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15 Reasons Why We Keep Reinventing the Wheel?

Posted on 21 November 2016, 10:23

Every now and then, someone asks why I write so much about the mediumship and psychical research of a hundred or more years ago and not more about the research going on today.  I explain that I believe the mediumship of old was much more dynamic than that of today and that the research carried out by a number of distinguished scientists and scholars of yesteryear offers evidence that is far superior to that being developed today.  As evidential as it was, it was pretty much ignored back then and it has been filed away in dust-covered cabinets so that very few people today are aware of it.  Even many modern day parapsychologists are unaware of much of it.

Many who are aware of the old research don’t understand it because of its complexities.  It is like a one-thousand word jigsaw puzzle; the picture doesn’t begin to take shape until about 80 percent the pieces are in place and it is not fully appreciated until the puzzle is completed.  Most people don’t go beyond the marginal pieces before concluding that it is too difficult and then giving up on it.     

That is not to suggest that the little research going on today with clairvoyants or the research in the area of the near-death experience hasn’t added to the evidence or is not of value, only that it is for the most part reinventing the wheel.  The old research produced a solid wheel, but the newer research has tightened the spokes. Further, today’s research is much more meaningful if one first digests and understands the old research. 

So why wasn’t the old research more widely accepted when it was developed and why is it ignored today?  The answer is not a simple one.  As I see it, there are 15 basic reasons for its rejection and the current ignorance of it:

1.  Religious Fundamentalism:  Most of orthodox religion saw mediumship as a demonic practice, based primarily on misinterpreted passages in the Old Testament, such as Deuteronomy 18:12 and Ecclesiastes 9:5.  Adding fuel to the fire was the fact that some messages coming through mediums conflicted with various Church dogma and doctrine.  The position of orthodoxy remains much the same today as it was in the days of the pioneers of psychical research, thereby discouraging people who accept survival on nothing more than blind faith from moving on to true faith or conviction. 

2. Scientism (Scientific Fundamentalism):  The evidence for survival was ignored or scoffed at by “mainstream” scientists and referred to as pseudo science because it challenged the materialistic worldview that had been accepted by so many “intelligent” men and women who had dedicated themselves to scientific inquiry and advancement, beginning with the Age of Reason and later strongly reinforced by Darwinism.  In effect, the acceptance of a “spiritualistic” worldview was seen as a return to the superstitions and follies of religion, and sanctioning it would have destroyed the foundation of the materialistic/mechanistic worldview and leave the majority of respected scientists and rational thinkers, especially professors who championed the materialistic worldview in academic institutions, embarrassed and humiliated.  Little has changed in this regard.  In effect, psychical research, what is left of it, was and still is caught between a rock and a hard place – between Religion and Science, leaving very few independent and open-minded people to examine, consider and appreciate the best evidence. 

3.  Media Bias & Ignorance: Journalists like to think of themselves as intelligent investigators and so naturally align themselves with Science.  At the same time, exposing shams and fraudulent schemes lends itself to sensationalism and makes for good copy.  Then, as now, the media frequently addressed any subject involving spirits as “woo-woo” stuff while putting a humorous or cynical twist of one kind or another on any story suggesting spirits of the dead.  In addition, today’s television producers don’t understand the “balance” issue.  When a researcher validates a medium, the producers seem to think they have to get a debunker involved in the program to counter the researcher, not taking into account the fact that the researcher has already dealt with and discounted the skeptical arguments. 

4. Fear:  Indications are that many scientists and scholars were invited by researchers to observe certain mediums, but some feared for their reputation if word were to get out that they were “dabbling in the occult” and therefore refused.  There were a number, however, who accepted the invitations and observed genuine phenomena, but, with the same fears, they remained silent, not offering support for the more courageous researchers.  Sir David Brewster, a famous nineteenth century physicist known especially for his contributions to the optics field, is said to have witnessed D. D. Home, one of the most famous physical mediums of his time, being levitated (lifted by spirits).  Although seemingly quite impressed at the time, he later concluded that the only explanation was a trick he did not understand, or a delusion.  “Spirit is the last thing I will give in to,” he was quoted.  Such a mindset continues to exist.

