James Randi is one the of the world’s best known skeptics. He’s an experienced, talented magician who can spot a trick, gimmick, or fake at 20 paces (metaphorically speaking). He’s made it his mission to “out” all the paranormal tricksters who are stealing people’s money and trust through clever use of misdirection. I have no quarrel with him in this regard.
For several years he was offering one million dollars to anyone who could prove he/she had a paranormal ability. (He was quite confident he’d never have to pony up.) Later he changed the conditions of the “test.” He said he would only test somebody who has a media presence (I assume he means somebody like Sylvia Browne). I haven’t checked lately to see whether the prize is still being offered. I don’t know what he’d do with somebody like me.
James Randi also writes a column for Skeptic Magazine. This month he takes aim, once again, at psychic Sylvia Browne. Apparently she has a new book out (Afterlives of the Rich and Famous). I’ll take his word for it. I have little interest in anything Ms. Browne says. I own only one of her books, which is plenty enough for me to see the intent that lies behind her writings. I’m in agreement with Mr. Randi about the fatuous nature of her book material.
Mr. Randi is a trained magician, and he objects to Sylvia Browne’s writings because he’s suspicious of her motives and methods. I’m a trained mystic/channeller and I also object to Sylvia Browne’s motives and methods. But probably not for the same reasons that Mr. Randi objects.
Mr. Randi doesn’t seem to believe (if I’ve been reading him correctly) that anything atypical can occur in the Newtonian world we live in. In his view, if anything “weird” happens, there must be a simple, logical, Newtonian explanation for it. Either there’s a scientific phenomenon that hasn’t been fully explored yet, or the person who reported the “weird event” is lying or is being duped by a clever manipulator.
This makes life very neat and tidy. But not very real.
The honest truth is that we don’t live in a Newtonian world. We live in a quantum world, a quantum world we barely understand at all with our somewhat limited human thinking capacity. I say “limited” because the human brain, while complex and sophisticated and quite a marvel when it’s working well, can only go so far in grasping the nature of quarks and bosons and probability wave functions and gamma rays and dark energy and dark matter and on and on and on. I think it’s important for us to continue to develop our scientific understanding of these phenomena. At the same time, I think it’s important for us to be humble about our own abilities. It’s important for us to remember that we actually don’t know everything (though we’re often tempted to think we do). It’s important for us to remain both open-minded and open-hearted.
Each human brain and central nervous system (hereafter the brain), as Jesus and I have said before, is its own mini-universe, its own small kingdom of the soul that exists separately from but contiguous with other kingdoms-of-the-soul (i.e. other people). Within any particular human brain, the principles of quantum physics apply — including the principles of the conscious observer (in each case, the conscious observer is the person who “owns” that particular brain) plus Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. When consciousness is understood from this point of view (instead of from the Materialist point of view), it’s a lot easier for us to accept the challenges that are part and parcel of “being human.” We have a better starting place for understanding why we do the strange things we do — for the simple reason that we’re not expecting easy cookie-cutter solutions. We’re not expecting easy Newtonian instruction booklets that can guide us through the complex quantum realities of our own brains.
Psychic-medium Sylvia Browne is doing some strange things, to be sure, but I doubt very much she has the level of intentionality James Randi ascribes to her.
She has her very own kingdom of the soul — her brain — and she’s using her brain as the primary tool for her “psychic work.” Regardless of what she says about her sources of information, at the end of the day all the information she “receives” goes through the circuits of her own brain. She can’t detach herself from this scientific reality. Her brain is the processing centre, the combination of hardware and software that determines how data is perceived, analyzed, stored, and transmitted. She’s responsible for maintaining her own hardware and software. All of it. This is what it means to be the master/mistress of your own Kingdom.
It’s her own brain that decides what information she’ll pass along to other people. She’s responsible for what she decides to tell other people. It isn’t her angel’s responsibility to decide, and it isn’t God’s responsibility to decide. It’s her own responsibility. Her brain belongs entirely to her, not to some cosmic force that’s guiding her or taking over part of her brain as an “indwelling spirit.” (Believe it or not, this is a frequent claim among mystics, psychics, and prophets in all religions.) Whatever Sylvia Browne chooses to put on paper is her responsibility — not God’s — just as whatever I choose to put on paper is my responsibility. Sylvia Browne is choosing to try to write about the quantum universe without knowing a darned thing about the quantum universe. (If you’re looking for hard science in her books, you’ll be looking in vain.) I would love to see what her brain looks like on a SPECT scan while she’s talking to her spirit guide, Francine. If she’s certain of her ability, she has no cause for concern.
The International Olympic Committee requires that all athletes who win medals at an Olympic event be tested for banned drugs. I would suggest that anyone claiming to be a mystic or channeller or psychic or prophet or whatever be required to undergo rigorous medical assessment and have his or her brain scanned by an objective third-party professional. This would immediately root out the psychopaths and the seriously mentally ill, such as the woman I tried to learn from in the early years of my spiritual journey.
Grace had a personal history of mental illness, a family history of serious mental illness, and a history of being horribly abused as a child. She was a binge drinker, had a probable eating disorder (she weighed about 250 pounds when I last saw her), took antidepressants and Andriol for a mood disorder, and was easily triggered by rage. (Her own rage, that is.) She was also manipulative, cunning, and adept at “cutting and pasting” other people’s ideas into “new and divinely revealed tapestries of spiritual truth.”
Yet never once did she come up with an original insight. She couldn’t. Her brain was too damaged to do anything except copy. She could barely learn any new facts from the newspaper let alone learn new facts from her guardian angel.
She said she was a channeller. She very much wanted to be a channeller. But she couldn’t pass the very first test of ethical mysticism, which is the ability to feel empathy for others. (Schadenfreude was one of her favourite ways to brighten up the day. Even better than a few shots of vodka, thought she. And cheaper, too.)
I hope she’s been receiving the professional medical care she needs. She went through a lot of horrible things during childhood, and I hope she’s been able to find some healing and forgiveness.
God bless you, Grace.
P.S. The brain’s hardware is very sensitive to alcohol. If you meet a mystic or channeller who abuses alcohol, run for the hills. This person has damaged his or her brain and is in need of healing. Chances that he or she is a bona fide mystic are pretty close to zero. People who can’t or won’t look after their own brains are in no position to give you advice about how to look after yours (though your compassion for their suffering is always important.) Spiritual connection with God depends on the brain. Look after your brain and you’ll be surprised at how much inner common sense you actually have!