Category Archives: Book Reviews

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?

The Nostra Dumb-ass Code

Nostradamus_0001A thriving industry surrounds the 16th century astrologer and “seer” Nostradamus. It would probably be impossible to count the number of books, articles and TV programmes that have been produced claiming that this or that event was predicted by him in his original writings from about five hundred years ago. But did he actually predict anything at all? I don’t think so.

Those who support Nostradamus – in particular those who make money peddling books and so on – are quick to try to justify it all by pointing to various notable events, and then pointing to one of Nostradamus’ verses or quatrains, saying, “Look! It all fits!”

Now, hang on a minute. A common criticism made by sceptics is the fact that whenever a big event happens (usually some disaster), it is only later that these things are claimed to have been predicted by this famous French astrologer. And that is just so easy to do: every “prediction” that Nostradamus made can be interpreted in different ways, and retro-fitted after the event to fit a desired result. In other words, it is always after something happens that a quatrain is given meaning, never before.

The way to test whether Nostradamus really predicted events that are unfolding now would be for someone to actually interpret some of the quatrains, give definite predictions based on them, and then present those predictions publicly so that they can be tested. Which is something that few Nostradamus fans seem willing to do.

Then again… Eureka! I was recently poking around a local charity shop and found a book that does just that. Written by an author called Valerie Hewitt, Nostradamus: His Key To The Centuries is just the very thing. The author claims to have discovered a code hidden within the mystic writings, and she has been able to unlock the secrets within. This was too good an opportunity to pass up, so I happily parted with 50 pence to find out whether my years of scepticism had been nothing but a delusion.

What makes this book so good as a test of Nostradamus is the fact that it was written in 1992, and then published in 1994. The predictions it contains cover the years 1995 to 2010, so the fact that those years are now in the past makes it ideal to see whether what was foretold actually came to pass. Excellent stuff.

I’ll not spend any time on the so-called “code” that Hewitt claims to have discovered. She includes tables of numbers and letters, and some accompanying gobbledegook, but if you stay with this analysis, you will soon see why you don’t need to get very excited about it.

I’ll not go through every prophecy that Hewitt lists (there are nearly a hundred of them), but I will try to give a flavour of them. And remember, these are not vague predictions that are open to any interpretation whatsoever, they are very precise. Here we go:

  • In UK politics, Margaret Thatcher renounces her peerage so that she can re-enter the House of Commons. This was supposed to happen between 1995-1996. (That’s a miss, I think)
  • Writing in 1992, Hewitt predicts that the then Labour party leader John Smith would be succeeded by Gordon Brown by 1995. (No mention of John Smith’s sudden death, his replacement by Tony Blair and the fact that Brown had to wait until 2007 when Blair stepped down.)
  • A real biggie is with the royal family. By 1995, according to Hewitt, Prince Charles is now King and Princess Diana is Queen! (That didn’t happen, of course.)
  • Between 1995 –2000, Diana has concerns about Prince William, who is going to become King in 2000 after King Charles becomes so unpopular that the crown has to be transferred. (Another king-size miss, and no mention of the fact that Diana died in 1997. How could such a significant event be overlooked?)
  • Cardinal Basil Hume becomes Pope between 1995-1996. (Oops, another miss. Pope John Paul II lived until 2005; Basil Hume died in 1999 so could not have become Pope anyway, although he had been tipped as a possible future pontiff.)
  • Between 2004-2007, thousands of humans will be travelling in city-sized space ships to all the planets in the solar system except Pluto. (I have to say, I missed all that on the news. Or maybe Hewitt was completely wrong yet again.)
  • 2004 –2005, the planet Venus is being colonised by mankind. (This is just getting silly now.)
  • And by 2010, the proof of life after death will be provided, and survival of the personality will simply not be doubted again. (Well, I still doubt it.)

Queen Diana

And that is just a taster. Whichever way you look at it, there is still no cure for AIDS, children have not been given the vote, the House of Lords has not been abolished, the universe has not “been explained”, there are no anti-gravity flying machines, and –thankfully for many, no doubt – no legally compulsory sporting participation for the over-forties.

I can see the attraction of having a sort of history-book-in-reverse, where one could read about the future and then watch it all unfold. But this book isn’t it – in fact it is not even a history book now, given the fact that all of its predictions of the future should now be part of past history, but turned out to be just so much wishful thinking. I’ll be surprised if this book sees any further reprints.

When it comes to the prophesies of Nostradamus, his promoters should maybe just stick to retro-fitting the facts to fit the verses. Or better still, maybe they should recognise that belief in foretelling the future is just bad thinking.

Oh, by the way, there was no mention of 9/11, either. What a surprise.

Additional note: It turns out that at the time I write this, the book is still available on Amazon: a new copy for £1.25; a used one for as little as one penny. And I have a first edition! Squee!!!