Showing posts with label mind parasites. Show all posts
Showing posts with label mind parasites. Show all posts

04 March 2014

Colin Wilson

Colin Wilson at work at his home in England
[T]he basic impulse behind existentialism is optimistic, very much like the impulse behind all science. Existentialism is romanticism, and romanticism is the feeling that man is not the mere he has always taken himself for. Romanticism began as a tremendous surge of optimism about the stature of man. its aim — like that of science — was to raise man above the muddled feelings and impulses of his everyday humanity, and to make him a god-like observer of human existence.
                  Colin Wilson 
                  Introduction to the New                                         Existentialism (1966)
Man’s capacity to doubt is his greatest dignity.
                  Colin Wilson 
                  Necessary Doubt (1964)
Doubt is not the opposite of faith; it is one element of faith.
                   Paul Tillich, Theologian 
                   Systematic Theology (Vol. 2, 1957)

       On December 5, 2013 author Colin Wilson died in his native England. 

       Collin Wilson was an enigma -- one of the most prolific and yet least-known authors of our time. Wilson burst into literary prominence in 1956 with his book The Outsider, the introduction to his “new existentialism,” written in longhand by Wilson at a table in the British Museum at a time when he was living in a sleeping bag on the streets of London. The book was heralded by critics as a seminal work and the author, a mere 24, was famous. Over 100 books later, at the age of 82, Wilson died in what some would view as literary obscurity. His death went almost completely unnoticed in the United States. I am unaware of a single obituary that ran this side of the Atlantic. 

       Wilson wrote his 100-odd books during a career that spanned nearly 60 years. And it is hard to imagine an author who mastered and wrote in more genres than Wilson. His works include a multi-volume series on his “new existentialism” that followed publication of The Outsider. But his work also encompasses science fiction novels, including the 1967 cult classic The Mind Parasites, biographies of historical figures as disparate as George Bernard Shaw and Abraham Maslow, and in-depth analyses of murder, sexuality, the Lost City of Atlantis, mysticism, and the occult, to mention but a few. While the genres of Wilson’s works defy any general characterization, there is a shared theme. Whether Colin Wilson was writing non-fiction or fiction his works uniformly provided a vehicle for Wilson to share his views on humanity and the power of human intellect to pull each of us up by our own bootstraps. Each of his books had a message; the take-away for the reader was the growing understanding of Wilson’s life view. 

       Colin Wilson also wrote mysteries, which I devoured. But that is not where I first encountered his works. That story reaches back 45 years. 

       1969 was a strange year for many reasons. It was not so much a watershed year -- that was 1968 -- but it had the crazy momentum of the first year that followed the 1968 watershed. During 1969 I was a student at George Washington University in downtown Washington, D.C.  Ground zero in the anti-war movement. 1969 was a year that inexorably pushed everyone toward extremes:  love it or leave it; change it or lose it. I remember participating in anti-war marches in front of the Nixon White House when members of my fraternity, who were also members of the National Guard, were lined up along the sidewalks with rifles, not trained on me, but still ready, as I marched past them. It was a time to draw lines. Either; or. 

       1969 was also a strange year on a much more personal level. In the Spring my roommate David Schlachter began experiencing increasingly bad headaches. For weeks he brushed these off. We were young at a time when youth had never seemed younger or more powerful. But eventually ignoring was no longer possible. David began to see double. He was diagnosed with a brain tumor, given (“given,” what a strange word) scant months to live. 

       I was away for a long weekend when David was diagnosed. Another friend, Frank DeMarco, had access to his uncle’s beach house in Avalon, New Jersey. And that’s where we were. We received the news about David upon our return.

     About the same time Frank stumbled onto The Mind Parasites by Colin Wilson. He knew nothing about Wilson but, for whatever reason, was tempted by the book’s cover when he saw it for sale in a drug store. Frank was transfixed by the book, which is a clever (Wilson was always clever) science fiction send-up (and pastiche) that walks an amazingly thin line between parodying and worshiping the works of H.P. Lovecraft. Like all of Wilson's works, the book is also more than just "that science fiction story."  It is a story told in the trappings of Wilson’s philosophy of life, a philosophy of human enlightenment, of the powers of the mind over the failings of the body. 

       What more opportune time to discover Wilson than at this juncture -- when Frank and I were each starkly confronting the perils facing our friend? 

       Frank recommended the book to me and I read and liked it. But for Frank the book’s message was, I think, more. It was transformational. At a time when we were grappling with the imminent death of a mutual friend a story that offered up a philosophy of transcendence, a path to spiritual powers that were not bound by the mortal limits of flesh and bone, was seductive. 

