The Virtual Skeptics, Episode 12 (31 Oct 2012)

October 31, 2012

A very special, extra scary Virtual Skeptics this week! The few of us who survived the zombie apocalypse (more or less) teamed up with another band of survivors and we are now making our way toward Fort Benning.


Another patient who trusted Stanislaw Burzynski has died

October 31, 2012

I have started a storify page that is devoted solely to the people who have gone to Burzynski’s clinic. Earlier this week, Rachael Mackey, a truly vibrant person died at the age of 28 of a brain tumor. In her last month, she banked on Burzynski. I am heartbroken. Here is Rachael’s story.

channelled languages and similar phenomena 4 (non-historical ‘fringe’ linguistics 13)

October 29, 2012

Hi again, everybody!

The most spectacular case of alleged channelling is an older case involving the Elizabethan mystic John Dee. A supposedly angelic language and an otherwise unknown script, both labelled ‘Enochian’, were allegedly channelled to an associate of Dee and were recorded in writing (in roman script). Don Laycock (who died tragically young) investigated this case in partnership with Stephen Skinner, and it is reported in one of the few ‘classics’ of skeptical linguistics (Donald C. Laycock (2nd edn completed by Stephen Skinner with two prefaces), The Complete Enochian Dictionary (London, 1978 and York Beach, ME, 1994)). Laycock was a brilliant Australian linguist, skeptic and polymath and remains a model for genuine ‘skeptical linguists’.

‘Enochian’ involves the Old Testament patriarch Enoch (discussed in Genesis and the apocryphal Book Of Enoch). After an initial set of many novel words in Roman letters presented in a series of squares, the corpus consists of apparently linguistic data involving two languages or systems, chiefly the second. Both were allegedly channelled to Edward Kelley, a ‘skryer’, and dictated to Dee, over the period 1581-89; Dee may have been actively questioning Kelley during this process. The overall system was regarded as an ‘angelic’ language. Nineteen ‘Calls’ or ‘Keys’ providing the bulk of the data are supplied with English translations; the content is that of religious/mystical invocations (narrative, exhortative, etc.).

Laycock and Skinner discuss earlier interpretive works from 1662 (when the texts were re-discovered) and after (up to the twentieth century), each influenced by contemporary ideas. They are highly critical, but are also open minded despite the nature of the material; they are inclined to consider Enochian largely non-paranormal (although Skinner is obviously convinced of the reality of Dee’s angels, at least). Laycock and Skinner concluded that ‘Enochian’, unusually in this context, patterns rather like a genuine but altogether unknown language, albeit with some most uncommon features including unprecedently heavy, wide-ranging suppletion (unrelated stems) in the verb-tense paradigms (see below).

The material itself emerges as having the following characteristics:

First System: words written in an alphabet of 21 named characters

It is unclear whether the words were actually received as words or as series of letter-names; in any event, they are mostly pronounceable (not always easily but with few genuinely phonetically awkward sequences) but ‘exotic’-looking. However, the strong patterns of alliteration, vowel and syllabic-structure contrasts, etc. suggest magical charms or glossolalia rather than genuine language. The grammar of the system is unclear, as translations are generally not available; the translations offered for individual words suggest anomalous lexical systems but most of the words are themselves unfamiliar, although occasionally etymologies (Hebrew etc.) are suggested by Laycock.

Second System: grammatically-structured sequences featuring many words, some pronounceable as English, some as if ‘exotic’; there is a highly suspicious one-to-one correspondence with the Roman alphabet with English spelling rules

The grammar manifests considerable detail. Sentence/clause and phrase-level word order is again suspiciously close to that of English; but there are often several Enochian words in sequence corresponding with one English word, with no analysis offered. Some of the variation in noun terminations suggests inconsistent systems of inflection as in Latin (‘declensions’), but there is too little data to be confident. Verbs show inflectional systems, but, very strikingly, there are anomalously high levels of suppletion (totally unrelated forms in different tenses of the same verb, as in English go/went). There is also some unusual ‘polyallomorphy;’ for instance, there are multiple items for negation. The rest of the grammar does not emerge fully but (again suspiciously) displays nothing highly non-Indo-European in character and is often close to English idiom.

Most of the vocabulary is again unfamiliar, though some words appear to have Latin, Greek or Hebrew etymologies. There is a highly anomalous numeral system. Interpretation is difficult because of the high percentage of ‘hapaxes’ (words occurring only once in the corpus of data).

