Thursday, May 12, 2011   2:58 PM

Message from the (outgoing) President

Welcome to the renovated Parapsychological Association website. As you are no doubt aware, the new site is now fully functional and has a number of more modern features than the last one, making it truly interactive. Surfing around, you will see that it is possible to maintain and upload material to your own biographical profile, so I urge all members, students, and affiliates to do so. Full members can also communicate ideas, announce upcoming events and share photos as there are also blog, calendar and multimedia upload facilities on the wonderful new site, developed by our web designer Jeremy Parnell and executive secretary Annalisa Ventola, to whom we are very grateful.

Please do take the time to update your profile on the PA site and help keep your colleagues up to date with who you are and what you have achieved, as we all want to know. You will also notice that we are now using this new site for the 2011 president, board, and student representative elections as we are gradually phasing out the Club Express site. Elections also mean that we are phasing out some board members and I will be stepping down as president, as is the tradition, at the end of my two-year stint to let someone else take over. Before leaving however, I am taking the plunge and hope to lead the way by putting my last quarterly presidential message up on my blog - to encourage you to take part in this new exchange. Please feel free to leave comments, start your own blog entries, or upload pictures from a PA convention to our online photo albums....

IN AS MUCH as it is clear that the study of parapsychology is wed to the study of altered states of consciousness, so too the study of altered states cannot divorce itself from parapsychology, at least not without committing a gross injustice. One forthcoming event that gladly reminds me that the ying is in the yang just as much as the yang is in the ying is the release this May of an important book on altered states of consciousness. Altering Consciousness: Multidisciplinary Perspectives, a new two volume anthology of subject reviews from more than 30 leading authors from different fields contains an entry on parapsychological phenomena, and is set to be the leading collection on ASCs thus far. That the text has a chapter on psi and ASCs is probably no great surprise, given that it is edited by Prof. Etzel Cardeña and Prof. Michael Winkelman, both of whom will be giving an invited address at this year's PA convention in Brazil. Etzel will be giving a presentation to coincide with the launch of another important book, the first edition of a Portuguese language version of the APA-published Varieties of Anomalous Experience. Whereas Michael, who began his career in anthropology by studying parapsychological phenomena and who has since become a leading authority on shamanism, will be giving the banquet speech entitled Evolved Psychology and the Deep Structure of Psi: The Shamanic Paradigm. There will also be invited addresses from the PA's Brazilian liaison Prof. Wellington Zangari, last year's PA Outstanding Contribution Award winner Dr. Carlos Alvarado, and ex-military psi applications expert Dr John Alexander. I am also pleased to announce that there will be a panel discussion of Ayahuasca and Exceptional Human Experiences at this year's PA, putting some ASC yang back into the parapsychological ying.

Conversely, a convention on ASCs I recently had the pleasure of co-organising had a seed of the parapsychological embedded deep within it, though overtly this was not intended to be the case. As a collaborative effort between the UK's University of Greenwich, where I teach, and the University of Kent, where it was hosted, Breaking Convention: A Multidisciplinary Meeting on Psychedelic Consciousness was the first conference in the UK in decades to be focused solely on research into psychedelic substances, and attracted no less than 600 people travelling from more than 30 different countries. The main focus of the conference was on the medicinal uses of psychedelics, with additional contributions from anthropological, archaeological, historical, cultural and legal perspectives, to varying degrees. Nevertheless, despite no overt representation from parapsychological quarters, aside from a psi experiment being ran in a side room, the speakers often touched upon matters core to our field in their presentations.

For instance, opening the conference Ram Dass (ex-Harvard psychologist Dr Richard Alpert) recounted his experiences in India meeting a Hindu guru who had greatly unnerved him by apparently reading his mind, and who then proceeded to take large doses of LSD on repeat occasions and yet remained completely unphased by the experience. Ram Dass was quick to point out how utterly terrifying it had been having somebody know what he had been thinking, because he was afraid of the implications of having a transparent consciousness – a point that has been raised in the past by Charles Tart and Stephen Braude in relation to the fear of psi and its likely hindrance to psychic phenomena.

Another veteran of the sixties, LSD psychotherapy pioneer Dr. Stanislav Grof reminded delegates that psychedelic therapy and other research into altered states has revealed a rich array of “anomalous” phenomena that have undermined some of the most basic assumptions about consciousness within modern psychiatry, psychology, and psychotherapy, and that many of these observations are so radical that they challenge the basic philosophical premises of materialistic science. Author Graham Hancock also chimed with Grof's assertion and suggested such transpersonal experiences could no longer be obscured by the cloudy notion of “hallucination”, and psychologist Prof. Ralph Metzner offered a convenient epistemological way out the materialist maze by calling upon James' radical empiricism in the study of altered states, because subjective experience is at the core of empiricism and ultimately has phenomenological validity no matter how alien such experiences appear to the sober mind.

Embracing such an approach to the mysteries of consciousness Prof. Roland Griffiths discussed two recent double blind placebo controlled studies at John Hopkins Medical University that had replicated Walter Pahnke's 1960s “Good Friday” experiment and demonstrated that, in most people studied, psilocybin really can occasion mystical-type experiences that have sustained personal meaning and spiritual significance. Pahnke, of course, went on to study psychedelics as psi-inducing agents, briefly, before dying prematurely in a diving accident leaving his work incomplete so it is greatly reassuring to know that nearly 50 years later such research is resuming. It could even be said that there is a renaissance occurring in psychedelic research, and with it there is a wider call for a new renaissance in the epistemology and ontology underpinning science, one which is capable of incorporating both transpersonal and parapsychological phenomena.

Honouring those who are ushering in this new renaissance I am pleased to announce the winners of this year's PA awards. Having published a number of articles exploring the cross-over between anthropology and parapsychology as well as founding and editing Paranthropology: Journal of Anthropological Approaches to the Paranormal, Jack Hunter, a PhD student in anthropology at the University of Bristol, UK, studying mediumship, has been awarded the Schmeidler Outstanding Student Award. After more than thirty years of professional work in the field of parapsychology and having served as president of the Association twice, the Outstanding Career Award goes to Dr Richard Broughton, while the Outstanding Contribution Award goes, posthumously, to Dr Michael Thalbourne for his many contributions to the alignment of parapsychology and personality research, especially with his work in developing the concept of transliminality. Finally, having made great headway in a long career bridging parapsychology with more mainstream aspects of psychology Prof. Stanley Krippner received the Charles Honorton Integrative Contributions Award.

I very much look forward to hearing the invited talks of these award winners at forthcoming annual PA conventions. This year of course is Brazil, and I eagerly anticipate seeing some of you there. For those of you who cannot make it, the video footage will soon be online, watch this space (literally). Furthermore I very much look forward to browsing everyone's biogs and blogs and interacting with you this way. After all, community is about communication.

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