In late January, Robert Schoch – formerly known for his geological investigations into the age of the Great Sphinx, the underwater Yonaguni ‘monument’, and the alleged Bosnian Pyramids – released a book on a completely different tack to his previous work: parapsychology. As editor of an anthology titled The Parapsychology Revolution (Amazon US, or preorder from Amazon UK), he assembled some of the most fascinating scientific essays on psi phenomena into one handy book. I spoke to Robert last week about the new book, and the reasons for his move into (yet another) controversial topic:
TDG: Thanks for talking with us Robert. Firstly, can I ask: what inspired the change from books about ancient pyramid cultures, to this new book about parapsychology?
RS: I view my interest in parapsychology as a logical extension of my work on ancient cultures, and furthermore I personally have a long history of interest in the paranormal. Let me elaborate. I am a traditionally trained scientist (Ph.D. in geology and geophysics from Yale University, 1983) whose first inclination was to simply dismiss any reports of “mind-reading” and similar “nonsense.” I was long of the opinion that people can believe what they want to believe, and if they want to believe in “conjurer’s tricks” or imagine that they can know the private thoughts of others, well, that just shows the sad lack of scientific literacy in this present age.
However, in the back of my mind, I always felt a little gnawing feeling that maybe things are not quite so simple. Could there just possibly be a little, maybe only a very little, something to this paranormal stuff? Might, every once in a while, just occasionally, a thought or feeling make its way from one person to another without the use of any of the known senses? Could there be an occasional instance when something abnormal occurs, like a falling book, when no one is near it and no known forces act on it, which coincides with a strong “emotional discharge” from a person on the other side of the room? As a child, I was introduced to what are now referred to as paranormal phenomena by my late grandmother, who just happened to be a Theosophist. My grandmother was one of the most rational people I knew, but she was not one to belittle or ignore possible cases of the genuine paranormal. Maybe this was due to her Theosophical background, or perhaps she was attracted to Theosophy because of her interest in Eastern philosophies, the occult, and possible paranormal phenomena. I have never been a Theosophist myself. However, reading various Theosophical works still made me wonder if perhaps there was a core of something being touched on that transcends the typical materialistic view of the universe.
In college I studied anthropology as well as geology, and it seemed that in one “primitive,” “traditional,” or “indigenous” society after another supposed instances of the paranormal kept cropping up. A diviner here or a sorcerer there: Why are such beliefs so widespread if there is nothing to them? Why do they persist? If there is nothing to clairvoyance, why are clairvoyants found among different cultures around the world? Attending graduate school, I focused on traditional science and did not worry too much about the paranormal. Then in the 1990s I found myself applying my geological expertise to the study of ancient cultures, beginning with the Great Sphinx in Egypt and moving on to the study of pyramids and other megalithic structures around the world (see my website www.robertschoch.com as well as my books Voices of the Rocks, Voyages of the Pyramid Builders, and Pyramid Quest). Questions I had not given much thought to for years started to haunt me once I became involved in studying not just the stones, but why past civilizations had erected the stones into magnificent edifices. The why behind the monuments, more often that not, apparently included religious beliefs and practices, initiation rites and rituals, that in many cases seemed to have an ostensible paranormal aspect, whether it was clairvoyance, divination, or manifestations of higher levels of consciousness. The temples and tombs of ancient Egypt, Mexico, and Peru seemed to cry out “paranormal.” So, was it all a mixture of ancient myth, superstition, and downright fraud on the part of many a seer, priest, and priestess, or could there be something to it? Were the ancient structures used, at least in part, to alter consciousness, and possibly enhance paranormal phenomena? There was that nagging question again.
Logan Yonavjak, my co-author on The Parapsychology Revolution and a former student of mine at Boston University, prodded me even further along these lines. Logan not only served as my field assistant during research trips to Egypt and Peru in 2003 and 2005, but she also challenged me to look at the serious scientific literature addressing the paranormal. It was a result of our collaboration that gave rise to the book.
TDG: In order to assemble this anthology, you obviously needed to become quite conversant with the literature and history of psychic research. After your reading on the topic, what are your thoughts? Skeptical, convinced, or still wondering?
RS: After looking at the hard evidence, and sifting out the fraud and bunk, I have come to conclude that there definitely is something to such phenomena as telepathy and psychokinesis. Here I should point out that in The Parapsychology Revolution we discuss paranormal and psychical phenomena in a strict sense, including the concepts of ESP (extrasensory perception: telepathy, clairvoyance, and precognition) and psychokinesis (PK, or mind over matter, both on a micro- and macro- scale). Certain topics that are sometimes included in more general definitions of the paranormal and parapsychology, such as UFOs, aliens, Big Foot, and so forth, were not our concern in this book. Likewise, our primary focus did not include evidence bearing on survival beyond the grave (though we do briefly discuss evidence for reincarnation). The survival issue is highly controversial and the evidence typically used to support life after death is subject to many interpretations. We felt it was important to first establish what is possible, in terms of paranormal phenomena, while people are still alive. Perhaps the survival issue will be the subject of a future book on my part.