Dee later allegedly received still other messages, including some words hardly pronounceable at all, such as alhctga. Skinner has published further analyses of Enochian. This altogether fascinating case obviously remains open.

There are other, less skeptical (although not always naïve) works on Enochian. These works do not always make sufficient use of the work of Laycock & Skinner, citing it only in places and not discussing its conclusions.

New sub-topics next time!


Eve’s appearance on MonsterTalk

October 26, 2012

Blake, Karen, and Ben interviewed Eve for MonsterTalk. That episode is up now. Go there. Go there now. They are talking about creationist interpretations of Beowulf.


This Week in Conspiracy…uh, I’ve lost count of the days. We’ll call it 25 Oct 2012

October 26, 2012

The hectic pace of a youngish professional on the way to… ever having permanent employment… remains, uh, hectic.

You just try to come up with an opening sentence so devastatingly painful, I dare you.

Anyway, I’ve been remiss in my duties as a crusader for truth (small t), justice, and critical thinking, and as we close in on the election, everyone is clearly getting dumber. I apologize for this and will try to set things right.

  • This week Donald Trump made yet more of a fool of himself. I didn’t think it was possible. He offered $5,000,000 to a charity if Obama released his college applications. This is part of the Birther conspiracy theory, that the President’s application materials will reveal something about the President’s citizenship. The theory is that they are “being kept secret,” when in reality FERPA keeps Columbia from releasing them. Some things you can’t buy, Donald, like respectability. For everything else, there’s gobs and gobs of inherited money.
  • Mark Dice is unfathomably unpleasant. Here’s his take on the upcoming (and delayed) Cleveland Show episode about the “Rap Illuminati,” and he seems to not understand that the show is basically mocking people like Mark and Vigilant Citizen who fail to perceive that marketing is driving the continued references to the Illuminati in rap and pop culture.
  • Occasionally, Mark Dice goes out and lies to people and then mocks them for believing him (because he is just that pleasant). He sent out this tweet: “Hope you are enjoying my retweets of the ZOMBIES who believe the SATIRE about Romney ‘banning tampons.’ #Idiots.” As long as he doesn’t ban douches, Mark, you’ll be just fine.
  • Veterans Today‘s Gordon Duff appeared on Coast to Coast AM talking about UFO disclosure.
  • In related news, this week I met George Noory:


Twit of the Week:

A new player is in town. Here are two tweets in order. I want to know what class this was and where it was at!

Molly Williams (@LookItsMolly) tweeted at 11:08 AM on Thu, Oct 25, 2012:
Professor: “The character says she called 911 instead of saying she called the police. We can assume that this is a reference to 9/11.”

Molly Williams (@LookItsMolly) tweeted at 11:08 AM on Thu, Oct 25, 2012:
… and then I realized that literary theorists and conspiracy theorists are uncomfortably similar.

Well played, Molly. Well played. I elaborated on a similar theme back in the day in my NeMLA presentation, “The Topography of Ignorance: Science and Literary Theory,” of which I am quite proud.

The least helpful, least insightful, most pathetic debate commentary came from Mark Dice:

Mark Dice @MarkDice
Both of these men think they are God. #Debates #Illuminati #SatanicScumbags

Just end it, man. You just aren’t cut out for…anything.

That’s all. Last week I was at the Paradigm Symposium on behalf of Skeptical Inquirer, and I will be writing that up over the next week or so. It was a hell of a time. Stay tuned!


Virtual Skeptics, Episode 11 (24 Oct 2011)

October 25, 2012

Gais! Gais! OMGOMGOMG! A new episode of the Virtual Skeptics is up and you HAVE to see it!

