Autumn term 2013
Date: 8 October 2013
Speaker: Martin S Taylor
Title: More lives than one?
In tonight's talk, Martin will be examining the notion that hypnosis can be used to get people to remember past lives, a phenomenon taken by many as evidence of reincarnation.
Martin S Taylor became interested in hypnosis when he was studying for a PhD at Imperial College, and soon became well known on the student circuit with his science-based lecture-demonstration. At first he believed in the traditional view that hypnosis is a special induced state of mind, but discussions with friends and his experience with his own hypnotic subjects led him to subscribe to the 'social-compliance' view, namely that hypnosis is best explained by normal, well-understood psychological principles.
He now makes a living as a lecturer and consultant on hypnosis, talking and demonstrating at schools, universities, and anywhere else they’ll pay him. It was at one of Martin’s lectures that Derren Brown was inspired to take up his career, and Martin has worked with Derren on a number of recent television shows. Recently he has been working as a hypnosis consultant for Paramount Pictures, producing promotional videos for horror films.
Find out more on the Hypnotism without Hypnosis website.
Date: 15 October 2013
Speaker: Professor Erlendur Haraldsson
Title: Modern miracles and Sathya Sai Baba
Charismatic religious personalities often become recognized in India as God-men, particularly if they obtain a reputation of possessing supernatural and “divine” powers. Sathya Sai Baba’s reputation of performing miracles has been important for the immense growth of his movement, which has spread to most countries of the world. He passed away in 2011. Such was his reputation and popularity in India that he was given a State funeral that was attended by the Indian Prime Minster Manmohan Sing, and Sonja Gandhi, the leader of the Congress party.
A variety of miraculous phenomena have been profusely reported about Sathya Sai Baba. They range from materializations of objects to New Testament-like multiplications of food and Lazarus-like resurrections of the dead. Almost all who met him observed how he gave away small objects, sweets, etc., that appeared in his hands, as if produced out of nothing. Phenomena occurring in faraway places were attributed to him; such as appearances of vibuti (a widely used sacramental substance) and unexplained fragrances, and even his appearing in distant places. Sai Baba rejected our attempts to involve him in a scientific investigation, and he later come under loud criticism, particularly outside India. Several close observations of him and extensive interviews of devotees, former associates, ex-devotees and critics, carried out in the 1970s and 1980s and after his death, reveal a perplexing picture.
Prashanti Nilayam, the center of the movement in South India, has huge prayer-halls but also schools, institutions of higher learning, and large high-tech hospitals, for much emphasis is given to service to fellow-men, traditional religious values, and education.
Erlendur Haraldsson is Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Iceland in Reykjavik. He obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Freiburg in Germany and did further studies at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. He has published over two hundred papers, mostly on anomalistic experiences, conducted national surveys, field studies and experiments related to such phenomena, and also on psychological testing and interrogative suggestibility. He is the author of six books that have appeared in 17 languages and numerous editions, in particular “At the hour of death” and “Miracles are my visiting cards”/“Modern Miracles” and “Departed among the Living”, all of which have appeared in new editions in the last year or two (see White Crow Books).
For further details see his homepage: http://www.hi.is/~erlendur
Date: 22 October 2013 NB: 7pm start.
Speaker: Jessica Monteith
Title: The history of vampirism from revenants to the Cullens (or why I want to date a dead guy)
This presentation will briefly outline the history of vampirism from revenants to the more modern vampires of the 21st century. Changing attitudes regarding immortality and what it means to be a ‘vampire’ are a reflection of popular culture from the Medieval period to the present. How the audience chooses to perceive the eternally static figure of the vampire is a fascinating reflection of our own desires and aspirations in this life and beyond.
Jessica Monteith graduated from Laurentian University with an MA in Medieval European History in December of 2012. Her research areas include horrific transformation, themes of immortality, understanding of horror and fear in popular culture, and she dabbles in some folkloric accounts out of France and Britain. She will be continuing her academic interest in Medieval and Renaissance literature and popular culture as she pursues her PhD at Reading University, due to begin in 2014.
