Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Mother Tongue – an exhibition at Pushkin House, London


Mother Tongue (Родная речь) is a small exhibition at Pushkin House in Bloomsbury Square, London, mounted in collaboration with GRAD.  It consists of panels and photographs by Yevgeniy Fiks, a Moscow-born artist living in New York, exploring Russian gay argot.  This is a secret language dating to Soviet times, as can be seen by some of the expressions it contains.  The organisers liken it to Polari, a similar underground language in England, though Polari has a longer tradition and was spoken by a broader group than homosexuals.

Such language helps to establish a group identity, particularly important when under attack by the authorities, and provides an element of secrecy when one’s sexual preferences could be severely punished.  It is significant that use of Polari began to decline following its ‘outing’ by Julian and Sandy, accelerating after the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967, whereas the Russian equivalent lasted much longer.  That a form of it exists still is an index of continuing adversity for gay people there.

Remarkably, homosexuality was only decriminalised in Russia in 1993.  The exhibition information notes how for a couple of decades after legalisation there was slow but steady progress in gay rights, but the introduction of the Gay Propaganda Law in 2013 ushered in a new period of difficulty as the political and social climate once again became overtly homophobic.  The slang thus still performs a function, though since the fall of the Soviet Union it has undergone a process of internationalisation, with Anglo-American imports diluting, the Soviet-era lexicon.  Fiks’s project is therefore one of nostalgic excavation, showing the language as it was, though in practice it has moved on.

The exhibition falls into three parts: a video, not operational during my visit; sheets of text listing words and phrases; and photographs of cruising spots, ‘pleshki’.  The text element includes translations, highlighting the wit and subversiveness of the coinages.  They are presented in an academic manner, as if in a classroom, a blackboard reinforcing the feeling of being in a learning environment.

An initial panel is devoted to grammatical constructions, presenting the slang as bearing the same linguistic significance as any other Russian vocabulary.  Terms are displayed alphabetically, the initial letter in the sort of oversized style that might be used to help small children remember them.  Underneath each in much smaller letters is a Russian slang expression beginning with that letter, with English translation, and what it means, one sheet per letter of the alphabet (i.e. 33 sheets, 33 expressions).

Some terms are amusing (a ‘reader’ is someone who sits in a lavatory cubicle waiting for a partner) but there is bite here as well.  An ‘agentess is a gay person who betrays his or her people and, my favourite, sexual minorities are ‘Mensheviks’.  The unsnappy in English ‘kgboonchik’ is a ‘young provocateur who is sent to entrap gays.’  Weirdly an orgasm is a ‘grandfather clock’, while a penis is a ‘voice’.  Tellingly, homosexuality itself translates as ‘storminess’ and meeting places are ‘zoos’.  A gay person who hides his or her sexual orientation is an ‘undergrounder’, suggesting an affinity to others at odds with the regime.

The photographs are labelled with the dates between which the sites were used, often going back to the 1920s – the end dates presumably signifying when the authorities cracked down and meeting places moved elsewhere.  Many were also tourist spots, and without the extra information that they were employed as rendezvous points they would simply be record shots of parks, public buildings and lavatories.  No people are visible and Fiks chose overcast days, rendering them rather forlorn-looking places.  He must have talked to individuals with knowledge of these sites’ gay histories because it was unlikely to have been included in guidebooks, but the weakness of the exhibition is that it omits the first-hand experiences of those who used the language, and frequented the locations.

It is a small show occupying one large room, and really does not justify a long trip, but if in the vicinity of Pushkin House it is well worth taking a look.  The exhibition is free, with only donations requested, and runs from 9 March to 11 May.  An accompanying bilingual book by Fiks, with the same name as the exhibition, is available.

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

An Unsuccessful Lottery Experiment


There is a chap in Norfolk, Virginia, USA, by the name of Chris McDonald who predicts the results of American state lotteries.  He operates on Facebook and claims to have been extremely successful.  He offers two types of service, free and paid-for.  For the former, he throws out 3-digit numbers when people ask him about particular lotteries in the comments to his posts.  Curiously nobody seems to have replied thanking him for a win.

