ESSAYS AND BOOK SUMMARIES ON EMPIRICAL REALITY


Encounters With Parapsychology


Encounters with Parapsychology
1982, 243 pages, 6" x 9", ISBN: 0-9610232-1-X, $12.00

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In this volume I have gathered a series of non-technical essays from the present and the past by persons of exceptional intelligence who encountered parapsychology in the course of their professional careers and who eventually became leaders or advocates of research in this field. These essays will allow readers to form their own opinions as to the reality of ESP without a knowledge of statistics or of any specialized branch of science. Busy scientists will find this book a quick and relaxing introduction to the field. Below I have described from the book the contributions of some eminent figures of the past.

Sir William Barrett
(1844 -1925), professor of physics and Fellow of the Royal (scientific) Society of London was instrumental in founding the (British) Society for Psychical Research in 1882. He describes some of his experiences with children that convinced him of the occurrence of mental telepathy.

William James (1842 -1910), the foremost American Psychologist of the 19th century used this memorial address to describe the work of Frederic Myers (1843 - 1901), the most revered name among the founders of the Society for Psychical Research.

William McDougall (1871 - 1938), a Fellow of the Royal Society, is accepted today by academic psychology with some ambivalence as a brilliant British-American pioneer. His most important contribution to psychology may prove to have been the sponsorship he gave to Drs. J.B. and L.E. Rhine at Duke University from their parapsychological beginnings in 1927. In this excerpt from McDougall's 1920 presidential address to the (British) Society for Psychical Research he discusses the unwillingness of psychologists to be associated with psychical research--an unwillingness that persists to this day.

Gardner Murphy (1895 - 1979) was an American psychologist of great distinction who strongly supported parapsychological research. The growing scientific acceptance of Rhine's ESP experiments in the mid twentieth century was significantly aided by the endorsement of Murphy. He served as the editor of the Journal of Parapsychology for two years. His guidance was crucial to the scientific respectability of the American Society for Psychical Research until his retirement.

In this 1953 paper, abridged somewhat herein, Mruphy endeavors to rationalize the relationship between psychology and parapsychology. He declares his rejection of mental dualism, but it is not clear to me what he meant by this. His inclusion here allows one to savor the fog of psi conceptualization that existed 50 years ago and still does.

Walter Franklin Prince (1863 - 1934) received a doctoral degree in abnormal psychology from Yale. His most important work was "The Doris Case of Multiple Personality." Its 1400 pages in the Proceedings of the American Society for Psychical Research is the most complete record of its kind ever gathered, being based upon three years of recorded daily observations of the patient, Doris, whom he legally adopted as his daughter. Despite its scientific pre-eminence, the Doris case is less well known than the earlier Sally Beauchamp case reported by Morton Prince. Morton Prince (no relation) was the founder of the Journal of Abnormal Psychology.

Into the eight pages quoted in my book, Walter Franklin Prince has condensed a remarkably concise clinical account of Doris, including her telepathic ability.

Louisa E. Rhine (1891 - 1983). The unconscious nature of psi (psychic) phenomena is their singly most important characteristic. With rare exceptions, those who experience these phenomena have no direct subjective indication of their occurrence. The central nervous system concomitants of the psi process, whatever they may be, do not directly enter awareness, although they may indirectly do so via various psychological mechanisms.

Those of us who knew Dr. Louisa Rhine think of her first, not as the wife of J.B. Rhine and the mother of their children, but as a leading parapsychologist by her own accomplishments and as the foremost student of spontaneous psi in her era. In these excerpts she discusses the unconscious nature of psi phenomena in spontaneous cases and in the laboratory and gives us a look at some of the cases that must be accommodated in future theory.

J.B. Rhine (1895 - 1980). Beyond a doubt, J.B. Rhine will be acknowledged as the greatest leader in the first one hundred years of parapsychology. The vigor and experimental direction of the field today are the outgrowth of his work at Durham, North Carolina. In the paper presented in this book he gives his view of the history of parapsychology in relation to American psychology over the sixty years from 1892 to 1951. In a longer version and under another title, this paper was delivered as an invited address on September 4, 1967, at the Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association in Washington, D.C., and was later published in the Journal of Parapsychology (32, 101-128).

J.B. Rhine received the doctor of philosophy degree in plant physiology at the University of Chicago in 1925. In 1926 he and his wife went to Boston to work with William McDougall at Harvard and with W.F.Prince at the Boston Society for Psychic Research. They followed McDougall in 1927 to Duke University where the laboratory experiments for which they are best known were carried out. With Rhine's approaching retirement from Duke University, he established in 1962 at Durham the Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man, which is now known as the Rhine Research Center. Its operating subsidiaries are the Institute for Parapsychology and the Parapsychology Press.

Upton Sinclair (1878 - 1968) is known today as an American Charles Dickens whose many novels exposed social evils in the United States in the first half of the twentieth century. Perhaps in the future he will be better remembered as a lay scientist who, with his wife as his subject, performed one of the most important experiments in the early history of parapsychology. There had been many other picture-drawing experiments before his, but none so extensive or so fully reported, and none, I might add, so spectacular.

The first publication of Sinclair's Mental Radio, coming as it did in 1930 shortly before Rhine's first book in 1934, served to strengthen and complement Rhine's card-guessing research. Sinclair's work remains to this day a major obstacle to those who wish to deny the reality of extrasensory perception. Or, to put it more bluntly, any competent and open-minded scientist who read his book would have been convinced of the reality of the phenomenon. The argument about ESP should have ended right there. The trouble with most scientists is that they are specialized linear thinkers, ignorant of history, and incompetent to make a final judgment as to the intellectual integrity and competence of even so public a man as Sinclair.

