skeptics

marcello-bacciAs I grow older, the “monkey mind” aspect of my inner life annoys me more and more. Reference here is to the teaching of the Buddha, who described the human mind as being filled with drunken monkeys, jumping around, screeching, chattering, carrying on endlessly. We all have monkey minds, Buddha said, with dozens of monkeys all clamouring for attention.

One particularly loud monkey constantly screeching for attention in my own mind is the one that says “Skeptics are so stupid! Look how stupid they are! And ignorant! And dishonest!” Much as I try to ignore this racket, the screeching often triggers a train of thoughts in which I get lost, up to the point when I realise what I am doing and, with a considerable effort, I force myself to stop.

The pattern of such thoughts is typical: I review pieces of evidence from psychical research, I work myself into a rage wondering how on earth a normally intelligent, sensible and intellectually honest person can possibly ignore or deny the validity of that anecdote, that investigation or that laboratory experiment.

It so happens, then, that yesterday, as I was panting my way up the very steep side of a Scottish hill in preparation for my upcoming mountain climbing vacation in the Alps, I went through exactly the same pattern.

The particular piece of evidence I was thinking of is a very little known documentary on one of the most important personalities in Instrumental Trans-Communication, Marcello Bacci. The reason why this excellent documentary is little known is that it was produced by the Italian branch of the Swiss national broadcasting company. Switzerland is not a big country to begin with, and Italian is the least spoken of the three national languages in the country, far behind German and French. The intended audience for this film, therefore, was rather small. Add to that the fact that the subject itself – two-way communication with discarnate personalities through technological means – is highly controversial, and you will realise how this is truly a hidden gem. Fortunately, however, a kindred soul from the island of Malta took upon himself to translate the whole 30-minute documentary and make a subtitled version publicly available on YouTube.

 

For me, there is not much else to say. I believe that most of my readers, upon watching this 30-minute movie, will feel much in the same way as I do. What kind of person can look at this – just this, just this one, individual piece of empirical evidence about ITC – and invoke fraud, deception, misperception, pareidolia, “desire to believe” or any other of the silly, demeaning “explanations” that are regularly put forward?

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raudiIn the first two articles of this mini-series about Instrumental Trans-Communication (and in particular on the so-called Raudive voices) we have looked at the two explanations commonly used to dismiss the entire phenomenon. Today we will continue “demolishing” the second one, which claims that the voices recorded through ITC are nothing but stray radio signals picked up by the equipment. Like in so many other cases, this “explaining away” indicates either sheer stupidity, or ignorance, or intellectual dishonesty on the part of those proposing it. This is the typical example of a “reasonable” explanation which appears to make a lot of sense until you begin Do you think I’m too harsh? Please consider the following and judge by yourself.

1) There is no known mechanism by which an electronic system such a tape recorder (or a radio receiver tuned to an empty frequency) can suddenly, autonomously and very briefly alter itself so to be able to pick up radio signals (typically for less than one second) and then return to its normal state. Although it is an electronic device, the tape recorder it is not made to receive radio signals, and it normally does not. How does it happen, then, that, all of a sudden and by its own accord, it briefly becomes a radio receiver? A radio receiver, on the other hand, is made to receive radio signals. But an empty frequency is a frequency on which there are no radio broadcasts at the moment. If a broadcast were to start on that particular frequency, it would not be for a fraction of a second.

2) Radio signals powerful enough to be able to be picked up – by a stretch of imagination – by a tape recorder would have to originate from a nearby transmitter. The language of the broadcasts, then, would be the one of the country where the system is located during the experiment. How is it then that the ITC voices appear in a variety of different languages, often addressing researchers of different nationalities in their own languages during the same experiment?

 3) Even if there was a technical explanation, what is the chance that a fragment of a radio broadcast would answer a question asked by the researcher, as it so often happens in ITC recordings?

4) Our everyday experience tells us that much of what is transmitted by radio stations is music. How come there is no music in the fragments allegedly picked up by the system?

And, especially,

5) How come that ITC voices have been repeatedly shown to appear under strict experimental conditions which explicitly rule out the possibility of any stray radio signal pickup? Please consider the following, lifted from my book 21 Days.

