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


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Anonymous said...

The story under this link (looks like fiction) contains unexpected historical facts behind Dostoevsky's novel "Idiot" (”PROTOTYPE OF PRINCE MYSHKIN”)
and something about DANIEL DOUGLAS HOME, too: -