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Was It Confucius communicating from the Afterlife or a Clever Trickster?

Posted on 24 May 2021, 8:08

A friend who read Chapter 15 of my most recent book, No One Really Dies, told me that the story about Confucius communicating through the direct-voice mediumship of George Valiantine (below) in 1926 exceeds his boggle threshold. He said he accepts the reality of mediumship and spirit communication, but that one is too much for him to take in. He is highly skeptical. 


The story is told with some detail in my book as well as in my blog of April 22, 2013 in the archives at left and the White Crow book Psychic Adventures in New York. To briefly summarize, however,  Dr. Neville Whymant, (below) a professor of linguistics at Oxford and London Universities, as well as the Universities of Tokyo and Peking, who spoke some 30 languages, reported that he attended 12 séances at the home of Judge and Mrs. William M. Cannon in New York City beginning in October 1926.  He was in the United States to study the languages of Native Americans when invited to the Cannon home. There, through Valiantine’s trumpet mediumship (voices came through the trumpet, not directly from the medium), he communicated with “spirits of the dead” in 14 different languages, including Chinese, Hindi, Persian, Basque, Sanskrit, Arabic, Portuguese, Italian, Yiddish, German and modern Greek.”  One spirit identified himself as K’ung-Fu-Tzu, the actual name by which Confucius was known, and began speaking in an ancient Chinese dialect, but because Whymant was not totally familiar with that dialect, the “voice” switched to a more modern dialect.


Though highly skeptical, Whymant could not imagine a trickster knowing the ancient Chinese dialect or even the more modern dialect with its little twists of the tongue. The ancient dialect was as dead colloquially as Sanskrit or Latin, Whymant explained.  “If this was a hoax, it was a particularly clever one, far beyond the scope of any of the sinologues now living,” he recorded.  Whymant also reported that his wife’s deceased father communicated in his familiar “tone and slight drawl,” reminiscent of the West Country of England.

Whymant tested the “voice,” asking “it” about a poem written by Confucius, providing the first line. The voice responded by reciting all 15 lines of the poem.  The voice also explained a mistake made in modern translations of another poem, stating that the copyists were in error, as the character written as sê should have been i, and the character written as yen was an error for fou. 

I examined the possible skeptic’s arguments with my friend, as follows:

Valiantine was a very clever illusionist:  Sure, and this uneducated mechanic from New York learned 14 languages, including some ancient ones, even speaking them without an American accent of any kind. “Then it burst upon me that I was listening to Chinese of a purity and delicacy not now spoken in any part of China,” Whymant wrote of the ancient dialect he first heard.

Valiantine had a very educated confederate hidden away in the Cannon home: Such a confederate would have had to know and properly pronounce the ancient dialect of Confucius and be very familiar with his poems, familiar enough to recite them at length and point out errors in the modern translations.  According to Whymant, there were only a half-dozen scholars in the world capable of participating in such a hoax. However, it is highly unlikely that those half-dozen knew all 14 languages spoken, so Valiantine would have had to have many accomplices.  And the Cannons would have had to be in on the deception for those accomplices to remain hidden and have some electrical apparatus to get the voices through the trumpet. It should be noted that William M. Cannon is listed as chairman of the New York section of the American Society for Psychical Research (ASPR) in its November 1928 issue of its journal.

Whymant made up the whole story so he could sell some books: Whymant received both his Ph.D. and Litt.D. at Oxford.  In addition to his teaching positions, he served as Far East editor of the New International Encyclopedia and was on the editorial staff of the Encyclopedia Britannica. He was a foreign correspondent for the London Times, and an adviser to the embassy of the Republic of China in London.  Among his other books were Chinese and Greek Philosophical Parallels (1917), The Psychology of the Chinese Coolie (1920), and China (1923). An internet search indicates he also wrote books in Mongolian, Japanese, and Polynesian languages and that he was only 23-years-old when his 1917 book was published. Clearly, he does not seem to have been a man to be easily duped or to put his reputation on the line by telling a story that he knew most rational people would consider absurd.
If we can believe Whymant, he didn’t even want to write the book, but tired of telling the story over and over again and was persuaded by friends to write it after first reporting on it in the ASPR journal. And, if Whymant made it up, he must have shared the profits with Judge and Mrs. Cannon, along with Valiantine. 

