Remembering Professor Archie Roy (1924 – 2012)
Posted on 25 March 2013, 23:46
Every now and then some “know-it-all” who fancies himself a defender of science and a debunker of all things paranormal or supernatural will leave acerbic remarks in the comments section of this blog, stating how ridiculous it is to believe such blatant fraud, such ridiculous superstition, such utter folly. Actually, you find them all over the Internet, trying to sabotage spiritual books by bringing down the ratings, scoffing in self-righteous indignation at anything spiritual and “unscientific,” and just generally showing their own stupidity and closed-mindedness.
Most of them know little about the subject matter, except what they have heard from the professional debunkers. They focus on the negative, completely disregarding the positive, while expecting various spiritual phenomena to neatly fit into some terrestrial mold that makes sense to them. Often, they lack the courage to give their real names, using a pseudonym or a variety of them.
As I have said before, most of them seem to be still wet behind the ears and fresh out of Biology 101, where they were suddenly enlightened by some materialistic biology professor. Indications are that many of them were brought up in very religious homes and are rebelling against their parents by lashing out at their beliefs in public, not comprehending the difference between most of the subject matter discussed at this blog and religious dogma and doctrine.
I sometimes wonder if their mindsets would be any different if someone like Professor Archie E. Roy (below) had been their mentor rather than some reductionist biology teacher. Dr. Roy was a professor emeritus of astronomy and honorary research fellow in the University of Glasgow, at the time he departed the material world, at age 88, on December 27, 2012. A distinguished man of science, he clearly was able to fit spirituality into his worldview.
After receiving his B.Sc. from Glasgow University in 1950, Roy earned his Ph.D. in 1954. He joined the faculty of Glasgow University in 1958. He was a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, the Institute of Physics, the Royal Astronomical Society, the British Interplanetary Society, the Society for Psychical Research (of which he served as president for two years) and the Scottish Society for Psychical Research (of which he was the founder). He was also a member of the International Astronomical Union, which honored him for his work in astronomy by naming an asteroid after him. During his professional career, Roy investigated many paranormal cases and authored three books on paranormal subjects – A Sense of Something Strange (1990), The Archives of the Mind (1996) and The Eager Dead (2008).
“It was a few years [after joining the faculty of Glasgow University] when I received my ‘call up,’” Roy told me when I interviewed him in 2008, shortly after the release of his last book. “I lost my way in the old university library and found shelves of books on spiritualism and psychical research. My first ignorant reaction was ‘What is this rubbish doing in a university library?’ But curiosity made me open some of the books. I was surprised to recognize some of the authors of this ‘rubbish,’ such as Sir Oliver Lodge, Professor William James, Professor Sir William Crookes, and so on. My balloon of ignorance was punctured by the needle of my scientific curiosity and I found myself called up to a new career.”
The Eager Dead was about the famous cross-correspondences, considered by some to be the best evidence ever of the survival of human consciousness after death. Roy spent 10 years studying them before writing the book. “Essentially, the cross-correspondences originated in a deceptively-simple idea,” he explained. “Someone who has died transmits to a number of mediums or automatists scattered round the world snippets of a theme dreamed up by him. The snippets received by any one automatist do not make any sense whatever to him or her. Only by bringing all the snippets together does the theme become clear. Moreover, that theme is characteristic of the intelligence and learning and personality of the sender who even, when he finds the group of investigators having serious difficulties in interpreting the collected snippets, speaks through the scripts directly to them, chiding and teasing them in the manner of a kindly teacher with an obtuse class. He then gives hints to them to aid them in their interpretation of the scripts.”
The purpose of the cross-correspondences was to demonstrate that the messages were not telepathically received by the medium from one of the sitters or even from someone not present, or from some cosmic reservoir – theories suggested by various researchers to refute the survival hypothesis. “The difficulties really begin to mount when we realize that the group of seven on the other side of death had a decidedly complicated agenda,” Roy went on. “They continued to ‘dictate’ scripts for over thirty years. They, especially [Frederic] Myers, (below) cleverly used levels of classical allusions and literary references that to very few modern people make any sense at all, so philistine have our educational standards become. Add to that the fact that there are many thousands of pages that anyone nowadays would have to study and so would require a very long time to do so. But the idea is a brilliant one and one might well ask if there is anything better in the history of psychical research.”
