Research Aspects and Social Situation of the Parapsychology in Argentina : Brief History and Future Possibilities. Alejandro Parra - 1995 - Parapsicología de Investigación

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Art. en inglés para el "Journal of the Society for Psychical Research" - Lic. Alejandro Parra - 1995

(1995) Research aspects and social situation of the parapsychology in Argentina: Brief history and future posibilities. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 60, pp.214-228.

RESEARCH ASPECTS AND SOCIAL SITUATION OF THE PARAPSYCHOLOGY IN ARGENTINA:
BRIEF HISTORY AND FUTURE POSIBILITIES [1]

Alejandro Parra*

Abstract.- In the past, Argentina made great progress in parapsychology, placing itself as the second country in the Americas, after USA, with antecedents in experimental psychical research (Beloff, 1990). Presently, the pioneers are gone. They were the ones contributed a great number of experimental research and theoretical essays, cited frequently by prestigious american and european parapsychologists. In this article, the most important antecedents will be summarized and show present perspectives that may be useful to those who wish to know the developments of parapsychology in Argentina. The early interest for these studies surged -in the academic level- about 1930, with exploratory studies of the physiological conditions of good psychics. The parapsychology in Argentina is divided in four chronological phases, (1) spiritist (or spiritualist) between 1870 to 1896; (2) mesmerism between 1896 to 1924; (3) the early psychical research, which is called “metapsychic” in the latin-american countries, between 1924 to 1953; and (4) Rhinean parapsychology. In this paper, these two last stages are divided and analyzed in three phases: (a) Private institutionalization, (b) University expansion, and (c) an analysis of the present situation about the quality of parapsychological information and some common difficulties (Parra, 1990).

INTRODUCTION

There are various aspects that can be considered about parapsychology in Argentina. For several years I have collected information that was widely dispersed, and put it together in a book I have authored (Parra, 1990). The history of parapsychology in every Latin American countries has developed in a manner similar to that in Argentina. The surge of spiritualism marks, at least in part, the inquietude for research on paranormal phenomena. The first signs of spiritualism appeared in 1877, when the first center was founded, the Sociedad Espiritista Constancia [Constancia Society], which attracted numerous Argentine intellectuals and scientists. Among others, the American medium Henry Slade was invited to participate in spiritualist seances and, in 1888, the medium of physical effects Camilo Brediff, produced materializations, ectoplasmies, and other notable phenomena. Another medium of note was Osvaldo Fidanza; records of his seances are still preserved (Serie, 1910). His feats were closely followed in Europe, and Charles Richet was greatly interested in the experimental results obtained by Argentine psychical researchers with Fidanza. Towards 1905 and 1918, Fidanza became the most closely studied mediums of the beginning of the century (Parra, 1990).

These studies were taken as a challenge by the prestigious Argentine chemist Ovidio Rebaudi, who founded the Sociedad Magnetológica Argentina [Magnetological Argentine Society] in 1896, with the aim to repeat the experiments in Mesmer’s animal magnetism, object of great interest in Europe. Rebaudi published the Revista de Magnetología [Journal of Mesmerism], of which a few issues were published between 1896 and 1910, until the Society was changed into the Instituto Metapsíquico [Psychical Research Institute], which published the Revista de Meta-Psíquica Experimental [Argentine Journal of Psychical Research], which survived for about ten years. Ovidio Rebaudi, together with several collaborators, operated within the spiritualist context, and emulated the British Society for Psychical Research. Although they went through many economical difficulties, spiritualists felt a profound respect by his work, because  Rebaudi kept an “animist” (and not spiritualist) position when confronting mediumnistic phenomena (Rebaudi, 1899).

Some years after, the creation of the Instituto de Psicología [Institute of Psychology], at the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters of the University of Buenos Aires, took place on November 24, 1931. This important event was the work of the psychiatrist doctor Enrique Mouchet, who had been greatly impressed by the work of the French investigator Eugene Osty. The direction of the Department of the so called Psicología Paranormal (Paranormal Psychology) was assigned to doctor Mouchet himself, and his work in favor of early psychical research was important. He stimulated other psychiatrists to investigate this field considered “occult”, and was the first university professor to integrate these studies in Argentine universities. In 1932, doctor Efrom and several colleagues performed a series of experiments with Miss Irma Maggi (1964) (Villanueva, 1992). Starting on April 7, 1932, a number of sesions destined to psychical research were performed mainly under the direction of doctor Gonzalo Bosch (director of the Hospicio de las Mercedes, now Neuropsychiatric Hospital José Tomás Borda). Professors of the Facultad de Medicina [Faculty of Medicine] were invited to observe research with one of Argentina’s best known psychics, such as Enrique Marchesini from the city of Córdoba. Marchesini was a psychic, and was purportedly infalible in the diagnosis of disease by just touching an object belonging to the sick owner.

