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The Parapsychology Revolution: A Concise Anthology of Paranormal and Psychical Research.

THE PARAPSYCHOLOGY REVOLUTION: A CONCISE ANTHOLOGY OF PARANORMAL AND PSYCHICAL RESEARCH compiled with commentary by Robert M. Schoch and Logan Yonavjak. NewYork: Tarcher/Penguin, 2008. Pp. v + 422. $16.95 (paperback). ISBN 978-1-58542-616-4.

This book is an anthology of papers, most of which have previously been published elsewhere, and is primarily intended to survey psychical and laboratory psi research in sufficient depth to enable the reader to make an informed judgment about the scientific legitimacy of the field. Brief commentaries accompany each paper and each group of papers. The book is divided into four substantive sections plus an extended introduction and a conclusion.

The introduction specifies the range of topics studied in psychical research and by academic parapsychologists. The compilers, Robert M. Schoch and Logan Yonavjak, concede that the anthology's emphasis is on psi, that is, extrasensory perceptiOn and psychokinesis; although some material bearing on postmortem survival is mentioned, this is deemed not to be central to "the paranormal." The controversial status of the field and the value of constructive criticism of psi research are acknowledged, but the activities of the skeptical movement are depicted largely as self-serving. Instances of experimenter and participant fraud are presented, yet there is scant acknowledgment of the value of computer-controlled studies in this context. Schoch and Yonavjak point out that progress in the field has been curtailed by severe limitations on the funding of research. By way of a conclusion to this section, they maintain, "Parapsychologists are cartographers of the hidden inner realms of the human psyche" (p. 57); fortunately the style of the remainder of their commentary does not venture quite so closely to the cringe threshold.

Part I, presumptively titled "Spontaneous Instances of the Paranormal," includes extracts from papers documenting a variety of spontaneous parapsychological experiences. Schoch and Yonavjak argue, with some justification, that phenomena are best studied under their natural conditions of occurrence, but they then proceed to declare that spontaneous case reports above all else convince them of the reality of the paranormal. In part the rationale provided for this position is that if such experiences were anything other than paranormal, their occurrence would not show the observed correlations with indices of geomagnetic activity; the anthologists evidently cannot conceive that geomagnetic activity could affect neurological processes responsible for schizotypal or temporallobe mentation. Part I of the book features the writings of Edmund Gurney on crisis apparitional experiences, Charles Richet on spontaneous extrasensory experiences, William James on trance phenomena with the American medium Mrs. Piper, and William Roll on poltergeist cases. In a short, almost apologetic postscript, Schoch and Yonavjak acknowledge reincarnation cases, and in this context they briefly indicate themes in the research findings of the late Ian Stevenson.

Part II, "Experimental and Laboratory Work on the Paranormal," surveys the development of psi research. Mention is made of the psi experimenter effect and the sheep-goat effect, including their potential consequences for incisive laboratory investigation of psi. Extracts are given from the writings of J. B. Rhine on his early card-guessing studies of ESP; L. E. Rhine and J. B. Rhine on their initial experimental investigation of psychokinesis; Robert Jahn on the PEAR laboratory's use of random event generators to investigate micropsi effects; and Jessica Utts on replication and meta-analysis in experimental psi research. In other sections of the book, the compilers' commentaries on each paper are not particularly critical, but here at least one major criticism of research in the PEAR laboratory is cited, together with the defensive reply of PEAR personnel.

Part III, "Some Practical Applications of Psi Studies," offers some general suggestions on how psi might be put to practical use, then supports the case with two papers. Medical practitioner Larry Dossey summarizes empirical studies of the effect of intercessory prayers on healing, and retired Navy veteran Rick Bremseth discusses the potential use of remote viewing techniques for military purposes, or what he terms "transcendent warfare." It must be said that neither of these papers bears closely on the principal concerns of most contemporary parapsychologists.

Part IV, "Overviews and Reflections on Psi," comprises four papers: Marcello Truzzi's identification of the unfair tactics of some critics of parapsychological research; a survey of quantum physical theories of psi by physicist Jean Burns; Paul Stevens' review of theories of psi; and Serena Roney-Dougal's reflections on how our society would change if only mainstream scientists would accept the existence of psi. In this section the theoretical coverage focuses on the physical bases of psi; little account is taken of psychological approaches or of skeptical views.

Finally, the compilers voice the results of their deliberations in "Concluding Remarks." On the basis of the material they have examined, Schoch and Yonavjak are persuaded of the reality of (contemporaneous) telepathy and clairvoyance and of at least micropsychokinesis, although they argue that many mediumistic experiences cited in support of the survival hypothesis can be satisfactorily accommodated under a theory of contemporaneous ESP. The anthologists are much more doubtful about the occurrence of macroPK. On the other hand, they also reject the skeptical view that psi research cannot properly be accepted because it fails to accord with any generally embraced conventional scientific theory. The efforts of parapsychologists toward scientific recognition of their field are deemed legitimate, or as the authors put it, "The paranormal has been brought into the fold of serious scientific research" (p. 353).

As with any anthology, the choice of papers for inclusion will not satisfy every reader, but I do have some fundamental reservations about the book in this regard. Although I would encourage academic parapsychology students to read some of the classic papers in this collection, I must emphasize that this is not designed to be a college textbook. Rather, it is intended to be a presentation of evidence upon which an interested person may assess the merits of contemporary parapsychology. This being the objective, surely it is incumbent on the compilers to collate the best available evidence. Contributions stemming back to Victorian times and even those from the Rhinean era arguably do not meet this criterion, notwithstanding their considerable historical interest. In addition, for the sake of equity, readers might have been given the opportunity to consider at least one or two papers arguing against the parapsychological evidence; the contributors' passing references to the activities of the skeptical movement are not sufficient for a fully considered assessment of the case for parapsychological research. A preparedness to canvass thoroughly both sides of the debate is lacking also in most of the compilers' commentaries.

Many people may also be surprised and perhaps a little disconcerted to discover that an evaluative book on parapsychology has been written by a geologist and a geographer. This feature admittedly could well have worked in the book's favor: Perhaps an assessment of parapsychology might be more objectively undertaken by scientists outside the field than by authors carrying the mainstream intellectual baggage of the social sciences. Indeed, the anthologists make much of the assertion that "we did not come to this subject as 'true believers' in psychic phenomena nor as ardent debunkers" (p. 337). At the same time, some more discerning readers may look askance on this claim when they learn that the senior author has written books on the secrets of the Egyptian pyramids, mysticism, and ancient civilizations, and the second author, a former student of Schoch, has been for several years a volunteer worker at the Rhine Research Center. For my own part, I am generally more interested in the arguments put by authors than in their academic qualifications for presenting the arguments, but I must admit that at several points in this book I found the anthologists' commentaries remarkably oblivious to fundamental psychological issues. I freely confess my bias in this matter, but I believe parapsychology to be principally cognate with the discipline of psychology. In any event, an analysis of parapsychological research by people lacking familiarity with the principles and the data of psychology is likely to be a risky enterprise. In the present instance, I believe the compilers were not entirely successful in running the risk.

In summary, Schoch and Yonavjak are commended for making more accessible to the general public some instructive parapsychological research reports. Most people with an interest in the field should find something of interest among the papers collated here. As a critical intellectual assessment of the scientific merits of parapsychological research, the book nevertheless has serious shortcomings.

HARVEY J. IRWIN

School of Psychology

University of New England

Armidale NSW 2351

Australia

hirwin2@une.edu.au
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Author:Irwin, Harvey J.
Publication:The Journal of Parapsychology
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2008
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