Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Hallowe'en Countdown 14: The Supernatural Ivory Tower

A faux inscription: View of the old quadrangle of the Miskatonic University, Arkham, Massachusetts, built 1797; drawn by G.M. Sinclair, 1915 (from Picturesque Haunts of Old New England, by George M. Sinclair, Boston 1915). Image Source: The Necronomicon.
So much for the Ivory Tower being the seat of Enlightenment rationalism and intellectual skepticism that immediately rejects psychics, mediums, spirits, the paranormal, superstitions, and wide-eyed religious fears of devils and demons. Universities stereotypically harbour godless scientists.  But in 2006, Skeptical Inquirer Magazine conducted a study that found that the higher your level of education, the greater your tendency to believe in the supernatural.  (Hat tip: Live Science) They found graduate students to be particularly susceptible. Having spent more than a day or two in graduate school, I can see how the experience might inspire a belief in the big picture (let us say).  Sceptical boffins (as Brits call them) are believers! From the report:
Believe it or not, higher education is linked to a greater tendency to believe in ghosts and other paranormal phenomena, according to a new study.

Contrary to researchers' expectations, a poll of 439 college students found seniors and grad students were more likely than freshmen to believe in haunted houses, psychics, telepathy, channeling and a host of other questionable ideas.

The results are detailed in the January-February issue of the Skeptical Inquirer magazine.

The survey was modeled after a nationwide Gallup Poll in 2001 that found younger Americans far more likely to believe in the paranormal than older respondents.

The new study was done by Bryan Farha at Oklahoma City University and Gary Steward Jr. of the University of Central Oklahoma.

In general college students checked the "Believe" box less than the general population surveyed by Gallup. But the lack of "Don't Believe" responses among college students was lower for six of the 13 categories: psychic or spiritual healing, haunted houses, demonic possession, ghosts, clairvoyance and witches. That means a higher percentage of college students put themselves in the "Not Sure" column on these topics. ...

More significantly, the new survey reveals college is not necessarily a path to skepticism in these realms.

While 23 percent of college freshmen expressed a general belief in paranormal concepts—from astrology to communicating with the dead—31 percent of seniors did so and the figure jumped to 34 percent among graduate students. "As people attain higher college-education levels, the likelihood of believing in paranormal dimensions increases," Farha and Steward write.
Academics search for rational explanations of the supernatural in terms of human psychology. The University of Edinburgh is home to the famous Koestler Parapsychology Unit, which investigates paranormal phenomena. Parapsychology is a field of research in some 30 countries, which seeks to explain telepathy, precognition, clairvoyance, psychokinesis, near-death experiences, reincarnation, and apparitional experiences. Other departments and institutes that work in this area include: the Division of Perceptual Studies at the University of Virginia School of Medicine; the Rhine Research Center, successor to the Duke University Parapsychology Laboratory (later called the Foundation for Research into the Nature of Man); the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit, London; the Boundary Institute; the Center for Consciousness Studies, University of Arizona; the Center for Research on Consciousness and Anomalous Psychology, Lund University, Sweden; the Centre for the Study of Anomalous Psychological Processes, University of Northampton; Consciousness and Transpersonal Psychology Unit, Liverpool John Moores University; Institut für Grenzgebiete der Psychologie und Psychohygiene, Freiburg, Germany; Institut Métaphysique International, Paris; International Consciousness Research Labs, linked with Princeton; Laboratories for Fundamental Research, Palo Alto, California - previously funded by the US government; Le Laboratoire de Parapsychologie de Toulouse, France; the Mind-Matter Unification Project, Cambridge University; the Pacific Neuropsychiatric Institute includes investigations of psychopharmacology; and the Psychology of Paranormal Phenomena at University of Derby. This is not a complete list! On a slightly related note, Russian scientists set up an institute to investigate the Sasquatch, Bigfoot or Yeti this year

Universities grew out of religious retreats and legal halls, so it's not surprising that they have this metaphysical underbelly.  And as anyone familiar with Tolkien's works knows, sometimes pure research turns the mind toward fantasy and other worlds.  Perhaps the greatest ghost story writer ever was the Cambridge Don, M. R. James, whose tales revolve around antiquarian research.  These are accounts, told with the tone of gossip conveyed to you second- or third-hand in the dining hall or common room of a fictitious college styled after King's College Cambridge.  Usually, a scholar in the story finds or digs up some artifact or totem that spells nothing but trouble.  James's cautionary theme of researchers disturbing sleeping knowledge from the long lost past overlapped nicely with his fine sense of dramatic ghostly events that tend to reach monstrous revelatory climaxes.  His tales rapidly become terrifying and even macabre.  You can see some dramatizations of his stories in the video bar on the right hand margin of this blog, and read some of his stories here.

