Life After Death: the Many Faces of Skepticism
Posted on 09 July 2018, 8:03
As Brian Inglis explains it in his 1986 book, The Hidden Power, recently republished by White Crow Books, the pioneers of psychical research realized that no single case would be convincing in itself as the skeptic could always find some reason to question it; thus, they believed they could make their case by combining many cases that would give all the single cases “the strength of a faggot” – an analogy that holds that while a single twig can be easily snapped, a faggot, composed of many twigs bound together, is not so easily broken. But the skeptics countered with the analogy of the “leaking buckets.” No matter how many buckets you have, if each one has a hole in it, water will not be conserved.
Inglis asserts that there are similar holes in the bucket called “neo-Darwinism,” but mainstream scientists seem to ignore them He goes on to point out that reliance on any single case is contrary to the established scientific method. “Science relies on cumulative evidence,” he writes. “...Anybody who claims to be waiting until a single absolutely conclusive bit of evidence turns up is in reality a man who is not open to conviction, as he would realize if he were a logician, because in logic single facts can never be proved except as part of a system.”
In Part 3 of his book, “The Case Against Scientism,” Inglis sets forth a number of syndromes or afflictions affecting many scientists, or, more properly, the pseudo-skeptics or the debunkers. Walter Franklin Prince, in his book, The Enchanted Boundary, also deals extensively with the different types of skepticism. It seems like a good time to pull all these afflictions together from those two references and others to summarize them. Adding a few ideas of my own, I came up with the following:
Doubting Thomas Disorder: Just as the Apostle Thomas refused to believe in the resurrected Christ until he could touch him and feel his wounds, there are many skeptics who say they will not believe anything that exceeds their boggle threshold until they see if for themselves. This is most basic type of skepticism and is often a disorder of the common man – the one who has no scientific dogma to cling to and is still subconsciously smarting over being duped by his parents about Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.
Manichean Heresy Syndrome: In a nutshell, this affliction results from a belief that creation is divided into two forces – good and evil and that the afterlife is a very black and white one, i.e., heaven and hell. This might also be called Frozen Dualism Syndrome or God Betrayal Syndrome. Most victims of this condition begin by viewing God as an anthropomorphic (humanlike) being, and after suffering a serious loss conclude that “He” must not exist, as no loving God would permit such bad things to happen to them or such evil to exist in the world. They assume that a humanlike God is necessary for a spirit world. They lose their faith and become skeptics or non-believers.
Saul of Tarsus Complex: Just as Saul knew nothing about Christian beliefs, he reasoned out of emotion that Christians were a bad lot and should be persecuted. Likewise, the mainstream scientist or academician, unable to accept facts that conflict with his long-standing materialistic worldview, adheres to his own dogma and condemns anything that threatens it, even if he knows nothing about it, claiming that psychic or supernormal facts are “impossible” and opposed to accepted scientific laws. It is nothing more than superstition.
Medawar’s Syndrome: Sir Peter Medawar held that scientists tend not to take anything seriously until they can at least see the rudiments of answer. Medawar’s Syndrome may just be another name for the Saul of Tarsus Complex; however, those afflicted with Medawar’s Syndrome do not necessarily say various phenomena are impossible; they simply say that it is beyond scientific inquiry.
Festinger’s Syndrome: This affliction has to do with the psychological distress (cognitive dissonance) experienced by people who struggle to reconcile conflicting facts or viewpoints. Social psychologist Leon Festinger is credited with much research in this area. As it relates to psychical research and parapsychology, Festinger’s Syndrome kicks in when skeptics or debunkers witness something that defies natural law as defined by orthodox science. They begin questioning what they observed and come up with various ways that they “could have” or “might have” been tricked or duped. They “might have” even been victims of a mass hypnotism or something was put into the drink they had that night to make them hallucinate. What they observed was simply not possible and so it has to have been a trick that was beyond detection. If that doesn’t work completely, they throw out ad hominem arguments, finding fault with the person rather than the research. The researcher must have had an affair with the medium. Or the researcher must have had a “will to believe” and unconsciously distorted the results.
