MORE SHENANIGANS AND IDIOCIES AT
THE AMERICAN SOCIETY FOR PSYCHICAL RESEARCH
JULY -- 1972
By the end of July, the ASPR had turned into a noisy zoo fermenting with shenanigans and idiocies. These were now noticed by just about everyone far and wide, and many wondered "what is wrong up at the ASPR -- where everyone seems to have gone crazy."
I wouldn't bore the reader with these, but for two reasons.
First, the ASPR shenanigans proved to be mere kindergarten prototypes for versions of much larger idiocies that lurked ahead for everyone at Stanford Research Institute.
But the second reason is much more important -- or, as it perhaps should be said, more "significant." The second reason is also more elusive, introducing, as it does, a level of life's complications most people like to avoid dealing with.
From what might be called a "collective"
level of groups of humans attempting to live and interact with each other,
a process can be identified that involves the ratio or order to disorder.
It would appear that one of the purposes (or goals) of making a Society
is to bring more order than disorder into the communal situation of people
living (or clinging) together.
No society-making format works very well if it doesn't succeed in trending away from disorder toward order.
Very broadly speaking, it is far easier to establish
social order if it is based on material, physical things. Such things can,
of course, be seen or interpreted in various ways. But at bottom, physical
things can be seen by everyone to EXIST -- and it is the mere existence
that increases various kinds of agreement leading to at least a sense of
It is easy enough to see that physical certainty
can facilitate certain kinds of order -- at least if only in some hypothetical
This becomes more clear when contrasted to immaterial or non-material stuff -- against which it is much more difficult to perceive whatever order the immaterial may possess or be indicative of.
So, it can be said (at least I will say it) that
it is easier to establish a sense of order regarding physical phenomena
than it is regarding non-physical phenomena.
In this sense, then, regarding physical phenomena it is likely that the ratio or order can be much higher than that of disorder.
Conversely, since very many human specimens can't get a good grip on immaterial phenomena (nor sometimes even perceive them in any clear-cut way), such specimens are clearly beset with the problem of whether those kinds of phenomena exist at all.
The monster of UNCERTAINTY now raises up its head, and uncertainty usually induces a spectrum of disorder.
If the scenario the above represents is explored
as calmly as possible, it is easy enough to see why the physical universe
of matter and the bottom-line philosophy of materialism are more beloved
than the non-physical "universe" and the philosophies of immaterialism.
It is also easier to see why the ratio of order/disorder is different regarding the material and immaterial realms.
In any event, it's within my realms of REALITY
to suggest that there may be one principal reason that research in metaphysics,
spirituality, consciousness and parapsychology doesn't get very far.
I'll take a moment to explain.
Something akin to final answers can be arrived
at in the physical sciences -- because MATTER, physical matter is what it
is. You can plop this or that piece of matter onto a plate and look at it.
You can subject it to microscopic examination. You can poke at it, pound
or wiggle it. THERE IT IS. Eventually everyone will agree that THERE IT
IS, and most will usually agree as to what it is.
But in the psychological sciences, in metaphysics,
in parapsychology, you can't plop this or that piece of non-matter onto
a plate and look at it. It is elusive, it is invisible, it isn't THERE --
except by inference or interpretation or by some abracadabra statistical
interpretation. So, there is no ultimate need to have agreement that it
is there -- like a piece of physical matter is there.
Now, it would be clear that interpersonal relations
become, well, more secure among those who deal with "hard" physical
matter, because there is the possibility of some kind of ultimate certainty
regarding the physical matter itself.
It is true that such people do have interpersonal difficulties. But in the end the certainty of matter more or less resolves a good deal -- with the possible, and probable, exception of WHO is to possess the most of matter deemed VALUABLE.
However, in the "soft" sciences there
is no certainty of the kind obtainable by plopping a piece of physical matter
on a plate and saying "Well, THERE IT IS."
This type of certainty is not really possible in the soft sciences, and so those who work within them are usually more stressed than those who work in the hard sciences -- perhaps more unhinged (at times.)