Date: 29 October 2013
Speaker: Rosie Waterhouse
Title: Satanic ritual abuse, false memories and multiple personalities: Anatomy of a 20-year investigation
Lurid tales of children being sexually abused, of animals being ritually slaughtered and babies being bred for sacrifice, in bizarre black magic ceremonies by cults of devil-worshipping Satanists first surfaced in America in the early 1980s. The allegations of what became known as Satanic ritual abuse soon spread to Britain, Australia and New Zealand in the late 1980s and early 1990s. At the same time, belief in this apparently new and especially depraved form of child abuse was reinforced and said to be corroborated by another new phenomenon, or fashion, in the field of adult psychotherapy, psychology and psychiatry – the recovered memory movement. On conference circuits and in literature, this movement, led by both medically qualified professionals and untrained therapists, promoted the theory that adults can be helped to recover long-buried “repressed” memories of childhood sexual abuse, in some cases Satanic ritual abuse, and that as a consequence of that abuse those patients suffer from Dissociative Identity Disorder, formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder.
This talk explores the origins and spread of the myth of Satanic ritual abuse. As early as 1994 a UK government-funded investigation concluded there was no evidence Satanic ritual abuse existed. Yet despite the continuing absence of evidence – physical, forensic, corroborating evidence – anywhere in the world, a minority of child care professionals – including police officers and social workers, and adult psychotherapists, psychologists and psychiatrists – persist in the belief that Satanic ritual abuse exists. Conferences are still being held around the world. This talk examines the controversy over the extreme and polarised recovered-versus-false memory debate – still one of the most divisive issues in adult psychotherapy, psychology and psychiatry today.
Rosie Waterhouse is Director of the MA in Investigative Journalism at City University London and a freelance journalist with extensive experience as an investigative reporter, having worked for five national newspapers and as a TV reporter. She has twice been a member of the Sunday Times Insight team, she worked for The Independent and Independent on Sunday, where she was investigations editor, and for BBC Newsnight, where she contributed to a BAFTA award-winning film on BSE. As a freelance journalist, Rosie has contributed articles to publications including The Guardian's G2 section, the New Statesman, the Daily Mail, and The Oldie.
She has most recently written a series of articles in Private Eye on the 'Satanic Panic'. Her freelance television work includes a spell as a research consultant on a BBC Real Story documentary on the Rochdale Satanic abuse controversy. Earlier documentaries include a Channel 4 Dispatches investigation into allegations of fraud at Red Star and a BBC Bristol investigation into allegations of bribery by Westland Helicopters to win contracts in Saudi Arabia.
Rosie has been researching the myth of Satanic Ritual Abuse and the controversy over false versus recovered memories of childhood sexual abuse for more than 20 years and her published work on these issues forms the basis of her PhD by Prior Publication, due for submission in January 2014.
Date: 12 November 2013
Speaker: Meirion Jones
Title: How to make millions with a bogus bomb detector
He’s jailed for 10 years now but how did a British conman sell bogus bomb detectors to Iraq for $85 million? A lack of scepticism cost the lives of an estimated 1,000 civilians in Baghdad. Meirion Jones tells, with the help of video clips and secret recordings, how Jim McCormick and his chums worked the scam around the world and how whistleblowers and a Newsnight team exposed the scandal. This is about multi-million-dollar bribes in Baghdad, and UK PLC turning a blind eye to boost exports, but this is also about the lethal consequences of not basing policy on evidence. Try out the ADE651, which sold for $20,000. See if you can detect a golf ball or explosives, and learn how for a few pennies you can make a fake bomb detector that works every bit as well.
Meirion Jones is a BBC producer who is in the unusual position of winning the 2013 Scoop of the Year award for a programme which was never broadcast - his exposure of Jimmy Savile as a paedophile. He also won the Daniel Pearl International Award for Investigative Journalism for his reports on toxic waste dumping by Trafigura in Africa. He has exposed everything from the fixing of the 2000 US election, to how Britain helped Israel get the atom bomb, from corrupt politicians to the affair of Mark Stone and the undercover cops, as well as homeopaths and healers.
