Getting to Grips With Physical Phenomena
August 13, 2013
I mentioned mediums in passing recently, and it threw up a debate about seance phenomena (levitations, movements of objects, etc). Someone asked me about my position, so I thought I’d respond briefly.
Bottom line: I think physical mediumship is a genuine phenomenon, but one that can easily be faked. That makes it desperately hard to evaluate. It’s natural to feel that the field is mired in fraud. At first glance practically all mediums were caught faking at one time another – or even confessed to having done so.
In that case, why do I take it seriously? Partly because some of the most comprehensive research (eg. the Feilding Report) points in that direction. But also because it fits with types of spontaneous phenomena such as so-called poltergeists, where the issues are not so complex. If there is truly a psychic element to consciousness, then surely it supports the abundant testimony as to the reality of séance phenomena.
If asked, I’d advise anyone serious about understanding the truth about psi to steer clear of nineteenth and early twentieth century physical mediums – the likes of Kate Fox, Eglinton, Home, Palladino, Duncan, etc. It’s a big, roiling sea of suspicion, and if you’re not experienced you’ll drown in it. Other areas such as ESP research and spontaneous experiences are controversial, but are still easier to get to grips with.
Some interesting points were raised in the comments thread. One commenter suggested that believers filter out stuff that doesn’t suit their arguments. For instance certain confessions of fraud are only found in sceptics’ writings. He likes the idea of neutral books, those that look at it from both sides, and perhaps even present the arguments with equal weight, allowing readers to make up their own minds.
There was quite a lot of discussion about Brian Inglis, including a complaint that he defended obviously dodgy mediums like the Foxes, Eusapia Palladino and Eva C. There were also references to the Wikipedia page on mediums, which list a lot of the exposes and confessions.
It’s very easy to get bogged down; easy to get pulled this way and that. This happened to me, and I wrote about it at some length in Randi’s Prize, where I described the development of my thinking. It took me more than two years to come to a settled view. I grappled with Inglis, and also his nemesis Ruth Brandon: I had absolutely no idea which of these two completely opposite versions was more trustworthy. There are abundant sources that will back up whichever view you take.
I then realised that I needed to get to the primary sources – the research literature – and start making my own judgements. Then I started making progress. It seemed to me, for instance, that the Feilding-Carrington-Baggally investigation of Palladino was far more serious and conclusive than a rival one by Joseph Jastrow – more complete, more focused, better documented, and carried out by more experienced investigators (see extracts here).
I was impressed by the findings of the Dialectical Society, an atheists group, who investigated séance claims in a highly committed way, and had some dramatic experiences with table turning – which could not be accounted for by Faraday’s much quoted conjectures. There are many others of this kind. Having established that dedicated, intelligent investigators had witnessed the phenomena in controlled conditions, and been impressed by their reasoning, the fakery started to seem less relevant.
I also started to understand something about the sceptical literature that I hadn’t grasped before. When it comes to the exposes and confession, the definition between the real and imagined is blurred. Much of it is just conjecture and speculation. But that distinction gets lost, and it’s treated as fact. There’s a reason why ‘believers’ like Inglis don’t mention the incidents that sceptics find so devastating – a lot of them were just made up. (I’m used to being denounced for disputing the veracity of Margaret Fox’s ‘confession’. But there are so many reasons for doubting it that, if the positions were reversed, sceptics would be derisive that anyone took it seriously for a minute.)
The Wikipedia article on mediums reads like a party political broadcast on behalf of the sceptics movement. I suppose because Wikipedia is quite thorough and detailed on non-controversial subjects it is treated as an authoritative source. But if you know the research literature it creates a ludicrous effect. It would be like going to a creationist website to learn about Darwinist evolution.
The Scole circle gets mentioned in these discussions, I guess because it is relatively recent. But I don’t think it helps us to make judgements; it has simply reinforced the doubts and suspicions. I’m convinced that will always be the case with physical phenomena; the same has been true of Uri Geller. That’s why I think this is a bad place to start.
Since I made up my mind some years ago, I spend little time thinking about the subject, and on the whole avoid writing about it. I might try to convince someone – if I thought that person was interested – that telepathy or remote viewing, or mental mediumship perhaps, are genuine phenomena. In fact I do have those discussions sometimes, although I’m averse to the idea of trying to convert people to my way of thinking. I just think it’s good to make them aware of things they might not otherwise know about.
But when it comes to the physical stuff, I wouldn’t bother. I’d just explain why I take it seriously, and leave it at that. I’d have no realistic expectations of carrying my argument. And I can’t argue seriously with people who haven’t read the research (or at least more than the sceptic bits); all I can do is urge them to read it.
That said, the subject does interest for what it says about how humans react to these things. Scepticism is not a neutral business – it’s a natural reaction to something that we find unbelievable. Some investigators who made claims about séance phenomena – and this is one of many curious details that sceptics won’t know – eventually started paying attention to their own mental processes. They observed how the impression of having seen something paranormal was gradually erased in the memory, so that days later they were convinced they had imagined it. Or else they realised their mind had created an elaborate scenario of how the trick was done with concealed machinery.
So the séance literature is a potentially a rich source of understanding about fear of the paranormal. It documents a constant, neurotic manoeuvring to escape the implications. I believe that one day researchers will be mining it for insights in this regard.
