Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Is absence of evidence, evidence of absence? The case for and against Michael D. Newton

Recently I stumbled upon a critical one-star review of Michael Newton's books at Amazon.com, which referenced a fairly detailed analysis/rebuttal of one of Newton's case studies. After sorting out the various criticisms, one overarching issue remained:  Who, in fact, is Michael D. Newton, PhD?  Is he a "real" doctor?  What are his qualifications?  Where did he obtain his degree?  Michael Newton is the well-known author of two major studies of hypnotically retrieved past-life accounts, "Journey Of Souls" and "Destiny Of Souls."

As I've written before, I think it's important that writers accurately represent their credentials, particularly if they expect to be taken seriously... We have enough laughing stocks in this field already.

So I've been on a quest. I found a forum or two where this very issue was raised--no one can find any proof that Dr. Newton obtained a "real" (i.e., from an accredited university, ideally not one of those for-profit outfits) Doctor of Philosophy degree--which is not the same thing as a medical degree.  I'll settle for PhD--that's hard enough to get.  I scoured all the available sources online and came up empty also.  But I did not find evidence of fabrication--only lack of documentation online.

Per Georgina Cannon, past life researcher, Michael Newton was a practicing "counselling psychologist/hypnotherapist" in the 1960s, continuing to work through the '80s and '90s in California, I think. He retired from active practice over ten years ago. The foreword to one of his later books, "Life Between Lives" (a discussion of his hypnotherapy practice) was written by Arthur E. Roffey, who *does* seem to be a real doctor (MD at that) who is currently certified and practicing.

Those who expect Google to pull up the full academic credentials of someone who retired from active practice in the last century are displaying a shallow understanding of the meaning of "online," I think. The Internet is probably the worst source for anything authoritative, detailed, and accurate about things that really matter (this humble blog included). The 'Net just doesn't work that way--it gives out only what has been put into it. You have to go to primary sources--real books in real libraries.

Now, the fact that we don't know where he graduated *suggests* that he might have gotten a phony degree from a diploma mill. But "real" doctors seem to vouch for his work, so I don't know.

My suspicion is that his PhD may be in a subject other than psychology. Anyone remember Dr. Ruth (Westheimer)?  Her doctorate is actually an Ed.D. degree in education, not psychology. The requirements for becoming a "master hypnotherapist" may simply be taking a few courses and paying a fee. When someone represents himself as a PhD who is a "master hypnotherapist," we assume that he is a psychologist, but he may actually be a Medieval Lit expert fluent in Anglo Saxon. (Which would be fairly cool, in and of itself, not to mention a good person to have over for a beer.)

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The new/old secularism confronts the existential unknown, and a Seth quote

I've come across another article that seeks to address the religious component of the "I visited Heaven and returned" genre of books. Essentially, this currently fashionable approach conflates traditional religious dogma with the "visiting heaven" movement... Because some NDE books have a decidedly Christian spin, the whole genre is tainted. The author concludes:

Reading these books catapulted me back into my evangelical past life, reminding me of who I might be still, had I not sought relief from the dissonance of biblical literalism. For me, the genre’s popularity was not a sign of resurgent faith, but symptomatic of faith’s waning – a last gasp at belief, a signal of a coming break.

I'm not sure that I can add anything to this debate that others haven't said better, except:  At different times in my life, I have both a committed secular, agnostic humanist, and a devout Christian fundamentalist. I have lived in both worlds.  Both times, I was convinced that I was completely right, and that the "other side" was sadly misinformed.  And I had an arsenal of facts and rhetorical tools to fling at the other side. Both sides have a fair number of ideological refugees from the other. What I see now, however, when I read the arguments of either, is the smug self-assurance of the one, and the devout moral superiority of the other.  I don't see anything that resonates as truth to me.

Maybe the transcendent nature of the NDE can't be understood with any of our current intellectual tools.  As with other facets of this multidimensional phenomenon, we will have to grow some new tools, or evolve a bit further, before we can assimilate it into our world view. We simply lack the experiential vocabulary now.

