Friday, April 24, 2009

Review of The Spirit of Dr. Bindelof

The Spirit of Dr. Bindelof: the Enigma of Séance Phenomena, by Dr. Rosemarie Pilkington features the story of a little known episode of physical mediumship that took place among a group of teenage boys in New York City in the 1930’s. Dr. Pilkington is a musician, writer, and educator with a PhD in psychology from Saybrook Institute. She befriended one of the members of this sitter group, Gilbert Roller, later in his life and presents his autobiographical account of the boys’ experimentation with séance phenomena, and their contact with an alleged spirit named Dr. Bindelof.

Gilbert recalled his childhood home life as “monstrous and terrible” (p. 7). Early in the story, we learn that he was the focus of an outbreak of poltergeist activity in his home. Gil’s mother was absent much of the time, and she and her husband (Gil’s stepfather) fought often. When Gil was about 12 or 13, the family heard sounds from his mother’s bedroom and found hairpins that had apparently flown from the dresser and hit the door. Wooden knobs from her shoe tree came off and were flung across the room. As the phenomena progressed, dishes would come crashing off the counters, and the words ‘GO GO’ were found crayoned in huge letters on the wall. These and other events prompted Gil’s father to call in the well known psychical researcher, Howard Carrington, to investigate.

Later, Gil joined his mother in evening séances in which minor events occurred in his presence. Eventually, he started his own sitter group along with some of his teenage friends, including the late Montague Ullman, who later became a psychiatrist and parapsychologist and founder of the Dream Laboratory at Maimonides Hospital in Brooklyn, New York (whose own account of the sittings can be found here). The boys were dedicated to the task of facilitating paranormal phenomena and met regularly on Saturday nights for several years. Among the phenomena they reported were table levitations, raps, direct voice phenomena, direct writing, and communications with a ‘spirit’ by the name of Dr. Bindelof, who provided healing and medical advice. On the front of the book is a portrait of Dr. Bindelof, taken under the very specific guidance of the communicator.

Gilbert and Pilkington seem to agree that there was no ‘spirit’ of Dr. Bindelof. Rather, the doctor was the unconscious projection of the sitter group and that Gil was the source of major occurrences in and out of the séance room. In the next two sections of the book, Pilkington provides a brief history of physical mediumship, covering well known cases like the Fox Sisters, Daniel Douglas Home, Florence Cook, Eusapia Palladino, and Ted Serios, as well has lesser known cases such as Franek Kluski and Indridi Indridason. Throughout her narrative, Pilkington relates aspects of these cases to the Bindelof case, maintaining that these kinds of unusual events were likely paranormally produced by living beings, “although belief in outside or discarnate forces greatly helps in their production.” And if these phenomena are genuine, “our current knowledge of the mind and body, our whole concept of physical laws, is woefully limited” (p.226).

Despite my involvement in the field of parapsychology, my boggle threshold, the point at which I consider phenomena highly unlikely to be real, is admittedly pretty low. I was attracted to this field because I was impressed by laboratory studies of psi and the evidence for small-scale psi effects in environments where variables can be manipulated and performance measured. Time and time again, in laboratories around the world, well-educated and credible scientists have demonstrated that human consciousness may not be limited to space or time. I am more boggled that the work of parapsychologists doesn't receive more serious mainstream consideration than I am by the implications of their results.

However, many large scale psychokinetic effects do exceed my boggle threshold, and I find it difficult to accept the reality of such phenomena unless I can either investigate them myself or have their mechanisms explained to me. Pilkington’s narrative attempts to demonstrate to readers that these events are real, but I still remain unconvinced. However while reading The Spirit of Dr. Bindelof, I was impressed with the reality that credible and well-trained investigators have observed physical effects that seem to defy space or time, and that these observers were willing stake their reputations reporting them. Many of these investigations took place with cooperative subjects who were willing to be thoroughly examined and perform such feats under well-lit conditions. Quality investigations such as these have taken place around the world, decade after decade, yet the phenomena still remain a mystery.

After reading Pilkington's book, I am just a little bit more curious about sitter group phenomena, enough so that I might find the patience to try it myself. For those interested in forming such groups, Pilkington’s appendix, So You Want to Do It Too?, offers advice to novices.

However, for me the larger issue is understanding 'how it works', and unfortunately large scale psychokinetic (macro-PK) events have not yet been subjected to the volume of research that ESP and small scale psychokinetic (micro-PK) events have. A systematic, scientific research program into macroscopic psychokinetic phenomena would be absolutely groundbreaking. But unlike some of the phenomena described in The Spirit of Dr. Bindelof, scientific research programs don't drop out of thin air. Rather, they are supported by the research dollars of individuals and foundations with the vision and courage needed to support science on the cutting edge.

Gilbert Roller passed away on October 20, 2004 at the age of 89. Recently, his widow, Mrs. Marion Roller made a generous contribution to the Parapsychological Association (PA) in her husband's name to establish a new endowment for research. The Gilbert Roller Fund supports scientific field investigations into macroscopic psychokinetic phenomena such as those reported in sitter groups, séances, poltergeist activity, and/or theoretical approaches to help explain the nature of such large scale effects. Right now, the PA is in the midst of a matching funds drive for this endowment until Friday, May 1, 2009. Mrs. Roller is matching, dollar for dollar, donations made to this fund. So your tax-deductible contribution of $50 would not-so-mysteriously become $100 research dollars, and so on. Donations can be made online at the PA website. Your contributions would enable qualified researchers with professional knowledge of past research of this type to continue to explore large-scale psychokinetic phenomena.

Addendum: I just received the following from a representative of Mrs. Roller's estate:

Through May 1st your contribution will be matched TWO FOR ONE, that is for every $50 you donate, the fund will receive $150. If you have not yet contributed, please do so this week to help add to our knowledge and to take advantage of this generous offer.

