23.9.16

THE COUNT AND THE CONTACTEES

Michel Zirger and Maurizio Martinelli.  The Incredible Life of George Hunt Williamson: Mystical Journey: Itinerary of a Privileged UFO Witness. Verdechiaro Edizioni, 2016.

George Hunt Williamson (1926-1986) is one of the more than semi-mysterious characters that Ufology drags up from time to time. In part this is due to the fact that he was a consummate fantasist. The authors of this admiring book take his fantasies at face value but provide just enough evidence to destroy them. The authors clearly take the tales told by George Adamski and his ilk at face value also, but despite their credulity their book provides a fascinating insight into the cultic milieu in which Williamson moved, and it is interesting to see that his story acts as one of the links between Adamski, the famous cult at the centre of When Prophecy Fails, and the group surrounding Uri Geller and Andreja Puharich.

His start in life seems to have been much more prosaic; born on December 6 1926 as George Leonard Hunt Jnr, the son of George Leonard Williamson and Bernice Hunt. George Snr is listed as the owner of the Radiation Cabinet Company in the 1930 census but by 1940 was an industrial painter and decorator. George Hunt Williamson's life seemed to be mapped out to be the first person in his family to go to university, where he studied anthropology. About 1950 he seems to have dropped out of academia and into the fringe world of the occult. In this he claimed to have contacted space intelligences by means of radio, the Ouija board and other occult means He became one of the witnesses of George Adamski’s alleged meeting with a Venusian and then went on to write three books that were among the pioneers of the ancient astronaut type, mixing occultism, science fiction and populist rhetoric.

GEORGE HUNT WILLIAMSON
The death of his first wife Betty in Peru while he was on a lecture tour in Europe seems to have severed the thin hold he had on reality. He seems to have been wholly taken up with some family legend that he was descended from the former Serb royal family of Obrenovic and got his mother to write out an affidavit which said that her mother’s father was Wilhelm Maximillian Osborn, who was really Wilhelm Maximillian Obrenovic Obelitz von Lasar the heir to the throne of Serbia, who had been born about 1820, had been smuggled out of the country after his father was killed when the boy was seven, was then raised by the King of Saxony, and visited to Paris where he married the cousin of Empress Eugenie of France, Maria de Montijo de Guzzman. Records however show that Williamson’s mother's parents were William Steven Osborn an Illinois farmer, canvasser and doctor born in 1842 not 1820 and Mary Emily Petty. Both of the these people’s parents were as American as apple pie, not a Serb in sight.

The story may have come from Williamson’s maternal grandmother Katharyne Lorin Osborn, described as a writer of short stories, world traveller who spoke eight languages and was friend of Queen Elizabeth of Romania. City directories give her the more prosaic life as a dressmaker in Spokane, Washington. On the basis of these fantasies Williamson changed his name to Michel D’Obrenovic. Being Obrenovic wasn’t good enough for him though, so he fantasied that the family, descended from an early nineteenth century freedom fighter, and were really descended from Prince Lazar, a claim the family never made for themselves.

It was under that name that Williamson married the over-the-hill starlet Jennifer (Marshall) Elizabeth Holt, becoming her fifth and last husband in 1973 (they divorced in 1979). During this time he tried to get into films without much success. Earlier in 1967 he had tried to return to the academic mainstream and finally got his anthropology doctorate, but academia held little appeal. More to his taste was becoming a wandering bishop in the 'Orthodox Christian Church' and later founding his own 'Holy Apostolic Catholic Church' and becoming a sort of adopted son of Thelma Dunlap, one of the archetypal 'little old ladies in tennis shoes'.

In the end it is more probable that Williamson was a classic case of Caraboo Syndrome, rather than a conscious confidence trickster. In the admiring world of the cultic milieu he could find an outlet of his sense of importance and need for display. I suspect that he had wanted to be an actor but his parents wanted him to be something respectable like an academic, so he turned his whole life into a series of acting roles.This critical account will no doubt be regarded by the authors of this book as just more scepticism. For my part, I find it baffling and a Fortean phenomenon in itself, how intelligent and cultured people can even for a few moments take the tales told by George Adamski and his ilk at face value. -- Peter Rogerson.

18.9.16

GOING POSTAL

From time to time we like to present new postage stamps which feature Fortean and other anomalous phenomena, as we know there are quite a few collectors of this topic. Two recent sets might be of interest to Magonia readers.

