Sunday, 26 September 2010

Up, up and away*

We finally made it into the skies with Virgin Balloons! Rachel had originally bought this as a present for Valentine's Day in 2008, and this was our fifth attempt. We were to due to take off yesterday evening but, despite it being a glorious afternoon, the winds were still a little on the strong side and so the decision was made to reschedule for early this morning. The weather held and we met at 7am to unpack the balloon.

Of course, a beautiful clear morning at this time of year is likely to be preceded by a very cold night. Something we discovered during our overnight stay in the tent we had brought with us! But it was worth it to finally experience drifitng above the treetops at sunrise. It was an amazing experience.

Thank you for a wonderful present Rachie! Happy Valentine's Day! x

*Oh come on, it's a blog post about a balloon ride. What else was I going to call it?

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Fifth time lucky?

The last time we tried for a trip in a hot air balloon, it didn't happen. That was our fourth attempt. It didn't matter too much as we had a great weekend anyway, but it would be nice to finally see what it feels like to drift over the countryside in a big red balloon.

Today will be our fifth attempt. At least the weather's looking good.

Friday, 17 September 2010

A-Z of Strange Experiences

One of my last tasks before leaving my academic post at Liverpool Hope University was to edit a collection of essays on anomalous experiences. The title of this collection is, quite cleverly, Anomalous Experiences (you see what I did there?). As is often the case with academic texts, there is also a subtitle: Essays from Parapsychological and Psychological Perspectives. This is because the essays are, indeed, from both a parapsychological as well as a psychological perspective. (If there is one thing I can do it is to give something an honest title.)

The contributions are from a one day conference held a few years ago at Liverpool Hope and cover such varied topics as psychic phenomena (like telepathy and precognition), hauntings and apparitions, hypnosis, and out-of-body experiences. There are also chapters on alien abduction experiences and the kinds of experiences people report in seances.

Contributors include Daryl Bem, Etzel Cardena, Jezz Fox, Chris French, Craig Murray, Ciaran O'Keeffe, Chris Roe, Simon Sherwood, Christine Simmonds-Moore, Paul Stevens, Caroline Watt, Richard Wiseman and Robin Wooffitt. 

As the editor, it would be unfair to pick out a favourite chapter, but I think it has to be said that we saved the best till last. Yes, the index is, quite frankly, superb. Not only is it in alphabetical order (as all good indexes should be), but it also gives you a flavour of the range of fascinating topics covered in this scholarly tome. Just take a look at these tantalising excerpts:

"apothenia  192...
animal magnetism  93...
Carroll, Lewis  5...
crisis telepathy  65...
Crosby, Bing  146...
daydreaming  39, 42...
EMF see electromagnetic fields...
Fayad, Dodi  149...
hypomania  183, 186...
kundalini  200...
mediumship  178...
nightmares  100, 191...
pink noise  34...
QiGong  187...
reincarnation  178...
sacred sites  76...
shamans  200..."

I could go on. Anyway, you can read a brief review of the book here (although it does not mention the index even once!). If you want to buy the book and see the index in its full glory (along with the essays themselves), it is published by McFarland, and is available from Amazon.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Am I going GaGa?

That is the question I have been asking myself ever since receiving an email from the man who runs a website called BadPsychics*.

As its name suggests, BadPsychics is largely dedicated to exposing ‘psychics’ and ‘mediums’ as nothing more than frauds and conmen (or conwomen); or at the very least as individuals who are deluded into thinking they might have paranormal abilities. The website also hosts a collection of forums on which members debate (or perhaps debunk) the latest psychic to grace our television screens.

The email was to inform me that someone had posted to one of the forums asking if Dr Matthew Smith had gone gaga as they had read that I had been quoted as describing a particular medium as ‘one of the most impressive mediums I have seen’.

You might wonder why anyone would care if I had gone gaga. Well it all stemmed from the fact that the good folks at BadPsychics knew me as a voice for the ‘sceptical community’ through my involvement on a TV show called Most Haunted. My role, as a psychologist and parapsychologist, was to put forward alternative explanations for apparently paranormal occurrences that took place during an investigation of an allegedly haunted location. As far as this programme was concerned, I was the ‘voice of reason’ who did not believe in ghosts and was there to ensure that the rational explanation for any apparently ghostly phenomena was heard.

So to be quoted as describing a medium as one of the most impressive I’d seen clearly raised a few eyebrows. But being sceptical doesn’t, or at least shouldn’t, rule out being open to apparently paranormal phenomena. It is more to do with having a questioning approach to unusual and extraordinary claims.

Mediums claim to communicate with spirits of the dead. By anyone’s account, this is quite a remarkable claim and so it is reasonable to be sceptical. But I am also intrigued. Many mediums give messages that are rather vague and likely to apply to quite a few people, and so they do not provide compelling evidence that they really are receiving messages from the dead.

However, on the several occasions I’ve seen this particular medium perform, he has given messages that seem to contain both accurate and specific details such as names (first and last), dates, even addresses. He has even been known to provide such information under conditions that seem to rule out some of the more obvious non-paranormal explanations like cold-reading. So, yes, I am happy to be quoted as regarding this medium as one of the most impressive mediums I have seen.

The question I am now asking myself is, how does he do it? Is he really communicating with spirits of the dead? Is he drawing upon some other as yet unexplained power of the mind like telepathy? Or is there some other non-paranormal explanation for his apparent abilities?

These are the really interesting questions to ask. And sceptics should ask questions – they should seek to find answers – not make assumptions.

*The BadPsychics website has since closed down. 

This article originally appeared in the November 2009 issue of Paranormal Magazine. You can view it in its original format using the widget below!

Know thyself


The unexamined life is not worth living.
Socrates (469-399 BC)

Monday, 6 September 2010

Why am I doing this?

The start of another week, and the doubts are getting stronger. I keep asking myself why am I doing this? Why did I give up a perfectly good academic post (I was an Associate Professor, don't you know!) in order to learn to become a psychic? I'm putting it down to a mid-life crisis. It seems to be the only reasonable explanation.

I actually have two main reasons for pursuing this project. (Yes, if I call it a 'project' it doesn't sound so crazy...). My first focuses around my life-long fascination (well, since my early teens) with the 'paranormal', especially psychic phenomena. Around the same time, I was developing a keen interest in magic (as in conjuring, not the occult). I was equally fascinated with the possiblity that people who claimed to be psychic might actually be using techniques to make it look like they were psychic even if they weren't. I say equally fascinated, but if the truth be told, I found the idea that some people might be able to do it for real to be more captivating!

I went on to study for a degree in psychology, and was then fortunate enough to land a job with Dr Richard Wiseman. He has since become a Professor, and a best-selling author, and a world-renowned skeptic regarding claims of the paranormal, but back then he was newly doctored (as it were), and had just taken up a lectureship at the University of Hertfordshire. During the fours years that I worked with Richard, I got involved in a range of unusual and exciting research projects such as reconstructing dark-room seances, experiments designed to investigate the feeling of being stared at, and testing a psychic dog (we concluded he wasn't psychic). During this time I even studied for a PhD on the psychology of luck, of all things. (But that's a different story!)

