Secrets of the Psychics – James Randi
Original broadcast: October 19, 1993
Description via PBS.org:
Can psychics predict the future? Many people seem to think so. Others argue that, in most cases, so-called psychic experiences are really misinterpretations of events. In this episode of NOVA, magician and confirmed skeptic James Randi challenges viewers to weigh the evidence for and against the existence of psychic phenomena.
Randi argues that successful psychics depend on the willingness of their audiences to believe that what they see is the result of psychic powers. The program highlights some of the methods and processes he uses to examine psychics’ claims. Using his own expertise in creating deception and illusion, Randi challenges specific psychics’ claims by duplicating their performances and “feats,” or by applying scientific methods. His goal is to eliminate all possible alternative explanations for the psychic phenomena. He also looks for evidence that they are not merely coincidental. His arguments can motivate your class to discuss the differences between psychic performances and legitimate cases of unexplained phenomena.
From October 2017 –
TODAY Show national investigative correspondent Jeff Rossen set out to test if psychics could predict his future … for a fee.
Another Law School for You
WASHINGTON, December 24, 2017: Psychics, or fortune-tellers, predict information about a person’s life. For most people, sitting in front of a psychic is for fun. The laugh is worth the five dollars. Unfortunately for some, the weak or vulnerable, consulting a psychic is too often a sure way to lose significant money and to be emotionally thrown down the proverbial rabbit’s hole.
Psychics in person, online, or on the telephone, cheat people experiencing times of trouble in the areas of romance, money, and health. Those who are lonely, have undergone a recent romantic breakup, who have suffered a financial setback, who have been sued, are sick, or have sick relatives sometimes turn to psychics. They actually pay these frauds significant sums of money so that they can hear their future in the hope that their future will be better.
P.T. Barnum, of Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus fame, is widely credited for his understanding of this phenomenon. He summed it up in one famous statement: “There’s a sucker born every minute.”
Millions consult psychics, mediums, palmists, card readers and others who claim supernatural abilities to predict the future every year. In one 2009 study, the Pew Forum found that in that year about 1 in 7 people reach out to psychics or other types of fortune-tellers.
Regulation of psychics
While virtually every part of our lives is regulated in some way, it is shockingly surprising that these fraudulent psychics are not as regulated as one might think. Laws governing fraud exist in every state. But few states actually have laws addressing the scams perpetrated by psychics and their like.
Regulating an industry that calls itself supernatural is challenging. Particularly one that claims it is beyond the understanding of modern science and one that has no educational requirements. Yet these fortune tellers charge, often heavily, for their services.
Some psychics claim their services are a religious activity. They claim their earnings are similar to donations made to other religious organizations, i.e., not taxed. Others offer that they are entertainers. They even post disclaimers to shield themselves from any losses or injuries suffered by their customers who take their advice. Some rely on the First Amendment’s right to free speech.
Can you test psychic claims with science? Here are a few creative ways that you can test psychic powers scientifically as well as the results of these types of tests that have been performed hundreds of times over the last fifty years. This is part of my Exposing Psychics series.
What are Barnum Statements (The Forer Effect)? Let’s uncover how psychics use the Rainbow Ruse and psychic number games to fool their victims. We’ll examine clips of Theresa Caputo, John Edward, James Van Praagh, Joe Power, Rosemary Altea, and other alleged psychics to expose psychic tricks and cold reading methods just as magicians/skeptics like Derren Brown, Paul Zenon, and James Randi have done before. Don’t fall for their tricks, stay skeptical and don’t drink the psychic Koolaid!
There are many people who promote themselves as psychics or clairvoyants, and who claim that their powers enable them to read your character, make contact with dead relatives, or provide insights into your life and your future.
Despite their claims, there has never been a successful demonstration of these powers in a laboratory, under properly controlled conditions. Indeed, the National Committee of Australian Skeptics offers a cash prize of $100,000 for any PROVEN demonstration of such powers. See The Prize.
By far the most common method employed by psychics who have been put to the test is called cold reading. This method involves the psychic reading the subject’s body language etc, and skilfully extracting information from the subject, which can then be fed back later, convincing the subject that the psychic has told them things they couldn’t possibly have known!
The following is our 13 point guide to cold reading — Study them well, then amaze your friends with your new found psychic powers!
1. Remember that the key ingredient of a successful character reading is confidence.
If you look and act as if you believe in what you are doing, you will be able to sell even a bad reading to most subjects. One danger of playing the role of reader is that you may actually begin to believe that you really are divining your subject’s true character!
2. Make creative use of the latest statistical abstracts, polls and surveys.
These can provide you with much information about what various subclasses in our society believe, do, want , worry about etc. For example, if you can ascertain a subject’s place of origin, educational level, and his/her parents’ religion and vocations, you have gained information which should allow you to predict with high probability his/her voting preferences and attitudes to many subjects.
3. Set the stage for your reading.
Profess a modesty about your talents. Make no excessive claims. You will then catch your subject off guard. You are not challenging them to a battle of wits – You can read his/her character, whether he/she believes you or not.
4. Gain the subject’s cooperation in advance.
Emphasise that the success of the reading depends as much on the subject’s cooperation as on your efforts. (After all, you imply, you already have a successful career at character reading — You are not on trial, your subject is!) State that due to difficulties of language and communication, you may not always convey the meaning you intend. In these cases, the subject must strive to fit the reading to his/her own life. You accomplish two valuable ends with this dodge — Firstly, you have an alibi in case the reading doesn’t click; it’s the subject’s fault, not yours! Secondly, your subject will strive to fit your generalities to his/her specific life circumstances. Later, when the subject recalls the reading, you will be credited with much more detail than you actually provided! This is crucial. Your reading will only succeed to the degree that the subject is made an active participant in the reading. The good reader is the one who , deliberately or unwittingly, forces the subject to search his/her mind to make sense of your statements.
Use of props serves two valuable purposes. Firstly, it lends atmosphere to the reading. Secondly, (and more importantly) it gives you time to formulate your next question/statement. Instead of just sitting there, thinking of something to say, you can be intently studying the cards /crystal ball etc. You may opt to hold hands with your subject — This will help you feel the subject’s reactions to your statements. If you are using , say, palmistry (the reading of hands) it will help if you have studied some manuals, and have learned the terminology. This will allow you to more quickly zero in on your subject’s chief concerns — “do you wish to concentrate on the heart line or the wealth line?“
6. Have a list of stock phrases at the tip of your tongue.
Even during a cold reading, a liberal sprinkling of stock phrases will add body to the reading and will help you fill in time while you formulate more precise characterisations. Use them to start your readings. Palmistry, tarot and other fortune telling manuals are a key source of good phrases.
Some say they are tools by which demons can influence us; others regard them as mechanisms for communicating with the deceased; still others dismiss them as toys that can be used to fool your friends. But however we regard them, Ouija boards have left an indelible mark on our culture. But of most interest is the question they raise: Can they indeed be used to reveal information unknown to any of the participants whose hands rest on the pointer? Today we’re going to find out what the science has revealed about Ouija boards.
