I just finished reading the well-known book by Dr. Carl A. Wickland, 30 Years among the Dead, originally published in 1924. The book recounts Dr. Wickland's efforts to cure his psychiatric patients by spiritualist methods. His wife Anna was a powerful medium, and Wickland became convinced that some of the incurable patients institutionalized at his facility were suffering from spirit obsession. He tested his theory by subjecting the patients to electroshock therapy, which was intended to drive the obsessing entity out of the patient's "magnetic aura." The entity was then attracted to the entranced Mrs. Wickland. Dr. Wickland would speak with the earthbound spirit in an attempt to convince the spirit to open his or her spiritual eyes and progress to the next stage of development. In many cases the effort proved successful, and the patient, who had previously resisted all cures, improved markedly and could be de-institutionalized.
As one channeled spirit put it:
Earthbound spirits who torment mortals by obsessing them are man-made “devils.” Selfishness has made them what they are. They go out of the physical in ignorance of the real life, full of hatred, because they were crushed in one way or another. They have hatred for all mankind, and the first persons they can attach themselves to they try to harm, and there you have obsession….
Insanity is nothing but obsession by spirits who are sent to the spirit side of life without understanding the truth of God.
Because the book is quite famous in spiritualist circles, I'd previously tried a couple of times to get through it. I found it tough sledding, not because the content is difficult, but because the book is long and repetitious. The transcripts of numerous sessions are included, and they tend to follow the same basic pattern. It took me a certain amount of willpower to finally work my way through the entire volume.
Nevertheless, I can see a certain logic to the book's repetitive structure. It reminds me of a description I once read of another famous work of parapsychological research, Phantasms of the Living, by Myers, Podmore, and Gurney. In describing the book, a writer, whose name I forget, said that by sheer repetition Phantasms "bludgeons the mind" into accepting the reality of apparitions.
Something similar happens with 30 Years among the Dead. Sheer repetition makes the initially questionable phenomena seem more convincing. In addition, as I got deeper into the book, I found several accounts indicating that Mrs. Wickland's mediumship was sometimes marked by verifiable details that she had no normal way of knowing.
Here are an example:
A spirit who was still following his old occupation without any knowledge of his transition controlled Mrs. Wickland at one of our circles in Chicago....
“I am Hesselroth, from - the drug store,” he said.
Mr. Hesselroth, the Swedish proprietor of a Chicago drug store, had died the year before in a hospital, but we knew nothing of this man, his death, or his circumstances; however, on this evening one of his friends, Mr. Eckholm, was in, our circle.
The spirit was not aware of his death, claiming that he was still attending to his drug store.
His friend in the circle said he had been informed that the drug store had been sold to the clerk, and so stated to the spirit, but this the latter emphatically denied, saying:
“Abrahamson only manages it for me.”
The spirit told of a robbery which had occurred in his house recently, and described the three burglars. He said he had been frightened when they entered, but gaining courage, had gone for his revolver only to find that he was not able to pick it up. He had then struck at one of the burglars, but his hand had gone “right through the fellow,” and he could not understand why he could do nothing at all.
After his condition was explained to him he saw many spirit friends appear, who welcomed him to his new home in the spirit world.
Later investigation verified the statement made by the spirit that the drug store had not been sold and also the fact that the house had been burglarized.
It could not be held that the subconscious mind of the psychic played any part in this case, nor could the theory of auto-suggestion be maintained, for Mr. Hesselroth was entirely unknown to every one in the room with the exception of his friend, Mr. Eckholm, and this friend held the opposite idea regarding the sale of the store.
A second example:
A peculiar case was that of Mr. Mc., a well known man in Chicago, whose family name is one of highest social prominence.
This man suddenly began to act strangely; he shunned the members of his family, and told his wife and relatives that he wished to live on a higher plane and wanted nothing more to do with them. Then one day he packed his trunk and left home, going to live in a small room which he had rented in the lowest section of the city.
We had never seen this gentleman, but a relative of his, who knew of our work, asked us to concentrate for him at our next psychic circle; we did so and a spirit was brought who controlled Mrs. Wickland. After some solicitation she gave her full name, confessing that she had been the first wife of Mr. Mc., and she then told her story.
[The spirit was Mr. Mc's first wife, who had left him, become a morphine addict, and committed suicide.]
After her death she had returned to her husband, and when he married again she felt angrily aggrieved, and at last influenced him to leave his wife and child, to go to quarters where she herself felt more at home.