Working with Richard I became more and more convinced that many psychic claims could be explained by conventional psychology, with people misinterpreting experiences (or even experimental data) as suggesting something psychic going on. But there was still a part of me that couldn't dismiss genuine psychic phenomena completely. This project represents an attempt to allow this part of me to explore first hand the possibility than psychic phenomena just might be for real.

But all that explains just one of the reasons I'm giving this a go. And it's quite personal to me. But my other reason is one that would apply equally to anyone reading this now. It has something to do with the feeling that there has to be more to this life than getting a job, a house, a car, and all the rest and passing the time until the day comes when you drop down dead. That surely isn't what it is all about. Is it? At least I hope not.

This project represents an opportunity to do things differently. To discover what else might be out there. Or in here. Of course, there may be nothing, but at least I will have looked. I will be able to put my hand on my heart and say I tried. For me it happens to be about discovering any hidden psychic abilities I may have. More generally, it's about discovering whatever it is that may be hidden inside you.

Or it's just a mid-life crisis.

The Pursuit of Happyness

The Pursuit of Happyness was on TV tonight. A very inspiring film based on the memoirs of self-made millionaire Chris Gardner. The movie follows the story of Gardner during a period of homelessness with his young son. A key scene in the film is when Gardner impresses a guy from the stockbroker firm at which he's hoping to get an internship by solving the Rubik's Cube during a cab ride:



As a fan of the ol' Rubik's Cube, I'd love that scene to be based on true events. On a separate note, watching that film reminds me that my old friend and PhD supervisor Richard Wiseman took part in an advert for Volvo with Chris Gardner some years ago as part of their 'Life on Board' project. Turns out an extended version of the film is on Vimeo:


VOLVO V70 from Lance Bangs on Vimeo.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Talking heads

Two interviews that may (or may not) be of interest... First, last week I did an interview for The Polite Skeptic blog. Second, last night I did an interview with Ron Kolek and my old sparring partner Richard Felix for their internet radio show Ghost Chronicles International (with guest appearance by my daughter towards the end!). You can listen to it here (look for the show dated 31st Aug 2010 on the 'Recent Shows' list on the right).

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

I feel silly, Billy!

“Lam… Vam… Ram… Yam... Ham... Sham... Om”.

Louder.

"Lam...! Vam...! Ram...! Sham...! Yam...! Ham...! Om!"

Again, clapping your hands.

"Lam...! Ram...! Vam...! Sham...! Ham...! Yam...! Om!"

Am I doing this? Am I really doing this? I am sat in a room of people I have never met before chanting out loud a series of what are to me random-sounding (but rhyming!) words.

"Lam...! Sham...! Ram...! Ham...! Vam...! Yam...! Om!"

We repeat the mantra a few more times and then stop. "Now close your eyes and place your hands on your solar plexus." I do as instructed and rest my hands on my tummy. I'm thinking I need to go on a diet. Perhaps do a few sit-ups now and again. Now that the chanting has stopped I can hear the rain outside, and I'm wondering how I got here. As part of my attempt to learn to become 'psychic', I have been invited to attend Billy Roberts' psychic development workshop at Burton Manor in Cheshire in the North West of England.

Strangely enough, this isn't the first time I've been to Burton Manor. The last time was for a Departmental Away Day when I was a University lecturer. Even if I'd had fully developed precognitive skills back then, I don't think I could have foreseen that the next time I'd see this room would be at a psychic workshop.

But now that I am trying to discover and develop my own psychic abilities, then this is precisely the type of thing I need to be doing. Even if I'm not yet convinced that I have any psychic skills, or that they can be developed, or that such skills even exist! For me it's like trying to learn to speak French but not knowing if there is even a place called France where people speak this language!

This whole project is requiring a significant amount of suspension of disbelief on my part. I need to be willing to have my preconceptions challenged and I need to be open to seeing the world in a completely new way. I also need to be prepared to feel just a little silly as I chant a series of what are to random-sounding (but rhyming!) words in a room full of strangers. I guess it's all just part of the process. So, if you'll excuse me...

"Lam...! Vam...! Ram...! Yam...! Ham...! Sham...! Om!"

Monday, 16 August 2010

Last week...

Thank you to those of you who posted interpretations of my tarot spread for the week ahead last week. I thought I'd quickly reveal what my trusty little book tells me are the 'official' meanings of the cards, and see how well these interpretations related to the events of last week.

The central card, the Eight of Swords, is supposedly the Significator. This is meant to represent the dominating influence in the spread and, therefore, in my week ahead. The Eight of Swords, according to the book, represents:
Denial. A relationship or project is falling apart and there's little you want to do, or feel you can do, to prevent it. You're in denial and can't yet work out how to go forward, or face up to what's happening. Consult others, focus your thoughts, and drag yourself from emotional lethargy. Break the spell.
Hmmm. This doesn't bode well. It seems as though it's all going to fall apart this week and there's sod all I can do about it. Bummer. I think I'll have a look at the other cards to see what might be salvaged.

The card in the one o'clock position in the spread, in this case the Ace of Pentacles, foretells Monday's events. According to the book, the Ace of Pentacles relates to:
Material success. This card indicates financial gain in terms of growing investments or unexpected gifts, from bonuses to royalties or competition wins. The Ace expresses complete material security, and brings reassurance after a period of uncertainty. The card also signals success for business start-ups and new relationships, so this is a happy, comfortable, and prosperous time.
Cool. As you can imagine, I was therefore really looking forward to Monday! However, whilst Monday was a very enjoyable day, it did not bring financial gain or unexpected gifts. Perhaps Tuesday would bring this success? Indeed, Tuesday's card, the Six of Wands, predicts:
Triumph; Reward. After hard work comes a breakthrough, with fantastic news about a long-awaited award or the ending of a dispute. The Six is favourable for resolving legal matters, delayed contracts, or a work issue - whatever the situation, you succeed and receive a special reward for your determined effort. It is time to feel proud.
It is true that Tuesday was one of the more interesting and, indeed, eventful days of the week. In the evening, I was invited to join a psychic development circle being held in a nearby town. I learnt a lot and met others who were equally keen to develop their psychic faculties. But, surprisingly, neither my tarot cards, nor any of the readings I received from others that evening, predicted my minor disagreement with a tree on my drive home. In retrospect, I should have gone home the way I had come, via the Motorway. But I didn't. Instead, I thought I'd go the more 'direct' way via the back roads. Not, I now appreciate, a good idea when you are unfamiliar with the back roads and it is the middle of the night. Let me just say I arrived home one and a half hours later with one less wing-mirror than I had when I had set off from home that afternoon. From now on I'm not going to put quite so much trust in Google Maps. Six of Wands, my arse.

