It is said that one in every five people will, at some stage, experience the terrifying phenomena that accompany 'sleep paralysis'. One of the most authoritative and fascinating books on the topic is David J. Hufford's The Terror That Comes in the Night (Amazon US and UK - preview available at Google Books). Here's a good video of Hufford discussing his research on (and personal experience with) sleep paralysis:
That clip is from a new documentary, Your Worst Nightmare: Supernatural Assault, which looks well worth checking out (and at $9.95 for a DVD, is pretty affordable). Experiencers and experts are interviewed, and advice offered on how to live with these waking nightmares, which in some cases come to dominate the lives of those experiencing them:
Victims wake to find that they are paralyzed and unable to move or speak. Many experience frightening visions of demons, shadows, or an old woman known as "The Hag". For others there is simply the unmistakable presence of evil. In extreme cases, these potentially supernatural attacks can occur for decades. Overwhelmed, exhausted, and entirely alone, victims can lead shattered lives dominated by the fear of social stigma. Those who seek medical advice are often misdiagnosed and labeled psychotic or schizophrenic.
The DVD's website has further video excerpts available for viewing, and also a forum for discussing the phenomenon. Worth noting as well is that Tim Binnall interviewed the guys behind the documentary - Andrew Barnes and Paul Taitt - last month on BoA Audio. At over two hours, it's a good, detailed discussion on all aspects of sleep paralysis and the associated supernatural aspects of the experience.
Any TDG readers suffer from sleep paralysis? Would be good to hear from you, what it is you experience, and how you deal with it.
Popsci.com.au currently features an interview with Stacy Horn, author of the new book Unbelievable: Investigations into Ghosts, Poltergeists, Telepathy, and Other Unseen Phenomena, from the Duke Parapsychology Laboratory (Amazon US and UK). Amazon's blurb for the book reads:
Rain barrels that refill themselves. Psychic horses. Mind-reading Cold War spies. For many, these phenomena are evidence of an unseen world just beyond the grasp of our five senses. For a group of scientists at Duke University, such mysteries demanded further investigation. From 1930 to 1980, under the leadership of Dr. J. B. Rhine, often considered the Einstein of the paranormal, the scientists at the Duke Parapsychology Lab attempted to test the bizarre, the frightening, and the unexplainable against the rigors of science.
In Unbelievable, Stacy Horn reveals the strange, lost history of these first attempts to prove—or disprove—the existence of the paranormal, bringing to light a half-century's worth of ghost stories, poltergeists, and paranormal activity. The Duke scientists were queried by the likes of Albert Einstein, Richard Nixon, Aldous Huxley, Carl Jung, and Helen Keller; the U.S. Army and blue-chip corporations such as IBM and Zenith seized upon their findings.
Investigating telepathy, clairvoyance, ghosts, poltergeists, and the myriad other strange phenomena that people claim to have experienced, the scientists did find proof that the human mind can exhibit telepathic powers—but their discovery would put them at odds with both the scientific community and the community of believers at large, beginning a multidecade battle among unyielding critics, die-hard believers, and scientists themselves. Yet Horn reveals that between the power of belief and the promise of scientific investigation, there is room for everyone to acknowledge that the truth is out there.
Horn also has a blog devoted to the topics in the book on her website, on which she's posted plenty of interesting material - some really fascinating looks back in history at what was going on at Duke all those decades ago. For instance, the latest entry looks at J.B. Rhine's stance on the 'Jim Crow' laws and the 'Little Rock Nine':
In 1957 Rhine wrote a letter to the editor of Life Magazine in response to pictures they’d recently published of the Little Rock Nine...“The desperate courage of the storming of the Bastille and the riots of Poznan burst spontaneously from the ignition of group emotion. But these children have to walk calmly and coolly out to meet tormenting and humiliating attacks that hurt to the very soul. I cannot recall that there has ever been a more inspiring demonstration of courage by the children of any race, any age … Salute them and I think others will take heart and go over and stand beside them. It may help us to believe this is the home of the brave, perhaps more than it is the land of the free.”
Plenty of other interesting entries, covering topics from ectoplasm and exorcisms, to psi under the influence of drugs. Can't go wrong with that really, can you?
Skeptiko is currently featuring an excellent hour-long podcast interview with Dr Peter Fenwick, one of the leaders in research into the possibility of the conscious survival of death. Skeptiko's Alex Tsakiris asks some great questions, and Dr Fenwick provides plenty of information in a calm and rational manner - covering everything from Near Death Experiences (NDEs) to death-bed phenomena and his own recent book, The Art of Dying (Amazon US and UK). Dr Fenwick is a part of the very exciting AWARE project, which aims to study the brain and consciousness during the dying process.
If you want to discuss (or read discussions about) the topics covered, you can also head to the Skeptiko section of the Mind-Energy Forums. I recommend this podcast interview wholeheartedly - one of the best I've listened to for a long while.
