The Parapsychology Foundation began, fittingly, as a dream — or rather, to be more precise, as hypnogogic revelation. Eileen J. Garrett, in her 1968 autobiography, Many Voices, vividly recalls the circumstances:
“On the periphery of sleep,” she writes, “I heard a voice telling me that I must get well and build an ‘edifice’ that would honor the subject to which I had devoted my life (parapsychology). I awoke with a feeling of deep conviction that I must begin to build a new structure containing the best elements of my own work.”
She conceived of this vision, “as falling into three distinct areas. First, I envisaged the necessity of finding resources that could provide grants to those who sought after a wider horizon in reading. Second, this would involve a library and public relations setup to answer the demands for literature and eventual study for those who might be ready to work in a parapsychological atmosphere. Finally, there would be the need to bring scholars together from different countries for discussion, as well as the need to keep contacts alive if eventual advancement of the theoretical discussion were to result in action.”
The first of these would logically be the hardest — finding funds — but luck or good fortune — clairvoyance? — call it what you will — was with Garrett. She was already, herself, by this time, internationally-renowned and respected. Her unique position and her experience within the parapsychological community put her in extremely good stead. However, the achievement (of establishing — and, most importantly, maintaining — the Foundation); the realization of the dream, was not — and could not have been — simply hers alone.
It was another extraordinary woman, the Honorable Frances P. Bolton, who generously supplied the funds and who, in a solid, practical, way, allowed for the Foundation’s creation and continued existence. Mrs. Bolton, in her own way, every bit as visionary and far-sighted as Garrett, alongside a smorgasbord of other interests, possessed a life-long interest in the subject of parapsychology. She’d already — even prior to the establishment of the Foundation — made significant contributions to the field. It was she, for example, who'd been responsible for setting up the McDougall Research Fund at Duke University, during William McDougall’s lifetime. (McDougall was one of the founding figures of parapsychology). She’d also continued her support of his successor, Dr. J. B. Rhine, helping him during the early days — and indeed, throughout his career — assisting with funds for the upkeep of his famous Parapsychology Laboratory.
Garrett and Bolton — the Clairvoyant and the Congresswoman (Bolton served with distinction as United States Congresswoman from Ohio for 28 years) — both, singularly, were formidable. Together, they proved to be an unbeatable duo.
The Parapsychology Foundation became a reality on December 14, 1951. Its stated aims were the furtherance of “knowledge of human responses to psychologically recognized stimuli transmitted by human beings by means other than sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell,” notably, the brief goes on, in those fields of scientific inquiry “known as parapsychology, electrobiology and extra-sensory perception.” As Garrett herself put it, several years later, the Foundation “was established as a non-profit educational organization to support impartial scientific inquiry into the total working of the human mind,” and “to make available the results of such inquiry.” (To download an article on the Foundation’s first fifty years, click here.)
Initially, the Foundation’s “area(s) of interest” seemed pretty easy to define. Increasingly, however, given the nature of its research, the scope of its inquiries, the definition of parapsychology widened. Relevant work in psychology in general, in psychiatry, physiology, physics, medicine, anthropology, religion — just to cite some fields — entered the purview. Indeed, the inter-disciplinary understanding of the inter-relation between all these fields, became a fundamental understanding.
All this soon became evident at Utrecht. Utrecht was the landmark conference, (the first of what were to be many), an international gathering at a prestigious university. From July 30 to August 5 1953, less than two years into the Foundation’s history, 63 members, drawn from 14 nationalities and comprised largely of physicists, chemists, biologists, psychologists, engineers and mathematicians, met to discuss and present the latest insights and pool and exchange ideas. While many of the participants were already known to each other through the appearance of their work in technical journals, the opportunity to meet for a week under University auspicies — to “keep the contact alive” as Garrett had put it — marked a crucial step.
Parapsychology itself, was re-defined at Utrecht and would continue to be re-defined in the Conferences to come, most recently again Utrecht II: Charting the Future of Parapsychology (Available here.) The old split between “quantitative” and “qualitative” research, laboratory work and “spontaneous phenomena,” was both recognized and, to some significant degree, transcended. The extraordinary range of perspectives presented was matched with detailed resolutions and plans to give fuller attention to what had not been sufficiently addressed. The next two Conferences — an “International Philosophic Symposium” and an “International Study Group on Unorthodox Healing,” both meeting the following year in the Foundation’s then regional headquarters, St. Paul de Vence, in the south of France, were direct results of resolutions made at the Conference.
