I recently published a review of the first volumes of three journals that were historically important in the study of psychic phenomena. The review article is entitled âOn First Volumes and Beginnings in the Study of Psychic Phenomena: Varieties of Investigative Approachesâ (Journal of Scientific Exploration, 2015, 29, 131-153; if you want a copy write to me at: email@example.com). The journals in question were: Revue Spirite: Journal dâÃtudes Psychologiques, 1858, Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, 1882â1883, and the Journal of Parapsychology, 1937.
In my introduction I mentioned different research styles in the history of psychology, including, for example case studies and experiments. âA similar situation and the topic of this Essay Review is the different approaches in the study of psychic phenomena over time. The purpose of this Essay Review is to introduce to modern readers some of these approaches in the forms of summaries of the contents of three different journals from the past. These are comments about the first volumes of influential publications concerned with the study of psychic phenomena that are probably not familiar to current students of psychic phenomena.â
The Revue Spirite, produced by Allan Kardec, was an important resource in the spreading of Spiritism in France, and elsewhere. Most of the content of the Revue was devoted to mediumistic communications that were seen as authoritative as regards moral, philosophical and scientific issues. There was no attempt at external verification and many of the communications were not verifiable in principle. âIn a two-page paper entitled ‘UtilitÃ© de Certaines Ãvocations ParticuliÃ¨res’ (Utility of Some Particular Evocations . . .), it was stated that these messages were valuable because the spirits in question ‘have acquired a high degree of perfection’ . . . that allowed them to ‘penetrate the mysteries that exceed the vulgar reach of humanity. . .’ â
The cases described in this volume were not original investigations, but accounts reprinted from popular sources. âExamples include âVisionsâ . . . , âLe Revenant de Mademoiselle Claironâ (The Ghost of Miss Clairon . . .), âLâEsprit Frappeur de DibbelsdorfâBasse-Saxeâ (The Rapping Spirit of DibbelsdorfâLower Saxony), . . .), and âPhÃ©nomÃ¨ne dâApparitionâ (Apparition Phenomena, . . .).â
I argued, âto consider the content of the Revue, and Kardecâs work, as a scientific research program . . . begs the question of what science is. It is one thing to observe nature and develop hypotheses based on observed patterns, or to be tested by further observations or actual experimentation, and another thing to use communications through seances, which source is uncertain, as shown in this volume of the Revue, to get teachings and answers to questions about the nature of topics such as the workings of psychic phenomena and a variety of moral and philosophical issues. Similarly, it is one thing to report on non-evidential spirit communications and on cases of apparitions and other phenomena discussed in the press and other sources, and it is another to study these phenomena with attention to evidence.â
A very different approach was that found in the first volume of the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research. âThe PSPR was the main organ of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR), which was of basic importance for the development of parapsychology. Its work . . . systematized research into psychic phenomena in England, but it was also influential in other countries.â
Some of the authors in the first volume of the PSPR were William F. Barrett, Edmund Gurney, Frederic W. H. Myers, and Henry Sidgwick. âThe first volume, containing four issues appearing in 1882 and 1883, was formed of papers reporting on the collection and analysis of evidence for psychic phenomena coming from accounts and from experiments. Some of these were . . . Barrett, Gurney, and Myersâ âFirst Report of the Committee on Thought-Readingâ (1882 . . .) . . .Barrett, Keep, Massey, Wedgwood, Podmore, and Peaseâs âFirst Report of the Committee on âHaunted Houses’ ‘ (1882 . . .), and Barrett, Massey, Moses, Podmore, Gurney, and Myersâ âReport of the Literary Committeeâ (1882 . . .). These, and other reports such as Barrettâs âOn Some Phenomena Associated with Abnormal Conditions of Mindâ (1883 . . .) and Malcolm Guthrie and James Birchallâs âRecord of Experiments in Thought-Transference, at Liverpoolâ (1883 . . .), point to the empirical approach prevalent in the SPR even if such attempts seem methodologically crude by modern standards.â
Different from the Revue, the SPR had high evidential standards with cases. As stated in the âFirst Report of the Committee on âHaunted Housesâ â, published in 1882: âIn the first place, we . . . begin by tracing every story to the fountain-head. But we do not consider that every first-hand narration of the appearance of a ghost, even from a thoroughly trustworthy narrator, gives us adequate reason for attempting further investigation. On the contrary, our general principle is that the unsupported evidence of a single witness does not constitute sufficient ground for accepting an apparition as having a prima facie claim to objective reality. To distinguish any apparition from an ordinary hallucination . . . it must receive some independent evidence to corroborate it. And this corroboration may be of two kinds; we may have the consentient testimony of several witnesses; or there may be some point of external agreement and coincidenceâunknown, as such, to the seer at the timeâ(e.g., the periodic appearance on a particular anniversary, or the recognition of a peculiar dress), to give to the vision an objective foundation.â
The volume also had the beginnings of an experimental tradition in the study of ESP, something that would be developed in later volumes. An example was âRecords of Experiments on Thought-Transference, at Liverpool,â by Malcolm Guthrie and James Birchall (1883). Furthermore there were instructions about precautions to follow in conducting such experiments.