Historically, these are called talking boards, and they’ve been around in spiritualism almost as long as spiritualists. They all involve a planchette, which is the pointer that seance participants all place their hands on, which then moves. How does it move? Well, that’s the fun if it’s a game, and it’s the spirit if it’s a seance. The planchette can either point to letters, numbers, or symbols written on the playing surface; or it can hold a writing implement that moves over paper to produce so-called spirit writing, or automatic writing.
The Ouija board is the name of the most successful talking board that’s been manufactured commercially, first by the Charles Kennard Novelty Company in 1890, then by Parker Brothers since 1966, and by Hasbro since 1991.
It’s true that name Ouija is the French and German words for yes, oui and ja. That’s officially what the game’s publisher will tell you it means, and that comes all the way down from one of the original bosses of the company, William Fuld. But Fuld wasn’t the first, and before he came along, the founders had their own explanation for the name.
The story goes — and it is just a story, there’s really no record telling us how much truth there may or may not be to it — that two of the four founders, Charles Kennard and Elijah Bond, were hanging out at the boarding house where Bond’s sister-in-law lived, Helen Peters, and they were, of course, playing with their new invention.
Detecting psychic scams & debunking mediums is easier when you know how psychic methods like cold reading work. Don’t be fooled by psychic misdirection. Cold reading tricks are used by psychics to convince an audience that they know things that they don’t – using high probability guesses, generalized statements, and linguistic techniques. Stay skeptical, dare to be curious, but don’t fall for this bullshit, and don’t drink the koolaid.
Detecting psychic scams & debunking mediums is easier when you know how psychic methods like hot reading work. Don’t be fooled by psychic misdirection. Expert mentalists, skeptics, and magicians Penn and Teller, Derren Brown, Paul Zenon, James Randi, and Mark Edward will reveal the secrets of psychics by exposing disgraceful psychic tricks used by psychic Sally Morgan, The Long Island Medium (Theresa Caputo), Rosemary Altea, Peter Popoff, Joe Power, James Van Praagh, and more. Stay skeptical, dare to be curious, but don’t fall for this bullshit, and don’t drink the koolaid.
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:
These two videos are absolutely brutal to watch. I love it. I enjoy watching these con artists fail at their con game.
Part 1 –
Part 2 –
By Mike McRae via ScienceAlert
Throughout history, there have been individuals who believe they’ve caught a sense of events yet to come.
True clairvoyance is unsupported by scientific evidence, but a subtle difference in how some people perceive the timing of events could help explain why many remain convinced of their psychic abilities.
A study by researchers from Yale University has provided some insight into why people think they have supernatural foresight, hinting at a physiological basis behind certain delusions.
The weight of evidence makes it fairly clear the human brain is not influenced by future events.
In many cases, proposed psychic abilities are the result of intentional fraud, with charlatans employing the same kinds of tricks mentalist magicians have used for centuries to feign mind reading and fortune telling.
But not all people who claim extraordinary abilities of future-sight are out to make a quick buck or two. Dismissing it as a sign of mental illness also tells us little about how such beliefs develop in otherwise healthy brains.
To gain an understanding of the neurological underpinnings of psychic prediction, the researchers made use of a test that had previously demonstrated a link between the timing of a colour changing shape, and the subject’s judgement of their ability to predict its transformation.
Only this time the researchers also evaluated the volunteers’ beliefs.
Continue Reading @ ScienceAlert – – –
By Clare Wilson via New Scientist
Beloved of spiritualists and bored teenagers on a dare, the Ouija board has long been a source of entertainment, mystery and sometimes downright spookiness. Now it could shine a light on the secrets of the unconscious mind.
The Ouija, also known as a talking board, is a wooden plaque marked with the words, “yes”, “no” and the letters of the alphabet. Typically a group of users place their hands on a movable pointer , or “planchette”, and ask questions out loud. Sometimes the planchette signals an answer, even when no one admits to moving it deliberately.
Believers think the answer comes through from the spirit world. In fact, all the evidence points to the real cause being the ideomotor effect, small muscle movements we generate unconsciously.
That’s why the Ouija board has attracted the attention of psychologists at the University of British Columbia in Canada. Growing evidence suggests the unconscious plays a role in cognitive functions we usually consider the preserve of the conscious mind.
The unexpected facts behind this famous ghost story from the 1970s
It was one of the great ghost stories of the 1970s. One of the world’s newest and flashiest airliners, a Lockheed L-1011 TriStar, was making one of its first flights for Eastern Air Lines on December 29, 1972. It infamously crashed in Florida’s Everglades swamp just before midnight, killing 101 of the 176 people on board. The story goes that parts from it were salvaged and installed in other L-1011s, and almost immediately, the ghost stories began. Air crews reported seeing apparitions of their dead coworkers on board the planes that had Flight 401’s spare parts. Books and TV movies frightened audiences, and this ghost story that had it all became a permanent fixture in great American tales of the paranormal. Surely, pilots and air crew would never make up such stories, would they? To all who shivered at night in fear of this creepy story, it seemed that it must have been true as reported.
The actual crash was, in fact, true as reported; and there’s never been any real doubt over what the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) investigators determined. Pilot Bob Loft, copilot Bert Stockstill, and flight engineer Don Repo were bringing the plane in to land at Miami International Airport. They got a warning light on the landing gear. Loft told Stockstill to put the plane on autopilot while Repo went below to the avionics bay (called the “hell hole”) to manually check the landing gear. Loft accidentally nudged the control yoke, perhaps with his knee, while turning around to speak to Repo, and the autopilot mode was one which followed whatever pitch the pilot set with the yoke. None of them realized in the dark that they were gradually descending, as their attention was on debugging the landing gear indicator. Stockstill began a turn to follow the airport’s approach pattern, and immediately noticed their altitude — but it was too late. The plane crashed into the swamp; fortunately, it was a relatively gentle angle into a soft surface, and that’s what allowed so many to survive. All three of Loft, Stockstill, and Repo were among the unlucky majority who perished.
The stories began four years later . . .
Also See: Eastern Air Lines Flight 401 (Wikipedia)
I know, it’s redundant. All psychics are fake and a scam, but some are worse than others.
When most people think of psychics they conjure an image (see what I did there) of someone dressed in robes in a mystically decorated parlor who reads your palm or the tarot cards for $40. They are making a meager living giving people a bit of harmless entertainment. Some may actually think they have powers, some may know it’s all an act, but what’s the harm?
In truth, however, many psychics are predators who scam people out of hundreds, thousands, even tens of thousands of dollars. They prey on the vulnerable and the desperate and can ruin lives. This is not a benign industry.
A recent report from Toronto is just one of many – a steady stream with no expectation of ending. They report stories of people who have been victimized by psychics promising to turn around their fortunes, while parasitically bleeding them of as much money as possible.
How the scam works
Encounters usually begin like any street-corner psychic, with a simple reading. Everyone who comes in for a reading is a potential mark. The more desperate the better.
Such psychics (I am just going to use the term “psychic” for convenience, but assume the usual caveats – alleged, fake, etc.) are adept at creating the illusion that they have some magical insight. They are, after all, just mentalists, and usually not very good ones. They don’t really have to be, as their audience wants to believe, often desperately.
