IMG_0569
Blog powered by Typepad

« Boys and girls together | Main | Seance and sensibility »

Comments

I appreciate the thought and the writing, but if this is devil's advocacy, I don't think it's a good idea, as it is liable to mislead uninformed people who read it.

Since I don't know whether it is or not, it is hard to respond. But, some points:

• You haven't established that Spiritualism was a many by citing how many people were involved, and so on.

I agree that it had a sudden spike in popularity, but "mania" is a pejorative term. The way it is used in the case of the tulip bulb mania and other speculative bubbles implies that people involved in spiritualism were not acting in their best interest. Sometimes, however, things can become quite popular that are good and positive, later losing this popularity.

• But mediumship has not lost all that much popularity. Your post could give people the false impression that there are no mediums any more. Physical mediums seem rarer than back then, but they have produced a steady stream of results ever since then and are still active today. Mental mediumship of course continues to be quite strong. Heck, John Edward and James Van Praagh had TV shows in recent memory.

• Readers could get the impression that the evidence of the time is quite poor, as you cite some frauds. Skeptics laugh with glee over that kind of thing.

But the evidence is excellent. I encourage anyone to read Robert McLuhan's book, Randi's Prize:

http://monkeywah.typepad.com/paranormalia/

He goes back to the original accounts and quotes extensively from them. Good, sober (and rather skeptical) investigators sat with physical mediums in daylight, holding their hands and feet, and they saw tables rise right before their eyes and other such phenomena. They flat out saw things that could not have been faked.

• Several of our friends who post here are mediums. I'm a psychic who from time to time can do medium work (I usually do not try to do it; the spirits pretty much have to be asking to get through). I have several medium friends. So, I knew from personal experience that the phenomena are real.

With stats on how many seances were being performed with how many participants and in what years, I could perhaps provide a better explanation of how mediumship and its popularity have changed over time.

My guess is that people got into it in the 19th century, got results, and those results caused a lot more people to get into it, causing a snowball effect as friends told friends and so on. But once it reached critical mass however, inevitably the people who are less into it begin to drop off, and that causes a reverse effect in which less people are into it and so people are less encouraged to continue. It's like any trend.

Aerobics was huge in the 1980s. Then it followed the arc described above. Aerobics still exists, of course, but only those who are really into that type of fitness workout stay into it.

I think other trends have reduced the popularity of what we might call "bigtime mediumship." Many more people are atheists today and not open to it for that reason. At the same time, the rise of the New Age movement makes more people open to mediums yet also encourages them to do more things for themselves, so perhaps they feel they can be their own medium, like my friends. New Age thinking has in many ways replaced Spiritualism, so I'm not sure if the number of believers in mediumship has diminished at all; perhaps the approach to it has merely changed.

In short, it's an interesting argument or thought experiment, but I don't think it holds up.

Cheers,

Matt

Yeah, I guess that those criticisms can be leveled against much of the material of lower quality but I have a difficulty understanding how it could be applied to the protocols applied to studying mediums like Piper, Osborne, etc.

Unless we assume they were deliberatedly making the case better than it was, lying about their controls, etc. Then the game of many maybe's seems unwaranted.

Otherwise, I think that it is a thoughtful piece and applies both to the public and private sphere, to the then and to the now.

It might be worth considering that Crookes, for example, took a considerable risk with his reputation. In fact, he set out to debunk the phenomena as I recall reading.I am not suggesting this makes his reporting free of all suggestion of error but I am not sure it would be reasonable to infer this was because he was in the grip of some kind of mania.

Lodge was President (1901-1903)of the SPR and clearly had an interest in such matters well before his son was killed in 1915.

My greatest trouble with this is why we don't see mediums like Piper and Osborne Leonoard any longer.

1) After all the world population is tripled since back then so if mediumsship comes with a certain frequency in the population => the number of mediums should increase

2) Conviently Piper and Osborne Leonoard was American and British. That fact is part of their road to fame in the western culture. If they were e.g. romanians you probably never would have heard about them. However with the globalism any odd phenomena anywhere in the world should nowadays be brought to our immediate attention. So why don't we hear about star quality mediums from e.g. India - there are after all a billion people there not particular founded in materalism?

I'm stuck with a "I want to believe" attitude towards the concept of mediums I just simply can't.

"Was this due to the high quality of the evidence they were receiving, or was it due to the social atmosphere of the times?"

Perhaps there are factors that have an influence on what and how we think, or how we feel, that are completely hidden from us, and that we cannot directly analyze or completely understand except from a greater perspective.

Matt has a point in that the phenomena of 'mania' follows the same trajectory as just about every other human interest -fashion for one.

Why don't we hear about Indian mediums? Well, I know India has a big film industry, but offhand I can't name any of it's stars. Russia and Japan have a number of famous mediums, but I don't know them by name either.

As far as a decline in the number of mediums in North America goes, Michael Persinger has suggested that the decline in reported mediumship worldwide may be due in part to the effect of technology and the associated EMF. I think the fact that being a medium isn't something most people would admit to these days doesn't help either.

