I’m still doing research on the Stone Tape idea, as a paranormally-curious geologist does. I was interested in obtaining a book by T.C. Lethbridge because his name comes up repeatedly as a promoter of the concept. It’s been a tricky thing to trace the origin without having easy access to the literature in print. I’ll keep looking. Meanwhile, I was able to secure a copy of Ghost and Ghoul (1961) via intra-library loan from my local county library (to whom I donate financially every month because they are awesome). I’m glad I didn’t purchase it. It’s was absolutely worse than I anticipated. And, it had essentially no mention of the physical recording of ghosts. In fact, Lethbridge promotes the idea that ghosts and ghouls (not visible but “felt” usually as coldness and oppression) are mental manifestations. Back to that idea by and by. First, some additional information about Lethbridge gleaned from this volume. I’m sure there is far more about Lethbridge since he was apparently notable in his time and warranted references and biographies. But after this introduction, you may not wish to bother.

He states the book should be called “ghosts which have confronted an archaeologist.” Lethbridge busted up with orthodox archaeology, eventually becoming more notable for his paranormal promotion. It was immediately clear and repeatedly evident that Lethbridge was too easily convinced by ideas he thought were just marvelous but had no foundation. He obnoxiously stated such ideas with certainty and that everyone who didn’t think so was ridiculous. There are several examples that I can cite from G&G alone. And, just to note, I doubt I’ll be reading any of his other books cover to cover as I did this one; he is too annoying.

In the preface, he establishes his position that the paranormal is real and anyone who doesn’t see that is “old-fashioned” (p. ix). He considers the stigma of belief in the paranormal to be a thing of the past, calling parapsychology the “respectable name for psychical research” (pp. 17 and 133). The doubter of it is the one with no credibility (p. 26). This not only because psychic effects have been reported through the ages but that they have been demonstrated scientifically beyond reasonable doubt. For this claim, he repeatedly names and praises JB Rhine. I’m not kidding when I say repeatedly. I counted. He reminds us SEVEN times by name – demonstrated scientifically that psychokinesis exists (p. 52), as demonstrated with dice (pp. 34 and 117), that mind moves matter (p. 74), that there is communication between minds (pp. 35 and 76), that proofs make it unreasonable to ignore (p. 121). And once more he reiterates – without naming Rhine but clearly he would be included – that statistical examination shows that telepathy and reading of future memories occurs (p. 125). Here is Lethbridge’s hubris: “Before long the study of telepathy and psychokinesis will have become commonplace,” further noting that it takes courageous people to study ghosts and dogmatic scientists have been left behind in the study of this “whole new force… being brought to light” (p. 36). The supernatural will conform to natural laws (p. 47) because we do not know all the laws yet.

Hmm, overconfidence looks a bit unwarranted from this spot.

He follows this up with his ideas about what ghosts and ghouls are with an occasional quip, for effect, that he may be mistaken but “it seems” to be this way…

Ghosts and ghouls are not spirits, but projections from one living person to another, real but ephemeral. Telepathy is like natural broadcasting. The receiver must tune into the “correct wave-length” so that they are visible. The coldness that can come with the experience “may be due to the loss of current by the recipient to work his receiving set. The battery has to work harder and perhaps on a different frequency than normal.” The transmission force of this image exchange is called “resonance” and exists between two minds (although a third could plausibly get into the mix). It’s the same force, he thinks, used by dowsers and distance healers. (Lethbridge was a huge proponent of dowsing.) It’s like electromagnetic force but needs a person for it to work. He states that years of research will be needed to work all this out but was impressed by the work of George de la Warr’s who described resonance as information, not energy, so it didn’t obey laws of physics and diminish with distance.

De la Warr was a proponent of radionics. That too was a dismal failure but it still invoked by the many gadgets said to promote health by fixing your vibrations or frequencies. It’s quackery and scientifically untenable. Regardless, for Lethbridge, once again resonance was said to be a “rapidly emerging” natural force. Again, with the wishful thinking that puts the cart the road before the horse to pull it is even born. “The study of all this is in its infancy and the dead weight of skepticism…has to be eliminated before the real origin of the poltergeist is known”(p. 34). I think he has that wrong-side around.