In 2002, the National Sound Archive (NSA) of the British Library acquired a number of the original Raudive tapes. On the NSA official bulletin, Toby Oakes comments:

“There is no doubt that the recordings evince a curious phenomenon. Inexplicable, voice-like sounds can be discerned on recordings made under stringent experimental conditions (sound engineers at the Pye laboratories pronounced themselves baffled after one such exercise sponsored by the Sunday Mirror in 1971).”

The “Pye laboratories” Mr. Oakes refers to are in fact the ultra-famous Pye recording studios in London, UK. The 1971 experiments were carried out in the studios, so that not only any external sound source could be effectively filtered out, but – and even more importantly – the technicians of Pye could ascertain that the equipment used was of top quality and had not been tampered with. After some 200 voices were recorded in the space of 27 minutes (and none of them was heard until playback), Ken Attwood, Chief Engineer of Pye, stated:

“I have done everything in my power to break the mystery of the voices without success; the same applies to other experts. I suppose we must learn to accept them.”

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This IMG_0543article is the second in a mini-series dedicated to some aspects of Instrumental Trans-Communication. In the first one, I looked at one part of the criticism levelled by author David Ellis to the recordings made by Dr Konstantin Raudive in the 1970s and 1980s known as the “Raudive Voices”. Having provided a link to some of the original recordings, I trust that most of my readers will agree with me that explaining away such voices as “interpretation of random noise” is quite simply laughable. The Raudive voices included in the sample are clearly not random noise – they are generally recognisable as human utterances, and many of them are as understandable as a phone call.

In this article I will begin to address the other criticism typically raised by the skeptics, i.e. that Electronic Voice Phenomena (apparently paranormal voices appearing on tape or other recording devices) and Direct Radio Voices (voices directly emanating from radio receivers) are nothing than stray pieces of radio broadcasts picked up by the equipment. For various reasons, I am especially incensed at this particular explanation.

In general, this is a typical example of serious logical and methodological error on the part of the skeptics (I should rafter say scoffers): if an explanation can be true, then it must be true. It matters not what experience, common sense, and the opinion of the experts say. It matters not that there is not an ounce of evidence for that explanation: since the equipment used to record the voices is in principle capable of picking up radio transmissions, then the voices are radio transmissions. Period. Now, please consider the following and see if you share my being incensed.

You must know that since the age of 14 (I am now 55) I have been passionately pursuing the hobby known as amateur radio. The picture above shows me in my present-day radio shack. This – often confused with “CB radio” used by truckers – is in reality a highly scientific and technical hobby, one in which the boundaries of what is possible in terms of radio communications keep being pushed beyond astounding limits by “amateurs” who are in many cases more like scientists. Advances made by our “amateur” ranks are in fact behind many of the technologies we use in our everyday life.

I am telling you this to make you understand that, because of this passion of mine, during the last 40+ years I have spent an incalculable number of hours with the headphones on, trying to dig out vanishing radio signals coming from remote Pacific islands, listening to faint traces of transmissions reflected by the trails of shooting stars, or trying to bounce signals… off the moon! Well, during all those incalculable hours, using equipment specifically made to detect very weak radio signals, I never, and I say never, not one single time, heard anything like the Raudive voices.

Now, Mr Skeptic, would you please explain this to me? How come that I, a “professional amateur”, using all sorts of sophisticated equipment (over a period of 40 years, you can imagine what changes in technology I have witnessed…), have never detected a “stray radio broadcast”, and Dr Raudive and others, using banal (I would call it “stone age” equipment) recorded thousands upon thousands of such voices, and you say that they are all stray radio broadcasts?

In the next article we’ll look at a number of other arguments showing that the “stray radio broadcast” explanation is utterly untenable. Now, I would like to leave you with a finer, more intriguing reflection. It is true that in my 40 years of amateur radio activity I have never heard anything like a Raudive voice. It is also true that during all that time I was never looking… A few months ago, I decided to start looking, and I am doing so in technical conditions that – I know it for a fact – exclude any possibility of unintended pickup of radio signals. And perhaps – just perhaps – something is beginning to show.

The reflection therefore is the following: what is the role of the experimenter in all this? 50 years of research in the ITC field tell us that the results are much, much more dependent on the experimenter (his/her motivation, state of mind and, perhaps, mediumistic ability) than on the equipment used. Do the voices appear because of our intention, our desire to establish communication with the other side, as well as our capacity (gift?) to do so?

