On the matter of fearing the dark and monsters, is it some definitive realisation that monsters do not exist, that allows a child to sleep soundly? We assure our children that there are no monsters to be afraid of, then we make sure the doors and windows are locked before retiring to our own beds. Where we sleep with the understanding, that there are certain things that must be done if there is a sound in the night. The truth is, what the child fears, pales in comparison to what truly exists in virtually every corner of the earth. So which of the beliefs would you call, ‘inaccurate’? The child who believes in monsters, or the adult who believes a locked door will keep their family safe? Belief will most definitively implicate the way you live your life, how you interpret the world, but ultimately, belief alone will not determine your fate.
Human belief is almost a living thing, a perspective shaped and forged throughout our lifetimes. What you thought you knew in the beginning may have changed, what you believe now may not be what you believe at the end. Could a singular anomalous experience change what you think you know about the world you inhabit?
On the 28th of August, 2019, I began correspondence with a fascinating individual identified as Blaine Thompson, The Perinormalist and ‘The Blue Gnat’. Blaine possesses a rare combination of empirically scientific integrity eternally at odds with a life’s pursuit of attaining answers to some of the oldest questions to ever haunt human contemplation. Blaine is what I call a ‘Seeker’, in this regard. An individual of a very rare and specific mindset, grounded in reality yet seeking to know what the very same reality obscures from perception. When Blaine ceased writing publicly I was fortunate enough to continue discourse with him and exchange a great many ideas and perspectives surrounding a multitude of topics pertaining to what can only be described as the unknown.
During the back and forth, we had discussed the notion that a great many individuals aren’t entirely aware of what they truly believe at all. Regarding certain aspects of the human experience, there are lots of things (i.e. superstition, religion, higher emotions, folklore etc) that many countless individuals, due to their own experience (or lack of), may or may not believe to be legitimate. So what might someone discover about themselves and the world (they believe to be) around them when they take that great introspective journey and wade through the waters of their mind’s eye in search of that unencumbered clarity?
When ‘The Blue Gnat’ agreed to embark upon such a journey, I asked if I could share the result of the experiment here. Having spoken with Blaine now for 2 years 5 months and 12 days, I can attest that the answer has not yet revealed itself, perhaps it never will. But there are more questions. Many more.
ᴼᵁᴿ HUMAN BELIEF ᴀɴᴅ ᴛʜᴇ FLY ᴼᴺ ᵀᴴᴱ WALL
GUEST ADMISSION ʙʏ BLAINE THOMPSON
There’s an enigmatic third joker that exists within the deck of cards that we experience as our social web. Reprehensively, I have crossed paths with it with such a cyclicity, now, that I treat it with much less of a sense of humor than I once did. The playful tip of the hat acknowledgement of its presence, has now more given way to my seeing it maybe more as pathogen than that of a grin inducing nod toward its mischievous inherency. At this point, I have observed this specific psychology in action on multiple occasions, a truth which has been compounded by the sentimentality draped around the circumstances. The device becomes all the more effective when the observing stooge has his heart invested in the human agent. I am referring to a practice whereby lip service is given to public presentation, in which an individual claims to espouse certain ideals and values. However, if one has the chosen affordment of dealing directly with this many faced actor, and if they bask in the persona of the sycophant when the act is posed away from the stage of public proclamation, where there is no concealment, they then find out that there is a rife abundance of contradiction contained within the slanted actions of this oft cloned theatrical Montebank.
As a result of this ensnarement, what follows is that eventual reunion takes place on the public platform, where numerous others are now also gathered in conjunction along with the actor’s participation. It is in this moment that the observer, who considers themself to be a pseudo- representative of some semblance of an imagined virtue (more specifically, referring to me), feels a welling of undigestability in their throat when they see the projection of what is unmistakably a conjured front. The reaction is involuntary, as much as it is conscious, but leaves me tempted to almost think it more autonomic in its nature. The ease with which I have seen it performed is disconcerting. When one feels compelled to see life with untainted clarity, their hand is the one that becomes extended with a determined finger pointing at the large mammal in the room that is the only one possessing a large trunk for a nose. To make matters worse, our seemingly oblivious circus hand with the agaped look of awe, feels compelled to not only walk up to the magnificent creature, but to also walk about it, as well, studiously asking numerous logic based questions with exhausting simultaneity.
This precocious seer knows that the more genuine representation of the trunked performer has been revealed when the now numerous observers were not present before, unlike when they are all partaking of the same space now. Consequently, if the chosen guardian of sincerity chooses to speak up while this individual of cunning is presenting themself in full character (with now additional witnesses serving as an audience), for the audience to be considered respectful they are expected to play along, even while knowing the façade is bathed in, well, farce. Herein is where the trap becomes all the more intriguing. The ingenuity of the ploy makes the morally upright squealer, who is supposedly standing guard, instead, look like the menacing viper in the room that should be ostracized. Social convention bows to the expectation that no blunt and direct words of confrontation are in order. Yes, we know that banter is a normal thing in politics and on television, that people clashingly disagree on a regular basis, and that communal interaction regularly means cohorts discussing how they really feel about someone when said person of controversy is out of the room. It is in this way that perfunctory protocol is enabled, and the performance of life may continue on the stage while the public is gathered, with error correction being built in by the private conversations held in small groups away from the main platform. In everyday social settings, there can be an expectation of more reserve and decorum, if for no other reason, than for the sake of keeping communal order and sanity.