Date: 10 November 2013
Speaker: Professor Martin Conway
Title: What adults can actually remember from childhood and what they believe they can remember
Recent experiments have shown that children and adults remembering childhood events are particularly poor at recalling highly specific details, details often focused on by investigators, lawyers, and triers of fact, such as clothes worn, weather conditions, exact time, event duration, etc. In contrast, recent surveys of beliefs about human memory have found that large groups of adults believe memory to be analogous to photographs and to contain many highly specific details, that intense emotions lead to memories that are ‘burnt into the brain’, that memories are enduring and unchanging, and other people are able to recall memories dating to below the age of two years. The discrepancy between what can be recalled and beliefs about what can be recalled reflects widespread lack of understanding of human memory alongside powerfully held beliefs that are held unquestioningly. The consequences for judgments of human memory in formal settings, e.g. courts, are often catastrophic.
Professor Martin A. Conway: I took my first degree in Psychology at University College London and was awarded a Ph.D. from the Open University in 1984. In 1983 I joined the MRC’s Applied Psychology Unit where I worked as a post-doctoral research scientist until 1988. In 1988 I became a lecturer at the University of Lancaster. In 1993 I took up a Professorship at the University of Bristol and became Head of the Department of Erxperimental Psychology (1994-2001). I subsequently became a Professor and Head at the University of Durham (2001-2004). In 2004 I was awarded an ESRC Professorial Fellowship, which I took to the University of Leeds and later became Head of the Institute of Psychological Sciences, 2006-2011. I am currently Head of Department at City University London. I have studied human memory for over 32 years and have an international reputation for research into autobiographical memory, neuropsychology of memory, and neurological basis of memory. I am a memory expert witness and have advised in many legal cases in Crown Courts and at the Royal Courts of Appeal. I have also been consulted on cases internationally.
Spring term 2014
Date: 14 January 2014
Speaker: Dr Sophie Page
Title: Magic and Belief in the Middle Ages
This talk will examine why medieval people believed in the efficacy of magic and whether this was a rational or irrational belief according to the prevailing world view. Scepticism about magic was possible in the Middle Ages but between the eleventh and fifteenth centuries there was a shift towards more acceptance of its efficacy. The approach of ecclesiastical authorities was strategic as well as philosophical: theologians used stories about magic to confirm the existence and malevolence of demons. Even when the Church accepted the efficacy of magic, however, its explanations for how magic worked conflicted with those of practitioners. In particular, I will examine the tension between practitioners who saw themselves as messengers of God, and critics who viewed them as servants of the Devil.
Sophie Page is a lecturer in late Medieval European history at University College London. Her research focuses on European medieval magic and astrology, especially in relation to orthodox religion, natural philosophy, medicine and cosmology. She is also interested in the imagery of medieval magic and the history of animals. Her new book on monks and magic: Magic in the Cloister. Pious Motives, Illicit Interests, and Occult Approaches to the Medieval Universe will be published on October.
Date: 21 January 2014
Speaker: Professor Charles Fernyhourgh
Title: Hearing the voice
What is it like to hear a voice when no one is speaking? Hearing the Voice is an interdisciplinary project, based at Durham University and funded by the Wellcome Trust, investigating this fascinating and often debilitating experience. Usually associated with severe mental disorders such as schizophrenia, voice-hearing is also an important aspect of many ordinary people’s lives. The experience has been richly described across cultures and historical eras, and raises profound questions about the neural foundations of language, the nature of thought and the unity of the self. I will describe how the project exemplifies our approach to the medical humanities, and some of the specific work we are doing at the interfaces of psychology, philosophy, cognitive neuroscience and the humanities.
My background is in developmental psychology, with a particular focus on social, emotional and cognitive development. Through theoretical and empirical work, I have contributed to the understanding of how language and thought are related in child development and beyond. The focus of my recent scientific work has been in applying ideas from mainstream developmental psychology to the study of psychosis, particularly the phenomenon of voice-hearing (in which individuals hear voices in the absence of any speaker). I have developed a new model of voice-hearing and inner speech, and conducted empirical studies testing aspects of the model in clinical and healthy samples. This work culminated in 2012 with the award of a £1m Wellcome Trust Strategic Award to the interdisciplinary Hearing the Voice project, on which I am PI.
