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Friday, October 1, 2010

Mediums in the Media

I am surprised and encouraged by the frequency with which mediums and psychics are showing up in ‘mainstream’ movies and TV shows.

In this group, I am NOT including the “reality” shows in which deceased people are hunted down like vermin while people’s experiences are entirely discounted and environmental monitors which were not developed for any such purpose are waved around willy nilly.  Author, parapsychologist, and seasoned field investigator Loyd Auerbach just wrote a really terrific article about that type of show in our most recent issue of Winds of Change, our members’ e-newsletter.  Here’s my favorite excerpt: “Technology is the result of science.  But do you consider yourself as being scientific when you use a microwave oven?  Or use a metal detector?  Texting on a cell phone?  One can teach a chimp—heck, probably your dog—to get excited if the meter starts reacting on a magnetometer, but that hardly means the animal is being ‘scientific.’”  Chimps, indeed, Loyd.

It is the more “normal” shows that are featuring mediums and psychics that (sometimes) have me smiling.  The mere regularity with which these individuals are showing up means that it is truly becoming less and less taboo to SEE a medium or psychic or BE a medium or psychic.

For example, later this month (10/22), the movie Hereafter staring Matt Damon and directed by Clint Eastwood debuts.  Damon plays a medium and another character in the movie has a life-changing near-death experience (NDE).  Watch the trailer here.

And just today as I had my lunch, I watched the latest episode (“He’s dead, she’s dead” …hee hee hee) of the TV show Castle, a crime dramedy about NYPD homicide detective Kate Beckett and mystery novelist Richard Castle who shadows Beckett as part of research for his books.  In this episode, a psychic medium is murdered.  Castle takes the stance of accept-er and Beckett acts as the deny-er.  (I won’t use the words ‘believer’ and ‘skeptic’ because I don’t think accepting the reality of psychic abilities requires blind faith and I don’t think denying even the possibility of such phenomena is being skeptical.)

There were a number of concepts portrayed in the show that I was pleased to see went along accurately with the research, politics, and psychology associated with mediumship and psychic abilities (collectively called “psi” for simplicity here)…

--Argumentum ad hominem.  Though Castle properly defines the abilities (“psychics can tell the future and mediums can tell the future and talk to the dead”), Beckett resorts to name-calling (“that’s like saying psychics are con-artists and mediums are con-artists and charlatans”).  At one point she even equates “belief” in psi to a belief in Santa Claus. Castle is more level-headed.  After Beckett calls him gullible, he says, “I’m not saying I can speak with the dead; I’m just willing to admit that there are people in this world who are more sensitive than me.” Our research findings back that up.

--Double standards.  Beckett finds it logical to dismiss psi outright but has no problem with other similar notions.  After she dismisses the link between the medium’s predictions and what comes to pass as “coincidence” rather than fate and later states that her “gut says” a suspect is innocent, Castle points out: “So you don’t believe in fate, yet your gut has magical properties.”

--Nature/nurture (also the topic of this week’s Two Cents Tuesday question).  The medium’s daughter also had psi experiences and more than once reported accurate information that she had acquired during a dream state.

--Personality types (i.e., the cops acted like cops).  In our research, we have mediums fill out several personality/psychological tests—one is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator which assigns a person one of two personality types in four categories resulting in one of 16 four-letter types (for example, ENTJ: extravert-intuitive-thinking-judging).  We have found that 85% of mediums are personality subset NF, intuitive and feeling (the outside letters don’t seem to correlate to mediumship experiences).  According to the test developers, the professions with the highest percent of NFers are clergy (55%) and art, drama, and music teachers (54%).  The profession with the lowest—only 4%—of NFers: police and detectives.  They’re just different types of people, so it isn’t surprising that it is difficult for police to get behind information acquired through non-local (or as the journalist who recently interviewed Mark erroneously referred to it in her article: “non-vocal”) means.  When Castle laments that he is “surrounded by skeptics,” one of the detectives responds, “It’s called being a cop, bro.”  I was also pleasantly surprised that they included both possible explanations for why they couldn’t verify that the medium worked on all the law enforcement cases she claimed to: (1) the medium over-represented her involvement and (2) the agencies were hesitant to admit the use of psychic help.

--The psychology of memory.  In Castle’s recollection of a reading he had received from the murdered medium 8 years prior, he claims “she got everything right” which is simply impossible.

Though no one mentioned the more than a century of scientific research with mediums in the show, I was very pleased with how the title character stood up for psi (though not pleased with the sometimes shady activities of the medium).  I am hoping that with the continued presence of psi-associated phenomena in the popular culture as normal and ubiquitous, funding from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will follow.

Yeah, right.