Parapsychology/Sources/General Overviews & Critiques

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General Overviews & Critiques[edit]

Prince (1928). Noted Witnesses for Psychic Occurrences.

Wallace (1870). An Answer to the Arguments of Hume, Lecky, and Others, Against Miracles.

Sommer, Andreas (2014). Psychical research in the history and philosophy of science. An introduction and review. (in Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 48, 38-45).

Sommer (2015). Review of Extraordinary Beliefs: A Historical Approach to a Psychological Problem (review occurs in The British Journal for the History of Science / Volume 48 / Issue 04 / December 2015, pp 707-708. It reads as follows:

"This book's expressed aim is to help us understand why people believe in alleged extraordinary phenomena that define the research agenda of modern parapsychology – telepathy, clairvoyance and psychokinesis. The author, a historian, magician and member of the Koestler Parapsychology Unit at Edinburgh University, makes clear from the outset that he does not believe in any of those things. Employing conjuring theory, frame analysis and discourse analysis to reveal how affirmations, as well as rejections, of belief in these phenomena were made convincing, Lamont takes his readers through a history of modern empirical approaches to occult phenomena from the nineteenth century to the present day. Essentially limited to English-language sources, the book reconstructs selected debates around extraordinary phenomena that have been associated with animal magnetism, spiritualism, psychical research and modern parapsychology.

Lamont's focus on rhetorical discourse, such as avowals of prior scepticism by those claiming conversions to a belief in the reality of extraordinary events, and of open-mindedness by non-believers, reveals the robustness of rhetorical patterns over time. But the main achievement of the study is to tease out the often-neglected variety of stances of historical actors involved in these debates, and significant subtleties in degrees of belief and scepticism. There was, for example, a considerable number of intellectuals who became convinced that some of the phenomena of spiritualism constituted genuine scientific anomalies while dismissing or suspending belief that they were actually caused by spirits. So far, not many historians of modern empirical approaches to the occult have done a better job at raising sensitivity in the reconstruction of various attitudes to these hotly disputed phenomena. Not least, by criticizing the continued lumping together of all sorts of deviant beliefs in modern psychological scales measuring (or rather policing) ‘paranormal beliefs’, the book is an example of how history can be practically useful to non-historians.

An apparent core virtue of the book is its strong commitment to symmetry. In Lamont's account there are neither heroes nor villains, and most of the time his actors appear to have perfectly good reasons to believe or disbelieve. In his discussions of the age-old question of authority to evaluate extraordinary phenomena, Lamont also reminds us that professional conjurors have always been on either side of the debate, and that we can hardly rely on them as impartial judges regarding the scientific status of ‘paranormal’ phenomena.

Lamont stresses that psychological interest in extraordinary beliefs ‘itself has a history. By looking back, we can understand not only why people have believed, but also why this became the key question asked by psychologists' (pp. 6–7). However, in his account of boundary disputes during the professionalization of psychology Lamont tries a little too hard to maintain symmetry. He confirms previous historians' arguments that debunking exercises by American psychologists worried about their leader William James closely collaborating with the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) were politically instrumental in asserting the usefulness of the fledgling science in the battle against ‘epidemic delusions’ like spiritualism. But I rather disagree with statements like ‘So far as “psychologists” engaged in the testing of psychic claimants, far from combatting psychical research, they were, by definition, doing psychical research’ (p. 196). In fact, the book's commitment to never go beyond discourse comes at the cost of a critical failure to reveal just how methodologically thorough the best of James's and the SPR work was, and how poor in comparison most critiques of their psychical research were. This is important, since one of the standard rhetorical strategies of opponents of elite psychical research that continues to inform its historiography was the conflation of the hard-nosed empiricism typical of the early SPR with superstition and uncritical belief, i.e. the kind of lumping together of positions which Lamont rightly criticizes in present-day ‘paranormal-belief’ scales.

Just to give one example, Lamont tries to capture a key episode in the public repudiation of psychical research from nascent psychology's territories, the debate concerning James's star medium Leonora Piper, on less than three pages. Much of the space is dedicated to G. Stanley Hall's and Amy Tanner's Studies in Spiritism (1910), which was based on just six sittings with Piper and published shortly after James's death. Readers unfamiliar with the sheer wealth of primary sources concerning Piper, however, will not get the slightest idea of the outstanding quality of the studies previously published by the SPR, let alone the extent to which Hall and Tanner misrepresented these sources and engaged in other remarkable acts of intellectual dishonesty. Together with detailed critiques of Hall and Tanner's book by the sceptical Andrew Lang and some of Piper's surviving investigators, such as Eleanor Sidgwick and James Hyslop, these primary sources (of which not a single one turns up in Lamont's bibliography) document in great detail that in the strange case of Leonora Piper debunkers like Hall, Tanner and James McKeen Cattell were overwhelmingly wrong and James and fellow psychical researchers overwhelmingly right as far as basic standards of scientific methodology and fair play were concerned.

A disbeliever in ‘paranormal’ phenomena, Lamont does well to distance himself from prominent representatives of the modern ‘Skeptics’ movement, whose methods have provoked protests from sociologists like Harry Collins, Trevor Pinch and Robert Evans. Taking issue with the evangelism displayed by self-appointed ‘sceptical’ experts such as Richard Dawkins, James Randi and Michael Shermer, Lamont argues that a true sceptic ‘needs to distinguish between the wheat and the chaff’ (p. 215). But he also should have pointed out that methods and rhetorical styles employed by Hall, Tanner, Cattell, Joseph Jastrow, Hugo Münsterberg and other opponents of psychical research are virtually indistinguishable from those of Dawkins, Randi et al. Hence Extraordinary Beliefs offers little help to those willing to distinguish the wheat and the chaff in the still hopelessly biased historiography of the modern occult.

