Blog Archive - 2007
Greetings of the season to all and I hope you all have an interesting, peaceful and enjoyable 2008.
I've been indisposed for the past few weeks (Sarah and I finally got married in November after more than ten years). The lack of new material in December is, however, mainly due to my working on a new section for the website which will incorporate zodiac signs. This will basically be an interpretation section for progressed planets in signs. This is based upon the idea that the progression of planets through signs constitutes a major change in outlook (and 'in-look'). I will include some of the material from chapter four of When Stars Collide, but I hope to expand on all of the ideas presented there and append the progressions of Mercury. I like to make interpretation research-based rather than solely inspiration-based so the process takes some time. I'm aiming to complete this by February. When it's uploaded I'll notify all members and everyone who has subscribed to the email list, so if you are interested in this and you would like to be kept updated, sign up or register.
23rd December 2007
Return of the Magi
I'd like to give a mention to Kelly Lee Phipps and his new DVD Return of the Magi, which, if you're interested in learning about astrology and astrologers, is probably a good place to start. It features interviews with some of the world's most respected astrologers and I hope it is well received. Visit this page to find out more.
21st November 2007
John Edward: Cold Reader? Probably not.
John Edward, Perth Convention Centre, November 4th
I went to see a show given by John Edward (the psychic medium) in Perth yesterday. While I didn't personally pay for the ticket, I was happy to go along as it gave me the opportunity to see whether he was using the technique suggested by Derren Brown and James Randi, that is: cold reading.
The Wikipedia entry for John Edward is quite critical, and, although I don't think many of the Wikipedia pages relating to psychic mediums give a particularly balanced view, I don't necessarily believe all psychics are really psychic.
Cold reading, the Derren Brown way, is done like this:
DB: "...Ok, this is a lady,who is trying to connect with somebody she looks very elegant and there's guilt on her part, a feeling of guilt I think your father passed when you were very young is that right? She's asking about, I wanna say Charlie, Charles..."
Audience Member: "Yes, that's my ex-husbands name."
It's that simple. You just need to gain the audience members confidence and then you "fish" using a random fact or name.
According to Derren Brown:
"Cold reading: a way of communicating information where it sounds like they know everything about you and they can reveal facts seemingly about your life. In fact its a linguistic trick or a set of linguistic tricks, where they're saying words and you're constantly supplying the meaning yourself. It can be very convincing." (Enemies of Reason)
Or, in James Randi's charge of cold reading against Doris Collins which panned out something like this:
Collins is giving a reading in Melbourne, filmed by TV cameras, James Randi was not allowed in the venue and so had to debunk her methods from TV footage.
DC: "Who would you have called Paulie?"
Audience Member: "Paul"
Audience member: "Paul. That's my son that died."
JR: "OK hold it right there, listen to what she said: WHO WOULD YOU HAVE CALLED PAULIE, not WHO WAS PAULIE or WHO IS PAULIE, WHO DID YOU CALL PAULIE; WHO WOULD YOU HAVE CALLED PAULIE? The Woman corrects her and says Paul and she immediately answers PAUL and agrees with Paul, she's dropped Paulie."
TV reporter:"Yes but she didn't say Fred or Bill or..."
JR: "That's true, but in other cases (not shown) she did."
TV Reporter: "That's the name of the dead child though, that's pretty specific."
JR: "It's also the name of the game (?) it's called fishing. Isn't that the first name she would come up with if she's talking to the spirit of a child?"
TV Reporter: "Depends on what message she gets. She's not talking in that sense."
JR: "Well, it's a case of whether you're looking to make her successful or if you're looking to find out what she is really doing."
JR: "She's a marvellous practitioner, she's a lot better than I was led to believe, she's got good ways of getting the information from the people and making them agree. She's a good operator."
So When I heard that James Randi had 'successfully debunked John Edward', I thought OK, maybe he did a little better with John Edward. Perhaps he managed to capture something on tape the way he did with the rather more obvious fraud Peter Popoff. It turns out he didn't, he just made a claim that he could do what Edward does.
I must say, after looking at both sides of the argument, and paying close attention to the differences, there appears to me to be a difference between the cold reading that conjurors do and the readings that (at least) John Edward (and it would appear Doris Collins) does (did) and this was illustrated in a few minutes on Sunday in Perth.
Here's an example from Sunday's show which was before an audience of 2000 people:
JE: "OK, I'm being pulled to this area" (fairly specific area at the back of the auditorium that contained about 400 people. Let's say 600 people for arguments sake.) All of these people will have been difficult for John Edward to see due to auditorium lighting.
