When a skeptic gets a message from the afterlife

Jan
30
2015
by
Lynne McTaggart
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Michael Shermer is the quintessential material guy – founder of Skeptic magazine, monthly columnist for Scientific American, poster boy for the entire skeptic movement, a true debunker of all things you can’t measure or explain with science. Shermer is downright condescending about believers in all things supernatural or paranormal, which is why what happened to him on his wedding day threatened to destabilize the entire edifice of his rock-solid rationalism.

Michael Shermer is the quintessential material guy – founder of Skeptic magazine, monthly columnist for Scientific American, poster boy for the entire skeptic movement, a true debunker of all things you can’t measure or explain with science. Shermer is downright condescending about believers in all things supernatural or paranormal, which is why what happened to him on his wedding day threatened to destabilize the entire edifice of his rock-solid rationalism.

As he described in an article entitled ‘Infrequencies’ published in Scientific American last September, his wife Jennifer Graf, whom he married last June, had emigrated to the US from Germany in June 2014. Many of the boxes sent to his California home were damaged in the transatlantic move, and a number of her most precious family heirlooms lost, among them binoculars which had belonged to her beloved grandfather Walter.

Jennifer had been raised solely by her mother, and Walter, who died when she was 16, had been like a father to her. One of his prized possessions, a 1978 Philips 070 transistor radio, was one of the few of her treasured mementos of his that had survived the journey.

Although the radio hadn’t worked for decades, Michael decided to try to fix it, but nothing – new batteries, checking the wires, even a good slam against a hard surface – worked. Jennifer and he gave up and consigned it to a bedroom desk drawer.

Grandfather’s music
Their wedding reception, held in his home on June 24, was a time for rejoicing but provoked a certain amount of sadness in Jennifer, since no guests at the small wedding included her German friends and family. Most of all, she told Michael, she wished her grandfather had been there to give her away.

Amid the festivities, she whispered to Michael that she wanted to say something to him in private, so they excused themselves to his bedroom.

They could hear music playing in the room, but as they have no stereo system there, they began searching around for the source of it. There were no laptops or iPhones in the vicinity. No neighbors had music playing. The sound seemed to be coming from the printer on the bedroom desk, and for a moment, they even wondered whether that bit of kit, which included a scanner and fax, also had a radio, before dismissing that idea as absurd.

‘At that moment Jennifer shot me a look I haven’t seen since the supernatural thriller The Exorcist startled audiences,’ Shermer wrote. ‘“That can’t be what I think it is, can it?” she said. She opened the desk drawer and pulled out her grandfather’s transistor radio, out of which a romantic love song wafted. We sat in stunned silence for minutes. “My grandfather is here with us,” Jennifer said tearfully. “I’m not alone.”’

After they’d regaled their guests with exactly what had happened, Shermer’s daughter Devin, who’d emerged from her bedroom just before the ceremony began, said, ‘I heard the music coming from your room just as you were about to start.’

Michael found that even odder, as they’d both had been getting ready just moments before that in the bedroom and the radio hadn’t been playing then.

That night, they felt asleep to the sounds of classical music from Walter’s radio. By morning it had stopped working and has remained silent ever since.

More than an anomaly
In his article, Shermer recounts his struggle with trying to square that experience with his own belief system. ‘What does this mean? Had it happened to someone else I might suggest a chance electrical anomaly and the law of large numbers as an explanation.’

Jennifer is equally skeptical about the paranormal. ‘Yet the eerie conjunction of these deeply evocative events gave her the distinct feeling that her grandfather was there and that the music was his gift of approval. I have to admit, it rocked me back on my heels and shook my skepticism to its core as well. I savored the experience more than the explanation.’

Michael ended his description of the event with a statement that has embarrassed the skeptic community, largely for its deliberate nod to the very unskeptical Aldous Huxley:

‘The emotional interpretations of such anomalous events grant them significance regardless of their causal account,’ he wrote. ‘And if we are to take seriously the scientific credo to keep an open mind and remain agnostic when the evidence is indecisive or the riddle unsolved, we should not shut the doors of perception when they may be opened to us to marvel in the mysterious.’

This reminds me of the experiences of philosopher Freddy Ayer and neurosurgeon Eben Alexander, author of Proof of Heaven, both a firm rationalists and atheists—until each had a near death experience.

Ayer admitted to Dr. Jeremy George, the young surgeon who’d attended him during his NDR, that he’d seen ‘the supreme being’ during his experience. ‘I’m afraid I’m going to have to revise all my books and opinions,’ he added. Alexander has used some of the proceeds of his international bestseller to set up an entire foundation devoted to studying the paranormal.

Both said there can’t be an afterlife, until they had a glimpse of it.

It can’t happen, as Shermer discovered, until it happened to him, and a stake got driven into the heart of all his certainty.

Lynne recommends: 

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Lynne McTaggart

Lynne McTaggart is an award-winning journalist and the author of seven books, including the worldwide international bestsellers The Power of Eight, The Field, The Intention Experiment and The Bond, all considered seminal books of the New Science and now translated into some 30 languages.

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