October 6, 2001

1. John Edward, Psychic

In The New York Times of 7/29/01, there’s an article about a psychic named John Edward. Only 31 years old, Edward is the star of a TV show, the creator of “a whole new genre of television: the psychic talk show.” The TV show consists of Edward attempting to communicate with the dead; Edward stands in front of an audience, and tries to relay messages from deceased relatives, friends, etc. Edward is not the only psychic who attempts A.D.C. (after-death communication); another is James Van Praagh, whom I discussed in the November ’99 issue of Phlit.

Though Edward isn’t always successful in his attempts to communicate with the dead, he succeeds enough to convince many people that such communication is possible, and that he is a person with the capacity for such communication. People who are eager to communicate with recently-deceased loved ones try to become part of Edward’s audience: “his Midtown Manhattan office (the location of which reporters are asked not to disclose) contains a room half-full of plastic boxes that spill over with ticket requests from all over the country. Those who can’t get into the audience can add their names to a two-year-and-growing waiting list for a $300 half-hour private appointment with Edward. ‘I’ve been offered $5,000, $10,000, a blank check to do a reading, but I’m not going to whore myself out,’ Edward says. ‘I can’t get to everybody.’”

Like James Van Praagh, Edward is no intellectual; the Times describes him as “the type of sturdy Italian-Irish guy one might expect to see heckling opposing pitchers at Yankee Stadium or riding the Brooklyn-bound A train.” As a youngster on Long Island, Edward “laughed at his mother when she would organize ‘psychic house parties’ for her friends .... It wasn’t until he was 15, when he consented to be read by a psychic named Lydia Clar, that Edward started to believe. ‘She nailed specific stuff, stuff no one knew,’ he says. ‘I felt like I got the wind knocked out of me.’ Curious, he began to do research at the library and says that he soon realized that experiences he had been having since he was 4 but assumed were normal — prophetic dreams, out-of-body travel, seeing blue auras around his teachers — were anything but. With the urging of Clar, who printed up his first business cards, he began going to psychic fairs on the weekends when he was 16, reading tarot cards and telling people’s fortunes.”

“It would be years before Edward treated his ‘gift’ as more than a once-a-week hobby. In the meantime, he enrolled at Long Island University (from which he graduated with a degree in health-care administration), got a job drawing blood at a local hospital and, in 1992, met a slim, pretty dance teacher named Sandra. The two married in 1995, and later that year, encouraged by his new wife and by the memory of his mother, who died from lung cancer six years before — a devastating loss that Edward says allowed him to recognize the healing powers of his gift — he decided to become a full-time psychic. Even though his hobby had become lucrative — word-of-mouth referrals had led to a waiting list and $150 sessions — he says he was loath to leave behind his work at the hospital and in the dance studio, where he had begun teaching after meeting Sandra. ‘The first time I went to a doctor’s appointment, I couldn’t bring myself to write down ‘psychic’ under occupation,’ Edward says. ‘So I wrote “dance teacher.” It was easier.’”

“During his first five years in the business, Edward used a combination of charisma, hustle and networking to move from the New York radio stations WPLJ and WBLI, where he read callers on the air, to giving seminars around the country. After his first book and the accompanying promotional appearances on talk TV, he taped the pilot for ‘Crossing Over.’” A star was born.

In 1997, a New York journalist, Bill Falk, investigated Edward. “At the time, Falk, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who is now editor in chief of The Week, a news commentary magazine, was with Newsday, the Long Island newspaper. After hearing about Edward, Falk spent a month trying to debunk him, but in the process he was forced to reconsider. ‘I’d been a reporter for 20 years and dealt with a lot of trained liars: politicians, P.R. people, the like,’ Falk says. ‘But it was the specificity of the information that I couldn’t refute .... I wouldn’t believe it if somebody told me about it,’” Falk said. “‘It’s something you have to witness with your own eyes.’”

Many famous authors were fascinated by paranormal phenomena — Schopenhauer, for example, and Jung. No first rate thinker would dismiss the claims of a psychic like John Edward — dismiss them out of hand, dismiss them without a hearing, dismiss them because they conflict with our preconceived idea of reality.