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HorganJohn Horgan is a highly respected science journalist and author. He is also the Director of the Center for Science Writings at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey. A former senior writer at Scientific American (1986-1997), he has also written for The New York Times, National Geographic, Time, Newsweek, The Washington Post, Slate and other publications around the world.

Dear Mr Horgan,

I hope you will not mind me taking the liberty to use the platform of my blog to publicly address a brief letter to you. I do so because I know the issues I will raise are of interest to my readers, and because I was not able to find a public link through which I could have addressed this directly to you.

I write to you in follow up to the interview you gave to Alex Tsakiris for his excellent Skeptiko podcast, which was published recently and which I found very interesting (readers of this blog can access the interview here). In particular, as a scholar and practitioner of applied psychical research – the practical use of the research findings, in my case for the specific benefit of the bereaved and the dying – I would like to briefly react to a few statements you made concerning a subject I feel passionately about.

First of all, unless I seriously misunderstood what you were saying, you put in the same basket religious faith (belief in God) and “belief” in things such as ESP, reincarnation and an afterlife. I am of the opinion that this is a serious logical fallacy. Whilst, in the absence of any empirical evidence, the existence of God is indeed a matter of belief, a judgment about the existence of psychic powers and on the possible survival of human personality of bodily death can be made based on a critical analysis of a very considerable quantity of data. I agree that, in principle, different people may arrive at different conclusions, but I don’t think it is correct to say that one “believes” or “doesn’t believe” in ESP. How would you react if I said that “I don’t believe in general relativity”?

I feel passionately about this because putting on the same plane a process of critical evaluation of the evidence, on the one hand, and religious faith on the other is not only logically wrong, but also extremely damaging. Damaging for those of us – and we are the vast majority – who come to psychical research from an entirely nonreligious perspective. Damaging for the public, who is led to believe that laboratory mediumship research, for instance, belongs with a commentary on a verse of the Bible. And damaging for the advancement of science, as this all too common confusion is one of the reasons why funding for legitimate psychical research is practically non-existent – just as its visibility on mainstream media.

Secondly, I am of the opinion that “things such as ESP, reincarnation and an afterlife” are also very different, and should not be put in the same basket. Let me briefly explain, at the risk of sounding pedantic.

Let’s broaden the definition of ESP to include all psychic powers and ask, Can humans obtain information present in the mind of other humans, or at a distance in the environment, or in the future, when all known sensory channels are unavailable? And, Can thoughts influence inanimate matter, physical and biological processes? You will agree with me that these are testable questions.

Indeed, these questions have been tested through thousands of carefully designed and increasingly rigorous laboratory experiments, amounting to several million individual trials, carried out for nearly a century by some 50 of the same kind of academic and research institutions who deal with any other branch of science. The results of these studies have been regularly published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. What has this to do with “belief”?

Incidentally, the results of such studies have convinced a list of “serious scientific proponents” much, much longer than Dr Rupert Sheldrake alone that psychic powers exist. So much so that the position taken by the more knowledgeable and intellectually honest among the hardline skeptics is that, by the standards commonly used in natural science, parapsychology is proven (hence the debate on “extraordinary evidence” supposedly needed for “extraordinary claims”…) Thanks to University of North Carolina’s Prof James Carpenter, we now also have a consistent, coherent theory for PSI capable of explaining the evidence and making predictions.

A different question is, Do aspects of human personality survive the demise of the physical body?

This, I believe, is currently not a directly testable question. That does not mean, however, that we do not have masses of compelling evidence (anecdotes, investigations carried out by trained scientists and, yes, experiments under controlled laboratory conditions), coming from about a dozen separate lines of investigation, which is consistent with the hypothesis that, in a way in which we do not yet understand, significant aspects of mind are independent of a functioning physical brain and survive the death of the body.

I am today reasonably convinced of survival not because I read it in a holy book. A man of reason and of science, “I am compelled to believe by the inescapable logic of facts”, as famously said by Swiss physicist Raoul Pictet speaking to the Society for Psychical Research. Over the years, academics and scholars immensely more bright and learned than me have looked at the evidence with the care it deserves, and have come to the same uneasy conclusion.

