Thursday, September 06, 2007

Review of The Gift

Research in parapsychology has tended to follow at least two different avenues of exploration. Many researchers have continued the work of J.B. Rhine by using applied statistics and experimental controls to study ESP in the lab. Others have followed in the tradition of Louisa Rhine, collecting and analyzing the reported spontaneous ESP experiences of people in everyday life. Through decades of research, both methods have yielded clues to solve the mystery of ESP and how it works. Yet as much as the Rhines had hoped that these differing methods would compliment one another, it is sometimes difficult for researchers of these different methods to enter into dialogue with one another.

Dr. Sally Rhine Feather wears many hats. She is an experimental and clinical psychologist, a director of the Rhine Research Center, a wife, a friend, a mother, and the daughter of the late J.B. and Louisa Rhine. If we could expect anyone to create a constructive dialogue between the experimental and case research methods, it would be her. With the assistance of Michael Schmicker, author of Best Evidence, Feather has created a personal and provocative book that rises to this challenge.

At first glance, it looks like The Gift: ESP, the Extraordinary Experiences of Ordinary People might be concerned only with case research. Indeed the majority of these pages contain accounts of people’s spontaneous ESP experiences in their own words. These experiences are clustered around several different themes, such as premonitions about death and disasters, ESP between people who are romantically involved, the ESP of mothers and children, and so on. There is also a unique chapter on the premonitions surrounding the terrorist attacks on September 11th, as well as a chapter discussing the inevitability (or not) of fate. Feather does not rely entirely on the Rhine Research Center’s extensive collection of self-reported experiences for the material in The Gift. Sometimes she provides experiences as related to her colleagues or excerpts from her mother’s journal. Sometimes pseudonymous characters are introduced, and the variety of their experiences emerges at different points throughout the book.

Feather is not concerned with arguing about the reality of ESP. Within the first chapter, she states “there is ample evidence that it exists” (p. 17). Rather, she frames the case material with discussions of what parapsychologists have learned about the relationship between ESP performance and variables such as IQ, gender, age, personality, states of consciousness, and personal belief. When Feather is not discussing laboratory research, she contributes her own perspective while speaking from under one of her many hats. This creates a cohesive whole out of the personal, the anecdotal, and the empirical facets of the phenomena under study.

The result is an excellent introduction for general audiences to ESP phenomena as well as the field that studies it. At the end of the book, there are additional resources for individuals who might wish to learn more. The Gift: ESP, the Extraordinary Experiences of Ordinary People could serve as a prequel to any of the excellent introductory texts that are recommended in its final pages. However, parapsychologists and lay readers will still enjoy reading about these extraordinary experiences as well as reviewing the history of the field from an insider’s point of view.

This review previously appeared in:
Ventola, A. (2006). [Review of the book The gift: ESP, the extraordinary experiences of ordinary people]. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 20, 134-135.

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