Annalisa Ventola

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Lecture Review: Science and the Afterlife

Science and the Afterlife

A Review of a Lecture Presented at the San Diego Bereavement Consortium

March 20, 2009

Recently, Dr. Julie Beischel, a premier investigator in the fields of survival of consciousness and mediumship research, spoke before an audience of perhaps one hundred people in San Diego at a lecture at the Scottish Rite Event Center. Early in her presentation, Dr. Beischel requested a show of hands in the audience of those who believed that consciousness survives death, and not surprisingly, 90% raised their hands, though I was not among them. This was due to my agnosticism on the topic, despite my own first impulse to raise my arm.

“Survival after death,” reported Dr. Beischel, “has a body of data at least one hundred years old.” She described three established types of after-life research: 1). proof-focused (i.e. validity studies); 2). process-focused (phenomenology of the medium herself); and 3). applied (i.e. field work). Beischel’s approach is clearly proof-focused. She herself is well-schooled in laboratory science having earned her doctorate in Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Arizona—an impressive prelude to her present career as researcher/bridge-maker to the other side.

According to Beischel, researchers agree that “the perception is real” (regarding contact with the dead), though what actually is occurring in such cases is less conclusive. Of course, irrefutable scientific proof for survival, an afterlife, and direct communication with the “discarnate,” would most certainly be a gold ticket in the annals of science research, on a par with evidential proof of alien contact, the cure and eradication of cancer, or even a treatment for male-pattern baldness that worked. Moving from perception to causation in this controversial territory is like moving from the belief in faeries to having one sing with the band at your daughter’s wedding.

Dr. Beishal reviewed her fairly rigorous eight-step process at The Windbridge Institute to screen and train competent mediums as subjects (often on the phone) for controlled experiments. Both mental mediums and “trance mediums” (who remain dissociated during their transmissions) are utilized. Training includes grief counseling to help mediums better relate to their bereaved sitters during contact sessions. Curiously, the words ‘ghost’, ‘apparition’, or ‘spirit’ are not used in this vocabulary, and Beischel admits a double-edged sword in the current pop culture fascination with mediums, spirit possession, ghost hunters, and the like, which, at once, trivializes her research as a kind of thrill-ride for hormonally-ravaged teenagers, but also raises public awareness for the much-needed funding in this universally relevant area.

I found especially interesting Beischel’s discussion of the three likely mechanisms researchers use to explain ‘anomalous information receptions’ (AIR): namely, 1) consciousness survives death. 2) a super psi effect is triggered in such cases (in which case, what’s actually occurring is psi, not survival). 3). A ‘psychic reservoir’ or universal data bank (ala the Akashic records, etc.) is tapped.

The first option feels circular to me, and not mutually exclusive of the others. Receptions occur “because consciousness survives” seems like saying “we float in the water because the ocean is wet.” There must be a second half to this explanation. Option 2--the super psi effect--seems to be the confounding factor that ambiguously follows this work to its conclusion (or stalemate) without ever being ruled out, or adequately control for. What may appear like valid contact between medium and discarnate may actually be some telepathic snatching up of the sitter’s memories (with, or without, anyone realizing it). In that case, the after-life has not been unwrapped so much as hijacked by super-psychics! Option 3, however, the ‘psychic reservoir hypothesis’, despite its Aquarian acoustic, resonates most with my own sympathies as a Jungian psychologist and tarot expert. I can easily visualize The High Priestess channeling subtle, subliminal, collective memories accessed from her deeply intuitive predisposition.

Option 3 also suggests ‘absolute knowledge’ (Jung) arising synchronistically between medium, sitter, (and possibly discarnate as well). The connection, however, is ‘acausal’ in nature, i.e. emitting no energy exchange between senders and receivers (the holy mantra of synchronicity theorists!). Like in divination procedures, a transpersonal intelligence or awareness seems simply to open up (or is recognized as having always been there) under the proper conditions. Whereas super psi posits something is happening here (albeit subtle)— an energy still is exchanged (and sought after for measurement by scientists). In any event, Dr. Beischel admitted without hesitation to the audience that the question itself remains open.

The psychology of abundance seems another relevant piece to the life-after-death puzzle. Unlimited amounts of anything—cash, phone minutes, refills, or lifetimes—make sudden ceasing to be seem so less pressured and irredeemable. Could survivability, and its implied endlessness, have such a paradoxical effect? Might surviving into the afterlife take some of the umph out of the “now or never?” Beischel reports that grief-stricken family members feel better after consulting a medium than after consulting a mental health worker. (Why am I not surprised?). Could this artifact be merely some opiate effect in the service of denial? Or could something far less predictable be going on here-- the foreshadowing of a vast paradigm shift with respect to consciousness surviving after death. As Dr. Julie Beischel noted at the end, perhaps the greatest effect of her findings for the medical community is simply that: “Death is then viewed more as a transition, than a failure.” Could this be the larger hypothesis that we are looking for?

Arthur Rosengarten, Ph.D.

Dr. Art Rosengarten is a Jungian psychologist in Encinitas, California, The Director of Moonlight Counseling, the author of Tarot And Psychology: Spectrums Of Possibility (2000), and the creator of Tarot Of The Nine Paths: A Guide For The Spiritual Traveler (2009). He completed the first scientific study of tarot divination for his doctoral dissertation at the California Institute Of Integral Studies (1985) and has since researched domestic violence through the synchronisitic lens of tarot readings. Dr. Rosengarten is owner/moderator of tarotpsych: an online discussion group for tarot experimentation and community. His articles, services, books and deck can be found on his website: