The New Age: Notes of a Fringe Watcher

By Martin Gardner | Go to book overview

6 Koestler Money Down the Psi Drain?

In March 1983, after a long, dramatic career, Arthur Koestler ended his life dramatically by killing himself. He and his wife, Cynthia, were found dead in their home near London, both having taken overdoses of barbiturates. The Hungarian-born writer, age 77, had been suffering from terminal leukemia. His wife, in her fifties, was not ill. A suicide note expressed Koestler's "timid hopes for a depersonalized afterlife beyond due confines of space, time, and matter, and beyond the limits of our comprehension."

Koestler's intellectual pilgrimage falls into three parts: (1) active communist, (2) active anti-communist and author of the influential anti- Stalinist novel Darkness at Noon, which made him famous, and (3) active promoter of the paranormal. Koestler was firmly convinced that parapsychology is ushering in a new Copernican Revolution.

The Koestlers left a will in which about $750,000 was set aside for the endowment of a chair of parapsychology at a United Kingdom university. Oxford, Cambridge, and other leading universities declined the endowment on the grounds that it would cast doubt on their other research programs. Only two finally sought the funding: the University of Wales, at Cardiff, and the University of Edinburgh. Koestler's trustees finally gave it to Edinburgh. Earlier, retired businessman Instone Bloomfield, a friend of Koestler, had independently established a Koestler Foundation. He announced that he would increase Koestler's endowment by another $750,000 if the chairman of the new department planned a research program that his foundation approved.

At the time of this writing, the chairman has not yet been chosen. However, a psychologist at Edinburgh and one of the leading figures in British parapsychology, John Beloff, was a good friend of Koestler. Beloff New Directions in Parapsychology ( 1974) has a postscript by Koestler. Although Beloff is noted for the negative results of his experiments, especially when he tried to replicate U.S. tests of psi, he is a firm believer in the paranormal, including the psi powers of the great mediums of the past, and in the powers of modern psychics like Uri Geller and Ted Serios.

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