Monday, February 12, 2007

The Dark Side

From Michael Sudduth:


I concur with your point about the authenticity of psychic phenomena.

Anyone who believes that all psychic phenomena can be adequately explained by fraud is clearly mistaken. D.D. Home's physical mediumship, cannot be adequately explained in this manner. Nor can the mental mediumship of Piper and Leonard.

On the former, see Stephen Braude, Limits of Influence: Psychokinesis and the Philosophy of Science. On the latter, see Alan Gauld, Mediumship and Survival. David Ray Griffin's book Philosophy, Parapsychology, and Spirituality presents a pretty good argument against the fraud hypothesis. For a more recent examination of potentially fraudulent vs. authentic cases, see Braude's forthcoming book, The Gold Leaf Lady and Other Parapsychological Investigations (University of Chicago). I've read some of the chapter drafts. It's a good contribution to Braude's already extensive collection of contributions to parapsychological inquiry and survival of death.

Let me add, though, that I don't accept the "demonic hypothesis" as adequate to explain all the cases either. I find this approach, the common Christian one, to be largely based on a misunderstanding of what psychic phenomena are. Indeed, depending on whether psi-functioning can be naturalized or not, attributing such events to demonic agency would be akin to attributing airflight to necromancy. Christians need to develop more intellectual responsibility, especially since they tend to demand it of others with respect to understanding Christianity.

Since I have recently discussed this extensively on the H.H. Price Society group, interested parties may read my posts there, including my own encounters with the paranormal, which will eventually find their way into a more developed written form.

See especially these posts: 1, 2, 3, 4.

On my view, there are many cases of psychic phenomena that cannot be explained by the usual suspects (e.g., fraud, malobservation) or the demonic agency hypothesis. These phenomena must provide evidence for human cognitive functioning and causal powers beyond what can
presently be explained by scientific models of the world OR they provide evidence of the post-postmortem survival of some aspect of the human person. The latter would of course entail the former, but since the converse isn't true, it's best to distinguish between these two hypotheses.

I'm presently teaching a course that goes into considerable detail about the concept and evidences of survival. In addition to various handouts, there is an archive of some of the best on-line materials on the question of survival and related issues.



  1. Erratum:

    "Indeed, depending on whether psi-functioning can be naturalized or not, attributing such events to demonic agency would be akin to attributing airflight to decromancy."

    The last word here should be "necromancy."




    Randi? Surely you jest.


  4. Michael,

    Do you care to give us the best-evidenced and most-solid case, in your own opinion, of psychic phenomena that are not naturalistic (e.g. fraud or skilled inference)?

    Preferably, there is some serious online documentation of the case.

  5. >Do you care to give us the best-evidenced and most-solid case, in
    >your own opinion, of psychic phenomena that are not naturalistic
    >(e.g. fraud or skilled inference)? Preferably, there is some serious
    >online documentation of the case.


    Sorry it has taken me a week to get back to you. I'm extremely
    busy. But I've taken some time to lay out what I consider some
    of the better evidences for psi, though I think it's important ultimately
    to view these cases in relation to each other, not in isolation.

    As far as psychokinesis is concerned, some of the best cases are
    those investigated and documented by William Roll and his colleagues
    at the Rhine Institute in North Carolina. Three cases stand out in particular:
    the Miami Poltergeist (1967), the Olive Hill Kentucky case (1968), and
    the Columbus (Tina Resch) case (1984), controversial as the latter is.
    The first two cases, along with a dozen or so others, are discussed by
    Roll in his book *The Poltergeist* (1972, 2004). The latter is the focus
    in Roll's book *Unleashed* (2004). Roll studied under H.H. Price at Oxford
    and is well-known for his theorizing about the spontaneous recurrent
    psychokinesis (RSPK).

    For an overview of largely PK cases (though with some ESP cases
    included), see William Roll and Michael Persinger, "Investigations
    of Poltergeists and Haunts: A Review and Interpretation" in *Hauntings
    and Poltergeists: Multidisciplinary Perspectives,* ed. Houran and
    Lange (2001). (I have an electronic version of this paper if you would
    like a copy). The cases above are included in outline form in this
    paper, including the Olive Hill case. In this particular case, Roll
    claims that he and John Stump of the Rhine Institute witnessed
    the anomalous movement of various household objects, including
    the complete levitation of a large kitchen table with no one within
    arms/legs reach and no other means of causing it to lift by known

    The Gold Leaf Lady case investigated by Berthold E. Schwarz
    and Stephen Braude in the late 1980s resists explanation in
    terms of fraud, delusion, and the other usual suspects, despite the
    efforts of Paul Kurtz of CSICOP to debunk this. The case is
    discussed by Braude in his forthcoming book *The Gold Leaf Lady
    and Other Paranormal Investigations* (forthcoming 2007). Braude's
    revelations about Kurtz and Randi make one seriously doubt the
    competence and intellectual honesty of many contemporary

    There's also a whole range of research literature on table-tilting,
    levitations, and associated phenomena in the line of D.D. Home
    and Eusapia Palladino. While I believe the case for psi with
    respect to Home and Palladino is good, it's important to see
    the continuities between 19th and early 20th century physical
    mediumship and the investigation of spontaneous cases of
    ostensible psychokinesis since the 1950s. Some of this material
    is quite good in my view because (a) some of the investigators
    had a history of exposing frauds, (b) experimental controls were
    implemented, (c) the phenomena were repeated under similar
    controls, (d) the investigators had academic credentials and
    outstanding reputations, (e) many of the incidents took place
    in a good light, and (f) in some cases the phenomena were documented through
    various electronic recording devices, including video.

