Comments by Utrecht II Conference Attendees
For post-conference comments by Lisette Coly click here.
Dr. Jeanne Achterberg
Utrecht II was a special occasion and honor. My interest in parapsychology is about 60 years old (yes, ’tis true), has been kept a professional secret of necessity, and to be able and asked to attend this conference was a reward of a culmination of decades of interest. My prescient dreams as a kid informed me of an expanded version of reality. Stan Krippner and Larry Dossey know this about me, and I think the two of them recommended that I be included in your conference.
As a fairly non-conscious teenager, I applied to Duke to work with Rhine in 1960 (the only academically related program in existence in parapsych) and was rejected because my math credentials were deficient. Went on to study very traditional psychology and physiology, thanks to the Fates. So Utrecht II was COMING HOME. Thanks to all of you. I felt warmly included, met old friends and made new ones. Hope the collaboration continues forever. [Photo taken by Emel Sebuktekin]
I have already had the opportunity review the Utrecht II Conference on http://www.publicparapsychology.org which outlined some critical points on the organization both of the parapsychological field and of the congress. These critical aspects were my contribution to thoughts about what a next congress might be, but from the rather naïve point of view of a newcomer in the field. I had not detailed the contents of the conference, namely what I had appreciated in each session. This space allocated by the PF will allow me to sketch certain reflections that were prompted by my gratitude for having the opportunity to “have been there.”
At first, I really liked discovering the city of Utrecht and its Institute of Parapsychology that hosted a formidable reception. I will always remember having shared my modest hotel with Professor Vassy of Budapest. The differences of states and countries disappeared behind our interests, even passions. Names became faces, and sometimes future co-workers. The languages became abundantly entangled with the desire to understand each other. The numerous periods of informal discussion allowed us to take the measure of a multi-faceted domain. Many of these exchanges ended in projects for future individual collaborations. It made me feel the extent to which each could bring to the other, because even a young French student could be the conduit of ideas and expected resources. And at the same time there were so many brilliant academic researchers, whom we could only admire, because of the rigor of their approach in contrast to the marginality of their subject.
For every session, I took numerous notes because I was always learning things. Every presentation seemed at first very introductory, but there were always some personal subtleties. Bizarrely, on the same experimental base, through more or less well-done descriptions, two researchers could still argue for contradictory positions. It is strange to see this lack of strong consensus in so small a contingent of researchers. But it is also representative of positive aspects of the research in parapsychology: creativity, exploration, humility.
My best memory was the morning of Friday, the 17th when we were in the same room of the University of Utrecht in which the congress of 1953 was held. Carlos Alvarado’s historic narrative, coupled with the unique videos of the first congress, made us travel back in time. I made every effort, as did others, to shout the names of peoples on the screen who I recognized. As I have not been able to see these images again, they still continue to haunt me. The spirit of the congress of 1953 was reincarnated thanks to the tribute of 2008. I regret, though, that this new congress had no similar practical consequences, but maybe there is less to do now at the institutional level and maybe more in the way of disciplinary introspection.
The paper given by Professor Walach, followed by several comments on theories in parapsychology, seemed to me to be the peak of this congress. A crucial choice remains to be made in the definition of psi phenomena, in a representation of these phenomena which would indeed be below what we desire but still a little beyond our expectations. The idea of the death of a certain type of parapsychology awoke in me the same thoughts, that this situation is fundamentally linked to the lack of consensus. Charting the future could be, once again, to put all our efforts back into the work, by developing creative experiments designed to test predictive models, by investigating a non-classical epistemology, and by showing humility about what advances we have already made. [Photo taken by Nancy Zingrone]
J’ai déjà eu l’occasion de faire une recension à propos du congrès d’Utrecht qui soulignait quelques points critiques dans l’organisation à la fois du champ parapsychologique et du congrès lui-même. Ces aspects critiques formaient ma contribution pour penser un prochain congrès, en partant du point de vue assez naïf d’un nouveau venu dans le champ. Je n’avais pas détaillé le fond du colloque, à savoir ce que j’avais apprécié dans chaque intervention. La tribune tendue par la PF me permettra d’esquisser certaines réflexions qui me sont parvenues grâce à la possibilité qui me fut offerte « d’en être ».