       I began visiting the library and checking out other Colin Wilson’s books. And while The Mind Parasites did not grab me as tenaciously as it had Frank, the Colin Wilson book that did was Necessary Doubt

     No surprise, Necessary Doubt is a mystery. But, like The Mind Parasites, it is also more. The protagonist (and detective) is a theologian, Zweig, who is modeled after the real-life theologian Paul Tillich. This appealed to me. I was minoring in religious studies and already admired Tillich, a theologian who stood somewhat “existentially” aside from his church -- somewhat of an outsider, looking in. One of Tillich’s (and Zweig’s) philosophical tenets was that to truly believe something one must first doubt it and then explore the factors that underlie that doubt. In effect, Tillich (and Zweig) argue, belief can be found only at the top of a step ladder of doubt. Zweig approaches the mystery in Necessary Doubt as would Tillich -- doubting each step, each conclusion, doubting always until convinced. 

       David, a senior when he was diagnosed, managed to graduate from George Washington University and returned to his parents’ home in Clarinda, Iowa. Months later, back in Washington, D.C., in February of 1970, we received a late night call telling us that David was hospitalized and not likely to survive the night. With little thought (and even less money) Frank and I walked out of our fraternity house shortly after hanging up the phone, got into Frank’s car and headed west. We were convinced (and we were right) that David would wait for us before taking his leave. 

       What followed was a surreal 20 hour drive from Washington, D.C. to Clarinda, Iowa. Like all surreal experiences it is hard to remember precisely what went on in that car but a lot of it involved Colin Wilson and searching the AM bandwidth for Simon and Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Waters

       In The Mind Parasites the protagonist discovers, and then embraces, a life view that the mind is capable of nearly everything, and that life never really ends, in other words the belief
that the mind is beyond the accidents of the body, that it is somehow eternal and free; that the body may be trivial and particular, but the mind is universal and general. This attitude makes the mind an eternal spectator, beyond fear.
       Frank and I were with David when he died early on March 2, 1970. The days that we were together on that awful winter journey Frank and I pondered -- perhaps the better word is debated -- life. The sacred and the profane. Do we each carry the spark of sacred immortality, the ability to transcend flesh and bone, or are we simply profane electric mud? And these discussions, at base, involved a mutual examination of Colin Wilson’s views, as expressed in his fiction as well as his non-fiction. We were pretty much Colin Wilson neophytes at that stage, and I pretty much remained so. But not Frank. Frank went on to seek out, and then meet Wilson, and the two knew each other, and were friends, for the rest of Wilson’s life. 

       Frank has recounted his discovery of Colin Wilson and has written about that trip of ours to and from Iowa in his book Muddy Tracks: Exploring an Unsuspected Reality. I occasionally pop up in the book, but you will have to watch carefully -- I’m an unnamed character. Traveling incognito. Here is Frank, in chapter one, describing, in the third person, his 1970 Colin Wilson epiphany:
Colin Wilson's books gave him an opening he could believe in: the development of mental powers! The achievement of supernatural abilities, paranormal skills! He didn't know whether he could believe in them or not, but here was a writer who was investigating reports of such things, and doing so from a point of view quite similar to his own: open and inquiring, yet skeptical and wanting to make sense of it all, rather than merely accepting someone's word for it.
       In a world of full circles, the foreword to Frank’s book was written by none other than Colin Wilson. Here is part of what Wilson himself said about Frank’s transformative experiences that winter 44 years ago:
My own work had played a part in [Frank DeMarco’s] development (as [he] described in the first chapter), which is how I come to be writing this introduction. It helped to crystallize his own feeling that there is something oddly wrong with “this life,” and that there has to be some alternative, some other way.
        Frank may chime in on his own here. He's an in internet presence, has his own blog, and has continued to write extensively there about Colin Wilson. As for me, I often reflect on that February trip, 44 years ago. The philosophical perspectives of Colin Wilson obviously spoke deeply to Frank in a life changing way, and from the works of Wilson and the experience of our friend’s death, 44 years ago last Sunday, Frank, I think, found his life view. 

       That trip was also a watershed point in Frank and my friendship. We remain friends to this day, but we were never again to be the really close friends that we were when we piled into Frank's car and headed west that February night to be with David. And the reason for this, too, can be found in Colin Wilson’s writings. Frank made the jump intuitively to Colin Wilson. 

