Tuesday, 15 April 2014

The Arizona Experiments

About half a year ago I had a discussion about The Arizona Experiments on an internet forum. Since then, the forum has closed and been deleted but I kept my notes on the topic and I decided it was worth writing about again.

The Arizona Experiments were a series of ten trials designed to test the precognitive dreams of a man called Chris Robinson. They were conducted in Arizona by Dr Gary Schwartz of Arizona University. Over the course of eleven days and ten nights, Chris Robinson would write down his impressions of his dreams. In the following morning, he and Gary Schwartz would get a phone call from a third party who chose a location at random from a possible pool of twenty local destinations.

Gary receives the call in the morning telling him the location of that day's target

The results, as summarized in the published paper, were “The primary pattern of themes of information per day matched its respective location as well as associated events for the day. The patterns of evidence indicate that selective attention and perceptual priming were insufficient to explain the complete set of findings. The data can be interpreted as consistent with CR‟s hypothesis that the presence of spiritual mediation can sometimes be inferred from the appearance of highly improbable and organized patterns of significant events in real life.” (Schwartz, 2011)

This paper was originally carried out in August 2001 and submitted for publication in 2003 to the Journal for the Society of Psychical Research, but was rejected due to methodological flaws. This caused a (very) minor fuss on the internet at the time. Eventually it found an outlet in the pages of the Journal of Spirituality and Paranormal Studies some ten years after the experiment was carried out.

The majority of the paper describes the ten trials in some detail, as well as the similarities between the notes made overnight and the locations themselves. For example:

“On Day 4, the primary themes were “suns, mirrors, LCDs, telescopes, Mount Olympus (after his 35mm camera), airplanes, hangers, and a pitched propeller).
CR was taken to Kitt Peak National Laboratory (at the top of a huge mountain) to the world‟s largest Solar Telescope.
CR and PE ate lunch at a nearby airport restaurant with hangers that had a large pitched propeller in front. None of the other nine locations had this unique pattern of themes.”
On Day 7, the primary themes included “dust, dust everywhere, including on the floor in a building, a court room, and a train robbery.”
CR was taken to Old Tucson, a western theme park that is also used as a movie set. There is dust “everywhere” at Old Tucson, including a room purposely designed with a completely dusty floor.
A large train has been used in more than 100 movies involving train robberies.
Old Tucson includes a courtroom. None of the other nine locations contained this precise pattern of themes.” (Schwartz, 2011)

I found some of Chris Robinson’s videos that he made of the actual visits to a few of the sites. Watching them gives a little more idea about how Gary and Chris went about matching Chris’ notes to the locations.

For example, at the Old Tucson studio (day seven), the fundamental theme is “dust”, so they go around looking for dusty things, even going so far as to ask people if they’ve seen any dusty rooms. This is why they find unique examples of Chris' descriptors during the day: because they are highly motivated and actively looking for them. So when the paper says they didn't find that particular combination of descriptors on any other day, is that really because they weren't there or because they weren't looking?

About the Kitt Peak Observatory (on day four), Chris says he didn't dream on that particular night, so he relied on the notes he made in London. In the video there are two full ring binders of notes beside Chris in his room, which I assume are his notes. So the amount of data not represented in the paper is pretty substantial. Also, Chris has plenty of ways he can interpret these images and Gary Schwartz, too, is not immune to similar leaps of logic.

For example, one of the primary themes for this day is "Pitch". This is mentioned in the footage in Chris' room, it is mentioned again in the car and finally Gary links the clue of "pitch" to the angle of the telescope. In the published paper, "pitch" does not appear. Instead it is now "pitched propeller". Also "dish" is missing from the paper and "LCD" has been added.

A number of descriptors not reported in the published paper

Also, in the video there's a close up of the page of Chris' notes that reads “Olympus – Greek – Mountain Screens – Screen Pictures” etc, and you can just about see the writing on the other side of the page. At the top of the page, it's possible to read “4th August”. But this trial was carried out on the 5th of August. They are using notes that were actually meant for a different day.

This shot from a TV documentary shows a page from Day 4, which was held on August 5th.
But the words "4 August" can be seen written at the top of the previous page. 
In other words, these notes were supposed to relate to a different day.

And looking at the video, other notes for the Kitt Peak Observatory were “Ring – Diamond – Screens – TV – Projector – Not 4 Sale” and “Cake – cream.” These are all absent from the paper. In Chris Robinson's hour-long video of the events of this day Gary asks Chris what the key words are, but not in the hotel before he found out the target for that day, but in the car as they're driving along the road. Chris may not be completely blind to the target by now since he was next to Gary when he got the call to find out the location, and also Gary Schwartz had already looked for the correct route on a map while sitting beside Chris. According to the long video they key words are "pitch, sun, mirror, Mount Olympus, screens, dish."

Day four is the only day when we have enough footage and knowledge of the actual prediction to make a meaningful comparison to what was written up for publication and what actually occurred. Given the disparity between the two accounts of that day, I suspect that other days have had a similar amount of interpretation. Far from being evidence of psychic functioning, I prefer the theory that, given two large sets of data (Chris’ notes and that’s day’s target) correspondences are bound to be found.


