Montague Keen

Montague Keen

Journalist, agricultural administrator, magazine editor and farmer. A member of the Council of the Society for Psychical Research for 55 years, chairman of its Image and Publicity Committee and secretary of its Survival Research Committee, he was principal investigator of the Scole Group of physical mediums, and author of the Scole Report, published in the Proceedings of the SPR (Vol 54 Pt 220) in 1999 with his co-investigators Professors Arthur Ellison and David Fontana.

A Further Response to Prof. Stephen Braude

 - Montague Keen -

This article was written in response to Stephen Braude's comments on Keen's initial criticism of Braude's paper Survival or Super-psi?

          FIRST, my apologies if I misrepresented Stephen as an opponent of the survival hypothesis, but it still looks that way to my unsophisticated mind. No matter: the issue (as I am sure will be generally agreed) is not whether either theory can be proved, but which is the more plausible. And the case against super-psi is in effect the case in favour of its only apparent alternative explanation: survival of some sort. So where I differ from Stephen is in the degree of credibility I attach to evidence pointing apparently to survival, and the degree of improbability with which I credit the several assumptions necessarily attributable to the supposed super-psi capacity. I think Stephen minimizes both.

Let me give one example which both Stephen and Peter Wadhams dismiss too readily: the cross correspondences. It is true that they are difficult, and that many of them generate debates over "the proper translation, interpretation and significance of its obscure allusions and quotations", but  that shouldn't be allowed to detract from the fact that many of them can be seen in retrospect to be perfectly clear. If Stephen or Peter study The Palm Sunday case by the Countess of Balfour[1], they would find it difficult to escape the conclusion that details of Arthur Balfour's private tribute to his dead lover in 1875 were transmitted some decades later  via five different automatists through automatic writings, trance utterances and cross-correspondences from five identifiable deceased communicators. The alternative explanation invokes what Alan Gauld described in his Hunt Memorial Lecture on the super-psi hypothesis in the same year as "staggering powers of the subliminal self or the subconscious mind".

[1] Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research 52, pt 189, 1960.
[2] Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research 53, pt 192.

If some simpler illustration of a communication using the cross-correspondence concept is required, let me cite the Lethe case which still after 95 years awaits a non-survivalist explanation. Here we had George Dorr in Boston challenging the identity of deceased Frederic Myers, via Mrs. Piper, by inviting him to say what the word Lethe conveyed to his  mind. The communicator then provided a number of accurate but oblique references drawn from Ovid's Metamorphoses giving an account of the mythical Hadean stream of Lethe bounding the shores of the Elysian fields, and from whose waters the newly dead must drink and purify themselves. These were arcane, scholarly allusions, typical of Myers. When Oliver Lodge in London learned of this he decided to put the same question to Myers via Mrs. Willett. The communicator immediately pointed out that he had already responded to this question via Mrs. Piper, but to avoid the hypothesis of thought-transmission, he would give similar evidence. This time, however, they were drawn from a description of the same scene in Book Six of Virgil's Aeneid. There was no communication between the two women; neither was classically educated, and even the recipients of this information had to go to a good deal of trouble researching the references, which were abundant in number, relevant in content and ingenious in construction.

Now before trying to reconcile that with super-psi, note that other mediums (e.g. the "Mac" family in Scotland), were getting references to, puns on and illustrations of Dorr's name at the same time.

Since Stephen notes his agreement with Peter Wadham's doubts, which center on the role of the classicist Mrs. Verrall as the unconscious source of the messages, I have to point out that this familiar criticism has long since been refuted. Not only did the cross correspondences continue for a great many years after Mrs. Verrall's death, but many of them originated with or involved other mediums. And while I agree with Robert Thouless's strictures on the complexity of the cross-correspondences, which Stephen quotes approvingly, note that Thouless did not suggest that the cross-correspondences were not sound evidence of survival: merely that they were too elaborate. He does not appear to have understood the reasons why they were deliberately made elaborate, but a hat remains a hat even if we disapprove of the bunches of flowers and feathers with which it is adorned.

