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Excerpt from “Science and Spirit”: Physical Effects (Psychokinesis, Healing)

Chapter 14

In the last chapter we wondered whether people’s experiences of ghosts or apparitions, if taken seriously, might provide any evidence for consciousness beyond the brain or for survival. Since some of these experiences seemed to involve physical effects, especially in poltergeist cases and in hauntings, you might say that we have already stolen some of the thunder from this chapter, which is also about physical effects.

Well, yes and no. We still have more to say about PK (psychokinesis) and about spiritual or psychic healing. Both of these subjects are dear to my heart, since I have had personal experiences with both of them. There’s nothing like an experience, remember.

I have not seen any people levitated, but I have apparently experienced the levitation of tables. I say apparently, because I still have my doubts. This is also called “table-tipping,” and I reported on two observations of it from 1964 and 1999 in our book Guided by Spirit (Emmons and Emmons, 2003: 137-138).

In 1964 I attended a cast party after a play I was in. Two people set up a “rise, table, rise” game with four of us around a card table. To my great surprise the entire table floated up in the air about half a foot. It felt as if it were being buoyed up, as if by water, rather than being pulled or yanked. Everybody’s hands were flat on top of the table, until I left it and dropped to my knees looking for strings, lifted legs, or anything irregular that might have been part of a hoax. I could detect nothing, and the table was still up in the air. However, I still thought it was some kind of a trick, because I had seen the two organizers whisper something to each other over the center of the table before we started.

In 1999 I was part of a table-tipping demonstration class involving Anne Gehman, a prominent spirit medium for whom I have the greatest respect. Five of us around a card table weren’t getting far, except for what I call a slight “Ouija-board effect,” or rocking back and forth that could be explained simply as an unconscious pressure from our hands. We were not achieving lift-off. But then Anne came by and placed her hands on top of the corner of the table to the right of mine. The rest of her body was clearly away from the table. Darned if it didn’t float up after a couple of seconds about six inches from that corner only, with that same buoying effect I had experienced 35 years earlier. It stayed there for about ten or twenty seconds, then fell rather quickly, but it rose up again with Anne’s hands still on the table. After another ten or twenty seconds she left our table, and it stayed up for a few more seconds without her but then collapsed, never to rise again.

The next day I had a lengthy discussion with a very reliable observer who had been sitting across the table from me. He pointed out that Anne had had no way to get leverage in order to lift the table in any normal fashion, because the table legs were on the very corners of the table, and her hands were entirely on top. He also thought that the rising of the table had felt like a buoying effect rather than a yanking or pulling. There had also been several other students in the class sitting in nearby chairs checking for funny stuff, and nobody had said anything.

Interestingly Stephen Braude, philosophy professor at University of Maryland, Baltimore Campus, told me in an interview that he had had a similar experience in graduate school. He called it a “table-up séance.” From his skeptical, materialist perspective at the time, he watched what seemed to be an impossible event as the table tipped. He said: they were not jokers, it was his table, it was daylight, etc., nothing suspicious. Much later, after he had a job and was a tenured professor, he knew that he would have to confront the experience and other apparent anomalies that it represented in his mind. There’s nothing like an experience.

For me, also a “materialist,” and an atheist at the time, my conversion experience came in my sophomore year at Gannon College, when I took a class in psychology from the late John Fleming, who devoted a section of the class to parapsychology. This was in 1962, two years before my table-tipping experience (Emmons and Emmons, 2003: 94-95). I was fascinated by the evidence he presented for ESP and PK (psychokinesis or mind-over-matter). It didn’t fit my materialistic explanation of the universe. However, instead of thinking, “It can’t be, therefore it isn’t (the normal-science attitude),” I thought, “It seems to be, surprisingly, so I’d better check it out.”

The following summer I did my own PK experiment by rolling dice 200,000 times, attempting to influence the dice to come up with a 5 on each die. I used a dice cup and recorded all the data by hand. It wasn’t a controlled experiment in a laboratory setting, just a way of satisfying my curiosity addiction. I got between 11⁄2 and 2 percent more fives than expected by chance, the odds of which are billions to one against for a sample that large.