As a way of introducing myself, I may now say that I am the guy who came from the factory with defects. Rather contradictingly, when the crowd is gathered, it is that occasion when I feel most compelled to perform Sherlockian analysis. Does this fact mean that I rudely blurt out my opinions and ruin interaction with good company? No, it most certainly does not, as has historically been the case, and instead, I’m usually considered to be the least spoken person in the room. But, the illustration that remains is that even though I may not always overtly say what is on my mind, deep down, I’m believing that it needs to be said. As a result, a reader now somewhat becomes introduced to my life, for better or for worse, as it pertains to not only a discussion about considering the paranormal when weighed against science, but as well as in the social universe to which I am confined.
So, where did my journey really begin? Based on the specific and limited amount of writings that I have made available to the public, thus far, there may be the assumption that I have had a biased opposition to there being any seriousness with which paranormal claims should be taken. The few readers who have seen my words may feel that I am not sympathetic to belief, and that I am aligned with a resolve to relegating matters of belief to a dungeon of confinement that is constructed from stones of primitivity. The assumption may be that, philosophically, I follow the same paths as some of the brilliant science educators who have served on the public stage through media appearances with addresses to the public. I knew when I penned my first words of opinion on science and the paranormal, that these conclusions would be reached, because they had already happened to a journalistic mentor of mine before me. Because this mentor had such an adroit disposition as a thoughtful polymath, and because he was so gifted in communicating his assessment of logic towards any particular topic of his choice, it could easily be opined by the many that his commitment to a scientific understanding of our existence would preclude any of his own entertainment of any notion that involved belief of any sort. This thoughtful influence of mine was Martin Gardner, and before I become the cause for any misrepresentation of his own outlooks on science, philosophy, pseudoscience, literature, math, the paranormal, etc., I will quickly say that I do not always share the same opinions with him, nor am I anywhere near on the same intellectual par, as was Martin Gardner. I am simply calling upon his inspiration in this written submission, and I bear no endorsement from him or his laudable accomplishments. Like Gardner did in so many articles, I am only trying to put together my version of a written conglomeration in the way that he did, and I am eternally grateful that his written thoughts and example have been left behind permanently after his passing.
Gardner voiced his opinions on so many topics, while also having written a column for Scientific American for over two decades. He received mail from readers on a regular basis, some of whom challenged him on grounds of where they thought he must fall in terms of opinion, when in fact, they were challenging him on assumptions that were faulty. Some of the subjective assessments applied to him were simply not correct. There were those letter writers who wrote from a confidence that they must be certain of the platform from which he must assuredly be opining regarding his stances on certain topics. Here, on this blog, I have been given the opportunity to give a bit more of an insight as to where I, myself, am coming from, although I will try to keep it from being too overly revelatory. The main focus of this piece is still birthed in unison with a support for inquiry where finding data driven answers are as objectively formulated as they may be culled from good evidence.
If one reads the early pages in my book, “From Pieces to Poe,” they will learn about the traditional upbringing that I hail from, which is one from which I have never departed. Additionally, they will find out the mark that the passing of my grandparents left upon my life. Having to watch their suffering, and their succumbing to the ravages of cancer three years apart from one another, forever changed me and set my path before me. My questions about this marvelous cosmos that we inhabit emanated from a pain and emptiness from loss that exponentially complicated an already prior interest of an innate yearning to know. I never could have dreamed just where these aching questions would ultimately take me. I have learned more than I ever would have had I not taken the road less traveled, and yet, as one who was, in years past, so confident in the understanding that science has given humankind up to its current point in its history, I now find myself continually conceding deference to the fact that I know vastly less than what my assurance in the empirical process had ever given me in the fore. My venture is humanely driven, which is why I have made it a point to perpetually point back to the loss of my grandparents, so that it is always known that I am completely human in this enterprise. When it comes to discussion about belief, and philosophical and theological reckoning, I have always wanted to conduct myself with the most human of respect as can be shown. If this especially suited goal of mine is not achieved, then nothing else matters, and any scholastic efforts would drown from such a shortcoming of unwanted dissolution.
Therefore, the question becomes begged, why may have my writings sounded to be abrasive towards the topic of ghosts, and perhaps the entire spectrum that the paranormal covers? Well, let us hope that they may only sound abrasive, and in the words contained herein, I would very much like to dispel any notion that they have been meant to be abrasive. I will make every effort, here, to try and directly reference the questions that I have posed, as appearances can be quite deceiving, which is a very pertinent fact in my life’s game. I have spent the last twenty years of my life trying to dissect matters of asking what is true in regard to some of the biggest questions that we may all ask? Yes, some of my written words have been pointed, but certainly not because I am anti-belief, because I am against any possibility of ghosts existing, because I am not sympathetic to supernatural proposition, or because I am cynical or mean-spirited. There are few things I detest more than cynicism, as for some reason I cannot seem to share a room with it. What a reader must understand, in order to accurately grasp what I am trying to accomplish, is to understand that my efforts in writing about ghosts have been incredibly concentrated and very zoomed in. It is when one zooms out that they find that my more understanding outlook concerning the overall involves quite a bit of the traditional, mixed in with a romantic appreciation, which stems from a humble reverence for the grand pageant in which we are all a part.
