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Good post, Michael. I don't disagree with anything you've written here, either.

I don't find Wiseman's experimental results surprising at all. I think it's been proven in a variety of experiments that people, especially untrained laypersons, are overall pretty poor observers. Thus, it makes sense that they would be poor observers in a paranormal (fake or real) setting as well.

But it's not only about being untrained. It's also about being inclined to believe - which I think most people attending a seance is.

Michael, an interesting post. I could make dozens of comments, but just have time for one now. You say that Wiseman, as the pretend medium, would make suggestions. I may be wrong, but I can't recall having heard of any physical mediumship in which the medium speaks or offers commentary as the seance is going on. Usually, he or she is tied up in a "cabinet" in a trance state. Of course, it could be that the medium's "confederate" calls the attention of others to some moving object, etc.

As you say, however, there has been enough physical mediumship not requiring darkness. On this subject, there has been a lot of criticism lately about a particular physical medium not allowing red light in his seances. The argument is that if others have allowed it then why not this particular medium. Not necessarily in defense of this medium, but my understanding is that the spirit controls, not the medium, dictate whether red light can be used. Perhaps this medium is not strong enough to withstand the effects of even red light. Or perhaps the "spirit operators" are real amateurs and lack experience in physical manifestations. Many people seem to assume that all spirit operators are highly intelligent and experienced in this regard, which seems not to be the case. In the experiments carried out by Charles Richet and Gustave Geley with Franek Kluski, Geley commented that the spirit operators didn't appear to be particularly intelligent or experienced.

Some baseball players can hit 50 home runs in a season and can hit the ball 450 feet. There are others, however, who are strictly singles hitters and can barely hit the ball 350 feet. Does that mean that the banjo hitters are not baseball players even though they make a living at it? This particular medium might just be a good singles hitter, not a power hitter. Why should all mediums be equally powerful?

The problem with these tests is that just because people reported 'genuine phenomena' during a fake seance, it doesnt automatically follow that all their experiences are false.

Yes, belief is important, expectation is important, and that these facors can lead to perceptions of events which do not objectively seem to have occured. I accept that.

But the other aspects of Wiseman's report are more problematic, i.e. the experiences of altered states, energies etc - it does not follow that these are not genuine paranormal experiences. In fact, expectation and belief may be crucial in the process of allowing one's perception to widen enough to experience such phenomena.

Wiseman passes these off as psychological effects, and he may be right, but I think only partly.

The problem may be that psychology is key to the process of widening perception and it is not just a simple case of explaining effects away as simple delusion.

Anyone who does experience psychic phenomena on a regular basis will tell you that psychological states/moods can be closely linked to paranormal activity - that doesnt mean that the paranormal activity is false.

Perhaps Sandy can shed some light on this area? Would you agree that psychological states/moods can be intertwined with paranormal experiences in any way?

I think they are, but then psychological states are intertwined with EVERY human activity and this does not mean that these activities are not real.

I feel that being open to experiences outside of accepted reality is KEY to allowing one's self to experience such realites. However this is where it becomes such a grey area when we try to get empirical evidence - Science tries to be objective, when much paranormal experience is subjective - it is very real IMV but not easy to pin down in an objective manner - and there is a line at which we begin deceiving ourselves - it is not easy to spot where this line begins.

Still, I do think that slowly and surely, science is approaching a slow awareness of a wider reality outside of the accepted norms, although the process continues to move at a glacial pace.

I have seen Wiseman's fake seance on television. He is usually surrounded by students whose critical faculties are not very highly developed.

Wiseman borrowed an infra-red camera from the Noahs Ark society for use in his fake seance.

He never uses people experienced in physical mediumship in his experiemnts because they would see through his silly nonsense.

Derren Brown uses the same tactics.

I have appeared on a number of TV programmes with Wiseman over the years (on opposite sides I hasten to add) and he is a likeable chap but his knowledge and experience of physical mediumship in particular is virtually non-existent.

I'm enjoying this series, Michael. It's always admirable to question one's beliefs.

