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Life After Death: the Many Faces of Skepticism

Posted on 09 July 2018, 9:03

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

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Spirits and Crime by Carl Wickland – Habits, desires and inclinations are rooted in the mind and remain with the individual after he is freed from his physical body, until they are eliminated by the will. The spirits of many criminals, murderers, those who were executed or are seeking for revenge, remain indefinitely in the earth sphere and often endeavor to continue their former activities and to carry out their evil designs through controlling the bodies of mortals who are sensitive to their influence. Read here
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