But, no, what I have done in a more concentrated form, is to really make a go at splitting hairs over evidence that has been presented to the public. I have tried to hold that evidence to scientific standards, as best I know how, as well as measuring it against the application of logic when evaluating against reality as we seem to experience it on a daily basis. As a result, I’m always left asking any reader to consider this side notation of mine so that they are not left assuming that I am a debunker in my own personal nature. The term, “debunking,” can easily imply that there is a bias from the get-go, that will be allowed to carry over into investigation. I am here to adamantly say that such is not the case, and I have always intentionally bypassed any use of the term, “debunk.” I’m interested in objective answers, regardless of where they may really fall on the spectrum. What is important is not to fall for something purported to be true, when in fact, deeper research may mean finding a totally different revelation that is contrary to that which has been proposed. When dealing with evidence, I look to steer clear of bias, and to cling to sensibility. What one will also hear me saying is that if there is not enough data to satisfactorily address a noted event, to date, then we simply have to look for and/or wait for more data until the gaps can be filled in by good information, and not by that of conjecture.
Also, in stepping back from performing pointed analysis, I enjoy this whole over arching discussion about mystery as much as anyone, and within the context of my own predominant views. I have no problem delineating the contrast in that when I am looking at evidence, I am attempting to do so with the best methods that I have been able to learn from those individuals who, I feel, are the most qualified to speak to the subject based on their repertoires. But, independent of the rigor of critical assessment, once a more personal appraisal can be discussed, I can then speak with less reserve and from the heart, which often means my meekishly offering an, “I don’t know, but out of respect, I can wish,” form of a salutation. I think wishing should be allowed in a universe that is this marvelously constructed, regardless of whether one believes it to be constructed ultimately by a Designer, or by physical laws alone.
If I am willing to pardon this goodwill towards the ghost story, then why the need for such rigorous investigation in its measure? Why expend so much effort in taking the way an event is described, and then giving it a critique via unbridled reduction, when a ghostly explanation is so much more enjoyable for human nature? There was a time that one of my answers would have immediately involved that of an address about the welfare of the public. I really do not think it fair for the public to be told that things are a certain way, when, in fact, they may clearly be another, wherever cognizant reduction is applied. However, even though this retort is still a definite part of my answer, over time, I have learned that ultimately, I can only represent my own conviction as an individual, and that even an effort as noble as wanting to keep someone from being duped or misled can be met with resistance. But, in my case alone, I simply do not want to settle for false truth. I would love to see the evidence that assures me that my grandparents still exist in another realm outside of the physical one in which we reside. As much as that hope would pervade, I still am not willing to settle for contrived evidence in order to make the case, nor do I want to offend the beauty of the belief of faith, where there is already offered assurance that in the distance, there is a non-empirical hope that is supposed to be more real than we can imaginably know. And, of course, the absence of proof in the here-and-now, and in contemplations of thought experiments, do not, in and of themselves, mean that an afterlife does not exist. The twenty-first century society is incredibly educated, and it has that segment of its membership that winces at the idea of mentioning the possibility of an actual afterlife. After all, they have aptly ingested their science classes, as well as the popular promulgation of encouraged thinking that stresses the importance of enlightenment. However, what they may not necessarily know is that there is already a template for ascribing a tinge of the rational when discussing the possibility of an afterlife within the framework of a more substantive lingo, which can be discussed as a hypothetical, albeit a hypothetical only. This consideration can take place based on some speculative approaches towards a neuroscientific understanding of the brain, consciousness, and what happens when a person is technically deceased, but then revived.
I’m not meaning to sound preposterous here, as I inevitably would to someone of such respected advocacy of educational responsibility, like a Dr. Steven Novella, or by those who are of a like mind in the neuroscience and medical fields (or any other fields for that matter.) I certainly cannot say there is scientific proof of an afterlife. But, I would follow this previous sentence by including a very emphasized, “not, yet.” If a neuroscientific model such as the Orchestrated Objective Reality proposal ever proves itself as a candidate for explaining consciousness against quantum mechanics, or is in part correct, or some comparable version of it stands on its own or opens the door to a quantum understanding of the brain, then all of a sudden, we are sailing in some different waters. I’m not saying that the propositions of Orch OR automatically confirm an afterlife, for that is not the point of referencing its existence. It merely begins an attempt at putting forth a physics based explanation on how maybe consciousness could be at work in the human brain. I’m simply saying that if the model were to be true to some degree, then there could potentially be some interesting side discussions that would be resultant when stepping back and conducting a discussion regarding philosophical implications. And, furthermore, if it should ever be determined that matter really is a derivative of consciousness, as hard as that concept may be for many of us to wrap our heads around, and if near death studies were to accumulate more impressive and firmer data than what exists now, then we would already have a way in which we could fathom the reality of what we might call an, “afterlife,” within the boundaries of a more substantively based dialogue. It would be at such an introduction of these points where scoffers would accuse me of being the one sympathetic to pseudoscience here, even though I have just stated that my comments are not rooted in, as of yet, established science. However, what I have learned in my two decade endeavor of thinking about the big questions is that it is a mistake to dismiss some ideas too quickly, because what is not science today, may very well be established science once enough tomorrows have passed. I have embraced the re-realization that this universe is immensely amazing, and though I do not intend to overhype hypotheticals so as to irresponsibly or prematurely escalate them as having passed all the needed tests at this stage, I also do not intend to be so closed minded as to overlook any evidence that should warrant further study. To the contrary, I am spending my own time looking into the examples I have cited in this paragraph, because, especially in the case of the Orch OR model, I most definitely think that there is something to be found. In fact, I’m stating my public endorsement of the work proposed by Stuart Hameroff and Roger Penrose, as well as of those researchers who have opted to explore further into the propositions of the Orch OR model about a quantum based approach to consciousness. I thoroughly believe that the Orch OR model is in imperative need of being pursued, and that possibly it, or some variant, will help to lay necessary foundations and help to set science on a course for unlocking the amazement of consciousness in its operation.