âWhile the PSPR included some reports of experiments (and this became more frequent in later volumes), this approach was not the main one taken by SPR researchers. But it was the research style predominant in the Journal of Parapsychology.â This is clear in the first volume of this publication, appearing in 1937.
The Journal of Parapsychology (JP) came from Joseph Banks Rhine research group at Duke University and represented an experimental and quantitative research tradition. âAccording to my count of types of paper in the first volume, excluding correspondence and notes, there were 16 experimental reports, 4 editorials, 3 reviews of specific topics, 3 summaries and reviews of specific experiments, and 3 discussions of statistical issues.â
“Examples of experiments include ESP studies such as J. G. Prattâs . . . âClairvoyant Blind Matchingâ . . . , J. L. Woodruff and R. W. Georgeâs âExperiments in Extra-Sensory Perceptionâ . . . , Lucien Warnerâs âThe Role of Luck in ESP Dataâ . . . , and Vernon Sharp and C. C. Clarkâs âGroup Tests for Extra-Sensory Perceptionâ . . . The experimental approach was not limited to proving the existence of ESP. The JP carried interesting experiments to study ESP in relation to other variables, such as J. B. Rhineâs âThe Effect of Distance in ESP Testsâ . . . , Margaret H. Pegramâs âSome Psychological Relations of Extra-Sensory Perceptionâ . . . , and Edmond P. Gibsonâs âA Study of Comparative Performance in Several ESP Proceduresâ . . . In addition, several studies were reported about ESP tests with special participants.â
In conclusion: âThe journals discussed here . . . had to carve out their own territory, so to speak, when they started. The Revue appeared in a context in which mesmerism was better known, a movement that was not always open to spiritism . . . Similarly, to some extent the PSPR and the JP represented ânewâ beginnings in terms of spiritualism and psychical research, respectively. However, it would be wrong to reduce everything to breaks and discontinuities. In fairness, the issue was more one of general trends, and it is important to recognize that there were clear conceptual and methodological connections between the movements.â
âWhile different, the three journals presented in their pages material showing empirical attempts to study psychic phenomena, even though they represent different research styles. Of the three approachesâthe teaching of the spirits, the analyses of testimony, and the conducting of experimentsâonly the last two are still pursued in parapsychology. In fact, I doubt that today many parapsychologists . . . will consider the use of mediumistically obtained teachings as a reliable approach to study psychic phenomena, although one may argue that it may be useful to generate hypotheses that may be put to test by other means. But leaving aside modern standards and practices, we must admit that Kardec saw his work as empirical, different from faith, an attempt to collect information from the natural world, albeit from an unusual source.â
âDifferent from the above, the PSPR and the JP, not to mention other journals . . . , emphasized cases and experiments as the means to generate knowledge for psychical research. Later developments within the SPR and the Duke group, as articulated in the PSPR and the JP, significantly affected the study of psychic phenomena, transforming it into a more systematic endeavor . . .â
On First Volumes of Influential Journals About Psychic Phenomena
On First Volumes of Influential Journals About Psychic Phenomena
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