Carl Sagan, an astronomer and popularizer of science, is a founding member of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal. The Demon-Haunted World is his first book to deal with the topic of science versus pseudoscience and the paranormal, or, in his own words ``A Candle in the Dark versus a Demon Haunted World.'' The current popularity of a whole variety of ideas like astrology, aliens, psychic surgery etc. are examined. The geographic and historic similarities of these ideas suggests several sources for these beliefs. The character of education and the difficulties in understanding sciences seem to play a role. Our modern, college age and college educated students are not immune, nor are the educated of all ages. What are the sources of our information and of our beliefs? What does the future hold?
Due to scheduling difficulties, this months meeting is being held in the ``children's room'' which is behind the circulation desk.
The expiration date for your ISUNY membership is printed on the upper right-hand corner of your mailing label. Dues can be mailed to the treasurer at the address on the back page of this newsletter, or paid at our monthly meeting. (Make checks out to ISUNY.) Your dues cover newsletter and speaker expenses. If the date on the mailing label is circled it means you are late and may be dropped from the mailing list. If you have renewed, and the date is incorrect please bring the error to our attention.
The Inquiring Skeptics of Upper New York maintains a library of books, newsletters, magazines, video and audio tapes addressing various paranormal topics. ISUNY members may borrow material from this library on a month-by-month basis. Our collection has grown over the years from the kind donations by our members, and includes many back issues of the Skeptical Inquirer (including volume 1, issue 1) donated by Richard Lange M.D, audio tapes made and donated by Dorothy and Ralph Hoyt, UFO magazines by Peter Huston, and many newsletters from skeptic groups around the world sent by Barry Karr of CSICOP.
In addition, ISUNY thanks the many members have dug deep into the dusty shelves of used bookstores and contributed to our growing collection. If you would like to borrow a book, newsletter or tape see our librarian Lewis Treadway before or after any ISUNY meeting. All material is lent free to members except for tapes for which we ask a $1.00 donation that will be used to purchase further library material.
The Albany Area Amateur Astronomers meet the third Tuesday of each month at the Schenectady Museum. The November 19th meeting is an equipment and observing roundtable for beginners. Meetings begin at 7:30 pm. For more information contact Alan French at (518) 374-8460.
The Capital District Humanist Society meets the second Sunday of each month at the Ramada inn on Western Avenue. The meetings begin at 1:15 pm. For more information contact Paul DeFrancisco at (518) 272-4772.
It is once again that time of year when Ghost, Ghoulies and things that go bump in the night are knocking at the door. I like the Halloween season, with its Illini Orange decoration motif, crisp fall air, and relaxed dress code. It also happens that the Internet, and particularly the World Wide Web, is a good place to find information about Halloween in its many manifestations.
The first place to visit for the Gothic is Dark Side of the Web at http://www.cascade.net/darkweb.html.2 Dark Side contains over 2,000 links to information about Horror literature, Movies, Music, the paranormal and the Occult. These range from fiction to real-life accounts and some of a more ambiguous nature.
Dark Side is also the sponsor of YaBoo! a parody of the well known YaHoo! link index. At YaBoo! you can search for sites matching key words, you can select sites by categories such as ``Shops and Halloween Products,'' ``Pages by and for Kids,'' or ``Ghost Stories.'' YaBoo! is found at http://www.cascade.net/yaboo.html.
If your interest is Ghost Stories, there are several collections on the Web. A good place to begin is The Shadowlands Ghost page at http://users.aol.com/shadoland2/ghost.html. Shadowlands is a personal account of living in a haunted house. The page includes links to other ghost sites including the Three Men and a Baby ghost picture.3
Accounts of another famous haunting can be found at Son of Borley Rectory: the ghosts, poltergeist, and phantoms of Borley Rectory. Borley Rectory was built in 1863, and destroyed by file in 1939. The Reverend Lionel Foyster and his wife Marianne recorded over 2,000 alleged paranormal events during their stay. Marianne discussed how many of the events, but not all of them, could be explained though normal means.
