Thursday, October 01, 2020

Enfield Miscellany (Part 4)

(For an explanation of what this series is about, see part 1 here. Parts 2 and 3 can be found here and here. I'll be citing Maurice Grosse and Guy Playfair's Enfield tapes below. I'll use "MG" to designate a tape from Grosse's collection and "GP" to designate one from Playfair's. MG88B refers to tape 88B in Grosse's collection, GP70B refers to 70B in Playfair's, and so on.)

Unknown Precedent

One type of event to look for in paranormal cases is something that has precedent, but only in a context unknown to the people involved in the event. The precedent adds credibility to the claim that the event occurred, and the ignorance of the precedent on the part of those involved in the event undermines the notion that the event was faked based on that precedent. I noticed some incidents in the Enfield case that seem to meet those criteria.

Peggy Hodgson reported experiencing a sensation like a cat sitting on her feet and the bottom of her legs (GP5A, 4:44, especially 5:59). I've come across a similar report, but only briefly and in passing in a summary of a haunting case that occurred in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries (Alan Gauld and A.D. Cornell, Poltergeists [United States: White Crow Books, 2017], approximate Kindle location 3236). Gauld and Cornell refer to how a woman in the case reported "a feeling as if a cat were curling round her feet". In the Enfield case, on the tape cited above, Peggy refers to "a cat sitting on you…on your feet, [unintelligible] your legs". In all the books I've read on paranormal topics, articles I've read, podcasts I've listened to, etc., I don't recall anybody other than the woman cited by Gauld and Cornell and Peggy Hodgson reporting such an incident. And it seems extremely improbable that somebody like Peggy would have come across the obscure incident briefly mentioned by Gauld and Cornell or have been significantly influenced by somebody else who came across it.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Christianity And Living Agent Psi

I've posted an Amazon review of Stephen Braude's recent book. The review repeats some of what I've said here, but also adds some comments on other subjects, such as the evidence Christianity provides for life after death.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

How Replicable Should The Paranormal Be?

Critics of the paranormal often object that paranormal events should be documented in scientific experiments if such phenomena actually occur. It's also common to object to decreases in reported paranormal activity over time or from one region to another, as if we should expect more consistency if the paranormal actually exists.

There are a lot of problems with those objections (e.g., the documentation we already have from scientific experiments), and Stephen Braude discusses some of those problems in his recent book. What I'm quoting below isn't meant to be exhaustive. I doubt that Braude intended to cover all of the ground involved, and I'd include other factors from a Christian perspective:

As time went on, more and more people, both in and out of the field of psychical research, took seriously the possibility that physical mediums might in fact be PK agents and therefore the actual cause of phenomena attributed by others to surviving spirits. And even when the mediums and other spiritists resisted this belief, the fact remains that the belief was increasingly "in the air" and difficult to ignore as growing numbers of secular researchers began to investigate the phenomena for themselves. But this can only have had a chilling effect on the psychology of mediumship generally. Mediums knew that even some sympathetic investigators considered them to be causes of - and not simply vessels for - paranormal physical phenomena. So they now had a concern that quite possibly had never entered their minds before - namely, that they might have powers they couldn't control and that conceivably could do great harm.

It's not surprising, then, to find that Eusapia Palladino's impressive phenomena in the 1890s and first decade of the twentieth century were less impressive than those of Home twenty years earlier. And it's even less surprising to find that many of the mediumistic "superstars" in the next several decades of the twentieth century had increasingly less intimidating repertoires of phenomena. For example, by the time we come to Rudi Schneider in the 1920s and 30s, the most sensational phenomena tended merely to be medium-sized object movements. And more recently, alleged PK superstars such as Nina Kulagina and Felicia Parise produced even smaller-scale phenomena.

Moreover, it's interesting to note how PK superstars in the latter half of the twentieth century seemed to suffer greatly when producing their phenomena. Their spiritistic predecessors typically went into a trance or at least into a state of passive receptivity, and occasionally they were tired afterwards. But more modern PK stars have more thoroughly accepted their role as the originator of their physical manifestations, and they seem quite clearly to be making a conscious effort to achieve those results. But of course, since they acknowledge their own role in the production of the phenomena, it's not surprising that they should have to work hard (say) to make a cigarette or pill bottle move a millimeter or an inch. In fact, consider how convenient effortful PK is psychologically - that is, from the psychic's point of view. If PK subjects feel it's necessary to expend a great deal of energy to produce only a small effect, then (in a careless line of thought characteristic of much self deception) it can easily seem to them as if their life or health would be endangered by trying to produce a phenomenon worth worrying about….

So, practically speaking, investigators may simply have to acknowledge a law of diminishing returns in applying controls. Besides, it would hardly be surprising if at some point (given human psychology), continually tightening controls simply snuffs out the phenomena. And how readily that occurs will undoubtedly vary from one subject to the next, just as our inhibition-thresholds vary widely in many familiar life contexts. I believe that's one reason why laboratory phenomena are so modest compared with phenomena in natural settings, if the phenomena can be duplicated at all in the lab. As I've argued elsewhere, since we really are nowhere close to knowing what psi's natural history is (i.e. its function or purpose - if any - in real-life settings), for all we know it may be similar in crucial respects to familiar phenomena or abilities (e.g., sexual performance, athletic skills) that can only be evaluated in their natural contexts, not in the straitjacketed conditions required for formal experiments.

(Dangerous Pursuits [San Antonio, Texas: Anomalist Books, 2020], 10-11, 69)

Sunday, September 27, 2020

The Dark Side Of The Paranormal

I've often made the point that one of the issues that needs to be addressed more in discussions of the paranormal is the negative nature of much of what's involved. Stephen Braude makes some comments relevant to that subject in his new book:

In fact, over several decades of public lectures, I've had many opportunities to see how much distress I cause when I simply raise the issue [of the potential for using psychic powers for bad purposes] with my audiences. Significantly, that reaction has been especially intense at various New Age conventions where attendees focus exclusively on the potential benefits of psychic influence, apparently refusing to acknowledge the obvious point that no power can be used only for the good. I must confess, I've found it mischievously satisfying on those occasions to play the role of spokesperson for the Dark Side. With gratifying regularity, I've sent some in my audience home in tears….

I'm aware that many people accept the possibility of psychically influencing normal, everyday states of affairs, at least when the effects are salutary - for example, in the realm of healing or meditating for crime reduction. But of course, no force can be used exclusively for the good. So it's both interesting and revealing that few of those who propose beneficial applications of psi consider equally seriously the potential for pernicious uses of the same power.

(Dangerous Pursuits [San Antonio, Texas: Anomalist Books, 2020], 5, 149)