Sunday, November 8, 2015   11:00 PM

A New Handbook of Parapsychology

Carlos S. Alvarado, Research Fellow, Parapsychology Foundation

Over the years many of us have found a basic reference work of great help. I am referring to the Handbook of Parapsychology, edited by Benjamin B. Wolman, with the assistance of associate editors Laura A. Dale, Gertrude R. Schmeidler, and Montague Ullman (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1977). While still useful, the book has been in need of an update for a long time, since it was published over 30 years ago. Fortunately we now have such an update: Parapsychology: A Handbook for the 21st Century (Jefferson, NC : McFarland, 2015; Print ISBN: 978-0-7864-7916-0, softcover, Ebook ISBN: 978-1-4766-2105-0, 424 pp.), edited by Etzel Cardeña, John Palmer, and David Marcusson-Clavertz.

The book, which won an award from the Parapsychological Association, is not a mere second edition of the first Handbook. In addition to different editors, it also covers some different areas and topics, while keeping to the subject matter of the original. The table of contents can be found here

Following a preface by the editors, the book is organized in nine sections: Basic Concepts, Research Methods and Statistical Approaches, Psychology and Psi, Physics and Psi, Psi Phenomena: Anomalous Cognition, Perturbation and Force, Psi Phenomena: Research on Survival, Practical Applications, and To Sum It Up. These sections include 31 chapters.

The book is an excellent follow-up to the 1977 Handbook and, overall, an indispensable reference work for the serious student of parapsychology. The emphasis is on experimental work, as seen in chapters such as “Ariadne’s Thread: Meditation and Psi” (by Serena M. ­Roney-Dougal), “Explicit Anomalous Cognition: A Review of the Best Evidence in Ganzfeld, Forced Choice, Remote Viewing and Dream Studies” (Johann Baptista, Max Derakhshani and Patrizio E. Tressoldi), “Implicit Anomalous Cognition” (John Palmer), “Psi and Psychophysiology” (Dean Radin and Alan Pierce), “Experimental Research on Distant Intention Phenomena” (Stefan Schmidt), “Micro-Psychokinesis” (Mario Varvoglis and Peter A. Bancel), “Experimenter Effects in Parapsychology Research” (John Palmer and Brian Millar), and “Implicit Physical Psi: The Global Consciousness Project” (Roger D. Nelson).

But there are also discussions about non-experimental work. This includes “Macro-Psychokinesis” (Stephen E. Braude), “Reincarnation: Field Studies and Theoretical Issues Today” (Antonia Mills and Jim B. Tucker), “Ghosts and Poltergeists: An Eternal Enigma” (Michaeleen Maher), and “Psi in Everyday Life: Nonhuman and Human” (Rupert Sheldrake).

Interestingly, a few chapters combine experimental and non-experimental work. In addition to mine, which I mention below, examples of this are “Physical Correlates of Psi” (Adrian Ryan ), and “Drugs and Psi Phenomena” (David Luke) and, to some extent, “States, Traits, Cognitive Variables and Psi” (Etzel Cardeña and David ­Marcusson-Clavertz).

In addition to the above mentioned papers about reincarnation and hauntings and poltergeists, a section about the topic of survival of death has several of the most interesting articles in the volume. In my view the best of these is “Mental Mediumship” (Julie Beischel and Nancy L. Zingrone). In addition, there was a discussion of ”Electronic Voice Phenomena” (Mark R. Leary and Tom Butler), a topic seldom discussed in books of this sort.

There are also chapters about approaches to the study of psychic phenomena, namely “Experimental Methods in Anomalous Cognition and Anomalous Perturbation Research” (John Palmer) and “Research Methods with Spontaneous Case Studies” (Emily Williams Kelly and Jim B. Tucker), and “Macro-Psychokinesis: Methodological Concerns” (Graham Watkins). Statistical issues are discussed by Patrizio E. Tressoldi and Jessica Utts in “Statistical Guidelines for Empirical Studies.”

