Blog powered by Typepad

« | Main | Deeper than science »


Excellent! You have pretty much summed-up all Skeptics (with a capital ‘S’). Much of what you pointed out about Randi’s debunking skills, or lack of, could be said about Joe Nickell, whom CSICOP/CSI seems to rely on for some of their commentaries. Both of them always seem to pick the ‘low hanging fruit’ which few if any real skeptics or non-skeptics take seriously. I have always thought that reading articles from the likes of Randi and Nickell was a waste of my time as they rarely if ever provide any information worthy of scientific consideration. - AOD

Those old threads are well-worth reading. I had a good old chuckle.

Great critique. What's with owl feather eye-browed, face of Randi, appearing as if in homage to the All Seeing Eye on the cover?

Is it supposed to confer a sense of penetrating knowledge? I call a fail. It impresses me as somehow rather authoritarian as opposed to authoritative - as well as vaguely demented, grumpy and a sad attempt at being at least a little bit scary in a comic book kind of way.

Good point, AOD. Incidentally, Randi's Encyclopedia doesn’t mention Patience Worth (Pearl Curran) either.

Nor does it include near-death experiences, Ian Stevenson (or any past-life memories of children), or deathbed visions.

The entry on "UFO" is only one page long and includes no details whatsoever. No specific cases are cited, and Randi lazily ascribes most UFO sightings to "weather balloons, science projects, meteors, regular airline flights, and other relatively mundane events." (He forgot swamp gas and the planet Venus.) He spends the remainder of the short entry telling how the "Ig Nobel Prize," a satirical award offered by Skeptics, was given to John Mack and David Jacobs for their study of so-called alien abductions.

Though I’m not well versed in UFO phenomena, even I know that the entire subject, whatever the truth of it, cannot be dismissed so breezily. I guess this is more of that "microscopic detail" the promotional blurb promises.

It seems to me Randi simply wrote a book aimed at those who were already skeptical. That would explain the slap dash nature of it. It certainly could not have been considered a serious work as serious works explain proponents view points then refute them. This book clearly never did that.

\\"Nor does it include near-death experiences, Ian Stevenson (or any past-life memories of children), or deathbed visions." - Michael Prescott//

Thanks for the inclusion of deathbed visions in your list. Art loves him some deathbed vision stories. There is just something about them that rings true to me. I find them endlessly uplifting and comforting. I think I've read maybe 6 or 7 deathbed vision books in the last 19 years? They sound like something that a "God of Love" would allow or do? It's such a kind thing. And how comforting would it be if you knew you were fixing to die if someone you love was there to sort of hold your hand and be your guide on the journey to the next life?

And about that people who have NDEs aren't really dead thing... I also find it comforting that our soul is allowed or able to exit the body before we are good and dead, or really dead. How horrifying would it be if we had to stay in the body till it was very very dead? Like in the grave rotting dead? Or in the morgue with a toe tag stored in a sliding drawer in a cooler?

Isn't it a kindness that at the slightest hint of death that the soul seems to be able to jump out of the body and view the whole thing from above, more like a spectator, and then only later after it's over, if the body is repairable, is either forced or encouraged or allowed to take up residence again in the body?

There is a method to this God's madness. And perhaps everything happens for a reason? Even the really bad stuff? Maybe we are learning something here that couldn't be learned in our forever home? And after we get to this eternal home we are loved so much and hugged and held and comforted so thoroughly that we are healed by just being in the presence of this Light that also seems to be a person and a God and Love all at the same time?

My parents were organizers of an informal parapsychology research group in the1960s. Sort of like a meet up group, except that there were no consumer-level computers in those days.

At one point they hosted a talk by Uri Geller, and had a chance to hang out with him a little bit. Dad told me not long afterwards that he and several of the other people in the group (all family friends) personally blindfolded Mr. Geller, satisfying themselves that there was no way he could see out. Uri then got behind the wheel of one of their cars, and drove them around town. If you knew my father, you'd know he would never make something like that up.

Years later, as I was getting a BA degree in Interdisciplinary Social Science, I had a professor who kept saying this and that thing had been debunked. I knew better, but still, his pronouncements were beginning to mess with my head, reminding me of the title of an old comedy album by Firesign Theatre, "Everything you know is wrong..." When he got around to proclaiming that Uri Geller had been debunked, that's when I decided that the professor really didn't know what he was talking about.