Wednesday... and the Six of Swords: 
Peace restored. Finally, harmony prevails, and you are able to take time out now that everything is in order. There may be an opportunity to travel abroad for rest or career, and return to the demands of your everyday life with more verve. While the Six does not indicate that a project or problem is resolved, it advises that you will enjoy a little distance from it.
Whilst the wing-mirror was enjoying a little distance between itself and the car it belonged to, the only travel form me today was between various car-repair centres to see who could give me a new one for the lowest price. Moving swiftly on, Thursday's card, the Two of Swords referred to:
A truce. Peace returns after a time of discord and turmoil. You may not trust this truce, but it could present a valuable opportunity to gain perspective on a problem partnership or another troublesome association. Be cautious and factual, and consider every aspect. You will need to balance carefully your needs with those of the other party if you are to come to an agreement.
This card seems to follow on from yesterday's card, the Six of Swords, which also talked of 'peace restored'. But all I was keen on restoring was the car to it's full complement of wing-mirrors!

Friday's Ten of Swords predicted:
Endings. In the suit of Swords, endings are dramatic, and may be shocking. However, on closer inspection of the facts, it's likely that this ending was predictable. A relationship or other arrangement is cut out of your life. The closure is harsh, but necessary; you will recover and be open to new opportunities sooner than you think.
Friday was the day I got the car fixed. I don't think anything was cut out of my life (apart from a broken wing-mirror, etc., etc.). By now I have lost any faith that the cards are going to would provide any insight, no matter how vague, into the events of my week. Saturday's card, the King of Wands was reversed. This means its usual interpretation (if it were the right way round) changes quite dramatically. The King upright means honour and compassion. Reversed it means:
Prejudice. The reversed King has been embittered by bad experiences in the past or he has simply never bothered to question his intolerant attitudes. He is no moral compass for others and is unable to listen to their opinions or deviate from the safety of his stubborn ways. As a symbol of a situation, this card can reveal that negative thoughts are brewing.
The only negative thoughts that are brewing today are about the usefulness of tarot cards! The final card, for Sunday, is the Ten of Pentacles:
Inheritance, happiness. The Ten is often a fortuitous card for families, favouring existing generations and those to come, so it can literally predict a happy marriage and children. In monetary terms the Ten, as the ultimate card of the Pentacles, reveals wealth accrued through generations, so there may be benefits from share dividends, an inheritance, or a gift from a generous friend or relative.
Well, at least it all ends on a very positive note! Sadly, but perhaps not too surprisingly, there was no inheritance nor were any dividends heading my way.  Perhaps, as the Eight of Swords (my 'significator' for the week) indicated, I am in denial. Maybe this project is falling apart before it's begun? Do I need to break the spell?

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Zone Unknown

Roy Basnett's Zone Unknown show on City Talk FM featured a discussion of the Million Dollar Psychic project tonight. Thanks to Mark Rosney for providing a recording for me to post here. Can you tell that I'm stood outside the Gents' toilet in a pub in Wycombe town centre? Thought you might.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

It's a mystery...

Rachel and I have signed up to become 'mystery' shoppers! You know, those people whose job it is to go into shops, restaurants, banks, and so on and assess the level of customer service. Rachel likes to think of it as being paid to shop. The company who we have signed up with asks all their applicants to complete a short test before they take you on. Seems fair enough. There are twenty multiple-choice questions about various aspects of the role of the mystery shopper. As you have to get all twenty questions correct to pass, it is just as well that they are all fairly easy.

Apart from one. One of them is tricky. Or at least I found it rather tricky. It was the first question in a section testing language abilities. This is because "being able to provide comments using correct English is vital...". Again, fair enough. The question is: 
Please select the incorrect sentence:

a. We'll see you on Wednesday.
b. I speak Spanish very badly.
c. I like the weather here in Winter.
d. Paul is an excellent golfer.
 
Which answer would you go for?

Monday, 9 August 2010

The week ahead...

As a little 'experiment' (using the term in its loosest sense) I thought I would use my new(ish) tarot cards to tell me a little something about what lies ahead for me this week. According to the little book that came with the deck of cards I bought (The Golden Tarot by Liz Dean if you're interested...), I can do an eight card spread for the week ahead:
For fast insight in the near future, this popular spread uses a central Significator card. A Significator sums up the meaning of a reading, so in this spread it reveals the dominant influences in your week ahead. The other seven cards each relate to one day of the week. To begin, shuffle and cut the cards. Lay down the Significator card first, followed by seven cards clockwise as shown. Interpret the Significator first, then the cards for each day of the week in any order you choose. (p. 8)
So. It seemed like a reasonable thing to try! My eight-card spread is shown in the picture (right). In case it's not clear to make out each of the cards, the 'Significator', the card in the centre is the Eight of Swords. Then, starting with the card in the one o'clock position relating to Monday and going clockwise, we have the Ace of Pentacles (Monday), Six of Wands (Tuesday), Six of Swords (Wednesday), Two of Swords (Thursday), Ten of Swords (Friday), King of Wands [reversed] (Saturday), Ten of Pentacles (Sunday).

Now, I have just read with interest what the book says these cards are supposed to mean. But I wondered if any of you folks with more experience of reading tarot cards might have some thoughts?

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Happy Birthday Mr Zwinge!

On this day in 1928, a boy was born who would go on to become the world's most prominent 'skeptic'. Randall James Hamilton Zwinge would later change his name to James Randi and become the scourge of psychics around the globe. Happy birthday Mr Zwinge!

Friday, 6 August 2010

One million dollars

If I am going to win the one million dollars offered by the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) to anyone who can demonstrate genuine psychic (or other paranormal) abilities, then I am clearly going to need some help. Especially given that, right now, I don't profess to have any psychic powers! The whole point of this project is to see if someone who is skeptical about such things (i.e., someone like me) can learn to develop psychic ability.

So perhaps a little positive thinking is in order. To help this along I have printed off a cheque for one million dollars, made out to me:

 

There. That should do the trick.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

What are the odds?

We are filming on a cold January morning in Oxford. The plan is for me to stop people on the street and try to guess their mother's first name. The idea being to see if I had any signs of hidden psychic abilities before I start my attempt to learn to become psychic! We'd film, say, three or four different attempts and see me getting it wildly wrong time and time again. At least that was the plan.

The first person I approach is a young woman whose name, I quickly discover, is Helen. Not through psychic means; she tells me. I briefly explain what we're doing, and ask her if she would mind helping us for a couple of minutes. Hesitantly, she agrees.

As she's thinking of her mum's name, I close my eyes to see if anything comes to mind. Nothing. So, instead I try gazing off into the middle distance, and I notice a sign at the entrance to the college behind her. "Balliol College."

