Annekatrin Puhle, Dr.phil. / PhD

Philosophie, Gesundheitsberatung, Bücher / Philosophy, Health Consulting, Books

Annekatrin Puhle, Dr.phil.  /  PhD header image 3

Book Chapter: Spirit of Science


Adrian Parker & Annekatrin Puhle

Science in Search of Spirit. In James Houran (Ed.): From Shaman to Scientist: Essay’s on Humanity’s Search for Spirits. Lanham, Maryland, Toronto, Oxford: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2004, pp. 1-19. 286 pages.


Humanity has always searched for the “edges” of the world, for the end of space, for the limits of the reality we think we would live in and for what might exist beyond matter and bodily life – and humanity has always found a rich world filled with non- material things and beings, as a complementary world to the material one. Originally used as a term for the Siberian medicine man, the shaman is now seen as in more general terms as a traditional guide found in many cultures whose functions at the limits of this world as it opens into a vista of strange experiences and beings. The shaman is in some aspects the prototype of the psychical researcher. Through thousands of years, shamans all over the world have developed skills in going to and in some measure beyond the limits of the so-called reality. And there was always good reason for them to do so, idealistic reason as well as pragmatic reason, for instance gaining intuitive knowledge of a medical, social and even juridical nature, but also for the purpose gaining religious insights. This inner space is populated by a variety of beings like spirits, ghosts and demons, and the shaman is the responsible person for making contact with them: he would get advice and knowledge from them or has to ask for a pardon when a group member did something wrong or for ask permission when a bear was to be killed for food. This connection with the invisible world, with spirits, the souls of the deceased ancestors, so to say with the complementary side of us and our family, has traditionally been seen helpful and useful in terms of giving a dramatic result such as is the case in a spontaneous healing. Yet this contact has also fulfilled a much deeper and more meaningful task, that of creating a harmonious life and world in all its possible aspects. Mankind could be integrated in the whole of the world or vice versa the whole of the world could be integrated in the human mind. What we call reality was often regarded as smaller part of a greater consistency. The other world, the reversed world with all its reversed inhabitants, is in the eye of the shaman a more natural part of the whole.

During the last two thousand years, going back to the origin of science by the Greek philosophers Democritos and Aristoteles who first introduced the principle of induction, the ways of creating order and making sense of the whole world have developed and radically changed. This progress did not however occur without the loss of the coherence and the sense of belongingness from important aspects of being and its relationship to the world. The “All-whole” which is the starting point for scientific thinking according to the principle of deduction, has fallen into its parts so there is a dire need to regain the total picture. In contemporary Western society, the power of the shamans has been superseded by those of the scientists, but it is then specifically research in such challenging areas as psychoneuroimmunology, quantum physics, and parapsychology which may be provide the very stuff needed for science to reinsert some of these lost aspects of holistic thinking.

Our sophisticated methods of investigating the world of spirits might lead us to believe that humanity knowledge has progressed to the extent that science provides us with Carl Sagan ́s “candle in the dark”. We have to nevertheless ask ourselves if the progress in technical and methodological skills has actually shed sufficient light on this area to reveal anything of real importance? Will this pure technical advance guide us to the centre, to the core or the inner and outer source of the spiritual realm so as to finally satisfy humanity’s search for spirits or is the whole enterprise illusory? Perhaps the biggest achievement of science to date is in showing that the area has survived scrutiny and scepticism. Well documented case studies still exist today and comparing them with those last few centuries strongly suggest that the core of the ghost experience remains and persists with only the superficial characteristics of the ghost altering during its manifestation.

The Rational Attitude towards Paranormal Phenomena.

