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    Ghosts Caught on Film, by Melvyn Willin

    Ghosts Caught on Film
    Publication Details: David and Charles, ISBN-13: 978-0715327289

    Collection of strange and unexplained photographs which might represent ghosts and paranormal activity captured on film, complete with commentaries. 'Great gift for the spookily inclined.' --Bookseller. "Whatever your beliefs, the images examined provide an interesting talking point." -- Ghost Voices Magazine

    Publish date: August, 2007

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    Ghost Images: Cinema of the Afterlife, by Tom Ruffles

    Ghost Images: Cinema of the Afterlife, by Tom Ruffles
    Publication Details: McFarland, ISBN-13: 978-0786420056

    Synopsis: The possibility of life after death is a significant theme in cinema, in which ghosts return to the world of the living to wrap up unfinished business, console their survivors, visit lovers, and just enjoy a well-wreaked scaring. This work focuses on film depictions of survival after death, from meetings with the ghost of Elvis to AIDS-related ghosts: apparitions, hauntings, mediumship, representations of heaven, angels, near-death experiences, possession, poltergeists, and all the other ways in which the living interact with the dead on screen. The work opens with a historical perspective, which outlines the development of pre-cinematic technology for ""projecting"" phantoms, and discusses the use of these skills in early ghost cinema. English-language sound films are then examined thematically with topics ranging from the expiation of sins to ""hungry"" ghosts. Six of the most significant films, Dead of Night, A Matter of Life and Death, The Innocents, The Haunting, The Shining, and Jacob's Ladder, are given a detailed analysis. A conclusion, filmography, and bibliography follow.

    Publish date: September, 2004

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    Parapsychology: The Controversial Science, by Richard Broughton

    Parapsychology: The Controversial Science, by Richard Broughton
    Publication Details: Ballantine Books, ISBN-13: 978-0345356383

    Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Quisque eu mauris quis sapien tempus euismod. Vestibulum facilisis, massa vitae accumsan ornare, tellus diam sodales tortor, eget tincidunt erat quam a libero.

    Quisque rutrum porttitor sem. Duis vitae nisl sit amet arcu mattis tempor. Proin a ultrices enim. Etiam non augue efficitur, sodales felis nec, maximus sapien. Sed sit amet justo pretium neque hendrerit commodo mattis a neque. Mauris commodo quis lectus at accumsan. Donec nec placerat diam. Duis ornare, ligula nec sodales laoreet, elit magna accumsan justo, ac vehicula turpis nisi vel dui. Curabitur tincidunt, lacus a convallis lobortis, lectus risus aliquet ipsum, sed tempus turpis felis non mi. Sed tempor ante non ipsum convallis, sit amet tempus libero pharetra. Nulla pellentesque erat vel mauris pellentesque tincidunt. Duis fermentum dapibus convallis. Sed at lacus non libero iaculis condimentum. Vestibulum finibus, dolor nec interdum placerat, lorem urna tempus lorem, quis vulputate mi leo sit amet sem. Suspendisse id sem nec neque vehicula tincidunt. Vestibulum eleifend venenatis enim, in dignissim nunc tristique in. Maecenas efficitur ac massa eu luctus. Quisque bibendum nisi sit amet velit suscipit, a pretium turpis mollis.

    Nulla faucibus augue sit amet quam efficitur tincidunt vitae quis lorem. Mauris fermentum, libero quis feugiat rhoncus, enim magna venenatis dolor, eu dapibus risus dolor in risus. Nam ac libero sit amet orci venenatis semper. Suspendisse nec efficitur felis. Pellentesque rutrum suscipit enim eget convallis. Maecenas facilisis dignissim turpis. Interdum et malesuada fames ac ante ipsum primis in faucibus. Phasellus porttitor eu purus ac scelerisque.

