Spiritual Not Religious
The Windbridge Research on Mediums

Michael Tymn on Leonora Piper

I've been working on an e-book transcript of Leonora Piper sittings, with a view to making this material more accessible (although it's probably still a few months away). It's been on my mind, as a large body of credible research that tends to make sceptic views of mediumship untenable.

So I was delighted to see Michael Tymn's new book Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife. In principle I'd recommend to open-minded people - those who really do want answers - that they check out the Piper material, but if I haven't often done so, that's because there's no obvious source for them to go to. Thanks to Tymn that's no longer the case.

I'm also gratified by what a good job he's done. In other hands the story might well have been told as a conventional biography, covering the whole of psychic research in the context of the thought of the day. In other words, it would have been diluted and hedged about with the sorts of qualifications that tend to make this sort of thing invisible. Tymn's achievement has been to hammer home a shocking and still largely unknown fact: a human being has lived who was repeatedly observed by scientific investigators to possess supernormal knowledge - and far beyond the ability of pseudo-explanations such as cold reading to account for.

To do this, Tymn has compressed a 25-year programme into 200 pages, focusing closely on the research and its implications. He tells the story chronologically, from Piper's 'discovery' (it seems a maid employed by her husband's family mentioned her doings to a maid employed by William James's in-laws); the three main 'control' phases: Phinuit, George Pelham and Imperator/Rector; the conversion of SPR investigator Richard Hodgson (who had begun with the expectation of exposing her tricks); the trip to England to hold sittings with Frederic Myers and Oliver Lodge; the later involvement of James Hyslop; and so on.

Some of the most interesting chapters are around particular episodes, for instance a series of conversations between a 17-year old boy who died in a boating accident in 1898 and his parents; a Boston public figure describing his new environment; Hodgson himself, following his death at age 50, communicating with James and Hyslop; and finally the deceased James himself communicating. The book deftly works in summaries of key passages with enough verbatim speech to give a good sense of the interactions. Wherever possible it highlights evidential exchanges, for instance those that show knowledge of little things known only to the communicator and the sitter, and again which could not remotely be explained in terms of fraud.

The impression left on my mind - as someone who knows a bit about mediumship, and Piper in particular - is amazement at just how easy, fluent and detailed this two-way communication can be, and also how much highly veridical material the investigations produced. There's a powerful sense that people who once lived are excited to find they can, after all, communicate with loved ones left behind, and reassure them of their continued existence, which they do with varying levels of skill - just as we would expect.

Sceptics will dismiss the book as a partisan account by a writer who accepts the reality of spirit survival. Some might argue that the material has been cleaned up, removing the errors and distortions that give a quite different impression, for instance showing the medium groping for information. It's impossible of course to counter these objections completely, although it might help if some sitting transcripts were given as appendices, so that readers can make an independent judgement. The economics clearly don't permit this in a printed book, but it might be possible in a future Kindle edition? Failing this, the transcripts can be made freely available on Kindle and elsewhere- as I am hoping to arrange.

Since I largely share Tymn's conviction about the reality of spirit communication, his presentation seems to me to be true to the material, and his conclusion entirely reasonable. There's no intelligent way that the supernormality of the Piper material can be denied (there are of course many unintelligent ones - like Martin Gardner's transparently false claim that the investigators were ignorant of fakers' methods - but Tymn rightly wastes no time on them). However it is also true that some investigators preferred to view the communicators - particularly the 'controls' like Phinuit and George Pellew who acted as go-betweens - as secondary personalities, or what they called 'dream creations' of the medium's unconscious mind.

A prime mover in this was William James himself, as Tymn records - in a recent post he laments James's fence-sitting as showing mere lack of courage. But James was not alone: the SPR's Eleanor Sidgwick also argued at length that the whole thing was largely a phantasmagoria in Piper's brain - a view that coloured much SPR thinking in the twentieth century and has informed subsequent debate. In Mediumship and Survival, Alan Gauld states that he does not see 'how it is possible to dissent from Mrs Sidgwick's conclusion that the Piper controls were one and all aspects of Mrs Piper's own personality'. Phinuit, he states firmly, was 'quite certainly fictitious'.