5.  Machismo:  Various history books suggest that men of a century ago looked upon spiritual beliefs as a “woman thing.”  Men smoked cigars, drank whiskey, fought in wars, governed countries and managed businesses.  Religion had been impeached and such dreamy foolishness as spirits and angels was best left to the ladies.  A man’s afterlife was his legacy of earthly accomplishments and he was expected to greet his extinction with a stiff upper lip.  While women have significantly closed the gender gap since the Victorian era, machismo still seems to play a part in spiritual beliefs, as various surveys indicate that women are more inclined, generally, to believe in God and an afterlife than men. 

6.  The Causality Dilemma:  The religionist, the scientist, the media and the general public all seem to assume that we must come up with proof of God before dealing with the survival issue.  No God, no afterlife, is the atheist’s illogical reasoning. It is a deductive approach.  The inductive approach of first looking at the evidence for survival might lead one to believe in a God, whether anthropomorphic (humanlike) or some abstract form of cosmic consciousness, but a belief in the survival of consciousness does not require that one begin with a belief in God. 

7.  Too Much Variety:  There were and are many different kinds of mediumship, basically falling in three categories – physical, mental and a combination of the two.  The physical mediumship of yesteryear included full materializations of spirit forms, partial materializations, e.g., a hand only, a face only, apports and levitations, while the mental type included tilting and turning tables, the Ouija board,  trance-voice, direct-voice, direct writing, automatic writing and slate writing.  There were mediums who were proficient at one kind and had no ability in other kinds. There were simply too many variables for the few researchers to deal with.  They focused more on the trance mental mediumship.  It was all just too bizarre and unworldly for most people.  Today’s debunkers claim that the very fact we don’t have or hear about so much variety today is because it was all bunk. 
There are, however, a number of reasons to explain why it is not as dynamic today as it was then, but that is the subject of a future blog. 

8.  Semantics Issues:  A recent Internet news source discussed modern television ghost hunters, people who go around haunted houses and graveyards looking for cold spots and energy fields, as being like the pioneering psychical researchers.  However, there is as much similarity between the two as there is between croquet players and professional baseball players.  Most people don’t know the difference between a psychic and a medium and they lump gypsy fortune tellers, tarot card readers, witch doctors, astrologers, psychics and mediums all together.  If they can’t predict the winner of the upcoming derby or come up with the winning lottery number, they must be frauds.  The only mediums they know about are the clairvoyants they have seen on television.

9.  Fraud: As the Spiritualism epidemic of the late nineteenth century grew, so did the number of charlatans – people pretending to have mediumistic ability by employing various tricks.  Even some legitimate mediums are said to have turned to tricks when their powers failed them in order to not disappoint those present.  Many magicians, including the great Houdini, came forward to explain how certain phenomena “could have” or “might have” been accomplished by clever sleight of hand or other deception. While Professor William James of Harvard said that Leonora Piper was his “one white crow,” the one who proved that all crows aren’t black, the more skeptical mind reasoned the other way: one black crow proved that all crows are black. 

10.  The Roving Subconscious:  A goodly number of the pioneers of psychical research came to believe in the reality of psychic phenomena but remained skeptical on the survival and spirit issues.  They hypothesized that a “secondary personality” buried in the medium’s subconscious telepathically picked up the thoughts of the sitters, somehow processed those thoughts, and intelligently communicated information as if it were coming from a deceased person.  When information came through unknown to the sitters, the researchers speculated that the medium could tap into the minds of anyone in the world, referring to this form of advanced telepathy as teloteropathy.  When that didn’t completely explain it, they further speculated that there is some kind of “cosmic reservoir” from which the medium’s subconscious can access information.  Later researchers bundled it all up and called it superpsi.  But the most experienced psychical researchers ruled it out as there was too much personality and too much volition to dismiss it as anything other than spirit communication. Moreover, the pioneering researchers could see no logical reason why these so-called secondary personalities of mediums from different continents would all pretend to be spirits of the dead.  How did all these secondary personalities collaborate in this worldwide deception? To what end?