    Quisque eu mauris quis sapien tempus euismod. Vestibulum facilisis, massa vitae accumsan ornare, tellus diam sodales tortor, eget tincidunt erat quam a libero. Quisque rutrum porttitor sem. Duis vitae nisl sit amet arcu mattis tempor. Proin a ultrices enim. Etiam non augue efficitur, sodales felis nec, maximus sapien. Sed sit amet justo pretium neque hendrerit commodo mattis a neque. Mauris commodo quis lectus at accumsan. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Quisque eu mauris quis sapien tempus euismod. Vestibulum facilisis, massa vitae accumsan ornare, tellus diam sodales tortor, eget tincidunt erat quam a libero. Quisque rutrum porttitor sem. Duis vitae nisl sit amet arcu mattis tempor. Proin a ultrices enim. Etiam non augue efficitur, sodales felis nec, maximus sapien.

    Duis ornare, ligula nec sodales laoreet, elit magna accumsan justo, ac vehicula turpis nisi vel dui. Curabitur tincidunt, lacus a convallis lobortis, lectus risus aliquet ipsum, sed tempus turpis felis non mi. Sed tempor ante non ipsum convallis, sit amet tempus libero pharetra. Nulla pellentesque erat vel mauris pellentesque tincidunt. Duis fermentum dapibus convallis. Sed at lacus non libero iaculis condimentum. Vestibulum finibus, dolor nec interdum placerat, lorem urna tempus lorem, quis vulputate mi leo sit amet sem. Suspendisse id sem nec neque vehicula tincidunt. Vestibulum eleifend venenatis enim, in dignissim nunc tristique in. Maecenas efficitur ac massa eu luctus. Quisque bibendum nisi sit amet velit suscipit, a pretium turpis mollis. 

    Nulla pellentesque erat vel mauris pellentesque tincidunt. Duis fermentum dapibus convallis. Sed at lacus non libero iaculis condimentum. Vestibulum finibus, dolor nec interdum placerat, lorem urna tempus lorem, quis vulputate mi leo sit amet sem. Suspendisse id sem nec neque vehicula tincidunt. Vestibulum eleifend venenatis enim, in dignissim nunc tristique in. Maecenas efficitur ac massa eu luctus. Quisque bibendum nisi sit amet velit suscipit, a pretium turpis mollis. 

     

    Publish date: August, 1991

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    An article using the new all-female 'Ghostbusters' film as a peg discusses the contributions of Eleanor Sidgwick, an important early SPR member, to psychical research, referring to her as 'The Original Female Ghostbuster' (though it does concede that she did not use proton packs in her research!).

    Despite the headline, it's a balanced assessment of her work. 

     


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    Volunteers aged over 18 are needed for a PhD research project at the University of Central Lancashire, conducted by Ann Winsper.

    The study will investigate what people report hearing when listening to sound clips where it's unclear what's being heard. It will look at connections between a number of different personality measures and characteristics and see if these affect what people report hearing.

    The questionnaires used in the study cover a broad range of topics, which include attitudes and belief in the paranormal and life after death, religion, loneliness, mood, drug use, and other possibly sensitive subjects.

    Be aware that this study focuses on themes concerning the paranormal and life after death, and if you think this may upset you, you may not wish to participate.

    If you're interested in taking part, or would like to know more, please email arwinsper@uclan.ac.uk for further information.


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    Ghost Hunting, A Practical Guide: The New Edition, by Andrew Green and Alan Murdie (ed.)

    Ghost Hunting, A Practical Guide, by Andrew Green and Alan Murdie (ed.)
    Publication Details: Arima Publishing, ISBN-13: 978-1845496876

    From the publisher’s website: Ghost Hunting – A Practical Guide is the book which every ghost hunter should read. First published in 1973, it was the first book in the world to explain how to go about ghost hunting. It has now been updated for the 21st century by Alan Murdie, Chairman of the Ghost Club.

    Explaining the background to serious paranormal research, it covers equipment for the ghost hunter; how to examine a haunted house; investigating the surroundings and history of a site; how to interview people who have experienced ghosts; and how to eliminate the many natural causes – some of them highly unexpected – which can lead people to believe they are being haunted. Importantly, this book does not just emphasise the role of equipment, but also the appropriate mental attitude needed by the serious investigator.

