A Skeptic's Handbook of Parapsychology

By Paul Kurtz | Go to book overview
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Introduction
More than a Century of Psychical Research

I

Many books and collections of essays on parapsychology have been published over the years, written and edited by and for those who support belief in psychic phenomena. There have been far fewer collections about the paranormal written by its critics. This volume is the first to bring together many of the leading skeptics to evaluate the entire history of the field of parapsychology and psychic research and to examine the results. The contributors were asked to focus on one or more aspects of the field: Does ESP exist? What is the evidence for it? How reliable is this evidence? Can two or more minds communicate outside normal sensory channels? Has precognition been demonstrated? What about psychokinesis and levitation? Can psychics assist the police in locating missing persons or in solving crimes? Does the mind survive the death of the body?

Although the contributors may be said to be predominantly skeptical of psychic claims, some parapsychologists have been included to defend the parapsychological point of view. Nineteen of the following chapters were written especially for this collection, and eleven previously published essays have been added to deal with particular issues. In some cases, these include important historical statements, such as the confessions of the spiritualist Margaret Fox and the alleged telepathist Douglas Blackburn.I have also included three important overviews of psychical research: one by Simon Newcomb, the first president of the American Society of Psychical Research, in which he evaluates the field in 1909 at the end of his career; the second is John Coover's survey of psychic research through 1927; and the third is by Eric Dingwall, who was intimately associated with the work of the British Society for Psychical Research for sixty years and summed up his appraisal in 1971.


II

Many people in modern society are convinced that paranormal realities exist. Often their belief is spawned by a body of "inexplicable" experiences in ordinary

-xi-

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