Said to be the best evidence yet for the afterlife — but how good is that evidence?
Read podcast transcript below or listen here
Turn out the lights and link your hands, for today we’re going to hold a seance and contact the dead, and have them perform parlor tricks for us in the dark. We’re going to look at the Scole Experiment, a large, well-organized series of seances conducted by members of the Society for Psychical Research in the late 1990’s in Scole, a small village in England. Reported phenomena included ghostly lights flitting about the room, images appearing on film inside secure containers, reports of touches from unseen hands, levitation of the table, and disembodied voices. Due to the large number of investigators and sitters involved, the number and consistency of paranormal episodes observed during the seances, and the lack of any finding of fraud, many believers often point to the Scole Experiment as the best scientific evidence that spirits do survive in the afterlife, and can and do come back and interact with the living, demonstrating an impressive array of conjuring powers.
There were a total of six mediums and fifteen investigators from the SPR. The Society for Psychical Research, or SPR, is based in London and is more than a century old. Its membership consists of enthusiasts of the paranormal. The authoritative source for what happened in the Scole Experiment is a report several hundred pages long, called The Scole Report, originally published in the journal Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, and written by three of the lead investigators who were present at the sittings, all current or former senior officers of the SPR: plant scientist Montague Keen, electrical engineer Arthur Ellison, and psychologist David Fontana. I have a copy here on my desk. It goes through the history of how the experiments came together, details each of the many seances, and presents analysis and criticism from a number of the SPR investigators who observed.
Unfortunately, the Scole Experiment was tainted by profound investigative failings. In short, the investigators imposed little or no controls or restrictions upon the mediums, and at the same time, agreed to all of the restrictions imposed by the mediums. The mediums were in control of the seances, not the investigators. What the Scole Report authors describe as a scientific investigation of the phenomena, was in fact (by any reasonable interpretation of the scientific method) hampered by a set of rules which explicitly prevented any scientific investigation of the phenomena.
The primary control offered by the mediums was their use of luminous wristbands, to show the sitters that their hands were not moving about during the seances. I consulted with Mark Edward, a friend in Los Angeles who gives mentalism and seance performances professionally. He knows all the tricks, and luminous wristbands are, apparently, one of the tricks. There are any number of ways that a medium can get into and out of luminous wristbands during a seance. The wristbands used at Scole were made and provided by the mediums themselves, and were never subjected to testing, which is a gross dereliction of control by the investigators. Without having been at the Scole Experiment in person, Mark couldn’t speculate on what those mediums may have done or how they may have done it. Suffice it to say that professional seance performers are not in the least bit impressed by this so-called control. Tricks like this have been part of the game for more than a century. Since hand holding was not employed in the Scole seances, the mediums effectively had every opportunity to be completely hands free and do whatever they wanted to do.
- The Dark Between Real-Life Inspiration: The Society for Psychical Research (novelnovice.com)
- My Thoughts on Paranormal Investigation Past and Present (morrighanstrove.wordpress.com)
- A History of Séances – A Guest Post (spiritspast.com)
- What Goes Down at a Séance? Tales from My First One (lovehealingbliss.wordpress.com)
- Paranormal – Coast To Coast AM – July 30 2013 – War & Security/ Seances (disclose.tv)
In the … Clint Eastwood film “Hereafter,” Matt Damon stars as George, a man who has the ability to communicate with ghosts. George, who retired from the contacting-the-dead business (calling it a curse instead of a blessing) is reluctantly drawn back into doing readings for people who have recently lost loved ones.
People in nearly every culture have long believed that communication with the dead is possible, and throughout the ages many people have claimed to be able to speak with the dearly departed. Ghosts and spirit communication often show up in classic literature, including mythology, the Bible and Shakespeare’s plays.
In Victorian England, it was fashionable in many circles to conduct séances; Ouija boards, three-legged tables, candles and other accoutrements were used to try to contact the dead. In the U.S., belief in communication with the dead rose dramatically in the 1800s along with the rise of Spiritualism, a religion founded on hoaxed spirit communication by two young sisters in Hydesville, N.Y. Despite the fact that the sisters later admitted they had only been pretending to get messages from the dead, the religion they helped start flourished, claiming more than 8 million adherents by 1900.
For well over a century, many mediums have been caught faking spirit communication. Harry Houdini exposed many psychics as frauds who used trickery to make vulnerable people believe in the reality of spirit messages. (For more on this, see Massimo Polidoro‘s book “Final Séance,” Prometheus Books, 2001).