I am very active in outreach and public engagement work on themes relating to my research, and in recent years have taken up several exciting engagement challenges, such as lecturing twice at the Royal Institution (March 2010 and July 2012), and writing features for New Scientist and Focus Magazine. I contribute regularly to newspapers in the UK and beyond, with credits including the Guardian, TIME Ideas, Daily Beast, Observer, Literary Review, Sunday Telegraph, Scotland on Sunday, Financial Times, Sydney Morning Herald and Nature. My broadcast media appearances include writing and presenting an essay for New Generation Thinkers (Radio 3, 2008), three appearances on NPR’s Radiolab, interviews on NPR’s Weekend Edition and Brian Lehrer show, local radio (BBC London, Newcastle, Manchester, Kent, Tees), three appearances on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, interviews on Radio 4’s All in the Mind and The Digital Human and BBC World Service’s The Forum, and several other radio appearances in the US, Ireland and elsewhere. I have been involved in a consultancy role in two West End theatre productions (‘The River’, Royal Court, 2012; ‘Old Times’, Harold Pinter Theatre, 2013), numerous TV (BBC1 and Channel 4) and radio documentaries and several other artistic projects. I have produced two popular science books on psychology: The Baby in the Mirror: A child’s world from birth to three (Granta, 2008) and Pieces of Light: Memory and its stories (Profile, 2012). I am also the author of two novels: The Auctioneer (Fourth Estate, 1999) and A Box of Birds (Unbound, 2013). I am a part-time (0.5) Professor of Psychology at Durham University.
Date: 28 January 2014
Speaker: Robert Brotherton
Title: The psychology of conspiracy theories
Why do some people believe unproven and implausible conspiracy theories? What’s the harm if they do? And just what is a conspiracy theory, anyway? Rob Brotherton provides a psychological perspective on the peculiar phenomenon of conspiracy theorising. The talk will offer a definition of the tricky-to-define term ‘conspiracy theory’, discuss the consequences of widespread belief in conspiracies, and present psychological research which begins to reveal the allure of conspiracy theories. Of particular interest is research concerning the role of cognitive biases and heuristics – quirks in the way we all think – which suggests that our brains might be wired to detect conspiracies, even where none exist. It seems we’re all intuitive conspiracy theorists – some of us just hide it better than others.
Rob completed a PhD in the psychology of conspiracy theories at Goldsmiths, University of London, where he now works as a lecturer. His research primarily concerns the measurement and cognitive correlates of conspiracist ideation, and reasoning biases more generally. Rob is Assistant Editor of The Skeptic (www.skeptic.org.uk), and writes about the psychology of conspiracy theories at www.ConspiracyPsych.com. Or at least that’s what he would like you to believe.
Date: 4 February 2014 (rescheduled from 3 December 2013)
Speaker: Dr Niall McCrae
Title: Spiritual experiences in temporal lobe epilepsy: Neuropsychiatric symptom or portal to the divine?
Profound spiritual experiences have been reported as a rare but disproportionately frequent occurrence in some types of epilepsy, as described eloquently in the personal account of writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Indeed, religiosity is a prominent feature of the Geschwind syndrome, a behavioural pattern found in some cases of temporal lobe epilepsy. Can such phenomena be explained as neurological processes, or does the aura of epileptic seizure open a door to metaphysical forces, or to God?
Since the 1950s, when Wilder Penfield induced spiritual feelings by experimental manipulation of the temporal lobes, development of brain imaging technology has revealed neural correlates of intense emotional states, spurring the growth of neurotheology. In their secular empiricism, psychiatry, neurology and psychology are inclined to pathologise deviant religious expression, thereby reinforcing the dualism of objective and phenomenal worlds. Reductionism is rife. Considering theological perspectives and the idea of cosmic consciousness, Niall McCrae urges a more holistic approach to spiritual phenomena in epilepsy, leading to a deeper understanding of the mind and its transcendent potential.
Niall McCrae is a lecturer in mental health nursing at King’s College London. His research interests are diverse and some might say eccentric. Intrigued by the legend of lunacy, he wrote The Moon and Madness, recommending a more creative approach to studying the putative influence of the lunar cycle on human behaviour. His work on spiritual experiences in temporal lobe epilepsy, inspired by his reading of William James, has been published in peer-reviewed journals. More conventionally, Niall leads research projects on depression and dementia, while in his spare time he is writing a history of mental hospitals.
