• Paranormalia is written by Robert McLuhan, a journalist and author based in London. Please contact me at robertmcluhan@gmail.com

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May 20, 2014

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Since my email to Robert, Opening Heavens Door by Patricia Pearson has been released, and I have actually read it now. It's exactly what the interview implies.

So as not to overstate the case, I would qualify it as Summer reading. Excellent Summer reading. Although she explores the Third Man phenomena more extensively than most writers, every category of phenomenon mentioned in the book would be familiar to most Paranormalia readers, so in this respect, there is nothing new.
What stands out here is how Patricia Pearson deals with scepticism.

After building her case by devoting roughly the first half of the book to scores of personal and historical anecdotes, along with original reports based on interviews with colleagues and everyday people, she uses the rest of the book to explore why we, individually and collectively, are reluctant to accept survival of consciousness in the face of overwhelming evidence.
For starters, it's not out doubts that trip us up, it's our beliefs.
Western social controls also come into play. Even though nearly every person we meet has a spiritually evocative story to tell, it is socially 'illegal' to share them openly. So we keep it to ourselves, or at best within the family.

Early in the book, she brings up an encounter at a Christmas party with a University friend, with whom she tries to share the story of her dying cancer-stricken sisters crisis apparition with her Father, and the sisters subsequent numinous experience upon her own passing. The friends response is typically materialist: "I don't mean to be unkind, but it is very likely your sister was imagining these things." Bam! Stomp! Social message: Shut up, you're talking crazy now!

Pearson will have none of this. One example is a quote from psychologist Julio Peres, "What kind of empirical evidence would we need to prove that 'the brain believes' or 'the brain interprets'? These are enchanted metaphors. How does it make sense to assign a psychological trait to an organic brain part? What materialists are actually engaging in is animism. This represents a return to a much less critical and more naïve metaphysics than what they were hoping to overturn. We are not explaining anything."
Materialism as 21st century animism. Touche'!

This book (and linked interview) is better than most, and I interpret Patricia Pearson taking the risk of breaking away from her "scientifically acceptable" past to defend the authenticity of numinous spirituality as another crack in the slowly crumbling reductionist/materialist wall.

BTW, the link provided was for the US version, this one leads to the UK version:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Opening-Heavens-Door-Dying-Theyre/dp/1471137139/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1400615439&sr=1-1&keywords=opening+heavens+door

“For starters, it's not out doubts that trip us up, it's our beliefs.
Western social controls also come into play. Even though nearly every person we meet has a spiritually evocative story to tell, it is socially 'illegal' to share them openly. So we keep it to ourselves, or at best within the family.”

It is very difficult not to notice this in your dealings with the ideologically uncommitted ‘public’ if you work in any psi related area.

I’ve found that, almost always, people will precede any personal psi anecdote with something like ‘…of course, I’ve always been a sceptic, but…’, their body language (especially around the eyes) usually indicating fear of the social opprobrium that they feel is likely to follow.

While I’m sure that at least some have REALLY ‘always been sceptical’ (and there’s nothing wrong with that in itself), I’ve usually got the sense that, actually, most are using the phrase as a sort of social shield that they’re holding in front of them until they’ve got an idea of what the reaction is likely to be.

This is a great shame.  But it is understandable because some people (and I’m not only talking about skeptics here), can be absolutely foul in the way that they react to this sort of thing.

Coincidentally, a friend drew my attention to Opening Heaven's Door book because the Daily Mail has been serialising extracts over the last few days – in the same way that they did with Penny Sartori’s recent NDE book.

It sounds like it’s worth getting hold of.

I hear you, Steve. But when the opportunity arises, I willingly recite my spiritual/psi experiences in the faint hope that someone might say, 'What, you too?'. :)

Yes Julie, agreed, there are certainly people like that as well. And I hope the habit spreads ;)

Dear Robert, I'm so glad you finally received the book. You shouldn't have had to order it, because I asked S & S to send it to you gratis. I've been grateful for your own work.
As I'm sure you can imagine, what I've found fascinating in doing media for this book is the number of journalists who ask: "Aren't you worried about your reputation?"
Finally, I did a public event, stood a waste basket beside me, and asked if the audience would like or expect me to toss in all the books I had with me, by C.S. Lewis, Tolstoy, Annie Dillard, Rudolph Otto, Augustine, etc. Have we drifted so far that asking about spiritual inquiry is risking reputation?
I"m quite content to stand on Augustine's side, then.
Surreal.

Hi Patricia - thanks, yes it came yesterday from your publisher, and I'm enjoying it enormously. I'll post a review as soon as I can.

As a member of the Men's Human Rights Movement I know about Patricia Pearson from reading her book "When She was Bad" (first published in the late nineties), where she tackled another taboo, the taboo of female violence. This book is excellent. I expect nothing less from "Opening Heaven's Door".

My copy is due to arrive today. :)

I would like to add that it has always seemed psychologically unhealthy in the extreme to swallow our experience of 'reality' without sharing and examining it with others. Why do people fear and deny a part of life, an aspect of consciousness, that is probably common to all at some level? It's akin to the death taboo. Surely a measure of maturity (sanity even) is the ability to rise above such attitudes of denial?

For fear that it might be glossed over in the shuffle, I want to take one last chance to suggest listening to Pearson's interview on the CBC Radio One show Tapestry.
My attention span is normally too short to endure a fifty minute audio interview with an author promoting a book, but I listened to this one several times. It's that good.

I just tell folks to listen to the first ten to fifteen minutes, and if you're not hooked, you can always click off. But I think most people will want to stay 'til the end.
http://www.cbc.ca/tapestry/2014/05/09/what-the-dying-know/

Dawg, I'm going to review the book next week, so will mention the interview again then.