It may also explain why physical mediumship is so much rarer nowadays; perhaps people are simply not primed to accept it at face value as they once were.

I don't know a lot about the state of mediumship today, or anytime, but I'd guess that if such a phenomena is widespread at one time but hard to locate at another that suggests there were sociological factors influencing its results. The laws of nature don't change with each generation.

But psychology does and if in fact the thinning of the veil has to do with an alteration in the expectancy of the psyche, it may be the cases that generations produce fewer mediums not because the phenomena are 'fake' but because there is no fertile ground for them to ocurr.

A seed might stay inert for years until a good rainfall makes it wake up. Doesn't mean that the life isnt there.

The "fair and balanced" Michael is back! Excellent post!

The problem of belief and suggestibility extends to any aspect of life where we are trying to get the "truth" and emotions are always an important variable; especially fear.

To stay on topic, I suppose all of these problems extend to psychic readings as well, where emotions and suggestibility could cause us to a) unconsciously lend subtle cues to the reader that facilitate cold reading capabilities and b) favorably color interpretations of reader output.

Of course it is also possible, perhaps probable, that suggestibility and emotion could effect the transfer or manifestation of real psychic material as well. Much more difficult to prove though.

Have a little break from the topic and look at this. I guarantee you'll laugh. Wish I had a dog like this.

The ulimate dog tease.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nGeKSiCQkPw

to XXII:

Exactly my thoughts as posted earlier. Psychology is likely key to any psychic experience, but that does not mean that the psychic experience is not real, but it DOES make it hard to prove in a scientific manner, hense the problem here.

There was nothing new in R. Wiseman´s paper regarding the psychology of seance room phenomena. H. Carrington has described and discussed in two books extensively the fraudulent techniques of fake mediums. He has written a whole chapter about H. Slade´s alleged mediumship. Furthermore "Relevations of a medium" or "The psychc Mafia" deal with the same subject, but more superficially in comparison to Carrington´s describtions. Beside this Carrington has clearly shown the circumstances of Palldino´s fraud as well the genuine aspects of her mediumship. It is really worthwhile to study his research, though it took me three years time of careful reding. There is a free access to parts of his work.

I think this news-bit from a couple of weeks ago may be very relevant:

A common structural variation in the brain may explain why some people are better able to remember details of past events and to distinguish real events from those they were told about or may have imagined, scientists report.

The study included 53 healthy adults who underwent MRI brain scans and took memory tests. Participants who lacked a fold at the front of the brain called the paracingulate sulcus (PCS) were much less accurate on the memory tests than those with a prominent PCS on at least one side of the brain.

According to the US News clip the people had "typical educational backgrounds and no reported history of cognitive difficulties..."

I'm not saying this "settles" any questions about seances, UFO sightings or anything else, but it certainly suggests how several people sitting in the same room can "see" different things happen. It would be useful to see if there is a statistically significant correlation between this brain structure and tendencies to be a "believer" or to report UFO sighting and table movings and related events

"There was nothing new in R. Wiseman´s paper regarding the psychology of seance room phenomena."

I think what was new was the focus on the suggestibility of the sitters, and the correlation of suggestibility to prior belief in the paranormal.

Michael Tymn, I think the medium is enclosed in a cabinet in materialization seances, but not necessarily for other types of physical mediumship. D.D. Home, for instance, did not retire to a cabinet, and neither did Palladino. (There was a cabinet in Palladino's seances, but she did not sit in it.) Even in materialization seances, there is almost always an assistant who runs the event and may provide suggestions (as you mentioned).

Sbu, I agree that NDEs are probably overreported today. Many accounts are simply posted online at NDE sites, without any investigative follow-through. Some of these may well be invented. A parallel that occurs to me is the rash of letters and postcards attributed to Jack the Ripper after his murders were publicized. Most, possibly all, of these were fakes. Writing fake Ripper messages and sending them to the police or the press was a fad. Almost a mania, in fact!