Perhaps ironically, Lamont himself experienced the kind of treatment characteristic of assaults on James, the early SPR and present-day parapsychologists in a 2013 review in PsycCRITIQUES, an online review published by the American Psychological Association. The reviewer, Jonathan C. Smith, indirectly accused Lamont of advocating for parapsychological pseudoscience, which Smith informs us is motivated by the same mentalities responsible for the continued burning of witches, global warming denial and, of course, 9/11. In his published response, Lamont corrected evident misrepresentations of his arguments and even identified a fabricated quote. One could say that Smith by definition reviewed Lamont's book, but I suppose Lamont would be appreciative of future historians reconstructing discourses regarding science and the occult for including his reply.")

Loxton (2013). Why Is There A Skeptical Movement? (historical overview of antagonist talking points, important to understand how antagonists see themselves and what they believe to be their mission. 2 of the writers he references with praise, Michael Shermer and James Randi, are unreliable, as I will demonstrate below. As for Joe Nickell, I have seen murmurs of him misrepresenting sources, but nothing adequate to substantiate the charge, so I cannot assume bad faith on his part, as I do with people like Martin Gardner (though people have argued that he is tendentious). The attacks from some of the literature he brings up are condensed and concentrated in a text from Walter Mann which I will attempt to refute below. For the time being, a text that offers a useful counterpoint to Loxton's overall view of psychic claimants is A Campbell Holms' The Facts of Psychic Science and Philosophy. Some of the authors he lauds as heroes are, in The Enchanted Boundary by WF Prince, and The Personality of Man by GNM Tyrell, pt. IX, shown to be unreliable. Loxton has written elsewhere a hagiography of Joseph Rinn, later in this annotated bibliography I demonstrate that Rinn engaged in extreme dishonesty. Loxton makes no mention of the fact that leading luminaries in all kinds of fields have reported strong paranormal experiences, as shown by Prince's Noted Witnesses for Psychic Occurrences, and other texts.

Loxton's discussion of the ancient Roman skeptical activist Lucian, who wrote a polemic against Alexander of Abonoteichus, references an article that challenges the reliability of the narrator, though he does not indicate that it does this - the challenge to Lucian's reliability occurs in the subsection "THE CASE AGAINST THE PROSECUTION" of the article Snake or Fake? As regards Lucian, the psycho-folklorist Andrew Lang noted (Cock-Lane and Common Sense, pp. 24-26), "Once more, Rome in the late Republic, the Rome of Cicero, was ‘enlightened,’ as was the Greece of Lucian; that is the educated classes were enlightened. Yet Lucretius, writing only for the educated classes, feels obliged to combat the belief in ghosts and the kind of Calvinism which, but for his poem, we should not know to have been widely prevalent. Lucian, too, mocks frequently at educated belief in just such minor and useless miracles as we are considering, but then Lucian lived in an age of cataclysm in religion. Looking back on history we find that most of historical time has either been covered with dark ignorance, among savages, among the populace, or in all classes; or, on the other hand, has been marked by enlightenment, which has produced, or accompanied, religious or irreligious crises. Now religious and irreligious crises both tend to beget belief in abnormal occurrences. Religion welcomes them as miracles divine or diabolical. Scepticism produces a reaction, and ‘where no gods are spectres walk’. Thus men cannot, or, so far, men have not been able to escape from the conditions in which marvels flourish. If we are savages, then Vuis and Brewin beset the forest paths and knock in the lacustrine dwelling perched like a nest on reeds above the water; tornaks rout in the Eskimo hut, in the open wood, in the gunyeh, in the Medicine Lodge. If we are European peasants, we hear the Brownie at work, and see the fairies dance in their grassy ring. If we are devoutly Catholic we behold saints floating in mid-air, or we lay down our maladies and leave our crutches at Lourdes. If we are personally religious, and pass days in prayer, we hear voices like Bunyan; see visions like the brave Colonel Gardiner or like Pascal; walk environed by an atmosphere of light, like the seers in Iamblichus, and like a very savoury Covenanting Christian. We are attended by a virtuous sprite who raps and moves tables as was a pious man mentioned by Bodin and a minister cited by Wodrow. We work miracles and prophesy, like Mr. Blair of St. Andrews (1639-1662); we are clairvoyant, like Mr. Cameron, minister of Lochend, or Loch-Head, in Kintyre (1679). If we are dissolute, and irreligious like Lord Lyttelton, or like Middleton, that enemy of Covenanters, we see ghosts, as they did, and have premonitions. If we live in a time of witty scepticism, we take to the magnetism of Mesmer. If we exist in a period of learned and scientific scepticism, and are ourselves trained observers, we may still watch the beliefs of Mr. Wallace and the experiments witnessed by Mr. Crookes and Dr. Huggins."

Loxton does not attempt to deal with more difficult to dismiss cases, like Appolonius of Tyana. Andreas Sommer noted in his thesis (p. 30), that "Aided by advances in print technology, leading thinkers such as Voltaire, Diderot and other philosophes in France and elsewhere launched campaigns to banish reports and claims of supernatural phenomena from intellectual discourse, a movement which Roy Porter (1999) called the ‘Enlightenment crusade’. ‘Cunning folk’, miracle healers, visionaries, convulsionaries and other ‘enthusiasts’ were no longer burned at the stake or beaten to death but publicly ridiculed, arrested and medically ‘treated’ by dunking, beating or forced marriage. (Speculations about Voltaire) in line with Barruel's Memoirs Illustrating the History of Jacobinism seem relevant) Ancient history was rewritten when the Greek and Roman oracles, held in high esteem by medieval to Renaissance writers, were retroactively transformed into instruments of a corrupt pagan priesthood"; and he noted on p. 30n29, "A major attack was The History of Oracles by Bernard de Fontenelle ([1687] 1753), secretary of the French Academy of Science. Like other retroactive debunkers of the time, de Fontenelle used religious rather than naturalistic arguments to show the backwardness of belief in the ‘supernatural’." An antithesis to de Fontenelle, also using religious arguments was, Jean Francois Baltus' "An Answer to Mr de Fontelle's History of Oracles." I am however not interested in disputes along these lines- I am interested in empirical arguments. As such, it is notable that Loxton ignores the documentation of Dodds in his overview of supernormal phenomena in classical antiquity, which it would be difficult to miss with minor acquaintance with the psychical research literature.