Finally, there’s a point to make about the idea of a neutral book, one that makes an objective case for both sides of the argument and lets readers make up their minds. That’s what journalists and broadcasters often do, or claim to do. It’s not the way, though. I did come across a book like this once, long ago – and it was no help at all. It just made the confusion worse.
There really is no short cut, no magic wand. No single book will make everything brilliantly clear. It takes commitment, time and effort; months of reading and searching out of sources; months, perhaps even years of reflection. No one will ever know the truth who relies on other people to tell it to them.
The only difficulty I have with this is where you mentioned table turning. Derren Brown had a stage show where he made people do table turning on stage. We know he is a skeptic. And quite frankly, the videos I have seen of this phenomena strike me as having no plausible connection to ghosts.
Then again, Brown uses hypnosis, and we know how skeptics are uncomfortable with that.
I suspect the aspect of fraud is involved in physical mediumship simply because of the spontaneous nature of psi. When people attempt a seance it can take weeks before even the smallest phenomena can appear. So you can imagine how embarrassing it would be to hold public seances and for nothing to happen, especially if members of the group are skeptical. The temptation to cheat is just too large. Plus, the cheating may not be consciously produced entirely. More like back up plan in case nothing happens. And here I am talking about the mediums that did produce genuine phenomena, not out and out frauds.
Posted by: David R | August 13, 2013 at 12:25 PM
"Bottom line: I think physical mediumship is a genuine phenomenon, but one that can easily be faked. That makes it desperately hard to evaluate."
Independent Direct Voice (Flint in particular) could not have been easily faked since the veracity of the IDV medium was in the genuineness of the spirit conversation. Outside of the fact that Flint also mediated on the platform, hsi over 200 spirit conversations, not channels, conversations are impossible to be judged in any other way than they more often than not met the test of genuineness. Discarnate spirits delivered information to incarnate sitters that the medium had no possible way of knowing.
Materialization (full or partial) mediums who mediated under red light or full illumination were highly visible as were the materializations and the genuineness of the spirits; the materializations and the genuineness of the information were impossible to fake.
There were completely bogus PMs, sometimes bogus/sometimes genuine PMs and completely genuine PMs. So what? That doesn't mean there is a bottom line anything like what you allude.
Ultimately, who cares if trumpets fly and banjos play and mediums kerplunk in their chairs into the middle of the seance room. Yippee.
The test of the medium is in the message and that, my friend, is plainly easy to evaluate.
Posted by: The Od | August 13, 2013 at 01:41 PM
David R | August 13, 2013 at 12:25 PM Derren Brown had a stage show where he made people do table turning on stage. We know he is a skeptic.
Those TV programs are always edited so I wouldn't trust programs with pseudo sceptics like Brown!
Posted by: Llewellyn James | August 13, 2013 at 02:00 PM
It's a stage show, not a TV programme, and you can find it on Youtube. It's hardly likely his stage show act that involves audience participants can be faked night after night for a year.
Posted by: David R | August 13, 2013 at 02:32 PM
"Independent Direct Voice (Flint in particular) could not have been easily faked since the veracity of the IDV medium was in the genuineness of the spirit conversation."
I agree but Leslie Flint's voice box was made of cheesecloth. He may have been a mixed medium.
Posted by: notsure | August 13, 2013 at 02:36 PM
"In that case, why do I take it seriously? Partly because some of the most comprehensive research (eg. the Feilding Report) points in that direction".
Nope it doesn't point in that direction IMO. Fielding was married to the medium Stanisława Tomczyk. He was a bit gullible when it came to his mediums. Also when Fielding attempted to replicate the same experiments with the professional magician William S. Marriott, Palladino was caught in fraud. It all depends if there is a professional magician present or not, they are experts at sleight of hand, and know the tricks of the trade.
Posted by: notsure | August 13, 2013 at 02:39 PM
Posted by: Robert McLuhan | August 13, 2013 at 02:56 PM
It doesn't make any difference if Leslie Flint's voice box was made from cardboard or 'forest' shavings.
"Independent Direct Voice (Flint in particular) could not have been easily faked since the veracity of the IDV medium was in the genuineness of the spirit conversation." You quoted that sentence and agreed.
Thanks for that.
Posted by: The Od | August 13, 2013 at 04:36 PM
Where is your proof that the voicebox that Leslie Flint used was made of cheesecloth? Did you personally perform samples on it?
True skeptic: There has been no analysis done on the legitimacy of Leslie Flint's apparent voicebox, it cannot be proven or disproven.
notsure/bill/forests- There were mediums that claimed to produce ectoplasm which was discovered to be nothing more than cheesecloth and because these particular mediums were caught in fraud I therefore conclude that Leslie Flint's ectoplasmic voicebox was faked because it is theoretically possible that it could have been.
That is not skepticism that is using preconceived notions as a formation of opinion which is a text book example of fundamentalist thinking.
I believe Lamaar Keene was the only person to publicly accuse Flint of being fraudulent, stating his act was nothing more than ventriloquism but offered no evidence, only his presumptions.
Please cite sources where Flint was studied under controlled conditions which showed his voicebox was made of cheesecloth and analyzed in a lab. See sceptics aren't the only one's that ask for this :)
Posted by: Ray | August 13, 2013 at 07:11 PM
David R | August 13, 2013 at 02:32 PM
It's a stage show, not a TV programme, and you can find it on Youtube. It's hardly likely his stage show act that involves audience participants can be faked night after night for a year.
Have you never watched the masked magician?
How do you know his audience participants wasn't fake?