Full disclosure of the trivial kind: I think the story I posted above actually happened in the 1970s. My parent's parapsychology group started in the mid '60s, but lasted through the beginning of the 80s.

After looking up his biography on the Psi-Encyclopedia, I now know that Uri Geller didn't hit the world stage until the beginning of the '70s.

So, I guess everything I know is wrong, after all... :-)

Art, you might be interested to learn that I recently learned that a relative of mine before he passed said "I see my father."

As for the soul quickly leaving the body, when I had what I believe was an NDE, I'm still to this day am amazed at how quick and painless the "process" was. One minute I'm fine, and the next I slip, fall, and slam my head on the hood of a car, knocking myself out. I know I hit that car with tremendous force as my poor face was bruised for about a month and I had that weird humming feeling that people get from concussions for a long time. But there was only like a tenth of a second, if at all, of actual pain, and then I seemed to instantly be somewhere else. Strange.

"Art, you might be interested to learn that I recently learned that a relative of mine before he passed said "I see my father." - Kathleen

Kathleen I LOVE your post. It made me smile. Literally. Thank you so much for sharing. I have read so many NDEs where they say things like "it was as easy as walking through a door" and "it felt so good not to hurt anymore". We leave our body behind with all it's limitations.

And God is good for not forcing us to stay in our bodies till it is rotting or in the grave! What a kindness! At the first hint that we might be dead the soul leaves the body. People get in wrecks and find themselves floating up above the car, even sometimes way up in the air where they can survey the whole wreck scene. My wife's Uncle died after hitting black ice. He flew into an oak tree in his Jeep Cherokee. I wonder what he saw and did he find himself just floating looking down while trying to figure out what just happened?

My wife's sister had a dream about their father a couple of days after he died. In her dream she was in his hospital room and she looked down and said to him "Daddy you're still alive! We need to call the nurse and tell her you're alive." At that moment she looked towards the door and saw her father and another person walking through the doorway into the brightly lit hallway.

I wonder who the other person with her father was? I'm thinking his father since he was very fond of his father? Our preacher thinks it was Jesus. Anyway my wife's sister is very religious and normally wouldn't be into dreams and visions and stuff as that. A lot of fundamental Christians are suspicious of such things as NDEs and deathbed visions and dreams. But for some reason my wife's sister was the one that had that dream and told us about it.

Art,and what about people on their death beds stating that they need "to pack" or that they're going on a trip? There seem to be many anecdotes about that.

From my own experience and what others have said, I suspect that passing over is swift and easy. It's the lead up to it that's not - the cancer, the heart disease, etc. Jane Roberts' Seth also stated that the spirit/soul leaves the body almost immediately.

When I first started engaging with Skeptics online in the early 2000s, I at least expected a sort of adherence to rules of sort: consistency, single standards (as opposed to double), a willingness to see the other person's points and respond directly to them... etc. After all, these were the self-styled rational ones. Yet the truth, as you point out, is that they tend to be incredibly sloppy and unaware that they are likely to look pretty bad to anyone not already drinking their Kool-Aid. Michael, you have provided another fine example of the phenomenon. Sloppy stuff!

"Art,and what about people on their death beds stating that they need "to pack" or that they're going on a trip? There seem to be many anecdotes about that." - Kathleen

The title to David Kessler's book is "Visions, Trips, and Crowded Rooms." One of my favorite books... if not my most favorite book! I've read it through twice, maybe I should read it again.

I like Colm Keane's book, "Going Home, Irish deathbed vision stories." And of course "Final Gifts" by Maggie Callanan and Patricia Kelly, The Art of Dying by Peter Fenwick, At the Hour of Death by Karl Osis and Erlendur Haraldsson, One Last Hug Before I God by Carla Wills-Brandon, etc. etc. etc. I've probably read and got a few more death bed vision books in my little "life after death" library but I can't remember them right off the top of my head. Good stuff!

Good stuff here Prescott! James Randi deserves all the pushback he receives! Well done. And I did see a mention of Susan Blackmore and of course Randi would refer to her to marshal his opinions. Her skeptical objections to NDE's have never stood up to scrutiny. The irony is that Blackmore still believes in her "Tremes – the third replicator" woo stuff! I know that is another subject and I've drifted here, but Randi and Blackmore brought back some memories for me regarding consciousness and guerrilla skepticism.

