THE PHILIP EXPERIMENT: PARANORMAL SCIENCE OR DEMONIC DECEIT?

Posted on January 26, 2013

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By: Demetrius (Co-Founder of the OCPRS)

            When “scientific” evidence for paranormal phenomena is presented, the conclusions are not always as scientific as is often claimed. Without any proper scientific foundations existing within the field of paranormal research, the conclusions can also be very inconsistent. The inconsistencies are owed to diverse pre-conceived ideas and beliefs drawn from very non-scientific sources. Regardless of just how “scientific” paranormal theories claim to be, they are often founded on occult and new age beliefs. Unlike the occult and new age, science provides a sense of legitimacy. Recognizing this, many occultists and new age adherents mask their true intentions by calling what they do, science. Applying science to paranormal phenomena allows non-Christian practices and belief systems to be spread throughout popular culture. One such case was the Philip Experiment.

            During the 1970’s a group of Canadian parapsychologists, physical researchers, and self-professed psychics conducted an experiment to create a “ghost.” The group was known as the TSPR (Toronto Society for Paranormal Research). Dr. Alan Robert George Owen headed the TSPR. He believed the imagination and expectations of people – human will power – was the cause of ghost phenomena. The TSPR theorized that all varieties of ghost phenomena – apparitions, poltergeists, etc. – are created by the human mind and not the spirits of the dead. This was not an entirely new theory, and has similarities with theories concerning poltergeist phenomenon. For instance, some parapsychologists believe that poltergeists are caused by the “psychokinetic” energy of children, triggered by unbalanced emotions. In brief, psychokinesis is generally believed to be the ability of moving or affecting physical objects using just the mind.

The Experiment Begins:

            The experiments conducted by the TSPR began in 1972. The Philip Experiment would be carefully constructed on the foundations of parapsychology. Of course, the science involved throughout the experiment was not mainstream science. Consisting of eight people, the group began by first creating a fictional character named Philip Aylesford, a 17th century English noble. A variety of details concerning Philip’s life were also created, along with a sketch of what he looked like. Born from the imagination, the fictitious details were intentionally designed to allow the participants of the experiment to be fully aware of the non-existence of Philip. Using the fictional biography they had created, the TSPR focused their imaginations and expectations collectively in order to produce some sort of ghost phenomena. What they desired was an apparitional experience.

            It was thought that through a collective effort, they would be able to create an artificial “ghost.” Using meditation, they were not able to produce any results. The meditative efforts continued for months, but nothing happened. With some adjustments the TSRP then modeled their experiment on the séance known to the modern spiritualism movement. In this case, the type of séance was styled on the technique of table-rapping and table-tipping, whereby a spirit communicated through raps and moving or manipulating the table. This mediumistic technique seemed to produce results.

            The fictitious “ghost” – Philip – soon manifested himself. What was so interesting about these manifestations were that they resembled the phenomena identified to séances conducted by mediums. Lights went on and off. Various objects also moved by some unseen force. The table even levitated off the ground. The most interesting manifestation was the fact that Philip was able to communicate with the experimenters through raps – one knock indicated “yes,” while two knocks indicated “no.” Through these raps, the TSPR was able to communicate with Philip who also provided yes/no responses concerning details about his fictitious life. The responses given by Philip were independent from the thoughts of the experimenters. It would seem as though they had created a “ghost.”

            The Philip Experiment began to capture the interest of Toronto’s local media. The TSPR demonstrated their creation of an artificial “ghost” on television shows, such as the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s popular TV series, Man Alive. Shortly afterwards they gained international attention. The phenomenon was presented as having occurred as the direct result of both the collective conscious and unconscious; collective expectations and imagination focused through human will power. In turn, the TSPR claimed that their experiment served to explain all manner of paranormal phenomena, such as poltergeists and the spirit communications experienced through séances. Many people believed that something scientific – possibly psychology – had resolved the questions surrounding paranormal phenomena. Although not everyone was so easily convinced, the Philip Experiment had established something more than just an explanation.

            The Philip Experiment was not merely an explanation to paranormal phenomena, but served to promote the psychic potentials of humanity. This discovery, of course, had other implications, which shall be discussed shortly. Human spirituality was seemingly measured through the field of parapsychology – as a product of the mind. The outcome of the Philip Experiment was that both public audiences and the TSPR believed that something entirely new had been discovered in the name of science! Confident in their views, the TSPR did not precisely resolve how the mind could influence physical surroundings. Psychic phenomenon was simply used to explain paranormal experiences.