Schwartz, G. (2011) “Exploratory Blinded Field Experiment Evaluating Purported Precognitive Dreams in a Highly Skilled Subject: Possible Spiritual Mediation?” Journal of Spirituality and Paranormal Studies, Vol 34, Number 1, pgs 3-20.

Roll, M. (2003) "More Censorship: Gary Schwartz's Experiments with Dream Detective Chris Robinson," http://www.cfpf.org.uk/ 21 December 2003

Chris Robinson's footage of the Arizona Experiment, day four

Chris Robinson's footage of the Arizona Experiment, day seven

Thursday, 3 April 2014

The doubt over Stanley and Livingstone

Dr Livingstone was an English explorer who, in the late 1860s, went missing in Africa. He was presumed still alive and still doing his work as an explorer by people back in Britain, but with no direct work from the doctor, and with nothing but rumour and speculation to go on, no one could be sure.

On 10 November 1871 Henry Stanley, after years of searching, finally found Dr Livingstone, who’d been lost in Africa without any communication for years. Stanley had been sent to find the English explorer by the newspaper he worked for, the New York Herald and, after two years of searching, he'd finally found his man.

However, communicating out of deepest Africa was exceedingly difficult at that time. Quite apart from the lack of technology, a war was raging that complicated things. In fact, in December 1871 newspapers were reporting on messages from Stanley that he’d sent in September, and in May 1872, newspaper relayed news of a dispatch from Dr Kirk in Zanzibar that was sent in October the previous year.

The news that Livingstone had been found was reported in the New York Herald on 2 July 1872. Americans took a certain amount of pride that they had found Livingstone, while England’s own underfunded search expedition had failed, and some journalists reacted with hurt pride that the efforts of Americans were not universally appreciated.

On 23 July, The New York Evening Telegram wrote

“There is only one phase of British character more striking than British patriotism, and that is British stupidity and snobbery in high places.”

And it continued

“Instead of joining in the general jubilee at the glad tidings of the great explorer's safety […] they sit complacently down like so many carrion crows on a carcass to pick it to pieces. President Rawlinson from his chair at the last general meeting of the Royal Geographical Society announced that instead of Stanley having found and reinforced Livingstone it was much more probable that the latter had found and assisted Stanley. Could prejudice and petty malice go further?”

However, at least Rawlinson's version of events had Livingstone and Stanley meeting. Before long, questions were being asked whether Stanley really had met Dr Livingstone at all.

On 2 August, the New York Times ran a story reporting that the French paper Les Temps had quoted a German geographer Kiepert who thought the geographical mistakes in Livingstone’s letter (brought back by Stanley) clearly indicated the narrative was invented by Mr Stanley.

These questions grew and spread until, on 20 August, the paper that had sent Stanley, the New York Herald, addressed these claims, saying that the confirmation by the Foreign Office that the letters were from Livingstone had not been reported in the German papers.

Then, on 28 August, the New York Sun reprinted one of Livingstone's letters next to a letter from Stanley to a Mr Noe on the front page until the headline “Is Stanley Anything But A Fraud?”

“If this conclusion shall be confirmed by subsequent proofs and be adopted universally, there will be no dispute that Stanley is the author of the most gigantic hoax ever attempted upon the credulity of mankind.”

Their theory was based on the testimony of Mr Noe, who knew Mr Stanley. On 29 August, the New York Sun printed an interview with Mr Noe and, after a long conversation about Stanley’s youth and roguish character, the reporter asks “What reason have you to suppose, as you have stated in your letter, that Stanley has not found Dr. Livingston?”

“Nothing,” said Noe, “except that he told me that he meant to go to Africa as the correspondent of the Herald, to get up a big story and make a sensation.”

Along with this interview, the Sun also printed more criticisms of Livingstone's geography of Africa from Colonel Grant, and more handwriting analysis. All of this was followed up on 30 August with more notes on the similarity of Livingstone's and Stanley's handwriting as well as other articles from other newspapers.

Then on Sept 2nd, the New York Sun swiftly changed their story regarding Stanley. Two reporters, one from the Sun and one from the Herald, went to interview Dr Livingstone’s brother in Canada, and heard that the brother was convinced the letters came from Dr Livingstone himself, since they referred to things that Stanley couldn’t possibly have known.

The New York Herald also published this same interview on the same day, and also took the opportunity to print a few letters and articles supporting their man, just as a final statement on the debate. After this, the two newspapers seemed to consider that the matter was settled and it was not brought up again. At least, not that I can find.

It’s a curious episode. It's interesting to see a controversy that became such a talking point and was so convincing to those who supported it, but which vanished so completely once it had been decided.