As well as providing the free 3-digit numbers, he has a private service predicting the better-paying 4- 5- and 6-number lotteries, for which he takes ‘donations’.  For this, people contact him on Facebook to ‘schedule’ ‘consultations’.  To someone wanting to make a ‘donation’ he replied by requesting they contact him privately and added ‘my fee is cheap’.  This method may result in lack of public feedback by any dissatisfied paying customers.

His psychic ability must be fairly recent because in July 2017 he ran a Gofundme effort to purchase an aeroplane ticket to start a new job in Washington DC which only raised $25.  Presumably that is why he is still in Virginia.  However, in preceding years he did win free pizzas in giveaway competitions so perhaps there was a psychic component to that.

In December 2018 he began a YouTube channel which he intended to update with weekly predictions starting in January 2019, but this has not taken off and only the initial video exists thus far.  In it he says he also predicts the outcomes of American football games, but there is no more information available on this aspect of his claimed abilities.

McDonald is not promising correct numbers for specific lottery draws.  He will make a series of predictions for the next few days that might apply either to daytime or nighttime draws.  Thus following his tips will require some outlay as one of a selection of numbers supplied might be predicted to come up in one of say six games, two per day over three days.

As to how I know of McDonald’s existence, he contacted me on the Society for Psychical Research’s Facebook page to tell me about his ability.  Over the years have handled a number of approaches to the SPR claiming abilities of various kinds such as telepathy, clairvoyance and precognition, though fewer recently than used to be the case.  I was quite happy to see if McDonald could predict lottery numbers accurately, or at least enough to come out ahead financially.

Often there is an assumption that success would result in an endorsement by the Society.  When I have explained that as the SPR does not hold corporate views it cannot as an organisation endorse a psychic claim as true, claimants often fade away, the demonstration being of secondary importance to the desire for validation they can use for promotional purposes.

Some stay and say they would like to demonstrate the ability anyway.  I have done a variety of simple tests that would not in themselves provide strong evidence of psi, but might perhaps throw up possibilities warranting more rigorous examination.  To date I have not had any successes, and when this happens I try to be kind.  I will say the result might be due to the test not accurately reflecting their ability, it was an artificial situation so perhaps did not generate the required motivation, such abilities cannot be summoned on tap, or perhaps I was not the right person to conduct the test.

I never say the ability does not exist because I would not want to hurt their feelings, and who knows, perhaps one of those reasons was correct.  The person invariably takes the result with good grace, I suspect mostly concluding they do have the ability but it works best in spontaneous circumstances, and we part amicably.

McDonald, however, was to prove far from amicable.  He got in touch via Facebook Messenger on Monday 4 March to tell me he can predict lottery numbers ‘accurately’.  He had called his local radio station last July when they asked for ‘psychic stuff’ and given them numbers live on air.  He stated he had correctly called numbers for a $100,000 win, plus a correct ‘mega ball’ number.

He said that for proof I should check the show’s archive or call the station.  Doing so would not have proved anything because all lottery games are won by somebody getting the numbers right (leaving aside rollovers).  Assuming McDonald had called the numbers correctly, and I have no reason to doubt him, it could have been by chance.  In any case, if his ability was as strong as he led me to believe I hoped to be able to see for myself.

I replied by congratulating him and wondering if he could maintain that success rate.  He then assured me he had been keeping records of his predictions, amounting in October 2018 to the incredible total of about $534,435,000, since when he has been predicting all 50 US state lotteries.  He implied he had been placing bets when he said ‘do you see how serious this is?? ~ or ~ do i need show you my bank acct. for proof??’

He told me he wanted to be studied and gave me more anecdotes of impressive guesses, though not ones he had put cash on.  Already I was getting conflicting messages of a great talent but not one backed by consistently placing bets.  Still, it seemed worth pursuing further as from what I could deduce reading his rambling messages he claimed a hit rate of about 50% from making predictions for ‘Facebook psychic groups’.

