Author Archives: Roy Stemman

Farewell to a giant of psychical research

Archie Roy at Glasgow UniversityGLASGOW. Earlier today I joined a gathering in Glasgow University Chapel that included the Astronomer Royal of Scotland, Professor John Brown, and cosmologist Bernard J. Carr, professor of mathematics and astronomy at Queen Mary, University of London.

But the intricate workings of the Universe were not the reason I and over 100 people had gathered in the chapel. We were there to pay tribute and express appreciation for the life of Archie Roy, Professor Emeritus of Astronomy at Glasgow University and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, who died, aged 88, on 27 December, 2012. He was a man who dared to allow his considerable intellect to explore not only outer space but also inner space, or consciousness, and the possibility of life after death (This picture of Archie shows the Chapel in the background.)

After a difficult childhood, including spending two of his teenage years hospitalised with tuberculosis, Archie developed a passion for space travel and exploration. In a tribute to his father, one of his three sons, Ian, revealed to the congregation that he had found declarations in Archie’s early diary entries that “astronautics is my life” and it was “the goal I have set myself”. So it was fitting that in 1986 he even had an asteroid – 5806 Archieroy – named after him.

As Scotland’s Astronomer Royal explained, Archie was a profound thinker who was “pushing at the boundaries of ideas” throughout his life.

This was particularly true of his keen interest in psychical research. He once explained in an interview how he had stumbled on psychical research accidentally.

“I lost my way in the old university library and found shelves of books on Spiritualism and psychical research. My first ignorant reaction was ‘What is this rubbish doing in a university library?’

“But curiosity made me open some of the books. I was surprised to recognise some of the authors of this ‘rubbish’, such as Sir Oliver Lodge, Professor William James, Professor Sir William Crookes, and so on. My balloon of ignorance was punctured by the needle of my scientific curiosity and I found myself called up to a new career.”

He became an indefatigable investigator of the paranormal; sitting with mediums, encountering poltergeists and analysing reports of hauntings. The Scottish media often referred to him as a “ghost-buster”, which greatly amused him and his family.

Typically, Archie never hid his interest in psychical research – quite the opposite. He happily discussed his research during regular contributions to BBC Scotland’s radio and TV programmes.  The founder president of the Scottish Society for Psychical Research, which came into being in 1987, Archie continued as honorary president until his passing. He was also president of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) – from 1993 to 1995 – a position, incidentally, also held by cosmologist Bernard Carr who, as already mentioned, was among those at the memorial service.

The SPR was formed 105 years earlier than Archie’s Scottish society by, among others, one of his heroes – Frederic H. Myers, author of the two-volume Human Personality and its Survival of Death (1903). Whilst many of his colleagues may not have shared Archie’s interest in or enthusiasm for the paranormal, his impressive academic credentials left them in no doubt that he would treat the subject with the same scientific rigour as archeo-astronomy, rocket propulsion and celestial mechanics.

For those who chose not to accept the evidence that has accumulated over more than a century, Archie Roy – writing in Archives of the Mind – was adamant: dismissing this “Cinderella science” in general terms was not acceptable. Sceptics or critics, he said, could only do so by “pointing out in detail enough flaws in the evidence to vitiate the case or by demonstrating unjustified deductions made by the investigator”.

For Colin Wilson, who wrote the Preface to Archie’s book, it was “one of the most powerful and convincing books on the paranormal that has been written since Myers”. So it must have been a particular highlight when, in 2004, Archie was awarded the SPR’s Myers Memorial Medal, in recognition of his outstanding contributions to psychical research.

Thousands of students benefitted from his teaching skills for the best part of 60 years, and for half that period he also taught psychical research as an extra-mural subject, assisted for much of that time by fellow psychical researcher Patricia Robertson.

Together, they also embarked with others on an impressive study of mediumship. Named PRISM (Psychical Research Involving Selected Mediums) it involved collaboration between Spiritualists and scientists, the results of which were published over three issues of the SPR’s Journal.