            According to some sources, the Philip Experiment attracted the attention of academics. In one account, both the group of eight and the table were examined by scholars from KentStateUniversity. It was assumed that the table-tipping and table-rapping was caused by the unconscious movements of the participants, otherwise known as ideomotor phenomenon. During the academic study, one of the observers was reported to have been very dismissive and openly negative towards the TSPR’s theories and experiment. When the group of eight commanded Philip to attack the spectator, the table would chase or hurl itself towards him, even travelling a fair distance up a stairway. The ideomotor explanation could not explain this action. Here, the experiences surrounding the artificial ghost included a somewhat malevolent incident. Was this a demonstration of psychokinetic ability? Or was Philip an autonomous entity capable of influencing and being influenced? A problematic question arises in terms of how can the theory of psychokinesis be reconciled to the creation of a ghost through the mind? According to the TSPR’s theories it was a combination of factors, and despite any contradictions the conclusions were promoted with absolute certainty – in the psychic potentials of mankind.

The Implications on Human Spirituality

            Was the Philip Experiment science or new age spirituality? The reality is that the Philip Experiment served to promote new age ideas concerning the psychic potentials of humanity, under the guise of science. The TSPR claimed to explain a variety of phenomena associated to human spirituality. For instance, the Philip Experiment was modelled on the séance, a practice well known to Modern Spiritualism. According to mediums, it is the spirits of the dead who speak to them through a variety of means including table-tipping, table-rapping, and levitation, etc. The TSPR believed that the paranormal phenomenon experienced through séances was not caused by the spirits of the dead. Instead, it was through the mind of the medium and the participants projecting expectations stimulated by their imaginations. What this suggested was that the spiritual experiences identified to Modern Spiritualism were owed strictly to the living, and not the dead.

            The divisive theories made throughout occult and new age beliefs and practices are not uncommon. Although at odds with the beliefs of the Modern Spiritualists, the TSPR’s theories also gave support to other instances of ghost phenomena, such as poltergeists. Rather than hold the spirits of the dead – or demons – responsible for poltergeists, the emotional psychic energy of adolescents is thought to trigger episodes of phenomena resembling psychokinesis. Elsewhere, the conclusions made by the TSPR seemed to resemble and therefore be supported by certain beliefs found in eastern religions, like Tibetan Buddhism.

            Tibetan Buddhism retains strong elements of shamanistic practices, one of which is the practice of creating what is called a Tulpa. A Tulpa is an emanation of human thought; a being thought to be created through intense meditative practices – otherwise known as a “thought form.” Of course, the TSPR did not employ the intense meditative practices of Tibetan monks, but did attempt meditation to produce their desired result. In the end, the Philip Experiment produced results through a collective effort of its participants, utilizing a more relaxed form of concentration. This difference aside the similarity of creating an entity or “ghost” through the use of the human mind is important to recognize.

            The importance of recognizing the Tulpa of Tibetan Buddhism to the Philip Experiment also raises a vital point concerning paranormal research. Long before the TSPR had ever sat down to produce an artificial ghost, the idea of “thought forms” had been a belief and practice circulating throughout Western European occult societies of the late 19th and early 20th centuries – the I AM movement, Theosophy, the Golden Dawn, etc. Through the beliefs and practices of these occult societies it is obvious that eastern religions played a large role in influencing their beliefs and practices. The TSPR was no exception. Despite the best efforts to present their theories as “science,” it becomes obvious that they were promoting the same ambivalent form of spirituality. In the TSPR’s case, parapsychology provided an opportunity to reintroduce a non-Christian religious belief and practice to the world. With an emphasis on the new age fascination for psychic phenomenon, the Philip Experiment simply promoted non-Christian spirituality. After all, this is what the Philip Experiment claimed to have revealed; belief is the motivating and instigating source of paranormal phenomena.

            The Philip Experiment was most likely not a subversive attempt to undermine human spirituality. Neither was the TSPR responsible for the new age notions of which it promoted. Believing they had conducted their experiment through scientific boundaries, the TSPR was attempting to define human spirituality according to their own pre-conceived beliefs. In terms of what the Philip Experiment means for Christianity, the conclusions could be applied to the belief in demons, angels, miracles, and God Himself as products of faith; the collective belief of people producing paranormal phenomena. The danger in the Philip Experiment – and “thought forms” in general – is that humanity believes it is the creator of its own spiritual world, and its invisible inhabitants. Removing God from the role of Creator is another implicit problem found in the conclusions made by the TSPR. It should be noted that such blasphemous ideas were not included in the TSPR’s initial theories. However, the implications of their conclusions swept aside the Modern Spiritualist’s belief in the survival of the soul after death. As for Tibetan Buddhism and the occult/new age, the conflicting conclusions of the TSPR do not directly undermine these other views. The differences are negligible, and the ambivalence of “thought forms” allows for conclusions to define human spirituality according to pre-conceived beliefs and expectations having nothing to do with God. Perhaps this is an over-simplified perspective, but then again, so is psychic phenomenon.