Clearly one difference between the shamanic and scientific view of the world concerns the use of our intuitive and logical modes of thinking which leads us to ask: Is intellectual reasoning itself enough for understanding the paranormal? This question arose for one of us (Annekatrin Puhle) in the context of reading of the German 19th century authority on ghosts: Georg Friedrich Daümer. Daümer, writing in 1867, distinguishes here between two types of the reason: The first is the “common sense” or more literally translated “the common and so called healthy reasoning”, whereas the second is “the reasonable divine intelligence” (Daumer 1867, vol.1, p.39). The first type of reasoning, became dominant during the last centuries, so that Daumer could describe in 1867 how common sense “reigns in the sciences and in the opinions of the educated world” (Daumer 1867, vol.1, p.39). Common sense was seen as the winner in the battle with superstition and resulted in the so-called age of enlightenment (Daumer 1867, vol.1, p.39). This type of intelligence, if I continue to quote Daumer, “is that of the down to earth materialist and atheist, the ignorer of the soul and mind, the opponent of all higher and deeper things in mankind and nature. It accepts nothing but the dead, the mindless and soulless, that of outer reality as perceived through the senses and reality’s outer mechanical state of things and the way these things relate to each other” (Daumer 1867, vol.1, pp.39, 40).

The direct opposite of this type of intelligence is that of superstition, which he describes as an “extravagant affirmation of higher powers and effects” (Daümer 1867, vol.1, p.40). According to this belief everything is possible. To use Daumers words again: “the whole world becomes a ghostly apparition and a fairytale” (Daumer, 1867, vol.1, p.41). On the other hand, the first type of thinking can come in here taking upon itself the role where it has to “correct and regulate the superstition” (Daumer, 1867, vol.1, pp. 42, 43). For Daumer this is indeed “he intelligence of the true and genuine thinker” (Daumer, 1867, vol.1, p.43). While it shares with the enlightened common sense the capability of “critical prudency and caution” (Daumer, 1867, vol.1, p.43), it has nothing to do with ideas and opinions which have no basis in reality.

Despite this, this common sense as we may call it, goes far beyond the narrow limitations of rationalistic thinking with its – as Daumer expresses it – “unlively principals, standpoints and systems” (Daumer, 1867, vol.1, p.43). Some further quotations by Daumer are even more explicit: “It may let some but by no means all miracles and magical events pass through its scrutiny, and not without critical appraisal; it sets standards in order to ensure [the phenomena] are not due to fraud and imagination.” (Daumer, 1867, vol.1, p.43). “The reasoning of the true and genuine thinker understands the truth whereas the reasoning which contents itself with apparent and superficial solutions, doesn’t understand anything at all” (Daumer, 1867, vol.1, p.43).

In trying to come to terms with paranormal phenomena, we should really begin to deal with the meaning of the word phenomenon before confronting the paranormal aspect: The Greek work φαιvóμεvov for the English “phenomenon”, actually means nothing more than “something shining or appearing” and is related to the Greek word for light, “φώς”. Such a phenomenon can either appear in front of our eyes or even in front of our “inner eye”. We have examples of the inner eye from Scotland, in particular the Hebrides, the isle of Man, from Holland, in particular from Bommel (Beaumont 1721, pp.106, 107; Martin 1720), and from Westfalen in Germany (Horst 1830). The analogue type of an inner ear might be the common experience of the “vardøgr” in Norway people hear certain occurrences before they become true. We have as well reports from Scotland about cries which certain persons can hear before someone dies (Beaumont 1721, pp. 103, 104). There is even a claim of an inner smell (Beaumont 1721, p.104) meaning that some people could smell the future.

Returning to the inner eye, whereas the phenomena we see with our material eyes are measurable, objective and normal, the pictures in front of our inner eye are idiosyncratic, not easily measurable, and exist alongside the normal ones (hence the Greek word παρα in paranormal). Both types of phenomena do then indeed exist for the observer. This brings up the traditional philosophical notion that the individual thing is the only really existing and concrete thing whose reality stands in contrast to its abstract name: “Individuum est ineffabile”. This means that at the moment the object is described, it looses its purity of existence. By contrast, our common ways of summarising things in terms of collective concepts are not really existing, they are unreal and abstract. To give an example in parapsychology, we summarise people with names like “things” as the individuals Hans Bender, J.B. Rhine and so on but their abstract names are not in the world of reality. This means that what is actually real is an infinite list of holistic individual things and beings. Of course we have give names to all the things and attributes we perceive and can distinguish. Naturally we can measure and understand quite a lot of phenomena by lifting them up to a higher, abstract level but the ultimate purpose of this is to make mental demands on us easier by simplifying the world and thereby lowering the cognitive load on us. Yet this results in a paradox: the more abstraction there is, the further we come from reality while the more detailed and concrete that the description is, the closer that we come to the truth.