These triple blind – and sometimes quadruple blind – experiments brought impressive results. Designed to ensure that the medium was receiving neither visual nor auditory clues from sitters, and checked against control samples, their statistical analyses put the odds against chance at a million to one.

I’m not sure what the odds were when Archie went into a William Hill betting shop in 1964 and placed a £20 bet on man landing on the moon by 1977 but it paid off handsomely. He collected £1,200 in winnings when the first Apollo astronauts set foot on the lunar surface in 1969.

Speaking to the BBC, soon after his Archie’s passing, his son David said his father was “fascinated by life in general” and his interest in subjects as diverse as astronomy and the paranormal was a source of amusement to the family, adding:

“But he was equally as proud of both his achievements within academia and astronomy as well as his innovative work looking for scientific evidence of the paranormal.

“I remember as a small child him talking about the greatest area of discovery was still the human brain. He was just fascinated by knowledge and by extending knowledge and hopefully education, which ultimately, I think, was his real passion.”

Proof of this is to be found in the 20 books he authored, ranging from academic textbooks to thrillers. His six works of fiction, usually with paranormal themes, included Deadlight (1968), The Dark Host (1976) and Devil in the Darkness (1978).

Archie’s non-fiction, on the other hand, ranged from The Dynamics of Small Bodies in the Solar System: a Major Key to Solar Systems Studies (edited with Bonnie A. Stevens, 1998) and the Oxford Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Universe (ed., 1992), to three books on the paranormal that should be required reading for anyone intending to become (or claiming to be) a psychical researcher. They are: A Sense of Something Strange, Investigation Into The Paranormal (1992), Archives of the Mind (1996) and The Eager Dead (2008), which explores the evidence of the famous mediumistic cross-correspondence messages.

I had many enjoyable encounters with Archie in his home city, Glasgow, over the years as well as participating in an SPR Study Day in London at which we were both contributors. He was great company, a gifted storyteller, and his encyclopedic knowledge of psychical research and mediumship was astonishing.

This giant of inner and outer space will be sadly missed, but his research, theories and writings will continue to influence people well into the future. And, as Archie himself clearly believed, an aspect of that brilliant intellect will undoubtedly have survived his death in some form – not just as an asteroid but as a conscious entity eager to expand his knowledge of the universe even further. Always the humorist, he liked to joke: “If I don’t survive death, I’ll be very surprised”

Archibald Edminston Roy passed away on 27th December and is survived by his wife Frances and three sons, David, Archie and Ian.

Hot debate over cold fusion

Richard MiltonMisguided scepticism by some scientists was put under the microscope by author Richard Milton (right) in a presentation to the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) in London (13 July, 2010). His update on what he describes as “the forbidden science” included homeopathy, iridology, remote viewing, synchronicity and cold fusion. Though there appears to be nothing paranormal about the last of these subjects – which if harnessed could one day provide the world with abundant energy – many scientists have reacted to claims about it in the same way that they dismiss the evidence for paranormal phenomena like ESP, telepathy and psychokinesis.

Because they don’t believe it is possible, they refuse to examine or accept the evidence. They prefer to dismiss other scientists’ findings as flawed, rather than open their minds to new possibilities. In other words, the statements they make are based on belief not evidence, which is hardly a scientific approach.

To his credit, Richard Milton was not too scathing about such sceptics. He sympathised with their inability to accept evidence that would require them to totally change the way they thought about certain topics. He also acknowledged that there were other pressures, relating to employment or funding, which might be powerful influences in preventing them from accepting new concepts.

The sceptics have been pouring cold water on cold fusion ever since the phenomenon was first reported by Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons in 1989. They revealed the results of electrochemical experiments that had produced excess energy (they got out more than they put in) and theorised that it could be nuclear in origin, but working at room temperature.

There was a race to replicate their experiments, with mixed results, leading to their work being dismissed by most scientists. And that’s how things stand today, in terms of public belief in cold fusion. Ask anyone, scientist or otherwise, what they know about cold fusion and they are likely to tell you it doesn’t exist because it has been discredited. You’ll find the same sentiments in the pages of The Skeptical Inquirer (is there anything it believes in?) which regularly adds cold fusion to the mix when dismissing paranormal phenomena.