"Does your mum's name have a B in it?" I ask

"Er, yes..." she replies

"Does it begin with B?" I ask again.

"Er... yeah..." I think I'm more impressed than she is. She eyes me up suspiciously.

I just go for the first female name I can think of beginning with B, "Barbara?"

"Yes!"

I'm completely flummoxed. Helen walks away as I'm left open-mouthed. She no doubt thinks it's some kind of trick. But there's no trick. It was just a lucky guess. Or was it? Could I have tapped into some hidden psychic ability?? Just in case, later in the day I buy a lottery ticket for this weekend's Lotto draw... well if I'm on a roll I don't want it to go to waste!

Monday, 2 August 2010

What is the Million Dollar Challenge?

That is a good question. Which is, of course, why you asked it. The Million Dollar Challenge is offered by the James Randi Educational Foundation, or JREF, to anyone who can demonstrate genuine paranormal abilities under controlled conditions. Nobody has ever claimed the million dollars. Detailed information can be found on the JREF website.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Scientist turns psychic in bid for million dollars

PRESS RELEASE
Can a scientist become a psychic and win a million dollars?
Dr. Matthew Smith has left behind the safety of academic life to pursue a unique and rather ambitious project. After more than fifteen years of researching ‘paranormal’ experiences from a scientific perspective, Matthew will set aside his scepticism to see if he can discover and develop his own hidden psychic abilities. In a year-long project, he will work with some of the world’s leading mediums and psychics to discover if he has any hidden psychic talents. Leading parapsychologists will monitor his progress by subjecting him to scientific tests along the way.
At the end of the year he will take the million dollar challenge offered by the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) for anyone who can demonstrate genuine psychic abilities.
'It’s one heck of a challenge, but I’m really looking forward to delving into the world of the psychic. There’s only so much you can learn from conducting experiments on other people. Sometimes you just have to get in there and try it for yourself!', said Matthew.
Matthew left his post as Associate Professor of Psychology at Liverpool Hope University after ten years at the University. Shortly after he arrived at the University, he was asked to be the resident parapsychologist and sceptic on Living TV’s Most Haunted Live to pass a critical eye over the ‘paranormal’ activity experienced by the investigation team.
Matthew added, ‘This challenge takes me outside of academia, and out of my comfort zone, to explore these topics from a very different perspective.’
Matthew is writing about his experience for a book, Million Dollar Psychic, to be published next year.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

The best music video

Saw this on Richard Wiseman's blog this morning. It is so good I just had to re-post it here. It looks like it is all done in one take, but even if it isn't it is the result of a lot of hard work and creative genius. Sit back and enjoy:

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Million Dollar Psychic on Facebook!

Regular readers of this blog will know that I don't really 'get' Facebook. Well, I'm going to have to change that to the past tense. I'm starting to 'get' it. I can clearly see it has its uses. Which is why I have just set up a Facebook page for the Million Dollar Psychic project. In fact, it's something I should have probably set up a few months ago!


If you would like to follow how the project develops (and, of course, you are a Facebook user), please visit the page and click on 'like'. The idea is that this page will be a place to discuss psychic stuff in general and psychic development in particular whether you be a 'skeptic', a 'believer', or a 'I just don't know-er'!

You can also follow on twitter at twitter.com/skeptic2psychic.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Wake up!

Speaking of dreams within dreams, I have just re-read a potentially life-changing little book called Lucid Living by Tim Freke (yes, it's pronounced 'Freak'). The essence of this book is to suggest that our experience of everyday reality is, itself, much like a dream. In a dream, we are typically blissfully unaware that we are dreaming. We get caught up in the dramas of our dreamworld, and it is only when we wake up do we realise that we had, in fact, been dreaming!

Unless, that is, you are having what is called a 'lucid dream'. In a lucid dream you know that you are dreaming. And then, once you're aware that you are dreaming, you can even consciously control the dream.

Lucid living applies this idea to our waking experience. If your experience of everyday reality is like a dream, then you can 'wake up' in the dream and live your life more consciously. Mr Freke calls this state of consciousness being 'deep awake'.

Now, I don't know about you, but the idea of lucid living really strikes a chord with me. There have been maybe one or two times in my life when I have felt to be in this 'ultra-conscious' state that Freke calls being deep awake. In this state, the world just seems to be a very different place, and life does seem to resemble a waking dream. I guess the challenge is to find ways of achieving this state of awareness on a more permanent basis.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Dreams within dreams

Saw Inception last night. An astonishing film. Christopher Nolan is possibly one of the most amazing directors in Hollywood today. Without giving too much away, the film is based around the notion of being able to go into people's dreams to steal or implant ideas.









 
I was more taken with the way it used dreams within dreams to carry the story along. If you haven't seen the film, click here for a choice of 3 (count them, three!) different Inception trailers. Then go see it! If you have seen the film, but you're still scratching your head this illustrated guide to the film might help clear things up (a bit).

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Become a psychic spy

Fifteen years ago, the world learned that the United States government had been funding research into psychic ability to the tune of around $20 million. That's a lot of cash to spend on something that many people think doesn't even exist! The reason the government was prepared to invest such a huge sum of money was because of the possible 'operational value' of psychic powers. That is, if such abilities were for real then surely you could train soldires to become 'psychic spies'!

Of course, when we talk about these things in the context of the US government, the CIA, then we don't talk about such things as psychic powers or psychic spies. Instead, we talk about 'remote viewers'. This sounds much more technical and militaristic.

The government-funded remote viewing research, under the project name of STARGATE, was declassified in 1994. It emerged that

So do you fancy yourself as a psychic spy? In fact, perhaps you are a trained remote viewer who, since the STARGATE project came to an end, has been waiting for a call to come down the line to be reactivated. If so, you might want to contact the Remote Viewing Institute in Germany. They are on the look out for remote viewers to take part in a research project. Drop them an email at kontakt@remoteviewinginstitute.com.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

So long, and thanks for all the fish!

When you watch something like this, you've got to think that the dolphins are just toying with us...



As I typed the title of this post, I discovered I had also used it for a post last year! (The one where I announce my decision to leave my job.) Given that Douglas Adams' original use of the phrase was with reference to dolphins, it makes a lot more sense here.

Friday, 2 July 2010

The life you could have led



Having seen this cartoon by Leunig many years ago, the image has stuck with me. It says so much. But what stops him walking down that brightly lit alley...?

Thursday, 1 July 2010

It's not about the monster

There can't be many people who could be towed along the surface of Loch Ness in a giant inflatable bubble and call it 'work'. Steve Feltham can.