The 'Imperator' band of controls were never able to establish their identity, but hazarded all kinds of incorrect and contradictory guesses as their own 'real' names. Even the most life-like and realistic controls, such as GP, show signs of being impersonations . . . they break down at just the point where Mrs Piper's own stock of knowledge runs out. Viz. when they are required to talk coherently of science, philosophy and literature (which the living GP could readily have done).

In view of the quantity and quality of veridical statements Sidgwick couldn't reject the idea of spirit communication completely. So she talked instead of a sort of spurious drama being enacted by secondary personalities, that in some sense might sometimes be directed or 'overshadowed' by genuine spirits at a distance. Gauld's subsequent elaboration of this idea influenced my own thinking for a long time, even while I struggled to make sense of it.

I wonder now whether the idea of 'overshadowing' was ever coherent. It certainly never caught on. My impression now - from having recently read transcripts of hundreds of sittings, and reinforced by Tymn's book - is very much to the contrary. The sense is overwhelmingly of a channel of communication having opened up, and being taken full advantage of by real people, despite its imperfections. Yes there is some dud stuff - names given that were wrong; facts alluded to that didn't check out; and so on. Some sittings were a complete write-off. But much of this, as Tymn stresses, is accounted for by the very real difficulties involved, and which some of the communicators - particularly the deceased Hodgson and James - talk about at length.

I've come to I believe that fence-sitting by commentators like Sidgwick, James and Gauld should be seen less as an effect of ambiguities in the material than of the huge difficulty experienced by the twentieth century intellectual of stepping outside the secular-scientific consensus that there is no such thing as spirit survival. It's an inner struggle of which they may only be partly conscious. Their solution? Let it all be a subconscious dramatic production - something the secular mind can relate to - while the real dead, if they exist, remain remote and unknowable, pulling the strings from some way off.

This seems an odd phenomenon, to those of us who don't experience it. But it's surely something we should expect. We see it dramatically in the behaviour of militant sceptics - emotional, angry, desperately uninformed - but also in psychic researchers themselves. These rationalising manoeuvres represent themselves as objective analysis, and influence generations. The conclusion is that science will never get a grip on this slippery subject until it understands how it can affect the very minds that contemplate it.


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Having had my first reading by a credible and gifted medium a few months ago, I have to somewhat sympathize with the "rationalising manoeuvres" that Psi researchers may go through. After a couple of very evidential readings, I felt as if I had been hit in the head softly by a spiritual sledgehammer. I was slightly dazed, yet things that were once vague started to look clearer. I was elated, yet occasionally fearful, and I couldn't explain why.

Let's face it, having a dead person talk to you through what amounts to the spiritual equivalent of an overseas operator is kinda...weird.
Explanations like super-psi, and ideas involving deceased personalities being aspects of my higher self suddenly seemed less weird.

But I'm over that now. I have to accept the fact that I can't talk about these things to just anybody, and having been on both sides of the fence, I can see why some folks would question my sanity. I find things like meditating for half an hour twice a day spiritually enriching, but I don't push other people to do it.

These days, only thing that seems eerie to me is the tremendous lie of a materialistic world we live in.

"science will never get a grip on this slippery subject until it understands how it can affect the very minds that contemplate it"

Science doesn't actually want to get a grip -scientists today insist not just on evidence, but some kind of hypothesis or theory to fit the evidence inside. Since they haven't the slightest idea what "Mind" outside the brain is, they dismiss the evidence as obviously false.

"These days, only thing that seems eerie to me is the tremendous lie of a materialistic world we live in."

It is incredible, isn't it, how all the "best minds" can be so very wrong!

The problem is, Gipper, they don't have much of a clue of what "Mind" inside the brain is either.

I like the use of quotes in your last sentence, BTW!

What a tremendously balanced, honest and forthright appraisal, Robert. Very well done!