We convinced her of the great wrong she was doing in controlling her former husband in this manner, and after she had obtained an understanding of the progress awaiting her in the spirit world, she promised to leave, wishing to attain a higher condition.
When next we saw the relative of Mr. Mc., who had asked us to concentrate for him, we told her of the story related by the spirit, and in amazement she admitted it was true in every detail; that the name given was correct and that Mr. Mc. had been married before, but that the unfortunate episode had been regarded by the family as a skeleton in the closet and was never mentioned.
She later reported that Mr. Mc. had returned to his home, normal and sane, and was again living happily with his wife and child.
(N.B.: In all quotes, material in square brackets is mine, while material in parentheses is Carl Wickland's.)
A third example:
Hayward [the communicator] realized that he was hovering around the earth as a spirit, and when we inquired how he had learned about spirit life he replied that while he was in jail he had read of it in some literature which had been sent him by an unknown person.
He complained that no matter where he went no one would take any notice of him; when he took a seat in a train some one would come along and sit down on his lap, and he would be powerless to move.
He was very pleased to be able to converse with people again and asked many questions about the various persons concerned with his trial and execution, inquiring particularly about the guard with whom he had spent a great deal of time playing cards.
I was under the impression that this guard had died some time before and informed the spirit so, suggesting that possibly he might be able to see him in the spirit world.
He was silent a moment, endeavoring to trace his former friend, then said emphatically: “No, that man is not dead. I see him playing cards at his son's home in Minneapolis.”
Hayward was readily enlightened concerning the higher life and left, expressing a willingness to progress in the spirit world.
The psychic invalid [previously obsessed by Hayward] showed marked changes for the better after this, and subsequent correspondence proved Hayward's statement about the old guard to be true. The latter was living, and on the evening of our experience with Hayward had been playing cards in his son's home.
A fourth example:
On November 20, 1904, while Mrs. Wickland and I were visiting with friends in Chicago, a circle had been formed for a psychic demonstration when Mrs. Wickland heard some one say: “I am in the dark.” [Apparently an instance of direct voice.]
She inquired who had made the remark, but no one in the room had uttered a word; however, the gentleman sitting beside Mrs. Wickland declared that he too had heard the voice.
A moment later Mrs. Wickland became entranced and fell to the floor, the spirit clutching at the throat and crying: “Take the rope away! Take the rope away! I am in the dark. Why did I do it? Oh, why did I do it?”
When the excited spirit had been somewhat quieted, she told us that her name was Minnie Harmening, that she was a young girl and had lived on a farm near Palatine. As she was speaking brokenly, between sobs, it was difficult to distinguish her words, and I understood her to say that she came from “Palestine,” which seemed rather strange.
The spirit was in great grief because she had hung herself, and thought the body of the psychic was her own, and that the rope was still about her neck.
She said that on October 5th, without any cause or premeditation, she had been overpowered by a desire to take her life, and when alone had gone to the barn and hung herself.
“A big man with a black beard made me do it.” (Spirit.) “He met me in the barnyard and hypnotized me, and made me hang myself to a rafter, but I don't know why I did it." ...
We could not at first convince her that she was expressing herself through the body of another, but after a lengthy conversation, she was somewhat enlightened and comforted, and left with spirit friends.
Previous to this incident neither Mrs. Wickland nor I had heard of the Harmening suicide mystery and we did not know that such a girl had ever existed.
Several days later, a reporter from one of the Chicago dailies came to interview us regarding our research work, and I related our recent experience with the Harmening girl.
In great surprise he said that he himself had been the reporter on the Harmening case and that the girl had lived in Palatine, Cook County, Illinois. The dead body of the girl had been found hanging in her father's barn, but no one knew of any cause for suicide, although the girl had always been peculiar.
There was a suspicion of murder because the clothes about the chest had been torn, and the neck badly scratched, leading the authorities to believe that a crime had been committed and the body hung up to avert suspicion.
On Thanksgiving Day, November 24th, the spirit of Minnie Harmening came to us again, still grieving because of the suffering of her parents, and the intolerant attitude assumed toward her family by the villagers and church members, who considered the family disgraced.
The girl had been a devout member of a German Lutheran Church, but because she had died a suicide the pastor had refused to allow the funeral service to be held in the church, nor would the congregation permit the body to be buried in the consecrated ground of the churchyard.