All that has said up to now is that all the phenomena, the paranormal as well as the normal ones, are existing in the form of individual ones. It becomes then arbitrary to cut out some of them of the picture of the world merely because we have not found a convenient construct for them which capture their uniqueness and at the same time fit our world view. The question has often been raised in the form of: Is it defensible to exclude some phenomena from being real ones because they are unique, spontaneous and uncontrolled? From this point it is regrettable that psychical research is often seen as second rate to experimental parapsychology. Historically it has always been difficult to accept all the existing phenomena as belonging to the real world. Often the most appreciated and convenient part of the whole is cut out and called the true and the real world.

A striking example of this trend is of course to be found in by the traditional philosophy of India, which has in fact the converse view of reality as compared to our own. The visible and measurable world is regarded as a pure deception, a cosmic illusion, called “maya” which means literally the measurable (Yogananda, 1996 p.51). The touchable material world is unreal because of permanent changing so nothing is steady. By contrast, the real world is an invisible world, which can be perceived directly only by few people in the form of visions.

Similar ideas are to be found in the Greek Presocratic philosophy of Herakleitos and Parmenides. Herakleitos saw the reality in the permanent changing of things expressed in Plato’s famous words “everything flows”. By way of contrast Parmenides, described reality as something eternal and of constant being. Plato then came with the very Indian sounding idea he presented in his well known dialogue about the immortality of the soul in which humans are to be found sitting on the ground of a cave and starring at the wall of the cave. Only the shadows of the real things passing the entrance of the cave in the daylight, are perceived as reality.

Not quite the converse of our own worldview and not quite so dichotomous as the Indian and Platonic philosophies, is the philosophy of the Romantic Period. The Romantic scientists, poets and philosophers valued states of consciousness which can bring us nearer to vision of the wholeness of the world, in the form of perceiving pure and non-measurable phenomena. Both types of reasoning are combined in Romantic Philosophy in order to achieve a true understanding of the world. For at least some individuals during this period, this created a solid ground as a basis for researching and integrating paranormal phenomena. The major representative for the psychical research during the Romantic Period in Germany is Justinus Kerner (1786-1862), a physician and poet. His most known report, “Die Seherin von Prevost” (1829) (translated into English in 1845 as “The Seeress of Prevorst”) had such an impact that it was immediately translated by Catherine Crowe into English. The case concerns a Frederike Hauffe, who for some time stayed as a bedridden patient in Kerner’s house. During this period she was constantly in contact with a ghost who told her in some detail about court case in which there had been a miscarriage of justice. As a consequence of the information given by this ghost, the correct facts in the case could be found out.

In 1836 Justinus Kerner published another report, this time no less remarkable, because this haunting and poltergeist case took place in an extremely well watched prison, or how Kerner called it, “in a prison within the prison” (Kerner 1836, p.XI). This becomes remarkable when we note there were 50 witnesses (Bauer 1989, p.8) including Kerner himself and his wife. The case centred around the 39 year-old widow Elisabeth Eslinger and showed the wide range of phenomena that we associate with hauntings and poltergeists. The phenomena, described by Kerner as “naked facts”, (Kerner 1836, p.XX) were directly based on unedited witnesses accounts. Most of the accounts belonging to this case described a light coloured apparition which sometimes took on a human form. Occasionally a white figure was seen, often with small sheep which could change into stars. One of these witnesses, Margareta Laibesberg, wrote in her diary:

“At 3 o ́clock I suddenly saw a bright shadow in the size of a man standing at the locked door of the prison. He was surrounded by a lot of small stars. I saw the figure moving its head but I couldn’t recognise the details of the face. It hovered around there in the night, went away and came back several times. Finally at about 5 o clock, it hovered through the open window, saying very clearly: God should protect you!”(Kerner, 1836, p.83)