This is not faith, Mr Horgan, this is reason. Heaven knows if we need more intelligent, informed and honest science journalists who, very much like yourself, are not afraid to ruffle feathers and go against fashionable worldviews. However, I am not trying to recruit you to the cause of psychical research, for no such cause exist. Data are there for everybody to ponder on. Simply, I am hoping that you will not make things even more difficult for us – the researchers, the practitioners and the public at large – by putting together things that do not belong together.

With deep appreciation and respect, and many thanks for reading me.

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Dear Kai,

As you don’t know me, please allow me to very briefly introduce myself. My name is Piero Calvi-Parisetti and I am a Scottish/Italian, Western-educated medical doctor and university lecturer. I mention my Western education to stress that I was taught to believe that all you as a physical medium embody simply does not exist. I am not only a man of science, however, I am also a man of reason, and it is reason that compels me to believe otherwise. After more than a decade of passionate study of psychical research, I am now convinced that mind cannot be reduced to the activity of the brain, and that significant aspects of human personality survive the death of the body. So much convinced I am by the “invincible logic of facts” – as Swiss physicist Raoul Pictet famously put it – that I made patient education on afterlife science the main stake of my approach to grief counselling.

As I keep closely following the developments in the rarefied field of survival studies, I have obviously been aware for some time of the activities of the Felix Experimental Group. I was eagerly looking forward to the possibility of an investigation by the Society for Psychical Research, to which I am honoured to belong. Since I heard no news of that, I was delighted to know that Prof Stephen Braude had carried out a series of controlled experimental sessions with you and your circle. I was very disappointed for not being able to attend Prof Braude’s lecture at the SPR in London, when he presented his conclusions, but I was happy to find not one but two comprehensive reports published in the journal of the Society for Scientific Exploration.

I found the two reports very detailed and perhaps a bit heavy, but quite easy to understand nevertheless. I don’t see how they can have been misinterpreted, with Braude’s report pitched by some as “pro” the reality of the phenomena and Nahm’s “against”. Based on those reports and on what I see as their misinterpretation, I myself have written a couple of articles on my blog. Please allow me to quote from them in order to summarise my two conclusions.

1) I believe that there is currently no normal explanation for the phenomena produced by Kai Mügge during the séances held under strictly controlled conditions. At the minimum, these phenomena represent a massive challenge to our understanding of how the world works. When seen in the broader context and history of mediumship, they may add to the collective weight of the evidence for survival of human personality of bodily death.

2) There is what I personally consider very strong evidence that Kai Mügge employed conjuror tricks to produce at least one phenomenon during a non-controlled séance.

I am now writing to you to share my thoughts and reflections on this state of affairs. Although these are my own, I believe that many readers of my blog who strive to follow reason rather than belief would recognise themselves in what I am going to say. Please appreciate that, with this letter, I am not demanding, expecting or even asking for explanations from you. I feel that I have no title for any of that, and obviously you have no obligations towards me or my readers. I am just sharing my thoughts, from person to person. And, since both of us are in some way public persons, I am doing this publicly.

The first reflection is about my intellectual life. For years I had to wage an internal battle against my education and old beliefs, and slowly surrender to a nonmaterialist view of reality which is fascinating in many ways but also deeply troubling. The reality I came to discover is very, very difficult to understand, to explain, to predict. I do not understand, and therefore cannot explain, for instance, what is it exactly that survives death, how survival works. More specifically, I cannot for the life of me understand how discarnate personalities capable of producing extraordinary physical effects should waste time – theirs, and ours, for a hundred a fifty years! – making tables levitate or trumpets flying around. My grieving patients – as well as my intellect – crave for meaningful, understandable evidence, and we mostly get impressive but meaningless manifestations. This troubles me, intensely.