So I asked him if he would make predictions for me, stating the lottery the prediction related to and when it would be drawn, to allow me to make my own check.  At the same time I asked why he did not always place a bet to back his guesses.  Strangely he told me to forget the financial part and asked me if I wanted to be the first to believe him – which was curious if he was giving numbers to strangers on Facebook.  Wouldn’t they believe him when they were successful, and keep coming back for more?

I stressed that I needed the predictions in advance because anecdotes of past glories were irrelevant to a controlled test.  After asking me if I was in North Carolina (no), he chose the Virginia Pick 4, which is called twice daily.  He gave me five 4-digit numbers and said one should come up in the next three days; a generous latitude, but at this stage I was happy to set the bar low.  Conditions could be tightened after an initial success.

Sadly, his numbers did not come up so I was glad I had not placed bets on his recommendations.  While not a promising start, I was happy to give it another go.  When I sent the results I mentioned that he had said he could demonstrate his success by showing me his bank balance, and I asked how often he actually put money down.  I was thinking of the point sometimes made that psi employed for one’s own financial gain will fail, whereas when used with a humanitarian motive it is more likely to succeed.  What I got back surprised me, as I had not realised I must have touched a nerve:

‘You idiot...call the radio station I gave 100,000 dollar win numbers to and again the Mega ball number on air live...you do that or explain as mathematical probability?? Go fuck yourself’

Once again I pointed out that, while suggestive, claiming hits retrospectively cannot be compared to conducting a controlled test.  He did not have to be able to succeed every time, but he needed to be able to at a rate significantly greater than chance.  In return he reiterated his successful past results as I tried in vain to explain the scientific method.  After further rudeness from McDonald our correspondence petered out.

My concern is that people may actually be giving him money for shaky predictions, leaving them out of pocket.  Naturally, as always in such cases, one wonders why somebody successful at making predictions would want to take a few dollars from Facebook acquaintances if the lottery itself is a potential cash cow providing free money.  More to the point, why isn’t McDonald now a multi-millionaire?

Sunday, 20 January 2019

Antoine Wiertz

A door to another world

In Brussels recently I visited 62 rue Vautier in the Leopold district, housing a museum dedicated to Antoine-Joseph Wiertz (1806-65).  While mainly known as a painter, he was also a sculptor and writer.  It is the enormous canvases in the main gallery, however, which make the greatest impression on entering the building.  Having read about Wiertz in Fortean Times a few months ago I had some idea what to expect regarding his themes, but walking into the cavernous gallery was still a surprise.  I found the pictures remarkable, and think their creator deserves to be better known.

Driven by pride in his achievements, he was keen future generations should enjoy them as well, to which end he made a deal with the Belgian government that his work should be kept intact in perpetuity and available for public display, despite his contemporaries not being universally enamoured by it.  He was unbothered by their indifference, claiming it takes a couple of centuries for an artist’s reputation to bed down and a definitive verdict to be reached.  In exchange for undertaking to donate his creations to the state, in 1850 the Belgian government, looking to cement the identity of the new nation, financed construction of the building which became his final studio.  As well as the large gallery there are three smaller rooms (‘salons’) added after his death.

According to the brochure produced by the museum, written by Brita Velghe, there are some 220 works in a variety of media on display.  Pictures are crammed together in the sort of hanging style prevalent during Wiertz’s lifetime.  The end salon houses a large display case containing smaller artefacts associated with him, and his death mask is on display in the main gallery.  There are two maxims written in charcoal by Wiertz himself, translating as: ‘Pride, a virtue which inspires great works and wounds the vanity of others’; and ‘Modesty, a mask which flatters the vanity of others in order to attract praise.’  Clearly he did not feel the need for modesty, feeling it would be a dishonest pose.

Main gallery

 Self-confidence was necessary for the young man to improve his prospects.  Born into very modest circumstances, his father encouraged his talent and he was lucky enough to acquire benefactors who assisted his development.  Through them he was exposed to a number of old masters, particularly Rubens, who became a major influence, and with whom he eventually considered himself on a par.  After training at the Antwerp Art Academy he was further submerged in art history by stays in Paris and Rome.