Their primary tool is the cold reading. This is the technique of listening to what your mark says, then feeding it back to them as if it came to you magically. You can also make vague statements that are likely to apply to most people, then following up when you get a positive reaction, while glossing over any misses. Simple observation also plays a role. A willing target will do most of the hard work, making all the connections in their own mind. This can seem quite impressive to someone naive to the technique – in fact a skilled mentalist can seem impressive even to someone familiar with it.
This is all part of the grooming, drawing the mark in and gaining their confidence. This is, after all, a confidence game. Once you believe that the psychic has the magical power to fix your life, you are lost.
They then use a variety of tricks to bleed their marks of all their money. They may use some slight of hand, like pretending the water their mark gargled is full of insects, or an egg used in a seeing is full of black ichor. They try to convince their mark that they are cursed, and that the psychic has the power to lift the curse. This frequently involves praying over cash, gift cards, or other untraceable items of value – items the mark never sees again.
In one case a psychic scammed a business man whose girlfriend died unexpectedly out of $700,000.
While humanity has yet to generate any universally-accepted proof of ghosts or hauntings, millions of people around the world report seeing apparitions or experiencing ghostly encounters every year (and sometimes these events cluster around specific areas). Why? Is there any possible explanation for the purported appearance of ghosts?
By Elizabeth Palermo via LiveScience.com
People who believe in ghosts may be more afraid of actual, real-world dangers — things like violent crimes or nuclear war — than are people who don’t hold paranormal beliefs, a new survey finds.
The Survey of American Fear asked people in the United States to divulge the terrors that keep them up at night. For the survey, nearly 1,500 participants responded to questions about 88 different fears and anxieties, ranging from commonplace phobias (like fear of heights) to less tangible concerns (like fear of government corruption). The survey also asked participants about their beliefs concerning paranormal and mythical things, like ghosts, Bigfoot and ancient aliens.
“The reason we ask [about paranormal things] on the survey is that we’re interested in finding out what kind of clusters of beliefs tend to be associated with fear,” Christopher Bader, a professor of sociology at Chapman University in California and leader of the second annual Fear Survey, told Live Science.
Last year in the survey, researchers asked questions that gauged the respondents’ scientific reasoning. This was done to find out how the individuals’ knowledge of scientific ideas (how electricity works, why the sun sets in the west, etc.) related to those respondents’ fears. But this year, the focus was on supernatural beliefs, not scientific ones.
Bader and his colleagues found that quite a few Americans hold paranormal beliefs. The most common of these is the belief that spirits can haunt particular places; 41.4 percent of the demographically representative group of participants said they held this belief. A lot of Americans (26.5 percent) also think that the living and the dead can communicate with each other in some way, the survey found.
Many survey participants said . . .
Related to this video:
- Good Thinking Investigates: Faith Healer Peter Popoff (http://goodthinkingsociety.org)
- Two very different charlatans both selling the divine right to get rich quick (mirror.co.uk)
Anyone with half a brain knows that Ouija Boards are total nonsense, but here is a great way to 100% prove they are nonsense, and best thing is anyone can try this!
During Sylvia Browne’s decades-long career offering psychic readings and doing television appearances, she made numerous claims about working with law enforcement to solve crimes. In an age before the Internet, fact-checking by television and newspapers was more labor intensive. It was difficult to find sources to support or deny many of her claims. While several articles in the Skeptical Inquirer have cast doubt on her psychic abilities, Browne defended herself by citing her “work” on cases and giving the media endorsements from seemingly respectable law enforcement members, such as former Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent Ted Gunderson. Recently obtained FBI files shatter her insinuation that she had a relationship with federal law enforcement and show that the only interest the agency had in Browne was investigating her for fraud.
Records about a person in possession of an investigating government agency, such as the FBI, are available with the person’s permission or if they are deceased. In all likelihood, Browne would not have consented to the release of her FBI file given her refusal to allow Robert Lancaster, of StopSylvia.com, to post a transcript online that her own office sent him in 2007 (Lancaster 2007a). In her haste to refute claims from an ex-husband about an alleged lack of higher education credits, Browne’s office sent Lancaster her St. Teresa’s College (now Avila University) transcripts. The transcripts, according to Lancaster, did show Browne’s ex-husband was incorrect about how long she attended college. Yet unfortunately for Browne, that transcript also demonstrated that she did not complete college and proved her often-made claim about having a higher education degree was false. Given Browne’s reluctance to make records her office sent to a critic publicly available, she probably would not have been willing to allow the release of her law enforcement records. Following her 2013 death, anyone can now obtain the government files concerning Browne.
I filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the FBI asking for documents about Browne, using her date of birth under her previous legal last name of “Brown” and her later addition of “e” to the name.
By J. Francis Wolfe via Listverse
There is very good reason for all of humanity to have a healthy curiosity relating to near-death experiences. Death is the one experience we are all guaranteed to ultimately share. The field of science has therefore made numerous attempts to explain the near-death phenomena that so many people have independently described.
10 • The Temporoparietal Junction May Be Responsible For Out-Of-Body Experiences
Among the more common elements of near-death experiences is the distinct feeling of an individual having left their worldly body. Those who have had an “out-of-body” experience often report floating above themselves while being able to see their body and the people surrounding them. There have even been a few reports in which those who have had an out-of-body experience can identify objects and events occurring during times in which they were considered clinically dead, but there have also been studies demonstrating that this all could be due to damage in the temporoparietal junction of the brain.
The temporoparietal junction is responsible for assembling the data collected by the body’s senses and organs to form the perception of an individual’s body. When this part of the brain is damaged, it is possible that this results in the “out-of-body” experience that so many people have reported.
Though the experience may appear to be incredibly vivid and real, scientific studies have been able to reproduce this phenomenon without bringing the subject close to death, simply by electrically stimulating the temporoparietal junction of the brain.
9 • Excess Carbon Dioxide May Create The Tunnel And White Light
Nearly every individual who has had a near-death experience discusses the existence of a bright, white light and a tunnel that seems to lead to the afterlife. The white light seems to take on an otherworldly quality and is often accompanied by an overwhelming sense of peacefulness and welcoming.
A 2010 study of patients who had heart attacks revealed that there may be a correlation between this type of near-death experience and the level of CO2 in the blood. Out of the 52 cardiac patients studied, 11 reported a near-death experience. The levels of CO2 in the blood of those 11 patients were significantly higher than the patients who did not report having a near-death experience.
The feeling among researchers is that the excess CO2 in the bloodstream can have a significant effect on vision, which leads to patients seeing the tunnel and the bright light.
8 • Lack Of Oxygen To The Brain Causes Hallucinations
Many near-death experiences include the presence of long-dead friends and relatives appearing and perhaps even guiding the individual as they pass from the world of the living to the afterlife. Memories from every part of life are recalled in rapid succession, and there is an overwhelming sense of comfort, yet it appears that scientific research has provided an explanation for this phenomenon as well.
While excess CO2 has an effect on vision during a near-death experience, a lack of oxygen to the brain also plays a contributing role. It is well known that oxygen deprivation can lead to hallucinations and may even contribute to the feeling of euphoria that is often reported. While the sample size available to researchers is limited, studies have indicated that individuals who reported a near-death experience during cardiac arrest also had lower levels of oxygen.
