OPINION MAKERS: Stevenson and Braude

Stevenson001Dr. Ian Stevenson, M.D,  known for his studies of reports of the reincarnational type and whose career spanned 35 years as chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Virginia and  later as Director of the Department’s Division of Perceptual Studies, wrote Some Comments on Automatic Writing which were published in The Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, Vol. 72, October 1978. In his comments he included a short paragraph about Patience Worth. I appreciate his thoughts and will quote his paragraph in its entirety even though Stevenson, as others sometimes do, winds up his thoughts with his unsubstantiated opinions.

“Students of automatic writing and, most of all, automatic writers themselves should examine carefully the works of ‘Patience Worth’ and the books about her (Litvag, 1972; Prince, 1929; Yost, 1925). ‘Patience Worth’ through Mrs. Pearl Curran, wrote at high speed (mostly with a Ouija board) much poetry and several novels that have considerable literary merit. These productions were far beyond the ordinary powers of Mrs. Curran. For this and other reasons, some observers regarded ‘Patience Worth’ as a discarnate personality communicating through Mrs. Curran. This is not an unreasonable interpretation of the case; one of the greatest of psychical researchers, W. F. Prince (1929), thought it the best explanation for the case, although he remained clearly aware of alternative ones. Prince did not, however, persuade others of the correctness of the spiritist hypothesis in the case, and I think most students of it today consider it only an extraordinary instance of secondary personality. We have had no similar case of equal value since; and if doubts remain about the best interpretation for such an excellent case as that of ‘Patience Worth,’ this fact should make us unusually cautious in attributing a spiritist interpretation to other literary productions and philosophical teaching that come through automatic writing.”

Stevenson said a lot of nice things here and although I respect Stevenson’s life work as a psychiatrist and researcher, I think he overly generalized when he states that “Prince did not, however, persuade others of the correctness of the spiritist hypothesis in the case, and I think most students of it today consider it only an extraordinary instance of secondary personality.” He didn’t cite any evidence that ‘others’, whoever they were, were not persuaded and in fact perhaps some ‘others’ were persuaded and I don’t think it is entirely clear when he says “this fact”. What fact? And how does he know that most students of it consider it an instance of secondary personality?  I think he is using his opinions as ‘fact’ when he cautions his readers about attributing a spiritist interpretation to automatic writing.  Technically, Pearl Curran did not use ‘automatic writing’ as is usually understood by most parapsychologists.  She simply repeated the letters or words she heard from Patience Worth in her head.  Patience Worth never took over the hands or arms of Pearl Curran to write “automatically”.

 

Braude001Professor Stephen Braude,Ph.D. wrote some comments about Patience Worth in a chapter about Patience Worth, in his book ‘Immortal Remains’ , which are strikingly similar to those of Dr. Stevenson. In his ‘Preface’ to the book Braude states that “Chapter 5 considers one of the most puzzling and interesting cases in the history of psychical research, the case of Patience Worth. On the surface it looks like a case of mediumship, but it provides no verifiable evidence for anyone’s former existence. What makes it remarkable is the mind-bogglingly creative, and apparently unprecedented, literary, linguistic, and improvisational fluency demonstrated by the medium. So this case is important for what it suggests about latent human creative capacities, an issue I pursue also in connection with several somewhat less impressive cases.”

Thank you for that Dr. Braude. Here again though, in the opinion of this erudite and highly intelligent professor of philosophy, the Patience Worth case suggests something about latent human creative capacities. And, in my opinion the additional cases he referenced in the chapter about the Patience Worth case, i.e., Hellene Smith, Rosemary Brown, Luis Gasparretto, Frederic L. Thompson, Fernando Pessoa; are not precisely relevant to the Patience Worth case and perhaps display messy thinking and writing as if by discussing these cases in the middle of a chapter about Patience Worth, Pearl Curran and Patience Worth become guilty by association with cases that in some ways are ludicrous and not really very good comparisons.

As does Stevenson, Braude concludes by saying:

“I, too sympathize with Prince’s assessment, although I believe we can be somewhat less noncommittal about the interpretation and import of the Patience Worth case. For the reasons considered above, it seems that a survivalist interpretation of the case simply leaves too great a residue of mysteries. By contrast, we can formulate a credible, although largely unsubstantiated account of the psychogenesis of the Patience Worth persona, and we can explain Pearl’s creative facility and anomalous knowledge in terms of latent capacities and presumably psychic processes for which we have independent evidence. For that reason, I’m inclined to echo Schiller’s comment that ‘it is . . . . safer to credit ‘Patience Worth’ to the unconscious and to classify her, officially, as Mrs. Curran’s ‘secondary self.”

(Braude left out the rest of F.C.S.Schiller’s comment which was: “But it is impossible to be comfortable about this theory, and it should certainly not be held fanatically.”)

Yes, as Braude says he presents a “largely unsubstantiated account of the psychogenesis of the Patience Worth persona. . . .” Ya gotta love this guy. He too is struggling to find an explanation of this case and I believe that he has spent a lot of energy and time considering it. However I cringe when I read his last paragraph in the Patience Worth chapter in which he pompously says based upon his previously stated opinions:

“Thus, the Patience Worth case illustrates why we must take very seriously non-survivalist interpretations of more evidential cases. If Pearl Curran could tap into the latent creative capacities needed to produce the Patience worth scripts, and if she could use her psychic abilities to access obscure but relevant chunks of historical and linguistic information then presumably similar feats can occur in cases where verified information is provided about a previous personality. So the Patience Worth case reminds us that we should be alert to the superficial treatments of the evidence noted in earlier chapters, and also very circumspect in rejecting non-survivalist explanations of the better cases. Moreover, and perhaps most important, the case is a humbling reminder that there’s much still to learn about the human mind.”

Now, I am not a logician but what’s wrong with this line of thinking? Are we talking about evidence here or opinion?—more likely, just philosophizing! “If Pearl could tap into…”, If she could use her psychic abilities to access obscure….” I know, I know, it’s just a book, but really now, either shit or get off the pot.

One thought on “OPINION MAKERS: Stevenson and Braude

  1. David Haith

    I think you are being unnecessarily touchy.
    Surely he’s simply saying that none of us know where this information comes from.
    It may be some memory of a discarnate, it may be from the so called Akashic records (the concept that nothing dies including information and can be accessed)
    He’s simply saying that if there is no definite proof of a real identity, then the question is still open that there could be another source for the information.

    Reply

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