    Tony Cornell's G.Circle and H.Circle séance experiments in the
    1950s, documented in his *Investigating the Paranormal* (2002),
    provides an important contribution to PK cases investigated by
    a researcher with a record of exposing fraud. Indeed, Cornell takes
    note of several fraudulent cases in his book. These are clearly
    distinguished from other cases that resist such neat natural-type
    explanations. Cornell is a graduate of Cambridge University and
    a life-long investigator/researcher of paranoral phenomena. His
    co-authored book with Alan Gauld *Poltergeists* (1979) provides
    a very useful list of 500 haunting and poltergeist cases, many
    of which are subjected to comparative (statistical) analysis in
    the book.

    Kenneth Batcheldor, Colin Brookes-Smith, and Dave Hunt conducted
    hundreds of experiments in the 1960s and early 1970s to test the
    idea of table levitation. See Batcheldor, "Report on a Case of Table
    Levitation and Associated Phenomena," *Journal of the Society for
    Psychical Research,* 43, no. 729 (September 1966), pp. 339-356;
    Brookes-Smith and Hunt, "Some Experiments in Psychokinesis,"
    *Journal of Society of Psychical Research, 45, 1970, pp. 265-281,
    "Data Tape Recorded Experimental PK Phenomena," Journal of
    the Society of Psychical Research, 47 (1973), pp. 69-89. Batcheldor
    reported success with table levitations (as high as the chests of
    the participants), under variously controlled circumstances, in 70 of his 200 experiments running from April 1964 to December 1965.

    Members of the Toronto Society of Psychical Research seemed
    to have replicated some of the phenomena reported by Batcheldor,
    Hunt, and Brookes-Smith in their famous Philip Group experiments
    conducted 1972-1974, in which anomalous table movements, raps
    and knocks were produced in the style of the old Victorian séance.
    (See Iris Owen, *Conjuring Philip,* 1976). I actually own a copy
    of video footage of the Philip Group's experiments. Since I've
    witnessed the same phenomena myself, first-hand in my home
    and under self-imposed controls during a six month period in
    1981, all of this rings true to me. (At another time perhaps I'll
    share my own encounters with psychic phenomena).

    The best defense of large-scale psychokinesis is probably Stephen
    Braude's *Limits of Influence.* Braude's account of Home and
    Palladino is without rival in my view.

    As far as ESP goes, the mediumship of Piper and Leonard, without
    a doubt, the most impressive cases of ESP. If you don't have the
    patience to read through the hundreds of pages of documentation
    on the Piper and Leonard séance sessions (which stretch over a
    20 year period of time, under rigorous skeptical scrutiny), you
    should probably read C.D. Broad, *Lectures on Psychical Research*
    (1962), Alan Gauld, *Mediumship and Survival* (1982) and
    Stephen Braude, *Immortal Remains* (2004). See also, William
    James "Report on Mrs. Piper's Hodgson-Control" (1909). In fact,
    I'd recommend the entire collection of James' essays on psychical
    research published by Harvard in 1986.

    More recently, William Roll's investigation of the Wyrick family
    in Georgia in the late 1980s and again in the late 1990s, and
    Loyd Auerbach's investigation of a series of apparitional
    experiences in Livermore, California in the late 1980s, are
    impressive cases in my view. I've had the good fortune of being
    able to discuss these cases with Roll and Auerbach. The Wyrick
    case was made into a docudrama on the Discovery Channel
    called *A Haunting in Georgia.* The two hour film does not
    do justice to the actual case, which I've discussed with Roll
    and his colleague on the investigation Andrew Nichols. Roll
    discusses this case in the Roll and Persinger paper above.
    Here's a link to the New Dominion film about the case:

    Auerbach's investigation is summarized in his popular book
    *Hauntings and Poltergeists* (2004). Since this book is
    written for a popular audience, it doesn't do justice to the
    actual case.

    Stephen Braude's discussion of veridical apparitional experiences
    of the living makes an important contribution to the issue of
    ESP as well. See also, Griffin's discussion veridical elements in
    several apparitional and near death experience cases in his
    *Parapsychology, Philosophy, and Spirituality* (1997).

    While there is certainly some provocative experimental evidence
    of ESP (e.g., ganzfeld experiments. remote viewing experiments),
    I find the non-experimental evidence more compelling. Indeed, the
    emphasis on experimental evidence for psi seems fundamentally
    flawed for the reasons noted by Stephen Braude in his *Limits of
    Influence* (1986, 1991).

    But for a good on-line overview of remote viewing, see Jessica Utts:
    Here's a link to the 1994 Honorton and Bem paper on Ganzfeld experiments
    Bem's response to Hyman's criticisms of the Ganzfeld tests

    A good recent overview of the experimental evidence for receptive and
    expressive psi is found in Dean Radin's *Entangled Minds* (2006).

    Here are some other good websources for psi (and survival).

    Hope this helps.