Winning Over the Scientific Mainstream
One of the most important goals of parapsychology over the years has been to convince the mainstream scientific community of the reality of psi, at least as a communications anomaly. I think it is useful to reflect periodically on what progress we have made in meeting this goal. My answer is, not much.
Abstracts of Presented Papers from the 52nd Parapsychological Association Annual Convention, Seattle, Washington, USA, August 6– 9, 2009
Clever Beasts and Faithful Pets: A Critical Review of Animal Psi Research
Diane Dutton and Carl Williams
It is fair to say that animal psi research is a relatively neglected area of investigation in present-day parapsychology. Theoretical debates about the nature of psi rarely make reference to findings from animal work, and conceptual and practical issues ensure that, with one or two notable exceptions, most researchers do not involve animals in their research programs. Yet an examination of the origins, underlying assumptions, and findings of animal psi research illuminates a number of conceptual and empirical debates that are pertinent to parapsychological research in general.
Addressing the Survival Versus Psi Debate Through Process-Focused Mediumship Research
Julie Beischel and Adam J. Rock
Although parapsychological research most often involves the Big Four—telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, and psychokinesis—with only “an occasional nod toward survival and afterlife topics” (Braud, 2005, p. 40), the continued investigation of the latter issues is pivotal for our understanding of consciousness, the potential of the mind, and the nature of life in general. One of the main methods for scientifically addressing life after death involves studying mediums—individuals who report regular communication with the deceased.
Alleged Encounters With the Dead: The Importance of Violent Death in 337 New Cases
Over a century ago the founders of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) conducted the first large systematic study of apparitions (Gurney, Myers, & Podmore, 1886; Sidgwick and Committee, 1894). In their meticulously thorough investigation they found that apparitions were reported by so many persons that they concluded that they are experienced by people who are normal and sane.
Decision Augmentation in a Computer Guessing Task
In recent years, many of the major psi testing paradigms have involved what I call implicit psi. These paradigms share in common that the designated psi sources are not asked to produce the hypothesized effect and may not even be aware that they are being tested for psi. Examples include research on presentiment (e.g., Bierman & Radin, 1997; Radin, 1997), the mere-exposure effect (e.g., Bem, 2003), and the global consciousness project (Nelson, 2001). The theoretical foundation for implicit psi, at least from a psychological perspective, is Stanford’s (1977, 1990) psi-mediated instrumental response model, and, more recently, Carpenter’s (2004, 2005) first sight model.
Hypnotizability and Dissociation as Predictors of Performance in a Precognition Task: A Pilot Study
Etzel Cardena, David Marcusson-Clavertz, and John Wasmuth
Honorton and Ferrari (1989) conducted a meta-analysis of precognitive experiments published between 1935 and 1987 and concluded that there is experimental support for precognition and that it could not likely be explained by real-time psi phenomena. A later series of six experiments by Steinkamp (2003), however, reported inconsistent support for a precognitive effect. Particularly relevant to this study are the recent findings of Bem (2008a), who created the precognition program and procedure we used in this study (Bem, 2008b). He reported (Experiment 3; Bem, 2008a) significant results in support of precognition, especially among participants scoring high in a measure of novelty seeking. In this study we evaluated whether hypnotizability, dissociation, and belief in psi affect performance on the precognition test. We decided to use Bem’s program to try to replicate his previous studies and evaluate its usefulness in our sample.
Gertrude R. Schmeidler by Ruth Reinsel
Gertrude R. Schmeidler, who resided for most of her life in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, passed away in Whittier, California, on March 9, 2009, at the age of 96.
So many words come to mind when thinking of Gertrude: modest and unassuming; soft-spoken, even shy, and hesitant; very polite, always a lady. Even in the most contentious faculty meetings, she never raised her voice, and often played the role of reasonable mediator. She always had time to listen to her students, and always took their ideas seriously. Unlike so many mentors, she never imposed her own research agenda on her students, but allowed them to develop their own ideas. She was one of a kind, and she will be sorely missed
UNBELIEVABLE: INVESTIGATIONS INTO GHOSTS, POLTERGEISTS, TELEPATHY, AND OTHER UNSEEN PHENOMENA, FROM THE DUKE PARAPSYCHOLOGY LABORATORY by Stacy Horn 2009. New York: HarperCollins, 2009. Pp. 289. $24.99 (hardback). ISBN978-0-06-111685-8.