And now, I also have to make sense of the fact that yet another gifted medium, around which the most extraordinary phenomena manifest, occasionally employs tricks. This adds enormously to my difficulties in making sense of reality. I not only have to accept that utterly unbelievable and inexplicable things happen, I must also be aware that some of these things are not real. Think of having an LSD trip whilst walking on quicksand…

But there is more. The fact that you occasionally employ tricks tells me that you also occasionally fake trance. This in itself is a dramatic spanner in the wheels. Where do I put my boundaries, my thresholds? Is all trance faked? Are you just pretending, all the time, whilst in fact perfectly conscious of what’s going on? Otherwise, I ask myself, how could you fake trance whilst occasionally employing conjuror tricks? I don’t know, I have no opinion, no conclusions, and, most importantly, no judgment. I am just telling you that those “occasions” trouble me deeply and make my efforts to make sense of reality an almost impossible pursuit.

The second reflection has to do with my moral life. As anybody who dares to put the words “science” and “medium” in the same sentence, I am lambasted, ridiculed and generally crucified by the sorry souls we call the skeptics. Please refer to the entry with my name on RationalWiki for a good example. Although I somehow grew used to that, it still hurts. And, do you know what is my only defence against that hurting? My own intellectual honesty. I draw strength and courage by my striving to be as intellectually honest as I can. I am completely available to change my current beliefs on survival should I come across “normal” explanations for the evidence. For the time being, I remain strongly convinced.

But the skeptics do not reason like that. For them, the fact that you have employed tricks just the one time means that all I believe is false, and therefore that I am a gullible idiot, as they have been saying forever. For them, that single, damned D-Lite incident is the living proof that I am intellectually dishonest. My own psychological defence risks being pulled away like a carpet under my feet.

Yet, there is more. I have grown used to being lambasted by the skeptics, and their flames will not dent my own sense of intellectual honesty. What really hurt me badly was receiving the same treatment by a Facebook group to which – I understand – you and your wife belong. After two years in which my articles were warmly welcomed, and “liked”, and positively commented on, I was chewed and spat out in no time for having reviewed Braude’s and Nahm’s reports. In a delirious misinterpretation of what I actually wrote, my articles were said to be “all about skepticism, criticism, debunking and looking for fraud and everything else”. I was accused of being “aggressive” and “on the defensive”. I fully realise that you have nothing to do with this, but who needs enemies when you have friends like these…

I am telling you these personal, generally insignificant stories just as a reflection on how an isolated and apparently unrelated “D-Lite incident” can have unexpected consequences.

Finally, let me briefly talk about something which is neither personal nor insignificant. Skeptics will never be convinced. They will keep ignoring and suppressing evidence for anything that contradicts their dogmatic beliefs. A single episode of fraud will be blown out of proportions and used to invalidate masses of compelling evidence. We know it, we don’t like it, but there is unfortunately nothing we can do about it. No, what I am really worried about are the countless people who are in pain over the loss of a loved one, or in fear of their impending death. For many of them, a rational belief in life after life can make the difference between utter desperation and healing, between hopelessness and peaceful acceptance. With most people caught between religious dogma on one side and materialist dogma on the other, helping them developing a belief based on reason rather than on faith can be a major challenge. But we know that such evidence-based belief has already helped thousands around the world. One, one single D-Lite incident can be enough to take all that away.

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David Deutsch01 Needless to say, the title is nothing but an attention-grabbing provocation. I could not even entertain the thought that Oxford University quantum physicist David Deutsch is anything less than the stupendously bright and learned scientist he is.

However, a little , sad story came to my attention that would suggest that a most intelligent and educated person like Prof Deutsch can make mistakes. And, being David Deutsch not only an extremely accomplished scientist, but also a very “visible” and influential personality, such mistakes can cause considerable problems for all of us – that is, the public at large. Therefore, in a world in which my very humble self and a string of infinitely more qualified academics, thinkers and researchers are belittled, ridiculed, openly insulted and generally crucified by the skeptics’ propaganda, this article comes not as a form of revenge, but simply as a call to account.

Although little and sad, the story I am referring to had enough traction to make it to the columns of Nature, arguably the foremost scientific publication in the world. In an article published in issue 413, p. 339 (2001), author Erica Klarreich explains how in 2001 the British Royal Mail issued six new stamps commemorating the centenary of the Noble Prize. To accompany the new stamps, the Royal Mail published a booklet for which they invited various Nobel laureates to add contributions, including Brian Josephson, a professor at the University of Cambridge who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1973 for his work on superconductors. Josephson surprised the scientific community and the general public with a comment regarding “paranormal phenomena.” For the booklet Josephson wrote that “a more detailed understanding of paranormal phenomena may emerge from a better understanding of quantum mechanics” and this “may lead to an explanation of processes still not understood within conventional science, such as telepathy – an area in which Britain is at the forefront of research.”