Whether real or faked, the messages supposedly conveyed from the great beyond have changed dramatically over time. A century ago, mediums “in touch with the spirit” during séances would write pages and pages of “automatic writing,” the psychic’s hands allegedly guided by ghosts to convey lengthy handwritten messages.
Curiously, ghosts seem to have lost their will (or ability) to write since that time — or even communicate effectively. These days the spirits (as channeled through mediums) seem to prefer a guessing game and instead offer only ambiguous, vague information: “I’m getting a presence with the letter M, or J in the name? A father, or father figure perhaps? Did he give you something special to remember him by, something small?”
If spirit communication is real, one might think . . .
- Skeptical ‘Zombies’ Attack Alleged Psychic James Van Praagh (VIDEO) (illuminutti.com)
- British Psychic TV Channels Fined For Not Telling Viewers It’s All B.S. (illuminutti.com)
- Poltergeists: Noisy Spirits (livescience.com)
- What’s a Séance? Tales from My First One (lovehealingbliss.wordpress.com)
- A Discussion of Spirit Communication and Exercises for the Novice (epages.wordpress.com)
- Mediums, Psychics – Snakeoil Salesmen (skepticsguidetolife.wordpress.com)
- Seeing Ghosts (hintonfran6.wordpress.com)
A slightly dated story from October 2011, but still fun. :)
Mason I. Bilderberg (MIB)
Psychic James Van Praagh has made a fortune by allegedly speaking to the dead, but apparently he has no time for the undead.
That’s what a group of zombies recently discovered when they showed up at one of Van Praagh’s $100-a-head “spirit circles” hoping to pick Van Praagh’s brain about his so-called psychic powers.
For the record, the zombies were actually members of the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF), an organization that works to expose paranormal and pseudoscientific frauds.
Still, that doesn’t mean they weren’t out for blood, as protest signs reading “Talk to us, we won’t bite,” and “Psychics do not talk to the dead” demonstrated.
According to head zombie D.J. Grothe, who is also the president of the JREF and a Huffington Post blogger, the zombie attack was a fun way to make a point the organization is dead serious about: People who claim to speak to the dead, such as celebrity psychics like Van Praagh, Sylvia Browne and John Edward, are taking advantage of grieving people.
“We’re not rabble rousing,” Grothe told HuffPost Weird News. “This is a guy who is taking advantage of people’s grief. He’s not performing for entertainment, he’s claiming he’s giving messages from dead relatives. He gets people when they are at their lowest and sees them as his target market.”
Grothe says the group decided to dress up as the undead because Van Praagh has, so far, dodged questions about whether he’ll accept the foundation’s million-dollar challenge to prove his claimed psychic medium abilities under scientific conditions.
In the video, Van Praagh’s representatives first promise to get someone to talk with the group, but instead have the group kicked out by security.
- Dead Wrong, . . . Again (illuminutti.com)
- James Van Praagh Opens the Door to the Spirit World (omtimes.com)
- Sylvia Browne and the house of cards (skeptophilia.blogspot.com)
- Sally Morgan’s Just Another “Psychic” Predator. (matthewbuckley.net)
- Long Island Medium – How She Does It (noelanirodriguez.com)
- Dr. Oz, Psychics, and Bad Science (petruchio71.wordpress.com)
- Dead Wrong, …Again (skepticblog.org)
By RICHARD JOHNSON via NYPOST.com
Jurors at the Jacko trial heard testimony from a surprise witness yesterday — the ghost of Michael Jackson!
Randy Phillips, CEO of concert promoterAEG Live, testified about a chat he had with his longtime friend Brenda Richie, who claimed to have talked to a medium who had channeled the spirit of The Gloved One after his 2009 death.
In the supernatural tête-á-tête, Jacko’s ghost allegedly absolved Dr. Conrad Murray of any guilt in his death and admitted he “accidentally killed himself,” Phillips said.
“Brenda called me to tell me that she was in communications with Michael either through a medium or directly,” Phillips told jurors about his talk with Richie, the ex-wife of singer Lionel Richie.
“She said Michael told her that it wasn’t Dr. Murray’s fault, that he had accidentally killed himself.”
Brian Panish, a lawyer for Michael Jackson’s family, objected to Phillips’ ghost story, calling it triple hearsay, since Phillips was relaying a chat from Richie, who had heard from a medium, who — allegedly — spoke to a dead Jacko.
Remarkably — over the laughter of courtroom spectators — LA County Superior Court Judge Yvette Palazuelos allowed Phillips’ explanation to stand.