       My embrace was more limited. I am Zweig. I am still climbing that ladder of Necessary Doubt

12 May 2013

Prophet and Loss

On Thursday, Eve Fisher set aside her usual article and wrote a heartfelt piece about opinion-mongers that judge the three young women who survived imprisonment by Ariel Castro. In a one-size-fits-all society, some people find it hard to understand different people react differently in differing situations. Patty Hearst paid for such judgment after her abduction because prosecutors and the public couldn't understand she'd been brainwashed and probably remains affected to this day.
A person can never tell how they'll react until events overtake them. My own reaction to armed robberies has been an out-of-body distancing: I felt like I was above it all looking down, not fearful or angry but sort of an unreasonable reasonableness. I patiently argued with them: No, I wasn't going to give up my watch and wallet. It wasn't the smartest response and there wasn't anything brave about it, but it was my reaction, one of an untrained man in a dangerous quandary who can't bear being pushed around. Perhaps that's part of the answer: in tense situations our innermost instincts emerge.

Subnormal or Supernatural?

money in the hand
As much as sick Cleveland abductor Ariel Castro disgusts me, another type of predator preys upon victims in the guise of 'helping' others. They call themselves…


Whenever a personal disaster strikes, slimy, slippery-tongued parasites crawl out of money-lined holes. They dispense advice and 'readings' to anyone who'll listen, hoping to make money from another's misery. Marc Klaas, father of a little girl who was raped and strangled, says "You become increasingly desperate and afraid. Every day the police don't find your child, you think they're not doing their job. So you go elsewhere, and psychics put themselves out there as a very viable solution." He goes on to say, "I call them the second wave of predators. First you lose your child and then these people descend. Every time."

Shock and Awww…

Contrary to public relations and opinion, study after study demonstrates predictions are almost always wrong. Nevertheless, psychics invariably find a way to reflect wrong predictions in their favor. In the Caylee Anthony case, close to ninety psychics descended upon Orlando to 'help direct' the search with spirit-guided 'blind driving'. A blathering Nancy Grace went on the air to beg the public to let the "professionals, the police and the psychics, do their job" to find the missing girl.

In fact the psychics, all 86 of them, got the location absolutely backwards, pointing the police in the wrong direction. Out of the first 2500 tips, all but two were from psychics, all of them wrong. And yet by the time of the trial, at least one medium managed to insinuate he'd been right although he hadn't managed to pinpoint the body even after Roy Kronk stumbled across the remains. Blind monkeys throwing darts at a map could have done better.

Nor is Caylee Anthony the only case occultists botched in Florida. The state boasts its own clairvoyant town– Cassadaga. You'd think with so many preternatural mediums gathered in one spot, crime should become a thing of the past, if not abolished at least rapidly solved. Sadly, that's not been the case.

Palmist Predators

In 1979, St. Cloud police relied upon Cassadaga fortune tellers rather than criminal science to assist in a then-rare homicide of a preacher's wife. They failed miserably. Years later, a new police chief and detective reopened the cold case in 2010 and, with proper investigation, came up with the killer.

But Cassadaga wasn't done embarrassing itself. In 2001, Lillian Martin and her grandson, Joshua Bryant, disappeared from nearby Deltona. Psychics tormented the family and variously predicted the grandmother had kidnapped the boy –or– the parents had killed them –or– they were abducted by a long-hauler at a truck stop. Psychics failed to predict they were apparently murdered by confessed killer Douglas McClymont and that the body of Joshua would be found three years later virtually on Cassadaga's doorstep.

But even Florida has its limits. After a dozen states complained, the Feds and the attorney general managed to take Miss Cleo, the actress with a fake Jamaican accent, off the air, but not before she'd conned a handsome living out of her bogus 'readings'.

Bacon Bits

The human mind has a way of convincing itself of things that aren't true. Therefore, I admit a few people may honestly believe they have prophetic dreams or psychic powers. They may be exceptionally good at reading people. I knew one of these for many years and she insisted she was never wrong, and indeed, she was right at least 49% of the time.

Her sister had an amazing talent too, that when she gambled, she never lost. Ever. And yet, when I was with her when she played slots or bought lottery tickets, I never saw her win once. Ever. And yet, she continued to insist, even to me, that she always won. Rob Lopresti quoted Francis Bacon who said the root of all superstition is the human tendency to remember hits and forget misses.

These sisters (two of five) were part of a family fractured by a radio psychic. Their mother's gold cross had gone missing. After months of anger and accusations, another sister phoned a 'world famous psychic' to ask about the missing cross, revealing suspicions about a nephew. The psychic agreed it was obvious the young son of yet another sister had stolen it. The old woman immediately disowned that daughter and her family. Years later, the case for the cross turned up– in the house of the sister who'd originally phoned the psychic.

The Magic of Mental Meddling

Multiple studies of paranormal predictions have discredited psychics and clearly proved several frauds. Subjects respond that scientific approaches and apparatus disrupt the metaphysical fabric of the other world and make it impossible for spirits to function on our side of the curtain. They claim the scientific community is out to get them. They claim the spirits won't speak in controlled environments.