“Livingstone not dead”, Leeds Mercury, Saturday 06 May 1871
“Mr Livingstone”, North Wales Chronicle, Saturday 02 December 1871
“Dr Livingstone”, Falkirk Herald, Thursday 11 January 1872
“Expected News”, Manchester Evening News, Wednesday 28 February 1872
“Livingstone”, Huddersfield Chronicle, Saturday 06 July 1872
“The Finding of Dr Livingstone”, New York Evening Telegram, July 23 1872
“Livingstone letter”, New York Herald, reprinted in Stanley Berwickshire News and General Advertiser, Tuesday 30 July 1872
“Is Stanley Anything But A Fraud?, New York Sun, 28 August 1872
“Henry Stanley’s Exploit”, New York Sun, 29 August 1872
“Livingstone or Stanley”, New York Herald, 29 August 1872
“Livingstone or Stanley?”, New York Sun 30 August 1872
“New View of Livingstone”, New York Sun, 2 Sept 1872
“Livingstone in Canada: Interview with the Brother of the Great Explorer”, New York Herald, 2 Sept 1872

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Why Rugby is Popular in Italy

In a documentary about rugby by the theatre director and actor Marco Paolini, there’s a scene where he draws out a typical line-out, and then quickly sketches around it the coastline of Italy. It’s a remarkably good fit. I wanted to share it but unfortunately, the film doesn’t have a decent close-up of it, so I quickly put together another version.


Chi Ga Vinto?, dir. Marco Paolini, La7, 2008
Illustration of Italian line-up taken from Fanatix website

Map of Italy taken from Google Maps

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Ghostly messages in the library

Today, I was walking up to my office, which is in a floor above the Central Library, when I looked out of the window at the grim weather outside. Then I happened to look down, through a skylight, to the library below.

I noticed that there was some writing on the top of one of the bookshelves.

Where I was standing I could only make out one word, so I decided to go to the floor below for a better look.

From there I could see the message read "Beware of the ghost". This is probably something to do with the fun Hallowe'en visits that the library once did (or maybe does regularly) for visiting schoolchildren. There are still some ghostly pictures on the walls up the stairs to my office. It's odd that I haven't noticed it before, but on the off-chance that it is a genuine warning, I shall certainly be wary of any ghosts I might meet.

Friday, 7 February 2014

The ship that could not dock

In late March 1932, newspapers carried reports about an Argentine ship named the S.S. Chaco that was carrying a large number of criminals. These criminals, mostly European, were being deported and sent back to their native lands, but on arrival it was discovered that no harbour would let them land.

According to early newspaper reports, the boat held 33 “undesirables.” Mostly political prisoners: Communists and anarchists, as well as some ex-convicts. But rumours spread that the ship held many more, such as gangster, white-traffickers and spies.

Its journey was the subject of much speculation and gossip, and even reports in the newspapers were contradictory. On April 22, reports spread that the ship had vanished. It was anchored off the mouth of the Elba, near Prussia. They’d apparently contacted the harbour authorities about a passenger who was ill and needed treatment. Then, the next morning, the ship had gone. This sparked rumours of mutiny.

This would appear to be fiction, since on April 25 it was reported that the ship had docked at Barcelona on April 11 and was still there. Also, it was stated that only fifteen prisoners remained on board. It appears that, despite the media’s portrayal of this ship as hopelessly sailing from dock to dock, it had been able to relieve itself of some of its cargo.

On May 10, as the ship passed through the Kiel Canal on her way to Poland, police lined the quay to keep people away from the vessel. A communist deputy arrived and almost sparked a riot as he tried to board the ship. Finally he was allowed on, and he told the captain that the Polish prisoners would probably be shot soon after landing there, but he was unable to change the captain’s mind.

By now, it was reported that there was one Englishman on board and that, after visiting Gydnia in Poland, the Chaco was expected to leave four prisoners at Lithuania before turning to Britain.

On May 24, another newspaper carried the headline that the Mystery Ship had vanished again. Reading the story, though, makes it clear that it just hadn’t arrived at the mouth of the Thames on the day it was expected.

By May 31 it was docked in London, with two armed sentries and two policemen guarded the gangway. The Times reported that the ship was now empty of prisoners, although it had held 240 at the beginning of its journey from Buenos Aries.

The ship was then loaded up with armaments, so I suppose the authorities were confident the ship was no longer a risk.


“Warship’s Cargo of Outcasts,” Aberdeen Journal, Friday 25 March 1932
“The Modern ‘Flying Dutchman’,” Nottingham Evening Post, Wednesday 30 March 1932
“The ‘Mystery’ Ship,” Nottingham Evening Post, Thursday 21 April 1932
“Mystery of the S.S. Chaco,” Nottingham Evening Post, Friday 22 April 1932
“ ‘Deportee Ship’ Mystery,” Evening Telegraph, Monday 25 April 1932
“Argentine Prison Ship Drama,” Nottingham Evening Post, Tuesday 10 May 1932
“ ‘Mystery Ship’ at Poland,” Evening Telegraph, Wednesday 11 May 1932
“Chaco Vanishes: Mystery Ship’s Cargo of Deportees,” Gloucester Citizen, Tuesday 24 May 1932
“Argentine Ship in the Thames,” The Times (London, England), Tuesday, May 31, 1932; pg. 10