Researchers believe that oxygen deprivation could well result in people “seeing their lives flash before their eyes” or being transported to a place where they are surrounded by friends and relatives who have long since passed on. This remains just a theory, however, as the other available research seems to indicate that multiple factors contribute to the near-death experience, which include the aforementioned CO2 levels as well. It makes sense in this regard that near-death experiences are commonly reported by those resuscitated following a heart attack, as a heart attack occurs when blood is blocked from reaching the brain.
On December 18, 1975, George and Kathy Lutz and their three children moved into a six-bedroom Dutch colonial home in Amityville, New York. But soon they were driven out, they claimed, by horrific supernatural forces. Ghosts? A poltergeist? Demons? Let’s take a look, as new claims continue to surface.
The Horror Tale
The Lutzes lasted just twenty-eight days before fleeing the house, reportedly leaving behind their possessions except for a few changes of clothes. Just three weeks later, they were telling an incredible tale.
The Lutzes claimed they had been attacked by sinister forces that ripped open a two-hundred-fifty-pound door, leaving it hanging from one hinge; threw open windows, bent their locks, and wrenched a banister from its fastenings; caused green slime to ooze from a ceiling; slid drawers rapidly back and forth; flipped a crucifix upside down; caused Kathy to levitate off the bed and turned her, briefly, into a wrinkled, toothless, drooling ninety-year-old crone; peered into the house at night with red eyes and left cloven-hooved tracks in the snow outside; infested a room in mid-winter with hundreds of houseflies; moved a four-foot ceramic statue of a lion about the house; produced cold spots and stenches; and caused other ostensibly paranormal phenomena, including speaking in a masculine voice, “Get out!”
These claims were detailed in the book, The Amityville Horror: A True Story, by Jay Anson (1977). However, the tale was a suspicious admixture of phenomena: part traditional haunting, part poltergeist disturbance, part demonic possession, with elements curiously similar to those from the movie The Exorcist thrown in for good measure.
In fact, the story soon began to fall apart, and in time a civil trial yielded evidence that the reputed events were mostly fiction.
Although claims in The Amityville Horror book and movie once seemed to have been laid to rest, in 2013 the case resurfaced again. This time the oldest child of the troubled family, Daniel Lutz, who was nine at the time of the brouhaha, has come forward to claim the essential story was true and that he and his stepfather George had been “possessed.”
A documentary, My Amityville Horror (2013), focuses on Daniel, who revises discredited material. For example, he says . . .
The history of ghost photography and its many problems as evidence.
In books promising you a glimpse of the beyond you find page after page of chilling photographic evidence that spirits of the dead walk the earth! A ghostly baby sits on a grave. A translucent figure descends a staircase. A childs face emerges from the flames of a devastating fire. Do these photographs offer real glimpses of ghosts? Or is there a more rational explanation for ghost photography? Let’s expose these mysterious images to the light of science and see what develops.
The history of ghost photography is closely tied to the history of photography itself. Early photography was much like all new technology in that enthusiasts had to become skilled with the various equipment and chemicals required for producing images. Before the invention of photographic film the photographers worked with chemically treated glass plates which could be cleaned and re-used to make new images. Early photographers were often running small businesses, using their photography to make portraits for 19th century families. Because of the bulk of their equipment, most worked in small studios rather than moving their equipment about. Sittings were arranged and paid for. The expensive glass plates were often cleaned and re-used, but if not cleaned properly the remnants of the old image could be seen in subsequent photos. This method of producing multiple exposures was certainly widely known within the field by the photographers, but was not well understood by the general public.
Before we dive into the story of the early spirit photographers, it is important to talk about the cultural stage upon which they performed. The spread of photography was happening simultaneous to the rise of a new religion or belief system called “Spiritualism.” The main ideas of spiritualism centered around the belief that the dead continue to exist as spirits and maintain their consciousness here on earth after they’ve died. Interaction with these spirits was said to be possible through the use of psychics or mediums. Spiritualism began in the 1840s and grew through the early 20th century, attracting millions of followers and adherents. In the wake of this growing movement, ideas such as parlor seances grew very popular and it was quite easy to find people who openly believed in spirits as a scientific reality.A large population of people seeking proof of life after death made it possible for a robust network of mediums to set up shop in the north east of the United States. It was in this environment that Boston photographer William Mumler introduced spirit photography to a community eager for more proof of life after death.
Mumler had been a jewelry engraver before he began his new career as a spirit photographer with a single photo which he alleged showed the image of one of his deceased relatives who had died several years before his self portrait was taken. In a time when photography was already an expensive proposition for a family looking for a portrait, Mumler was able to fetch several times the normal cost of a traditional photograph for one of his special portraits which would show a ghostly image of some alleged dead loved one along with the mundane image of the living subject.
How would he accomplish this? How did he fool people with his blurry but easy to reproduce multiple exposure photographs? It was a success for him because . . .
Did a poltergeist infest a home in Columbus, Ohio? Or was this the work of a mischievous teen?
In 1982 a terrifying phenomena was lifted from the pages of parapsychology literature and turned into the highly successful film, Poltergeist. Although the film was not based on a real case, and the phenomena in the film veered wildly from the historical symptoms, it did make this peculiar type of event culturally available in a way it had never been before. So when a trouble household in Columbus, Ohio began experiencing flying objects and mysterious disturbances, one had to wonder: was this a poltergeist or merely zeitgeist?
Enthusiasts of paranormal lore will know that the word poltergeist is derived from the german words for noisy and spirit. Before we get into the particulars of the Columbus Poltergeist, lets talk about skeptics and hauntings. Skeptics are often depicted as dismissing the idea of ghosts and spirits without investigation, but there is actually a rich history of thorough scientific investigations of such alleged phenomena. The most difficult challenge is that the allegedly paranormal events rarely manifest themselves when skeptical researchers are present. This leaves the investigator to more of a forensic role and sometimes with nothing but a collection of anecdotes.
Even the terminology for such events is difficult because a skeptical view of any such phenomena is predicated on examining each unusual component rather than collectively viewing them as a haunting. This is a problem for paranormal believers too in that ghost investigations are all trying to explain elusive phenomena. Consider these words: phantoms, shadows, phantasms, ghosts, spirits… there is a robust lexicon to describe these non-corporeal entities, but no scientific proof that any of them exist. For the purposes of this article I’m going to talk about various aspects of this field but remember that these are terms which the scientific community – and Skeptoid – do not endorse as real or genuine. So when I talk about hauntings I’m not endorsing the existence of supernatural manifestations, but using the word to mean “the collection of unusual events” associated with such cases.
Poltergeists cases are characterized by loud noises, things being thrown, apportations of tiny objects, mysterious liquids appearing, rocks falling on the roof, and occasionally people being pushed, clawed, pressed or otherwise harassed. In most cases the poltergeist events are centered around one person – often a teenager. Many times when this central figure is removed from the scene the events stop and do not follow them to other locations.
In 1984 the home of John and Joan Resch became the scene of such events. Glasses, photographs, telephones and lamps were being thrown about and broken and the events all seemed centered on the Resch’s adopted daughter Tina.
After my father died suddenly five years ago, I found myself sitting in the upstairs alcove of a high ranch in Kings Park that was decorated in gaudy crucifixes and adorable cherubs. Across from me sat the medium a friend had sworn by. A medium who had told my husband the day before that she’d been visited by my father and that he wanted to talk to me.
