Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Deborah Blum on Skeptiko

The latest episode of Skeptiko features Ghost Hunters author Deborah Blum. Her book follows the no-nonsense creation of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) in the late nineteenth century by a group of brilliant scientists. While reading the book I felt transported back to the nineteenth century to witness the events she described. Hearing her discuss the research from a contemporary perspective was quite interesting because it told a different tale, and yet it is very much the same as that told in her book.

The members of the SPR are well-regarded scientists of their time, several of whom have Nobel prizes to their name. And yet, upon becoming involved with the SPR, they suddenly become tainted within the scientific community, as if their collective intelligence is reduced by the association. The prejudice evident in this story would be more surprising if the same isn't true of modern researchers in parapsychology. They too have Nobel prize winners, like Brian Josephson, and they are still marginalized once they sink their teeth into the problems presented by anomalous experiences. As the guest interviewer stated at one point, "our relation to science these days is the same relation as the laity once had with the clergy. We aren't experts, so we rely on them to give us the right answers."

This was the heart of the interview, but there was one thing Blum said that really struck me as a great question, and that is what I wanted to highlight here. She pointed out the difficulty spirits have communicating to living people. There is no explanation for this, but the difficulty is evident to anyone who has looked at mediumship research. And yet, some types of messages seem to be more easily transmitted than others. "Look at the kind of messages that get through. What kind of messages are they? Why do those get through easily but others do not?" She then pointed out that in telepathy research, she was told that researchers have discovered that the color red is more difficult to convey telepathically than any other color. Why is that?

I think the answer to the color question is that red is probably the first color that comes to mind for most people and they know it, so they don't trust their instinct when it happens. The overall point though is that these kinds of questions are far more interesting than the pedestrian issue of whether psi occurs that occupy the attention of all skeptics.


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