Minnie said that the funeral service had been held at the home of her parents, but the minister had considered the viewing of body such a sacrilege that he had stepped outside the house while others paid their last tribute, and this had added still more to the grief of her already distracted parents. (These statements I found corroborated in the papers afterward.)
I asked the spirit why her clothes had been torn, and she answered: “I did that myself. The big man (spirit) with the beard told me to hang myself, but as soon as I had kicked the box away from my feet, I felt the rope tightening around my neck and came to my senses. I clawed at the rope and tried to loosen it, but I only tightened it and scratched myself.
And one more:
Spirit [a deceased minister]: No one seemed to care for my preaching. I was very discouraged. I felt sometimes as if I should give up the whole thing.
Dr. Why didn't you?
Sp. If I should tell you the truth and tell you why I didn't, I should say it was because I had a wife and family to support. But I was not successful as a minister. I wish I had never studied for the ministry, but had been more of a mechanic; I would have had a happier life. (It was later learned that during his earth life the spirit had made this same remark to a fellow minister.)
In addition, Mrs. Wickland's mediumship was apparently characterized at times by xenoglossy, the ability to speak a language unknown to the medium.
... one of Mrs. Wickland's guiding spirits is Movilia, an Eskimo, who brings strength and power to the circle. He lived in Greenland and was a traveling lecturer, doctor and entertainer, a Medicine Man of high order with a profound knowledge of Nature.
He journeyed among his people as an organizer and a philosopher, accompanied by his wife, a poetess and singer, and his children, who danced symbolical dances.
Some of the Eskimo songs, when given through Mrs. Wickland by Movilia and his wife, have been recognized by an Alaskan traveler as being a part of certain Eskimo ceremonies. These Eskimos do not speak English but one evening Movilia brought another Eskimo who acted as interpreter for him and told us something of the Eskimo religion.
Another case is perhaps more interesting:
For many years, upon various occasions, a symbolical morality play has been given through Mrs. Wickland by a group of spirit actors.
They are twelve in number, eleven actors and a director, all of whom were Russian-Slavonic when in earth life.
Under the direction of the stage manager they successively assume control of Mrs. Wickland with such ease and rapidity that the change is scarcely noticeable.
The play is given in the Russian-Slavonic tongue, a language which Mrs. Wickland herself has never heard, but which is spoken perfectly through her by these actors, as has been stated by different persons, witnessing the play, who are familiar with the language. The costumes worn by the spirit actors, and unseen by the average mortal audience, have been described by clairvoyants as being authentically Russian-Slavonic and very beautiful.
Arthur Conan Doyle, who had a deep interest in life after death, attended one of these performances and pronounced himself impressed.
During a psychic circle held at our Institute, in May, 1923, at which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Lady Doyle were present, this play was given, and later, in his book “Our Second American Adventure,” Sir Arthur briefly described the play, commenting further:
“It was certainly a most extraordinary performance and left us all in a state of amazed admiration . . .
“I have seen all the greatest actresses of my generation, Modjeska, Bernhardt, Duse, Terry - but I do not think that any one of them could have played these eleven parts without a stage or a costume in so convincing a way.
“The spirits' own account is that they are a band of players on the other side, who represent this play before the undeveloped dead in order to teach them the moral, and that they use the wonderful mediumship of Mrs. Wickland in order to demonstrate their power to us mortals. It was very impressive.
An interesting story involves a friendship between Mrs. Wickland and a certain Mrs. Lackmund.
Mrs. Lackmund and Mrs. Wickland had made an agreement that whichever one of them should first pass to the spirit side of life would try to return and communicate with the other, saying, as a test, “Spirit return is true.”
A year after this Mrs. Lackmund died, and two weeks later, during the night, appeared to Mrs. Wickland, so life-like that the latter did not realize she was a spirit.
Mrs. Lackmund touched her friend lightly on the cheek and Mrs. Wickland sat up, exclaiming, “Mrs. Lackmund!”
Then Mrs. Lackmund spoke. “Anna, spirit return is true. I will develop you. Go on with the work of obsession.”
Shortly after this she appeared to Mrs. Wickland again at a materialization séance, giving unmistakable proof of her identity, and repeated her former words: “Spirit return is true. Go on with the work of obsession. I will develop you.”
Subsequently she joined the band of invisibles who guard Mrs. Wickland and since then has very often spoken through the latter.
There were some occasions in which the Wicklands attempted to bring assistance to someone who was not one of Dr. Wickland's patients and was not known to either of them. Reportedly, these efforts proved successful.
