by Joe Martino
Michael Shermer is a well respected man amongst his community. He is the founding Publisher of Skeptic magazine, a monthly columnist for Scientific American, a regular contributor to Time.com, and Presidential Fellow at Chapman University. He is very skeptical and scientific by nature and until now had never had a supernatural or paranormal experience.
“I just witnessed an event so mysterious that it shook my skepticism.” Michael Shermer
A Shift In Perspective
In his 2006 TED talk, we see a very skeptical and almost condescending Shermer. Nonetheless his talk is certainly an interesting one and well worth watching. Although much of the time he pokes fun at “odd” theories, he makes some good points about how we choose to see and hear things and form beliefs as a result.
On an observational level it is still interesting to hear someone, who clearly has a bias towards certain subjects, call out others who have bias’ in an attempt to explain why we believe weird things. For example, he pokes fun at something like UFO’s and aliens stating “it’s very likely they are not real.” He does this in a manner that some skeptics do where they use words to divert from the evidence and call upon the more ridiculous claims in an attempt to debunk the entire phenomenon. Perhaps he hasn’t seen the abundant evidence that exists including declassified government documents on the subject?
Either way the point here is simply that from a standpoint of discovery, sticking true to the scientific method is important in all cases when we’re looking for external validation of an idea. Leaving bias or methodology to prove a point by finding the most obscene examples of a theory out of the equation is the best bet. Being skeptical is OK, but being a skeptic in true form does not mean being closed minded, it simply means being open to questioning and exploring new ideas without simply believing it.
From his talk I can see why so many skeptics are not humble in their beliefs and often feel superior to others who don’t share the same beliefs. It almost seems to be ‘skeptic culture.’ But given his latest experience, perhaps Michael will have an entirely different view towards some of the claims others have made during his career?
His Recent Supernatural Experience
Here’s his story as he wrote in an article entitled Infrequencies. It was also published in Scientific American.
“The event took place on June 25, 2014. On that day I married Jennifer Graf, from Köln, Germany. She had been raised by her mom; her grandfather, Walter, was the closest father figure she had growing up, but he died when she was 16. In shipping her belongings to my home before the wedding, most of the boxes were damaged and several precious heirlooms lost, including her grandfather’s binoculars. His 1978 Philips 070 transistor radio arrived safely, so I set out to bring it back to life after decades of muteness. I put in new batteries and opened it up to see if there were any loose connections to solder. I even tried “percussive maintenance,” said to work on such devices—smacking it sharply against a hard surface. Silence. We gave up and put it at the back of a desk drawer in our bedroom.
Three months later, after affixing the necessary signatures to our marriage license at the Beverly Hills courthouse, we returned home, and in the presence of my family said our vows and exchanged rings. Being 9,000 kilometers from family, friends and home, Jennifer was feeling amiss and lonely. She wished her grandfather were there to give her away. She whispered that she wanted to say something to me alone, so we excused ourselves to the back of the house where we could hear music playing in the bedroom. We don’t have a music system there, so we searched for laptops and iPhones and even opened the back door to check if the neighbors were playing music. We followed the sound to the printer on the desk, wondering—absurdly—if this combined printer/scanner/fax machine also included a radio. Nope.
At that moment Jennifer shot me a look I haven’t seen since the supernatural thriller The Exorcist startled audiences. “That can’t be what I think it is, can it?” she said. She opened the desk drawer and pulled out her grandfather’s transistor radio, out of which a romantic love song wafted. We sat in stunned silence for minutes. “My grandfather is here with us,” Jennifer said, tearfully. “I’m not alone.”
Shortly thereafter we returned to our guests with the radio playing as I recounted the backstory. My daughter, Devin, who came out of her bedroom just before the ceremony began, added, “I heard the music coming from your room just as you were about to start.” The odd thing is that we were there getting ready just minutes before that time, sans music.
Later that night we fell asleep to the sound of classical music emanating from Walter’s radio. Fittingly, it stopped working the next day and has remained silent ever since.”
How We Can Relate To Others
Given Michael can say he now has first hand experience of something supernatural that he cannot explain or simply set aside with some “logical” explanation, it’s quite possible he can now better relate to people who truly deeply and completely believe something unexplainable that they have experienced. Even in his latest 2010 TED talk, Michael still felt that believing in alien abductions was absurd, but what about those who claim to have experienced it? What would they say to that? Is it fair to say all who have claimed it are simply crazy?
It’s sometimes very easy for us to discredit, set aside or be skeptical of experiences we didn’t have yet others had. It’s almost become “cool” and “intelligent” to simply come up with a logical explanation even when it doesn’t truly explain what happened. Nonetheless, it’s OK to be skeptical, we simply need to keep our ego in check at the same time and keep an open mind to the fact that putting a logical explanation on something doesn’t prove it false or incorrect. When we do this we simply close off a lot of possibility vs truly exploring it.
I think it’s powerful that Michael has had this experience and I also feel it’s a timely one. I believe we are in the midst of something huge here on earth. I feel we are experiencing a shift in global consciousness that will transform the way we view many facets of our lives. Although this view has been somewhat perverted and misunderstood by belief systems and mismanaged movements (new-age), I feel it has a lot of validity and this can be seen both scientifically and through direct experience. I talk about this in my TEDx talk.
Interestingly, Shermer ended his piece off with something very important.
“The emotional interpretations of such anomalous events grant them significance regardless of their causal account. And if we are to take seriously the scientific credo to keep an open mind and remain agnostic when the evidence is indecisive or the riddle unsolved, we should not shut the doors of perception when they may be opened to us to marvel in the mysterious.”
Although it didn’t come with some backlash already form a commenter
I was embarrassed to read your concluding paragraph. What are we to keep an open mind about? That Jennifer’s dead grandfather maybe fixed the radio? Did he even know how to fix radios? Wouldn’t there be an easier way for the dead to communicate with the living? It would be mildly interesting to have an electronics expert determine exactly what is wrong with the radio.
Embarrassed? Because suddenly one of the biggest skeptics in the world is open to the possibility that there is more to life than just what we can measure?