    Complete with an extensive reading list and guidance on temperature readings, both the newcomer and the experienced ghost hunter will benefit from the advice and information contained in this classic book.

    Andrew Green began hunting ghosts in war-time London in 1944. From the 1970s to until his death in 2004, he actively promoted the scientific investigation of haunted properties and people, publicising many of the techniques routinely used by ghost hunters today. A respected lecturer, he published 17 books on hauntings and saw at least two ghosts himself.

    Alan Murdie is a lawyer and psychical researcher. He has investigated numerous cases of ghosts and hauntings in Britain and abroad. He is Chairman of the Ghost Club (founded 1862) and a council member of the Society for Psychical Research.

    Review by Tom Ruffles

    Publish date: June, 2016

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    Sue Demeter-St Clair of PSICAN (Paranormal Studies & Inquiry Canada) has written a long article on the famous sightings of an apparition at Cheltenham in the 1880s.

    A summary of the case can be found in the Psi Encyclopedia, together with a pdf of the original report in the SPR Proceedings, 'Record of a Haunted House' by R. C. Morton [Rosina Despard] 

     

     


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    Knowing the Unknowable: Putting Psi to Work, by Damien Broderick

    Publication Details: Ramble House, ISBN-13: 978-1605438610
    From the publisher’s website: Are Psi, extrasensory perception, psychokinesis, remote viewing, presentiment—these are terms used by parapsychologists for mysterious, anomalous human abilities that still have no accepted scientific explanation. Lacking a solid theory of psi that accords with the vast body of accumulated knowledge gathered over centuries, psi research remains a kind of fringe science—not a pseudoscience, but one that remains incomplete.
     
    Decades of increasingly sophisticated research prove that psi phenomena are real. But can they be tamed? Precognition is knowledge of what seems the unknowable future. Yet it’s frustratingly intermittent—so can it ever be used like smart phones, computers, antibiotics, automotive engineering? Might thousands of remote viewers coordinate to warn us of impending disasters?
     
    Or a favorite question: Can psi be used to win lotteries? And if not, why not?
     
    Damien Broderick, PhD, has explored these questions in three previous books. Now he shows how an almost forgotten method for using psi might be the ideal tool in the age of computer apps and massively multiplayer online games. Searching through nearly a century of research, Broderick teases out a method for building a technology of psi. For putting psi to work.
     
    A review of this title by Dr Matthew Colborn appears in the July 2016 issue of the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research.
    Publish date: August, 2015

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  • 09/27/16--07:19: Our New-Look Website
  • We’re still dealing with the odd glitch, but now the SPR’s new-look website has had time to settle down, visitors might like to know a bit about its redesign and future direction.

    As can be seen, apart from the obvious makeover there’s some new content. Members can now access digital pdfs of the Journal and Paranormal Review in addition to receiving print copies, and non-members can see the contents going back about five years. There’s a new page containing the entire catalogue of summaries of past research (which I’ll say a bit more about in a later post). And we expect eventually to publish a small selection of articles from different time periods that will give new visitors an idea of what psi research is about.

    A big change is that the site can now be read easily on mobile phones. A few years ago that wouldn’t have seemed such a big deal – the inaccessibility of a website’s layout was only a problem if and when you managed to connect to it. For me, that changed with the iPhone 6, with its usefully larger screen, together with the arrival of 4G that connects to the internet at least as fast as broadband. I soon found myself using my phone to read articles on all sorts of topics, especially on buses and trains, sometimes even at home in preference to sitting at a desk. The kind of news sites I spend most time on are either designed specifically for the mobile screen, or automatically resize to it. That’s increasingly also the case for smaller sites like this one, all the more since last year, when Google announced that non-responsive sites would be penalised in its rankings.

    For development we used our hosting company Circle Interactive, which is attractively housed in an old riverside warehouse in Bristol. They got involved in the development of the Psi Encyclopedia, completed by the end of last year, and having directed that process I’d no great desire to go through it all again – I hoped they’d wave a magic wand and transform the existing SPR site into something acceptably modern without any help from me. Alas, that was never going to happen. I started to reconstruct the site page by page, trying to envisage how each one should be presented and getting the developers to execute the plan.  

