Introduction: Psychic Research - Facts and Opinions, Sceptics and Historians.
Spiritualism and Mediumship have always been in close partnership, but the same cannot be said of Psychical Research and Mediumship. Many researchers and even some presidents of psychical research societies have been atheists or openly disbelieved in any afterlife or survival of the personality. In their opinion, spirit communications were no more than
dissociative disorders, delusions or the manifestation of sub-personalities. We can safely dismiss and ignore such people, and examine the competent work and studies of the dedicated researchers from the past reviewed in this series, who devoted the greater part of their lives to studying mediums and Spiritualism, often at the expense of their professional standing and public careers. This is not to ignore present-day workers in the field such as Professors Gary Schwartz and Archie Roy, reporters such as Roy Stemman and Victor Zammit, and the many modern mediums who have written carefully about their own work and experiences in their autobiographies.
The term Psychical Research has now been shortened into Psychic Research, and Psychic Science has become Psychic Studies, but since this series will look at both the past and the present, whatever appellations are or were used at the time of writing will be repeated unchanged here. The purpose of these articles is to ensure that the valuable work over the past 160 years is not lost or forgotten. Future generations will need the resources of this vast spiritual knowledge. This series is just a reminder. Psychic Research to become a competent and competitive area of study needs to include all branches of science, literature, history, comparative religion, philosophy, metaphysics, the practice of mediumship and many other disciplines. Hence, this series will include the work of researchers from all walks of life. Their experience in the practical matter of living and pursuing their careers and practising their professions before studying the phenomena of Spiritualism made them all the more able to observe and record the events dispassionately and fairly.
This is not the case with some opponents of Spiritualism, scientists and theologians alike, who ridicule and belittle the importance of communication with those who have passed on, and the collating of evidence of the continuity and eternal nature of the life of the “non-local” mind and spirit. Those investigators who put up a screen of objectivity in fact harden the outer layer of their own etheric body and the outer layers of their aura, and this makes it difficult for them to receive any real paranormal input, and hence they are NEVER able to find the full evidence for the material proofs they so ardently desire. By their negative attitude they screen out the phenomena they wish to investigate.
As an instance of this, J. B. Rhine, the leading figure in parapsychology, fell into this trap in an article he wrote in the 1970s entitled “A Century of Parapsychology.” In surveying various mysterious practices which had arisen, he wrote: “One of the proselytizing cults is Spiritualism. The weird fantasies of Spiritualism gave way in the light of research to the scholarly revelation of another natural (not supernatural) range of communication in man’s own nature - his PSI (psychic or ESP) ability. It is now clear that the Spiritualists had a basis that was valid up to a point; they were, as they claimed, actually at times communicating with a “beyond,” a “hereafter,” and even performing “miracles.”……There really are powers of exchange beyond the senses and muscles.”
Skeptics try to prove that psychic phenomena are the product of human abilities rather than indications of spiritual dimensions beyond our material world, if they cannot be explained away as natural phenomena misperceived by a superstitious observer. So, often psychical researchers have a hidden agenda which taints the validity of their conclusions just as much as the devotions of a religious fanatic. Any study or research is empty if it fails to combine common sense with love and spirit. Scientific experiments may have objectivity, but especially in the treatment of animals, and even some mediums, they lack, or lacked, compassion.
Anyway, Professor Rhine turned away from contact with spirit, and tried to measure and study psychic abilities on their own, which was a rather sterile and clinical environment enough to scare away the most persistent ghost or obsessive spirit. His main concern was to provide a reliable methodology and test design to avoid error and ensure replication of results. If he had done his homework, he would have read in messages from the spirit world in the first decades of the 20th century that the ability to “read” cards and the faculty of remote viewing, precognition and even the production of knocks and rappings and table tipping were only entry points into spirit communication, and should be laid aside in favor of more direct verbal, mental or trance contact with spirit. Frederic Myers, coming through Kenneth Richmond between 1915 and 1918, and Walter Stinson coming through Marjorie Crandon in Boston in the 1920s and 1930s, and in the Hamilton circle in Winnipeg at the same period, both made this point. The basic and essential Spiritualist teachings are contained in their transcripts.
Professor Rhine, on the other hand, looked at the here and now sense-based data measuring human psi abilities. Personally I find the technical methodology of testing and the statistical analyses tediously boring, so I would not make a good scientist. Even Eileen Garrett gave up working with Rhine after a few days, finding the reading of cards cold and uninteresting, unable to rouse any emotional response in her.
I bring together information here as a compiler and historian, not a scientist, and leave others, if they wish, to examine more closely the methodology and approaches to psychical phenomena of the various advocates of survival depicted in the series.
It has taken time for new branches of study to look into the nature of the mind and spirit, such as transpersonal psychology, research into the effects of prayer, the discovery of a “non-local” mind beyond the brain, and the return to testing mediums’ communications as valid evidence of a life beyond death of the body.
So here we are, back where we started 160 years ago, where we will commence the series in Part (2) with Professor Robert Hare, the skeptical chemistry professor who converted to Spiritualism after receiving valid evidential communications from his father. Richard R.
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