Loxton misrepresents Andrew Lang as an anti-paranormal writer, citing Lang's text Cock-Lane and Common Sense, when the SPR review of that text shows the exact opposite (see particularly p. 424 of the review demonstrating Loxton's sloppy misrepresentations - "Mr. Lang examines some of the attempts to give rationalistic "Common-sense" explanations of certain tales, including that of the famous Cock Lane ghost, and shows how miserably inadequate they are to account for the phenomena even as recorded by the sceptics themselves."). What Lang's book actually showed is that Spiritualist phenomena have universal parallels across human cultures, as evident in p. 81 where he shows cross cultural, independent examples paralleling the phenomena of the medium William Stainton Moses. One thing that really arrested my attention in this text was the statement on pp. 34-36: Thus enough is known to show that savage spiritualism wonderfully resembles, even in minute details, that of modern mediums and seances, while both have the most striking parallels in the old classical thaumaturgy.

This uniformity, to a certain extent, is not surprising, for savage, classical, and modern spiritualism all repose on the primaeval animistic hypothesis as their metaphysical foundation. The origin of this hypothesis — namely, that disembodied intelligences exist and are active — is explained by anthropologists as the result of early reasonings on life, death, sleep, dreams, trances, shadows, the phenomena of epilepsy, and the illusions of Starvation. This scientific theory is, in itself, unimpeachable ; normal phenomena, psychological and physical, might suggest most of the animistic beliefs.

At the same time 'veridical hallucinations,' if there are any, and clairvoyance, if there is such a thing, would do much to originate and confirm the animistic opinions. Meanwhile, the extraordinary similarity of savage and classical spiritualistic rites, with the corresponding similarity of alleged modern phenomena, raises problems which it is more easy to state than to solve. For example, such occurrences as 'rappings,' as the movement of untouched objects, as the lights of the seance room, are all easily feigned. But that ignorant modern knaves should feign precisely the same raps, lights, and movements as the most remote and unsophisticated barbarians, and as the educated Platonists of the fourth century after Christ, and that many of the other phenomena should be identical in each case, is certainly noteworthy. This kind of folk-lore is the most persistent, the most apt to revive, and the most uniform. We have to decide between the theories of independent invention; of transmission, borrowing, and secular tradition; and of a substratum of actual fact."

It is ironic that he references approvingly a text that provides a firm basis for a refutation of his predicate.

There are numerous cross-cultural correlations addressing some of the most seeming implausible subjects in this field. St. Augustine, writing in his City of God, discussed materialization mediumship (as cited in Psychical and supernormal phenomena their observation and experimentation by Dr. Paul Joire. Frederick A. Stokes, New York, 1916. p. 462). Loxton completely ignores well accounted for paranormality in the lives of the saints, like Joan of Arc and Joseph of Cupertino, even though this evidence comes from Andrew Lang, who he misrepresented, and from Eric Dingwall, a person who "skeptics" of the latter half of the 20th century graciously referenced, but who did not fall into their camp or the camp of enthusiastic proponents, and whose arguments in this case provide counter-evidence to derision.

Loxton then discusses Thomas Ady's A Candle in the Dark (though he neglects to mention mention the work of the ur-skeptic Reginald Scot, The Discoverie of Witchcraft). He makes no mention of Glanvill's antithesis to skepticism along those lines, Sadducimus Triumphatus, which was a, perhaps the, prototypical psychical research text, attempting to extract evidence of paranormality from accounts of the time period, which were at that time enmeshed in the context of the Witchcraft belief - both this text and Ady's were of historical significance in the Salem witch trials ((Wikipedia cites the following in relevant articles, which will have to be independently verified) for Ady, cf. Mary Beth Norton. In the Devil's Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Dec 18, 2007. p. 251; for Glanvill, cf., Ankarloo, Bengt and Henningsen, Gustav, ed. Early Modern European Witchcraft: Centres and Peripheries (1990). Oxford University Press. p. 431-3. - see also Wise, Paul Melvin, "Cotton Mathers's Wonders of the Invisible World: An Authoritative Edition" (2005). English Dissertations. Paper 5 - also available here) - actual skeptics would analyze the strengths and weaknesses of both of them. Ady did good work in countering religious bigotry, though his view could be modified in a minor way by Edmund Gurney's Notes on Witchcraft (Montague Summers' A History of Witchcraft and Demonology, an attempted argument for the reality of the phenomena, offers an interesting argument that I feel is somewhat bigoted that connects it to Spiritism).

The notes on Glanvill bring to mind something noted by Andreas Sommer, who discussed the continuous occupation with the occult among elite intellectuals in his May 13, 2014 article Enchanted Cambridge, "While modern popular science still often relies on traditional claims of the inherent incompatibility of science and the ‘miraculous’, current history of science scholarship has shown remarkably fluid boundaries between elite science and the ‘occult’. No location in Britain, and perhaps the whole Western hemisphere, is more apt to challenge popular standard notions of the alleged disenchantment of science than Cambridge." He noted of Glanvill's work, "At the end of the seventeenth century, early members of the Royal Society such as Ralph Cudworth at Emmanuel College and Henry More at Christ compiled natural histories of witchcraft, apparitions and poltergeist phenomena. With the support of Robert Boyle and other fellow Royal Society members, Henry More edited and substantially supplemented the crowning outcome of these endeavours, Joseph Glanvill’s posthumous Saducismus Triumphatus."