I first 'met' Steve 18 years ago. Well I didn't actually meet him, but I felt I did. In August 1992 I watched Steve's video diary that was broadcast on BBC 2. The diary, called Desperately Seeking Nessie, followed Steve's first year as he set out to be a full-time Loch Ness Monster hunter. Yes, you read that correctly, a full-time Loch Ness Monster hunter. For many, the idea of even being a part-time monster hunter may seem a little surreal, but Steve wanted to do it full-time. At the age of 28 he decided to pack in his job, sell his house in Dorset, and end a seven year relationship with his then girlfriend in order to move up to the banks of Loch Ness to search for the Loch's legendary monster. Steve had been fascinated with Loch Ness and the monster that may or may not live in its murky depths ever since he was taken there on holiday as a kid. Since then he had been back several times and had even spent a 3-week holiday at the Loch on the look out for Nessie, weighing up the idea of giving up his job to do it full time.


At the time I first saw Steve's video diary, I was 22 years old and I'd just completed my degree at Liverpool Polytechnic. After 3 years' of student-dom, I was now living back at my parents' house in sunny Macclesfield. And, to be perfectly honest, I was pretty depressed. Not that there was anything wrong with my parents' house. Or even Macclesfield. It's just that I hadn't really expected to move back there after my student years, you know? So Steve's video-diary of how he took control of his life and followed his dream of becoming a Loch Ness Monster hunter came at an important time in my life when I was wondering what I might do next. It was an inspiring tale of realising that it is up to each of us to decide what we want to do with our lives and then having the courage to set about doing it, no matter how crazy it might seem to some people. (And let's face it, monster hunter has to be right up there towards the top end of the crazy scale!) In fact, one of the scenes from the video diary that stuck with me for many years was the shot of Steve driving off in his van (actually an old mobile library) in the direction of Scotland with the song Life's What You Make It by Talk Talk playing.

Over the years I had occasionally wondered if Steve had stuck it out. Was he still spending his days staring out over the waters of Loch Ness hoping to see something that would prove that he wasn't wasting his time? Indeed he was. His website, www.haveyouseenityet.com and a couple of clips on YouTube confirmed that he was still there and still making and selling little clay models of Nessie to help fund his research.

And so, during the 'summer' a couple of years ago (I use the word loosely here, as I think the summer lasted for little more than an afternoon) I decided to go and visit Steve. If nothing else, I wanted to be able to tell him how I had found his video diary inspiring and something I still remembered to this day. I dragged Rachel and Freya with me (not literally, Rachel shared the driving, Freya didn't have much choice) and we made a holiday out of it.

When we arrived at the Dores Inn car park, it was busier than I'd expected. The car park beside the pub on the banks of the Loch is where Steve has resided for the last 12 years or so, ever since the converted mobile library that is his home became, well, not so mobile. From this vantage point, Steve has an unparalleled view down the length of Loch Ness.


"It never ceases to amaze me, the wonderful and bizarre things I get involved in doing which I never would have done otherwise," Steve tells me when I ask him about his life since he'd decided to become a full-time monster hunter, "just the other day this gang turned up and covered this whole beach with a huge great polythene bubble, which they pumped up to become this 35-foot high plastic clear pyramid!". It turned out to be for a stunt to advertise Scottish Blend pyramid tea-bags, but at the last minute they decided to involve Steve, "they said, right, we're getting the Inverness paparazzi out tomorrow to do a photo-shoot with this giant tea-bag, but what would actually be better is if we could put a monster hunter inside it and tow him around the bay! So the next day, I'm getting towed around, and it was great because you're stood on this plastic skin and suddenly it becomes like a glass-bottomed boat so you can see all sorts of debris that's lying just out here. So I could tick that off as work!". I wasn't sure what surprised me more. The fact that Steve could call this work, or that there was an Inverness paparazzi.

Steve also told me about his friend who has built floats on to the base of his microlight aircraft so that they can go flying up and down the loch, "...which again in a way is monster hunting because you can look down into the water. And it's bloody great fun whilst you're doing it!"

But as we continued to talk about Steve's decision to become a monster hunter all those years ago, I noticed that we talked less and less about the monster, and more and more about what it means to follow a dream. In fact, that was the reason I had wanted to meet Steve. Personally, I wasn't that bothered whether or not there is a monster in Loch Ness, but Steve was. In fact, it was his passion. It was his dream to spend his life as a monster hunter and be the one to get conclusive evidence that Nessie was for real. But he was equally passionate about getting across the idea that, no matter what your dream is, you should do whatever you can to follow that dream. Even if it is as bizarre as looking for the Loch Ness Monster.

At the end of Steve's video diary he concludes, "This isn't just about hunting for a monster, but about having a dream and following it. It doesn't matter if people say you're mad, if you don't go for it one day you may say, 'well, I wish I'd done that when I'd had the chance'. If you don't follow your dreams, the only person who loses is you."

_____

Steve's video-diary, Desperately Seeking Nessie, can be viewed online here

The title of this post alludes to the title of cyclist Lance Armstrong's autobiography It's Not About The Bike. I was lent this by a friend at work about three years ago, and I still haven't read it. I think it's because I have a sneaky suspicion that a big part of it is going to be about the bike.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Flowing home

As we leave the hotel to head home after a fantastic holiday, Mesuda, the hotel's owner tells us not to worry that they are throwing water alongside the taxi-cab. "This is a Turkish custom", she explains, "which means 'may your journey be as smooth as water flows'". I liked that.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Too good to be true

Yes, there are places in the world where even Bradford is considered exotic...

Friday, 25 June 2010

Ten years younger

They also say that when in Turkey you should have a Turkish Shave. At least if you are a man. As it turns out I am a man, and I am in Turkey. So a few days ago I had a Turkish Shave.

I chose the friendliest-looking barber shop, which we had walked past several times on our way to and from the town. He enthusiastically waves us in, and offers us tea. I had read in the guide book at the hotel that the Turkish are especially proud of their hospitality and that it is considered rude not to accept tea when offered. So we accept. We drink tea as we watch the World Cup on the television. Portugal are beating North Korea 4 goals to nil. As we sip our tea, Portugal score a fifth.

Eventually, the barber gestures for me to lay my head back and the shave begins. He applies a smooth coating of shaving cream to my face, taking care to ensure that there are no gaps. Then the razor appears. Now, my concern with the cut-throat razor is, and always has been, the name. Cut-throat razor. I would have thought the last thing you want to be reminded of about a razor is what it is capable of doing when it is in the wrong hands! Fortunately, this particular razor is in the right hands as he deftly scrapes away the three or four days' worth of stubble that I had been growing in preparation for today's event. My face now feels as smooth as the rest of my body had felt after the hammam the day before. Anywhere else, and you might think that was the shave over with. But not in Turkey. Noticing that Rachel was looking a little warm while sipping her tea he picks up some lemon spritzer spray and sprays her face to cool her down, before doing the same to me. Next, large cotton-bud type things are dipped in lighter fuel and set alight. These implements are used to singe away any unwanted (and, no doubt, unsightly) ear-hairs. I didn't realise I had any, but I definitely feel them singe as they are gotten rid of.