Interesting post, Michael. I found a copy of, and read, EPDMC maybe twenty years ago - uggghhh maybe twenty five (ain't it funny how time slips away?) - and I remember really enjoying it. For a couple of years, I would go back through portions of it when I was out of fresh reading material. I imagine it is restively sitting on one of my dustier shelves waiting to be rediscovered.

Some thoughts and observations:
1. As noted already by others, we don't want to throw the baby out with the bath water. After all, Tulips are real and to this day there are still tulips and a thriving tulip bulb industry.
2. We don't want to replace one mania with another, do we? It seems to me that our materialist skeptical friends are just maniacs with a different manic prediliction.
3. In the long run, we are all maniacs. I insist that we are all blind swimmers in an infinite sea, grabbing at any lifeboat that we drift into. Sometimes, especially in this information age, we drift into more than one lifeboat simultaneously and thereby enjoy the illusion of having made a rational and realistic choice - it's still an illusion of knowledge.
4. Lifeboats are the myths that bring an illusion of order and sense to the world. Some myths are a better fit for the time, culture and environment than others.
5. If there isn't a "goodfit" life boat out there, someone will build one sooner or later. Some boat builders are just trying to help. Some are profiteers looking to make a buck and an ego boost off selling boarding passes.
6. If you've been in a lifeboat too long you fear the water and forget how to swim.
7. When people have been in the same lifeboat too long they either a) die b) abandone ship because the boat wears out, starts coming apart at the seems and taking on water c) start rowing all together because some prophet among them has sighted land.
8. land is always a mirage, but some mirages hold their form and remain tangible longer than others. An ephemeral short lived mirage is, in restrospect, considered a manic delusion, a longer lived mirage is deemed to be an era.
9. Most people will not recognize myths and mirages until the myth stops working or the mirage evapoartes. They tend to become very annoyed, sometimes to the point of bloody violence when this happens.

And so it goes through the ages.

Maybe the democracy/free market story is a lifeboat that is starting to take on water or the mirage wafting away on the winds of time.

Any how, to be less rambling and less emphemeral myself, I think fads develop around anything. The fact that a fad has developed and that a bunch of fools have mindlessly dived into it, doesn't mean that the focus of the fad isn't real or good.

Jogging/running are, generally, healthy and good things to do. People were out doing road work long before the craze hit America a few years ago and people are still doing it today even though the fad has largely died off.

Some people are leaders, some are inovators, some are loners, but most are followers. I don't think we gain any objective understanding of the value of a concept by studying the actions and beliefs of the followers. They don't know what they are doing or why.

"Was this due to the high quality of the evidence they were receiving, or was it due to the social atmosphere of the times?"

Probably both. Social atmosphere is important. Related to my comment above, we tell each other what is possible (or not). We are social creatures and we are, first and foremost, energy and awareness. We try to row our life boat in harmony. We are creating and filtering reality constantly and social agreement is an important aspect of how and where the filter is set. We can open or close each others minds. When we allow our energy and awareness to come together to focus on spirits then we are more likely to succeed in contacting them.

I believe George Anderson to be a "super Medium." I've watched him work on TV and he really is phenomenal. I also find John Edward to be entertaining and charismatic and likable and think he does have a gift.

I agree with Sojourner's comment on social atmosphere.

James Hillman, writing from a psychological perspective, said that the end of 19th century-early 20th century spiritualistic social atmosphere was not surprising, bearing in mind the uncertainties of the times (including early quantum ideas).

Cultural trends (often manias, as Michael calls them) will always trump rational behaviour. As individuals, we're usually not free enough to resist a mass trend because, we're part of it. It has a life of its own, whether we believe it’s emergent or somehow imposed by Fate.

Sandy - Michael Persinger has suggested that the decline in reported mediumship worldwide may be due in part to the effect of technology and the associated EMF. I think the fact that being a medium isn't something most people would admit to these days doesn't help either.

Well, already 100 years ago it was suggested that electomagnectic radiation affected these phenomenas so at least this is a consistent explanation.

Unfortunately a lot of people claims to be mediums nowadays, many self-deluded or directly fraudulent - I'm escpecially wary about the tv celebrity mediums making big cash on this. I haven't heard about any mediumsship phenomena formally investigated turning out to be 'real' at least in the eyes of physical investigators since the Scole experiments. And the controls were apparently not water thight for this particular experiment.

It's very hard to rule out MP's "extraordinary popular delusion" being behind a grand delusion both back then and now.

By the way I frequently visit your blog and enjoy reading about your PK experiments :)

In his book "The Afterlife of Leslie Stringfellow"the author "Stephen Chism" points out that life in the second half of the nineteenth century involved boredom and hard work.
There were few opportunities for entertainment . Spiritualism (table tipping/ouija boards)was accessible to even the poorest.
Nowadays we have a surfeit of distractions (pp.40-41)
I think that this accounts for the apparent decline in "known" mediums

By the way I frequently visit your blog and enjoy reading about your PK experiments :)

Thanks, sbu. I probably wouldn't have included as much about the PK experiments on the blog except that sending videos in emails didn't work very well. So I started posting some of them online to share with friends and researchers.