The Faraday Flout: Michael Faraday, one of the leading chemists of the nineteenth century, was asked to investigate the mediumship of Daniel Dunglus Home, but asked what the point of it all would be since the purported spirits who had communicated and acted through Home were so “utterly contemptible.” Like Faraday, many people seem to assume that if spirits were to exist, no matter how ridiculous that seems to them, they are all enlightened spirits and further that all mediums must be saints of some kind. Moreover, if they are “of God” they should be able to communicate with much more clarity and wisdom. Indications are, however, that there are many levels of spirits and that the lower-level spirits are better able to communicate with those of us on the earth plane, because they are at a lower vibration or frequency than the more advanced spirits. Also, it is clear that people with mediumistic ability are not necessarily highly spiritual people. They come in all degrees of spirituality. Those who don’t grasp this are victims of The Faraday Flout.
Browning Brashness: This form of skepticism clearly arises out of emotion and not reason. The best example is that of famous poet Robert Browning, who witnessed some amazing spirit phenomena with medium D. D. Home and initially attested to it. However, he apparently became upset because his wife, poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, was so enamored of Home, that he, seemingly out of jealousy, called Home a cheat and impostor, writing a disparaging poem about a Home-like medium called “Mr. Sludge, the Medium,” in which he portrayed the medium as a psychopath and fraud.
Huxley Hubris: Like Michael Faraday, Thomas Huxley was one of the leading scientists of the nineteenth century. When asked by the Council of the Dialectical Society to cooperate with a committee for the investigation of mediums, he declined, commenting that he had no time for such nonsense and that it did not interest him. “If anybody would endow me with the faculty of listening to the chatter of old women and curates in the nearest cathedral town, I should decline the privilege, having better things to do,” was part of his written reply. Even though the question of eternal life far exceeds anything mainstream science has dealt with, most scientists seem incapable of thinking that deeply. While James Hyslop was still teaching logic and ethics at Columbia, James Cattell, a fellow professor, sneered at Hyslop’s interest in psychical research. When Hyslop published articles that strongly supported non-mechanistic theories, Cattell tried to have him fired. In his defense, Hyslop, noting scientific efforts to find a species of useless fish to support Darwin’s theory, asked “why it is so noble and respectable to find whence man came, and so suspicious and dishonorable to ask and ascertain whither he goes?” That was more than a hundred years ago and the question is still a very valid one.
Brewster Bravado: As bravado is a form of false courage, it seems more kind to label the form of skepticism displayed by Sir David Brewster, still another renowned British physicist, as Brewster Bravado rather than Brewster Spinelessness. After praising medium D. D. Home, Brewster was criticized by his scientific colleagues and quickly retracted his testimony, calling Home a fraud, and saying that he must have hidden something under the table, and that nobody was allowed to look under the table. “Spirit is the last thing I will give in to!” Brewster snarled. After Brewster’s death, however, his daughter published his memoirs, inadvertently including a letter in which Brewster disclosed that he had been invited to make an inspection under the table and in which he implied that it was all beyond trickery.
Houdini Hoaxery: Researchers have been known to plant evidence or otherwise cheat in order to be certain that nothing would be produced to conflict with known science or their own beliefs. With the great Houdini, however, it seems to have been more a matter of someone not producing greater magic than he could. Houdini was part of a team investigating the mediumship of Boston medium Mina Crandon, aka “Margery,” during the mid-1920s. “All fraud – every bit of it,” was Houdini’s verdict, without hesitation, further calling it the “slickest ruse” he had ever uncovered. However, when asked to explain, Houdini couldn’t really explain it and reasoned that she “must have had” an accomplice. On one occasion, a fold-up six-inch ruler was found in a cabinet built by Houdini to restrain Margery. It was later revealed by Jim Collins, an assistant to Houdini, to be a plant by Houdini to show she was a cheat.
Polanyi’s Syndrome: As Michael Polanyi, a chemist and philosopher of science, reasoned, “any contradiction between a popular scientific notion and the facts of experience will be explained by other scientific notions; there is a ready reserve of possible scientific hypotheses available to explain any conceivable event.” Perhaps the best example of this had to do with the mediumship of Leonora Piper. When information came through her said to be from spirits of the dead, it was reasoned that a “secondary personality” in her subconscious was telepathically picking up information from the sitter. When information came through that the sitter did not know, it was reasoned that the secondary personality could search the minds of people anywhere in the world for such information or tap into some “cosmic reservoir” for the information. Even that explanation was rejected by the more fundamentalist scientists, since telepathy itself defies natural law as certainly a cosmic reservoir does. Thus, the fundamentalists stuck with fraud as the only explanation, while the more open-minded scientists were able to reason that the subconscious had powers as yet unexplored and unexplained and went on to hypothesize Super ESP, sort of an amalgamation of telepathy, telepathy at a distance, and the cosmic reservoir. Anything but the ridiculous notion that spirits of the dead were communicating. Even today, while Multiple Personality Disorder, the modern name given to secondary personalities, is recognized as a real affliction, no recognition is given by mainstream psychology to the possibility that spirit possession is involved. It is more scientific to believe it is all in the brain. The tendency for scientists to accept the reality of certain phenomena but to twist the evidence to fit their preconceptions or to make it sound more scientific is also referred to as The Gregory/Mayo Syndrome.