Several years ago, a friend of ours complained of the peculiar and erratic actions of a business associate, Mr. P., who had suddenly become extremely irritable and despotic to those in his employ, highly unreasonable, impossible to please, and subject to violent attacks of swearing.
As obsession seemed indicated we concentrated for the gentleman in question, and after several weeks an irate spirit spoke through Mrs. Wickland and frankly admitted having tormented this man, wanting revenge for attentions which he claimed the latter had been paying to his wife. (The situation had existed during his life but he did not discover this until after his death.)...
He was puzzled by the fact that whenever he thought about any persons he immediately found himself with them and involved in their affairs. Recently he had been around Mr. P. but could not get away from him; this had exasperated him exceedingly, he had “done a lot of swearing,” kept the man awake, made him go to work “early,” and had annoyed him in every way possible.
After many explanations the spirit finally realized that he had “died,” although this was at first difficult for him to comprehend, for he “had always thought death ended all, and that was all there was to it.”
Being assured that activity and progression awaited him in the spirit world, and that matters would there be explained to him to his entire satisfaction, he left.
The following day there was such a remarkable improvement in the conduct of Mr. P., and his behavior was so wholly normal that the entire office force noticed the change, although Mr. P. himself never knew of the experimental effort which had been made in his behalf.
Dr. Wickland's numerous sessions with earthbound spirits return over and over again to the same themes. Prominent among these is the idea of being lost in darkness.
Dr. You are dead to your own people and friends. We know you are not dead in reality; you only lost your physical body. But you also have a spirit body when you pass out of your mortal body. You find yourself alive, and you have a spirit body, but you cannot explain it.
Sp. I know I have been walking a very great deal, and it seems to me I never get anywhere. I saw a lot of people here. I came here with the crowd, and before I knew it, everything was light, and I saw you all sitting around in a circle, singing. I thought it was a prayer meeting, so I stopped, and before I knew anything, I could talk. Before then I thought I must be deaf and dumb and blind, because I could not see anything, and I am so tired.
The spirit's blindness is said to result from the fact that the physical eyes have been lost and the spiritual eyes have not yet been opened. The following excerpts are taken from several different sessions with different channeled entities, the first of which is allegedly John Jacob Astor, one of the world's wealthiest men. For clarity, the sessions are separted by horizontal lines.
Bless you all for the help you have been to me, and for having opened my eyes. It is misery to be blind, yet able to see the procession of your past life, and not be able to see or hear anything else.
Dr. Do you know why you were blind? You had lost your physical eyes but were not aware of the fact. You were in the spirit world but you knew nothing of the spiritual laws. You were in what the Bible calls “outer darkness.”
Sp. Does outer darkness mean when you don't understand?
Dr. Yes. When you lost your physical body you lost your physical eyes, but you did not know it, and since you did not understand the higher life your spiritual vision was not open.
Sp. I have had a body and I have had eyes.
Dr. You have a spiritual body, but you were mentally blind. Do you remember that Paul spoke of a natural body and a spiritual body? “First that which is natural and afterward that which is spiritual.”
====Sp. Tell my wife I have found that life is more serious than I thought and we should try to understand more of God's wonders and not only believe.
(Spiritual vision opening, with a flood of understanding, face upturned and arms outstretched.)
I want to tell my wife that I have learned more about the wonderful world beyond than I ever knew before. My spiritual eyes are open. I wish so much that she could accept the proof that has been revealed to me.
All this time, as you have told me, I have been dead. I have been in darkness but, as this gentleman tells me, it was a spiritual darkness. My eyes are open and I can now see.
A beautiful world lies before me. I want my wife to understand these things so that she will not be in the dark as I have been. Tell her not to have belief alone. Investigate, and find out what the life beyond is.
I do wish I could teach about the beautiful land beyond as I see it before me. There are wonderful landscapes and homes of all descriptions. My eyes are open and now I see. Here is one beautiful home, and there another.
As indicated above, the opening of one's spiritual eyes is a dramatic event and leads to immediate improvement. This apparently is why the spirits can show pronounced changes in their outlook after a relatively brief dialogue.
Some spirits, however, are too stubborn or lost to be helped, at least for the time being. Dr. Wickland found that religious fanatics particularly immune to his treatment. He could be withering in his assessment of their psychology and beliefs.
The spirit who assumed control of the psychic tonight was vigorously singing a religious hymn.
Doctor. Have you been here before?
Spirit. Let's sing some more.
Dr. We are going to talk now.