She wasn’t the first psychic medium I’d been to. And most certainly wasn’t the last. She described my father as a veteran (he was), who liked to cook (he did). She gave details about how he died, and described how he’d lived. The message she said he wished to relay to me resonated, quite deeply, but it was what she said to me as we were talking about my budding writing career that turned me into a believer.
“She gets it from me,” the medium told me my father had said. As a joke.
A wiseass even in the afterlife? That was what cemented the unbelievable truth to me that my dead father was right there in the room with me.
And so it was with an open mind that I attended Theresa Caputo Live! The Experience at the NYCB Theatre at Westbury on December 17. The packed house was rife with nervous laughter and quiet murmurs as the audience filed in an hour before she came onto Westbury’s iconic round stage, set with a high table draped in white cloth, holding lit white candles and a white floral bouquet.
Caputo finally walked out in sky-high sparkly Christian Louboutins and a flouncy dress to thunderous applause. She briefed the audience about what to expect, counseling us to please accept anything we could connect to our lives as messages to us from our departed loved ones from “beyond the physical world.” She said she couldn’t stress it enough, and she was true to her word, as she continuously reminded the audience throughout the next two and a half hours to interpret her words as direct messages, especially if she failed to address each of us individually.
“It’s so nice to be home,” the Hicksville mom told the Westbury audience. “Everybody understands my accent!”
The audience laughed in recognition as she enunciated words like “feather’ and “father” as “feath-ah” and “fath-ah.”
I firmly believe in the importance of skeptics attending psychic shows, to see firsthand how the biggest touring psychics in the country claim to put audience members in touch with the spirits of their dearly departed – for entertainment purposes only, naturally. In seeing such shows up close and witnessing their effect on devoted audiences we get to see how seriously people take the word of a psychic, and therefore how serious an issue it is if the person making the claims doesn’t have the supernatural powers they profess.
One such show I recently attended was that of psychic Paula O’Brien, whose Liverpool show saw a modest audience of around 150 gather in a hotel function room, eager for Paula to make contact with the other side. Among the usual fare of scattergun names (“Is there a Stephen or a Stewart or a Scott?”) and random numbers and dates (“What does the number three or the month of March or the 3rd of any month mean?”) there were a few points that particularly stood out to a skeptical viewer.
Most disturbing was the lady who told Paula she had attempted suicide on two occasions since the death of her husband. Clearly this was a sensitive subject, and one which needed to be handled with care – or, ideally, left to qualified experts. All of which made Paula’s response shocking: “I promise you, if you try again – and this is your husband’s words – you’ll be in a wheelchair sucking through a straw.”
We then learned that the audience member in question had taken to smearing her deceased husband’s ashes on her skin before leaving the house, after being advised by another psychic that she should abandon her plans to scatter his ashes, and instead should keep them close at all times. It is hard to witness such cases and still wonder whether there is any harm in seeing a psychic.
by Gordon Bonnet via Skeptophilia
Suppose you were walking in the woods, and suddenly, you stumbled on a root, and fell flat on your face. And while you were lying on your belly, trying to regain your breath and your dignity, you noticed that right in front of your eyes was a twenty-dollar bill that someone had dropped.
You might decide that your bad luck in tripping over a tree root had been cancelled out by the good luck of now being twenty dollars richer. You might, on the other hand, attribute it to complete chance and the chaotic nature of the universe, where sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and the whole thing appears to be a big zero-sum game.
What I can almost guarantee you wouldn’t do is decide that the money had exerted a magical gravitational attraction toward your face, and had caused you to fall.
I bring this up because of a maddening article in the Kent and Sussex Courier that tells of a fortuitous archaeological discovery in the town of Tunbridge Wells. Some “scientists,” we are told, were poking around Calverley Grounds, a local park, and found a mass burial site (probably a “plague pit” from the bubonic plague epidemic of 1660), and also the site of a skirmish between the Normans and the Saxons.
Cool stuff. But I haven’t told you yet how they found it.
Yes, dowsing, that time-honored tradition of holding metal rods or tree branches in your hands, and imagining that aquifers (or mineral deposits or burial sites or damn near anything) could somehow pull on them and alert you to their presence. How on earth could that work, you might ask? Well, an article by Stephen Wagner gives us the following definitive answer:
The quick answer is that no one really knows – not even experienced dowsers. Some theorize there is a psychic connection established between the dowser and the sought object. All things, living and inanimate, the theory suggests, possess an energy force. The dowser, by concentrating on the hidden object, is somehow able to tune in to the energy force or “vibration” of the object which, in turn, forces the dowsing rod or stick to move. The dowsing tool may act as a kind of amplifier or antenna for tuning into the energy.
Righty-o. An “energy force.” That, strangely, is completely undetectable except to a dude holding a tree branch.
Reality or defect Film? The Most Famous Photos of Ghosts
Many of us are Skeptical and do not Believe That Ghosts really exist, or even more May Appear in Photographs. But the Stories are A few Cases When the Photographs from Different years appeared Vague outlines of Faces and figures of people.
Many of Them Were Seen in the first half of the Twentieth century, when no template existed. So what WAS it really? Fans of Esoterica sure That Spirits of the Dead, and rationalists Argue That this is Just A reflection of the Light. But better make up their minds about these strange phenomena: here a selection of the most famous photographs from “ghosts.”
One of the most popular photos with “ghost” was made in 1919. On A Group Photo of the Crew of the ship “Daedalus” for one of the men is Seen face. Claimed That this person Mechanics Freddie, WHO died A few days before , Fell Under the propeller blades. In the day When Photo WAS taken, Were Buried Freddie. THUS Man allegedly wanted to Say goodbye to friends and colleagues His.
In 1959, Mabel Chinnery WAS returning from the cemetery, WHERE He visited His Mother’s Grave. She Decided to Take A picture of her husband, WHO WAS Waiting for her in the car.The photograph Clearly Shows That in the backseat someone is. Mabel Easily IDENTIFIED in an Unknown Figure, His Mother A WHO died few years ago. Experts have studied the Long Photo and concluded That there WAS no manipulation of it WAS Carried out.
This photo dates from 1966 When A Man Decided to Capture the beautiful spiral Staircase Museum of Greenwich in the UK. When development on the photos appeared Silhouette of A Man Climbing the Stairs. About Maritime Museum Greenwich Often Say That there is wandering Evil Spirits. Many visitors hear strange sounds and see the transparent human figures.
In November 1995, DURING A Major Fire Burned Building Town Hall Vem in one of the counties of Great Britain. While the House WAS burning, none of the firefighters did not See the little Girl WHO then appeared on the developed Film. Skeptics Claim That the image Could BE Obtained in this Because of the smoke, and the scattered Light. But such Would A person Could Get A Girl Just Because of the smoke? It Turned out That in 1677 the building has burned, with fire culprit was fourteen Jane, who WAS Among the Dead. Perhaps her ghost wanders the Native Still places, scaring the locals.
In the 21st Century, why do so many people still believe in the paranormal? David Robson discovers that there’s good reason we hold superstitions – and a few surprising benefits.