D’abord, j’ai vraiment aimé découvrir la ville d’Utrecht et son Institut de parapsychologie qui permirent un accueil formidable. Je me souviendrais toujours d’avoir partagé mon modeste hôtel avec le professeur Vassy de Budapest. Les différences de statuts et de pays disparaissaient derrière l’intérêt commun voire la passion. Des noms devenaient des visages, voir des futurs collaborateurs. Les langues s’entremêlaient abondamment avec le désir de pouvoir se comprendre l‘un l‘autre. Les nombreuses périodes de discussion informelle permirent de prendre la mesure d’un domaine multi-facette. Beaucoup de ces échanges se sont conclus par des projets de collaborations à titre individuel. Cela m’a fait sentir à quel point chacun pouvait apporter à l’autre, car même un jeune étudiant français pouvait se faire le relais d’idées et de ressources attendues ailleurs. Et en même temps il y avait tant de chercheurs brillants, parfois universitaires, dont on ne pouvait qu’admirer la rigueur de l’approche qui contrastait avec la marginalité de leur objet.
Pour chaque intervention, j’ai pris de nombreuses notes car j’apprenais toujours des choses. Chaque présentation paraissait d’abord très introductive, mais il y avait toujours quelques subtilités personnelles. Bizarrement, sur une même base expérimentale, plus ou moins bien décrite, deux chercheurs pouvant argumenter sur des positions contradictoires. C’est un étrange spectacle que de voir si peu de consensus chez un si petit contingent de chercheurs, mais c’est aussi représentatif d’aspects positifs de la recherche en parapsychologie : créativité, exploration, humilité.
Mon meilleur souvenir reste la matinée du vendredi 17 où nous étions dans la même salle de l’Université d’Utrecht que pour le congrès de 1953. Le récit historique de Carlos Alvarado, joint aux images vidéos uniques du premier congrès, nous firent voyager dans le temps. Je m’évertuais, comme d’autres, à crier les noms des figures que je reconnaissais. N’ayant pas pu revoir ces images, elles continuent encore à me hanter. L’esprit du congrès de 1953 se réincarnait grâce à l’hommage de 2008. J’ai pu regretter que ce nouveau congrès n’ait pas eu de semblables conséquences pratiques, mais peut-être qu’il y a moins maintenant à faire au niveau institutionnel et plus dans une introspection disciplinaire.
L’intervention de Walach, suivie de plusieurs commentaires sur les théories en parapsychologie, m’ont semblé constituer le sommet de ce congrès. Un choix crucial restait à faire dans la définition du phénomène psi, dans une représentation à avoir de ces phénomènes qui seraient bien en-deçà de nos désirs et un peu au-delà de nos espérances. L’idée de la mort d’une certaine parapsychologie réveillait les mêmes valeurs qui me semblaient fondamentalement émergées du fait d’un manque de consensus. Le challenge du futur pourrait être de remettre encore une fois tout à l’ouvrage, en développant des pistes créatives d’expérimentations orientées vers le test de modèles prédictifs, en explorant des épistémologies non-classiques, et en faisant preuve d’humilité quant aux avancées véritablement acquises.
Prof. Dr. Brian Josephson
I do not attend psi conferences that often, but it seems to me that there was a different attitude here, in that the paradigm has generally moved on from materialism/objective description. One speaker mentioned how one formed a more comprehensive view, analogous to stereopsis, by combining a number of perspectives. Also, Van de Castle spoke of psi involving not just the people concerned but the “cosmic ocean,” while Walach spoke of psi involving connections between the individual and the whole, and the consequent for a more spiritual view. To me, this means that the subject is “moving on.” [Photo taken by Carlos Alvarado]
Thank you for a good conference. I enjoyed it.
Through talking with participants, I found that many researchers do not have an important concept. It is the concept "bio-sensor." They seemed to have only two concepts of physical sensors and consciousness sensors. Physical devices are not sensitive for psychic power, at least now, and also our consciousness is not sensitive. But our bodies are very sensitive for psychic power. Therefore, we can obtain good results in the presentiment, staring and healing experiments. Our bodies, animals, plants, living tissues and cells are sensitive for psi. Our body is a kind of bio-sensor. I would suggest you discuss the studies from view points of the technology of sensing (detecting). You will find that some successful experiments are designed using bio-sensors such as our body, cells and plants. [Photo taken by Nancy Zingrone]
Prof. Peter Mulacz
With the additional flavour of the particular atmosphere fifty-five years after Utrecht I, I found it one of the very best conferences I have ever taken part in. Big thanks go to the organizers! Meeting Mrs. C. was also something very special
To a certain extent this conference was, so to speak, Janus-headed, looking into the past and into the future at the same time. I enjoyed particularly the movies (including those shown by Wim Kramer outside the official programme).