In the finest tradition of vanity Web publishing you can enter your own ghost story (and read those entered by others) at Add-A-Fright (http://www.azc.com/client/page/fright.html). These are hauntings entered by Web surfers---just like you. The page maintainer requests that only true ghost stories be added, by which they mean by personal accounts and not friend-of-a-friend stories.
Finally, if you don't have a personal ghost story you can seek one at A SPECTRE Search (http://web2.airmail.net/spectre1/source/page0.html). SPECTRE Search is a directory of haunted dining and lodging in the U.S. There are, unfortunately, no listings for the capital area, but there are several for Vermont.
Question: Hey Pete, its Halloween! Why don't you publish a piece on something scary.
Answer: My first impulse was to write about goblins, but I couldn't find much about them. I did discover the medieval European miners believed that Kobolds lived down in the mines and caused accidents, but that really isn't enough to write about.
Instead, I'll write about ghosts. Ghosts are, of course, the spirits of dead people. They are said to have come in several varieties, but there really doesn't seem to be too much consistency to such reports.
Nevertheless, one type occurs time and time again and that is the ``night terror.'' In this case, a person is sleeping and a spirit, monster, or other spooky thing comes in while they are sleeping, hops on their chest, and frightens them. Bizarrely enough, the phenomenon has a documented physiological basis.
The human mind works in a variety of ways. One of the most peculiar and least understood things it does is dream. As we all know, while we sleep these crazy images cascade through our head illuminating our lives and giving us insight into what it is that we are really thinking about. (Actually that's my opinion. The scientists, justifiably, are still trying to figure out why we dream and what it means if anything. By the way, one thing they have agreed upon, though is that the larger an animal's brain the more it sleeps and the more it dreams. Also dreaming is essential to normal, healthy functioning.)
But sleeping and waking are not completely independent states. There are several conditions in which the two overlap and a person can actually become confused as to whether he or she is awake or not. One of these is hypnopompic hallucinations. In this condition, a person awakes and experiences a sensation of paralysis. Try as they might, they can't move. This is very frightening. Then their heart rate increases, due to fear. They feel a tightness and a pressure on their chest. Their brain, still partially asleep, often provides a reasonable hallucination to accompany the sensations of paralysis, fear, and chest pressure. Often the person actually sees something terrifying perched right on their chest!
Generally the hallucination is something culturally specific. A wide variety of ghosts are not uncommon. Many believe that in our culture, alien abductions often have their basis in this phenomena (frequently enhanced by hypnosis to alter and ``create'' memories.)
Finally, it should be mentioned that if a person is paralyzed and frightened, their respiratory rate goes up and they begin to hyper-ventilate. This leads to CO2 retention. CO2 retention leads to sexual arousal.4 Therefore, as the mind struggles to create a hallucination which can fit the stimuli, it is not uncommon for hypnopompic hallucinations to have a strong sexual component. Many believe that this phenomenon is the basis for legends of demonic incubi and succubi.
For recommendations for further reading contact me.
Peter Huston is Vice President of ISUNY. His work appears regularly in the Skeptical Inquirer and Skeptic. He is the author of two books Tongs, Gangs, and Triads: Chinese Crime Groups in North America and the upcoming Scams from the Great Beyond: How to Make Easy Money Hoaxing New Age, Psychic, and UFO Phenomena. Both are from Paladin Press in Boulder, CO.
Question: Mr Quinne, I have been a fan of the fox television show The X-Files for several years. There have been rumors that David Ducheovny, who plays Fox Mulder, would like to leave the program and pursue a stage acting career. Will this happen, and will the X-Files be cancelled as a result? -Worried in Washington County
Answer: Yes and No. David Ducheovny, who plays the unflappable Fox Mulder on Fox TV's The X-Files, would like to leave the series at the end of this season. He has been offered the part of Richard Feinman in the Broadway production Peter Schickely's minimalist opera Einstein on the Fritz. The producers plan on having Fox Mulder die of autoerotoasphyixiation in a Millennium/X-Files cross-over season finale.
The popular series will continue however for another two additional seasons with Kyle McLaughlin playing special agent Dale Cooper, a role he popularized in the the David Lynch series Twin Peaks. Gillian Anderson will leave the X-Files one season after David Duchevny to become a semi-regular on NBC's popular sitcom Seinfeld.