Date: 11 February 2014
Speaker: Dr Paul Broks
Title: Has science done away with the soul?
It seems natural to think of life as a story with a beginning, middle and end, a story in which we are the main protagonist. We see ourselves as unified and continuous beings journeying from a remembered past to an anticipated future; beings possessed of free will and a capacity for clear self-reflection. But research in psychology and neuroscience shows that there is no such thing as an ‘inner self’; that we are divided and discontinuous; and that free will is an illusion. We are, in short, not what we believe ourselves to be. Drawing on my work in clinical neuropsychology, and on philosophical and cultural influences as diverse as Schopenhauer and Schwarzenegger, I offer an overview of the science of selfhood and consider the question: Has science really done away with the soul?
Paul Broks is a freelance writer with a background in clinical neuropsychology and neuroscience. He gained recognition with his first book, Into the Silent Land, which mixed neurological case stories, fiction and memoir in an extended meditation on selfhood and the brain. Paul has also written for theatre and film. He co-wrote and narrated Martino Unstrung, Ian Knox’s feature documentary about the recovered-amnesic jazz guitar virtuoso, Pat Martino, and recently collaborated with Hugh Hudson (“Chariots of Fire”) and Maryam d’Abo (“The Living Daylights”) on a film about stroke survivors - Rupture: Living with a broken brain. He is also a regular contributor to WNYC’s Radiolab science show. His next book, The Scream of the Soul, will be published by Penguin and includes excursions into mythology, madness and magic as well as brain science.
Date: 25 February 2014
Speaker: Richard Firth-Godbehere
Title: Do you really know how you feel?
Everybody understands what emotions are, don’t they? They are feelings, inside, sort of. They are what we feel when we are happy and sad and stuff. There’s nothing to them. With a little more thought, it seems obvious they are something that evolved for some reason, to draw us towards pleasure (such as the right food) or away from pain (such as being eaten by a bear), but are they that simple, or do cultures shape emotions? It turns out there’s a bit of an academic war going on, and Richard believes that both sides are wrong because they are both right. One side (mostly psychologists) is convinced that emotions come from biological evolution and are universal. Although we might dress up emotions differently – such as the stiff upper lip of the Englishman against the histrionics we might expect of a Mediterranean if you’ll pardon the stereotypes – the underlying emotions are the same. The other side (mostly anthropologists) is confident that society and culture constructs emotions and that evolution had little to do with it; many cultures have emotions that we don’t even have words for in English. There is a third way.
Richard Firth-Godbehere (that’s pronounced God-Be-Here, and yes it’s a real name) first became interested in emotions, and especially disgust, while his wife was suffering from a phobia for vomiting. Since then, he has been studying what emotions are and were, and trying to find a way through the academic minefield that is the study of emotions. In this talk, Richard will argue that emotions are biological and that we all have a number of neurochemicals and hormones that use the central nervous system to transmit a type of information that is just as essential as conscious thought, but how we interpret those messages depends on having the language to recognize them. By taking us through time and examining the history of emotions, Richard will explain why the Emperor Marcus Aurelius in the film Gladiator made a poor choice, why Star Trek’s Data couldn’t choose an Ice Cream, and why sin alone once decided whether an emotion was positive or negative. He will also make you feel an emotion or two you didn’t even know existed, including one that doesn’t even exist (or didn’t, until Richard invented it). All this is to show how cultural language taps into universal bodily states allows us to know how we feel.
Having survived Cambridge University, Richard is now a Wellcome Trust supported Doctoral Scholar in the Medical Humanities at the Centre for the History of Emotions, Queen Mary University of London. He is researching how Abomination, Aversion, Horror and Disgust were related to Medicine in the 17th and 18th Centuries.
Date: 11 March 2014
Speaker: Rob Teszka
Title: The misdirected mind
Magicians have spent hundreds of years developing techniques that keep audiences from being aware of events happening right in front of their noses. In this talk, Rob discusses how magic is studied experimentally, and what the findings of magic research mean for the psychology of attention and awareness.