Reviewed by Seymour Mauskopf
“Freaky and terrifying” is the description of the current box-office film hit “Paranormal Activity” by Owne Glieberman in Entertainment Weekly. The public, apparently, will never tire of hauntings, poltergeists, séances and the like. It was out of such nineteenth-century “paranormal activity” and the associated spiritualist movement—and partly in reaction against it—that psychical research and, later, parapsychology came into being. Stacy Horn’s eminently readable book is, basically, a narrative of the life and career of the founder of parapsychology, J. B. Rhine. However, his name does not appear in the book’s title, and the subjects listed in the subtitle go far beyond the research foci of Rhine’s Parapsychology Laboratory, despite Horn’s linkage of that institution to them in her title. What this book does effectively is to contextualize Rhine’s vision of parapsychology as an experimental science in the broader, more emotionally intense, less scientifically controllable paranormal activities in which the general public was (and is) really interested.
NEAR-DEATH EXPERIENCES: EXPLORING THE MIND-BODY CONNECTION by Ornella Corazza. London: Routledge, 2008. Pp. xi + 170. £17.99 (paperback). ISBN 0-415-45520.
Reviewed by David Luke
As the title suggests, this book is concerned with the near-death experience (NDE) in relation to the mind-body connection, particularly in relation to Eastern, mostly Japanese philosophies, and it considers the similarity of NDEs with experiences occurring under the dissociative anesthetic ketamine. These two separate approaches to the NDE issue were originally explored in depth as part of Corazza’s recent doctoral thesis at SOAS in London and are now considered together in this book, though in a somewhat less integrated fashion than one might expect, as we shall see. Initially the book outlines some of the sticking points of mind-body philosophy, particularly what David Chalmers calls “the hard problem of consciousness” relating to how subjective experience arises from the objective activity of the brain. Taking as the starting point the Japanese philosopher Yuasa’s conception of the whole mind-body, the introduction moves through Husserl’s phenomenology to Varela’s neurophenomenology, segueing into James’s fields of consciousness and Sheldrake’s extended mind theory, prompting Corazza to offer the notion of “the extended body” as an alternative. Incorporating, quite literally, Edward Hall’s notions of the corporal extensions of humans, such as language as an extension of experience in time and space, and Weston La Barre’s “evolution by prosthesis,” such as the creation of submarines to allow underwater exploration, our author tantalizingly adumbrates the extended body in the Japanese tradition as a semi definite and indefinitely varying body-space. We are also reminded that in the Eastern tradition we not only have a body but we are our bodies.
SCIENCE UNDER SIEGE: DEFENDING SCIENCE, EXPOSING PSEUDOSCIENCE. Edited by Kendrick Frazier. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2009. Pp. 203. $21.98 (paperback). ISBN 978-1-59102-715-7.
Reviewed by Douglas M. Stokes
Science Under Siege is a collection of articles previously published in The Skeptical Inquirer (SI), most of them within the last 5 years. In some cases, updated commentary is provided, and some new material, including a transcript of a question and answer session following a keynote address by Carl Sagan, is included.
The first contribution, by Paul Kurtz, the chairman of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), formerly known as the Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), is a review of the accomplishments in the first 30 years of SI. Among them, Kurtz cites the now infamous investigation of Michel Gauquelin’s astrological research. Curiously, Kurtz does not mention the controversies over CSICOP’s own botched investigation in what has become known as the STARBABY scandal.
PHENOMENA: SECRETS OF THE SENSES by Donna M. Jackson. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2008. Pp. 174. $16.99 (hardcover). ISBN-13: 978-0-316-16649-2.
