Lewis Stafford Betty is a professor of religious studies at California State University. He is also a careful, painstaking psychical researcher in the field, and somebody who brings a PhD’s depth of reflection to difficult questions that are as old as psychical research itself. Before dealing specifically with Dr Betty’s take on one of such questions, let me very briefly digress.
Upon learning that a person teaches religious studies, one is almost automatically led to believe that this person must have a strong religious faith. Furthermore, if this person also has an interest in psychical research – and the survival hypothesis in particular – it is very tempting to think that the person “believes” in survival as much as he or she “believes” in the teachings of his/her chosen religion. As tempting as it may be, in the case of Dr Betty, this is also very wrong. In this respect, I find a quote of his – lifted from an interview he gave a few years ago to Michael Tymn – extremely refreshing:
“In general I find much more support for survival than for God. For me, there is ample empirical evidence for survival, so much from so many quarters that I regard it as proven. But God’s reality is not so clear. By that I mean I’m not very clear about what God is. In particular, is God the kind of being that hears my heartfelt prayers? And where do I meet God? During deep meditation when I silence the inner chatter? Is God in some sense the silence? God to me remains something of a mystery, one I wish I could understand.”
To me, these are the words of an intelligent and profoundly honest person. I wish skeptics, scoffers and “dismissers” of various kinds took note of the fundamental difference between a belief based on the knowledge and critical review of evidence and a belief based on faith.
Now, one of the questions Dr Betty addresses in his reflection is the origin of what in modern terms is termed Recurrent Spontaneous Psycho-Kinesis (RSPK), better known as Poltergeist activity. Ever since this kind of disturbances were first reported, researchers and scholars have considered two hypotheses. In certain cases, poltergeist effects can be attributed to a living agent, a ‘poltergeist focus’ (if such an individual can be identified, which is not always the case), and it is sometimes assumed that the manifestations reflect some form of psychological tension within that person, or changes associated with puberty. In other cases, hauntings are attributed to discarnate spirits who, for one reason or another, have failed to make a satisfactory transition from their earthly life to the presumed afterlife.
Following the in-depth investigation of one particular case he carried out in the early 1980s in Bakersfield, California (where his University is located), Dr Betty argues that not only the living agent hypothesis could not apply in that particular instance, but that the deceased agent hypothesis provides a better fit for poltergeist cases in general.
The original article, appeared in 1984 in the the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, provides all details of the investigation and makes for riveting, fascinating reading: click here to view.