Psychic Phenomena in My Family #3

My brother Aaron made a series of television programs about psychic phenomena. He reported his adventures to me with a calm aplomb. Knowing I was a skeptic, he challenged me to explain them. Could I explain, for instance, how our dead mother communicated to him through three different mediums on two continents? Were all these mediums (media?) in collaboration just to fool him? What about the crystal skull that made accurate macroeconomic forecasts? Or the other crystal skull, which was many thousands of years old and had as yet un-plumbed power? There was the South American peasant with no medical training who was able to operate because he was the reincarnation of a 17th century African witch doctor. (Who wants to be operated on by a 17th century African witch doctor?) There were the phantom photographs which kept developing new faces even though the photograph was locked away in Aaron’s safe-deposit box. And on and on.
I saw a movie my brother made of a famous Philippine surgeon performing psychic surgery on him. You could see the surgeon pushing his bare fingers, seemingly, into Aaron’s abdomen. (It hurt, my brother told me.) This was the same psychic surgeon who was discovered by an investigator to be removing chicken fat from people while he was operating on them. This revelation did not disturb Aaron.
“I asked the guy why he should stoop to faking it sometimes, when he had such extraordinary powers.”
This response was not dissimilar to that of Arthur Conan Doyle. When it was proved to him that his favorite medium was fraudulent, he decided that she was fraudulent only on those few occasions when her true powers failed her. It was reasonable, he thought, to think that someone who was faking some of the time was not faking the rest of the time.
Among all of Aaron’s stories, though, one stands out in my mind, the case of “The Psychic Japanese Kid.”
My brother went to Japan with a film crew to record the adventures of a 12 year old boy. The Japanese newspapers had reported the young man performing various psychic exploits, the details of which escape me just now. According to Aaron, the kid’s mother complained to him that she found him a difficult child. Whenever she tried to punish him by sending him to his room, he would teleport himself out of it.
“Explain this,” my brother said to me. “I brought along my own Polaroid camera. I stopped at a drugstore– it could have been any drugstore– and bought some film. It was my camera and my film. When I showed the camera to the kid he went zap (Aaron demonstrated the zap) and out comes a picture of the Eiffel Tower. How do you explain that?”
That was a tough one. I mulled it over and mulled it over some more; but it was a puzzlement.
Some time later I spoke to Paul, my brother’s son and my nephew, who had gone to Japan with the film crew.
“That wasn’t what happened,” he said, making a face. “The kid took the camera upstairs to his room.”
Important principle: When asked to explain an impossible event, consider the possibility that it never happened.
I have wondered since then, from time to time, why Aaron told me a story he must have known was false–or did he know it was false? Perfectly intelligent people seem to have a surprising capacity to fool themselves. I think it is reasonable, always, when considering these stories to suspect fraud, although I don’t like to think my brother would have intentionally lied to me. But he did like to tell dramatic stories.
He once had a brief association with a celebrity magician who went around the world bending things—forks, spoon, and other stuff. According to Aaron, he not only bent a railroad spike that my brother had on his desk, but the spike kept bending after the magician left! He asked me to explain that.
I could not explain that. I could not even explain why my brother had a railroad spike on his desk, and I neglected to ask him about it. I think it is possible that nothing of the kind happened. (c) Fredric Neuman 2012