Other Considerations

            The conclusions of the Philip Experiment were in themselves non-scientific. The opinions expressed by Dr. Alan Robert George Owen only asserted his own personal beliefs in psychic phenomenon. The experiment itself sought to produce an apparition, but did not do so. Instead, the same phenomena experienced through the practice of the séance manifested. These same experiences are also found in cases of poltergeists. Having already addressed these examples, it is important to explore the relevance between the similarities and whether or not psychic phenomenon, or something else, is responsible.

            Throughout a variety of reported cases of ghost phenomena, the similarities are often explained very distinctly from one another. The TSPR’s theory suggested a common link. Despite their best intentions, psychokinesis does not account for all such reported cases. For instance, apparitions have been included among the variety of reported cases of ghost phenomena. Apparitions do not occur as a result of psychokinetic influence, even by occult and new age standards. What must be stressed is that the Philip Experiment wasn’t directly or exclusively engaging in psychokinetic experimentation, but was questioning the power of belief. Here, the pre-conceived notion that the mind was therefore responsible served to explain the phenomena experienced throughout the Philip Experiment.

            The group of eight did not mentally focus their thoughts to create the movements of the table. Instead, it was their collective effort to imagine an entity and will it into reality. In turn, the entity would interact with the group of eight according to its own free will. That was the premise of the initial theory the TSPR desired to explore. Ultimately, the conclusions became intertwined with contradicting explanations, resting on the belief in psychic phenomenon.

            Mainstream science continues to reject psychic phenomenon despite the relevance the experiment potentially provided, in regards to ‘Apparitional Experiences’ studied through psychology and parapsychology. Not all psychologists recognize the Philip Experiment as science. Ideomotor phenomenon seems to satisfy the scientific community, and therefore the TSPR’s conclusions were cast aside. Indeed, the Philip Experiment was a reproducible phenomenon, and could be observed and tested. Academics were certainly interested in the Philip Experiment, but could not reconcile what they observed or examined with their materialistic and biased views. In turn, the Philip Experiment found a welcoming platform among other groups and individuals outside of mainstream science. Even now, the dawn of the 21st century, the TSPR’s experiment continues to serve as “scientific” evidence among a few parapsychologists and paranormal enthusiasts. This has allowed new age philosophies to grow and be disseminated under the guise of science.

Demonic Deceit

            The spiritual implications of the Philip Experiment present a variety of problems. If people are left to believe that the human mind is responsible for spirituality this also devalues faith. The conclusions made by the TSPR suggest that faith – another term for belief – is empowered by the imagination. How so? The psychokinetic phenomenon thought to have emerged from the collective thoughts of the participants of the Philip Experiment, began with the imagination. The entire existence of Philip was shaped by the imaginations of the group of eight. According to most definitions, imagination is defined as: The formation of a mental image of something that is not perceived as real and is not present to the senses (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). The psychological, and perhaps the physiological, associations to imagination are inherent in such definitions. It is a word having great significance in terms of how the mind works in accordance to creativity, memory, etc. The Philip Experiment involved the formation of a mental image, knowing that such an image – Philip – was not real. The desired outcome was of course to make such an image present itself to the senses. Imagination was essential to designing a fictional persona in order to apply the meditative approaches conducted by the TSPR during their séance-styled experiment. Although secular definitions do not reflect the imaginative process set forth by the TSPR, the catalyst for creating “thought-forms” begins with the imagination.

            Both the Orthodox Church and Roman Catholic Church are aware of the role the imagination plays within the scope of human spirituality. In fact, the human imagination has a slightly more significant meaning that is lacking among secular and new age definitions. In the glossary of Elder Ephraim’s book, Counsels from the Holy Mountain, imagination is expressed in accordance the Christian perspective, and states:

“The imagination is one of the lower psychical faculties of man, operating in a realm between reason and sense. Although the imagination can be used by the nous [mind] to create beneficial contemplations, it is also the chief instrument evil spirits use to create fantasies of worldly or sinful things which distract one from prayer and lead one to wrong thinking, wrong feeling, and wrong doing.”

