It is my pleasure to publish below a valuable article written for the ITC Journal years ago by the late Professor David Fontana. Its pertinence and wisdom are certainly valid today as much as they were when he wrote it.
ITC AND THE DEMANDS OF SCIENCE
Professor David Fontana, Ph.D., FBPsS
Past President Society for Psychical Research
I very much sympathise with Nils Jacobson (ITC Journal March 2000) when he writes of the difficulties of convincing scientific colleagues of the reality of ITC, and I would like to add my own thoughts to the points that he raises.
It is now 36 years since the publication of Friedrich Jürgenson’s ‘Voices From Space’ (‘Rösterna Från Rymden’), and 32 years since Raudive published the original German version of ‘Breakthrough’ (‘Unhörbares Wird Hörbar) drawing the attention of the world to ITC (or to EVP as it was then called). During that time we have had an extraordinary range of published and unpublished ITC material allegedly produced paranormally through modern technological media (in particular through tape recorders, video players, radios and telephones), while only one serious research-based book of any particular note has appeared in English querying the validity of the phenomena (Ellis 1978). The conclusions reached by Ellis were that the voices he heard on tape under carefully controlled conditions were in all likelihood due to normal rather than paranormal causes, citing in particular stray radio frequencies picked up either by the microphone cable acting as an aerial (and originating from local short-wave radios such as those used by the police), or from the air waves (from national networks).
Wish-fulfilling interpretations of what these very indistinct voices were actually saying did the rest.
However, Ellis carried out the great majority of his experimental work with Raudive, and language differences (the messages that came through during the experiments were primarily in Latvian, German and Russian) posed unavoidable problems. Although Ellis conducted extensive interviews with other researchers, and had the opportunity to listen to some of their recordings, his main concern was to obtain positive results under fully controlled conditions. The fact that he failed to do so proved a cause of disappointment for him, and led to his largely unfavourable conclusions.
David Ellis’ book was not a best-seller, but in view of his credentials as a serious researcher (his investigation into ITC was funded by the prestigious Perrott-Warrick Bequest, administered by Trinity College, University of Cambridge) and his generally supportive attitude towards paranormal phenomena (he was and still is an active member of the Society for Psychical Research, and Production Editor of the Society’s journal), his results were widely respected by fellow scientists, and can be said to have had a major influence upon scientific attitudes towards the validity of ITC, providing us with one of the main reasons why the phenomena are still not taken seriously even by the majority of parapsychologists, much to the disappointment of the large groups of workers in Europe and America who consider that they are producing ever more impressive results.
I can understand this disappointment. I have been given (and been shown) many good examples of ITC by researchers, and in the Scole investigations undertaken by Montague Keen, Professor Arthur Ellison and myself (Keen, Ellison and Fontana 2000) we were ourselves present when remarkable results were obtained under good control conditions using a tape recorder from which the microphone had been removed (and in the absence of any white noise or other sound input). Space does not allow me to go into details, but among the most noteworthy features of these results were firstly that in addition to the sounds registering on the tape we actually heard them loudly and clearly while they were being received, and secondly that they included a piece of classical music which, through one of the mediums present during the experiment, we were told was being offered as a treat to Monty Keen (it transpired that the piece concerned had deep emotional associations for him from his childhood days, a fact known only to himself). Attempts to explain these results by normal means has so far proved unsuccessful. And just as Ellis (ibid 1978) assures us that he did not doubt Raudive’s integrity, so my two fellow researchers and myself had no cause to doubt the integrity of the group producing these results at any time during the two years of our investigations with them.
Thus I fully appreciate the frustrations felt by those who have been reporting their own results for many years, but who still feel themselves to be ignored not only by orthodox science but by much of the parapsychological community. However, science proceeds by the scientific method, a method which has proved very successful in dealing with the material world. And as ITC involves material phenomena, it is perfectly reasonable (if very annoying) that scientists should demand that ITC phenomena be demonstrable under the tightly controlled conditions which form an essential part of this method. It therefore may be helpful if, as a scientist, I outlined some ways in which ITC research could yield results that will go some way towards satisfying the scientific community. I fully realise that others have already sought to list these ways elsewhere, and that many workers consider they have already produced reliable results under the conditions involved, but nevertheless it is worth re-emphasising what these conditions are.