Criticisms of parapsychology also receive attention in the volume’s preface, “Reintroducing Parapsychology.” Cardeña, ­Marcusson-Clavertz, and Palmer, present 12 invalid criticisms of parapsychology. Some of them are that parapsychology does not utilize the scientific method, that only individuals with poor reasoning skills or biases believe in psychic phenomena, that the statistical evidence has been explained away, and that proposing a hypothetical conventional explanation is enough to discount many findings in the field regardless of the unlikeliness of the explanation.

I was glad to be the second author on a chapter in this new book, the opening article, after the preface, written with Nancy L. Zingrone and Gerd H. Hövelmann. Our paper, “An Overview of Modern Developments in Parapsychology,” was divided in the following sections: Research Topics and Approaches, Scholarly Work: History, Religion and Other Disciplines, Conceptual and Disciplinary Approaches, Influential Conceptual Frameworks, Methodological and Statistical Developments, and Social Aspects: Criticism and Institutional Developments. Because we believe that parapsychology is an international discipline, we made an effort to include references published in languages other than English, something not done by many other authors, even when relevant material exists.

It is interesting to see a chapter presenting a skeptical view of parapsychology, “The Case Against Psi,” by Douglas Stokes. Cardeña argued in the last chapter, in my opinion correctly, that the critique was anything but convincing. Certainly criticism and skepticism are important in science, and particularly in a field so controversial as parapsychology. Critical views are frequently presented in this work, but they are critiques that are not destructive, that seek to improve the field instead as to close it, or dismiss it, as seen in the works of some critics.

Other topics also receive attention. Examples are those about conceptual issues: “Parapsychology in Context: The Big Picture” (Edward F. Kelly), “Psychological Concepts of Psi Function: A Review and Constructive Critique” (Rex G. Stanford), “Psi and Biology: An Evolutionary Perspective” (Richard S. Broughton), and “Quantum Theory and Parapsychology” (Brian Millar). In addition, there are chapters about “Exceptional Experiences (ExE) in Clinical Psychology” (Martina Belz and Wolfgang Fach), and “Applied Psi” (Paul H. Smith and Garret Moddel).

The book ends with two very interesting contributions. In “On the Usefulness of Parapsychology for Science at Large” Hövelmann argued that “The suggestion of a known or presumed lack of usefulness of parapsychology for science in general is … a chimera, an uninformed invention in historical scientific terms of less than conscientious minds that are not aware of the actual facts” (p. 391). The author presents examples of contributions, which include statistical techniques and early research on dissociation. Certainly as Adam Crabtree, Regina Plas and others have shown, the early psychical research movement was an active contributor not only to dissociation studies, but also to the development of the concept of the subconscious mind.

The very final paper, by one of the editors, is “On Negative Capability and Parapsychology: Personal Reflections” (Etzel Cardeña). He writes that even though we have learned some things after the publication of the 1977 Handbook, we have to recognize how little we know about the phenomena in question. “The various analyses . . . documented in this tome show in my mind a too remarkable regularity to be explained away by wholly or partly dishonest researchers, . . . thus I conclude that we do have evidence for something like what we call psi. Nonetheless, the small effect sizes and lack of ability to design an experiment that would almost certainly produce evidence also signifies that we are very far from understanding psi . . .” (p. 400).

There are, of course, omissions that may be due to the length of the book and to other practical problems. A notable one is the lack of a chapter about near-death experiences. This area has become too important not to receive specific attention. I would also have liked to see long discussions of OBEs and healing. While there is a chapter about statistics, the volume would have been improved with one about the various modern ways to conduct qualitative analysis.

But these omissions in no way detract from the immense amount of work in the compilation of this volume, and the high quality of the discussions in the individual chapters. The editors are to be congratulated for producing such an important summary of many of the areas, topics and problems related to modern parapsychology.






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