Table-tilting - Spirits or Psi?
Table-tilting - Spirits or Psi?
By Ruby Lang
In Sydney, Australia a group of researchers have been turning the tables on parapsychologists - or to put it more succinctly, table turning, or tilting, their way into a field that is principally the domain of psychologists and academics.
The group has borne witness to noises and movement of an ordinary card table that defy conventional physics - and recently their experiences made it into the Australian Journal of Parapsychology, a publication devoted to theories, statistical analysis and experiments relating to Psi (Psychokinesis) and ESP (Extrasensory Perception).
Inspired by the work of the Philip Group, a ‘70s research project initiated by the Toronto Society of Psychical Research, the group of non-academics was established in May 2001 in a bid to replicate the successes of the Canadians in creating an "artificial ghost".
Briefly, the Philip Group were able to direct Philip to effect lights, tap under the table, tap on walls and move the table vigorously around the room. During later sessions Philip produced - upon request - raps in the adjoining plaster walls.
The Philip group also found that if the table flipped over, the tap noises started coming through from the top of the table, which was now the underside.
Of course for the Aussies it all went horribly wrong. Or to put it another way, absolutely nothing happened. For five long months the group sang, chanted, meditated and pleaded with the powers that be for some kind of response - be it a rap, creak, groan or shuffle from the table around which they had dutifully gathered every fortnight.
But for whatever reason Skippy Cartman, the improbably-named entity they had created and with which they were trying to make contact, had declined to comment.
So what to do? Well, the Philip Group certainly wasn't the only table-tilting act in town, so the group threw out the Philip Group brief and decided to turn to the works of Kenneth Batcheldor for further inspiration.
Batcheldor's group achieved knockings, table movements and eventually, they claim, complete table levitation by their eleventh sitting - all conducted in complete darkness.
So with a change in methodology - albeit in semi-darkness as opposed to completely in the dark - came the results they had so keenly awaited. First came the lightest of taps, then strange groans as if the wood in the flimsy card table were contracting and expanding, then movement - in fits and starts - before graduating to wild spinning on one leg.
Instead of trying to make contact with a fictional character, in this case a non-entity [pun intended], the group simply began to concentrate on the table itself for a direct response.
The group of eight, headed by Australian paranormal researcher Michael Williams, has now started to film its activities in the hope that they too will achieve total levitation of their table - a cheap $5 card table with folding legs not unlike that used in the original Philip Experiment.
Revision of the raw video footage shows table legs lifting off of the ground and the sitters virtually being dragged along behind the table as it starts to build up momentum and spin around on one leg. The video camera light fitting has also been known to falter and go out just as the movements start to occur.
The infrared video footage has also turned up strange balls of light, which appear to roll across the floor in random directions near the sitters. Williams has caught similar moving balls of light after filming in reputedly haunted homes and locations, but he is none the wiser about exactly what they are.
"Some people hypothesise they are the spirits of the dead, but all we can definitively say is they appear to be spheres of infrared energy - and they're definitely not normal," Williams said.
In the meantime the series of guest sitters - which has included a psychiatrist, a psychologist, a zoologist, a sceptical film critic and a journalist - have all had to re-adjust their personal belief systems to deal with what they are seeing.
After all, furniture is not supposed to move by itself. If it did, furniture removalists would surely be out of a job!
Understandably, anyone viewing the footage is quick to throw up reasons as to how the entire thing could be faked. Indeed, the videotape supplied to the Australian Journal of Parapsychology along with the original paper was quickly dismissed - not so much as a hoax, but as "too ambiguous to be definitive evidence of PK". PK being psychokinesis for the uninitiated, the apparent ability of a human being to affect objects, events and people around them via their consciousness.
"So-and-so must be leaning on the corner of the table" or "it must be unconscious muscle movement" are just some of the other responses the group has received from casual observers. It seems unless someone experiences this odd phenomenon firsthand, then it cannot possibly be real.
"The group have been filmed by independent television producers, and disinterested persons who have accidentally walked in on sessions have been rooted to the spot as they watch the phenomena occurring," Williams said.
Williams, who has been investigating reports of strange phenomena for the last 20 years, is amused by the reluctance of the parapsychology community to warm to his experiment, or to the notion that such things are possible - particularly when his group is only replicating the work of others before them.
"It is difficult to ascribe fraud when taps occur under each person's hands, whilst all hands are resting lightly on top," Williams said.
"A mysterious rod under the table is highly unlikely, and would have to be manipulated unseen by a person's foot. And for the table to rotate around on one leg is difficult as well, since the person has to raise the table, with hands on top, and then move it around. And if someone were manipulating a corner, we would all have to be cheating, since it has rotated under the hands/corners of everyone.
"Many intellectually constrained philosophers may resort to the old hoary trick of 'If I can think of how something could be faked, ergo it was'".
"The trouble is, it would be applicable to most scientific experiments!"
For those unfamiliar with the whole thing, rest assured the group's experiments with table-tilting are nothing new.
Some of the earliest table-tilting experiments were conducted in the mid-1800s in America and Europe, more often than not for amusement than any other purpose.
The past-time found favour with Spiritualist circles and was regarded by some as stunning evidence of "physical mediumship", the ability of practising mediums to affect physical objects around them.
But while the results are replicable, they are far from predictable, and one of the chief challenges for the Australian group has been getting the phenomena to occur on demand.
While Williams acknowledges that there are preferred conditions that encourage table-tilting, there is no guaranteed formula for getting results from the table.
"There is no methodology whatsoever - it doesn't respond to yes/no questions, and words or actions used successfully on previous occasions to elicit noise or movement are just as likely to evoke no response at all at the next sitting,'' Williams said.
Thus the group acknowledges that scientific study of the forces at work moving the table is perhaps harder than otherwise might be the case.
To that end they will keep turning up to their fortnightly sessions over the card table in the hope that the secrets of psychokinesis might just be right under their fingertips.
***For further information about the group's activities, Michael Williams can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Batcheldor.K (1984) Contributions To the theory of PK Induction from sitter-Group Work, The Journal of The American Psychical Research Vol.78, April.
Morris.L. Advisory Editor (1975) Perspectives in Psychical Research ,New York, Arno Press.
Owen.I, Sparrow.M (1976) Conjuring Up Philip: An Adventure In Psychokinesis. New York, Harper & Row Publishers.
Williams.M, Lang.R (2002) Private notes and video recordings from the Meson Archives, Sydney, Australia.