Sunday, July 31, 2011
In college I recall reading Richard Bach's book, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah, in which Donald Shimoda, a purportedly reincarnated pilot who barnstorms the countryside with the author, tells him how any question can be answered. After you have mentally formed the query, you just open a book at random, place your finger somewhere on the text (without looking, of course), and the answer would be there in the printed word. If you read Bach's novel, you probably gave it a try. I did, several times, in various circumstances, but I wasn't terribly impressed with the spiritual implications that such synchronicities supposedly delivered.
If you took much psychology in college (it was one of my undergraduate minors), you undoubtedly encountered the concept of synchronicity. Synchronistic events were well beyond coincidence; they were indicative of design or subconscious action.
But what happens when Bach's "book trick" provides highly specific answers to one's thought-out questions? Could this be communication between intelligent beings? Could an intelligence be using an author's printed words to provide meaningful answers for the questioner? Could it be the author himself, although he has been deceased for 81 years?
This is the conundrum that philosophy professor Roger Straughan explores in his book, A Study in Survival: Conan Doyle Solves the Final Problem (Winchester, UK: O-Books, 2009) (ISBN 978-1-84694-240-2). When two beloved dogs pass away, Straughan noticed that questions and concerns he had been having were strangely being "answered" as he randomly glanced at passages in one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's books. This happened with sufficient frequency and topical applicability that Straughan was curious to experiment further. He asked additional queries and, by selecting a Conan Doyle book at random (and opening it at random), he would discover particular answers awaiting in the first text he glanced at. Some of these works he had never before seen, and others he had read decades ago.
As strange as this sounds, Straughan felt that mere coincidence or even synchronicity was an insufficient explanation. He felt that actual communication was occurring. It is important to emphasize that Straughan, as a philosopher, is a critical, rational thinker. Although open-minded, he never accepted anything without compelling demonstrations. It took a considerable number of these episodes before Straughan was persuaded that these paranormal events represent something much more significant.
Our book trailer summarizes the basic premises.
Skeptics, of course, will reply with stock objections--fraud, cryptomnesia, self-delusion, gullibility, intellectual deficiency--but this obscures, rather than enlightens, the matter. Some critics use a priori reasoning to rapidly dispatch ideas they do not want carefully examined.
Let us address some of these concerns with Straughan and his tale. College professors have sufficient worries to risk their fragile careers upon deliberate fabrications, so we may set aside fraud as without evidentiary foundation. Likewise, professors have sufficient academic credentials to discount intellectual deficiency. Self-delusion and gullibility are possible, if the author is misleading himself and reporting his actions unreliably and incorrectly to fit a preconceived bias. Straughan seems highly analytical, rational, and, above all, cautious in his investigations, so I am willing to cut him some slack here. No less a critical thinker than he, I am willing to weigh the facts fairly.
Cryptomnesia is a more reasonable objection, although it cannot explain many instances related in the book, and it frankly would require the author to have absolute recall, unconsciously remembering every word of Conan Doyle's that he had ever read in his lifetime. More to the point, he would have to be able to pick-out, blindly and randomly, the exact phrases necessary to answer his mental questions from thousands of pages of printed materials. That's a huge stretch--even greater than Straughan's suggestion of discarnate communication--so we may as well hear him out (with an open-mind) as he relates his experiences.
Did Straughan actually communicate with the discarnate Conan Doyle? You can decide that for yourselves, if you are willing to read this book objectively and afford it a fair hearing. Even if you're not persuaded by Straughan's central thesis, you should be intrigued by what is going on. It is a mystery worthy of Sherlock Holmes. But, then, you needn't be psychic to know I was going to write that.
William R. Buckley, J.D.
MPL Adult Services Reference Coordinator &
Indiana Room Historian
Saturday, July 30, 2011
One of our library volunteers and patrons has prepared two book trailers featuring the first two titles in the Cat in the Stacks mystery series, by Miranda James.
These are fun reads for lovers of mystery fiction. We like them because they involve libraries, cataloging, and cats. We hope you enjoy them, too.
Monday, July 11, 2011
Mr. Popper's Penguins, written by Richard Atwater & Florence Atwater, and illustrated by Robert Lawson, has delighted children and adults alike since it was first published in 1938. A Newbery Honor Book recipient, the story continues to stoke the imaginations of its readers. There have been many different editions over the years, utilizing several illustrators, but the original seems most charming. Our book trailer summarizes the plot.
Sometimes, the most enjoyable reads are the classics. The intended audience is ages 9-12, but it is a good read-aloud for younger children, and early young adults (ages 13-14) may revel in the humor of the family's penguin-perpetrated antics.