A wide range of acoustic phenomena were reported including strange voices, footsteps, fluttering wings, a variation of crashing sounds, raps, and thuds, so much so that finally even the whole house shook. Doors were found to open on their own. Heaps of sand were thrown time and time and again. A class of even more sensory phenomena were also experienced such as blankets being pulled off, and draughts of cold air sometimes combined with a terrible smell of dead bodies. The case ended in a rather special way: Elisabeth Eslinger claimed to have sent her ghost into the house of the Kerner family where it turned up almost every night in their bedroom during the course of several weeks – later even without Elisabeth’s order (Kerner 1836, p.179).

The Eslinger case is a classical historical case. Kerner was so persuaded that the Eslinger case was genuine that he wrote in the introduction to his book: “It is sad that humans who are totally imprisoned in the isolation of their cerebral life see themselves as critical judges of phenomena which belong to a completely different life than the one in which they live.” (Kerner 1836, p.XLI). The Elisabeth Eslinger case is discussed by Eberhard Bauer (Bauer, 1989) in some detail.

This takes us back the question we began with: Is rationality enough to understand the paranormal? Certainly many believe so and as recently as 2000, Cambridge University was host for an international conference titled Rational Perspectives on the Paranormal (Carr, 2002) with about 50 delegates including many representatives from of the English intelligentsia. Despite many cogent and compelling presentations from critics and parapsychologists, there appeared to be little progress towards an understanding of the phenomena.

Paranormal Phenomena – A Challenge or an Insult to the Intellect?

There are three recognised “dethronings” of mankind. The revolutionary thinking of Copernikus, Darwin and Freud lead us to understand how humans effectively diminutive are in their own world and orchestrated a fundamental change in the way in which we now have come to see ourselves. The Jewish-German philosopher Michael Landmann thought a fourth hard realization should be added, this time from the philosophy of history, showing the relativity of knowledge to history and culture (Landmann 1972, p.248). Without this realization we are apt to look down on our ancestors for their undeveloped and uncritical views of the world and become seduced into believing that we had reached a “higher state” because of our more sophisticated thinking, while from their viewpoint this might imply a more limited thinking about the world.

In addition to those four downfalls in mankind’s egocentrism, the paranormal offers a fifth challenge towards human intellect: The realisation that there might be genuine paranormal phenomena is in fact humbling. At the crown of all these strange phenomena are to be found poltergeists and hauntings. They are “most shocking”, said Hans Bender (Bender 1958/59, p.81). They are the “biggest offence against healthy human reason, one’s common sense, and one’s good taste”, wrote Fanny Moser in her case collection, appropriately titled “Spuk” (Spooks) (Moser 1950, p.13). That was written in 1950 and the question remains as to how we deal with this shock created by the paranormal? The question entails that we must ask by implication: Are we open to the insight that the laws of the one side of our reasoning are working hard for maintaining only one special part of the reality? Could it be that we need to open our mind for new realities which in fact do not delete our certain, predictable and measurable “world of little boxes” but add another dimension to it?

The quotation “life in little boxes” is C.G. Jung’s, used by him after unwillingly returning from a vision while in hospital for an illness (Jung 1963). In opening our attitudes to the possibility of the paranormal means not merely conceding the occurrence of freak or anomalous phenomena but taking seriously the rich findings in psychical research have to say. One of the most challenging types of experiences recorded there are what are called entity encounter experiences which range from so-called alien encounters to even the more traditional creatures from folklore. Of course the many cognitive psychologist would dismiss these experiences due to as false awakenings confused by the presence of hypnagogic imagery. Yet on the other hand these theories were recently reviewed in an important catalogue of research in this general area published by the American Psychological Association: Varieties of Anomalous Experience. In the review there of alien abduction experiences (AAEs), we are advised that “The available theories of AAEs should be regarded as provisional and necessarily incomplete. It may be asking too much for any theory or even any combination of variables identified to date to account for the detail, richness, and idiosyncratic aspects of any individual’s AAE.” (Cardena, Lynn, & Krippner, 2000, p. 276)