Sp. I think we'd better sing another song.
Dr. If we did, you might become too enthusiastic.
Sp. We are in church, and you know you have to sing. Sing! Hallelujah! Tell the story!
Dr. We are going to be sensible.
Sp. You have to sing. You have to do that. That belongs to church. Let us pray, in Jesus' name, for evermore!
Dr. That would be very tiresome.
Sp. Let us sing and pray to the Lord. Hallelujah! Jesus Christ!
Dr. Now stop; that is enough. What is your name?
Sp. Let's sing and pray!
Dr. You must be sensible or leave. Tell us who you are and where you came from.
Sp. What church is this anyhow, where you talk in this way?
Dr. Be sensible, otherwise you will have to go. How long have you been dead? You know something happened to you. You have been hovering around the earth, probably for years, and have never gotten anywhere. Be sensible.
Sp. I am sensible; I'm not crazy.
Dr. You are religiously insane.
Sp. If I am dead, then I should see God.
Dr. You will never “see” God. God is not a person on a throne. God is Spirit and God is Intelligence. Have you ever seen music?
Sp. I have heard it.
Dr. Did you love your wife and family?
Sp. Yes, I did.
Dr. Have you ever seen that love? If you understand the Love Principle in the higher sense you will understand that God is Love. That was Jesus' own teaching.
Sp. We have to teach as I did....
Dr. You say you are a man, and yet here you are, controlling my wife's body. Did you ever believe in mediumship?
Sp. That is all humbug.
Dr. There must be some truth in it. You are proving it yourself.
The danger of being controlled by abstract ideas to the point where you can no longer see the truth that's all around you is repeatedly stressed. As one spirit puts it:
Do not let yourselves be hypnotized by ideas. Every theory has some good in it, but let us take the good and discard the rest.
One idea Dr. Wickland emphatically rejects is reincarnation. He attributes such cases to spirit obsession.
That the belief in reincarnation on earth is a fallacious one and prevents progression to higher spiritual realms after transition has been frequently declared by advanced spirits, while numerous cases of obsession which have come under our care have been due to spirits who, in endeavoring to “reincarnate” in children, have found themselves imprisoned in the magnetic aura, causing great suffering to both their victims and themselves.
A little boy in Chicago, Jack T., had been normal until the age of five when he began to manifest precocious tendencies and acted strangely.
Formerly he had had the natural disposition of a child but began to fret about things ordinarily foreign to a child's mind and acted in many ways like an adult.
He worried over trifles, lay awake at night with strange mutterings and presentiments, and at times had an uncontrollable temper.
He was a boy of good appearance but talked constantly of being old, homely and ugly looking, and was so intractable that efforts at reprimand and correction proved of no avail.
This condition became so aggravated that his family despaired of restoring the boy's reason.
A relative who knew of our experimental work in abnormal psychology wrote to the Institute requesting us to concentrate for the boy. This was done and an entity, whose actions and expressions were in every way like those of the boy, was attracted to the psychic, Mrs. Wickland.
This entity said his name was Charlie Herrman; he was aware of having died and declared he was a very homely man, with ugly features and a face covered with pock marks. Nobody had cared for him and this fact preyed on his mind.
Someone had once told him that after death individuals could reincarnate and become whatever they wished to be. Since his only desire was to be good looking, so that others would not shun him, he decided to try and reincarnate.
As a result, he became entangled in the magnetic aura of a small boy and was unable to free himself.
Finding that he was helplessly imprisoned, and incapable of making himself understood, he had outbursts of temper and “felt like flying to pieces.”
“They called me Jack at times, but I am not Jack. That was not my name, and I could not understand.”
Our concentration for the boy had freed the spirit and for this he was very grateful....
In a letter written a few days later by the boy's mother we were informed that a remarkable change had occurred in the child.
“Jack is now a boy again and has been very good this week, really like he used to be.”
He remained normal and received excellent grades in school, where his progress from that time on was unusually rapid.
A former Theosophist spoke through Mrs. Wickland:
I realize now how dangerous the doctrine of Reincarnation is. According to that doctrine, this would be the time for me to reincarnate. Should I reincarnate and obsess a child and tie both of us up in one body until such time as the child leaves the mortal body? Why should I “reincarnate” and make a child become an idiot?
All creeds should be set aside and we should seek the simple truth of life. Love God above all things and your neighbor as yourself. There would be great rejoicing if everybody tried to live up to that teaching; then there would be true happiness. Creeds and dogmas interfere and make us selfish, and selfishness is the root of all evil.