Posted by: Llewellyn James | August 13, 2013 at 07:47 PM
this "forests" imaginary person keeps getting invoked on countless blogs and forums, I am beginning to suspect it it some sort of joke being employed by more than one person. It appears whenever someone just a tiny bit sceptical of mediumship turns up, it automatically has to be "forests". There's no evidence a person called "forests" exists. I admit I was posting under Bill, but none others. I have very new to this blog. As Robert said this field takes years of study. I apologise for some of my previous "dogmatic" comments. OK maybe you are correct about those mediums. The subject had bored me. I am going bowling and have no interest in this debate any more, take care.
Posted by: notsure | August 13, 2013 at 09:22 PM
A few years ago Prof Donald West was kind enough to dig the research notes from his sessions with Flint out of the SPR archives at Cambridge University Library for me. West was not particularly impressed by Flint. In the main, as I recall, this was mainly because tape that he'd put over Flint's mouth at the start of a seance had become partially undone by the end of it - which, to my mind, was pretty far from a damning indictment of fraud. In fact I was struck by the cordiality of correspondence between the pair. It seemed a great shame to me that this relationship degenerated subsequently - to the point that Flint refused to have anything more to do with the SPR tests.
To me, this was just a typical example of bad communication between researcher and subject that resulted in a mutual lack of trust. Flint did not appear to me to have the slightest clue as to what would constitute an adequate standard of evidence to someone like West, considered that he'd managed to 'pass' his tests, and that was that. Of course, West did not share that opinion, but did not adequately communicate that to Flint, in my view. Or not, at least, from what I saw from the correspondence in the archives.
Yet I do not recall any accusation of fraud, or any mention of cheesecloth. In fact, I do not recall any sound accusation of fraud, as such, against Flint at all - by D.J. West, or anybody else.
Posted by: Steve Hume | August 13, 2013 at 09:52 PM
"Flint did not appear to me [Dr. Donald West] to have the slightest clue as to what would constitute an adequate standard of evidence to someone like West, considered that he'd managed to 'pass' his tests, and that was that."
I don't fault West for focusing on psi purposefully ignoring the truth of continuous life, of communications between the discarnate <--> incarnate. That's what investigators are required to do. Focus, focus.
"Passing the test' to Flint - and any informed student of physical mediumship - is strictly and narrowly defined as the delivery of information that Flint could not possibly know, that only the sitter and spirit could know. Ultimately, that is all he cared.
Leslie Flint's Greene/Woods seance recordings are the single most important collection of irrefutable evidences that the afterlife is ours, that we can know intimate details of it, how we transition, what constitutes the ethereal planes and too many more ultra-significant learning experiences.
It's so truly a shame that there exists such a miniscule of the people that have ever heard of physical mediumship, less of Leslie Flint and exponentially less who have or will ever listen to the Flint/Greene/Woods 200+ spirit-human conversations.
Must not be the right time for this knowledge. Maybe next year?
Posted by: The Od | August 14, 2013 at 07:15 AM
"No one will ever know the truth who relies on other people to tell it to them."
Boy, is that ever the truth. I'm deeply grateful for my precognitive dreams and experiences in altered states. Without them, I might still be sitting on the fence wondering whether psi and the spiritual realm are real.
Actually, without those personal proofs, I doubt I would even have had reason to look into this stuff in the first place.
Posted by: Bruce | August 14, 2013 at 07:20 AM
I had an interesting synchronicity after listening to some of the Leslie Flint / Stephen Ward tapes. I was staying at a friend's house shortly afterwards and told him about the tapes. He told me that Stephen Ward had been a great friend of the family, had visited the house frequently and in fact as we were having the conversation I was sitting in what used to be his favorite chair!
Posted by: Anonise | August 14, 2013 at 09:32 AM
I don't remember the Woods/Green book concerning those recordings containing any information that '...Flint could not possibly know'. Do you have access to information not contained in the book? Therein lies a major problem with mediumship whether it be physical or mental.
I have a great deal of experience with physical mediumship, though not nearly as much as 'Zerdini' who, coincidentally, knew Leslie Flint very well. Through all my years of involvement in it (hundreds of seances at home circles and some with two of the better known contemporary mediums) I received information that could not possibly have been known by the medium (or anyone else present) precisely once - the result of a test question from me to 'someone' who claimed to be my grandfather - via coded table tilting when I was nowhere near the table. I'd asked many other test questions over the years and the answers to these were ALL wrong. I hasten to add that these were all at the same home circle - not the seances with Colin Fry and Stuart Alexander that I attended.
I did, however, witness quite long conversations (via IDV and other means) between other sitters and communicators that they claimed were known to them, where the information appeared to be detailed and natural enough to be considered 'evidential' assuming, of course, that the sitters concerned really did have reason to be confident that there was no possibility that the medium (or a confederate) had no access to the information relayed. Naturally, I cannot vouch for whether or not that was actually the case.
Over the years, in terms of mental mediumship, I have had hundreds of 'messages', both from the platform and privately, from scores of mediums. Out of all that I can count the instances of 'evidential' (by my standards) information I received on the fingers of one hand. Here I'm talking about precisely detailed stuff that could not have been guessed, researched or weedled out of me by 'reading' of any temperature, and where the 'Super Psi' theory gets so shakey that it becomes barely tenable.