Tony D

The reason the Great Randi misses out Eileen Garrett and the Captain Hinchcliffe and R101 episode is because its not so easy to blow it away after this involved people from the Air ministry at the time of the disaster and the sittings brought highly technical jargon through the Medium which people from the services could understand but not the medium , so sceptic's leave this one alone.

“I at least expected a sort of adherence to rules of sort: consistency, single standards (as opposed to double), a willingness to see the other person's points and respond directly to them... etc. After all, these were the self-styled rational ones. Yet the truth, as you point out, is that they tend to be incredibly sloppy and unaware that they are likely to look pretty bad to anyone not already drinking their Kool-Aid.”

I stopped wasting my time visiting and commenting on skeptic bloggers a while ago.
In 2014 (where did the time go? ), I’ve visited quite a few bloggers, like PZ Myers, freethoughts, Jerry Coyne, Brian Hines, ect, expecting open mindedness, but they seem to dismiss as ‘metaphysical woo peddling’ the second you support paranormal, or question materialism and humanism.
Especially sites like Web results[ weird things ] | science, tech, and other ...

I think I’ve commented on a site similar to Worldofweirdthings.
And the response I’ve received, when I’ve so much as mentioned the possibility of consciousness not depending on the brain, was that I was just a naive, uneducated believer clinging to superstition, fantasy, pseudoscience, and New Age mystic woo, not “hard and real science”.
I don’t call that open mindedness.

Yes, I’m aware that nobody is immune to attacking things that go against their beliefs. We all do it from time to time.
But so-called “skeptics” act like they are immune to it all, and only mind beyond brain proponents behave that way.

“And about that people who have NDEs aren't really dead thing... I also find it comforting that our soul is allowed or able to exit the body before we are good and dead, or really dead. How horrifying would it be if we had to stay in the body till it was very very dead? Like in the grave rotting dead? Or in the morgue with a toe tag stored in a sliding drawer in a cooler?”

I too find it comforting, Art.
Besides, I would want my death to be quick. I am terrified of suffering a long, painful, agonizing, and drawn out death.

Kamo, my fundamentalist sister in law (SIL) had a dream two days after her father died. In her dream she was in her father's hospital room. She looked at her father and said "Daddy you're not dead? We need to call the nurse and tell her that you're alive." At that moment she turned towards the door and saw her father and another man walking through the doorway into the brightly lit hallway.

I found it interesting that she was the one that had the dream because normally fundamentalist Christians aren't too big on this sort of thing. She is a very nice person but she isn't really all that interested when I start talking about NDEs or deathbed visions. I wonder if perhaps her father was letting her know that he was still alive and okay? In life her father was a Church of Christ preacher for about 50 years.

I don't know how many times I've read in NDE descriptions where they say "It's as easy as walking through a doorway." I found it interesting that in SIL's dream that is exactly what she saw. I know she didn't know about that metaphor beforehand. I'd also like to know who the other man was?

Thanks for the reading recommendations Art.

\\"Thanks for the reading recommendations Art." - Paul//

You're welcome! Art loves him some deathbed vision stories! I find them endlessly comforting and uplifting. Something about them just strikes me as "true". Like it's something that a God who loves us would do (or allow?). They don't break the rules (like giving us too much information) but they do allow us to catch a glimpse of the other side.

I have said that if we knew absolutely 100% for certain that there was life after death - the death of someone we love would lose a lot of its sting. There is a connection between emotion and memory and the more emotional the experience the more powerful and long lasting the memory it creates. Losing someone we love is the ultimate lesson in separation. If this Earth life is a school and we simply learn here the things that can't be learned in heaven then experiencing death would be something that simply does not exist in heaven. How could someone learn what it means or how it feels to be separate in heaven if the feelings of oneness and connectedness were so powerful and overwhelming that one literally felt like you were the Universe? You and the Universe were "one", as many near death experiences I've read describe in their NDE descriptions.

The only way to learn what it means or how it feels to be a separate unique individual is by experiencing lots and lots of separation - but heaven is the place of oneness and connectedness - so we have to live someplace else for a while to learn what separation is and to become separate unique individuals. Enough so that after we transtion to heaven we don't lose our sense of self (or else what would be the purpose of coming here in the first place?) and so that we can remember for eternity what it feels like to be a separate unique individual.

