Here’s the second installment of my Analog Magazine story, “Content With the Mysterious”. The title of the piece is taken from a quote by science fiction writer Phillip K. Dick. Which is this month’s quote of the month.
If you haven’t read Part 1, you might want to go back and start there. If you absolutely cannot wait to read the whole thing, it’s available in its entirety at the Book View Cafe.
(August 20—Interview: Dr. Petra Genoa, Ph.D. conducted by Kenneth Shaw of the Skeptical Review, Subject: precognitive experiences.)
SR: Would you call yourself a true believer?
PG: A true believer? In what?
SR: In psychic phenomena.
PG: That’s an awfully broad area. Could you be more specific?
SR: Alright. Extra-sensory perception.
PG: If by that you mean do I believe there are more than five senses—yes.
SR: Would you call yourself a psychic?
PG: Would you call yourself a dreamer?
SR: Excuse me?
PG: Sometimes you dream. Does that mean you define yourself as a dreamer?
SR: I see your point; but do you believe you have psychic powers?
PG: Now there’s a loaded term: powers. I believe I have experienced extra-sensory awareness. I don’t know if I can lay claim to powers.
SR: What sort of experiences are we talking about?
PG: Knowing something was going to happen in advance, for example.
PG: (nodding) Yes, that’s a fairly precise term.
SR: And you’ve experienced this often?
PG: More often than most people I’ve interviewed, yes. I have maybe, oh, one or two episodes per month. (laughing) I seem to have them most often when I’m ovulating.
SR: Describe a precognitive episode for me.
PG: The first one that really got my attention was the day of my high-school graduation. I was sitting there, during the ceremony, when I had this sudden conviction that the girl sitting next to me—a close friend—was going to lose her father that night.
SR: It just came out of the blue, then? You weren’t thinking about your friend?
PG: No, I wasn’t. And I felt horribly guilty. I mean, what a thought to have about a friend’s father! I almost said something, but—good God—what do you say? ‘Gosh, Rose, I just had the weirdest thought … ’”
SR: What happened?
PG: Her father was killed in a car wreck on the way to the graduation. I remember the look on her face when she realized he was late. She kept glancing out the door, while I sat there and just about peed my pants in anguish.
SR: And that was the first time you had that awareness?
PG: No. That was when I realized … suspected I had some sort of … sensitivity. You see, before, it was always positive. I’d get the sudden feeling that I’d win a tennis match or an essay contest or receive an unexpected present or get a call from someone I hadn’t heard from for a long time. That was the first time I couldn’t explain it away as wishful thinking.
SR: The dark side of ESP.
PG: You could say that.
SR: Doesn’t your belief in ESP conflict with your position as a professor of psychology?
PG: Now, I happen to know that you’re a philosophical theist. Doesn’t your belief in a Deity conflict with your position as the editor of the Skeptical Review?
SR: I’m not against belief, just ignorant belief.
PG: Can’t argue with that.
SR: To what do you attribute your precognitive experiences?
PG: I don’t know. I tend to think it’s a sense we have, or a talent, maybe, that develops or fails to develop just like any other.
SR: Why don’t I have it?
PG: Can you sing?
SR: What? Not really.
PG: Me neither. But I know many people who can. If they can sing …
SR: Okay. But isn’t it more like sight or smell?
PG: I don’t know. Is it? Or is it like the ability to make music or write … or conduct interviews? What makes one person a brilliant performer and another totally graceless? People ask me to explain my awareness. But how do you explain that sort of thing? How do you explain Mozart’s musicality? The man pulled symphonies right out of his head and put them on paper—every note right the first time. You suggest it’s like sight. Fine. We can explain blindness, even if we can’t always cure it. We’ve yet to explain Mozart.
SR: Would you be willing to have your abilities tested under controlled scientific conditions?