All the same, in the way that I see reality, and in the way that I most prefer to engage it, I also see peril in buying into misinterpreted or misrepresented data. This caution label is still attached with me, even if skewed data might be more comforting to buy into if it would assure me that I could assume my deceased loved ones still exist somewhere else. In my book that I cited earlier, I spend a brief amount of time giving attention to some of the conundrums that can exist within this take on this investigative journey, because what if a piece of evidence, regardless of its merit, does give someone comfort? Do I want to take that comfort away? I really do not, as life can be hard enough as it already is. And, what I want to definitively say in my present words, if I were to get no other point across, is that I would never, ever want to be the reason that anyone decided to not believe in something. I would never want to take away a person’s trust in there being something more to our being, and I would find it to be horrific if anything I have ever written would foster any such outcome. It is just that for me, as a lone psyche, I simply cannot be satisfied with embellishment. My passion is to understand reality as it is, and not the way that I would prefer it to be.
My mother and father are in their mid-eighties now, and sometimes our conversations are interrupted by moments when the coldness of real life catches up with us, when we have to acknowledge the dreaded imposition of mortality. We are reminded to never take a single day for granted, and I try diligently not to do so. The memory of my grandparents keeps me vigilant in making sure that I do not leave anything unsaid with my parents. Nothing garners greater significance in my life than communicating to my parents that their value to me is that of the utmost. Loss teaches us not only to relish those who have departed, but to also never take for granted those who remain behind with us. Loss should encourage us to make sure that the remaining know of their personal significance within our affinities.
What enables the undergirded interaction with my parents is the tradition by which they and I have all chosen to adhere to for establishing a baseline by which we can find common footing. Martin Gardner, in some of the errant accusations that were directed at him, was judged, and understandably, by many to be an atheist. At least one individual who even knew him for years had drawn the same conclusion, but simply did so based on how Gardner broke things out rationally, as if perhaps to make himself sound like the world’s most staunch materialist. Yet, the reality was that Martin Gardner was not an atheist. Although he did leave the church, his belief in God remained with him throughout his life. Gardner called himself a philosophical theist, along with the additional tagging of calling himself a, “fideist.” In consistent form, he explained how he arrived at his decisions and belief, while also not excusing his own views from logic. Unlike Gardner, I have never left the church. Thus, I am left with having to justify a sympathetic appreciation for a more specific system of belief, and over time, for lack of any better description, I have come to refer to myself as a quantum subjectivist within the context of my own affiliated denomination. The moniker is merely a fancy way of taking conjecture from some unbridled discussions derived from the philosophical far side of quantum mechanics, while blending them with the philosophical school of subjectivism, all the while being framed against the Synoptic, Johannine, and Pauline writ. Wow, were you able to get all of that in one reading? But, how do these previous words serve as any illustration when alluding to my taking the time to speak a bit to my also having a healthy admiration for the subjective? Do I then still sound like the skeptically minded magician? Perhaps Gardner did not in some cases, nor do I, in some cases, and I really think it more satisfyingly balanced to say that I am actually glad that I do not sound to be the curmudgeon magician, all of the time.