One thing about the apparitions survey is that the investigators did follow up on some of the more interesting claims, conducting interviews and even obtaining affidavits from third parties. That aspect of the research ought to hold up. But the raw numbers may be less reliable.

Mp wrote: Michael Tymn, I think the medium is enclosed in a cabinet in materialization seances, but not necessarily for other types of physical mediumship.
Even in materialization seances, there is almost always an assistant who runs the event and may provide suggestions (as you mentioned).

This is the kind of statement made by people who have never sat in a materialisation seance.

Neither Alec Harris nor Estelle Roberts sat in a specially constructed cabinet. They sat behind a pair of curtains on a chair and were not restrained at all.

Neither was there an assistant who ran the event.

If mediumship has declined in recent years, it is probably because the spirits have gotten tired of trying to convince sceptics. I know I have.

The study included 53 healthy adults who underwent MRI brain scans and took memory tests. Participants who lacked a fold at the front of the brain called the paracingulate sulcus (PCS) were much less accurate on the memory tests than those with a prominent PCS on at least one side of the brain.

While being extremely sceptical about the exisistence of anything paranormal I have no doubt the the link between cognition and MRI scans one day will be recognized as a new - and just as ridicolous - version of Phrenology. The brain is even in a purely materialist interpretation too plasticity for such simple correlations.

@sbu-your point about plasticity is a good one, but don't throw the baby out with the bath water. The evidence that certain regions of the brain usually do certain things (usual caveats here) is overwhelming.

The abstract of the article, as opposed to the pop press summary, is at http://www.jneurosci.org/content/31/40/14308.abstract

Includes this: Consistent with the prediction that sulcal absence might mean greater volume in the surrounding frontal gyri, voxel-based morphometry revealed a significant negative correlation between anterior PFC gray matter and reality monitoring performance. The findings provide evidence that individual differences in introspective abilities like reality monitoring may be associated with specific structural variability in the PFC.

Now I don't take this study as gospel but it is food for thought.

Michael, I had to say the title of this thread out loud before I got the Jane Austen reference. Then it occurred to me that if you change it a bit to this: Seance and Seance-ability, it sounds like a literary discussion with someone from the deep, deep, South.

After reading Michael's Mania post from the last post. I like to point out an evidential point and that is if mediumship evidence from the Victorian era was filled with mania then why is it that today Gary Schwartz, Archie Roy, Julie Beischel have been able to reproduce evidence that was based upon the Victorian era. Showing that this evidence is reproducible and this does open a serious objection to the mania theory.

"Neither Alec Harris nor Estelle Roberts sat in a specially constructed cabinet. They sat behind a pair of curtains on a chair"

When I said the medium was in a cabinet, I meant in an enclosed or concealed space, not necessarily a literal cabinet. I think materialization mediums typically are sequestered from the sitters in some way.

Michael,

Thanks for your reply. I realize that D. D. Home and a number of others produced phenomena independent of a cabinet and I also realize that "cabinets" are often not cabinets, per se, but just curtained off areas. That is why I put the word in quotation marks in my earlier post. I was thinking more in terms of current physical mediums, as I don’t recall having heard of any of them directing the attention of the sitters to moving tables or whatever as Wiseman claims to have done. Perhaps they do, and it is just not reported. In my haste, I neglected to clearly state what I had in mind. I was more concerned with getting down my second concern before signing off last night. I keep forgetting that Zerdini, with his or her vast experience, is waiting to pounce on my words, in bold-faced print or whatever it takes to make his/her superior knowledge in this area known. When you kindly reviewed my last book, Zerdini was quick to ask what my experience in this area was, as if to say only a person with his/her experience is qualified to write such a book.

I admit to having no first-hand experience with physical mediumship and whatever I write in this area is strictly based on what I have read. The reports of modern physical mediumship do not impress me and is one reason I have not gone out of my way to attend a séance. I’m pretty sure I would be disappointed.

