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Jule Eisenbud: parapsychology's theoretician.

"Jule Eisenbud," wrote Stephen Braude, "is parapsychology's premier living theoretician. Currently, he is the only person in the field today attempting a truly global and systematic analysis of paranormal phenomena and their place in nature" (Eisenbud, 1983, p. 7). It is fitting, therefore, that the Parapsychological Association at its thirty-fifth annual convention honored him with the Outstanding Career Award for 1992.

Born on November 20, 1908, in New York, Jule Eisenbud received his B.A. in 1929 from Columbia College, his M.D. in 1934 from the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons, and his D. Med. Science in 1939 from Columbia University. He practiced psychiatry and psychoanalysis in New York and was an associate in psychiatry at the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons before he moved to Colorado and became Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver.

Eisenbud's encounters with the paranormal date back to his childhood. He tells us (Eisenbud, 1987) about the mind-reading games of his parents, and about his dreams containing apparently paranormal content that included the death of his cousin. He tells us also of the dreams of his patients, which seem to fit best with the telepathy hypothesis. As he began compiling "a growing corpus of case material," he was excited by the "infinite subtlety of the unconscious processes," which provided the backdrop for his far-reaching speculations about psi. His appreciation of the richness and complexity of the "dynamic unconscious" and its relation to psi has led him to assign a "larger role of psi in the natural order of things" than is generally the case even among the most devout psi investigators and to suggest that "like the unconscious, it |psi~ may be glimpsed and to some extent comprehended but, it cannot ... be coaxed into submission to our decisions and designs" (Eisenbud, 1983, p. 13).

In some respects, Eisenbud's ideas challenge conventional wisdom in parapsychology, for example, his thoughts about repeatable experiments in parapsychology. "Our repetitive experience with the non-repeatable experiment," as he puts it, is clearly counter to current ethos in experimental psi research, which is based on the assumption that the phenomena are basically controllable and that with greater understanding of the multitude of variables that influence psi occurrence, we will be able to reliably manifest it (1983). Eisenbud, however, argues that psi functioning "is unobtrusively imbedded in the very nature of things," (1983, p. 162) and that the forces "opposing the repeatable experiment are indeed part of the very warp and woof of the universe" (1983, p. 164). Therefore, there is an "essential contradiction in attempting a repeatable experiment." It is like "asking the raw psi principle ... to serve two masters and to do two opposing things--to keep the laws and at the same time to break them" (1983, pp. 162-163).

In Eisenbud's view, the lack of repeatability in parapsychology is no reason to undermine the importance of psi in the natural order. Psi in its "raw" state is the basic framework for the "intercommunication between organisms and events in nature." His provocative suggestion that basically psi is a "great process abstraction" in nature like electromagnetism and is an "integral component in all events in some measure" (1983, p. 183) is pregnant with profound implications for attempting to resolve many anomalies and paradoxes in such disciplines as psychology, biology, and physics.

Eisenbud's seminal postulation of the "system of psi-mediated probabilistic book-keeping by which events are kept from getting too much out of whack along one axis or another" (1983, p. 163) is reflected in much of the data relating to the differential effect (Rao, 1965) and is consistent with more recent speculations of von Lucadou (1987) and the model of pragmatic information.

Regrettably, Eisenbud's ideas have not had the kind of impact they deserve on mainstream parapsychology. This may be due in part to his apparent "anti-science" sentiment. "Real progress in parapsychology will be made," wrote Eisenbud (1987), "only when its practitioners untether themselves completely from science and scientific institutions in order to work their own garden in their own way". The inherent antagonism and irreconcilability of science and the psychic side of nature to which Eisenbud repeatedly calls our attention is clearly a corollary of his conception of "the system of psi-mediated probabilistic book-keeping." However, some may regard his disenchantment with attempts to scientifically investigate psi as something that may be traced to the discomforting peer resistance to his investigation of the paranormal and to reluctance of many experimental parapsychologists to defend his work with Ted Serios. Whatever the reason, Eisenbud was led to believe that resistance to psi is not confined to the "scientific Philistines" but is also rampant among the psychical researchers themselves, who adopt a "methodologically holier-than-thou attitude" and engage in "endless pseudo-scientific fussiness and obsessional piddling, which, as often as not, results in never getting anything done unless under conditions that virtually strangulate the emergence of anything faintly resembling a psi occurrence" (1983, p. 153).

Whether or not one agrees with his criticisms of current psi research and his brave, new, and unconventional approaches to the paranormal, almost everyone I know in the field respects Jule Eisenbud for his outstanding scholarship, incisive mind, courage of conviction, and, not the least, his provocative and seminal ideas. The field of parapsychology is richer for his involvement in it. Indeed, few deserve the PA's Outstanding Career Award more than Jule, a friend and philosopher to many of us.


EISENBUD, J. (1983). Parapsychology and the unconscious. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.

EISENBUD, J. (1987). My life with the paranormal. In R. Pilkington (Ed.), Men and women of parapsychology: Personal reflections (pp. 8-17). Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

RAO, K. R. (1965). The bidirectionality of psi. Journal of Parapsychology, 29, 230-250.

VON LUCADOU, W. (1988). The model of pragmatic information (MPI). In Debra H. Weiner & Robert L. Morris (Eds.), Research in parapsychology, 1987 (pp. 18-22). Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press.
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Author:Rao, K. Ramakrishna
Publication:The Journal of Parapsychology
Article Type:Biography
Date:Sep 1, 1992
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