If we forget who we were then that would be sort of like a second death? That wouldn't really be life after death would it?

Michael, here’s a question for you. The NYT has an article today on a campaign to expose celebrity psychics.

While I haven’t read much of it, this caught my eye:

“The poet Robert Browning once exposed the mid-19th century Scottish psychic, Daniel Home, who claimed to conjure the spirit of Browning’s infant son, who died young. Except Browning hadn’t lost a son. Worse, the poet lunged at the apparition to unmask it and found himself clutching Home’s bare foot.”

Now that surprised me. So I checked out what Deborah Blum has to say on the matter in Ghost Hunters, and found this:

“Even Robert Browning, who had so deftly skewered Home as “Mr. Sludge,” confessed to Myers and Podmore that he had never been able to catch Home in fraud. Browning only wished, as so many other critics had done, that he had been so lucky.”

So who’s telling the truth here? My guess is it’s Blum. And that’s partly because the author of the Times article seems to consider James Randi a heroic figure, making him biased—or at least gullible—in my eyes.

Browning resented Home because his wife, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, was much taken with the medium. He penned his poem "Mr. Sludge" as a fantasy exposé. In reality Home was never caught cheating by anyone.

Finding this a few weeks late.

I had this Randi book in my teens and initially loved it, as it was like being in on the magician's secrets and i could - taking his word for everything - breezily explain how all these things were nonsense when they cropped up on tV. But even then there was something that bugged me, and began my evolution into someone who is sceptical of sceptics. It was pretty much as you describe..those entries where he was merely sarcastic without giving me the rational explanation i longed to be in on. The one that stuck in my mind was the largely forgotten phenomenon reported when a scientist attached a polygraph to plant life and found it was reacting to danger, including his mere intention to harm it. I've no idea of the truth or validity of that, but Randi merely sneered and told me no reason why it was false.

@ Art - I knew my mother's death was imminent (enough to alert my siblings to come to the house, despite no medical person declaring her to be dying of anything) when on that morning the care workers who tended her in bed asked me who Gerry was. Apparently my mum had just clearly told them (despite having lost the ability to speak meaningful words for at least several months) "I've just been down the road with Gerry. It was lovely".

Gerry was my late father.

It was knowing about death bed visions (and terminal lucidity) that lead me to send out a text to my siblings. She passed away later that day with her family around her.

\\"It was knowing about death bed visions (and terminal lucidity) that lead me to send out a text to my siblings. She passed away later that day with her family around her." - Lawrence//

Nice story. Thank you for sharing. I'm hoping my mom is there to greet me when it comes my turn to cross over to the other side. I haven't seen her in half a century. I was 15 years old when she died of stomach cancer. She sent all of us out of the house and then died while we were gone.

I have Robert Todd Carroll's Skeptic's Dictionary and it's not nearly as bad as Randi's book.

Great stuff, Michael! Art, "Visions, Trips, and Crowded Rooms" sounds very intriguing. I think I'm gonna check it out. The subject of NDE's has always been a gray area for me. I'm both incredibly interested because it's the type of thing that does offer a sense of comfort but my own skeptical nature tends to get in the way too. Definitely want to look more into it though.

"In reality Home was never caught cheating by anyone"

This is not entirely true, as Gordon Stein says:

"While the statement that Home was never caught in fraud has been made many times, it simply is not true... It is simply that Home was never publicly exposed in fraud. Privately, he was caught in fraud several times. In addition, there are natural explanations both possible and likely for each of his phenomena."

The observed incidents of fraud include:

*Delia Logan
*Frederick Merrifield
*General Felury
*Also see statements by Count Petrovsky Petrovo-Solovo
*Hiram Powers

The above are not mentioned by Home defenders. Stephen E. Braude for example covers none of them on the PSI encyclopedia for Home.

Paranormal believers say Wikipedia is biased but this is because it contains skeptical references that refute their beliefs. There are a wealth of sources on the Wikipedia article that debunk Home.

Great post, Michael!

You, pretty much, cover most of my own thoughts about this book after I made the mistake of purchasing it upon its initial publication – so I won’t bore you by repeating those, in full, here. However, buying Randi’s masterpiece of misdirection (the ‘Truth and the Lies’, indeed) played a part in triggering what still stands as, maybe, the most bizarre incident yet in my career of looking into matters psi.

