Skeptical Scientists and the Paranormal — Part 2, Elizabeth Lloyd Mayer
This is the second in a brief series of articles about individuals with a background in conventional science, but who are converted to an alternative worldview following a paranormal experience. The first was the story of Brian O’Leary, who was a member of the astronaut programme during the 1960s. Now I’ll turn to Elizabeth Lloyd Mayer¹.
She opens her book Extraordinary Knowing: Science, Skepticism and the Inexplicable Powers of the Human Mind² with a personal anecdote, which I’ll summarise. It is important to note that, as she says afterwards, she had previously considered herself to be “a skeptical, highly trained scientific professional”.
She had bought an extremely valuable harp for her daughter, which was stolen. She says: “For two months we went through every conceivable channel trying to locate it: the police, instrument dealers across the country…” And more, but “nothing worked”.
A friend said she should consider calling a dowser. In desperation she agrees. She rings the President of the American Society of Dowsers, and asks for help. Even during the phone call he is able to tell her that it is still in Oakland, where it was stolen. He then said: “Send me a street map of Oakland and I’ll locate that harp for you”. After two days, he tells her the address where the harp is located. After contacting the police, who could not accept her story as grounds for a search warrant, she decided to put up some posters in the locality, offering a reward. Within three days she has the harp back.
Dowsing is dismissed as ‘pseudoscience’ by skeptics, therefore any claimed success would be considered by them paranormal. This incident completely changed Mayer’s worldview, ridding her of her ‘scientific’ preconceptions, in her words: “this changes everything”. This was hardly surprising, since the dowser had over the phone, from 2000 miles away, pinpointed the exact location of the harp.
She then turns her life over to researching the paranormal. She describes her subsequent investigations. She was a psychotherapist, and discovered that “there were things my patients had been only half telling me for years, things they viewed as too weird or risky to reveal for fear I wouldn’t believe them or — worse — would think they really were crazy”. Then, “as word of my new interest spread, my medical and psychoanalytic colleagues began to inundate me with accounts of their own anomalous experiences, personal as well as clinical”. As a separate venture, she begins a course, with no voyeurs allowed, a compulsory condition of entry being a written account of an apparently anomalous experience. The college is inundated with applications, with people demanding to be admitted. This suggests that parapsychological phenomena are very common indeed, in the words of physicist Fred Alan Wolf, “unexplainable, psychic, parapsychological phenomena bombard our universe”³.
There is therefore a vast amount of anecdotal evidence for the paranormal, and yet many people are still afraid to talk about it for fear of being thought crazy. Furthermore, such stories are still frequently dismissed by the scientific community. How, in the face of such evidence, can they be allowed to get away with this?
Following her conversion, Mayer, the former “skeptical, highly trained scientific professional”, asks the question: “Might we be capable of a connectedness with other people and every other aspect of our material world so profound that it breaks all the rules of nature as we know it? If so, it’s a connectedness so radical as to be practically inconceivable”.
Let’s hope it’s possible.
I hope you have enjoyed this article. I have written in the past about other topics, including spirituality, metaphysics, psychology, science, Christianity, politics and astrology. All these articles are on Medium, but the simplest way to see a guide to them is to visit my website (click here and here).
- Unfortunately, she died in 2005. Her book was published posthumously.
2. Bantam, 2008
3. Space-Time and Beyond, Bantam, 1983, p65