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Archive for August, 2009

A shot in the dark

I haven’t really had what you would call a serious brush with the paranormal – no messages from the beyond or even premonitions of impending danger that most people seem to have experienced at least once in their lives. My collision with the unexplained is not your garden variety spooky encounter but it is rather perplexing, mainly because no-one has been able to explain it to my satisfaction. Maybe someone out there can offer me one I haven’t heard before, and that will go someway towareds clearing up this mystery.

I was sitting at my computer early one morning when I heard a god-awfully loud CRACK behind me. A good approximation is the sound of slapping a thong (or flip-flop for my US and UK readers) or sandal very hard on a tile floor. More like a THWACK! This was loud enough to make me jump in my seat and get my heart-rate going a little. Now, I live alone in a small flat with one large main open living area, and the sound was in this lounge/dining/kitchen area. No-one else was in the flat and nothing was out of the ordinary. It sounded a lot like a very loud electrical discharge so I checked all the outlets and appliances but nothing was amiss. The TV was on, but it didn’t skip a beat. Simply put, there was no trace of anything that could explain such a loud retort.

Some explanations that have been offered were large insects or small lizards (I live in Queensland) or mice running across faulty connections. But there was no evidence of a short or anything like that. Another is that moisture inside old TVs can build up a static charge with accumulated dust and deliver a loud crack, and this seems the most likely, but I still can’t believe it would be so loud. I mean, this was really loud.

Suffice to say that most of the explanations so far have been unsatisfactory, not because I want to hold out for a paranormal explanation, but simply because they don’t fit the facts of my experience. Some have even suggested I could have been mistaken about the volume of the sound and its location. Of course, I can only stand by my conviction that everything seemed to me exactly as I describe it.

My niece has had similar experiences with identical lack of obvious sources. Once she heard the same loud crack when entering a completely empty house for the very first time.

I am in logical limbo here. Please rescue me.

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Belief is a powerful engine. It can drive people to failure or success, sadness or happiness, depression or ecstasy. It can even make people ignore facts and reality, like taking spiritual texts literally, forcing one to abandon reason, science and common sense.

In my youth I believed in lots of things: UFOs, ghosts, communication with the dead, and many other paranormalities. I can’t remember why I believed in these phenomena; the universe seemed more dramatic somehow. I think I believed largely because most everybody else seemed to believe in them. It was generally accepted that these phenomena, in one form or another, were real.

Now? These days, it’s not so much that I reject them, it’s more that I have less a need to believe in paranormalia. For a start, I don’t trust my perceptions enough to give me an uncensored, unfiltered view of reality. Numerous are the ways in which we mortals deceive ourselves. “A man sees what he wants to see and disregards the rest. Li la li, li la li li li la li …” I am less interested in believing in something, but seeing what is in front of my eyes, clearly.

I am trying to improve this instrument of cognition, mainly through meditation, mindfulness and being present, without filters, to what is real. For the moment I am happy to simply be, and leave these alternate realities alone.

However, my paranormal agnosticism doesn’t preclude speculating and investigating metaphysical possibilities. My book is a cautious expedition into the unknown, with a guide rope firmly tethered to the real world of facts and physics.

It all depends how much one invests in one’s theories or beliefs. The Dalai Lama has said that if science found Buddhism wrong, Buddhism would have to change. There is a lesson there for all of us.

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My first book is now on sale (official website should be up the end of next week)

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1906834032/thegospeoftho-20

and I am a very happy and proud first-time author. I haven’t yet held a printed edition in my hand, and dare say that will only add to my giddy pride.

It may appear strange that a self-confessed skeptic is writing a book on a scientific approach to astrology. But the wiggle room that is allowed in circumscepticism makes this the perfect subject for examination. Science says the book is closed on astrology. I say, not quite.

The opening to my media release reads:

“Astrology does not work. This may come as a surprise to the thousands of practising astrologers throughout the world. But traditional astrology has not fared well under the scrutiny of science. Indeed, according to premier astrology researcher Rudolph Smit, astrology has been tested in more than 600 scientific studies.”