Richard Milton, however, set the record straight, telling his audience at the SPR that contrary to popular belief, not only is cold fusion still being researched in many laboratories but some scientists are producing impressive results. “100 universities in 10 countries have reproduced it,” he affirmed

Edge Science magazineIt so happens that a few days before his lecture I had been reading a very detailed account of this research in the pages of Issue 2 (Jan-March 2010) of Edge Science, a quarterly magazine available online that is published by The Society for Scientific Exploration (SSE). I’m not going to go into too much detail because you can read it here, for free, along with two other issues – “Cold fusion: is vindication at hand?” (page 14).

It deals in depth with an unclassified, eight-page, Defense Analysis Report on the topic, produced by the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and released in November last year. However, probably to avoid controversy, it refers to the phenomenon as “low-energy nuclear reactions” (LNER) rather than cold fusion.

The report reveals that researchers “are now claiming paradigm-shifting results, including generation of large amounts of excess heat, nuclear activity and transmutation of elements” adding, “Although no current theory exists to explain all the reported phenomena, some scientists now believe quantum-level nuclear reactions may be occurring. DIA assesses with high confidence that if LENR can produce nuclear-origin energy at room temperature, this disruptive technology could revolutionise energy production and storage, since nuclear reactions release millions of times more energy per unit mass than do any known chemical fuel.”

The DIA says “Japan and Italy are leaders in the field, although Russia, China, Israel and India are devoting significant resources to this work in the hope of finding a new clean energy source.” The United States is notably missing from this list, a side effect surely of the sceptical brigade.

The problem, it seems, is that results have not yet been produced consistently across all laboratories, but nobody knows why. This will be a familiar story to anyone who has studied the literature on research into ESP or other alleged psychic abilities. And perhaps that’s not the only connection.

Dr Stephen Braude, well-known parapsychologist and editor of another SSE publication, Journal of Scientific Exploration, which devoted a special issue to the subject in winter 2009, explains why the subject of cold fusion deserves close attention:

“For one thing, a number of responsible and competent scientists seem repeatedly to get intriguing results which received scientific wisdom says should not occur. On the other hand, those results have not been replicated by other responsible and competent scientists. Not only is there much material here for sociologists of science, but one can only wonder to what extent experimenter expectancy might account for the bifurcation of cold fusion researchers into either successful or unsuccessful experimenters. It may well be that the psychodynamics of cold fusion research are far more complex and messy than either its proponents or opponents like to think. In fact, although most LENR researchers would probably resist the suggestion, it’s worth considering whether – or to what extent – their results are a psychokinetic effect.”

In other words, mind over matter, or what psychic researchers call “the experimenter effect”, with results mirroring what the researcher believes they will be.

Richard Milton, whose books include Forbidden Science: Suppressed Research That Could Change Our Lives, offered another, equally controversial, explanation: “It’s possible that some phenomena just do not yield to scientific analysis.”

Tragedy: SNU kills ‘Psychic News’

Psychic NewsTomorrow – Saturday, 17 July – the Spiritualists’ National Union will announce at its annual general meeting in Blackpool that it has decided to kill off the weekly newspaper Psychic News.

The editor and staff have received notice that the next issue, dated 24 July 2010, will be the last that will be published.

In making that decision, the SNU has allowed the guillotine to fall unceremoniously and with little warning on a publication that has been the global voice of Spiritualism, its phenomena and philosophy for the past 78 years.

I discussed this possible outcome on 10 July, but at that time I was hopeful that, behind the scenes, the supporters of
Psychic News within the SNU would win the day, or at least buy enough time to allow others in the Spiritualist movement to offer support and come up with a solution.

That has not happened. For whatever reasons, those who have made this decision have viewed the dire financial situation that has faced Psychic News as a problem for the SNU only. They have, therefore, decided to cut their losses.

What is not understandable is why these dedicated Spiritualists have not taken account of the importance of Psychic News as an independent voice of Spiritualism, and sought help from other organisations within the movement to ensure that it continues to publish.