11.  Harmony & Impatience: The early history of mediumship clearly indicates the need for harmony in mediumistic settings. Many are the reports in which those sitting with a medium would sing or pray in order to establish the necessary harmonious conditions.  In order to produce phenomena, the spirits are said to have required the medium to be in a passive state, one apparently best achieved with music and prayer.  Some mediums could achieve the required state within a few minutes, but there were times when it took an hour or longer for anything to happen and there were many times when a proven medium simply couldn’t produce at all on a particular night because the conditions weren’t right or she had too much nervous energy holding her back. Negativity by the observers defeated good results.  Some observers who got nothing on the medium’s bad night wrote off the person as a fraud and indications are that many true mediums were so disparaged. 

12.  Too Hokey:  So much of physical mediumship seemed weird and exceeded the boggle threshold of nearly everyone.  Some materializations looked like mannequins or dummies; some were flat; some didn’t look like the person he or she claimed to have been.  Often, there was only a face or a hand.  The fact that most mediums required darkness added to the belief that it was all fraudulent.  Even many of the researchers who accepted mental mediumship had a difficult time accepting physical mediumship.  But those who stuck with it long enough came to understand what the problems are.  So much of it is imperfect thought-projection from the spirit world, while much also depends on the strength of the medium to produce the necessary odic force, or ectoplasm. 

13.  Too Much Gibberish:  Even with the best of mediums, there was much vagueness and ambiguity, even gibberish, in the communication.  Skeptics saw all this as evidence that the so-called mediums were charlatans, as they assumed that if spirits really exist they should be able to communicate in a much more intelligent and effective manner. But, as the more experienced researchers came to understand, the subconscious of the medium is a factor and often distorts the message as it is filtered through her or his brain.  Also, sprits themselves are limited in their ability to effectively communicate.  It takes much practice on their side and development on our side.  Here again, much of the communication was by thought-projection and symbolic, thus resulting in different interpretations.  Often, low-level spirits got involved and completely muddled the communication.

14.  Trivialities:  Many of the early researchers, including William James, wondered why so much of what came through mediums was of such a trivial nature, like what happened to Uncle George’s watch or the location of a birthmark.  Why didn’t they talk about the nature of reality, what it is like on their side of the veil, etc.?  The fact is that much of the early communication did address more profound subjects.  The writings of Judge John Edmonds, Dr. George Dexter, Professor Robert Hare, Educator Allan Kardec, and Rev. William Stainton Moses offer very comprehensive reports on the greater reality,  but it was not evidential.  It was the trivial message that was evidential. 

15. False Assumptions: The assumption seems to be that spirits, if they exist, are all equal in the “heaven” of orthodox religion, and are “all-knowing” and therefore they should all agree with each other. The fact that they disagree on some things, especially on the subject of reincarnation, suggests fraud.  However, as the pioneering researchers came to understand, spirits are at different levels of advancement, some not knowing any more now than they did when alive in the flesh.  Moreover, low-level spirits find it easier to communicate with us because they are closer in vibration to humans than the advanced spirits.  At the lowest levels, the spirits don’t really know how little they know and therefore often give incorrect information.  It has been likened to an alien from another planet landing in the jungles of New Guinea and reporting back home that humans are all very primitive in their ways.

In conclusion, to borrow from Stewart Edward White, a renowned author from the early twentieth century, the spirits showed us much of the landscape they traverse and provided us with a “highway going on for eternity.”  And although we cannot discern the end of the Road, “we are able to make out, through the mists, at the least the lay of the land” through which we will continue our journey.  This life can be so much more fulfilling and enjoyable by recognizing that we are not all marching toward an abyss of nothingness, that life does have meaning and that much of that meaning can be found in overcoming adversity.  It was to that end that the pioneering psychical researchers dedicated themselves, and the primary purpose of this blog is to help in some little way to make their work better understood and appreciated.