Debunker’s Mindlessness Syndrome: The primary reason science has been resistant to studying mediumship over the past 90-100 years is that science begins with a priori assumption that there are no such things as spirits and therefore that everything produced through mediumship of one kind or another must be explainable by known scientific laws. However, those who have studied mediumship the most understand that such is not the case. Early researchers accused mediums of ”fishing” for information from the sitters, when in fact they were fishing for interpretations of the symbolic pictures they were receiving. They often couldn’t get names because many names do not have symbolic pictures to depict them. Spirit materializations often looked weird because the spirits producing them lacked the power or the ability to project a more accurate picture of themselves or whatever was being materialized in the ectoplasm. The know-nothing skeptics scoffed as they assumed the imperfections all pointed to fraud. They expected the mediums to produce on demand, not understanding how harmony factors into the success of a mediumistic test or how discord discourages results.
“Science can be a security system, a complicated way of avoiding anxiety,” said renowned psychologist Abraham Maslow. “It can be a way of avoiding life.”
The Hidden Power by Brian Inglis is available from Amazon and other bookstores.
Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife, and Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I.
Next blog July 23
Thanks for this lucid and useful post, which I’m reading very late. I have little to add to the excellent comments, but would just like to mention a couple of small points:
—The eyedrops for cataracts that AOD brought up are not just in the research stage—they have existed for some years. As far as I know they are best used when the cataracts are only getting started. Google the subject if you need such a product. One of my patients had extremely good results with these drops in the past year, in combination with some supplements. She won’t need surgery. Definitely worth a try—if they’re not enough a person could always have the surgery later.
—Regarding Kardec’s contention that a fictional character could show up as a spirit communicator: A friend of mine had exactly this happen. She didn’t realize that the book she had read was fiction, as it was presented as a memoir, and assumed that the spirit was a real historical personage.
Elene, Mon 3 Sep, 20:04
The entity seemed totally real to her and gave useful advice. My friend had at other times channelled entities that I myself could perceive, so I’m not inclined to think she simply imagined this one (unless we have a very broad definition of “imagine.”) I am not tied to any specific explanation of this phenomenon.
Yes, the table phenomenon is very mysterious. The most interesting one I have come across involved Mina Crandon, aka Margery.
Supposedly, the spirit of a Mrs. Caldwell, mother of two of the sitters in the group—Kitty Brown and Frederick Caldwell—had taken possession of the table. What happened next, exceeds the boggle threshold of most, but it was attested to by all the sitters, including Dr. Mark Richardson, a professor of medicine at Harvard. The table suddenly lurched toward Caldwell and pushed him out of the den, through a dark corridor, and into a bedroom, where it forced him onto the bed, after having smashed walls and rumpled all the rugs on the way. Some of the sitters followed the table into the bedroom and then the table began chasing Caldwell down some stairs before two of the sitters grabbed it and stopped it.
Michael Tymn, Sun 15 Jul, 23:43
Here is what is reported to be an original film of a Phillip séance. Watch the woman in the green with her back to the camera at about the 1:00 mark. It seems to me that she places her hand on the corner of the card table and actually pushes it down on the leg nearest her. Wouldn’t this bring the other legs of the table up? Am I just imagining this? -AOL
Amos Oliver Doyle, Sun 15 Jul, 17:25
I haven’t been able to find any reliable scientific study or account of the “Phillip Experiment”. Does anyone have any good references or links? What I have found is a lot of old re-enactments of a “Phillip” session but there is no raw footage of the actual sessions. Since this is a experiment in which everything can be manipulated I would think someone would be able to photograph the whole thing. If it is replicable why not do it with controls and somebody film all of it.