Canada has now brought out the third issue of stamps illustrating strange and spooky stories from around the country. The two previous sets are described here (2014) and here (2015). As with the previous issues, this is a set of five stamps, which are also printed as a miniature sheet. Magonians and Forteans will be particularly pleased to see an aspect of our old friend the Newfoundland Hag depicted on the one of the stamps. The publicity from Canada Post describes the subjects of the stamps, and unfortunately, it looks like this set will be the last in the series.

“Staff and patrons of the century-old Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre Centre in Toronto have been witness to some spine-tingling appearances from the ghost of a well-dressed Edwardian woman and a musical spectre named Sam, who tends to hog the spotlight.

“Who knew that Newfoundland and Labrador was home to a shape-shifting succubus? It’s said that many a farmer has been scared witless by the Hag of Bell Island, who appears as a beautiful maiden to lure her prey into the murky marsh before transforming into a horrific (and less-than-hospitable) hag.

“If you’re approached by the Lady in White of Montmorency Falls, don’t touch her gown! The apparition of bride-to-be Mathilde Robin, who plunged to her death over the loss of her fiancé at the Battle of Montmorency, still guards the virtue of her wedding dress, meant for his touch alone.

“The people of Charlottetown still speak of the day that a ship’s bell rang out at a local church with no one around but four women clad in ghostly white. Were the Phantom Ringers of the Kirk of Saint James – who disappeared into thin air – forewarning the deaths of four women who drowned that day in the sinking of the Fairy Queen steamer?

“The cook at a logging camp near the Dungarvon River reputedly kept his life savings in a money belt that he wore at all times. That was until one winter morning, when the loggers returned from the bush to find him dead on the floor – and his belt nowhere to be found. Hastily buried in the nearby forest, the Dungarvon Whooper’s unmerciful cries can still be heard in the Miramichi area around dusk.

“Says designer Lionel Gadoury, Having been able to delve into 15 of our nation’s most richly nuanced tales and bring them to life with master illustrator Sam Weber has been a thrill like no other. All things must come to an end, but our fascination with the unknown is eternal. I hope Canadians and collectors are inspired by this final set and take time to share their own haunted tales with family and friends.”



Closer to home, the Channel Island of Jersey has issued a set of stamps illustrating isalnd folkore, with strongly Fortean overtones. Six stamps depict some of Jersey's best-known myths and legends. Those depicted are: The Fairies of St Brelades Church (48p); William and the Sea Sprite (60p); The Witches of Rocqueberg (74p); The Dragon of St Lawrence (76p); The Black Dog of Bouley Bay (£1) and The Ghostly Bride of Waterworks Valley (£1.29). The full stories behind the legends depicted can be found here: 

14.9.16

IF YOU LIKE THIS SORT OF THING, THIS IS THE SORT OF THING YOU'LL LIKE

Nick Redfern. Weapons of the Gods: How Ancient Civilizations Almost Destroyed the Earth. New Page Books. 2016.

Nick Redfern has written more than 30 books on UFOs and other oddities and obviously aims to attract mildly sceptical as well as credulous readers. This approach is particularly apparent in his latest work as, for most of the topics he discusses, he gives us the conventional explanations as well as the gee-whiz, space-aliens-as-gods stuff.

This book is concerned with the belief of many people, especially the writers and readers of cranky books about space aliens visiting Earth in ancient times and bombarding people with nuclear weapons. I have never managed to discover any plausible reasons for such aggression by beings from other worlds, but there is obviously a large readership available for such nonsense.

The story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is familiar to many people, including those who have never attempted to study the Old Testament. The obvious problem with it is how it should be interpreted. One of the great mistakes made by casual readers of ancient writings is to interpret them as being literally true, like books written by modern historians who try to separate fact from fantasy and try to give an account of what really happened.

According to Redfern, one problem with the theory that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by an enormous meteorite is that Lot was warned in advance that the cities would be obliterated. This is, of course, an example of the tendency to take such writings literally. It is possible that the writer of Genesis used accounts of a natural disaster to warn people against indulging in sexually deviant behaviour. The assertion that all the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah were at it, except for Lot and his family is an obvious example of hyperbole, which was often used to emphasise the importance of what was written.

As well as the Bible, other ancient writings are discussed, notably the Mahabharata, which, some years ago, came to be used by the "ancient astronauts" school of ufological writers to "prove" that, in ancient India, people were involved in atomic war with extraterrestrials. As Redfern admits, though: "It all very much depends on how one interprets the data and whose translation one accepts as being the most accurate."