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 post:  Dec. 5



Thank you for the comment and the interesting link.
I agree with you, although I think I only alluded to the fact that we don’t find such mediumship these days.  Electrical interference may very well be one reason as so many of the mediums were unable to produce during electrical storms. 

As I have written several places, I believe the primary reason we don’t have that type of mediumship these days is due to the “noise” we now have, i.e., radio, TV, cell phones, computers, etc.  In those days of yesteryear, people had nothing to do at night but sit in front of a fire and knit or whittle, or sit on the porch and stare at the stars.  This sometimes prompted altered states of consciousness and mediumship developed from that. 

But I also wonder if the spirit world gave up.  They realized that after about 1880, they were just reinventing the wheel over and over again, and good people (true mediums) were being disparaged because debunkers couldn’t grasp what was going on. 
Early messages suggested that Swedenborg and Ben Franklin, working together on the Other Side,  discovered how to communicate through table raps, etc., and that brought about the Spiritualism epidemic that began in 1848.  Apparently they didn’t realize how difficult it would be for people to grasp their messages and they finally gave up.

Michael Tymn, Wed 1 Feb, 03:43

I think there is another reason that is equally or more important: the idea that anything that anyone discovered or did in the past is outdated and not as good as anything we can do now.

This is really unfortunate in this case, because I think a careful reading of the old works, of which I have done my share, indicates various reasons that they were aware of at the time that the effects they were observing were fading.

I’m referring particularly and especially to complaints about electrical interference, and to the concept that these effects are weak and influenced by the attitudes of those present. Now we live in a world polluted by all sorts of electrical radiation, and many people won’t even consider an experiment that doesn’t have a quorum of skeptics present with an absence of the psychic energy of a group of believers, both of which those pioneer researchers well understood had definite effects on what happened.

Regarding the effect of belief, I think we may be seeing some of that in the current rash diminishing repeatability of “legitimate” scientific and medical research:

Michael D, Tue 31 Jan, 15:31


I did not mean to imply that I am reinventing the wheel. Rather, the current research is reinventing the wheel.

I do concern myself with those who do not believe, because I think they are the ones who are causing the turmoil and chaos in the world today and until they wake up it will only get worse. Most of them are too brainwashed and egocentric to look at the evidence, but every now and then one of them gets it.

Michael Tymn, Sat 26 Nov, 20:04

Yes Y L

Michael please print the whole article in the next Newsletter.

Tricia, Sat 26 Nov, 16:27


On reflection, the title of this topic is a misnomer. 

You are not reinventing the wheel.  In your many books and writings, you have described mediumship and related matters in fine detail and it is mediumship that is the wheel.  In this post, you are drawing attention to why so many people – critics and ‘sceptics’ – will not accept that the wheel of mediumship exists and has done for a long time.

The reasoning offered by the critics and sceptics would be totally unacceptable in any field of engineering or science and this establishes that they cannot differentiate between fallacious and matters beyond reasonable doubt. 

I can no longer be bothered with arguing with those who will not see!


Leslie Harris, Sat 26 Nov, 03:13

A real keeper of an article to go over again and again.
Great to share with skeptics…
Please put a print of this in the Academy Newsletter.

Yvonne Limoges, Fri 25 Nov, 22:21

Your article says it all. There is definitely a barrier of ‘ignorance’ to the general populous, even although many want to hear what we have to say. I was the invited speaker to the Christian Churches Fellowship in September 2016. I gave two talks. They absolutely loved it and people were saying things like ‘Why did we not know these things before?’ This addresses your whole article. I believe that the media suppress anything sensible and treat the populous like mushrooms. Dare I also say that some Universities ( sorry chaps) make parapsychology somewhat boring, creating disinterest to ordinary people. Parapsychology and Psychical Research are two different disciplines, but some of the new courses are trying to merge the academic with what actually happened to people in the real world.  Let us hope that is a step forward.

