‘Not that we needed all that for the trip, but once you get locked into a serious drug collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can.’ –Hunter S. Thompson


Paranormal experiences – whether it’s a psychic or an out-of-body experience or seeing a ghost – may not tell you anything about the world of the supernatural, because that world doesn’t exist, but those experiences still tell you about how your brain and mind operate. (…)

Tell us about his $1 million prize.

He has a long-standing financial reward if anyone can prove under test conditions that they’re psychic. There are various people who act as testers for him in various countries – I’m one of them in the UK. I’ve tested a few people. And it probably says something about the psychic world that in the 10 years that the prize has been up for grabs, no-one has come even close to claiming it. I tested a woman called Patricia Putt who was convinced she could give psychic readings for people, and that they would recognise their past and present in those readings. So we had lots of people come in, she would write down her readings, then we showed them to people and said you had to choose yours out of all of them. And suddenly they were at a loss. That’s because when you go for a psychic reading you know it’s meant for you. You’re sitting there, there are all these ambiguous comments, you can read into them and suddenly be impressed. Once you take away that mechanism everything collapses. (…) A million dollars – quite a large sum of money – is sitting there waiting for the first psychic who can prove they have these abilities. (…)

Does the soul weigh 21 grams?

That is where the movie title comes from. This was an American psychologist around the turn of the 20th century who put dogs onto scales, trying to weigh their souls leaving. He had some success with that, then tried the same with humans – putting very old people on the scales and waiting for them to die. But what he didn’t control for is sweating, moisture leaving the body. So 21 grams is probably much closer to the amount of moisture you lose when you die than your soul.

What exactly is a near-death experience?

A near-death experience is very similar to an out-of-body experience, which is where people think they’re floating away from their body, turned around seeing their body lying there. In a near-death experience, there is often a tunnel of light you go down towards meeting your maker. The gods you see depend very much on the culture you live in. Then the god turns you back, you return into your body and you wake up.

As we know more about how the brain creates a sense of where it is, we know more about how these experiences can be created. Now there are experiments where we can create an out-of-body experience fairly rapidly. Other researchers – and Mary Roach talks about these – write target numbers or words on pieces of cardboard and place them on top of cabinets and wardrobes in hospital wards, in the hope that somebody having a near-death or out-of-body experience will look down and see them. To date they haven’t. Which again suggests that this is an illusion rather than a genuine experience.

{ Richard Wiseman/The Browser | Continue reading }

artwork { Alex Grey, Kissing, 1983 }