Rudolph Smit’s site is the most comprehensive site on the subject, and I thoroughly recommend it for those who are interested in the tendentious relationship between science and astrology.

http://www.rudolfhsmit.nl/hpage.htm

Basically the conclusion Mr Smit, himself a practicing astrologer for many years, arrives at is that:

“Today, for the first time in twenty centuries, we can say with some certainty that no, the heavens do not reflect our destiny.”

“The case against astrology is that it is untrue. It has not contributed to human knowledge, it claims the prestige of science without the methods of science, it has failed hundreds of tests, it does not deliver benefits beyond those produced by non-astrological factors (hidden persuaders), and users do not usefully agree on basics such as which zodiac to use or even on what a given birth chart indicates. No hint of these problems will be found in astrology books, which is why some scientists see astrologers as misguided or even fraudulent. In fact astrologers are mostly nice people who genuinely wish to help others.”

So why does astrology work?

For most people, astrology works if it provides meaning. It does not need to be true, and, according to Smit, attacking it would be like attacking a religious faith. Faith needs no facts: it is all a matter of belief. And many beliefs seem to thrive on contrary facts. Smit says:

“In practical terms a warm and sympathetic astrologer provides low-cost non-threatening therapy that is otherwise hard to come by. You get emotional comfort, spiritual support, and interesting ideas to stimulate self-examination. … In a dehumanised society an astrologer provides personal support at a very low price. Where else can you get this sort of thing these days?”

And further, quoting historian and social critic Theodore Roszak from his book Why Astrology Endures (Briggs, San Francisco 1980): “For a growing number of people, the rich imagery of these old traditions has become a more inspirational way of talking [about ourselves] … than conventional psychiatry. The astrological universe is, after all, the universe of Greco-Roman myth, of Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Blake. It has poetry and philosophy built into it.”

In short, it has enough ancient mysticism and promise of self-knowledge to attract a wide audience who believe it can supply them with answers. And generally, people cannot be shaken from their cherished beliefs, so I try not to expend too much energy in trying to do so. But that is not the same as trying to make a good case for or against something, and I think “Planetary Types: the Science of Celestial Influence” does that very job.

So, on the subject of whether or not the scientific book is closed on astrology, my media release continues:

“… astrology has been tested in more than 600 scientific studies. All have failed. With one exception.

“Michel Gauquelin tested hundreds of thousands of subjects in numerous experiments to prove that the planets influence character, but his results are disputed by scientists, despite the sheer mass of evidence.

“Author and researcher Tony Cartledge has re-awakened the debate over planetary influence, and is approaching the Gauquelin findings from a new and exciting angle.”

Hard-core skeptics believe they have demolished all Gauquelin’s findings. That may be so, but my book introduces new elements into the mix, that make testing for planetary influence and planetary types much easier, and much less prone to debate. Any results from the testing I propose in the book will leave little doubt as to whether there can be such a thing as a science of celestial influence.

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Rebunking

With the recent anniversary of the moon landing, the moon landing hoax has resurfaced, like one of those birds that graze on the backs of elephants or other large mammals, feeding on the parasites and grubs. It is still astonishing to me that it has such a dedicated band of followers, despite having been debunked many times over.

I overheard someone say that they need to keep an open mind on the subject, to which I replied, “No, you don’t.” You need to investigate further. After reading all the claims of the conspiracy theorists, you need to click a little further down the Google page and see where each of the claims have been answered by science. It seems many paranormalists can only see as far as the Google link that supports what they want to believe.

Favourites fantasies are persistent, even in the face of real facts to the contrary. It is part of the fabric of our personality that preferred beliefs have precedence over reality.

T S Eliot said “Humankind cannot stand very much reality.” It seems they must invent elaborate conspiracies to make life interesting.

Naked reality, unadorned by our filters and beliefs, is endlessly fascinating, and the only worthwhile journey undertaking is to find your way back there everyday.

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