- GTFOHWTBS: AEG CEO Randy Phillips Testifes He Spoke To Michael Jackson’s Ghost,”It Wasn’t Dr. Conrad Murray’s Fault” (bossip.com)
- michael jacksons ghost says conrad murray is innocent (thescottishsun.co.uk)
- Lionel Richie’s ex-wife says Michael Jackson’s ghost declared his death an accident (breakingnews.ie)
- MICHAEL Jackson’s death has been declared an accident – by his own GHOST (iamnotashamedofthegospelofchrist.com)
- Michael Jackson’s Ghost Testifies in Trial (weeklyworldnews.com)
- This is believable… (realfuzzypolitics.wordpress.com)
- Aeg Live Boss: ‘Michael Jackson’s Spirit Absolved Dr. Conrad Murray’ (contactmusic.com)
- Michael Jackson’s ghost ‘said death was an accident’ (digitalspy.co.uk)
- Michael Jackson so drunk before comeback announcement he had to be slapped sober (mirror.co.uk)
Psychic Kenneth Quinn connects Today Now! studio guests with former landlords and friends of work friends who have died for stilted conversations from beyond.
- You Hear and See Dead People? Mediumship in a Nutshell (tarotdreamer.wordpress.com)
- Mediumship 101 – What You Should Know (omtimes.com)
by Dr. Karen Stollznow via randi.org
A fellow Twitter user recently asked me for my impressions of the The Dead Files. The Travel Channel show first aired back in September, 2011, and is now into its third season. Here is the network’s glowing blurb:
The Dead Files team approaches every case from their two specific areas of expertise: Steve DiSchiavi is a Homicide Detective and Amy Allan is a Physical Medium. They are a paranormal team like no other, combining their unique, eclectic and often-conflicting skills to solve unexplained paranormal phenomena in haunted locations across America.
Across the internet viewers rave that The Dead Files isn’t like other ghost hunting shows in that they don’t use EMF readers or record EVPs. Of course, this show is more comparable to The Long Island Medium in that regard, and showcases Amy’s alleged skills as a psychic medium, sensitive and empath. Her bio claims that, “Her abilities have been studied and tested by leading parapsychologists.” She claims to have been “mentored” by the late William Roll, a parapsychologist and big believer in mediumship. Amy appears to hold a BA in psychology and other qualifications in business. However, she was working as a massage therapist in Denver before she got her TV gig.
Her bio also states that she has “worked with many private investigators and police agencies.” There is no proof offered to back up these claims. As we know, there are very few documented cases where psychics have assisted law enforcement agencies and ever fewer where the police thought they were of any use. Even then, their help is never proven to be psychic. A Denver cold case detective once said to local investigators Bryan & Baxter, “I wish we had a phone line that was specifically for psychics to call and leave their tips; and then we’d never answer it.” He added, “If someone contacted us with information that led us to a body then that person would become a suspect.”
In The Dead Files, Amy and Steve travel to a “haunted” location and conduct an investigation – independently. “Each investigator’s methods and findings remain hidden from the other team member to preserve the integrity of their findings.” Before Amy visits the premises, cameraman Matthew Anderson performs a “cleaning” of the premises to remove any pieces of “leading information” that could influence Amy’s reading. Of course, removing photographs and collectibles doesn’t prevent a cold reader from gleaning information. In every episode I spotted overlooked clues, including a cross on the wall. At any rate, she is there because the place is allegedly haunted, and not to read the occupants, as such. Each place is invariably found to be “haunted”.
Amy does a walk through of the premises and Matthew films her commentary. In every episode I have watched she asserts immediately, “There’s something here”. Her repertoire of “feelings” is recycled, and in every show she claims to experience a “choking sensation”, and reports the presence of “shadow figures” and “demons” lurking everywhere. Her melodramatic visions are of typical situations that underpin alleged “hauntings”, including physical abuse, family arguments, illness and death. Amy ends the investigations by having a sketch artist draw a picture of one of the “ghosts” she saw on the premises. Alternatively, she draws an image of something she saw or felt.
All in all, Amy is a cold reader.
MORE . . .
- A review of the top paranormal events of 2012 (illuminutti.com)
- 2012 Failed and Forgotten Psychic Predictions (illuminutti.com)
- Dead Wrong: Travel Channel’s The Dead Files (randi.org)
- Paranormal Weekend Haunts Crescent Hotel (arkansasmatters.com)
- Haunting Tales: Texas Poltergeist Ranch (newsfromthespiritworld.com)
Subjective validation is the process of validating words, initials, statements, or signs as accurate because one is able to find them personally meaningful and significant. Subjective validation explains why many people are seduced by the apparent accuracy of pseudoscientific personality profiles. Subjective validation deludes everyone from the housewife who thinks her happiness depends on her blood type or horoscope, to the FBI agent who thinks criminal profiles are spot on, to the therapist who thinks her Rorschach readings are penetrating portraits of psychological disorders.