Apparently they tried for a year to conjure up Phillip with no response (for a year!) but only after they “dimmed” the lights (Whatever that may mean) were they able to get responses from “him”. But, lights in the TV studio were bright apparently as were other “sessions” filmed. Accounts on the internet vary, some say a year, others say a month. Other reports say they met for over 10 years. I see that not even the full names of some of the sitters are known or reported. (Not very scientific!) Some reports say the table rose one-half inch but others say is skipped or moved about the room, even turning upside down. ( Did it turn itself back up? Who knows?) One report said it greeted new arrivals at the door.
I have to say that flicking the room lights on and off is quite a feat. I would like to see some evidence of that.
Amos Oliver Doyle, Sun 15 Jul, 16:55
This is an interesting story but much more is needed to validate it. I have my doubts! - AOD
Absolutely hilarious. What a great article, Mike. I am in stitches laughing. I often keep quiet and think “just you wait and see for yourself what’s next when that moment comes.” I suppose I am filled with a deep sadness too as I see and hear skeptics struggling searching for their own meaning.
Jess Ferguson, Sun 15 Jul, 12:46
Thank you Michael Tymn for your thoughts as ever. Just to clarify, the aim of what I mentioned was for those of us who believe in the strength of evidence for survival to up the notch and address and where possible discount, the credible explanations for living agent psi which often are brushed aside as too fantastical suggesting a lack of knowledge in parapsychology. Also I am not aiming this at any particular person but to the whole community of writers and researchers on survival.
The Philip Experiment and other similar are very interesting case studies because they may help us better understand and discern discarnate spirit communication from living agent ones. I agree that there appears to be evidence of mischievous spirits communicating, however with the Philip Experiment and others similar, I understand that the communicator does not build beyond the story that it has been fed, suggesting a limitation in creativity / playfulness / mischievousness. We also know that table tipping and other such PK events are possible without spirit involvement suggesting that there are group / individual psi forces at play in such settings that we do not understand. A similar case that pops into mind is the group that allegedly connected with a group of Nazi spirits - including Hitler who was purported to be alive and working at a gas station in South America. It was identified that one of the sitters had once been a Nazi sympathiser. Embarrassed, once he decided to stop sitting none of the group re-appeared again suggesting that the communicator unbeknown to him had been with his subconscious.
Maryam, Sat 14 Jul, 23:30
Another explanation for PE which you also suggested could be the creation of “thought forms” (as per Seth and others) or Tulpa’s which is what some mystic traditions practice creating as independent non-physical entities. Again this would be linked to a living agent.
I will look up Allan Kardec’s explanation which you mentioned too.
Many thanks again for sharing your insights. I enjoy reading your blogs and have learnt much.
The ESP issue, as you raised it, is a very interesting one. I fully agree with you that a “case by case” approach is the right thing to do when trying to discern between survival and ESP.
But I think many (real) mediums, researchers and (let’s say) spiritualist seekers are also aware of it. There’s some fascinating stuff in Dr Julie Beischel’s “Investigating mediums” (a compilation of three previously published books). As you may know, Julie Beischel is the head and founder of the Windbridge Institute, a private institution devoted to test and certify mediums and, most important, to investigate the potential of their channeling to treat the grief of the bereaved. Since many, if not all, of the certified mediums have also clairvoyant and telepathic faculties to connect with the living, Dr Beischel simply asked them how they differentiate between messages coming from the dead and those coming from the living. And it’s really worthy to pay attention to their answers. All of them recognize clear patterns in the way they receive the messages that lead them to not have the slightest doubt regarding the discarnated or incarnated origin of the message. The book is truly a gem, to sum it up. Have a look if you have the opportunity.
As for the ESP vs Survival debate, we shouldn’t forget that:
1) Many instances have been reported with the medium adopting the very same mannerisms, tones and peculiar words and sentences used by the deceased person when alive.
2) Sometimes (records of sittings with Etta Wriedt and Elizabeth Blake come to my mind) the very voice of the deceased is said to be clearly recognized by the sitter.
3) Many times, the sitter didn’t know the info given by the medium. Other times, nobody knew such info, nor the sitter nor anyone in the entire world (the Bobbie Newlove Case through Gladys Osborne Leonard comes to mind, but there are many others).
4) To account for 3) without survivalism, we need (a lot of) faith on super-psi, which is not supported by any evidence at this moment. As Dr Beischel points out, we’d also may believe in aliens beaming the knowledge to the medium’s mind. You can’t disprove super-psi nor aliens’ beaming. It’s just a matter of faith (and denial).