Wise notes on p. 325 of his aforementioned dissertation, "Cotton Mathers's Wonders of the Invisible World: An Authoritative Edition", that "Witchcraft was a serious topic of debate among members of the Royal Scientific Society of London, that prestigious organization into which Mather was eventually inducted. People concerned with witchcraft included Robert Boyle, Joseph Glanvill, and Isaac Newton, and many of these Royal Society confreres truly believed in witchcraft. In spite of the fact that many in the Royal Society tried to examine witchcraft scientifically, their Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, published since 1665, ignored the issue of witchcraft completely. The Transactions “carefully excluded the topics of God and the soul from its province” (Prior 183). Instead, they confined themselves to discussion about matters that could be empirically verified. Regardless of what these scientists may have said or written elsewhere about it, real debate over witchcraft was not taking place in the pages of the Transactions of the Royal Society, despite Royal Society fellow Joseph Glanvill’s suggestion in 1668 that the “SOCIETY” take up scientific study of “the LAND of SPIRITS [as] a kinde of AMERICA” (A Blow 115). "

It is interesting that while these people were proto-psychical researchers in their attempt to vindicate the Witchcraft belief, they were adherents of intellectual trends that would later fuel a 19th century anti-occultism. Initial trends were not like this at all - Sommer noted in his aforementioned article on "Enchanted Cambridge" about the frist proto-psychical researcher of the west, John Dee, "on the eve of the Scientific Revolution the famous natural philosopher and mathematician John Dee, a student at St. John’s and early fellow of Trinity College, conducted alchemical and astrological studies, and explored techniques for the communication with angelic beings."

This was in opposition to a general trend among educated proponents of supernaturalism, who were influenced by the church. Sommer noted in his thesis, pp. 24-27, "Whereas to engage directly in communion with disembodied spirits was strictly prohibited to Christians of any ilk, leading early members of the London Royal Society produced natural histories of apparitions, hauntings and poltergeist phenomena (i.e., physical phenomena supposedly worked by demons or impure spirits of the departed), diabolical possession and other supposed interventions from the spirit world.17 Joseph Glanvill’s (1636-1680) Saducismus Triumphatus (1681), for example, is a more or less systematic attempt to document otherworldly occurrences – witchcraft, apparitions and poltergeist cases.18 Other industrious collectors of spirit testimony during the first generation of the Royal Society were Ralph Cudworth (1617-1688) and, most importantly, Henry More (1614-1687), who edited and enlarged Glanvill’s posthumous Saducismus, and whose An Antidote to Atheism (More, [1653] 1662) and The Immortality of the Soul (More, [1659] 1662) likewise contain documentations of spirit intervention. The programmatic title of More’s Antidote nicely explicates the agenda of English natural philosophers conducting and publicising such investigations with the aim to convert the irreligious as well as ‘enthusiasts’ to what they insisted was the only true religion. By the formation of the London Royal Society in 1660, ‘enthusiasm’ had become a label widely used to blemish individuals or groups who claimed to receive private divine revelations, bypassing clerical and thus state authority.19 The title and subject matter of another book of More’s, Enthusiasmus Triumphatus; or, A Brief Discourse of The Nature, Causes, Kinds, and Cure of Enthusiasm ([1656] 1662) is hardly less programmatic than the Antidote to Atheism, opening as it does with a discussion of the “great Affinity and Correspondence betwixt Enthusiasm and Atheism” (pp. 1-2). Writings by early modern natural philosophers, who often combined the roles of cleric, politician and natural philosopher in one person, were replete with attacks on heresies like ‘atheism’, ‘enthusiasm’, ‘Hobbism’, ‘Epicurism’ and other worrying ‘superstitions’.20 While popular coffee-house materialism and atheism could not yet play a role in official intellectual or political discourse anywhere in Europe or the New World, mystic ‘enthusiasm’, along with other epistemic deviations did exist and clearly worried the ‘Christian virtuosi’,21 whose recollections of riots, wars and regicides caused by religious unrest and fanaticism were fresh in their memories.

Apart from materialist beliefs, it was particularly animistic or hylozoist notions of a ‘world soul’ [later suggested in works by psychical researchers such as FWH Myers and William Barrett], which were widely viewed as enthusiast aberrations threatening the Christian belief in the survival of the individual, rational soul after bodily death, and – most importantly – its immediate post-mortem reward or punishment in the afterlife by a watchful God.

Another (albeit not quite as ubiquitous) enemy of the ‘new mechanical philosophers’ in England was therefore Renaissance naturalism, which tended to share certain hylozoist notions with scholasticism and certain strands of ‘enthusiast’ (often pantheistic) beliefs by imbuing nature and matter with mental properties such as sentience, volition, sympathy, love and horror. Thus, in A Free Enquiry into the Vulgar Notion of Nature, Robert Boyle ([1686] 1725) complained: The looking upon merely corporeal, and often inanimate things, as endow’d with life, sense, and understanding; and ascribing to nature, and some other Beings, things that belong to God alone, have been grand causes of the polytheism and idolatry of the Gentiles (pp. 113-114).

Identifying ancient sun and moon worship as candidates for such blasphemous doctrines, and rebuking Hippocrates and Galen for deeming nature animated and inherently divine, Boyle also scolded adherents of the “Chinese religion”, the Stoics, and Aristotle’s “heathen disciples” (p. 115) who had called the works of God “the works of nature, and mention him and her together, not as creator and a creature, but as two co-ordinate governors”(p. 114).22 In France, Descartes (in a letter to Henry More) stated that he had refrained from developing an extreme form of voluntarism (i.e., the doctrine of God’s immediate interference in the course of nature) because he was worried to “be supporting the opinion of those who regard God as anima mundi, united to the matter of the world” (cited in Schaffer, 1985, p. 127, original italics).23

Regarding the theological-pedagogic function of a belief in disembodied minds, Robert Boyle expressed a sentiment common at the time: “To grant … that there are intelligent beings that are not ordinarily visible does much conduce to the reclaiming … of atheists”, since this would “help to enlarge the somewhat too narrow conceptions men are wont to have of the amplitude of the works of God” (cited in Shapin, 1998, p. 154). Boyle, who was involved in a survey of ‘second sight’ in Scotland (Hunter, 2001) and investigations of healers such as the Irishman Valentine Greatrakes (Breathnach, 1999; Shaw, 2006), therefore actively supported Glanvill’s and More’s programme and instigated, and wrote the preface to, the English edition of the report on a famous French ‘poltergeist’ case, the ‘Divell of Mascon’ (Perrault, [1653] 1658; Webster, 2005, pp. 92-93).24

According to a current consensus among historians working on early modern science and supernaturalism, ‘empirical eschatology’ in the service of social control and the new mechanical philosophy were thus closely interlinked. In fact, it is difficult to disagree with Philip Almond (1994), who observed that Judgement Day “became part of the new science” (p. 111)."