By David Robson via BBC Future
Soon after World War II, Winston Churchill was visiting the White House when he is said to have had an uncanny experience. Having had a long bath with a Scotch and cigar, he reportedly walked into the adjoining bedroom – only to be met by the ghost of Abraham Lincoln. Unflappable, even while completely naked, Churchill apparently announced: “Good evening, Mr President. You seem to have me at a disadvantage.” The spirit smiled and vanished.
His supposed contact with the supernatural puts Churchill in illustrious company. Arthur Conan Doyle spoke to ghosts through mediums, while Alan Turing believed in telepathy. Three men who were all known for their razor-sharp thinking, yet couldn’t stop themselves from believing in the impossible. You may well join them. According to recent surveys, as many as three quarters of Americans believe in the paranormal, in some form, while nearly one in five claim to have actually seen a ghost.
Intrigued by these persistent beliefs, psychologists have started to look at why some of us can’t shake off old superstitions and folk-lore. Their findings may suggest some hidden virtues to believing in the paranormal. At the very least, it should cause you to question whether you hold more insidious beliefs about the world.
Some paranormal experiences are easily explainable, based on faulty activity in the brain. Reports of poltergeists invisibly moving objects seem to be consistent with damage to certain regions of the right hemisphere that are responsible for visual processing; certain forms of epilepsy, meanwhile, can cause the spooky feeling that a presence is stalking you close by – perhaps underlying accounts of faceless “shadow people” lurking in the surroundings.
Out-of-body experiences, meanwhile, are now accepted neurological phenomena, while certain visual illusions could confound the healthy brain and create mythical beings. For example, one young Italian psychologist looked in the mirror one morning to find a grizzled old man staring back at him. His later experiments confirmed . . .
Via randi.org – JREF
It’s that time of year…
Fact: Around half of the American population, in survey after survey, say they believe in ghosts and hauntings.
There have been dozens of television shows, books, videos and Internet sites in the past 20 years featuring people who claim to be paranormal investigators who found evidence of the paranormal.
Around Halloween time, the media is dripping with hype about ghost tours, ghost hunts, and local paranormal investigations of the community’s historical places with breathless claims of proof of ghosts from these amateur ghost hunters.
What should we think about ghosts? It’s a complicated question. Here are some facts and FAQs to help get you square about where we are with our knowledge of ghosts and paranormal evidence.
This is a deceptively tricky question! The answer you get will completely depend on whom you ask. The “ghost” is one of the most popular concepts of the paranormal (beyond normal). Yet, there is not one agreed-upon definition across disciplines of what a ghost is since one has never actually been caught and examined.
Fact: No ghost has ever been confirmed caught and/or examined by anyone or anything. Therefore, we can’t determine its actual characteristics with any amount of certainty.
The common features we ascribe to ghosts is what we learn from popular culture where the concept of “ghost” has changed considerably through time.
The most common idea about a ghost is that it is the spirit of a dead person (or animal). This implies there is a “spirit”. However, we can’t define or measure “spirit,” either, because it has not ever been captured or measured. It’s more of a faith-based belief, like the soul.
Ghosts are interpreted as being what remains of a person that has not passed to the next realm of existence.
Fact: There is no scientific conclusion that any other realm exists for our “being” to pass to after death.
For reasons that are not consistent through time, paranormalists conclude that some unlucky folks may remain incorporeally stuck here after bodily death. Alternately, some paranormalists say that ghosts could be a form of psychic projection of the human mind.
Early scientific researchers (in the 1800s) who studied the concept in a methodical way, avoided the term “ghost”. Instead they used terms like “phantasms of the dead” or “apparitions”.
Your neighborhood paranormal investigator is fond of describing a ghost as a manifestation of the “energy” of a former being. “Energy” in this case is also used incorrectly since there is no energy sustained after you die. When bodies decompose, that energy is released into the environment.
The new supernatural horror film “Ouija” hits theaters soon, and is expected to scare up big numbers at the box office this weekend.
The Oujia board, also known as a witch board or spirit board, is simple and elegant. The board itself is printed with letters and numbers, while a roughly heart-shaped device called a planchette slides over the board. The game was created in the 1890s and sold to Hasbro in 1966. It began as a parlor game with no association with ghosts until much later, and today many people believe it can contact spirits.
“Ouija” is only the most recent in a long line of movies featuring the board. Since the Oujia board’s film debut in the 1920 Max Fleischer film “The Ouija Board,” it has appeared in hundreds of films including “The Uninvited” (1944);”The Changeling” (1980); “Witchboard” (1986); and “Paranormal Activity” (2007).
Speaking to the Dead
People in all cultures have long believed that communication with the dead is possible, and throughout the ages many people have claimed to speak to the dear departed. Ghosts and spirit communication shows up often in classic literature, including in mythology, the Bible, and Shakespeare’s plays.
In Victorian England it was fashionable in many circles to conduct séances; Ouija boards, three-legged tables, and candles were used to try to contact the dead. 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.
Since that time ghosts seem to have lost their will (or ability) to write—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?” The Ouija board seems to cut out the middleman and let you communicate directly with the dead.
Fearing the Ouija
There’s a reason that scary movies are based on the Ouija game and not, for example, Monopoly or Scrabble. Many evangelical groups believe that playing with Ouija boards can lead to demonic possession.
Also See: Video: What Makes Ouija Boards Move?
Science Says No-o-o-o
The Pseudoscience of Ghost Hunting
By Benjamin Radford via livescience
If you believe in ghosts, you’re not alone. Cultures all around the world believe in spirits that survive death to live in another realm. In fact, ghosts are among the most widely believed of paranormal phenomena: Millions of people are interested in ghosts, and a 2005 Gallup poll found that 37 percent of Americans believe in haunted houses — and nearly half believe in ghosts.
Ghosts have been a popular subject for millennia, appearing in countless stories, from the Bible to “Macbeth,” and even spawning their own folklore genre: ghost stories. Part of the reason is that belief in ghosts is part of a larger web of related paranormal beliefs, including near-death experience, life after death and spirit communication.
People have tried to (or claimed to) communicate with spirits for ages; in Victorian England, for example, it was fashionable for upper-crust ladies to hold séances in their parlors after tea and crumpets with friends. In America during the late 1800s, many psychic mediums claimed to speak to the dead — but were exposed as frauds by skeptical investigators such as Harry Houdini.
It wasn’t until the past decade that ghost hunting became a widespread interest around the world. Much of this is due to Syfy cable TV’s hit series “Ghost Hunters,” now in its 10th season of not finding good evidence for ghosts. The show spawned several spin-offs, including “Ghost Hunters International” and “Ghost Hunters Academy,” and it’s not hard to see why the show is so popular: the premise is that anyone can look for ghosts. The two original stars were ordinary guys (plumbers, in fact) who decided to look for evidence of spirits. Their message: You don’t need to be an egghead scientist, or even have any training in science or investigation. All you need is some free time, a dark place and maybe a few gadgets from an electronics store. If you look long enough, any unexplained light or noise might be evidence of ghosts.
The idea that the dead remain with us in spirit is an ancient one, and one that offers many people comfort; who doesn’t want to believe that our beloved but deceased family members aren’t looking out for us, or with us in our times of need? Most people believe in ghosts because of personal experience; they have seen or sensed some unexplained presence.
