NPJ Book Review: Critical Reflections on the Paranormal, Eds, Michael Stoeber and Hugo Meynell

Michael Stoeber and Hugo Meynell, Editors (1996)

Gathering dust on my shelf I decided to reread this slender scholarly work. Though studied by academics since the late 1800s with the founding of the Society for Psychical Research in London in 1882 and in the United States in 1885, the critical study of the paranormal has consistently drawn controversial observations regardless of the legitimacy of the studies. This collection of essays is a fascinating and thought-provoking introduction to the paranormal applied by scholars with academic rigor in their evaluation and quest for clarity.

Further, it should be noted that to interpret and systematize the phenomena associated with the paranormal such as extrasensory perception, telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, psychokinesis or telekinesis and mediumistic communications the contributors touch upon both upon the receiving subject and on the agent.

Deciphering what’s factual and what evidence might falsify one’s hypothesis should be kept in mind in Meynell’s opening chapter, On Investigation of the So-Called Paranormal. Meynell states that he intends to do two things: “To consider what is the proper way of investigating those actual and alleged phenomena which are often labeled ‘paranormal’ and to inquire about the bearing of such phenomena as the question of life after death.” The reading may appear complex but is readily digestible with a decidedly strong case for a class of experiences called paranormal.

In the next chapter, Donald Evans writes about Parapsychology: Merits and Limits. This is very well-reasoned and researched article that takes the reader through the process of determining the merits and limits of paranormal study.

David Ray Griffin writes about, Why Critical Reflection on the Paranormal is so important – and so difficult. He quotes William James, “The great field for new discoveries,” said a scientific friend to me the other day, “is always the unclassified residuum.” No part of the unclassified residuum has usually been treated with a more contemptuous disregard than the mass phenomena generally called “Mystical” (by which James meant phenomena now generally called paranormal). The author discusses the challenges and  development of a postmodern worldview that moves beyond both science and religion.

Terence Penelhum writes about Reflections on Incorporeal Agency. The author who has written numerous religious and philosophical studies like the other writers in this book takes intellectual care in his pursuit and arguments while exposing the reader to his frank thoughts about what we think we know. I once read his work on Survival and the Disembodied Existence and he is thorough. And reflecting on incorporeal agency his concern is indeed on incorporeality not eternity. It’s a relatively short essay that makes this reader want to know more while being mindful of the existence that I’m experiencing.

Susan j. Armstrong writes about Souls in Process: A Theoretical Inquiry into Animal PSI. This is a study from a Christian point of view, about animal psi from a receptive perspective and the author offers both anecdotal and empirical observations about the instinctual processes animals effectively use to determine where they are. Of all the studies in this book this is the most theoretical but would be of interest to those with a Christian persuasion.

Heather bottling writes about Medico-Scientific Assumptions Regarding Paradeath Phenomena: Explanation or Obfuscation? A wordy title but a very readable and articulate  essay that concisely reviews the deviations in the experiences of dying individuals while seeking a scientific and open-ended model to better understand the process and experience of what happens during the final moments of life and the moments afterward.

Stephen Braude writes about Postmortem Survival: The State of the Debate. This is a review of the literature on postmortem survival and the author discusses the challenges of measuring and distinguishing between extraordinary events and the Para-normal (which are fewer in number), given that the quest for understanding life after death has been going on since primitive man, which includes reincarnation. “The evidence for survival is only part of the total body of evidence in parapsychology, and the Para-psychological evidence is but part of the larger tapestry of psychology (and probably of psychopathology).”

James Horne writes about the Morality of Parapsychology. The final study is a discussion about the process and people investigating the paranormal. It addresses concerns about false and unwarranted beliefs and purposefully misleading that shouldn’t be confused with those who conduct their work bringing with them the rigors of scholarship while knowing their research may birth greater uncertainty in the areas of  religious belief and pure science.