We hear you, our Robert. We hear you. :)

We are not explaining anything."
Materialism as 21st century animism

That is pure nonsense!

Sorry about all the repetitions of my earlier brief comment (now deleted). It will have had something to do with the denial of service attacks against Typepad that have been going on since last month, and which have been causing it to act strangely. There have been times when I haven't been able to access it all.

http://techcrunch.com/2014/05/19/typepad-claims-it-was-hit-by-another-ddos-attack/

If something like that happens again please email me and hopefully I'll pick it up soon enough to avoid embarrassment :)

I knew it was the Typepad glitch, Robert. I was just trying to make you laugh. ;)

Okay Llewellyn, I'll concede that equating all materialist philosophy to Animism is hyperbole on my part.
But when it comes to (what is essentially a faith-based idea) like the materialist concept of the mind as an epiphenomenon of the brain, the comparison is spot on.

thanks for the tip off re: that episode of tapestry.

very good listening. pearson is a joy to listen to ! very refreshing.


The Tapestry interview:

Very rewarding. Unfortunately Pearson never really answered one of the questions. This was that once the reality of spirit contact is accepted, how do you filter out the truly crazy claims - in other words once you have an open mind to this dimension of human experience how do you avoid it being too open? I guess one answer is that one just develops a sense of where this fine line is, based on acquaintance with the literature, contacts with others, common sense, perhaps all combined with personal experience. It's hard to codify this as a rigorous theorem.

@doubter: Why the need for certainty? Much better to learn to live with ambiguity, surely?

"Unfortunately Pearson never really answered one of the questions. This was that once the reality of spirit contact is accepted, how do you filter out the truly crazy claims - in other words once you have an open mind to this dimension of human experience how do you avoid it being too open? - Doubter

Pearson deals with this a bit more extensively in the book. The gist of it is that the Western worldview has slowly lost its spiritual way over the past few hundred years since The Enlightenment, compounded with several thousand years of politically motivated influence from mainstream religion.
Historically, dreams of, and encounters with ancestors weren't considered bizarre. They were quite normal.

Not that we should revert to a totally pre-scientific worldview, but part of what she is trying to do is put out a call to start taking such experiences seriously. Until we can start having open discussion without shame, we can't get anywhere.
You can't find answers when you're forbidden to ask questions.

Julie Baxter: "Why the need for certainty? Much better to learn to live with ambiguity, surely?"

Ultimate uncertainty and even cognitive dissonance are I think necessary discomforts for truth seekers.

Still, the natural tendency of the mind is to try to make sense out of these diverse phenomena with some sort of overall world view. Given the huge array of diverse claims and reports, this requires some sort of criteria for deciding what is real and what is purely a product of human imagination. And it is useful to be able to economize in the expenditure of time and effort in examining and researching people's accounts.

Perhaps such a filter can't be proposed without excessively offending political correctness and True Believers of various types, so it is better to leave it alone.

Might I propose intuition?

Posted by: Rabbitdawg | May 24, 2014 at 01:24 PM

Okay Llewellyn, I'll concede that equating all materialist philosophy to Animism is hyperbole on my part.
But when it comes to (what is essentially a faith-based idea) like the materialist concept of the mind as an epiphenomenon of the brain, the comparison is spot on.


Not it isn't spot on, Animist tend to believe everything is spiritual in nature so comparing it with materialism is false. They are as different as chalk and cheese.

Okey dokey Llewellyn.
IMHO, Interpreting the mind as an illusional "epiphenomenon" of the brain without any solid empirical evidence to support the concept sounds like 21st century materialist-speak for a spirit emanating from the brain. And since reductionist/materialists don't have free will, I figure they can't bring themselves around to use the S-word.
The weird thing is, they never can tell you what it is that's perceiving the illusion. I guess it's an illusion perceiving an illusion. Or something.

Anyway, gotta go now. I need to hurry on down to my local New Age book store and load up on blood of virgin and eye of newt. I hear they've got 'em on sale for a limited time, and I want to get there early.
:D

do i like do and order them from the future. they're fresher that way.


enjoying this discussion btw !

Doubter, what I talk about in the book is the concept of the Enchanted Boundary. Where do we establish the threshold? How do we distinguish between hallucinated music, imagined music, dreamed music and real music, by analogy. How do we distinguish between spiritual experience and psychosis and folk belief? That, I think, is the next challenge for serious researchers and thinkers.

Robert, this is an absolutely text-book example of Skeptic Response to what threatens them, as you've analyzed so well. Instead of reading the book, they mustered scads (is that spelled correctly?) of "evidence" that I"m wrong:
http://www.skepticforum.com/viewtopic.php?f=7&t=23454

I don't know, Patricia, I get a certain reassurance from the sheer awfulness of this sort of sceptic discourse. I hope and believe that most readers will recognise grace, sensitivity and thoughtfulness when they see it, and also when it's absent, and judge accordingly. :)

@Patricia Pearson: Why do you give those idiots on the Sceptic forum your time, they are not interested in truth? As long at it confers to their materialistic worldview they're not interested.

Rabbit Dawg, I listened to the radio show last night and found it wonderful listening. I've now ordered the book because I loved Patricia Pearson's calm, responsive, unaggressive, insightful approach, and I learnt some new things - like that remarkable stat about 50% of bereaved people experiencing some sense of the presence of their dead loved one.

And by the way I agree about the sheer awfulness of that Skeptic Forum piece. It is kind of encouraging!

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