Previously on TDG:
A new poll! 2012 is soooo 2008, so I've archived that poll. Here's something completely different: which area offers the best evidence for an afterlife? Mediums? Near Death Experiences? Reincarnation? It's a fairly long list, so let us know which area you think research should be concentrated on if we're to settle the question of life after death. Or perhaps there is no evidence, and this life is it (there's an option on the poll for that too). I'll be interested to see how this one turns out.
I regularly link to Michael Tymn's blog in the weekly blogscans, as he posts fascinating entries on the topic of the afterlife. Mike's an expert on the history of the field of afterlife research, and he's also contributed articles to our anthology Darklore (both Volumes 1 and 2). So I'm very happy to announce that Mike has now written a book, sharing his thoughts on the most interesting facets of the investigation of the 'spirit world'. It's titled The Articulate Dead, and you can pick up a copy from Amazon US. Here's the blurb from the publisher's website:
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there were dynamic and evidential forms of spirit communication. A number of distinguished scientists and scholars studied some of the best mediums and concluded they were genuine. Unfortunately, there were also many charlatans and it was difficult for the general public to distinguish between the real mediums and the frauds. Scientific and religious fundamentalists along with a cynical press, were constantly on the attack, driving the genuine mediums underground or forcing them to abandon their gift.
In The Articulate Dead, Michael E. Tymn examines several of the best mediums of yesteryear and the scientific research surrounding them. A number of very intriguing stories unfold, including spirits directing an archaeologist in the uncovering of the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey, spirits leading a researcher to crosses buried by American Indians, a deceased author completing his books through a medium, a Titanic victim coming back to tell about his new environment, and an afterlife researcher continuing his work after dying, to name just a few.
I have a copy of the book, and it's certainly chock-full of fascinating evidence. For more information, Michael Prescott has reviewed the book on his blog, and also Alex Tsakiris interviewed Mike on his Skeptiko podcast. Lastly, Mike has written a new blog entry explaining his reasons for writing the book ("Make Dr Death Your Friend in 2009"), which also is worth a read.
Dr Bruce Greyson is one of the world's foremost experts on the Near Death Experience (NDE), having researched and written about the phenomenon for a few decades now. In October last year, he spoke at the IANDS (International Association for Near Death Studies) Fall conference in Durham, N.C., and his hour-long presentation was recorded to video. Here it is for those interested:
Alternatively, there's better quality video of Greyson's presentation on YouTube, though it's broken into multiple parts as is YouTube's want - however, this might suit some of you more, and this page should allow you to track all the pieces down easily enough. Information *plus* options - we take good care of y'all here on the Daily Grail!
A lot of interest (judging by my email Inbox) about a fresh story in Britain's The Sunday Times, regarding the new 'Near-Death Experience' (NDE) research experiment which is testing to see if cardiac arrest patients can view 'hidden targets' while undergoing the out-of-body experience (OBE) component of an NDE:
Parnia’s study is aimed solely at OBEs in cases of cardiac arrest. It uses a technique known as “hidden target”. In the participating hospitals he is placing pictures on high shelves so that they will be invisible both to patients and staff. But anybody floating near the ceiling would see them. A substantial number of accurate reports of the pictures would seem to establish the reality of OBEs. There are numerous problems with this. Parnia’s study does not have enough money to put laptops on the shelves generating random pictures to ensure that cheating is impossible. Furthermore, previous hidden-target experiments by, among others, Parnia himself and Dr Penny Sartori at Morriston Hospital in Swansea have failed to produce a single positive result. In fairness, this may be because the last thing that a floating dying person, with Jesus behind him and his body being pounded in front of him, will notice is some odd picture left on a shelf. This leaves believers in OBEs with an evidential mountain to climb.
This story isn't exactly news - Dr Sam Parnia has been working on this angle for a number of years (I think there was an article about it in Issue 2 of Phenomena when I worked for them way back), and I reported on the renewed collaborative effort back in September here on TDG. What is news is the treatment it got in a major newspaper - serious, considered, and balanced coverage! Not surprising though, given the writer is Bryan Appleyard, one of the more intelligent journalists out there when it comes to topics at the edge of science. Appleyard has in the past criticised scientism, and has rightly pointed out that science is just one part of the totality of life (hey, anybody that can get called "a pompous kook" by P.Z. Myers is alright with me).
The article is in-depth and covers a lot of ground - Appleyard even talks to physicist Henry Stapp about the quantum mechanics-consciousness crossover. There's some things I would take issue with (e.g. once again saying Henrik Ehrsson "induced OBEs" in his recent research...err, no), but apart from those few instances it's one of the best presentations of 'fringe' research that you're likely to see in the mainstream media.
Also: Robert McLuhan has discussed the article at Paranormalia, and as usual it's worth checking out.
Which way does Occam's Razor cut? Scientific American has posted an online article, misleadingly titled "Ghost Stories: Visits from the Deceased". The author discusses how bereaved people often experience 'contact' with the recently dead, which they say is quite obviously a hallucination:
Mourning seems to be a time when hallucinations are particularly common, to the point where feeling the presence of the deceased is the norm rather than the exception. One study, by the researcher Agneta Grimby at the University of Goteborg, found that over 80 percent of elderly people experience hallucinations associated with their dead partner one month after bereavement, as if their perception had yet to catch up with the knowledge of their beloved’s passing. As a marker of how vivid such visions can seem, almost a third of the people reported that they spoke in response to their experiences. In other words, these weren’t just peripheral illusions: they could evoke the very essence of the deceased.