Sommer noted (pp. 28-29), "While earlier attacks on the belief in apparitions and witchcraft had tended to employ theological and natural-magic arguments rather than natural explanations (see 1.4), Thomas Hobbes, the persona non grata at the Royal Society, was among the first to offer a purely physiological account for reports of apparitional experiences, suggesting they were produced in the same manner, as when a man violently presseth his eye, there appears to him a light without, and before him, which no man perceiveth but himselfe; because there is indeed no such thing without him, but onely a motion in the interiour organs, pressing by resistance outward, that makes him think so (Hobbes, [1651] 1904, p. 472).

Men like Boyle, More, Cudworth and Glanvill sought to refute such arguments in the vein of Boylean public science, by preferably publishing cases that involved phenomena perceived collectively, carefully observed, and vouched for by witnesses of impeccable intellectual and personal integrity. Glanvill (1681) therefore believed he was justified to assert that “there are Spirits, who sometimes sensibly intermeddle in our affairs”, doing so “with clearness of evidence”, for the presented testimony for poltergeist phenomena, apparitions and witchcraft was not collected in the dark past, or at far distance, in an ignorant age, or among a barbarous people, they were not seen by two or three only of the Melancholick and Superstitious, and reported by those that made them serve the advantage and interest of a party. They were not the passages of a Day or Night, nor the vanishing glances of an Apparition; but these Transactions were near and late, publick, frequent, and of divers years continuance, witnessed by multitudes of competent and unbyassed Attestors, and acted in a searching incredulous Age: Arguments enough one would think to convince any modest and capable reason (Second Part, p. 62, original italics).

In a letter to Glanvill, Robert Boyle urged his colleague to take special care in obtaining evidence for ghostly goings-on, and to ensure that, at least, the main circumstances of the relation may be impartially delivered, and sufficiently verified . . . for we live in an age, and a place, wherein all stories of witchcrafts, or other magical feats, are by many, even of the wise, suspected; and by too many, that would pass for wits, derided and exploded.25

These efforts notwithstanding, the popularity of exercises in ‘empirical eschatology’ rapidly declined in the early eighteenth century on the backdrop of the horrors of the witch craze and continuing religious wars and unrest. The Catholic commercialization of the afterlife through letters of indulgence, sold to the wealthy to secure places in heaven, continued to outrage Protestant and other avowedly progressive religious as well as anti-religious figures. Natural histories of ghostly goings-on as compiled by Boyle, Glanvill and More were a thing of a dark past, having become the domain of Catholic apologists such as the French Benedictine scholar Dom Augustin Calmet (1672-1757) and ‘enthusiasts’ like the founder of Methodism, John Wesley (1703-1791).26 The pillars of rational Protestantism, on the other hand, were no longer grounded in miracles as evidence for an omnipotent God but on the supposed self-evidence of reason and its use as demanded by a rational and progressive divine watchmaker, who had created the world but did not interfere with his perfectly tuned clockwork. Rather than the still widely contested atheistic-materialistic accounts of human physiology particularly by French authors such as Paul-Henri Thiry d’Holbach (1723-1789), Denis Diderot (1713-1784) and Julien Offray de La Mettrie (1709-1751),27 it was the by now orthodox viewpoint of ‘rational Christianity’ – Deism, Latitudinarism and related variants – that was instrumental in the decline of the respectability of the ‘supernatural’ among enlightened elites. No longer required by the enlightened Christian mind, reports of supernatural occurrences were therefore laughed out of intellectual discourse as an infantile, inherently subversive and intellectually vulgar relict of a backward pagan past, and the only true proof of God was man’s possession of reason.28"

He noted in his thesis, p. 52, " faced by the new ‘enthusiasm’ of modern spiritualism, during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries professional alienists and medics sweepingly pathologised mediumship and occult belief, while retroactively transforming early modern critics of belief in witchcraft and demonic possession such as Johan Wier (1515-1588), John Webster (1610-1682) and Balthasar Bekker (1634-1698) into spokesmen of modern naturalistic nineteenth-century medicine and psychiatry.75 As authors like Patrick Vandermeersch (1991), Roy Porter (1999) and Hans de Waardt (2011) have observed, however, these portrayals blatantly ignore that these works almost exclusively relied on arguments and explanations not exactly conforming to modern medical views. One of the works routinely celebrated by nineteenth-century alienists, John Webster’s 1677 The Displaying of Witchcraft (which was mainly written as an attack on Glanvill)76, for instance, did not employ ‘natural’ explanations but relied on alchemical, natural magical and theological arguments to argue against a demonological interpretation of witchcraft, which Webster protested was blasphemy as it granted the devil too much power. Moreover, Webster did not deny that ‘miraculous’ phenomena occurred, for instance, in reported cases of demonic possession, but explained them in a Paracelsian manner through natural magic of the living. Also, his concerns were mainly directed against ‘enthusiasts’, whose visions and revelations he pathologised using a Galenic humoral framework. Moreover, as G. S. Rousseau observed, “medical doctors did not take up the cudgels for Webster: only preachers and other clerical types did, pouring forth a literature contra enthusiasm on grounds that it was but insanity in disguise” (Rousseau, 1980, p. 194)."