Mme. Blavatsky herself allegedly made an appearance through Mrs. Wickland in order to recant her Theosophical teachings.
I felt that I remembered far back in my past. I felt I knew all about my past, but I was mistaken.
Memories of “past lives” are caused by spirits that bring such thoughts and represent the lives they lived. A spirit impresses you with the experiences of its life and these are implanted in your mind as your own. You then think you remember your past.
Blavatsky was not the only famous person to show up in the Wicklands' circle. Because Dr. Wickland practiced in Los Angeles, his wife sometimes channeled deceased movie personalities like silent star Olive Thomas and minor screen actress Virginia Rappe, whose death was at the center of the Fatty Arbuckle scandal. We are also told that two famed victims of the Titanic disaster, W.T. Stead and the aforementioned John Jacob Astor, spoke through the medium. Fortunately the book does not make too much of these celebrity cases.
In contrast to complicated theories of reincarnation or Theosophical ascendancy to the state of a "spirit master," the dying process, according to the communicators, is actually quite simple and straightforward, especially for those who are emotionally and spiritually prepared for it.
If one would prepare himself for passing out of the body as he does for a journey he would be able to say: “Now I am ready to go. I am through with this world. It is time for me to go, and I want to go to the spirit side of life.” Then there would be no dread.
When I thought of my spiritual body, I arose; I felt I had new clothes and I received strength and left the physical altogether. The magnetic current was cut and I dropped my old clothes entirely.
I was then lifted bodily, so it seemed, and I felt I was floating, and we went through conditions of all kinds. I felt so strange and saw so much that I grew fearful, so they told me to shut my eyes and keep them shut, which I did.
I did not know anything after that until they placed me on a beautiful bed. I was very tired and all I wanted was to rest, just rest.
When I awoke from that sleep of rest my relatives and friends were around me. Somebody said: “Now you are well and strong and we will take a journey to our home in the spirit world.”
Summing up, Dr. Wickland says that he is continuing to investigate these phenomena. His concluding words are refreshingly modest:
It is not presumed or held that this avenue of research is a panacea for, or a full explanation of, all mental aberrations or obscure mortal vagaries, but indicative of the need for fuller knowledge of the role which the invisible world plays in human problems.
Today I got ten spam comments on this blog in the course of about three hours. It takes time to delete these annoying (usually illiterate) comments, and the comments themselves are potentially dangerous, inasmuch as the links, if clicked, may install malware on your computer.
So I've decided to bite the bullet and impose some controls on commenting. I tried this once or twice before, but curtailed the experiment because people complained about the inconvenience of having to sign in via a social media service like Facebook, or having to reproduce a random verification code.
I agree that this is more of a hassle than just clicking "Post," and the verification codes are often frustratingly hard to decipher. But the flood of spam is a problem I just can't ignore. This time I'm committed to the program. And I'm sure we'll all get used to it soon enough.
In the meantime, I've tracked down a helpful instructional video from NewsRadio that may help us better adjust to these new circumstances:
I've been reading The Testosterone Advantage Plan, a diet and exercise book by Lou Schuler (yeah, I'm trying to get in better shape), and I came across a short passage that, surprisingly enough, is relevant to the subject of parapsychology. It involves the value of anecdotes in the scientific process.
Realize, too, that almost all important scientific discoveries have begun with small pockets of anecdotal data. For example, in the early 1980s, doctors in urban centers on both coasts noticed that male patients were trickling in with a strange disorder that seemed to be zapping their immune systems and, often, causing strange red blotches on their faces and other parts of their bodies. The doctors took personal histories and learned that almost all of these patients were gay. As the early trend swelled into an alarming epidemic, doctors theorized – based on the anecdotal information available to them at that point – that some terrible new bug was afoot in the gay community. As months passed, having little else to go on, researchers further theorized that this new syndrome was spread by homosexual contact. This, of course, was medical science's first hazy awareness of the modern plague that more intensive research later diagnosed as the AIDS virus. [pp. 46-47; emphasis in original]
As you know, one of the most popular criticisms of paranormal phenomena is that the evidence is largely anecdotal. This isn't quite true, since there is an impressive library of carefully documented case histories investigated by the Society for Psychical Research and its counterparts, and by other researchers. Still, it's undeniable that a good deal of the evidence for psi and life after death is anecdotal. And as the saying goes, "The plural of anecdote is not data."