"I appreciate the thought and the writing, but if this is devil's advocacy, I don't think it's a good idea, as it is liable to mislead uninformed people who read it."

No, it's not devil's advocacy. I'm actually starting to think I've been mistaken in assuming that the Victorian Era researchers were sober, disinterested parties. Their critical faculties may have been impaired by the "irrational exuberance" of the times, just as investors' critical faculties were impaired by the dot-com mania. This doesn't mean that all the phenomena, then or since, were unreal, just as not every dot-com stock was a bad buy. But it may be grounds for doubting a much larger percentage of these cases than I'd previously assumed.

"Good, sober (and rather skeptical) investigators sat with physical mediums"

Assuming they were good, sober investigators ... But we could also say that good, sober investors bought tulip bulbs and dot-com stocks at the height of the bubble. Good, sober husbands burned their wives as witches. That's the thing about manias - they make good, sober people behave in uncharacteristic and highly irrational ways.

"Skeptics laugh with glee over that kind of thing"

I don't mind giving them ammunition. I'm more concerned about finding the weak points in my own position.

"Lodge was President (1901-1903)of the SPR and clearly had an interest in such matters well before his son was killed in 1915"

Right. That was partly my point. It's often said that personal grief couldn't have motivated him, so he must have been a disinterested investigator. But what if the larger social atmosphere, rather than purely personal emotion, influenced him?

What if Spiritualism was basically another witch craze? Millions of people were convinced of the reality of witches. Serious investigators, including the King James VI of Scotland, wrote learned treatises on the subject. The most respected intellectual, religious, and political authorities endorsed the premise that witchcraft was a real danger. Yet there never were any witches, at least not in the satanic sense intended by the witch hunters. There were merely some old women who used herbs for healing and talked to their cats. These eccentric but quite ordinary women were misinterpreted as demonic monsters with supernatural powers, and all because of a mania for witchfinding.

Could a mania for mediumship have similarly resulted in the misinterpretation of unusual but perfectly explicable states of consciousness? And if it could happen then, can it happen now? To what extent are we ourselves caught up in a mania to prove things that might seem crazy to the average observer?


Incidentally, could UFO sightings also be explained this way? UFO incidents often take place in clusters. Is this because there really are a bunch of UFOs in the area, or is it a kind of social contagion? Could there be a psychic component, allowing the imagery of UFOs to spread telepathically to people who are not in physical contact with each other? Could the madness of crowds be, in part, a psychic phenomenon, with people's subconscious hopes and fears broadcast to those who are physically or emotionally close to them? If a large number of mediums all report the same incorrect information - as, for instance, during WWI, when it was common for mediums to predict a golden age of peace and prosperity that would follow the war - is it because they are all picking up the same "shared madness," either socially or psychically?

Michael,

Interesting points in an interesting discussion.

Let me first say where I think you have it right.

I think reality is malleable, and psychological reality is very malleable. It's often the assumption that reality in past times was exactly as it is now, and if people perceived differences, then it was just their perception. I think your use of the word "mania" hints at this perspective: people were just going crazy.

Yet I would say there were not simply going crazy but co-creating/manifesting a different reality. Not totally different from our own, of course, and I would say they were bound by the same physical laws. Yet I would also say the physical laws do allow a considerable amount of leeway, which allows for the aforementioned co-creation based on consensus consciousness.

As examples, people in the 19th century suffered from "hysteria," and there were many notable and extreme cases of "mass hysteria." They suffered from "nervous exhaustion/neurasthenia." Women would often faint dead away when they heard some bad news, etc., whereas I have never seen anyone faint except from locking their knees.

And so on. But if you read a book from the 19th century, the whole psychological experience of daily life seems vastly different. And this is true of every era. There is always that core of human feelings and motivations we can connect with, but their perception of reality seems quite different. And certainly not always because of ignorance, a lack of technology, etc. For example, when I read Poe's writings, he seems erudite in a way that really doesn't exist any more. They had things we don't have, and we have things they didn't have.

So Spiritualism in the 19th century existed in a vastly different psychological context. It's possible that, owing to the spirit of the times, certain phenomena were just easier to produce, or people were just able to tune into them better.

So if you say, "I don't know if I can trust 19th century observers as much as I once thought," perhaps not. To me, that is similar to saying, "I don't know if can trust the first century worshipers of Mithras to provide spiritual satisfaction." In either case, they were working with very different realities from our own.

Yet, at the same time, I do believe the core reality to be the same. It was the same planet with the same humans. If open-eyed observers say they saw a table levitate in a way that could not be faked, I conclude from that that it really happened and still could happen. It may have been easier in that time because consensus consciousness made it easier, but it could still happen.

In fact, to be precise, all of the seemingly genuine phenomena of the time still happen, although the frequency may vary.