I asked Professor Roy if he could go back in time and meet one of the people involved with the cross-correspondences who it would be. “Inevitably, I choose Myers as the one,” he responded. “Ever since I obtained many years ago a copy of the two-volume edition of his book Human Personality and its Survival of Bodily Death, I have placed him as the greatest, most talented pioneer of psychical research. His brilliant insight into the nature of human personality lifts him to the same elevated rung of the ladder of human genius as Copernicus, Newton, Darwin, Clerk Maxwell, Einstein and those others whose contributions to humanity have been gloriously illuminating beacons amid the darkness of unreason, prejudice, violence, cruelty and downright evil acts of our species. What can I say about Myers that hasn’t already been said by those who knew him, admired him unreservedly and acknowledged his fabulous contribution to our subject? Luminaries such as Charles Richet, William James, Theodor Flournoy, Oliver Lodge, William Barrett and many others then and since have testified to Myers’ many-faceted stature. He was not valued by those who knew him solely because of his contributions to [psychical research] but also because of his loveable and endearing personality. I have said elsewhere that if William Wordsworth demonstrated that he was the psychical researcher of poets, Frederic Myers was the poet of psychical research. To me Myers is one I would dearly love to meet, not because I could teach him anything but simply because I would enjoy the company and friendship of a superb, enormously-talented and loveable man, one of the three major founding fathers of psychical research.”
I asked Roy about his involvement in the famous Scole experiments of the 1990s. “I played a very small part in the Scole experiment,” he answered. “The principal researchers were Professor Arthur Ellison, Professor David Fontana and Montague Keen. I was taken to the Scole site on one occasion, not because of a lack of interest on my part but purely because of distance. Nevertheless every time I met Monty he kept me informed about events at the circle. On the evening I was present I sat where I could satisfactorily see and hear what was happening. The conversation between the experimenters and the mediums’ controls was fascinating. The proceedings became even more interesting to me when the ‘control’ known as the scientist spoke to me, welcoming me and saying that he had carried out some of the pioneering work of calculating periodic orbits of planets and satellites. He discussed with me some of the technicalities and difficulties he had experienced and referred to the fact that in his day there were no computers such as I could now use. Afterwards I realized that there were only about a score of people in the UK who would have been able to have a conversation with me at that level of expertise on that subject. And as far as I know, the mediums had not been given my identity and profession. I also realized that the scientist bore quite a resemblance to George Darwin, related to Charles Darwin, who had indeed carried out such pioneering calculations on periodic orbits. But again, as seems to happen to many circles that terminate unexpectedly, the Scole circle did likewise on the grounds that it had to cease because its operation was interfering with the ability of time-travelers to pass from one galaxy to another! As we say laconically in Glasgow when our boggle-factor is surpassed: ‘Aye, that’ll be right.’”
Roy investigated many other cases during his long career in psychical research. One case that stood out in his mind was that of Maxwell Park, which he investigated with Max Magee, chaplain of the student body of Starthclyde University. “It was a powerful poltergeist case which had lasted half a year before I was called in,” he recalled. “The family members were terrified by the physical manifestations that tormented them. When they fled to a relative’s house, the phenomena did likewise and even continued there, after the family in despair returned to their own house, as though in some way the relative’s family had been infected. In time, some 50 people were witnesses, including cynical journalists, town councilors, doctors, policemen and others, turned from original scepticism to utter conviction that they had witnessed the paranormal. A police officer told me, ‘You know, I had to take some of my men off that case. They were turning in reports like ‘The bed was proceeding in a northerly direction.’”