He achieved early success and made a reputation for himself, in the process becoming critic-proof, a profession for which he had little time.  Nor did he care much for Paris, a city that had snubbed him, and he published a pamphlet foreseeing a time when Brussels would become the capital of Europe and Paris a provincial town.  In a way the EU returned the compliment, as rue Wiertz runs through the European Parliament complex nearby.

Rue Wiertz

 As if to answer his critics, the canvases got bigger and grander, but it is in his smaller paintings, with their often morbid subject matter, that his view of the world is most clearly expressed.  If his reputation had rested on the large pictures, it is doubtful whether he would be as well remembered.  While he became imbued with the values of the Romantic movement, often in tension with formal academic tendencies, he is also seen as a precursor of the Symbolists and Surrealists, offset by a marked gothic sensibility.  As the list suggests, he can be hard to pin down.

His oeuvre encompasses the large paintings, on classical and religious themes, self portraits, and nudes.  The last includes La Liseuse de romans (The Reader of Novels), 1853, who obligingly has stripped completely and lies recumbent to peruse her tome, oblivious to a hand reaching in to steal one of the volumes lying next to her on the bed (perhaps symbolising the self-indulgence and escapism of reading).  The most interesting paintings, at least to my mind, are those dealing with macabre themes, though the categories are not mutually exclusive.  Les Deux jeunes filles ou La Belle Rosine. (Two Girls, or The Beautiful Rosine), 1847, combines nudity and the macabre by depicting a naked woman staring at a skeleton, no doubt pondering on the way of all flesh, while La jeune sorcière (The Young Witch), 1857, has a naked young woman suggestively astride a broom with an old crone and other shadowy figures watching her.

One virtue of Wiertz knowing his own mind and not having to worry about the marketplace was his indifference to what others thought.  In his contemplation of suffering his pictures may not be on the same level as Goya’s horrors, but there is still a power to shock.  The titles of many of these speak for themselves: in L'enfant brûlé (The Burned Child), 1849, a terrified woman pulls a baby from a brazier, alas too late.  L'Inhumation précipitée (The Hasty Burial), 1854, shows a terrified face peering out of a coffin in a vault as the prematurely interred individual attempts escape.  Le suicide (The Suicide), 1854, shows a man shooting himself in the head, the smoke from the pistol thankfully obscuring his face.

More explicitly gruesome, in Le soufflet d’une dame Belge (The Outrage of a Belgian Woman), 1861, a nearly-naked woman defends herself against a soldier about to rape her by shooting him upwards through the bottom of his head, causing his face to explode.  (Apparently Wiertz’s wanted to promote training in the use of firearms by women, and proposed the setting up of a rifle range for ladies.)  In Faim, Folie, Crime (Hunger, Madness, Crime), 1853, a woman driven insane by starvation, though actually looking in rude health, has cut off the leg of her baby and put it in a cooking pot, the wrapped corpse held on her lap with a stain from the amputated limb seeping onto the material.  Her exposed breast contrasts the nurturing maternal attitude with the monstrous act she has committed (but the salaciousness of the exposure undercuts the horror).

There is still more maternal agony in La civilisation du XIXème siècle (The Civilization of the Nineteenth Century), paired with Le soufflet d’une dame Belge on the wall, the two in identical frames: a terrified woman clutching a baby flees soldiers who are shooting at her at close range, a box with jewellery spilling out at her feet.  Now we are not only talking about Belgium, we are talking about civilisation generally, or the lack of it.  Wiertz was acutely aware of and sympathetic to the vulnerability of women and children, while leaving himself open to the charge he was willing to use nudity to titillate the viewer, employing classicism as a fig-leaf.