To go in reverse, I think people's experiences of "alien abduction" and the "Greys" is a phenomenon of our particular era. My readings have led me to believe that the phenomena are real, but the Greys (or the "visitors," as Whitley Strieber calls them) are not from another planet. They could be "real" interdimensional beings, or they could simply be a tulpa of our current consensus consciousness.

Assuming they were good, sober investigators ...

I know you've read original accounts, but it might pay to take another look. Their serious attitude really comes through, as does their desire to dot every i and cross every t to eliminate any possibility of fraud or trickery. For example, two guys would be grabbing the medium's hands and feet in a sunlit room, and they'd see a table rise right before their eyes, untouched by anyone. That kind of thing.

In such a case, lying and fraud on the part of the investigators is the only way to explain away their account. I don't think "getting swept up in the times" is in any way a plausible explanation for their observations.

Moreover, it is imprecise. It can be used to doubt anything. "Oh maybe they just weren't in a psychological position to observe well." To what controversy could such skeptical buckshot *not* be applied?

But we could also say that good, sober investors bought tulip bulbs and dot-com stocks at the height of the bubble. Good, sober husbands burned their wives as witches.

I think the case with the investors is completely different, as that comes down to a matter of opinion, not fact. The witch hunting is also quite different. In any case of witch hunting I've read, they used evidence that we would not consider valid at all today. I.e., scientists were not carefully trying to validate whether witches actually could and did perform witchcraft.

I don't mind giving them ammunition. I'm more concerned about finding the weak points in my own position.

Your attitude is admirable, but your approach thus far has been more or less to do the same kind of general aspersion-casting that the skeptics do. It would be more edifying if you got into the nitty-gritty of cases. Take some of the best cases we have and see if the mania theory could apply.

What if Spiritualism was basically another witch craze? Millions of people were convinced of the reality of witches. Serious investigators, including the King James VI of Scotland, wrote learned treatises on the subject. The most respected intellectual, religious, and political authorities endorsed the premise that witchcraft was a real danger. Yet there never were any witches, at least not in the satanic sense intended by the witch hunters.

I think this is demonstrably incorrect. Surely you've heard of John Dee?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_dee

He was doing heavy-duty spirit channeling, alchemy, etc., quite openly for Queen Elizabeth. And if you read about what he and his partner Edward Kelly did (again, openly), it was a gross violation of Christian norms. I mean, it's unbelievable that they could even do what they were doing (but again we often are ignorant of the spirit of the times).

Heck, alchemists were basically engaging in magic, openly. Now these people may not have been worshiping Satan himself, but the idea that no one was performing magic that could be construed as witchcraft is false. Witches were not always accused of worshiping the devil.

Personally, I firmly believe that magic is real and can be more or less powerful based on the consensus consciousness of the times.

Of course, there were indeed witch-burning/-hanging manias, but that doesn't mean there were no witches.

Could a mania for mediumship have similarly resulted in the misinterpretation of unusual but perfectly explicable states of consciousness? And if it could happen then, can it happen now?

Well, I think they *are* (somewhat) unusual and (to a high degree) explicable states of consciousness. But I don't see how they were misinterpreted. The mediums produced genuine results.

Incidentally, could UFO sightings also be explained this way? UFO incidents often take place in clusters. Is this because there really are a bunch of UFOs in the area, or is it a kind of social contagion? Could there be a psychic component, allowing the imagery of UFOs to spread telepathically to people who are not in physical contact with each other? Could the madness of crowds be, in part, a psychic phenomenon, with people's subconscious hopes and fears broadcast to those who are physically or emotionally close to them?

I think this *is* the basic explanation for UFOs. It is a consensus consciousness phenomenon.

If a large number of mediums all report the same incorrect information - as, for instance, during WWI, when it was common for mediums to predict a golden age of peace and prosperity that would follow the war - is it because they are all picking up the same "shared madness," either socially or psychically?

I often find that my prayers are answered at unusual times. We all want our prayers to be answered immediately, but for me it is often months and sometimes years later.

The mediums were off, but perhaps they were not terribly off. For example, perhaps they were seeing a hundred years in the future instead of a decade. I don't know. I just wouldn't completely discount such accounts.

Cheers,

Matt

"Lodge was President (1901-1903)of the SPR and clearly had an interest in such matters well before his son was killed in 1915"

Right. That was partly my point. It's often said that personal grief couldn't have motivated him, so he must have been a disinterested investigator. But what if the larger social atmosphere, rather than purely personal emotion, influenced him?

I am not sure how 'disinterested' any investigators were/are or how we could tell for sure. Crookes it would appear, was antagonistic and started investigating with the declared objective of disproving it. Presumably most investigators/scientists have some personal interest in almost everything they examine - perhaps part of the skill is in setting aside personal interest and focusing on the facts.


My point re Lodge was that it doesn't seem likely that his interest in the matter was anything to do with his son's death - which is, I thought, the point you were making wrt Lodge. As for being 'seized by a mania', unless we knew the person, we have only their reports (and perhaps the opinion of those who knew them) on which to form a view. Perhaps one could consider what evidence there is in Lodge's (for example) reports that might be seen to imply he was not functioning rationally, and therefore how probable is the 'mania theory'.