I still wait for Zerdini or someone else to tell me why we should expect all mediums to agree to red light just because many other mediums were able to produce phenomena in red light. Since D. D. Home and Etta Wriedt produced phenomena in lighted conditions, we might ask why those who produced in red light only could not have done it with white light. I revert to my baseball player analogy. Some baseball players are much more powerful than others, and can do things that many can't do. D. D. Home was to mediumship what Babe Ruth was to baseball. Take away the longer season and steroids and no one has yet done what Ruth was able to do.

Isn’t it possible that this is the case with mediums as well? Some can produce in white light, some in red light only, and some in no light at all. Is it fair to call a medium a fraud because his "spirit operators," whatever they might be, inform him that he is not developed enough to submit to red light just because more powerful mediums have been able to do it? I don't know, I'm just asking.

Perhaps Sandy can shed some light on this area? Would you agree that psychological states/moods can be intertwined with paranormal experiences in any way?

Absolutely! I do a PANAS mood score before I do a run of my pk test each evening. Mood does seem to affect my performance. And since I measure the success of each test by watching a video of the run so I can measure the exact timings, I know that my mood affects my actual quantified performance, not my perception of how well I might have done.

"When you kindly reviewed my last book, Zerdini was quick to ask what my experience in this area was, as if to say only a person with his/her experience is qualified to write such a book."

Michael T
The reason I asked about your experience in this area was so I could fairly judge whether you were talking from personal experience or whether you were quoting from other people’s works or experiences. You have now very kindly answered this question.

"I admit to having no first-hand experience with physical mediumship and whatever I write in this area is strictly based on what I have read.
The reports of modern physical mediumship do not impress me and is one reason I have not gone out of my way to attend a séance.
I’m pretty sure I would be disappointed."

It depends on what you mean by ‘modern’. To me, it means in my lifetime. We are approximately the same age.
I have no doubt you would be deeply disappointed by current physical mediumship séances.
However, I am particularly referring to materialisation and independent Direct Voice séances not purely physical phenomena séances.
Physical phenomena séances are not evidence of survival.

"I still wait for Zerdini or someone else to tell me why we should expect all mediums to agree to red light just because many other mediums were able to produce phenomena in red light.
Since D. D. Home and Etta Wriedt produced phenomena in lighted conditions, we might ask why those who produced in red light only could not have done it with white light."

I had no idea you were waiting for someone to explain about red light.
As you are no doubt aware materialisations have to be SEEN to have any validity and, therefore, some form of lighting is necessary.
Some mediums have produced materialisations in different forms of lighting as indeed not all physical mediums have sat in a cabinet or behind curtains - some have sat in the circle with the sitters.

"I revert to my baseball player analogy. Some baseball players are much more powerful than others, and can do things that many can't do. D. D. Home was to mediumship what Babe Ruth was to baseball. Take away the longer season and steroids and no one has yet done what Ruth was able to do.
Isn’t it possible that this is the case with mediums as well? Some can produce in white light, some in red light only, and some in no light at all. Is it fair to call a medium a fraud because his "spirit operators," whatever they might be, inform him that he is not developed enough to submit to red light just because more powerful mediums have been able to do it? I don't know, I'm just asking."

See my reply above.

I found this very related article by Dr Caroline Watt and Prof Richard Wiseman:

http://www.koestler-parapsychology.psy.ed.ac.uk/Documents/Wiseman%20and%20Watt%202010.pdf

People who already believe in the paranormal exhibits strong confirmation bias in remote viewing experiments when evaluating perceived correspondence. This has in my opinion frequently been a problem with remote viewing tests. There is a lot of subjectivity in the confirmation of the target.

sbu, Remote viewing tests are normally judged by someone who doesn't know which photo is the target photo (I've been a judge for a recent remote viewing study). You get the description and any drawings produced by the remote viewer in the test, then you rank 4 photos in order of how closely they relate to that description. One of the photos is the target, but the judges are not told which one is correct. This process is repeated by a number of judges independently to come up with a cumulative score. How is this a subjective process?

I forgot to add that the 4 photos, the target plus three non-target photos, are chosen randomly in advance of the remote viewing session. Both the remote viewer and the person conducting the test are blinded as to what pictures have been chosen.