I have to say that Prof. Fleming had a psychology major (I was a language major) test my dice in a lab, rolling them in a mechanical device and recording the results. They actually produced a bit less than the expected number of fives, indicating that the dice, if anything, were slightly biased against my target, rather than for it. He also sent my results to J.B. Rhine, the famous parapsychologist, who responded that my data were typical of such experiments, showing, for example, classic decline effects (psi-missing) at the end of a long run. Rhine even sent me some Las Vegas dice that were well-balanced, unlike the “drugstore dice” I had been using. I tried them out for a while, but did not get significant results.

Keep in mind that my adventures with dice do not belong in the annals of parapsychological research. Nowadays, in any case, PK is tested with random number generators etc. (more on this shortly). They merely represent a significant experience in my life that made me more open to the exploration of anomalies. Even though I had never thought of myself as psychic or anything of that ilk, it gradually dawned on me that such things were apparently possible, even for myself.

I had always scoffed when my mother told me that she couldn’t wear watches because she magnetized them, and they stopped. Surely, I thought, the human body can’t create enough electromagnetic energy to do that. However, for the past few decades I have experienced something similar. When I have worn self-winding mechanical watches previously worn by my dad, they end up losing time in odd ways, especially when I am pressed for time. Also, the one I have now will sometimes keep perfect time all night, then stop when I put it on in the morning, without setting it, winding it, or doing anything else to the stem. Is this a PK effect? By the way, I finally have bought a quartz watch, which is not affected, so that I can actually tell what time it is without getting out my cell phone.

There have been other such apparent PK effects in my life, most of which are out of my conscious control, although I did on two occasions consciously get my “psychic watch” to stop and then start again in a few minutes (with a witness, who was rather disturbed by it). I also found recently that both Penelope and I were able to stare at a little 1940s Christmas ornament lamp shade (called “Whirl Glo”) and apparently make it move around from our thoughts instead of from the heat of the Christmas light, which I had switched off (we were careful not to breathe on it or to create air currents in any other way). I thought we had discovered a way to demonstrate our PK to the world, but we could not do this again after a few times. And then the skeptic in me made me doubt that the effect was genuine in the first place.

If any of these experiences of mine are valid, they appear to represent PK by the living, which harkens back to the poltergeist material in the last chapter. In some other of my experiences, however, the physical effects might represent at least some influence from the spirit world, which relates to what we said about hauntings.

Shortly after my father died in 1996, I noticed that six remote control devices in his house had the batteries die all within a few days of each other. I thought that that was just a bit too much of a coincidence. It reminded me of clocks stopping after a person’s death (“The clock stopped, never to go again, when the old man died.”).

Shortly after Penelope’s aunt died, we were staying in her house to visit, and we experienced flickering of the lights in the kitchen for no apparent reason around 3:00 or 4:00 o’clock in the morning. The family wondered if it might not be because she used to raid the refrigerator at that time of day.

A few years ago I got a phone call in Lily Dale, NY (our summer residence) from a member of the First Spiritualist Church of Erie to tell me that a fellow member of the church had just died. For a second or two I couldn’t place the name, but then I blurted out, “Oh, Pearl!”, a particularly sweet woman I admired very much. At the very moment I had my realization, the ceiling light bulb in the room popped and burned out.

As you may know, this is rare, because bulbs generally blow out when you turn them on and send a surge of electricity through, not when they have been on for a time. I wondered if I wasn’t getting a message from Pearl, although I suppose it could also have been my own PK . . . or just a normal electrical phenomenon of course.

There have been other physical effects in our Lily Dale house. Shortly after Penelope’s mother died a few pictures fell off the wall (oddly), as well as a commemorative plate with an image of the flagship Niagara on it, for which her mother had worked on a fundraiser to restore the ship. There were several other plates up there, none of which came down. In about the same place as the plate and pictures, I took a photograph of Penelope that showed an odd double image over her (she was still visible underneath) of what looked like a billowy curtain fabric with cross-hatched lines of corded material. I could not find anything in the house that looked like that.

All of these examples are what are referred to as “spontaneous cases”, rather than laboratory cases. Also, my dice experiments are of little consequence due to the lack of controls and to the outmoded methodology. See Mayer (2007: 241-247) for a review of the extensive research done at the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research laboratories by Robert Jahn and Brenda Dunne, beginning in 1977. Their most sophisticated methodology involved people using their intention to influence the output of a random number generator. The cumulative effect of all of their experimental trials shows odds of 100 billion to one against mere chance.

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