Parapsychology: An Insider’s View of ESP
by J. Gaither Pratt
Doubleday, 300 pp., $4.95
Croiset the Clairvoyant
by Jack Harrison Pollack
Doubleday, 318 pp., $4.95
Experimental Psychical Research
by Robert H. Thouless
Penguin, 148 pp., 95c
Lectures on Psychical Research
by C.D. Broad
Humanities Press, 450 pp., $10.00
These books are all about the same subject, for the expression “psychical research” is just an older equivalent, still favored in Britain, for the newer “parapsychology.” They range widely in both level and quality, but, precisely for that reason, they can together give a fairer view of the present state of the subject than could be got from any one separately—even from the most thorough and substantial, which is, by a very wide margin, that by Broad.
Pratt sets his tone from the first sentence: “In 1936 I became a professional revolutionist. This book is about the revolution I joined.” Fortunately, as the author assures us immediately, it is an intellectual revolution only. Yet as such it is supposed to be comparable with, among others, the change “from the Newtonian system of mechanics, to Einsteinian relativity, with its resulting release of atomic energy and the precipitation of the Atomic Age.” This latest intellectual revolution “consists in the scientific demonstration that man is fundamentally mind-centered rather than brain-centered.” The demonstration is supposed to have been achieved by parapsychology, and in particular by the statistical experimentation which has been so much stimulated by Professor J. B. Rhine of Duke University. Since 1936, apart from the interruptions of war service, Pratt has been Rhine’s right-hand man. This book is very much made in the Rhine image, but it is a rather inferior version of the master’s New Frontiers of the Mind (1937) or The Reach of the Mind (1947). About the only possible reason for preferring it to either of these books is that Pratt gives an account of his attempts, by experiments on the homing of pigeons, to answer the question, “Do animals have ESP?” The chapter is called: “Winged Messengers, What Is Your Secret?”
Pollack is a journalist, and his book is a report of perhaps the most outstanding clairvoyant operating today: the Dutchman, Croiset, who claims among other things to have solved many mysteries of crime and disappearance. Pollack’s book consists almost entirely of short and snappy case reports, given such tabloid titles as “was the Father Poisoned?,” “The Brother Rapists,” and “A Cop’s Conscience.” One gets an impression of police work in contemporary Holland similar to that suggested for late Victorian Britain by the Sherlock Holmes stories: the police forever baffled, until at last they have the wit to call in Croiset—although Croiset, unlike Holmes, may be misguided into confirming the erroneous suspicions which he has read in the minds of the wretched professionals. It is quite impossible to do justice to the claims of Croiset from this presentation, and it is not made any easier by the undiscriminating citations of endorsement. There are, for instance, tributes from both members of a husband and wife team who have established their home as an Institute for the Study of Mental Images, and one is quoted from a journal edited, largely written, and published domestically—in a peculiarly literal sense, a house organ.
The most …