Fair enough. But as the example from Schuler's book suggests, anecdotes are not necessarily worthless, either; in fact, they can be very valuable. In some cases, they provide important hints about what's going on – hints that, when followed up, can lead to harder data. Although Schuler gives only one example, he does note that "almost all important scientific discoveries" begin with anecdotal cases, and I suspect this is true. For instance, the discovery of meteorites began with farmers' anecdotal accounts of stones falling from the sky; the discovery of fossils began with anecdotal accounts of workmen digging up old bones; the discovery of citrus as a preventive measure for scurvy began with anecdotal accounts of sailors who avoided the illness by eating fruit; etc.
Anecdotes may not be data in the strict sense, but we ignore them at our peril.
This cutting-edge research has yet to be confirmed, but it could be the start of something big.
If I understand the article correctly, a fragment of DNA was "teleported" from one test tube to another by quantum processes. Making the phenomenon more mysterious is that the DNA in the first test tube had to be greatly diluted before the effect could be observed.
In my last post I mentioned the "memory of water" effect discovered by digital biology pioneer Jacques Benveniste. This new research, should it pan out, would have obvious implications for Benveniste's work.
It appears that a chemical will imprint its digital signature on water if the dilution process is carried out in a certain way. This imprint can then be transferred across a distance at the quantum level.
Of course, until the experiment can be replicated and contamination or other errors can be ruled out, we can't be sure the effect is real. But if it is verified, it could open the door to a new understanding of physical reality. (And I might add, an understanding that sees molecules as essentially information, since a digital signature is nothing but data.)
I just reread a charming little book by the Reverend G. Maurice Elliott titled The Psychic Life of Jesus, which interprets the Gospels in Spiritualist terms. The same author wrote another book, Spiritualism in the Old Testament, expounding on Spiritualist elements in the Hebrew Bible. I find his interpretations very interesting, and I enjoy his straightforward writing style.
Having blogged on this subject before, I've learned to make something clear right up front: Elliott is not making claims for the historicity of any particular incident recounted in the Bible. He's not insisting that these events actually happened. His attitude seems to be that some of them probably did happen and others didn't, and that the Bible as we have it today is a mishmash of various traditions, some of which are more reliable than others. But his larger point is that all of these stories reflect an atmosphere in which Spiritualist phenomena were sufficiently well known that they could be accurately described by the original writers and understood by the original audience.
As Elliott puts it, psychic scientists (as he calls them) "bring all their knowledge of clairvoyance, clairaudience, apports, materialisation, etc., to bear upon [a Bible story]. They do not insist that it occurred, but they do insist that there is no reason, in the nature of things, why it could not have occurred."
Whenever possible, Elliott relates stories in the Bible to modern-day Spiritualist accounts. After reciting the story of Jesus cursing the fig tree and causing it to wither away, he writes:
Can anyone today make fig-trees "immediately wither away"? Yes, and by the same psychic power.
In his book "The Invisible Influence", Dr. Alexander Cannon tells us of a distinguished professor who asked him if he really believed that Jesus made a fig-tree wither away, and would he consider such an act a miracle today. The professor then took Dr. Cannon into a neighbouring vineyards, at the bottom of which was an aged tree. He addressed the tree thus: "Thou hast done well; thou hast weathered the storms of life… Die now, and come to life no more!" The tree immediately withered. Can we believe it?
Well, Dr. Cannon and others examined its withered state, and photographs recorded the withering. The doctor goes on to say, "It was the mind of Jesus which caused the fig-tree to wither by a mere command; which miracle is done today not infrequently in the outlying places of India and Thibet [sic], as I have borne witness. There is a 'cult' which can wither trees by a command of the mind."
How can the mind of a human being cause a tree to wither?
Referring to Jesus, Dr. Cannon writes, "It was by the careful adjustment of the vibrations of His body to the vibrations emanating from the fig-tree that He was able to command and be obeyed."
Now, link that up with Professor Anthony's statement that every substance, chemical and gas has a wave-length of its own, and that the transmission of these wave-lengths can be controlled almost as accurately as a big gun. Have we not here – in Dr. Cannon's suggested explanation, and in Professor Anthony's statement of scientific fact – a probable solution to our question?
Everything in the universe vibrates, and has its own wave-length. Everything in worlds visible, and in worlds invisible, vibrates. It is the rate at which a thing is vibrating which makes it visible or invisible, hard or soft, solid or fluid or gaseous.…
Vibration is the secret behind all psychical phenomena.
