Monday, April 27, 2009
Stuff: True believers.
The PopSci site has a short interview with author Stacy Horn, details the history of the Duke University's parapsychology department in her new book Unbelievable (review here, on this very web log).
The interviewer's questions are fluff-piece work, but Horn gamely works with what she's got. On the subject of whether or not she grew scared researching ghost stories and possession phenomenon:
PopSci.com: Wow! So was it spooky reading about the cases?
Horn: Everybody asks me that. No, it really wasn’t to me. It was exciting! The possibility that the things they were studying were real was exciting. I just thought that it was more fun. The only time I became scared was when I was reading about a study of letters about people’s ghost experiences. The Duke lab compiled hundreds of letters people sent them about experiences with ghosts. After going thorough all of them, they found if people were having experiences with ghosts, they were hearing them more than seeing them. It’s known as EVP, electronic voice phenomena, and I started researching this stuff. I started Googling EVP and I found there are people who record the noises they hear and actually do put this stuff on the web. I started listening to the noises and even though I did not believe I was listening to the dead or ghosts from beyond, I got scared. I was at my computer and I looked up at the ceiling in my apartment and said, “Please don’t speak to me.” If there are ghosts or spirits in my apartment, I didn’t want to hear from them. That was the only time I was scared.
Horn, at greater length in her book, defends the scientific validity of the department's work:
PopSci.com: Most people do not think of studying unseen phenomena and ESP the work of scientists. What did Rhine and his colleagues do to make their work considered scientific?
Horn: They identified an effect, like psychokinesis, and went through the process of studying it. They went about coming up with calculable experiments, just like any other experiment in science. They specifically designed experiments to study the different things like psychokinesis. The most famous of the experiments that I think most people are familiar with were the tests with ESP cards. They used the experiment in the movie Ghostbusters. They would test mostly Duke University students and would see if the students could recall the shapes and symbols on the cards. And it turns out they could. It was all statistics and probability and they tested it over and over again. By the end, they were testing double blind, the researchers and students did not know the symbols on the cards, and they found the students could still recall the images. And that is science, establishing an experiment, refining controls and using statistical methods to analyze the results.
PopSci.com: Were you a believer in the paranormal and life after death before you began your research?
Horn: No, and I would not say I am necessarily a believer now. I researched this to the best of my ability and found no reason to not believe the work done by Rhine and the lab. Over the years scientists tried to say the experiments were not controlled, but that is simply not the case. I think they made a case for telepathy and to me it is exciting. It implies there is another way to get data out there in the world and some people seem to have access to it. I don’t know if telepathy is necessarily the answer but some people seem to have access to another realm.
From Unbelievable to the unlikely, what to make of Ghostbusters alum Dan Aykroyd's new paranormally inspired vodka, which comes in a skull-shape bottle meant to evoke the 13 Crystal Heads? From Mr. Aykroyd's site:
Thousands of years ago, thirteen crystal heads were scattered across the earth – and they are greater and more powerful than anything we have the ability to manufacture today. Their workmanship is perfect: they contain no tool marks and have been cut against the natural axis of the crystal, defying the laws of physics. Some say they are artifacts from the lost civilization of Atlantis, some say they date back to the Mayans, still others say they were created by a higher intelligence.
Brought together, the Crystal Heads are said to contain vast knowledge and enlightenment capable of unlocking our most enigmatic ancient mysteries. Alone, each is believed to house radiant psychic energy, which has magical powers and healing properties.
They also house vodka. Go figure.