Other group of spiritualists founded the Círculo Espiritualista ATMAN [ATMAN Spiritualist Circle], in 1933, whose objective was the experimentation with mediums from the spiritualist community. This center, founded and directed by Engineer José Salvador Fernández, developed the study of spiritualist phenomena, addressed to ESP research (but still within a spiritualist context). That same year, professor Eduardo del Ponte gave two historic lectures attended by numerous personalities from the Facultad de Ciencias Naturales [Faculty of Natural Sciences]. Experiments based on the “psychic reading of an object” were done by doctor Luis María Ravagnan, an odontologist who, surprised by his own results, dedicated the rest of his life to the study of psychology (Fernández, 1963). Among the members of the ATMAN Circle was María Amanda Ravagnan (sister of doctor Luis María Ravagnan, and wife of Engineer Fernández), who demonstrated ESP of amazing precision. Since 1934, Fernández did numerous studies on healing by laying on of the hands with the medium María de Meyrelles in trance, controlled by Fernandez’s physician friends. On one ocassion, this medium “diagnosed” a generalized eczema of a physician who indeed had the disease.

When J.B.Rhine surged in this field in 1930 (Mouchet had already incorporated these scientific studies at the university level), he sustained an active correspondence with Fernández, to find out about studies in parapsychological progress in Argentina. This notable engineer also experimented with good results with his wife, who, in another occasion, in front of doctor Juan Antonio Schroeder (at the time, director of an important medical center), María Amanda saw in one of the doctor’s patients a problem in the kidneys. “Perform some clinical analysis -said the psychic- because she has some albumin, product of her malaise.” In fact the analysis gave a positive result for the presence of albumin (Fernández, 1963). However, Fernandez’s conclusion could not have been acceptable from a scientific point of view. The sessions from which data had been gathered  lacked elementary critical precautions: possible sensory signs were not controlled and blind techniques  were not used in the evaluation of ESP research. Nevertheless, Engineer Fernandez’s works have an important significance within the historical context because they are the first attempt to apply statistical methods to the study of ESP in Argentina.

In 1946, another group of physicians, surged under the leadership of doctor Orlando Canavesio, who founded theAsociación Médica de Metapsíquica Argentina (Argentine Association of Medical and Psychical Research). Among his correspondents, Canavesio included several scientists connected with the field of parapsychology, such as J.B.Rhine and Ferdinando Cazzamalli. Canavesio was a profound scholar, not only in his field, but also in psychical research, since psychology in our country was not yet an academic subject. Psychiatry was for him a way to be closer to the sciences of conduct than any other discipline. For this, Canavesio counted with a powerful new auxiliary: the newly arrived electroencephalography equipment (created by Hans Berger, in 1929), of which he was one of the few experts, knowing its importance for the development of diagnosis in mental disease. The specific application of these techniques in psychical research aimed, according to Canavesio’s hypothesis, at discovering the variable that could determine whether the supposed psychic state was normal or paranormal. His orientation was directed to the field of spiritualist practices. Orlando Canavesio performed notable experiments with the clairvoyant Enrique Marchessini, the dowser Luis Acquavella (also a physician and Canavesio’s collaborator), Anne de Carrell (wife of the distinguished Nobel Prize Alexis Carrell) and also Federico Poletti and Conrado Castiglione (nicknamed Nostradamus).

On January 1948, the Secretary of Public Health, under doctor Ramón Carrillo and doctor Augusto Robles Gorriti created the Instituto dePsicopatología Aplicada (IPA) [Institute of Applied Psychopatology (or Abnormal Psychology)] (Estatutos del Instituto de Psicopatología Aplicada, 1948). The plan of action was simple, similar to those of other centers of psychical research. During the period called Extraoficial or of Scientific Support, divided into five stages, the Institute obtained optimal conditions, technical, legal, location, etc. Also, as an institution, they had clear objectives: library, archive, publications, and exchange of information, not only in metapsychic, but also medical as well as interrelations between both fields. In the period of Social Consolidation and Scientific Support, divided into two phases, the interests leaned towards the incorporation of metapsychic in the universities, mainly in the faculties of medicine over the country. On the other side, the IPA had to control, with some energy, the garrulous activities of spiritism, quackery, and the possible influences on mental disease. The Confederación Espiritista Argentina (Argentine Spiritualist Confederation), as representative of all the spiritualists centers of the country, made an agreement with representatives of the IPA, about mutual assistance.