Sommer noted, in his thesis, p. 31, "While the Enlightenment doubtlessly saw major judicial advances regarding the prosecution of members of competing denominations, sweeping present-day claims about the Enlightenment as the great age of tolerance therefore need to be soundly qualified (see also Grell & Porter, 2000). As long as personal religion was based on ‘occult’ or ‘mystical’ experience, it was labelled as ‘enthusiastic’ and therefore deemed subversive and strictly undesirable, which is illustrated, e.g., by David Hume’s essay ‘Of Superstition and Enthusiasm’ ([1741] 1889), which to Hume constituted “the corruptions of true religion” and “two species of false religion” (p. 144). While “Weakness, fear, melancholy, together with ignorance” were “the true sources of Superstition” to Hume, “Hope, pride, presumption, a warm imagination, together with ignorance” were “the true sources of Enthusiasm” (p. 145). Followed by observations regarding abuse of clerical power through the encouragement of superstition, Hume admitted that the rejection of authority by ‘enthusiasts’ was closer to the ideal of liberty, but still lamented that “enthusiasm produces the most cruel disorders in human society” (p. 149). Hence, this text should be read in conjunction with Hume’s famous argument for the intrinsic fallibility of testimony for the occurrence of ‘miracles’ (Hume, [1748] 2007) – i.e., the kind of things investigated by Boyle, Glanvill and others at the end of the seventeenth century, and which formed the phenomenological standard repertoire of modern spiritualism in the nineteenth century –, and both need to be appreciated in their historical context.32

Though any empirical approach to the spirit realm was now intellectually taboo, the perceived importance of scripture-based afterlife beliefs for the stability of the social order and moral conduct continued to be stressed and defended by many Enlightenment thinkers such as Rousseau, Herder and Kant."

In Early Modern European Witchcraft, Centres and Peripheries by Bengt Ankarloo; Gustav Henningsen, Review by: Stephen Wilson, Social History, Vol. 16, No. 3 (Oct., 1991), pp. 367-370, on p. 367, Wilson notes that with the rise of Protestantism came a rejection of belief in saints, this is a possible origin of the trend of skepticism in paranormality.

Loxton's overall negative view of Mesmerism is countered within Crabtree's annotated bibliography on the subject and my commentary on that bibliography - he ignores the problems with the reliability of the commission that I highlighted, the fact that the commissioner Jussieu dissented, the fact that a subsequent commission validated mesmeric clairvoyance, and the fact that the world class prestidigitator of the time period, Robert Houdin, validated the somnambulist Alexis Didier's clairvoyance.

His mentions of Faraday ignore the fact that Faraday was biased - he would test Daniel Dunglas Home only if he (Home) denounced Spiritualism - and Faraday's table-turning tests were refuted by de Gasparin - having purportedly read Andrew Lang's "Cock Lane and Common Sense", Loxton would undoubtedly be aware of the chapter entitled "The Logic of Table Turning" which mentions this. It is important to note that Faraday's experiments did not relate to the phenomena they purported to test - Crabtree notes "666. Faraday, Michael. “Professor Farady on Table Moving.” The Athenaeum (London), No. 1340, (July 2, 1853): 801–803. In 1853 the fad of “table-moving” swept across the Atlantic from the United States and rapidly engulfed the whole of Britain and Europe. “Table-moving” consisted of gathering a number of people (often termed “sitters”) around a table and having them attempt to get the table to rotate or rise and fall without using physical force to do so. Techniques varied greatly. For example, the sitters might spread their hands on the table, joining little finger to little finger to form a continuous circle; or they might hold their hands above the table with little or no contact with it. The practice derived from the newly formed Spiritualist movement whose central belief was that spirits of the dead can communicate with the living. Spiritualists believed that the tables were moved by spirits, and when the tables would rise and fall, causing a leg to knock against the floor, they would discern spirits messages being tapped out in code for the benefit of the “sitters.” Others believed that the tables indeed did move, but that spirits were not involved; rather the physical effects were caused by some unknown force produced by the “sitters” (such as animal magnetic force, odic force, electrical force, etc.). Still others believed that no movement without physical force took place at all, and that table moving phenomena were either the result of self-deception or deliberate trickery. Since the fad had become so widespread and table moving was being attempted in many of the living rooms of the western world, a clamor arose for men of science to make a pronouncement on the reality of the phenomena. So it was that the physicist Michael Faraday, one of the most eminent scientists of the century, was persuaded to try some experiments and settle the matter “once and for all.” This Faraday did, making his findings known first in a letter to the editor of the London Times in the June 30, 1853 issue, then in more detail in the Athenaeum. Bringing together a group of people as “sitters” whom he considered to be honest and who enthusiastically believed they could move the tables, Faraday concluded that the tables move, if they move, simply as a result of “quasi-involuntary” muscular exertion on the part of the sitters. While believing they were merely pressing straight down on the table, the sitters unwittingly caused their hands, which were in contact with the table, to apply force in a uniform direction of motion. Faraday’s experiment was supposed to put the matter to rest, but it did not. Many protested that no general conclusions could be drawn from his very limited experiment, carried out using only one of many possible techniques. Faraday’s conclusions, for example, did not pertain to those purported cases of table moving with no physical contact. Nonetheless, Faraday’s reputation was such that virtually everyone who wrote about table-moving phenomena after him felt called upon to acknowledge his view and take a stand in relation to it. This early attempt to investigate the physical phenomena of spiritualism scientifically is an important milestone in the development of psychical research. The call for rational and controlled study of these experiences would grow in intensity over the next thirty years, contributing significantly to the founding in London in 1882 of the Society for Psychical Research. [H & P]":

He mentions the Lankaster and Donkin show trial of Henry Slade - certainly, for someone as apparently widely read as he, he would have been aware of the disputes between William Benjamin Carpenter and Alfred Russel Wallace, and that Wallace, in a review: Carpenter's "Mesmerism, Spiritualism, &c., Historically and Scientifically Considered", had a footnote demonstrating skulduggery on the part of the prosecutors of the trial - unless of course he only reads the books of bigots and antagonists to the subject. Unlike Home (the skeptic Peter Lamont's biography of Home demonstrates that his detractors have not proven fraud and have not made their case against him, and later on I provide information that Lamont overlooked), Slade cannot be easily defended, unless one defends him as a mixed medium. Nevertheless, many skeptics omit the fact that the world class prestidigitator Samuel Bellacinni claimed that the phenomena he witnessed from Slade, in full light, was genuine.

As for the opposition to this group to the "paranormal", the origins of this most likely lie with the sentiment attributed to the "leading biologist" in the already noted quote from The Will to Believe by William James - occasionally it does some good work, like James Randi's exposure of the phony faith healer Popoff. But this movement unfortunately obfuscates advances in frontier science).