Valiantine must have been a skilled ventriloquist:  Whymant noted that there was enough light for him to observe Valiantine speaking American English to the person sitting next to him at the same time two and three foreign voices were coming through the trumpet.  Moreover, it’s one thing to “throw” a voice, quite another for the voice to provide evidential information in 14 different languages.

Famous people don’t communicate: “Confucius, sure, and Cleopatra and Princess Diana, too,” the “wise” skeptic will say with a smirk, as if to suggest only the non-famous dead can communicate, assuming such communication exists at all.  Of course, if no one famous ever communicated, those same skeptics would ask why only unknown people communicate.  If spirit communication is possible, why wouldn’t we expect to hear from some famous people?  Of course, there are indications that devious, low-level spirits sometimes attempt to impersonate famous “dead” people and that’s why the New Testament tells us to “test the spirits” and to “discern” the messages.

“It does not seem necessary to assume the actual presence of the great Chinese Sage himself,” Sir Oliver Lodge, the renowned physicist who arranged for Valiantine to be tested by the Society for Psychical Research (SPR), wrote in the Introduction to Whymant’s book, “but it is possible that some disciple of that period may be exerting himself, as so many others on that side are exerting themselves, to give scholarly proof of survival, and to awaken our dormant minds to possibilities in the universe to which we are for the most part blind and deaf.”

As Lodge and a few other researchers came to understand, superior spirits, such as Confucius, Jesus, Socrates, and Swedenborg must be, have no need to be identified with their teachings; but because humans seem to need an identity in order to fix their ideas, elevated spirits who identify with the teachings of those superior spirits and belong to the same “soul group” may take that famous name to appease us, as it is the teaching, not the teacher, that is important.  In some cases, the communicating spirit would say that it was not one spirit talking but rather several of them offering a group essence based on the teachings of the superior spirit.  This appears to have been the case with Imperator and his group of 49 spirits who communicated through the mediumship of William Stainton Moses.

Telepathy or Super PSI might explain the voices: While telepathy and super psi defy the philosophy of materialism, a popular theory among some parapsychologists is that the medium is reading the mind of the sitters and feeding information back to them.  Since some of the information coming through to Whymant was unknown to him, this theory fails.  The super psi theory suggests that there is some “computer in the cosmos” which the medium can access.  However, it is one thing to access some bit of information in the cosmos, quite another to have the computer dialogue with the person.  The super psi theory is clearly more fantastic than the survival hypothesis.

Whymant didn’t really hear the voices as well as he suggests in the book:  This is a theory advanced by some members of the SPR in London based on a sitting Valiantine had with them in 1927. That sitting produced “whispers,” some of which sounded like Chinese to the SPR researchers but were very unclear.  When the SPR later asked Professor Whymant to listen to the gramophone recording of the voices, he couldn’t make them out, either.  One SPR researcher, in her report, pointed out that there are many “Chinamen” living in America and Valiantine probably learned a little Chinese from them, enough to make Whymant think that he was hearing Chinese with Valiantine, and he subconsciously filled in the blanks.  It suggests that Whymant was a complete idiot.  It also suggests that Valiantine learned enough of 13 other languages, including Sanskrit, to further dupe Whymant and also that he memorized the poems of “Confucius,” or Whymant just imagined he heard the voice recite a lengthy poem and also imagined that “Confucius” explained the mistakes in one of them.

Whymant gives no indication in his journal report or in his book of not being able to understand the voices, other than having difficulty understanding the ancient Chinese dialect. He stated that some of the voices were so strong that he could feel the vibrations off the floor.  He further describes the “Confucius” voice as “tremulous.” 
Valiantine was accused of cheating in 1931; therefore, he was clearly a fraud: The most damaging evidence the skeptic can offer is that sometime in 1931 Valiantine was accused of cheating. It had nothing to do with voices or languages. Rather, the case involved an attempt to fingerprint a communicating spirit claiming to be Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  Apparently, an attempt was going to be made to compare the print with an actual thumb print left by Doyle, who had died the prior year.  A print was somehow obtained, but it turned out to be Valiantine’s big toe. Valiantine claimed he had no idea how his toe was imprinted in the plaster cast. Could Valiantine have been so stupid as to think his toe print would match up with Doyle’s thumb, or anyone’s thumb? The only conclusion one can come to here is that some devious, low-level spirits were playing games with the researchers or someone involved with the tests was intent on framing Valiantine.