Bruce, and others who have alluded to this, are absolutely correct. There is no substitute for personal experience in this area - absolutely none. And for that you have to get off your backside and go looking - yourself, because 'survival evidence' is subjective by its very nature. And it is unreasonable to expect evidence of post-mortem survival to emerge from mediumship alone, at least in the short term.
I'm afraid that things whizzing around in the dark does not constitute evidence of anything other than psychokinesis - and that would be under the assumption that it's not just someone poncing around in a black gimp suit. Some of the phenomena I witnessed were so extreme that I do not believe they could have been achieved fraudulently. But not much. And I did uncover some fraud. Again, this was not with the two mediums mentioned above.
Posted by: Steve Hume | August 14, 2013 at 09:35 AM
@ Steve Hume
"I don't remember the Woods/Green book concerning those recordings containing any information that '...Flint could not possibly know'. Do you have access to information not contained in the book? Therein lies a major problem with mediumship whether it be physical or mental."
The hordes of sitters who received information that only they and the spirit in communication can be found in dozens of the Flint recordings and cataloged in his autobiography "Voices In The Dark". You might try zerdini (George Cranley) @ http://zerdinisworld.com/ who sat in many Flint seances and, if memory is correct, was in conversation with relatives and friends including Noah Zerdin (founder of Noah's Ark Society). Leave him a comment and/or an email; he is very good about answering inquiries.
There are also incarnate-discarnate conversations that included information unknown to Flint that, at the time, was unknown to medium [u]and[/u] sitter but later validated by the sitter to be accurate.
An example would be a handwritten note in a book that the sitter had never seen but discovered on the very page the spirit had given. The note was written by the spirit while incarnated.
This kind of occult information excludes mental mediumship entirely, verifies the continuity of life hence the identity of the spirit. I have been the recipient of such information, it is unsettling and compelling.
Posted by: The Od | August 14, 2013 at 08:52 PM
""No one will ever know the truth who relies on other people to tell it to them."
Boy, is that ever the truth."
Then a jury would never convict, would they?
I have a practical problem with this statement in that the vast majority of people who do believe in the continuity of life will or may never have a personal, evidential experience. Sad yet spot on true.
If the author of that statement is using the term "know" in a complete a sense as we can "know' anything on Earth (with near certitude), I can understand his POV. Nonetheless, as logical, rational creatures we are faced with the dilemma of having to rely on the preponderance of evidences or make no judgments on truth of eternal perpetuity of our consciousness at all.
I find this to be a tragic way to live, this forever-fence sitting, and with great and extended effort came to "know" in the truth of our continued existence well before having found evidential mediumship to support my conclusions.
Ultimately, it's a test of rationality coordinated with intuition, bumpy grounds or gifts from the Creator.
Both I would imagine. ;)
Posted by: The Od | August 14, 2013 at 09:04 PM
I'm very familiar with the book you refer to and George, who I've known for many years. I've already talked with him often about this. In fact, George was present at many of the seances that I referred to earlier.
And IDV conversations between George and Flint are an example of the sort of communication (evidential to the recipient, but not me - because I did not know the deceased) that I mentioned also.
I was merely curious as to whether you were referring to Randall Neville's 'Life After Death', which is wholly devoted to the recordings made by Woods/Greene, because I don't remember much, if any, verifiable evidence of identity being provided by the communicators in that book. Could be wrong though - it's been a few years since I read it.
Posted by: Steve Hume | August 14, 2013 at 09:36 PM
Very interesting comments and I agree with Rob's take in the original post too.
It occurs to me that there are a couple of ways to reach some sort of conclusion/personal conviction about survival:
The first is via a direct personal experience in a form which is unequivocal. This doesn't have to be via a medium and I suppose if it isn't, then that may make it even more convincing - I mean for example, an appropriate materialisation of someone or personal clairaudience. There is a very good example of this in an experience related by a Commercial Pilot who encountered a colleague at Glasgow Airport some years ago, and subsequently found out that at the time, the friend’s coffin was passing through the airport. I won’t recount the details, but suffice to say, for the person concerned I’d say that was unequivocal.
Others may find our experience persuasive, but even if they know us well, it may simply be beyond their boggle-threshold. So option one is to wait for a personal experience so definitive it is beyond doubt. This may of course never happen, and even if it does it may not be of much value as evidence to other people.
The other route, in the absence of a copper-bottomed-gobsmacking-incontrovertible personal experience, amounts to probability: i.e. how likely is it that the phenomena and experiences reported were genuine? This requires careful consideration of research and reports – and their sources - and as mentioned, a good deal of personal effort.
A friend of mine described evidence as being like a rope made of many fibres. Each individual fibre of evidence may in itself be weak or even prove to break completely, but overall the picture becomes clearer gradually by a process of accretion and eventually as strong as a rope. If one takes a particular report and bases one’s conviction on it – when the report turns out to be false or weaker than one expected, the search must begin again, and so on. One is buffeted by the thoughts and opinions of others. Better I think to form one’s own view on the weight of evidence.
As time goes on we may reach a higher percentage of confidence/probability by reading and hearing the experiences of others, however to reach true conviction I think a direct, unequivocal experience is the clincher for most people.
One small point, which others may disagree with (and I’d be interested to hear) – I don’t think physical mediumship per se is any more prone to fraud than other forms. It seems to me that it is simply the type of fraud which perhaps differs. Although plastic hands, balloons and ‘cheesecloth’ are outrageous methods of fraud, the cold/hot reading and fishing of some mental mediumship is equally fraudulent in my view. Perhaps more subtle, but in some cases just as dishonest.