Lethbridge describes a few of his own encounters. See a ghost was like looking at a television screen that didn’t interact with the other people there. He encountered a ghoul on the steps and noted how it moved around him and his colleague. He was adamant that you must have some trust in what observers tell you or you get nowhere (p. 55).

He does hint that some memory may be connected with inanimate objects, “a sort of surrounding ether.” All cells resonate, he states, using the example related to psychometry – we can see the swamp from a piece of coal. Then he names some “well-known physicist seems ready to accept the findings,” (p. 65). A link must be established for the resonance to pass, acting like pipe or wire. So, here we can see the inklings of the idea that the surroundings are the objects that hold the memories instead of needed a direct transmitting between living people. However, in this book, he says there is no shortcut to learning about the past. We still have to do the field work (p. 72)

In the middle of the book, Lethbridge goes off on a tangent about Darwinism to make the off-topic point about materialism being silly or “dogmatically religious” (p 103). Out of his area of expertise with regards to biology, he says evolution is a fact but natural selection is obviously wrong. He argues from ignorance: “To me this idea seems just silly” (p 105). Here are some more embarrassingly arrogant statements:

“It is an explanation cooked up to fit a theory and not a theory based on the whole mass of observed fact.”

“If a theory is on the right lines, it will continually gather to itself evidence in its support like a snowball gathers snow”

“Clearly, with Darwinism, obstacles are rising all the time in its path. The more people struggle to find out how it works, the further they seem from the solution.”

Resonance, he says, is the better explanation of why there is evolution (descent with modification). Also, it’s used in other ways. For example, birds use resonance to find their offspring and to navigate (p 112). This and all his other claims in the book come unsupported by evidence and have since been degraded or even demolished. The book was aimed not at an academic audience but to the public. Incidentally, I did a quick look and did not find a connection between the ideas of Lethbridge or De la Warr with Rupert Sheldrake, who promotes the idea of morphic resonance to explain patterns in nature.

I did not follow Lethbridge’s bizarre statements about what ghosts are and how they are seen. He uses a very sciencey setup in this example: “If people survive bodily death… they must have an entirely different rate of vibration to our own.” So, here he seems to be saying that people do survive after death as their soul (or whatever) leaves the shell of their body, they must reduce their frequency or rate of vibration to communicate with us. That’s very difficult, apparently, and so he suggests that sometimes, they send messages through animals. A bird can be sent to communicate a “message” though its strange actions that someone has died (p. 117).

This is absurd. It seems to me, to use this familiar phrasing, that Lethbridge is a crank. He thinks very highly of himself and his unsupported ideas and is convinced he knows more than subject experts. What’s obvious is that I’m not “tuned to the right wavelength” to see ghosts or be able to follow his reasoning. And I certainly was unimpressed by his overweening drivel.

Conclusion: Yet another case of “I read this so you don’t have to.”

1 thought on “Arrogant and confused, ghost and ghoul (Book Review)

  1. As much as I am not disagreeing with your premise concerning the theories here, I think your review of this book completely misses the point, and the joy and interest that this book has to offer. You are judging it as if it was a textbook of theories written today, and by the standards you apply in an age when the internet can provide you with every paranormal, scientific theory or information in a press of a button. As we find in many thing these days, the context and time of its setting are put aside. He was from an era when paranormal studies were hardly accepted in academia, and he coming from that field attempted to apply some of the principles of his own field and emerging scientific theories, and the knowledge he could find through his wider reading of the subject (no easy task back then) to the paranormal field. He was in effect the amateur Victorian fossil hunter trying to make sense of things, and he should be judged in a similar light. I think he may generate respect because he went public with this, and played a small part in the development of the paranormal beyond spiritualism and other tropes of the time.
    He led an interesting life in the tradition of a great British eccentric, had some novel ideas, that stretched the subject wider than it ever had done to that point. In his time he was a brave and imaginative thinker, who threw up theories like confetti, and if some dont pass muster 70 years later, so what: at least it got people thinking.

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