    An early discovery was that the Drupal software, while gratifyingly powerful in lots of ways, is useless when it comes placing images within text – a commonplace feature of print publishing.  We achieved it here and there, but it took ages. So any idea of creating an attractive magazine-style layout had to be abandoned in favour of a more functional, but hopefully coherent layout.   

    The new look has startled some people, but is not unlike what one sees with other organisations of our kind.  Personal taste is a factor when it comes to colours, shapes and so on. My hunch is that getting used to change is the hard part; after a while one stops noticing. What most visitors to a website care about is the usefulness of the information and the ease with which it can be accessed. Still, some elements may see refinements in the coming months.

    Looking ahead, an aim is that the website become a sort of publishing hub for occasional posts (like this one) about SPR activities and research. Ours is quite an active organisation, but from the outside that may not always seem to be the case, and the idea is to talk more about what we get up to. (We’re also giving thought to the creation of a discussion forum, although given the issues around trolling it would most likely be restricted to members.)

    As the many organisations that embark on this journey have found, it requires something of a culture change. People who are used to working with each other need to start cultivating the habit of occasionally also opening up to the outside world. That takes time and perseverance. Will it work? Frankly, I don’t know. It may be a slow burn, and the new Blogs and Articles section is likely to seem somewhat bare until we get going. But that’s the way the world’s been going for some time, and if psi research is to be known and appreciated as much as we’d like, it makes sense to keep up with it.

    robertmcluhan@gmail.com 


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  • 11/18/16--07:30: The Myth of an Afterlife
  • Publication Details: 
    Rowman & Littlefield, ISBN-13: 978-0810886773
    Publish date: 
    March, 2015
    THE MYTH OF AN AFTERLIFE: THE CASE AGAINST LIFE AFTER DEATH edited by Michael Martin and Keith Augustine. Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, Maryland, 2015. 675pp. £51.95. 978-0-8108-8677-3
     
    This is a collection of essays aiming to demolish arguments for survival of consciousness after death. It’s edited by Michael Martin and Keith Augustine and published by Rowman and Littlefield, who also published Irreducible Mind (which in terms of heft and production values it rather resembles). It proclaims its departure from nearly all of the contemporary literature on an afterlife in taking the ‘eminently reasonable’ position that, in all probability, biological death permanently ends a person’s experiences. It argues that the questions that one should ask about an afterlife have been mainly dictated by those who believe in one, and encourages the consideration of other questions that have been overlooked but that are essential to ask. 
     
    The writers are mainly philosophers and psychologists, with some neuroscientists and others. Many are, or have been, involved in paranormal sceptic activities. The volume is jointly edited by Michael Martin, an atheist philosopher, and Keith Augustine, a philosopher and executive director of the sceptics website Infidels.org, which is dedicated to combating pseudoscience and paranormal belief on the Internet (and which one supposes is behind much of the aggressive editing of psi-related material on Wikipedia.) 
     
    The essays are grouped in four parts. The first, headed ‘empirical arguments for annihilation’, describes in detail the dependence of life and mental functions on a working brain and nervous system - the effects of strokes, accidents and dementia; brain scans that connect behavioural changes to lesions in specific areas, and so on – along with insights from evolutionary theory and the relationship between personality and genetics. Given the powerful scientific evidence - from cognitive neuroscience, psychopharmacology, comparative psychology, behavioural genetics, evolutionary psychology, developmental psychology, and neurophysiology - it seems obvious that minds cannot exist in the absence of a functioning brain, however much we might wish it.
     
    The second section describes conceptual and empirical difficulties for the principal models of survival: interactionist substance dualism, an ‘astral’ body, and the Christian idea of bodily resurrection. Essays explore such topics as the metaphysical impossibility of survival or of nonphysical souls violating physical laws, and the implausibility of astral bodies and astral worlds, the latter by Susan Blackmore. The philosopher of mind Jaegwon Kim also makes an appearance, arguing for the incoherence of the dualist idea of an immaterial mind or soul interacting with a physical brain. 
     