By Sharon Hill via James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF)
Yesterday, a study was announced with a headline that didn’t fit the results. That’s very common. But what was strange was that a few proponents of the study seemed to hang their hats on the headline. I wonder if they actually read the same study I did?
Here was the piece in The Telegraph (U.K.): First hint of ‘life after death’ in biggest ever scientific study
The largest ever medical study into near-death and out-of-body experiences has discovered that some awareness may continue even after the brain has shut down completely.
It is a controversial subject which has, until recently, been treated with widespread scepticism.
But scientists at the University of Southampton have spent four years examining more than 2,000 people who suffered cardiac arrests at 15 hospitals in the UK, US and Austria.
And they found that nearly 40 per cent of people who survived described some kind of ‘awareness’ during the time when they were clinically dead before their hearts were restarted.
From reading just this pop media piece, I saw no indication of “life after death” mentioned. I saw a claim that people appear to be mentally aware (to some degree) when there is no recorded brain activity occurring. That would be an important new finding, there was no need to jump to a more overarching, unwarranted claim about evidence for “life after death”.Other media outlets followed suit with misleading headlines:
- “Life after death? Largest-ever study provides evidence that ‘out of body’ and ‘near-death’ experiences may be real”
- Scientific Breakthrough Suggests There Is Life After Death
- Scientific research finds that life after death is possible
- Life after death is real, British scientists confirm (Whoa! That one takes the prize!)
Unconventional theorist Graham Hancock seemed mighty smug about it:
The first inkling I saw (also on Twitter) that there was something a bit off with this headline was from Dr. Caroline Watt, Senior Researcher at the Koestler Parapsychology Unit at the University of Edinburgh. (Yes, an actual parapsychologist. She wrote the book.) She seemed less than impressed with the study. I contacted her and, as is good advice, she said I should read the paper. So I did. I was also unimpressed. In a nutshell, the study attempted to objectively measure “out of body” and “near death experience” claims. The researchers concluded that it was not as successful as planned, but they discovered a small percentage of people report awareness in what medical standards considers a nonfunctioning brain.Dr. Sam Parnia, who headed this study, has done such prospective studies before. He suggests that the brain may “live” on minutes or hours after “death”. That is interesting, but not paranormal. Let’s see what the study showed.
by Gordon Bonnet via Skeptophilia
Yesterday we had a report from Española, New Mexico that a surveillance camera at a police station had caught an image of a ghost walking across a locked compound.
“At first I thought it was a fly or moth, then I saw the legs,” Officer Karl Romero said. “And it was a human. But not a real human. No. A ghost.”
With the news of convicted Wall Street swindler Bernard Madoff losing a second son — the first to suicide, the most recent to cancer – some have speculated that some sort of divine cosmic justice is being meted out to a man whose Ponzi scheme cost about $65 billion in savings.
A piece on Salon.com noted that the recent deaths of Joan Rivers and Andrew Madoff were attributed to karma on social media:
“2 weeks ago Joan Rivers stated Palestinians deserve to die and they were asking for it,” noted one typical tweeter Thursday evening. “Now she’s dead. #karma.” Another added, “Karma at work there. Without a doubt.” It was a sentiment that had already been expressed elsewhere earlier in the week, when Bernard Madoff’s son Andrew died of mantle cell lymphoma at the age of 48. (Madoff’s other son Mark committed suicide four years ago.) “Bernie Madoff’s last remaining son passed away today,” tweeted one armchair analyst of spiritual payback. “If you have any doubts about Karma catching you for bad deeds, here’s the sad proof.” Another observed, “There’s a mysterious karma that still surrounds Bernie Madoff.”
Karma is a widely-used word and pop culture notion, but is there any validity to the idea that if you put bad stuff out there, it comes back to you? Let’s take a closer look.
We must first distinguish karma from justice. After all, if a criminal is apprehended, convicted, and sentenced to prison, that’s not karma, that’s just the ordinary course of justice. Karma is also not simply paying the consequences for an act. If you punch someone in the face and get punched in return, that’s just retaliation, not karma.
Instead karma usually refers to delayed and/or extra-judicial moral revenge, something that a person did at one time that they didn’t have to fully answer for — in their critic’s eyes anyway — but paid a higher price for later, in the form of some devastating misfortune.
The word karma comes from a Sanskrit word meaning “fate, work or action.” The concept of karma varies somewhat among Buddists, Hindus, and Jainists, but the popular understanding is that karma assures that good things will happen to good people and bad things to bad people. Karma in Buddhism holds that the fate of the soul is determined by its karma or actions. Every act — whether good or bad, no matter how insignificant — will eventually return to the person who does the act, and with equal force.
However many people mistakenly assume that the good or bad will come back in this lifetime, but that’s not what karma says. Those who do good deeds will be rewarded in future lives, and those who do bad deeds will be punished in their future lives (such as by being reborn as a lowly animal).
While many Westerners say they believe in karma, most don’t really understand or believe in the Buddhist or Hindu idea of karma. For one thing, there would no need for prisons or punishment. Cosmic justice will be meted out in another realm. Karma is fundamentally linked to belief in reincarnation. In Western society anyway, the idea of being reborn as a dog or rodent in a future life doesn’t really seem very likely, nor that much of punishment.
There is also a dark, cruel aspect to karma, one that is rarely discussed. The doctrine of karma holds that everything bad that happens to you is . . .
The clash between the champions of scientific skepticism and supernaturalism.
Harry Houdini (1874-1926) was best known as the world’s most famous magician during his lifetime, and also as a tireless debunker of false mediums and dishonest claims of profit-driven supernaturalists. He followed a simple strategy, one that’s the fundamental basis of the scientific method: Work hard to falsify all new hypotheses, and maintain a mind open to all new evidence. Sadly for Houdini, this meant testing what could have been one of the most important personal relationships to the history of public understanding of science.
Much has been made of the friendship between Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. As the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur would seem to have been a man of science and rational thought, but he was a lifelong steadfast believer in the supernatural. In fact, it was something that was at the forefront of his attention much of the time. One of the most telling events in Sir Arthur’s career came when he was a member of the Society for Psychical Research, which is often criticized for being composed mainly of true believers in the paranormal, and not all that interested in objective research. In the 1920s, Sir Arthur led a mass resignation of 84 members of the Society, on the grounds that it was too skeptical. The staunchest of the resignees joined the Ghost Club, of which Sir Arthur was a longtime member. The Ghost Club made no apologies for being fully dedicated to the supernatural as an absolute fact. In addition, Sir Arthur’s wife, Lady Doyle, was a medium who often conducted séances appearing to be in communication with the dead, and Sir Arthur was absolutely convinced of the reality of her ability.
Despite a radical difference of opinion, Houdini and Sir Arthur managed to keep their friendship alive for some years, each often writing to the other of their mutual respect, their agreement to disagree, and the value of honesty and integrity in one’s own beliefs — neither man ever doubting the other’s sincerity; at least for a while.
