ARTICLES

Carlos S. Alvarado Ph.D.

Carlos S. Alvarado Ph.D.

Past president (1995) and President-Elect (2002-2003) of the Parapsychological Association. Conducted research on the psychology and the features of OBE experiences (and other parapsychological phenomena) in Puerto Rico, Scotland and in the US. Alvarado is also known for his reviews of the historical literature of the field. He is currently working at the Parapsychology Foundation, where he is the Chairman of Domestic and International Programs, the series editor of the Foundation's Parapsychological Monographs and the Associate Editor of the International Journal of Parapsychology.

Reflections on Being a Parapsychologist

 - Carlos S. Alvarado Ph.D. -

2. The Parapsychological Community and their Accomplishments

I would like to start with a positive message. Our efforts as parapsychologists have contributed to knowledge in significant ways. I argue that we can be proud of the following:

First: The findings of parapsychology serve as a reminder that there is much more to learn about human functioning than the behavioral sciences suggest. Over a hundred years ago Frederic W. H. Myers (1900) stated that the duty of psychical researchers was "the expansion of science herself" (p. 123). Much of our work suggests that the communication with the environment we refer to as ESP and PK requires at least an extension of current physics and psychology. In other words, there is more to human capabilities than official science teaches. Parapsychological research serves as a reminder of other possibilities, of challenges we only hope science at large will take on. Certainly official science has not accepted that we have established the reality of phenomena that require an expansion of physical and psychological principles. Nonetheless, I agree with Emily Kelly (2001) when she states: "If psychical research does nothing more than continually shake complacent assumptions about fundamental questions concerning mind, consciousness, volition, that alone is a significant contribution to science" (p. 86).

Second: In addition to extending the reach of human abilities, parapsychology has documented the frequency and complexity of the features of the phenomena it studies and has thus contributed to the overall knowledge of experiences studied by psychology and psychiatry. Our studies show that claims of psychic experiences are more common than previously realized. In addition these studies document the variety of human experience and thus expand the views of their range derived from the behavioral sciences. This includes such "new" experiences as waking and dream ESP, apparitions of the dead, deathbed visions, poltergeists, out-of-body experiences (OBEs), and near-death experiences (NDEs). When one gets into the study of the features of the experiences, the forms ESP takes, the complex patterns of features found in apparitions and in OBEs and NDEs, one realizes our field has contributed much to the cataloging and mapping of a variety of experiences and states of consciousness (Alvarado, 1996a; Irwin, 1994). Some of this work, including Sybo Schouten's (1979) analyses of ESP experiences and my own work with OBEs (Alvarado & Zingrone, 1998-99), shows the further complexity of the experiences by documenting the interaction of its features with other features and with external variables.

This view of complexity is further enhanced when we pay attention to our past history and study the investigations conducted around mental mediums. The detailed studies that Théodore Flournoy (1900) conducted with medium Hélène Smith and Eleanor Sidgwick's (1915) analyses of work conducted with medium Leonora Piper have taught us much about psychological personation, stages and features of trances, and the imagery involved in the mentation.

Third: Parapsychology has contributed to the development of ideas in psychology. Some historians of psychology, such as Régine Plas (2000), have argued that interest and research in psychic phenomena were an important element in the development of psychology. In fact, Plas argues that interest in the subconscious mind in France was intimately related to interest in telepathy and the like, as seen in the work of Pierre Janet and Charles Richet, among others. The early work of members of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) in England contributed much to the development of ideas of the subconscious mind as well as to the study of dissociation. This was particularly true of the work of Edmund Gurney and Frederic W. H. Myers (Alvarado, 2002a).

Furthermore, parapsychology has contributed much to the development of ideas about the mind, particularly those which treat the mind-body problem and ideas of the non-physical. Examples of this are the ideas Myers (1903) stated in his hundred-year-old classic Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death as well as the later speculations made by such figures as William McDougall (1911) J. B. Rhine (1947), Robert Thouless and B. P. Wiesner (1947), Charles Tart (1979), and John Beloff (1990).

There is also a beginning of studies of the transformative effects of parapsychological experiences, a topic parapsychologists have been reticent to study. But we have made contributions to the study of personal transformations related to psychic experience, as seen in the work of Palmer (1979), Kennedy and Kanthamani (1995), and in my own work with OBEs (Alvarado & Zingrone, 2003), all of which have been published in parapsychological journals.

In recent times most of the studies on the relationship of out-of-body experiences to psychological processes or experiences such as dissociation (Irwin, 2000) and dreams (Alvarado & Zingrone, 1999), as well as studies of the features of the experience (Alvarado & Zingrone, 1998-99, 1999), have been published in parapsychology journals. There is no doubt that, as I have argued elsewhere, most of the contributions to our understanding of the psychology of OBEs have come from parapsychologists (Alvarado, 1992). In fact OBE work represents one of our most recent contributions to psychology and to the more specific area of altered states of consciousness. This is evident in Imants Baruss's (2003) recently published book Alterations of Consciousness. In fact, in this book, published by the American Psychological Association, the contributions of parapsychologists to the study of consciousness are presented in more detail than I have ever seen before in psychological publications.