    A short section of three essays focuses on concerns about the nature of afterlife. They expose logical absurdities such as the idea of God condemning a person to an afterlife in hell, and the incoherence of notions of heaven: How would a soul move from place to pace? How would it recognize other souls? What would disembodied souls do all day, since presumably there would be no need to sleep? A third essay addresses the intrinsic unfairness of karma, as a moral law that inflicts horrible punishments on individuals in the form of disease, disabilities and poverty for alleged previous wrongdoing they have no recollection of ever committing.
     
    It’s not uncommon for atheist writers to tackle survival without at all referencing the evidence from psychical research (for instance, Mark Johnston’s Surviving Death (2010) and Samuel Scheffler’s Death and the Afterlife (2013) ).  The editors here are fully aware of the importance of such research for many people, and accordingly take pains to demolish it as thoroughly as possible. Essays in section four address alleged shortcomings in claims for ghosts and apparitions, out-of-body and near-death experiences, and reincarnation and mediumship research.
     
    The book is impressively clear, thorough and detailed. It is also forcefully argued. The driving force is Keith Augustine, who set the cat among the pigeons some years ago with a series of arguments in support of near-death experiences being hallucinations, which are  reprised here; he also provides two of the longest essays, an introduction and a chapter titled ‘The Dualist’s Dilemma: The High Cost of Reconciling Neuroscience with a Soul’ (co-written with Yonatan I. Fishman). These two pieces cover most of the main arguments, with the other contributions reinforcing it with sidelights and detailed explorations of individual facets. 
     
    As one would expect, this is a highly partisan construction, of the kind that a team of expensive lawyers would present in court to sway a jury. Any refuge or loophole used by survival proponents is ruthlessly sought out and exposed. Might one suppose that terminal lucidity – the phenomenon of elderly patients with advanced dementia being restored to a brief moment of coherence in the hours or minutes before death – reinforce a dualist view? Alas, says Augustine, the evidence is anecdotal; hardly any cases have been satisfactorily documented. In any case, we should not place too much trust in exceptional cases:
     
    Proponents who appeal to uncharacteristic cases as evidence for the independence thesis … suffer from a kind of tunnel vision, latching on to any data potentially favorable to their own point of view, heedless of the fact that the exceptions prove the rule. And in focusing on the rare neurological outliers while disregarding the immense body of neuroscientific evidence unfavorable to their perspective, independence thesis proponents frequently overlook the comparatively poor quality of the data thought to support their point of view (p. 251).
     
    Arguments that are often employed by survival proponents – perhaps somewhat casually –  are forcefully confronted. Thus for instance, ‘correlation is not causation’ is countered by the observation that the effects of other organs – the kidney’s role in filtering toxins, for instance – is not disputed, and that it’s highly selective to apply different reasoning to the brain (p. 102).  (Who now continues to resist the implications of the correlation between smoking and lung cancer?) To insist otherwise, is a ‘fallacy called moving the goalposts: an utterly unreasonable person pretends to be reasonable, if only more evidence, impossible to obtain, were available’ (p. 103).
     
    Most Journal readers will find a major weakness in the book’s one-sided consideration of psychical research, as is usually the case with sceptic productions (although this will not be obvious to its natural audience). The arguments are as detailed and skilfully expounded as I have seen anywhere, but they stray little from the long-established script. Important caveats and objections regarding experiments and investigations– some new, others made originally made by psi researchers themselves – are mixed in with the familiar generalisations about cold reading, conjuring tricks, witness unreliability, and so on. Inevitably, studies that support the sceptic view – and that knowledgeable readers will recognise as laughably biased and misinformed - are said to have been carried out by ‘sophisticated’ researchers. 
     