By way of allegorical illustration:
First scenario: "Now," a geologist says, "the material sample I've put on this plate is a kind of hard carbon otherwise known as a diamond. This specimen is flawless and therefore very valuable. THIS IS a diamond."
Well, no one argues, right? THERE IT IS! That diamond. So the stress element is relatively low -- except among those who covet the sample on the plate.
Second scenario: "Now," a parapsychologist
says "the statistical sample I've put on this plate reflects a particularly
good example of acquiring information by other than the senses than can
be explained as a function of biological matter. This example is flawless,
and therefore very valuable. THIS (we think) IS long-distance seeing."
Well, now there will be a number of predictable
arguments -- such as "Oh Yeah?!" "Your calculator needs fixing."
"It's impossible." "We can see the statistic, but WHERE IS
THE long-distance seeing ITSELF. Put THAT on the plate, and then we'll believe
So the stress level is relatively high -- and the
ratio of disorder increases with all its attendant phenomena. And this disorder
increase also tends to be perpetual -- since parapsychologists can't usually
put much more on the plate than inferences -- even though it is easier to
discover examples of ESP, etc., than it is to find diamonds.
In other words, in the soft sciences and philosophies
everything can not only be argued about eternally, but eternally doubted.
So the stress levels are always complicated. This leads to increases in
social, or interpersonal, disorder. And it is quite for sure that idiocies
can more abundantly exist and thrive among higher ratios of disorder.
After returning from the first trip to SRI, at
which time I was dragged back to the ASPR somewhat against my better judgment,
I thought things would go better -- all things considered, of course.
At some point in early July, I went down to Fanny Knipe's office to Xerox something -- to find the dinky old Xerox machine on the blink again.
So I commented to Fanny: "You'd think that since Chester Carlson, the inventor of the Xerox process and equipment, had the ASPR so close in his heart, that the Xerox Corporation in his honor would keep you equipped with the biggest and best equipment available in his honor. Has anyone asked them about this?"
At this, Fanny, the dragon lady, almost burst into
tears. "I proposed this to the board -- I even had a draft letter.
Xerox gives money to lots of places. But the board argued about this for
six weeks and then turned down the idea."
"OH! For crissakes! Why?"
"They're all afraid of their own shadows, that's why. No on dares DO anything. They turned down the idea because it came from ME -- not from one of THEM. They are also afraid of Mrs. Carlson -- who makes up the deficit each year. Asking for a Xerox machine is too risky."
In my understanding of things, Fanny was the one
holding the ASPR in any semblance of order. I told her so. She warmed up
"You know -- well, there's been gossip going on that you are planning to take over the ASPR. Is that true?"
Now, I have a big mouth and very little can make
it speechless. My mouth simply gaped, wordlessly. "You've got to be
joking. WHAT would I want with this place?"
"Well, you're gaining in power, too much of it? Some don't like that."
Janet Mitchell's mood declined during July, even
though we all seemed enthusiastic about the different kinds of experiments.
So I asked her about this. "They don't tell me anything -- I never
know what's going on, THAT's what's the matter."
Dr. Osis turned, well, a little fuzzy. Although
he was interested in the experiments, and especially approved of the one's
designed by Drs. Silfen and Schmeidler, he was ambiguous about his name
being attached to them.
Janet explained: "He's afraid of the board, and won't become part of any experiment that doesn't have board approval."
I decided to take matters into my own hands --
and sent a report of the SRI magnetometer experiment directly to Dr. Montague
Ullman, president of the ASPR, and Director of Community Mental Health Center
at Maimonides Medical Center. In the cover letter, I explained what an honor
it was to be a test subject at the ASPR and work on Osis's breakthrough
I then complained to Arthur Twitchell and John
Wingate, both being ASPR trustees, that I resented the gossip about Moi
taking over the ASPR. I explained that I hadn't the credentials to begin
with, and wouldn't WANT to do so even if I had them. I further compound
about the declining morale. Both said they would investigate.