There are in fact cases that appear to defy simplistic explanations – as for instance in the case of two apparently independent witnesses, who, as psychologists fully acquainted with the cognitive error hypothesis, yet despite this they reported the same hallucination. This was the case reported by Ingrid Slack and David Fontana in the context of the Scole investigation of a modern mediumistic séance (Keen, Allison, & Fontana, D. 1999). Ingrid Slack describes her experience as follows:

“Three figure-like objects appeared in front of us. They were about 30 cm in length and quite narrow, about 4 cm wide. A drape hung from the head of each figure to its full length, so no body-shape was discernible. The whole shape was illuminated, and at the top there was what could be described as a form of face. There was some specific movement where a mouth might be. These forms moved in front of me, and as I touched the drape I again felt a texture akin to muslin as the form moved away out of my reach towards DF [David Fontana] on my left.” (Keen, M., Allison, A. & Fontana, D. 1999, p.360).

Obviously ad hoc explanations might be applied here in the form of fraudulent use during the séance of dolls. Nevertheless, it may be important not to pre- judge experiences by forcing them into ready-made hypotheses. Indeed if science identifies itself still follows the etymological in the form of the Latin verb “scire” meaning to know, then it is not allowed to go around these unique experiences of responsible individuals. In short, to become knowing and wise by science means at least to open all our eyes and to use all the capabilities of human reasoning.

Changes in the Interpretation of Ghosts and Poltergeists:

It is not just that poltergeists are the most “shocking” discovery in psychical research and insult our common sense, but our attitude towards poltergeists has been changing during history and in different cultures. There are two important issues raised by interpretations of poltergeist phenomena. One issue raises the question which Ian Stevenson expressed with his paper “Are Poltergeists Living or are they Dead?” (Stevenson, 1972). The other issue centers on the question which can be raised concerning ghosts as well. It was already asked in Goethe’s Faust: “Is it holy, or is it evil?” but we may need to redress as, do ghosts have intentional behavior?

To go to the historical roots: The folklore from pagan times tells about evil ghosts which were to be found living not far from human settlements, outside of villages. These ghosts were said to be powerful nature spirits and were often attributed with typical poltergeist qualities (Bächthold-Stäubli & Hoffmann-Krayer 1987, vol.3, p.478). Their preferred area habitat were more natural areas such as the forest and fields but their came in contact with people could be both pleasant or less pleasant. They could be brought into human villages, for example by cutting a fir tree for house building with the result that the ghost in the tree was said to change into a domestic spirit (Bächthold-Stäubli Hoffmann-Krayer 1987, vol.3, p.475) which would then fulfil a helpful function in the home. There are in fact many examples of the good nature of ghosts living in houses together with humans. They have been described as supporting and caring, giving advice and telling the future, taking the blankets away when children have been sleeping too long and so on. They lived in friendship with the humans. This peaceful cooperation was broken apart when Christianity, the new religion took over and saw paganism as a rival. From Martin Luther onwards, we have documents about threatening ghosts being perceived now around and inside of houses instead of far away in the countryside.

This meant now that the “bad ghosts” became the noisy and stone throwing ghosts later known as the poltergeists. They not only invaded the privacy of the home but as in the case Justinus Kerner and his wife even the bedroom became a central point for a poltergeist haunting. And not only did that poltergeists attack people by throwing things at them (usually with a remarkable accuracy in missing) but they finally literally got under the skin. There was the case of Eleanora Zugun, documented on film, whose skin was persistently scratched by the perceived ghost (Mulacz, 1999). There is of course in a sense not new since there a long tradition in which possession is seen as an effect of evil ghosts or demons which are phenomenologically related to poltergeist cases. Possession could be seen in this context as a complete internalization of ghosts. Currently we explain the internalization in the case of poltergeists phenomena in adolescents as conflicts occurring mostly during puberty inside the focal person.