The Whisperer in Darkness (2011) features the fictitious occult university, Miskatonic. Another version of the poster that was not used is up for sale by the artist at Comic Art Fans, here.

The Whisperer in Darkness (2011) teaser trailer (2007).  Video Source: Youtube.

Retro-futurism at its finest: first trailer of The Whisperer in Darkness (2011). Video Source: Youtube.

Second trailer for H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society's version of The Whisperer in Darkness (2011), with scenes at Miskatonic U. shot at Mount Holyoke College. Video Source: Youtube.

(Note: The Whisperer in Darkness should be released on BluRay and DVD in October 2011. The film is making rounds on the film festival circuit.  For reviews, go here, here and here. The film was shot for $350,000 and looks fantastic.  To read the actual story, go here.  It was originally published in Weird Tales in 1931. The story involves a professor from Miskatonic University investigating reports of strange creatures out in the Vermont hills.)

H. P. Lovecraft famously invented the entirely fictional Miskatonic University, situated in the fictitious city of Arkham (from which Batman writers took the name for the famous asylum in Gotham City): "In the 1933 story The Thing on the Doorstep, Lovecraft described: the ancient, mouldering, and subtly fearsome town...witch-cursed, legend-haunted Arkham, whose huddled, sagging gambrel roofs and crumbling Georgian balustrades brood out over the centuries beside the darkly muttering Miskatonic."  You can go to Miskatonic's fake Website, here. Miskatonic was modeled on Brown University and is a seemingly typical exclusive New England college.  Select freshmen soon discover that Miskatonic is not typical at all.  It's a school devoted to the entire lore of the lost and occult arts, to histories of earthly and unearthly civilizations that existed before commonly accepted memory and history began (this very theme has been incidentally considered by researchers on the fringes of academia, as Post Mac Blues made so clear with a recent post on Graham Hancock, here).  Lovecraft was fascinated by the crushing power of the past.  He invented Miskatonic with the idea that universities were repositories of almost-lost and arcane, secret knowledge.  His Miskatonic college stories are some of his most frightening.

Pretty much every university has 'real' haunted stories to tell.  On 12 October 2011, the paranormal blog, Phantoms and Monsters, received a message from a freshman student, who has been at Finlandia University all of six weeks, and is convinced that the college is haunted:
 [A] friend of mine was sitting in the same room, her room, and she had her phone locked on her bedside table. It is the kind of phone that you slide to unlock it. She watched as it lit up, slid the bar across the screen (thus unlocking itself) and started dialing random numbers...

When she told me, I definitely realized there was something wrong here.

The three girls in the two rooms have been receiving bruises at random when they sleep. One has heard voices in the adjacent fire escape at night and, when she questioned security about them, they stated that no one had been in a fire escape yet this year.

To tie it all together, the previous owner of one of the rooms came up to us one day and began asking us if strange things had happened to us yet. We replied yes and she explained that she had heard voices and gotten bruises as well.
The tomb of William Elphinstone, who founded King's College, Aberdeen in 1495 and reportedly haunts the grounds. For rumours about the university ghosts, see here and here. Image Source: The Student Room.

Image Source: The Student Room.

Parapsychologists might do well simply to look at their own college campuses.  Here's a random list of links with info on academic ghosts and hauntings, out of hundreds and hundreds and hundreds I could mention (please tell me of other examples in the comments section of this post):
The coed and her boyfriend are stock characters in cinematic ghost stories. In the opening of the film Urban Legend (1998), the undergrads gather around their lounge and begin to scare each other with rumours of escaped lunatics, suicides and murders on campus.

Urban Legend (1998), opening scenes. Video Source: Youtube.

Some horror films, especially slasher flicks, involve university-based characters.  There are two main tropes.  The first involves taking knowledge too far and opening up a Pandora's Box of horrors; the second, typified by several of the later American offerings which are a genre unto themselves, involves moral cautionary tales against coed sex.  There is a third, less used, trope, the scientist who investigates paranormal phenomena:

Haunted Universities (2009) trailer. Video Source: Youtube.

See all my posts on Horror themes.

See all my posts on Ghosts.

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