For centuries the supernatural has had a mysterious appeal. Laura Noble examines its elevation from seance to science.
From horoscopes to holocausts. the suggestion of the paranormal is never very far from the headlines. Only last week. erstwhile sports presenter David Icke gave forecasts ofScotland‘s imminent risk from earthquake and flood. but it is to be hoped that these events do not occur before the Science Festival can bring us up to date on current study of the paranormal.
The influence of the psychic is not underrated by the famous. Former First Lady ofAmcrica. Nancy Reagan. was well known for use ofclairvoyants and the President‘s subsequent avoidance of air travel. And according to Professor Archie Roy. President of the Scottish Society for Psychical Research and professional physicist. the straight-laced Victorians were equally steeped in things otherworldly.
‘Queen Victoria and Prince Albert give detailed accounts of their experiences ofseances.‘ he says as a taster to his entertaining talk on John Brown. a gillie on the Balmoral estate who was lauded as Queen Vic‘s toy boy at the time. These ‘scurrilous accounts‘. Professor Roy argues. ‘mask the fact that he was her medium. who helped her communicate with Prince Albert after his death.‘
Historical accounts of psychic phenomena are part ofthe general body of knowledge gathered by the Society. which also conducts field studies into experiences of psychic events. Professor Roy is an advocate of a new means of communication which is often found in the declarations of the brillant:
Tarot Cards: is the credibility of money-grabbing psychic
lakes hanging by a thread?
‘All geniuses have stated that their best work is given to them from some source outside of themselves.‘
He feels that once these things are looked into. it becomes obvious that. ‘a human being is not an electro-chemical, physical mechanism with but five senses to the outside universe. Instead we have our own body. personality and subconsciousness. but ifwe go to a deeper level. communication cannot be said to belong to anyone. It is something analogtms to Jung‘s collective unconsciousness.‘
Professor Roy‘s views do not go unchallenged. The Committee for the Scientific Investigation for Claims ofthe Paranormal (CSlCOP) feels that psychic events should be verified by scientific experimentation. It claims to have successfully refuted claims ofpsychic abilities.
Also speaking at the Festival is Robert Morris. Professor of Parapsychology at Edinburgh University. the first section ofscience academia to
look seriously at these phenomena. Appearing on stage with him is the Department of Parapsychology"s own ‘magician in residence'. a postgraduate student who is making a detailed study of the skills ofdeccption.
Over the years the Department has collected accounts by psychic frauds of various different methods. As Professor Morris explains: ‘lf someone is running an ESP training course. they will first want to convince you of their own psychic abilities. One ofthe simplest means is to produce a corresponding image of a picture using a ‘thumb-nail writer‘. which traces the picture in its concealed position.‘
Using hidden graphite on the thumb is one of the most basic tricks; there are many others. ample nroofofwhich can be found on the shelf of Professor Morris‘s office in any of 4t) books describing how to be a psychic fraud. Apart from being an excellant communicator. a would-be psychic needs a set of personal attributes for certain stereotypes and an ability to get people to read significance into events around them.
But are these fraudsters all bad'.’ Professor Morris feels that we must not neglect their social context. ‘The psychic is very often seen as the poor man‘s psychotherapist. A medium may not be sure of his capability ofcommunicating with the dead but may say that he is a very good bereavement councillor.‘
Archie Roy has also met a soothsayer with an ability helpful for her profession — a district nurse who can tell when people are going to die. ‘And.‘ he says. ‘I was very relieved when she said. "See you again next week.“ ‘
Professor A rchie Roy gi res three talks at the Festival: Psychical Research (Scandic ( 'rown. Fri 5 Apr, 6.30pm); Queen Victoria and John Brown (Meeting House. Victoria Terrace. Tue ’) A pr. noon). and Squatters In The Mind (Scandic Crown. Tue 9A pr. 6pm). Professor Robert Morris reveals the tricks ofpsychic jrauds at the Scandic
( ‘rown on 9 April at 3 pm.
_ Water of Life
In the year since Operation Brightwater was launched by Scottish Conservation Projects, over 4000 people have taken part in projects that range from cleaning up Shetland's beaches to building and conserving Strathclyde’s ponds. According to Valerie Johnston, one of the driving lorces behind Operation Brightwater, the practical aspect of the campaign has a wider purpose.
“It’s more about making people aware of the threats that are hovering
around Scottish waters. If something isn’t done now, a lot of those wildlife areas are going to be ruined tor the future. By getting involved in the practical aspect, perhaps they’ll eventually make a larger
Groups with little or no experience in conservation work are encouraged to begin at the level of, say. managing their local pond before moving onto larger projects that will extend the work of the campaign beyond its three-year lifetime. To this end, Operation Brightwater organises events on varying levels of commitment— lrom weekend clean-ups to residential courses called Action Breaks that tackle bigger problems such as sand dune erosion and lootbridge repair.
Operation Brightwater hopes to stabilise Scotland's marine environment for the lulure, and the campaign’s logo is an apt symbol of its
aim, as Valerie Johnston explains:
‘The logo is a dipper. a little bird standing on a rock at the water‘s edge. When the water quality deteriorates, then the number of breeding pairs
tends to drop.‘ Perhaps Operation Brightwater can reverse that trend. (Alan Morrison)
Valerie Johnston outlines the
objectives of Operation Brightwater at the Meeting House, Victoria Street, Sat 6 April, 4.30pm. An exhibition on the campaign's work runs until Sat 13
April. also at the Meeting House. A tree . tactpack(£1.50p & p) is available i from Scottish Conservation Projects. Balallan House, 24 Allan Park, Stirling FK8 200.
The List 5— 18 April l‘)‘)l 75