The bottom line: It would have been helpful if Whymant had included more detail as to what came through in other languages for other people, but he was not there to take notes or write a book.  He reports taking notes on the Confucius communication, but not on the others. He was too busy interpreting. There is absolutely no reason to believe that Whymant was not a credible reporter of the facts he did report.  His language ability suggests a photographic memory. He was a distinguished scholar who had little to gain and much to lose by making up such a story. The phenomena he reported go far beyond any known tricks employed by charlatans and similar phenomena were observed by many other people sitting with Valiantine over a period of years.  I understand my friend’s skepticism, as the story also exceeds my boggle threshold, but I can’t come up with a debunking theory that makes sense.  Perhaps a reader of this blog can.

Next blog post:  June 7

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.
His latest book, No One Really Dies: 25 Reasons to Believe in an Afterlife is published by White Crow Books.

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Dr. Bruce Greyson Updates NDE Research

Posted on 10 May 2021, 9:06

When I interviewed Dr. Bruce Greyson in 2004, (below) I asked him how his research in the field of near-death experiences had influenced his beliefs concerning the survival of consciousness at death. I was not expecting him to say that the NDE proves survival, but I anticipated him saying something like “the NDE suggests that consciousness continues after death,” or words to that effect. However, Greyson seemed to be offended by the question and replied that his belief had nothing to do with his work as a scientist or as a physician.



In an attempt to clarify my question, I asked him, in effect, if a scientist must forever sit on the fence and never have an opinion or belief. I further asked why so many scientists can commit themselves to a belief in biological evolution but not to survival. While the evidence for evolution may be very strong, I remarked, it does not appear to extend to “absolute certainty.”  Moreover, one does not have to be a “creationist” to be a skeptic with regard to the generally accepted belief in evolution. I was curious as to the degree of certainty a scientist must have before moving off the fence. Is his reputation as an objective researcher forever tainted if he deviates even slightly away from the mainstream worldview? If the evidence increasingly points to survival, doesn’t someone have to take the lead by coming off the fence?

“…Scientists explore the evidence for and against competing hypotheses, and derive tentative conclusions that a certain hypothesis is more or less likely than others, based on the data currently available,” Greyson responded to my concern. “Because science is based on empirical observation rather than revelation, our conclusions are always subject to change as new evidence accumulates. Sometimes a concept like evolution receives such overwhelming empirical support that we act as if it were proven; but even those concepts are subject to revision as we discover contradictory evidence. Although I think there is sufficient empirical evidence to make survival the most likely explanation for some phenomena, it has not been embraced by many mainstream scientists because we have much more work to do in eliminating, competing hypotheses and developing a plausible mechanism by something could survive bodily death.”

At the time of the 2004 interview, I visualized Greyson sitting on a fence that separates the survival school from the nihilism school, more or less straddling it with one foot planted firmly on the nihilist’s side of the fence and the other foot dangling on the survival side.  Although it wasn’t discussed in detail in that interview, I inferred from his answers, perhaps more from what he had to say in other writings, that he was more interested in the transformative aspects of the NDE – that is,  how it helped people better enjoy their earthly lives. But that left me wondering what it was that gave rise to the positive transformations of so many NDErs if not the recognition that this life is part of a larger life and the purpose that gave it.  To put it another way, if the survival aspect is not at the root of it, what causes the transformation? Were those experiencers who were transformed supposed to be happier and more fulfilled without pausing to think why?  Were they mere robots?  If it was because they now saw a purpose in life, was it a purpose with a humanistic/nihilistic outlook? If so, how did that view develop?

After reading Greyson’s recently released book, After, I now visualize him with one foot on the survival side of the fence and the other foot dangling on the nihilist’s side.  “I don’t know whether some kind of continued consciousness after death is the best explanation for NDEs in which experiencers see deceased loved ones no one knew had died,” he writes in a concluding chapter. “But I don’t have any alternative explanation for the evidence. We may eventually come up with another explanation, but until then, some form of continued consciousness after death seems to be the most plausible working model.”

Greyson is professor emeritus of psychiatry and neurobehavioral sciences at the University of Virginia School of Medicine. He was a co-founder of the International Association of Near-Death Studies (IANDS) and editor of the Journal of Near-Death Studies.  He received his undergraduate degree from Cornell University in 1968 and his medical degree from the State University of New York in 1973.