Q: Dear Mr. Psychic (if that is your real name), Election eave is almost upon us, so what better time to display your psychic powers. Who will win this years presidential election? -Skeptical in Schenectady
A: Predicting the outcome of this election should be obvious to anybody, and is far too simple a task for my psychic powers. I would, however, like to take this opportunity to predict the post election scandal that will break even before the next president is sworn in. You may have heard of allegations that the Democratic National Committee accepted a $400,000 donation from Indonesia, and that this may have affected Clinton administration policy towards that countries human rights record. What you haven't heard is that that $400,000 was given to the Indonesian government by Ross Perot in an attempt to discredit Clinton and gain an edge in the polls.
Ross Perot has been suffering a serious setback since 4.5 million of his followers disappeared after the 1992 election. At that time, Ross Perot was able to garner 19% of the vote. One year later, only 15% of those polled said the voted for Ross Perot, and by early this year that number was down to 9%. Something has been happening to his supporters, and that something is big. Theories have ranged from alien abductions to the ridiculous claim that Clinton and Dole campaign handlers took them. (Where, I ask you, would Clinton and Dole keep 4.5 million Ross Perot supporters?)
I believe the missing Ross Perot voters will be found in Indonesia. They have been moving there over the past four years to work on the top secret black-saucer program run by NASA, and largely backed by Mr. Perot. Indonesia is the perfect location for this super secret project, and the $400,000 was just one of many payments. A small clerical error resulted in this money being sent to the democratic national convention. The silly excuse of a bad campaign contribution was invented so the money could be returned to Indonesia where it is desperately needed before the Zeta-Reticulan battle fleet arrives.
David Quinne is ISUNY's official psychic. He is a graduate of Maharishi International University where he studied quantum metaphysics with a minor in political science. Questions to the Psychic can be sent to this newsletter care of the editor.
The Prizes honor people whose achievements ``cannot or should not be reproduced.''
The event was reluctantly presented by The Annals of Improbable Research (which has been described as ``the MAD Magazine of science''). This year it was also co-sponsored by the Harvard Computer Society, Tangents (the Harvard-Radcliffe mathematical bulletin), and the Harvard-Radcliffe Science Fiction Association.
This year's ceremony was embroiled in controversy---Sir Robert May, the science advisor to the British government, had asked the organizers to stop giving Ig Nobel Prizes to scientists, even when the scientists want to receive them. Nevertheless, this year's Ig Nobel roster included yet another prizewinner from England.
This year's ceremony also featured the world premiere of ``Lament Del Cockroach,'' a mini-opera starring mezzo-sopranos Margot McLaughlin and scientist/supermodel Symmetra as cockroaches and the Nobel Laureates as insects eager to mate. At the opera's conclusion, a meteorite from Mars eradicated the roaches while three plants sang Handel's Hallelujah Chorus (``Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! The roaches are gone!'') and Earth's other life forms danced the macarena.
Biology: Anders Baerheim and Hogne Sandvik of the University of Bergen, Norway, for their tasty and tasteful report, ``Effect of Ale, Garlic, and Soured Cream on the Appetite of Leeches.'' [The report was published in British Medical Journal, vol. 309, Dec 24--31, 1994, p. 1689.] Drs. Baerheim and Sandvik sent a videotaped acceptance speech, and watched the ceremony live on the Internet.
Medicine: James Johnston of R.J. Reynolds, Joseph Taddeo of U.S. Tobacco, Andrew Tisch of Lorillard, William Campbell of Philip Morris, and the late Thomas E. Sandefur, Jr., chairman of Brown and Williamson Tobacco Co. for their unshakable discovery, as testified before the US Congress, that nicotine is not addictive.
Physics: Robert Matthews of Aston University, England, for his studies of Murphy's Law, and especially for demonstrating that toast always falls on the buttered side. [The report, ``Tumbling toast, Murphy's Law and the fundamental constants'' was published in European Journal of Physics, vol. 16, no. 4, July 18, 1995, p. 172-6.] Professor Matthews sent an audiotaped acceptance speech.
