Orbs, Angels and Other Nonsense

I don’t have a problem with people doing research into the paranormal and related fields. Even though nothing paranormal or supernatural has ever been conclusively proven, nor does it seem likely that it ever will be, I would not try to stop any researcher from going ahead with what they are doing. After more than a century and a half, there is little if anything to show for their efforts, and what they do produce tends to be ignored, or, alternatively,  heavily criticised by the scientific mainstream. That, it seems, is the nature of the beast.

On the other hand, there are those “researchers” who do not have to operate under the constraints of anything approaching scientific methodology. These are the psychics, intuitives, spiritual guides, paranormal experts and whatever else they want to call themselves. Booksellers’ shelves are groaning under the weight of books proclaiming this or that paranormal claim; everything from astrology to cosmic consciousness and more. and not one bit of it backed up by tangible evidence.

These books, however, are obviously very popular. Bookshops wouldn’t stock them if they didn’t sell. But who on Earth buys these books?

Orbs book 001I found one such book in a charity shop recently. It is called Enlightenment Through Orbs, written by Diana Cooper and Kathy Crosswell, and published by Findhorn Press in 2008.

The book deals with “orbs” – those defects in a photograph that only started to appear since the advent of digital photography. Even mainstream parapsychologists (for the most part) accept that these anomalies are nothing more than the camera’s flash reflecting from dust particles in the air. But in this book, orbs have profound significance: the authors claim that looking at photographs of orbs “…offers healing, transformation and enlightenment.” They’ll have you flashing your “third eye” in no time. Right.

There are photographs of “orbs” in the book, each numbered from one to forty, and each photograph will supposedly help solve various problems for you. For example, do you want protection from electrical vibrations? Then just follow the instructions given on page 139:

1. Obtain a black tourmaline crystal. All crystal shops sell them.

2. Place it on picture (5) for half an hour.

3. Then put it in front of your television screen or any other electrical goods.

4. This will enable the angels to work with the energy of the crystal to protect you.

I’d love to see the randomised, double blind control group experiment that confirmed that particular hypothesis. Given the fact that there is no solid evidence that the electrical “vibrations” we are surrounded by all day have any harmful effect anyway, it’s hard to see what use any of this really is. Nevertheless, each photograph in the book has its accompanying set of instructions to help you get to your required level of consciousness or energy or whatever.

All orbs, according to the authors, are part of the “angelic hierarchy” and each has its own “signature.” But on page 141 we are told that we have to explore orbs with our “hearts not our intellect.” No, it wouldn’t do to examine orbs with intellect, I suppose.

But it’s not just angels we are dealing with here. There is an assortment of ghosts, spirit guides, fairies, pixies,  “Ascended Masters,” seraphim and even unicorns manifesting themselves as orbs in your photographs. No, really. And not only that, on page 11 we are told that the angels and higher guides influenced the consciousness of the people who invented digital photography just so we would be able to see the manifested spirits of the seventh (and other) dimensions.

The sincerity of the authors seems clear enough, but are they really on to something? I doubt it very much. Can anything in the book be objectively confirmed? Not really. You have to take it all on faith.

And that is the problem with this kind of book. It can’t be given any credence as research in the usual sense, and any positive results its readers claim are most likely going to be the result of well known cognitive biases. Subjective validation, confirmation bias, placebo effect and so on will no doubt convince the believers that they are gaining something positive here.

Then again, so many of these books end up in charity shops, is it possible that many of their readers have tried it but realised there’s nothing in it after all?

5 responses to “Orbs, Angels and Other Nonsense

  1. Not fair. I will be the first to admit that over 95% of the paranormal stuff out there is horse-squeeze, at least it seems so to me. But picking the low hanging fruit to dissect and critique gets nowhere fast.
    Auto-Gansfeld anyone?


  2. RabbitDawg,

    The book is not exactly untypical of what is presented to the general public – and keep in mind this type of publication is on bookshelves under the heading of “non fiction.”

    It has no special exemption from criticism. In fact, it’s the type of thing that especially deserves criticism.


  3. Swift,
    Okey dokey. Fair enough. I guess anything is open game to critique. As for myself, I tend to gloss over the glaringly obvious woo, and seek out more credible appearing situations.
    That being said, what’s “glaringly obvious” to me may be nothing more than an exercise in subjectivity and prejudgement, masquerading as objectivity.

    Criticize on, brother!


  4. Hey Swift,
    You may have an email address posted to contact you, but I’m moving along to fast to find it.
    Sorry about the sloppy html, but please correct my italic boo-boo if you can. The word “anything” is the only word I was trying to italicize.


  5. RabbitDawg,

    I’ll be posting contact details (and a lot of other things) in the near future. I’m guessing that there won’t be many people (yet) who have any great urgency to contact me directly.


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