In either case – directly or by research, one thing is true – that we must remain open minded to the evidence, self-deception and the likelihood of fraud, but not be so fixed on what we need to see to believe that we ignore all the evidence along the way.
Posted by: Paul | August 14, 2013 at 11:50 PM
"I’m used to being denounced for disputing the veracity of Margaret Fox’s ‘confession’. But there are so many reasons for doubting it that, if the positions were reversed, sceptics would be derisive that anyone took it seriously for a minute."
You said it baby!
"It would be like going to a creationist website to learn about Darwinist evolution."
Actually Robert I'd recommend precisely that because some of 'em're very good at finding flaws in Evolutionary thinking especially the tendency to take one tiny sliver of 500 million year old bone and another from 50 million years ago and go "Shazam! Indisputable proof baboons evolved from kippers" which's why I think like Intelligent Designists they're so hated because they prevent the more lazy Evolutionary thinkers from being able to rest on their laurels.
It's the same reason hoaxers're so hated in fields like UFOs ghosts Nessie Bigfoot because they prevent the lazier researches from breezily assuming every blob of darkness or light's visitors from the far side.
Posted by: alanborky | August 15, 2013 at 01:06 AM
Good comments chaps.
Indeed Paul, Chris Carter and David Fontana, in particular, managed to present a challenging case for survival using the bundle of sticks argument.
Personally, the only reason I consider survival as being a possibility is that I've had a few strongly veridical experiences in a number of areas: Two veridical OBE's (amongst a greater number of non-veridical ones), a few VERY evidential communications from 'mental' mediums - detailed stuff (nicknames, VERY odd personal characteristics etc.) concerning long dead relatives of whom I knew little or nothing; one veridical apparition (amongst lots of non-veridical ones) - the test question that was answered correctly that I mentioned earlier (although that could have been esp). I could go on but....
Unfortunately, unlike Rob, I went on holiday after the hot weather had finished and I've got to go and drive my family around a few places in the rain now.
More later - at least I'm not camping though ;)
Posted by: Steve Hume | August 15, 2013 at 08:44 AM
Anyone who has read the account of West and Flint knows it looks nothing like fraud. It's a preposterous assertion.
Posted by: Paul | August 15, 2013 at 06:05 PM
Jon Donnis wrote: "Final conclusion like all mediums. Fraud. Wishful thinking to believe in this."
If that's what you want to believe you'll always be able to bury your head in the sand and find suitable straws to clutch at. Flint's voices were fairly conclusively proven to be anomalous. Furthermore his voices produced information (sometimes in languages he couldn't speak)that nobody alive knew about until it was subsequently checked and found to be true. Also, West aside, how do you explain the positive results obtained by Roy Firebrace, Drayton Thomas et al. in their SPR investigations???
Posted by: Anonise | August 15, 2013 at 07:44 PM
Communicating in the middle of a jungle? Most primitive cultures have their own take on mediumship, so I'd be very surprised if there isn't some tribal elder hopping around amidst the Corozo Palms in the Amazon right now, attempting to evoke the spirit of somebody's grandma.
The supermarket, though? That does have a ring of truth about it Jon. I think you've really hit the nail on the head there. Why?
I did actually see a medium in a supermarket once, and they WEREN'T WORKING. Although I suppose if they'd attempted it near the freezers, then that'd be conclusive proof of cold reading?
I think you've just busted the whole field wide open there mate!
Although, thinking about it,perhaps even mediums are actually focused on where those gits in Tesco have moved the bog roll - given that they're in a blinding hurry and it's NOT WHERE IT WAS THE LAST TIME THEY WERE IN THERE!!!
That must be it. I think I've just busted your theory. No, I don't think absence of mediumistic activity in popular large retail outlets is evidence that mediums are all 'frauds' after all.
Do I win £5?
The rest of your post isn't too bad though. I'll get back to that later if I have time when I get back from Asda.
Posted by: Steve Hume | August 15, 2013 at 08:33 PM
"I have a practical problem with this statement in that the vast majority of people who do believe in the continuity of life will or may never have a personal, evidential experience. Sad yet spot on true."
Od, that's a good point, though evidential experiences do come in all sizes, shapes and varieties, and are not as rare as you're suggesting.
"Ultimately, it's a test of rationality coordinated with intuition, bumpy grounds or gifts from the Creator."
The only life I'm somewhat of an expert on is my own. And I'm grateful that the clues or gifts I needed in order to find my way forward, kept showing up in my own experience. And I would invite others to keep an open mind to *their* own experiences.
Posted by: Bruce | August 15, 2013 at 08:37 PM
To finish my last:
And maybe even *ask* for those experiences.
Ask who? The universe, your largest self, God--they're all the same.
Posted by: Bruce | August 15, 2013 at 08:40 PM
Back to Jon's points, then.
The tape coming loose could be evidence of fraud. Or it could be evidence that Flint's face got a bit sweaty, or that West hadn't put the tape on properly, or any number of other things. Either way, if I was Flint and I'd managed to take the tape off, then I'm pretty sure I could have got it on again. We're in (to quote West himself from the Scole Report) 'sterile debate' territory there, I'm afraid.
I'm no expert on Flint's mediumship (then again, you don't appear to be either Jon), but I seem to remember some experiments with a throat mic being mentioned somewhere. That's the way I'd have gone with this one, or a sound source location mic array - that would have been difficult in the 40's, but not impossible.