So one one knows the target until the results have been scored.

Thanks for the information Sandy.

We know that many mediums and psychics are fake. We know that people are suggestible and eye-witness testimony is unreliable. And we know that Wiseman is a devout parapsychology debunker.

So what is surprising or interesting about this report? Nothing. It gives us no information about whether some mediums have communicated with spirits.

And I wouldn't trust anything reported by Wiseman anyway, given his past record.

They don't have to all be true. If only one is real than that conclusively proves life after death is real. Of all the millions of near death experiences, death bed visions, ADC's, mystical visions, transcendental experiences, EVP, readings by Mediums, etc. it only takes one real connection to the other side to prove absolutely for certain that there is life after death.

Michael, this doesn't really relate to the blog topic at hand, but I thought you would have a great take on it and that your readers would find it interesting.

http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2011/10/28/exorcists-secret-message/


Thanks for the link, Darren. I did enjoy the article. I read The Exorcist years ago, but what I mainly remember is the movie, which certainly went out of its way to be scary -- and gross! It's a great movie, one of the most intelligent and adult horror films. As I recall, both the book and movie spawned a rash of exorcisms -- dare I say a mania? -- so perhaps the topic is not as unrelated to this post as it appears.

Lilly, author of "Center of the Cyclone" and and explorer of altered states of
I adhere to the quote by the late John C Lilly, author of "Center of the Cyclone" and and explorer of altered states of
consciousness regarding Belief Systems.


"In the province of the mind, what is believed to be true is true, or becomes true within certain limits to be learned by experience and experiment. These limits are further beliefs to be transcended. In the province of the mind. There are no limits."

Sorry to go completely off-topic here but thought I'd better post this link:

http://www.e-catworld.com/

The latest experiment of Italian inventer Rossi's Cold Fusion generator is looking promising but not conclusive.

However they are beginning comercial production so comercial demand may not wait for scientific verifications.

We could be looking at the beginning of a cold fusion revolution.

This reminds me a lot of the rash of inventions of the 19th and early 20th centuries - dare I say it, a mania, but a mania that was nevertheless based on fact.

Why is it that mania's must be based on falsehoods? They can also be based on real discovery.

Michael,

A very interesting post. I am prepared to accept that it is all beyond human comprehension, at least my comprehension. I have already accepted that God "is" and "isn't" and that "reincarnation "is" and "isn't," and so it is not a big leap to accept that spirit controls "are" and "aren't." But if it is something we can comprehend, I am left to wonder why Uvani claimed to be the surviving spirit of one Yasuf ben Hafik ben Ali, an Arab who had lived in Basrah during the early 1800s, dying at the age of 48 in a battle with the Turks. He also said he had been a member of a noble merchant family. Why does the "functional entity," or the medium's subconscious, or secondary personality, or higher self, whatever is at work here, find a need to give itself the identity of a deceased human? Perhaps it is because it makes it easier for us to understand. But it does suggest an "intelligence" beyond the medium's normal intelligence at work here, if that is what is happening.

I don't recall if you or anyone else mentiond George Pellew (GP), one of Mrs. Piper's later controls, who was known to exist as a human, as were a number of other controls, including Hodgson himself, although Hodgson never really functioned as the intermediary type control. GP did function as an intermediary type control. In communicating with Sir Oliver Lodge, the GP control seemed to confirm that Phinuit was a discarnate entity much the same as he was. But it is possible that Mrs. Piper's higher self just created GP and Phinuit so that Sir Oliver could comprehend.

Then again, Imperator, another control for Mrs Piper as well as for W. Stainton Moses seems to have been more of a "group soul" or cumulative spirit essence, who (or which) needed lower level spirits to relay messages for "it" because of the vibrational difference. That is, the lower level spirits were closer in vibration to the earth vibration and could more easily communicate. Silver Birch also seems to have been more of a "group soul" or cumulative spirit essence of some kind than a single discarnate entity. But, again, a higher intelligence of some kind can be inferred here...I think.