Orlando Canavesio’s doctoral dissertation: “Electroencefalografía en los Estados Metapsíquicos”(Electroencephalography in the Psychic States), was done at the parapsychology section of the Secretary of Public Health. The thesis was completed in 1951 and approved by the National University of Córdoba (Canavesio, 1951). After this notable psychiatrist obtained his doctorate, his interest in psychical research increased, resulting in several lectures and interviews with several psychics, healers, dowsers, and others. Several EEG recordings were made, being Eric Couternay Luck (known as Mr.Luck) one of the first to accept a study of his EGG when acting “parapsychically”.
According to Canavesio (1948):

“...the metapsychical state (ESP) is a physiological state produced by specific causes acting on the predicposition, characterized by a psychosomatic manifestation in which, or because of which the faculty works. Mr.Luck, who was not conditioned by any belief, proceeded to acquire the metapsychical state, as the electrodes of the EGG were connected, and the suggestion was made that he should not think, and instead try to relax and achieve a state of psychophysical relaxation. In the graphical recording of the EGG, alpha waves disappeared to make it more or less regular, and decrease about 60% the amplitude. The duration of such state was about three to six seconds, after which information began to come in. A second experiment was performed with the help of Armando king, a dowser from the city of Cordoba.”

Canavesio thought that the dowsing phenomenon was better suited for EGG registration, and he argued for the use of dowsers by the national government. Armando King  seemed to be a good dowser, very practical and potent in his perceptions, localizing underground water for numerous geological, hydraulic, and mining companies. In San Juan, he collaborated with the Ministerio de Obras Públicas  [Ministry of Public Works] and the Direction of Aeronautic Infrastructures since 1947. He also was hired to solve an emergency problem in obtaining water at El Tostado city (Santa Fe). He always welcomed critics, especially if they were physicians or other heath science specialists. Brief articles were published where the critical vision was expressed of orthodox medicine dealing with the challenge implied by considering psychological subjects in an area where psychology was still trying to enter the academic world in Argentina. He published a report about the EEG records of Alfredo Parodi, a psychometrist of Rosario city. The report comes the conclusion that under the state A-B it is possible to observe the alpha rhythm, under psychic state B-C the frequency could not be determined exactly, although in some records it is possible to observe that it gets to 11-13 cycles per second. Evident changes in the electric rhythm of the cortex are registered. It becomes irregular, and the voltage decreases by 50 to 70%.  

Canavesio participated in numerous conferences, being one of the most active scientists of his time. He lectured at the Chair of Hygiene and Preventive Medicine on psychical research, and at a conference offered at the Institute of Applied Psychopatology on “The Parapsychological Science”, in which he presented psychics such as Mr.Luck and doctor Luis Acquavella, also a dowser, both of whom made practical demonstrations. In 1953, Canavesio was invited to participate in the First International Conference of Parapsychological Studies in Utrecht (The Netherlands) with his dissertation topic, and for the first time Argentina was represented in one of the most decisive events in the history of world parapsychology (Canavesio, 1954). He also participated in the congress of metapsychic in Bologna (Italy), held by the Italian Scientific Association of Metapsychic.

Unfortunately, all these efforts did not have much trascendence, particularly after the fall of the democratic government of General Juan Domingo Perón in 1955 an the political crisis of the moment (in other english-speaking countries, many people tend to think of the late Perón as just another “South American dictator”, rather than as the leader of a democratic government, and this tend is incorrect because Peron was elected during three times by the argetinians). It must be pointed out that psychologists (and not physicians) were the most interested in parapsychology because this studies anomalous psychological processes (ESP) and not organic paranormal processes; object of study by neurophysiology or psychosomatic medicine. Also, Dr.Canavesio made EEG records, but no parapsychological investigations of scientific value emerged; this was because their work lacked an adequate methodology, for they had used the qualitative approach that was typical of old psychical research.