When discussing belief, and the immense beauty that I find within it, the greatest hurdles for me have never had anything to do with the commonly cited list of logical gymnastics, crisis of doubt, theology, ontology, teleology, correspondence/coherence theory, human suffering, etc. What has served as the greatest academic impediment for me is the fact that some of my deepest remembrances have resulted from injurious misrepresentation by others over the ideals on which the faith is founded. Countless other individuals have issued the same citations in protest, but I am speaking in somewhat of a different way that is more logic based and not wrapped up in any juvenile focus over hypocrisy. My question becomes, how am I able to speak rationally to the irrational behavior by which I have been on the receiving end, delivered by some individuals who identify themselves readily with faith. These personal incidents have been highlighted and indelibly imprinted upon me by persons who claim to attribute their life foundations to faith persuasions, and yet, I could easily sit here and type in elaboration, with specific examples, as to just how calloused and ruthless they can be while giving themselves the total laterality for doing so. Remorse is not in their makeup. Since these individuals, of their own volition, have professed their religious affiliations, I always took assumption as to the code of ethics by which they would more than likely conduct themselves, even though the mini-magician in me knows better. I always engaged these specific individuals on the grounds of fairness due to my socially based grandeur, because of their public correlation with these belief systems. I expected that fairness was always the background by which they would police themselves, and that, in turn, I would also honor my respect for them through imparting fairness through my own action. In stark contrast, I came to experience an unforgettable unfairness that falls outside any rational application or thoughtful rumination having to do with any faith based set of behaviors. I was appallingly reminded of why I have always known to read persons through the eyes of magicians, because to not do so, is to always miss what is really underneath. It is this one core factor of thoughtless malfeasance which has made it so difficult for me to continue to try and execute a sensible dialogue when speaking to theological application to life. Logically speaking, these kinds of actions leave me in a, “does not compute,” mode, whereby I can no longer seem to even make an attempt at any intelligible address. After enduring these very key and life forming experiences, while always having tried to make sense of these contradictions, I have been left dumbfounded how individuals can lead such dual lives, where they can follow the rules of the streets when they so fit them, while their professed belief dangles as no more than a mere magic charm to be worn around their neck and invoked when needed. I am bewildered and left wondering if I can ever take part again in a discussion that I sentimentally miss, because of the aesthetics that it contains, but a discussion that also begs so much elucidation from the minds of the self-serving. My own mind grinds into a state of wheel lock where there has to be any consideration of professed believers defaming such a beautiful belief by retaining a theological narrative through which there is absolutely no application. More simply put, why bother proclaiming an ideology that implies standards, when their regard for most individuals should instead be considered as ambassadorship for sociopathy over that of any theistically acquainted God?
But, what is more important to note is that it is not the faith, itself, that is tarnished, in these instances, nor are the many individuals who do practice faith so nobly. I have certainly never lost my respect for the faith tradition or the individuals who represent it with such admirable devotion. No, I am simply left clueless by narcissists who identify themselves with a faith, and yet seem to represent everything that is the exacting opposite of its wonder. But, what the truly faithful know is that if there is any value to the faith, at all, then it is up to the individual to live up to its standard of fairness, regardless of whether anyone else chooses to return it in kind. It is in cases like the ones I referenced above where I am left to admit cognitively that the dream of life may always, at any time, be disrupted, the interruption though which we are awakened by that which is supposed to be good, and yet, humans are even able to find a way to stain the good with bad. But, whether faith or no, whether belief or no, whether ghosts or no, everything takes place within that context in which we must ante up to relegation in the acknowledgment of what we must recognize as the condition known as, “real life.”
Where this realistic admission has not been under appreciated by me is because of the fact that there is that part of me that has, unfortunately, seen itself forced into a jaded rationalist’s corner. In my appreciation for paradox, I know the danger of living on the only one side of the coin, which is that of the skeptical magician. There must be some sort of equilibrium brought about by temperance. The narrative on where I have found my footing for fairness extols the value of story when it is interjected into the thoughts of the pondering human mind. Story acts as a software patch through which one may choose to tend to vulnerable code. Were it not for the written illustration of Dark versus Light, perhaps I would entirely forget to pursue the Light in its stage given depiction with pre-Shakespearean performance. Does a heroic version of Dark really defeat an evil version of Dark? My hunch is that the Dark, of all varieties and persuasions, can only be trumped in the name of goodness by that of Light as consummate victor. Therefore, I choose to allow the infusion of storied goodness to keep me mindful of what it is that I do not want to become. The Dark protagonist may easily be every bit as heinous in motivation as is the Dark antagonist. Precipitously, there are more days when the Dark protagonist wins over that of the Light in my own life, for resignation always seems to carry with it a rationalized defeat that excuses anger and resentment. Ultimately, one has to ask what faith really means, because without clarity of definition, its introduced elixir as an inoculate into life may also potentially inject more dissonance into an already clouded reality.
In keeping with Gardner’s example, I try to hold myself to the logical side of any form of sought after elucidation from the world we inhabit when concerning thought based analysis. In matters of belief, while also admitting that there is no way for me to empirically document as to why I would hold any such sympathies, there is still that exposition that exists for justifying its welcome to the world in which I live. As humans, we cannot live an entirely unsubjective life. If we could, we would forego a multitude of amazing art works and songs. Hopefully, the revelation that I have sympathy towards belief allows the believer in ghosts to know that I am not trying to bash any surmising that ghosts exist, or any other form of beliefs, for that matter. I do, indeed, still have an inexpressibly high favor for the subjective. Therefore, it does lend me a consoling comfort that my parents and I can interact and share on a common plane, and the concept of theological structure gives us an anesthetic view on how to cope with a dreaded separation that physical reality says must come. I rue the processing of such a difficult predicament with which we must all deal in the human condition. I have felt enough loss to know that I do not want to have to endure it again.
