The ten books that made an impact in my life
before I became racially conscious
5.- A Skeptic’s Handbook of Parapsychology
(autographed inscription 1989)
6.- The Relentless Question
(autographed inscription 1990)
In “The Sickle” I said this Tuesday that I arrived to the San Francisco airport in 1985. Living in San Rafael the very first days after my arrival to the US, I paid a visit to San Francisco and found in a bookstore the just released A Skeptic’s Handbook of Parapsychology. I remember a pic of James Randi on the dust cover among other notable skeptics and wanted to purchase the book. Alas, I didn’t since I had very limited economic resources and was only starting to look for a job at Marin County.
I mention this little anecdote because had I purchased the book I could have been spared from the extremely agonic stage in California. As explained in “The Sickle,” when I lived there I was immersed in the fantasy to “force the eschaton in history.”
But how do I know that my Quixotic—to say the least—endeavor that so much suffering caused could have been avoided by a book? Because when I returned to Mexico, in 1989 the main contributors to the skeptical handbook, Ray Hyman, James Alcock, Paul Kurtz and James Randi visited my native town and, finally, I could afford to purchase A Skeptic’s Handbook of Parapsychology: which started a cognitive process that completely and absolutely disabused me from my “eschatological” beliefs.
Well, it’s more complicated than just a single book. In fact, after these skeptics visited Mexico City I subscribed The Skeptical Inquirer and ordered many books on the paranormal published by the skeptical contributors of Kurtz’s group. If I chose a single book to convey the fact that the process of reading them started an apostasy process of my belief in ESP and PK (again, cf. “The Sickle”) it’s because the copy of A Skeptic’s Handbook that I own was signed by Kurtz in front of me on November 12, 1985 (the photo at the left is Kurtz at Buffalo, NY).
My previous post was about Childhood’s End, the novel that most influenced my life. I recognize that it must sound crazy that someone took a novel so seriously as to believe that the eschaton could be forced by purely psychic means in the real world. How could I have fallen into such grandiose delusion? (A couple of days ago Deviance, a commenter put it this way, “When I read you, Chechar, I wonder if intelligence is a blessing or a curse—smart people seem to be drawn to sects, cults, pseudosciences and false theories of all sorts…”) The answer is devastatingly simple.
A pseudoscience is a system that pretends to be scientific but that is not. In other threads of this blog I have stated that the process of debunking a sophisticated pseudoscience requires an extraordinary input of energy. You need to be a specialist in a specific pseudoscience (e.g., a skeptical specialist in parapsychology, another in UFOlogy, still another on a very specific conspiracy theory such as the assassination of John F. Kennedy, etc). The sheer mass of literature and conferences on purported conspiracies of, say, the assassination of JFK, is such—thousands of books—that it took Vincent Bugliosi twenty years of research to address and refute each claim.
Generally, people who believe in pseudosciences, cults or conspiracy theories never dare to seriously study the critics of their cherished beliefs. That’s precisely the religious mindset: never listen to the critics. Although I was ready to listen when, standing in a San Francisco bookstore I learnt that a skeptical handbook had just been released, I was so sure that parapsychologists had demonstrated the existence of “psi” that I didn’t bother to listen the other side even when I finally got a job in California.
When I believed in the existence of paranormal phenomena, John Beloff of Edinburg University (right), who eventually became my editor in parapsychological matters, was the single most important author that convinced me of the realities of such phenomena. Again, just as I chose A Skeptic’s Handbook as a paradigm of the literature that eventually would became a vaccination for my mind, if I mention Beloff’s The Relentless Question it is only because he sent me by mail a copy of his book with his longhand inscription: “For César Tort who has the courage of his convictions from John Beloff, June 1990.”
When I received The Relentless Question I had already read much of what Beloff had written in professional journals, including some of the articles contained in his book. Just as A Skeptic’s Handbook of Parapsychology is representative of what I may call a vaccination, The Relentless Question is representative of the continuing infection that took place in my cognitive process since I left Eschatology for the more “scientific” parapsychological research.
To answer Deviance, that “smart people seem to be drawn to sects, cults and pseudosciences” has nothing to do with intelligence and everything to do with the human mind’s strayed ways of trying to cope with the unprocessed trauma of earlier experiences at home. This of course goes beyond the reach of this entry, but I nevertheless mention The Relentless Question because it is written in the terse, academic language by a respected professor of the psychology department of a well-known European university: the only university that held an academic chair of parapsychology in the western world.
In the previous incarnation of this blog Lawrence Auster discussed with me the subject of parapsychology: he as a believer and I as a former believer (now turned skeptic). For those who have not made their minds as to whether paranormal phenomena might be real or not, these two books, one edited by the founder of a skeptical group, the other authored by a late professor, are good starting points to listen to both sides of the debate.
For the other eight books see here.