Consequently, as the result of a discussion on both postures, Fernández and Canavesio founded the Sociedad Argentina de Parapsicología (SAP) [Argentine Parapsychology Society], with Fernández as president. This group included all those interested in parapsychology. The By-laws and purpose of the SAP show the interest that argentines experienced very early for parapsychological research. In the beginning, articles, papers and other activities of the society were unduly influenced by spiritualist thinking, but this was somewhat corrected by the influence of the foreign members, which included J.B.Rhine, Gardner Murphy, S.G.Soal and Ferdinando Cazzamali. One of Fernández’s best subjects was his son-in-law, doctor Ronald Warburton, an odontologist, who obtained several times 22 out of 25 hits with the standard deck of ESP cards and, on one occasion, all 25 of them. Musso (1954) also performed experiments with Warburton.

The experiments of the Grupo La Plata (La Plata Group), between the years 1950-55, no doubt constitute an interesting aspect in the history of parapsychology in Argentina, about which not much has been written. This group was formed by José María Feola and other young intellectuals interested in the psychical phenomena of spiritualism. The group produced numerous phenomena, such as table levitations without contact and in full lights, raps, luminous phenomena, and messages with intelligent statements, including telepathic communications. Because of the reproducibility of the phenomena, the group was able to convince well known university professors of the reality of PK, especially through the clean table levitations in full lights. Doctors Canavesio and Musso participated in numerous experiments, and Armando King also visited the group once, since he has never seen such clear cut phenomena (Feola, 1975, 1993).

FIRST STAGE

Private Institutionalization

In our country, there was an old institution, the Asociación LUMEN de Investigaciones Psíquicas y Estudios Filosóficos[LUMEN Association of Psychical Research and Philosophical Studies], founded in 1886. To this group belonged a large number of people who studied spiritualist phenomena, among them its Director Benjamín Odell. They had good facilities, including a large auditorium, and a considerable number of members. In a joint session on April 1953, la Sociedad Argentina de Parapsicología (SAP) and the Asociación LUMEN decided to join forces and start the new Instituto Argentino de Parapsicología (IAP) [Argentine Institute of Parapsychology], grouping members of both institutions.

Unfortunately, differences within the newly formed IAP soon became evident. On one side, the spiritists of the ex-SAP, who reincorporated authorities of the spiritist movement with parapsychologists, and on the other side members of the ex-LUMEN, who, in disagreement with the “spiritualist” posture created a new institution, the Asociación Amigos de la Parapsicología (AAP) [Parapsychology’s Friends Association], under the leadership of Odell and Musso. The new AAP published four numbers of a quaterly journal, the Revista de Parapsicología (Parapsychology Review), which ended in 1956. Then, Musso (1956) designed an experiment with mediums of various spiritist groups with a double purpose: (a) psychological, to see if the personalities of the spiritist manifested differed from those of the mediums in normal states, and (b) parapsychological, to see if through these experiments paranormal knowledge could be proved. He used C.G.Jung’s Word Association test, using 50 stimulus words from 200 that Jung himself used, which reveals certain personality traits. Parapsychologically, the idea was to obtain data about the identity as living persons from personalities manifested. Musso performed experiments with school children (302 students) with ESP cards in opaque envelopes, relating the psychological attitudes between students and teachers, confirming the results of Gertrude Schmeidler (Musso 1965).

In the meantime, Engineer Fernández with Luis María di Cristóforo Postiglioni, developed a thesis entitled “Fundamentos Científicos y Filosóficos de la Supervivencia con Reencarnación” [Scientific and Philosophical Foundations of Survival with Reincarnation], which took place in Buenos Aires. In this paper, the value and contribution of the parapsychological hypothesis in favor of survival was discussed (Fernández & Di Cristóforo Postiglioni, 1957). That same year, Musso published a note about Extrasensory Perception in the Revista de Educación [Journal of Education], official organ of the Ministry of Education of the Province of Buenos Aires. This paper was the first to appear in an official journal of the National Government, analyzing the recognition of existence of ESP (Musso, 1957).

A great loss to Argentine parapsychology then took place. Travelling from Buenos Aires to Mar del Plata in his car. Orlando Canavesio had an accident as a consequence of which his left leg had to be amputated. When he seemed to be on his way to recovery, Dr.Musso visited with him to express his joy about it. But Canavesio looked at Musso in his eyes and said.“No, Ricardo, I am going to die.” He died in the early hours of the next day. He was only thirty-eight years old.