As for "Philip," keep in mind that Alan Kardec wrote about Philip a hundred years before Philip existed, saying that low-level spirits are always ready and available to jump in and play games with humans, often impersonating others or taking whatever name might be given to them.

The spirit control doesn't appear to have the same function with the direct voice mediums as with the trance voice mediums, such as Piper and Leonard. With the direct voice mediums, the control usually made some introductory and closing remarks, leaving it to the discarnate friends and relatives to come through on their own, often in their own voices. As I mentioned in my most recent blog, Etta Wriedt spoke only English, but communications came through in many different languages, including Serbian and Croatian. I can't begin to fit the functional control theory into such phenomena, but I am of limited intellect and find it so much easier to take a pragmatic approach to controls and believe that they are (or were) who they say they were.

Why we don't have such phenomena today is another subject and my thoughts on this would run too far down the page.


As I mentioned in my most recent blog, Etta Wriedt spoke only English, but communications came through in many different languages, including Serbian and Croatian.

There is no doubt that Etta Wriedt was a remarkable direct voice medium but in the UK we had Leslie Flint who was an equally remarkable direct voice medium.

"The actual content of Leslie's independent voice mediumship was itself indicative of the external sources responsible: as he points out, 'literally thousands of different voices...speaking in different dialects, in foreign languages unknown to me'. And this was apart from the 'mass of personal detail and reminiscence'."

Leslie's mediumship resulted in him traveling abroad and this clearly had no effect on the quality of the evidence supplied. One example was the séance at the W. T. Stead Centre in New York when Mickey (his control) announced that a Carl Schneider wished to speak. None of the sitters responded, but Mickey was adamant there had to be someone there who knew him.

One sitter, a Robert Bolton, spoke up saying that he knew Schneider, but believed that he was in fact alive. The communicator nevertheless spoke and said that he had died a year earlier; moreover, Bolton recognized the voice as Schneider's.

The following day, Bolton telephoned the number that Schneider had given him at an earlier time, and was told by the person answering that Schneider had died a year earlier, having committed suicide. Bolton was so impressed by the evidence that he wrote an account of the experience in "Psychic News".

Leslie then left New York to give successful séances and visit Chicago, Los Angeles and Hollywood; during which time he was entertained by Mae West and her husband, and visited Valentino's grave and placed flowers there.

Perhaps, after reading Wiseman et al., it might be something of an antidote to read (or re-read) Prof. David Fontana's book: Is There an Afterlife.

One particular area in which Fontana himself was involved was the Sole Experiment:

http://www.thescoleexperiment.com/artcl_01.htm

That should read "Scole Experiment", of course.

Fontana did however highlight two inaccuracies in Foy's book, that he (Fontana) was not present at two lunches that Keen hosted for the group (July 96 and Jan 97). Fontana also wrote that he was not present in Ibiza 97, and that he did not try to insist that the communicators reproduce all the phenomena that took place in Ibiza.


“I am an SPR member, but regretfully must agree with your critical article about Scole. And there is one further item which you didn’t spot, but which is clear evidence of fraud (it is mentioned in the report): the fact that one of the exposed film canisters contained a strip of impressive-looking kabbalistic writings and drawings, which the intrepid investigator Tony Cornell showed as having been traced from a popular book on kabbalism. Cornell showed how the material could have been put onto tracing paper then exposed to produce an image identical to that obtained. He even found the marks where the tracing paper had been fixed against the film and exposed to create the fraud. This was a film which was in the easy-to-open box created by one of the mediums. It is clear proof of fraud and really shows that the SPR people at Scole were taken in. Yet Keen and Fontana would never admit that they may have been fooled. Very sad.” – Professor Peter Wadhams. Cambridge

It seems like most people who believe in this kind of phenomenas won't stop believing even after they have been told it was all fraud. They would make up excuses like "i'm sure there was genuine phenomenas as well" or "it's because of the pressure they need to cheat" or "he was genuine once but lost it and now he is just a brillianr magician".

I don't really see how to put up a counterargument against this position - it becomes a matter of faith.

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