Yes. You'd be very hard pushed not to notice a suspiciously stylised element in many IDV communications (and a hell of a lot else with physical mediumship), although not always. That's not THAT relevant to me, though - for reasons I won't go into here. As someone else mentioned - a great deal rests on the accuracy of the content of the communications and whether or not the medium or someone else could have researched it, guessed it, or cold-read it. And, as I said earlier...I'll leave you to scroll back up the page and have a look yourself.
Did Flint really work in a cupboard? All the time? Wasn't that only on a few occasions in a theater? I seem to remember that on the vast majority of occasions, he sat with the sitters - at least at his home circle. I don't even think he used a seance curtain 'cabinet'.
As far as darkness and physical mediumship is concerned...yes it's a pain in the rear and prima facie suspicious. But from a research point of view it's far from being an insurmountable problem - especially these days. As you well know, fraud can still occur in the light anyway.
Posted by: Steve Hume | August 15, 2013 at 11:18 PM
Good points Steve. Unless one knew the purported communicator(s) it is difficult to determine if they were who they claimed to be. Fortunately we have the testimony of very many sitters who did receive personal communication. IMHO it is at least highly likely that the communications were not from Flint but through some other agency.
Curiously perhaps, the 'John Donnis' poster - whoever it really is, illustrates the point I made in an earlier post: if we rely simply on things we hear and don't do our own reading and research, it is easy to be distracted by a person who sounds confident but hasn't looked at all the evidence - just like William who posted earlier (or should I say 'John Donnis' aka etc).
Posted by: Paul | August 15, 2013 at 11:57 PM
Yes Paul. It may be the real Jon (he of the occasionally amusing 'Bad Psychics' - I'm sure it's provided you with, literally, seconds of fun, as it has me). But if it is, then he must have had a sense of humour bybass operation over the last couple of weeks.
The trotting out of the usual naff skeptical mantras just looked a little bit staged to me(ironically, 'stylised'). Donnis tends to do it in a slightly more intelligent way.
As someone who has actually been to a lot of seances, though, I'd have to say that this trolling business is really fascinating. The extent to which internet trolls resemble many 'drop in' communicators is really quite remarkable. Whoever this character is/are (and I have one or two suspicions in that regard) I can readily imagine them popping their clogs only to carry on the habit by pretending to be Winston Churchill to some chump who's scaring themselves silly with an upturned glass.
Posted by: Steve Hume | August 16, 2013 at 08:24 AM
Not Sure claimed '.... Fielding was married to the medium Stanisława Tomczyk. He was a bit gullible when it came to his mediums. ...'
(1) Feilding had been debunking mediums prior to Palladino
(2) Feilding was a member of the UK Magic circle conjuror's group, not 'gullible'
(3) Feilding was high up British Intelligence, hardly 'gullible'
(4) He married Stanisława Tomczyk about adecade later, after Palladino tests. It is irrelevent.
Posted by: Correcting Skeptics | August 16, 2013 at 03:07 PM
Note Sure claimed '...Also when Fielding attempted to replicate the same experiments with the professional magician William S. Marriott, Palladino was caught in fraud....'
I can now prove Marriott was lying at times in his comments, he wasn't honest commentator, it is a shame all those gullible conjurors secretly editing wikipedia under multiple sockpuppet names lack sufficient skepticism to check their own corrupt history they have blind faith in.
Posted by: Correcting Skeptics | August 16, 2013 at 03:19 PM
Jon Donnis of the bad, badpsychics website claims '... You need to compare Leslie Flint with William Roy to understand his tricks....'
Should one compare Jon Donnis to Forests to understand his tricks?
Posted by: Correcting Skeptics | August 16, 2013 at 03:47 PM
Robert Mcluhan writes '...It seemed to me, for instance, that the Feilding-Carrington-Baggally investigation of Palladino was far more serious and conclusive than a rival one by Joseph Jastrow – more complete, more focused, better documented, and carried out by more experienced investigators...'
Yes. And more than this Joseph Jastrow had a prior track record of being biased. He had previously invented a false confession by D D Home.
Posted by: Correcting Skeptics | August 16, 2013 at 04:43 PM
I could add, re Palladino/: that taking a medium who warned competent, unbiased researchers (the Carrington et al), that she would attempt to cheat if she wasn't controlled properly, then not controlling her properly (Munsterberg et al), and then announcing that, er...she tried to cheat - wasn't exactly the skeptical achievement of the 20th century.
Posted by: Steve Hume | August 16, 2013 at 09:11 PM
would you be so kind as to drop me an email @ theod at post dot com? I would appreciate being able to carry on conversation offline.
Posted by: The Od | August 17, 2013 at 05:40 AM
From Steve Hume;
"I was merely curious as to whether you were referring to Randall Neville's 'Life After Death', which is wholly devoted to the recordings made by Woods/Greene, because I don't remember much, if any, verifiable evidence of identity being provided by the communicators in that book. Could be wrong though - it's been a few years since I read it."
Would you consider the Drayton communications with Woods evidential? Drayton and Woods were SPR memebrs and it was Drayton who introduced Woods to Leslie Flint.
Posted by: The Od | August 17, 2013 at 06:08 AM
@ Steve Hume
"Communicating in the middle of a jungle? Most primitive cultures have their own take on mediumship, so I'd be very surprised if there isn't some tribal elder hopping around amidst the Corozo Palms in the Amazon right now, attempting to evoke the spirit of somebody's grandma."