The weirdest chapter is about the "Cryptoterrestrials", which devotes much space to the dreamy speculations--sorry, research--of the late Mac Tonnies. According to him, what seem to be space aliens are related to us and have lived in secret, underground, for countless millennia.

But enough of all this. Redfern concludes that he suspects that there is a strong possibility that atomic war was fought thousands of years ago, with the Cryptoterrestrials, possibly on numerous occasions. If you are inclined to agree with him on this, you will enjoy reading this book. -- John Harney

11.9.16

UNSEEN, UNKNOWN, UNKNOWABLE

Susan Lepselter. The Resonance of Unseen Things; Politics, Power, Captivity and UFOs in the American Uncanny. University of Michigan Press, 2016.

Back in the day, when UFO UpDates ruled the UFO world, with rapier-sharp cut and thrust between the giants of ufology, one criticism which was levelled at Magonia – mainly by Jerome Clark – was that we indulged in ‘literary criticism’ rather than serious, scientific, UFO research.

It never seemed clear exactly what Clark meant by this, presumably that in Magonia we were more interested in analysing the stories that the UFO witnesses and experiencers told, rather than discussing the actual physical phenomenon that created those experiences. Of course, in nearly all cases the story, or ‘narrative’, is the only evidence we have that the individual did actually experience something out of the ordinary. However we never accepted the premise that we only studied the narrative as an object in its own right, having no existence outside the circumstances in which it was related.

This present book would undoubtedly be dismissed as ‘literary criticism’ by the old UpDates contributors, and perhaps with a little more justification. Lipselter is an anthropologist, and her interest in UFOs is through the people who experience them and the societies they inhabit. She certainly takes her fieldwork seriously, not only joining a UFO ‘experiencers’ group in ‘Hillview’ (an anonymised city somewhere in the US South West) but also working as a waitress at the Little A’Le’Inn at Rachel, Nevada, adjoining the infamous Area 51.

She makes it clear from the beginning that this is not a book about UFOs, it does not attempt to determine whether or not the experiences of the people she interacts with are caused by any particular external stimulus. She accepts Hufford’s analysis of such experiences and comments that “Hufford theorised that sleep paralysis is a universal occurrence that may underlie many traditions of traumatic uncanny attack. However, rather than dismiss the uncanny memories, his respectful and careful study emphasised the primacy of human embodied experience, as a way to insist on the phenomenological of stories that might easily be seen as folklore in the sense of fiction”.

She notes, with I suspect a sense of amusement, the bafflement of Susan Clancy, who in her book Abducted, which promoted the sleep paralysis theory, when the subjects she studies refused to accept that their experiences has no physical reality: “Why, she wonders in the book, won’t they listen to reason?”

In her interactions with members of the ‘Hillview’ experiencers group she does not offer them any explanations, but listens to their stories and notes how they link to other social and political concerns. She records how one experiencer moved from the UFO milieu into the fringes of the militia and survivalist movement. (She notes with interest that a local survivalist bookshop displayed the works of Noam Chomsky alongside books on preparing for the apocalypse), then further into full-frontal conspiracy theories. The woman's original abduction experience seemed to be merely a gateway into an almost total withdrawal from consensus reality which even the most extreme conspiracy theorising could not satisfy.

THE LITTLE A'LE'INN

In her conversations with experiencers, and later with the watchers and dreamers at Area 51 Lepselter discovers an almost poetic quality in the stories they tell. These are not garbled accounts, blurted out at the spur of the moment, but carefully honed narratives. At times she emphasises this by laying them out on the page in the manner of blank verse. At first this seemed an affectation, but when I read them aloud, the phasing and emphasis this revealed reminded me of many of the accounts I had heard directly from witnesses and experiencers. These were not simple accounts of what ‘happened’, but carefully constructed expressions of emotion and belief.

It is in the accounts of Lepselter's season working at the Little A'Le'Inn that we get an insight into the heart of the UFO abduction phenomenon in America, and into the culture that surrounds the conspiracy theories about Area 51.

Europeans seem to find it difficult to understand America. In some ways we in Britain are very familiar with it: we share a common language, Americans look like us, we enjoy their TV programmes, music, and movies; their cultural references are immediately understandable. The British particularly feel that we share a common historical background, from Magna Carta to the Pilgrims, to the World Wars of the last century. But this familiarity can be misleading. And in reading Lipsalter's account of her time in Arizona we forget one thing: the almost, to most British people, unimaginable vastness and emptiness of much of the USA, and its remoteness from any source of political power – an emptiness which is perhaps now being filled by Donald Trump?

