Sunday, April 10, 2011

Moving Beyond Horatio

"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."Hamlet, William Shakespeare

When my late mother-in-law, Connie, was a girl, her mother, one day, told her not to leave the house because if she did, she would break her arm. Her mom, known as Grandma to the rest of us, was psychic—something that ran through the Italian side of my husband’s family. Connie resented her mom always being right, so she went out anyway. Unfortunately, she tripped, fell and broke her arm. Not wanting to give her mother any satisfaction, she tried to cover it up and endured the pain silently through dinner that night. Finally, she confessed, vindicating the prediction.

I know that many people think that psychic phenomena are nonsense. I certainly had my doubts before I met my husband and his prescient family. But when you live with mystics, you begin to soften in your skepticism.

My husband's grandma at age 99, now watching us from the Other Side.
A few summers ago, my husband woke up early one Saturday morning with tightness in his chest. He was having difficulty breathing. That is unusual for him. We decided to get some fresh air at a park nearby. As we walked around a small lake there, his breathing became more labored, so we sat down. His chest pain increased and I suggested a ride to the local emergency room. He resisted, and suddenly at 8:15 a.m. all the pain stopped and he had an immense feeling of physical and emotional relief. We were both happy about that. We returned home and five minutes after we got into the door, the phone rang. It was a family member. She was calling to say that my husband's father had had difficulty breathing that morning, suffered a heart attack and died on the way to the hospital. Time of death? 8:15 a.m. When my husband received his father's watch from the hospital, it was frozen at 8:15. The timepiece had profoundly stopped the moment his father died.

It has been said that everyone possesses psychic ability but some people appear to have a more natural talent for it than others, according to former Harvard professor Diane Hennacy Powell in her 2008 book The ESP Enigma: The Scientific Case for Psychic Phenomena. She says that researchers think that genetics may be behind psychic ability—something certainly borne out by my husband's family. There are also some people, like well-known medium George Anderson, for instance, who develop their unusual abilities after a serious illness or head injury that changes the structure and function of their brains.

"I like to think of psychic energy as akin to radio waves. Even without the radio on, the air is filled with invisible signals from countless radio stations operating on their various frequencies. All you have to do to receive them is to flick the radio on and tune the dial."—John Edwards, medium

Altered brains may have abilities that normal brains do not, Powell adds. Einstein thought of the space-time continuum as a place where all time co-existed. That means that the past, present and future all exist at once. Brains are set up to experience time as a series of linear moments. Hypothetically, without the normal linear constraints of the brain, which may be weaker in psychics, it may be possible to see across time into the past or future.

People have long had a fascination with psychic phenomena. Duke University started a psychical research facility in 1935, which eventually moved off campus where it remains today. The founder, botanist Dr. Joseph Rhine, turned to parapsychology research after his college professor and mentor shared the story of an intriguing paranormal experience. A young couple who lived near the professor knocked on his door—no telephones for many in those days—to ask if he could do them a favor. The woman had experienced a vivid dream the night before where she saw her brother go into his barn and shoot himself in the head. She was so distraught by that vision that she wanted to go to his farm to make sure all was well. She asked the professor to drive them there. When they arrived, they walked into the barn and found her brother just as she had described him in her dream. Dr. Rhine became obsessed with developing a scientific approach to solving how such a thing could happen.

"Ay, there's the rub, for in that sleep of death, what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil, must give us pause."Hamlet, William Shakespeare

Today, the Rhine Research Center is respected as a facility that scientifically conducts parapsychology and consciousness studies. They have unmasked psychic frauds as well as validating genuine psychic events. Many other institutions have joined them, including:
  • Boundary Institute - Saratoga, California
  • Mind-Matter Unification Project - Cambridge University, UK
  • Division of Psychiatry - University of Virginia
  • Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Lab - Princeton University
  • Stanford Research Institute International - Menlo Park, California
Additionally, there are numerous labs and colleges in Europe that actively research psychic ability. And U.S. military intelligence communities have taken an avid interest in parapsychology studies since at least the 1950s.

My tactfully psychic brother-in-law.
Now back to my husband's family and what they shared with me when my beloved father died. When were planning his funeral, we decided to call the minister who had led our church congregation when I was growing up. Little did we know, he had long since retired, was well into his eighties and was somewhat eccentric. During the eulogy at the funeral home, the good minister rambled on aimlessly, leaving us stranded with the gradual and oddly amusing epiphany that he was no longer of sound mind.

During his captive monologue, I remember my husband leaning over and whispering that he saw my father standing next to the minister, impatiently tapping his foot. (My father was not known for his patience.) I did not think much of it until my brother-in-law, Tom, called me later that week. He had delayed calling to avoid upsetting me on the day of my father's funeral. He wanted me to know that during the eulogy, he had seen my father standing by the minister, arms crossed, impatiently tapping his foot.

So is everyone who claims to be a psychic, a psychic? Probably not. Does psychic ability really exist, despite numerous frauds? Apparently so. At least according to some fairly prestigious universities around the globe. And that's fine with me. I like the idea that there may be an unseen world as populated and quirky as the one in which we live, filled with a flurry of invisible, opinionated and nosy friends and relatives. 

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