In this, the fifth year of mourning the pope – or is it just LI? We’ve found the usual papers (the NYT, the WashPost) particularly boring lately, like some subdeb Elizabethan pageant play. The news from the war, which is washed through the mind detergent of American propaganda to make it as sweet as Momma’s sheets, pokes out the occasional factoid – the blown up American soldier in Anbar province, the general who claims that the insurgency is on its last legs just before two concentrated attacks on Abu Ghraib prison, the number of prisoners now being held captive by the Americans mounting to over 12,000, the dissipation of legitimacy as the American designed pre-constitution in Iraq did its job and effectively crippled the government before it began – yes, these things poke out as the usual imperial cruelties. But the blood has rushed to the head one too many times. There is a beautiful line by Thomas Paine, which we culled from the biography. Paine was deeply interested in the letters of Junius, which inflamed England in the 1770s. His ‘"brilliant pen," he [Paine] afterwards wrote, "enraptured without convincing; and though in the plenitude of its rage it might be said to give elegance to bitterness, yet the policy survived the blast."
The shoddy material out of which Bush had designed his ad hoc power plays could be blasted by a pea shooter – which is a weapon much too mighty for the American press to manipulate. Pea shooters are partisan, and to be avoided. Rather, one treads a margin slightly to the left of Fox news, and more than slightly right of reality. And the policy still stands. And stands. Hence, perhaps, our ennui.
So instead of the NYT, we went to the Financial Times and read Adrian Turpin’s fascinating April fool’s day account of the Koestler Para-psychology unit at the University of Edinburgh
Here’s a description of the faculty:
“Caroline Watt, acting head, is a thoughtful, quietly spoken psychologist whose work includes studies on the childhoods of people who claim paranormal experiences and an investigation of ghostly incidents in Edinburgh’s underground vaults. One of three research fellows, Peter Lamont, is a former professional magician and the world expert on the Indian rope trick. Much of his work is about the history of deception. Fiona Steinkamp works part time. A philosopher, one of her interests is the possibility that humans can predict the future. Dr Paul Stevens, by contrast, trained as a physicist. His current research involves testing people to see whether their bodies react to the emotional state of a person in another room, then comparing this to the effects of very weak, low-frequency magnetic fields. Stevens is a science-fiction fan but engage him in debate and you realise he doesn’t have a credulous bone in his body. Together this small team supervises eight postgraduate students.”
How LI missed out on becoming a part of this team is a mystery to us. We’d be perfect for investigating the haunting of underground places.
The article does a nice job of condensing two decades of controversy about psi. Psi experiments are always, shall we say, unusual. This early experiment seemed allegorical, to our jaded eye, of the way contemporary capitalism works:
“The first Koestler professor arrived from America in December 1985. Robert Morris was a psychologist who had worked at Duke University in North Carolina under the famous paranormal researcher J.B. Rhine in 1960. There he had taken part in some unusual studies. In one, rats were tested for their psychic ability. Having heard stories of dogs that ran to their master every morning except on the day they were due to be put down, Morris decided to see whether a similar phenomenon could be observed in the lab.
"Sixteen rats were each released for two minutes into an 8ft x 8ft box marked with a grid of small squares. Notes were taken of how many squares each rat entered - a measure of how active they were. After this, eight of the rats were selected at random to be killed. “Half of the animals that lived were active enough to leave their original square,” Morris concluded, “whereas none of the animals that died showed such activity.”
That certainly sounds like the last part time job I had.