The cover of the Penguin edition of Maldoror and Poems, by Comte de Lautréamont, has a detail from L'Inhumation précipitée, and unsurprisingly a detail appears on the cover of Buried Alive: The Terrifying History of Our Most Primal Fear, by Jan Bondeson.  Bondeson, who regularly appears in Fortean Times, contributed an article to the July 2018 issue, extracted from his book The Lion Boy and Other Medical Curiosities, which in part discusses Wiertz.  After a general biographical sketch, Bondeson uses Wiertz’s remarkable triptych Pensées et visions d'une tête coupée (Last Thoughts And Visions Of A Severed Head), 1853, to discuss speculation about the length of time a decapitated head can maintain consciousness.  (Clearly fascinated by decapitation, Wiertz also painted Une tête coupée (A Severed Head), 1855, exhibited nearby, showing a guillotined head in close-up on straw.)

L'Inhumation précipitée

In 1848 Wiertz had had the idea of being mesmerised in order to enter the mind of a convicted murderer as he was guillotined.  This Wiertz did while standing on the scaffold, and he wrote an elaborate and frightening account of the condemned man’s final moments until extinction, which by the calculation of witnesses lasted three minutes (Bondeson points out that in reality, with blood flow to the brain terminated, it would be a matter of seconds).  The three panels of Pensées et visions d'une tête coupée show the stages of the execution as a whirl of action, losing form as the dying man’s thought processes decay.  Wiertz included his account as a légende in the triptych’s trompe-l’oeil frame (a form he was fond of), and it was published posthumously in his collected literary works in 1869.  Despite stating that Wiertz’s description of his mesmeric rapport is given in full, the version in FT is abbreviated.

A fuller, though still not complete, translation by Walter Benjamin and originally published in German in 1929, can be found in the English-language collection of his writings The Work of Art in the Age of its Mechanical Reproducibility.  In addition, the editors provide a description of the three panels, which is useful as they are rather murky.  Benjamin had an interest in Wiertz’s work and there are numerous references to him in The Arcades Project, including to Wiertz’s writing on photography: Wiertz penned an article about the subject after seeing an exhibition in 1855, and was one of the first to recognise both photography’s own artistic potential and the impact the new medium would have on painting.  Elsewhere Benjamin refers to the ‘panoramic tendency’ of Wiertz’s paintings, though it does not seem he visited the museum to see the large-scale canvases for himself.

Benjamin describes him as ‘progressive’ and a precursor of montage (doubtless thinking of Pensées et visions d'une tête coupée).  Less positively, he quotes Baudelaire’s unflattering assessment of ‘that infamous poseur named Wiertz, a favourite of English cockneys,’ actually a fairly mild beginning compared to the foam-specked invective following.  Baudelaire refers to Wiertz’s notion of Brussels as capital and Paris as province, which one suspects was what got him riled.  Baudelaire asks what Brussels will ‘do with all this after his death?’  Doubtless he would have been grinding his teeth to see the Wiertz museum still in existence, giving the ‘poseur’ the last laugh.

According to the museum brochure, when Wiertz died, in the museum, his body was ‘embalmed in accordance with Ancient Egyptian burial rites.’  Presumably they entailed submersion in natron for 70 days, having his brain removed through his nose, and his organs preserved in canopic jars.  One suspects it was in fact embalming light, but if he had gone the full Egyptian it would have been a fittingly bizarre end to a singular career.  He had wished to be buried in the garden, making him part of the museum and therefore an exhibit in his own right, but permission was denied and he was buried in the more bourgeois surroundings of the municipal cemetery at Ixelles, a suburb of Brussels.

The description in the Rough Guide to Belgium & Luxembourg is sniffy about Wiertz and the museum, focusing on the morbid and the nudity, and overegging the yuck factor.  By saying he came to believe he was better than Rubens and Michelangelo, they invite the reader to dismiss him as a talentless egomaniac with a penchant for melodrama, which probably serves to put readers off visiting but is most unfair.  There are fans though: Olivier Smolders and Johan van den Driessche made a short film about Wiertz in 1991, Pensées et visions d'une tête coupée, though sadly it seems to have done little to raise his profile.  To its credit Dinant, the city of his birth, has a statue of him, even though he left to go to the Antwerp Art Academy at the age of 14 and did not look back.

