15.5.13

LIFE OF PSI

Rosemarie Pilkington (Editor), Men and Women of Parapsychology, Personal Reflections: ESPRIT Volume 2. Foreword by Nancy L Zingrone. Anomalist Books, 2013

This is the second volume of Rosemarie Pilkington’s surveys of aging parapsychologists, (the youngest is my age, several are in their 80s, and two died in the course of the writing), the first volume of which was reviewed HERE.
 
There are 21 people included in this collection, 15 of whom are American or have spent most of their adult life in the States, there are just three women; Mary Rose Barrington, Sally Rhine Feather and Serena Roney-Dougal. Looking through their biographies a few things stand out; one is how little conventional Christianity and its defence plays a part in their upbringing or their passion for psychical research, the main ‘spiritual’ impulse seems to be forms of eastern mysticism; the second is how many of them endorse claims that the likes of the Sidgwicks would have regarded as arrant nonsense.

It is interesting to see the same sort of radicalisation in parapsychology as we see in ufology, where once sober ufologists like David Jacobs, Bruce Maccabee and Bill Chalker start promoting radical claims and implausible individuals; in parapsychology we have Erlendur Haraldsson endorsing Sai Baba, Stephen Braude endorsing the ‘Gold Leaf Lady’ and various peoples’ backing of Uri Geller. There do seem to be charismatic individuals who can persuade people that they have experienced the most extraordinary things, and to be most unwilling to subject their claims to critical analysis. Many of these sorts of people use their charisma simply to get people into their beds or to persuade them to surrender their life savings, a minority use them to rise to the top in business and politics, but some use them to enchant people into believing almost anything.
 
On the whole the group represents a cross section of those interested in the subject from the eminently sensible such as Richard Broughton (currently president of the SPR and a welcome changing from some of the characters involved in that organization in the recent past) or Sally Rhine Feather, through to the slightly odd to the downright flaky. Some of the talk of spirituality is not to the taste of many of the Brits of my generation or older, and I can’t help wondering if some of the obsession with that and “nonlocality” and “connectedness” in the States is not a reaction to the very individualist official culture of that country. All this talk of spirituality can seem very uplifting and touchy feely, but as one contributor, Charles Tart admits, he didn’t know how to respond to a correspondent who argued that if you believe in nice spirits and so one, what about demons. Oops, that’s the reverse side isn’t it, bringing back demons and boggarts, witchcraft, the evil eye, curses and menstruating women turning the milk sour. It’s that thought which impels many people into groups like CSI(COP)
 
What is also evident is that the “paranormal” or “psi” are rather vague terms for a whole range of anomalous experiences or phenomena which may actually have no connection with each other at all. Why should anyone assume having a dream about your sister’s death on the night she died have the remotes connection with the mysterious appearance of water in a group of houses, or either with some anomalistic case of healing. Like UFO reports the only thing that connects these things is that they are investigated by the same people or within the same sub-culture. -- Peter Rogerson.



2 comments:

  1. Michael D16.5.13

    I'm sure if you tried really hard, you could possibly be even MORE subjective!

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  2. It looks like a book that is a must-read for anybody interested in contemporary psi research and philosophy. Thanks for the review.

    Whilst I agree that Haraldsson does himself no favours by endorsing the notorious fraud Sai Baba, the 'Gold Leaf Lady' has never been caught at fraud, and Braude is very much a sober and knowledgeable investigator. His knowledge of parapsychology, its history and of Forteana in general is probably not surpassed by anybody else.Yes he takes seriously things that are often beyond even the confines of 'conventional parapsychology', so? That's because he has actually studied and investigated psi very seriously and doesn't dismiss anything out of hand; no matter how absurd it may all appear to our Western secular eyes, deeply conditioned to a materialist worldview. Let's not forget he is probably the leading writer on the lack of real evidence that spirits of the dead are communicating to mediums. And I share Rogerson's sentiment that the easy belief in discarnate spirits, is simply credulous and lacking in scientific rigour. That's a whole other thing though.

    And so onward to Uri Geller... Clearly all the talk of Spectra, the Nine, ETs and their time travel from the future blabla cannot be taken literally. Yet it is very interesting and revealing if one takes into account the unconscious (individual and yes collective). We should not throw the baby out with the bathwater here, for it may give us big clues as to the real mystery at the heart of ufology (archetypes and a 'living myth' made manifest as it were). Likewise Geller may have genuine and extreme psi abilities (even if he has like other apparently authentic mediums cheated on occasion). One would never know the facts from proven liars like James Randi, which is where most all skeptics get their 'facts' on Geller from.

    As to Rogerson's notion that this talk of non-locality by US parapsychologists is a reaction to the 'every man for himself' culture in the US, well how very British of you. I beg to differ, non-locality is brought up because it is fundamental to psi (or so it appears) and because it is evidenced by Quantum Mechanics. As Dean Radin has remarked, they are not explaining away one mystery by appealing to another, just that the apparent non-locality in both these disciplines is mutually reinforcing and consistent.

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