Robert Teszka is a PhD candidate studying cognitive psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London, and a member of the Magic Circle. He has given talks on some of the more surprising findings in psychology for CFI Vancouver & London, New Bright Lights, and Neuroscience Week in Barcelona, as well as being consulted on magic, games, and other psychological topics for creative agencies in New York and London.
Date: 25 March 2014
Speaker: Dr David V Barrett
Title: British Israelism: How an ancient historical puzzel fuels conspiracists and terrorists today
David Barrett explores how an obscure religious history idea with no substantiation but with tens of thousands of believers ties up with spiritual, national and racial identity and with racism, terrorism and conspiracy theories.
For centuries people have tried to identify what happened to the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. Taken into captivity by the Assyrians around 720 BCE, they vanished from history. Of many theories, one of the most persistent is that the ancient Israelites ended up in Britain, and that today’s British people – and by extension Americans – are not just their spiritual but their physical descendants. When half the globe was coloured pink and Britain was the natural and rightful leader of the world, this idea, despite having not a scrap of historical evidence, became popular. At one time a granddaughter of Queen Victoria was patron of the British Israel World Federation.
British-Israelism was at the heart of the prophetic teaching of the American sect the Worldwide Church of God, whose 100,000 members believed that Britain and America are central to God’s plan for the Millennium, when Christ returns to Earth. Other British Israelites believe that Jesus came to Britain as a child, that St Paul visited Britain, and that Joseph of Arimathea is buried in Cardiff.
But there is a darker side to British-Israelism. Originally pro-Jewish and Zionist, in the last half century many elements of the movement have become anti-semitic. While by no means all British Israelites are racist, Christian Identity groups in the United States use the theory to teach that those of white European stock are God’s Chosen People; these are the white supremacists who carry a Bible in one hand and a gun in the other, and who have been responsible for terrorist attacks such as the 1995 Oklahoma bombing which killed 168 people.
And if one tracks back many of the widespread conspiracy theories of the last few years, from 9/11 to Obama’s birth certificate to the death of the Princess of Wales, via Bilderberg, the Jewish-masonic Illuminati New World Order and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, it is these same white supremacists who are behind them.
A former teacher, intelligence officer and journalist, Dr David V Barrett has been a freelance writer specialising in new religious movements and secret societies for over 20 years. He gained his PhD in Sociology of Religion from the London School of Economics in 2009. His many books include A Brief Guide to Secret Religions (Constable & Robinson, 2011) and The Fragmentation of a Sect (OUP 2013).
Summer Term 2014
Date: 3 June 2014
Speaker: Dr Brian Sharpless
Title: Exploding Head Syndrome
Exploding head syndrome is the provocative name for the experience of hearing loud noises (e.g., bombs detonating near/in one’s head; loud gunshots) during transitions between sleep and wakefulness. In spite of the fact that it has been known for over 150 years and can cause both extreme levels of fear and clinical impairment in some sufferers, it is rarely studied. This lack of attention can lead to misdiagnosis, costly and unnecessary medical tests, and shame for the sufferers. Some individuals adopt conspiracy theories as explanations for these scary episodes, and mistakenly believe that they are the target of government harassment. After discussing the history and associated features of this disorder, Dr. Sharpless will present preliminary research findings derived from a study of 39 individuals diagnosed with exploding head syndrome and a larger sample of healthy controls.
Brian A. Sharpless is an assistant professor of psychology at Washington State University and also the director of their Psychology Clinic. He received his Ph.D. in clinical psychology and M.A. in philosophy from the Pennsylvania State University. After graduation, he finished a post-doctoral clinical fellowship (Pennsylvania Hospital) and a post-doctoral research fellowship (Center for Psychotherapy Research) at the University of Pennsylvania. Prior to his current position he was on faculty at Pennsylvania State University.
Dr. Sharpless has published widely on topics ranging from anxiety, professional competence, unusual sleep disorders (e.g., isolated sleep paralysis and exploding head syndrome), psychoanalytic psychotherapy, and the history/philosophy of clinical psychology.