What is learned from this conference is that we scientists with different backgrounds need to cooperate in an interdisciplinary way to further the field. One of the most important remarks was at the very end of the conference and thereby going almost unnoticed the statement by Wendy Cousins that there are so many other fields that are of importance for parapsychological research besides physics and psychology that were quoted ad nauseam. I for one can only emphasize this and point at fields such as biology and neurosciences (particularly biology as paranormal phenomena that occur in the context of organisms). This should be a step to overcome the present “dichotomy” physics vs. psychology; I believe what is needed are different avenues of approach as neither physics nor psychology alone can provide the adequate framework appropriate to parapsychology.
A more systemic view has from different viewpoints been addressed by various speakers, a development which I rate very important. WQT which Harald Walach had already presented on a previous occasion may turn out to be a step into the right direction.
To me, it is not an either/or when Deborah Delanoy balanced “free” vs. university based research; we rather need both of them as either of them has its own merits and advantages.
Hoyt Edge’s rather provocative paper meant food for thought. The importance of ASC can hardly be overestimated altough I have the feeling that the important thing is reaching a state of ASC, and I agree with the emphasis placed on dreams by Robert Van de Castle. The clinical aspects of parapsychology are moving into the foreground of our attention, and this is well justified.
At the end time ran out. There were interesting questions coming up in the final session that could no more be discussed. Never mind, there will be another convention
Altogether, it was a very stimulating conference. One final comment: Chris Roe did not only do a very good job as a moderator, his summation of the conference was but excellent. [Photo taken by Nancy Zingrone]
It is always much more enjoyable to experience a conference in a setting that promotes an informal, stimulating environment, conducive to maintaining interest and concentration. For me Utrecht achieved this with the peaceful setting of a concealed church and the original meeting room of the first congress. I was amazed to discover that a black and white film from the original congress had been recovered just before the conference, which was subsequently shared with UII attendees. This film was viewed in fond remembrance and admiration of prominent scholars’ achievements in the field and resulted in a “Guess Who” session whereby everyone identified the original attendees and shouted out their names as they were watched on the film arriving into Utrecht and descending from the plane.
I’m glad I had the opportunity to meet researchers from different countries with different perspectives and it was reassuring, for me, to meet clinical psychologists with an interest in anomalous phenomena. I came away with a reignited interest in clinical parapsychology and a motivation to develop this further in the future. Discussions around the need for educational material, institutional collaboration, multi-disciplinary working, and committee groups were also encouraging. In this respect it was a shame that working groups were not part of the programme. Hopefully, parapsychology conferences might be able to incorporate this in the future. From discussions on the need to publish research, in particular conference papers, I also realised the importance of sharing our knowledge with the public, with the emphasis being on making our findings more accessible and inclusive. Similarly, discussions around needing clarification of terminology, classification systems, and definitions seem to be a constant theme on the agenda, and one which will easily be resolved by democratic, proactive discussion. In addition, if we are to take heed of the experimenter effect then maybe we should not automatically be cynical of the media! The conference also made me wonder whether British parapsychology may benefit from establishing a section within the British Psychological Society as a way to encourage cross-institutional collaboration, the exchange of ideas, and dispel misinformed beliefs about parapsychology.
I’d like to thank the Parapsychology Foundation for my invitation and for their hospitality at the event and congratulate all involved for encouraging inspiration on the way to progress. [Photo taken by Nancy Zingrone]
Dr. Richard Shoup
I thought it was a very good conference, with some hills and valleys, but well put together and run. I enjoyed meeting and re-meeting folks in the parapsychology community, especially the Colys, daughter and granddaughter of Eileen Garrett. [Photo taken by Fabio da Silva]
Dr. Christine Simmonds-Moore
Although, I felt that on the whole, the conference was not overtly saying anything brand new, there was a sense of something new and exciting bubbling under the surface. As a result of attending and participating in the conference, I feel very much part of something alive and evolving. I would summarise the exciting (potential) shifts as
1. To me, it is clear that parapsychology is becoming/or should be more accepted as an applied discipline which has relevance to a variety of normal (applied) areas. This seems to be particularly the case for mental health (as clinical parapsychology, perhaps represented as exceptional human experiences as suggested by Martina Belz). In addition, parapsychology also has considerable relevance to physical health (in alternative therapies and healing research, e.g., as described by Jean Achterberg). For example, the placebo effect may well be important in some instances of psychic healing (e.g., Achterberg noted that the ‘placebo’ area of the brain was more activated during healing). This is exciting as it directly relates back to “normal” health and normal psychology, although it could also relate to the study of religious and transpersonal experiences where belief can drive miraculous healing (and other) experiences. It seems important to explore how the mind interacts with the body, as well as further exploring anomalous intentional effects (i.e., beyond one’s own body).