She describes an all-day drive to take one of her fellow waitresses at the Inn to apply for a driver's licence at the Department of Motor Vehicles. This was not even at the State Capital, but at the local county headquarters. One farmer describes having to take his rubbish to be dumped at a recycling facility over 100 miles away, which was then closed down because the Federal Environmental Agency discovered that a rare species of rat was living in it. The Federal Government is represented by the guards around the Area 51 site who seem to change the rules of access to vast areas of desert almost at a whim, or a fax from Washington DC, two thousand five hundred miles away.

It is in this climate that the idea of collusion between the US Government and an alien civilisation seems plausible, as Washington and New York already seem alien to people living in the remotest parts of Arizona and New Mexico. But the stories which are born in the physical remoteness of the desert, are amplified and transmitted through the emotional remoteness of alienated individuals in a society which to many has become as arid and unfeeling as any expanse of sand, rock and bush.

As the author admits, this is not a book about UFOs, nor indeed really about the people who see UFOs, even though their stories are told sympathetically and with deep humanity. It is about the world in which these stories – accounts, narratives, witness statements, call them what you will – arise and thrive.

Call this book 'literary criticism' if you like, if you do you will miss its worth, but you will not be entirely wrong. A stimulating and sometimes disturbing, but fascinating account of a world which is almost entirely hidden to us. – John Rimmer.

8.9.16

CALVIN AND THE CRITICS

Bruce Gordon. John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. Lives of Great Religious Books, Princeton University Press, 2016.

The late Bernard Levin, in his book Enthusiasms, devoted a chapter to the pleasures of reading. As a counterpoint, he included a selection of works which, he considered, no-one could derive any pleasure from reading. At the head of his list was Calvin’s Institutes.

Nevertheless, Gordon seems to have had fun with Calvin’s systematisation of Christian doctrine. A Frenchman living in exile in Geneva, his Calvin's masterwork first appeared at Basel in 1536. It was continually revised and expanded by its author, until the edition of 1559 ran to more than 1000 pages. On the basis of Romans 9 he insisted on the doctrine of predestination, “that before the moment of creation God had determined who would be saved and who would be damned entirely apart from any reckoning of human merit.” This was controversial, since it was held to imply that God causes sin, and it lost Calvin some friends. In 1542 the French government made possession of a copy a criminal offence, but “nothing boosts sales like censure”, and he became “the most widely read Protestant author in France.”

Whatever the book’s influence on religion, it was certainly a boon for Geneva’s printers: “Single-handedly, he transformed the printing business in Geneva, turning it from a publishing backwater into a center of Protestant book production that instructed the growing evangelical communities in France.”Since the book was long and difficult, but popular, various summaries were soon produced. In 1576 the curiously named Englishman Edmund Bunny produced a Compendium, which was itself a bestseller. Delaune’s Epitome, 1583, functioned as a debating tool, providing responses to, as it would be put nowadays, one hundred “frequently asked questions”.

In 1558 Calvin dedicated his commentary on Isaiah to Elizabeth I of England, presumably hoping to ingratiate himself with her. Unfortunately for him, at the same time another Genevan exile, John Knox, published his First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women, in which the legitimacy of female monarchs was denied. Knox’s particular target was Mary Queen of Scots, but what he said could equally have applied to Elizabeth, and she blamed Calvin. This blow did not affect his popularity here, and by the 1580s “he outsold all other Protestant reformers combined, making him the most influential voice in the kingdom.”

One thing that has haunted Calvin’s reputation ever since came about in 1553, when the Genevans prosecuted a Spaniard named Michael Servetus for heresy. He was an anti-Trinitarian who had written a book on that theme, so it is not surprising that Calvin helped prepare the theological case against him, or that he ended up being burned at the stake. I wish that Gordon had gone into some detail in one place about this – he only gives us scattered references.

In the eighteenth century, the Dutch Reformed Church used Calvin’s interpretation of the ‘Curse of Ham’ (supposedly the ancestor of all Africans, see Genesis 9:22-25), to justify slavery.

About 1725, a Dutch sea-captain landed at a slave market in Ghana, where he bought an eight-year-old orphan, and took him back to Holland where he was given an education. Jacobus Capitein, as he was named, (presumably by his purchaser) became a theology student, and, bizarrely, wrote a dissertation in which he argued, on the basis of Calvin, that the slave trade could act as a form of mission.

