Confusing speculative “language of stone” (Book Review)

I’m researching the history of the Stone Tape “theory” of haunting for my Spooky Geology site. It’s something I’ve been working on in bits and pieces for several years now. I’ve watched the movie The Stone Tape (thanks to mooching off Blake Smith’s Plex account) and have keyed into any mention of the idea from various paranormalists. One website mentioned that some paranormalists may have been influenced by a book by Don Robins called The Secret Language of Stone. From 1988, it obviously is later than the 1972 movie. But the write-up seemed interesting. With no luck finding a copy in a library, I picked up a used copy and read it in a week. By the time I was done, I was ready to punch Robins. It’s an annoying book. I don’t think it would have influenced many people who could have made it through the techno-babbling, tangents, and connecting of random threads to get to a frustrating end. Here’s another case of me reading a book so you don’t have to…

It starts out with an entertaining, if uncritical, story of the Hexham Heads and sightings of a creature that those involved concluded was associated with the mysterious stone carvings. From this first chapter, Robins is clearly, heavily influenced by suggestion. On Page 20, he admits he is “one of those disgruntled scientists in boring jobs looking for intellectual excitement”. That’s a crank characteristic, I’m afraid.

~Disappearance of Frank Hyde and the Hexham heads~

Chapter 2 is on the importance of stone. He doesn’t have to tell me how important stone is as an essential human material and durable edifice. However, the flaw in the entire book is here: he infuses stone with spiritual feeling and imbued it with a magical power. As a geologist, I’m bristling at the generalization of “stone”. There are multiple origins of “stone,” rock types are formed from minerals of various kinds. So, “stone” is annoyingly vague when minerals actually matter for the physical uses. He assumes that the depth of belief in the fine qualities of quartz means that there is something special to it (beyond its obvious properties). There are several reasons why people are attracted to stone and quartz (crystal).

Robins appears to be talking about stone as something I am unfamiliar with, yet I am surrounded by rock samples, stand on bedrock, or am sheltered by mineral products at all times. The earth is for the most part rock, air, and water. I don’t get that Robins has categorized stone as something unusual. It’s not magical, it just is. Yet, he takes it beyond chemistry, crystal lattices, and electrons to describe some “rogue energy in the heart of the crystal”.

He cites several times the books of John Michell (a New Age, Atlantis proponent) and that of the Bords (Forteans that uncritically cited accounts of high strangeness). There were very few scientific citations. The topics he touches upon, from crystal chemistry to religious studies to neurology, are widely separate knowledge areas and I doubt that Robins has expertise in most of them. He certainly is lacking in geological foundations.

The book repeats its premises multiple times. He seems to have had the format laid out before writing as we get a slow, circuitous trip from “we are children of stone” through “interludes”, into the mechanisms. The mechanisms, he stresses, are not paranormal but understandable through the crystal lattice and electrons. Defects in the crystal lattice (a known phenomenon) are “reservoirs” where incoming energy cold be “trapped, stored and transmitted.” Like a genie in a bottle, he says (p. 81). The energy currents are like those created by wind swirling through buildings.

By page 84, he teases that this is hidden energy is why stone is so important to us. It’s not because it’s durable, beautiful, or useful in practical application but because it is “living”. Or something. He’s lost me by this point. Meanwhile, he has mentioned lasers, though I don’t follow why, and that piezoelectrical effects are not the kind of energy effects he’s talking about. Good to know. Then, he calls the network of stone a “macrochip”. By chapter 5, he is talking about the taboo “graven image” that is somehow connected to stone power. It does not follow. He admits skipping over the argument of whether apparitions are real, accepts them at face value, and demonstrates naïveté of Raudive voices along with complete ignorance of photographic anomalies. He promises a denouement of all aspects but never delivers (if you can get through the tedious, dense and obtuse technical descriptions of inorganic and organic chemical structures). He seems very in love with his own idea so much so that he forgets to provide any evidence for it.

Robins is heavily influenced by what he perceives to be key findings of investigation at the Rollright Stones. Stone circles are often the example of stone networks that he uses. So, I looked up the Rollright Stones and the overarching Dragon Project. It was far less impressive than Robins expresses. Even from their own website, the ultrasound measurements from the limestone monuments (not quartz which Robins completely fails to distinguish) was not repeatable and the Project itself did not result in any significant findings.

Robins speculates that the interaction of sound from incantations and music, and other pressure like touch or footsteps, interacts with the memories trapped in the crystal lattice of previous similar actions and weird effects result. Or a magnetic flux can trigger the memories. And it’s just in our heads – a cloud of this released stimuli reacts with our brain to produce mental images, hallucinations, and altered perception. They are not demonstrable in physical reality.

We access a burst of electronic energy which is actualized entirely by the buried images within our brain.

These memories cause us to experience a special “spirit of place”. This idea of special “place-ness” has occurred to me as well but I view it more of an aesthetic, environmental, and emotional sense that we get from locations of social significance. Robins sees it far less rationally – it’s the hidden power of the stone speaking to us, drawing us to do interesting things there. Yes, that is backwards. Tales of “guardians” of such places, he suggests, are encoded images in the stone that we perceive in the interaction. Robins accepts the reality of dowsing as people perceiving some energy from the stone.

What is ultimately missing in The Secret Language of Stone is coherence with empirical aspects of human experiences and what we know of nature and our senses. It’s easy and exciting to make up a speculative explanation from kernels of scientific truth but this stone memory idea does not hang together. We are left still in the dark about how electrons can trap events images and movement of past time that people report in association with hauntings and strange encounters. How does one exactly retrieve certain ones? Through sound “phase lock” or some pressure of footsteps or touch? Nonsense. Human scale and subatomic scales behave differently. Why one recording and not a myriad of others that overprint it? What of the many individual crystal lattices of the billions of grains of minerals that make up a sedimentary rock, jumbled, chipped, weathered, that are pressed simply by the weight of the material above them? How can that hold any volume of data? It Shouldn’t we be bombarded with these stone memories? Truly, it makes no logical sense but it’s written in a way that some people will find it impressive in its wordy confidence of sciencey-sounding speculation. Here is a sample:

This suggested decoding mechanism of an electronic trace imprinted in stone makes full use, therefore, of the concept of binary coding sequences in semiconductor and magnetic bubble memories but with a substantial added bonus of not requiring that a physical output of the trace should be directly perceived. The crucial factor in the perception of this trace appears to be direct neural interaction with its phased release which in turn is triggered by the acoustic-electrical coupling provided by the sound pulses of ritual incantations completing the feedback loop. (p. 196-7)

It very much sounds like the typical writing of a pseudoscientist. At the end, he just barely closes out the circle by concluding that the Hexham heads formed a “network”, sometimes with other stones, to produce mental images of a black werewolf or a man with a ram’s head. Nothing is demonstrated, nothing is tested, and none of this is convincing.

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