Tricia Robertson, Thu 24 Nov, 11:01

Thanks to all for the interesting comments.  In rereading my post, I can see where one might infer that I don’t fully appreciate the current research, including NDE and past-life studies. I do appreciate it and it is often a topic of discussion at this blog, making up perhaps 50 percent of what I write about.  However, my books and various articles in magazines and journals are about 90 percent dealing with the old mediumship.  That is because the current research is usually adequately reported by the researchers themselves and there are copyright issues, as well as other concerns. 

Since most of the old stuff is free of copyright and is unknown to so many people, I focus much more on that. And, as I mentioned, I think it provides a good foundation for the newer research.  I am surprised at how many people I run into at conferences who know all about NDEs and past-life studies, but know nothing about direct-voice mediumship, trance-voice, etc. and how many of them jump to the conclusion that ectoplasm and materialization was and is all fraud.

Michael Tymn, Thu 24 Nov, 10:33

I sent a longish post several days ago but it hasn’t appeared.  Has it appeared at your end or am I having a computer problem at my end?

Leslie Harris

Leslie Harris, Thu 24 Nov, 01:46

Rick Darby:


The answer to your primary question is both simple and complex.  We live in an age of science which simply did not exist in the current form in the period that Michael refers to.

At that time, it was the province of men who were well established in many fields of new knowledge.  They were already much lauded for their contributions to engineering and chemistry.  Not a few were knighted for their discoveries.  Significantly, no grounds for criticism could be found in their areas of expertise and their intellect was beyond question.  Such men were usually wealthy and could afford to follow any matter that sparked their interest.

As shown in many of Michael’s historical accounts, when such men became interested in this particular field (mediums), so-called sceptics of the day were hard put to explain how men of such august intellects could be totally right in a wide range of knowledge but totally wrong when it came to mediums. 

That was then, this is now!!  Fast forward to today.  Science today totally governed by publish or perish, the eternal pursuit of research funding, the never ending search for tenure and the need to justify one’s existence. 

Along with this comes the permanent awareness of reputation.  The slightest hit of unorthodox thinking can result in academic death and research suicide.  In fact, one’s reputation can be considerably enhanced by joining the ranks of so-called sceptics.  Proof?  No proof is needed.  All one needs to do is loudly declare that this field is ‘impossible’ and therefore not worthy of investigation.

Recently, a catch-all explanation for absolutely everything has emerged – mass telepathy!!  Yippee!  Problem solved!!  Wait a moment – there is absolutely no proof of mass telepathy.  OOPS!!

Tymn 1
Sceptics Zero

Leslie Harris

Leslie Harris, Wed 23 Nov, 03:19

Very well thought out Michael.  It is no surprise that you would be able to put this all together after many years of study of the mediums of yesteryear.  I agree with the others that this is very well done. 

I think that new spiritual concepts are presented to the mind of man at a time when he is able to understand them.  What may have been appropriate evidence 150 years ago or so may not be as impressive today as new circumstances have arisen e.g., successful resuscitation efforts. Today near death reports seem to have gained in acceptance, more so than perhaps any information provided through a modern medium.  There are some impressive modern mediums of course, but first-hand reports of the near death experience from thousands of people seems to be more believable than second or third-hand information provided through a medium who may or may not be fraudulent.  There is still the same resistance to new evidence of spirit realities today from modern skeptics and materialists, for the same reasons you enumerated above.  People really don’t change much from one generation to the next so maybe it is necessary to reinvent the wheel for each new generation but with a few shiny new chrome spokes (or spooks as the case may be). 

There are also several verifiable new reincarnation cases today, e.g., James Leininger that seem to provide more immediate verifiable evidence of a spiritual reality and that reincarnation theories may be more acceptable today as people move away from traditional Christian religious concepts that prohibited recognition of reincarnation in the past.