PG: Willing, certainly. But you see, I’m a skeptic, too. I’m skeptical about the ability to be precognitive on demand—mine or anyone else’s. I’ve never been able to sit down and meditate my way to precognition. It’s like trying to pull in my favorite radio station; sometimes it comes in clear as a bell—sometimes it’s pure static. And it’s subjective as hell. I don’t believe it when someone walks up to me and says, ‘I see auras.’ I’ve personally never seen one.
SR: But you have foretold the future.
PG: Don’t put words in my mouth. I’ve had brief, uncontrollable precognitive episodes. Like … like sneezes. Can you sneeze on command?
SR: If someone waved ragweed under my nose, maybe. So, you don’t believe ESP can be scientifically verified?
PG: I’m not sure. Maybe someday we’ll be able to set up the right conditions or ask the right questions or take the right measurements. So far, we haven’t been able to. No psychic ragweed, I guess.
SR: Some people are of the opinion that if you can’t measure something scientifically, it doesn’t exist.
PG: But doesn’t that call into question the existence of a lot of things we take for granted? Things that are critical to the functioning of our society?
SR: Such as?
PG: Well, at the risk of sounding smarmy—love, truth, trust, honor, loyalty—that sort of thing. Even musical or artistic talent.
SR: Some people might say that’s not the same thing.
PG: How do they know? If the thing’s not measurable, if it’s as subjective as love or loyalty, how can anyone say what it is or isn’t if they haven’t experienced it? I’ve experienced it and I don’t know what it is. I only know it is. I can’t convince the scientific community it is, because they can’t measure it. They can’t convince me it isn’t, because I’ve experienced it.
SR: What about evidence, though? Mozart provided evidence of his talent. He composed symphonies that orchestras worldwide are still playing. What evidence can you adduce that you really have had these experiences?
PG: Good question. I’m conducting an ongoing project wherein subjects, such as myself, record their precognitive impressions. Altogether, I’ve gathered a study sample of fifteen other people who share this, um, little affliction. We have a co-monitoring system in place. When someone in the program has an episode, they call their assigned monitor and describe it. The description is recorded and logged and we wait and see what happens. If the event occurs, the monitor signs an affidavit and we attach any corroborating evidence to the file. It’s the best we can do for now.
SR: Measuring the Mozart factor.
PG: Measuring the Mozart factor. I like that. Can I use it?
Ken flicked the notebook from play mode to record and added some voice notes, watching the words march across the flat display.
“Be it noted that I did look over Dr. Genoa’s documentation and interviewed two project monitors. Neither of them had ever experienced any of the phenomena under study. In fact, they viewed themselves as being originally skeptical or, at best, neutral to the subject of ESP. One of the ‘sensitives’ had an eighty-two percent accuracy rate over thirty-two recorded events; however, I must note that some of the predictions are vague enough as to be unfalsifiable. And, of course, this still amounts to hearsay evidence and necessitates trust in the perceptions and scruples of the group monitors.”
Ken pondered that. Is that what it would always come down to—having to trust the word of a go-between? And, reluctant to do that, would he only trust what he, himself, perceived or observed?
He had keyed the phone program before he thought about what he was going to say and gave the computer Dr. Genoa’s number. To his surprise, she answered her own phone, her dark face appearing immediately on his display.
“Doctor! I’m surprised to catch you in your office.”
She smiled—a flash of brilliantly white teeth. “I suppose I should say I had a feeling you’d call.”
He returned the smile. “I have an offer for you. I’d like to serve as a monitor for your project.”
“Really. Are you from Missouri, by any chance?”
“Close—Alaska. And yes, I do want to be shown. I’d like to take on a couple of your most accurate people. Victor Chin, I think, and you, if you’d be willing.”
She nodded. “All right. You’ve got yourself a deal.”
“Great. Now, I noticed that your episodes tend to be cyclic—”
She laughed, dreadlock bells jingling against her earrings. “Cyclic psychics, huh? I sure hope the media doesn’t get hold of that.”
“I am the media, remember?”
“No. You are a respectable scientific journal. The Tattler is media.”