Ps. You've sold the book to me. 8)

Sounds like a very interesting book! I have seen quite a few mediums, mainly at spiritualist churches, and long ago came to the conclusion that a lot of mediums are demonstrating real ability.

I did a yahoo search for Michael Tymn and one of the links that came up was to his RationalWiki page. Surprise, surprise...they haven't been positive about him!

I've been going through turmoil re. the survival of consciousness beyond physical death. Survival seems the only thing that keeps me from nihilistic despair, gives me a belief in justice, etc.

The confidence of modern materialistic science is intimidating and fierce. How could so many brilliant people be so wrong? But forget the survival of mind after death, these same people deny the existence of psi, the evidence of which seems overwhelming- not just in terms of courtroom evidence, but even in the lab.

My belief in psi, as strong as it is, is still undercut by their insistence that it's bunk. So, if that's true for me who's been spiritually oriented all my life, imagine how true that is for most folks. No wonder popular beliefs are so hard to buck- they just suck you in!

And right when I think I've returned to a belief in survival, I wonder if I want one! Life is challenging.....

I have a session with a medium in 2 weeks- I hope my confusion and skepticism will not ruin the reading! Any comments on that?

It's good to be prepared. You could download this short Kindle book by Julie Beischel, a full-time researcher on mediums, which I'm reading now and will review here shortly. (It's $4.99 on Amazon.com)

She describes her own initial experience of a mediumistic reading, her apprehensions, what actually transpired, and so on - which you might find helpful.

" I hope my confusion and skepticism will not ruin the reading! - T.Doyle

Your feelings prior to the reading should have little effect on the outcome, but they may have an affect on you by the time it's over. As a medium told me, "The greater the scepticism, the harder they fall." By this, she meant that hard core sceptics seem to be the most emotionally affected once they receive a lot of intense evidence.
Although you don't strike me as a hard core sceptic, be prepared for an emotional experience - I know it was for me. I wasn't particularly sceptical before my first reading, but afterwards I was absolutely stunned. It's one thing to read about someone else's experience, but it's a whole new ballgame when it happens to you.

I'm also hope that you're seeing a legitimate medium, because there are a lot of frauds and "wannabe's" out there. Probably more wannabe's than frauds. Wannabe's have a little bit of ability, but you can spot them because they talk in generalizations. A legitimate medium will not ask you any leading questions, and will hit you with specifics. In fact, most true mediums don't want you to tell them much of anything prior to the reading. When you walk in, just smile and give him/her enough information for social grace purposes (your name, a comment about the weather), and let the medium do most of the talking. They may ask for confirmation, but they should be correct close to 100% of the time. Expect the best.

Good luck! :-)

T Doyle,

I concur with everything Rabbitdawg just said.

I went into my relatively recent session with an excellent medium already a strong believer in survival and with many personal paranormal experiences under my belt (psi, precognition, OBEs) albiet a virgin to mediumship.

What happened during the session rocked my world. I am still, several months later, intellectually reeling from it. My wife, who also attended, has had the same post sitting shock.

I very much want to emphasize what was said about seeing a **real** truly gifted medium.

After the powerful initial sitting with a real medium, my wife and I investigated a few other mediums associated with local spiritualist churches. Sadly, these mediums must be classified, at best, in the wannabe category. We had to strain to find anything of truth in their supposed communications which were vague, general and full of obvious fishing and misses. Had we gone to these mediums first we would have probably given up on the whole concept as being, at best, over exercised imagination and suseptibility to willingness to believe on any sitter's part - if the sitters were still believers afterwards.

With the real medium, there were no questions asked by the medium. No fishing. No searching for confirmation. No generalizations. The session started within a couple minutes of our arrival and detailed personal information began to flow forth immediately. There was a strong change of personality on the medium's part at certain points; with the personality of the deceased clearly showing through in physical gestures, emotional qualities, facial expressions, etc.

A lot of the information would have made for daring guesses if the medium was only guessing; daring because there were some ugly truths involved that, if wrong, could have sent the sitters angerly stomping out the door. Also, the the level of detail involved would have made guessing truly hazardous to the perpetuation of fraud or fantasy.

