Robert C. Priddy

Writings on diverse themes from philosophy, psychology to literature and criticism

  • Robert Priddy


    In this blog I post information and critical views concerning ideologies, belief systems and related scientific materials etc. I am a retired philosophy lecturer and researcher, born 1936.

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Archive for February, 2014

Mediumism gradually undermined by science

Posted by robertpriddy on February 24, 2014

There are countless instances in history ancient and modern of persons claiming that God or other ‘spirits’ speak through them, and that they are merely instruments of ‘divine will’. Among those who profess powerful convictions about divinity, many claim they are ‘hearing voices’, whether that of God or other entities. The phenomenon of ‘speaking in tongues’ is also alleged in some sects to be divinely inspired wisdom, though it is often sounds entirely  unintelligible to the non-initiated. The suspicion is easily aroused that,  by some ‘sleight of mind’, the claimants are deceiving themselves and/or others. By disclaiming wilful intention,  they may say whatever they want while denying responsibility for it. There can be many and diverse motives for such a deception, from simply  impressing others to trying to overthrow existing powers-that-be.  Historically, many mediums who claimed that spirits were speaking through them were exposed as fraudulent. Notable instances were those of the production of spiritual ‘protoplasm’, of instruments being played and so forth in seances in the dark rooms.  It is well recorded that such duplicity can arise from personality disturbances involving cognitive and emotional confusions, or vague intuitions and subliminal perceptions the medium over-interprets and dramatizes. They may really believe that what in fact are their own ideas or convictions and show signs of forgetting afterwards what was uttered by them, indicating neurological pathology which may be represented as some kind of split mind or dual personality. Thus to hide behind an assumed ‘other entity’ may also imply chronic character weakness in lacking the self-confidence simply to be themselves. Meanwhile, ‘hearing voices’ is a phenomenon that many claim they suffer from badly and an international organisation ‘Hearing Voices’ attempts to explore the many aspects of the matter and seek answers and solutions. Many mediums doubtless have problems about personal identity, multiple personality role problems or even outright schizophrenia.  Though the existence of a pathology called ‘schizophrenia’ is contested due to vague definitions, false assumptions and other reasons, there is good evidence that some of the population from which it was derived were suffering from a later-identified neurological disorder.

Many explanations for such behaviour have been put through the ages. In early times, visitations from the dead, hearing voices, ‘speaking in tongues’ and the like were probably easily believed to be the actual work of spirits, deities, or demons. In more modern times it was popular to attribute such phenomena to nature spirits in a throwback to paganism. However, these beliefs are still widespread in mainstream religion, such as in Hinduism, Islam and not least Roman Catholicism and other Christian sects. Religions all assert a ‘spiritual realm’ and this is often taken to be an astral realm (or akasha) wherein supposed disembodied entities in astral form that can enliven ‘dead thoughts’ from mental remnants of departed persons or create images, sounds, visions, apports, and even manifest actual objects. These spirit entities have been grouped together as ‘elemental nature spirits’.  However, apart from accepting that mediums are actually delivering messages from divine beings (as in Mohammed’s outpourings or Swedenborg’s writings), and apart from the belief in ‘demonic possession’, it has also widely and increasingly been put down to psychological disturbances or what is roughly defined as  ‘mental illness’. In schizophrenia, for example, hearing voices, it is a quite common symptom (‘auditory hallucination’) and the voices can be many, frequent and very insistent. 

To attempt to contact or ‘channel’ such sources – a popular pastime or ‘spiritual’  investigation in New Age communities – often leads to experiences which seem to the participants to have a supernatural origin of some kind. The calling up of spirits through the ouija board  legible text, taken as answers to questions. The exact details of how the mind produces such effects as ‘voices’ are not known, but however fascinating alleged paranormal phenomena of these kinds may be and however genuine they may seem, there is no decisive evidence so far to show that they are not products of the human mind and imagination (with subconscious input). One only has to consider that famous imaginative authors are largely ignorant of the processes by which their own creativity works in producing what are for many people ‘unimaginable’ scenarios of huge complexity and consistency.

It has further been shown that hearing voices can arise through neurological misinterpretation of signals and their origin (i.e. within or outside the brain – see Neurology throws light on ‘hearing God’s word’, ‘channelling’. All in all, the progress of the sciences in researching mediumism and other psychic paranormal phenomena is slow compared with advances in other fields concerned to understand the complexity and effects of brain power. Since it is hardly 100 years since the natural sciences showed any interest in investigating paranormal claims, such as by the physicist Sir Oliver Lodge, and the issues have so far remained relatively peripheral to the main concerns of humanity, parapsychology not being a priority of present aims in the relevant sciences. However, in the last few decades, the technological advances in instruments like Magnetic Resonance Imaging (which now can study the brain at the microscopic level in real-time) and much more are making it likely that such claims may be resolved definitively.

It has also been clearly shown by constructed experiments that fictional entities created for the experiment can just as easily be contacted and give answers etc.  Such a proof was provided by an experiment by Derren Brown on BBC TV in which a complete recreation of a Victorian-type spiritualist seance with events such as smashing wineglasses, ringing bells, ouija phenomena and the fear reactions of  (and later relief) of the participants, twelve students, picked from volunteers at Universities around UK. Use of hidden cameras exposed the actual causes of the phenomena, which were entirely unknown to the chosen volunteer who acted as medium.All was set up in advance and all done through Derren Brown’s psychological suggestions, as he explained in detail afterwards.

The proof was also shown by the famous 1970s ‘Philip experiment’ in Canada:- See (Create a ghost – How to create a ghost – Paranormal Phenomena   http://paranormal.about.com/od/ghosthuntinggeninfo/a/create-a-ghost.htm

The Philip Experiment – documentary and footage Part of a documentary and actual footage from the Philip Experiment. http://paranormal.about.com/od/Ghost_Videos/v/the-philip-experiment-video.htm)

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Belief in denial

Posted by robertpriddy on February 1, 2014

When one has developed and nurtured a belief or system of such for some time, it is psychologically harder to give it up that to retain it, and even in the face of the most destructive facts. Religions in the modern world are such beliefs. So how does such denial work? Quite simple for some people, due to a certain feature of our brains, it appears:-

Denials are nothing more than a statement with a ‘not’ tagged on, and it’s often the statement rather than the ‘not’ that seeps into the brain.”

In ‘A Mind of its Own‘ by Cordelia Fine (Icon Books) she refers to the human brain. She compares the subconscious to a butler who carries out everyday duties so that our conscious minds can concentrate on more elevated stuff. The problem is that, like many of the best butlers, the brain keeps its master happy by scheming and concealing the truth from him. We are predisposed to believe what we want to believe. So “evidence that fits with our beliefs is quickly waved through the mental border control“, while “counter-evidence must submit to close interrogation and even then will probably not be allowed in“. The moral: we should keep our mental butlers in check… not be a defenceless martyr to the fictions of the brain, and watch out in particular for its instinctive bigotry, which leads us to jump to conclusions about other people.

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