Musée Wiertz was very quiet while I was there, and this is the common state of affairs I understand (Bondeson says that when he went in 2011 he was the only visitor).  One suspects the Belgian government would prefer not have to foot the bill for its upkeep, but I am glad they do as my time there was a highlight of my stay in Brussels.  I was surprised how brief the official brochure – at least the English-language version – is, and Wiertz surely merits a catalogue raisonné.  Entry is free, though opening hours are limited, and I urge anyone visiting Brussels to make the time to call in and experience this fascinating artist at first hand.


References

Benjamin, Walter. The Arcades Project, Harvard University Press, 1999.

Benjamin, Walter. The Work of Art in the Age of its Mechanical Reproducibility, and Other Writings on Media, edited by Michael W. Jennings, Brigid Doherty and Thomas Y. Levin, Harvard University Press, 2008.

Bondeson, Jan. ‘Portrait of the Artist as a Severed Head’, Fortean Times, July 2018, pp. 36-43.

Lee, Phil and Trott, Victoria (eds). The Rough Guide to Belgium & Luxembourg, 7th edition, Rough Guides, 2018.

Velghe, Brita. Antoine Wiertz (1806-1865), Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, n.d.

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Terence Palmer and Spirit Release Therapy


In recent years Terence Palmer has built a reputation as a practitioner of Spirit Release Therapy (SRT).  This is a method that its advocates claim can be used to alleviate distress in individuals afflicted by entities which have attached themselves unbidden and are having a negative impact on sufferers’ lives.  Those in this situation may have tried more conventional therapeutic techniques, with no effect.

The field is mainly understood to involve discarnate spirits which are earthbound, though there is debate as to whether they are all objective, as some might be subjectively created by the experient; self-generated thought forms rather than spirits of the deceased (in effect tulpas).  Either way they have a ‘disembodied consciousness’ of some kind capable of communication and reason.  The object is to detach the spirit and move it into the light, thereby bringing relief to the victim.  SRT should not be confused with the religious rite of exorcism, thus ‘spirit attachment’ is often used in preference to possession, and malicious damaging spirits labelled ‘dark force entities’ rather than demons.

So how does SRT work?  According to Palmer’s website, Healing the Wounded Spirit with Dr Terence Palmer PhD, the first step ‘is to uncover the nature of the attached entity and ask it to reveal its objective,’ which is done psychically.  Then the practitioner acts as an intermediary to resolve the conflict between the entity and the person to whom it is attached, to their mutual benefit.  As well as the release itself there is the need to address the cause of the attachment and consider future protection.  This is all achieved by working with the spirit guide of the ‘patient’ through the ‘etheric field’ using telepathic and clairvoyant ‘methods’.

Palmer has contributed a lengthy article to the Society for Psychical Research’s Psi Encyclopedia which lays out the scope of SRT.  In it he says that ‘The treatment evolved from the pioneering clinical experience of practitioners who discovered the benefits of entering into dialogue with the “possessing entities”, bypassing preconceptions about whether they really existed, or their nature.’  Preconceptions may have been bypassed previously, but SRT’s efficacy is based on the assumption of attachment by earthbound entities having harmful consequences.  He rightly notes that SRT’s claims have yet to be substantiated by rigorous empirical studies.

I had come across Palmer through the Society for Psychical Research and had assumed that SRT was something he did as a free service.  So I was surprised when looking at his website to see that he charges clients £100.  What then made me really take notice was the entry on his website, dated 26 November 2018, which stated that a target of 200 cases had been reached.

If they all paid £100 each, that is £20,000, in addition to a Patreon page which charges to access articles and income from his book The Science of Spirit Possession (2nd edition), retailing at £52.99 hardback, £37.99 paperback.  He is involved in a ‘School for Spirit Release’ which offers an accredited certificate (from the International Practitioners of Holistic Medicine) allowing the holder to practise SRT.  It costs, for courses held in the UK, £247 per weekend for two weekends; and for those outside the UK, £494 for four consecutive days (attendees can have 20% off his book even though the preface specifically states it is not a manual for student SRT practitioners).  It is even possible to participate in a course with Palmer to learn SRT in Mexico in March 2019, a mere US $695 for a four-day workshop.  There is clearly money to be made from releasing spirits.

