said about psychic phenomena, which were discussed in the pages of the journal by authors such as Émile Boirac, Victor Egger, Théodore Flournoy, Jules Héricourt, Pierre Janet, Leon Marillier, Julian Ochorowicz, Charles Richet, and Albert Ruault. We present summaries of some of these writings which we hope will bring some of this material to the attention of non-French readers.”

As we wrote about the Revue: “The first volume . . . included articles by such noted figures as Paul Janet (1823-1899), George H. Lewes (1817-1878), John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), Herbert Spencer (1820-1903), Hippolyte Taine (1828-1893), Eduard Von Hartmann (1842-1906), and Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920) . . . French historian of psychology Serge Nicolas has argued that . . . the journal was a contributing factor in the development of nineteenth century empirical psychology . . . An important aspect of it was that the Revue was a forum for work on abnormal psychology and hypnotic phenomena that contributed to the development of the concepts of the subconscious mind and of dissociation.”

We discussed various topics related to psychic phenomena, among them mental suggestion. This included Charles Richet’s classic 1884 paper “La Suggestion Mentale et le Calcul des Probabilités” [Mental Suggestion and the Calculation of Probabilities], as well as Pierre Janet’s two papers appearing in 1886 about the induction of trance at a distance with the famous Léonie Leboulanger. We wrote: “Janet’s papers were very influential in late nineteenth century psychical research, cited by many inside and outside France . . . This work . . . opened the door to the publication of similar cases in theRevue by other authors . . .”

There were also summaries of articles about mediumship, the effects of drugs and medicine from a distance, panoramic memory, and criticism. TheRevue also brought information about non-French work in the form of book reviews, articles and notes. “Frederic W. H. Myers authored two notes on veridical hallucinations . . . aspects of the work of the Society for Psychical Research were reviewed in a discussion of Gurney, Myers and Podmore’sPhantasms of the Living(1886). . . and in a note about the Society’s further work on hallucinations. . .There were also short summaries of the content of the Proceedings of the Society.”

We concluded: “Depending on the reader’s interest the material reviewed here will have different purposes. Those interested in the reality of psychic phenomena will use these materials to assess the evidential value of the old work. In contrast, those interested in the historical aspects of psychical research will see these papers and book reviews as examples of important primary sources for the study of nineteenth century psychical research. From either perspective—and perhaps from the perspective of those interested in both views—there is no question that the Revue is an important information source for the study of nineteenth century psychical research, particularly in France.”


Sunday, November 22, 2015   2:00 PM

History of Parapsychology IV: G. Stanley Hall as a Critic of Psychical Research

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

It is well known that many of the early psychologists were negative about the existence of psychic phenomena, preferring to explain them via conventional principles such as fraud, suggestion, hallucination, and other ideas. Individuals such as Alfred Binet, Joseph Jastrow, and Hugo Münsterberg are examples of this tradition. In a paper I recently published I discuss a prominent example of this, namely the work of American psychologist G. Stanley Hall.

G. Stanley Hall

The paper, “G. Stanley Hall on ‘Mystic or Borderline Phenomena’ “(Journal of Scientific Exploration, 2014, 28, 75–93; available from the author: carlos@theazire.org) was not meant to be a detailed overview of Hall’s critical work, but an introduction to a little known paper of his about psychic phenomena. Here is the abstract:

“G. Stanley Hall (1844–1924) was one the most prominent of the early American psychologists and an outspoken skeptic about the existence of psychic phenomena. This article presents a reprint of one of his critiques on the topic, a little-known paper entitled ‘Mystic or Borderline Phenomena’ published in 1909 in the Proceedings of the Southern California Teacher’s Association. Hall commented on some phenomena of physical mediumship, as well as on apparitions, telepathy, and mental healing. In his view all could be explained via conventional ways such as trickery and the workings of the unconscious mind. The paper is reprinted with an introduction and annotations providing biographical information about Hall and additional information and clarification of the points he made in the paper. It is argued that Hall’s paper represents an instance of boundary-work common at the beginning of organized psychology, representing an attempt to give authority to the discipline over fields such as psychical research.”

I argue in the paper: “In addition to Hall’s unquestionable importance for the development and history of American psychology, I had several . . . reasons to choose this article. The paper is a good summary of Hall’s negative views about psychic phenomena and psychical research and represents the opinion of other psychologists at the time . . . Hall’s paper is an example of the attempts of many early psychologists to separate their emerging field from psychical research . . . I am also presenting Hall’s paper as a reminder of the importance of remembering critics and criticism in our discussions and understanding of the past developments of psychical research. This is because many historical articles published by workers in the field tend to focus on proponents of, or on defenses of, the ‘reality’ of psychic phenomena.”

Unfortunately Hall misrepresented psychical researchers several times in his paper. For example, he assumed they needed to know something about topics such as hallucinations and hypnotism. But Hall knew better than this, as he had read Gurney, Myers and Podmore’s Phantasms of the Living (1886) and he knew about Myers writings which covered much of abnormal psychology. In fact, I believe that Hall could have learned much about these topics from the psychical researchers.

Hall’s paper was also not fair to psychical researchers when he wrote: “There is almost nothing tricks cannot do, aided by skill and practice. There are many codes: for instance, reading cards can be done by two confederates, one of whom catches the heart rhythm as the toe or a crossed leg moves, and counts off the suit and the card, marking the beginning of the count by any rustle or noise of the foot, hem, sniffle, or any other sign, which the observers never detect. Probably hundreds of these tricks are well known and are found in the copious literature on this subject . . . My contention is that every investigator should know what are the resources of sleight of hand.”

But as I comment in my article: “Here, as in other writings, and in other parts of the article, Hall presents his comments without acknowledging that psychical researchers were aware of the issue of fraud and of techniques of fraud from the beginning of the movement . . . Hall had a tendency to offer advice and issue recommendations under the apparent assumption that his points had not been considered before. While this may have been true among some, such as members of the general public . . . , it did not apply to most psychical researchers.”

Consequently Hall’s writings need to be critically assessed.

On Hall’s contributions to psychology see:

Arnett, J. J. (2006). G. Stanley Hall’s Adolescence: Brilliance and nonsense. History of Psychology, 9, 186–197.

Bringmann, W. G. (1992). G. Stanley Hall and the history of psychology. American Psychologist, 47, 281–290.

Hogan, J. D. (2003). G. Stanley Hall: Educator, organizer, and pioneer. In In G. A. Kimble & M. Wertheimer (Eds.),Portraits of Pioneers in Psychology(Volume 5, pp. 19–36), Mahwa, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum; Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Hulse, S. H., & Green, B. F. (Eds.) (1986). One Hundred Years of Psychological Research in America: G. Stanley Hall and the Johns Hopkins Tradition. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University.

Rosenzwig, S. (1992). Freud, Jung, and Hall the King-Maker: The Historic Expedition to America (1909), with G. Stanley Hall as Host and William James as Guest. St. Louis, MO: Rana House Press.

Ross, D. (1972). G . Stanley Hall: The Psychologist as Prophet. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Sokal, M. M. (1990). G. Stanley Hall and the institutional character of psychology at Clark 1889–1920.Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 26, 114–124.

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