Academic journal article The Journal of Parapsychology

From Survival to Transcendence: Reflections on Psi as Anomalous

Academic journal article The Journal of Parapsychology

From Survival to Transcendence: Reflections on Psi as Anomalous

Article excerpt

MATLOCK, J. G. (1990). Past life memory case studies. In S. Krippner (Ed.), Advances in parapsychological research: Vol. 6 (pp. 184-267). Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

NELSON, R. D., DUNNE, B. J., & JAHN, R. G. (1984). An REG experiment with large data base capability: III. Operator-related anomalies (Technical Note, PEAR 84003). Princeton, NJ: Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research, Princeton University.

PALMER, J. (1971). Scoring in ESP tests as a function of belief in ESP: Part I. The sheep-goat effect. Journal of the American Last year at about this time I was sitting in the audience, just as you are now, listening to my predecessor and good friend, Steve Braude, deliver his presidential address to our Association. I found what he had to say very stimulating because he talked about issues that are of great concern to me now or were of great concern to me earlier in my career. As I was listening to him, the wheels in my head started turning as I quickly tried either to formulate or to resurrect ideas about how I might respond to his points, including, of course, his "reprimand du jour" about parapsychology's alleged mechanistic ways. When I discovered that I was to be Braude's successor, I realized that I had been given a golden opportunity to reply to him in the most appropriate forum possible, and I decided to take advantage of it. Will this start a trend? Will Dean Radin step up to the podium next year and comment on what you are about to hear from me? That's up to Dean, and whatever happens is fine from my point of view. I'm just honored to have the opportunity to share with you my thoughts on some important intellectual issues that parapsychology faces in the nineties.

Part I


The first issue I want to address is actually a very old one; in fact, it is one of the issues that defined our field at its inception, and it is still unresolved in most people's minds. I am referring to the question of survival of death. This section of Braude's talk reminded me of the years I spent at Ian Stevenson's Division of Parapsychology at the University of Virginia, where I gave a great deal of thought to this issue. Particularly relevant to Braude's remarks was a somewhat obscure paper I wrote there entitled "Some Recent Trends in Survival Research," which was published in Parapsychology Review (Palmer, 1975).

In that paper, I advocated a position similar to the one challenged by Braude in his PA Presidential Address and related papers (Braude, 1992a, 1992b, in press). The context of this position is the debate between advocates of the survival hypothesis and advocates of the so-called "super-psi" hypothesis as providing the best explanation of certain relevant empirical facts such as the phenomena of trance mediumship.(1) According to the survival hypothesis, accurate information obtained by a medium about a deceased individual is treated as evidence for that individual's having survived death, especially when such information is not known to anyone present at the seance or sitting. According to the super-psi hypothesis, the reception by the medium of such information is more satisfactorily interpreted as simple ESP on the medium's part, with no implications for the survival of the deceased.

The typical survivalist response to this argument is that the magnitude or sensitivity of the psi in many of the better cases of mediumship is greater than in cases of psi that are clearly restricted to the living. Super-psi advocates reply to this argument in one of two ways. Either they deny the premise that psi in mediumship cases is superior, or, more commonly, they argue that we just do not know what the limits of psi among the living are. The latter retort is essentially an appeal to parsimony: In the absence of solid knowledge about the limits of psi among the living, we should accept super-psi as the best explanation because it is simpler in that it does not require the postulation of a new entity such as a surviving mind or personality. …

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