Recensions et comptes rendusPhilosophie

Stephen E. Braude, Dangerous Pursuits: Mediumship, Mind, and Music. San Antonio TX, Anomalist Books, 2020, 15,2 × 22,8 cm, 334 p., ISBN 978-1-949-50115-5[Record]

  • Matthew Allen Newland

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  • Matthew Allen Newland
    Adjunct Faculty, Humanities Department, State University of New York at Jefferson

Stephen Braude’s Dangerous Pursuits presents the author’s latest work focused on the philosophical issues surrounding parapsychology, as well as his personal experiences investigating, testing, and attempting to verify the reality of paranormal phenomena. Less of a singular work than a collection of related essays, a number of common threads run throughout all the pieces included in this book, allowing each to make a relevant contribution to the discussion (including the final chapter, which, in spite of its topic, on the subject of jazz performance, has something to say about the possibility of clairvoyant connections with others on a more everyday level). With relatively short, focused chapters, Braude’s book provides a concise, yet multifaceted overview of a topic he has been writing upon for many years. It also provides his most recent, up-to-date thoughts on several aspects of parapsychology and the paranormal, both as a discipline and the specific phenomena studied within that discipline. Before beginning, a word should be said on the title, which comes from the academic snobbery Braude has often encountered, as someone who pursues and publishes work in the area of parapsychology/paranormal investigation (even if one proceeds as carefully as Braude does, when establishing controls or asking questions). As a result, the chapters dealing directly with Braude’s personal experiences include not only the phenomena he witnessed, but also an exhausting list of controls, limitations, and possible alternative explanations, all of which take up a large part of his discussion. I note this, together with Braude’s mention, at the beginning of the book, that he waited until he had tenure before making his interest and investigations into paranormal activity public. (Loc. 56) However, in pointing this out and detailing his methods so extensively (or entitling his book the way he has), Braude is neither criticizing the small-mindedness of other academics, nor does he appear to be feeling sorry for himself; rather, Braude expresses his frustration that such an interesting (and potentially revolutionary) area of investigation is being so willfully ignored by the very people best in a position to benefit from the knowledge that investigation might provide (whatever it might be). Braude, then, is one of a few people capable of making these titular “dangerous pursuits” into investigating the unknown, and those with a genuine interest in such things (myself included) remain grateful for his (otherwise) unpopular efforts. Also of note, before beginning with an overview of the individual chapters/themes, is Braude’s suggestion, which he comes back to frequently, that so-called paranormal phenomena such as psychic communication or extrasensory perception (commonly called “ESP,” but from here on referred to as “psi,” according to Braude’s use of the term) are not really paranormal at all, but quite common, and may underlie much of our everyday social interactions (what Braude calls “being in the zone,” experiences of rapport or personal connection, resulting in lively conversation, or performance for a receptive audience, for example). (Loc. 5647-5666) If Braude is correct, then the academic hostility toward psi investigation is not only unfounded, but an obstacle to better understanding the dynamics of basic human interaction. Most of the essays in this book, therefore, focus as much on academic attitudes toward psi/paranormal activity as Braude’s other interests, the possibility of psi, mediumship, and life after death (evidence of “postmortem survivors,” in Braude’s terms). (Loc. 1515, et al.) In Chapter 1, Braude begins with a look at the negative reception his post-tenure work has received, since he made his interest public. While this has been discussed already, this chapter also reviews how that attitude has changed over the past 100 years: more than a century …