At this point, by way of advice, my barber gestures to the cafe next door to his shop. "Omar's...", he says, "dirty. Don't go there." We hadn't planned to, but I had wondered why there had been a large picture of Omar Sharif in prominent place at the front of the cafe. I assumed it might have been because Mr Sharif himself had once eaten there. I doubted this now, especially if he'd been to this barber first. As I turn to look in the direction of the cafe, I notice the man turning the kebabs on the grill. He bears a striking resemblance to Omar Sharif. "Is that...", I begin to ask myself, but I stop myself. Of course it isn't. As we ponder over the dirtiness of the neighbouring cafe, and as I silently ponder the fate of Omar Sharif, North Korea concede a sixth goal.

As I turn back to look into the mirror ahead of me, I am taken aback by the sudden appearance of the tips a sharp pair of scissors at the end of my nose. He is now removing unwanted (and, no doubt, unsightly) nose-hairs. "Massage?" he asks. Before I can respond he is massaging my shoulders and arms. At one point, he even gets out a large electric massager to run across my back. The offer is extended to Rachel, who gratefully accepts her part in the proceedings. Meanwhile, Omar next door continues to turn kebabs in his decidedly empty cafe, and Portugal put a seventh goal past the Koreans.

"You look ten years younger!" the barber assures me, as we prepare to leave. I smile and ask him how old he thinks I look. "Ooh, 35?" he ventures. I give him a thumbs up, as though to indicate I am happy with that assessment. Not surprisingly, he takes my gesture to mean he has guessed correctly. "Yes, same age as me! 35!". I am surprised. I would have said he was nearer 45.

As we walk away, making sure not to make eye contact with the man in the neighbouring cafe, I feel thoroughly refreshed. And I feel confident in the knowledge that no unwanted (and, no doubt, unsightly) ear or nose-hairs are causing any offence. It then dawns on me. If he thought I looked 35 after my shave, and the shave made me look ten years younger, then he actually thought I was probably around 45.

Oh well, same age as him, I suppose. Same age as him.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Another bath like no other

I have never seen a bathroom with such a spectacular view. And probably never will again either. 'Tis quite amazing.

This picture is taken from the vantage point of the toilet. A 'poo with a view' if you will.

Monday, 21 June 2010

A bath like no other

They say that one thing you must try if you visit Turkey is a hammam. You and I might know it better as a Turkish Bath. Now it just so happens that the hotel in which we are staying has a hammam. And it just so happens that guests at this hotel are granted a complimentary hammam during their stay here. And it just so happens that we are guests at the hotel. And it just so happens that when we asked at reception about booking an appointment for our complimentary hammam, we were able to have one today. What I'm saying is, I had a Turkish Bath today.

I had no idea what to expect. Remember I had no idea I was going to be in Turkey today until just a couple of days ago, so no chance to read any of the guide books. I was entering un-chartered waters. Fortunately, I wasn't entering alone. Rachel was also hammam-ing, as were another couple.

All guests to the hammam have to wear comedy shoes. You slip these on like sandals but the wooden bases mean that no normal person could walk in them and look normal. The only way of propelling yourself forward is to shuffle. Or at least that was the case for me. Rachel, being a woman, after years of experience of propelling herself forward in a wide range of footwear seemed to be able to walk like a normal person. I looked across at the other couple who were also making their way into the hammam, and noticed they too were managing to walk like normal people. It was only me that was shuffling like a loon.

We propelled ourselves forward (I shuffled, Rachel and the others walked) into the hammam itself, a large marble-walled room in the bowels of the hotel. The first 15-20 minutes of a hammam, so I gather, is to sit and sweat and allow the pores to open. As we sat and sweated and allowed the pores to open, my mind began to wander. Was there anything I knew about Turkey? Anything from popular culture that might give me a hint as to what to expect from my hammam experience?

Then I remembered. Yes, there was a film I'd seen. A film that had something to do with Turkey. Midnight something. Midnight... Express. Midnight Express! Yes, that was it. I vaguely remember it as one of the first films I'd seen on video. Yes, in Midnight Express, doesn't the lead character go to a Turkish Bath...? Oh... no, it's not a Turkish Bath, is it? It's a Turkish Prison. And Turkish Baths and Turkish Prisons are not the same. At least I hope not.

The masseur makes his appearance. A stocky little man with a crew cut with a large tea-towel wrapped around his waist (it's actually called a pestamal). He gestures to the four of us as though to ask "who's first?". A few nods of heads seem to indicate that I am to go first. So I stand up and shuffle forward. He gestures for me to lie down on the large marble plinth in the centre of the room (the Gobek Tasi or Naval Stone). I ditch the sandals and oblige by lying face down on the plinth. I try not to think of the film Midnight Express. His job, I now realise, is to exfoliate. By exfoliate, I mean his job is to rub down my skin with a mitt that is made from the same stuff as a pan scourer. It was taking off the dead skin. There goes my first day's tan, I thought!

A tap on my back told me it was time to turn over on to my back. As I did so, Mr Masseur continued to scrape his brillo pad across my skin. As he moved from my legs to my upper torso, his face was a few inches from mine. Of course, being British, etiquette was uppermost in my mind. What is the proper etiquette in this situation, I asked myself? Do I make eye-contact or opt for a middle distance gaze? As I say, I'm British, so the middle distance gaze wins out and I choose a tile on the ceiling to focus upon.

Another tap, and I'm to sit up. As I do this a second masseur enters the hammam who, I presume, will begin to undertake the same torture I have just been through with the other guests. But no, I am being gestured to make my way over to the othe side of the Gobek Tasi and again lie face down. I do as I'm told. Immediately I prefer Mr Masseur no. 2, for he is the bringer of bubbles. Light, soft bubbles that somehow emerge from a pillow case. And lots of them. He proceeds to wash and massage me from head to toe. It is very, very relaxing.

A tap on my back and I know to turn over. Another interesting-looking ceiling tile catches my attention, saving us both (i.e., me) from any awkwardness. Another tap and I sit up to receive a neck massage that releases a knot or two that I didn't realise were there.

A final gesture brings me to my feet. My new friend rinses away the bubbles with cool water from a metal bowl that he pours over my head and shoulders. He then starts to make a quiet chanting noise that signals a change from cool water to ice cold water! Just as I was starting to like him, as well! It's cold but very refreshing.

By now, Mr. Masseur no. 1 was doling out his torture to Rachel. Although she seemed to be enjoying it. Just wait until you get to Mr. Masseur no. 2 with is pillow case of magical bubbles!

As we shuffle back to reception, I realise I am cleanest I have ever been. Ever.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Turkish delight

The wonders of technology. Blogging from my phone in the airport lounge at Heathrow! I'm amazed what is possible these days... But then again, to paraphrase Douglas Adams I still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.