SECOND STAGE

Expansion through the University

In this stage, which we have called “Expansion through the University”, the difference with the one before is the increasing parapsychologic activity throughout university teaching. The most active at this stage were J.Ricardo Musso and his wife, psychologist Mirta Granero, both in research as well as university level teaching. An important goal was the methodological formation in parapsychology of students in pursuit of psychology degrees. The first step was a course of parapsychology offered at the University of Litoral for students of the fourth year of psychology given by Dr.Musso. One of the problems that made it difficult to integrate this course with the existent curriculum was the fact that clinical psychology (i.e. psychoanalysis) had no links with the statistical methodology which is indispensable in parapsychology. To circumvent this problem, he was named professor of the chair of psychostatistics, obtaining a more active participation of the students, who gained a more clear and precise understanding of the scientific methodology in parapsychology. One year later, Mirta Granero was designated professor of psychostatistics and parapsychology at the same university. In 1963, Bruno A.L.Fantoni, a lawyer, gave parapsychology courses at the Free Faculty of the city of Cordoba, and when this Faculty was integrated with the Argentine Catholic University (in 1970), the subject and its teacher continued as before (Fantoni, 1974).

Among numerous studies completed at this time, we can mention the work of Musso (1967) with the medium Ofelia B. Scheaffer in Rosario. Several objects were presented to the subject, and her responses were analyzed with the Pratt-Birge technique, giving significant results. Other reports were those published by Musso and Granero (1965) on the ESP tests with children; an experiment of ESP at long distance with subjects at a military base in Antartida with the collaboration of 20 countries (Musso, 1968); a review published by the University of Buenos Aires “Contribución de la Parapsicología al Conocimiento del Hombre” [Contribution of parapsychology to the knowledge of man] (Musso, 1963); and finally, in 1969, an investigation in which a subject with notable psychic ability, the psychiatrist José Baldomero Muratti, participated. He did a test of ESP with drawings placed in opaque envelopes, from one room to a contiguous one. Apparently, the subject identified the drawings correctly under three different conditions or situations. This experiment was published in theRevista Argentina de Psicología [Argentine Journal of Psychology], (Musso & Granero, 1972).

In 1966, the board of directors of the Department of Psychology decided to include parapsychology as one of the elective subjects, and some private universities felt motivated to include parapsychology in their curriculae. For example, theUniversidad del Museo Social Argentino [University of the Argentine Social Museum] asked the IAP to name a professor to give a course of parapsychology. This way done by a physician, doctor Harold Elgan Horwitz, and later on by engineer Draier, who were the only well prepared in the methodology of parapsychology. The same year, Ana María Perrota (trained in parapsychology at the University of Rosario), was designated professor of parapsychology at the Universidad Argentina John F.Kennedy. This continues under María Elena Pereyra Valtier for students of the fifth year of psychology, until the present. Also, in this year, General Juan Carlos Onganía took over the government. The military intervened the universities, introducing changes that left parapsychology as non-required subject, which led to its elimination. Professors who were teaching courses and organizing conferences were forced to resign, among them doctor Emilio Servadio, who had been invited to talk about parapsychology and psychoanalysis. Finally, parapsychology remained only at the University John F.Kennedy and the Institute of Parapsychology of the Catholic University of Córdoba, both private universities (Musso, 1973).

By then, only two persons were devoted full-time to parapsychology: doctor Bruno A.L. Fantoni and Mirta Granero. We have to point out that those who assisted to regular courses offered by the IAP, did not attend because of a scientific interest in the subject matter, but rather out of curiosity or to find a scientific answer to their beliefs. Others, realizing that these studies did not offer work or professional security, requiring instead specialized studies, promptly abandoned the Institute. The same thing happened with the parapsychological subjects, and not the experimental, which required the use of stringent statistical methods. With the passing of time, parapsychology was discarded from the national universities, and slowly from the private ones as well. The Catholic University of Córdoba moved the Institute of Parapsychology, under the direction of Enrique Novillo Paulí, to the Universidad del Salvador [University of Salvador] in Buenos Aires, until his death in 1989.

THIRD STAGE

Present Stage

This period lacks iniciatives at university level, contrary to what had happened the previous decade. In March, 1970, the Jesuit priest Enrique Novillo Paulí obtained a fellowship from the Organization of American States to participate in the Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man (FRNM) in Durham, where he stayed for two years under the direction of J.B.Rhine and his research team to participate in some parapsychological research. Some years after, Novillo Pauli report bio-PK experiments carried out by the author on the growth of plants, using unselected persons of both sexes as subjects. In less than 3 years, there are 33 experiments because the author considers that his experiments prove that in certain conditions of competition between the groups, differences in the magnitude of the PK effect as a function of the sex of the subjects are produced. At about the same time, professor Naúm Kreiman and Dora Ivnisky published the quaterlyCuadernos de Parapsicología [Notebooks of Parapsychology] which still appears regularly. The work of Kreiman and Ivnisky was the experimental research in ESP under various psychological variables and with emphasis on the statistical evaluation (Kreiman, 1975, 1978, 1982, 1984).