To summarise: The “bad ghosts” have come from the forests, moved into the houses, and finally reached the sanctity of inner life – or to speak more philosophically – the soul of human beings. But now this implies a dramatic our way of interpreting the source of ghosts has gone through a dramatic transition: The cause of poltergeist phenomena is no longer attributed to the visible ghost. It is connected now, although not necessarily caused by, but nevertheless somehow attributed to the human person in terms of agency. After being taken into the human dwellings, the evil ghost has been humanised (as the focal person). This progression seems like a brilliant example of human creativity but it sis a form of creativity that could give demonstrable effects. An example of this creativity is the case of the ghost (and in effect poltergeist) “Philip” whose identity and life were freely invented. After more than one year, the Canadian group of 8 people led by Iris Owen produced an imaginary Philip as a man from the 1700s who committed suicide. The group succeeded then in producing psychokinetic effects which developed their own life at the end (Owen, I.M. & Sparrow, M.H. 1977).

There is a further innovative if not ironic step in searching for causes and conditions of poltergeists. Current poltergeist researchers such as and Bill Roll and Michael Persinger (2001) in relating apparitional and poltergeist experiences to geomagnetic variations are returning the ghosts back to the area where they to be found in during former times: the earth. For poltergeists as a subspecies of goblins which are as nature spirits originally were closely linked to the element of earth in the form of mountains and mines. Persinger’s case studies suggest that some haunts and poltergeists experiences may be elicited by a complex interaction between geomagnetic, household electrical equipment and the brain physiology of the individual (Persinger and Koren 2001). Obviously this cannot be a common explanation since these experiences were as frequent before the advent of electricity but there may be some meaning in the way the current focus on the geomagnetic field research returns the poltergeist research to its origins.

Yet the key question raised above by Stevenson, is often shirked by researchers: What are poltergeists, human creations or separate living entities or both? Are there any further clues from research?

Catching the Phenomena in the Laboratory

Much of the Rhine revolution in parapsychology concerned the effort to make parapsychology like any other science by actually stripping the phenomena of their ghostly and magical trappings. In retrospect, we can say the Rhine revolution of ESP-laboratory testing largely failed because the phenomena were not readily reproducible perhaps just because of this process of being denaturalised. Indeed, it was already noticed in the first issue of the Journal of Parapsychology that there were major differences in the results of individual experimenters even when they were testing the same subjects or groups of subjects. In short: the experimenter was inextricably a part of the very phenomenon being investigated. Nevertheless many of Rhine’s successful participants appeared to be in some form of altered state or reverie during the laborious card guessing experiments. Given that spontaneous cases strongly suggested that ESP occurs most often and intensively during altered states such as dreams, efforts gradually moved away from card guessing towards identifying a so-called psi-conducive state of consciousness. The result of these efforts are the two most successful paradigms for reproducing psi in the laboratory: technique as the ganzfeld for inducing a sleep-onset state known and a directed imagery technique known as remote viewing. Yet even here the results are far from consistent and certainly are not independent of the experimenter and the atmosphere of the laboratory (Parker, 2003). So this elusiveness of psi still persists today and whatever its nature, this elusiveness seems to have finally being recognised as a defining and a distinguishing feature of the psi. Efforts to simply relate experimenter effects to differences in social skills in handling participants, suggest that while these factors may be partial explanations, they clearly are not sufficient ones.