Napoleon was one first rate thinker who was fascinated by the power of the psyche, the power of the unconscious. “Sometimes, in a small circle, [Napoleon] would amuse himself by relating stories of presentiments and apparitions .... On one occasion of this kind he said, in a very grave tone of voice, ‘When death strikes a person whom we love, and who is distant from us, a foreboding almost always denotes the event, and the dying person appears to us at the moment of his dissolution.’ He then immediately related the following anecdote: ‘A gentleman of the Court of Louis XIV was in the gallery of Versailles at the time that the King was reading to his courtiers the bulletin of the battle of Friedlingen gained by Villars. Suddenly the gentleman saw, at the farther end of the gallery, the ghost of his son, who served under Villars. He exclaimed, “My son is no more!” and next moment the King named him among the dead.’”1

Doubtless there are many charlatans among those who profess to be psychics, and to believe too quickly would be as much a mistake as to dismiss too quickly. Be cautious, keep an open mind. Paranormal phenomena are like an unexplored continent. Shouldn’t we rejoice that in this old world of ours there are still unexplored continents?

2. Aphorisms

A. Our hostility is directed against those who have injured us. Sometimes, however, we nurse that hostility, brood upon it, and revel in it, until finally one wonders, “was the initial injury just an excuse for releasing hostile feelings, an excuse to torment someone, an excuse to make someone feel guilty?”

B. La Rochefoucauld says somewhere that it is impossible to hide love where it exists, or to feign love where it doesn’t exist. The same is true of hostility. Feelings of love and hostility can be transmitted without words, and without any visible signs. Many imaginative writers are fascinated by the transmission of feelings. In his story, “A Gentle Creature,” Dostoyevsky wrote, “I did not speak of it directly .... I spoke almost without words. And I am an old hand at speaking without words.” In Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist, Stephen Dedalus is lying in bed, thinking of his girlfriend, and he wonders what his girlfriend is doing: “Might it be, in the mysterious ways of spiritual life, that her soul at those same moments had been conscious of his homage? .... Conscious of his desire she was waking from odorous sleep.”2

Notice that phrase, “the mysterious ways of spiritual life.” Spirit is a mystery. The transmission of feelings is a mystery, just as communicating with the dead is a mystery. We’re all psychics, and we experience mysteries every day. Many people argue that only matter exists; they deny the existence of spirit because spirit is inexplicable, it makes them uncomfortable. Spirit has no place in the Western-scientific world view; it overturns our world view, it unsettles us, it shakes the ground under our feet.

C. If we are loyal to ideals, cultural and spiritual ideals, we won’t have much loyalty to nation/school/business/institution; inner ideals will take priority over outer ideals, individual ideals over group ideals. Most writers — Joyce, Nietzsche, Ibsen, etc. — had little national feeling — indeed, they were often sharp critics of their nation. “Self-culture,” wrote Wilde, “is the true ideal of man” — self-culture, not group loyalty.3 If someone criticizes you for a shortage of loyalty to nation/school/business/institution, remind him that a model of group loyalty is a Nazi rally at Nuremberg.

D. How do you teach a young child to read? Well, you start with A, B, C. But letters like A, B, and C mean nothing to a child. Instead of starting with letters, perhaps we should start with words, words that mean something to a child, words like “Mom,” “Dad,” “hand,” “foot,” etc. This is the thesis of a book called How To Teach Your Baby To Read: The Gentle Revolution, by Glenn Doman. In China, babies learn words, not letters, because the Chinese don’t use letters, they use ideographs, “characters.” Doman’s method uses an Eastern approach with Western children. My wife and I are trying Doman’s method, and so far we’re pleased with the results. Stay tuned!

E. A recent article in the Washington Post discusses the popularity of philosophy cafés and philosophy discussion groups.4 Philosophy cafés started in France (where they are sometimes called “cafés philo”), and have spread to the U.S. In addition to philosophy, theology has also moved into “neighborhood hangouts”: the Archdiocese of Chicago organized Theology on Tap, which brought Catholic discussion into a bar setting. Theology on Tap has since spread to other American cities. Philosophy cafés are the subject of a book called Socrates Café: A Fresh Taste of Philosophy.

Could this trend be significant? Does it indicate a growing interest in philosophy, in exploring the meaning of life?

© L. James Hammond 2002
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1. Memoirs of Napoleon Bonaparte, by Bourrienne, edited by R. W. Phipps, ch. 28 back
2. Ch. 5, ii back
3. The Critic As Artist: A Dialogue back
4. “Nietzsche With a Chaser: Philosophy Moves From Ivory Tower To Neighborhood Hangouts,” Washington Post, 8/2/01, page C1 back