In 1971, J.Ricardo Musso was invited by the Parapsychology Foundation of New York to give a talk on Parapsychology in Argentina: From 1930-1971, as part of the International Conference held in Saint Paul de Vence (France). Musso went through historical successes and significant activities of Argentine parapsychology during those four decades (Musso, 1973). Novillo Paulí participated in the 24th International Conference of Parapsychology, organized by the Parapsychology Foundation in 1975, where he presented a paper on Parapsychology and Education, in which he analyzed the situation of parapsychology until that year, its didactic level, the degree of preparation of the students and the teaching at the national universities (Novillo Paulí, 1975).

At about this time, a legislative debate became a national topic, when Deputy Luis Alberto Sobrino Aranda presented a project to modify the penal code, which was approved by the Penal Legislation Committee. Deputy Sobrino Aranda carried on then with an initiative to help parapsychological research. After long discussions, the government agreed to give 20 thousand dollars to the IAP to carry on research in this field (Parra, 1990). As a consequence, Sobrino Aranda gave a report to then President of Argentina General Juan Domingo Perón, detailing all the basic aspects developed in the course of parliamentary discussions. At the initiative of Julio Cesar Di Liscia, the Sociedad de Estudios Parapsicológicos [Society for Parapsychological Studies] was founded in Córdoba, where experimental research and theoretical studies were done by Di Liscia and a team of collaborators (MEMORIA 1962-1965). Di Liscia was an important contributor to Argentine parapsychology, not only because of his great interest, but also because of his research capacity.

Other activities carried the parapsychological concept to more popular levels, but limited to general information and the theoretical developments in this field. Such was the Primer Congreso Argentino de Parapsicología [First Argentine Congress of Parapsychology] in 1981, attended by several academic personalities and large public crowd. During the congress an agreement was signed, Documento de Buenos Aires [Buenos Aires Document], in which an attempt was made to unify conflicting concepts in parapsychology. Similar activities can be mentioned, such as the Jornadas Científicas Interdisciplinarias [Interdisciplinary Scientific Workshop], about psychology, medicine and parapsychology in the academic context; and Primer Encuentro de Parapsicología [First Encounter with Parapsychology], sponsored by the Enrique Novillo Paulí’s Institute of Parapsychology of the Universidad del Salvador (Parra, 1990).

However, at present, it is not much we can say about developed in several countries to know about the activities of latin-american  parapsychologists (about parapsychological activities in a few ibero-american countries, see Rueda 1991), and particularly Argentines. Frankly, I doubt if I would possess the cool and detached attitude necessary for an historian confronted with the task to describe a aspect of Argentine parapsychology which has become at least for the last ten years a part of my own personal history. However, as we have shown in this article, this interest has estimulated communications between Argentines and foreign parapsychologists (Alvarado, 1989; Beloff, 1990; Krippner, 1992; Parra, 1990; Villanueva, 1990). To appreciate more thoroughly the present situation, I will classify some sources of access to the information in the field, with the hope this would help to understand it more clearly. Four aspects can be pointed out about it:

a) Information and disinformation in parapsychology

For several decades, parapsychology in Argentina developed with a parallel background to the other behavioral sciences, which estimulated the analytic interest (i.e. psychoanalist, social psychology, etc.), and on this basis important therapists found a fertile terrain  to theoretical innovations, in spite of frequent opposition from certain social or political sectors. In a sense, parapsychology was born in the middle of this group of new theories, and it does not surprise the present popularization of the word parapsychology in the communication media, daily conversation, and university classroom, in the same way it had happened with, i.e. psychoanalysis. The difference has its roots in the social and cultural situation in which they developed. In the sixties, psychoanalysis became not only a psychoterapeutic popular attraction, but it also polarized the interest of intellectuals and professional. As well known journalist commented (Horvath, 1974, p.12):

“...psychoanalysis invaded the mind and heart of Argentines. There isn’t in this city a porteño who has not lied down a sofa: from neurotic bus driver to the most cultivated writer. Everybody adheres unconditionally to relate his intimacies to the mysterious magician with beard and pipe.”