As I have already outlined, ownership of Psychic News was transferred from the Spiritual Truth Foundation (STF), with which I am associated, in the mid-1990s. When its losses became too great, we were faced with closing it down or finding a solution that would extend its life. The SNU came to the rescue and the newspaper has continued for another decade-and-a-half with its support.

What I don’t understand is why, having now found itself in a similar situation, the SNU appears not to have searched for a solution beyond the confines of its own organisation, as the STF did. In fact,
I believe I am correct in saying that it has deliberately kept other Spiritualist organisations, as well as its own membership, in the dark about its plans.

Representing the STF, I offered to finance a marketing campaign that would promote the newspaper in the hope of attracting new subscribers and a much-needed influx of income. I know, for a fact, that finance was also offered from other sources. So, why has the SNU rejected these

The SNU leadership has clearly made up its mind. The only hope now is that its membership, meeting in Blackpool this weekend, will rise up and refuse to sign the death sentence on a newspaper that was celebrating the reality of Spiritualism and an after-life long before most
of them were born.

Psychic News’ demise will leave a void that will be impossible to fill. No other existing publication comes close to providing its readers with the breadth of coverage that it offers.

It is, without doubt, a tragedy for global Spiritualism.

Death of ‘Psychic News’?

Psychic NewsSpiritualism’s only weekly independent newspaper, Psychic News, is fighting for its life. It has a small loyal readership spread across 36 countries and is doing an excellent job of reporting what is happening in the Spiritualist movement around the world. But, like many other newspapers, it is struggling to survive in the face of declining advertising revenue and competition from online sources of information.

The irony is that having proclaimed that death is not the end, every week for the past 78 years, it may now have only one week left in its current incarnation.

Its demise would be a tragedy for Spiritualism globally.

All major religions have independent publications that provide news, in-depth discussions, philosophical features and historical perspective. For Psychic News to disappear would rob Spiritualism of an important vehicle of communication, not only with dedicated followers but with a potential audience of many thousands who are being attracted to it by TV and stage demonstrations of mediumship.

I have a special reason for taking such an interest in the publication’s fate. For eight years in the 1960s I worked as assistant editor, alongside Maurice Barbanell, Psychic News‘ founder and editor, which gave me a fantastic opportunity to see and report on top mediums.

Many years later, I became a director of Psychic Press Ltd, the company which published it, and eventually its chairman. In time, as it encountered various financial problems, the Spiritual Truth Foundation (STF), of which I was a trustee, provided support. But by the mid-1990s, the STF decided it could not continue to pour money into the newspaper. The cost of running the publication from Central London offices was identified as the overhead that was most crippling.

Fortunately, after negotiations, the Spiritualists’ National Union (SNU) agreed, exactly 15 years ago, to take over ownership of Psychic Press Ltd and its publishing and bookshop arms and relocate them at Stansted Hall – better known as The Arthur Findlay College, a large residential centre at which it runs various courses — to guarantee Psychic News’ survival “for the foreseeable future”.

History, however, has repeated itself and after a decade-and-a-half the 16-page weekly newspaper’s losses have forced the SNU to review that commitment.

It’s a situation I have been aware of for several weeks and I was pleased to offer some publishing advice, at an informal meeting in May with David Bruton, who was then its finance director but will become the new president of the Spiritualists’ National Union at its annual general meeting in Blackpool this coming weekend (17/18 July).

That topics discussed and other matters I have since been made aware of remain confidential. However, the question mark over Psychic News‘ future is no longer a secret. I have received several emails from people asking me if it is true that the newspaper is closing, it has become a hot topic on Spiritualist online forums and one member has even launched a campaign to save the newspaper – despite the fact that the SNU has made no public comment about its future. So, I no longer feel it necessary to remain silent. My concern is that the SNU may take a narrow view of the current situation and go for an easy option. But Psychic News is too important for a “quick fix” execution.

What I believe will happen is that Psychic Press (1995) Ltd will go into liquidation very shortly – an announcement to that effect can be expected at the AGM. What I and many other observers are waiting to see is what happens next.

