A Skeptic, and Yet …

Most of the books and articles about the paranormal by authors who are rigid skeptics hold little interest for me. These are the people who are so sure that they are right in their fixed disbelief about many of the topics WINN explores that they will not even look at the research. But I do read “Skeptic,” the regular column by Michael Shermer that appears in SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN. He’s also the publisher of SKEPTIC magazine and although he is biased and sometimes not well enough informed, unlike many of those who so proudly label themselves skeptics, he is willing to ask questions that show his mind is not closed.

His October 2014 column, Skeptic, with the title, “Infrequencies,” really impressed me. It began with his saying, “Often I’m asked if I have ever encountered something that I could not explain.” He knows this is not about ordinary complexities but about whether he’s come across, “…anomalous and mystifying events that suggest the existence of the paranormal or supernatural.” I was astonished when I then read, “My answer is: yes, now I have.”

He went on to tell the story of what happened the day he married Jennifer Graf, a woman who was raised by her single mother and who had been very close to the grandfather who died when she was 16. One of her treasured belongings was his transistor radio, a 1978 Philips, which was beyond repair although Shermer had tried to fix it. Finally it had been placed, “…at the back of a desk drawer in our bedroom.”

Three months later, in June of 2014, they had a simple family wedding at home and Jennifer wished, with sadness, that her grandfather could have been there to give her away. Shermer continues the story writing that after exchanging their vows, “She whispered that she wanted to say something to me alone, so we excused ourselves to the back of the house where we could hear music playing in the bedroom. We don’t have a music system there, so we searched for laptops and iPhones and even opened the back door to check if the neighbors were playing music. We followed the sound to the printer on the desk, wondering – absurdly – if this combined printer/scanner/fax machine also included a radio. Nope.”

Jennifer said, “That can’t be what I think it is, can it?” But it was. They opened the desk drawer and took out her grandfather’s transistor radio which was playing a romantic love song. Jennifer said, “’My grandfather is here with us… I’m not alone.’”

They rejoined their guests with the radio still playing music and told the story about Walter, her grandfather. Shermer then noted that, “Fittingly, it stopped working the next day and has remained silent ever since.”

Shermer puzzled over this event and tried to explain it in ways familiar to the skeptics. I enjoyed his honesty in writing this,

“Had it happened to someone else I might suggest a chance electrical anomaly and the law of large numbers as an explanation – with billions of people having billions of experiences every day there’s bound to be a handful of extremely unlikely events that stand out in their timing and meaning. In any case, such anecdotes do not constitute scientific evidence that the dead survive or that they can communicate with us via electronic equipment.”

But Shermer said his skepticism was rocked to the core and that for Jennifer – whose usual skepticism matched his own, “…the eerie conjunctions of these deeply evocative events gave her the distinct feeling that her grandfather was there and that the music was his gift of approval.” He concludes this column,

“The emotional interpretations of such anomalous events grant them significance regardless of their causal account. And if we are to take seriously the scientific credo to keep an open mind and remain agnostic when the evidence is indecisive or the riddle unsolved, we should not shut the doors of perception when they may be opened to us to marvel in the mysterious.”

How wonderful! How welcome! That is what is required of each one of us when we experience something strange and hard to explain: we should gather the facts (the event, the context, and the details), see if an ordinary cause can be found (were the neighbors playing music?), and then allow the doors of perception to be open to the other levels of reality.

There are many stories about modern technologies producing “marvels.” For example, see the story by Carolyn Rapp (Was It My Father’s Spirit?) about music produced after her father’s death, published in WINN on April 7, 2017.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Jack Stucki says:

    Very nice!!–jack

  2. Trudy Summers says:

    This evocative post reminds me of a recent occurrence following a period of protracted silence in a meditation group. A participant on the far side of the group reported hearing soft singing from the other side of the group during the silence. The woman next to me said, “Wow!” She then went on to say that what had come up for her in the silence was a memory of her being younger than six and her grandmother took her to a church where people were singing a hymn. Silently, in the meditation group, she sang the hymn to herself….”joy, joy, joy down deep in my heart.” No one else “heard” the singing except for the one so attuned. She said, “I guess I just heard the vibrations.”

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