Somewhat along the same line, I ran across this Seth quote that fleshes out (somewhat) that enigmatic discussion in "Seth Speaks" involving the return of the "Christ personality" later in this century. Presumably, this return will come at a pivotal time in human history when, after some unspecified crises, humanity experiences a "shift" in consciousness.  The idea of this shift appears in a number of books and has been appropriated by the New Age movement. The more apocalyptic students of this New Age have made a number of predictions, describing, variously, end-world scenarios, axis shifts, and land mass changes. And all have been wrong. From Book Five of "The Early Sessions":

There will be a change in 100 years... when you will be able to see more... You will see through a growth of ability and consciousness... an enlargement... that has been growing for 500 years... the change began in the Middle Ages, existed briefly, died, then began again... It will involve an expansion of consciousness, not physical knowledge... You will directly and simply perceive more... I cannot make Ruburt find all the words. Your God is part of a larger reality. We see what we can see... This larger reality is also a part of our dreams: it is more important and vital than breath, for you are all part of this individually. There is a give and take between you and the stars on a physical basis, just as there is also a connection between selves and what you call a god. There is no real division between you and God and I... only a unity that you cannot as yet understand.

I'm stumped by Seth's allusion to the change that "began in the Middle Ages, existed briefly, died, then began again..."  Maybe a Medieval scholar (who's hopefully also a Seth student) will stumble across this and offer a clue. But I'm stumped, mostly because it's counter-intuitive:  Humanity *did* have a shift of consciousness at the end of the Middle Ages (triggered by the mass die-offs from the Black Death), but this shift resulted in the current dominant secular materialist world view (the Age of Reason). Seth seems to suggest that in the latter half of this century, another shift will occur, and it's not unreasonable to assume that it will also correspondent to a mass extinction of some sort (or sudden population reduction). Unfortunately, because we're not there yet, we can't know what this shift entails.

Perhaps it is an awareness of this coming shift that is inflaming both the secularists and the religionists. Both sides fear the triumph of the other; secularists fear that the hard-won achievements of science will backslide into superstition, and the religionists fear that materialism will eradicate any trace of that inner reality that still speaks to those who listen. But I think that Seth is saying that neither doomsday will occur. What is coming is a synthesis of the best of both, yet completely new, and, for now, unknown, and unknowable.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Helping the debunkers out

Recently I was searching for information online regarding Omm Sety (Dorothy Eady), the British lady who remembered a past life in ancient Egypt.  Unfortunately, the two main books about her quest ("Omm Sety's Egypt" and "The Search For Omm Sety") are not on Kindle, though I've had the paper editions for years. The story has long fascinated me. Wikipedia seems to have an exhaustive and sympathetic discussion of the subject--which is surprising, given the subject matter.

There's also a cursory review of the story at international skeptics dot com (I won't link to it for fear of bringing a boatload of skeptics down on my head, but it's easily findable). A poster at said forum is looking for help convincing his gullible paranormal-leaning wife that the story is bogus. The responders can't really help--there's no real debunking of the story to be found, and the skeptics conclude that it all boils down to the question of belief. Reincarnation can't be proven or disproven--you either believe in it or you don't.  And I tend to steer clear of blind, unquestioning belief. I'll lean toward the skeptics.

All which is very reasonable and true. But there's a problem.  Dorothy Eady's story may be hard to disprove. Learned Egyptologists as a whole were impressed with Eady's knowledge, and those are the only critics that I care about in this case. The others don't matter, not even Carl Sagan... They're just like me--someone with an opinion.

I did find one minor flaw in Dorothy Eady's story and I'm surprised that it's never been mentioned. In one of the two books (can't remember which one but probably "The Search For Omm Sety"), the child Dorothy is described as being very attracted to a local band of Gypsies, presumably because Gypsies came from Egypt--or so it was commonly thought. Of course, we now know that they didn't--the current scholarly opinion is that the migrated from northern India about a thousand years ago.  But Dorothy apparently though they did.

So, does this debunk Eady's story?  Not really... The young Dorothy was simply wrong, about a subject that she would in later life become expert at. But it is a flaw, and it's always bothered me. So in the interest of fairness and full disclosure, I'm compelled to bring it up.  And if the Dorothy Eady story is ever proven to be a complete fabrication, the skeptics can thank me later.