Is there any difference between that psychoanalyst and the “parapsychologist” who offers his services of clear-sightedness at office hours? The popularization of parapsychology, and maybe what is worse, the absolute absence of knowledge of the basic objectives of this discipline, forces us to face with rigor the procedure to inform about not only the scientific scope, but also the social influences of this subject. One does not need more evidence than that provided by the media to exemplify the disinformation, that causes the paradoxical presence of healers, clairvoyants, tarot experts, quacks, mentalists, among innumerable other denominations, which invoke for themselves the title of “parapsychologist.”

This position is shared by an ample spectrum of scholars of this social problematic (Villanueva, 1990) and it has become notable to American parapsychologists (Krippner, 1992), who have qualified Argentine parapsychology as confronted by two causes: first, the few parapsychologists who work seriously, are separated. Second, the popular and the academic images of parapsychology are so mixed up, but that it is easy to distinguish where one begins and where the other ends. Internationally, these two causes do not escape parasychological observers from other countries, and it is a common crisis. Hence, pseudo-parapsychological activity is not a characteristic of the “third world”, although other countries may disguise it better.

b) Pseudo-science and Pseudo-parapsychology

Historically, our country shows this trend since the seventies, although this kind of situation has roots in the spiritualist stage. Yesterday like today, the ideological enemies of the parapsychologists are the spiritualists. Now the skeptics are. In spite of that, parapsychology shares with the other sciences a cultural crisis. One aspect of this is the proliferation of congresses of parapsychology, a socio-cultural phenomenon that reveals the degree of public interest on the possible therapeutic aspects that parapsychology may offer. This type of activities are promoted by single individuals or by small groups, supported by strong publicity, operating by coordination and grouping of professionals and non-professional activity or therapy they want to publicize. These activities, usually annual and covered during weekends, have been followed closely for the last thirteen years, with important increase during this last years (i.e. 1981-1987, near of 45 congresses) (Parra, 1990). This level of propagation saturated in the last five years, but still, although at a lower level, they keep organizing them.

Unfortunately, the term “parapsychology” is indiscriminately abused, and there is a massive commercialization of various divination arts, therapeutic alternative systems, pseudo-religious groups, esoteric literature, and other activities. Obviously, in such an environment it would be difficult to attract a scientist, when there is no respectability for parapsychology. This popularization we are referring to exercises a determinant influence on those for whom  parapsychology could become an activity of great scientific interest. On the other side, it is a fundamental reason why university authorities oppose, sometimes energetically, to include this subject as part of the curriculum. As a consequence, the vicious circle closes up, the snake bites its tail: negative resources are generated in the formation of able professionals to cover the scientific deficit, the interest in parapsychology decreases, and it discourage those who find disinformation in a field whose renevues are practically inexistent. Then, the possibility to attract, like in those countries with great scientific and technologic development (i.e. USA and Europe), is negligible.

Instead, going back to the example already cited, psychoanalysis in Argentina came out stronger because it made clinical activity in psychology more professional and at a higher level. It came about at a critical stage when psychologists put political pressure to the point of almost becoming indepedent of Philosophy and Medicine. Independently, it made its activities regular, and overcame the therapeutic and legal limitations in the psychologic community as referred to Medicine, Neurology, and Psychiatry. Besides, it counted with the collaboration of prestigious foreign psychoanalysts who contributed to the theorical development and increased literature, which made our country the most serious  bibliographic source of Ibero-America. Parapsychology in Argentina (if we consider it as a psychological matter, even if it tends to be independent of psychology), does not count with the same benefits that helped establish psychoanalysis (Parra, 1992). Recently, there have been attempts to professionalize the work of this kind of “parapsychologist”, but at this moment there is no official response to such request.

c) The Revista Argentina de Psicología Paranormal (Argentine Journal of Paranormal Psychology)

The sources avalaible for scientific advances and educational resources in parapsychology are few. As we told our history, we saw that our country was rather prolific in scientific bibliography that goes back to the beginning of this century with Fernandez’s Boletin de Experimentación (Research Bulletin), Canavesio’s Revista Médica de Metapsíquica (Medical Metapsychic Journal), Musso’s Revista de Parapsicología (Parapsychology Review), and other editions which, for various reasons, specially economical, ceased to exist.