...We often fall back on the cultural catch all of the “ghost” while the reality is, in many ways, more profound. Our perception is so tuned to their presence that when they are not there to fill that gap, we unconsciously try to mold the world into what we have lived with for so long and so badly long for. Even reality is no match for our love.
The article does not mention at all any of the evidence which suggests that these 'hallucinations' may be something more, such as 'crisis apparitions' (where the experiencer is not actually aware of the death, and therefore also not subject to the stress of grief), veridical hallucinations and so-called 'Peak in Darien' experiences. One of the earliest comprehensive reports on the above can be found in Phantasms of the Living (Volume 1 and Volume 2), a publication of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) more than 120 years ago. In the more recent Irreducible Mind, Kelly et al note that...
Although no subsequent study of veridical hallucinations has approached those of the early SPR in scope or thoroughness of investigation, such experiences have continued to be reported (see, e.g., Dale, White, & Murphy, 1962; Green, 1960; Stevenson, 1970, 1995; S.H. Wright, 1999). An ongoing study at our research unit in the University of Virginia over the past several years has identified more than 200 cases of dreams, telepathic impressions, or hallucinations occurring at the time of some crisis (usually death) occurring to a person at a distance.
They go on to point out that "apparitions of people that the percipient already knows to be dead have been reported in all times and cultures... Although most such cases cannot be attributed to anything other than subjectively generated imagery, some cases do suggest a more objective origin, including collective hallucinations of a deceased person; cases in which veridical information unknown to the percipient was conveyed by the apparition; and cases in which the apparition was later recognized by the percipient in a photograph of someone he or she had not known in life."
Previously on TDG:
Are 'haunted' areas able to be investigated scientifically with technology, and if so, are the current crop of 'ghost-hunters' doing it right or are they just glorified tour guides? At SkepticBlog (the home blog for the cast of the fledgling show 'Skeptologists'), Ryan Johnson gives a rather mocking, ascerbic account of his experience with 'paranormal investigators' aboard the Queen Mary:
But first, we had to endure an hour of the lead investigator essentially yelling at us for being there. Really. He did his best: “I’m a skeptic folks! And there’s a lot of bad people in my industry trying to fool you! We’re doing this for real!” It was hilarious, he was trying to be this tough, abrasive, been-there, done-that, seen-it-all type. I got the feeling that he was making it all up as he went along. When pressed by us and others for details of hauntings that he had supposedly witnessed in his “investigations” he suddenly stumbled and then gave a weak answer and then turned to his partner for some sort of assurance. His partner, by the way, took most of the first hour to get suited up into some sort of military black nylon accessory vest. He worked hard at becoming a one-man Radio Shack. He proceeded to stuff every little battery operated handheld device that you’d ever seen onto his person. “Boy we’re in for a real adventure if the ghost hunter needs all that!” I whispered under my breath.
'Cowboy' ghosthunters not withstanding however, there are some people out there looking into the question of environmental correspondences in supposedly haunted areas in a serious manner. I've previously mentioned Richard Wiseman's debunking of the Hampton Court haunting, and 'The Haunt Project' which investigated possible correspondences of EMF and infrasound in paranormal encounters. Public Parapsychology have also discussed the issue of magnetic fields at haunt sites, and now have also written a primer on "Temperature in Haunting Experiences", a short PDF booklet which discusses the matter for the benefit of 'paranormal enthusiasts'. A good download - Public Parapsychology is a blog worth keeping your eye on, there's often interesting investigations and also notices about psi conferences and the like over there.
I have a soft spot for research into the possibility of an afterlife.There's some fascinating evidence out there that deserves closer inspection, and yet it is basically a heresy for any scientist to become involved in doing so. So I was eager to read Mary Roach's book Spook (Amazon US and UK), with its subtitle "Science tackles the afterlife". Roach's previous book, Stiff, had received very good reviews, so it was likely the new book would be perfectly suited to me.
In the introduction, Mary Roach makes clear that she started her research from absolute zero - she knew nothing about the topic. That approach has its positives (less likely to align to one side or the other on pure bias - although no doubt there were some), but also negatives (in that she is bound to miss some important research in the vast literature). During the book, written as a travelogue, she tours through topics such as reincarnation, attempts to weigh the soul, ectoplasm, Dr. Gary Schwartz's mediumship research, technological attempts to talk with the dead, and Michael Persinger's 'sensed presence' research with electromagnetic fields.
It soon becomes apparent when reading the book though that Roach is more interested in the 'follies' of science. The book entertains the reader primarily by laughing at researchers' (and our own) overzealous attempts to find something beyond death. That is not to say that she presents the entire book from a skeptical viewpoint. When visiting the mediumship research program conducted by Dr Gary Schwartz, she takes issue with his overly keen attempts to see 'hits' from mediums. But then she confesses to being gobsmacked when