One obvious next step is to explore more fully the overlaps between parapsychology and health/mental health research. This might eventually highlight techniques for explicit manipulation of tendencies to experience (unwanted/desired) anomalies (for example by manipulating boundary thinness), which might be important for mental and physical health.
In depth exploration would be possible in the context of a focused conference or working group which would explore cross disciplinary approaches to health and mental health (between parapsychology, health, religion, transpersonal psychology, clinical psychology), the development of insight into health and mental health and the development of future research and applications.
I have recently proposed a conference focusing on these topics to Liverpool Hope university who are very supportive of the idea.
The idea of ‘working groups’ could also apply to other areas within parapsychology, e.g., those working on theoretical physics, which would allow for further development of these sub-disciplines. A larger conference might then include a feedback of developments within sub disciplines.
2. It is also the case that the field of parapsychology already has its feet in many “normal” camps. It is clear that this should be developed and promoted more fully in terms of the reputation of parapsychology as a scientific and rational discipline with many findings which are useful for normal science.
This is clearly the case for research methods courses and the aptitude for parapsychologists in experimental design and critical thinking (e.g., as an area of expertise within universities). In addition, the fact that the correlates of psi are similar to many correlates of the processes whereby we process other weak stimuli should be promoted, and perhaps more work done where we study parapsychology by adapting well established mainstream psychological experiments, and in so doing normalizing psi research. This also seemed to be the case for physics – whereby models of reality from a physics perspective can encompass many (if not all ‘psi’ phenomena).
3. At Utrecht II there was a unique sense of being part of a community. I think this was because disparate groups within parapsychology were trying to find common ground and connect/communicate with one another as a field in contrast to a ‘normal’ conference which is more of a ‘slice’ of current research in parapsychology/consciousness research. [Photo taken by Brian Josephson]
Dr. Robert Van De Castle
I was very impressed with the U2 conference and the obvious efforts it took to create and orchestrate it. It was wonderful to have a sense of connection with senior members who had attended half a century ago and at the same venue to hear the enthusiasm and excitement of younger professionals who are incorporating the latest technology into their explorations of the psi realm. What was particularly meaningful was to bask in the warm "family feelings" that were generated because relatives from all over the globe were there to share their findings and speculation in such an open-hearted fashion. The conceptual stretch of having one foot planted firmly in the past through interacting with our elders in a setting that was the identical one to where parapsychology was so dramatically showcased so many years ago in Utrecht, and simultaneously have the other foot poised to spring forth toward the exploration of novel concepts by new family members was an incredibly enriching stretch for me. I’m very grateful that I was able to have a seat at this sumptuous banquet. [Photo taken by Roger Nelson]
Prof. Dr. Donald J. West
I found the Utrecht conference thoughtfully organised and smoothly managed. Given the limited size of the parapsychological community the conference had a pleasantly intimate quality. I was much appreciative of being invited as it was for me an opportunity to meet with people I had not seen for many years and to remember pioneers, like Rhine, Murphy and Pratt, who were my friends.
The discussions brought home to me the great changes that have taken place since 1940, when the Duke researchers published ESP After Sixty Years and could declare that experimentation had shown that ESP occurs. Sadly that conclusion has still not won general acceptance. The substantial and straightforward effects once obtainable with simple card-guessing procedures have been mostly replaced by tiny and more elusive anomalies. It is suggested that results depend upon subtle interactions of thought between experimenters and subjects. On the other hand, new vistas have opened up, such as presentiment effects, effects transmitted through unconscious physiological responses, and biological effects, notably healing influenced by distant prayer or by alternative medical procedures that have a paranormal element. Near death experiences have become the object of scientific study and mediumistic clairvoyance tested and evaluated more rigorously. In short, the scope for research has widened and become more difficult but more exciting. Contrary to critics who say nothing has emerged in 100 years, parapsychology is expanding. [Photo taken by Nancy Zingrone]