For presentation here I have selected some passages that reveal the cast of mind of Sinclair and his wife and their ideas about the possible meaning of their experiments. I have skipped over the drawing evidence that the Sinclairs gathered. The book may still be in print from C.C. Thomas at Springfield, Illinois. Eleven examples of target and response from their book can be found in any general science library in my paper "ESP and credibility in science" published in the American Psychologist, 24(1969), 531-538.

L.L. Vasiliev (1891 - 1966), the Soviet Union's foremost parapsychologist, is little known in America. At the time of his death, Vasiliev was Professor of Physiology at the Institute of Brain Research in the University of Leningrad, a corresponding member of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, and holder of the Order of Lenin.

His work in parapsychology, carried out from 1921 to 1938, is reported in his book, Eksperimentalnie Issledovaniya Mislennovo Vnusheniya, from which I present excerpts.

Several feature of his book deserve mention. It is a Soviet document whose publication in 1962, in the time of Krushchev, was ordered by the Editorial Council of the University of Leningrad. The book reveals that from the beginning of their research the Russians had a surprising knowledge of Western parapsychology--the East-West window must have been fitted with one-way glass. Even so, it is evident that, although Vasiliev and his co-workers drew inspiration from the West, they built their scientific opinions upon their work and not upon ours.

They began with the belief that ESP is a form of electromagnetic radiation (radio waves)--a comfortable, materialist assumption. Over a period of years, by careful and diligent experimentation, they proved that this was not true, and they developed a psychological sophistication as to the nature of the phenomenon. For us, the message of their work is this: Vasiliev was a first-rate scientist and we must assume that there were others like him in the Soviet Union who had read his book.

A comparison of Vasiliev's method of experimenting with that of Upton Sinclair reveals a striking difference between Soviet and American approaches to extrasensory perception. As judged from his book, Vasiliev engaged in empirical exploration of the characteristics of ESP with little apparent concern for the prior question: "Does it occur? Is there a real phenomenon of the purported kind?" Sinclair, on the other hand, in his presentation and in his experiments, was almost totally absorbed by the question: "Does this unbelievable phenomenon really occur? How can I convince myself and others?"

One might ascribe Vasiliev's casual acceptance of ESP to his personal experience with it as a child, or one can speculate that he was constrained by political considerations to ignore the philosophic enormity of the phenomenon. I rather doubt, however, that either of these factors was the ultimate determinant of his experimental approach. I think we are in the presence of a cultural discrepancy and that resulting differences in method--often quite subtle--in all of the natural sciences will be found between Western Europe and the Soviet Union.

The discrepancy might be thought of as between an indigenous culture and one that was, in some measure, acquired. Admittedly in all non-Western, technologically sophisticated countries there are scientists who have been wholly westernized, but for the most part, scientists in those countries do not perceive science within a Cartesian world view. It is in the latter context that ESP is an enormity--and only in that context moreover, that Western science could and did flourish as a self-sufficient philosophic endeavor. I.E., it is my hunch that this divided thinking, which had its roots in Greece, explains why Western Civilization and no other achieved greatness in science (as opposed to technology).

Footnote: By "Cartesian world view" I mean dualism in which mind and body interact and in which mind is the province of religion but not of science. Operationally, Descartes' dualism was a materialistic monism. Later, when religion went out of fashion, scientists escaped from the necessity of dealing with mind by declaring it to be merely an impotent epiphenomenon of the brain. This neo-Cartesian stratagem is discussed by Charles Honorton in his essay "Parapsychology and the mind-body problem," later in this book.

What happened in the USSR after the 1962 publication of Vasiliev's book? There is reason to believe that the Soviet government, having temporarily set aside its ideological fear of basic novelty, intensively investigated psi phenomena. In 1972, the authoritative ideological and scientific Soviet journal, Voprosi Filosofi, published what was, by its own claim, a position paper from the Presidium of the Soviet Association of Psychologists. In their conclusion, its four eminent authors said:

"There is a definite need to organize the scientific research work into the areas of real occurrence described in parapsychology. . . and to do it at the Institute of Biophysics. . . and at the Institute for Problems of Information Transmission of the Academy of Sciences. . . . The Psychological Institutes of the Academy of Sciences and of the Academy of the Pedagogical Sciences and other psychological institutions should also review the possibility of the strict scientific investigation of these phenomena. . . .

"It seems to us that the attention of serious scientific organizations to the phenomena described in parapsychology will help reveal their true nature [and] will block the road to charlatans who are profiting by the quite natural curiosity of the general public."

After 1973, open sources of information about parapsychology in the Soviet Union dried up. On June 11, 1977, Robert Toth, correspondent for the Los Angeles Times was arrested and detained for receiving a parapsychological document from a laboratory chief of the Institute of Medical-Biological Problems (New York Times, June 12, 1977). Although the interpretation of this event remains obscure, the indisputable fact of its occurrence tells us something about the status of parapsychology in the upper levels of the KGB and raises a question as to how that status was reached. With the dissolution of the USSR, psychic superstition has been running wild in Russia, and there is no reason to suppose that any serious parapsychological research is going on there now.

Vasiliev's book has been translated twice into English, once in England in 1963 in cooperation with its author under the aegis of Anita Kohsen and C.C.L. Gregory, and once by the United States Government, presumably at the request of the Central Intelligence Agency.

In Chapters 15 and 16 of my Introduction to Parapsychology in the Context of Science, I have presented Vasiliev's work proving that hypnosis is the psychokinetic control of the brain of the test subject and the U.S. response to that idea. My present excerpts from Vasiliev's book were selected to display the administrative history of the Soviet effort, one kind of experiment they have done, and the growth of Soviet scientific understanding of this field. Although the original book is heavily documented, for simplicity I have omitted all references to notes and appendices. Page numbers refer to the American translation (which was produced as Report 59163 by the U.S. National Technical Information Service).

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