Some of the Conditions Necessary to Satisfy Scientists
- To avoid the possibility of audio-visual equipment picking up stray fragments of short-wave or radio broadcasts, the equipment needs to be placed within a screened enclosure (a Faraday cage). This I know is a contentious requirement. When the messages received contain information directly related to previous questions placed upon the tape by researchers, or when they contain names or other details relating to the researchers, the stray radio signals explanation is difficult or even impossible to sustain. Nevertheless, critics will always look for a loophole, however small, in any psychical research experiment, and having found it will gratefully worm their way through it, destroying in the process the credibility of the results which they are criticising. The use of screened equipment closes off one such loophole.
2. To minimise the possibility of uncontrolled sounds from the researchers or from the environment appearing on the tapes and being misinterpreted as paranormal, the microphone can be removed from the equipment. As indicated above, this was the policy adopted at the Scole investigation. Under certain circumstances it is still possible for a machine without a microphone to pick up stray sounds, but the likelihood is relatively small, particularly in the case of lengthy and coherent recordings.
3. To lessen the possibility of subjective misinterpretation of the taped material, and to provide further evidence suggestive of survival, more attempts should be made to obtain information from supposedly deceased communicators known only to the communicators themselves. Names, dates, reference to events etc. all support claims for identity by communicators. Sceptics may still put such communications down to SuperESP (the alleged ability for some mediums to receive information from the minds of sitters or from the environment, while supposing it comes from discarnate sources), the last refuge of those determined to argue against the possibility of survival, but the SuperESP argument depends upon the presence of a medium, and unless we claim mediumship on the part of the investigators it seems untenable in the case of ITC – unless of course we advance the absurd suggestions that the audio or video recorder has itself psychic abilities.
4. To obviate charges of fraud, results need to be obtained in the presence of sceptical scientists who can verify that all the necessary controls are in place. It’s possible that the presence of sceptical scientists might inhibit communication, as can happen during demonstrations of mediumship. But as the presence of mediums during ITC sessions does not appear to be essential, it is hard to see how inhibition by sceptics could operate.
5. To combat the demands of the scientist for repeatability (every scientific experiment is expected – in theory at least! – to produce identical results provided that the conditions under which it is carried out are the same), ITC researchers at least need to be able to specify under what conditions results can and cannot be obtained, and then to demonstrate that these specifications are correct.
Clarity in the Messages Themselves
It hardly needs saying that greater clarity in the messages received would be especially welcomed. Few scientists to my knowledge are prepared to take the (not particularly onerous) trouble to train their ears to hear the cadences which characterise much ITC speech. It may be that achieving this clarity is as much a matter for the communicators as for researchers.
However, judging by the results now being obtained on computers (and our own results at Scole, where a specially constructed germanium device was used to pick up the signals, as explained in Keen, Ellison and Fontana, ibid 2000) it seems perfectly possible to obtain a high degree of clarity, at least under certain circumstances, and to dialogue as Meek did with the help of his Spiricom (e.g. Fuller 1987), to receive lengthy, highly coherent messages (e.g. Webster 1989), and to obtain the highly evidential findings reported by Maggie Harsch-Fischbach and her co-workers.
There is of course another point of view on ITC phenomena, namely that as the researchers achieving good results are in no doubt of the authenticity of these results, there is little point in their spending the time and energy needed to convince sceptical scientists. I am in sympathy with this point of view. It is in any case quite wrong to believe that science is the correct measure of all things. The great majority of the things that make our lives of value – from emotions such as love and empathy on the one hand to music, poetry, sculpture and the fine arts on the other – are not susceptible to scientific investigation or explanation. It may well be that ITC, like other psychic phenomena, depends on processes that lie outside the domain of the physical sciences. However, if the breathtaking implications of ITC for our understanding of ourselves, of survival of death, and of the interaction between mind and matter are to be fully realised and generally accepted, then at the very least it is necessary that science is enabled to accept the reality of the phenomena. Like it or not, the Western world is very much in the thrall of scientists, who are often accorded almost mystical reverence. Unless science agrees that something is worth investigating, the chances of it gaining the attention it deserves – and of those studying it obtaining the funding and the resources that they need – are small.
Initiatives such as that of Anabela Cardoso in founding the ITC Journal (to say nothing of the commitment of time and money she puts into producing it) are of enormous value in moving the subject forward, and in providing the forum in which ideas and research findings can be discussed. We are all enormously in her debt.
Ellis, D. (1978) The Mediumship of the Tape Recorder. Pulborough, W. Sussex:
Fuller, J. G. (1987) The Ghost of 29 Megacycles. London: Grafton
Keen, M., Ellison, A., and Fontana, D. (2000). The Scole Report.
Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research 58, 220 (whole issue).
Webster, K. (1989). The Vertical Plane. London: Grafton.