Peace: Jacques Chirac, President of France, for commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of Hiroshima with atomic bomb tests in the Pacific.
Public Health: Ellen Kleist of Nuuk, Greenland and Harald Moi of Oslo, Norway, for their cautionary medical report ``Transmission of Gonorrhea Through an Inflatable Doll.'' [The report was published in Genitourinary Medicine, vol. 69, no. 4, Aug. 1993, p. 322.] Dr. Moi traveled from Oslo to Cambridge---at his own expense---to accept the Prize. During the trip, Dr. Moi also delivered a lecture at Harvard Medical School about his achievement.
Chemistry: George Goble of Purdue University, for his blistering, world record time for igniting a barbecue grill---three seconds, using charcoal and liquid oxygen. Professor Goble's colleague Joe Cychosz traveled to Cambridge to accept the Prize.
Biodiversity: Chonosuke Okamura of the Okamura Fossil Laboratory in Nagoya, Japan, for discovering the fossils of dinosaurs, horses, dragons, princesses, and more than 1000 other extinct ``mini-species,'' each of which is less than 1/100 of an inch in length. [For details see the series ``Reports of the Okamura Fossil Laboratory,'' published by the Okamura Fossil Laboratory in Nagoya, Japan during the 1970s and 1980s.]
Literature: The editors of the journal Social Text, for eagerly publishing research that they could not understand, that the author said was meaningless, and which claimed that reality does not exist. [The paper was ``Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity,'' Alan Sokal, Social Text, Spring/Summer 1996, pp. 217--252.]
Economics: Dr. Robert J. Genco of the University of Buffalo for his discovery that ``financial strain is a risk indicator for destructive periodontal disease.''
Art: Don Featherstone of Fitchburg, Massachusetts, for his ornamentally evolutionary invention, the plastic pink flamingo. Mr. Featherstone traveled to Cambridge to accept the Prize.
The ceremony also included an auction of plaster casts of the left feet of four Nobel Laureates, and several tributes to the concept of ``Biodiversity.'' Thirteen-year old Kate Eppers, spokesperson for the Committee for Bacterial Rights, said:
We live in a diverse society. Our biggest ethnic groups are not the Asians, the Africans or the Caucasians. Our biggest ethnic groups are the Bacteria. I used to wash my hands every day. My mom made me. But then I learned about ethnic cleansing. Every time you wash your hands, you wipe out billions and billions of Bacteria. That's not fair. Bacteria have rights, too. So let's be grown-ups about this. When mom asks you to wash your hands, just say No.
Further details---including shocking photos---will be posted in our web site (http://www.improb.com) during the coming months.
If you were not one of the fortunate (?) 1200 organisms who crawled, or wiggled, or walked, or flew into the Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony on October 3 at Harvard's Sanders Theater, take heart. Special edited versions will be broadcast on:
A full report on the event will be published in the Jan/Feb 1997 issue of The Annals of Improbable Research. And yes, videotapes of the event will (most likely) be available fairly soon.
Marc Abrahams is editor of The Archives of Improbable Research. This article was originally published in the October 1996 issue of mini-AIR, the on-line version of AIR, and was kindly reproduced here with Marc's un-coerced permission. For a subscription to mini-AIR send email to LISTPROC@AIR.HARVARD.EDU with the message ``SUBSCRIBE MINI-AIR MARIE CURIE '' (substituting your own name for that of Madame Curie), or visit HotAIR at http://www.improb.com/ where you can find links to actual Ig Nobel prize winning papers.
A grievous mixup has occurred.
Will the man who claimed the foot of Nobel Laureate Richard Roberts in the Ig Nobel Auction please contact the editors of AIR.... You have the wrong foot! The real owner of Dr. Roberts's faux foot is eager to swap extremities with you.
As part of the Ig Nobel Ceremony, we (actually auctioneer Lin Calista of Cornucopia Auction Sales) auctioned off plaster casts of the left feet of Nobel Laureates Sheldon Glashow (physics 1979), Dudley Herschbach (chemistry 1986), William Lipscomb (chemistry 1976), and Richard Roberts (physiology or medicine 1993), and the foot (we're not sure which one) of scientist/supermodel Symmetra. All proceeds are being used for the science programs of the Cambridge Public Schools.