This means that after more than sixty years of research, there appears now to be a realisation that paranormal phenomena are not like any other phenomenon in natural science. Indeed the Spring 2003 issue of the Journal of Parapsychology contains three articles which illustrate how widespread this realisation is becoming. The evidence for the capricious and elusive nature of psi that has lead to this view is featured in one article (Kennedy, 2003) while a second paper takes up the psychology of the psi-conducive experimenter (Smith, 2003). According to this investigation successful experimenters have often their own psychic experiences and believe in their own psychokinetic ability to mentally influence their experiments and surroundings. This confirms earlier work published some years ago indicating that psi-conducive experimenters are over-represented as psi-conducive subjects and as a group score successfully as subjects (Parker, 1976, Miller 1979). The third article entitled Scientists, Shamans, and Sages, is the 2002 Presidential Address to Parapsychological Association given by Mario Varvoglis during which he candidly stated that “experimenter effects are part of the beast we are investigating” and that “psi lies closer to animism than objectivity”. For Varvoglis, the scientist investigating this area has to then be prepared to “wear several hats” one of which is dispassionate objectivity but another is that of the shaman or sage. These findings and the resulting viewpoint would seem to be part of a ongoing shift towards seeing extrasensory perception not exclusively as a sixth sense but also as a form of interrelatedness or interconnectiveness. This shift in perspective on psi is further marked by another current paper, that published Harald Walach and his co-workers at Freiburg Unversity Hospital in the European Journal of Parapsychology. Here ESP is understood not only from the perspective of its elusiveness but in the light of quantum theory. The paper concludes “the intimate connections between our mind and our. body could viewed as holistic correlations or non-local connections” (Walach et al, 2002 p. 82). The Walach team has in fact found support for this most sought after link between physics and psychology by showing that non-local correlations of brain activity occur between separated but meaningfully linked individuals in the form of corresponding EEG patterns arising in each individual at the same time. Finally a psychology leading, Journal of Consciousness Studies, will shortly publish a special issue devoted to parapsychology in which the editor concludes that if consciousness “is dictated by some sort of consistent principles, it would not be surprising if those principles were very different from presently known physical laws. psi phenomena may give us an advance view of the basic principles which describe consciousness” (Burns, 2003).

The elusiveness of psi can of course used as an argument by some psychologists for categorically claiming that psi does not in fact exist but it would be at variance with the view of the true experts in cognitive psychology, those of professional magicians. About 80% of experienced professional magicians according to some surveys endorse the view that psi is a genuine phenomenon (Truzzi, 1997; Hansen, 2001) This conviction may be due to the temporary suspension belief systems which magicians create is inadvertently also a psi- conducive situation permitting miracles to happen. In fact a similar viewpoint was arrived at by Kenneth Batcheldor (1994) an high ranking clinical psychologist who took an interest in so called macro psychokinesis – séance phenomena like table levitation – and worked with it for many years with the aim of reproducible effects.

This should not be interpreted as meaning that the search for objectivity should be abandoned and that these phenomena are inextricably to be left to occultism, New Age and magic but rather as giving us important clues as to how to produce the phenomena and adapt since to their understanding. The role of science is to find means of sift true knowledge from superstition, simplicity, and pure nonsense. Moreover it is only by demonstrating where and when objectivity and reductionism breaks down that we can discover if, as the argument given earlier suggests, holism is truly a basic principle in nature.

Catching Ghosts in Reality

Nowhere does the difficulty in defining objectivity become more apparent than in the data of psychical research. It might be thought that the intrinsic difficulties with false perceptions, false memories, fantasy prone personality, and contagious effects (Lange and Houran, 2002) could be easily resolved by the use of photography and modern recording equipment. Unfortunately the advent of digital recording has also had a reverse effect given the ease with factoids can easily be digitally produced. If we limit the survey to analogue methods, then the available material is still markedly ambiguous. Many web-sites now contain collections of supposedly ghosts photos but most of these are of a dubious nature and few if any collaborated details are given of the circumstances under which photographs were taken. Moreover many cases can easily be dismissed as due to the common sources of artefacts such as camera straps and fogging effects (Nichell, 1996, Lange and Houran, 1997). An exception concerns some recent cases, mainly of recently deceasead individuals who appear on group photos, collected Maurice Grosse (2002) but these remain as yet unpublished.