While many modern day researchers sit on the fence when it comes to the survival issue, Roy had no reservations in expressing his view. “To me, at the present time, the evidence for the survival of bodily death is of such strength that it is the most parsimonious theory accounting for much more than any other,” he said. “Even the file theory, which supposes that throughout a person’s life, a record of that person’s life from their point of view is made until their bodily death, is not so convincing. Certainly the file cannot be supposed to be physical, for long after the death of the brain, children recall the details of a previous life, accepting it as a former life they had, since memories of that life are recalled from the point of view of the former person. To me the researches of (Ian) Stevenson and (Erlendur) Haraldsson are convincing in this area that survival of death in some way takes place. Possession cases such as those of Lurancy Vennum, Uttara Huddar, Sumitra, Jasbir Lal Jat add strength to that concept. Certain ‘drop in’ cases also strengthen the concept. Indeed the wide variety of such cases are so evidentially strong that they support a challenge I made in print twelve years ago to any sceptic that if she or he believes no proof of a paranormal event has ever been produced they should submit in detail normal explanations for the long list of cases I gave. The silence from the sceptics has been deafening, a silence that reminds me of Sherlock Holmes chiding of Dr. Watson because of his non-appreciation of the significance of the dog that did not bark in the night. Or the trick of young children who, displeased with the real world, close their eyes and believe that by so doing, they have cancelled that displeasing world. Or the late Sam Goldwyn who allegedly shouted, “Don’t confuse me with facts! My mind is made up!”
How some pseudoskeptical “know-it-all,” such as mentioned in the first paragraph, can claim to be a better judge of paranormal matters than Professor Archie Roy, who spent more than 50 years studying and observing psychical matters, is beyond me. The “know-it-all” reads a few books by some debunker and he thinks he knows more than Roy learned over five decades. It took Roy 10 years to fully digest the cross-correspondences, but the “know-it-all” no doubt feels qualified to debunk it after a few hours of study. What arrogance!
Hopefully, by now, Archie Roy has had an opportunity to meet Frederic Myers. They probably shook their heads in disgust while discussing such closed-minded hubris.
Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die is published by White Crow Books. His latest book, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife is now available on Amazon and other online book stores.
Next blog: April 8
In 1983 Professor Archie Roy came and spent a day with me in Bristol. A few weeks later he witnessed the physical mediumship of Rita Goold in Leicester.
Michael Roll, Fri 10 Mar, 09:22
Archie had taken action following the reports that I sent him about Rita Goold’s mediumship. My reports are on the website of the Campaign For Philosophical Freedom:
Thanks to you, again, Mike, for another illuminating contribution to the field of parapsychology. Thanks for continuing to let us know that researchers from the UK are frequently much more willing to discuss their belief in survival of consciousness than are those from the USA. These thoughts and opinions of Dr. Roy’s that you’ve recorded are really delightful.
Jane Katra, Wed 10 Apr, 00:29
August, if you contact the Scottish society for psychical research
Carolyn, Fri 29 Mar, 04:30
They have copies of the Eager Dead for sale.
Excellent article. Mike!
Yvonne Limoges, Wed 27 Mar, 13:13
There have been so many intelligent and well-educated individuals who have studied
carefully these phenomena for years and come away completely convinced that they are genuine.
As a fellow Glaswegian who lived only a few miles from Archie Roy I can vouch that he was a courageous man, and all at a time when big men were needed in this field of study, he stood out. I have attended some events held in Glasgow University with Professor Roy’s team and the Scottish Society for Psychical Research which proved very interesting indeed.
As for the, ‘Aye, that’ll be right” I can vouch for that as being spot on. It’s said frequently in Glasgow as the mind often boggles. It might even be the first words uttered by Glaswegians in the delivery room, but I can’t vouch for that.
Good article remembering a great man.
Grahame Mackenzie, Wed 27 Mar, 12:39
A home run as usual, Mike.
I am feeling rather disconcerted by the idea of the Scole group possibly interfering with time travelers!
The phrase “Aye, that’ll be right” is certainly of great use.
Elene Gusch, Tue 26 Mar, 09:25
Is the “Eager Dead” still available in print? It’s listed at Amazon for $300+!!
August Goforth, Tue 26 Mar, 07:49
I especially enjoyed this post, Mike. “Don’t confuse me with facts! My mind is made up!” Sam Goldwyn speaks for quite a few of my friends.
Stafford Betty, Tue 26 Mar, 02:31
Very informative article Michael. I had not read your previous interview with Dr. Roy. Thanks for this tribute to him.
Amos Oliver Doyle, Tue 26 Mar, 00:56
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