Not attempting, communicating. ;) Spirit-human interaction is new only to the West. There were pre-BC civilizations whose entire communities were built about the trance medium-direct voice guidance from the spirit world including the Hebrews and Egyptians.
We in the West, in particular, are so clued out of the rhythm of our ability to communicate with the spirit world we see the Leslie Flint's of our world as amazing para normal, ethereally outstanding and unbelievably 'supranatural'.
Oh well, it's not the Golden Age, is it?
Posted by: The Od | August 17, 2013 at 06:23 AM
"One small point, which others may disagree with (and I’d be interested to hear) – I don’t think physical mediumship per se is any more prone to fraud than other forms. It seems to me that it is simply the type of fraud which perhaps differs. Although plastic hands, balloons and ‘cheesecloth’ are outrageous methods of fraud, the cold/hot reading and fishing of some mental mediumship is equally fraudulent in my view. Perhaps more subtle, but in some cases just as dishonest."
Dishonesty is dishonesty, are fraudulent physical mediums more dishonest because they have to practice - in the dark - endlessly? Who knows? If effort is the dipstick for measuring dishonesty, fake PM's are full to the mark! :)
"In either case – directly or by research, one thing is true – that we must remain open minded to the evidence, self-deception and the likelihood of fraud, but not be so fixed on what we need to see to believe that we ignore all the evidence along the way."
There are those who seek 'evidence' to support their skeptical viewpoints. They search diligently and admit to their arguments only the dishonest acts of mediumship.
To me, this skewed, planned and oft repeated behavior is the penultimate of dishonesty for they are being untruthful to themselves. As you say "ignore all the evidence along the way" and in doing so perpetuate their choice of childishness and unrelenting ignorance that, somehow ?? they see as righteous, science-driven investigation.
The sadness is that the result of their own hardened, callous devility is their own spiritual retardation. Sure, sure along the way they may cast a light shadow of doubt in a bright room of knowing. But it is of no nevermind in the smallest scheme of things spiritual much less the grandest.
There is an old hillbilly saying "You can't undune dumb, that's what reincarnation is fer. ;)
Posted by: The Od | August 17, 2013 at 06:50 AM
Robert puts up one of the best and most thoughtful blog article length overviews of the difficult, nuanced and perhaps irresolvable issues of physical mediumship, and commentators predictably continue to argue on tangentials, and miss his point entirely.
Sigh. Saw it coming.
Posted by: Lawrence | August 17, 2013 at 07:38 AM
I'd agree with that Lawrence. Unfortunately there are so many 'tangentials' thrown out from this subject that it's impossible to avoid them. The reason is that everyone approaches the subject from a different tangent and their reactions to it tend not to be that nuanced.
This is exacerbated by the fact that so few people these days have actually witnessed the phenomena themselves. And even if they have, as Rob remarked, these are VERY, VERY, VERY easy to fake(for the most part - in the real world, with the lack of photons that usually - not always - pertains).
More about this later.
Posted by: Steve Hume | August 17, 2013 at 09:04 AM
From Steve Hume:
"This is exacerbated by the fact that so few people these days have actually witnessed the phenomena themselves. And even if they have, as Rob remarked, these are VERY, VERY, VERY easy to fake(for the most part - in the real world, with the lack of photons that usually - not always - pertains)."
Rob must have been at different seances than I (Thompson, Alexander e.g.). Slinging trumpets at light speed to within inches of sitters' faces, speaking with voices that could not possibly be recorded, rapping on ceilings and in an instant, landing softly on a table without the least bit of sound, no deceleration apparent to any of the movements.
Watching the dematerialization/rematerialization of medium's arms and the nylon ties that bind to the medium's chair.
Easy to fake? Nigh impossible to fake.
Posted by: The Od | August 17, 2013 at 06:58 PM
"Robert puts up one of the best and most thoughtful blog article length overviews of the difficult, nuanced and perhaps irresolvable issues of physical mediumship"
Debatable but onward!
..."and commentators predictably continue to argue on tangentials, and miss his point entirely. Sigh. Saw it coming."
Take the lead, Lawrence, right the ship. Don't be known as one who complains...yet designs no leadership to reprove us from ourselves!
Posted by: The Od | August 17, 2013 at 11:09 PM
I sat with Stewart a few times and Colin Fry a lot more (including his home circle). I used to record both of their seances and was often involved in setting things up before the audiences arrived (at the 'public' seances). Never sat with Thompson though - my kids had arrived by the time he appeared on the scene and, frankly, I didn't have the time for that anymore, though I'd put a good few years in.
I'm not sure if Rob has much, or any, direct experience of this stuff. He's never mentioned it to me, but I've no doubt that he'll shout up if he has.
The reason I said 'More about this later' is that I was going to add that Stewart's trumpet phenomena were one of only two or three examples of phenomena that I still consider to have been impossible to have been faked under the conditions that I witnessed them. So I'd agree with you there. I went on record to that effect in my review of Stewart's autobiography in the 'Journal of the Society for Psychical Research' a couple of years ago. I wasn't ever close enough to the action with the other examples of Stuart's phenomena you that you mention to comment personally. But I've little reason to doubt the word of those who were.
I would even go so far to say that anyone who witnessed those trumpets flying around - at about 30 feet (or more) in around a second at their fastest - for about 15 minutes at a stretch, and still thought that it was possible to fake it by ANY means, would really need to get some sort of professional help. I won't go into the other 'unfakeable' phenomena I witnessed. They were relatively isolated examples, and there isn't the space here anyway.