I received a letter from Dr. Ullman dated 26 July,
the day Silfen, Janet and I did the interesting box experiment:
"Dear Mr. Swann: Thank you so much for your thoughtfulness in sending me the report of your work on the West Coast. I was very much impressed with your ability to achieve so startling and challenging a result. I hope that we can move toward a similar line of investigation in connection with your work at the American Society for Psychical Research. At any rate, I would very much like to explore this with you and wonder perhaps if we either might meet sometime at the American Society for Psychical Research, or have supper together in the city. I would be happy to do either at your convenience."
I later met with Ullman. He turned out to be a fine fellow and we became friends.
I then received a letter dated July 31 from Dr.
John Wingate, who had investigated the problems that Ullman apparently didn't
know about -- or didn't want to get into.
"Dear Ingo: After further talk with Osis and Janet (separately) it would seem to me that much of the difficulty in conducting an experiment that Osis is willing to vouch for grows out of the lack of someone in charge of the procedure. Janet has often not been consulted in advance and yet Osis tells me she is in charge, but she says she has been given no authority. Everyone gets into the act in a free-wheeling way, and the critic could find loopholes. Dr. Osis is very afraid of criticism.
"I hope you will agree that the time has come, preferably in August while Osis is away, for you and Janet and a couple of observers to conduct an experiment like the ones you have been undertaking on a `training session' basis but with rigid controls. Janet is sure, and I am too, that you will perform fully as well and that then there will be no question about distributing the documented report along the lines you have suggested.
"Janet is now working over the earlier experiments and I hope they will be ready for circulation early in the fall."
Well, there it was. If you have difficulty in getting
together the implications of the two letters I have just quoted in full,
well, don't worry too much.
They merely reflect that the president and some members of the ASPR board wanted things to go well, but that the ASPR was a mess internally, a hotbed of intrigues, stupidity and, alas, some hatreds that were not too well concealed.
I had no idea of how to surmount any of this, for
even though I could throw my newfound weight around a little, like Janet
I had no "authority." In fact, it was quite difficult to discover
who DID have "authority." It seemed no one was in charge. It seemed
everything at the ASPR was done via covert manipulating -- liberally laced
with various idiocies.
So with the two letters in hand, I went to Dr. Jan Ehrenwald, himself a trustee of the ASPR, and one of the greatest realists I've ever known. Mrs. Ehrenwald had prepared a delightful European lunch and we talked for about two hours.
In his ultra-tactful way, Ehrenwald pointed out,
among other insights, that I was the problem -- something I'd not quite
realized, of course. He permitted himself a small smile.
"You've tripped across something most people prefer not to acknowledge. You see, on the one hand the world fears ESP and Psi, most certainly any real evidence of it. On the other hand, you don't."
I didn't completely understand this, so he gave
me a draft paper he had written on the phenomenology of fear -- and which,
unfortunately, I've lost by now. But I remember most of its contents quite
well -- major amongst which were Ehrenwald's two hypotheses:
(1) that fear is the greatest disruptor of all things big or small;
(2) that fear rules all things if not in one way then in another.
I looked at Ehrenwald in open disbelief. "Do
you mean," I asked, "that I am dangerous to echelons of fear because
I'm not afraid of Psi?"
"Well, I refer to them as `hives,' not `echelons'. But, yes. You are NOT afraid of Psi, are you?"
"I've no idea. I've never thought of it in that context. But if the ASPR is a hive of fear, why are you a trustee?"
"Well, to study and observe it, of course."
The benefit to me (as well as to those who might
take the time to study his books), as a mentor Ehrenwald was not a hard-line
parapsychologist. However, he was of the opinion that certain "Psi"
phenomena were right-hemisphere functions, or at least the products of a
different kind of cognitive function within our species.
In his EXCELLENT book, THE ESP EXPERIENCE: A PSYCHIATRIC VALIDATION (1978), Ehrenwald obliquely touched upon the topic of "fear" in his chapter 22: "The Psi Syndrome and Modern Man Against Psi."
But even he avoided the issue directly -- that is, the issue of fear, the issue that induces uncertainty and thus disorder.
And with this, I've now briefly introduced into this memoir a topic I'll return to time and again ahead -- a topic that is absolutely necessary in that much to follow will not make complete sense without it.