In the spring of 1922, Houdini invited Sir Arthur to the home of his friend Bernard Ernst, a lawyer in New York, in an effort to show him that even the most amazing feats of mediums could be accomplished by skilled — albeit earthly — trickery. He had good reason to sway Sir Arthur if he could; Sir Arthur was passionately engaged in promoting the supernatural to his vast worldwide audience, a public disservice if there ever was one, as honestly intentioned as it was. Houdini prepared a magic trick, one that’s familiar to any practitioner of the art. He had Sir Arthur go outside in private and write a simple note that there’s no way Houdini could have seen; and then upon his return to the room, Houdini had a cork ball soaked in white ink magically roll around on a slate and spell out the very note Sir Arthur had written. Sir Arthur was aghast. Houdini wrote him: . . .
Also See: An Actual Recording Of Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Spirit” From A 1934 Séance (io9.com)
Many times have the annals of the paranormal been graced with descriptions of Frank’s ghost box, an electronic device that is claimed to allow ghosts to communicate with us through randomly tuned radio broadcasts. Imagine turning the tuning knob on a radio (first, imagine a radio that still works that way), and recording the sound output. You’d expect a bunch of random noise from across all those stations you just swept past, and that’s exactly what Frank’s Box produces. But inventor Frank Sumption, and many imitators who have built similar devices, believe they receive intelligent communication in that noise. It’s basically an iteration of what ghost hunters call Electronic Voice Phenomena, the idea that ghosts communicate with us through electronics.
I should note that the impetus for this episode was an email I received from Frank Sumption’s niece. I won’t give her name or what she said in the email, but her point is that Frank is a good, honest, average guy who is notable only in that he believes he’s stumbled onto something. He doesn’t scam anyone; he’s neither selling his box with unproven claims, nor is he charging people money to talk to their dead relatives. Frank makes the plans to build his device available for free as a downloadable PDF file, and he has a page on SoundCloud where he posts his most interesting recordings, for everyone to hear. He’s a guy who has some bad information, and has failed to apply critical thinking to it within the context of scientific literacy. In other words, he’s exactly like 99% of the people out there. Nevertheless, most of the time when Frank Sumption has been mentioned anywhere, online, in print, or on a radio program or podcast, he’s dismissed as a crazy nutcase — and that’s precisely what prompted his niece to write. So today we’re going to look at the phenomenon of Frank’s ghost box and talk about how and why it occupies the place it does in pop paranormal culture, and hopefully find something more intelligent to discuss than hurling personal insults.
So let’s get to what you really want to hear, some of Frank’s received messages. Let’s get started with one just to get the idea. On his SoundCloud page, Frank posts clips that he has already edited down to just the moment that he considers significant, and then repeats each one several times as he adds equalization and/or changes the pitch to make the speech more distinct. Here’s one, and I’ll just tell you in advance that Frank has identified the words “Frank we’ll save you” in here:
Frank’s Box, or the “ghost box” as Frank prefers it to be called, is often described as a random radio tuner, but there’s a bit more to it than that. He first developed the idea in 2002, and there are three basic parts to his device. First is a component that generates either white noise, like this:
Or, a sweeping tone like this:
Then the voltage of that signal is moderated to the correct voltage that can be used to control the tuner of a radio taken from a car stereo, which is the second component. Car stereos are used whose tuners are voltage controlled, which in their original factory condition, would have come from the tuning knob; but in Frank’s case, it’s either a random signal that constantly tunes the radio all over the dial, or a sweeping signal that tunes the radio all the way from one end to the other. Frank has said he believes that the sweeping method gives better results than the random, or white noise controlled, method.
The third component is what he calls the echo box. It’s a box about the size of a shoe box with speakers and a microphone inside. The radio’s audio output is played over the speakers inside the chamber, and picked up by the microphone. The signal coming from this microphone is what produces the final product. So what you hear from the box is not the direct output of what the radio tuner picks up; you’re actually hearing it one generation away. It’s played over speakers into a small box and then that live audio is recorded and played for you.
Frank describes the purpose of the echo box . . .
A popular tale tells of a haunted Jewish wine box that brought ill fortune upon its owners… apparently.
Every once in a while, there’s a small, local ghost story that’s not very good, or that even has an obvious commercial origin, and that has no business becoming popular — but it does. The famous “dybbuk box” (also spelled dibbuk) is one such story. It went from a screenwriter’s pen on an eBay auction page, all the way onto the Hollywood big screen, with 2012’s The Possession starring Kyra Sedgwick and directed by Sam Raimi. It is the story of a small antique wooden box designed to hold a few bottles of wine, to which was attached a horror story going all the way back to the Holocaust. Whoever owned the box, it was said, experienced terrible disturbances for as long as the box was in their home. Why? Because, according to the story, the wine box was inhabited by a “dybbuk”, said to be a tormented spirit come back from the dead.
The whole idea of the box being inhabited by a dybbuk (דיבבוק) is nonsensical, according to what a dybbuk is supposed to be. The Encyclopedia Mythica describes it as “a disembodied spirit possessing a living body that belongs to another soul” and usually talks from that person’s mouth. An important 1914 Yiddish play The Dybbuk was about the spirit of a dead man who possessed the living body of the woman he had loved, and had to be exorcised. The word comes from the Hebrew verb “to cling”, so a dybbuk is specifically a soul who clings to another. Nowhere in the folkloric literature is there precedent for a dybbuk inhabiting a box or other inanimate object.
But of course, we’re talking definitions of folkloric terms, fictional by their very definition; so there’s no reason why this particular dybbuk can’t inhabit a wooden box if it wants to. And besides, the fact that folklore exists for a possessing spirit tells us nothing about whether or not factual events did indeed harass the owners of this box. The folklore is irrelevant to the question of whether or not this wine box did indeed cause the frightening disturbances attributed to it. So let’s see what the box’s claimed history is.
One thing to keep in mind is that, if you’ve heard this story before, you’ve probably heard that the box was owned by a whole series of people, each of whom had lots of terrifying experiences, and they then got rid of it to someone else. In fact, the lone skeptical quote associated with this story is from Chris French, who said of these many owners:
“[They were] already primed to be looking out for bad stuff. If you believe you have been cursed, then inevitably you explain the bad stuff that happens in terms of what you perceive to be the cause. Put it like this: I would be happy to own this object.”
But then when we look at its actual history, the number of people whose hands it is documented to have gone through becomes astonishingly small, two or three at most; and each of whom went to great pains to tell the ghost story in a dramatic way. Let’s have a look.
The dybbuk box first appeared in 2003 as an eBay auction by Kevin Mannis, who owned a used furniture shop in Portland, Oregon. But it was not listed as a piece of furniture; it was listed as a mysterious haunted item. Mannis wrote on his eBay page an elaborate horror story.
Do you know someone who has had a mind altering experience like the examples that we list in this FREE PDF booklet? If so, you know how compelling they can be. A life can be changed or an entire religion founded on the basis of a single brain-generated hallucination. These phenomena are so powerful that throughout history seekers of knowledge have sought to induce them. They are one of the foundations of widespread belief in the paranormal. But as skeptics are well aware, accepting them as reality can be more than a waste of time and energy. It can be dangerous for both the individual and larger society.
While science has made considerable progress in discovering how the brain is hard-wired to produce these illusions, the public is largely unaware of much of this research. This is where your Skeptics Society comes in—we provide the scientific explanation.