This statement, even coming from a Nobel laureate, caused uproar amongst traditional physicists and other scientists in England and around the world. And here enters Prof Deutsch. Klarreich goes on to quote the September 30, 2001, issue of The Observer, in which David Deutsch commented ,“It is utter rubbish…. Telepathy simply doesn’t exist. The Royal Mail has let itself hoodwinked into supporting ideas that are complete nonsense.”

Now, Prof Deutsch, let me ask you a very simple question. Very simple indeed, but, mind you, asked formally and very publicly indeed. What exactly have you read that supports your statement about telepathy?

Let me be very clear.

I, a little more than an amateur scholar, can list from memory a dozen articles published in peer-reviewed scientific publications showing without a shade of a doubt that telepathy does exist. Can you, who obviously have studied the problem in some depth if you take such a position, list a dozen articles supporting with equal certainty your statement that “telepathy simply doesn’t exist”?

But we don’t want to stop at our level, do we? Me as an amateur scholar and you with what I reckon must be a similar level of interest in and knowledge of the subject. No, this is an important subject and we want to turn to the real experts.

There is, for instance, a certain Jessica Utts, a professor of statistics at the University of California, who dedicated a considerable part of her professional life to the study of what you call “ideas that are complete nonsense” and has a completely opposing view to yours. She has made her point very clear in a number of peer-reviewed articles, but just to make sure you get my point, let me briefly quote from the summary of one of those:

“Using the standards applied to any other area of science, it is concluded that psychic functioning has been well established. The statistical results of the studies examined are far beyond what is expected by chance. Arguments that these results could be due to methodological flaws in the experiments are soundly refuted. Effects of similar magnitude to those found in government sponsored research at SRI and SAIC have been replicated at a number of laboratories across the world. Such consistency cannot be readily explained by claims of flaws or fraud. The magnitude of psychic functioning exhibited appears to be in the range between what social scientists call a small and medium effect. That means that it is reliable enough to be replicated in properly conducted experiments, with sufficient trials to achieve the long-run statistical results needed for replicability.”

Now, Prof Deutsch, we have a problem here. Either you or Jessica Utts are wrong. I therefore ask you again to please provide a complete list of peer-reviewed scientific references in support of your statement that telepathy doesn’t exist. I mean a detailed list. Not the dozen or so that would satisfy me or the general public. I mean the hundreds that would show that Jessica Utts is wrong.

I am sure that it will be no particular effort for you. From your terse, unequivocal statements , I must conclude that you, as a trained scientist, have carefully reviewed the literature for telepathy experiments and found abundant, undisputable evidence that it does not exist. You will therefore be able to provide us with a complete, detailed and reasoned list of publications in no time.

And I hope you will do so. Because, if you don’t, I and the rest of the world will have to conclude that you are either ignorant or intellectually dishonest. Ignorant, because you do not know about the masses of compelling evidence produced for over a century by your own peers – highly qualified, trained scientists working for the same academic institutions that you do. Or, what is possibly worse, intellectually dishonest, because you have looked at some of this evidence, and deliberately chose to ignore it as it does not fit your beliefs about the nature of reality.

But, you see, from the perspective of us as the general public, there is something even more important. Something that we really need to iron out. We would like to understand how on earth is it possible that the opinions of a quantum physicist about some aspects of parapsychology research have so much traction as to get published in a major UK daily newspaper. I am not questioning the substance, as I am sure that you will provide us with a list of the evidence supporting your position. I am just wondering, you know… Would it not strike you as somewhat strange if Jessica Utts was to appear on US Today and state that, “The reverse tunnelling effect in high energy lasers is complete nonsense”?

The real problem, as I see it, is that the public learns about what I regard as an extremely important subject (do humans have psychic powers or not?) from a quantum physicist (or from a stage magician like James Randi), and not from the academics who have spent a lifetime studying this particular subject.

Therefore I can only hope that this particular quantum physicist has done his homework, and the public is not told naked lies.

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