Now back to our subject. It would seem as if it were a law of our being that, by believing prayer, we can so "adjust to the vibrations" of body and mind as to give effect to our wish and will.
Be that as it may, what is quite clear is this: The psychic power which enabled Jesus to make a fig-tree wither was not unique. Indeed, after he performed this "sign" (not miracle; there is no such thing as miracle) he immediately informed his disciples that, if they would but fulfil the spiritual, psychical, scientific conditions, they too could do as he had done.
What a difference all this knowledge makes to our prayer-life! We no longer "say" prayers. We pray. And we pray intelligently, for we have some idea as to what is happening when we pray. We can therefore pray believingly.
Prayer "charges" the battery of our spiritual and psychic life. Paul knew this when he wrote, "Pray without ceasing." [pp. 133–135]
I don't know anything about Professor Anthony or whether his claims (made, apparently, in the 1930s) had any merit; but more recently, similar claims were made by Jacques Benveniste, a French biochemist who reported that his laboratory had discovered the "memory of water" – the ability of water to retain the properties of a chemical dissolved in it even when the chemical had been diluted to the point of nonexistence. Benveniste's claims were challenged by many skeptical debunkers, but eventually several other laboratories were able to replicate his work. Benveniste believed that the vibrational properties of the chemicals were somehow preserved in the water even after the chemicals themselves had been diluted out. His work has been used in support of homeopathic medicine, though Benveniste himself was not a homeopath.
Benveniste later pioneered the field of "digital biology," which proceeds from the premise that molecules have distinctive frequency spectrums that can be recorded and played back, and that the playback will reproduce the action of the molecules themselves. (This interview with Benveniste fleshes out the idea.)
All of this remains highly controversial, but if Benveniste's experimental data really can be confirmed, then the Spiritualist view summarized by Elliott in the above passage would appear to have some validity.
Of course, Spiritualism often goes on about vibrations without being entirely clear as to what exactly is doing the vibrating. In the channeled book The Unobstructed Universe, by Stewart Edward White, we are told that it is consciousness itself that is vibrating. Other sources, however, suggest that the vibration in question has more to do with the physical world – perhaps with some sort of vibrational frequency on the subatomic level.
This latter viewpoint could tie in with the hypothesis of a virtual-reality universe which has its own refresh rate. The idea is that the universe is essentially a projection analogous to the image on a computer screen, and just as the screen image must be constantly refreshed, so the "image" of our physical universe must be refreshed many thousands of times per second, with changes from one image to the next being effected by the cosmic information processor's calculations. (This idea, by the way, offers a solution to Zeno's "arrow" paradox; the arrow, like an animated cartoon character, is stationary at each moment in time, but the cosmic CPU alters its position from one "frame" to the next, creating the illusion of motion.)
Yet another way of looking at vibrations is to think in terms of a holographic universe. A holographic plate is inscribed with wave-interference patterns which can be reconstructed into a three-dimensional image by a beam of coherent light. Multiple wave-interference patterns can be superimposed on the same plate, allowing a variety of different images to be projected with slight alterations in the angle of the light; these patterns do not interfere with each other even though they occupy the same space. Perhaps we could see the enigmatic Spiritualist vibrations as wave-interference patterns, and the different levels of vibration as the different layers of superimposed holographic records.
One weakness of the holographic analogy is that a hologram typically begins with a physical object, which is translated into a series of wave-interference patterns by two intersecting beams of coherent light. If the universe is holographic, we naturally face the question of how the holographic wave-interference patterns originated without any physical model to serve as a template. This is where computer-generated holography becomes relevant. In this type of holography, there is no physical object. The holographic plate is created by a computer program, and the resulting image is not a reconstruction of an existing physical object but a construction of an imaginary "object" that exists only in the computer's memory. In this case, the holographic universe reduces to a computer program – data manipulated by an information-processing system.
I'm sure there are other ways of interpreting the idea of vibration in Spiritualist writings. The interpretation I've sketched in here is not, of course, a testable scientific theory, but only metaphysical speculation based on analogy and metaphor. It is unlikely to be completely true, but possibly it contains an element of truth, or at least offers a new way of looking at the subject.
This has been a rambling post, and I don't know how to tie it all together. Perhaps it simply shows that when this universe-as-information idea gets hold of you, it can change the way you look at a lot of things – even a 1938 book about Jesus by a Church of England vicar with an interest in Spiritualism.