Thursday, January 28, 2016

Not Completely Convinced in Survival After Death

Definitely not convinced.

One Hundred Cases for Survival after Death was a sometimes interesting, mostly dry book. Admittedly going into it, I thought it would be more entertaining but Baird proved to be very committed to presenting the facts so that the reader would make up their own minds. Which, as a book making the case for survival after death, is really the way the book should be written.

Despite its dryness I did finish it and I did learn several things. The SPR was serious about their paranormal research. They did extensive work with mediums in particular. In fact, three quarters of the book was taken up with mediums. Speaking of mediums and researchers, I will note that there is a bit of controversy surrounding one member of the SPR that Baird strongly believed in. Harry Price was a member of the SPR in the 1920s who debunked several mediums. He tested one medium, Rudi Schneider, who claimed he could do levitation and found he was a fraud. However, fellow members in the SPR tested Rudi behind Price's back and claimed that Rudi was authentic. After his death the SPR claimed that Price's work with the Borley Rectory, actually used in Baird's book as proof of a haunting with suggestions to read Price's report of the paranormal events there, was faked and that Price was a fraud himself. Since only a few people backed up Price after his death I suspect Baird was a friend or a friend of a friend.

Something else I learned was that there was a lot of nonsense tests that the SPR put mediums through. For example, there used to be, I don't know if anyone still does it, something called Cross Correspondence where two mediums supposedly channel a spirit and when their automatic writing is compared it makes sense. Except that it really doesn't and in the few cases Baird used to prove the process the meaning between the two messages often had to be inferred. It rarely ever made actual sense when placed side by side. Most of the cross correspondence and automatic writing was a little too far for me to believe.

What's funny is that I actually do believe in survival after death, although perhaps not in the form that Baird thought it had. And some of his cases were very convincing, a couple made me shiver because of how convincing they were. For example, there was this one book test where a woman was told to look for a book in her house. She was told two passages because the medium's guide was a little confused as to the number of the page but both were very similar when she went home and found them.

I wouldn't suggest this book to anyone who does not have a strong interest in the paranormal. Many, many times I fell asleep reading because of how dryly the cases were presented. That said it was a good read. I don't know if my Great Grandfather read this book or if perhaps one of his parents had been interested in the subject. It's awesome that someone in my family line had an interest in this subject too. I only hope this book didn't bore them to sleep.

My next book will be Valley of the Dolls so until next time fellow readers.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Survival After Death?

When I saw this book with my Great Grandfather's things I should have realized I had more in common with my Great Grandparents than I thought. I have always been interested in ghost stories and whether or not life continues after death. I mean when I was 11 or 12 I was spending time with my friend watching haunted histories of buildings around the United States. I was the one who forced my family to watch that show where a family got locked into a haunted castle to see if it was actually haunted. So I was looking forward to reading this book. And at about 25 cases into it, it has not been much of a disappointment.

One Hundred Cases for Survival After Death is a little known book edited by Alex T. Baird which contains one hundred accounts of experiences with haunted houses, automatic writing, and materialization and the like. Most of the cases are quick synopses and excerpts from cases recorded by the SPR. For those of you who don't know, the SPR is the Society for Psychical Research. The original SPR started in 1882 and was the first, "organization established to examine allegedly paranormal phenomena using scientific principles."1 Basically these people attempted to explain paranormal phenomena using science, i.e. a ghostly sound is easily explained as a door swinging because it is loose. Basically these guys are the precursors to TV shows like Ghost Hunters. But anyway, back to the SPR, which published a scholarly journal where they discussed the research they conducted methodologically. To the paranormal field, the SPR was huge and for the most part helped debunk many of the fake mediums and other paranormal phenomenon that popped up in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

Although every case selected by Baird does not come from the SPR, or the ASPR (American Society for Psychical Research), a large number of them are from their journals and research. In fact it was the complaint I found in the only review on this book I could locate (with a quick search, a more exhaustive one could potentially net more.) You can read the review here and get a pretty good idea as to what the book is about from the review.

I am 58 pages into the book and its really interesting. Baird states the cases very dryly and succinctly, and while some seem a bit ridiculous others are intriguing. Especially the one out of North Carolina that was used in court. I really want to see those court documents. I particularly like the style of this book because Baird is clearly not out to scare people. He has chosen several phenomena that exist and then used these cases to back up his theory that these phenomena are real. However, as he says in his forward, the reader should use their own judgement in deciding whether there is a case for life after death, "I think that all the writing in the world will not convince anyone so thoroughly as evidence found for oneself." (Baird, 8.)

I look forward to discussing the book and cases more in depth with you next time fellow readers.

1. For more information on the SPR you can check out their website here. Or the ASPR here