5) Survivalism is not just supported by mediumship but also by NDEs, ghostly apparitions and studies on reincarnation.
6) Elizabeth Blake.
Sergio, Fri 13 Jul, 23:48
Thanks to Sergio for the kind comments. I agree with him relative to Riley Heagerty’s latest book, “The Direct Voice.”
Thanks also to Maryam for the comment. I agree that many are too gullible in assuming it is all spirit activity. One of my recent posts dealt with telepathy between living humans. However, too many people seem jump to the conclusion that the Philip case does not involve spirits. It may or may not.
Much has been written about Philip the imaginary ghost created by a group of Canadian researchers during the 1970s. Many parapsychologists have concluded from this and other similar experiments that such spirit manifestations are no more than manifestations of the human mind.
Allan Kardec, the pioneering French psychical researcher, discussed this a hundred years earlier in his 1874 book, “The Book of Mediums” (published after his death). Kardec wrote: “Frivolous communications emanate from light, mocking, mischievous spirits, more roguish than wicked, and attach no importance to what they say…These light spirits multiply around us and seize every occasion to mingle in the communication; truth is the least of their care; this is why they take a roguish pleasure in mystifying those who are weak, and who sometimes presume to believe their word. Persons who take pleasure in such communications naturally give access to light and deceiving spirits.
Kardec added: “Just the same if you invoke a myth, or an allegorical personage, it will answer; that is, it will be answered for, and the spirit who would present himself would take its character and appearance. One day, a person took a fancy to invoke Tartufe, and Tartufe came immediately; still more, he talked of Orgon, of Elmire, of Damis, and of Valire, of whom he gave news; as to himself, he counterfeited the hypocrite with as much art as if Tartufe had been a real personage. Afterward, he said he was the spirit of an actor who had played that character.
So how do we know that Philip was not a mischievous spirit playing along with the experimenters? Then again, the spirit may have been the “higher self” of one or more of the experimenters. But that leads to the question of what a “higher self” is and whether it is contained within the brain or is independent of the brain. Are brain and mind one and the same? I remain a true skeptic as to whether Philip was an independent spirit or not.
Michael Tymn, Fri 13 Jul, 19:28
For the last 2 years I’ve been reading about Spiritualism, mediumship, NDEs and, generally speaking, survival of bodily death, and this includes some of the books written by Michael Tymn (his book on Piper is a masterpiece, imho) and many others published by White Crow Books.
I’d like to thank Mr Tymn for all his insightful work and dedication to preserve the facts and records of the best yesteryear mediums and pioneers of psychical research, presenting the info in a palatable, lucid and compelling way to the modern reader. Mike Tymn’s work has opened unknown doors for me and has been essential in my learning process, still ongoing.
Also many thanks to the people who comment here. Many times their lucidity and book recommendations have been a guide for me.
If I am allowed to recommend just one book (and I’d recommend many), that would be N. Riley Heagerty’s “The Direct Voice: The Mediumship of Elizabeth Blake”. For the still doubting readers, to navigate through those old records carefully compiled by Mr Heagerty which bear witness of the stunning mental mediumship of Mrs Blake (the best medium ever, imo, a sort of permanent telephone line with the afterlife) will be an extraordinary experience. Perhaps a life-changing one.
Sergio, Fri 13 Jul, 17:00
A great analysis of drivers of scepticism, thank you. I think almost all of these types of sceptics - except those economically motivated - are sabotaged by a fear of violating their belief system and therefore their “world view” from which they derive their identity. The mind will reject such a large shift to varying degrees in self-defence.
However, I would also like to raise the issue that there are many at the opposite end of the sceptic spectrum who associate everything paranormal with discarnate / spirit. Many mediums, Spiritualists and New Agers fall into this category. They are not aware of the extent of evidence there is in parapsychology regarding latent abilities, psi abilities in altered states, large scale psychokinesis (including healing) etc. Table tipping can be done outside of a séance, The Philip Experiment is replicable, poltergeist activity instigated unknowingly by living does occur, automatism and telepathy can occur strongly between the living, etc. So frustrated as some of us are with the sceptics, I would also like to see those convinced by the evidence to address the other possibilities and considerations in a more sophisticated way – not as a them and us argument but a case by case discussion examining the possible potential answers. After all, if psi is the foundation for communication / interaction with the deceased then it would be quite possible that incarnates would also possess some of these abilities. Thanks again for all the great posts.