First a bit of background…

In the mid-1990’s I embarked on a private study of militant Skepticism, that I thought might turn into a book, at some point. I’d become fascinated by the movement after seeing people like Randi, Kurtz, Dawkins et al. appearing on TV and angrily denouncing the ‘paranormal’ and, although I had some sympathy with their arguments, I found it rather unsettling that they usually appeared to be only telling part of the story. And they were often factually inaccurate to a degree that implied that they didn’t know what the hell they were talking about; or they were leaving out, deliberately, facts that weakened their arguments – especially in relation to serious psi research. I think the final straw was seeing Dawkins giving the BBC Richard Dimbleby Lecture in 1996. I was also aware that the movement had been accused by psi-sympathetic researchers, and some claimants, of not playing on a level playing field and using dirty tactics, in what seemed to be little more than a propaganda assault on the media outlets on both sides of the Atlantic. At this point, though, I expected to find that most of these complaints were probably unfounded – just a result of sour grapes on the part of people whose claims probably deserved debunking.

Anyway, I told Guy Lyon Playfair of my plans in the SPR library one afternoon, and within a couple of days he had put me in touch with a whole load of people involved with the psi debate and Skepticism (including Marcell Truzzi) who seemed eager to help. Truzzi, in particular, was great, and I kept up a correspondence with him until his death a few years later.

I started by exploring the Skeptic literature. This involved trawling through practically every issue of ‘The Skeptical Inquirer’ up to that point, and lots of the books by well-known Skeptics. However, I was truly dismayed at the poor quality of much of the material, and wanted to see the best that Skepticism had to offer. It was at this point that I bought Randi’s book and spent an afternoon boggling at the inaccuracies and sometimes awful grammar. Surely, I thought, this is a joke? Someone, it may have been Guy, recommended that I get hold of ‘A Skeptic’s Handbook of Parapsychology’ and suggested that I contact a book seller in Oxford who would probably have it. They didn’t, but recommended a chap in London who acted as a distributor for Prometheus – the publishing wing of CSICOP – in the UK.

The phone conversation that ensued went something like this (note: what follows may read like a Monty Python script – but I’m not exaggerating).

Me: “Hello, I was hoping you could help me get hold of ‘A Skeptic’s Handbook of Parapsychology’”.

Initially polite Skeptic man: “Why do you want that? Why don’t you try James Randi’s latest book?”

Me: "I already have it, and I’m not very impressed. ‘A Skeptic’s Handbook’, I’m told, is much better?"

Shortly to become very angry Skeptic man: “What’s wrong with Randi’s book? It’s excellent!”

Me: “I beg to differ, it’s full of inaccuracies, I really can’t take it seriously. I’m told that the ‘Handbook’ represents the best arguments against the paranormal that Skepticism has to offer”.

Suddenly quite tetchy sounding Skeptic man: “There aren’t any inaccuracies in Randi’s book”.

Me (trying desperately to stay polite): “Look, I want ‘A Skeptic’s Handbook’ can you get it for me or not?”

Skeptic man (now starting to sound quite aggressive): “Name one of these inaccuracies”.

Me (finally losing my patience): “Look mate, Randi’s book is probably the biggest pile of shite that I’ve ever read in my life, on any subject, I’d probably get more sense out of ‘Viz Comic’, can you get me the other book?”

Skeptic man now shouting very loudly, indeed: “I CHALLENGE YOU TO NAME ONE OF THESE INACCURACIES!!!!”

Luckily the book was within reach, so I opened it at random to be faced with the section on French psychical research pioneer, author, educationalist and Spiritist codifier, ‘Alan Kardec’ (Hippolyte Léon Denizard Rivail).

Me: "OK – I have the book here, it says that Alan Kardec was a medium and that his followers in Brazil worship in temples. None of that is true."

And, after another random flick…

"It says here that Charles Richet believed in spirits – he didn’t, he rejected the spirit hypothesis."

By now, sneering, and slightly apoplectic Skeptic man: “So, who is this Alan Kardec?”

To cut a long story short, I told him (and a fair bit else, besides), despite many sneering and shouty interruptions. After about thirty minutes of attempting to educate this loony, I finally managed to get him to admit that he didn’t have a copy of 'A Skeptic’s Handbook'. But he told me, rather petulantly, that I could get it from the Rationalist Press Association at Conway Hall in London.