But, in contrast, what about my emphasis on the objective? How did I go from being fourteen years of age, to pondering the cruelty of mortality, to pondering the meaning of life and its deepest questions, to eventually spending time, of all places, in haunted houses? There is a tradition that I am happy to have found, because it is this very inheritance that directly relates to why I typed up above that I have gained an education that I never would have otherwise procured. Magicians have offered so much more to the world than simply pleasing us with smile inducing tricks. They are quite an educated lot, and it takes a well rounded education to really represent the art in an impressive fashion. When it comes to their having spoken to matters of ghosts and investigation into the claimed existence of ghosts, they have brought with them an ever applicable skill set that must never be taken for granted. They need to be involved in this discussion so they can assist in providing some of the best reasoned offerings in the way of explaining hauntings, where they can most successfully be. Before I go into crediting some of the magicians who have been indirect teachers of mine (although a couple who are unlisted have been direct), I will first offer a little back history that best sets up their introduction. Magicians bring to the table a knowledge of human psychology, the history of the occult, the practice of role playing within an occultism setting, and then, of course, how to accomplish fakery. These aspects add to the versatility that is needed for observing a purportedly haunted environment, while seeking to not pronounce a haunting valid before it may be due any such a consecration.
Tim Prasil, professor of English at Oklahoma State University (brombonesbooks.com), has done a wonderful job at encapsulating the ensemble of the tradition onto which I stumbled years ago. I am first referring back to the Victorian Era, and as Prasil reminds us, if we start in the year 1800 and move forward, there is a line of demarcation that occurs in the world of thought on ghosts in that century. This line occurs around the year 1840. Prior to this year, there were skeptical efforts at dismissing ghosts with educated and, “scientific,” flair. John Alderson, John Ferriar, and Samuel Hibbert, were three of the intellects who proposed to have naturalistic explanations on how to explain away ghosts. And, Joseph Taylor put together a written work that reminded society that ration ought to be applied to the idea of ghosts in effort to escape the temptation to bow to superstition.
When there began to be a shift to not only a formal contemplation about the possibility of ghosts being evaluated among the educated, but to also pondering the question on scientific grounds, perhaps it makes sense that Cambridge University became a spearhead for the movement. There, the “Ghost Club,” originated, where like-minded thinkers could congregate and hold interchanges about ghosts in an academic setting, and the Society for Psychical Research also came to fruition in the midst of this Renaissance in regards to ghosts. Names such as Henry Sidgwick (economics), William Barrett and Oliver Lodge (physics), William Crookes (chemistry), Edmund Gurney, and William James (psychology), were all prominent members. I won’t recapture the full history here, as Dr. Prasil has already provided this fantastic overview in book form, but for the reader who may be interested in a more detailed account of the early efforts by the SPR should most definitely read Deborah Blum’s book entitled, “Ghost Hunters.”
In this Victorian foray, what is also interesting to note is the representation of writers accounted for in the sport of ghost chasing, along with their accompanying academicians and scientists. This inclusion captures my attention, because as much as I want to be an investigator, realistically speaking, when it comes to ghosts, I can only really regard myself as a written opinionist, and no more. Frank Podmore, the English author, wrote some critically viable appraisals of Spiritualistic sittings. Catherine Crowe, also a writer of the time, advanced the idea that ghosts could be put to the test on grounds of science. Joseph McCabe, the free-thinker writer and former priest, also took Spiritualism to task in the 1920s, and he was critical of the views held by Arthur Conan Doyle and William Crookes. Two other literary names of note, who took part in this tackling of the topic of ghosts included Charles Dickens, and the just mentioned debater of Joseph McCabe, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Additional history of interest during this time, and in this paramount discussion, involved that of the exchange between Harry Houdini and Arthur Conan Doyle. And, it is with the introduction of this pair and their exchange about Spiritualism that I can now segue into the world of magicians, the afterlife, and critical thinking.
It was because of the advent and popularity of Spiritualism, and proclaimed communication with the departed in the Victorian Era, that gave magicians an important and valued voice in this esoteric part of history. Seances and medium trances were supposed to be channels of demonstrating the authenticity of spirit contact, which gave magicians tangible transpirations to monitor and to observe, and to explain. There became a wonderful cadre of colorful personalities that joined these pursuits, and history records the conclusions that they reached in their insights.