Rachel surprised me again. She had booked us a week's holiday to Turkey! And we leave in an hour. I am being very, very spoiled.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Never let the odds keep you from doing what you know in your heart you were meant to do!

H. Jackson Brown Jnr.


Thursday, 17 June 2010

40 years young

Today I am 40. I remember when my dad turned 40. Forty is my dad's age, not mine!

I've been preparing myself for a while: when I was 38 and people asked me my age I would reply by saying I'd be 40 next year. Was I wishing my life away, or was I simply accepting that middle-age was soon to be upon me?

Now that I am 40, I am inclined to agree with Arthur Schopenhauer (don't I always?) who observed that, "the first forty years of life give us the text: the next thirty supply the commentary." I just hope it's not provided by John Motson.

[Thanks to Byron for the pic.]

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Chomsky with dick jokes

I've said it before and I'll say it again. I'm a big, big fan of Bill Hicks. In my humble opinion, he is possibly the best stand-up comedian to have graced the planet. But as many of his fans will testify, he was so much more than just a stand-up. His routines cut through all the crap that is thrown at us day after day, and his comedy revealed the lunacy that passes for politics these days.

I say 'these days' even though he died 16 years ago. He was just 32 years old. The irony was that his routines from the early 1990s that dealt with US foreign policy, George Bush, and Iraq were just as relevant 10 years after his death. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have seen Bill when he performed live at the Neptune Theatre in Liverpool back in 1992 when I was a student. I had seen him on TV quite a few times before then and kind of expected to recognise most of his material. About 80% of the show was new material, much of it seemingly improvised or highly topical (it was the week after the Los Angeles Riots).

I am therefore, soooo looking forward to seeing American: The Bill Hicks Story tonight. There are many clips from Bill's shows available on YouTube. This one perhaps best sums up his philosophy:



The title of this post? It's how Bill referred to himself.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Tweet surrender

I've succumbed to twitter. If you are a fellow tweeter or twitterer, or whatever we're called, feel free to follow me to find out what nuggets of wisdom I'm likely to chuck out from time to time. In fact, please follow me, as without followers it's all rather pointless...

Follow spiritualjunk on Twitter

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Do unto others


It's so easy to forget.
What you give is what you get.

Ratt, 1985.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Bedtime reading

My bedtime reading of late has been a book called Waking from Sleep (oh the irony).

All in the Mind

Three trailers for the same film, Inception, due to be released in the UK on July 16. The film looks amazing, but just goes to show how a little variation in editing can produce quite different trailers. For me, it's this one that is the most compelling:



This slightly shorter one doesn't sell it enough:



And this one, almost twice as long, perhaps gives away too much:



Still want to go and see it though!

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Real reason


There are things you do because they feel right & they may make no sense & they may make no money & it may be the real reason we are here: to love each other & to eat each other's cooking & say it was good.

The Story People.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Surprise!

You got me good and proper! Those furtive text messages, the turning of the laptop screen away from my eyes and the obsession with the weather. All is now clear. In some ways I feel a bit stupid to have not sussed, but in fact I am pleased to have got the full benefit of the surprise. It's the aspect of a surprise party that makes it, well, a surprise party!

Those of you who have been paying close attention over the last few years of this blog will know that I turn 40 this year. As will those of you who actually know me. My birthday is actually later this month, so I was not expecting to arrive back at the house (after a very enjoyable afternoon shooting clay-pigeons for the first time) to find a whole load of cars parked outside!

"What are all these cars doing here?" I asked Dave who was in the car with me. "I dunno..." Dave said back, unconvincingly, "Perhaps the neighbours have got friends round..." he suggested. A good attempt, Dave, but it doesn't explain why I recognised Rachel's parents' cars and my mum and dad's car! There was nobody around, so Dave led the way round to the garden at the back, and...

Surprise! A garden full of folks! Family and friends raising a glass to... well, to me! It appears that my better (oh, so better) half, Rachel, had spent the last couple of months planning a surprise party for my 40th! It was the start of the best party ever... live music, Chinese lanterns, a wonderful cake (that's me in the picture at my computer, complete with Rubik's Cube!), and a magician. Yes, a magician! In fact, the whole night was quite magical.

Thank you to everyone who came, and to everyone who clearly helped Rachel with the organising and the secret-keeping (shame on you). And thank you for cards and presents. I've not opened any as yet... will save for my actual birthday later this month. A few more days of my 30's left, which I shall hang on to as long as I can!

But thank you most of all to Rachel. So much thought and effort paid off. Thank you baby... I love you very much x

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Get psyched!

Ever wondered what makes people tick? In which case you might want to sign up for a home learning course in psychology. But with so many to choose from, how do you decide which one to go for? It’s a good question. Luckily the answer is here.

If you follow this link you can discover other home learning courses offered by NCC Home Learning.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Are we human?

I love this song. Trouble is, I think the more I play it the more I think Rachel is beginning to dislike it.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Flashed Away

Oh, and if you were unhappy about the way Lost ended, you would have also been a little frustrated with the finale of Flashforward (nice little reviews here and here).

No answers there at all, apart from pretty much everyone experiencing their flashforward just as they had seen it (kind of). Apart from those that didn't. It ended with another blackout and of course another flashforward, setting it all up for a second series. The bummer is there won't be a second series as ABC cancelled the show. Ho hum.

Derren 'n' Lou

Derren's final encounter as part of Derren Brown Investigates took him to the US to spend a few days with Lou Gentile, a ghost hunter and demonologist. We were treated to a few ghost photographs which, for Lou, provided strong proof of life after death but, for Derren, provided strong proof that we are very adept at seeing meaningful patterns in 'noise'. Especially when we're highly motivated to look for them.

Much of Lou's 'data' were in the form of Electronic Voice Phenomena, or EVP. As part of an investigation of a haunted house, Lou would ask questions out loud to the spirits thought to be haunting the place, leaving a gap for the spirit(s) to respond. A digital voice recorder placed on a table recorded the questions along with any answers. Typically, no response would be heard back at the time, but when the recording was played back sounds could be heard in the gaps between Lou's questions. Many people, such as Lou, believe that these sounds are the faint voices of spirits trying to communicate from the other side. The difficulty is that these sounds, much like the ghost photos, usually require a fair bit of interpretation to hear what is supposedly being said. What Lou hears as a message from the dead, you or I (or indeed Derren) might hear as unintelligible crackle.

If these noises aren't voices from beyond then what might they be? A useful contribution to the programme was made by a forensic audio analyst who pointed out that the noises are likely to be an artifact of how these digital voice recorders work, particularly those that are voice-activated. As is often the case with claims of apparently paranormal phenomena, a more likely explanation tends to be quite mundane but is often overlooked by people wishing to believe that something supernatural is happening.

A rather poignant end to the programme was the news that Lou had died a few months after the filming. I wonder if he's been in touch yet?