Subjective validation is an essential element of any successful cold reading done by astrologers, palm readers, tarot readers, mediums, and the like. The sitter in such readings must cooperate. Fortunately for the medium, most sitters are usually eager for the reader to succeed and are willing to work hard to find personal meaning in whatever the reader throws out. In a successful cold reading, the sitter will be convinced that the accuracy of the reading was not due to her ability and willingness to cooperate but rather to the powers of astrology, palmistry, tarot, or mediumship.
Sitters are often very compliant. A medium will say he senses a father figure trying to contact him from the spirit world and the sitter has only to find someone to fit the bill. It need not be the sitter’s father. So, when the sitter identifies this father figure as her deceased husband, the medium is validated by the subject. The medium is validated by the subject when the medium says she is getting the message “I do not walk alone” and the sitter makes sense out of this by seeing it as a communication from a departed soul who was in a wheelchair before she died. There may be thousands of ways to make sense out of an ambiguous stimulus like the name ‘Michael’ or the expression ‘broken wheel’ but all it takes is for the sitter to find one and the medium is validated.
Selective memory is also involved in subjective validation because it is very unlikely that any sitter will be able to find meaning in every utterance the medium makes. Fortunately for the reader, the sitter will usually forget the misses and remember only the hits. That is, the sitter will remember what she was able to make sense out of and forget the stuff that made no sense to her. Also, it rarely occurs that anyone makes an independent check of the accuracy of the sitter’s rating of the reader.* So, if a sitter is satisfied that a reading is very accurate that is usually taken as sufficient evidence by the medium – and by experimenters who test mediums such as Gary Schwartz – as proof of the accuracy of the reading.
The stronger the desire to make contact, the harder the sitter will work to find meaning and connections in the medium’s items. This fact should impact the design of experiments that are supposed to test a medium’s ability to get messages from spirits. Experimenters should always checks factual claims made by sitters. But even though the concern with factual accuracy is important in verifying the success of the medium, one should not lose sight of the importance of the studies that have been done on how the human mind works when it comes to making sense out of and giving significance to disparate data presented to it. The overall effect of subjective validation should show up in the way sitters rate the accuracy of the mediums’ claims.
- Top 10 Things You Can’t Prove But People Believe Anyway (illuminutti.com)
- Halloween challenge: psychics submit their powers to a scientific trial | Chris French (guardian.co.uk)
Automatic writing is writing allegedly directed by a spirit or by the unconscious mind. It is sometimes called “trance” writing because it is done quickly and without judgment, writing whatever comes to mind, “without consciousness,” as if in a trance. It is believed that this allows one to tap into the subconscious mind, where “the true self” dwells. Uninhibited by the conscious mind, deep and mystical thoughts can be accessed. Trance writing is also used by some psychotherapists who think it is a quick way to release repressed memories. There is no scientific evidence that trance writing has any unique therapeutic value.
Advocates of automatic writing claim that the process allows them to access other intelligences and entities for information and guidance. They further claim that it permits them to recall previously irretrievable data from the subconscious mind and to unleash spiritual energy for personal growth and revelation. According to psychic Ellie Crystal, entities from beyond are constantly trying to communicate with us. Apparently, we all have the potential to be as clairaudient as James Van Praagh and John Edward.
MORE . . .
- Neuroimaging during Trance State: A Contribution to the Study of Dissociation (plosone.org)
- Automatic Writing (lunaticoutpost.com)
- channelled languages and similar phenomena 3 (non-historical ‘fringe’ linguistics 12) (skepticalhumanities.com)
- Brazilian Mediums Shed Light on Brain Activity During a Trance State (greatwhitesharkmusic.com)
- The Subconscious Mind Is Spirit! (essencelifeblog.com)
- Dead son’s spirit holds my hand to write letters to me (thesun.co.uk)
- What’s the Difference Between the Conscious and Subconscious Minds? (geniusmindblog.wordpress.com)
Empirical proof helps us validate what we should and shouldn’t believe, but sometimes cold hard facts just aren’t available. Even when we don’t have solid proof, however, humans still tend to extend their sense of belief to certain phenomenon. From things we could never see with the human eye to life forms that have yet to be verified, here are the top 10 things we believe despite a lack of verifiable proof.