John Nevil Maskelyne, the London based magician and great of the stage, also helped to expose some of the problems native to Spiritualist practices. Hereward Carrington did the same, but Carrington also held on to some pseudoscientific predilections, and did not find himself as far along on the spectrum of stolid and committed skepticism as were some other magicians. Henry Ridgely Evans was a knowledgeable historian of magic who wrote books that helped to explain the actuals behind some of the spectacles of the Spiritualist performers. Julien Proskauer addressed the matter of Spiritualism, as well, and Joseph Rinn was an ardently skeptical magician, discouraging any falling for the assumption that any contact with the deceased had ever been demonstrated. Joseph Dunninger, who is a great influence of mine, spent a great deal of time addressing the discussion over psi based claims, and a magician here in my hometown was kind enough to impart to me an item documenting Dunninger’s magical act so I could have it as a keepsake. Dunninger passed away in 1975, and Milbourne Christopher, another influence of mine, wrote books that educate us on how to think about evaluating fantastic feats when it comes to supposedly making contact with the other side. Christopher passed away in 1984, and was a true scholar of magic, and like Dunninger, had as much authority to speak on Spiritualism’s performance art as anyone. But, as influential as these gentlemen have all been in my pursuit of what the final word is on ghosts, sometimes I think about how much I have in common with Fulton Oursler. After being the agnostic and skeptical magician for years, later in life, Oursler found room in his life for Catholicism, and he wound up writing some particular books that perhaps betrayed philosophical developments that were to come later in his life. Maybe the cautious and wary magician came full circle from his original upbringing. Some might say that I have come to sound more like Oursler than the other magicians I credit most for having been my influences, including Gardner. I’m not even sure I understand this observation myself. But, I think this admission may have more to do with the fact that going out into the field simply taught me not to take anything for granted. A couple of situations that I encountered showed me how life can easily show us just how smart we are not. We go to investigate to see how things are, and not how we assume that they ought to be.
It was the introduction to the kind of work that these gentlemen of wizardry conducted, which became the foundation for my Sherlock Holmes, “wannabe,” status, and that is still amply applied by me during the creation of this blog entry. Of course, there are other names from magic I could mention. But, in moving forward through the Victorian Era up to the middle part of the twentieth century, that is when we can pick up the setting of the stage for me to eventually run across the work of one Martin Gardner. Persi Diaconis, another magician influence of mine, writes of his days as a youth while going to the Cafeteria on 42nd Street in New York. Diaconis is a magician and a wonder with cards, he observed how Ted Serios was able to accomplish his psychic photography through trickery, and he is a math professor at Stanford University. He recalls how magicians would gather at 42nd Street on weekends and demonstrate and talk about magic, among other things. One of those magic enthusiasts was Martin Gardner, the exceptionally gifted thinker who taught me how I should reason my way through any and all areas of interest that I may have. Gardner, and Ray Smullyan, yet another magician and a mathematician who taught at Indiana University, have both served as Master Instructors for me when considering how to think my way through this great mystery we call life.
As much as I have learned from Skeptics (capital S in reference to nationally and globally known commentators), and as much as I have them to thank for my progression along this self-chosen path, I hold many views with which they would disagree, which is more than fine. We all have to work our way through the labyrinth and try to estimate reality as best we can through observation and experience. My own skepticism has been slightly altered over the past couple of years, but not in any negligent sort of way. The beauty of science is that you wait for new data, and when that data comes, if it is good and solid data, then adjustments are made accordingly. I have had my own new data come in, and I have, indeed, had some things very wrong in the past. I used to feel that anomalies were either simply a result of the way events were filtered and processed, or that they were simply statistical in nature. But, now, I am not such the skeptic that I dismiss the presence of outright anomalies. I have come to believe that the cosmos is more bizarre than I ever could have imagined, but when I type the word, “bizarre,” I do so as a synonym for its compatriot in the word of, “beauty.” Genuine anomalies are a good thing, because they mean there are additional answers that need to be pursued in order to construct a more complete understanding of our cosmos. They mean that there is more data that needs to be collected. In other words, I simply believe in going and testing, which is why I jovially call myself a perinormalist, and not a paranormalist.
In some of the modified opinions that I have changed in recent months, such tweaks have not been egregious by way of rush to judgment. Basically, I have simply come to reiterate what I said from the very start. Rather than sitting back in armchair skeptic fashion, I sincerely cling to the conviction that claims should be tested. Of course, where financial resources or brilliant minds might have to be allocated towards such study, then there may need to be ample assurance that there is valid reason for taking the time to test. Wasted resources would be a travesty, and wallowing in pseudoscience would equally be, as well. But, where there is good evidence for suggesting so, I don’t think the proper spirit of science is to dismiss something, a priori, if there may be grounds for taking a closer look. In my own microcosmic and insignificant little world, I have done everything from having a psychic to sketch my, “soulmate,” to watching ghost hunters in action, to staying the night alone in a home that is supposed to have a poltergeist, to taking part in a watch party for a haunted house that was featured on the Travel Channel, etc. I’m continually giving the paranormalist every chance to make their case. If there is anything to be found in paranormal consideration, however minuscule, then I would prefer to find it, versus skipping it in advance and reasoning that it cannot exist. But, thus far, I cannot say as I have had the pleasure of encountering a ghost.
