Etzel Cardena; Steven Jay Lynn; Stanley Krippner; eds.

Varieties of Anomalous Experience: Examining the Scientific Evidence

Review by Tim Knepper, 2001

Cardeņa, Etzel; Lynn, Steven Jay; Krippner, Stanley (eds.). Varieties of Anomalous Experience: Examining the Scientific Evidence. American Psychological Association, 2000.

The editors of Varieties of Anomalous Experience claim that anomalous experiences have all too frequently been neglected – derided even – by traditional psychology, and therefore set out to rectify this problem.  Defining anomalous experiences as “uncommon experiences” or “experiences believed to deviate from ordinary experience or from the usually accepted explanations of reality” (4), and distinguishing anomalous experiences from both altered states of consciousness and abnormal or pathological experiences, they assert that anomalous experiences must be accounted for (and not explained away) in order to understand fully the totality of human experience.  Both naīve scrutiny and automatic rejection must be avoided in the psychological study of anomalous experience.  If such extreme positions are avoided, claim the editors, psychology will prove to have much to offer to the description and investigation of anomalous experience (as anomalous experience will have to offer science in the clarification of boundaries and identification of the nature of interdisciplinary work).

To these ends the editors called on a group of recognized international authorities who were asked to describe the current state of scientific anomalous experience research and theory, and provide useful information to clinicians about anomalous experience (that among other things would enable them to distinguish between anomalous experience and abnormal-pathological experience), while “doing justice” to the anomalous experiences themselves.  The work is divided into two sections, the first and smaller of which tackles conceptual and methodological issues.  In the first of two chapters devoted to this subject a model for understanding the relation between peculiarity (of sensations, experiences and beliefs), anomalous experience and psychopathology is proposed, and a systematic description and classification of anomalous experiences is developed.  And in the second chapter the strength and weakness of various methods used to study introspective reports are surveyed.  The second and larger section of the work contains a review of various types of anomalous experience, organized according to the classification proposed in the first chapter.  Chapters 3-5 concern the “sensory-focused experiences” of hallucination, synesthesia and lucid dreaming; chapters 6-7, the “types of detachment” experiences of out-of-body experience and psi-related experience; chapter 8, the “corporeal movement” experience of alien abduction experience; chapter 9, the “human transformation” experience of post-life experience; and chapters 10-12, the “transcendent experiences” of near-death experience, anomalous healing experience and mystical experience.  Though the specific treatment of each type of anomalous experience varies, most of the chapters in part II first describe characteristics of the experience under discussion, then survey various explanations of the experience, and finally make suggestions for future research.