Click here for the PF Lyceum Site Index
Click here for Previous Blog
Click here for Complete Blog List
Recent Publications 7:
The Gold Leaf Lady and Other Parapsychological Investigations
Stephen E. Braude, Ph.D.
PF Blog #25
Posted August 4th, 2008
After several decades of writing exclusively technical and theoretical works about psi research, I figured: since I’m now eligible for social security, it’s time for a memoir. Ever since I started publishing philosophical works on parapsychology, I’ve had opportunities to engage in my own case investigations. (For my home page at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, click here.) Many of those were either inconclusive or clearly non-evidential; sometimes I encountered fraud; and sometimes I was dazzled by what I’m convinced are genuine psi effects. Nearly all these cases taught me something, and I wanted to write about the lessons I’d learned.
So The Gold Leaf Lady presents several of my memorable paranormal case investigations, successful and otherwise. (Click here for the table of contents.) The case of the gold leaf lady concerns a Florida woman whose body would erupt spontaneously in a golden-colored foil that turned out to be brass. (Part of this chapter can be found here.)
Many have observed this while it was happening, only inches away from the phenomenon and (as a prominent magician confirmed) under conditions precluding fraud. It’s unclear how, precisely, to categorize what’s going on for example, materializations or apports?but for reasons I discuss its psychological origins aren’t especially difficult to figure out.
I follow this case with an historical interlude in which I briefly discuss the history of physical mediumship and consider why, contrary to what many believe, the best cases provide spectacular documentation of large-scale psychokinetic effects. I use this discussion as a perspective-enhancer for the next chapter, which deals with my attempt to study Joe Nuzum, heralded by some as a modern PK superstar. However, unlike the best physical mediums, Joe tried consistently to evade reasonable and sympathetic experimental controls, and in fact, it seems that I caught him cheating on occasion. I follow this case with my frustrating attempts to study Dennis Lee, a wonderfully cooperative subject who seemed able to produce easily discernable large-scale PK effects. However, my investigationsand Dennis’s psychologywere undermined from the start by one of Joe Nuzum’s sponsors, a person who apparently wanted to retaliate against me for critical comments I’d made about Joe in print and in lectures.
The next case presented is the amusing tale of a policeman who was convinced that he could transfer images from photos onto other objects, including his body. As it happened, nothing of the sort occurred, but the case illustrates nicely how even trained observers can be blinded by their own credulousness. After this, I offer a personal postscript to the famous case of Ted Serios, who under excellent controls was able to make images appear on “instant” Polaroid film. This case has been described in detail by the late Jule Eisenbud. However, I had some intriguing encounters with Ted, many years after the major investigation of his case had concluded. So this chapter brings that case up to date, and it presents reasons for thinking that Ted still had some of his mojo left.
Next, I tackle the thorny topic of synchronicity (acausal meaningful coincidence). After presenting some examples (including a strange personal example) of the sorts of coincidences regarded as synchronistic, I theorize a bit and consider how many are confused about this topic. I argue that if the phenomenon is genuinely paranormal, it may need to be explained in terms of a refined, extensive, and dramatic form of psychokinesis.
Lastly, I enter a territory where even most parapsychologists fear to tread. I tackle the topic of astrology. (See the chapter here.) That’s because, despite my own deep-seated prejudices against astrology, I’ve had some powerful reasonsvery close to hometo reconsider the matter. They have to do with my wife Gina, an academic and clinical psychologist who also happens to be a virtuoso astrologer. To my great astonishment, Gina has used her apparent mastery of astrology to guide various domestic mattersincluding some adventures in gambling. But even more impressive, she’s used her skills to guide several otherwise mediocre European and Asian soccer teams to the top of their respective leagues. And as it happens, her astrological expertise was also highly valued within the Serbian mafia. So as you might imagine, there’s an interesting story here, in addition to a provocative set of puzzles about what Gina is actually doing.
In some ways, these chapters form a series of cautionary tales: about things not to do when investigating the paranormal, about human duplicity and delusion, about credulousness and about ordinary psychological frailty. But I believe they also illustrate how cream still rises to the top, and howamidst the substantial body of unimpressive evidence for psychic functioningsome cases are simply too good to be ignored.
For the index of all previous blogs, click here.