But science professionals aren't the only fronts exposing fraud among spiritualists. A handful of magicians have taken on the task, most notably the Amazing Randi who offers a million dollars ($1,000,000) to any psychic who can prove their mettle. None has passed the test, including Uri Geller.

On Halloween night 2007, magician Criss Angel challenged Uri Geller's psychic ability, offering him a million dollars to prove he was the real thing. Geller could not. Criss Angel wasn't the first to discredit Geller and the list of his skeptics includes Johnny Carson. As far back as the 1970s, a French magician duplicated Geller's so-called feats of mentalism "even more convincingly than Geller." Eventually, Geller's stage manager, Yasha Katz, admitted Geller used simple stage tricks.

Geller blew his big crime chance when he was called in to investigate the disappearance of model Helga Farkas. Geller predicted she was alive and well, when in fact she'd been abducted and murdered.

And now, back to our story…

Sylvia Browne
And so we return to the case of the Cleveland kidnapper. To the disgust of many and the surprise of few, in 2004 infamous psychic Sylvia Browne told Louwana Miller, mother of Amanda Berry, her daughter was dead. The mother died the following year of, according to friends, a broken heart.

And yet after Amanda Berry's release, her cousin Sherry Cole "reached out to Browne" on Wednesday to offer support. "Our family in no way blames Sylvia. … We still love her and believe in her."

Jon Ronson, columnist for The Guardian, believes people are too polite to challenge the celebrity psychic. He's made sort of a project out of Sylvia Browne. Over the years, he's documented one failed prediction after another.
  • Browne claimed missing Texas 6-year-old Opal Jennings had been sold into slavery in "Kukouro, Japan," a place that doesn't exist. An autopsy revealed the little girl had been killed within hours of her abduction and buried in Fort Worth.
  • She told the parents of missing 11-year-old Shawn Hornbeck their little son was dead. The father said, "Hearing that was one of the hardest things we ever had to hear." Four years later, the little boy was found alive and well. Browne's ex-husband, Gary Dufresne, said of his wife: "I try to get her out of my mind as much as possible, but the damage she does to unsuspecting people in crisis situations is atrocious."
  • She claimed 19-year-old Ryan Katcher had been murdered and dumped in an iron mine shaft. Katcher was found in a pond, an apparent victim of accidental drowning.
  • She told Lynda McClelland's daughters in a 'reading' their mother was alive and had been abducted to Orlando, Florida by a man with the initials "MJ". McClelland's body was found buried near her home in Pennsylvania, killed by David Repasky, her son-in-law, who'd shaken Sylvia Browne's hand at the reading.
  • She changed her position three times within an hour in the rapidly unfolding events of the Sago Mine Disaster.
  • She predicted Michael Jackson would be found guilty of child molestation, when in fact he was found innocent.
  • She predicted Osama bin Laden had died in a cave in Iran when in fact he was subsequently killed in a compound in Pakistan.

The Big Lie

Extensive studies of Sylvia Browne proved false her claims she's more than 85% correct, concluding she erred in virtually every substantive prediction,  although in the majority of cases, Browne's 'help' was too vague and watery to be useful, e.g, "I see two boulders somewhere…"
  • Skeptic Robert Lancaster, creator of the web site, details a plethora of missing child cases Browne got wrong, noting James Randi calls her a "callous fraud".
  • Steven Brill is the founder of CourtTV, American Lawyer magazine, and the magazine Brill's Content, which examined fourteen cases of known outcomes. Law enforcement officials and victim family members evinced Browne was unable to provide any useful information.
  • Ryan Shaffer and Agatha Jadwiszczok of the Skeptical Inquirer found in 25 cases of known result, Browne was completely wrong.

In other words, if you find yourself blest or beset with a Sylvia Browne prediction, you can pretty much bank on the opposite outcome. Again quoting her ex-husband, Gary Dufresne, after a tarot reading party: "I said to her as we were washing dishes and she was wiping, I said, 'Sylvia, how can you tell people this kind of stuff? You know it's not true, and some of these people actually are probably going to believe it?' And she said, 'Screw 'em. Anybody who believes this stuff ought to be taken.'"

The Big Question

It's bad enough Nancy Grace puts psychics on an equal footing with police investigators, but it's truly embarrassing when police listen to psychics and follow up their 'leads'… which are almost invariably wrong.

The Guardian's Jon Ronson asked CIA psychologist Dr Ray Hyman why the agency and police departments bother to employ psychics. "People are basically nutty, which means there are just as many nutty people within our government and our law enforcement agencies as there are outside them."

Ah, so that explains it. Special Agent Chris Whitcomb of the FBI and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children maintain that to their knowledge, psychic detectives have never solved a single missing-person case, not one, not ever.

Unfortunately, I predict desperate families and police departments will continue to hire clairvoyants. I must be psychic.