Parapsychology in Brazil: A Science Entering Young Adulthood

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: The origins and vicissitudes by which parapsychology or, as we say, psi research has gone through in Brazil have not always distinguished it from religion, alternative healing practices, superstition, and charlatanism, mainly because of the cultural complexity in which we live in the country. Consequently, to be a psi researcher in Brazil means not having any financial guarantee, living with an uncertain future, almost complete isolation from the academic world, and solitude in private libraries with books--the majority written in foreign languages--that were usually bought by the researchers themselves. However, despite these difficulties, psi research is advancing in Brazil. In this address, we focus on academic conquests, especially the development of research projects, master's theses, and PhD dissertations in some of the most important universities of Brazil. Other important advances include the creation of societies and associations, such as the Asociacion Iberoamericana de Parapsicologia, and the creation of university centers for the study of psi, such as the Inter Psi-Study Group of Semiotics, Interconnectivity and Consciousness (www.portalpsi.cjb.net). Several foreign researchers have been instrumental in improving psi research in Brazil and Latin America. The exchange of information with them has helped to overcome the language and cultural barriers in the field and has created good prospects for the future.

This is a very especial day for us. We were invited by Dr. Carlos Alvarado to give this talk because we were the winners of the Gertrude Schmeidler Student Award in 1998. We take this opportunity, first, to express our gratitude to the 1998 PA Board and, second, to present briefly the development of psi research in our country, Brazil.

No one expects to be recognized for being a psi researcher in Brazil. The origins and vicissitudes by which the field has passed have not always distinguished it from religion, alternative healing practices, superstition, and also charlatanism. To be a psi researcher in Brazil means almost complete isolation from the academic world, and solitude in the libraries, in which we have spent innumerable hours researching, essentially in a language that is not ours. To continue as a psi researcher in Brazil means not having any financial guarantee and living with an uncertain future. It means creating ways through which to meet interlocutors, who are few in number. It means transcending our own difficulties to do the possible out of the improbable. We believe that, because we have persisted and continued to be psi researchers despite these difficulties, we were chosen to win the award. At this moment, we want to represent all the psi researchers who have contributed with important parts of their lives to this cause . We want to represent, more than anything, those who have worked and still work anonymously, without even the opportunity of receiving such an invigorating stimulus as this. This award represents in part the inspiration their work has given us.

Let us tell you a brief history. In 1996, the City Council Building of Sao Paulo in Brazil was "haunted" by ghosts. Specters were seen in the library. Women wearing wedding dresses were seen appearing and disappearing in the daylight in the meeting room. File drawers opened and closed by themselves. One of the elevator operators claimed he saw some people disappear as soon as they entered the elevator. Odd sounds were heard in the long corridors. Doors locked themselves with no explanation. One of the councilmen was locked in his office and could not open the door. From his room, he said he could hear something like voices that seemed to talk in an incomprehensible language. Because these events took place in one of the most important public buildings of Sao Paulo, journalists soon took interest and reported on these events. Many individuals said they could explain the unusual "occurrences."

A "babalorixa"--a sort of priest of Candomble, an African religion-hastened to say that the occurrences were the result of the action of the souls of thousands of Black slaves who bad been tortured for almost four centuries in the past in that very place. …