SO – after a cup of tea and a ciggy, to gather my thoughts, I reached for the phone again to call the RPA. But I decided that if they didn’t have the book, I’d just have to borrow the SPR Library copy long term, and have done with it. When the phone was answered, the bizarreness continued…

Me: “Hello, I’m told that you can sell me a copy of ‘A Skeptic’s Handbook of Parapsychology’?"

Rather bored sounding RPA bloke: “Who told you that?”

Me: “The guy at the UK Prometheus distributer, who I just spoke to”

Now rather suspicious sounding RPA bloke: “Why do you want it?”

Me (supressing irritation): “I want to read it”

RPA bloke: “Why?”

Me: “What’s that got to do with you? Do you have it, or not?”

RPA bloke: “I’ll have to check, can you call back later?”

Upon calling back the next day, I was told that they did have it, but I’d have to go and collect it in person. So, I jumped on the tube and headed into the West End.

Upon arriving at the spiritual home of UK Secular Humanism, I was told by Reception to wait, someone from the office was coming down. After a while, a tallish, thick-set and grey-haired posh guy in a yellow shirt and faded jeans turned up, muttered a few words and walked off. I assumed I had to follow. Without saying a word to me, he took me down what seemed like a labyrinth of short corridors, up and down stairs and through the sort of security air-lock that you usually see in large data centres, before finally reaching a sizable office with about six or seven desks, each with a CRT computer monitor and a keyboard. There were two young guys seated at two of the desks who were gazing rather earnestly at their monitors until I entered the room, whereupon they glanced up and stared at me. Feeling distinctly uneasy, I realised that yellow shirt man was now standing by what appeared to be his desk, and was silently looking me up and down.

“Do you have the book for me?” said I.

Without saying anything, he turned to a bookshelf behind him and seemed to make an unnecessary show of scanning along it. Then, pulling out a weighty looking tome, he stared at me for a couple of seconds before theatrically thrusting it at me with a look of utter contempt on his face. Incredibly, he then just stood there staring. By now, I was getting genuinely angry – who on Earth did these creeps think they were? I managed to retain enough composure to say ‘how much do I owe you?’, and after a couple of more seconds of dumb insolence he muttered the price. “Cash or check?” I asked. Then, after not receiving an immediate reply “do you want cash or a sodding check? or what?” After telling me a cheque would do, I then had to endure another unnecessary silence after asking him who to make it payable to. It was like pulling teeth. And I left feeling slightly ashamed that I was wishing I’d just stuck the book up his backside.

Was it worth the hassle? The ‘Handbook’ is certainly better than Randi’s book, though that’s not saying much. It contains essays from leading Skeptics and researchers alike, which range from the sublime (contributions from the likes of Truzzi and D Scott Rogo) to the ridiculous (a rambling piece by Dingwall, and a few thousand words of the usual self-aggrandisement from the ‘Merely Amusing Randi’ himself). The rest is somewhere in between. But it hardly amounts to the last word on anything.

Seriously, though, Randi’s book reminded me of earlier books by conjurer Skeptics such as ‘Sixty Years of Psychical Research’ by Joseph Rinn, or Houdini’s ‘A Magician Amongst the Spirits’ i.e. bluster, interspersed with badly researched ‘facts’, replete with misspellings and, especially in the case of the former, a fair bit of pure fantasy. With Rinn, like you said about Randi, many of the subjects he addresses were of no interest at all to the serious psychical researchers of the early Twentieth Century.

When I told Guy Playfair about the hoops that I’d had to jump through to get hold of the book, he was highly amused. He pointed out to me that the guy that had gone nuts at me over the phone was a close associate of Randi’s and ‘ a bit of a nutter’. I realised later that Randi had actually given this chap a credit in the book. I read, a few years later, in Jonathan Margolis’ ‘Uri Geller Magician or Mystic?’ that Randi carries out little research of his own for his books, relying instead on associates, such as his coterie of young camp followers. I also saw online somewhere recently that Randi tried, rather late in the day, to pass this particular book off as humour. C'est la vie!