In more recent times, Calvin and his teachings have been involved in matters of which he could hardly have dreamed. In the 1930s he was central to a long running debate between two Swiss professors of theology, Barth and Brunner, on the question of “whether humans have access to knowledge of God by means other than revelation”, which, as Gordon observes, was then “all the more pressing in the 1930s on account of National Socialism and the German Protestant theologians who were prepared to accept Hitler as a new form of revelation.” His name came up again in South Africa in debates about Apartheid, rival factions accusing each other of confusing Calvin with Calvinism, or Calvinism with neo-Calvinism.

The book is slightly marred by a few mistakes. He mixes up the dates of John Brown and Nathan Lewis Rice, and says that “the witch of Endor was summoned by the prophet Samuel from the sleep of the dead” (he meant the other way around). It is possible, though, that these are the fault of his copy editor.

If Calvin is less of a name to conjure with in the twenty-first century, it is only because there is now less concern about Protestant theology of any kind. In 2014 Gordon was involved (ran?) a course in Reading Calvin’s Institutes at the Yale Divinity School, and he finishes by quoting the opinions of some of the twenty-one students who attended. Whether or not people derive any pleasure from the book, it is still of enduring interest. – Gareth J. Medway

3.9.16

ORGIES OF THE GODS?

“We had sex with aliens”, ran a headline in the Metro, 21 January 2016. It featured two members of the Hybrid Baby Community, “a group of women claiming they have offspring by aliens, who live with their dads on spaceships.” Video game designer Aluna Venus, 23, of Los Angeles, was seduced by an ET, curiously, in a classroom with others watching: “All of a sudden, I’m sat next to this green reptilian creature and I’m so turned on looking at this being.” Next thing: “We’re making love in this classroom. Everyone turned their attention to us.”

She became the mother of three alien spawn. Bridget Nielsen, 27, of Arizona, has had no less then ten children who combine “the best of human alien characteristics.” She had experienced “the best sex I ever had.” Lest anyone doubt them, they were photographed holding drawings of their sprogs, though they could not produce the children themselves for inspection.


For Ufologists, this will not be news, though it might be for people who read free newspapers while commuting to work. What is perhaps surprising is how often, all through history, there have been reports of humans having sexual relations with otherworldly entities, though their nature varies considerably. What follows is a brief survey of such accounts, though I must apologise in advance for a few of them being cited from memory.

Read the full article by Gareth Medway HERE


1.9.16

THE STAMP OF AUTHORITY

Jacques Vallee Forbidden Science, Volume Three: Journals 1980-1989 - On the Trail of Hidden Truths. Documatica Research. 2016.

Nostalgia creeps forward with the relentless calendar and we are now in the time of 1980s nostalgia, as witness a number of television programmes. JacquesVallée’s latest volume of diaries takes us through that turbulent decade. Ufologists will be able to revisit some of their old stories here and social historians will have an insight into the beginnings of the Internet age, for Jacques Vallée was one of the pioneers in the field. Perhaps one day he will be the only ufologist to feature on a postage stamp!

His work on networks brought him to the attention of the ruling classes of several countries and one suspects that many ufologists will be envious of his circle of contacts, the former prime minister of France one day, a weird contactee the next, followed by the former wife of a Satanist one time lion tamer. There are plenty of vignettes of the world of 1980s California and the often er, em, “eccentric” characters that inhabited it.




Vallée, once the radical is in this period beginning to be upstaged by new, far more radical psycho-social ufologists, particularly in France, and it is clear that he had little sympathy for them, and was perhaps still too tied to the concerns of American Ufology. However he certainly very early on saw through the avuncular face of Budd Hopkins to his dark and manipulative interior; for which he earned the considerable displeasure of Hopkins’ sycophantic followers. There is also extensive coverage of the wild tales told by the likes of John Lear and William Cooper and the strange manipulations of the Richard Doty, clearly a person who never spoke the truth except for when he was too lazy to make up a lie.

Nostalgia is always tinged with sadness and it is sad to read the record of the final illness of Allen Hynek, and how he fell into the claws of a group of people who had all the hallmarks of confidence tricksters and who came close to alienating him from his old friends. We also follow the increasing isolation and decline of Aimé Michel and the death of the Lorenzens, developments which helped American Ufology to fall into the hands of the ghastly Walt Andrus.