One might assume that the £100 fee covers expenses, but no travel is involved.  The ‘fees and booking’ page of Palmer’s website states that the therapy is administered ‘remotely’, because conveniently for all parties, ‘Procedures are conducted in the ‘spiritual’ dimensions – not the physical. This means you don’t need to be in any particular place at any particular time to receive a remote procedure as they are conducted beyond time and space.’  According to the ‘A Spirit Release Intervention Protocol’ page on Palmer’s website, which lists 56 numbered steps, ‘Experience has taught us that the average time taken to use this protocol for an intervention is about fifteen (15) minutes. Simple ones can be done in eight (8) minutes.’

Two individuals split the fee: the facilitator (presumably always Palmer) and the medium (presumably always his colleague Andrew Porter who collaborates with the spirit guide ‘Chen’.  Palmer and Porter are both listed as ‘course trainers’ at the School for Spirit Release (‘Dr Terence Palmer PhD is the principal instructor, ably assisted by his colleague, the gifted medium Andrew Porter and the spirit guide “Chen”’) and Porter can be seen working with Palmer in YouTube videos).  The attitude to money expressed on the website is fairly brusque:

‘We live in a world where it costs money just to exist and occupy space on the planet. Maintaining this device costs money, as does communicating with anyone by phone, email or any other means. We are not funded by the NHS or any charity and our research costs are not covered by an institution. Unfortunately this means that we are not able to provide a service free of charge. If you are not able to acknowledge any value for the services offered here then perhaps you can find someone else who can give you a service for free.’

It does not sound very spiritual, and does sound like a business (Palmer freely uses his membership of the Society for Psychical Research as a credential, which probably contravenes the second of the Society’s members’ guidelines, which states: ‘Membership of the SPR may not be used for personal gain of any kind’).  However, Palmer says in his Psi Encyclopedia article that ‘...the modern Spiritist movement in Sao Paulo, Brazil engages thirty-five hundred mediums from all walks of life from humble illiterates to lawyers who provide their services to the suffering for no charge,’ and it is a fair bet that it costs money ‘to exist and occupy space’ in Brazil, just as it does in East Kent.

In addition to his website and the SPR article, anyone who wants to learn more about Palmer’s activities can find about 140 of his videos on YouTube.  They include an intriguing one from December 2018, ‘Case no. 269. Dialogue with intelligent reptilian using a human for incubating is (sic) offspring.’

Palmer undoubtedly achieves positive results with at least some of his clients (there are eight testimonials from grateful clients on his website at the present time); but whether this is due to the efficacy of SRT or to the placebo effect, or possibly to conventional treatments being undertaken at the same time, must be open to question in the absence of any properly-conducted research, along with the contentious reliance on mediumship and spirit guides.  More worryingly, as the subject of spirit possession is speculative, despite its claim to be scientific, it must be impossible to say whether his and Porter’s efforts might not make the situation worse for some individuals.   There are references to dissociative identity disorder on Palmer’s website, but they are couched in general terms, and I could find nothing to indicate that SRT may be unsuitable for some individuals.  If such guidance is there, it should be more prominent to prevent unrealistic expectations by vulnerable individuals.

NB All quotations are correct at the time of writing.


References

Palmer, Terence. The Science of Spirit Possession (2nd Edition), Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars, 2014.

Palmer, Terence. Healing the Wounded Spirit (website), https://www.terencepalmer.co.uk/. Accessed 11 January 2019.

Palmer, Terence. ‘Spirit Release Therapy’, Psi Encyclopedia, https://psi-encyclopedia.spr.ac.uk/articles/spirit-release-therapy. Accessed 11 January 2019.

Society for Psychical Research ‘Member Guidelines’, https://www.spr.ac.uk/membership/member-guidelines. Accessed 12 January 2019.

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Do Footballers use Psychokinesis?