\\"The subject of NDE's has always been a gray area for me." - Renee//

NDEs make more sense and are more understandable if one first reads Michael Talbot's book The Holographic Universe and also the online essay "The Universe as a Hologram." People who have NDEs oftentimes describe the place they went to in a language that sounds very "holographic" and there are several authors like Dr. Ken Ring in his book "Life At Death" that have chapters that discuss these parallels and corroboration between NDEs and the holographic universe theory. Dr. Ken Ring also taught a course on NDEs at the University of Connecticut and Talbot's book The Holographic Universe was required reading for that course. Dr. Melvin Morse also discusses this connection in his book "Where God Lives."

The Universe as a Hologram (sort of like the Cliff Notes for Talbot's book):

The saddest words ever penned by men, are these: the words, "It couldashouldawouldamighta been."

Steve, I think you have met the Wikipedia Guerrillas. - AOD

Lol, Amos. Maybe a bit early for that, but I know what you mean. The tone of the situation that I blundered into, I belive, developed quite naturally into the Wiki-fiddling situation of recent years. But it did seem quite obvious to me, at the time, that the Internet would be exploited by Skeptics to great effect. The movement had already proved itself to be incredibly media savvy, by that point.

Steve Hume on Amazon there is a review of Peter Lamont's book "The First Psychic" by Doug Harlow that says:

"Hiram Powers did claim during this time to have caught Home cheating but his "evidence" consists of nothing more specific than anything else that has been chronicled and in later years he seems to have retracted much of it anyway, affirming his belief that Home's phenomena was genuine (although he continued to have a personal dislike for the medium)."

The accusation of fraud from Hiram Powers is from a letter he wrote to Elizabeth Browning about how he faked the table rappings. I think this accusation carries weight because Powers was a card-carrying spiritualist, not a skeptic but it is very hard to find information about it. Search on Google books for Hiram Powers and Home and there is only one book that mentions the letter in a footnote.

Doug Harlow says that Powers retracted his claim but I can find no evidence for this. Can you help with this? Allegations of fraud should not be ignored. Proponents do themselves no favors by ignoring them.

I haven’t found anything more about the Hiram Powers episode than you already reported. It doesn’t sound to me as if Powers actually caught Home cheating. Rather, he apparently had a theory of how Home could have faked table raps and movements. As best I can tell from the very limited information available, this was only speculation on his part.

The most convincing account of Home's abilities comes from William Crookes, who tested him in a series of pretty ingenious experiments. Though Crookes has come under (deserved) criticism for his careless handling of the Florence Cook experiments, his approach to Home was considerably more professional.


The Doug Harlow in question may be a social media acquaintance of mine. So I've messaged him. Watch this space. I have Lamont's excellent book, by the way, and I'd agree with most of Doug's review.

As Michael has implied, however, a vague theory of how an effect might have been produced (especially at this distance in time) doesn't exactly count for much. I've attended hundreds of séances over the years, and if I had a quid for every half-baked theory re how certain 'strong' effects 'might' have been produced, then I would have made quite a tidy sum by now. Of course, though, some fraud theories are more plausible than others, and there are tons of those pertinent to the production of 'raps'.

I too would be interested to hear more of Powers' alleged accusation of alleged fraud by Home. Lamont only mentions Powers twice, in passing, as being present at a seance at the Trollopes' in 1855. He doesn't mention any fraud accusation, or theory. I'd be surprised if Lamont didn't know about it, however. I can only assume, for now, that the accusation, whatever it amounted to, didn't warrant inclusion. Lamont, a Skeptic, after all, does devote much space to exposing the weakness of most of the accusations against Home.

Steve - as ever, brilliant balanced and well-informed. Thank you. The subject is wide and complex. To get at the answers one has to be prepared to do what you do and not simply sit in an armchair and regurgitate the opinions of others. It requires effort and commitment.

I can sympathise with you as, although I have nowhere near the knowledge and experience that you do, I do have an inkling at least of how much work is necessary to arrive at realistic view of the evidence. It is all too easy to make rash judgements based on incomplete information or mislead people by presenting biased views and ignoring the (very much) bigger picture in order to sell a book or two, please a crowd or reinforce one’s own preconceptions.

I’d say it applies to both sides of the debate - from the dishonesty of some of the leading so-called ‘sceptics’, to those who set aside common sense and sometimes their own integrity when reading about, observing or presenting purportedly psychic or paranormal events.

Dogmatism is ugly any in any form.

