From the publisher’s website: It’s a science that keeps a low profile. But its results have the potential to change the face of science itself. The science is parapsychology and its findings have been put to use in fields from archaeology to medicine. Who are the men and women of parapsychology? Who are the brilliant, talented individuals who have spent most of their lives exploring the mysteries of consciousness? Why did they choose to enter such a controversial field of science? Why did they persist in their investigation and risk being ostracized by many mainstream scientists? What advice do they have for young people entering the field? The answers to these questions and more can be found in this new book entitled Men and Women of Parapsychology, Personal Reflections, Esprit Volume 2, edited by Rosemarie Pilkington. The book contains mini-autobiographies of 21 pioneering researchers from the United States and Europe. This work is the second in a series edited by Rosemarie Pilkington, the first being Esprit, Men and Women of Parapsychology, Personal Reflections, Volume 1, which features the stories of 12 other notable researchers.
Rosemarie Pilkington earned a Ph.D. in Psychology (Consciousness Studies) from Saybrook Graduate Institute, under the mentorship of Prof. Stanley Krippner. She has written articles and reviews of books on psi phenomena for Fate, the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, and other periodicals. The first volume in this series, Esprit, Men and Women of Parapsychology Personal Reflections, Volume 1, and her book, The Spirit of Dr. Bindelof: The Enigma of Seance Phenomena, a study of physical mediumship, are both also published by Anomalist Books. Visit her websites at AreSpiritsReal.com and parapsychology-bios.com.
Foreword by Nancy L. Zingrone
Mary Rose Barrington: Beyond The Boggle Threshold: Confessions Of A Macro-Addict
Eberhard Bauer: On the Magic Hill
William Braud: On Exceptions and the Attraction of the Unexplained Residua
Stephen Braude: My Career on the Margins
Richard S. Broughton: Don’t Hold Your Breath
Larry Dossey: Hooked on Healing: Adventures in Nonlocal Mind
Sally Rhine Feather: Continuing the Legacy
Erlendur Haraldsson: The Question of Appearance and Reality
Arthur Hastings: A Confluence of Streams
Stanley Krippner: My Parapsychological Odyssey
Lawrence LeShan: An Interview
Roger Nelson: Thirty Years and Counting
John Palmer: My Career in Parapsychology and Advice for Others
Guy Lyon Playfair: Adventures on the Night-Side
William G. Roll: A Lifetime of Searching
Serena Roney-Dougal: For the Love of Mind: Exploring Psyche
Stephan A. Schwartz: Explorations in the Infinite
Rex G. Stanford: Personal Reflections
Russell Targ: Why I Am Convinced of the Reality of Psychic Abilities, and Why You Should Be, Too
Charles T. Tart: The Parapsychological Side of My Career
Walter von Lucadou: The Paranormal is Normal But Quite Different
Parapsychology has a relatively small community devoted to it, and for anyone keen enough to pick up Rosemarie Pilkington’s collection of autobiographical accounts by some of its significant figures, many of the names will probably be familiar. But it is one thing to read a book or article by someone; it is another to read a first-person account of how they became interested, and what motivates and excites them, in something which, as more than one contributor notes, generates little income and less recognition.
It was therefore an excellent idea of Pilkington’s to gather reminiscences, focusing on older workers, while there was still time. Volume l was originally published in 1987, and reprinted by Anomalist Books in 2010. The criterion for inclusion was that those invited be over 65, consequently of the twelve figures in it only one is alive at this writing, showing how important it is to collect these memories before they disappear. The reprint brought the book to the attention of a new generation that had not been around in the 1980s, and indicated that there was scope for a sequel.
The increased size of Volume 2 is to be welcomed. It boasts an international roster, with twenty-one contributions, the bulk as before drawn from the United States, but the UK, Germany and Iceland represented as well. Only three women are included, which does reflect the gender split in times past, though it seems fair to say that the situation is gradually improving (despite which, until the loss of Professor Fontana in late 2010 there was a period when the SPR’s Council contained the same number of men called David as it did women, so there is some way to go).