One option is that Psychic News becomes part of the SNU, to be run by an SNU committee. If that is the case, it seems highly likely that the newspaper will lose its independence – but independence was a requirement of the transfer from the STF to the SNU back in 1995. It is certain that editor Sue Farrow, who has done a superb job since she took over at the beginning of 2008, would also find it extremely difficult to produce a publication that was just the voice of the SNU. Would she, for example, be allowed to write about non-SNU mediums and events? And since membership of committees can change regularly, how would she cope with the inconsistencies that would arise as new people with different views tried to exert their influence?

The other big question is in what form Psychic News might survive this latest near-death experience, assuming it survives. Would it cease to exist as a printed publication and become a totally online newspaper? If that is the case, it would need an energetic marketing campaign to promote its existence and increase circulation.

I don’t envy the new president and his fellow-directors in trying to tackle these issues. They have some very difficult decisions to make. But throwing in the towel and eradicating nearly eight decades of effort on the part of pioneering Spiritualists is not an option.

The SNU website’s homepage declares that the union “promotes knowledge of the religion and philosophy of Spiritualism. We unite Spiritualists throughout the world and support 340 Spiritualist societies and churches …”

How would it promote knowledge and unite Spiritualists throughout the world if it didn’t have a published mouthpiece that was easily accessible and commanded the respect of those who read it?

I’ll be watching with great interest this coming weekend to see what solutions they come up with.

They should be brave and bold. And hopefully they will agree that the death of Psychic News is not an option that can even be considered.

Psychic octopus scores again

octopusI’ve just watched Spain beat Germany 1-0 in the World Cup semi-final in Durban. The result was no surprise: it was what Paul the psychic octopus predicted. He has apparently been a keen supporter of the German team, having predicted the team’s results with 100 per cent accuracy over their past five fixtures.

He was right again tonight, but this time he predicted defeat for Germany – a very brave thing to do for an octopus living in the Oberhausen Sea Life Centre, Germany. Spain now go through to the final against Netherlands on Sunday.

It says much about the quality of this World Cup’s matches that Paul the psychic octopus has been in the news more than some of the top players.

So, let’s get real and answer a few simple questions about this undoubtedly talented cephalopod mollusk.

Is Paul really predicting the future?

Of course, not: he’s an octopus. They are clever creatures, of course, capable of unscrewing bottle tops and collecting shells for protection, but predicting the outcome of football matches is not likely to be a talent an underwater mollusk is likely to develop. Water polo matches, perhaps, but not

How does he do it?
First, let’s accept that he doesn’t know he’s answering a question on the outcome of a future event about which he has no knowledge. He has no crystal ball and he can’t see into the future.

What he does have are two plastic boxes, containing mussels and adorned with the flags of opposing teams, that are lowered into his aquarium by keeper Oliver Walenciak. Paul slides over the boxes and drops a tentacle into one of them to retrieve the food.

Whichever box he raids first is regarded by the Oberhausen centre as Paul’s prediction for the next match. Paul doesn’t know this, of course, he’s just looking for his dinner.

So, how is he right so often?
There are a number of possible explanations. Perhaps his keeper or one of his helpers is a football fan with a talent for deciding in advance who will win a match. If that is the case, the food in the plastic boxes could be slightly different, so that Paul enters the box that contains the tastiest food first.

Another possibility is that Paul is somehow attracted to the colours or shapes of the flags on the plastic boxes. The German flag was his favourite for a time, then he switched to Spain.

But the likeliest explanation is the simplest: it’s all down to chance. A bit like a football match, really.

I’ve no idea what his “prediction” for Sunday’s final will be but my prediction is that he’ll get it wrong. That’s assuming he survives until Sunday. Apparently, he received death threats and one German newspaper published a picture of a Spanish paella … generously loaded with cooked octopus.

PHOTO CREDIT: Our picture is not of Paul, but of an octopus vulgaris off the French coast, taken in 2007 by Matthieu Sontag (CC-BY-SA, Wikimedia Commons). We have no reason to believe he is a psychic octopus, but he does have a penetrating gaze that just might extend into the future.