If you purchased one of the feet, please get in touch with us so that we can list you in our Registry of Owners of Laureate Partial Facsimiles, and so that we may rectify this embarrassing misstep.
All five winning bidders are invited to attend next year's ceremony at their own expense, where they can come on stage and play with their feet.
Will the persons who (inadvertently, we're sure) removed the large plastic cows, penguins and other animals from the stage after the ceremony please return them. No questions will be asked; no grudges will be held; no animal abuse charges will be filed. But please, we need those poor critters back.
Vampires, Burial, and Death: Folklore and Reality, by Paul Barber, Yale University Press, New Haven, CT, 1988, ISBN 0-300-04126-8.
The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead, by J. Gordon Melton, Visible Ink Press, Detroit, MI, 1994, ISBN 0-8103-2295-1.
Vampires have been a part of European folklore for over a thousand years. Stories of family members who return from the grave and cause death and sickness among the living go back to at least the 10th century, and there are many well documented cases of vampires being exhumed to put an end to their activities.
Vampires are also a part of our modern culture and lore as any visit to the horror section of a bookstore will demonstrate. There are series about vampires, collections of vampire short stories and no shortage of vampire movies and Television shows.
The vampire of folklore and the vampire of Hollywood, however, are very different creatures. The modern vampire is an intelligent, articulate and even likable character. A world traveler seeking a place where he or she can live within society. They are portrayed not only as creatures of the night, but as crime fighters and rock stars. And, whether villain or hero, the modern vampire is almost always an object of erotic desire.
The folklore vampires, on the other hand, never travel far from the village where they lived. They always prey on family or friends, causing sickness and death. While the vampire of literature may be handsome, the vampire of folklore stinks of the grave. Where the modern vampire is erudite, the folklore vampire is dull and slow. And, the folklore vampire is never an object of desire. Instead, they are feared and must be dealt with by exhuming and destroying the body.
In Vampires, Burial and Death Paul Barber, a Folklorist at Fowler Museum of Cultural History, tells the history of the vampire of folklore. He sorts though old court records and first hand accounts of exhumation (many attended by the clergy and court---intelligent and observant witnesses) and asks if what is recorded is consistent with what is known about dead bodies. The answer, surprisingly, is yes.
According to Barber, the vampire of folklore was a way of explaining unusual deaths due to plague, tuberculosis or other diseases, or a troubled death such as an accident or suicide. If after such a death, other members of the family become sick (as you would expect from a contagious disease) the first member to die may be blamed for the later deaths. That first member was the ``vampire.'' Alternatively the blame may go to the dead body of a social outcast who is suspected of taking revenge on the living.5
Vampires are also based on misunderstanding what happens to bodies after death. When an observer reports that the exhumed body ``screamed'' as a stake was driven through its heart they are likely telling the truth---air forced out of the lungs would cause the body to make a vocal sound. When a several months dead body is said to be ``fresh'' this could be an accurate report. Depending on the temperature and and moisture, a body may remain largely un-decomposed after burial. Reports of bodies growing a new skin are likewise an accurate report of ``skin slippage''---the epidermal layer pealing away.
In other words, says Barber, observers mix their interpretations with their observations. If they believed themselves to be seeing a vampire, the observations were reported in a way consistent with this interpretation. This is a familiar problem with all eyewitness reports from recalling the details of an accident to reporting the shape of a UFO, and it should not surprise us if observers from the 16th century report details consistent with their belief in vampires.
The popular vampire of the twentieth century is well documented by J. Gordon Melton in The Vampire Book. Melton's specialty is modern religions. While he does not claim that vampire fan-dom is a religion, he has certainly captured the cult flavor of the modern horror aficionado. If there is a play, book or movie about vampires it is recorded here. If an author wrote even a minor story about vampires you can likely learn about it from this tome. There are over 500 major entries, from Ackerman, Forest J. (a science fiction and horror writer) to Youngson, Jeanne Keyes (film producer, author and founder of the ``Count Dracula Fan Club''), and a larger number of minor entries. The comprehensive index makes it easy to find even the most obscure reference.