These were paranoid days and at times Vallée almost catches it, with his belief that the Cergy-Pontoise hoax was orchestrated by intelligence services. At least today intelligence services presumably have better things to do with their time. Elsewhere we get tales of crashed flying saucers, secret government projects, or if you prefer, the idea that UFOs etc. are all part of the plots by the nasty old boggarts. A view that the American ufologist Richard Haines apparently shared with Gordon Creighton, though it is not apparent as to whether he shared Creighton’s belief that these were card-carrying Communist, feminist boggarts. Like Vallée’s control system or Michel’s belief that a mysterious “they/it” was controlling human affairs all of this seems to operate as a prophylactic against the blind chaos of history. -- Peter Rogerson.


19.8.16

WHAT LIES BEYOND

Michael Martin and Keith Augustine (editors).  The Myth of an Afterlife: The Case Against Life After Death.  Rowman and Littlefield, 2015.

As the editors point out, there are plenty of books arguing the case for an afterlife but few that examine the case against. This collection of thirty articles in over 650 pages does just that. It is organised into four major parts; the first examines the findings of neuroscience which show that consciousness and human personality are wholly dependent on the embodied brain; the second part examines philosophical arguments against and afterlife, the third critiques theological views of the afterlife as heaven and hell or the eastern view of karma, the fourth examines the evidence given by psychical research which is said to prove survival.

The first and fourth sections are the most accessible; and the collection of nine essays in the first section shows how numerous malfunctions of the brain due to injury, illness or substance abuse can profoundly influence consciousness now just in gross ways but profoundly subtle ways as well. In some of these the patient is unaware of the deficit, arguing against all the evidence that they are not blind, or that a paralysed limb is properly functioning. Changes to specific portions of the brain lead to specific deficits or specific changes in personality.

There is a fair amount of repetition in these papers, an occupational hazard of compilations of essays, but this do seek to hammer home the conclusion that there is absolutely no evidence from neurology that mental functions have any independence from the physical brain, and indeed such an idea when critically examined makes no sense. Those who argue otherwise do so against the evidence and based only on religious or philosophical beliefs.



The eight essays in Part Four address a range of alleged evidence from psychical research dealing with ghosts, out of the body experiences, Ian Stevenson’s studies of allegedly reincarnated children, and Gary Schwartz’s studies with mediums. The two papers on Stevenson, one by a former research assistant, show the many errors and assumptions that went into his studies, for example peoples’ speculations were often presented as fact, many were recorded long after the events, assumptions were made about peoples’ behaviour which sometimes based on cultural ignorance, for example the argument that noone came forward to challenge this or that claim, without realising that such a challenge might have been regarded as highly impolite in some cultures.

The third section which deals with philosophical problems connected with survival is in parts quite challenging though often worth persisting with. The arguments deal not with the sort of survival envisioned by spiritualists but those imagined by religions such as Christianity, so we don’t just get discussions dealing with the impossibility of truly disembodied existence or the lack of evidence for astral bodies, but also with assumptions to do with the traditional Christian view of bodily resurrection. Which generally comes to the conclusion that if this some new body modelled on the old one then we are dealing with a replica not the original person, and that if one copy can be made so can any number of replicas .

To get round that, in perhaps what is close to one of the strangest ideas ever proposed by a respectable theologian, Peter van Inwagen, has come up with the notion that when you die God snatches away your body to somewhere else and then substitutes a replica corpse in its place to rot away. Compared with that idea Phillip Gosse’s notorious Omphalos appears eminently sane.

Various contributors also demolish the line of argument which compares consciousness to a TV programme and the brain to the set, but no matter what we do to a TV set we cannot change the plot of a soap opera from the one that was broadcast.

To refute these criticisms supporters of survival will have to take on board the findings of modern neuroscience and not wave it away (even the most superficial critics of psychical research usually deal with its evidence better than paranormalists’ treatment of mainstream science) and not to rely on personal abuse and populist rhetoric. Personally I suspect that arguments involving real time survival involving some kind of spooky extra stuff over and above the quotidian things of the world has no traction.

Those who want get-out clauses might try either subjective survival, the idea that brain events lasting only a few seconds might generate subjective experiences lasting for vast periods of time; the possibility that the quotidian things of the world including brains, bodies, chairs, TV sets, computers , motor cars and rocks are not what they seem to be, or the idea that in a truly infinite universe people might be born complete with your memories just by chance. The odds against the latter are of course unimaginably greater than astronomical. Of course in a truly infinite universe these extraordinarily unlikely events would still occur an infinite number of times. -- Peter Rogerson


MAGONIA RECOMMENDS