It's one thing to guess "you eat cheesburgers". It's another to guess correctly "You were eating a cheeseburger two nights ago and some ketchup dripped off and made a stain on your white slacks, the same white slacks you wore on the airplane to your daughter's wedding".

The latter is the kind of detail I expected - and received - from the real medium.

"You were eating a cheeseburger two nights ago and some ketchup dripped off and made a stain on your white slacks, the same white slacks you wore on the airplane to your daughter's wedding".

OK, no one. You've got my curiosity up.

Is that statement merely the KIND of detail you received (as you suggested), or an actual example?

Somehow, you've never seemed to me like the white slacks type. :o)

But if it is an actual example, it's pretty impressive:

• 2 nights (not 1, 3, or 4)
• cheeseburger (could have been any number of messy foods)
• white slacks (not all that common)
• airplane (could have been a restaurant or dinner at home)
• daughter's wedding (could have been a son's wedding or a Bar Mitzvah)

And I'm being extremely conservative, to say the least, about listing the possibilities. I mean, on any given day, how many people would that statement apply to?

So--is that an actual example?

By the way--it's great to see you blogging again, Robert! I enjoyed what you had to say here, as I always do, as well as reading the great commenters you attract.

The comments by Rabbitdawg and No One are very interesting, especially the notion that "the more skeptical they are, the harder they fall".

It would be very interesting to get some of the hardline "skeptics" into a one-on-one reading with a "credible and gifted" medium. One can possibly imagine Chris French or Michael Shermer having their worldview rocked, as these guys have always seemed to have a bit of the genuine skeptic about them.

Somehow, though, I can't imagine ANY medium having a paradigm-changing effect on James Randi or Steve Novella, amongst others. These gentlemen would undoubtedly rationalise the experience away, even if their rationalisation was totally irrational! Still, it would make for fascinating television (assuming that the medium was able to "perform" in a TV studio situation.)

I'm also interested as to how one might go about contacting a "credible and gifted" medium as opposed to any number of charlatans.

Apologies this is off topic >For those interested in the Dr Lloyd Rudy post it note case :

Dr Roberto Cattaneo posted a short affirmation on the video site (famous cardiac surgeon stories of NDE)

This is the doctor who was standing in the doorway along with Dr Rudy (if you are at all familiar with the story). He has confirmed that every word recounted by Rudy is correct.
This is very significant and is quite obviously hard evidence (for those with an open mind-not psuedo sceptics) that there is consciousness when the physical anatomy is disconnected.

Rupert, the medium I saw was Georgia O'Connor. She lives in Upstate New York, USA - as do I - so I was able to sit with her in person. Several people, whose opinions I respect (like Michael Prescott), had highly evidential telephone readings with her. I highly recommend her. She can be found on-line. Google medium Georgia O'Connor.

BTW, I registered for the reading using a fictious name and from a new gmail account set up for the purpose of the sitting that could not be traced in any way back to me. I didn't use a credit card; only paying after the session. I am not skeptic regarding survival, etc. However, I am skeptical of any particular medium's claim to be in touch with the deceased. My explorations with the spiritualist churches reinfornced, for me, why it is good I maintain this attitude.

Bruce, "Is that statement merely the KIND of detail you received (as you suggested), or an actual example?"

The kind of detail, not an actual example. You are correct, I am not a white slacks kind of guy.

But I choose an example that contained the same kinds of detailed variables and probability levels and hits that I did actually recieve; i.e.
"2 nights (not 1, 3, or 4)
• cheeseburger (could have been any number of messy foods)
• white slacks (not all that common)
• airplane (could have been a restaurant or dinner at home)
• daughter's wedding (could have been a son's wedding or a Bar Mitzvah)"

Much of what was communicated was very personal and, although I would be totaly opposed to sharing for that reason, it would be difficult to do on a forum like this because there would have to be so much background information provided first. Without the background info, the evidence would have much context and would thus not be as meaningful to the outside reader.

sorry....NOT be totally opposed to sharing for that reason.......