Recently I was sent a link to a YouTube video posted on 4 January 2019 titled Mind Control, in which Arthur Fulford claims to show footballers using psychokinetic influence to direct the ball.  The video’s description states: ‘Obviously the scientists haven't checked this out – but I recon (sic) that footballers use their hands to manipulate a forcefield that helps them control the ball. Take a look.’  It is an intriguing idea, so I thought I would.

The video itself begins: ‘The best footballers appear to have the ball attached to their hand [as if] by a piece of string.   By using their hands they exert a force over the ball.  Here are some examples of strange acceleration, deceleration as well as change in direction of the football that are due to players using their hands.’  It must be stressed the hands are not in physical contact with the ball, but are apparently being used to direct a mental influence from the player to the ball to assist in controlling it.

A number of factors need to be taken into account in assessing the claim, such as: the condition of the pitch; dampness versus dryness; wind speed and direction; the speed, spin and curve of the ball (Bernoulli's Principle); the player's balance and direction of travel; the contact between boot and ball; the angle of the camera filming the action; and random arm movements that might seem to correlate with those of the ball.

There are seven clips in Mind Control, each preceded by a short summary explaining what to look for, and the clips are repeated numerous times.  I came away impressed by the ability on display, if not sufficiently to consider those in the top rank worth their obscenely bloated pay packets.  But bearing in mind these are players who can do amazing things with a ball through constant practice, I think that what is presented here is a long way from evidence of psychokinesis.  These are my thoughts on each of the examples in the video:
 
Pogba's ball seems to my eye to travel in a straight line, and his arm goes up to maintain balance and facilitate his turn.  He may even be following through the movement of the ball with his arm as he focuses on the ball’s flight to the goal, but that is not the same as saying there is cause and effect.  The summary mentions Pogba exerting ‘a telepathic force on the ball’ but this should be psychokinetic force.

Sanchez's ball is probably spinning, and while he does push his head forward, following the trajectory of the ball he has just headed, I cannot see the ball deviate from the curve initiated by the previous kick, nor speed up.

Edinho's play is brilliant, but again I cannot see the ball acting in a manner that suggests normal dynamics have been contravened.

Messi waves his arm but the ball does not seem to do anything unexpected, and after a quick glance to check the position of the ball as he receives it, he focuses on where to deliver his own shot, which suggests the suspected arm movement is unconnected with the ball.

In the first Giroud clip, he catches the ball on his foot, it goes behind him, he turns and kicks the ball; all seemingly natural with no psychokinetic influence.  In the second his footwork is nifty and he does not require any extra help in controlling the ball.  The hand movement looks synchronised but the ball's descent seems to be what one would expect from the preceding bounce, and both arms are being used for balance. 

Lukaku chases the bouncing ball, but if its speed has slowed appreciably in flight it is certainly not obvious, as the speed looks constant.  Judging by the way his opponent slides on his knees it is possible the ground is wet, and the ball accordingly bounces sluggishly.

As well as watching the arms in all these clips as instructed, I was watching the ball, and cannot say from its behaviour that there was anything unambiguously paranormal going on.  Really, if players were able to control the ball using some form of PK it seems likely they would be aware of it, and I cannot believe it would remain secret even if there was a feeling among some of them that such an admission could be embarrassing.

Of course it may be possible that some footballers are able to employ psychokinesis, and perhaps it was used in these clips and I missed it despite repeated viewings.  However, these players seem talented enough as it is, without the additional ability to control the ball using their minds.  If they can use their minds, why do they need their hands to direct the influence anyway?  And where are the examples of players using the ability to pull the ball away from their opponents?

Arthur indicates at the end of the video that this is merely a sample and there are many more to be seen once the viewer focuses on the player’s hands rather than feet.  Perhaps compelling examples will emerge from sustained study of football match recordings (preferably watched on a high definition screen), and the obvious step of investigating the theory under controlled conditions could then be carried out, particularly among footballers less skilled than those shown in the clips; those selected here are players whose level of skill provides a confounding variable.  In the meantime, the answer seems less likely to be found in psychical research than in physics and the possession of magic (in the metaphorical sense) boots.