Pilkington’s aim as before is to gather reminiscences and reflections from the older members of the parapsychological community. The oldest is Lawrence LeShan, born in 1920, the youngest, a chronological outlier, is Serena Roney-Dougal, born in 1951. The figures in the book have a wide range of backgrounds and interests, with a good balance between field and lab research. Sadly two (Williams Broad and Roll) died while the book was in production. Bill Roll was very frail and had trouble communicating, so although Pilkington interviewed him, she filled out his entry from other sources. LeShan was also interviewed.
The other nineteen were free to write what they wanted but were given a set of questions, to which they more or less adhered, in order to structure their responses. These were: what had prompted them to choose this pursuit?; what did they consider to be their most significant contribution?; what might they have done differently, and what changes occurred to their outlooks as a result of their work?; had they had any experiences that exceeded their boggle threshold?; and what would be their advice to young researchers contemplating such a career? Pilkington prefaces each entry with biographical details to introduce the author and Nancy L. Zingrone supplies a warm foreword in which she rightly says that “Autobiography makes the past immediate.”
The responses are wide-ranging. Some are short and anecdotal, others discuss the implications of the work in greater depth. The result is an informal primer covering many of the developments in the subject over the past fifty years. Each entry contains plenty of references, selected bibliographies and website information to allow further investigation of the issues.
Some names crop up frequently, notably J. B. Rhine (it is nice to see his and Louisa Rhine’s daughter Sally Rhine Feather included here, carrying on the family business), and the accounts show how influential he was, though not always in a positive way it has to be said. LeShan comes up more than once. So does Bob Morris, who had an enormous effect on the growth of parapsychology through the Koestler Chair, one sadly dissipated since his untimely death. The SPR is cited a number of times as an organisation that helped to stimulate awareness, and the importance of the Parapsychological Association is stressed, as well as other organisations like the Rhine Research Center and the Parapsychology Foundation.
As one might expect from so eclectic a bunch, there is a wide diversity of views and approaches. If this were a church, it would be a broad one, though with an underpinning sense of the mysteries of consciousness and of the universe. The Americans stand out by their frequent references to Eastern spiritual thought, which is not surprising given the age profile, many reaching maturity in the liberal ‘60s, and one suspects more past drug taking (purely for academic purposes you understand) than is admitted to. There is much talk of ‘non locality’, and the influence of developments in physics is apparent. There is also a tendency to stress process- rather than proof-oriented research, acknowledging that further proof is not going to persuade anyone not convinced by what has already accumulated, and that the emphasis should be on how the thing works, whatever that thing happens to be, not whether it does.
The variety of experiences and topics raised will inspire anybody thinking of a career in this area, as well as making it a useful primer for those just wanting to learn more about the subject and the men and women who have shaped it (though always bearing in mind that there are no critical voices to contradict the claims, and that these are by definition the success stories, those who stayed the course). Even if you know some of the individuals and their publications, you can always learn something new that will surprise and entertain.
Pilkington asked what advice the contributors would give to aspiring entrants, but the warnings will doubtless be treated lightly. My guess is that confirmation bias will operate, warnings will be ignored, and only the desirable aspects absorbed. There is talk of lousy pay and prospects, but it becomes clear as one reads that with a bit of ingenuity, and yes, some luck, it is possible to make a living, and an enjoyable one, while pursuing your passion.
The enthusiasm shines through, and anyone considering embarking on a similar path will find these personal stories encouraging, though with a dose of realism injected into the aspirations. It’s a shame that such a project had not been considered earlier because so much history is lost as people die. There are others who will have reached the correct vintage in a few years’ time, and it is to be hoped that we will have the pleasure of a further instalment of Esprit which asks them the same questions, with perhaps fewer Americans and a larger proportion drawn from other parts of the world. Also, I can think of a few elder statespersons missing from Volume 2. I suspect some were asked, but declined, and I hope they reconsider for a third.
A similar enterprise, A History of Psychology in Autobiography, the first volume of which appeared as long ago as 1930, has been very successful (and doubtless inspirational), and it would be good to see Men and Women of Parapsychology achieve similar longevity as it tracks those who make a significant contribution to the subject, and who well deserve to have their achievements noted.