Wonders and Illusions

After hearing an interview with Matthew Tompkins, I’ve been enjoying his book, The Spectacle of Illusion.  As an experimental psychologist and magician, Tompkins writes the fascinating story of spiritualism and those who expose the mental tricks used by psychics, mediums and the rest.

I was very interested to read that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle believed in the “paranormal” of seances even after his friend, Harry Houdini, showed him how the trickery was done.

Here’s the passage from Tompkins:

“In 1879, American neurologist George M. Beard (1839-1883) predicted that methodological scrutiny of spiritualist claims could lead society to a radical new scientific revolution. This new breakthrough would not offer us insight into the world of the dead, but rather the living human nervous system.”  Beard felt that “all the world would know that spirits dwell in the cerebral cells” and that it was “not our houses but our brains that are haunted.”

Tompkins concludes that “the explanations related to tricks of our minds can be even more wonderful than supernatural explanations.”

This reminded me of something John Muir said about the natural world being more wonderful than supernatural explanations and “miracles.”

What if people could find as much fascination and wonder in our amazing physical universe as they do in the “paranormal” spirit-worlds of imagination?


Categories: PsychologyTags: , , , , , , ,


  1. Absolutely. The only thing I can think of that suppresses discovery and awe at a destructive rate is faith. Through faith one can handwave the spectacular as trivial. I showed a Christian acquaintance the pale blue dot and bubble deep field and he was unimpressed. Felt nothing. Weird

    • Yes, Jim, sure is odd (and sad) when people aren’t awed by the in-credible beauty of things. I don’t think it’s always about faith, though. Often it seems mental laziness, satisfied ignorance or just plain lack of interest. Faith can certainly facilitate that, but not always.

      • Agreed. Part of the problem is what we’ve been conditioned to accept as ok, and the time constraints on this way of life make it difficult to think for yourself or even care. Too busy.

  2. Yeah. We lose the sense of that motto of the Enlightenment, sapere aude, dare to know, or think for yourself.

  3. I made a point of my blog to be an expert opinion free zone. As mush as possible I put away all the experts and believed nothing to observe the world the way it appears to be. Im often criticized for belief, but they are merely ideas to discuss.

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