Here, imagination is categorized as the “lower psychical” ability operating within the mind. It is important to point out that the term “psychical” refers to the mental phenomena allowing the mind to interact with the non-physical modes of perception. The psychical ability discussed here is not to be confused with the sensationalized definitions and interpretations of psychic phenomenon, as is promoted by the TSPR. Promoting psychic ability – such as psychokinesis – the TSPR regards the psychical as a higher faculty of the mind. Elder Ephraim’s description identifies the psychical as belonging somewhere between reason and the senses, and is regarded as a lower faculty. Rather than being able to influence reality or access the spiritual world, the Christian understanding of the psychical component seems to recognize a reactionary mechanism. It should also be noted that the psychical aspect of the mind is not a mechanism for spiritual discernment. For instance, Elder Ephraim also notes that the imagination “is also the chief instrument evil spirits use to create fantasies of worldly or sinful things which distract one from prayer and lead one to wrong thinking, wrong feeling, and wrong doing.” The imagination is a psychical quality of the mind, susceptible to demonic intrusions. An example of this is noted in a Roman Catholic source dealing with demonic possession. In Malachi Martin’s book, Hostage to the Devil, an example of how evil spirits – demons – intrude on the mind can help demonstrate this view identified by Elder Ephraim. A man identified as Yves L. experienced such a demonic intrusion through the imagination:

“His imagination was receiving data – images, impressions, forms – from some source other than the outside world. He knew this because they resembled nothing he had ever seen, heard, or thought. And then, too, it seemed to him that these images were not assimilated by his mind and will.”

The imagination should not be understood as the only means through which the human mind and soul become prone to demonic influence or domination. Instead, this is an example of how the imagination can become the means through which demonic influences occur. It is, as Elder Ephraim’s definition states, “the chief instrument evil spirits use to create fantasies of worldly or sinful things.”

            The artificial ghost – Philip – was a construct of the collective imaginations of the TSPR. From the moment of naming him, drawing a picture of him, creating a life story for him, etc., the experimenters used their imaginations in their meditative exercises. As a “thought form,” Philip is certainly a creature based on the imagination. However, was Philip demonic? The answer may be best expressed in the writings of an early Christian exorcism. Found in the Euchologion of the Orthodox Church and the EasternCatholicChurches, the prayers – or exorcism – by St. John Chrysostom identify the imagination among demonic manifestations and oppressions:

“Thee who fell from heaven and together with thee all evil spirits: every evil spirit of lust, the spirit of evil, a day and nocturnal spirit, a noonday and evening spirit, a midnight spirit, an imaginative spirit…”

 How this concerns the TSPR’s conclusions is crucial in order to understand what occurred during the Philip Experiment.

            Using their imaginations, the TSPR conducted an experiment with new age beliefs resting at the core of their theories. As difficult as it may be to understand or accept, the opportunity for demonic deceit throughout such an experiment cannot be ignored so easily. Consider the strong similarities between the Philip Experiment and the practice of the séance identified within Modern Spiritualism. Presenting the Philip Experiment as “science,” what the TSPR was really conducting was still just a séance. The only difference between themselves and Modern Spiritualists rests in their beliefs. Rather than accept that such paranormal phenomena is owed to spirits, the TSPR focused their attentions on new age philosophies concerning psychic ability. In either case, the OCPRS has identified demonic manifestations to all such paranormal experiences. As stated elsewhere in this article, the variety of paranormal phenomena share many similarities despite having differing explanations. Each of these similarities is easily identified to demonic manifestations and influences identified throughout the experiences of the Church. The participants of the Philip Experiment were simply experiencing the same phenomena regardless of their beliefs and speculations.

            Eager to accept what they experienced as having been influenced by their collective minds, the TSPR simply made conclusions based on a common human condition known as confirmation bias. In other words, the conclusions of the Philip Experiment were predetermined based on the beliefs of the participants. Of course, demonic deception is not the cause of such a condition in this particular case, but it certainly plays an important role. Exploiting the TSPR’s intentions, demonic influences may certainly have been the cause of the table-tipping, table-rapping, levitation, and other assorted experiences identified to the Philip Experiment. What the TSPR was promoting through their experiment was simply re-packaged non-Christian spiritual practices. The demonic deceit occurs in the delusions of the TSPR, whereby they unwittingly perpetuated New Age spirituality, and not science.

            For those who would argue that demons are an absurd notion, it is important to consider some points already mentioned throughout this article. In essence, the Philip Experiment produced phenomena known throughout non-Christian religions and practices – “thought forms.” Why demons are suggested as the real source behind such phenomena concerns what “thought forms” represent in terms of human spirituality. The imagination is essential to the construction of “thought forms” and is the first step in understanding this association to demonic influences. Also, understanding how the Church defines the imagination and the relationship to demons helps to identify the Philip Experiment as a prime candidate for demonic manifestations. Once again, the conclusions made by the TSPR suggest that spirituality is shaped by the human mind. In addition to claiming to have resolved ghost phenomena, the ego of mankind is inflated. How so? If mankind creates, shapes, and influences spirituality, and can create “ghosts,” this would also include angels, demons, and God. Human beings, and not God, are creators of the unseen world. For this reason alone, demonic influences are most certainly responsible for the phenomena experienced throughout the Philip Experiment. The spirituality of the new age – and not science – rests at the heart of the TSPR’s so-called theories.

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