Monday, 31 May 2010

The Ghost Hunter

The final part of the Derren Brown Investigates trilogy is on tonight (Channel 4, 10pm). This time the focus is on a ghosthunter called Lou Gentile. My guess is that on this occasion our man will indeed be convinced that something paranormal is going on. Not.

There doesn't seem to be a trailer as such available for tonight's show, but there is some 'exclusive footage' from the show on our old friend YouTube:



It's a toss up between whether we watch DBI or the final episode of Flashforward, which is on Five at the same time. Luckily I imagine both will be available to watch on the web (or on Channel 4+1 for DBI) so we won't miss out either way!

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Lost but not forgotten

So this week saw the end of Lost, one of the most ambitious and complex drama series ever. It spanned six seasons over six years and kept fans glued to the screen right up the final moments.

Many a fan will have quickly turned to the internet to help them make sense of what they had just watched, as well as help them to interpret and re-interpret everything they had seen from Season One onwards! There aren't many TV shows that integrate such diverse topics as destiny, time-travel, faith, philosophy, love, and what happens after we die into a compelling drama.

But, of course, many questions were left unanswered, such as: So what exactly was the island? Why could it move in space and time? What was the smoke monster? Who was Jacob's "mother"? Why did the island need protecting? Etc., etc. If you're a fan of the show you'll know what I'm talking about, if you're not (and shame on you) you won't have a clue or, indeed, give a toss.

The web is abound with discussions and speculation over what it was all about, including its very own Lostpedia. As I browse through a few reviews of the finale and the discussions that follow, it is interesting to notice that those people who seem to be least satisfied with how it ended are those who don't seem to 'get it'. Those that have a better handle on what was going on seem quite happy with how it was brought to a close, despite the many unanswered questions.

It seems there is likely to be a final 'epilogue' to be included in the DVD boxed set that focuses on what happens to Hurley and Ben after they take over as the new protectors of the island. But other than that, that's your lot.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

The Future is Google

Or rather the future of TV is Google TV:



Speaking of Google, if you happened to try Googling something today or yesterday you would have discovered that it is the 30th anniversary of Pac-Man, and a click on the Google logo would have got you a free game!

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

A very funny man

I have mentioned in passing before that I have long been a fan of Bill Hicks. He died back in 1994 but he continues to be as popular now as when he was alive. Indeed, last week saw the release of a new biopic about him, called American: The Bill Hicks Story. It includes stories from those who knew him, interspersed with archive footage of his performances. Looks good.

Sure you can watch the clips of Bill on YouTube but going to see this movie at the cinema is going to be the closest you're ever likely to get to seeing the guy live on stage. And then some.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Derren 'n' Vyacheslav

It turns out it was Men with X-Ray Eyes (as opposed to the singular Man). Although it didn't appear as though anyone had X-Ray eyes. The focus of last night's Derren Brown Investigates was the Bronnikov Method, pioneered by a chap called Vyacheslav Bronnikov.

Among the claims made by Bronnikov is that his 'method' can help people see through blindfolds and can even help blind people to see (including those who don't have eyes!). And level 1 of the course costs only 700 Euros. All very intriguing, and all very dodgy-sounding.

The confrontation between Derren 'n' Vyacheslav ended with our man requesting that Mr Bronnikov tell him what was inside a sealed box, something that should be straightforward for a man with X-Ray eyes. Bronnikov declined. Which left us wondering what was inside the box!

My guess is that it was a small yellow plastic duck... on a chain.

Monday, 17 May 2010

The Man With X-Ray Eyes

The second of three documentaries in the Derren Brown Investigates series is broadcast tonight on Channel 4 at 10pm. I wonder if the man in the title will be watching...?

Sunday, 16 May 2010

A very significant buttock

We all use psychological 'short cuts' from time to time in order to make sense of the world around us. These short cuts can affect the way we behave and interact with other people. For example, we often rely on stereotypes to to make judgements about other people. These are usually simplistic over-generalisations about members of certain groups.

You might think that suppressing our stereotypes might prevent them from influencing our behaviour. Not so. In a study by psychologists back in the 1990s, participants were shown a picture of a ‘skinhead’ and were asked to spend five minutes writing about a typical day in this man’s life. Participants were randomly assigned to one of two conditions. In the first condition (the control condition) they were simply allowed to write their account with no further instruction. However, in the second, experimental, condition participants were instructed to try to not allow any stereotypical preconceptions they might have to influence their account. That is, they were asked to suppress any stereotypical thoughts.

Not surprisingly, the accounts of the man’s day produced by the control group tended to be more ‘stereotypical’ in content than the accounts produced by the participants who had been asked to suppress their stereotypes. But this wasn’t what the researchers were really interested in…

After the participants had completed their task they were taken into another room to meet the man in the photograph. When they got there, the man had apparently nipped out to go to the toilet, and had left his denim jacket and bag on the end chair of a row of eight chairs. So, the experimenter asked the participant to sit and wait in one of the remaining chairs. The researchers were interested in which chair each participant chose to sit in. And guess what, they found a difference between the two conditions. The people who had been instructed to suppress any stereotypical thoughts tended, on average, to sit almost one chair further away from the man’s chair at the end of the row than did the people who had not been asked to suppress such thoughts!

Macrae, C. N., Bodenhausen, G. V., Milne, A. B. & Jetten, J. (1994). Out of mind but back in sight: Stereotypes on the rebound. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67, 808–817.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Great face for radio

Off the back of the Derren 'n' Joe show on Monday, I was asked to take part in a local BBC radio show this morning to discuss whether psychics are real or fake...


You can listen along by clicking here (it's in the first hour). I even have an impromptu go at a bit of psychometry... with interesting results!

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Derren 'n' Joe

Last night's opening documentary as part of Derren Brown's new series, Derren Brown Investigates featured 'psychic medium' Joe Power, described as 'The Man Who Sees Dead People' (which just so happens to also be the title of Joe's book). One of Joe's claims includes contacting the spirit of John Lennon.

The premise of the programme was that Derren would spend five days with Joe to discover if he really does see dead people, or whether his abilities might be better explained in some other way.

None too surprisingly, Derren suspected that the latter was more likely: A combination of cold reading, warm reading, and a little bit of hot reading thrown in for good measure. Of course, Joe protested, and even accused Derren of... well, I'm not sure what he was accusing him of.

From the moment Derren entered Joe's rather humble looking flat and described it as 'gorgeous', you knew they weren't going to get on. And I suspect that Derren had already made up his mind as to Joe's authenticity. In the end, Joe came across as either deluded in his belief he could contact the dead or an outright fraud. Or a combination of the two.

The most (only?) impressive reading came when Joe seemed to give fairly accurate information to a woman as part of a one-to-one reading in her own house. Even DB seemed intrigued. It only emerged some weeks after filming that she was actually the next door neighbour of Joe's sister! What are the odds...

Update: The programme is now available at 4OD here. Oh, and we have a new Prime Minister.