Archive for November, 2009

Ah, a match made in Heaven. Here we have two ends of the spectrum: Sylvia Browne, the multi-media mogul who has established a psychic empire, and James Randi, professional skeptic who claims to offer a million + prize to anyone who can prove the existence of psi phenomena.Sylvia Browne James randi

In truth, these two are quite similar: two sides of the same coin. They have both made careers for themselves in the field of the paranormal, they are both extremist in their views, and they both pretend to uphold and promulgate the Truth. What is so terribly frustrating is that we are often forced to choose sides: are you the mushy, Sylvia-loving true believer, or are you the hard-nosed exposer of all frauds? It seems that the media forces one to “take sides,” even though both sides represented here are false choices. I either have to conclude that Ms. Browne is a TOTAL fraud, and therefore an evil, conniving betrayer to those who trust in her, OR I have to believe that she is a guide and seer for the Other Side. The same for James Randi: I either contend that he is a hero for saving us from such New Age tomfoolery, or I condemn him for his close-minded, cynical and narrow viewpoints on what is real and what is possible.

The language used in pro and con Sylvia Browne sites is inflammatory, designed to whip up sentiment, not analysis. The truth is much more complex and subtle than a simple condemnation of all psychics. Whereas Randi will insist that all psychic phenomena is utter invention, Browne at least admits that she is not always right. Randi’s “test” of psychic phenomena is one that he must control, and he chooses the design and the people involved. He makes no allowance for the fact that something could be real, yet not repeatable on command or under laboratory conditions; and he certainly is not aware of the impressive research conducted by the Rhines at Duke University, which–under strict laboratory conditions–conclusively demonstrated over thousands of tests that ESP is a real effect.

Is it not possible that Browne has some psychic ability that she has exaggerated for profit over the years? She could be gifted with psi abilities, but they may not always work for her–which is terribly sad for the parents of a missing child who hears her tell them that he is dead, when he was actually alive and well (there is a well-known Anderson Cooper video that discusses this incident). This might be the real problem: even if public figures such as Browne DO have a certain level of psychic skill, should they run such a public risk of miscalculation? What does it mean, morally and ethically, to be WRONG about a future prediction? If you tell someone that she will have four children by the time she is 40, and she ends up with three, well . . . no harm done, really. But if you insist that a mother’s missing child is dead, and you are wrong, the consequences for that family ripple outward forever. The emotional damage is permanent.

Discussing all matters related to psychic phenomena or survival of consciousness is fraught with the potential for conflict and angry accusations. The entire area becomes far too emotional when there is no consensus as to what, exactly, we are talking about. That is why I have started to listen to the scientists, doctors, forensic pathologists, philosophers, sociologists and theologists who carefully and responsibly examine the theoretical possibilities. This is far too important an area to take lightly, or to abuse for one’s personal gain. The best paranormal investigators I know are highly ethical people, taking into consideration the historical value of the sites they visit, listening carefully to what people tell them about the “odd things” that happen in their house, and approaching the evaluation of data with care and caution. I am wary of anyone who has made a name for him/herself by making dubious claims and sticking to them at all costs.

Psychics may not know where they get their information, so they hypothesize; they may not know why they are right sometimes, and wrong other times–so they might try to cover their tracks. They may be as embarrassed by their “misses” as we are critical of them when they miss. What we are really upset about is the possibility that Sylvia Browne and others might be abusing the trust of their clients on a conscious level; that they are NOT embarrassed or upset over faulty predictions, that they do NOT examine their gift or analyze its meaning or attempt to monitor themselves so that their mistakes do not hurt others. The websites that blast Browne and lionize Randi are not really discussing the objective reality of psi effects. I don’t think they care about that. What they care about is the spectacle of the two combatants playing itself out on television, and the furor they can create simply by displaying their pictures and telling some awful stories.