Lol. Looks like I was thinking of the wrong Doug! Oh well. This could take a while.

Michael where do you stand on the fire test of Home?

Apparently he could touch extremely hot coals, the skeptics say this was a sleight of hand trick and he merely substituted the coals for something else but there are seance reports that say he gave this power to his seance sitters.

The skeptics say this was just suggestion and making people believe what they wanted to believe but how did he touch the coals and then his seance sitters could as well? I see on Wikipedia it suggests substitution.

The source given on Wikipedia is Henry Evans. (1897). Hours With the Ghosts Or Nineteenth Century Witchcraft. Laird & Lee, Publishers. pp. 106-107. "The "coal" is a piece of spongy platinum which bears a close resemblance to a lump of half burnt coal, and is palmed in the hand, as a prestidigitateur conceals a coin, a pack of cards, an egg, or a small lemon. The medium or magician advances to the grate and pretends to take a genuine lump of coal from the fire but brings up instead at the tops of his fingers, the piece of platinum."

I have not read the seance reports but does a piece of platinum sound reasonable?

Wikipedia seems to cite any hypothesis of fraud no matter how far-fetched as long as it is a naturalistic suggestion. Obviously a lot of these mediums were caught in fraud, but sometimes the allegations of fraud are a bit far-fetched. Didn't someone once suggest Home was using a pet monkey?

Interesting comments, Tom. Not being a magician, I can’t say how credible the prestidigitation theory is in this case. What I would point out, though, is that Home often gave impromptu seances at other people’s houses, so he would have been limited in the props he could carry or the preparations he could make.

I seem to recall reading that Home would thrust his hands into the coals in the hearth and then let the hot coals run through his fingers. I may be mistaken, or the claims may have been embellished, but if this is true, it would raise additional questions. Some people say Home could have coated his hands with a protective substance before handling the coals. Again, though, many of these performances were held on the spur of the moment. His pockets must have been awfully crowded with fake coals, hand lotion, stuffed gloves (for spirit hands), and other paraphernalia. And there’s still the question of his levitations, allegedly witnessed in good light by large crowds.

Steve Hume mentions the book by Joseph Rinn.

In Rinn's book he says that the materialization medium Franek Kluski confessed to fraud. Melvin Harris repeats this claim. But where is the confession? It is not in any primary literature.

I have been unable to verify this. Do anyone have access to any Polish literature of the time that may document this confession? I guess around 1930-1940? Or is it made up by Rinn?


I remember Rinn's claim about Kluski.

Consider the following: Rinn also claimed to have been a long standing and respected member of the SPR. He was never a member at all. He also claimed to have had various encounters with certain prominent early members of the British and American SPRs, about which reviewers of his book in the Journals of both Societies expressed extreme skepticism. There are other sundry tall stories throughout the book, although there are some which can be corroborated, sort of.

Therefore, if you can't find any evidence for Kluski having admitted to fraud, then it's likely that's for the same reason that the British SPR reviewer (a former SPR Secretary) couldn't find any evidence of Rinn ever having been a member i.e. it never happened.

Zofia Weaver, had access to Polish sources for her book on Kluski, 'Other Realities', and I don't remember her mentioning it. I have Harris' book too (God help me), so I'll look into it a bit further, when I get a minute or two.

Harris,by the way, also claimed that Archie Jarman's report into Eileen Garrett and the R101 case concluded that there was nothing paranormal about it, while the exact opposite is the case. So I wouldn't hold my breath, if I were you. Many of these authors are cut from the same cloth.


I've just taken a look at both Rinn's and Harris' statements in relation to Kluski. Rinn repeats it twice, but provides no corroboration, at all. Harris, in his book 'Strange to Relate' seems to be using Rinn as his source (although he provides no reference) so, naturally, he provides no corroboration, either.

Given what I've said already about Rinn's book, I'll leave you with the appraisal provided by Hovelmann, Truzzi and Hein Hoebens in “A Skeptic’s Handbook of Parapsychology” (pp.479-480): -

"It is a book full of opinions, gossip, and anecdotes, and it needs to be treated that way – not as a work of objective scholarship."


"Readers should also consult the highly critical reviews that call attention to many of the factual inaccuracies in Rinn’s book…"

Good luck if you decide to try and track down Rinn's source. But I suspect that was actually his own brain.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)