In retrospect, the 1953 Conference at Utrecht set the agenda for the years ahead. Subsequent Conferences both built on it and, as new areas of research opened up, permitted forums for state-of-the-art (state-of-the-sciences!) address. The eminent novelist, Aldous Huxley, for example, one of the most active and valued research advisors for the Foundation, was a prime mover in establishing the Foundation’s front-line research, during the 1950s, in the field of Parapsychology and Pharmacology (a Conference in 1958 in New York City on “Parapsychology and Psychedelics” was followed by one on “Parapsychology and Pharmacology,” the following year, in St Paul de Vence). Similarly, the Foundation was, very early, on the cutting-edge of research involving Parapsychology and Quantum Physics (“Quantum Physics and Parapsychology,” a two-day international Conference held in Geneva 1974, stands as another of the Foundation's landmark Conferences). Conferences have continued on into the 1980s and 1990s. Forty, so far, to date. Mention should be made, perhaps, of two of the most recent — “Women and Parapsychology,” held in Dublin, Ireland (Mrs Garrett’s home turf!) in 1991 — the first such Conference of its kind, wherein all Conference participants were women — and, “Parapsychology and Thanatology,” 1993, a groundbreaking multi-perspective look at death and dying, up-dating and amplifying the earlier concerns of the precursors of parapsychology, the pioneers of psychic research.
Aside from the Conferences, The Foundation has actively supported, for close to half a century now, the work of both individual scientists and variously accredited groups of scientists. A list of all who have been, at one time or another, recipients of the Foundation’s largesse would be daunting. It is probably safe to say that almost all the major figures of contemporary parapsychology (and a good few others besides) have at one time been, in some way, “connected.” For a current list of awardees visit the Grant Section.
What remains striking is the extraordinary range of the Foundation’s involvement from anthropology and sociology to neuroscience, from in-field exploration of poltergeists and hauntings to the most detailed statistical and methodological work. The invaluable assistance given to experiments, in the 1960s and early 1970s, conducted by Montague Ullman, Stanley Krippner, and others at Maimonides Medical Center, on Dream Telepathy, stands as a classic testament (the experiments first began in-house at the Foundation’s then-quarters on 57th Street). Out of such research developed the all-important “Ganzfeld” approach to ESP phenomena (the late Charles Honorton, pioneer of Ganzfeld research, was, it should be noted, a central figure in the Maimonides team).
Similarly, work on various technological apparatus (engineering) aimed at assisting (and expanding) laboratory experiment — Helmut Schmidt’s breakthrough Random Number Generator, for example (precursor of more sophisticated computer-based systems), which allowed for more unequivocable, more reliable, statistical data; numerous experiments with plethysmographs (measuring blood flow) and electroencephalographs (measuring brain waves) — (surprisingly — or maybe not so surprisingly — a paper on “Electro-Encephalography of Metapsychical States” was delivered as early as 1953 in Utrecht).
Mention of drug research and drug experiments has already been made, but mention should also be made of the extraordinary widening of the field in the past 30 to 40 years, the recognition of the drug-induced state as being one (but only one) of a number of so-called “altered states of consciousness.”
Pioneering work in this field has been done by Allan Angoff, in his biography of Garrett, Eileen Garrett And The World Beyond the Senses, (Available Here) fondly recalls the Foundation’s founder’s unbridled enthusiasm: “You never know,” she (Garrett) used to say, “there might be something, and we musn’t miss it, must we?” Eileen Garrett died in 1970 (Frances Bolton, in 1977) but the Foundation lives on, indeed flourishes, under the capable hands of its current President, Garrett’s daughter, Eileen Coly, and her grand-daughter, the current Executive Director, Lisette Coly. The fourth generation - Garrett's Great Grandchildren are presently serving their apprencticeship dedicated to the continuation of the goals of the Parapsychology Foundation as set by Eileen J. Garrett and the Honorable Frances P. Bolton.