I have decided to flee the spectacle and the entire issue of whether or not there are true psychics (I believe there are) or real channelers for the dead. If I debate such issues, it will always be a matter of opinion. Opinions are defended to the death without solid evidence that most people would accept. One psychic I visited was so dead-on accurate about the details of my life that I cannot imagine for a moment that her powers were not absolutely real; however, I would not drag her into Randi’s ‘experiment’ just to watch her fail. I don’t pretend to know how psi works, but I am attempting to figure it out. In the meantime, I will always try to keep an open mind and believe that anything is possible.

If Sylvia Browne or another psychic changed your life, then who is Randi or anyone else to deny that it worked, that communication with the dead is possible? My only point is this: if we can find the theory of reality that supports and explains such phenomena, then the Browne-Randi shows will vanish like so much annoying smoke. As amusing as fighting over the truth can be, if it is simply entertainment, the truth loses out to the spectacle of the show. I want to believe–but I want a good reason to believe.

Science is answers that must always be questioned.
Philosophy is questions that may never be answered.
Religion is answers that must never be questioned.
Politics is answers that lobbyists pay for.

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I blame Marie D. Jones for my recent reading binge. Her book, “PSIence” (yes, this should be underlined, but WordPress doesn’t seem to allow it) does a fantastic job of introducing the paranormal enthusiast to the Required Reading List. It was Marie who sounded the call to arms for all of us paranormal investigators to come up with a theory that supported the existence of psi (that collection of ‘impossible’ phenomena within the parameters of classical science). Since then, I have attempted to follow her advice. What I have discovered is truly fascinating. Although currently there is no universally accepted vision/description/hypothesis of reality that encompasses the study of the paranormal, there are some intriguing possibilities. Before I attempt to explain what those theories might be, let me quote James E. Beichler, Ph.D., a physicist and professor who is sympathetic to the quest of the psi researcher:
“All the paranormal researchers recognize the need for a theory of psi, even if it is only a working hypothesis rather than a final theory. In many cases, they have taken their experiments, methods and procedures as far as they can without a theoretical model to help them shape and guide the next phases of their experimental research” (“To Die For,” 192)
What we need is some “working hypothesis” to guide us as we collect EVPs, anomalies in photos and on video, and measure such things as changes in the electromagnetic field and temperature variation. Without a theory as to how all of this information might fit together into a cohesive version of reality, we end up amassing piles of data that lead us in circles. I would like to see us collectively move towards the “why” of what we are witnessing/experiencing instead of discussing the “what” that we think we have captured.

That certainly won’t be easy. There are several theories to consider, and some of those require more work and time to understand than perhaps we are able to dedicate, especially hypotheses of reality that come from quantum mechanics. However, if we do not make the attempt to find that theoretical framework, we will forever be considered on the fringes of science or worse, the fringes of culture itself. There are always true believers who do not feel the need to ask questions, as there will always be hard-headed materialists who think the entire issue is ridiculous, especially the concept of survival of consciousness. On both ends there is ignorance. One need not be a scientist to attempt to dispel one’s own need to believe or need to automatically debunk. All that is required is an open mind, some dedication to reading the available (and excellent) material written by some very brave scientists and laypersons who are not afraid of the consequences of exploring how reality works, above and beyond what classical physics has stated as fact.

The first book I recommend? Marie D. Jones’ “PSIence”; it affords a great introduction to the issues, and points the way for further research. Then, I highly recommend “To Die For,” which I will discuss further in future posts. After that, there are many, many more . . . but we have to start somewhere.

In the meantime . . . I close with a quote by Beichler:

“To solve this impasse, science needs to recognize what is merely physical in this world as opposed to what is both physical and material. Physical and material do not mean the same thing. Everything that is material is physical, but not everything that is physical is material. The material body and the material brain die, but that is no guarantee that the complete physical being of the person ends at death. After accepting this simple truth, science needs to question what kind of physical (non-material) quantities are associated with life and could possibly survive death . . . ” (195)


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