This is not to imply that there was no validity to the mediums of history, but those old mediums don’t relate well to many people born and raised in the frenetic society we live in today, even though some of those mediums provided spectacular evidence.  Mediums of today have to provide more glitz and have moved out of the séance room into the television studio.  Newer mechanisms commensurate with the developing cultures and the evolving mind and spirit of man today need to be used to try to get the message of the spirit across.  Perhaps that is why we see use of radios, televisions, telephones used in electronic voice transmissions from the spirit world, inventions that were not available 150 years ago. - AOD

Amos Oliver Doyle, Tue 22 Nov, 22:40

Good essay Mike. The fifteen reasons are well-considered. Most argument against the validity of these phenomena I have encountered have been variations of one or more of your points.

There are a few “proper” scientific practices that work to assure the older material is ignored. One is the the assumption that modern science is more reliable. Even though most parapsychologists are from the same sources of those pioneers—retired professors, doctorates from other fields of study—they apparently assume the pioneers were less qualified naturalists.

A second factor is that literature reviews, necessary before proper research, will likely not show the old material. I, for one, tend to ignore anything older than fifteen or twenty years because I know it will have ignored the evidence of ITC. Of course, I am not a scientist, but I must still seek the most credible sources.

I can see you getting red in the face at that comment. It is the perception of antiquity I am referring to, not the validity of the work. I have taken the Morris Pratt course and chaff at how it tends to end the future in the early 1900s. My instinct is to seek more contemporary material.

Our community needs to understand that most paranormalists are demonstrably anti-survival. It serves researchers no benefit to spend the time researching the past when they are so sure survival is false in the first place. Others who do study the past, tend to commit the sin of conformational research ... studying only that which supports their assumptions.

Tom Butler, Tue 22 Nov, 19:51

Great analysis Mike. Beautifully argued.

Wendy and Victor Zammit

Wendy Zammit, Tue 22 Nov, 11:04


So long as there are people who fail to understand that saying “no, that’s impossible”, does not constitute disproof, we need Michael Tymns and others of like mind to keep on hammering this point.

The 15 points are completely valid.  Sadly, they are destined to remain so for the foreseeable future for the simple reason that the human race is arrogant,conceited and are intellectual paupers.  There are no so blind as will not see!!

Keep it up, Michael.  You won’t see significant results in your lifetime but it has to be done.

Leslie Harris

Leslie Harris, Tue 22 Nov, 10:45

What an excellent article, Mike!! There are many questions addressed there that I used to ask before I read books by people such as yourself and Stafford Betty. I’m sure it will resolve issues for many readers.

Dr Howard A. Jones, Tue 22 Nov, 10:31

All the reasons you give for why many people in the early days of psychical research couldn’t take it aboard are true. But an equally interesting question is, why did so many outstanding and respectable people from various fields take it seriously in the 19th and early 20th centuries?

From what I have read, seances and home circles were common, even fashionable. Even though some were unsophisticated and used primitive forms of communicating with spirits (rappings, table tipping, Ouija boards, etc.), they were not all frivolous. I believe many participants were really trying to open the door between this world and the hereafter.

Psychical research was adopted or at least written about by distinguished physical scientists (too many to list), classicists (Myers, Gilbert Murray), novelists (Conan Doyle, Bulwer-Lytton), psychologists (William James), even a music critic (Lawrence Gilman).

In retrospect, it was a Golden Age for psychical research, despite the barriers you describe.

Teloteropathy ... sounds like a serious disease. Apparently it was cured. I have heard of no recent cases.

Rick Darby, Mon 21 Nov, 23:16

Thanks for this, Mike!

Jane Katra, Mon 21 Nov, 20:33

Mike, this is a remarkably thoughtful and comprehensive article.  It explains why we take psychical research seriously, and why most people don’t. It should be held in ready reserve for certain open-minded skeptics to read.  This is a classic statement that I hope several of my colleagues, who are inclined to think that what I do is pseudo-science, will read.  Thanks for all the thought that went into it.

Stafford, Mon 21 Nov, 20:12

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Facing the Final Choice by Michael Grosso – The editor of my first book suggested I call it The Final Choice (1985). I thought the title was overdramatic and a bit grandiose. I did in part write the book in response to what seemed like the growing threat of nuclear war. Read here
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