Maryam, Fri 13 Jul, 11:11
The paradox underlying all this is that skepticism is probably a good thing, as without it we wouldn’t have the same desire to search for the truth of it all. It is “adversity” that gives meaning to life. Without adversity, we’d likely be like Nero fiddling as Rome burned. However, when the adversity is based on ignorance or intentional distortion of the evidence, as with so many of the syndromes listed above, there is definitely a need, even a duty, to counter it in some way. Or so I believe.
Michael Tymn, Fri 13 Jul, 01:52
My father was a psychiatrist. He told me there are two kinds of people you should never turn your back on: 1) a scared person in the corner with a weapon, 2) a self-righteous, true-believer with a weapon. Seems to me maybe we should be careful which direction we are facing when addressing the entrenched scientific community?
Keith, Thu 12 Jul, 18:51
Keith, good one. That is a little like Medawar’s Syndrome, but should get a separate name based on the motivating factor. Will have to give some thought to a name for that one.
Michael Tymn, Thu 12 Jul, 00:02
Well yes Keith, financial interests are a concern of every profession or belief system including materialism and religion, not only for receiving gratuities but also for maintaining one’s main source of income. No one wants to put himself out of business.
I understand that a procedure is being developed to dissolve cataracts using an eye-drop medication. How enthusiastic do you suppose hospitals and ophthalmologists are going to be to give up lucrative surgical removal of cataracts with lens implants for a simple eye drop? Whole eye clinics and surgical suites would have to be abandoned and cataract specialists would have to start working for insurance companies, reviewing insurance claims to make a living.
My guess is that funding would be very limited for research and development of the eye-drop cataract cure.
Somebody once said (I think it might have been Max Planck) “Science progresses one funeral at a time.” I think that applies to any and every field of endeavor but especially in science and medicine where it is crucial to maintain status and income. - AOD
Amos Oliver Doyle, Wed 11 Jul, 22:18
What about a motivation as basic as having a vested financial interest in maintaining the current state of human knowledge. Even when the the majority of the scientific community comes to a consensus like “human activities have an affect on global warming” you can still find individual scientist who give dissenting opinions if they are paid enough. I suspect there are many who would be willing to debunk in order to be supported by a materialist interests.
Keith, Wed 11 Jul, 20:49
As always, an excellent article!
Yvonne Limoges, Wed 11 Jul, 18:47
Allan Kardec discusses in depth the categories of those who object to the existence of spirits (mediumship & the paranormal)in his book The Spirits’ Book, Introduction, III-XVIII.
He ends with:
“Let those who deny the existence of spirits tell us what are the occupants of the immensity of space which spirits declare to be occupied by them; and let those who scoff at the idea of spirit teachings give us a nobler idea than is given by those teachings of the handiwork of God, a more convincing demonstration of His goodness and His power.”
Amy Tanner is a good example of someone with the “yeah but” syndrome. I am re-reading her book and I find that I want to argue with almost everything she has to say so that I can’t continue reading it for more than a few minutes. Anyhow, I am through about a fourth of it again. Actually I work myself up so much that I get physically nauseated while reading it. - AOD
Amos Oliver Doyle, Wed 11 Jul, 12:57
Thanks for adding the Hall-Tanner skepticism. I was planning to mention it, but it would have been too long.
To further elaborate, Hall and Tanner concluded that Leonora Piper’s phenomena were nothing more than a secondary personality of an unusual kind. In the book you mentioned, Tanner attempted to expose Mrs. Piper and bring an end to the whole idea that spirits exist and are able to communicate.
“The refrain of the whole book, with its sneering and criticism of psychic researchers is that they do not know how to conduct experiments of the kind,” Professor James Hyslop wrote of Tanner’s book. “These authors would have readers believe that they are exceedingly wise about these things and that all others have been credulous fools who have conducted the experiments.” Over some 99 pages in the January 1911 issue of the ASPR Journal, Hyslop explained why he thought Hall and Tanner were the fools and why their lack of understanding of the proper protocol in such research defeated Mrs. Piper and gained a “victory” for them, or so they felt, since their objective clearly was to debunk her. He likened their research to a man with a butcher knife trying to perform a delicate operation or a man with a pitchfork trying to sew a button on a shirt.
