Most scientists are doubtful about parapsychology, which is widely considered a somewhat ‘flukey science’ at the best of times. Those who pursue it are invariably interested in finding proof of psychic powers, but – failing proof positive – the most serious of them will publish the failure to prove such, and also to discover fraud. The now elderly Icelandic parapsychologist – previously a teacher of experimental psychology at Rekjavik University, Dr. Erlendur Haraldsson, set about the more attractive task of investigating most extraordinary claims of miraculous powers. He heard of Sathya Sai Baba and visited him in Andhra Pradesh, India, to observe his ‘miraculous manifestations’. He and his companion were told they could not carry out any tests or experiments but Haraldsson was nonetheless obviously impressed enough to return to India and carry out indirect investigations into these powers, including alleged resurrection from the dead, bi-location and so forth.
While failing to prove by any scientific methods that claims of Sai Baba’s major parapsychological abilities were genuine, the only result has considered conclusive was that Sai Baba had never resurrected a person he claimed to have, visiting doctors and others involved in the hospitalisation for a heart attack of the US millionaire, Walter Cowan. He assured himself from interviews with doctors involved and various documents that there had been no death nor any death certificate issued etc. This did apparently not suggest to him that similar deceit was used in ‘materialisations’. Having had a few cursory talks with magicians, Haraldsson – who can perform no magic tricks himself – was not well-prepared to uncover the many possible methods by which illusion and fraud is achieved. Long training in many methods of deception, sleight-of-hand and other techniques is required, and I know from personal contact that Haraldsson showed very little knowledge of these matters which, for example, are demonstrated excellently by the honest illusionist Derren Brown.
However, no proper investigation was at all possible regarding the countless other reported miracles, nor was anything remotely like a scientific experiment or approach possible. To prove that a materialisation was genuine would be well nigh impossible in any event, and to have done so would have virtually been to support the claim of Sathya Sai Baba that it was a ‘divine miracle’ as every devotee rigorously held it to be. Rather an awkward dilemma! Since Sai Baba’s claims were so tremendous, backed up by a host of devotees, Haraldsson decided on a questionnaire survey of the claims, backed up by interviews with those persons he could find who would speak for Sai Baba’s claims. Haraldsson saw his chance to emerge from academic obscurity by publishing a book dwelling much of the sensational claims and finding a publisher which differed from those accepting the huge hagiographical literature. He took pains to try to achieve a neutral stance towards the miracles, yet his entire method was based on testimony, and the testimony of persons who nearly all held quite extreme mythological-based views on the nature of the world, reality and Sathya Sai Baba, ‘the self-proclaimed avatar of the age’ and saviour of mankind. The book sold excellently in plenty of translations too, not least among the apparently countless followers of Sai Baba who, though they rejected its critical and highly embarrassing parts (and conveniently overlooked that), appealed to them because of the catalogue of reports of utterly amazing – some unprecedentedly incredible – miracles.
The story does not end there. Haraldsson continued to visit Prashanthi Nilayam, the ashram of Sai Baba, at intervals but he was not able to do more than observe for shortish periods (a couple of days) and then mostly from a distance as Sai Baba purported to ‘materialise’ holy ash and the occasional ring or locket etc. for followers. He was never granted any closer relationship, merely a few interviews in all, such as after this book came out, where Sai Baba told him in an interview that he was using the entirely wrong method of investigating Swami’, the self-proclaimed Creator of the Universe, Deity to all deities (etc. ad. inf.) Instead of ‘going to the market place’ to ask people who had bad memories, perceptions and so on, he should deepen himself in the mystery and love of Sai Baba. This is supposedly done through spiritual practices like singing His Name joyously, praying for enlightenment, doing service to others, meditating and such like. Haraldsson, a rather dry academic, was definitely not cut out for such a role, so it had only a limited effect on him at best. This I know from having shared many long hours of conversation and extensive e-mail contact with Haraldsson from 1988 until 2001, on several occasions when we were together in India at the ashram, more often when he visited Oslo, and our home on numerous occasions. He was unwilling to up-date his writings on the basis of the mass of information I provided to him of fraud, deception and unpunished crimes by Sai Baba, saying his ‘time was too precious’ to take on the matter any more.
To cut the story short for the present purpose, one can read in detail of all these events and the development whereby I found it necessary after holding back for over a decade, to expose Haraldsson’s claims of neutrality and his lack of duty of care through his unreported knowledge of sexual abuses by Sai Baba – documented with e-mail exchanges we had. He responded to this by deciding to revise his book (‘Modern Miracles’), totally avoiding all the mass of testimony of fraud and worse that is available – and contact with many of the testifiers still being available through myself – and going to Puttaparthi to see what more he could learn for a new edition of his profitable book. Naturally, they knew he was coming and were more than ready to handle him, which is evident from various instances of his adopting their disinformation and not letting him realise the nature of the extreme criticism under which Sai Baba’s reputation labours, also from many disaffected Indians. Haraldsson spent but a tiny fraction of the time with Sai Baba that a dozen of his closest Western followers did, those who left him due to his fraud, deception and crimes. Haraldsson totally ignored this and the thousands who have left Sai Baba since then, even though I told him regularly of those events. So the ‘scientist’ showed himself to be most unscientific in not even considering the ‘negative instances’ to his hypothesis, which still is that Sai Baba cannot be shown to have used fraud, not can it be proven that his materialisation miracles were genuine – these being the be-all-and-end-all of his narrow focus, while countless huge Sai Baba deceptions and lies have been proven definitively!