“Thanks.” He appreciated her making the distinction. “Now, as I was saying, I was wondering if you’d thought of setting up some sort of brain activity scan during your most susceptible periods.”
She seemed immediately open to the idea. “Brain Pattern Monitoring? I’d thought of that, actually. U.C. Davis has a new remote BPM that can be worn away from the hospital while it relays brain activity back to the facility. They’ve been using it to monitor seizure-prone patients, looking for an early warning signal. Unfortunately, they’re reluctant to let it out of the house. Especially for—oh, shall we say—frivolous projects.”
“But, you’d be willing to wear a scanner?”
“Fine. I’ll see if I can call in some favors.”
The expression on her face changed. “Ken, are you ready to start your job as monitor?”
“Sure … I guess. Why?”
“Your wife is going to experience some sort of trauma.”
“What?” The tone of quiet certainty at once chilled him and raised his suspicions. “Emotional or physical?”
“Emotional … Art gallery. I had a sudden impression of an art gallery or museum or exhibition maybe.”
She shook her head with a sibilant clash of bells and earrings. “I don’t know. I rarely know, exactly. Usually my range tops out at about three months. Can you save this conversation to a file?”
Ken nodded, righting himself emotionally. “Can you be any more specific about the nature of the trauma?”
“Fear. I know she’ll be frightened. I don’t know why.”
Later, when he viewed the conversation log file, Ken couldn’t help but wonder if Petra Genoa’s prediction was entirely coincidental. Could she be playing on his emotions?
He went back to the case histories he’d gotten from her, in search of some sort of proximity effect. He found it; the precognitive episodes for the three subjects he studied related preponderantly to people they were in close contact with either physically or emotionally.
He had to smile at himself. His skeptic’s sensibilities told him he should welcome evidence that he was being manipulated, but he knew such evidence would only disappoint. In some peculiar way he preferred being disturbed by Dr. Genoa’s prediction to being disappointed by her duplicity.
“What did you say?”
Ken peered up at Lissa. She was gazing at him distractedly across the width of the coffee table, the display of her own notebook casting odd light-shadows across her face.
“I didn’t say anything … I don’t think. I thought I just cleared my throat.”
“You muttered something about predictions. What are you working on?”
“Oh, I interviewed Professor Genoa Tuesday.”
“Petra Genoa, the psychic psychologist? They should revoke that woman’s Ph.d.”
“She graduated at the top of her class.”
“What good is that when she ends up retiring her brain to New Age mumbo-jumbo?”
“How do you know that’s what she’s done? Have you talked to her?”
“I read an article on her in one of those true believer magazines.”
Ken failed to muzzle his laughter. “And you trusted their journalism? C’mon, Liss. Normally, you wouldn’t believe a word they printed. Why don’t you read my interview?”
“Maybe I will.” She eyed him suspiciously. “You don’t think she’s legit?”
“I’m reserving judgment until I’ve finished my own study. I’m monitoring the project she’s conducting in precognitive episodes.”
“Not at all. Who better to monitor alleged psychic activity than a skeptic?”
She smiled. “Right, as always. You were right about my article, too.”
He raised startled brows at that most un-Lissa-like admission. “I was?”
The smile broadened to a cat-eat-cream grin. “I did sell it somewhere else. Elaine Dehaut bought it for Aware.” She bent back to her work.
He didn’t remind her that Aware had a reputation as a forum for a fanatical ultra-skeptical fringe. Ken hated to admit the existence of that element within the skeptical community, but they were there—those who had ceased pursuing the truth in favor of pursuing agreement with their own personal worldview. Of course, everyone did that to one degree or another. Everyone made assumptions, betrayed bias, and struggled with prejudice.
For some reason, that conjured the Biblical story of Jacob struggling with the angel. Jacob, he recalled, was Hebrew for “deceiver.” Prejudice was certainly that; it could make an unwitting fanatic of anyone.
To be continued…