Michael Tymn, Tue 10 Jul, 23:13
I want to pick up on Riley’s comment about “Ivory Tower egotists and brain-dead cowards” and their “feeling of superiority and condescension” I think that a prime example is Dr. G. Stanley Hall and to a lesser extent his cohort Professor Amy Tanner who, together, had six sessions with Leonora Piper in an effort to declare her a fraud. Three of the sessions Hall says he paid for. So, apparently he gets credit for paying for half of the sessions with Piper and he wants us all to know that. Tanner writes in the preface to her book ” Studies in Spiritism” published in 1910 which contained the results of the examination of Piper by Tanner and Hall that, “Dr. Hall’s other writings and duties would make it impossible for him to publish anything on this subject [their examination of Piper] for some time to come, it seemed best that I should [publish it]. . . ” (Translation: I’ll leave it up to the little woman to do the work necessary to publish it!)
Dr. Hall did write an introduction for the book and allowed his “notes” to be included as Chapter XVI. Mind you that Dr. Hall promoted Scientism over Spiritism and wanted to preserve the true religion of Christianity rather than allow the “superstitions of savages” to rule the day. To get a feel for Dr. Hall’s ‘scientific’ approach let me quote a passage from his notes. (Page 268)
“In Mrs. Piper, the eye with its primacy of function is shunted out; so is general sensibility; probably her digestive, and certainly her respiratory functions, taste, smell general tactile sensibility and motor innervation are asleep. But, as the tide ebbs, there is in her strangely configured soul a singular land-locked bay, where the tide stays at half ebb until it rises again and reunites the bay with the sea and its forms of life, and cadences its waves to those of the ocean. Perhaps we fish and explore a little on the banks of this cut-off inlet and wonder that it seems so high when the tide is all out and far. We think we see in its depths skyey objects which we never see in the ever-turbulent sea. Sea-rovers, who have never seen a lake, come from far and marvel at the transparency of this, for their eyes could never penetrate any depth of the ocean. They bathe in it for their diseases, they think it mystic, sacred, therapeutic, while in the low susurrus of its ripples on the shore, when the breeze stirs and ruffles its surface, they find voices, and they cast auguries by the ripple-marks. They seem to see straight down through the very earth, which is only the heavens reflected. They cast stones, and the splashes say things; they see their own reflection and learn first the powers of a mirror, and self-knowledge is begun.”
There is a lot that I could say about Amy Tanner and G. Stanley Hall but instead, I recommend Tanner’s “Studies in Spiritism” for some insight into the minds of two hard-nosed (and revered) skeptics—-if you can stand it. -AOD
Amos Oliver Doyle, Tue 10 Jul, 13:37
Mike, I very much enjoyed this blog article, thank you. We must assume that sceptics will never disappear so this categorisation is both useful and entertaining! If I had to choose a favourite explanation for skeptics from the ones you have outlined, I’d go for Festinger’ Syndrome. Also I’ve pondered the possibility that at least some sceptics are actually suffering from what I call ‘Ontological Shock’, which is an inability, possibly through fear, to accept that true reality is far greater than the simply material world.
Keith P in England, Mon 9 Jul, 20:12
I like the comments made by Riley. I’ve had a copy of “In the Light of Truth” for about a year and started reading it yesterday. It’s a series of very critical essays that were written in the 1920s by Abd-Ru-Shin. His comments were all leading to the acceptance of consciousness (without mentioning it). I strongly disagreed with his 11 pages of comments on what he called Modern Psychic Science. Your excuses for not believing must have been in his head. He probably never heard of he SPR in the 1920s, so I’m not surprised. We still have many to convince otherwise. I usually end such debates with “you’ll see I was correct after you die.”
Paul Hauser, Mon 9 Jul, 19:21
Well done, Mike. A clever, colorful, easy to remember list of skeptical disorders.
Mike Schmicker, Mon 9 Jul, 17:54
Great work Mike, once again. Those interested in this subject should read Spiritualism and the Society for Psychical Research, an absolutely brilliant discourse delivered by James Robertson to the members of the London Spiritualist Alliance on February 6th, 1908. It is in the Appendix of his tremendous book, Spiritualism:The Open Door to The Unseen Universe, 1908.
Riley, Mon 9 Jul, 13:03
Robertson, after 30 years of iron clad research, holds nothing back and blasts these Ivory Tower egotists and brain-head cowards who achieved, all told, REALLY NOTHING. They were a combination of all of the syndromes mentioned by Mike. Their feeling of superiority and condescension was a disgrace to research and I am sure they are still regretting it still from the world of spirit.
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