Stephen takes me to task for my assertion that "no medium, however gifted in acquiring information from living minds, can produce a meaningful message of which no-one alive is aware when the messages are written down". This was carelessly worded. I was thinking of cases where information transmitted by a medium proves accurate and highly specific, but at the time of transmission is unknown to anyone alive. One such case, reviewed by Professor David Fontana recently (Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 63, no 855, 1999), concerned Helen Dallas, a notable researcher and author whose deceased uncle and former guardian urged her through a medium to check something incorrect in her will, which he had been responsible for drawing up. When Dallas checked it with a retired judge, he identified the blunder which her solicitor had failed to spot. Here telepathy from the living is clearly ruled out, since neither Dallas nor her solicitor was aware of the mistake at the time of the sitting. The judge  learned about it only when sent the will. Nor (to eliminate clairvoyance too) was there anything in writing at the relevant time to suggest that the will was imperfect.

Even more striking is the very recent case of the medium assailed by messages from a freshly murdered woman, which I summarized all too inadequately, leaving Stephen to draw the wrong conclusion. Although many accurate statements she gave to the police could have been drawn from the mind of the investigating detective who had spent five hours a few days earlier examining every aspect of the corpse and the victim's apartment, a good many facts were unknown to him or to his fellow constable at the time of the interview.

Of course, where verification of the facts takes place later on, the super-psiers must attribute this to precognitive clairvoyance or precognitive telepathy. But this is my point: one piece of information (the name of a person who turned out to have been the murdered woman's closest friend, but who was already dead) was not verified until 18 years later, after the  murderer's trial and conviction in 2001. Most of the checking process was spread over a period of several weeks, but a drawing by the medium containing information bearing on the temporary hiding place of the stolen jewellery, lay dormant until after the trial before it was found to be accurate. Hence the presumed super-psi faculty must be able to select and transmit pieces of veridical information relevant to the murder inquiry by drawing information and images from the minds of a number of persons unknown to the medium either at the time, or when the information comes to light in the future, picking and choosing among an infinite number of unknown persons those bits of information which the medium somehow selects to present as discarnate intelligence. Add to this the demands posed by even one veridical cross-correspondence, and you have to endow this faculty with the capacity to produce scraps of meaningless information in the knowledge that at some time in the distant future (several years for some of the early cross-correspondences) it will be married up with other meaningless scraps by future third parties to form a quotation, a description of part of a picture in the Uffizi or a silver casket or a reference to a Syracusan cave. I know of no evidence which independently demonstrates any such powers of selection  and calculation.

Stephen similarly downgrades the evidentiality of Ian Stevenson's better cases of apparent reincarnation, on which Peter Wadhams relies for support. It is not merely the case that small children can obtain information known to the dead person whose personality they appear to have inherited. If that information were known exclusively to the dead person, there would be no means to verify it, and hence it is not evidence. So far I agree with Stephen. However, the evidence goes much beyond mere information transmission. It is of things, people, places, toys and even garments recognized by the child when visiting his "former parents", to say nothing of birthmarks related to the location of injuries sustained at the death of the deceased. There are in addition personality traits, likes and dislikes, prejudices and recollections which often persuade the families of the former life that the child has indeed inherited the spirit and the memory, as well  as the personality, of their dead relative.

Finally Stephen argues that, since advocates of survival accept telepathy from dead communicator to live medium as a transmission mechanism, they can't logically jib at similar telepathic interaction between the living. But these extreme extensions of psi are not evidence: they are speculations designed to fit a theory; and some of them are a mite too fanciful for me. I do not say the super-psi hypothesis is impossible, but that it stretches improbability beyond my credulity when a simpler, more obvious and more consistent alternative presents itself, one which has a great deal of supporting buttresses in the literature of psychical research.

I look forward to reading Stephen's Immortal Remains. May he long survive before he becomes part of them.

Montague Keen. February 15th 2002.


This article is copyright Veronica Keen 2004. It is published on this website with permission.


Related articles

Survival or Super-psi? Stephen Braude

Out-of-Body Experiences and Survival After Death: Stephen Braude

Super-psi or Survival? A Response to Prof. Stephen Braude: Montague Keen

Survival or Super-psi? A Response to Prof. Stephen Braude: Peter Wadhams

Survival or Super-psi? A Response to Montague Keen and Peter Wadhams: Stephen Braude

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