Hasen (2000). Review of The Encyclopedia of the Paranormal by Gordon Stein (carries same significance as the above - it has an interesting passage that reads as follows: "Martin Gardner’s entry “Magic and Psi” is a mixed bag. He cites no references to any work since 1981, and he provides no historical perspective at all. But then, many of the most eminent magicians have endorsed the reality of psi--a fact that must discomfit Gardner. Further, he is not altogether accurate. For instance, he asserts that Conan Doyle “never asked Houdini or any other magician to attend a séance with him” (p. 381). It is widely known that Conan Doyle did indeed ask Houdini to attend, and in fact, editor Stein even wrote about that. This entry is noteworthy because it contains previously unpublished criticism that bears directly on a paper published in this Journal. Honorton (1993) reported observing Felicia Parise move a pill bottle via PK. At some point, Honorton told Gardner that Parise could not have been using a thread because the bottle moved away from her. Honorton’s assertion is devastating to any presumption of his competence to observe putative macro-PK. I have no doubt that Gardner is telling the truth here, because in 1984, a decade after the incident, Honorton told me the very same thing he told Gardner. Honorton was emotionally taken with what he saw, and he never made any attempt to learn how a magician could accomplish the feat using a thread." Gardner's statements regarding Honorton are thus speculative, but Hansen in his skepticism seems to overlook the greater difficulty of moving it forward (and not being noticed), than moving it backward. He also neglects to mention the scope of the findings with Parise, as enunciated in The Power of the Mind (Chilton Book Co., 1975) by Susy Smith, chapter 27:

"In Parapsychology Review4 I read the following:

One evening, the two classes had a joint meeting in order to see a film showing psychokinesis by Felicia Parise. This demonstration was filmed by a skeptical photographer and witnessed by Charles Honorton. After the area was thoroughly examined, the photographer had to believe what he saw. Felicia Parise moved a plastic pill box on a table a few inches. Under a very heavy bell jar, she was able to cause a cork to roll and strips of aluminum foil to flutter. This ten minute film took her many hours to produce and proved very enervating. She had to rest between attempts. Her hands hovered over the object and she said the sensation was like pitching. When she finished she couldn't move her arm, it was too painful. At another time, they tested her physical reaction during an experiment. She lost two pounds, during a 40-minute session, her blood pressure was affected, blood sugar rose, and her heart rate increased. She claimed that she performs best when under personal stress.

For the following week, we were told to bring a compass to class. No one in the class could move the needle but we watched Felicia Parise move it a few degrees on three different compasses. She no longer attempts PK, except every once in a while to see if she still has the ability."

In Mysterious Minds, p. 74 we have a description of the precautions Honorton took, and we can see that the attempts to castigate him as credulous by Gardner are therefore without merit.

More significantly, Stanley Krippner, who is regarded as having been "duped" by critics given his endorsement of Nina Kulagina, argues against critics that she engaged in fraud, argues and provides evidence of misrepresentation concerning this issue from Martin Gardner, in ch. 2 of Human Possibilities: Mind Exploration in the U. S. S. R. and Eastern Europe (Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1980). Krippner there also defends Felicia Parise.

Similar misinformation has persisted about Stanislaw Tomzynck. As regards Tomczyk's phenomena - the magician William S. Marriott claimed to have exposed and replicated Tomczyk's levitation of a glass beaker in 1910 by by means of a hidden thread (Pearson's Magazine. June 1910. C. Arthur Pearson Ltd. p. 615). However, Harry Price, who knew Marriott (Harry Price. Fifty Years of Psychical Research. (Kessinger Publishing, 2003). ISBN 978-0766142428, p. 208), wrote of Tomczyk's phenomena: "Another medium (non professional) who produced telekinetic phenomena of unquestionalble genuineness was Stanislawa Tomczyk, a young Polish girl" (ibid., p. 76). Eric Dingwall also wrote positively of the work with Tomczyk, writing: "Even if in England we have failed to realise the importance of Dr. von Schrenck-Notzing's contribution (I), in Germany the attacks made upon it reflect great credit upon its author. For the truth is that it is by far the most important work on telekinesis since the S.P.R. Report on Palladino or Dr. Ochorowicz's observations on Mile T." (Eric Dingwall. Telekinetic And Teleplastic Mediumship. Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research. Volume 34 (1924), pp. 324-322). The descriptions of the Tomczyk experiments by psychical researchers reveal conditions precluding Marriott's attempted replication by means of trickery. Charles Richet wrote of the experiments with Tomczyk: "J. Ochorowicz has studied telekinesis with great care through the powerful mediumship of a young Polish girl, Stanislawa Tomczyk. I have myself been present at several experiments with her that seemed quite conclusive. The illustrations (Figs. 11-13) show some of the photographs taken.Small objects-a ball, a handbell, a needle-are drawn towards the medium and maintained in the air long enough for a photograph to be taken even in a moderate light. It cannot be supposed that these objects are held up by a thread, for a ball cannot be balanced on a thread, which would, moreover, appear in the photograph. Stanislawa turns up her sleeves to the elbow, washes her hands in soap and warm water, after which her hands remain always in full view. A commission at Warsaw composed of physicians, physiologists, and engineers carefully verified these facts and despite the furious opposition of Professor Cybulskii, who denied the facts while declining to examine them, certified to their entire authenticity. In telekinesis with small objects even in full light, fraud is always possible if the observers are not fully vigilant; for such small objects may be displaced by a thread. Ochorowicz has worked out this question in his experiments with Miss Tomczyk. There are cases in which the object is moved without any thread, and others in which a thread does appear; but this thread is not the hair or fine wire of a conjuring trick, it is a fluidic thread. "I have felt," says Ochorowicz, "this thread on my hand, on my face, on my hair. When the medium separates her hands, the thread gets thinner and disappears; it gives the same sensation as a spider's web. If it is cut with scissors its continuity is immediately restored (p. 262). It seems to be formed of points; it can be photographed and is then seen to be much thinner than an ordinary thread. It starts from the fingers. Needless to remark that the hands of the medium were very carefully examined before every experiment" (A.S.P., 1910, xx, 208). Ochorowicz cites a curious observation made by the Chevalier Peretti with Eusapia at Genoa. A glass having been raised by Eusapia without contact, she cried out, "The thread, look at the thread." Peretti took the thread and pulled it; it broke and suddenly disappeared. This "fluidic thread" should be compared with the fluidic emanations from Marthe Béraud. The minute details given by Ochorowicz should be carefully studied. Instead of quoting the experiments by Ochorowicz, I will cite those by the Warsaw Committee (A.S.P., 1910, xx, 37) A celluloid ball, 6 cm. in diameter, was placed in full light on a dynamometer. S. placed her hands two or three centimetres from it and the ball began to roll off the dynamometer on to the table. S. ordered it to return, which it did. There was then another movement. In a second experiment the ball was screened by a large celluloid funnel, but the movement was still produced. The committee state that the facts are certain, but incomprehensible. Incomprehensible? So be it!" (Charles Richet. Thirty Years of Psychical Research. (Kessinger Publishing, 2003). ISBN 978-0766142190, pp. 424-427)