In any circumstance where we are not present we rely on what others tell us. I think it may have been William Butler who opined that 'attaining certainty is impossible, we can only talk in terms of probabilities', at least in matter such as this.

I think it is very difficult to form a firm opinion based on research which we have not witnessed ourselves, about phenomena of which we have no direct personal experience. It is though, I submit, equally unreasonable to simply dismiss it en bloc (not that I am suggesting you did this MP).

Well certainly not all of the evidence for an afterlife has been positive. Like the Robert Thouless experiment and Ian Stevenson's combination lock test. Of course the positive experiments are the cross correspondences, book tests and newspaper tests etc. Of course communication isn't easy over on the otherside.

Sorry mean to italicise first 2 paragraphs. Any chance we may be able to edit comments? :)

Michael said:

“I don't mind giving [skeptics] ammunition. I'm more concerned about finding the weak points in my own position.”

Well said, and one of the main reasons I have such respect for what you do here.

“I'm actually starting to think I've been mistaken in assuming that the Victorian Era researchers were sober, disinterested parties. Their critical faculties may have been impaired by the "irrational exuberance" of the times.”

Even barring the key objection that the "irrational exuberance" may not have been so irrational (as Matt said), is it even true that during the overall period of the late 19th and early 20th century there was more enthusiasm for after-death communication than there is now?

Seems to me you could make an argument that there’s as much support for mediumship now as there was then, and that conversely, it was as hazardous to one’s professional reputation in those days to advocate psi as it is now.

So what’s really changed? Why should we trust William James and his associates less than we trust today’s researchers?

Wasn't Osbourne Investigated after the crash of the spiritualist movement. Also weren't their a number of extremely skeptical (i.e Eleanor Sidgwick) just saying

Also something entire different...a note on the Pam Reynolds case if you look at pictures of dental drills and midas rex bone saws they look different at least to me and on google...plz may some people comment for open dialogue

srry forgot to post correctly what i meant to say was weren't there a number of skeptical investigators such as Mrs. Sidgwick who became convinced later

"I think reality is malleable, and psychological reality is very malleable. It's often the assumption that reality in past times was exactly as it is now, and if people perceived differences, then it was just their perception. I think your use of the word "mania" hints at this perspective: people were just going crazy.

...Yet I would say there were not simply going crazy but co-creating/manifesting a different reality.. ."

Matt, Excatly what I was trying to say, but, as usual, better put.

Much of what we take in as "reality" is merely the result of a concensus. Focus the concensus slightly differently and a new spectrum of possibilities starts coming through.

I do find it disturbing that many - perhaps most - of the predictions about the future made by otherwise well researched and proven mediums, psychics, etc turn out to be totally wrong.
This includes Edgar Cayce's rising of Atlantis and a messianic age occurring about....well...now, to other's already noted. It does make me wonder what else they have gotten wrong, but that we are accepting as true. Or maybe the message of the future is indeed accurate, but is presented as a poor intrepreation confused by a lack of understanding of time frames, cause and effect, intent and manifestation as it happens in other dimensions.

Any how, now we are a hundred years removed from any mania around the subject and sober researches are still finding evidence that strongly suggests a) mediumship is real and b) survival is a fact (e.g. see the University of Arizona studies).

So, I guess I am missing the power of the mania argument. Not a revalation that mediumship is not immune from typical human behavior. The real deal has been doing its thing for millenia and will continue to do its thing and somewhere along the line that thing became a fad and, like any fad, all sorts of thrill seekers, half baked fools and poseurs and con artists step in to work the circus crowd. When the excitement inevitably dies down, the circus moves on to the next thing. Like I said, there are still tulips and there is even a robust online tulip bulb industry.

Michael, no one,

I am going to agree with you on the psychics often being wrong about big matters (i.e., I am going to take back my earlier comment).

When I do Tarot readings, I do them for 6 months. That's enough time to be very useful, but beyond that it gets very hard to predict.

There is a difference between being a medium and being a prophet. And there is a difference between being on the Other Side and being a prophet for this side.

Mediums and other psychics should avoid pronouncing ex cathedra (so to speak) on the big issues. Their willingness to do so and turn out to be wrong should not really be seen as disturbing, however, I believe. That's a totally different "modality" than communicating with the dead or doing basic clairvoyance.

Cheers,

Matt

When I have precognitive dreams or content in OBEs, it does seem that there is approximately a six month limit. The material never pertains to events outside that limit. So I don't know if I would be on target or not. Also, the material is never concerning sweeping world or societal events. Just personal or relating to someone I know or situations immediately. But that's just me. maybe someone else has a different spectrum of abilities.

I have accurately predicted world events and outcomes using pure rational processes :-)

"Mediums and other psychics should avoid pronouncing ex cathedra (so to speak) on the big issues.: Why? If the material is coming from the same place as the rest, it seems wrong to hold back because the medium/psychic is afraid of putting something out there that can objectively be proven wrong.