As a result of this one main disappointing fact, it is now where we may reduce the last twenty years of my life, which comes down to a discussion about the philosophy of science. Writer, comedienne, and podcaster, Carrie Poppy, gave an informative TED Talk that is viewable on YouTube. In the presentation, she talks about how she wound up making contact with a skeptically based group that assists people with claimed haunt phenomena. Her individual case was one where there was definitely something going on at her residence, but after connecting with the right investigators, she wound up learning that she had been the victim of a carbon monoxide buildup at her home, versus that of any malevolent ghost. And, she winds up giving an affable close to her talk after speaking to how, we, the collective populus, live our lives with both objective and subjective experiences. In between, she works in a line in regard to the Resurrection by saying, “Well,…” My reaction to her caveat was to think about the 2009 Sherlock Holmes movie with Robert Downey, Jr., in which Sherlock Holmes is faced head on with the prospective case of a rising dead man. The Resurrection will obviously always serve as an inviting target for Skeptics, so for the sake of initiating a dialogue over the philosophy of science, which is something I have been doing full-on in recent months, my choosing to play the part of aggravator, for the sake of discussion, in response to Carrie’s sidebar would be as follows. Until a few months ago, I did not give a single odd of favorability to there being credible UAP footage caught on sophisticated radars and cameras. Of course, some of the Skeptics who have been mentors to me would fault me right away on making any leaping assumptions about UAP footage and the potential vulnerabilities of even high tech cameras, but I do not feel that I am leaping. When considering the collective body of evidence surrounding these UAP claims, with radar and testimony being considered along with video footage, my belief is that there is something there entirely worthy of study. And, the greater point I am making here is that we can become overconfident in how we think the universe functions, and in how, by default, we think it fundamentally is in its operation. My whole aim for ever having gone out into the field was to see how the universe really runs, because at my house, there were never any bumps in the night, there were no unexplained voices, and there were never any apparitions. I lived in an environment that I needed to escape from if I was really going to put things to the test. Here, I am hailing what I believe to be the task of good science, which is to go and to explore, and to not sit back. There is a reason I admire Professor Avi Loeb for having taken the position that he has when considering the nature of scientific inquiry. In the year 2021, there were aspects of my prior skepticism by which I became embarrassed. Although I was only trying to use logic and a reliable measuring stick for taking the stances that I did, there was also a time in my past when I emphasized imaginative problem solving, with no biased prevalence to dismissal by default. Had I sat back and missed these last two years of my own experience, I would still be stuck in a Cartesian-Newtonian version of a world only.
What would be wrong with that, especially since I am a fan of the work of both Descartes and Newton? Well, nothing, if that is where the story really ends. But, I’m convinced without doubt, that as far as science is concerned, there is so much more to be learned that is going to shake some of the very foundations on which my teachings at the University were based. There is much more to come, and regrettably, the classroom may be one of the last places to catch up because of certain attitudes that have dominated the scientific landscape. Yes, science has to be conservative by nature, because it cannot go around allowing all proposed ideas to walk through its doors if the necessary rigors have not been met. However, it also cannot thrive if it rejects important evidence, and I thoroughly believe that the indicators are there where science will come to reveal that what we would have considered stranger than fiction to actually be more real than what we ever knew.
Bias can hurt science in either direction. Science definitely suffers with the admission of any quackery within its boundaries, but it also becomes maimed if it is kept from investigating where impressive evidence begs to be given an ear. The staunch materialists and naturalists, repeatedly, have shown resistance to a more relaxed malleability of what may be deemed to be of legitimate inquiry. But, what if such resistant resolve were to cause the missing of some fascinating nugget that the universe might be willing to give up? I have held myself against materialistic and naturalistic standards while going out into the field and looking into ghost stories, because that philosophical foundation can work to help keep the inquirer honest and to tamper the influence of pre-existing assumption of any form. These philosophical underpinnings can help to prevent us from diagnosing from predisposition, even when we may not be suspecting it.
And, yet, we live in a reality where there is quantum mechanics. We live in a cosmos where we have to try and explain consciousness. We live in a reality where the proposition exists that matter could potentially be a derivative of consciousness, depending on one’s reductionistic views. There was a time when I would have been the first to resist any such of a notion that there was anything more fundamental than the physical constituents on which the matter in the universe is comprised. In the same way that Martin Gardner was considered a, Mysterian, within a group of impressive thinkers considering the question of consciousness, I too, have to wrestle with this question. What I do know is that if the Orchestrated Objective Reality proposition ever becomes a victor in neuroscientific thought someday, and that if we have to entertain consciousness in terms of quantum fields, rather than inhibiting it to computation through neuronal action alone, then the world as we know it now, changes dramatically. There could conceivably be major questions answered, while new ones would be raised, as well as the instigated spurrings of thought on why some things thought impossible before, may, in fact, not be impossible, at all.
I know that in my own personal grief over the course of time, and in knowing that some of the people I have cared about the most, some have had to be counted in the company of the kind of actor that I have alluded to in my opening paragraphs. The resentment that stems from having to relinquish this admission, on more than one occasion, makes it tempting to want to forever remain the angry magician who looks no farther than materialism and naturalism for explanation, and to cling to the posit that there is a normal explanation for everything. It is this half of me that wants to emerge as dominant when I am standing in a group of people knowing that an illusion is being performed, a happening in which I cannot bring myself to watch or to accept that is really occurring. Yes, performance and illusion I have encountered, but I have never encountered a ghost, nor the direct evidence that would definitely suggest ghosts exist, in the sense that we typically define them. But, there is one unfortunate way for me to definitely see a ghost, which is not the preferred way, nor would it be experienced in the form of the good will in which I have expressed interest by way of healthy inquiry and by way of my previously written sentences. For, if I were to relinquish myself to that phantom which drains the optimism of every soul that has looked up in wonder at a night sky while feeling a humble joy, then the one and only ghost I would ever, assuredly see, would be that of…