Hereward Carrington wrote of the experiments with Tomczyk: "In the Annals of Psychic Science, April, July, and October 1909, Dr. J. Ochorowicz published the results of his careful experiments with this remarkable young Polish medium——many of them being subsequently confirmed by a committee of scientists. The medium displayed remarkable telekinetic power, being enabled to move objects by placing her hands over or near them. 'Psychic threads' seemed to run from her finger-tips, by means of which the objects in question were moved or levitated. The question naturally arose as to whether these threads might not be material. This Ochorowicz seemingly disproved (1) by passing rods between the object and the fingertips, and (2) by photographing the levitation in situ, and throwing an enlargement of this photograph upon a screen, when it was found that no 'threads' were visible in the enlargement, whereas real threads, however fine in character, became visible. He obtained impressions of hands upon photographic plates and upon films——the latter rolled up and sealed in a glass bottle! These hands were quite different in size and general characteristics from those of the medium. He also succeeded in obtaining a curious photograph of 'Little Stasia,' the medium's control, when neither he nor the medium were in the room. Numerous other photographs were observed, recorded, and photographed. I have given a summary of these experiments in my Problems of Psychical Research, pp. 36-50, so we need not unduly expand upon them here. I need only add that Dr. Ochorowicz is the author of that remarkable book Mental Suggestion, and was referred to by Prof. Charles Richet as 'an exceptionally careful and cautious investigator.' His results have never been explained, and are profoundly interesting laboratory experiments." (Hereward Carrington. Laboratory Investigations into Psychic Phenomena. (Kessinger Publishing, 2007). ISBN 978-0548097182, pp. 106-107)

McVaugh (1977). Review of "Natural and Supernatural: A History of the Paranormal from Earliest Times to 1914" by Brian Inglis (positive review of Brian Inglis' classic text in the British Journal for the History of Science - states: "the result is implictly a partisan account, but it is well worth the historian's while to have a detailed presentation of the accumulated evidence as it has won over psychical researchers. Inglis's use of the term 'paradigm' is a self-conscious one; he cites T. S. Kuhn to explain why orthodox scientists have chosen to ignore or to disdain the evidence he sets forth. But it is also true that a reader of Inglis's book will acquire an excellent understanding of the frame of mind of the informed psychical researcher in the early twentieth century". Inglis spent much time near the end of his life opposing orthodoxy - one area in which he focused his attention was fringe medicine and opposition to orthodox medicine - this aroused the attention of spokespersons for orthodoxy who cited "errors" in his work - but, and this is crucial, the crux of his argument was that the concepts he wrote of in this area were wrong - they did not demonstrate that he misrepresented the source literature. In contrast, the key critics we will be dealing with here build their case on misrepresentations of the source literature. Inglis as an outspoken advocate of psychic research attracted criticism from opponents of the field - the most serious sounding one is meaningless - it is by John Taylor, opposing him for suggesting that physics may discover new forces that could explain psychic phenomena. For the other criticisms, it is important to consider them in light of Inglis' rebuttals to them as they appeared in the correspondence section of the journal of the society for psychical research.

Inglis does provide a partisan account in this text, and I recommend balancing it against more conservative commentators like Alan Gauld, and skeptics with a mastery of the literature and no a priori antagonism who are nevertheless deeply critical, like Frank Podmore and Harry Price and Eric Dingwall. Nevertheless, it is very useful for people who want a positive assessment of the evidence, to start out with.

In Psychic Phenomena and the Mind–Body Problem: Historical Notes on a Neglected Conceptual Tradition (2012 - see below), Carlos Alvarado cites (on p. 36) this text as a source regarding the occurrence of psychic phenomena since ancient times.

The version of the text I will be citing is the 2012 edition from the Spiritualist publisher White Crow books, however, it was originally published in London in 1977 by the publisher Hodder and Stoughton. Those who desire the annotated version can consult the edition from Prism Pr Ltd; Rev Sub edition (July 1992))

Grattan-Guinness (1985). Review of "Science and parascience. A history of the paranormal, 1914–1939." by Brian Inglis (positive review in the British Journal for the History of Science. See also Alvarado (1985). Review of "Science and Parascience: A History of the Paranormal from 1914-1939" by Brian Inglis)

Spence (1920). An encyclopædia of occultism; a compendium of information.

Fodor (1966). Encyclopedia of Psychic Science

Kelley et al (2015). Beyond Physicalism Supplement.

Zorab (1957). Bibliography of Parapsychology.

Kelley et al (2010). Introductory Bibliography of Psychical Research.

McLuhan (no date). Fraud in psi research.

Hansen (1990). Deception by Subjects in Psi Research.

Hansen (1990). Magicians Who Endorsed Psychic Phenomena. (controversy has arisen over this article because it notes that Proskauer, otherwise an entrenched counter-advocate, admitted “there have been some inexplicable phenomena during seances.” The fact is that, whatever attacks Proskauer may have made in his work, he contradicts them with this statement, as it demonstrates rejection of the null hypothesis, that the phenomena are explainable as fraud and delusion)

Stevenson (1990). Thoughts on the Decline of Major Paranormal Phenomena.

Braude (1993). Fear of Psi Revisited or It's the Thought that Counts.