I'd be curious to know what mediums of good repuation have to say about this.

no one,

Because, in general, the people on the Other Side are not prophets, and medium him/herself is not a prophet.

The people on the Other Side are qualified to talk about themselves and their experiences (in life and in spirit).

I am not saying there are never any prophets or prophecies. I'm just saying that the role of medium is one thing and the role (and origin) of prophet is another. And prophets (at least good ones) are very rare.

Cheers,

Matt

I own and have read Mackay's book several times, and I thinnk there is a fundemental difference between the manias and bubbles, and what could broadly be called Spritualism.

In particular, manias are phenomena that rapidly peak and then disappear almost completely, for years or forever. Witch burnings did happen periodocally for 2-300 years but were localized and did not happen for extended periods in one place. Dance manias and other sorts of group hysteria seem to follow the same pattern--a short violent burst of local activity followed by quiescence. This happens in the present day in Africa and Central America ("witch" killings, child kidnap scares etc.).

UFO sightings, and mentioned above, follow a similar pattern

Spiritualism was popular for generations and was a much broader movement geographically. It is, of course not gone but just somewhat deemphasized in our present North American-European context.

So I would put it in an entirely different category than the tulip bulbs.

Interesting point, Robert, but isn't the UFO phenomenon also something that has lasted for generations and crosses geographical boundaries? There are flare-ups of UFO sightings at distinct tmes and in distinct places, but the UFO "movement" continues year after year. Is this so different from Spiritualism, which flared up in certain areas (say, Hydesville NY in 1848), spread, died down a bit, then flared up again somewhere else?

Michael, I think a problem here is that you are attempting to build an argument - or maybe a thesis - from poorly assembled data points.

Who really knows what general or widespread popularity the spiritualist movement had circa 1850 - 1900? We are relying on snips and bits of information that has managed to survive.

I know that whenever I read a media account of something that I was involved in or intimately familiar with, the media gets it substantially wrong on a material basis. That is today (or last 20 years) with all of the fact checking resources available to them.

When it comes to UFOs, are you sure that you want to rely on media reports to analyze frequency and geography?

I can easily imagine isolated cases being ignored and the media only looking into a UFO event after several people of favorable community status make reports. Conversely, it seems natural that other witnesses would only come forward after the media provided reasonably fair coverage of a first case (people being social critters and being sensitive and all).

What I am trying to say is that when you say, "There are flare-ups of UFO sightings at distinct tmes and in distinct places, but the UFO "movement" continues year after year. " ; you sound as if you authoritatively know the trend, but you really don't. All you know is the media reported trend that is available to you given the time and effort you have put into researching it. Ditto spiritualism.

For that matter, who really knows just how widespread and out of control the tulip bulb craze really was. We have a scant few reports. Media hyperbole? or actual fact? It makes for an entertaining story and morality play though - something the media seems to be all about these days - and no doubt in the past as well.

I think a psychological analysis is the correct way to deal with this subject matter. It is true that psychological factors can cause investigators to become biased. However I think there is a much simpler type of bias than mass delusion.

The whole thing is easily understood if you remember that a student of the paranormal was criticized by those who said his political views were out of step with his views on the paranormal. He did not react by changing his political views as the critics desired. He retaliated by changing his views about the evidence for the paranormal.


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passive–aggressive_behavior


The book Living with the Passive–Aggressive Man lists 11 responses that may help identify passive–aggressive behavior:[1]
Ambiguity or speaking cryptically: a means of creating a feeling of insecurity in others or of disguising one's own insecurities.
Chronically being late and forgetting things: another way to exert control or to punish.
Fear of competition
Fear of dependency
Fear of intimacy as a means to act out anger: The passive–aggressive often cannot trust. Because of this, they guard themselves against becoming intimately attached to someone.
Making chaotic situations
Making excuses for non-performance in work teams
Obstructionism
Procrastination
Sulking
Victimization response: instead of recognizing one's own weaknesses, tendency to blame others for own failures.


http://www.outofthefog.net/CommonBehaviors/ChaosManufacture.html

Coping with Chaos Manufacture:

What NOT to Do:
Don't spend your time and energy trying to control the actions of a chaos manufacturer or try to teach them a lesson.

Leo - Well certainly not all of the evidence for an afterlife has been positive. Like the Robert Thouless experiment and Ian Stevenson's combination lock test.

It would certainly make the case for mediumsship a lot stronger if such information was conveyed in some cases of spirit communication. I have read a number of anecdotes on the Internet similar to these experiments and they all come out negative.

Yesterday I read the application procedure for JREF challenge and the Faq and I must say I find the conditions reasonable enough. It wouldn't be difficult to apply if you really had any abilities. Ofcourse it's at their discretion to reject your application but then it's their problem and not the applicants.

jsh,"He did not react by changing his political views......"

Yes. That was my initial reaction to this latest post. I worry that it may be the start of serious reversal.