Confining the survey to the most well known classical cases, leaves us with a handful of seemingly well attested photographs claiming to depict apparitional figures: the Raynham Hall Brown Lady, Lord Combermere figure, the Chinnery backseat figure, the SS Watertown faces, and Tulip Staircase figure. For most of these, some form of normal explanation is nevertheless just possible. For example, the Tulip Staircase figure showing a hooded monk, might have been due to a person dashing up the stairs while being photographed several times and then the hood effect would be a second exposure on focused on the persons shoulder (Wilson, 1995). The Lord Combermere figure, which had an exposure time of an hour, might have been due to a servant who sat in the dead Lord Cumbermere’s chair. The SS Watertown’s faces in the sea which were supposedly of two seamen who had recently died onboard the ship, illustrate the border between objectivity and subjective evaluation. The faces were so clear that the entire crew saw them and they re-appeared on the return journey when they were photographed although only one of the six photographs recorded them (Kastenbaum, 1984). Although even this photo might be dismissed as an effect of so-called contextual clues, that is seeing what we expect to see in random patterns, it would seem highly unlikely that a control series of six photos taken at sea would reveal similar quite discernible faces. What distinguishes the photographs from seeing say canals on Mars or other contextual interpretations, is that they were in a sense predictive. The alternative explanation would be that the group consensus consciousness and emotional state of the percipients somehow influenced the otherwise random processes in the photographic process to form images.

Part of the elusiveness of psi in experiments is that on occasion even control series show more remarkable and significant effects than the experimental trials. Moreoever some strange and synchronistic events also appear to happen outside the formal constraints of the experiment (Parker, 2001). The same may be true of spontaneous events. Houran and Brugger (2002) report for instance the occurrence of several orbs and density spots in the control photographs of the type that Roll and co-workers have often found in poltergeist investigations. A married couple were asked to chronicle anomalies occurring in their apartment during the course of a month. A total of 22 anomalies were observed including:

“the repeated and impressive movements of a voodoo mask off a shelf to another part of the room that appeared impossible. The mask was on a shelf above a couch, leaning against the wall, and was situated behind various knick-knacks and a large picture frame. If the mask simply fell down it seemingly should have dislodged the picture frame and a couple of small items. Instead the mask was found to moved an average of 1.96 metres and no other objects were similarly displaced on the shelf. The effect mimics the appearance of intelligent action and unusual trajectories of object movements reported in haunting and poltergeist cases.” (Houran and Brugger, 2002, p 39).

Houran and Brugger say “half humorously that the computer crashed inexplicably eleven times when we were preparing this paper”.

Although Houran and Brugger use these cases to argue that such anomalous events occur spontaneously, merely shift them to the control comparisons hardly explains them, no more than dismissing placebo effects as chance would explain these, but it may tell us something about the apparent intelligent nature of phenomena. A similar effect was reported to one of us by a former sceptical investigator of Uri Geller who, during the time of his investigation, was plagued by strange anomalous, apparently psychokinetically mediated events (although this does not of course vindicate Geller). Following a two year break with the subject in which these ceased, the contact that one of us initiated with him by re- introducing the subject, succeeded in making both he and his wife perceive a ghostly form in their apartment.

Perhaps as we noted in the beginning of this chapter, that contact with this subject matter can potentially open to the doors to unconscious or transliminal sides of our being which traditionally have been the domain of the shaman rather than the scientist. After years of shunning Freudian notions, the Unconscious has received something of a resurrection in psychology and some authorities now consider the true mystery is not so much the main stream of consciousness but the streams of activity that lie outside it (Öhman, 1999). Our experimental techniques may be the modern day equivalent of rituals for bringing forth the phenomena from these streams. It may be no accident that one of the most successful ganzfeld experiments to date (Wezelman, R, Gerding, H, Verhoeven, 1996) was run in a manner which gave prominence to ritualistic and spiritual aspects. In opening this door, it seems likely that surprises will be revealed that surpass our intellectual expectations and even our intellectual understanding but the limits have clearly not yet been reached. It seems then appropriate to give last word to a sage who during his lifetime was intimately acquainted with the paranormal phenomena. Goethe writes in his poem “Symbolum” how spiritual psi may be a source of inspiration:

“Doch rufen von drüben Die Stimmen der Geister Die Stimmen der Meister Versäumt nicht zu üben Die Kräfte des Guten!”

Still calling from over there The sounds of the ghosts And their masterly hosts The Good forces so fair They remind us to use!


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