Bruce, No One is right. It's the inane details that mean so much. "You are married" doesn't have quite the impact as "I have your Father in Law (by name, not available online). He didn't like you during the first two years of your marriage but he is quite impressed with you now. After 13 years of marriage, he understands and really likes you." I would have to explain the details behind that statement, and that's just one tiny bit of evidence within the context of a large body of data. It would end up being a long, personal and mind-numbing essay.

Ya had to be there.

Rupert - I would love such a thing to happen too! I'd like to see such a thing with the aggressive/insulting sceptics more than others, because those individuals have been so insulting/bullying over the years, that it would be interesting to see their reactions when a genuinely gifted medium gives them information that is spot-on and having no other way of knowing about it. As you say, it would make for fascinating television.

I too like to think that if most sceptics were to be introduced to someone who has genuine ability, that, at the very least, they would open up more to the paranormal and realise that believers are not all deluded and crazy. I do think there are some that just *won't* be objective at any time, however - if confronted with a medium who is really talented, they would probably accuse him/her of spying/following them in order to get information about them.

Some evidential statements ARE easy to share though. Like when my father's spirit first starting talking he made some firm statements that were, apparently, intended to be proof of who he was. All of these statements were accurate. Some general and could possibly be guessed without too much risk; like (actual quotes as best I remember them from my actual experience):

"And I was a good christian" - True. Could have been a different religion or a non-believer. Evidential to some extent because this was important to him and was something he wanted in his obit.

" and when your mother died in that damn airplane crash my heart died on that day and never came back to life" - True. My mother died 25 years ago in an airplane crash. Now that would be a hell of a guess on the medium's part. First, I never said anything about my mother even being dead (I never even said who I wanted, or expected, to communicate with). Second, of all the ways to die, an airplane crash is a very low probability event. Third, that statement about his heart dying on that day not only conforms to my observation of what happened to him and his life, but it's something he said to me once, pretty much verbatim, about ten years ago.

My reading was rife with these kinds of unprompted, unsolicited, definitive statements made by the spirits via the medium.

I doubt skeptics would convinced even if they had the same quality of sitting I did.

Even I found myself wondering if some trick had been employed. I racked my brains for days afterwards trying to figure how the medium did it. Was she in possession of some sort of email spyware that had traced me even though I used a new gmail account? Riduculous exercises on my part, but I was compelled by a resevoir of rational skepticism that I didn't even know was in me. I gave it up and accepted the reality of the mediumship after a while. It wasn't easy.

So I can see the skeptics doing the same thing and leaving off with the thinnest of 'could haves" as alternate explanations.

The rational mind WILL resort to lying and deception, if need be, to maintain its control. You've really got to watch it closely.

No one, thanks for clarifying. I agree--the airplane crash statement is extremely impressive. The percentage of Americans who die in airplane crashes is exceedingly small, and you apparently gave Georgia no way to research you. That's hard to explain away!

Rabbitdawg, thanks for your comment, too. Was your reading also with Georgia O?

"Was your reading also with Georgia O?

Yep Bruce, Georgia O'Connor. I had two readings last December, and I have a third one scheduled for February. My next move down the road is to get a 'second opinion' from a Windbridge medium, just to see if readings from two different, unassociated mediums overlap in details - another reason not to put too much information online.

..." but I was compelled by a reservoir of rational skepticism that I didn't even know was in me. I gave it up and accepted the reality of the mediumship after a while. It wasn't easy."

No One, I know what you mean.
I began to understand the sceptic's insistence on wanting to know what the mechanism of paranormal phenomena is before they'll begin to accept it. The rational mind just sits there screaming: "HOW?"

After listening to my recording of both readings, BunnyCat (the family sceptic) taxed her brain in an effort to find a rational explanation other than survival of consciousness. She finally gave up with "I don't know how that lady did it, but I just don't believe it!"
Well said. Randi and Wiseman would be proud.

No One - Do you mind if I ask who was the medium who impressed you so much?

No One - Nevermind just read the comment where you said who the medium was!

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