In addition, The Vampire Book contains several appendixes that list vampire resources. This includes fan clubs in the US, Europe and Australia, and Dark Shadows fan clubs and periodicals (separate from just any-old-vampire fan clubs). There is an international vampire filmography from 1911 to 1991, with a bibliographic source listing, and a listing of vampire plays, operas and ballets. (Only five operas and two ballets are listed, which is about three more operas and two more ballets then I would have expected.) Finally, the list of vampire novels has extended my own reading list by a dozen volumes.
If the Vampire Book has a weakness it is in its coverage of the vampire of folklore. There are some references to pre-literature vampires, but they are more to uncover some of the pre-history of the modern lore. If you are a modern vampire fan The Vampire Book is a great reference, and you are sure to find a few movies to watch, or authors to read. If, however, your interest is in the pre-literature vampire---the vampire of folklore and European culture---then Barber's Vampires, Burial, and Death is the book of choice. Either tome will be hard to put down.
If you attend local meetings, view programs of interest to ISUNY members, or have a skeptical topic you wish to discuss, consider writing an article for The Why-Files. Articles and letters can be emailed to the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by U.S. mail to Michael Sofka, 8 providence Street, Albany, NY 12203. Disks and hardcopy will be returned at the next ISUNY meeting. The deadline for articles in the October, 1996 issue is September 21st, 1996.
Cold Fusion, Creationism and Vampires in New England are just some of the topics being worked on for future meetings. If you have a suggestion for a meeting topic send it to The Why-Files care of the Editor.
All meetings are held at the Guilderland Public Library, 2228 Western Avenue, Guilderland, NY, at 7:00 pm. Meetings are free and open to the public. For more information call Mike Sofka at 437-1750 or email email@example.com.
Thank you to Peter Huston, Mike Sofka and David ``The Mighty'' Quinne for their contributions to this newsletter. Thank you also to Alan French for publicizing the meetings, and to Carla Sofka for loaning the mailing labels. Thank you also to David Quinne for divine intersession. This newsletter was produced in a glade under the full moon.
Thank you also to all of our members for their kind support of ISUNY. We would especially like to thank our Supporting members: Sylvia Chessin, Hugh D A. McGlinchey, Duncan Tuininga, Andre Weltman, Guier Scott Wright and our Patron members: Charles Davies, Daniel Forrest, Alan & Susan French, Bob & Dee Mulford, Harish Sethu Mike & Carla Sofka, Douglas Wells.
The WHY-Files is the newsletter of the Inquiring Skeptics of Upper New York. Articles, reviews and letters can be sent to the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org, or to 8 providence street, Albany, NY 12203. Hard copy and disks will only be returned if accompanied by a self addressed and stamped envelope, or at regular club meetings.
The newsletter was typeset using the document preparation system written and placed in the public domain by Donald Knuth of Stanford University. Macros for this newsletter are available at http://www.rpi.edu/~sofkam/tex.html. The Why-Files are available at: http://www.rpi.edu/~sofkam/isuny/.
Articles, reports, reviews, and letters published in The WHY-Files represent the views and work of individual authors. Their publication does not necessarily constitute an endorsement by Inquiring Skeptics of Upper New York or its members unless so stated.
1 Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, Random House, New York, 1995, ISBM 0-394-53512-X.
2 All of these links are available on the ISUNY Web page at http://www.rpi.edu/~sofkam/isuny/.
3 If you haven't heard this story, the claim is that a ghost can be seen in some scenes from the movie Three Men and a Baby. The ghost is supposed to be that of a young boy who died in the apartment where the movie was filmed. One problem with this claim is that the movie was filmed in a recording studio.
4 This is, curiously, the basis of the kinky and dangerous practice of autoerotoasphyixation. If you don't know what it i, don't ask. You don't want to know. By the way, autoerotoasphyixiation is also, according to one psychic, the predicted means of Fox Mulder's death on The X-Files.
5 This thinking is not limited to pre-twentieth century Europe. There are recorded cases and physical evidence of such vampires in New England up until the 1880's.