JE: "I'm being shown someone being stampeded to death by elephants."
A hand went up at the back of the auditorium. A microphone was handed to the gentleman.
Audience Member: "I came here today said the man to get a message from my grandmother..."
(most people groaned at this point wondering what this had to do with elephants.)
"...And she used to tell a story about her cousin who was a zookeeper at Perth zoo and who was crushed to death by elephants"
A reading then ensued.
Now remember, Brown said:
"...Ok, this is a lady,who is trying to connect with somebody she looks very elegant and there's guilt on her part, a feeling of guilt I think your father passed when you were very young is that right? She's asking about, I wanna say Charlie, Charles..."
and Edward said:
"I'm being shown someone being stampeded to death by elephants."
Despite the fact that I could argue, a la James Randi, that a stampede of elephents may be different to being crushed to death by an elephant or elephants; in the absence of a clear picture of what Edward was seeing/feeling/hearing and what actually happened at the zoo, which even if different, doesn't really negate the "hit", Occams Razor shaves down on the side of John Edward for me on this occasion: I think cold reading is probably not the first conclusion I would arrive at. Although I admit I haven't seen the stats on elephant related deaths in Western Australia.
Apparently psychic mediums use a multivalent symbolic communication system, one that is not exactly the same as human verbal communication, but one which consists mainly of pictures, symbols and events, and this is not necessarily linear, logical or a particularly efficient method. So when I chanced upon a comment on YouTube where someone said:
" I kinda need some evidence" and other such comments specifying exactly what he requires as evidence, including the parameters of a successful prediction (which is not what psychic mediums do, I might add, but this was a comment on James Randi, not psychics): "There will be a magnitude 5.89 earthquake five miles south of Los Angeles followed 39 minutes later by a 3.2 aftershock which will last 13 seconds."
It got me thinking. I may be making a blanket statement here, but the guy making the claim appeared to be in his twenties and appeared to have been to college. Now, if someone has just finished a science degree and they're in their twenties and they believe in the paranormal, either they didn't go to class or the Jesuits had them for seven years earlier in their lives.You're not supposed to believe in the paranormal after half a decade in college. You're supposed to be outraged by it, that's OK and it needn't last forever. But, it does mean you should think before you apply 18th century solutions to 21st century questions.
But extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, don't they? Well, I'm not sure actually. Maybe if we lived in the 18th Century when the spirit of this statement was born, along with its originators, Hume and Laplace and the mundanity of the enlightenment universe. If we live in an extraordinary universe (which we now know for certain that we do), then the rules have to change. The idea that the paranormal is impossible or unproven is really a social construct based primarily on utility; on the notion of what is useful and easy to explain and which fits in with Western socioeconomic utility.The argument is largely one of conservatism versus liberalism, rather than the rational versus the irrational.
Perhaps extraordinary claims require an extraordinary dispensation in some cases. Dispensation from bad experimentation would be the first order. The mistake that the 18th Century paradigm can be applied to paranormal events is perhaps another. I think that you can fill a bucket with some fish, but you can't fill a fish with some buckets (except in extraordinary cases) and mixing your paradigms is the first step towards bad experiments because you begin with flawed assumptions. If we approach the idea of psychic mediums as if what they do is something we currently understand, we miss the point and we miss opportunities. If it is true and we haven't 'got it' yet then maybe, just maybe, it's not their problem and this is where the counter-advocates (not skeptics) do us a disservice because they actively campaign against relevant research.
The big assumption appears to be that anyone (at all) understands what the paranormal is, or understands the nature of the claims made by people working with paranormal tools (including those people making the claims). The subtle difference between the cold reader and the psychic medium might be lost on some, but it's not that difficult to see that when Edward says "Who's Kathleen?" and the audience member responds "I'm Kathleen" that there really is a difference. The other issue I have with counter-advocates and debunkers (but not actual skeptics) is that they have a vested interest in what they do (in the same way that tobacco company spokespeople do). Whether they do a job of work which is in a similar field to the psychic medium, and they feel aggrieved because the psychic guy in the theatre down the street is making more money than they are -or - that they make a living de-masking frauds, is immaterial, if they have a vested interest, they are biased.
