The open letter addressed to me and written by Michael Roll that appeared in the May issue of this newspaper requires a response of equal
While I share many of Michael's misgivings about the SPR, I feel that seeking it's dissolution is possibly a touch ambitious, as well as being ultimately self-defeating. Certainly, there is much that is wrong with many of the attitudes and policies that seem to have strangled the Society for far too long and sabotaged its original raison
Certainly, radical reform and re-evaluation is long overdue in my estimation, if it is to recapture the spirit and fire that led to its foundation in 1882. After ten years as a member, I have grown increasingly irritated by what I can only describe as an asphyxiating complacency that emanates from the personalities of some of the familiar faces at the heart of the Society, and from others an indifference, or almost rancorous hostility, towards aspects of psychical research that ought to be central to its endeavours. The most obvious victim of this cocktail of patronising condescension and negativity is the question of Survival, which could not have happened without the tacit or overt approval of those long-standing members who occupy key positions among on the Society's governing body. In respect of this, a reading of the latest Annual Report of the Society is most illumuinating and illustrates with vivid clarity why research grants from the SPR go where they go. When one realises that the fund-granting committees are dominated by hardnosed sceptical materialists, it is not difficult to understand why so much is given to researchers in university psychology departments involved in projects that can be relied upon to be inconclusive and consequently no threat to prevailing influential opinion in the SPR hierarchy. Doing research in Ganzfeld? Fine! How much do you want? Doing research into the afterlife as it might relate to subatomic physics? Sorry, not interested. No time for all that stuff. Mustn't rock the boat you know.
The core of the problem lies in fundamental outlook and attitude, and, in my view, can be reduced to one question. Do those at the top of the SPR regard psychical matters as an amusing, harmless and diverting pursuit - rather like a crossword puzzle to which there is no solution - or do they take it seriously? If the former, then, as investigators, they will get what they deserve - nothing. As my mentor in these matters, Charles Quastel, once explained to me, the mental atmosphere you bring with you into the
sťance-room is of supreme importance. A cool level-headed search for the truth is quite different from a presumption of fraud that must be exposed. Having listened over ten years to the talks, lectures and comments at SPR meetings, its has become clear that many of those who guide official SPR activities have never made the distinction.