Reviewed by Athena A. Drewes
There are many things that go “bump” in the night that amaze and astound us. Phenomena: Secrets of the Senses offers us a treasure trove of paranormal and amazing normal phenomena that our more than five senses experience. Written for the layperson, notably school-age children, Jackson’s easy to read book offers scientific information on a variety of phenomena, some of which can be easily explained through scientific study, while others defy explanation.
SPIRITS WITH SCALPELS: THE CULTURAL BIOLOGY of RELIGIOUS HEALING by Sidney M. Greenfield. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, 2008. Pp. 239. $24.95 (paperback). ISBN 978-1-59874-368-5.
Reviewed by Patric V. Giesler
When scholars have published a host of articles over their careers on different studies of a particular topic, like “healing traditions of Brazil,” they often present these articles in a book. One approach is to reprint the articles as an anthology and add an introduction. Another approach is to try to unify the various articles as chapters of a book on that topic under an overarching question or problem. Hopefully, the author revises each article to fit or address that problem more directly than in the original published versions. He or she may also add additional chapters to help make the connections. This second, more difficult strategy is what anthropologist Sidney M. Greenfield attempts in Spirits With Scalpels. He draws from his previously published articles for the meat of each of the three main parts of his book. Eleven of these articles are listed on the copyright page (p. 2), the same articles published in his Brazilian anthology (Greenfield, 1999) and thus published here for the third or fourth time, albeit now as chapters of a book under a unifying problem and set of questions with the goal of resolving them.
THE OUTLINE OF PARAPSYCHOLOGY by Jesse Hong Xiong. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2008. Pp xi + 368. $39.95 (paperback). ISBN-10: 0-7618-4043-5 ISBN-13: 978-0-7618-4043-5.
Reviewed by Lance Storm
Xiong presents an absorbing but self-confessed “unoriginal” take on parapsychology, its history and impact on science and society. The title of this quite voluminous and broad-ranging book is puzzling in its use of the definite article “The” (as in “The Outline . . .”), and at first, I suspected a metaphysical sense in its usage. For reasons that will soon become apparent, I quickly put it down to a simple grammatical faux pas. As it happens, it would have been more appropriate to use the indefinite article “an” (as in “An Outline . . .”) because Xiong’s book is just one of many in this ilk, and I don’t think it is so grand that it will stand forever-more as a foundational text on parapsychology, as one might claim for Wolman’s (1977) Handbook of Parapsychology. However, the book is easy to read, and what must be mentioned is Xiong’s attempt at establishing a “framework and system of parapsychology” (p. ix). By the end of the book, my main concern was whether Xiong had been successful in his attempt, even with such “pearls of wisdom” as his recommendation that parapsychology would be best served by predominantly testing “star” subjects and focusing less on ordinary people—an oversight he notes in Rhine’s work. With that instance alone as a “framework” or “systemic” principle, he might be on the right track, but participant preference is surely a matter dependent upon context. But at this point in the book, and then later, Xiong does admit that other aims are served by testing novices or naïve participants, which is no more than what parapsychology is currently doing anyway.
PRIMARY PERCEPTION: BIOCOMMUNICATION WITH PLANTS, LIVING FOODS, AND HUMAN CELLS by Cleve Backster. Anza, CA: White Rose Millennium Press, 2003. Pp. 168. $15.95 (paperback). ISBN: 0- 966435435.
Reviewed by Jerry Solfvin
The part of me that is attracted to clever, multileveled titles wants to call this book “Tracings,” because it reads like a cumulative polygraph tracing of Cleve Backster’s public life. Backster’s writing is so direct and straightforward that one gets the impression of reading the undistorted truth, WYSIWYG, emerging directly from his viscera. But like a polygraph tracing, this book only reports the surface activities—leaving the reader to infer Backster’s personal biases, hopes, or expectations, from the surface tracings. Fortunately for the reader, Backster’s tracings are not difficult to interpret.
We would like to thank the following persons for their work in translating abstracts for this issue of the Journal: Eberhard Bauer (German), Renaud Evrard (French) and Carlos Alvarado (Spanish).