I dunno, jsh. I think I may be on to something here. It's always possible to psychologize, but wouldn't it be better to look at the actual thesis that's being proposed? Thinking about manias got me wondering if the atmosphere that surrounded early psychical investigations was so emotion-charged that the investigators' objectivity was compromised. This doesn't strike me as a possibility so far-fetched that it should be immediately ruled out of bounds. Some of the early investigators were undoubtedly highly emotional - this criticism has often been lodged against James Hyslop, for instance. I discussed Crookes in the main post, and if you've been reading this blog for a while you'll know that I've long been skeptical of his work with Florence Cook.

I'm not sure what you mean by creating chaos, but generally I like to play with ideas and see where they take me. A lot of this blog is just thinking out loud. There are older posts I don't agree with anymore. Although, as you can see, my position on politics is pretty much cut in stone, my position on the paranormal has always been more fluid. I'm just not as sure of myself in this area. I do think ESP has been proved beyond reasonable doubt, but when it comes to life after death, I've never been 100% convinced, as I've said many times. There is always the possibility that we're fooling ourselves. I think we need to keep this possibility in mind.

I also think some commenters are understating the feverish emotions that accompanied the Spiritualist movement. To say that there were mediums then and there are mediums now, so nothing has changed, is mistaken. Spiritualism was a major social force in its day. Spiritualist churches sprang up everywhere. There were Spiritualist newspapers, lecture series, meeting halls. It was a robust, controversial, highly publicized movement that drew condemnation from established religions and numbered some major public figures among its adherents. Today it is only a shadow of its former self (except, I think, in Brazil, where it is still going strong). There are very few Spiritualist churches still in existence, and the whole movement is much diminished. The "irrational exuberance" of the heyday of Spiritualism has no counterpart now.

So I think the issue of group psychology is something to look at. I'm not sure where it will lead. I very much doubt that the social atmosphere can explain *all* the data. It may, however, explain *some* of it.

Michael,

I'm sure what I wrote above was TL;DR. But the key points of my argument, if you would like to respond:

1. You need to show that there was "irrational exuberance," i.e., something negative was going on, as opposed to a positive thing merely becoming highly popular. I agree there was a surge in popularity. You haven't shown that this popularity would compromise people's judgment. You are merely casting aspersions on a very flimsy pretext.

2. You need to go back to one or more original accounts and see how the actual people might have been incorrect. E.g., "Oh, now that I look at Crookes's testimony here again, I can see that he was caught up in a mania and was not actually doing a good job." That kind of thing. Otherwise, again, it's just a vague speculation on your part that they were not acting competently.

Maybe you've been in a bad mood lately? The last two posts have been aggressively negative. I say sincerely that I hope all is well.

Cheers,

Matt

"...some commenters are coming of as feverish"

I apologize I did not mean to come of that way.

My own view was that the psychological conditions were right at the time to allow a 'thinning of the veils' so to speak and for this brief moment, we really did have some good communication between layers of reality. But this couldnt last and as doubt crept in, no doubt fuelled by those looking to make a quick buck, the atmosphere of genuine openess was closed again , and has remained extremelly restricted ever since.

I agree that group psychology plays a big role but not in perhaps quite the same way that MP suggests. I think that psychlogical conditions must be right to allow communications between realities, something that the communications mention frequently.

Trust, openness, patience, these are all qualites that mediums spend years trying to build up in private circles, but all the good work can come crashing down as soon as it is exposed to general public perception.

As always, you can interpret the available evidence to suit whatever explanation you feel is closest to the truth. The mania explanation is the latest in a line of such explanations but it rests only on one possible interpretation.

The mania explanation may sit well with you, and that's fine.

Personally, given the weight of NDEs and other paranormal evidence collected thus far, I judge the mania explanation to be unlikely as an explanation to explain all victorian mediumship. I do agree that it may explain a some cases.


...isn't the UFO phenomenon also something that has lasted for generations and crosses geographical boundaries? There are flare-ups of UFO sightings at distinct tmes and in distinct places, but the UFO "movement" continues year after year. Is this so different from Spiritualism, which flared up in certain areas (say, Hydesville NY in 1848), spread, died down a bit, then flared up again somewhere else?

Michael, I think your point about the UFO "movement" is well taken. The heyday of Spiritualism lasted 70-80 years, and we are approaching that if you date the UFO phenomenon from 1947 (the "airships" of 1896-7 weren't really followed up). I would say the difference between the two is that UFO events are dependent on external agencies (unless they're faked). Curiously the UFO scene has been very quiet for several years now.

Spiritualist events could be regularly scheduled, gatherings held and events contolled (to an extent, depending on what you think of their authenticity). This is why the spiritualist movement was sustainable compared to many of the other things filed under "manias."

On a lighter note, this song by Gary Numan blends spirituality and UFOs together:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9-BQDQRL2Ys

Matt said:

"The last two posts have been aggressively negative."