Fortunately, the Revista Argentina de Psicología Paranormal (RAPP) coordinates the publication of reports written in Spanish about parapsychology, and original papers by recognized american, european and iberoamerican authors (Editorial, 1990). The RAPP is distributed to about four hundred universities, public libraries, institutes and centers of psychology and parapsychology in Argentina, and internationally, it exchanges with over fifty journals around the world. Some experimental research, theoretical papers, historical and philosophical essays, book reviews, and activities are published. In our country, we have very few professionals who devoted their time to psi activities, but some of them collaborate disinterestedly with the RAPP, among others, Jose Maria Feola, Mirta Granero, Anibal Pedroza, Victor Wasserman, Samuel Tarnopolsky, and the valuable contribution of Jorge Villanueva, a distinguished writer on the historical and philosophical implications of parapsychology.      
    
d) Difficulties to access information and ways for a better rapproachement.

This problem is not unique to parapsychology. Science in Latin America suffers a similar process. However, there has been an important growth in the second part of this century, several times greater than the first half.         

To mention all the impediments encountered by Spanish-speaking parapsychologists with respect to their colleagues of Europe or the US, would not reflect necessarily a common difficulty, because of the lack of unity of criteria and goals pursued by some hispanic parapsychologists. However, lack of funds is a common difficulty. Some of those working in this field have been forced to offer regular courses to the general public in order to obtain support for their studies. Others had to use whatever free time they could use as they supported themselves in professional or other activities. As a consequence, due to scarce resources for full-time research, there is a decrease in possibilities of access to scientific information which is abundantly produced in developed countries. In the case of third world countries, where fluctuations in economic policy on top of social conflicts and cultural prejudices are the secondary effects of a society in crisis, there are special difficulties, on top of those that are universal, when it comes to gaining access to sources of information in parapsychology.

CONCLUDING  REMARKS

How could some of these difficulties be solved?  A possible occasional strategy in this sense could be the publication, annually or by-anually, of a bibliographic guide in Spanish, that would allow the researcher in any sub-field of the parapsychology to access a net of bibliographic references useful at the moment of the professional consultation.Parapsychology Sources of Information Center, directed by Rhea A.White, publishes twice a year the Exceptional Human Experience, reproducing abstracts of articles from almost all publication specialized in parapsychology. On the other side, as Villanueva (1990) pointed out, the abscence of specialized bibliographic information is a consequence of lack of funds or grants, which could be superated if important foundations of parapsychological American institutions would (within their financial support and limits of economic committments) provide materials published by them. This should not be considered neccesarily a “gift” without a minimun effort on the part of the recipient. Frequently, an exchange (as freely determined by the parties), would greatly estimulate future communications, from which the party with less resources would be the most benefited. English-speaking countries do not know much parapsychological foreign information. However, even if rare, it is important to mention any type of activity about the work in any Spanish-speaking country through the Journals or Newsletters. Certainly, when other colleagues understand the importance -and obviously agreed with this position- we will not be far from solving some of the imperfections in our own commmunication as well as improving our sources of information. Recently, we have been working in a hispanic-speaking psi information center which is called Agencia Latinoamericana de Información Psi (ALIPsi) [Latin-American Agency of Psi Information]. It is a computerized database of the literature of parapsychology published in the Spanish-speaking countries. The data resides in a computer because ALIPsi contains the bulk of the parapsychology in the Spanish-language journals literature from 1900 to date, several hundred articles, and the best books about the field. The record of each document in ALIPsi consists of bibliographic information, an Annual Guide which is in press, and there is a Bibliographical Searcher Services, audio-video tapes on parapsychology, translation from english to spanish language, and an index of selected institutes and association in this field.

A possible future may be the formation of a national center of parapsychological research, or an institute to regulate the experiments to be done, staffed with a team of researchers or professionals methodologically well trained. This center would also be provided with advanced instrumentation. Another possible future scenario would be to start again chairs of parapsychology at various universities; in the beginning the privates ones, and later the public ones. Parapsychology is a social science which gains with study and research. It will only fructify by opening new criteria in young minds, university professionals, challenging them to learn a new discipline, linked with psychology, medicine, anthropology, philosophy or religion.

We, the Spanish-speaking parapsychologists are not a special phenomenon, even if there are particular differences in the objectives we pursue. There can be no doubt that the field that is opening up to research may prove to be a great deal more important than it now appears and the great majority of anonymous researchers, who at present are not yet satisfactorily utilized, may produce important surprises in the not too distant future.

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(1) I am grateful to Dr.José María Feola for the translation of this article into english and his useful comments, and the revised version of this paper to Carlos S.Alvarado and John Beloff.
President of the Institute of Paranormal Psychology. Director of the Revista Argentina de Psicología Paranormal. Bibliographic Advisor of theAgencia Latinoamericana de Información Psi. Full Member of the Parapsychological Association.
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