HOWEVER. Virtually all of the rest (please see my earlier comments) could easily have been faked. Table levitations (with a small, but quite weighty table) - easy. Raps and creaking from the seance table and other parts of the room, ditto. Most instances of Direct Voice (independent or otherwise) - not that difficult either. I would add that lesser examples of trumpet movements (even at speed, but at a much, much shorter distance from the medium than with Stuart) that I witnessed with other mediums would also have been easy to produce normally.
Now, of course, that doesn't mean that all of the examples that I've mentioned above WERE fraudulent. But I uncovered CONCLUSIVE proof of fraud in the case of very impressive (at first glance) table levitations at a particular home circle. Shure, people didn't believe it was possible at first (despite the fact that the evidence was there on film and the culprit admitted it). But I demonstrated how it had been done, under exactly the same conditions.
I found the lack of interest amongst most other sitters in how a great deal of the phenomena could be produced by normal means exceptionally worrying. In fact, in some ways, even more frustrating than critics who dismiss the subject out of hand.
Posted by: Steve Hume | August 17, 2013 at 11:10 PM
Sitters are the most gullible, especially new and those desperate to believe or subdue grief of their discarnate loved ones. My first seance was nothing more than a small ectoplasmic (odic force) cloud and an overshadowing of the medium by a lower level spirit. I was stunned.
By the third PM sitting, the newness of spirit communication had worn off. I had gained a more academic understanding of the spirit world and with that could see the ethereal planes are not at all so removed or mysterious.
As above, so below.
The Flint/Woods/Greene recordings helped my early on education immensely as did the Greber, Borgia/Benson and the cheesy Astral City/Spiritism experience. The latter three, non-evidential as they are, still engage the mind and heart with the (potential) in and of the spirit world.
I cannot claim near the number of seances you attended and, thanks, I enjoy very much your tale-telling on them ;)
By the by, I don't intend to demean Robert, I don't have a blog where I lay out my true identity for the world to desecrate and admire his courage. My assessment is he's commenting without experience.
There is an argument, a valid one, which states that a fraudulent session with a PM is better than no session at all to those who are uninitiated or unable to detect such fraud. Isn't it the spectacular that draws most people to physical mediumship seance?
Considering the so very few who have been in any seance, that number diminishing dramatically, the truth of the continuity of life does have its day even when the worst of circumstances are the stage.
--(cough) Thompson, Caylor --
Posted by: The Od | August 18, 2013 at 06:39 AM
Thompson? As I said earlier, I can't comment really. Although, I have to admit to a slight tickle in the throat, for some reason.
Caylor? I doubt very much that he'd let the likes of myself or 'Zerdini' anywhere near one of his seances. If he did then I suspect we'd need to take a suitably large supply 'Benylin' along with us ;)
Posted by: Steve Hume | August 18, 2013 at 10:56 AM
Pseudo-skeptics and proponents alike see physical mediums as simply classified.
Genuine. (no fakery)
Sometimes genuine, sometimes not.
Not Genuine. (complete fakery)
They miss the very important subcategory of a medium with a low level and/or earthbound (evil) spirit infestation. You mentioned David Thompson. He fits here perfectly.
There is no doubt that Thompson seances include physical phenomenon that is driven by intelligences that demonstrates capabilities earthlings are not - yet - to the tasks. There are happeneings that can't be faked or, under the variety of Thompson's seance room locations and controls, would be horribly messy and too easily exposed as fake.
The earliest Christians, for that matter the Hebrews in exile, understood that testing the spirit, no matter what the message, was of paramount importance. Lore has it Moses, a medium armied with good incarnate spirits, defeated Pharaoh armied with evil discarnate spirits. Christ was tempted by evil spirits cloaked in good spirit presences in the desert and many other times.
Ethereal as are natural laws are resolute; to think that today's physical mediums are not facing the same issues is historically ill advised.
Ask Colin Fry ;)
Makes no difference in the end all. Etherea resides within you and if there is no mediumship whatsoever, then a little quiet introspection on a regular basis, raising those chakra energy levels and you too can emulate the teachings of the Temple Of Man and the temple of man.
Posted by: The Od | August 18, 2013 at 06:59 PM
Excuse the lack of French, but Taylor is full of it.
I enjoined Michael Roll and Wayne Caylor after the latter was slopping "bring all you investigators on" nonsense on his website (now withdrawn). Proposed a draft of a contract which would be of the mutual efforts of the three of us, a draft only mind you, that would protect the medium and instill confidence in the quality and controls of the investigators (Roll and Pearson). Ground breaking stuff, right? lol
Roll who has sat languid now for decades would not accept the draft concept and Caylor pitched his pickles over the idea of something actually be in writing. Both ran as quickly as they could.
'Nuff said there I imagine.
Posted by: The Od | August 18, 2013 at 07:06 PM
Well they do say like attracts like... :)
Posted by: Paul | August 18, 2013 at 11:18 PM
The word you may have had in mind might have been 'merde', Od?
But your posts (and Paul's comment) have actually brought us to what I believe is the key to the social usefulness of mediumship of all types. That is...IF mediumship at its VERY rare best DOES really represent what its proponents claim.
Ironically, the 'like attracts like' aspects of it are also the reason for my capitalisation above.
More later, maybe.
Posted by: Steve Hume | August 19, 2013 at 10:16 AM