During the early years of his research, Greyson struggled with the fact that NDEs “smacked of religion and folklore,” which was not consistent with his upbringing in a scientific household and without any religious indoctrination.

Early in his career, while on the staff of the University of Michigan, Greyson was told by the chairman of his department that he should stop wasting his time studying NDEs because they were just “anecdotes.” As Greyson points out, however, personal anecdotes have been the source of most scientific hypotheses throughout history. “Most research starts with scientists collecting, verifying and comparing anecdotes until patterns in these stories become apparent, and then from those patterns emerge hypotheses, which can be tested and refined,” he explains in the book.

He further explains that he is not taking sides with his materialistic friends or his spiritual friends. As he sees it, both views are plausible. “But neither of these ideas, while plausible, is a scientific premise – because there is no evidence that could ever disprove either of them. They are instead articles of belief.”  Whatever their source, he is convinced that NDEs “are quite real and quite profound in their impact, and are in fact important sources of spiritual growth and insight.” 

Greyson mentions a number of paradoxes emerging from his studies.  For one, there is the extra-ordinary thinking and perceptive abilities in NDE while the brain is impaired.  You’d expect just the opposite. One such ability is the life review, something experienced by a quarter of all those who participated in his 45 years of NDE research. The majority of those described the life review as more vivid than ordinary memories. Some reported that they reexperienced past events as if they were still happening.

Although many NDErs have been thought to be suffering from some kind of mental disorder, the evidence suggests, according to Greyson, that NDEs are not associated with mental disorders. He points out that people with mental disorders may lose their sense of meaning in life, feel more fearful, and become more absorbed in their own needs and concerns, but NDEs usually leads to an enhanced sense of meaning and a greater sense of connectedness with others.

The skeptics often point to studies suggesting that stimulation of certain parts of the brain can result in the sensation of leaving the body, as can seizures and certain psychedelic drugs.  “Despite the common belief among some scientists that unusual electrical activity in the temporal lobe, like that caused by epileptic seizures or stimulation, can provoke experiences like NDEs or out-of-body experiences, we didn’t find that to be true,” Greyson states, referring to his research at an epilepsy clinic.

The skeptics also claim that decreased oxygen in the brain is the cause of “hallucinations” reported by NDErs. However, Greyson’s research, which involved measuring oxygen levels in the people during medical crises, showed that NDEs “are associated with increased oxygen levels, or with levels the same as those of non-experiencers. No study has ever shown decreased levels of oxygen during NDEs.”  He further mentions that patients given medication report fewer NDEs than do patients who don’t get any medication.

Are people who report meeting deceased loved one during NDEs simply hallucinating? Greyson says he no longer jumps to that conclusion, although there is no way to rule out the influence of the experiencers’ hopes and expectations of meeting loved ones. However, some experiencers have reported meetings with people not known to have died, which conflicts with the expectations of a reunion theory. He tells of one case in which an experiencer reported seeing his 19-year-old sister, who told him he had to go back. The experiencer was unaware that his sister had been killed in an auto accident earlier that day.

One might infer from Greyson’s comments that the NDE is the only phenomenon offering evidence that consciousness survives death. As the renowned physicist Sir Oliver Lodge said, it is the cumulative evidence that convinced him.  The NDE research provides icing (I prefer chocolate frosting) on the cake – a cake well baked by Lodge, Frederic Myers, Richard Hodgson, and James Hyslop long before Dr. Raymond Moody gave a name to the NDE and before Dr. Greyson was born. If one is to fully appreciate the cake, he or she needs to do more than savor the frosting.  I was left wondering if Greyson is even aware of the research carried out by the pioneers of psychical research and, if he is, why he doesn’t see the cumulative evidence offering the same “overwhelming” evidence that is accepted by most scientists with biological evolution. Nevertheless, having read at least 50 books on NDEs over the last 45 or so years, I would rank this book at or very near the top of the list.

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.
His latest book, No One Really Dies: 25 Reasons to Believe in an Afterlife is published by White Crow Books.

Next blog post: May 24


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Fallen Soldier Convinces His Famous Father of Life After Death – On September 14, 1915, Second Lieutenant Raymond Lodge, the youngest of six sons of Sir Oliver Lodge, a distinguished British physicist and pioneer in electricity and radio, as well as the former president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, was killed in WWI action in Flanders. Read here
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