See? I told you!


channelled languages and similar phenomena 3 (non-historical ‘fringe’ linguistics 12)

October 22, 2012

Hi again, everybody! Yet more on linguistic aspects of (allegedly) channelled communications and similar cases. Next: written channelling/ ‘automatic writing’

Analogously to oral channelling, written channelling or ‘automatic writing’ (also known as ‘inspired writing’, ‘trance writing’, ‘spirit writing’, ‘autonography’, etc.) is regarded by ‘believers’ as generated by spirits or other paraphysical entities rather than by the physical writer, who is often in a trance-like state at the time of production. Automatic writers (or typists) typically claim to receive communication from the spirit world by way of involuntary handwriting or typing, allegedly guided by spirits of the deceased. Again, these phenomena may involve languages known to the writer, identifiable languages (modern or other) not known to the writer (again, very interesting, if genuine) or unidentified languages or ‘languages’. Writers often claim no understanding of the material produced where it is not in a language which they themselves know. Some such cases are again interpreted by believers as communication with deceased persons, including long-dead individuals as well as now-dead acquaintances; but there are also cases involving ‘spirit guides’ (who sometimes are quoted as wrongly identifying the language in question).

Karen Stollznow discusses (in the wider context of ‘New Age’ thought) several well-known older cases of automatic writing in ‘the West’, including a case featuring the highly skeptical Harry Houdini (involving a private sitting with automatic writer Lady Doyle, mother of Arthur Conan Doyle) and the Borley Rectory haunting case in the UK (where the automatic writing supposedly occurred without a living medium, being generated by ghosts), as well as recent cases in Australia involving ‘Lisa’, who reports that she receives messages from spirits as ‘thoughts’ in her head; the spirits then guide her handwriting. Other skeptical work on the issue includes that of Joe Nickell, who refers particularly to a case supposedly involving the spirit of Abraham Lincoln, and that of Robert Carroll.

One very salient set of cases of automatic writing involves Geraldine Cumnmins, who channelled writings (in contemporary English; see earlier on this issue) supposedly generated by spirits associated with the events reported in the New Testament and expanding on these reports; she also channelled more recent spirits. Much of her work was done in partnership with another medium, Winifred Coombe-Tennant, known as ‘Mrs Willett’.

Nik Douglas reports a complex case involving a male channeller coming to terms with the ‘female archetype’; some elements and motifs relate to Asian and earlier European cultures. The channelling was rapid, forming an unbroken sequence; some sections were in ‘mirror writing’. In contrast, Grace Rosher channelled a recently deceased friend. Shelley Stockwell presents a systematic but rather naïvely conceptualized account of her own automatic writing and ‘hieroscripting’ (the latter often involves access to the channeller’s own unconscious thought and normally consists of artworks and non-linguistic symbols). Stockwell’s presentation is in decidedly ‘New Age’ terms. She also reports on other cases by way of example, including other cases involving ‘mirror writing’ (Jean Sheik). H.F. Saltmarsh offers a positive but not wholly uncritical survey of various cases involving ‘cross-correspondences’ between independent automatic-writers.

One case of channelled written material featuring a spirit guide involves Ann Walker, who claims to be in contact with a Native American spirit entity called White Arrow and another entity called Zipper. Zipper and other spirits spoke to each other in a language which Walker did not know; but they also sent her messages allegedly written in various ancient scripts and languages, notably Greek, Coptic (late Egyptian) and scripts which Walker identifies as the demotic and hieratic Egyptian scripts. (These are the names given to the simplified scripts that were used in Egypt for everyday purposes, as opposed to the more formal hieroglyphic system.) However, the characters given by Walker bear very little resemblance to genuine demotic or hieratic. And, although Walker’s versions of Greek words are in genuine Greek script, they do not correspond with Greek expressions carrying the relevant meanings; indeed, the sequences are meaningless as Greek, and some are phonologically impossible. In fact, virtually all of Walker’s comments about linguistic matters are naïve, confused and wrong, and her conceptualization is often faulty; for example, she confuses languages with scripts.

Anita Mühl provides a now dated but still very interesting survey of various cases of automatic writing, including analysis from a psychological perspective; she herself worked with some channellers.

One very interesting older case, reported by John Ashton, involves an alleged sample of handwriting by the Devil (Satan), who was allegedly summoned up by Ludovico Spoletano and induced to write a short passage in answer to a question. The resulting text was given to Theseo Ambrogio degli Albanesi and discussed in his Introductio in Chaldaicam Linguam (‘Introduction to the Chaldean Language’) (Pavia, 1532). It is in an unidentified script; despite the reference in the book-title to Chaldaea (Mesopotamia), some of the characters have been compared to characters found in the Ethiopic abugida, a script often regarded as especially ancient and significant. Boundaries between characters are not always clear, but there are around 175 character-tokens in all. The language represented and the intended meaning are unknown.

More next time!