The Montague and Veronica Keen Foundation
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Many of those who are convinced by the evidence that paranormal events occur, and that the personality can survive bodily death, have regretfully concluded that the task of trying to convince the resolute skeptics — those to whom disbelief is virtually a religion rather than condition of healthy doubt — is a waste of time and effort. And most people involved in this field are content to plough their own furrow, cultivate their own soul, or whatever the right metaphor is for getting on with one's own life rather than brick-wall bashing in the hope that the scoffing world outside will change.

And there is much to say in their favour. Not everyone wishes to proselytise. Some can with reason point to the literature of psychical research a full century ago. Here are found frequent references to the certainty that, within a matter of months or a year or two at most, the sceptical world would surely recognise the overwhelming evidence for the operation of — at least — telepathy. But we are still waiting.

Despite the stronghold which materialist beliefs still exert in all the seats of academic and scientific power, there are ample signs of fissures in the edifice of the skeptics. You may well marvel at the novel proof which was presented to the American Association for the Advancement of Science this year that hypnotism is genuine: it's been clearly demonstrated in brain scans. But everyone except the scientific establishment has known for 250 years that hypnotism isn't just pretence or self-delusion on the part of the play-acting subject. Why so reluctant to accept the obvious? Answer: because of the absence of an intelligible explanation, a theory which plausibly accounts for it.

The same fate still affects dowsing. That it demonstrably works, and has long been an important part of the vital job of finding water, has been known for centuries. But it fails to work when subjected to rigorous scientific disciplines, and there is still no acceptable theory to account for it. So no matter how impressive a dowser's record in the field, or how much money Uri Geller earns by practicing the mysterious art, official science must still maintain that it's all luck, geological knowledge or topographical interpretation.

See what happens about the mounting evidence that people who have major transplant surgery display some of the characteristics and acquire the habits, likes and dislikes of their donors. It shouldn't happen. It's contrary to the genetical rules. But when it does, are the rules revised? Not at all. The evidence is ignored as long as possible.

Closer home, we have the impressive evidence from the Netherlands and Britain that apparently brain dead people who recover consciousness after cardiac arrest describe things they not merely ought not to have been able to see and hear, but could not. When the reports are from orthodox medics, backed up by the sort of evidence that specialist journals rightly require before publication (as was the case here), then you would think that the resistance of The Establishment to the notion that there is, after all, some evidence pointing to a separation of mind and brain, would begin to crumble. Not so far. After the expression of the usual off-the-cuff doubts whether the evidence stands up, silence supervenes. Fortunately this is one of the areas where extensive investigations in collaboration with a score of hospitals is now in train. At the same time the skeptical spokesmen have been hard-pressed to find reasons to disparage the evidence that distant prayer does seem to have a beneficial effect on patients. Once again, this cannot be fitted in to orthodox theory, so they scratch around to question the statistical methods employed.

Occasionally they make the mistake of sailing into the territory of psychical research by seeking to demolish some case long considered to provide outstandingly good evidence for the paranormal. Dr Richard Wiseman did this several years ago by seeking to show how the investigation by three leading British specialists of Eusapia Palladino's extraordinary physical feats when under strict control during the experimental sessions conducted in a Naples hotel in 1909 might be explained by postulating the existence of a secret panel through which a hitherto unknown accomplish could help effect magical tricks under the eyes of three experienced authorities on conjurors' tricks.

The Skeptical Inquirer is the magazine run by the oddly and misleadingly named Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, the official mouthpiece of the resolute skeptics (spelled with a 'k' to classify it as a conviction rather than a mere attitude). It recently carried an article by a prominent academic in which he examined in detail a celebrated case in which a number of mediums, at least two of them very well known nationally, gave very detailed information about the circumstances attending the death by drowning of a brilliant young inventor, Edgar Vandy. The case was explored in great detail in the SPR's Journal in 1957. The skeptical critic decided that everything could be explained by guesswork, luck, preparatory research, cold readings or common parlour tricks. It has been easy to expose all these as spurious pretexts contradicted by the evidence. I have done precisely that: the detailed rebuttal awaits publication. We shall have to see whether the skeptics follow their usual practice of keeping their heads down when the shooting gets too close.


Skeptics under Fire by Montague Keen
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