Exploring the Shadows of the Paranormal
An Interview with Dr. Robert M. Schoch
by Bianca Waxlax
Is there scientific evidence that a world beyond the ordinary exists? Dr. Robert M. Schoch, PhD, strives to answer this question in his latest book entitled, The Parapsychology Revolution: A Concise Anthology of Paranormal and Psychical Research, co-authored by Logan Yonavjak. This anthology contains reports, essays, and arguments, dating from 1886 through 2007, which explore whether such phenomena as clairvoyance, telepathy, and poltergeist activity are grounded in scientific evidence, or just hearsay.
A full-time faculty member at the College of General Studies at Boston University since 1984, Dr. Schoch earned his PhD in geology and geophysics at Yale University. He has been quoted extensively in the media for his pioneering research recasting the date of the Great Sphinx of Egypt, as well as for his work on ancient cultures and monuments in Peru, Bosnia, Egypt, and Japan. He has appeared on many radio and television shows and is featured in the documentary, The Mystery of the Sphinx. I recently had the chance to speak with Dr. Schoch about his paranormal and psychical investigations.
VM: What sort of research is discussed in your book, The Parapsychology Revolution?
RS: Let me begin by saying that while parapsychology and psychical research is incredibly important, it is at the same time poorly understood and often ignored, dismissed, or ridiculed by mainstream academics and conventional thinkers. It is my hope that The Parapsychology Revolution will help make the case that studies of paranormal mental phenomena need to be taken seriously and demonstrate that many serious scientists and researchers (including Nobel prize winning scientists) who have studied parapsychology in depth agree that there is something happening here that requires explanation.
In The Parapsychology Revolution, Logan Yonavjak and I discuss paranormal and psychical phenomena in a strict sense, addressing the concepts of ESP (Extra-Sensory Perception, including telepathy, clairvoyance, and precognition) and PK (psychokinesis, or the ability of the mind to directly influence physical objects). Certain topics that are sometimes included in more general definitions of the paranormal and parapsychology, such as UFOs, aliens, Big Foot, and so forth, are not of concern in this book. Likewise, our primary focus did not include evidence bearing on survival beyond the grave (though we do briefly discuss evidence for reincarnation). The survival issue is highly controversial and the evidence typically used to support life after death is subject to many interpretations. In terms of paranormal mental phenomena, we felt it was important to first establish what is possible now, while people are still alive.
VM: How did you personally become interested in the field of parapsychology research?
RS: Parapsychology is something I have actually had an interest in for many years. My late grandmother was a Theosophist and open to non-conventional ideas. I was never a “true believer” in the reality of such phenomena and always maintained a healthy skepticism of all reports of paranormal manifestations. Indeed, my initial interest in such phenomena was from an anthropological point of view, not necessarily judging whether alleged paranormal experiences are “real” or not, but simply being interested in why people seem to experience them, and what their meaning might be for the participants. In college I earned degrees in anthropology and geology, and in studying one “primitive” or “traditional” culture after another, supposed instances of the paranormal kept cropping up.
VM: How did your work in ancient civilizations affect your desire to pursue the field of parapsychology?
RS: Beginning in the 1990s, I found myself applying my geological expertise to ancient monuments, initially working on the Great Sphinx and pyramids in Egypt, and then expanding to other ancient stone monuments and megalithic structures around the globe. Issues I had not given much thought to for years started to haunt me once I became involved in studying not just the stones, but why past civilizations had erected them into such magnificent edifices. The “why” behind the monuments, more often than not, apparently included religious beliefs and practices, as well as initiation rites and rituals, which in many cases seemed to have an ostensible paranormal aspect, whether it was clairvoyance, divination, or manifestations of higher levels of consciousness. The temples and tombs of ancient Egypt, Mexico, and Peru seemed to cry out “paranormal.” So, was it all a mixture of ancient myth, superstition, and downright fraud on the part of many seers, priests, and priestesses, or could there be something to it? Were the ancient structures used, at least in part, to alter consciousness, and possibly enhance paranormal psychical phenomena? Such questions led me to look seriously at the paranormal.
VM: What do you find to be the most compelling evidence supporting the reality of paranormal phenomena?
RS: Most people who have seriously studied the subject conclude that telepathy is the best-supported class of paranormal phenomena. Perhaps most compelling for me is the work of various modern researchers which has demonstrated a weak but persistent correlation between low levels of geomagnetic activity on planet Earth and cases of apparent spontaneous telepathy (based on records going back to the latter half of the nineteenth century). This, in my opinion, is a very strong argument supporting the contention that there is something genuine to the concept of telepathy. It suggests that spontaneous telepathic phenomena are real and that their manifestation is influenced by other natural parameters. Alternatively, are we to think that hundreds of hoaxers over nearly a century and a half have conspired to falsify telepathic incidents in identical correlation with geomagnetic activity? This latter hypothesis strikes me as rather far-fetched, if not downright ludicrous.
Another line of compelling evidence for the reality of paranormal phenomena is the study of pre-sentiments or “pre-sponses,” essentially a form of short-term precognition as measured by physiological parameters (heart rate, electrodermal activity, and so forth). Numerous replicated experiments have demonstrated the physiological responses of individuals to disturbing photographs, for instance, a second or two before they are actually viewed by the person. According to conventional science, this should not be possible.
VM: What is the most interesting case study that you found while doing research for The Parapsychology Revolution?
RS: I encountered many fascinating case studies while researching the book. However, one is of particular interest to me as I was personally a part of it. One Saturday a spider bit me. This particular spider had the appearance of a hairy little tarantula with large green “eyes” that I found very striking and beautiful. I was quite worried about the incident as my thumb hurt where I had been bitten, and I knew stories of people becoming extremely ill or even dying from spider bites. I did not know what kind of spider it was, and thus could not judge whether it was poisonous or not, so before letting it go, (I do not believe in killing anything unnecessarily), I took photographs of the spider in order to later identify the species if necessary. That night a friend of mine, thousands of miles away, dreamed about a tarantula-like spider, and also dreamed of a baby with “beautiful large green eyes.” Furthermore, I appeared in her dreams that night. The next day she felt a need to tell me about the spider, and sent me an e-mail about her dream. She does not write to me that often, nor does she normally relate her dreams to me. Upon receiving her e-mail, I told her about the spider incident and sent her photos of the actual critter. To this day, I am convinced that my spider bite and her dream were not just a simple case of chance or coincidence.
VM: Has the evidence for the reality of paranormal phenomena altered your personal belief system?
RS: I would say the answer is both yes and no. In all honesty, I have always been highly skeptical of any alleged paranormal phenomena. However, my concept of skepticism is not the same as dismissal, and in my studies of ancient and traditional cultures, alleged paranormal phenomena kept making an appearance. Still, when I first began working on this anthology, I honestly doubted that much compelling evidence would be found to support the existence of genuine paranormal phenomena. Indeed, initially my conception was that the anthology would present “both sides of the coin” in equal amounts, namely evidence for and against the reality of paranormal phenomena.
In hindsight, I realize I was naïve. The more I researched the paranormal, the more evidence I found to support it. All the “evidence” against it seemed to simply be skeptical dismissals without any real substance, or isolated cases of exposing fraud here and there. Cases of fraud, more often than not, were exposed not by the debunkers, but by serious parapsychologists.
Perhaps the reality of paranormal phenomena has not so much fundamentally altered my personal belief system as supplemented and expanded it, broadening my understanding of the human experience and human potential. Human beings are not as isolated from each other, from other life forms, and the world at large as a traditional mechanistic, materialistic, rationalistic worldview suggests. What we think “privately” in our heads really does matter and our very thoughts can and do have consequences.