Matt, as always, I appreciate your forthrightness. But while I agree with you about the OWS post, I feel differently about this one. While the mania argument may not be airtight or even compelling, I don't think it's aggressively negative, but simply in line with Michael's insistence on giving skeptical arguments a thorough hearing.

I doubt that he's truly sold on it himself, and I think your rebuttal of it has been excellent.

MP: I do think ESP has been proved beyond reasonable doubt, but when it comes to life after death, I've never been 100% convinced, as I've said many times.

Conviction comes from personal experience.

If you've never experienced full form materialisation in good light or been able to hold conversations with those you've known and have 'died' it is hardly likely that you will be convinced about life after death.

All the reading in the world and endless speculation and theorising will never bring you the conviction you seek.

"Conviction comes from personal experience."

Good point, Zerdini. Take away my own paradigm-shattering experiences (totally different from yours), and I hate to think where I'd be today.

"I also think some commenters are understating the feverish emotions that accompanied the Spiritualist movement. To say that there were mediums then and there are mediums now, so nothing has changed, is mistaken. Spiritualism was a major social force in its day. "

Slow day at work waiting for the computer program to run some analysis on data, so I did some research.......it does appear that the spiritualist movement had all the aspects of a fad gone manic. BTW, I have always thought that any medium who performs with flying trumpets, ectoplasm, levitating tables and so forth, especially in the dark, is 99.99% likely to be a fraud. What is the point of all of that stuff? What is its value? I wouldn't even bother to study such a thing. Yet, some very serious scientists did study that kind of performer and came away convinced that something "spiritually real" was occuring. It is indeed, hard to dismiss the thought they, like so many followers, were caught up in a mania and saw what they wanted to see as opposed to what was actually going on.

One reason for the decline of the spiritualist movement was that so many of the headlining acts were exposed as frauds. Even after that sceances were still popular entertainment, but not for long. People noved onto the next ammusement.

On the other hand, some of the less vaudeville like mediums, did produce interesting and hard to refute evidenciary material, sans flying trumpets and table raps. To Michael's point, I agree that "mania" may well acount for a certain % of the positive investigative findings, but not all. It was this latter portion that I have been referring to in my previous comments. More than several white crows were produced and the circimstances of their appearance seems above and beyond the effects of mania.

"Conviction comes from personal experience."

Good point, Zerdini. Take away my own paradigm-shattering experiences (totally different from yours), and I hate to think where I'd be today.

I'll second Zerdini's comment.

Michael, why not seek out a medium and gain some experience?

"Michael, why not seek out a medium and gain some experience?"

Great idea. And make it a top-notch one like George Anderson.

Yes, I know $1200/hour for a phone reading is pricey. BUT . . . to quote his site, "The cost of the call is included in the session fee."

Seriously, I wish you'd do it and report back to us.

I've had several readings with mediums, with mixed results. One of the mediums (Laurie Campbell) is pretty famous. None of the readings was evidential enough to fully convince me, though one of them, with Georgia O'Connor, was extremely thought-provoking, to say the least.

"No one," I think you make good points about the manic atmosphere of the Spiritualist moment. I get the impression that some commenters are not that familiar with this history and assume I'm exaggerating. It was actually quite a feverish, even cult-like movement in many ways. Of course one could argue that all religious movements are like this in their early days. Then again, that doesn't necessarily undercut my point.

Another interesting aspect of the Spiritualist movement is that much of it originated in the same general area of New York state. This geographical closeness could be consistent with a mania. The same vicinity also gave rise to Mormonism, which has many doctrinal tenets quite similar to Spiritualism.

I'm not saying that *all* evidence for life after death can be explained this way - far from it. There's a lot of evidence that has nothing to do with the Victorian Era. I'm also not saying that all the Victorian evidence is no good. What I'm pondering is the possibility that some of the Victorian evidence may be weaker than we think.

For instance, take the often-cited survey of crisis apparitions performed by the SPR. If a large segment of the general public was in an unusually excited mood with regard to Spiritualist ideas, then perhaps the results of this survey should be taken with a grain of salt. Perhaps other populaces in other times and places would report far fewer apparitions. Since no comparably broad survey with adequate follow-through has been attempted anywhere else, we can't know. Our database is limited to a particular time and place in which people may have been unusually receptive to such ideas.

"The cost of the call is included in the session fee."

LOL. Good catch, Bruce. Can you imagine if he billed you for the call on top of the $1200? Ouch!

Great idea, no one!

Sorry to barge in, but I needed to clarify that from what I've read in a few different posts I gather Michael has had experience with a few mediums over the phone, with results suggestive of contact with the dead in at least one session. I apologise in advance if I'm wrong about this, I could very well be misremembering.

As for the contents of the blog post itself, and of the previous one, I'll try to leave a comment later. You have provided some stimulating food for thought, Michael, even if I don't particularly agree with this hypothesis.

"This geographical closeness could be consistent with a mania. "

Zap! LOL...I am going to assume, Michael, that you didn't do a look up on my IP address :-o I live right in the epicenter of that section of upstate NY.

The comments to this entry are closed.