Everyone in the paranormal field is a potential target to the counter advocate and their skilful rhetoric which is often justified by some rather emotional statements such as "they're trampling over the memory of your dead relatives". Of course, the ideal alternative is that the psychic medium be a well-qualified scientist's research subject and I understand John Edward has been willingly tested by a psychologist named professor Gary Schwartz. Of course, when a scientist tests psi or psychic mediums, the counter-advocate will poke fun at them, question their credentials, and even insult them. Dean Radin, senior scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences is not referred to as a psychologist by Randi despite the fact that he holds a psychology doctorate, instead he is referred to as an electrical engineer because he also has a degree in this field and, I assume, Randi is using this as a rhetorical put-down; a diminishment of the widely qualified Radin's credentials. Radin's first degree must have come in handy as he has designed equipment used to test psi-related claims. The same treatment is meted out to Schwartz (even worse if you read his account of an encounter with Penn Gillette). These counter-advocates do not really inhabit a truly scientific world, but they fly a flag for science and act pretty much like the science world's hired thugs.
Derren Brown and James Randi are really good at what they do, which is making people believe things that aren't true. When they try to tell me something, anything, I have to wonder why they're telling me, and the answer, in Randi's case at least, may be that his whole raison d'etre depends on people like John Edward being liars and if they're not liars, then pretty much every authoritarian comment he has made over the past fifty years has been based on an incorrect assumption and I don't believe he wants people to believe that. If there's something he doesn't want you to believe, then, if he's any good at what he does, he'll make sure you don't.
The paranormal will remain unproven, intellectually impoverished and outside the realm of respectable research as long as these devils advocates tell you what to believe.
Is John Edward a cold reader? Probably not.
Cutting the Ribbon - October 2007
Since positiveastrology.com was first conceived back in September 2003, it has had one or two minor facelifts. Someone described its first grey and purple incarnation as "appealing to men" and looking "something like a New Order album cover". A few readers might remember New Order album covers back in the early 80s, and any that do will appreciate their cryptic nature wasn't particularly textually informative.
I must say I did like the photo of a grey sunset on the front page of our first incarnation, but it wasn’t that symbolically relevant. Then we moved to purple and gold, which was somewhat forgettable, but less like an album cover. Since 2006, positiveastrology.com has been rather low key and at times much of the content has been half-hidden and functional without menus or a readily available navigation plan. This has been largely because my focus has been diverted elsewhere, mainly towards research, software development and book writing so the web site has been little more than a placeholder for at least the past twelve months. However, we now have a new interactive site which has been developed with oomph.com.au in Australia and Allen Edwall in the USA and this one can be easily navigated and provides a number of new angles on the subject of dynamic astrology and progressed synastry. I suppose the most obvious new angle is that I'm now blogging (to some extent) and within the next few weeks visitors to this site will be able to register and test their own relationships against my theories.
I'll just take this opportunity to give you a brief history of my work and clarify what's going to be on offer here.
First, I am a writer and an astrological researcher. My view is postmodern inasmuch as you will not find sun sign interpretations here, nor will you find much astrology that you can find elsewhere, so bookmark the site as it is the only one dealing with this kind of information in any depth. I investigate astrology from a holographic perspective, I believe that the horoscope is a four-dimensional moving and changing entity and can be demonstrated as such to most people. I've been looking at relationship astrology from this point of view since 1997 and in 2006 my book about dynamic synastry "When Stars Collide" was published by O Books.
The purpose of positiveastrology.com is, first and foremost, to enable demonstrations of astrology and I think this is quite pertinent as this seems to be one of the requirements that some of the open-minded sceptics who make comment on the subject want to see and it seems to be the received wisdom that we can’t give demonstrations of astrology without a great deal of prior learning. I think appreciation of astrological patterns can be gained in quite a short time period and this can be done using dynamic relationship charts through which we are able to observe the repetition of astrological patterns. It is also possible to show the relevance of these patterns using human relationships that are part of the public-record. I mainly use matrices (which require only a bit of astrological knowledge to appreciate) and collision graphs (which, in the main, require less astrological knowledge and more biographical knowledge of the relationship under scrutiny).
Furthermore, visitors to positiveastrology.com will be able to register and test their own relationships to see if they also contain the common astrological patterns mentioned elsewhere in the website and in the pages of When Stars Collide, by generating dynamic relationship astrology reports and charts.
Professional astrologers can register and obtain reports for multiple clients (we've designed the application as an account-driven database, so you create your own private database rather than generate a single report). Students and researchers can register and test astrological theories and ideas.
I aim to show that much of the criticism that astrology receives from its opponents is misplaced, inaccurate and based on a feeble grasp of the greater subject, and that it is possible to demonstrate astrological facts in ways that are fairly easy to appreciate and understand.
I’ll occasionally be making comment about both sides of the astrology debate and about other related areas of research, hence the blog. I hope you enjoy your visit and that you don’t experience too much dissonance.
Welcome to the new look positiveastrology.com.
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