24 November 2013


Stanley Krippner, Adam J Rock, Julia Beischel, Harris L Friedman and Cheryl L Fracasso (Editors) Advances in Parapsychological Research 9. McFarland, 2013.

It is sixteen years since the previous Advances in Parapsychological Research, volumes of which used to be produced every three or four years, and this volume is substantially slimmer than its predecessors.
Of the ten papers published here, only two really summarise advances in mainstream parapsychology; Sherwood and Roe’s study of post-Maimonides dream studies programmes, and Modestino's survey of physiological responses as unconscious measures of psi.

The large majority of the studies reviewed in the former were conducted in the twentieth century, some as much as thirty years ago. The future might lie with the physiological response however, and this seems to have the possibility of avoiding the ambiguities of subjective judging that one gets in the former, yet I get the sense that even here things are made unnecessarily complicated. Both these papers are highly technical in parts, and rely much on statistical analyses.

Roger Nelson’s paper on The Global Consciousness project also relies on statistics to analyse supposed anomalies in the production of random numbers associated with global events, in this study mainly 9/11. It still remains as clear as mud exactly what, in ordinary lay terms these anomalies are, but I am willing to accept that they are ‘anomalies’ of some sort. If these had started suddenly moments after the first plane struck then that would have been an interesting coincidence at least, but they actually start about four hours beforehand. This is explained as precognition, but of course if you start invoking precognition and retrocognition you will be able to fit the anomalies to anything. Given the wide definition of these events (not just major disasters, but pop concerts, political rallies, wars and rumours of wars, meditations, religious festivals and anything else you might come across) it seems doubtful that even a week goes by without some ‘event’ somewhere in the world, only a minority of which would be reported in the western media. An anomaly over the last few days might be correlated to the Mediterranean refugee boat disaster, the Phillipines typhoon and/or the England-Germany football match.

Several of the papers are of more general philosophical character, though still heavily laden with technical jargon; the lay person cannot get much enthused about a study of ‘Frequentist, Bayesian and [I think 'or' is actually meant in the context rather than 'and'] Quantum Modelling of Ganzfield ESP’ or ‘Operationalizing Psi Conducive Altered States’. All this technicality because everything depends on barely detectable statistical anomalies.

If that level of obscurity is not enough for you, you can always invent new jargon, try ‘psychopraxia’ a term invented by Australian parapsychologist Michael Thalbourne. In his paper his student Lance Storm compares psychopraxia to 'Psi Mediated Instrumental Response' and synchronicity as models for psi. I suspect it would be just as helpful to compare samifarts, boojums and snarks as explanations, all being as meaningless as one another. One can’t help feeling that as mainstream science often uses lots of specialist technical jargon, parapsychologists think, as a sort of scientific cargo cult, that if they use enough technical sounding jargon they will become scientists.

The need to escape from this off-putting jargon and technicalism, so as to actually engage with a wider public is one of the points made by William Braud in his concluding essay ‘Expanding Psi Research', however outside this, and the obvious point that people who take part in experiments should be treated as people not guinea pigs, many of his suggestions mean abandoning science all together. He might have a point, human beings may be just complicated ever to be scientifically studied, but the price will be that all thoughts of recognition of psychical research by mainstream science will, have to be abandoned.

Another reason for the jargon may be to actually hide what they really think. When their claims become expressed in compressible terms, one can see how radical some of these are. Stephen Braude (no relation, I think, of William) in his obituary of Jule Eisenbud points to his work with Ted Serios and his psychic photos, not a claim likely to gain support among mainstream scientists anytime soon.

Nor are the claims in the paper on surrogate treatments using 'energy psychology'. Now energy psychology is about treating people’s psychological problems by tapping them on acupuncture points while humming. Surrogate energy means you tap yourself and hum to yourself to cure someone else, who may not even be in the room. Here we have it all; claims of near miraculous sudden cures by an unknown mechanism, largely based on personal testimonial, complete with irrelevant references to entanglement, the Higgs Boson, zero point energy and string theory, and with references which quote from scientific, pseudo-scientific, popular and frankly promotional material quite promiscuously. Now you know that if some sceptical journal was to do a knocking piece on this, parapsychologists would rush over themselves to complain that serious parapsychology was being unfairly tarred with the brush of quackery. Yet this appears in Advances of Parapsychology. – Peter Rogerson

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