Fourth: The results of parapsychological research have helped to combat superstition and to evaluate popular claims. There are many ideas and traditions about psychic phenomena that have been regarded as superstitions. One of them is the relationship between death and psychic phenomena, a relationship supported in the case of apparitions in such early studies as the Census of Hallucinations (e.g., Sidgwick et al., 1894). In addition, these associations have been reinforced, although by work that admittedly suffered from sampling problems. This includes case collections studies of death-related phenomena by Ernesto Bozzano (1923) and Camille Flammarion (1920-1921/1922-1923), and more recent work by Graziela Piccinini and Gian Marco Rinaldi (1990) and Sylvia Hart Wright (2001).

The claim that mediums can communicate with the dead has not been substantiated, but a variety of studies from the nineteenth century to our own time have produced evidence for the acquisition of veridical statements by mediums (for an overview see Gauld, 1982). In other instances, such as the investigations of the levitation claims of practitioners of Transcendental Meditation, there has been no supportive evidence to back the claims in question (Mishlove, 1983).

The evaluation of Transcendental Meditation claims brings us to the testing of psychic development claims. Two studies done in the 1970s did not support the claims of followers of Silva Mind Control (Brier, Schmeidler, & Savits, 1975; Vaughan, 1974). This is an important line of research in which parapsychologists may contribute useful information to consumers of development programs.

In addition, many of the early discussions in which automatic writing was seen as the production of the subconscious mind were published in psychical research journals by Frederic W. H. Myers (1884) and William James (1889). This contributed to the idea that not everything that appears to come from discarnate spirits is necessarily so. Our contributions to demystify all kind of claims are particularly important in terms of public education.

Fifth: Our researchers have used and pioneered statistical techniques to study phenomena. Philosopher and skeptic Ian Hacking (1988) has argued that early use of randomization and probability calculations took place in the context of nineteenth-century studies of telepathy. A particularly influential paper was that published by Charles Richet (1884) in the Revue Philosophique which inaugurated the use of probability theory in psychical research at a time when psychologists were using statistical methods only infrequently. Following this, British researchers continued the use of statistical calculations in such classic works dealing with spontaneous experiences as Phantasms of the Living (Gurney, Myers, & Podmore, 1886) and the Census of Hallucinations (Sidgwick, et al., 1894), not to mention experimental work. Later parapsychologists, from H. F. Saltmarsh and S. G. Soal (1930), J. Gaither Pratt (1936), and Charles Stuart (1942), and later contributions (summarized by Burdick and Kelly, 1977), developed methods by which to evaluate experimental free-response material quantitatively. It may be argued that the best of our current techniques may be adapted to aspects of the study of subliminal perception, unconscious learning, and dream and waking imagery.

Sixth: Parapsychology has also contributed to the study of fraud and self-deception. Instructive cases have been reported since the nineteenth century. This includes a mediumship case with no apparent motivation of fraud reported by Henry Sidgwick (1894) and the efforts taken by several members of a community to convince one individual of poltergeist manifestations discussed by Hereward Carrington (n.d., pp. 2-19). More recently we could mention the writings of Ejvegaard and Johnson (1981) on an apparition case, Delanoy (1987) on metal bending, and Stevenson and colleagues (Stevenson, Pasricha & Samararatne, 1988) on cases of the reincarnation-type.

It is important to recognize that the above-mentioned contributions have been made under extremely difficult conditions. Individuals coming from other disciplines such as medicine, physics, psychology, or biology are often unaware of how easy they have it in their fields, enjoying all kinds of resources supportive of their work. Regardless of the usual problems with resources everywhere, I do not think anyone tan dispute that, in a large measure, they enjoy much higher levels of funding than we do. Furthermore, except in small or developing research specialties, mainstream scientists have never faced the serious personnel problems we face in parapsychology. We have never had enough people working in the field, especially full-time workers.

Next part: 3. Personnel in Parapsychology

 

Parts 1-12 of "Reflections on Being a Parapsychologist"

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10.
11.
12.

 Abstract and Introduction
 Parapsychologists and their Accomplishments (current page)
 Personnel in Parapsychology
 The Variety of Members in the Parapsychological Community
 Education and Training in Parapsychology
 How Does it Feel to be a Parapsychologist?
 Why are we in Parapsychology?
 Approaches to Parapsychology
 Legitimation Strategies of Parapsychologists
 When Parapsychologists Harm Their Cause
 Concluding Remarks
 References

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