10 – Aliens
While conspiracy theories and UFO sightings abound, we don’t have verifiable proof that other lifeforms exist in the space beyond our own planet. Still, many people firmly believe that there is life on other planets, or that life did exist at some point in the past. From video claims of inexplicable objects in the sky, to personal testimonials from people who say they’ve been taken into a spacecraft, we want to believe that there is more to life than what is on our own planet even if it has yet to be scientifically proven as fact.
9 – Astrology
The notion of astrology is not a new one; people have been making major life decisions by the stars for centuries. Without any real proof that the way the planets and stars are aligned will actually shape a person, we believe that if we are born under a certain zodiac sign we are bound to a particular disposition and set of skills. Daily horoscopes and astrological charts have become a guiding tool for many people, who truly think that one’s birth date determines her fate and can help her make day-to-day decisions.
8 – Cryptids
Cryptids are animals whose existence has never been proven by science, such as Bigfoot or the infamous West Virginia Mothman. Enough sightings and amateur photographs exist that we consider it possible that these creatures really do walk or swim the Earth with us, even though they don’t exist in museums and aren’t officially acknowledged. Until the Loch Ness monster or another cryptid is captured, they will continue to be merely mystical creatures of which no proof exists.
7 – Ghosts
Anyone who claims to have seen a ghost might say that there is proof of spirit life, but skeptics would argue that any ghostly sighting can be explained away by lighting tricks or other logical reasons. At the end of the day, there may never be indisputable, tangible proof of ghosts. While ghost hunters have electronic tools meant to measure ghost activity, results are open to interpretation. Yet, we believe in ghostly encounters and phenomenon – that when things go bump in the night or move suddenly, a ghost can be the cause.
6 – Psychic Mediums
Psychic mediums purport to talk to people who have died and gone to “the other side.” Mediums convey details that they supposedly hear from the deceased to loved ones who are still alive. Despite any way to really measure how psychics come by the information they doll out, we believe that they are someone seeing and hearing signs from dead people. While psychic mediums offer a less than 100% accuracy rate, the desire to speak to our dead family and friends is so great that we overlook their mistakes and grant them the benefit of the doubt.
5 – Karma
Whether you call it karma, or just “what goes around comes around,” people have a common belief that the behavior you exhibit today somehow informs what happens to you down the road. With no more than anecdotal proof, we think that acting morally or fairly now will yield positive things for us in the future. Despite the simple fact that we can never prove that karma exists, it remains a principle that many people live by in the hopes that they can reap the benefits it promises.
MORE . . .
- Top 10 Things You Can’t Prove But People Believe Anyway (listverse.com)
- Idaho scientist to search for bigfoot from a blimp (io9.com)
What is it about the artistic mind that seems to allow the more remote and esoteric aspects of existence to shimmer through the cracks in our reality? Far more often than not, it seems that individuals who are gifted in the arts claim to be more spiritual and—to put it bluntly—psychically attuned.
Countless numbers of individuals have claimed to be both progenitors of the arts, in addition to being at least mildly “in touch” with spiritual essences that are not immediately made available to the average person. But is this really a gift that many artists seem to have, or is it just the result of the creative aspects underlying the minds of such personalities taking charge, and thus creating the sometimes-convincing impression of being gifted with special abilities?
While there are indeed studies that are well known already linking musical abilities with increased success in various other cognitive activities, a different kind of study was recently brought to my attention by good friend Thomas Cameron, a martial arts instructor and colleague of mine based out of Chicago. Tom had begun a recent correspondence with me by posing similar questions, and then began to posit theories regarding level of artistic or musical ability in relation to extra-sensory gifts. Then he mentioned a study that seemed, at least peripherally, to lend some justification to why, precisely, this might be. The process of the study, according to Cameron, was as follows: …
Psychic mediums perform one-on-one sessions for sitters. Stage mediums typically offer personal readings, but they also perform short psychic readings to an audience. Unless the stage medium performs a hot reading, otherwise known as cheating, the main tool is cold reading. This involves observation, psychology and elicitation to provide the appearance of psychic powers. Let’s look at the typical formula used by stage mediums, and explore some commonly used linguistic and psychological techniques.
Naming is a fundamental part of any psychic medium reading. The medium mentions a common name, in order to find willing subjects for readings. Additional names or initials may be added, to narrow down the contenders to a single subject. I recently witnessed a different technique used by up-and-coming medium Rebecca Rosen at her Denver show. She began her performance by reading a list of names of spirits that had “lined up all day to leave messages for the audience.” This way, the audience was already drawing connections to the names and preparing for a reading. Her list included:
Keep Reading: Tricks of the Psychic Trade | Psychology Today.
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