There are major issues that remain unresolved concerning paranormal and psychical phenomena. We don’t fully understand what conditions are best to elicit paranormal phenomena and thus these phenomena are not easily replicated on command (such as in a laboratory setting). There is often a very low signal to noise ratio when it comes to psychical phenomena; there is no single physical theory to account for paranormal phenomena; and there is the issue of fraud and charlatans. Fraud is a very real and persistent problem in the field of psychical research, and one reason to undertake large statistical studies of average persons (as opposed to so-called psychic superstars) and search for the regularities and patterns one would expect among any genuine natural phenomena. Also, paranormal studies have extended to animals (and in some cases, even plants). One of the strengths of non-human studies is that it is less likely that animals will cheat and lie. It can also be noted that many “powerful mediums” whom appear to have genuine paranormal abilities also apparently have low moral values and will cheat and commit fraud, perhaps unconsciously, at times, especially when their genuine paranormal powers fail. This is a pattern that has been noted over and over among parapsychologists working with human subjects. All of these topics are discussed in The Parapsychology Revolution.
I would note that, as we discuss in the book, many intelligent people, including well-credentialed academics and scientists, even Nobel Prize winning scientists past and present, have looked at the data on paranormal phenomena and concluded that there is something that needs to be explained. However, emanating from certain quarters of conventional academics, there has been an ongoing smear campaign against the study of the paranormal, ostracizing those who are even interested in the topic; some of this may stem from simple ignorance of the subject (they have never objectively looked at the evidence) or from strongly held beliefs and predispositions that preclude objectively considering paranormal phenomena.
TDG: Which area of research do you find the most compelling?
RS: Most people who have seriously studied the subject conclude that telepathy (mind to mind interactions) is the best supported class of paranormal phenomena. There is strong laboratory evidence for telepathy, such as classic card-calling experiments as well as many more sophisticated tests of telepathy, clairvoyance, and remote viewing. There is also a large and compelling body of evidence from spontaneous cases supporting the reality of telepathy. For instance crisis apparitions, veridical hallucinations, or “ghosts” are well-known, as documented in the classic two-volume scientific monograph of rigorously authenticated events produced by the Society for Psychical Research titled Phantasms of the Living (we include an excerpt from this work in our book). The evidence for PK is also strong, including micro-PK studies using random event generators and similar devices, such as the evidence developed by the PEAR (Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research) labs over more than a quarter of century, and the carefully studied incidents of macro-PK associated with genuine spontaneous poltergeist cases. Another line of compelling evidence for the reality of paranormal phenomena is the study of presentiments or “pre-sponses,” essentially a form of short-term precognition as measured by physiological parameters (heart rate, electrodermal activity, and so forth). Numerous replicated experiments have demonstrated the physiological responses of individuals to, for instance, disturbing photographs a second or two before they are actually viewed by the person. According to conventional science, this should not be possible.
As a natural scientist, I expect genuine phenomena (be they psychical and paranormal phenomena, or more conventional phenomena) to exhibit patterns and share elements in common, and this is just what has been found in spontaneous cases of the paranormal. Even when viewed cross-culturally, such commonalities persist.
Perhaps even more compelling for me is the work of various modern researchers that has demonstrated a weak but persistent correlation between low levels of geomagnetic activity on planet Earth and cases of apparent spontaneous telepathy (based on records going back to the latter half of the nineteenth century). This, in my opinion, is a very strong argument supporting the contention that there is something genuine to the concept of telepathy. It suggests that spontaneous telepathic phenomena are real and natural and, as might be expected of natural phenomena, their manifestation is influenced by other natural parameters. Alternatively, are we to hypothesize that hundreds of hoaxers over nearly a century and a half have conspired to fake telepathic incidents in identical correlation with geomagnetic activity? This latter hypothesis strikes me as rather far-fetched, if not downright ludicrous. It has also been found that incidents of the paranormal correlate with Local Sidereal Time (which relates to the position of the horizon at any particular point on Earth relative to the center of our galaxy).
Note that a correlation between geomagnetic activity and spontaneous telepathy does not necessarily imply that the “telepathic signal” is magnetic or electrical in nature. The human brain is influenced by magnetic and electric fields, and whatever may be the carrier of the telepathic signal, the transmission, reception, and manifestation of the message by the brain could be hampered or enhanced by differences in the magnetic and electric fields that the brain is subjected to.
For many people a phenomenon is not “real” unless it can be duplicated in a laboratory setting under controlled conditions. Being a natural scientist and field geologist, I have never agreed with this contention. After all, can we create a genuine volcanic eruption in the laboratory or even on command in the field? Until about two centuries ago the scientific community routinely rejected the concept of rocks falling from the sky (meteorites). Still, attempting to induce, capture, observe, and experiment with apparent telepathy under controlled conditions is a worthy endeavor. Unfortunately, however, to this day it is fraught with problems and though numerous experiments have tested positive for apparent telepathy, others have had negative results and replication is a persistent problem. The bottom line is that we really do not know exactly what parameters or variables make for good telepathic transfer (or the elicitation of other types of paranormal phenomena), much less how to control for them.
TDG: Finally, turning back to a more familiar topic: with recent news about scans of cavities near the Sphinx, have you been involved personally in any further discussion about the Sphinx controversy?
RS: I have been following the latest developments involving scans for cavities on the Giza Plateau, but I am not personally involved with them, so I will not comment at length. I strongly share the concern that as the local groundwater table continues to rise, due to increasing urbanization, farming, and other human pressures, any structures or chambers under the Great Sphinx could become flooded, and possibly have already begun to fill with water. It seems imperative that the potential chambers and cavities under the Sphinx and elsewhere on the plateau be explored while they are still relatively intact and I would relish the opportunity to do so.
TDG: Thanks for your time Robert, appreciate it – good luck with the book.