    It also appears that, for all the focus on established science, the arguments here are not always less subjective than those they oppose.  For instance, Augustine concedes that survivalists do not generally contest the neuroscientific evidence for mind-brain dependence: the problem is the way they interpret it (p. 4). But he nevertheless seems to believe that the great preponderance of evidence of correlation – which the book establishes by piling it up in quantity - obliges us to make the qualitative leap to accept causation.
    Out of sheer intellectual honesty, a few brave souls within parapsychology have conceded the daunting challenge that this evidence poses for survival. But their only apparent recourse is to argue – quite implausibly – that the ambiguous parapsychological evidence for survival actually outweighs the virtually incontestable neuroscientific and other evidence for extinction (p. 5).
    The claim of ambiguity surely cuts both ways. Even leaving aside evidence of psi, the source of consciousness in brain functions is never more than an appearance – however incontestable to some - and the considerable difficulties for physicalists of establishing how consciousness arises are hardly at all addressed. The writers have little to say about the problems raised by indications, thoroughly catalogued in Irreducible Mind, that mere suggestion can bring about appropriate, and highly complex, biological effects – sudden unexpected cures, stigmata, and the like – implying that, far from being an epiphenomenon, consciousness can exert direct effects on matter in ways utterly mysterious from a physicalist perspective. One imagines that such evidence would be treated on the same basis as paranormal claims (that it is weakly supported and probably spurious), but that can hardly be said about the placebo effect, which is not listed in the index.  
     
    Also, the book shows that tendency, marked with atheist and sceptic writers, to make unwarranted assumptions about what should be the case if such-and-such were true, and to hold that, since it is quite clearly not the case, it cannot therefore true. Sentences that begin, ‘One would expect that…’ should be treated with caution. We can accept, to take just one example, that viewed as a biological event, death should happen in a more-or-less uniform biological manner for every individual of the human species. But we cannot go on to infer that afterlife and rebirth must equally be uniform experiences, and that the manifold cultural variations in near-death and reincarnation reports therefore indicate that these are products of the imagination.  If consciousness and memory survive the death of the body, one might at least acknowledge the possibility that communities continue to exist that are shaped by culture, and whose actions – for instance in the manner in which they are reborn, in terms of gender, the length of time following death, and so on – conform to the cultural norms that their members are accustomed to. 
     
    In this context there’s also a point to be made about differing temperaments. Much that is unflattering is said about those who believe in an afterlife: that they indulge in wishful thinking, that they’re swayed by religious faith in the teeth of the evidence, that they blithely overlook difficult scientific and metaphysical obstacles. But it hardly needs to be pointed out that sceptics have their own mental and emotional quirks: notably, the conservative tendency to seek security in what has been objectively established, and to be repelled by unappealing problems, mysteries and unresolved issues whose investigation, nevertheless, history tells us may lead eventually to new insights, and even to changed worldviews.  It’s true that human testimony such as that provided by family members in rebirth cases can be infuriatingly complex and difficult to disentangle, but it doesn’t mean that conclusions cannot, or should not eventually be drawn from it that are potentially every bit as significant as those based on brains scans. And while questions about what survival could possibly mean boggle the literal mind, an imaginative exploration of these mysteries – such as many people follow by immersing themselves in psychical, religious and spirituality literature – can help to provide illumination. 
     
    That said, this is an important book, and can be read with profit by believers, if only to remind themselves how formidable the arguments against survival of consciousness can seem to be. It will reinforce the atheistic convictions of its natural audience, and will doubtless encourage young Americans, especially, to disregard the God-talk they hear spouted all around them. To be fair, for many people, it is far more reasonable to trust the conservative, well-established claims of brain science than the apparently uncertain – and often chaotic and incredible – testimony about anomalous experiences.  One can only hope that at least some of those who are impressed by the book will have the curiosity to seek out the other side of the story. 
     
    [Update, November 27 2016: this review is also published in the blog Paranormalia, where the book's author Keith Augustine engaged in debate with readers in the comments thread.]
     
    References
     
    Kelly, Edward F., et al. (2007). Irreducible Mind: Toward a Psychology for the 21st Century. (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield).
    Johnston, Mark (2010). Surviving Death. (Princeton: Princeton University Press).
    Scheffler, Samuel (2013) Death and the Afterlife. (New York: Oxford University Press).